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.
Well, seeing as it’s New Year’s Eve and I’m feeling generous, here’s something especially unusual. It’s not often that a President and an executioner meet, especially on a professional basis. US President Grover Cleveland was a notable exception, although he performed his two hangings while Sheriff of Erie County long before entering the White House. … Continue reading A New Year’s Eve special – The President and the hangman.
Normally this time of year would be cause for celebration, a time of Christmas cheer and goodwill to all men. That wasn’t the case for Ethel Major who stood condemned for the murder of her husband Arthur. For her the previous couple of days had been spent sobbing and incoherent as she pondered her imminent … Continue reading On This Day in 1934, Ethel Lillie Major.
The chances are that former clerk Virgil Richardson isn’t a familiar name today. To NYPD officers in 1956 (and especially the family of Patrolman William Long) his name was all too familiar. Virgil Richardson was Patrolman Long’s murderer and later the 600th convict to sit in Sing Sing’s electric chair. Only fourteen more would follow … Continue reading On This Day in 1958: Virgil Richardson, cop killer and Sing Sing’s 600th electrocution.
Neither is likely to be familiar, especially murderer George Knight. Had Knight alone been condemned for the murder and robbery of William Fowler on 30 October 1943 neither would have been even a footnote in history. Helen Fowler would have disappeared into New York State’s penal system and obscurity. George Knight would probably have vanished … Continue reading On This Day in 1944, Helen Ray Fowler and George Knight.
When disturbed loner and some-time Anarchist Leon Czolgosz was convicted for assassinating President William McKinley, Judge Truman White’s sentencing was brief. The crime had been committed on Septmber 6 1901, President McKinley dying of infection from Czolgosz’s bullet on September 9. Now, on September 23 only two weeks after the President’s death, his assassin was … Continue reading On This Day in 1901: Leon Czolgosz, Presidential Assassin.