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.
When Frank Rimieri and Adolph Koenig rode the lightning at Sing Sing on 20 February 1905 that was nothing unusual in itself. First used on William Kemmler on 6 August 1890, New York's electric chair was already seeing regular use. Single and double executions like this one were standard practice and New York, already enthralled … Continue reading Frank Rimieri, Adolph Koenig and Doctor Allan Mclane Hamilton – A dark day that cast a very long shadow…
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.
The recent Federal executions of three prisoners are both a rarity and perhaps the start of a worrying trend. While individual states have long been executing convicts within their own jurisdictions the Federal Government has historically been far more restrained. Historically speaking Uncle Sam usually hands out long sentences but seldom executes. The most recent, … Continue reading US Federal Executions, a worrying new trend?
“The sooner I can cash in my chips the better, as it will save me a lot of trouble and unhappiness.” Jacob Oppenheimer after receiving his death sentence. Caged tigers are solitary, predatory creatures. Constantly pacing their cages, they can inflict violence, disfigurement and death in a split second without as much as a second’s … Continue reading On This Day in 1913 – Jacob Oppenheimer, California’s ‘Human Tiger.’
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.
It’s quite unlikely that many people, even DC residents, remember cop-killer Robert Carter. Arrested for murdering police officer George Cassels on 11 July 1953, Carter was never likely to win clemency from the courts or from the President who had sole pardoning authority within the District of Columbia. On 27 April 1957 Carter … Continue reading On This Day in 1957 – Robert Eugene ‘Bobby’ Carter, last man executed in Washington D.C.
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.