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.

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.

On This Day in 1908 and 1954 – Mary Rogers and Donald DeMag, Vermont’s First and Last 20th Century Executions.


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.

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.

The Broderick-Terry duel of 1859, the last notable duel in California.


The duel between US Senator David Broderick and David Terry, former Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court is a rollicking tale of friendship-turned-feud; politics, pistols, slavery and slander. Their duel on 13 September 1859 would have made a terrific historical novel or movie and still might. Duels over political disagreements, personal enmity and often … Continue reading The Broderick-Terry duel of 1859, the last notable duel in California.

On This Day in 1890 -Martha Place, the first woman in the electric chair.


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.

On This Day in 1932, Michael Malloy – The Man Who Would Not Die


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.

On This Day in 1932 – Francis ‘Two-Gun’ Crowley,provided inspiration for James Cagney


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

On This Day in 1958 – Elmer ‘Trigger’ Burke.


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.

On This Day in 1927 – Robert Greene Elliott executes six men in two US States on the same day


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