Andy Warhol, John Paonessa, the Rosenbergs and Sing Sing’s notorious death house.
So, what links the icon of pop art, the atom spies Julius and Ethel Rosenberg and an almost-forgotten murderer named John Paonessa? Simple, the electric chair. Warhol used this image to create a series of coloured screenprints. Part of his recurring fascination with life’s dark side, Old Sparky was as famous as Warhol long before…
On This Day in 1942 – Toni Jo Henry, Louisiana’s first (and only) woman to be electrocuted.
Toni Jo Henry or, to use her proper name, Annie Beatrice McQuiston, holds a singular place in the criminal history of the State of Louisiana. Not even fellow Louisiana murderess Louise Peete (executed in California five years later) holds quite so individual a niche. They were both from Louisiana, were both murderers and both were executed but,…
On This Day in 1963 – Alcatraz is consigned to penal history.
Opened in August, 1934, the ‘United States Penitentiary, Alcatraz’ was born of high hopes and new ideas for confining and breaking America’s most serious offenders. It ended on this day in 1963 after less than thirty years amid acrimony, embarrassment, hypocrisy and a sense of failure among America’s penologists. It had been billed as ‘America’s…
Merle Haggard, James ‘Rabbit’ Kendrick, Caryl Chessman, Eddie Bunker and Johhny Cash.
Robbing a supermarket near Madera turned “Rabbit” into the “Safeway Bandit.” Already wanted for the escape, Kendrick racked up another ten felony charges in the two weeks he was at large. They ended with an eleventh charge—the first-degree murder of a police officer. The Safeway Bandit had become a cop-killer; soon, he would return to San Quentin a condemned cop-killer.
George Harsh – Great Escaper and the ‘Milwaukee Thrill Slayer.
Before George Rutherford Harsh, Jr. became a crucial member of the Great Escape he became the ‘Milwaukee Thrill Slayer,’ at least according to the Georgia newspapers. Shot down on a bombing raid over Cologne in 1943 while serving in the Royal Canadian Air Force and a confirmed troublemaker in the eyes of his guards, Harsh…
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…
Professor James Howard Snook, Ohio’s ‘Gold Medal Murderer.’
This is a particularly rare case, singular in fact. The case itself, a philandering husband murdering his illicit lover to protect his reputation, isn’t that unusual, unfortunately. An outwardly-respectable married man deciding to end an illicit affair, and then killing his mistress when she threatens to expose hit, is sadly all-too-common. It shouldn’t be, of…
South Carolina and the electric chair, a brief history.
With a shortage of lethal injection drugs and no lawful way to get them (using so-called ‘compound pharmacists’ is somewhat frowned on by the Food and Drug Administration), South Carolina has resorted to a choice between the firing squad and dusting off its electric chair. Still commonly called Old Sparky, the chair itself is over…
Charles Benjamin Ullmo, redeemed on Devil’s Island.
The dreaded ‘Penal Administration, French Guiana’ is far more associated with cruelty, inhumanity and death than with survival and redemption. That said, there were exceptions to the rule and disgraced French naval officer Charles Benjamin Ullmo is one of them. Condemned to Guiana for life after trying to ransom stolen military secrets, Ullmo didn’t look…