1959: Harvey Glatman, signature killer

5 comments September 18th, 2012 Headsman

On this date in 1959, serial sex killer Harvey Glatman was gassed in San Quentin.

The dweeby, jug-eared TV repairman manifested an early kinky streak when his parents discovered the rope burns he’d given himself practicing autoerotic asphyxiation.

In time, he would do it without that important prefix.

Paroled from Sing Sing for teenage molestation convictions, Glatman moved west — to Denver, and then to Los Angeles, spending several years in monklike isolation from the opposite sex.

“Then,” writes Carlton Smith in a book about the BTK killer, “one sweltering afternoon in July 1957, the dam broke.”*

Glatman began trolling the City of Angels’ famous seedy underbelly for young women to model for “detective magazines” shoots — an understood euphemism for snapping illicit bondage pics. This excellent cover not only enabled him to have his victims willingly put themselves at his mercy in private, it enabled him to take their pictures as trophies.

They were images of Glatman’s detailed methodology of murder, which showed a sequence of terror by re-creating the entire psychological arc of the crime. He first photographed each victim with a look of innocence on her face as if she were truly enjoying a modeling session. The next series represented a sadist’s view of a sexually terrorized victim with the impending horror of a slow and painful death etched across her face. The final frame depicted the victim’s position that Glatman himself had arranged after he strangled her.

-Robert Keppel, Signature Killers



Photos Glatman took of two of his victims, models Judy Ann Dull (top) and Ruth Mercado (bottom). Images via Murderpedia’s collection, at least one of which is very distinctly NSFW. Murderpedia also has, as per usual, a detailed writeup of the Glatman case.

Glatman killed two women this way and a third via a lonely-hearts club meeting,** while losing a few targets along the way who were put off by his aspect or wily enough to demand a male escort for the photography sessions.

He was only stopped in 1958 when a police officer chanced to encounter him while attempting the more daring enterprise of roadside kidnapping. The perp was only 30 years old at the time, a frightening mixture of predatory calculation and homicidal lust: if not for this fortuitous early detection, it’s not too hard to imagine 1957-58 Glatman standing at the outset of a serial rape-murder spree of Bundyesque dimensions.

Unlike that later conniving, spotlight-hogging monster, Glatman post-arrest retreated quickly back to reclusion. He made only a token effort to deny his crimes; as soon as detectives tricked him (by pretending they had it already) into coming clean about a hidden toolbox full of incriminating evidence, the confessions started gushing out of him — another dam burst. He was begging detectives for death well before trial and willingly pled guilty to speed his own steps to San Quentin’s gas chamber. It took less than a year, time Glatman mostly spent in self-imposed isolation from the society of the inmates and guards around him in prison.

“It’s better this way,” he once said near the end, of his imminent date with those noxious fumes. “I knew this is the way it would be.”

Glatman’s LAPD interrogator, legendary detective Pierce Brooks, would later serve as a consultant for the made-for-TV Dragnet 1966 movie. In that film, the serial kidnapper, bondage-photographer, and murderer of young models, “Don Negler”, is conned by police into revealing the location of his incriminating toolbox — just like Glatman was.

The full film is available on YouTube; the interrogation sequence begins about 1:23:56. It clinches with the nebbishy “Negler’s” pathetic self-explanation.

Negler: The reason I killed those girls is they asked me to. (pause) They did; all of ’em.

Joe Friday: They asked you to.

Negler: Sure. They said they’d rather be dead than be with me.

* Glatman is also a suspect in a never-solved Colorado murder from 1954. So maybe that dam had a few leaks.

** The personal-ad gambit led the press to start nicknaming Glatman the “Lonely-Hearts Killer,” which appellation was of course already spoken for.

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2006: Clarence Ray Allen, “beyond rehabilitation”

6 comments January 17th, 2012 Meaghan

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

On this day in 2006, Clarence Allen was executed by the state of California for his role in the murders of three people.


Clarence Ray Allen packing heat and bravado in the 1970s (top); and, as a geriatric condemned man (bottom).

He could be seen as a kind of poster child for the death penalty: Allen was already serving a life sentence in prison for murder when he had the witnesses against him killed. As the Ninth Court of Appeals noted,

Given the nature of his crimes, sentencing him to another life term would achieve none of the traditional purposes underlying punishment. Allen … has proven that he is beyond rehabilitation.

The California Attorney General’s office provides a detailed account of his crimes here. (pdf) Crime Magazine ran a detailed piece on Allen in 2009. For Executed Today, a summary will suffice:

Allen, a father of two, presented an outward appearance of respectability (in fact, he ran a thriving security business) while organizing a gang of young people to help him commit many burglaries. In June 1974, Allen, his son Roger and other accomplices burglarized a Fresno supermarket and stole, among other things, $10,000 in money orders. Roger’s seventeen-year-old girlfriend, Mary Sue Kitts, later told Bryon Schletewitz, whose parents owned the supermarket, who had committed the burglary.

Allen had warned his gang that “snitches” would be put to death, and when he found out what Kitts had done he ordered her murder. Another member of the gang, Eugene Farrow, actually committed the deed, strangling Kitts and dumping her body in a canal. Her body has never been found.

Allen was convicted of the burglary and Kitts’s murder in 1977 and sentenced to life. Farrow pleaded guilty to second-degree murder.

After his conviction, Allen ordered the murders of eight of the witnesses who had testified against him at the trial, including Schletewitz and his parents. His other son, Kenneth (lovely family they are), supplied weapons and transportation to Billy Ray Hamilton, a recently paroled prisoner who had been offered $25,000 to commit the murders, and Hamilton’s girlfriend, Connie Sue Barbo. In 1980, Hamilton and Barbo broke into the supermarket and shot Schletewitz as well as Douglas Scott White and Jacqueline Rocha, two teenagers who were just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Fortunately, Barbo was caught at the scene and Hamilton was arrested just a few days later, before he could get on with the hit list.

In 1982, Allen was sentenced to death for the three murders. Hamilton was also sent to Death Row, where he remains. Barbo got a life term. Kenneth accepted a plea agreement that offered minimal prison time in exchange for his testimony, but when he recanted his original statements the agreement was canceled and he got a life sentence.

Already fifty years old at the time of the supermarket murders, Allen had to wait a further twenty-six years for his date with death. While he was on Death Row his health deterioriated markedly.

By the time he was executed he was diabetic, nearly deaf, legally blind and confined to a wheelchair. He also had a heart attack in 2005 and had to have bypass surgery.

Given the circumstances of his crimes, his advanced age and poor health were the only mitigating circumstances his attorneys could think of to argue for a reprieve. The Ninth Court of Appeals didn’t agree that this constituted cruel and unusual punishment.

Writing for the panel of judges, Judge Kim Wardlaw said,

His age and experience only sharpened his ability to coldly calculate the execution of the crime. Nothing about his current ailments reduces his culpability and thus they do not lessen the retributive or deterrent purposes of the death penalty.

For the same reasons, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger refused to intervene to stop the execution, saying, “His conduct did not result from youth or inexperience, but instead resulted from the hardened and calculating decisions of a mature man.”

On the day of Allen’s execution, he had to be lifted from his chair onto the gurney. His last words were: “It’s a good day to die. Thank you very much. I love you all. Goodbye.” It took eighteen minutes and an extra dose of potassium chloride for him to die.

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1938: Albert Dyer, sex killer (presumably)

4 comments September 16th, 2011 Headsman

On this date in 1938, Albert Dyer hanged at California’s San Quentin prison for a triple rape-murder.

Dyer is a very modern bugbear, a monster right out of cable news and amber alerts and stranger danger.

As often with those, his path to infamy began with disappeared white girls — Jeanette Stephens, Melba Everett, and Madeline Everett, all ages 7 to 9 — who went to picnic at an Inglewood park one summer afternoon and never came home.

The police set about hunting for any known sex offenders in the area, but the offense would ultimately be attributed to a neighbor who was active with the concerned search parties that scoured the area.

Induced by a police threat to deliver him into the hands of a lynch mob, Dyer admitted to having lured the girls off on the pretext of catching rabbits, then strangling them to death and raping their corpses.

(Here’s a disturbing set of photos of the girls’ bodies.)

Dyer attempted to repudiate these confessions, which you’d have to say were obtained under a bit of duress. The case against him apart from self-incrimination was a tissue of meager circumstantial evidence; Dyer’s persona smacks of mental deficiency that might have left him easy prey for manipulation by his captors.

Newspapers described Dyer as “dull” and “stupid”, and in fact the defense attempted to cast doubt on the prisoner’s mental competence and the reliability of his confessions. The jury took agonizing days to reach a consensus, and the last man holding out against conviction would later say that he finally gave in after being led to believe that the judge considered Dyer guilty. (This revelation was among the defense’s last arguments for executive clemency, at the end of the process.)

In short, for all the horror of the crime, the case was not cut and dried in 1938. The passage of time — with our latter-day awareness of false confessions and developmental disability — will hardly make it more so, unless some forgotten crime locker still preserves a testable genetic sample. But no surprise, the popular press had a different take. The Los Angeles Times editorialized (Aug. 27, 1937) anticipating that

[t]he verdict of a jury that Albert Dyer must die for the murder of three Inglewood children is a long step toward the eradication of sex crime in California. It is the only outcome of the case that public opinion could afford to sanction.

The evidence against Dyer was overwhelming; and there could be no mitigating circumstance which could justify this State in letting such a miscreant go on living.

Even if Dyer is mentally defective, there is no reason for his continued existence. He could never be safe to have at large. Legally, his condition is not insanity; he knew what he was doing and that it was wrong. Eradication of such types is necessary for public safety.

And the death penalty is the best deterrent. If others have this criminal tendency, his fate may cause them to repress it. Dyer, hanged, may save the lives of countless California innocents. In any scale, the safety of children must weigh more heavily than his forfeited right to live.

Dyer was the second-last person hanged by the Golden State before the gas chamber came online to replace the gallows. His legacy was California’s 1939 passage of a law governing (pdf) the handling of “Sexual Psychopaths”. (This site suggests he was also posthumously exploited for the cause of marijuana criminalization.)

Part of the Themed Set: Americana.

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1955: Barbara Graham, of “I Want to Live” fame

5 comments June 3rd, 2011 Headsman

On this date in 1955, Barbara Graham was gassed at California’s San Quentin Prison, along with two confederates in the brutal murder of an elderly widow.

Following the classic sob-story vector from orphan to juvenile delinquent to petty criminal, Graham found her calling as femme fatale.

She entered adulthood with World War II, and spent the war years alternating between failed marriages and the working-girl beat for Pacific military bases.

“Sure, I was a prostitute — and a damn good one,” she later confided to a reporter. “Why do people make so much of sex anyway? It’s part of our natural make-up, like getting hungry for food. If you want to eat, you go to a grocery store or a restaurant. If you need sleep, you sleep. If you want sex, why not get it?” (Source, a thorough .doc file)

Police made a bigger deal of perjury when she unwisely tried to help out some underworld friends by swearing to a demonstrably bogus alibi for them. She did some real time, tried to go straight in a boring Nevada town, and inevitably — for the likes of this site — returned to the siren lures of California.

It was back to the familiar job servicing the familiar hunger … but now with a new hunger of her own: heroin.

And heroin meant a now-ravenous appetite for cash.

Barbara Graham’s trip to the gas chamber and to California crime history began when she and some fellow-addicts tried to satiate that latter craving by burgling the Burbank home of Mabel Monohan, who was rumored to live alone with a lot of portable valuables.

The job was a botch from beginning to end: someone bludgeoned the crippled woman to death, but nobody found the supposed boodle. And as the police investigation led back towards the culprits, two of them flipped on their confederates.

(The first of them was kidnapped and murdered to prevent his testimony while everyone was still on the lam. The second happily took his place as the stool pigeon once everyone was in custody. Graham, proving that those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it, got caught on a wire trying to suborn perjury on her own behalf, dramatically destroying her alibi defense mid-trial.)

Shock murder authored by vamp courtesan? (The informant would testify that Graham personally pistol-whipped the victim into a bloody heap.) Hellooooo, California noir.

In its day, Graham’s case prompted all the moralistic hand-wringing familiar to the condemned-hottie tableau down to our present age. And at least that much unconcealed voyeurism. On the eve of her death, the Los Angeles Times palpitated:

“Nothing can be done now — I’m lost,” Mrs. Graham sobbed yesterday when told that Federal judges here and in San Francisco had turned down the latest bids for a stay of execution …

Two years in prison waiting for death have taken their toll of the once attractive convicted murderess.

Her reddish-blond hair has reverted to its natural black color. She has lost about 30 pounds. She is gaunt, tense and near hysteria.

The two men who shared her crime, her sentence, and her fate, did not endure a similar public microscope. Why would they? Jack Santo and Emmett Perkins — and this is the first we’ve even bothered to name them in this post — were just two dude hoods from central casting. Three hours after “Bloody Babs” succumbed to the fumes,* Santo and Perkins were gassed together as the forgettable postscript, “chatt[ing] amiably” with one another in the little metal shed while San Quentin’s personnel did all the preparatory business. (Los Angeles Times, June 4, 1955)

Graham’s persistence with a decreasingly plausible innocence story similarly amplified the pathos of her situation.

It also set up a highly sympathetic post-execution cinematic portrayal, the 1958 I Want to Live! — which garnered leading lady Susan Hayward an Oscar for Best Actress. Director Robert Wise actually personally witnessed the real Graham’s gassing as part of his research for the film.

A 1983 television remake starred former Bionic Woman Lindsay Wagner.

* Given the standard advice for gas chamber clientele that breathing deeply makes it all go down easy, Graham aptly retorted, “How in the hell would you know?”

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1967: Aaron Mitchell, Ronald Reagan’s first and only execution

8 comments April 12th, 2011 Headsman

On this date in 1967, Aaron Mitchell was gassed in California on the authority of a governor holding his first elected office — Ronald Reagan, future U.S. president and emerging avatar of conservative white ressentiment in the turbulent 1960s.

It was only 23 days after California’s last previous execution, in January 1963, that Mitchell killed a white cop during a shootout occasioned by his abortive bar robbery. He’d been on death row fighting execution ever since, with a few dozen others who had been there even longer.

That gummed-up death penalty process, for which the Golden State is so well-known today, was most vividly symbolized at the time by the 12-year death row odyssey of Caryl Chessman.

And it had been among the many grievances catalyzing a conservative backlash against the civil rights movement, the Great Society, anti-war protesters, permissive social mores … the whole aspect of Sixties counterculture and American liberalism.

Ronald Reagan was born to wield the sword against it all. The sword, or some little cyanide pellets.

Reagan, a film actor, had cut his political teeth as a spokesman for General Electric and against commie plots like Medicare.

After famously backing the failed 1964 presidential bid of Barry Goldwater, Reagan emerged as the favored son of the New Right, and in his first foray into electoral politics, steamrolled over incumbent Democrat Edmund Brown in California’s 1966 gubernatorial election.

Reagan had an undoubted gift for packaging the sometimes unpalatable ennui of his potential constituencies into soundbites that respectable people could repeat in public, which talent proved essential to his bright political future.

“Why is it,” he demanded during the campaign, “that no street in our city is safe for women after dark?” (Los Angeles Times, September 21, 1966) Stung by Republican attacks on rising crime rates, Gov. Brown had vainly pushed a tough-on-crime platform of his own in 1966.

Too little. Too late.

“Mr. Reagan is outspokenly in favor of capital punishment and he has just been elected by a tremendous majority,” said Jesse James Gilbert, 41, who has languished on Death Row for two years.* “If the courts begin to reflect his thinking, he will be in a position to become the greatest butcher governor in history.”

Los Angeles Times, Dec. 4, 1966

What a different world it was from today’s that a major paper unabashedly used a death row prisoner’s own voice for analytical comment. Still, that same article noted (not in Gilbert’s voice, but as a plain fact on the ground) that “even a single execution could endanger Reagan’s chances for reelection or stifle voices which are beginning to urge him to seek the Republican Presidential nomination in 1968 or 1972.” A different world indeed.

Reagan had outspokenly run on capital punishment, however, and there’s such a thing as feeding your base. He surely was not going to execute nobody.

Mitchell was the man in line, and he certainly fit that not-safe-to-walk-the-streets-at-night angle, if you catch the drift. In an Ebony (June 1967) profile of his last days, Mitchell emerges at once radicalized and resigned, his four years awaiting death spent “researching and studying the race problem.”

“Every negro ever convicted of killing a police officer has died in that gas chamber,” Mitchell said on the day of his death. “So what chance did I have?”**

When the aide in charge of the clemency application is overtly pro-Scrooge future Attorney General Edwin Meese … not much chance, no.

So on this date, and in spite of an energetic protest outside San Quentin, a suicide attempt inside it, an open line to the governor’s office just in case, and a hysterical mother (who fled Mitchell’s clemency session in tears two days before, complaining that it was “a sham hearing”), Mitchell became the 501st person put to death since the state moved all executions from county auspices into state prisons.†

The 502nd would not take place until another quarter-century had elapsed.

Cold comfort to Mitchell, but Reagan himself did not vindicate Jesse Gilbert’s worst fears, and did not present the execution rubber-stamp of a later political generation; for his time and place, being visibly willing to approve some executions amply proved his credentials. (Newsweek called the governor a “man of conviction” after the Mitchell execution. (Source) Mission accomplished.)

Reagan would stay the next death date on his watch, that of Daniel Allen Roberts, over questions of mental competency; later in 1967, he would do the same for Robert Lee Massie just hours ahead of execution so that Massie could testify in another trial, inadvertently providing a bullet point in the conservative critique of death penalty squeamishness.

And in the event, the Great Communicator would be spared any great need to answer for a significant slate of individual clemency decisions. It was judicial activity far more than executive reticence that stayed the hand of California’s executioner; only one more execution after Mitchell’s took place in all of the U.S. before the country slipped into a complete death penalty moratorium from which it would not emerge for another decade.

And when the Reagan-appointed California Chief Justice Donald Wright authored a 1972 opinion striking down that state’s death penalty laws, it emptied death row outright.‡ (Sparing, among over 100 others, Charles Manson and Sirhan Sirhan.)

Capital punishment is impermissibly cruel. It degrades and dehumanizes all who participate in its processes. It is unnecessary to any legitimate goal of the state and is incompatible with the dignity of man and the judicial process. Our conclusion that the death penalty may no longer be exacted in California consistently with article I, section 6, of our Constitution is not grounded in sympathy for those who would commit crimes of violence, but in concern for the society that diminishes itself whenever it takes the life of one of its members. Lord Chancellor Gardiner reminded the House of Lords, debating abolition of capital punishment in England: “When we abolished the punishment for treason that you should be hanged, and then cut down while still alive, and then disembowelled while still alive, and then quartered, we did not abolish that punishment because we sympathised with traitors, but because we took the view that it was a punishment no longer consistent with our self respect.”

California v. Anderson

That would not stand as the final word on capital punishment in California, but by the time other condemned prisoners had come to the end of their appeals, they were the concern of different governors.

Reagan left the California governor’s mansion in 1975 during the death penalty’s long hiatus; as U.S. president from 1981 to 1989, the death penalty was only just coming back online from that period, and that at the state level. Beyond platitudinous approval of the trend, Reagan never had to put his own signature on a federal death warrant.

So as it turned out, Aaron Mitchell was the first, last, and only man so distinguished.

And Reagan’s minuscule career execution count was hardly the anomaly that it might now appear. Prior to Reagan, the last Chief Executive who had actually entered the White House having previously forwarded any fellow to the executioner was … Dwight Eisenhower.

* Gilbert is the appellant in the 1967 U.S. Supreme Court decision Gilbert v. California, reversing his conviction because of a police lineup identification unconstitutionally obtained without his lawyer’s knowledge.

** The cop-killing Mitchell wasn’t getting any love from the beleaguered Brown administration, either; Brown almost had a shot to pull a Ricky Ray Rector with Mitchell during the campaign, but the prisoner won a judicial stay just 24 hours from execution in May 1966.

The now-former governor was quoted after Mitchell’s actual 1967 execution expressing general support for Reagan’s non-clemency in spite of Brown’s own philosophical opposition to capital punishment.

† A journalist who witnessed the gassing later described it as something less than a triumph of the killing arts.

as the gas hit him, his head immediately fell to his chest. Then his head came up and he looked directly into the window. For nearly seven minutes he sat up that way, with his chest heaving, saliva bubbling between his lips. He tucked his thumbs into his fists, and finally his head fell again … I believe he was aware many minutes … He appeared to be in great anguish

‡ “A mockery of the constitutional process,” fumed (pdf) Reagan, who claimed that Wright had told him he backed capital punishment. (See Governor Reagan: His Rise to Power)

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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.

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1928: William Edward Hickman, Randian superhero?

7 comments October 19th, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 1928, William Edward Hickman was hanged at California’s San Quentin prison for what the Los Angeles Times was still calling a decade later* “the most horrible crime of the 1920’s.”

Eighteen- or nineteen-year-old Hickman kidnapped the 12-year-old daughter of a Los Angeles banker, extracted a $1,500 ransom from said banker for her return, then delivered up the girl’s horribly mutilated corpse.

A nationwide manhunt immediately ensued, with Hickman soon captured in Oregon.

Pretty white girls abducted have been media catnip for many a livelong year. In this case, the dastardly deed induced the Los Angeles Times to editorially demand (Dec. 21, 1927) an automatic death penalty for murder in a manifesto that reads like it was written yesterday for whatever the outrageous crime du jour might be.

LET MURDERERS HANG

The sickly sentimentality which wars upon capital punishment for murder and insists upon the coddling of convicts will have a hard time to justify itself in the case of the slayer of Marian Parker, who, if police theories are correct, is William Edward Hickman, a criminal on probation. Had Hickman been serving the prison term which he deserved for his forgeries, he could not have committed the series of crimes which culminated in one of the most atrocious murders of which there is any record. He was free through the lenity of the California law to take his revenge in the most horrible fashion, against a man who had done him no injury that could be considered such by anyone with a spark of moral sense.

Not for vengeance, but for its own protection, both through example and through the eradication of a rotten and depraved individual, society should put the Parker case slayer out of life as quickly as the formalities of law permit. His continued existence is a reproach to all humanity.

A clash of conflicting theories of the best methods of dealing with criminals has brought society to a condition of hesitation. This condition is highly favorable to criminal operations of all sorts, while justice and the law seem to stand by, bewildered and helpless. The logical way to meet this situation is to take practical steps which society knows will protect it, and let penologists and psychiatrists conduct their debate over the ideal system, entirely to one side.

There can be no question that men in jail, while in jail, are no particular menace to society, and that men who have been hanged do not commit further murders. Upon these two solid facts let society base its actions, unless and until something better has been devised and proved. The semi-punishment, semi-reformatory scheme at present in force is obviously a failure.

Its greatest error is that it considers the interest of the criminal rather than those of his victim, or rather the interest of the class to which his victim belongs. This class is made up of the honest, the law-abiding, the God-fearing, the hard-working, the solid and substantial; in other words, of all individuals who are resolved to live in peace and harmony with their neighbors,. respecting others’ rights as courtesouly as they expect their own to be respected. Against this class, the great majority, another class, a minority, is waging war. It consists of the vicious, the depraved, the degenerate; nonproducers and parasites. At best this class is a drag upon progress, at worst it is a menace to civilization. Yet the law as it stands at present regards the rights of the individuals of the class as paramount. The machinery of the courts is strained at every point to aid them.

It is not necessary to inquire why a rattlesnake strikes, or if it is likely to strike again. His motives may be interesting, but they are not important. It is sufficient to recognize the danger and to deal with it appropriately.

It does not matter whether anti-social individuals are all insane, as some criminologists assert, whether they are economic misfits, as other theorists declare, or whether they are in the main ordinary persons gone wrong, as still another school insists. There has been too much consideration for them and not enough for those they prey upon and injure. It is time the emphasis was shifted.

It is time to face the facts, before the criminal class succeeds entirely in getting the upper hand. It is time to place every proved criminal where he can do no more harm. It is time for society to take the certainty of protection; it is time to stop giving the criminal “another chance.”

It is time to hang every murderer.

Lack of firmness in dealing with the criminal problem is due largely to the sob-sister and the sentimentalist. At the other extreme stands the mob spirit and lynch law, equally destructive of the foundations of society. Criminals should be judged without passion, bias or prejudice, and this is possible only in a court of law. No matter how heinous the crime, it is a matter for the courts to deal with. Good citizens will insist that proper punishment be dealt out in accordance with the provisions of law and order. For men to take the law into their own hands is to place themselves on a plane with the criminals, and to give away the immense moral advantage of being right.

Sensational crime + ill-considered policy response = a California tradition. (There wasn’t actually a change of the law in 1927-28, though.)

Perhaps recoiling from the self-righteous public baying after Hickman’s blood, a young Ayn Rand took such a shine to Hickman as to base upon him a murderous protagonist in a 1928 work, The Little Street. The budding apostle of selfishness decried in her journals

[a]verage, everyday, rather stupid looking citizens. Shabbily dressed, dried, worn looking little men. Fat, overdressed, very average, ‘dignified’ housewives … How can they decide the fate of that boy? Or anyone’s fate?

Though The Little Street never saw print, the hero disdainful of the petty bonds of moral hypocrisy is the go-to trope of Rand’s later novels. If you can bear them, you’ll find Rand speaking of “nonproducers and parasites” who are “a drag upon progress … a menace to civilization” in much the way the Times speaks of Hickman.

Rand wrote that “other people do not exist for [Hickman], and he does not see why they should … He has the true, innate psychology of a Superman. He can never realize and feel ‘other people.'” It’s a pretty near definition of sociopathy likewise imputed to the hero of her later novel The Fountainhead: “He was born without the ability to consider others.”

Indeed, Hickman was a very strange choice for Rand’s affection, quite apart from the obvious: other than the derring-do to bluff school administrators into letting him take away a child on his own say-so, he didn’t really exhibit the magnificent contempt for his many lessers one would expect from a Howard Roark.


From the Los Angeles Times, Dec. 25, 1927.

Hickman broke down and confessed, not in pride but in panic, and signed a simpering “warning” to young men of the classic gallows-speech variety on Christmas Eve 1927:

Crime in its simplest definition is to have without work and enjoy the same place in society as other people and still show no honest effort or intention to go right.

Young men, when crime has once overcome your will power to be honest and straight you are a menace to society. …

Think it over, see my mistake. Be honest and upright. Respect the law. If you do these things you’ll be happier in the end. (Source: Los Angeles Times, Dec. 24, 1927)

Over the ten ensuing months, the teen had the opportunity to recover his wits and play a more manful part, but that didn’t happen either. A week before execution, when any hope of reprieve was gone and there was little percentage left in playing the supplicant, Hickman sent the Associated Press this bit of self-flagellation.

I know very well that I have been a most guilty sinner … I am sorry for having offended God and man … Please ask the people in the name of God to pray for us condemned men here at San Quentin prison.

(To top it off, he wilted climbing the scaffold and had to be helped up the last few steps.)

The miscreant unequal to the weight of his crime-slash-sin, thirsting for the redemptive chalice of heaven … as a criminals go, that’s more Dostoyevsky than Rand.

* Mar. 27, 1938. The context was a roundup of the gallows highlights of San Quentin’s history on the occasion of its switch from hanging to lethal gas.

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

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1938: A pig, experimentally

3 comments March 19th, 2009 Headsman

EXECUTION TEST MADE WITH PIG

San Quentin’s Lethal Chamber Tried Out

SAN QUENTIN, March 19 [1938]. (AP) A runt pig* died today in a slow-motion test of San Quentin’s lethal gas chamber.

The test required thirty-five minutes before the pig was formally pronounced dead, but prison officials said “nowhere near that time” would be necessary for execution of a condemned convict in the gas chamber.

The trial execution was conducted in slow motion to enable prison officials and guards to learn details of the operation. The test was conducted by representatives of the manufacturers of the chamber.

* According to the Los Angeles Times (whose March 24, 1938 edition captions a photograph of Warden Court Smith peering inquisitively through the gas chamber’s window), it was “a little thirty-pound brown pig.” According to the backgrounder in When You Read This, They Will Have Killed Me — which concerns an altogether more famous gas chamber subject — the swine was “a 155-pound pig named Oscar, raised on the prison farm.”

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Animals,Borderline "Executions",California,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Gassed,No Formal Charge,USA

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1898: Theodore Durrant, the Demon of the Belfry

1 comment January 7th, 2009 Headsman

The annals of crime will attest that malefaction, like any other history, repeats itself — as tragedy and then as farce and then simply with numbingly grisly monotony.

Which brings us to San Francisco, for another forgotten crime of the century — a theater of the time actually produced a play called Criminal of the Century — that sent the Nancy Graces of the Gilded Age aswoon.

Theodore Durrant‘s basic profile — normal-seeming medical student and Sunday school superintendent with a secret pervy side — might not seem so remarkable with a century’s worth of serial killer profiles in the books, but ponder what programming hours Court TV would fill with mutilated, violated female parishioners found stuffed in the cupboard and belfry at any of the nation’s Emanuel Baptist Churches.

That Durrant was the last person seen with either of them anchored what the Associated Press would call (only a week after the bodies were discovered) a “chain of circumstantial evidence that has been welded link by link … so strong that it seems hardly possible that it can be rent asunder.”

Why,

information poured in … proving that the prisoner was a degenerate of the most depraved class. For obvious reasons, names cannot be given of young ladies to whom he made the most disgusting propositions, and the wonder of it is that he was not killed, or at least exposed before. But in most instances the nature of his insults were such that the young ladies offended feared to inform their relatives, lest they would take the law in their own hands. One young lady told her mother that some time previous to these murders, Durrant had inveigled her into this same library and excusing himself for a moment, returned stark naked and she ran screaming from the church.

The particulars were nationwide news copy from the outset in 1895 to hanging in 1898, and the city had a difficulty scraping together a jury qualified to give the man a fair trial (deliberation time: five minutes).

Durrant, for his part, protested his innocence to the gallows. Few believed him, but he did pick up a married groupie the press nicknamed “Sweet Pea Girl” for the flowers she kept bringing him.*

The more things change …

Even the legal route to hanging was (by 19th century standards) characteristically-for-California tortuous. The “fight for delay,” reported the Los Angeles Times (Jan. 8, 1898), was “vigorously maintained for almost twenty months, not even ceasing with the execution of the death sentence.”

Durrant came within two days of execution twice in 1897; the full narrative of legal maneuvers will be amply suggested by the Times‘ account of those made in the last week alone.

On December 31, an appeal for a writ of supersedeas was made to the State Supreme Court, but was refused. The Federal courts were then vainly appealed to for a writ of habeas corpus. On January 3 a petition was presented to Gov. Budd, praying for executive interference in the case. The petition stated that Durrant was a vital witness in the slander suit brought by his mother against [trial juror Horace] Smyth.**

On January 5 Durrant’s attorneys made another application to the United States court for a writ of habeas corpus. This was denied; also permission to appeal to the United States Supreme Court. On January 6, Attorney Boardman arrived in Washington, and endeavored to persuade Justice Brewer of the Supreme Court to grant permission to an appeal. Justice Brewer declined, and Boardman announced that he would appear before the entire court on Friday and demand to be heard.

In San Francisco on January 6, Attorneys Dickinson and Deuprey asked the United States Circuit Court for leave to file a bill of exceptions. … On the same afternoon, Gov. Budd formally announced that he would not interfere.

Durrant’s beloved sister would change her name to Maud Allan and emerge as a popular dancer in Europe in the early years of the 20th century. Renowned for her sensual portrayal of Salome, Maud strikes an immediate reminder of another character from these grim pages … and like Mata Hari, Durrant’s sister was accused (non-fatally, in Maud’s case) of consorting with German operatives during World War I.

* A paroled murderess also had Durrant’s back.

** According to the story, Smyth publicly called Durrant a “moral monster” and suggested that the condemned had had relations with his mother and sister.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,California,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Murder,Notably Survived By,Sex,USA

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