1916: Kosta Kromphold

Add comment September 1st, 2014 Headsman


According to the Portland Oregonian, Kosta Kromphold mellowed to a phonograph in his jail cell on the eve of his execution — including “If I Had a Thousand Lives to Live.”

A Russian native, the forgettable Kosta Kromphold had left his dear mum in New York City and chased his fortune to the Pacific coast, where he found it at gunpoint in the money-box of a Chinese restauranteur in Marysville.

Kosta really got himself into the egg drop soup during the subsequent chase by two bicycle (of course — this is California!) cops. Firing back at his pursuers, he shot officer John Sperbeck dead, right through the mouth.

According to April Moore’s Folsom’s 93: The Lives and Crimes of Folsom Prison’s Executed Men, “A Mrs. A. Meyers of New York City wrote to Governor Hiram Johnson on behalf of her housekeeper, Johanna Kromphold, the condemned man’s mother, saying that Mrs. Kromphold had already lost two of her three children. Mrs. Meyers’s message continued, ‘By taking this young boy’s life, you not only take one but two, as I am positive she will never live through this terrible ordeal.'”

This appeal didn’t work, and on September 1, 1916, Kromphold imparted a dying plea to the Folsom Prison chaplain: “Write my mother. I haven’t the heart to do it.”

On this day..

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

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1906: Adolph Weber, nervy

Add comment September 27th, 2011 Headsman

On this date in 1906, Adolph Weber hanged in California for “one of the most revolting [crimes] in the annals of criminal history”:* the slaughter of his entire family.

On the night of Nov. 10, 1904, a fire at the Auburn mansion of Julius Weber, the onetime owner of the (still-extant) Auburn Alehouse, raised the town’s alarm. Firemen responding discovered four bodies within: Julius, his wife, and two of the couple’s three children. The coroner’s inquest soon determined that all four victims had met a violent death (three by shooting, one by beating) prior to the conflagration, and suspicion naturally fell on the one kid who survived and now stood to inherit the boodle.

(And, it transpired, had robbed a bank earlier that year.)

“Young Weber,” as the papers began to call him, soon became the object of widespread public opprobrium; the case against him was circumstantial but, with the addition of a man who claimed to have sold Weber the very make and model of a pistol found hidden some days after the crime, more than compelling enough for the judiciary. (The text of an appellate decision here outlines the case in greater detail.)

Meanwhile, the legislative branch got busy on a new 1905 Patricide Law to disinherit any homicide beer baron scions of the future. Since the previous statutes had not bothered to anticipate the present circumstance, Adolph Weber inherited all his purported victim’s money (after all, the other potential heirs were also now dead): he promptly blew through most of it on his legal expenses.

Weber’s phenomenal sangfroid from the moment of his arrest up to that of his noosing was his outstanding characteristic. Considered horrifying “vanity” and coldness while his guilt was adjudicated —

The life and character of Adolph WEBER have come under more notice than those of perhaps any other California criminal, unless DURRANT was the exception. And he is more of an enigma than DURRANT. The latter was industrious in protesting his innocence, while WEBER has never deigned to aver his, except when the direst question of his guilt or innocence was put to him at the trial, and even then his answers were in monosylables.

Sacramento Bee, June 23 1906

— it had become by the time the doomed Weber coolly ran out the clock to execution “the nerve which has characterized him as one of the most remarkable criminals of the century.”

“Never,” the Los Angeles Times wrote on the morrow of Weber’s execution, “did an assassin meet death with firmer step, or cooler nerve, than did the boy murderer of Auburn.”

* Los Angeles Times, Sep. 28, 1906

Part of the Themed Set: Americana.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,California,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Murder,Pelf,USA

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1938: Robert Lee Cannon and Albert Kessell, the first gassed in California

5 comments December 2nd, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 1938, California debuted the latest in killing technology when its brand new gas chamber consumed Robert Lee Cannon and Albert Kessel for the previous year’s riot in Folsom Prison.


Folsom Prison.

Already near 15 years in service in Nevada and previously mammal-tested in the Golden State, the gas chamber made California’s gallows a thing of the past.

First up were five convicts in three installments: Cannon and Kessel on Friday, Dec. 2; Wesley Eudy and Fred Barnes the following Friday, Dec. 9; and Ed Davis by his lonesome on Dec. 16. (The gas chamber only seated two at a time, and had to be aired out for hours after completing an execution.)

They were the five survivors of a bloody rising at Folsom in September 1937 that had killed Warden Clarence Larkin, plus a prison guard and two inmates. And they earned thereby the distinction of being blogged about in the 21st century as Californian pioneers.

Though the gas chamber’s maiden run doesn’t appear to have experienced what we might call an actual botch (a later article would report that they “stoically shuddered to their deaths”), the unfamiliar procedure made plenty of witnesses queasy. According to the Dec. 3, 1938 Los Angeles Times,

Prison attendants, used to watching men die, said the exhibition sickened them. It led almost immediately to a movement to have the new law repealed and hanging reinstuted as the method of capital punishment in this State.

The Times‘ “Daily Mirror” history blog helpfully provides several of the eyewitness reactions (along with ancient newsprint pictures of the condemned).

Kessell’s death was visibly unpleasant. He “appeared to be trying to hold his breath. He was rigid and his hands gripped the arms of his chair as the gas hit him. He gasped: ‘It’s bad!'” Cannon’s seems to have been less so.

But the real source of spectator revulsion was the audience’s aesthetic experience — in this case, of excessively prolonged and intimate proximity to the dying men.

What several witnesses said made today’s executions so terrible was the fact that the condemned men were not masked or blindfolded and that it took so long,* from the time they entered the chamber to be strapped into the chairs until they were pronounced dead.

The movement to restore the gallows never got, er, off the ground; California kept gassing condemned men and women into the 1990’s, when it switched to lethal injection.

Killed in San Quentin for crimes in Folsom? Here’s the mandatory Johnny Cash callout.

* A couple of minutes to strap down, and another 16 minutes from the start of the execution until death was pronounced. This same newspaper article said hangings clocked in at under 15 minutes for the entire procedure.

Everything is relative, of course. Renowned British hangman Albert Pierrepoint had to conduct a few executions for the U.S. military, and he found the American hanging ritual to be intolerably prolonged and personal compared to his baseline assumption.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,California,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Gassed,Milestones,Murder,USA

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