Category: History

On This Day in 1909 – The Santa Clara Valley Bank Robbery, the world’s first using a getaway car.


To this day many people, including crime buffs, believe the world’s first bank robbery involving a getaway car was performed in France. The quasi-Anarchist Bonnot Gang are often credited with being first, escaping in a stolen Delauney-Belleville after robbing the Societe Generale bank in Chantilly, France on 21 December 1911. This isn’t accurate, although the…

On This Day in 1964 – Joseph Johnson, Jr., the night they drove Old Sparky down.


“The crunch. The mounting whine and snarl of the generator. The man’s lips peel back, the throat strains for a last desperate cry, the body arches against the restraining straps as the generator whines and snarls again, the features purple, steam and smoke rise from the bald spots on head and leg while he sick-sweet…

Frank Rimieri, Adolph Koenig and Doctor Allan Mclane Hamilton – A dark day that cast a very long shadow…


When Frank Rimieri and Adolph Koenig rode the lightning at Sing Sing on 20 February 1905 that was nothing unusual in itself. First used on William Kemmler on 6 August 1890, New York’s electric chair was already seeing regular use. Single and double executions like this one were standard practice and New York, already enthralled…

Dwight Beard, a tale of two cities and (at least) two murders.


Unlike in Dickens’ classic novel Dwight Beard did not go to the guillotine as an act of redemption. The nobility so prized by Dickens (himself opposed to capital punishment) simply wasn’t in Beard’s nature. On 4 June 1937 he sat in the ‘Texas Thunderbolt’ at Huntsville, riding the lightning for a murder during one of…

US Federal Executions, a worrying new trend?


The recent Federal executions of three prisoners are both a rarity and perhaps the start of a worrying trend. While individual states have long been executing convicts within their own jurisdictions the Federal Government has historically been far more restrained. Historically speaking Uncle Sam usually hands out long sentences but seldom executes. The most recent,…

On This Day in 1913 – Jacob Oppenheimer, California’s ‘Human Tiger.’


“The sooner I can cash in my chips the better, as it will save me a lot of trouble and unhappiness.” Jacob Oppenheimer after receiving his death sentence. Caged tigers are solitary, predatory creatures. Constantly pacing their cages, they can inflict violence, disfigurement and death in a split second without as much as a second’s…

On This Day in 1851 – Josefa ‘Juanita’ Segovia, rough justice or legal lynching?


  Present-day California is often seen as the most liberal, tolerant state in the Union. It‘s sold with images of sunshine, surfing, and hippies; a relaxed, easy-going kind of place where, within reason, anything goes. This is a fallacy. While 1967 might have been California’s ‘Summer of Love’ July of 1851 wasn’t. Certainly not for…

Murders, Mysteries and Misdemeanors in Northern California, out on August 28.


Hello there. It’s been a while since I last posted, but I’ve been busy on the second of three books for Fonthill’s ‘America Through Time’ series. This Rogues Gallery features sixteen of Northern California’s most wanted (and most interesting). Some are famous, some are not, but all have their own particular importance. Home to San…

RIP Jerry Givens, former Virginia executioner-turned-abolitionist.


  Jerry Givens was an unlikely campaigner against the death penalty. A correctional officer at the Virginia State Penitentiary since the early 1970’s, Givens was also its resident executioner. Until going to prison himself in 1999 on perjury and money-laundering charges (charges he always denied) Givens rose through the ranks. At first supporting the death…