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 … Continue reading South Carolina and the electric chair, a brief history.

On This Day in 1893 – Morphine murderer Carlyle Harris, his last mile and his last laugh.


When Buchanan entered the condemned cells at Sing Sing he was probably a little embarrassed to finally meet the 'stupid amateur' and 'bungling fool' he'd so disastrously mocked. Buchanan had had the first laugh. Harris laughed last and longest, but had little time left to do it.

On This Day in 1916 – Charles Sprague, last man to die at Auburn Prison.


On August 6, 1890 Auburn Prison in upstate New York made history. William Kemmler, drunkard, vegetable-seller and killer, became the first prisoner to die in the electric chair. Bungled though it was (George Westinghouse remarked it could have been done better with an axe, Kemmler's chosen weapon) the era of 'electrical execution' had begun. Despite … Continue reading On This Day in 1916 – Charles Sprague, last man to die at Auburn Prison.

On This Day in 1908- Chester Gillette, an American tragedy.


A free chapter from my book ‘Murders, Mysteries and Misdemeanors in New York,’ available now. Like it or not, some murders become an entity bigger and more lasting than themselves. Murderers have been seeking to rid themselves of inconvenient spouses, partners or ex-partners since murder existed, there’s nothing unusual about it. Seldom though does the murder of … Continue reading On This Day in 1908- Chester Gillette, an American tragedy.

Thomas Tobin and Sing Sing’s Death House, the prison he built for himself.


If the worst prisons are those we make for ourselves Thomas Tobin couldn't have constructed anywhere more hideous.

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 1890 -Martha Place, the first woman in the electric chair.


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 On This Day in 1890 -Martha Place, the first woman in the electric chair.

On This Day in 1932, Michael Malloy – The Man Who Would Not Die


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.

On This Day in 1932 – Francis ‘Two-Gun’ Crowley,provided inspiration for James Cagney


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

On This Day in 1958 – Elmer ‘Trigger’ Burke.


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.