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 … Continue reading On This Day in 1960 – Caryl Chessman, the ‘Red Light Bandit,’ enters San Quentin’s ‘smokehouse.’

William Frederick Horry – England’s first ‘long drop’ hanging.


His name isn’t going to ring any bells with many readers, I know, but Horry (an otherwise unexceptional murderer) occupies a singular place in the chronicles of crime. Horry met, fell in love with and married wife (and victim) Jane in 1866 and the couple went on to run a hotel together in Burslem, Staffordshire … Continue reading William Frederick Horry – England’s first ‘long drop’ hanging.

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 … Continue reading On This Day in 1947 – Louise Peete, the ‘Belle of Bienville.’

On This Day in 1936 – George ‘Diamond King’ Barrett, first to die for murdering a Federal agent.


Barrett is certainly a criminal curiosity. His life was one of crime and allegedly several murders. The murder for which he finally died gave him an unwilling place in the chronicles of American crime, though he was hardly appreciated becoming one of history’s footnotes. So why did he hang in a state which had long … Continue reading On This Day in 1936 – George ‘Diamond King’ Barrett, first to die for murdering a Federal agent.

On This Day in 1873 – John Gaffney hanged by future President Grover Cleveland.


A free chapter from 'Murders, Mysteries and Misdemeanors in New York.' Grover Cleveland is seldom regarded as an exceptional US President. He wasn’t universally despised (although often deeply unpopular) but not universally admired either. In short, he was a safe and unspectacular pair of hands. He does have one singular attribute setting him apart from … Continue reading On This Day in 1873 – John Gaffney hanged by future President Grover Cleveland.

On This Day in 1908 and 1954 – Mary Rogers and Donald DeMag, Vermont’s First and Last 20th Century Executions.


Despite once being one of the most conservative states in the US, Vermont is seldom notable in the chronicles of crime. Unusually for so conservative a place it rarely used its death penalty before virtually abolishing it. To give readers some comparison Vermont had eight executions in the twentieth century while New York had 663 … Continue reading On This Day in 1908 and 1954 – Mary Rogers and Donald DeMag, Vermont’s First and Last 20th Century Executions.

1954, a mass break-out from Sing Sing’s Death House (almost) and Sing Sing’s last ‘triple-hitter.’


Rosario, believing he had done enough to catch the right eyes, awaited his clemency and heard nothing. There was no more ominous silence than when a Governor was considering clemency, it usually meant there wouldn't be any.

On This Day in 1925 – John Hurlburt performs his last execution. ‘Yellow Charleston’ has his last dance.


A few years ago I covered the story of John Hurlburt, New York's second 'State Electrician.' Trained by predecessor Edwin Davis, Hurlburt executed 140 prisoners during his tenure. Hurlburt's official debut was executing George Coyer and Giuseppe DeGoia at Auburn Prison on August 31 1914. Unofficially he had already executed prisoners under Davis's supervision. As … Continue reading On This Day in 1925 – John Hurlburt performs his last execution. ‘Yellow Charleston’ has his last dance.

On This Day in 1993 – David Mason, the last to enter California’s gas chamber.


The gas chamber has long been America's most controversial, debatable, complicated and expensive way to execute its condemned. Since the world's first judicial gassing (Gee Jon in Nevada in 1924) it has been used by eleven states to execute hundreds of convicts. Serial killer David Mason was the 196th convict to enter California's chamber and … Continue reading On This Day in 1993 – David Mason, the last to enter California’s gas chamber.