On This Day in 1963 – Alcatraz is consigned to penal history.


"Welcome to The Rock..." Opened in August, 1934, the 'United States Penitentiary, Alcatraz' was born of high hopes and new ideas for confining and breaking America's most serious offenders. It ended on this day in 1963 after less than thirty years amid acrimony, embarrassment, hypocrisy and a sense of failure among America's penologists. It had …

Dark River : The Bloody Reign Of The Ohio River Pirates


Dark River tells a fascinating, and not well known, story of an age of the Western frontier (1770-1850). Social pressures spurred on by rapid western expansion and years of warfare became the breeding ground for violence. This atmosphere brought about the creation of a unique type of person. Those who would use the Ohio River …

Merle Haggard, James ‘Rabbit’ Kendrick, Caryl Chessman, Eddie Bunker and Johhny Cash.


Robbing a supermarket near Madera turned “Rabbit” into the “Safeway Bandit.” Already wanted for the escape, Kendrick racked up another ten felony charges in the two weeks he was at large. They ended with an eleventh charge—the first-degree murder of a police officer. The Safeway Bandit had become a cop-killer; soon, he would return to San Quentin a condemned cop-killer. 

George Harsh – Great Escaper and the ‘Milwaukee Thrill Slayer.


Before George Rutherford Harsh, Jr. became a crucial member of the Great Escape he became the ‘Milwaukee Thrill Slayer,’ at least according to the Georgia newspapers. Shot down on a bombing raid over Cologne in 1943 while serving in the Royal Canadian Air Force and a confirmed troublemaker in the eyes of his guards, Harsh …

Dallas Egan, a half-pint of whiskey (to the last drop).


   Armed robber and murderer Dallas Egan was rather younger than Gardner when he died on the gallows in San Quentin’s ‘Hangman’s Hall.’ Courtesy of Governor James ‘Sunny Jim’ Rolph,  Egan may well have been drunk as well. It was by Rolph’s order that Egan was plied with whiskey before his execution and it had …

Professor James Howard Snook, Ohio’s ‘Gold Medal Murderer.’


This is a particularly rare case, singular in fact. The case itself, a philandering husband murdering his illicit lover to protect his reputation, isn’t that unusual, unfortunately. An outwardly-respectable married man deciding to end an illicit affair, and then killing his mistress when she threatens to expose hit, is sadly all-too-common. It shouldn’t be, of …

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 …

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. …

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