Dwight Beard, a tale of two cities and (at least) two murders.


Unlike in Dickens' classic novel Dwight Beard did not go to the guillotine as an act of redemption. The nobility so prized by Dickens (himself opposed to capital punishment) simply wasn't in Beard's nature. On 4 June 1937 he sat in the 'Texas Thunderbolt' at Huntsville, riding the lightning for a murder during one of … Continue reading Dwight Beard, a tale of two cities and (at least) two murders.

US Federal Executions, a worrying new trend?


The recent Federal executions of three prisoners are both a rarity and perhaps the start of a worrying trend. While individual states have long been executing convicts within their own jurisdictions the Federal Government has historically been far more restrained. Historically speaking Uncle Sam usually hands out long sentences but seldom executes. The most recent, … Continue reading US Federal Executions, a worrying new trend?

On This Day in 1959 – The curious case of Ralph Dawkins.


When Ralph Dawkins and Jackson Turner became the 602nd and 603rd prisoners executed at Sing Sing it was probably to Dawkins' immense surprise. Condemned by Judge McGrattan at the Queens County Court of robbery-murder on December 27 1957, Dawkins at least had some small shred of hope. Or so he thought.

On This Day in 1913 – Jacob Oppenheimer, California’s ‘Human Tiger.’


“The sooner I can cash in my chips the better, as it will save me a lot of trouble and unhappiness.” Jacob Oppenheimer after receiving his death sentence. Caged tigers are solitary, predatory creatures. Constantly pacing their cages, they can inflict violence, disfigurement and death in a split second without as much as a second’s … Continue reading On This Day in 1913 – Jacob Oppenheimer, California’s ‘Human Tiger.’

On This Day in 1851 – Josefa ‘Juanita’ Segovia, rough justice or legal lynching?


  Present-day California is often seen as the most liberal, tolerant state in the Union. It‘s sold with images of sunshine, surfing, and hippies; a relaxed, easy-going kind of place where, within reason, anything goes. This is a fallacy. While 1967 might have been California’s ‘Summer of Love’ July of 1851 wasn’t. Certainly not for … Continue reading On This Day in 1851 – Josefa ‘Juanita’ Segovia, rough justice or legal lynching?

Murders, Mysteries and Misdemeanors in Northern California, out on August 28.


Hello there. It’s been a while since I last posted, but I’ve been busy on the second of three books for Fonthill's 'America Through Time' series. This Rogues Gallery features sixteen of Northern California's most wanted (and most interesting). Some are famous, some are not, but all have their own particular importance. Home to San … Continue reading Murders, Mysteries and Misdemeanors in Northern California, out on August 28.

RIP Jerry Givens, former Virginia executioner-turned-abolitionist.


  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.

On This Day in 1957 – Robert Eugene ‘Bobby’ Carter, last man executed in Washington D.C.


    It’s quite unlikely that many people, even DC residents, remember cop-killer Robert Carter. Arrested for murdering police officer George Cassels on 11 July 1953, Carter was never likely to win clemency from the courts or from the President who had sole pardoning authority within the District of Columbia. On 27 April 1957 Carter … Continue reading On This Day in 1957 – Robert Eugene ‘Bobby’ Carter, last man executed in Washington D.C.

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


Crime Scribe

elmer-brunner

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?