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.
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.
In today’s more enlightened times there’s nothing unusual about women serving on juries, but it wasn’t always so. British courts didn’t see female jurors until 1920. They were still a novelty on 13 January 1921 when three women joined a jury at Aylesbury. The defendant was one George Bailey. The charge was capital murder. The … Continue reading On This Day in 1921, George Bailey -Convicted by Britain’s first female jurors in a capital case.
Robert Greene Elliott, ‘Agent of Death’ for six US States. Meet Robert Greene Elliott. Family man, devout Methodist, Sunday school superintendent, electrical contractor and pipe smoker. He also personally executed 387 people (including 5 women) working as a freelance executioner for six US States. Elliott was (and remains) the most experienced ‘State Electrician’ in penal … Continue reading On This Day in 1927 – Robert Greene Elliott executes six men in two US States on the same day
Well, seeing as it’s New Year’s Eve and I’m feeling generous, here’s something especially unusual. It’s not often that a President and an executioner meet, especially on a professional basis. US President Grover Cleveland was a notable exception, although he performed his two hangings while Sheriff of Erie County long before entering the White House. … Continue reading A New Year’s Eve special – The President and the hangman.
Normally this time of year would be cause for celebration, a time of Christmas cheer and goodwill to all men. That wasn’t the case for Ethel Major who stood condemned for the murder of her husband Arthur. For her the previous couple of days had been spent sobbing and incoherent as she pondered her imminent … Continue reading On This Day in 1934, Ethel Lillie Major.