Rufus ‘Whitey’ Franklin, the incorrigible’s incorrigible.


Today, Rufus Franklin ('Whitey' to his friends) is a name largely forgotten. In the South during the 1930's Franklin was a crook well-known the South's law enforcement and penal system alike. Born in Alabama in 1916 Franklin was the incorrigible's incorrigible, a crook so dedicated he would likely have never gone straight even if pardoned … Continue reading Rufus ‘Whitey’ Franklin, the incorrigible’s incorrigible.

Thomas Tobin and Sing Sing’s Death House, the prison he built for himself.


If the worst prisons are those we make for ourselves Thomas Tobin couldn't have constructed anywhere more hideous.

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.

22 July 1934 – The death of Dillinger and the Texas Death House escape.


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.

On This Day in 1964 – Joseph Johnson, Jr., the night they drove Old Sparky down.


"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.

Dwight Beard, a tale of two cities and (at least) two murders.


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.

US Federal Executions, a worrying new trend?


The recent Federal executions of three prisoners are both a rarity and perhaps the start of a worrying trend. While individual states have long been executing convicts within their own jurisdictions the Federal Government has historically been far more restrained. Historically speaking Uncle Sam usually hands out long sentences but seldom executes. The most recent, … Continue reading US Federal Executions, a worrying new trend?

On This Day in 1851 – Josefa ‘Juanita’ Segovia, rough justice or legal lynching?


  Present-day California is often seen as the most liberal, tolerant state in the Union. It‘s sold with images of sunshine, surfing, and hippies; a relaxed, easy-going kind of place where, within reason, anything goes. This is a fallacy. While 1967 might have been California’s ‘Summer of Love’ July of 1851 wasn’t. Certainly not for … Continue reading On This Day in 1851 – Josefa ‘Juanita’ Segovia, rough justice or legal lynching?

On This Day in 1934; Alcatraz officially opens.


b "We are looking forward to great things from Alcatraz." - Attorney-General Homer Cummings at the official opening in 1934. "Alcatraz was never no good for nobody." - Convict Frank Weatherman, Number AZ1576, the last convict admitted to The Rock, on its closure in 1963. Alcatraz is 85 years old today. At least it's 85 … Continue reading On This Day in 1934; Alcatraz officially opens.

On This Day in 1890; William Kemmler – The World’s First Legal Electrocution.


August 6, 1890 saw the dawn of a new age for criminal history. At Auburn Prison in upstate New York there was the execution.of one William Kemmler, condemned for murdering girlfriend Matilda Ziegler with a hatchet. There was nothing remarkable about Kemmler (an alcoholic vegetable hawker with a vicious temper) or about his crime. There … Continue reading On This Day in 1890; William Kemmler – The World’s First Legal Electrocution.