A few years ago I covered the story of John Hurlburt, New York's second 'State Electrician.' Trained by predecessor Edwin Davis, Hurlburt executed 140 prisoners during his tenure. Hurlburt's official debut was executing George Coyer and Giuseppe DeGoia at Auburn Prison on August 31 1914. Unofficially he had already executed prisoners under Davis's supervision. As … Continue reading On This Day in 1925 – John Hurlburt performs his last execution. ‘Yellow Charleston’ has his last dance.
The duel between US Senator David Broderick and David Terry, former Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court is a rollicking tale of friendship-turned-feud; politics, pistols, slavery and slander. Their duel on 13 September 1859 would have made a terrific historical novel or movie and still might. Duels over political disagreements, personal enmity and often … Continue reading The Broderick-Terry duel of 1859, the last notable duel in California.
"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 … Continue reading On This Day in 1964 – Joseph Johnson, Jr., the night they drove Old Sparky down.
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 … Continue reading Frank Rimieri, Adolph Koenig and Doctor Allan Mclane Hamilton – A dark day that cast a very long shadow…
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, … Continue reading US Federal Executions, a worrying new trend?
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 … Continue reading RIP Jerry Givens, former Virginia executioner-turned-abolitionist.
A free chapter from my book 'Murders, Mysteries and Misdemeanors in New York,' available now. Like many countries the US has an at times contradictory attitude to its death penalty, no more so than when a woman faces execution. Women account for fewer than 5% of death sentences in the US and less than 1% … Continue reading Martha Place – The first woman in the electric chair.
“Yes, they are killing me.” – Joe Arridy, when asked by Warden Roy Best if he understood why he was about to step into Colorado’s gas chamber. It’s rarer than it used to be that a case affects me as much as this one. If you cover true crime for a living then you learn … Continue reading Justice denied in Colorado; Joe Arridy visits ‘Roy’s Penthouse.’
Bandit and burglar Gordon Fawcett Hamby was a strange bird by any standards. His death was a rarity at Sing Sing, the first time a female reporter had witnessed an execution there since 1899. That reporter had been Kate Starr working for one of the Hearst newspapers. Since then female reporters had never been allowed … Continue reading On This Day in 1920 – Gordon Hamby’s Last Goodbye and Nellie Bly’s First Execution.
In today’s more enlightened times there’s nothing unusual about women serving on juries, but it wasn’t always so. British courts didn’t see female jurors until 1920. They were still a novelty on 13 January 1921 when three women joined a jury at Aylesbury. The defendant was one George Bailey. The charge was capital murder. The … Continue reading On This Day in 1921, George Bailey -Convicted by Britain’s first female jurors in a capital case.