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.
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.
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.
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?
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?
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.
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.
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?
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.
“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.’