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,…
Murder in Coweta County
Unknown to many, Wallace wa not the only prisoner to die that November day. Jimmie Richardson also had a date with the State Electrician, but even contemorary accounts rarely mention him. The reasons are depressingly simple. Convicted in June, 1950 of murdering his ex-partner, Richardson was African-American, poor and lacked the social status and expensive…
On This Day in 1963 – Alcatraz is consigned to penal history.
Opened in August, 1934, the ‘United States Penitentiary, Alcatraz’ was born of high hopes and new ideas for confining and breaking America’s most serious offenders. It ended on this day in 1963 after less than thirty years amid acrimony, embarrassment, hypocrisy and a sense of failure among America’s penologists. It had been billed as ‘America’s…
Dark River : The Bloody Reign Of The Ohio River Pirates
Dark River tells a fascinating, and not well known, story of an age of the Western frontier (1770-1850). Social pressures spurred on by rapid western expansion and years of warfare became the breeding ground for violence. This atmosphere brought about the creation of a unique type of person. Those who would use the Ohio River…
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.
George Harsh – Great Escaper and the ‘Milwaukee Thrill Slayer.
Before George Rutherford Harsh, Jr. became a crucial member of the Great Escape he became the ‘Milwaukee Thrill Slayer,’ at least according to the Georgia newspapers. Shot down on a bombing raid over Cologne in 1943 while serving in the Royal Canadian Air Force and a confirmed troublemaker in the eyes of his guards, Harsh…