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.’
“Death itself isn’t dreadful, but hanging seems an awkward way of ending the adventure…” – Gerald Chapman to his lawyers after being condemned to hang for murder in 1925. ‘Gerald Chapman’ was his favorite alias, but his real name was probably George Chartres. Given that records are sketchy and Chapman was always evasive about his youth, … Continue reading On This Day in 1926 – Gerald Chapman, America’s first ‘Public Enemy Number One.’
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.
The gas chamber has long been America's most controversial, debatable, complicated and expensive way to execute its condemned. Since the world's first judicial gassing (Gee Jon in Nevada in 1924) it has been used by eleven states to execute hundreds of convicts. Serial killer David Mason was the 196th convict to enter California's chamber and … Continue reading On This Day in 1993 – David Mason, the last to enter California’s gas chamber.
"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.
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.
Not a tale of Christmas cheer, granted, but worth noticing all the same. Not only the debut of New York’s fourth and penultimate State Electrician, but Francel also arrived with what was known as a ‘triple hitter.’ That night three men would die at his hand, and for Francel it was only the beginning. On … Continue reading On This Day in 1939 – Anton Myslevic, Theodore Maselkiewicz and Everett McDonald make their exit. Executioner Joseph Francel makes his entrance.