Posts filed under 'New York'

1779: Claudius Smith, Cowboy of the Ramapos

Add comment January 22nd, 2020 Headsman

Claudius Smith, a feared Tory guerrilla during the American, was hanged in Goshen, N.Y., on this date in 1779.

“The Cowboy of the Ramapos” for his penchant for livestock-rustling in the Ramapo Mountains, Smith headlined a gang of pro-British criminals/partisans operating out of Monroe, N.Y., near the New Jersey border — a zone of dirty irregular warfare.

Quite a lot of legends apparently proliferated about this guy, including in his own time: one wanted poster described him as seven feet tall.

If you were a British loyalist in his neighborhood you might have figured him along the lines of an Anglo hajduk — the Balkan freebooters who straddled the line between social bandit and hero insurgent. To a Patriot, he was little better than a brigand, and not satisfied with riding off cattle and horses ventured also to invade farm houses for plunder. After one of his band’s deadly raids, Orange County Whigs complained to New York Gov. George Clinton, “we have not thought ourselves secure for a long time. We live so scattered that they can come in the dead of night to any one family & do what they please.”

So unsettled were the wartime frontiers that Gov. Clinton was notably unable to satisfy their petition for quite some time, and Smith’s raids, sometimes working in concert with the pro-British Mohawk commander Joseph Brant, continued to frighten those scattered revolutionists.

A Continental Army major named Jesse Brush finally captured Smith on Long Island late in 1778, and delivered him back to authorities at Orange County who gave him a proper trial and condemned him to hang for several robberies. (Murder wasn’t on the rap sheet.)

One month later, Smith’s son Richard with a band of cowboys revenged the execution by slaying a Goshen man named Richard Clark — and pinning to his corpse a warning to their persecutors.

A Warning to the Rebels

You are hereby warned from hanging any more friends to the government as you did Claudius Smith. You are warned likewise to use James Smith, James Flewelling, and William Cole well and ease them from their irons, for we are determined to hang six for one, for the blood of the innocent cries aloud for vengeance. Your noted friend, Capt. Williams and his crew of robbers and murders we have got in our power, and the blood of Claudius Smith shall be repaid. There are particular companies of us who belong to Col. Butler’s army, Indians as well as white men, and particularly numbers from New York that are resolved to be revenged on you for your cruelty and murders. We are to remind you that you are the beginners and aggressors, for by your cruel oppressions and bloody actions drive us to it. This is the first and we are determined to pursue it on your heads and leaders to the last till the whole of you is massacred.

Dated New York February 1779.

It was tall talk that the raiders couldn’t back up: rewards and informants soon broke up the band, leaving the cowboys and Claudius Smith to pass into history.

Ramblers might enjoy a visit to Claudius Smith’s Den, a cave that formerly served as a refuge for Smith’s gang. Beware of ghosts!


(cc) image from The Turducken.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Guerrillas,Hanged,History,Murder,New York,Occupation and Colonialism,Outlaws,Public Executions,Soldiers,Terrorists,Theft,USA,Wartime Executions

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1920: Joseph Usefof

Add comment December 9th, 2019 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.)

“You see an innocent man dying tonight. Thank you, warden. You have been a kind man.”

— Joseph Usefof, convicted of murder, electric chair, New York. Executed December 9, 1920.

Usefof was executed along with three other men for the 1918 murder of subway ticket agent Otto Fialo in the Bronx. Joseph Milano, one of Usefof’s co-defendants, exonerated Usefof in a written confession, which he later retracted. Usefof maintained his innocence; he was the first of his group to be executed because he was considered the most likely to suffer a breakdown.

[Executed with Usefof and Milano were James Cassidy and Charles McLaughlin, along with a fifth man electrocuted for an unrelated murder, Howard Baker. -ed.]

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Electrocuted,Execution,Guest Writers,Mass Executions,Murder,New York,Other Voices,USA

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1963: Eddie Lee Mays, the last executed in New York

1 comment August 15th, 2019 Headsman

The last execution in the state of New York occurred on this date in 1963 when Harlem murderer Eddie Lee Mays — who shot a woman dead in the course of a pub stickup — went to the mercy seat at Sing Sing prison.


It was also the last execution in Sing Sing’s notorious electric chair, here elevated to the artistic canon by Andy Warhol‘s 1960s series of electric chair images. Warhol based his arresting view of the apparatus on press photos circulated around the 1953 electrocution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg in the same device.

New York’s once-robust death penalty statutes and habits disappeared along with the rest of America’s by the late 1960s; her last executioner, Dow B. Hover — the guy who threw the switch on Eddie Mays — committed suicide in 1990.

The Empire State ditched its death penalty laws in 1984, briefly reinstated them in 1995, but executed no prisoners before everything was ruled out constitutionally in 2004.

By coincidence, August 15, 1963 was also the date of the last execution in Scotland.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Electrocuted,Execution,Milestones,Murder,New York,Theft,USA

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1819: Nathan Foster, wife-killer and patriot-killer

Add comment August 6th, 2019 Headsman

Two hundred years ago today, Nathan Foster hanged in Masonville, New York.

The crime on his charge sheet was poisoning his wife, Eleanor, to get with the pretty young maid she hired.

But little less damning in the eyes of his neighbors was the belief that he had taken the life of a patriot while fighting the pro-British side during the American Revolution.

Foster was a tory during the Revolution, and is reported to have been the identical person who inhumanly murdered Col. Alden, at the massacre of Cherry Valley, in 1777. Priest, in his narrative of the capture of David Ogden, who died a short time since in Franklin, Delaware County, thus refers: “This act of barbarity was perpetrated by a man named Foster, a tory at that time, and the same, who a few years since (1819) was hanged for the murder of his wife, by poison, in Delaware County, N.Y. at Delhi. That the same Foster did murder Colonel Alden, was ascertained by a certain James Campbell, another tory, who stated to David Ogden, that he had heard this Foster boast of the act, while they were both with the British at Niagara. He was at length overtaken by justice, and ended his miserable life on the gallows, although at the advanced age of __ years. He died without a confession of his guilt.

Foster’s prosecution had the aid at the very bar of New York’s Attorney General — the future United States President Martin Van Buren. There’s a #longreads piece on the man and the case available from New York History Review.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,Murder,New York,Notable Participants,Public Executions,USA

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1819: John Van Alstine

Add comment March 19th, 2019 Headsman

John Van Alstine was (incompetently) hanged two hundred years ago today for murdering Schoharie County, N.Y., deputy sheriff William Huddleston — whom he bludgeoned to death in a rage when Huddleston turned up to execute a civil judgment forcing the sale of Van Alstine’s property to service a debt. The man acknowledged having a ferocious temper.

“It is not a year since I stated in Judge Beekman’s presence, (and, I stated it as the firm conviction of my mind), that there were two things I should never come to — the state’s prison and the gallows,” the confessed murderer mused in his public reflections, below. “How often have these words occurred to me since the regretted 9th, and taught me the vanity of human boasting, and the weakness of human resolution, when opposed to long indulged passions.”


This document has also been transcribed here.

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

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1876: Owen Lindsay, of the Baldwinsville Homicide

1 comment February 11th, 2019 Headsman

Friend of the site (and sometime guest-blogger) Robert Wilhelm brings this story from his essential Murder by Gaslight

Lindsay’s trip to the gallows began when a mysterious body was fished out of the drink in the upstate New York village of Baldwinsville.

Much as with Homer Simpson (electrocuted in 1929), posterity might indulge a chuckle that the instrument of Lindsay’s hanging was a fellow bearing the subsequently interesting name of Vader; needless to say, though, the means by which Lindsay and his Sith accomplice put Francis Colvin into the Seneca River was no elegant weapon for a more civilized age.

Find the whole post at MBG right here.

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

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1865: Henry Wilson, shy subject

Add comment December 22nd, 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.)

“I had made a request not to have my photograph taken, for fear my friends would recognize me. Somebody else made a request that it should be taken, and Chase [the sheriff] paid more attention to them than to me, and let them try to take it as I came out. You can see what kind of man this Chase is, and if I had a chance I would take his photograph d—-d quick. I don’t think they got a good one. So my friends will not know it. Perhaps my photograph will be the means of finding out who I am, but I doubt it d—-dly. I have nothing more to say, and you may go on as soon as you please, for it is no consolation to me to be kept standing here in the cold.”

— Henry Wilson, convicted of murder, hanging, New York.

Executed December 22, 1865 A career burglar, Wilson was executed for slaying of Henry DeVoe, whose home he had been robbing. Wilson admitted to killing two other New Yorkers — Burr Burton in Syracuse and Mrs. Lewis in Lancaster — and told police he was the man wanted for a host of unsolved crimes. He went to the gallows three days before Christmas. A reporter for the Rochester Democrat censored Wilson’s profanities, which appear to be derivations of damn.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Guest Writers,Hanged,Murder,New York,Other Voices,Theft,USA

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1840: Zachariah Freeman

Add comment November 19th, 2018 John O'Sullivan

(Thanks for the guest post to American newsman and reformer John L. O’Sullivan. Best-known as the fellow who coined that potent brand for American empire, “manifest destiny,” O’Sullivan was also a vigorous advocate for abolishing capital punishment as a New York legislator in the 1840s, and made several proposals to that effect. The summary here is one of many reported in O’Sullivan’s appendix to his Report in favor of the abolition of punishment of death, by law, made to the legislature of the state of New York, April 14, 1841. The report did not achieve its objective. -ed.)

Tried in September, 1840, for the murder of Sarah Boyd, his quasiwife, in the town of Lysander, Onondaga county, on the 18th of May, 1840.

Both were negroes. They lived in the same house with his father, 80 years of age, his brother Elihu, and a woman who lived with his brother as his wife. Zachariah was much attached to Sarah, and had taken some steps toward making arrangements for a legal marriage with her.

Jealousy was the motive to the murder — or a combination of jealousy and insanity. They had some trifling dispute, in which she refused to comply with some domestic order of her husband, when he raised a chair, and struck her across the arm, knocking her down. On recovering herself, she declared she would never live with him again. He thereupon went to some woods at a short distance, and made an attempt to hang himself — whether in earnest, or to frighten them, does not appear clear. He was stopped with the rope round his neck, and brought back to the house.

While he was away she expressed great dread of his returning, saying, that if he did, she should be a corpse before morning — that though he had not threatened her, she saw it in his eye. While he was out, before returning to the house, he was praying and singing hymns. He entreated a reconciliation with her, which she refused; — he was willing to go down on his knees to her. She consented to leave it to the rest to decide the next morning, if he would now behave himself.

On this arrangement the rest went to bed — he remained up, smoking a pipe. He had insisted on smoking her pipe, refusing any other. According to his confession of what followed, he after a time leaned his head on the bed, and she kicked him. He then got the knife with which he committed the act, and went to some distance from the house for the purpose of killing himself; but while whetting it, determined to go back to see her once more. She was sitting up in bed. He placed his left hand on her shoulder, and attempted to kiss her. He had no thought of injuring her — “she was young, handsome, and everything that was nice, and it had not occurred to his mind to damage her at all.”

She refused to receive him, and slapped him on the face. He then gave her a stab, which was in a few moments fatal, immediately cutting his own throat also. Though a severe wound, this did not prove fatal.

The family were immediately roused, and eventually he was cured of his wound. He expressed much grief and repentance. He was jealous of his brother Elihu, whom he believed to have criminal intercourse with her. Zachariah had wished her to remove with him to another house, but she had refused. He said, after the affair, that “if she would not lie any more with him, he would not let her with any other man” — “he thought she should never sleep with another man, and he never with another woman.”

He said, he expected to be hanged, but added: “I shall go to the gallows in as good a cause as ever a man went.” His previous general character was good. He was hung November 19th, 1840.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Hanged,Murder,New York,Other Voices,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,USA

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1872: Christopher Marlow, brewer

Add comment August 2nd, 2018 Headsman

Immigrant brewmeister Charles Marlow was hanged in Mayville, New York on this date in 1872 for

Deeply in debt, Marlow improved his asset balance when he lured the more solvent William Bachmann to his place (he also lived at his brewery), then took him to the cellar where he poisoned his guest’s drink and finished him off with an iron bar.

You could take our word for it, but better still is friends of the site Murder By Gaslight. Those archives have the full details on this momentary crime sensation — including the Clue-like charge sheet catching 11 different possible means of the mysterious murder, the hung jury, the hanging’s-eve confession, and the “Polander” boarder who overheard the murder and blew the whistle on the whole thing.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Businessmen,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,Murder,New York,Pelf,USA

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1857: John Dorsey

Add comment July 17th, 2018 Headsman

The public domain volume 1886 Professional Criminals of America might divert the devotee of classic true crime with its numerous vignettes from the latter 19th century, quite a few of them unsolved. Executed Today of course cottons to the section on executions at Manhattan’s The Tombs Prison, such as the following:

JOHN DORSEY (negro), a sailor, was executed in the Tombs prison for the murder of Ann McGirr, alias Ann Hopkins. The crime was committed at No. 3 Worth Street on March 10, 1857. The scene of the crime was a five-story tenement inhabited by colored prostitutes. Dorsey and the woman lived together, and on the night of March 10, 1857, he returned home under the influence of liquor. He met his mistress. Ann McGirr, in the alleyway. They had some words, and Dorsey becoming angry drew a razor from his pocket and cut the woman’s throat from ear to ear. Dorsey was convicted of murder in the first degree, in the Court of General Sessions, May 21, 1857, before Judge Abraham D. Russell. He was hanged on July 17, 1857.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Hanged,Murder,New York,USA

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