If the worst prisons are those we make for ourselves Thomas Tobin couldn't have constructed anywhere more hideous.
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.
22 July 1934 is usually remembered for Public Enemy Number One John Dillinger, shot dead in an alley next to Chicago's Biograph Theater. Betrayed by brothel-keeper Ana Cumpanas alias 'Anna Sage,' the notorious 'woman in red' whose dress that night was actually orange, Dillinger's story finally ended in the traditional fashion. Betrayed, ambushed, cornered and … Continue reading 22 July 1934 – The death of Dillinger and the Texas Death House escape.
"The crunch. The mounting whine and snarl of the generator. The man's lips peel back, the throat strains for a last desperate cry, the body arches against the restraining straps as the generator whines and snarls again, the features purple, steam and smoke rise from the bald spots on head and leg while he sick-sweet … Continue reading On This Day in 1964 – Joseph Johnson, Jr., the night they drove Old Sparky down.
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.
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.
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.
They had started with the obvious: alcohol. That should have been a simple, effective means of their victim destroying himself rather than the Trust taking the additional risk of actually murdering him. Insurance fraud was not a capital offence then or now; first-degree murder no longer is in New York State, but in 1932, it certainly was. The 1920s and 1930s was the busiest period for New York’s electric chair, averaging around twenty executions every year. If choosing Malloy was a bad idea, then actually murdering him was even worse.
He was no relation to notorious Satanist Aleister Crowley, but had more than a touch of the Devil in him just the same. Born in New York City on October 31, 1912 (fitting for someone as scary as him) he lasted only 19 years before walking his last mile at Sing Sing’s death house on … Continue reading On This Day in 1932 – Francis ‘Two-Gun’ Crowley,provided inspiration for James Cagney
Elmer Francis Burke to be exact, AKA ‘Trigger’ or ‘Machine Gun Burke’ due to his fondness for the Tommy gun. He was also fond of the double-barrelled shotgun, habitually carrying a .45 automatic as well. An extortionist and freelance hitman-for-hire, Burke had an extensive record even before joining the US Army Rangers to get early … Continue reading On This Day in 1958 – Elmer ‘Trigger’ Burke.