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 1993 – David Mason, the last to enter California’s gas chamber.


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.

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.

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 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 1939 – Anton Myslevic, Theodore Maselkiewicz and Everett McDonald make their exit. Executioner Joseph Francel makes his entrance.


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.

On This Day 1920 – Alson Cole and Allen Grammer, Nebraska’s first electrocutions (and almost executioner John Hurlburt).


Nebraska isn’t a particularly hard-line state for capital punishment. Since achieving statehood in 1867 it has executed only 48 people; 14 by hanging, 23 by electrocution and one by lethal injection. Today we’re going to look at murderers Alson Cole and Allen Grammer, Nebraska’s first to be electrocuted and the only double execution since Nebraska … Continue reading On This Day 1920 – Alson Cole and Allen Grammer, Nebraska’s first electrocutions (and almost executioner John Hurlburt).

On This Day in 1920: Five face the chair at Sing Sing.


Normally Sing Sing’s electric chair, the legendary Old Sparky, accommodated single or double executions. Triples were less frequent, quadruples a rarity and very seldom did five convicts die on the same day. December 9 1920 was one of those days. State Electrician John Hurlburt (in the post since 1914) was firmly established as perhaps the … Continue reading On This Day in 1920: Five face the chair at Sing Sing.