1934: Anna Antonio, enough for a million men

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

On this date in Sing Sing Prison in New York, Italian-American Anna Antonio was electrocuted for murder.

She’d been convicted of hiring two hit men, Sam Ferraci and Vincent Saetta, to kill her husband Salvatore for his $5,000 in life insurance. The dirty deed was done at Easter in 1933: Salvatore’s body turned up beside a country road, full of holes. He’d been shot five times and stabbed fifteen times.

When Saetta and Ferraci were picked up, they implicated Anna. All three conspirators were convicted and sentenced to death. They spent sixteen months on death row, where Anna was the sole female inmate, attended by three matrons.

As chronicled in Geoffrey Abbott’s book Amazing Stories of Female Executions, Anna had been originally scheduled to die with Ferraci and Saetta at 11:00 p.m. on June 28. The executioner, Robert G. Elliott, arrived, set everything up and waited … and waited … and waited …

No one appeared.

It wasn’t until 1:15 a.m. that he was told to just go home: no one would die tonight.

Just ten minutes before eleven on that night, Saetta had had a talk with the prison warden, unburdened himself and signed an affidavit. He admitted he and Ferraci had killed Salvatore, but he said the motive was a $75 drug debt. He swore Anna had had no part in the crime.

In an earlier conversation with a prison clerk, Saetta had said he and his partner in crime had only said Anna was involved because they thought this would save their own lives: “They’ll never send me to the hot seat. Not while there’s a dame in the case. In New York they don’t like to send a woman to the chair and they can’t send me and not her.”

The governor, Herbert Henry Lehman, thought it prudent to issue a 24-hour stay for all three of the condemned in order to investigate this new evidence. Anna Antonio fainted with relief at hearing the news.

Twenty-four hours later, she was again facing the chair. Again, Executioner Elliott showed up at Sing Sing, and again he was turned away: the stay had been extended by a week.

At the end of the week, a further stay was granted; the state was still mulling over what to do.

Meanwhile, the suspense was, pun intended, killing Mrs. Antonio. Abbott records:

At that stage the state of the condemned women can hardly be imagined; suffice it to say that her wardresses reported their prisoner’s condition alternated between bouts of hysteria and collapsing into a semi-coma. Eventually the decision was issued that all executions would take place on 9 August and all hopes were dashed.

She had weighed 100 pounds on June 28, but in the interim she stopped eating and dropped fifteen pounds in six weeks: she was probably among the smallest people to ever sit in the electric chair.* At one point she cried in anguish, “I have already died enough for a million men!” The Crime Library provides a detailed account of her execution.

On the last day of her life (which, horribly enough, was also her daughter’s birthday), Anna told the prison warden she was innocent. She reminded the warden that her late husband had been a drug dealer and said if she had wanted him dead, she could have just killed him with one of the guns that were lying around the house.

She did, however, admit that prior to the murder, Ferraci and Saetta had told her they intended to kill Salvatore. She said she had chosen not to try to prevent it because she was afraid for herself and her three children. Anna didn’t particularly care much for Salvatore anyway; he was violent and abusive.

Anna spent the day of August 9 playing with her children. She may have been expecting yet another reprieve; when she was told the execution was definitely on this time, she seemed stunned.

When asked about a last meal, she said simply, “I want nothing.”

She walked calmly into the death chamber at 11:12 p.m. and was pronounced dead four minutes later. Ferraci came after her, and Saetta was last.

* Even 14-year-old George Stinney, who was too small for the electrocution mask, weighed in at 90 pounds.

On this day..

4 thoughts on “1934: Anna Antonio, enough for a million men

  1. This woman should never have been executed. Her husband was a total scumbag, a criminal gangster and drug dealer who mistreated her and beat her and threatened to kill her if she ever left him. Abused women had no place to go in the 1930s. In my opinion….she was fully justified allowing him to be killed and the worst penalty she should have suffered, if any, would have been a few years in prison.

    • I agree! The trial was completely unjustified and her husband was an abusive alcoholic. Hope she is resting in peace…

  2. I have a copy of Robert Elliott’s book, Agent of Death, in good condition that I would be willing to sell for $400 US. This is less than half the price of the copy listed on Amazon at $823. If interested, let me know. You can call me at 514-481-2830.

  3. Hello Headsman ( Jason ? )

    I would have a request to submit you, although I honestly don’t think there are great chances.

    But would you please relay my message ?

    I’m looking forward to obtaining the book ” Agent of Death ” , the autobiography of famous executioner ( ” State electrician ” as he was nicknamed as all executioners in US operating the electric chair as an execution method in those days ) Robert G. Elliott.
    Published posthumously in 1940 shortly after Elliott’s death in October 1939.

    This book is very scarce.
    Currently only one copy is listed for sale on the Net, the price of which ( several hundreds $ ) is definitely above what I’m prepared to pay for a book.

    So my request is : would you, Jason ( Headsman ) or anyone who among the people who visit this website and make comments will read my message own by chance this book ? And be willing to part with it by selling it me ?

    Or perhaps someone will know someone who has this book ? It would be worth asking around ?

    As I said, I would be grateful if as many people as possible view my message.
    Although I am not very optimistic as to the chances of someone actually having the book.

    Robert G. Elliott was the executioner who put to death many of US better known people sentenced to death in his time, among whom Sacco and Vanzetti, Ruth Snyder ( the woman shown in a 1928 photo taken with a hidden pocket camera by a journalist at her Sing Sing execution ) or Bruno Richard Hauptmann in 1936 at Trenton State Prison, New Jersey, for the death of little Charles Lindbergh Junior ( his guilt was and is still in dispute even today ).
    Elliott had the habilitation to conduct executions in several North-Eastern States, among them New York State, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania or Vermont.
    He is portrayed in Craig Brandon’s book ( 1999 ) ” The Electric Chair , An American Unnatural History ” which recounts how the Edison – Westinghouse commercial feud over alternative / continuous electric current, in order to win contracts, paired with the sincere intents of well-meaning humanitarians who wanted to replace the execution method of hanging by a more humane way of bringing instantaneous and painless death to people condemned, nonetheless ended up with the invention of what has since been acknowledged as one of the most gruesome methods of execution ever devised.
    Robert Elliott is remarkable as an executioner as being an outspoken opponent of death penalty. He said when he started his executioner’s career he had no particular views on death penalty but with the practice came to the conclusion that there was nothing good with death penalty.
    His reasons were the usual reasons of opponents to death penalty.
    I know this matter is controversial and I don’t wish here to enter a debate.
    But sticking to Elliott’s case, although he personally opposed death penalty he – realistically as shown by the time elapsed since his death – didn’t believe death penalty would be abolished in all US States in a foreseeable future, at least not in his own lifetime.
    So Elliott was resigned, since death penaldy did exist legally and was actually applied, to be the executioner. He was always utterly careful to bring death as smoothly as possible to those people who had to be executed.
    Although as we know there have been since the first use of the electric chair many botched executions, before, during and after Elliott’s time, what has become better-known to the public in the last decades, Elliott himself is known never to have botched an execution. Due to his technical skills as an electrician.

    More details in his Wikipedia entry.


    ” Elliott is credited with perfecting judicial execution by electrocution. He usually made the first contact at 2000 volts, holding it there for 3 seconds. Then he lowered the voltage to 500 volts for the balance of the first minute; raised it to 2000 volts for a further 3 seconds; lowered the voltage to 500 volts for the rest of the second minute; then raised it again to 2000 volts for a few seconds before shutting off the power.
    This technique was intended to render the victim unconscious in an instant, while the lower voltage heated the vital organs to a point where life was extinguished, without causing undue bodily burning. This oscillating cycle of shocks also seized the heart, causing it to go into arrest and stop beating. He often carried his own electrodes with him, including a head-piece made from a cut-down football helmet, lined with moist sponge. ”

    Returning to the core of what caused me to write this message, I hope the Headsman of the site will relay my request to everyone to see if anyone by a great chance would own a copy of ” Agent of Death ” to part with if willing to in order to sell it me ?

    Best Regards


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