Early in the cold morning of January 12, 1916, a masked mob of some two hundred dragged John Richards from his jail cell in Wayne County, North Carolina. He was accused of the murder of a local farmer named Anderson Gurley. According to local newspaper accounts, he was taken to the scene of Gurley's murder and hanged. This photo puts that account in doubt. Richards is suspended from a deciduous tree by a rope secured under his arms. His pants are lowered, and a cloth is draped over the front of his body. It is more likely that he was castrated and died from the gunfire that "almost cut his body to pieces."
The Calvaryesque cloud formation hovering over Richards is most likely the product of a light-leak in the camera lens.