Whether South Carolina, bastion of tobacco country, will allow the traditional last cigarette before a firing squad is open to question. The condemned will likely smoke either way.
Seldom has a condemned convict made the cover of Time magazine, an honour usually reserved for more famous and less notorious individuals, but Caryl Whittier Chessman was no ordinary convict. Whether he really was California's notorious 'Red Light Bandit' is still debated today, decades after he entered the gas chamber at San Quentin. What could … Continue reading On This Day in 1960 – Caryl Chessman, the ‘Red Light Bandit,’ enters San Quentin’s ‘smokehouse.’
On August 6, 1890 Auburn Prison in upstate New York made history. William Kemmler, drunkard, vegetable-seller and killer, became the first prisoner to die in the electric chair. Bungled though it was (George Westinghouse remarked it could have been done better with an axe, Kemmler's chosen weapon) the era of 'electrical execution' had begun. Despite … Continue reading On This Day in 1916 – Charles Sprague, last man to die at Auburn Prison.
John Wesley Hardin. Jesse James. Cole Younger. “Curly” Bill Brocius. Gunslingers, killers, thieves and icons of the Wild West. Of all the Western outlaws none has quite the notoriety of “Billy the Kid.” Questionably accused of killing 21 men (one for each year of his short and violent life), Billy is as much a Wild … Continue reading On This Day in 1881, Billy the Kid cheats the hangman.
His name isn’t going to ring any bells with many readers, I know, but Horry (an otherwise unexceptional murderer) occupies a singular place in the chronicles of crime. Horry met, fell in love with and married wife (and victim) Jane in 1866 and the couple went on to run a hotel together in Burslem, Staffordshire … Continue reading William Frederick Horry – England’s first ‘long drop’ hanging.
A free chapter from my forthcoming book 'Murders, Mysteries and Misdemeanors in Southern California.' “I’m ready. I’ve been ready for a long time.” – Louise Peete minutes before she died. Bienville Parish is in north-western Louisiana and its county seat is familiar from previous chapters, Arcadia. Bienville was the site of the ambush that … Continue reading On This Day in 1947 – Louise Peete, the ‘Belle of Bienville.’
The case of George Junius Stinney could easily be described as a stain on American justice, or the lack thereof. Stinney was executed in South Carolina’s electric chair in 1944 aged only 14, the youngest American to face execution in the 20th century. His confession was probably coerced, his trial a travesty of justice and his … Continue reading George Stinney, a stain on American justice.
Some are well-remembered, others long forgotten, but all have their own place in California's chronicles of crime.
“Death itself isn’t dreadful, but hanging seems an awkward way of ending the adventure…” – Gerald Chapman to his lawyers after being condemned to hang for murder in 1925. ‘Gerald Chapman’ was his favorite alias, but his real name was probably George Chartres. Given that records are sketchy and Chapman was always evasive about his youth, … Continue reading On This Day in 1926 – Gerald Chapman, America’s first ‘Public Enemy Number One.’
A free chapter from my book ‘Murders, Mysteries and Misdemeanors in New York,’ available now. Like it or not, some murders become an entity bigger and more lasting than themselves. Murderers have been seeking to rid themselves of inconvenient spouses, partners or ex-partners since murder existed, there’s nothing unusual about it. Seldom though does the murder of … Continue reading On This Day in 1908- Chester Gillette, an American tragedy.