Following the brutal murder of his common law wife Tillie Ziegler in Buffalo, New York, March, 1889, the rough character William Kemmler said he was glad he did it was was happy to hang for the crime. He did not quite get his wish, as a newly passed law in the state of New York allowed Kemmler to become the first man to die in the electric chair. His executioners knew that the execution would be an experiment of sorts, and it was not exactly the rousing success they had hoped for, but it did usher in a new era in America’s criminal justice system.
In this adaptation of coverage from the New York World, we learn about the gruesome crime and the agonizing price William Kemmler paid for it.
Many people predicted that after Kemmler’s execution that the electric chair would soon fall out of disfavor. It has, but it took over 100 years and more than 4,400 electrocutions at the hand of the state to begin turning the tide. Although lethal injection is now the preferred method of execution in most states, some still offer electrocution as an option, and men have died in the electric chair as recently as 2013.
The Gangster Chronicles 1.3
Dillinger’s Showdown in Tuscon
From the time he was paroled from the Michigan City prison in May, 1933, to the time he was gunned down by police on a Chicago sidewalk 14 months later, John Herbert Dillinger was one of America’s most notorious scoundrels.
In chapter one, we looked at the escape of ten convicts from the Indiana penitentiary at Michigan City and the subsequent delivery of Dillinger from the Lima, Ohio, jail that led to the death of Sheriff Jesse Sarber. In Chapter Two, Dillinger and his new gang blazed a trail of terror across the Midwest.
Now, the wanted desperados have made their way to Tucson, Arizona, to escape the heat of Chicago, but a hotel fire spells the beginning of the end for most of the outlaw gang.
“Violent Cremation: The Terrible Vengeance of a Father”
By Lafcadio Hearn
November 9 & 10, 1874
True crime history is not just about reviving the stories of America’s scandals, scoundrels and scourges, but also about exploring the history of true crime as a genre.
Although he became better known late in his career for his books on travel and on Japanese legends and ghost stories, Lafcadio Hearn began his professional writing career as a staff correspondent for the Cincinnati Enquirer. He was such a devotee of Edgar Allen Poe that he carried the nickname “The Raven,” given to him by an early mentor, throughout his life. The devotion shows in much of his writing, including this account of a tanyard murder in 1874.
Even though the author was visually impaired, Hearn’s account of this ghastly crime contains graphic details of the discovery of the body and the autopsy, so if you are sensitive to such things, you might want to fast forward through that part.
The tanyard was situated next to a soap factory that had caught fire the previous night and attracted a crowd of 50,000, the newspapers said, to watch the massive flames. Such was the mood of the city that Hearn begins his report with a quote from William Shakespeare’s tragic Hamlet.
Musical direction and theme music by Chuck Wiggins