Charles Benjamin Ullmo, redeemed on Devil’s Island.


The dreaded 'Penal Administration, French Guiana' is far more associated with cruelty, inhumanity and death than with survival and redemption. That said, there were exceptions to the rule and disgraced French naval officer Charles Benjamin Ullmo is one of them. Condemned to Guiana for life after trying to ransom stolen military secrets, Ullmo didn't look …

On This Day in 1954 – Ian Grant and Kenneth Gilbert, the last double hanging in Britain.


So, it's to London's notorious Pentonville Prison we go for an historic event in British penal history. Hangings in themselves were nothing unusual, although by 1954 (only a year or so after the wrongful execution of Derek Bentley at Wandsworth) they were becoming increasingly rare events. Double hangings were becoming especially unusual, the days when …

Nitrogen Hypoxia – The Death Penalty’s Future?


It’s never been done before and might never be used, but Alabama has announced its near-completion of a nitrogen gas chamber if it should prove impossible to obtain drugs for lethal injections. Far from dusting off its electric chair, (the notorious ‘Yellow Mama’) like Tennessee and South Carolina or offering firing squads as South Carolina …

Sing Sing’s Death House – 1891 to 1963.


Sing Sing. The name alone implies bad conditions, violence, fear, poor food, hard labour, harder punishments, misery and death. Even the name itself suits a prison, coming from the Native American phrase ‘Sinck Sinck’ meaning ‘Stone upon stone.’ Movie fans may remember James Cagney’s ‘Angels with Dirty Faces’ where screen gangster ‘Rocky Sullivan’ (inspired by …

On This Day in 1955 – Barbara ‘Bloody Babs’ Graham, John ‘Jack’ Santo and Emmett ‘The Weasel’ Perkins.


A free chapter from my latest book 'Murders, Mysteries and Misdemeanors in Southern California.' “Why waste good food on me? Give it to someone who can enjoy it.” – Barbara Graham on her last meal.    The controversy around Barbara Graham’s case has long outlived Graham herself. Executed on June 3 1955 and California’s third …

Where South Carolina goes, Arizona follows. The gas chamber is back.


Not long ago the State of South Carolina chose to take a giant step backwards on the death penalty, reinstating the electric chair as a method and adding the firing squad as another alternative. A boycott on supplying drugs for lethal injection has seen several States try different drugs and different protocols to administer them. …

Graham Young – The Teacup Poisoner.


Crowthorne, Bovingdon, Sheerness, St. Albans, Hemel Hempstead, Newport on the Isle of Wight. All small English towns in leafy, quiet places, all forever linked by the dark legacy of one man; Graham Young. One of the most notorious serial poisoners in English history and feared even by other convicts, Young’s trail of terror links them all.

Michael Manning – Last to hang in the Irish Republic.


Michael Manning was the last prisoner executed in the Republic of Ireland, ending a centuries-old tradition of executions in the Emerald Isle and another tradition of their being performed almost entirely by British executioners. Michael Manning’s case was the last time a group of officials would assemble at Dublin’s Mountjoy Prison at 8am in the …

America’s First Trial by TV: The Bombing of Flight 629


At Denver’s Stapleton Airport, United Airlines Flight 629 bound for Alaska is cleared for take-off at 6:52 p.m. on November 1, 1955, 15 minutes after its scheduled departure time the “Mainliner” makes a perfectly normal take-off and disappears out of sight. Eleven minutes later it explodes near the town of Longmont and wreckage is strewn …

On This Day in 1935 – Raymond Hamilton, Depression Desperado and ‘Gentleman Bandit.’


Meet Ray Hamilton, thief, armed robber, kidnapper, escape artist, murderer. He worked with Clyde Barrow as part of the infamous 'Bonnie & Clyde' Gang before his out-sized ego caused him to strike out on his own. By his execution in May, 1935 (at the tender age of 22) he'd racked up no less than 362 …

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