Archive for April, 2009

Execution of the Day – 2009 (part 18)

Posted in Death penalty with tags , , on April 30 by Last Writes

Daylight robbery is the theme for this week’s bunch of unsavouries. Well, that and someone’s head catching fire, of course.

Whether it’s life insurance scams or highway robberies, money is the overarching word of the week.

For a long time in England, the crime of stealing money was a hanging offence. But that didn’t stop it being a popular crime too. And seeing as so many people were being strung up, London created its very own permanent scaffold named the Tyburn Tree.

You’ve probably already equated Tyburn with the demise of around 40,000 to 60,000 ne’er-do-wells through four centuries (1388 to 1783), but have you ever wondered how the site got its name?

It turns out that Tyburn was a tributary that flanked Thorney Island along with its source – the Thames. You may know that as the site where Westminster Cathedral and the Houses of Parliament are built.

The Tyburn has since been built over, but it is still said to flow under Marylebone Lane.

But the big legacy was the tree and it was no ordinary tree. Actually, it wasn’t a tree at all, but a man-made structure comprising a triangle atop three sturdy posts, which was erected in 1571.

And boy could they bang out the executions using that contraption. You could get a number of hangings done in the one go, thanks to the size of the ‘tree’.

In fact, watching executions was a bit of a crowd-pleaser in days gone by. With no telly, Wiis or PS3s to pass the time, a job-lot of hangings could really pull in the punters.


Famous writers through history have captured the moments, such as diarist Samuel Pepys. And by all accounts there was festival-like feel to watching a felon fest meet its untimely demise.

The problem was where it stood – slap bang in the heart of London. Many say it’s where near where Marble Arch is.

But it’s days wer numbered. The events were way too popular and on execution day, this handy route in London came to a standstill, much like Marble Arch today.

So the law enforcers were forced to relocate to Newgate in a bid to minimise the congestion.

But we digress. You’re probably more interested in who’s head caught fire, so feel free to read on…

marilyn-plantz1 May 2001 – Marilyn Plantz Life insurance provided the incentive for today’s criminal – all $300,000 of it.

It was this tidy sum that drove Marilyn Kay Plantz to arrange for her husband to be killed, which earned her the death penalty.

caryl-chessman 2 May 1960 – Caryl Chessman Cloning a police car’s search light was key to Caryl Whittier Chessman’s spate of rape ‘n’ robbery hold-ups.

And this earned him the nickname ‘Red Light Bandit’.

3 May 1934 – Reginald Hinks Bored of waiting for his father-in-law to pop his clogs, Reginald Hinks staged the man’s suicide to speed things along instead.

jesse-tafero 4 May 1990 – Jesse Tafero With six-inch flames – it’s easy to see how Old Sparky earned its nickname.

But it was the fact that cop-killing Jesse Tafero’s head caught fire that was enough to brand the electric chair inhumane.

5 May 1804 – Joseph Brown Robberies on the highways on England were rife in the early 19th century. And the penalty for such crimes was death, so Joseph Brown found out today in 1804.

6 May 1902 – George Woolfe The last ever hanging at Newgate took place today in 1902. And the dubious honour went to George Woolfe who was strung up for murder.

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Execution of the Day – 2009 (Part 17)

Posted in Death penalty with tags , , , on April 23 by Old Sparky

23 April 1913 – Walter Sykes
A double murderer was strung up today in 1913. Wakefield saw a 24-year-old swing for his crimes. Walter Sykes was sentenced to death for murdering Amy Collinson and Frances Nicholson.

24 April 1946 – Martin Coffey
Criminals seemed to be getting younger and younger in the mid-’30s and ’40s. Another 24-year-old was gallows bound on this day in 1946. Martin Coffey was hanged in Manchester for murdering Henry Dutton.

edward-devlin25 April 1952 – Edward Devlin and Alfred Burns
Controversy shrouds today’s duo, both of whom were hanged in 1952 for murder. But did they do it? Alfred Burns and Edward Devlin (pictured left) were a couple of Mancunian mates, who’d chalked up a whole heap of crimes between them before they were done for torturing and bludgeoning a woman to death in her own home.

alton-coleman26 April 2002 – Alton Coleman
A disorganised serial killer – that was how Alton Coleman was described. An American murderer, who was not fussy who he targeted, was had up for killing four adults and four children. Of course his targets may have seemed indiscriminate, but there were observers who believed he was a racist who targeted fellow black individuals.

27 April 1927 – William Knighton
If you killed someone, you’d know it, wouldn’t you? Well, not according to William Knighton. First Knighton said he killed his mum, then he thought he hadn’t. But, whichever his story, it was all looking decidedly dodgy.

benito-amilcare-andrea-muss28 April 1945 – Benito Mussolini
There’s nothing like a fascist dictator to really wind people up. And Benito Amilcare Andrea Mussolini wound the Italians up to such an extent there was a real hate campaign against him by the end.

david-m-brewer29 April 2003 – David M Brewer
It’s one thing to covet your mate’s wife, but it’s entirely different to abduct her, rape her and kill her in cold blood. That’s what David Brewer was found guilty of and executed for in 2003.

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Execution of the Day – 2009 (Part 16)

Posted in Death penalty with tags , , on April 16 by Old Sparky

16 April 1920 – Miles McHugh
You’d think dumping a girl would be far easier than bumping her off. Not for 32-year-old Miles McHugh.

17 April 1917 – William Robinson
A 26-year-old was gallows bound on this day in 1917. William Robinson was hanged at Pentonville for murdering his victim, Alfred Williams.

wilhelm-von-grumbach18 April 1567 – Wilhelm von Grumbach
Grumbach, what a great name… So it’s a shame he was dismembered on this day in 1567. As personalities go, Wilhelm von Grumbach was pretty special. A knight and an adventurer by trade, he was to become a hapless pawn in the power struggle between the Church and the ruling classes in Germany.

john-martin-scripps19 April 1996 – John Martin Scripps
John Martin Scripps redefined obnoxious Brit abroad after he was hanged for murder in Singapore. A butcher by trade, he used his profession to grisly ends after he targeted three people in the Far East. Amazingly they were all foreigners like him. But that was all part of the grand plan.

abdullah-shah20 April 2004 – Abdullah Shah
Such was Abdullah Shah’s belief in his cause that his animosity spilled over into his private life. He was even prepared to kill his wife. And for that he was executed on this day in 2004. A true Taliban hardliner, Shah was found guilty of killing more than 20 people. He was part of a team headed up by a commander by the name of Zardad.

robert-alton-harris21 April 1992 – Robert Alton Harris
The gas chamber marked California’s return to the death penalty in 1992 – the first execution for over 25 years and certainly since the sentence was reinstated in 1976. It was the dubious honour of callous killer Robert Alton Harris to christen the noxious enclosure, after he was found guilty of the senseless murder of two young lads.

22 April 1983 – John Louis Evans
‘Yellow Mama’ got an outing on this day in 1983 with electrifying effects. We are, of course, talking about Alabama’s home-made electric chair, which was used for the first time in nearly 20 years on John Louis Evans. The chair had been made in 1927 by a former inmate at Holman Prison and it was probably past its best as Evans shockingly found out.

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Execution of the Day – 2009 (Part 15)

Posted in Death penalty with tags , , on April 9 by Old Sparky

simon-fraser-lord-lovat9 April 1747 – Simon Fraser, Lord Lovat
A Scottish toff put his neck on the block in the mid-18th century after being found guilty of treason. Simon Fraser, Lord Lovat was the last person to be executed at Tower Hill after he was sentenced for a string of crimes.

10 April 1917 – Alec Bakerlis
As if there wasn’t enough bloodshed with a war on, a 24-year-old lost his life today in 1917. Alec Bakerlis was sent to the gallows in Cardiff for wiping out his girlfriend, Winifred Ellen Fortt.

louise-peete11 April 1947 – Louise Peete
A Southern belle, who could have given Scarlett O’Hara a run for her money, was planted in the gas chamber today in 1947. Brought up in the heart of Louisiana, Louise Peete was executed for murder following a life devoted to the lusty pursuit of sex and money, which was to take her all over America.

12 April 1999 – Marion Albert Pruett
A $4,000 coke habit – that’s apparently what fuelled mass murderer Marion Albert Pruett’s lethal spree. He even went as far as to call himself a ‘mad-dog killer’ for his actions. Pruett’s murderous activities took place in 1981 and his victims included his common-law wife Pamela Sue Barker in New Mexico, who he hammered to death, then set light to in a bid to burn the evidence.

13 April 1920 – Frederick Rothwell Holt
An ex-World War I soldier put his crime down to post-traumatic stress disorder, but he still ended up on the gallows. Lieutenant Frederick Rothwell Holt had murdered his girlfriend, then tried to plead insanity. But there was a huge question of a £5,000 life insurance policy hanging over the case…

richard-hickock-and-perry-s14 April 1965 – Richard Hickock and Perry Smith
There are only so many times you can elude death and for Perry Smith, it was third time unlucky after he was executed for murder along with his mate Richard HIckock on a rainy day in April 1965. And had it not been for a fellow felon, they may even have got away with their crimes.

fritz-haarmann15 April 1925 – Fritz Haarmann
The Germans may like their meat. But maybe not in Hanover in the early 1920s, when a shed load of male prostitutes and down-and-outs were rumoured to have made it on to the menus.

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Execution of the Day – 2009 (Part 14)

Posted in Death penalty with tags , , on April 2 by Old Sparky

There’s a big week coming up.

It seems fitting that in the run-up to Easter, we’re featuring a certain main man who came a-cropper on a cross. Ok so he was resurrected as the story goes, which begs the question, does Christ strictly qualify to be on Execution of the Day? Well maybe not, but the others certainly do.

Among them we have one of your favourites. Elmo Smith has been languishing in the top ten most popular posts for a very long time, in part due to his infamy as the last person to be executed in Pennsylvannia.

Talking of infamy, one person who’d been missing from the site was Georges Danton, but not any more. Read his story in the latest post to be added to the site.

And we’re not stopping there. One José Garcia Briseno is living out what could amount to his last week on death row. Come back later in the week to find out if he manages to eke out a longer existence on Earth, or whether the sherrif-slaying felon cops a dose of the lethal injection just a few days before Easter.

elmosmith2 April 1962 – Elmo Smith
The last ever electric chair execution in Pennsylvania was saved for the ever so coolly named Elmo Smith. His crime, on the other hand, was not so cool. He’d been sentenced to death for raping and murdering 17-year-old Mary Ann Mitchell in 1959.

jesus3 April 33 – Jesus of Nazareth
It was always going to controversial to pin Jesus’s death down to a day and year, but hey, it’s worth a go. Conflicting reports put his death somewhere between 32 and 36 AD and as for the day, well that’s based on the educated guesses out there.

james-hanratty4 April 1962 – James Hanratty
A letter to the home secretary saying ‘I did it’ would be enough to warrant a stay of execution wouldn’t you think? Especially when that man had precise details of the murder and knew things only a murderer or someone on the inside could.

elmo-patrick-sonnier5 April 1984 – Elmo Patrick Sonnier
Elmo Patrick Sonnier may have made the ultimate sacrifice for his brother on this day in 1984. He carried the can and went to the electric chair for murder, but was the killer his brother Eddie all along? The two siblings were found guilty of murdering 18-year-old Loretta Anne Bourque and 16-year-old David Le Blanc.

donald-e-harding16 April 1992 – Donald Harding
A truly gruesome death took place on this day in 1992. Donald Eugene Harding’s last few minutes of death were as agonising as imaginable, prompting Arizona to rethink their stance on execution method. The double murderer had been sentenced to die.

nicholas-ingram7 April 1995 – Nicholas Ingram
Conservative Prime Minister John Major might have been able to save a British citizen’s life had he stepped in, but he kept quiet leaving Nicholas Ingram to his fate in Georgia. Ingram was the first Brit to be executed since 1936 and the first ever to die in the electric chair after he was sentenced to death for killing J C Sawyer and injuring his wife, Eunice during a robbery.

ann-bedingfield8 April 1763 – Ann Beddingfield
Strangled by his bedclothes while he was asleep – that was the original verdict of accidental death awarded to John Beddingfield, but how wrong that was. In actual fact it was his lascivious wife’s extra-curricular lovelife that held the key to his death.

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7 April 2009 – Jose Garcia Briseno?

Posted in Death penalty with tags , on April 2 by Last Writes

**Latest update **
Jose Garcia Briseno was granted a stay of execution on 3 April 2009 so the court could consider his appeal. The case surrounds the claim that the jury were not asked to consider the mitigating circumstances, according to Associated Press.


Can’t say it’s looking good for José Garcia Briseno.

At 6pm on this day the serial felon was scheduled to be laid out on a Texan gurney for murder.

Amid some pretty hard-hitting forensics stacked up against him, Briseno was found guilty of killing and has been on death row since 1992.

Of course, a jail break and several stays later, the periods between appeals are getting shorter and shorter. And it really doesn’t help that Briseno’s victim was a lawman.

He shot the sheriff?

Sheriff Ben Murray of Dimmit County in Texas was found stabbed and shot in his own home following signs of a struggle.

Briseno was said to have been denied a DNA expert during his trial as the evidence was too flaky. But in actual fact the prosecution’s case hinged on the fact that his blood was found at the sheriff’s house. And it was this very evidence that eventually led to him being sent him down

But that’s not all. It was during Briseno’s consequent jail break that fellow crims were told details about the murder, including where the gun had been deposited. And it was retrieved shortly after the escapees were apprehended.

So on the basis of confessions from other prisoners who’d broken free with him, Briseno’s many attempts to get his sentence overturned have been rejected.

Vein hope

According to a report on the BBC, the court is currently considering ‘mitigating evidence of childhood deprivation, abandonment by his parents, limited intellectual functioning, alcoholism, drug abuse, and lifelong poverty’.

However, on the point about limited intellectual functioning, the last stay was in January. It was felt that he was mentally able to understand the gravity of his crimes and the enormity of the sentence he has been given.

But apparently some sources state he was granted a stay so a campaigner from the Malverns – Cathy Walters – could visit him!

Indeed Walters is now appealing for support of her chum, who she believes is as much a victim as the sheriff, after she struck up a friendship with Briseno thanks to correspondence and her visit to see him on death row.

That brings us to 7 April and as the minutes drip by, the outcome of this last-ditch appeal hangs in the balance. Will José Briseno escape the lethal IV needle? Watch this space…

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