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 … Continue reading Lloyd Sampsell, California’s ‘Yacht Bandit.’

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 … Continue reading Dallas Egan, a half-pint of whiskey (to the last drop).

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 … Continue reading Professor James Howard Snook, Ohio’s ‘Gold Medal Murderer.’

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.

Charles Benjamin Ullmo, redeemed on Devil’s Island.


The dreaded 'Penal Administration, French Guiana' is far more associated with cruelty, inhumanity and death than with survival and redemption. That said, there were exceptions to the rule and disgraced French naval officer Charles Benjamin Ullmo is one of them. Condemned to Guiana for life after trying to ransom stolen military secrets, Ullmo didn't look … Continue reading Charles Benjamin Ullmo, redeemed on Devil’s Island.

On This Day in 1954 – Ian Grant and Kenneth Gilbert, the last double hanging in Britain.


So, it's to London's notorious Pentonville Prison we go for an historic event in British penal history. Hangings in themselves were nothing unusual, although by 1954 (only a year or so after the wrongful execution of Derek Bentley at Wandsworth) they were becoming increasingly rare events. Double hangings were becoming especially unusual, the days when … Continue reading On This Day in 1954 – Ian Grant and Kenneth Gilbert, the last double hanging in Britain.

Sing Sing’s Death House – 1891 to 1963.


Sing Sing. The name alone implies bad conditions, violence, fear, poor food, hard labour, harder punishments, misery and death. Even the name itself suits a prison, coming from the Native American phrase ‘Sinck Sinck’ meaning ‘Stone upon stone.’ Movie fans may remember James Cagney’s ‘Angels with Dirty Faces’ where screen gangster ‘Rocky Sullivan’ (inspired by … Continue reading Sing Sing’s Death House – 1891 to 1963.

Michael Manning – Last to hang in the Irish Republic.


Michael Manning was the last prisoner executed in the Republic of Ireland, ending a centuries-old tradition of executions in the Emerald Isle and another tradition of their being performed almost entirely by British executioners. Michael Manning’s case was the last time a group of officials would assemble at Dublin’s Mountjoy Prison at 8am in the … Continue reading Michael Manning – Last to hang in the Irish Republic.

On This Day in 1935 – Raymond Hamilton, Depression Desperado and ‘Gentleman Bandit.’


Meet Ray Hamilton, thief, armed robber, kidnapper, escape artist, murderer. He worked with Clyde Barrow as part of the infamous 'Bonnie & Clyde' Gang before his out-sized ego caused him to strike out on his own. By his execution in May, 1935 (at the tender age of 22) he'd racked up no less than 362 … Continue reading On This Day in 1935 – Raymond Hamilton, Depression Desperado and ‘Gentleman Bandit.’

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.