22 July 1934 – The death of Dillinger and the Texas Death House escape.


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22 July 1934 is usually remembered for Public Enemy Number One John Dillinger, shot dead in an alley next to Chicago’s Biograph Theater. Betrayed by brothel-keeper Ana Cumpanas alias ‘Anna Sage,’ the notorious ‘woman in red’ whose dress that night was actually orange, Dillinger’s story finally ended in the traditional fashion.

Betrayed, ambushed, cornered and armed with only a.25-calibre Colt 1908 pocket pistol, Dillinger died in a hail of bullets. As one of America’s most legendary criminals died at the hands of J. Edgar Hoover’s equally-legendary ‘G-Men,’ another event that day was thoroughly overshadowed, the Texas Death House escape of 1934.

Wherever there are condemned prisoners there are people with nothing to lose. Convicts whose appeals have failed, whose lawyers have given up (if they could afford one) and who know the Governor won’t call are among the most dangerous prisoners to keep under lock and key. Until 1934 Texas…

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On This Day in 1945 – Pvt. George Edward Smith, on VE Day.


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VE (Victory in Europe)marked the official end of hostilities in the European theatre of operations and probably the largest, most joyous celebration in human history.Unless, of course, you happened to be formerUS Army Air ForcesPrivate George Edward Smith.

While most of the rest of the world basked in the joy of victory and the relief of the European war being over, Private Smith had a rather more pressing engagement to think about. The rest of the population might be about to enter a brave new world, but Smith was about to depart rather suddenly from the old one. It was his execution day.

Smith, previously serving atRAF Attlebridgein Norfolk with the US Air Force’s784th Bombardment Squadron, wouldn’t be celebrating the end of the European war. He’d be watching the clock tick relentlessly down to 1 a.m. when he’d be escorted from the Condemned…

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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 …

On This Day in 1890 -Martha Place, the first woman in the electric chair.


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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% of those executed have been female regardless of their crime. That isn’t to say that female killers are less brutal or cruel than their male counterparts although they are far rarer. They’re also far less likely to die even when a male co-defendant does.

Murderer Martha Place caused particular controversy not only for her gender but also the way she died. In 1890 William Kemmler became the first convict ever electrocuted. In 1899, nine years and forty-four male convicts later, Martha Place became New York’s 46th electrocution and the chair’s first female victim.

Born…

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On This Day in 1941, Abe ‘Kid Twist’ Reles does the Half-Moon Hop.


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On the night of November 12,
1941. Abe “Kid Twist” Reles, once a senior member of Murder Inc. and
now one of the most important canaries in American history, prepared a
makeshift ladder from the sixth floor of the Half Moon Hotel on Coney Island,
New York. He was in protective custody preparing to turn state’s evidence
against perhaps New York’s most vicious mobster, Albert ‘Lord High Executioner’
Anastasia.

The
rope supposedly snapped, plunging him six floors to his death. The most important
witness in the country at that time is dead and nobody can be blamed.
Or can they?
It’s unlikely, with the passing of time and those who really knew,
that the full story will ever be known. What is known is that the official
versions of events conflict. Some call it murder, others an accident, some call
it suicide. We’ll probably never know which.

According to godfather…

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Books, books, beautiful books.


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. 

On This Day in 1957: Albert Anastasia, New York’s ‘Lord High Executioner,’ Murdered.


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Anastasia, murdered while getting a shave at New York’s Park Sheraton Hotel, was and remains one of the most callous and murderous criminals in American history. An illegal immigrant who jumped ship in 1919, he also jumped into New York’s underworld. Born into poverty in Parghelia, Italy in 1920 he would die in 1957, rich beyond his wildest dreams and probably the most feared Mafioso of his time. That he died as he’d lived (violently and criminally) was no surprise. That he survived for so long having made so many enemies certainly is.

It didn’t take
Anastasia long to have a close brush with death, both somebody else’s and very
nearly his own. Illiterate, but tough and strong, Anastasia’s first job was as
a dock-worker. Low in pay and status (though not in the risk of injury on the
job) it was also short on perks other than the rampant…

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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 …

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