this day in crime history: august 23, 1927

On this date in 1927, Ferdinando Nicola Sacco (above right) and Bartolomeo Vanzetti (above left) were executed in the Massachusetts electric chair for an armed robbery that resulted in the deaths of a paymaster and a security guard. Controversy still rages to this day as to the guilt of the men, but their convictions have yet to be overturned.

Further reading:

The Sacco-Vanzetti Case

Wikipedia – Sacco and Vanzetti

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this day in crime history: august 14, 1936

Bethea

On this date in 1936, convicted rapist Rainey Bethea was executed by hanging in Owensboro, KY. In addition to the rape, Bethea also confessed to robbing and murdering his victim, 70 year old Lischia Edwards, but was never tried on those charges. A crowd of 20,000 people were on hand to witness the hanging. His hanging was the last public execution in the United States.

Further reading:

Wikipedia – Rainey Bethea

Murderpedia – Rainey Bethea

this day in crime history: august 8, 1962

EADmug

On this day in 1962, Elizabeth Ann “Ma” Duncan was executed in the gas chamber at California’s San Quentin prison. Duncan had been convicted in 1958 for conspiracy to commit murder. She had paid two men, Augustine Baldonado and Luis Moya, to kill her daughter-in-law, Olga Duncan. Olga was seven months pregnant at the time. The two killers beat and strangled her, then buried her in a shallow grave. According to the coroner, she was still alive when they buried her. The elder Mrs. Duncan’s motive was her fear that the impending birth of her grandchild threatened her incestuous relationship with her son.

Ma Duncan and her two henchmen were tried and convicted. They were all sentenced to death. Sentence was carried out for all three on August 8, 1962.  It was the last triple execution in California, and the last execution of a woman in the state before the US Supreme Court suspended capital punishment in 1972.

Further reading:

Murderpedia – Elizabeth Duncan

Los Angeles Times – The Case of a Mother’s Lethal Love

Wikipedia – Elizabeth Ann Duncan

this day in crime history: august 6, 1890

On this date in 1890, convicted murderer William Kemmler became the first person to be executed in the electric chair. A native of Buffalo, Kemmler was convicted in 1889 of the hatchet murder of his common law wife Tillie. He was sentenced by the court to die in the electric chair at Auburn State Prison.

The sentenced was immediately appealed by Kemmler’s high priced legal team, which was hired by George Westinghouse. Westinghouse feared that the association between alternating current and death would be bad for business (he had even attempted to prevent the prison from obtaining Westinghouse generators for use with the electric chair). The appeal was based on the 8th amendment to the Constitution, which forbids cruel and unusual punishment. Westinghouse testified at a hearing that death by electrocution would be exceptionally painful. Thomas Edison (a proponent of direct current) took the stand and testified that electrocution, if done with sufficient voltage, would be quick and relatively painless. The appeal was eventually denied, but Kemmler’s lawyers appealed to a higher court, which also denied it. By the time the appeal process was exhausted, Kemmler’s original execution warrant had expired. He was brought back to Buffalo for re-sentencing and his execution date was set for August 6, 1890.

On the morning of his execution, Kemmler ate a large breakfast. Prison staff shaved his head where one of the electrodes would make contact. Dressed in a new suit, he was led to the death chamber where the witnesses were assembled. As he was being strapped into the chair, he said, “Now take your time and do it all right, Warden. There is no rush.I don’t want to take any chances on this thing, you know.” Several minutes later, at the warden’s instruction, the switch was thrown by State Electrician Edwin Davis. Two thousand volts surged through Kemmler’s body for seventeen seconds. At that point, convinced he was dead, the command was given to cut the juice. It soon became apparent that Kemmler wasn’t dead. The decision was made to throw the switch again. This time, the electricity was left on for a minute. Witnesses reported hearing a crackling sound and smelling burning flesh. When the electricity was cut, the prison doctor examined Kemmler and declared him dead.

Further reading:

Crime Museum – Electrocution

NY Times article from August 7, 1890 – “Far worse than Hanging; Kemmler’s Death Proves an Awful Spectacle”

this day in crime history: july 7, 1865

hanged

On this day in 1865, four people convicted of participating in the conspiracy to assassinate President Abraham Lincoln were executed by hanging. The conspirators were Mary Surratt, Lewis Powell, David Herold, and George Atzerodt. Surratt was the first woman executed by the US federal government.

Further reading:

Famous American Trials – Trial of the Lincoln Assassination Conspirators

PBS – The Assassination of Abrahan Lincoln

Wikipedia – Assassination of Abraham Lincoln

this day in crime history: june 30, 1882

On this date in 1882, Charles J. Guiteau was hanged in the District of Columbia for the assassination of President James A. Garfield. Guiteau had shot Garfield on July 2nd of the previous year. Garfield lingered for two months, finally dying on September 19, 1881. The motive for the shooting: Guiteau was angry at the president for failing to offer him an ambassadorship as a reward for a pro-Garfield speech Guiteau wrote which almost no one heard or read. In short, the guy was a nut.

If Guiteau’s motive for the assassination isn’t proof enough of his nuttiness, his conduct at the trial was sure to seal the deal. He gave testimony in the form of epic poetry. He passed notes with spectators, often asking them for legal advice. He even publicly bad-mouthed his defense team during the trial (Hint: you should really wait until after you’ve been convicted before you start tossing brickbats at the people who are trying to save your skin). Guiteau was convicted on January 25, 1882 and sentenced to die.

Further reading:

The Assassination of James A. Garfield, By Robert Kingsbury

Wikipedia – Assassination of James A. Garfield

UMKC Law School – Last Words of Assassin Charles Guiteau

this day in crime history: june 11, 2001

McVeigh

On this date in 2001, Timothy McVeigh was executed by lethal injection at the US Penitentiary in Terre Haute, IN. McVeigh was sentenced to death for the 1995 bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City, OK in which 168 people were killed. McVeigh declined to give a final statement in the execution chamber. His last meal included two pints of mint chocolate chip ice cream.

Further reading:

This Day in Crime History: April 19, 1995

Wikipedia – Timothy McVeigh

FOX News – Timothy McVeigh Put to Death for Oklahoma City Bombing