Harriet M. Kavanaugh was a nurse at the Naval Academy Hospital in Annapolis, Maryland, when she was robbed and badly beaten on January 14, 1921. She died the next day. The initial investigation focused on two white men.
Based on reports he had been seen near the hospital, Henry A. Brown, a Black, 19-year old Navy deserter, was arrested for her murder by Baltimore police on January 16.
Brown initially denied any involvement in the case or any knowledge of the victim, though he had previously worked in the hospital. He later confessed, though he subsequently repudiated that confession as having been coerced. Even more dramatically, Brown stated that he was tortured by fellow sailors while being held prior to his confession.
His trial in the United States District Court in Baltimore began on March 28, 1921. Brown was convicted five days later and sentenced to death.
Despite protests and pleas for mercy from civil rights advocates, Henry Brown was hanged on September 1, 1921. The heightened level of racial animus at the time, the race and gender circumstances of the crime, and the details of the investigation raise serious questions about the integrity of Brown’s convictions.