July 2, 1962 – Crash-out on Condemned Row (Almost).
July 2, 1962 was supposed to be a quiet day on San Quentin’s Condemned Row. Securely lodged on the top floor of North Block, California’s condemned were expecting a summer’s day as bleak, depressing and dull as any other. So were the Condemned Row officers whose job it was to keep them under control. With…
Major Raymond Lisenba, A.K.A. “Rattlesnake James.”
May 1, 1942, marked the end of an era in Californian crime. The execution of Major Raymond Lisenba was also the end of California’s gallows. Unused since 1938, the gallows had needed renovation before James’ execution. After four years using only the gas chamber, San Quentin’s former hangman had to remember how to prepare it.…
Lloyd Sampsell, California’s ‘Yacht Bandit.’
A free chapter from my latest book ‘Murders, Mysteries and Misdemeanors in Southern California,’ out now online and in bookstores. “I don’t know why this should bother me, but why in the hell should people be interested in what the condemned man ate for breakfast?” – Sampsell just before his execution. Lloyd Sampsell was…
Dallas Egan, a half-pint of whiskey (to the last drop).
Armed robber and murderer Dallas Egan was rather younger than Gardner when he died on the gallows in San Quentin’s ‘Hangman’s Hall.’ Courtesy of Governor James ‘Sunny Jim’ Rolph, Egan may well have been drunk as well. It was by Rolph’s order that Egan was plied with whiskey before his execution and it had…
On This Day in 1955 – Barbara ‘Bloody Babs’ Graham, John ‘Jack’ Santo and Emmett ‘The Weasel’ Perkins.
A free chapter from my latest book ‘Murders, Mysteries and Misdemeanors in Southern California.’ “Why waste good food on me? Give it to someone who can enjoy it.” – Barbara Graham on her last meal. The controversy around Barbara Graham’s case has long outlived Graham herself. Executed on June 3 1955 and California’s third…
Where South Carolina goes, Arizona follows. The gas chamber is back.
Not long ago the State of South Carolina chose to take a giant step backwards on the death penalty, reinstating the electric chair as a method and adding the firing squad as another alternative. A boycott on supplying drugs for lethal injection has seen several States try different drugs and different protocols to administer them.…
Old Sparky and the firing squad – South Carolina doubles down. Again.
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.
On This Day in 1960 – Caryl Chessman, the ‘Red Light Bandit,’ enters San Quentin’s ‘smokehouse.’
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…
On This Day in 1947 – Louise Peete, the ‘Belle of Bienville.’
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…