1951: The Lonely Hearts killers, tortured by love

1 comment March 8th, 2010 Headsman

“Who would give a law to lovers? Love is unto itself a higher law. ”

Boethius

On this date in 1951, the made-for-tabloids killer couple Raymond Fernandez and Martha Beck were electrocuted at New York’s Sing Sing prison for murder.

He was a toupeed middle-aged lothario with a knack for conning personal ad denizens. She was a lovelorn obese single mother* with a serious dark side. Together — through a chance meeting through the personals — they became the Lonely Hearts Killers.

Martha Beck started off as just another of Raymond Fernandez’s targets: charm them, promise engagement or undergo a faux-wedding, and then rob them. He’d pulled this off a few times before; he might have even killed at least one of them.

But something clicked when he met Martha.

Or rather, Martha made it click.

Fernandez did the love ’em and leave ’em routine with Martha, whom he soon realized was penniless. But their passionate hotel rendezvous had been spied by the local bluenoses, who promptly got Martha fired for her indiscretions. She showed up unannounced at Fernandez’s door, and pushed her way right into his life.

Ere long, they were cohabiting — lurid media accounts would later savor their “abnormal sexual practices” and their, er, lifestyle relationship. She caused near-riots among the crush of spectators at their circus trial when she got into specifics of freaky stuff like voodoo fetish play.

“A request from Mr. Fernandez to me is a command,” Martha testified. Since this was so — though the power dynamic between them really seems to have run in the other direction — she willingly joined in Mr. Fernandez’s scam, posing as his “sister” when he went to meet and charm his next mark.

Once such assets as could be had were signed over, the pigeon was disposed of: often, they’d just make the “honeymoon” so unbearable that the target got the picture and left, so humiliated she wouldn’t dare come forward with the story.

And sometimes — nobody seems to know exactly how many times — Raymond and Martha killed together.

Martha (whose own sob story of ostracism and childhood neglect is really quite sad) supplied much of the vengeful energy that impelled the murders. One of their victims was a woman Beck attacked in a jealous rage when Fernandez actually slept with her. (The “sister” would often impose on the sleeping arrangements to obstruct consummation.)

The Lonely Hearts Killers’ crime spree is thoroughly covered elsewhere. It carried them to Michigan, a non-death penalty state where they were arrested. There, they confessed in a ploy to draw a local sentence and avoid execution.

Michigan instead extradited them to New York to stand trial in a sweltering courtroom and on every Gotham newspaper’s daily headlines for the murder of a Long Island widow. That confession given in Michigan helped seal their fate in New York.

Though separated from one another on death row (but they kept up the treacly correspondence), Martha and Raymond were joined in death.

On International Women’s Day of 1951, both were executed in New York’s electric chair, along with two unconnected, run-of-the-mill murderers.

My story is a love story. But only those tortured by love can know what I mean … in the history of the world, how many crimes have been attributed to love?

-Martha Beck

Given the newspaper ink spilled over these two, it’s no surprise that they’ve inspired plenty of subsequent writers and directors. The Honeymoon Killers (review) is a creepy 1970 classic, with a couple of latter-day imitators.

* She abandoned her two kids to the Salvation Army when she hitched her wagon to Fernandez.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Electrocuted,Execution,History,Infamous,Murder,New York,Pelf,Popular Culture,Serial Killers,Sex,USA,Women

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

1939: Three Men For Murder, But Not Isidore Zimmerman

1 comment January 26th, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 1937, Isidore “Beansy” Zimmerman spent the day preparing for death in New York’s electric chair … but was spared by an 11th-hour clemency from New York Governor Herbert Lehman.

Here’s the scene, as laid in the anti-death penalty tome of wrongful convictions In Spite of Innocence:

As dawn broke over Sing Sing Prison, Beansy Zimmerman had every reason to think it would be his last day.

Zimmerman numbly went through the pre-execution rituals. The last meal (choose whatever you want), and music (you get to choose that, too) played on the wind-up phonograph. The barber shaves your scalp so the electrodes can fit snugly against your bare skin. The tailor slits one of your trouser legs for another electrode. Officials treat you with unaccustomed politeness. A final family visit — how do you say good-bye when you know it is forever? What should your last words be? Beansy’s mother stayed away, unable to face such finality.

Two hours before execution, Gov. Lehman commuted his sentence.

In this blog, we lay aside each story day by day, but for those affected, it’s rarely so easy — which is why the mothers of the five men condemned today put in their personal clemency appeals to the governor.

For Zimmerman and a fellow “accomplice” named Philip Chaleff whose respective roles in a robbery/murder were doubted, it had the desired effect. (Dominick Guariglia, Arthur Friedman and Joseph O’Loughlin weren’t so lucky.)

Chaleff, a diabetic being kept alive just for execution, soon succumbed. For Zimmerman, the execution that did not happen was to define the rest of his 66 years. He was alive, but to what end?

“I wasn’t dead, no,” he remembered. “But every day from now on they’d bury me a little more.”

Zimmerman fought, by becoming a skilled jailhouse lawyer and in 1962 finally winning exoneration from the New York Supreme Court, which held that the testimony against him had been perjured with the connivance of the prosecutor.

He’d spent nearly a quarter-century in prison. Now, he was just another ex-con scrabbling after dead-end employment.

For years thereafter, Zimmerman fought for a special bill that would allow him to sue the Empire State for wrongful imprisonment, finally winning approval in 1981.

His suit asked for $10 million. The judge reckoned Zimmerman’s time and trouble were worth a tenth of that.

Expenses deducted, Zimmerman walked away with $660,000 — that, and sweet vindication.

Fourteen weeks later, he dropped dead of a heart attack.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Crime,Death Penalty,Electrocuted,Execution,Innocent Bystanders,Last Minute Reprieve,Murder,New York,Not Executed,Notable Jurisprudence,Pardons and Clemencies,USA,Wrongful Executions

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

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

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

1903: William Ennis, wife-murdering cop

Add comment December 14th, 2008 Headsman

On this date in 1903, a nine-year veteran of the Brooklyn police became the first member of the thin blue line to die in the electric chair.

Then 31-year-old William Ennis had gunned down his estranged wife (and, not fatally, his mother-in-law) early the preceding year, and his attempt to claim insanity at trial was rejected as shamming.

This slice of New York color is the second story in this New York Times column reporting the day after the crime.

While in a frenzy of rage, as a result of heavy drinking and brooding over family troubles, William H. Ennis, a policeman attached to the Adams Street Station, Brooklyn, early yesterday morning broke into the hime [sic] of Mrs. Alice Gorman, his mother-in-law, in Canarsie, wounded her seriously with a bullet from his revolver, and then shot and killed his wife, who was living there.

He then rushed from the house and ran along the railroad tracks to East New York, two miles distant, where he was found asleep in a room in a hotel by the police several hours later. …

Two weeks ago Mrs. Ennis had her husband in court on a charge of non-support, and he was ordered to pay her a weekly stipend. At that time Ennis declared that he would “rot in jail” before he would pay his wife any money unless she left her mother’s house and returned to live with him. …

Early on Saturday morning he reported sick at Adams Street Station and was excused from duty. It was learned that he came to Manhattan and in the evening was arrested at Forty-second Street and First Avenue for intoxication and disorderly conduct, but at the East Thirty-fifth Street Station was allowed to go when it was found that he was a policeman.

On this day..

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

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Next Posts


Calendar

October 2020
M T W T F S S
« Sep    
 1234
567891011
12131415161718
19202122232425
262728293031  

Archives

Categories

Execution Playing Cards

Exclusively available on this site: our one-of-a-kind custom playing card deck.

Every card features a historical execution from England, France, Germany, or Russia!