During the summer of 1955, while Brother Norman Crawford and I were conducting tent meetings in Fremont, Ohio, I visited the county jail where I met Samuel Tannyhill. He had been in trouble with the law since he was 11 years old and now at 26, he was a murderer.
As he talked with us through the bars of his cell, I felt drawn to him. He had been given a testament on a previous occasion and he began to ask some very intelligent questions, revealing the fact that he was searching the Scriptures. As we left the jail, I remarked that I would not be surprised if he got saved.
After his trial and subsequent sentence to death in the electric chair in the Ohio State Penitentiary, he was put on death row. After reaching that dismal cell, he found Christ as his Savior and his letter to friends was published in the Fremont paper:
“I prayed much, but my prayers never got out of my cell. I asked for help but hung on to the world with both hands. For three days there was no more miserable soul on earth than I was. I prayed and cried and prayed again, but only became the more miserable.
On November 4th, 1955, 1 made one more try to reach God, who could give me peace of mind. I got on my knees and truly confessed my total sinfulness and cast myself on God’s mercy and it was then I fully understood the love of God in giving His Son for me. That night I slept soundly for the first time in many days and the next morning I testified to my fellow prisoners that Jesus had saved me. I was overheard by a guard who told me that he was saved too, and he encouraged me to continue testifying for Christ. I am in a cell in death row, but I am more free here than I ever was in the streets. I have no fear of death, for it is but a step closer to Jesus.”
After his conversion, he wrote to his court appointed lawyer that he was saved and he did not desire him to appeal his case for he was guilty and was resigned to his fate. Extracts from two letters written to his lawyer reveal his growth in grace.
“I trust this letter will serve notice to you and the court that of this date your services as my attorney are no longer needed. My life I give to God and by so doing I give up the world completely. All my life I have searched for but one thing, peace of mind. This I have found in Christ Jesus. At long last, under the shadow of death, I have found what I could not find in my 26 years in Satan’s service. God’s holy Son has made an offer to all and I am happy and thankful to say I am among such.
I can’t be among those who fight for their own rights… I can simply trust God with all my heart and ask that His will be done… By reading God’s word, it is plain to see that many men took something they couldn’t give back. Cain took a life because of jealousy, Moses because of pity, David because of lust, and Paul because of hatred. Did any of these people have a good case to carry to court? I think not! 1 am no different than these men in God’s sight.”
A letter appeared in many papers which Tannyhill wrote to a former pal who also awaited execution in West Virginia. “I am one fellow who knows how you feel, for I too await my turn to die for the crime of murder, and am in cell number three in Ohio State Prison in Columbus, Ohio. Since we share the same fate I am wondering if you have found Jesus as your Savior? We have been bad men but now all we have is a number and a date to die, but it isn’t how we started life or lived it that counts, for the main thing is how are we ending it?”
Samuel Tannyhill was executed in November, 1956. He went to his death with blessed assurance that he would be with Christ forever. May the unsaved reader realize that the grace of God is extended to all sinners! “For there is no difference… for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him.” (Rom 10:12-13).