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.’

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.’

George Stinney, a stain on American justice.


The case of George Junius Stinney could easily be described as a stain on American justice, or the lack thereof. Stinney was executed in South Carolina’s electric chair in 1944 aged only 14, the youngest American to face execution in the 20th century. His confession was probably coerced, his trial a travesty of justice and his … Continue reading George Stinney, a stain on American justice.

On This Day in 1926 – Gerald Chapman, America’s first ‘Public Enemy Number One.’


“Death itself isn’t dreadful, but hanging seems an awkward way of ending the adventure…” – Gerald Chapman to his lawyers after being condemned to hang for murder in 1925. ‘Gerald Chapman’ was his favorite alias, but his real name was probably George Chartres. Given that records are sketchy and Chapman was always evasive about his youth, … Continue reading On This Day in 1926 – Gerald Chapman, America’s first ‘Public Enemy Number One.’

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 1951, the Lonely Hearts Killers pay the price.


8 March 1951 was an historic day at Sing Sing Prison. The death house had six pre-execution cells nicknamed the ‘Dance Hall. At 11:30am four were occupied by John King, Richard Powers, Raymond Fernandez and Martha Beck. By 11:30pm those cells were empty. Their occupants were all dead in New York’s last quadruple execution.    … Continue reading On This Day in 1951, the Lonely Hearts Killers pay the price.

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.

Virginia to abolish capital punishment.


On February 3 the Virginia State Senate voted 21 to 17 in favour of abolishing Virginia’s death penalty. Two days later the House of Delegates voted 57-41 to back repealing capital punishment in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Governor Ralph Northam has also indicated he will back the decision, remarking that “The practice is fundamentally inequitable. … Continue reading Virginia to abolish capital punishment.

Are Federal executions nearing their end..?


Between 1953 and 2003 the US Federal Government carried out fourteen executions. Since June 2020 it has carried out nine, most recently that of Brandon Bernard at Terre Haute Federal penitentiary in Indiana. Tonight (within hours at the time of writing) it intends to perform another (Alfred Bourgeois) and has another four scheduled before the … Continue reading Are Federal executions nearing their end..?