On This Day in 1959; Elmer Brunner, the last execution in West Virginia.

Crime Scribe


West Virginia has never been known as a hard-line death penalty State, abolishing capital punishment in 1965. After 1899 there were 104 hangings and, with a change in method, nine electrocutions. Elmer Brunner’s, on April 3, 1959 was the last.

Brunner wasn’t a notable murderer in himself. His crime, murdering homeowner  Ruby Miller, was and remains all-too-typical. Miller had disturbed him while he was burgling her home in Huntington on on May 27, 1957. According to Brunner’s version, she’d disturbed him with a shotgun. Beating her to death with a claw hammer, he said, was an act of self-defence.

Not surprisingly, neither judge or jury bought that defence, especially not from an ex-convict. Arrested on the same day,  Brunner’s trial began in the week of June 28, 1957. Before a packed courtroom he was convicted with no recommendation for mercy. His execution date was set for August 2, only a…

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San Quentin, Doil Miller and Alfred Dusseldorf – Justice? Or just law?

At San Quentin 7 March 1952 dawned grey and cold, not unusual for the area. The prison’s inmates, then nearly two thousand strong, knew that day was unusual. Two of their number, Miller and Dusseldorf, were to die at 10am that morning for a robbery and murder committed in Alameda in 1949. As they sat … Continue reading San Quentin, Doil Miller and Alfred Dusseldorf – Justice? Or just law?

Martha Place – The first woman in the electric chair.

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.

Justice denied in Colorado; Joe Arridy visits ‘Roy’s Penthouse.’

“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.’

On This Day in 1921, George Bailey -Convicted by Britain’s first female jurors in a capital case.

Crime Scribe

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 penalty, should Bailey be convicted, was death by hanging.

Bailey was charged with poisoning his wife Kate at their home in late-September, 1920. An accompanying charge of trying to rape female lodge Lillian Marks on the night of September 29 was dropped. It was then standard practice that defendants facing multiple charges including murder would face only a single murder charge. The crime was so serious (and the penalty so severe) that it was considered unfair to inflict multiple charges on the same defendant. Besides, with a mandatory death sentence for murder lesser sentences were…

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On This Day in 1932, Michael Malloy – The Man Who Would Not Die

They had started with the obvious: alcohol. That should have been a simple, effective means of their victim destroying himself rather than the Trust taking the additional risk of actually murdering him. Insurance fraud was not a capital offence then or now; first-degree murder no longer is in New York State, but in 1932, it certainly was. The 1920s and 1930s was the busiest period for New York’s electric chair, averaging around twenty executions every year. If choosing Malloy was a bad idea, then actually murdering him was even worse.

On This Day in 1927 – Paul Hilton, Antonio Paretti and the finale of the Mafia-Camorra War.

Double executions were no rarity at Sing Sing, especially in the 1920’s. The Jazz Age saw an unprecedented number of men (and a few women), 125, walk their last mile in the Empire State. That trend would peak in the 1930’s (153) before decreasing in the 1940’s (114), continuing to drop in the 1950’s (55). … Continue reading On This Day in 1927 – Paul Hilton, Antonio Paretti and the finale of the Mafia-Camorra War.