this day in crime history: september 16, 1920

On this date in 1920, an unidentified man stopped his horse-drawn cart in front of the J. P. Morgan building on Wall Street. He got down from the cart and disappeared into the noontime crowd. A short while later, a bomb consisting of dynamite and cast iron slugs detonated on the busy street. Thirty-eight people were killed and over four hundred were injured. Police conducted an exhaustive investigation that lasted over three years, but the case was never solved.

Further reading:

The “Previous Terror on Wall Street — A Look at a 1920 Bombing”

FBI: Terror on Wall Street

Wikipedia: “Wall Street bombing”


this day in crime history: september 10, 1931


On this date in 1931, mafia “Boss of Bosses” Salvatore Maranzano was shot and stabbed to death in his office in Manhattan. Maranzano, whose reign as top man of the American Mafia lasted only a few months, became just a little too power hungry to suit his fellow mafiosi. Maranzano became aware of this resentment and began making arrangements to eliminate those who would oppose him. But one ambitious young gangster – Charles “Lucky” Luciano – beat Maranzano to the punch and had him rubbed out first, thereby living up to one of the golden rules of organized crime: Do unto others before they do unto you.

Further reading:

National Crime Syndicate – How Did Salvatore Maranzano Get Killed?

Encyclopedia Britannica – Salvatore Maranzano

Find a Grave – Salvatore Maranzano

Wikipedia – Salvatore Maranzano

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 29, 1976


On this date in 1976, an unidentified man shot two women, 18 year old Donna Lauria and her friend, 19 year old Jody Valenti, while they sat in a car in the Bronx. Lauria died from her wounds, while Valenti survived. These were the first shootings attributed to the “.44 Caliber Killer,” who would later be known as the “Son of Sam.” A year and two days later, postal worker David Berkowitz would be arrested for the crime. Prior to being caught, Berkowitz would go on to kill five more victims and wound another six. Berkowitz was convicted of the crimes and is currently incarcerated at Shawangunk Correctional Facility in Fallsburg, NY. His next parole hearing is scheduled for May 2020.

Further reading:

Crime Museum – David Berkowitz | Son of Sam Killer – The Son of Sam

Wikipedia – David Berkowitz

this day in crime history: july 12, 1979

On this date in 1979, acting Bonanno crime family boss Carmine “The Cigar” Galante was murdered at a restaurant in Brooklyn. Galante, whose tenure as boss caused friction with the other New York crime families, had engineered the assassination of several Gambino family members in order to take over their narcotics trafficking business.

By the middle of 1979, the bosses of the other families agreed to have Galante killed. On July 12th, he was having lunch at a restaurant with Bonanno family members Leonard Coppola and Giuseppe Turano. Two Sicilian bodyguards stood watch as the men dined. As they finished lunch, three masked men walked up and opened fire with pistols and shotguns. Galante and his two companions were killed. The bodyguards, who took no action to protect Galante, were unharmed.

Further reading:

Wikipedia – Carmine Galante

FBI Records – Carmine Galante

this day in crime history: june 25, 1906


On this date in 1906, prominent architect Stanford White was shot and killed at the rooftop theater of Madison Square Garden. The shooter was Harry Kendall Thaw, of Pittsburgh. Thaw, the heir to a multimillion dollar fortune, held a grudge against White, whom he blamed for thwarting his efforts to achieve the respect of high society. White was also the former lover of Thaw’s wife, Evelyn Nesbit. Nesbit had been a popular model and chorus girl and was the inspiration for the movie The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing.

At trial, Thaw went with a temporary insanity defense (“temporary” probably being the only part that was exaggerated). The jury wound up deadlocked. At the second trial, Evelyn Nesbit took the stand and testified that Stanford White had abused her and that Thaw was just acting in her defense. She performed this task in exchange for the promise of a divorce and a million dollars from Thaw.  The jury found him not guilty by reason of insanity. Thaw received a sentence to the state mental hospital at Matteawan. Nesbit received her divorce, but not the money.

Thaw escaped from Matteawan in 1913 and fled to Canada. He was eventually apprehended and extradited to New York. After receiving a new trial, he was found sane and not guilty of murder. He was released from state custody in 1915.

Thaw was arrested again in 1916, this time for the abduction and sexual assault of 19 year old Frederick Gump (no relation to Forrest). He was found not guilty by reason of insanity (it’s like déjà vu all over again). In 1924, Thaw was judged sane and released from the asylum where he had been incarcerated.

Harry Thaw died of a heart attack in Florida in 1947. In his will, he left Evelyn Nesbit ten thousand dollars, about one percent of his estimated net worth.

Further reading:

Murderpedia – Harry Thaw

Wikipedia – Harry Kendall Thaw

IMDb – The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing

this day in crime history: june 3, 1968


On this date in 1968, writer Valerie Solanas, author of the SCUM Manifesto, began her 15 minutes of fame by shooting artist Andy Warhol in his New York City studio. Solanas also shot art critic Mario Amaya, and tried to shoot Warhol’s manager Fred Hughes, but was unable to do so due to a gun malfunction.

After the shooting, Solanas turned herself in to police and confessed to the shooting. Warhol and Amaya survived the shooting, and Solanas was charged with felony assault. After extensive evaluation in a psychiatric ward, Solanas was found fit to stand trial. She pleaded guilty and was sentenced to three years in prison, with credit for time served. She was released from prison in 1971.

After her release, Solanas periodically harassed Warhol by telephone. She was institutionalized several more times and died of pneumonia in 1988.

Further reading:

Wikipedia – Valerie Solanas

Chron – Andy Warhol’s near-fatal encounter with S.C.U.M.