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 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.

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.

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.

On This Day in 1908 and 1954 – Mary Rogers and Donald DeMag, Vermont’s First and Last 20th Century Executions.


Despite once being one of the most conservative states in the US, Vermont is seldom notable in the chronicles of crime. Unusually for so conservative a place it rarely used its death penalty before virtually abolishing it. To give readers some comparison Vermont had eight executions in the twentieth century while New York had 663 … Continue reading On This Day in 1908 and 1954 – Mary Rogers and Donald DeMag, Vermont’s First and Last 20th Century Executions.

1954, a mass break-out from Sing Sing’s Death House (almost) and Sing Sing’s last ‘triple-hitter.’


Rosario, believing he had done enough to catch the right eyes, awaited his clemency and heard nothing. There was no more ominous silence than when a Governor was considering clemency, it usually meant there wouldn't be any.

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.