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

Add 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.

On this day..

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

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1963: Four CIA saboteurs in Cuba

Add comment November 12th, 2017 Headsman

Cuba executed thirteen people in the course of this week in 1963 as CIA agents. This date marked the middle group, as detailed in the Nov. 13, 1963 New York Times:

HAVANA, Nov. 12 (UPI) — Four more Cubans were executed by firing squads today as “agents” of the United States Central Intelligence Agency.

Five other Cuban [sic] accused as “CIA agents” were executed last Friday.

The victims today were identified as Antonio Cobelas Rodriguez, Orlando Sanchez Saraza, Juan M. Milian Rodriguez and Jose S. Bolanos Morales.

An official announcement said that they had been captured while trying to sneak ashore from an armed boat that sailed from Marathon, in the Florida Keys, on an undisclosed date.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Cuba,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Shot,Terrorists

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1963: Stanislaw Jaros, twice-failed assassin

Add comment January 5th, 2017 Headsman

On this date in 1963, Polish electrician Stanislaw Jaros (English Wikipedia entry | Polish) hanged for two assassination attempts on Polish premier Wladyslaw Gomulka.

A figure nearly forgotten outside of Poland and not well-known within, Jaros is mostly written about in Polish as the links in this post will attest. His affair was quietly handled at the time, and that has sufficed to consign him to obscurity even in the post-Communist Poland.

On December 3, 1961, with the First Secretary in the mining town of Zagorze for a St. Barbara’s Day coal mine ribbon-cutter, Jaros set off a homemade bomb concealed in a roadside pole or tree. Gomulka’s motorcade had already passed the spot, but the blast mortally injured one adult bystander, and wounded a child.

A rigorous police investigation captured him, and soon determined that Jaros had been bombing away in merry anonymity for many years — including a 1959 device placed to target Gomulka and visiting Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, which had failed to detonate. (That incident had been discovered, but hushed up to avoid antagonizing Moscow.)

Jaros professed an inchoate ideological motivation in the form of bitterness against the state police after he’d been brutalized when caught stealing bullets from a factory in the postwar years, but it is difficult to tell where principled anticommunism ends and pyromania begins.

After his release from prison, he returned to live with his mother, never marrying or holding steady employment. His occasional hobby was sabotaging state economic assets with his home-brew explosives. No person was ever injured by one of his mines until the second Gomulka bomb, but he did acknowledge that he certainly was trying to kill the head of state — inspired, he said, by reading about the plots to kill Hitler.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Assassins,Attempted Murder,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Notable for their Victims,Poland,Treason

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1963: Jorge del Carmen Valenzuela Torres, Chacal de Nahueltoro

Add comment April 30th, 2015 Headsman

On this date in 1963, Jorge del Carmen Valenzuela Torres — better known as Chacal de Nahueltoro — was shot at Chillan for murder.

Perhaps Chile’s most recognizable mass-murderer (in the nonpolitical category) the drink-addled young peasant one summer’s afternoon in 1960 took a scythe to his 38-year-old inamorata — and slaughtered all of her five children besides. (None of the children were Valenzuela’s own.)

The horrifying crime became grist for an acclaimed movie, but “the Jackal” was also noted for his dramatic personal turnaround during the two-plus years he spent awaiting his firing squad. In one of those paradoxes of the poor, Valenzuela was a man whose world cared for him only once he was condemned to death: he learned to read and write in prison and embraced spiritual counseling that made the fellow in front of the guns an altogether different creature from the homicidal brute.

While this rebirth made the execution itself controversial, it has also amazingly helped to elevate Valenzuela into the ranks of Latin America’s criminal folk saints. His tomb in San Carlos is crowded with votive offerings in thanksgiving for his intercessions.

(The actor who played Valenzuela in that film later collaborated on a 2005 documentary Bajo el Sur: Tras la Huella de un Asesino Milagroso — exploring the popular devotions that have arisen around his character’s real-life inspiration.)

For murderabilia that pairs with a juicy cut of meat, don’t miss out on Botalcura Winery’s blood-red Chacal de Nahueltoro merlot.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Chile,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Murder,Popular Culture,Shot

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1963: Frederick Charles Wood, “Let me burn”

10 comments March 21st, 2014 Meaghan

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

On this date in 1963, hardened killer Frederick Charles Wood, 51, became the next-to-last prisoner to be executed at Sing Sing Prison in New York.

Although he came from a respectable, law-abiding family, Wood had a terrible temper and was very experienced at homicide. The man’s murderous career makes him the perfect poster child for the death penalty.

He committed his first murder while he was in his mid-teens, poisoning a girlfriend. He was out in only a few years, however, and fell back into crime: in 1933, he committed another horrific slaying. This time his victim, also female, was a stranger. Wood reportedly beat her with an iron bar and crushed her skull, and stabbed her over 140 times.

He served seven years and was paroled in 1940. In 1942, he killed again — for the third time. Wood attacked a man, hit him with a beer bottle, stomped on his head and slashed his throat. The victim, he said, was bothering his girlfriend.

This time he served almost twenty years before he was paroled again in 1960.

Mere weeks after his release from custody, in New York City, Wood beat and slashed a 62-year-old acquaintance to death, supposedly because his victim had made a pass at him. He then slaughtered the man’s 78-year-old sleeping roommate.

(When he was arrested the next day, Wood gave his occupation as “wine sampler.”)

Newspapers condemned the state parole board for letting him go so many times. Wood himself seemed to realize how stupid and pointless it all was, and refused any attempts to put off his much-deserved death sentence. He wrote that he wanted to “ride the lighting without further delay,” and added, “I do not welcome any intrusion into this stinking case of mine.”

Although Wood claimed he had schizophrenia and requested electroconvulsive therapy, three psychiatrists found him sane. A member of the Lunacy Commission asked him, “Is there any way we can help you?” Wood replied, “Let me burn.”

This article provides a detailed account of his crimes and execution, comparing him with Timothy McVeigh.

As he stood in the death chamber waiting to be strapped into the electric chair, he grinned at the witnesses and said, “Gents, this is an educational project. You are about to witness the damaging effect electricity has on Wood. Enjoy yourselves.”

On this day..

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

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1963: Lazhar Chraiti and nine other Tunisian conspirators

1 comment January 24th, 2014 Headsman

Ten men were executed at dawn on this date in 1963 in Tunis for an assassination plot against President Habib Bourguiba.

Lazhar Chraiti. His daughter has founded a center dedicated to rehabilitating his memory.

Bourguiba was first president of the independent Republic of Tunisia, having led that country out of French domination in the 1950s … and this plot was the first major threat to his rule. “It is a miracle that I am still alive,” he told a women’s conference at the western city of El Kef after it was discovered on December 19. Kebair Meherzi, an officer of President’s Guard (who was among those executed this date) had been privy to the plot, and intended to admit the assassins to Bourguiba’s own bedside. (London Times, Dec. 27, 1962)

Twenty-six people faced a military trial for this attempted coup in early January with thirteen death sentences handed down — most notably including legendary Arab independence guerrilla Lazhar Chraiti (by now a respected official in the ruling Neo Destour party).

One of those 13 was condemned in absentia, having already fled the country to Algeria — the plotters’ Algerian ties caused Tunisia to withdraw its embassy — while two other army officers were reprieved to life and hard labor.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Assassins,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Guerrillas,History,Mass Executions,Notable for their Victims,Soldiers,Treason,Tunisia

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1963: Russell Pascoe and Dennis Whitty, Britain’s second-last hanging date

1 comment December 17th, 2013 Headsman

On this date in 1963, gallows traps dropped simultaneously in Bristol and Winchester to hang two men for murdering a Cornish farmer.

Russell Pascoe and Dennis Whitty were laborers living out of a caravan in the Truro area; Pascoe had formerly worked for the victim, William Rowe, and knew a rumor that the 64-year-old recluse kept a small fortune stashed at Nanjarrow farm.

Late the night of August 14, 1963, the young toughs called at Nanjarrow. When William Rowe answered the door, they instantly beat and stabbed him to death. Perhaps they ought to have thought the plan out better, because William Rowe actually did have £3,000 on the premises … but Pascoe and Whitty only found four quid. (They split it.)

The killers were picked up before the week was out.

“We are both over twenty-one, so I suppose we can hang?” Whitty inquired.

Then they both started trying to blame each other. So the answer was yes.

Robert Douglas, later a bestselling author, was then a young prison guard beginning a career in corrections. He was on the detail guarding Pascoe and on friendly terms with the condemned man who was practically his own age.

Years later, with a lifetime’s wisdom at his back, Douglas wrote about it in his memoir of the prison At Her Majesty’s Pleasure. It’s an experience he says he has always remembered:

I can remember saying to Ken [Russell, another guard], ‘I’m not looking forward to this shift — I mean, what the hell are we going to talk about all evening?’ I was only 24 years old myself at the time, and we had built up a good relationship with Pascoe over the previous six weeks – playing cards and Monopoly and listening to the radio.

We went into the cell, and I asked Russell if he wanted a cup of tea. He said he didn’t. So I tried to coax him – ‘I’ve brought you a cream doughnut’ – I’d brought him a cream cake each day as a little treat. With that, he perked up a little and said, ‘ah go on then, I’ll have a tea’.

So we sat drinking tea for a while, none of us really saying anything. Just blathering about nothing to try to fill the silences.

Then Russell suddenly said, ‘They weighed me today, so they’ll know how far I’ll drop.’ Ken and I just looked at each other – what are you meant to say to that?

These were the third- and fourth-last men people put to death under Britain’s capital punishment statutes. (Here’s a picture at the doors of Bristol’s Horfield Gaol.) England would see only one more hanging date, another double execution conducted at two different prisons, before it abolished the death penalty.

* Writing a piece for his local paper about the hanging actually led Douglas into his later career

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,Murder,Pelf,Theft

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1963: Oleg Penkovsky, Cuban Missile Crisis spy

Add comment May 16th, 2013 Headsman

It is 50 years today since Soviet military intelligence officer Oleg Penkovsky was executed for spying for the Americans.

Penkovsky, whose father died fighting for the anti-communist Whites during the Russian Civil War, lived up to his western handlers’ HERO codename by tipping the Soviets’ operational plans for missile deployment in Cuba — helping precipitate the Cuban Missile Crisis.

This speech inaugurated some of the darkest days of the Cold War … but they were probably even worse for Oleg Penkovsky, who was arrested just hours before Kennedy delivered it. He might have been shopped by a U.S. intelligence mole working for Moscow.

Penkovsky and his British contact, businessman Greville Wynne, faced a public show trial in May 1963 — resulting in the spy’s prompt execution. (Wynne got a prison sentence, and was later exchanged back to the West for Portland Spy Ring principal Gordon Lonsdale.)

The late spy’s journal was published in 1965 as The Penkovsky Papers. A variety of documents from Penkovsky’s CIA case file are available on the spy agency’s own site.

As befits the shadow world of espionage, Penkovsky’s activities and motivations are still disputed to this day. While some consider him among the most valuable/damaging spies in the Cold War, former MI5 officer Peter Wright claimed that Penkovsky was a loyal Moscow agent all along actually trafficking disinformation — and that he was not executed at all but cashiered to a comfortable secret retirement after his show trial “condemnation.”

But here’s the conventional take:

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Espionage,Execution,History,Russia,Shot,Spies,USSR

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1963: Victor Feguer, by the feds

2 comments March 15th, 2013 Headsman

This date marks half a century since the hanging of Victor Feguer — the last man executed by the federal government in the 20th century. (And the last executed in the state of Iowa, period.)

A drifter holing up at a Dubuque, Iowa, boarding house, Feguer phoned up a random doctor claiming a woman needed medical attention.

Think about that the next time someone gets nostalgic for house calls.

Dr. Edward Bartels showed up only to be kidnapped by Feguer, and eventually murdered in Illinois. Feguer was picked up in Alabama, trying to sell the doctor’s stolen car; his motive for the whole affair was just to get whatever drugs the luckless physician had with him.

The cross-state crime spree put Feguer’s case in the hands of the feds. (It was not, however, a “Lindbergh Law” case, since Feguer was on the hook for capital murder independent of the kidnapping.)

Although Feguer spent his prison time at the federal lockup in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, he was transported back to Iowa for execution — because that state’s penitentiary had a gallows available.

Iowa still had a death penalty on the books at this time, but it had a death penalty abolitionist for a chief executive; just two years hence, that Gov. Harold Hughes set his pen to the Hawkeye State’s death penalty abolition bill. Iowa hasn’t hanged, shot, electrocuted, poisoned, or otherwise judicially executed anyone since.

It was U.S. President John F. Kennedy, however, who had Victor Feguer’s life in his hands. Despite Gov. Hughes’s support for clemency, Kennedy turned the kidnapper down flat.

Feguer’s last meal, oddly, was a single olive. He tucked the olive’s pit into the new suit he wore to his dawn hanging.

As the death penalty waned into a formal abeyance in the 1970s in the U.S., the federal government stopped executing people for a long, long time. (And stopped hanging people altogether.) The next time a human being was put to death under federal auspices was 38 years later: Oklahoma City bomber Tim McVeigh.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Iowa,Kidnapping,Milestones,Murder,U.S. Federal,USA

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1963: Nora Parham, the only woman hanged in Belize

6 comments June 5th, 2011 Headsman

Belize, B. Honduras, June 5. — Nora Parham, aged 36, the East Indian mother of eight sons, was hanged today for the murder of the man with whom she had been living.

So ran a minute, page-10 wire story in the London Times* from the British Central American possession soon to become self-governing as the country of Belize.

The unfortunate subject of the story was the first, and remains to date the only, woman put to death in Belize.

But she’s very much more than a bit of trivia.

A domestic violence victim hanged for murdering her batterer — who just happened to be a cop — Parham remains a lively source of controversy down to the present day.

Nora’s position as the victim in an abusive marriage, combined with serious doubt about whether she truly killed her husband at all, have given her enduring appeal. There’s a going campaign to issue her a posthumous pardon. In fact, there was a going campaign before she died to issue her a humous pardon, opposed by a governing party paper on the grounds that “sympathy” ought not “change court rulings.”

And it’s hard not to feel sympathy for Nora Parham and the years of beatings she’s reported to have endured in her relationship with Ketchell Trapp. One doubts even the harshest magistrate would condemn a person in her situation to hang today.

“By refusing to treat the pair as wife and husband, not just cop slayer and cop,” argues this volume on gender politics in colonized Belize, “the government deepened its own highly political silence about domestic and community gender oppression and violence and added a threatening element to its re-call to ‘domestic womanhood.'”

That cop/husband was doused with gasoline and set afire, but admitted as he expired from these ghastly injuries that he had been beating Parham before the fatal fire.

Even so, it sounds like a calculated way to kill a person.

But many believe, as Parham testified at her trial** that it wasn’t homicide at all … that Trapp was incidentally splattered with gasoline during his donnybrook with his wife, then carelessly set himself ablaze lighting a cigarette while off in the outhouse. (While naked, no less. What a way to go.)

“While he came back in the bedroom, I had a gasoline iron [in] my hand with a pan of gasoline.

“He came in the bedroom with a stick in his hand and hit me on my head. When he was going to hit me another hit, I threw the gasoline on him and he grabbed away the pan from me, and I went through the backdoor and he stone me with the said pan.

“After he stoned [me], I ran around the house and he never see where I got to. I went in the house through the front door, then I took the gasoline iron from where I left it and put it in the box.

“While I was inside I heard a noise and I run to see what it was. When I went I saw Ketchell Trapp come out of the latrine under fire. I then run up to help him but I see I could not, then I continued running towards the Hospital back street, running towards the station.

-Nora Parham, at trial

That trial excerpt is drawn from a strongly pro-Nora account with more details about the case here.

Belize still hands down death sentences, but has not carried one out on anybody, man or woman, since 1985.

* June 6, 1963

** All-male jury, which was true of all juries in Belize until 1970.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Belize,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Hanged,History,Milestones,Murder,Occupation and Colonialism,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Ripped from the Headlines,Women,Wrongful Executions

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