August 17th, 2013 Headsman
On this date in 1929, James Horace Alderman, the “King of the Rum Runners” or the “Pirate of the Gulf Stream”, was hanged at a custom-built gallows a a Florida Coast Guard base.
Alderman grew up in Florida’s Ten Thousand Islands and therefore became at home on the sea — even taking Teddy Roosevelt out as a fishing guide at one point, according to Florida Pirates: From the Southern Gulf Coast to the Keys and Beyond.
But as he came into his own, his business on the high seas was smuggling, often Chinese immigrant workers trying to sneak into the U.S. from Cuba. It’s rumored that Alderman killed some of these people, too.
Either way, Prohibition made for a much more profitable racket hauling liquor from Caribbean manufacturers to the Everglades, where it could take a train ride and be distributed all the way up the Atlantic coast.
On August 27, 1927, a Coast Guard cutter stopped and boarded Alderman’s speedboat and seized fifty barrels of whiske. Even worse, Alderman shot two of the cutter’s boarders dead.
Alderman’s case might look pretty open and shut, but Floridians proved to be extremely resistant to hosting a federal execution. (The feds at this point generally administered executions in their own name, but at the execution sites of whatever state the malcreant happened to live with. Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, for example, simply died in New York state’s iconic electric chair.
The final judicial decision on this strange question so far from the long-ago deliberations at Liberty Hall came down like this: Florida’s facilities could be barred to the federal government, and that they should carry out the execution on nearby federal property. The U.S. Coast Guard was forced to build a temporary gallows for Alderman inside its seaplane hangar and base no. 6. (Here’s Alderman’s detah warrant, if you’re into that sort of thing.) A short drop from the platform led to an agonizing 12-minute strangulation.
Because Florida itself had only a few years prior ditched hanging in favor of the electric chair, Alderman’s execution was the last judicial hanging in (but not by!) the state of Florida.
Also on this date
- 1942: Irene Nemirovsky, Catholic Jewish writer
- 1510: Richard Empson and Edmund Dudley, tax collectors
- 1951: Antonio Riva and Ruichi Yamaguchi
- 1909: Madanlal Dhingra, Indian revolutionary
- 1571: Marco Antonio Bragadin, flayed Venetian