Meet Ray Hamilton, thief, armed robber, kidnapper, escape artist, murderer. He worked with Clyde Barrow as part of the infamous 'Bonnie & Clyde' Gang before his out-sized ego caused him to strike out on his own. By his execution in May, 1935 (at the tender age of 22) he'd racked up no less than 362 … Continue reading On This Day in 1935 – Raymond Hamilton, Depression Desperado and ‘Gentleman Bandit.’
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 former US Army Air Forces Private George Edward Smith. While most of the rest of the world basked in the joy of victory and the relief … Continue reading On This Day in 1945 – Pvt. George Edward Smith, on VE Day.
When Buchanan entered the condemned cells at Sing Sing he was probably a little embarrassed to finally meet the 'stupid amateur' and 'bungling fool' he'd so disastrously mocked. Buchanan had had the first laugh. Harris laughed last and longest, but had little time left to do it.
Whether South Carolina, bastion of tobacco country, will allow the traditional last cigarette before a firing squad is open to question. The condemned will likely smoke either way.
Seldom has a condemned convict made the cover of Time magazine, an honour usually reserved for more famous and less notorious individuals, but Caryl Whittier Chessman was no ordinary convict. Whether he really was California's notorious 'Red Light Bandit' is still debated today, decades after he entered the gas chamber at San Quentin. What could … Continue reading On This Day in 1960 – Caryl Chessman, the ‘Red Light Bandit,’ enters San Quentin’s ‘smokehouse.’
On August 6, 1890 Auburn Prison in upstate New York made history. William Kemmler, drunkard, vegetable-seller and killer, became the first prisoner to die in the electric chair. Bungled though it was (George Westinghouse remarked it could have been done better with an axe, Kemmler's chosen weapon) the era of 'electrical execution' had begun. Despite … Continue reading On This Day in 1916 – Charles Sprague, last man to die at Auburn Prison.
John Wesley Hardin. Jesse James. Cole Younger. “Curly” Bill Brocius. Gunslingers, killers, thieves and icons of the Wild West. Of all the Western outlaws none has quite the notoriety of “Billy the Kid.” Questionably accused of killing 21 men (one for each year of his short and violent life), Billy is as much a Wild … Continue reading On This Day in 1881, Billy the Kid cheats the hangman.
A free chapter from my forthcoming book 'Murders, Mysteries and Misdemeanors in Southern California.' “I’m ready. I’ve been ready for a long time.” – Louise Peete minutes before she died. Bienville Parish is in north-western Louisiana and its county seat is familiar from previous chapters, Arcadia. Bienville was the site of the ambush that … Continue reading On This Day in 1947 – Louise Peete, the ‘Belle of Bienville.’
Some are well-remembered, others long forgotten, but all have their own place in California's chronicles of crime.
“Death itself isn’t dreadful, but hanging seems an awkward way of ending the adventure…” – Gerald Chapman to his lawyers after being condemned to hang for murder in 1925. ‘Gerald Chapman’ was his favorite alias, but his real name was probably George Chartres. Given that records are sketchy and Chapman was always evasive about his youth, … Continue reading On This Day in 1926 – Gerald Chapman, America’s first ‘Public Enemy Number One.’