July 2, 1962 – Crash-out on Condemned Row (Almost).
July 2, 1962 was supposed to be a quiet day on San Quentin’s Condemned Row. Securely lodged on the top floor of North Block, California’s condemned were expecting a summer’s day as bleak, depressing and dull as any other. So were the Condemned Row officers whose job it was to keep them under control. With…
Major Raymond Lisenba, A.K.A. “Rattlesnake James.”
May 1, 1942, marked the end of an era in Californian crime. The execution of Major Raymond Lisenba was also the end of California’s gallows. Unused since 1938, the gallows had needed renovation before James’ execution. After four years using only the gas chamber, San Quentin’s former hangman had to remember how to prepare it.…
February 9, 1934 – Ten men, four states, nine electrocutions and a hanging.
It’s a sad and well-documented fact that America’s death penalty has often been applied as much over race and poverty as guilt or innocence. All too often those without the capital, be it social or financial, get the punishment. Seldom has that been more obvious than on February 9, 1934. The mid-1930’s were halcyon days…
Andy Warhol, John Paonessa, the Rosenbergs and Sing Sing’s notorious death house.
So, what links the icon of pop art, the atom spies Julius and Ethel Rosenberg and an almost-forgotten murderer named John Paonessa? Simple, the electric chair. Warhol used this image to create a series of coloured screenprints. Part of his recurring fascination with life’s dark side, Old Sparky was as famous as Warhol long before…
On This Day in 1942 – Toni Jo Henry, Louisiana’s first (and only) woman to be electrocuted.
Toni Jo Henry or, to use her proper name, Annie Beatrice McQuiston, holds a singular place in the criminal history of the State of Louisiana. Not even fellow Louisiana murderess Louise Peete (executed in California five years later) holds quite so individual a niche. They were both from Louisiana, were both murderers and both were executed but,…
Merle Haggard, James ‘Rabbit’ Kendrick, Caryl Chessman, Eddie Bunker and Johhny Cash.
Robbing a supermarket near Madera turned “Rabbit” into the “Safeway Bandit.” Already wanted for the escape, Kendrick racked up another ten felony charges in the two weeks he was at large. They ended with an eleventh charge—the first-degree murder of a police officer. The Safeway Bandit had become a cop-killer; soon, he would return to San Quentin a condemned cop-killer.
Lloyd Sampsell, California’s ‘Yacht Bandit.’
A free chapter from my latest book ‘Murders, Mysteries and Misdemeanors in Southern California,’ out now online and in bookstores. “I don’t know why this should bother me, but why in the hell should people be interested in what the condemned man ate for breakfast?” – Sampsell just before his execution. Lloyd Sampsell was…
Dallas Egan, a half-pint of whiskey (to the last drop).
Armed robber and murderer Dallas Egan was rather younger than Gardner when he died on the gallows in San Quentin’s ‘Hangman’s Hall.’ Courtesy of Governor James ‘Sunny Jim’ Rolph, Egan may well have been drunk as well. It was by Rolph’s order that Egan was plied with whiskey before his execution and it had…
Professor James Howard Snook, Ohio’s ‘Gold Medal Murderer.’
This is a particularly rare case, singular in fact. The case itself, a philandering husband murdering his illicit lover to protect his reputation, isn’t that unusual, unfortunately. An outwardly-respectable married man deciding to end an illicit affair, and then killing his mistress when she threatens to expose hit, is sadly all-too-common. It shouldn’t be, of…
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…