1928: Ruth Snyder and Judd Gray

10 comments January 12th, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 1928, a suburban femme fatale and the corset salesman who had murdered her husband were electrocuted at Sing Sing prison.

“A cheap crime involving cheap people,” one writer called it.

“Ruthless Ruth,” as the press inevitably called her, was on the wrong side of 30 and married to a wet blanket on the wrong side of 40 from whom she couldn’t even get away during the day because they worked for the same boating magazine.

The banal hell of the bourgeoisie.

Ruth had a banal solution: commence affair with handsome, limp-willed corset salesman (also married) from New Jersey.

Given a large enough metropolis with a large enough pool of adulterous data points, it must be statistically inexorable that a certain proportion will resolve the love triangle by throttling the cuckold with a wire.

But only that remorseless calculator in the sky can compute why these two, of all those thousands, were the ones not to run off together, or let the affair fizzle, or just continue to rendezvous indefinitely into the future. They certainly weren’t constitutionally cut out for crime; they set up the room in a poor simulacrum of a robbery, and told of a couple of unknown Italians* who’d broke in and done poor Albert Snyder to death.

For their poor judgment and for the speedy collapse of their crummy alibi, journalism owes them a debt of gratitude.

The execution of a woman was quite sensational; Ruth Snyder was to be the first electrocuted since 1899.

For the occasion, The New York Daily News hired a Chicago Tribune journalist to witness the execution … and at the moment the current struck, Tom Howard hoisted his pant leg and secretly snapped with a one-use camera one of the most indelible images the death chamber offered the 20th century, to be splashed in a few hours’ time on the Daily News‘ cover under the headline

DEAD!

The Snyder-Gray adulterous melodrama and its violent conclusion inspired novelist James Cain‘s Double Indemnity, and the noir film of the same title with Barbara Stanwyck as the black widow at the center of the web.

It also inspired the state of New York to begin searching official witnesses to its electrocutions.

* Blame-the-Italians here is a Roaring Twenties Queens version of fingering the black man. The murder was committed in May 1927, just as the Sacco and Vanzetti case was approaching its climax.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Electrocuted,Execution,Murder,New York,Popular Culture,Ripped from the Headlines,Sex,USA,Women

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1951: Albert Guay

4 comments January 12th, 2008 Headsman

On this date in 1951, Albert Guay was hanged in Canada for one of the earliest commercial airline attacks — bombing a Canadian Pacific Airline flight to murder his wife.

Stuck in a loveless marriage with little recourse to divorce, Guay‘s loins burned for a young mistress.

He engaged a watchmaker colleague, Généreux Ruest, to make a bomb, and the latter’s sister, Marguerite Ruest-Pitre, to air freight it on the doomed plane. Both would maintain their innocence of the plot, but after Guay’s own conviction, he implicated both — possibly in an attempt to delay his own hanging.

A time bomb in the luggage hold of this airplane took 23 lives on September 9, 1949, for which three people were executed — and inspired a copycat crime with 44 more deaths and one more execution.

Guay had intended the plane to explode over the St. Lawrence River, eliminating the forensic evidence, but a slight delay before takeoff laid the damning debris over the land. The flight’s entire complement of four crew and nineteen passengers — including three top executives of the Kennecott Utah Copper Corporation — perished.

The crime had ample media attention both north and south of the Canada-U.S. border — flight still being something of a terrifying novelty for the general public. Guay’s purchase of life insurance for his wife on the day of the trip was not especially inculpatory, but a standard procedure for air travelers.

Guay’s last words caught the irony of his celebrity: “Au moins, je meurs célèbre” (“At least I die famous”).

A few years after this day’s events, an American attempted a similar crime, with similar results.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Canada,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous Last Words,Gallows Humor,Hanged,History,Infamous,Milestones,Murder,Notable for their Victims,Notable Jurisprudence,Notable Sleuthing,Pelf,Sex

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