Posts filed under 'California'

1831: Atanasio, shot for some buttons

Add comment April 26th, 2019 Headsman

This episode from Mexican Alta California comes from the short-lived administration of Manuel Victoria, who proved himself such a martinet in his few months as governor of that territory that a rebellion that December forced Victoria’s resignation.

Our source is Hubert Howe Bancroft, a historian of the American West, in this volume of his chronicle of California:

The administration of justice was a subject which early claimed the new ruler’s attention. It had been much neglected by the easy-going Echeandia, and crime had gone unpunished. Criminal proceedings had been often instituted, as we have seen in the local presidial annals of the last six years, but penalties had been rarely inflicted with fitting severity. Victoria had strict ideas of discipline, and no doubt of his ability to enforce the laws. He is said to have boasted soon after his arrival at Monterey that before long he would make it safe for any man to leave his handkerchief or his watch lying in the plaza until he might choose to come for it. How he carried out his ideas in this direction will be apparent from a few causas celebres of the year.

The case of Atanasio was pending when Victoria came. Atanasio was an Indian boy less than eighteen years of age, a servant in sub-comisario Jimeno’s office, who had in 1830 stolen from the warehouse property to the extent of something over $200. The prosecution was conducted by Fernandez del Campo, Padres, and Ibarra as fiscales; and the last-named demanded, in consideration of the youth and ignorance of the culprit, as well as on account of the carelessness with which the goods had been exposed, a sentence of only two years in the public works. The asesor, Rafael Gomez, after having sent the case back to the fiscal for the correction of certain irregularities, rendered an opinion April 18th, in favor of the death penalty; and by order of the comandante general Atanasio was shot at 11 a.m. on the 26th. Gomez was an able lawyer, and I suppose was technically correct in his advice, though the penalty seems a severe one. Naturally the Californians were shocked; and though an example of severity was doubtless needed, Victoria was not fortunate in his selection. The circumstance that led to the culprit’s detection seems to have been his using some military buttons for gambling with his comrades; and the popular version of the whole affair has been that an Indian boy was shot by Victoria for stealing a few buttons.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,California,Capital Punishment,Children,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Mexico,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Shot,Theft

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1903: A day in the death penalty around the U.S. (and Canada)

Add comment December 11th, 2018 Headsman

The U.S. states of Illinois, Georgia and California, and the Canadian province of British Columbia, all distinguished December 11, 1903 with hangings.


Duluth (Minn.) News-Tribune, Dec. 12, 1903:


Augusta (Ga.) Chronicle, Dec. 12, 1903:


Santa Cruz (Calif.) Evening Sentinel, Dec. 12, 1903:


Anaconda (Mont.) Standard, Dec. 12, 1903:

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,California,Canada,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Georgia,Hanged,Montana,Murder,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,USA

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1855: Jeremiah Craine

Add comment October 26th, 2018 Headsman

(Thanks to Robert Elder of Last Words of the Executed — the blog, and the book — for the guest post. This post originally appeared on the Last Words blog. Fans of this here site are highly likely to enjoy following Elder’s own pithy, almanac-style collection of last words on the scaffold. -ed.)

Susan, receive me; I will soon be with you.

-Jeremiah V. Craine, convicted of murder, hanging, California.
Executed October 26, 1855

Though married with four children in Kentucky, Craine had an affair with eighteen-year-old Susan Newnham. Craine, who believed in spiritualism, said his relationship with Susan was “sanctioned by heaven.” This did not stop Craine from shooting Susan several times, claiming that she pleaded that they make a suicide pact to escape gossip and her family’s anger about their relationship. Craine was stopped from committing suicide the next day. At his execution, Craine read an address to the assembled crowd, calling Susan his “wife.” He was allowed to sing a song he wrote to the tune of “The Indian Hunter’s Lament,” in which he described his wish to die.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,California,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,Murder,Public Executions,Sex,USA

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1930: Gordon Northcott, the Wineville Chicken Coop Murderer

2 comments October 2nd, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1930, Gordon Stewart Northcott hanged in California’s San Quentin Prison for the Wineville Chicken Coop Murders.

Canada-born, Northcott had moved to southern California in 1924 with his parents. They set up a chicken ranch there, and Northcott found this haunt a congenial headquarters for his real passion, the molestation and of young boys.

A monster right out of the QAnon fever swamp, Northcott abducted a large number of youths for abuse. Some were released, but at least three and possibly (per Northcott’s erratic and intermittently retracted confessions) upwards of 20 were imprisoned there in chicken coops and eventually murdered on the ranch, their bodies dissolving into quicklime. The victims we can certainly vouch for are Walter Collins and brothers Lewis and Nelson Winslow, plus a never-identified teenage Mexican boy whom Northcott shot and beheaded. All the while his mother was living there on the ranch too,* and not only she, but Northcott’s quietly terrified Canadian cousin Sanford Clark. Northcott molested him too, but he wasn’t just going to brain him with an axe … Sanford was family.

When Sanford’s older sister visited the boy confided the farm’s horrors to her, and Jessie Clark kept her composure well enough to take her fare-thee-wells without raising the monster’s suspicions, finally swearing out a complaint to the American consul in British Columbia. Once Northcott caught sight of immigration officers driving up the dusty road to investigate he fled his Wineville chicken coops for good, and even made it to Canada with his dear creepy mum.

Northcott’s arrest, extradition, trial, and preordained sentence shocked Californians and Northcott did his part to keep everyone’s blood up by reveling in shifty, ghastly confessions. (The father of the Winslow brothers led an abortive lynching attempt.) San Quentin’s warden would recall that Northcott favored him in their conversations with “a lurid account of mass murder, sodomy, oral copulation, and torture so vivid it made my flesh creep.” So great was the notoriety Northcott and his chicken coops brought it that Wineville flat-out changed its name to Mira Loma to dissociate itself weeks after its infamous denizen swung.

Some books about Gordon Stewart Northcott

Northcott’s execution features in a tense scene of the 2008 film Changeling; our killer is played by Jason Butler Harner, but it’s Angelina Jolie who stars as the mother of one of Northcott’s prey who was then afflicted by an imposter child claiming to be her lost son.

* Dad — whom you will not be surprised to learn was slated with abusing young Gordon in his own turn — went to a mental asylum.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,California,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,Kidnapping,Murder,Rape,Serial Killers,USA

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1857: Danforth Hartson, again

Add comment July 15th, 2018 Robert Elder

(Thanks to Robert Elder of Last Words of the Executed — the blog, and the book — for the guest post. This post originally appeared on the Last Words blog. Fans of this here site are highly likely to enjoy following Elder’s own pithy, almanac-style collection of last words on the scaffold. -ed.)

“For God’s sake, don’t do that again.”

Danforth Hartson, convicted of murder, hanging, California.
Executed July 15, 1857

Hartson (aka Sailor Jim) claimed self-defense in a fight that followed his argument with “estimable citizen” John Burke, whom he knocked to the ground and then shot in the chest. Burke was able to make a full statement, naming Hartson as the murderer, before he died.

Hartson’s last words came after he slipped through the noose and fell through the trap door.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Botched Executions,California,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Guest Writers,Hanged,Murder,Other Voices,USA

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1865: Thomas King, heartstabber

Add comment June 23rd, 2018 Headsman

From the public domain History of Siskiyou County, California Illustrated with Views of Residences, Business Buildings and Natural Scenery, and Containing Portaits and Biographies of its Leading Citizens and Pioneers.

THOMAS KING.

After lying in jail two years, and receiving two trials, hoping for a release from the extreme penalty of the law until a few weeks before his death, Thomas King was executed on the twenty-third day of June, 1865, for a heartless and causeless murder, for dealing a death-blow, unprovoked and unexpected. He was born in Ireland, and when about twelve years of age, left his home because his parents had punished him for some offense. For several years he roamed about the United Kingdom, the associate of bad characters, until for the commission of
some felony he was transported to Australia.

When the Crimean war was raging, a regiment was raised among the convicts, by order of Lord Raglan, the men being given their liberty at the close of the war. In this regiment King enlisted, and after the fall of Sebastopol received his discharge. He made his way to Halifax, and from there to California, and to this county. After mining at Humbug, Scott Bar and various other places, he went to the south fork of Scott river, where he committed the terrible crime, for which the law exacted the penalty of his life.

On the second of July, 1863, having already become considerably under the influence of liquor, he entered French’s saloon, and began flourishing a knife in a threatening manner, and was deprived of it by the barkeeper. Among others in the saloon was James Duffy, who had been drinking, and whom King accused of having his knife. The accusation was denied, and upon being informed where the knife was, King demanded it from the barkeeper and it was restored to him. Throwing the weapon upon the floor and striking a tragic attitude, he exclaimed: “There lays me dagger. Whoever picks it up, dies by me hand.”

Not dreaming of danger, Duffy stooped, picked up the weapon and laid it upon the counter, saying, “You wouldn’t kill me, your best friend, would you?” “Yes, I would,” he said, as he took up the knife and made several false motions, touching Duffy’s breast with the handle, while the victim stood there smiling, unconscious of danger. Suddenly King reversed the knife, and with a, quick, hard blow, buried it deep in Duffy’s heart, the murdered man sinking to the floor with the exclamation, “You have cut me.” King made a pass with the bloody weapon at the barkeeper, and then sprang to the door and fled. The horrified witnesses of the tragedy stood for an instant in blank amazement, and then hastened in pursuit of the murderer, whom they soon overtook and secured after a slight resistance.

He remained in jail until the following February, when, after a trial lasting three days, he was found guilty of murder in the first degree, and was sentenced by Judge E. Garter to be executed Friday, March 18, 1864. An appeal to the Supreme Court gained for the condemned man a new trial, based upon the construction of a statute, and not upon the merits of the case. He was again tried in September, and was sentenced to be hanged on Friday, November 4, 1864, but an application to the Supreme Court produced a stay of proceedings until the case could be reviewed by that body. While awaiting the decision of the court, on Saturday, the eighth of February, 1865, he made a bold, and for a time, successful attempt to regain his freedom. Confined in the jail, which was the old wooden building first erected by the county, were also George Foster and Robert Ferry, both under a sentence to the penitentiary for grand larceny, and McGuire, a deserter from the army. The last named was allowed in the corridor, and was in the habit of calling for water. About eight o’clock on the night in question Foster succeeded in getting out of his cell, and after releasing the prisoners from their cells, had McGuire call for water, as usual, and when Jailor McCullough opened the door he was seized, gagged, and bound, and the prisoners escaped, having their irons still upon them. They had been gone but twenty minutes when their flight was discovered. The town was aroused, and people started in all directions in search of the fugitives. About daylight Ferry was caught at Cherry creek by John Hendricks and others. having been unable to get rid of his irons. About two o’clock Sunday afternoon William Short and Charles Brown found King in a clump of manzanita bushes, near Deming’s old brickyard, but a short distance south-west of Yreka. His long confinement of nineteen months had so weakened him that he had been unable to proceed further or to remove the irons from his limbs, although one of them he had succeeded in sawing partially through. A party composed of Livy Swan, A.V. Burns, J. Babb, A.D. Crooks, Sherman, Stone, and Groots, in pursuit of Foster and McGuire, stopped Monday night at Cherokee Mary’s, a resort for thieves, nine miles from Yreka. About four o’clock Tuesday morning the two fugitives approached the house and were ordered to surrender, and upon attempting to escape were fired upon by Jesse Sherman, with a shot gun, and Foster was wounded in the head and captured, while McGuire escaped by flight. Foster had succeeded in removing his irons, and now, severely wounded, was conveyed again to jail, while McGuire went to Fort Jones, and, finding escape impossible, gave himself up. Foster and Ferry had the terms of their sentences increased, while McGuire, who would have been released in a few days, was sent to San Quentin for two years for his little exploit in jail-breaking.

George Foster, alias Charles Mortimer, alias Charles J. Flinn, was the leader in the jail delivery, a hardened and reckless felon, and ended his career upon the scaffold. He was first sent to San Quentin from San Francisco for three years, and when his term expired, went back, chloroformed a man and robbed him of $1,800, was arrested, and escaped from officer Rose, by knocking him senseless and nearly cutting his throat. He then came to Siskiyou county, and was soon sentenced to three years for grand larceny, which term was increased to seven years for his participation in the jail delivery. After his release he continued his career of crime, finally murdering a woman in Sacramento, September 19, 1872, for which act he paid the penalty upon the gallows, not, however, until his brother lost his life in a desperate attempt to release him from the jail in which he was confined while awaiting the day of his execution.

The Supreme Court having reviewed the case and sustained the decision of the lower court, King was brought before Judge Garter in May, and was sentenced to be hanged on Friday, June 23, 1865. Preparations were accordingly made by Sheriff A.D. Crooks by erecting a gallows in the jail-yard. King’s conduct during the trials had been one of bravado and defiance, and this he maintained to the last, being quite abusive while on the scaffold. He remarked as they were leading him from his cell to the place of his death, “I’m the handsomest man here, if I am going to be hung.” But few spectators were admitted within the jail walls to witness the last act of this terrible drama, which culminated at nine minutes to two o’clock. The murderer who thus received the just punishment for the crime, nearly two years after he had plunged the fatal knife into an innocent and unsuspecting bosom, was buried a little east of town, near the remains of Crowder and Sailor Jim, executed several years before.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,California,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,Murder,USA

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1895: A day in death penalty around the U.S. (McTeague edition)

Add comment June 7th, 2018 Headsman


Headline from the Tacoma (Wash.) Daily News, June 7, 1895.

On this date in 1895, the hangman noosed for the cycle with single, double, and triple executions in three different U.S. states.

Arkansas

In Morrilltown, William Downs or Downes for criminally assaulting a woman called Pauline Bridlebaugh.

“On the scaffold Downs declared that he was guilty of part but not all he was charged with,” according to multiple newspaper reports. The eight-foot fall failed to snap his neck, and Downs strangled to death over 15 agonizing minutes.

Alabama

“Lee Harris and Abe Mitchell, colored murderers, highwaymen and thieves, were hanged here [Birmingham] today before 2000 people for the murder of Grocerymen Merriweather and Thornton. Both bodies were turned over to the undertakers, who purchased them several weeks ago for $18 from the men themselves.”


From the Oakland Tribune, June 7, 1895.
California

Three Californians hanged, sequentially, at San Quentin prison on the morning of June 7 in an affair timed to ensue the arrival of the 7:40 train from San Francisco, carrying about 100 official witnesses.

Emilio Garcia stabbed and slashed to death a San Bernardino old timer whom he believed to possess a hoard of gold.

Anthony Azoff fatally shot a Southern Pacific detective in the course of a botched robbery of that railroad firm’s offices; he was balked of a suicide attempt in the hours before his execution.

And Patrick Collins acquired more lasting infamy than any of his scaffold brethren by sensationally stabbing to death his estranged wife at the kindergarten where she worked when she refused his demand to hand over her wages.

Collins’s guilt was very apparent, so his trial gave the horrified public ample rein to sketch the brute in terms of the era’s crackpot racist typologies. In one Examiner article tellingly titled “He Was Born for the Rope,” it was postulated that “if a good many of Patrick Collins’ ancestors did not die on the scaffold then either they escaped their desert or there is nothing in heredity … Seeing him you can understand that murder is as natural to such a man when his temper is up as hot speech is to the anger of the civilized.”


Various newspaper images of Patrick Collins, from The Construction of Irish Identity in American Literature.

Be they ever so headline-conquering in their time, such crimes are like to fade speedily from the public memory. Collins, the man who slaughtered his tightfisted wife, and Collins, the savage ethnic archetype, have improbably survived his moment of notoriety, by imparting to literature the inspiration for San Francisco novelist Frank Norris‘s 1899 offering McTeague.

In McTeague, a vicious husband murders the wife he has abandoned when she refuses him money. The murderer here presents as an overpowering ancestral beast within — attributable, says Christopher Dowd, to Norris’s “study of criminal anthropology, particularly the school of thinking developed by Cesare Lombroso regarding atavism, hereditary criminality, degeneration, and criminal physiognomy. According to Donald Pizer, by the time Norris wrote McTeague, he had developed a ‘preoccupation’ with the themes of atavism and reversion, and ‘particularly with the role of heredity in causing either an obvious physical or mental devolution or a return to an earlier family condition’. Suddenly, Norris had a way to explain the behavior of his murderous protagonist — he was born a criminal, having inherited the degenerate traits and predilections of his Irish ancestors. Combined with the newspaper reports of the Collins murder, criminal anthropology gave Norris all the tools he needed to write, what Pizer calls, ‘that mythical creature of literature, a naturalistic tragedy'”. For example, Norris zooms through the disordered mind of McTeague as he struggles to control himself on one occasion.

He was disturbed, still trembling, still vibrating with the throes of the crisis, but he was the master; the animal was downed, was cowed for this time, at least.

But for all that, the brute was there. Long dormant, it was now at last alive, awake. From now on he would feel its presence continually; would feel it tugging at its chain, watching its opportunity. Ah, the pity of it! Why could he not always love her purely, cleanly? What was this perverse, vicious thing that lived within him, knitted to his flesh?

Below the fine fabric of all that was good in him ran the foul stream of hereditary evil, like a sewer. The vices and sins of his father and of his father’s father, to the third and fourth and five hundredth generation, tainted him. The evil of an entire race flowed in his veins. Why should it be? He did not desire it. Was he to blame?

McTeague does not exit upon the gallows as did his real-life inspiration; instead, having murdered and robbed his wife, the fugitive flees to the scorching desert of Death Valley where he faces a fight to the finish with a friend/rival who has pursued him. McTeague overpowers this foe, but the man’s dying act is to handcuff himself to McTeague — condemning the latter to sure death.

McTeague has long been in the public domain; it can be perused here; a Librivox audio reading of the book is available here. It’s also been adapted to at least two films in the silent era — including one of the genre’s greats — plus a more recent PBS radio drama, an opera, and miscellaneous other media.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Alabama,Arkansas,Arts and Literature,Botched Executions,California,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Hanged,History,Murder,Public Executions,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,USA

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1896: Ivan Kovalev, Russian meddler

Add comment February 21st, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1896, Russian refugee Ivan Kovalev was hanged for a Sacramento double murder.

Kovalev and nine other Russian convicts had in 1893 fled from the most remote and dreaded of Russia’s Far East penal colonies, Sakhalin Island.

They might have met Anton Chekhov when he visited in Sakhalin in 1890 to compose the investigative articles that would become his book Sakhalin Island, one of the great pieces of journalism of his time. “Utter hell,” the great playwright mused of that brutal and befogged colony. “I feel that if I were a convict, I would escape immediately, whatever the consequences.”

Kovalev and nine mates felt exactly the same and they did it in the form of a downright suicidal flight from Sakhalin’s abyss in an open launch ventured into the Pacific in hopes of reaching Japan. They were on the brink of succumbing to their privations when they were miraculously picked up by a San Francisco-based whaler, the Charles W. Morgan.**

The convicts claimed that they were escaped political prisoners, a demographic that enjoyed western sympathy; there’s every chance that they were actually violent criminals but their tale of woe in the bowels of tsardom was persuasive and times being what they were a background check with the nearest consulate was not an option. The Sakhalin escapees were allowed to stay in California.

On December 30, 1894, about sixteen months after they drew their last moldy Sakhalin rations, Kovalev with two accomplices† bashed the brains out of the aged grocer F.H.L. Weber and his wife with an axe so that they could rob his store. Chekhov? Make that Dostoyevsky.

It took several months to zero in on the perpetrator but once the conviction was secured, indignant Sacramentans applied in record numbers for passes to attend the hanging, such “a spirit of enmity and hatred toward this son of far-away Russia” having been aroused by the horrid circumstances of the butchery that “it is evident that a spirit of satisfaction is abroad in the community at the thought that … Ivan Kovalev will expiate that crime with his life.”

* The New York Public Library hosts a digital collection of photos of the Sakhalin penal colony, here. Others can be browsed at the Sakhalin Regional Museum site.

** The Charles W. Morgan had an 80-year service history; it’s been restored and can be visited in Mystic, Connecticut.


1971 U.S. postage stamp commemorating the Charles W. Morgan‘s preservation.

† The accomplices don’t figure in the execution story: one was mortally wounded in an unrelated subsequent robbery, prior to Kovalev’s arrest; the other wound up serving time for burglary.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,California,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Hanged,Murder,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Russia,Theft,USA

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1948: Thomas Henry McGonigle, murder without a body

1 comment February 20th, 2018 Meaghan

(Thanks to Meaghan Good of the Charley Project for the guest post. -ed.)

The Latin legal term corpus delicti literally translates to “the body of the crime,” and many people are under the impression that it means the actual corpse of a murdered person and that no one may be convicted of murder without the victim’s body.

This is erroneous. Although it is true that no person can be convicted of murder without the corpus delicti, the term doesn’t mean the murdered person’s body but rather the body of evidence that proves a crime has been committed. Every criminal case must have the corpus delicti and, in most murder cases, that includes the victim’s body … but it doesn’t have to.

In the United States, murder-without-a-body prosecutions are not unheard of and happen with increasing frequency due to the advancement of forensic technologies like DNA analysis. Tad DiBiase, a former federal prosecutor, even wrote a book about them, titled No-Body Homicide Cases: A Practical Guide to Investigating, Prosecuting, and Winning Cases When the Victim Is Missing, which includes an appendix of over 400 cases.

On this day in 1948, Thomas Henry McGonigle was executed in California’s gas chamber in what was one of the earliest, perhaps THE earliest no-body homicide prosecution in the state. His victim was a fourteen-year-old high school sophomore named Thora Afton Chamberlain, and her body was never found and is believed to have been washed out to sea.

The prosecution would later call the case “one of the best organized and most intense investigations in the annals of the crime of kidnapping and murder.”

McGonigle, a married construction laborer with an arrest record for a variety of crimes including assault with intent to commit rape, was waiting in his car outside Campbell High School when classes ended for the day on November 2, 1945. Thora’s classmates saw her talking to him, and he offered her a job: he needed someone to babysit his sister’s children. It would only be for half an hour, he said.

For whatever reason, Thora trusted the stranger. Perhaps it was because he was dressed respectably in a Navy uniform with medals, including a Purple Heart. She didn’t know they weren’t his, that he’d never been in any branch of the military. He’d stolen the clothes and medals six weeks earlier.

Thora Chamberlain was never seen again after she got into the strange man’s car. McGonigle was an immediate suspect because of his record, and several witnesses identified him from a photo lineup, but in the immediate aftermath of Thora’s disappearance he skipped town.


Murderer and victim.

McGonigle told his wife he was taking a bus to Los Angeles, but in fact he hitchhiked to Illinois where his father lived. The FBI kept on his trail as he drifted across the country, registering in hotels under alias names. Finally he took an overdose of sleeping pills while on a bus bound for San Francisco, and was semiconscious on arrival. The Feds were waiting for him, but instead of jail they had to take him to the hospital for treatment. He was arrested upon discharge.

In custody, McGonigle gave a series of statements admitting culpability but providing wildly differing details as to what happened. He’d stabbed Thora. He’d shot her. He’d strangled her. She’d jumped from his car and was fatally injured. Her death was an accident. He hadn’t killed her at all; she was alive and well and working as a prostitute.

Although the entire truth about what happened is only known to Thora and her killer, the shooting story has the most evidence to support it.

McGonigle said he had shot Thora in his car and the bullet passed through her and got stuck in his car door. He said he’d removed the bullet and buried it under a certain tree in his yard, and also ripped out the vehicle’s bloodstained padding and upholstery and buried it near the construction site where he worked. There was a bullet hole in the door of McGonigle’s car, police recovered the bullet from under the tree where he said it would be, and ballistics later proved it had been fired from a .32 caliber revolver he owned. The police also found the ripped car upholstery at the indicated spot, and it was stained with human blood.

McGonigle lead the authorities to a coastal cliff in San Mateo County known as the Devil’s Slide. He said he’d thrown Thora’s body off the cliff, 350 feet down into the ocean. An extensive search revealed important, chilling evidence that may well have been the clincher: on the day of her abduction, Thora was dressed in her school colors of red and blue, including one pair of red socks and one pair of blue socks, one on top of the other. Searchers found both pairs wedged in separate crevices on the cliff face, and Thora’s parents identified them.

At the trial, prosecutor John McCarthy told the jury how it might have happened, painting a word picture of McGonigle killing Thora in a rape or attempted rape, then lifting her from his car by her armpits and dragging her along the ground to the edge of the Devil’s Slide. In the process her loafers come off and her socks are pulled down her feet. As she falls, they come off entirely and get stuck in the crevices of the cliff.

“In finding the socks,” McCarthy concluded, “the crime was solved.”

Given McGonigle’s string of confessions — which continued even at his trial — and the eyewitnesses who identified him, and the physical evidence that backed it all up, it’s no wonder the jury only deliberated half an hour. He was convicted on March 1, 1946.

While his conviction was under appeal he retracted his previous statements and denied everything. It was a frame-up, he said, all of it: he’d never confessed to anything and the FBI had planted all the evidence and the witnesses had lied. The police, meanwhile, stated he’d also confessed (over and over again…) to the murder of an unnamed “Negro waitress” from San Francisco and the only reason they weren’t going to charge him was because he was already under sentence of death.

The day he was executed, McGonigle wrote down a statement in longhand and left it with the warden:

I, Thomas Henry McGonigle, in this last testimony to the people declares [sic] that I did not shoot Thora Chamberlain and did not throw her body over a cliff and I have never made any such confession that I shot Thora Chamberlain in Santa Cruz County.

Santa Cruz County Sheriff Wallace P. “Bud” Hendrick didn’t agree. He witnessed the execution and later told reporters, “He threw his head back and gasped three times. Every time he gasped with that look of pain and death about him, I smiled. He was the most despicable … that ever walked the face of the earth. I only wish it could have taken longer.”

(Robert E. Cornish, a mad scientist and former child prodigy who made various Frankensteinian attempts to raise dead animals, wanted to try reviving a death row inmate after an execution. McGonigle volunteered himself for the experiment, but permission was denied.)

As for Thora, her body is presumed to have washed out to sea. She remains listed in missing persons databases, however, in the unlikely event that it turns up.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,California,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Gassed,Guest Writers,Murder,Other Voices,Rape,USA

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1874: Marshall Martin, “an innocent man compared to that woman”

Add comment January 23rd, 2018 Robert Elder

(Thanks to Robert Elder of Last Words of the Executed — the blog, and the book — for the guest post. This post originally appeared on the Last Words blog. Fans of this here site are highly likely to enjoy following Elder’s own pithy, almanac-style collection of last words on the scaffold. -ed.)

Gentlemen, I am here to die, but I am an innocent man compared to that woman. She deserves death ten times more than I do.

-Marshall Martin, convicted of murder, hanging, California. Executed January 23, 1874

Martin’s work supervisor was Valentine Eischler, whose marriage with wife Elizabeth was in the course of unraveling. According to Martin’s testimony, Elizabeth seduced him and urged him to murder her husband. Eventually, Eischler died in an attack with an ax, with both parties claiming responsibility at different times. Elizabeth pleaded insanity and was sent to an asylum. Martin was convicted of first-degree murder. It’s worth noting that the Chicago Daily Tribune recorded slightly different last words: “Gentlemen: I want you all to understand that I am here to die; but I am an innocent man; I don’t deserve this. The woman that caused me to do this deserves death a thousand more times than I do. That’s all I have to say.” Martin’s hanging was particularly gruesome, as recorded by the newspaper Alta California: “Although there was a drop of only six feet, the body dropped headless to the ground. His head rebounded a distance of six feet.”

(Also see a 2011 feature on the crime and the hanging in the San Jose Mercury News: Part 1 | Part 2 -ed.)

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Botched Executions,California,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Guest Writers,Hanged,Murder,Other Voices,Sex,USA

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