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.
To mark the release of my third book 'Murders, Mysteries and Misdemeanors in Southern California,' here's a criminal classic from my files. Look at the photograph and ask yourself ‘What kind of man was he?’ Handsome? Attractive? Smartly dressed? Perhaps very plausible to anyone who didn’t know him very well? Maybe he looks superficially charming … Continue reading On This Day in 1917 – Dr. Arthur Warren Waite, the ‘Playboy Poisoner.’
On August 6, 1890 Auburn Prison in upstate New York made history. William Kemmler, drunkard, vegetable-seller and killer, became the first prisoner to die in the electric chair. Bungled though it was (George Westinghouse remarked it could have been done better with an axe, Kemmler's chosen weapon) the era of 'electrical execution' had begun. Despite … Continue reading On This Day in 1916 – Charles Sprague, last man to die at Auburn Prison.
Despite once being one of the most conservative states in the US, Vermont is seldom notable in the chronicles of crime. Unusually for so conservative a place it rarely used its death penalty before virtually abolishing it. To give readers some comparison Vermont had eight executions in the twentieth century while New York had 663 … Continue reading On This Day in 1908 and 1954 – Mary Rogers and Donald DeMag, Vermont’s First and Last 20th Century Executions.
If the worst prisons are those we make for ourselves Thomas Tobin couldn't have constructed anywhere more hideous.
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 On This Day in 1890 -Martha Place, the first woman in the electric chair.
They had started with the obvious: alcohol. That should have been a simple, effective means of their victim destroying himself rather than the Trust taking the additional risk of actually murdering him. Insurance fraud was not a capital offence then or now; first-degree murder no longer is in New York State, but in 1932, it certainly was. The 1920s and 1930s was the busiest period for New York’s electric chair, averaging around twenty executions every year. If choosing Malloy was a bad idea, then actually murdering him was even worse.
He was no relation to notorious Satanist Aleister Crowley, but had more than a touch of the Devil in him just the same. Born in New York City on October 31, 1912 (fitting for someone as scary as him) he lasted only 19 years before walking his last mile at Sing Sing’s death house on … Continue reading On This Day in 1932 – Francis ‘Two-Gun’ Crowley,provided inspiration for James Cagney
Elmer Francis Burke to be exact, AKA ‘Trigger’ or ‘Machine Gun Burke’ due to his fondness for the Tommy gun. He was also fond of the double-barrelled shotgun, habitually carrying a .45 automatic as well. An extortionist and freelance hitman-for-hire, Burke had an extensive record even before joining the US Army Rangers to get early … Continue reading On This Day in 1958 – Elmer ‘Trigger’ Burke.
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