From the San Francisco Daily Call (Oct. 28, 1871) via a curious trans-Pacific audience in Australia’s Queanbeyan Age (Dec. 21, 1871). As usual, paragraphs added for readability.
EXECUTION OF JAMES WILSON, AT HARTFORD — DESPERATE ATTEMPT AT SUICIDE.
The last hours in the life of the burglar and murderer hanged at Hartford Conn., on Friday, the 13th instant, were sensational enough to suit his morbid craving for notoriety, and strangely rounded out a long career of adventure and rascality.
James Wilson, or to give his true name, David Kently, has been for many years a public outlaw.. He is charged, and justly according to his own confession, with between 200 and 300 burglaries.
The crimination of this career, it will be remembered, was the murderer of Warden Williard, of the State Prison at Weshersfield, on August 16th, 1870. The Warden called to Wilson’s cell-door to hear one of the complaints that troublesome prisoners were always ready with, and was perfidiously stabbed by a sword-cane (how obtained no one knowns), which Wilson thrust between the bars of his door and into the Warden’s abdomen.
Wilson asserted then and to the last that maltreatment provoked the deed.
For this he was condemned to death. Five days before legal limit of his live [sic] expired he was removed from State prison to the Hartford jail.
He had during the previous months exhibited a remarkable mental activity and versatility. He invented several ingenious little machines. He wrote a considerable ways in an autobiography, which was to have been entitled “Thirty Years in the Life of a Crack,” and would certainly have ranked among the curiosities of both crime and literature, had he not in a fit of rage destroyed it.
He made many attempts to get a new trial; then to obtain a communication to Sheriff Russell, designed to explain the desperate means he took, shortly after midnight, to evade the scaffold and the noose.
This attempt at suicide, briefly mentioned by telegraph, was made with a wire three inches long and an eighth of an inch in diameter, sharpened at one end, which he had got from the rim of a ration pan in prison, two months before, and had kept sheathed in leather torn from a Bible binding, concealed as probably no man ever thought of doing so before, in his rectum.
This wire, while keepers slept, he thrust into his heart; but it struck the muscular portion and would not pierce it. He turned over and bent upon the weight of his heavy body, and finally grasped the Testament at his side, and dealt blow for blow upon the wire. He drove it in quite half an inch below the skin, but in vain. The life pulse did not stop, and there in terrible agony the man could no longer suppress a groan, and the keepers found him in a dead faint.
When he was brought to consciousness, he had no regret except for his failure in the attempt.
His demeanour was unshaken thenceforward. He walked to the scaffold, though physically weak, and made a few remarks to the two hundred people in the jail yard, which are thus reported:
I don’t suppose it will amount to much what I can say, or stop the execution. I suppose most of you know why I shall say but a few words to-day. With three inches of steel in his heart a man can’t say much nor be expected to. I did all I could to avoid being here; not that I fear death, but such a kind of death — not fit for a dog or a murderer. I am not a murderer. I killed William Willard in self-defence, and I did just right and I hope his fate will be a warning to all other tyrants like him.
At this time the Deputy Sheriff stood behind Wilson with rope in his hand.
The victim turned round quickly seized the rope in his own hands, and then advanced quite dramatically, and leaning over the railing he continued, with great earnestness:
When a man puts this over his head in the cause of humanity, it is not a disgrace in that cause I put it over mine. And Sheriff Russell you may tighten it up as quickly as you please.
While saying these words he had pulled the noose over his head and thrown the rope out toward the sheriff’s hands. The sheriff then said, “Wilson, do you desire to have prayer offered up for you?”
“Well, yes. I have no objection to a short prayer,” replied the victim calmly but rather coolly.
The minister then offered a short but fervent prayer, keeling at Wilson’s side. When the minister had finished, Wilson repeated the word “Amen” quite audibly. While he was being pinioned, he bade all on the scaffold good-by; and to Captain Wooding he said, “I hope, if you have the opportunity, you will tell the warders of Wethersfield Prison they may profit by the example they have had to not oblige any other convict to murder a warden for humanity’s sake.”
The hanging was decently done, and the pulse extinct in fourteen minutes.
The authorities of the Yale Medical College at New Haven must have accepted the body on the terms he required in his will, as it was but in charge of his counsel, Mr Aberdeen, and sent by him to New Haven.
On this date in 1850, Henry Leander Foote was hanged in Connecticut.
Foote was an educated man who used his time languishing in jail — there was nearly a full year between his conviction and his execution — to bestow upon the world an autobiographical narrative of his peregrinations, which the reader can peruse in its entirety at the bottom of this post. Affected with wanderlust, he struck out from home as a teenager and began a rambling career that would take him all over America.
One of his first stops was the bustling and burgeoning metropolis that will become the hub of his narrative and, as Foote conceived it, the source of his ruin — New York city. There he was introduced to the city’s vast sexual marketplace.
At the end of two or three weeks, I found myself in the city of New York. What a place for a stranger, a young man of seventeen or eighteen years of age to visit alone, without any guardian to conduct him or advise him, and warn him against evil company! I had no acquaintances except three or four young men, whom I met on board the boat, who were also from Connecticut. They were in company, all belonging to one town, and then invited me to stop at the same public house with them. I had been informed that one of them was the son of a minister of the gospel, consequently I concluded that the company was good and safe to be with. But I found, to my astonishment, that this young man was the ring leader, the rudest and wildest of the crowd. The first night I was led to the Theater, from there to the brothel, and from there to the gambling house and drinking saloon. Here we must be fashionable and have a game of cards and a bottle or two of champane. [sic] … We played and drank till sometime past midnight, when we concluded it was time to retire.
Foote is coy here and suggests that his virginal young self repelled the subsequent invitation to a brothel. Whether or not this is so, he soon became by furtive subsequent visits whose purpose he was careful to conceal from his family an intimate of the city’s many whores.
These youthsome frolics are only foreshadowing for the excuses that Foote would be obliged to make many years later in the pall of the gallows. He spent the 1830s and 1840s bouncing around the growing republic — upstate New York, westward to Cleveland at St. Louis, south to Charleston where he married but lost his wife within a year to childbirth. (The son died, too.) After that, he enlisted in the cavalry and fought in the Seminole Wars.
Foote does not give us much of his sexual adventures on these trips, but between the lines it appears that the concupiscient fornicator and the New England prude ever travel side by side with him. He ships to Rio de Janeiro and does not fail to notice that “the dress of most of the women was not much better than none, being merely a short gown, all open in the neck and breast, and reaching only half way to the knee, fastened round the waist with a belt. They would make any civilized man blush from head to foot, but they were not at all particular as to what position they happened to be in.” Nevertheless, he affects shock when “a mixed-blood, half Spanish and half Indian publican” offers him a girl for the night. (According to Foote, he did not take the girl.)
As for the army, well, it “is a most dangerous and destructive place to the morals of young men. It is a school of intemperance, profanity, licentiousness, obscene language, filthy communications, and all kinds of vile and lewd company” thanks to the degrading example of officers who “when at home, or where they are known, always assume the character of gentlemen, and presume to walk in respectable society, unite with the ‘upper ten,’ and [associate] with virtuous females, who, if they knew their true character, would turn from them with disgust.”
By 1849 we find the peripatetic Foote back in his native hamlet of Northford, Connecticut, 37 years old and again, or still, preoccupying himself with the diversions of the Tenderloin. To the best of my knowledge he is the subject of no biography save his own, and since we find that the diverse sojourns of the previous 20 years have ultimately changed neither his conduct nor even his locale, we might be excused for speculating how many adventures were contrived by the author’s hand.
Wherever it was that he had been, he was becoming a worldly denizen of the bagnio.
A few months before the murder, I spent one week in the city of crime and pollution, viz., New York. As usual on former occasions, I spent my evenings and nights in a theater, gambling house, or brothel. Also on a former visit I had attended an exhibition of nudes, or model artists, as they are termed. But at this time the company had gone to New Orleans; a few of them, however, remained in New York, with one of which I had the misfortune to become acquainted. She was an arrogant prostitute, residing in a house of the higher class. I found her at the Bowery Theater; she enticed me, and I consented to accompany her home. As we entered her room she locked the door, laid aside her upper garments, and invited me to take a glass of wine with her. She poured out two glasses, and took a phial from the drawer of her toilet, drew the cork, and pretended to drop some of the contents in her glass of wine, but not a drop did she let fall. She said it was Cream of the Valley, it would give the wine a delightful flavor, and then made a motion to drop some into my glass. But I was too wide awake for her. I knew it was some drug that might upset my ideas, so I told her to save her cream, I did not need any cream of that sort. She looked at me, and said, “you are not so green as you pretend. I gues syou understand a game or two.” I replied, “I understand enough to know the nature of your cream.” And said I, “what was your object in giving it to me?” “O,” she replied, “I was only going to give you a drop or two, to make you feel keen.” She was very proud of her perfect symmetry of form, and proceeded to make a model artist of herself again, that she might give me a clear view of her model, and also of the extra manoeuvres which she had learned in the model artist plays.
After passing the night with his model artist’s “extra manoeuvres,” Foote pinched the potion for himself thinking to deploy it for his own benefit. He first called on a prostitute who had previously robbed him, engaged her charms for the night, and administered the drug to her, thereby having leisure to rob back the lost funds (“with interest,” Foote admits) as well as to leave behind a taunting note. He also found that she, too, possessed a dose of this potent Cream of the Valley, and duly replenished his supply.
Our dissolute principal was much given to exploiting his moment of notoriety for moral grandstanding, and we again should treat his account with caution.* Another author who visited Foote and published his observations in a pamphlet titled Death Cell Scenes, Or, Notes, Sketches and Momorandums of the Last Sixteen Days and Last Night of Henry Leander Foote is by no means hostile to his subject but often notices his unbecoming worldly preoccupations when he ought to be attending his imminent death with due gravity: he “showed a singular disposition to make money even at the hazard of his soul” by cranking out paintings to sell to the gawkers come to gape at him through the prison-bars and on one occasion arrives only to be brushed off as Foote is “in the height of glory and ambition, vending pamphlets and pictures to persons surrounding his cell with as much gusto as though he had to live twenty years or more!”
He was a doomed man with a keen sense of his audience; Foote even took the trouble to pre-order his own inscribed marble tombstone. (The stone can still be seen at Northford Old Cemetery in New Haven.)
He had a gift for rationalizing and segmenting his hypocrisies, surely honed by his years alternating Puritan piety with opportunistic harlotry. At the end when it could no longer be denied, he surfaced the contradiction by way of attenuating his own guilt.
“By this and other means, the hags who keep brothels contrive to get many of their recruits,” Foote wrote of the drugs like Cream of the Valley — subtly conflating his own loss of self-control with white slavery. “And if an inexperienced young man allows himself to visit their houses once, perhaps for mere curiosity, when he is not aware of any danger, they will bewitch him in some way that will induce him to come again; and so he will continue to go until his ruin is completed. Beware, young man, and shun all such places! Once in, you insensibly lose self-command. It is not easy to resist such temptations when once poisoned. These female Satans use the very arts of old Satan himself, and some that he does not use. Once in their power, you are not your own keeper.”
Not your own keeper — even as he admits and bewails his own crime, Foote wants to convey to posterity the notion of a Jekyll-and-Hyde: that there is a Foote distinct from the murderer.
Back at Northford, “my thoughts were continually revolving upon the obscene views which I had witnessed in New York, particularly upon the model artist female … I seemed to have a bewitching anxiety to see the same again, or to see something of the same kind, and this base desire I could not overcome. A curiosity to see and examine some female in the same state of nudity was constantly haunting my mind.”
Although he’s taken the care to secret the prostitutes’ powerful draught in his trunk, it is not quite he who addresses himself to the “bewitching anxiety”: he gets drunk, and then “Satan himself was certainly busy with me, driving me on to ruin with all his power … [using] me as an instrument for the destruction of innocent life.” At length, “Satan” suggests him his young cousin Emily as the object to satisfy his base desire. Foote intercepted her on the way to school and, he said, lured her into the woods to snack on some tomatoes which he had dosed with the sleeping potion after which, you know, stuff happened. For a guy who carried out a premeditated plan to incapacitate and molest his underage kin, he sure expected to be given a lot of latitude.**
But with shame! shame! do I write it, I now proceeded to examine her person, which inflamed my baser passion to an unmanageable degree; and after my eyes were satisfied, I violated and robbed her of her virgin purity. She gave no signs of feeling except to draw one deep sigh. My brutish passion was now satisfied. I meditated upon what I had done, the criminal nature of the awfully wicked deed, the meanness of the act itself, and the base stratagem which I had employed to gratify my shameful curiosity. In the first place I had no intention of doing any thing more than to satisfy my eyes; but this created a passion so strong as to overrule all better feelings, honor, and decency. I stood over the wreck of beauty, innocence, and purity, and sincerely wished I had never seen the city of New York, or any of its bewitching female satans … my head was wild, and my heart felt as if it had turned into a great stone. I would have given half of the town had I possessed it, if I could have undone what I had done that morning. But that was impossible.
And having come this far, Foote realized if he should allow her to revive and be on her way, her story would send him to prison. “As if I almost heard an audible voice,” “something” suggested to him that he murder her. Foote floridly describes himself alternately resisting and impelled to the idea until “I acceeded [sic] to the horrible proposal, and Satan used me as an insensible instrument for his nefarious, bloody, and soul-destroying purpose.” Then Satan used him to slash Emily’s neck through the windpipe.
It’s a bit difficult to disentangle the actual or purported sequence of steps to the next murder; Foote writes of it as if he was hurled into despair by his crime and only paused from his intention of suicide to murder his mother when he reflected that the incestuous rape-murder imputed him might destroy her after he was gone. We get a somewhat different picture from the period’s newspaper accounts which suggest that he was no suspect at all when Emily first turned up missing and coolly played it as if shocked, before getting drunk and bashing mom’s head with a hammer. If you liked his story about how Satan made him rape Emily, you’ll love this.
I drank several times during the forepart of the afternoon, and about three o’clock I went to get another drunk, but the jug was missing — my mother had hid it, and it was not to be found by me. This enraged me … if she had let the liquor alone, it is possible, and not improbable, that I would have drank so much as to render me incapable of making any attempt upon her life; and thereby she might have escaped entirely. But she was often very unwise in provoking me, especially when I had liquor in my head. It was a wrong way to deal with me, to take liquor from me to prevent my drinking, for I was generally sure to go and get a larger quantity and drink so much the more. But she has many times done it, and thereby caused me to behave much worse than I should otherwise have done. Late years my mother has been very petulant towards me; whether I had been drinking or not, it seemed to be about the same. This I attributed to trouble, and the influence of opium, which induced her to pack the faults of others upon me, charge me with things of which I was entirely innocent, and find fault with me when I was not in the least to blame; and to complain of things which I knew were right.
Foote insists that he tells us all this not “for the purpose of defending or screening myself from any blame” from the matricide he committed for mom’s own benefit. Just wanted to contribute to the historical record. And then he has the chutzpah to accuse a neighbor who came running to the battered woman’s shrieks of being a big old pussy for backing away and yelling for help when threatened with the bloody hammer. This is a man who required a more forceful minister, a good psychiatrist, or a better P.R. team. Even to the last, the killer’s self-awareness only amounted to his own narcissism.
“The last act of Foote in his cell,” writes the hanged man’s companion in Death Cell Scenes, “was to make use of a quantity of mus on his hair, six cents worth of which he had ordered the night previous, besides ‘two pleasant Spanish cigars.'”
* As pertains the potion specifically, Foote cites (and perhaps may be suspected of borrowing from) the story of temperance moralizer John Bartholomew Gough, who disappeared in New York for a week in 1845 and was discovered in a whorehouse, floating in an opiate daze.
** There was a witness who heard a scream, presumably by Emily. Foote’s account essentially renders the attack “non-violent” (he says, as if to complete his travesty of Eden, that at one point she shrieked when she caught sight of a snake). It really is entirely possible that he simply perpetrated an uncomplicated wilderness rape and subsequently concocted every other convenient detail. (“No intention of doing any thing more than to satisfy my eyes” indeed.)
On this date in 1816, middle-aged uxoricide Peter Lung was hanged in Middletown, Connecticut for the murder of his wife the previous year.
The facts of the case are simple: both Mr. and Mrs. Lung were alcoholics. Peter, a laborer, thought it was all right for him for drink as much as he wanted, but he was violently opposed to his wife Lucy doing any tippling of her own. But tipple she did, and she and her husband had frightful quarrels about it.
On July 15, 1815, Peter came home late. He found the front door wide open, no dinner on the table, and Lucy passed out cold in her bed and reeking of liquor. Her husband violently kicked her awake and then told her to make him some dinner. She told him to go fix his own food if he was so hungry.
Things went downhill from there and the argument ended with Peter punching his wife several times and then kicking her in the backside. He then went out to the garden and dug up some vegetables for the family dinner. The couple passed the rest of the night normally — for their argument, violent though it was, was typical for them.
A day or so later, Lucy began complaining that her right side was hurting her. Her side hurt too badly for her to lie down two days after the beating and she fell asleep in her rocking chair, and never woke up. The autopsy showed she’d died of internal injuries: evidently Peter’s kicks had ruptured something inside her.
He was charged with capital murder. He had a long-standing habit of mistreating his wife, and everyone knew it. The jury was decidedly unsympathetic to his protests that he’d never meant to kill her.
The Lung case is one of those miscarriages of justice that people often don’t think about: where a person is indeed culpable, but not necessarily guilty as charged. Peter obviously did not intend homicide when he and his wife had their last fight, and neither of them were aware that he’d seriously injured her until it was far too late. Certainly he was responsible for Lucy’s death, but was it manslaughter more than murder?
Connecticut’s judiciary was aware of this issue, and Lung’s original conviction in September 1815 was actually overturned as a result. But he was re-convicted of the same charge at his second trial in December. It was probably his bad reputation that ultimately doomed him.
He was hanged before “a multitude, amounting as was supposed to eleven or twelve thousand.” It was the third execution in Middlesex County.
Poulson’s American Daily Advertiser, July 1, 1816.
The deportment of the prisoner on this awful occasion, was such as to justify a strong hope that by a sincere and timely repentance, he had found the mercy of his Saviour equal to the greatness and enormity of his guilt. He conversed freely on his past life — declared that he believed his wife died in consequence of the wounds he gave her, but denied that he ever intended her death — He fully acquiesced in the justice of his sentence; — that his life was justly forfeited and that it was an atonement due from him to the offended laws of society.
During the religious solemnities previous to his execution, his deportment manifested resignation and composure. He marched with the guard to the fatal spot, ascended the Gallows, warned the silent and solemn auditory, against the evils of intemperance, and ungoverned passions; and a few minutes before four o’clock, was launched into eternity. The official duty of the execution was performed with great propriety and with such fatal exactness that the unfortunate sufferer sunk into the arms of Death without a single struggle, and almost in the same moment, was a tenant of both worlds. The day was pleasant, and few occasions of this kind we believe, have drawn together a greater concourse of spectators.
Among the immense crowd assembled in this place to witness the execution last week, a regular company of pick-pockets was present, which must have enriched their finds very considerably, as a number of gentlemen were deprived of their Pocket Books, containing money and notes to a large amount, with a dexterity which would do honor to the most regular bred gentry in the streets of London. A very valuable horse was also taken from a stable in this city, the night succeeding.
On this date in 1642, George Spencer paid the penalty at the New Haven (Connecticut) colony for a pig-fucking that he probably never perpetrated.
Seven and a half weeks previous, a farmer named John Wakeman had reported to magistrates that his pregnant sow had delivered a litter of healthy piglets … plus one abomination from the nightmares of H.P. Lovecraft and Ron Jeremy.
Itt had no haire on the whole body, the skin was very tender, and of a reddish white collour like a childs; the head most straing, itt had butt one eye in the midle of the face, and thatt large and open, like some blemished eye of a man; over the eye, in the bottome of the foreheade which was like a childes, a thing of flesh grew forth and hung downe, itt was hollow, and like the mans instrument of generation.
Genetics is a funny thing. Once in a while the little variations in a new generation will produce an adaptive advantage that takes the species another step down its evolutionary path.
And then other times what you get is dickface swineclops.
The resemblance of this poor (and mercifully stillborn) pig to a man — “nose, mouth and chinne deformed, butt nott much unlike a childs, the neck and eares had allso such resemblance” — looked like palpable divine anger to New Haven worthies, and inspired a suitably inquisitorial response.
Its target was localized to George Spencer, a former servant to the pig’s former owner. Spencer had a bum eye himself plus a reputation as a “prophane, lying, scoffing and lewd speritt.” With a model of heredity we might strain to credit as primitive, it emerged as widespread suspicion that soon manifested into fact that Spencer had fathered the penis-headed chimera.
Maybe George Spencer really did go hog wild. Who really knows? But the account of the “investigation” — in which the only actual evidence was Spencer’s own confession plus his mutant “progeny” — has every hallmark of the false confessions whose prevalence is only lately becoming well-understood. European and American “witches” were also telling their persecutors just what they wanted to hear in the mid-17th century.
Spencer denied the charges at first. The magistrate Stephen Goodyear(e)* interrogated him: did Spencer not “take notice of something in [the monster pig] like him”? Goodyear implied that they already knew Spencer was guilty.
During a nervous pause, which Goodyear took to be Spencer preparing his soul to unburden itself but a less hostile viewer might have taken to be the frightened farmhand fretting about how he was going to escape with his neck, Goodyear hit him with Proverbs 28:13. It’s a nice dual-purpose verse to stamp the divine imprimatur on the good cop-bad cop approach: “He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy.”
Spencer wasn’t getting anywhere denying everything. He decided to try confessing and getting in on that mercy.
(Even at this, he told someone else that he had only confessed “for favor”. Upon hearing this, Goodyear stalked back to Spencer’s cell and made him commit to the confession.)
The next day, a team of town grandees showed up to get the details. Again, Spencer denied it, but now his previous day’s remarks hemmed him in. His story was shifty; he changed the location of the sin from the sty to the stable, varied between a half-hour and two hours engaged in his sin.
By the time of the trial that commenced on March 2, Spencer — perhaps now realizing that the proverb he ought to have heeded was “don’t talk to police” — was back to full denial. This time he stuck to it all the way through the proceedings, and little good it did him as witness after witness who had heard various iterations of his confession reported the admission. The judges had to decide how to adjudicate this kind of case at all, and they decided to go straight to the Pentateuch.
according to the fundamentall agreement, made and published by full and generall consent, when the plantation began and government was settled, that the judiciall law of God given by Moses and expounded in other parts of scripture, so far as itt is a hedg and a fence to the morrall law, and neither ceremoniall nor tipicall, nor had any referrence to Canaan, hath an everlasting equity in itt, and should be the rule of their proceedings. They judged the crime cappitall, and thatt the prisoner and the sow, according to Levit. 20 and 15, should be put to death.
By hanging-day on April 8, Spencer was still refusing to admit the charges, and he even continued his obstinacy to the gallows — giving only the sort of standard-issue hanging-day exhortation to straighten those laces and not skip church that everyone always gave. To this he still “joyned a denyall of his fact.”
Only at the very last, with the noose about his neck, “and being tolde it was an ill time now to provoke God when he was falling into his hands, as a righteous and seveere judge who had vengeanc at hand for all his other sins, so for his impudency and atheisme, he justified the sentence as righteous, and fully confessed the bestiality in all the scircumstances,” meanwhile blaming for the probable damnation of his soul a sawyer in the audience named Will Harding who tried to keep the flesh alive by counseling Spencer to just keep his damned mouth shut and not confess anything in the first place. This death’s-edge admission would have satisfied onlookers, but ought not satisfy us; the complex psychology of false confessions with their underlying fear of punishment and need to please a captor are potentially even sharper at the communal performance of a public execution — the offender’s last opportunity to spiritually rejoin his own community. Spencer knew he was doomed; he knew everyone thought he was lying; he would presumably have genuinely feared hell and deeply desired to give his own certain death meaning. Somewhere in this id soup is surely reason enough to say the thing his friends and neighbors all but willed him to say.
Thing said, the poor sow was butchered under Spencer’s eyes first (as Leviticus demands). Then Spencer was strangled on hemp, “God opening his mouth before his death, to give him the glory of his rightousnes, to the full satisfaction of all then present.”
* Goodyear(e)‘s daughter Hannah would eventually marry the son of John Wakeman, whose sow it was that gave birth to the pig that started all the ruckus. In the early 1650s, Stephen Goodyear would favor colonial authorities with suspicions of a witch in his very own household, but that poor servant managed to avoid execution.
HARTFORD, Conn., Dec. 18. — John Cronin was hanged here at 1:00 o’clock this morning.
The execution of Cronin was especially interesting, being the first hanging in this state under the law passed by the last general assembly and the first trial of an automatic gallows in the east.
This last is the idea of Warden Woodbridge. Aided by James H. Rabbett, a forger, now serving a two and one-half years’ sentence, the warden evolved what he considers an improvement on the hanging machine in use in Colorado.
Small shot has been substituted for water in the operation of the lever which releases the weight and an arrangement made whereby the execution may be stayed at any moment.
The compartment in which the shot are confined resembles an hour glass and the mechanism is thoroughly under the warden’s control. The shot was started in motion by the movement of a lever, and another lever would have enabled the warden to have stopped it at any time. The progress of the shot and the approaching moment when the weight would be released is indicated on a dial resembling a clock.
When Cronin had been seated in the chair and made fast, a signal from the executioner indicated to the man who had charge of the lever that he was ready. The machinery was then set in motion, there being no visible evidence of anything unusual.
The adjustment of the machine was made so perfect that the weight of 306 pounds made no perceptible noise as it was released and fell back to the ground beneath. Instantaneously the victim was jerked into the air, falling backward to within 2 feet of the floor.
One of the principal improvements over the Colorado appliance is the fact that the prisoner is not his own executioner. With the original machine,* when the prisoner was placed on the chair it released a lever which started the mechanism and in this way the man was practically forced to commit suicide.
John Cronin’s crime was the murder of Albert Skinner, at South Windsor, October 6, 1893. He was prompted by revenge for some fancied grievance. He had been boarding with Skinner for several months, but finally was ordered away. A fight ensued at the time and Cronin then went on a protracted debauch. The morning of the murder he went to Skinner’s house and meeting Skinner in the yard immediately shot him, inflicting a fatal wound.
On this date in 2005, Brian Steckel was executed by lethal injection for a Delaware rape-murder.
Steckel got 29-year-old Sandra Lee Long to let him into her apartment on the pretext of making a phone call. (This was 1994, pre-cell phones.) Then he throttled her, sodomized her, raped her with a screwdriver, and set her bedroom on fire. Then he fled. (Long survived the immediate attack; she would die of smoke inhalation from the arson.)
Hours later, he called The News Journal identifying himself as the “Driftwood Killer” and threatening his next prospective victim by name. Police took that woman into protective custody and traced harassing calls she’d been receiving to Steckel, who obligingly confessed when arrested.
And investigators took Steckel’s threats at their word — as well they might with Long’s ghastly murder already under his belt — and counted themselves lucky to have nipped a potential spree killer in the bud. Steckel “thought about committing a murder for a long time,” New Castle County detective John Downs said. “We got him relatively early in his career. This was something he’d worked at.”
Fond of the drink and none too stable, Steckel menaced his own attorneys, spat at prosecutors, soaked up the media attention, and sent dozens of letters from prison, including Long’s autopsy sent to Long’s mother with a scribbled taunt reading “Happy, Happy. Joy Joy. Read it and weep. She’s gone forever. Don’t cry over burnt flesh.” He also made and retracted various dubious confessions to various murders in various states, and alternated between slandering his (known) victim and calling himself an “animal” for killing her.
If the evil was unfeigned, so was the remorse. At the end of his trial, he surprisingly addressed the the jury with an assent to his own execution.
I didn’t know how to say I’m sorry. How do you tell someone’s family you’re sorry for strangling them? … How do you do such a thing? I don’t know. I ask you people to hold me accountable for what I did. I’ve gotten away with so much in my life that I stand here today … I know I deserve to die for what I did to Sandy. … I’m prepared to give up my life because I deserve to.
He carried a like sentiment to the gurney, where he was apologetic to the victim’s mother he had once mocked.
I want to say I’m sorry for the cruel things I did. I’m not the same man I was when I came to jail. I changed. I’m a better man … I walked in here without a fight, and I accept my punishment. It is time to go. I love you people … I’m at peace.
At this point where the repentant felon ought to close his eyes and exit, an awkward 12-minute delay followed while the lethal injection machine clicked several times and Steckel remained lucid, appending his last statement with observations like, “I didn’t think it would take this long.”
While state officials denied there was any problem with the exceedingly slow lethal injection, Steckel did not appear to have been rendered unconscious, and was awake when he finally snorted and convulsed into death.
Attorney Michael Wiseman, pursuing a later lawsuit against the state’s death penalty procedure, claimed that the main IV line was blocked and when executioners switched to the backup line, they didn’t bother (pdf) re-administering the anesthetic sodium thiopental that forms the first drug of the basic three-drug lethal injection cocktail. That omission meant that Steckel would have been conscious when he was hit with a paralytic dose of pancuronium bromide, and still conscious when that was followed with an excrutiating heart-stopping shot of potassium chloride. (More on the process.)
Wiseman even got a member of the execution team to testify that he was “okay with” causing Steckel suffering owing to the bestial nature of Steckel’s crimes. (The source for this is the January 29, 2009 News Journal; the article is no longer available online.)
A federal circuit court rapped Delaware for “occasional blitheness” and “isolated examples of maladministration,” but rejected the lawsuit.
On this date in 1912, investigative reporter Emile Gauvreau saw George Redding hanged at the Connecticut State Prison in Wethersfield.
“When I left the prison to write my story,” Gauvreau later wrote in his memoir My Last Million Readers,* “I found out why newspapermen drank and I had my first half tumbler of cognac.”
Gauvreau was 21 years old, and he wasn’t a pup any longer.
This hard-charging journo from a rough-and-tumbler age would later make a name for himself pioneering the lowbrow Big Apple tabloid style with his New York Graphic. (“The PornoGraphic”, it was nicknamed.)
And he made his bones for that classic career in newsprint — from high school dropout to cub reporter to the heights of the profession — by making bones of George Redding.
The case was the mysterious February 1912 murder of a Hamden produce peddler by the name of Morris Greenberg. Greenberg was lured to a wooded area en route to buy from a local farmer and shot dead there for his cash. Police were stumped.
Gauvreau at the time was busting hard at the police desk of the New Haven Journal-Courier (since merged into the New Haven Register). He took a page from Sherlock Holmes and went to work on the sensational case freelance … painstakingly eliminating Hamden residents until he was left with George Redding.
Redding was a young man on the make himself, a charming 21-year-old playwright who’d been throwing a lot of money around lately and was known to carry a sidearm.
Circling his friends and paramours, Gauvreau sealed the young man’s fate by laying hands on a damning confessional that Redding had sent a friend. Gauvreau even stage-managed the arrest so that he could shock rival papers and police detectives by breaking the whole story in his paper. All that was left for police was extracting Redding’s confession.
On June 6, 1662, at New Haven, there was a most unparalleled wretch (one Potter, by name, about sixty years of age) executed for damnable bestialities, although this wretch had been for now twenty years a member of the church in that place, and kept up among the holy people of God there a reputation for serious Christianity. It seems that the unclean devil which had the possession of this monster had carried all his lusts with so much fury into this one channel of wickedness that there was no notice taken of his being wicked in any other. Hence ’twas that he was devout in worship, gifted in prayer, forward in edifying discourse among the religious, and zealous in reproving the sins of the other people. Everyone counted him a saint, and he enjoyed such a peace in his own mind that in several fits of sickness wherein he seemed “nigh unto death,” he seemed “willing to die”; yea, “death,” he said, “smiled on him.”
Nevertheless, this diabolical creature had lived in most infandous buggeries for no less than fifty years together; and now at the gallows there were killed before his eyes a cow, two heifers, three sheep, and two sows, with all of which he had committed his brutalities. His wife had seen him confounding himself with a bitch ten years before; and he then excused his filthiness as well as he could unto her, but conjured her to keep it secret. He afterwards hanged that bitch himself, and then returned unto his former villainies, until at last his son saw him hideously conversing with a sow. By these means the burning jealousy of the Lord Jesus Christ at length made the churches to know that he had all this while seen the covered filthiness of this hellish hypocrite, and exposed him also to the just judgment of death from the civil court of judicature.
Very remarkable had been the warnings which this hellhound had received from heaven to repent of his impieties. Many years before this he had a daughter who dreamt a dream which caused her in her sleep to cry out most bitterly. And her father than, with much ado, obtaining of her to tell her dream, she told him she dreamt that she was among a great multitude of people to see an execution, and it proved her own father that was to be hanged, at whose turning over she thus cried out. This happened before the time that any of his cursed practices were known unto her.
On this date in 1738, before “a Vast Circle of people, more Numerous, perhaps, than Ever was gathered together before, On any Occasion” in Connecticut, Pequot servant Katherine “Indian Kate” Garret was hanged for murdering her newborn child.
As an unmarried young woman, Garret didn’t want a child to begin with, but she managed to pass off the pregnancy in her master’s house as just putting on a few extra pounds. Finally, one day, she slipped out to the household barn and delivered. The mistress of the house said they later found the dead infant, clubbed to death with a handy wood block.
It took an unusually protracted six-odd months to bring Garret’s case so far as the actual scaffold, giving the ministrations of a local pastor plenty of time to move the once-truculent lass to such devoutness that “with her hands lifted up, as she cou’d, she past out of life, in the posture of one praying.” We have her pious purported dying statement:
The Confession & Dying Warning of Katherine Garret.
I Katherine Garret, being Condemned to Die for the Crying Sin of Murder, Do Own the Justice of GOD in suffering me to die this Violent Death; and also Acknowledge the Justice of the Court who has Sentenced me to die this Death; and I thank them who have Lengthned the Time to me, whereby I have had great Opportunity to prepare for my Death: I thank those also who have taken pains with me for my Soul; so that since I have been in Prison, I have had opportunity to seek after Baptism & the Supper of the Lord & have obtained both. I Confess my self to have been a great Sinner; a sinner by Nature, also guilty of many Actual Transgressions, Particularly of Pride and Lying, as well as of the Sin of destroying the Fruit of my own Body, for which latter, I am now to Die. I thank God that I was learn’d to Read in my Childhood, which has been much my Exercise since I have been in Prison, and especially since my Condemnation. The Bible has been a precious Book to me. There I read, That JESUS CHRIST came into the world to Save Sinners, Even the Chief of Sinners: And that all manner of Sins shall be forgiven, One only Excepted; For His Blood Cleanseth from all Sin. And other good Books I have been favoured with, by peoples giving and lending them to me, which has been blessed to me.
I would Warn all Young People against Sinning against their own Consciences; For there is a GOD that Knows all things. Oh! Beware of all Sin, Especially of Fornication; for that has led me to Murder. Remember the Sabbath day to keep it Holy. Be Sober and wise. Redeem your Time, and Improve it well.
Little Children I would Warn you to take heed of Sinning against God. Be Dutiful to your Parents; For the Eye that Mocks at his Father and despiseth to Obey his Mother, the Ravens of the Valley shall pick it out, and the Young Eagles shall eat it. Little Children, Learn to Pray to God, Sit still on the Lord’s Day, and Love your Books.
I would also Warn Servants, Either Whites or Blacks, to be Obedient to your Masters & Mistresses. Be Faithful in your places and diligent: Above all Fear God; fear to Sin against Him: He is our Great Master.
I would also Intreat Parents and Masters to set a good Example before their Children and Servants, for You also must give an Account to God how you carry it to them.
I desire the Prayers of all God’s People for me, Private Christians, as well as Ministers of the Gospel, that I may while I have Life Improve it aright; May have all my Sins Pardoned and may be Accepted through CHRIST JESUS. Amen.
The sound of the sermon — especially considered next to the protracted delay for Garret’s hanging — hints at a communal controversy over employing the death penalty in this case. Adams spends most of it fulminating against acquittals, jury nullification, and the insidious operation of sentimentality such as one might imagine might have attended an unmarried girl having rid of her unwanted infant: “What moving Expressions do sometimes come out of the mouths of poor people on such Occasions! … Judges are melted into tears, Yet they must not be so mollified thereby as to neglect Justice; With tears in their Eyes they must pronounce the righteous Sentence and commend them to the mercy of God, who have forfeited all Claim to be suffered any longer among men; Oh, piteous case, when the[y] cry for Mercy, Mercy must no longer be regarded! They must have Judgment without mercy, who have shewed no mercy.”
Stern stuff, ultimately straight from the dialogue around crime and punishment (capital and otherwise) down to the present day. Most of it, anyway. Some parts have changed:
Tho’ they may be great & Considerable persons who are guilty and they, whose blood they have done Violence unto, may be but Comparatively mean. This should not be so considered as to stop a prosecution, or stifle a testimony, or favour or forward an Escape, A Barbarian is of the meanest Nation, a Servant is of the lowest rank, an Infant is of the most imperfect age, Yet even their blood is required by God and the Laws, when it hath been unjustly shed; Rich and great people are most Honoured, Masters over Servants and Parents over Children, may seem to have most power and authority (I say nothing now of Princes over Subjects, that being a curious Argument and which may need very Cautious handling) Yet even these may not be protected by their greatness, authority or priviledge, if they have done Violence to blood, If they have defaced the Image of God in which every man is made and destroyed his workmanship, they also must flee to the pit and none may stay them.
WEATHERSFORD, Conn., Oct. 24. — Grasping in his hand two pink roses which had been brought to his cell, and well nigh speechless with terror, Emil Schutte, triple slayer, former storekeeper and constable of Haddam, was hanged today at the State prison. His only utterance was, “Well, goodby,” as the death cap was drawn over his head.
The weakness of the “despotic patriarch” gambit lies in its tendency to incite the clan to vengeance.
And in this case, the clan had the goods on Emil Schutte.
In 1921, after Schutte threatened his wife with a gun, his sons protected the mother and shopped Schutte for four different shooting-arson murders: that of Dennis LeDuc, a former Schutte farmhand found burned to death on the property; and, that of the three-member Ball family, who were Schutte’s feuding family rivals.
Though evidence in the LeDuc case was too weak to try, the Ball case was more than worth its clutch of roses.
Emil’s son Julius Schutte testified that as a teenager, he had helped his father set fire to the Ball house early one morning in 1915. Emil Schutte shot them dead as the fire flushed them out of the house.
The deaths had initially been ruled accidental, but Julius’s testimony was powerfully corroborated when the Ball graves were unearthed to reveal spent bullets that time had insensibly coaxed out of the blistered cadavers.
So … pretty compelling evidence.
Here’s a three-part series on this locally notorious crime: I, II, III. Or to commemorate it in the flesh, drop by Middlesex’s “Cremation Hill”, which got its name from Schutte’s pyrotechnics.