Showing posts with label Electric Chair. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Electric Chair. Show all posts

25 October 2019

Anastasia delayed, did not escape death in 'chair'

On this date in 1957...

Perhaps Albert Anastasia was fated to die in "the chair."

The longtime New York-area underworld figure, who maneuvered his way out of an appointment with the Sing Sing Prison electric chair in 1922, met his end in the barber's chair thirty-five years later on October 25, 1957.


Anastasia, born Umberto Anastasio in the Calabrian village of Tropea back in 1902, reached America in 1917. He was serving as a deck hand on a tramp steamer when he jumped ship at New York harbor. He and brothers Giuseppe and Antonio settled in Brooklyn, and all went to work at the docks. (Brother Salvatore moved from Italy to New York and entered the priesthood.) Anastasia entered into a waterfront rackets partnership with Giuseppe Florino, who sometimes used the alias "Speranza."

Broken appointment

In spring of 1921, Anastasia and Florino both were convicted of the May 17, 1920, shooting murder of George Turello. Brooklyn Supreme County Justice Van Siclen sentenced the two to be executed in Sing Sing's electric chair on the week of July 3, 1921. They were placed in the prison's "death house" on May 25, 1921.

Anastasia (left) and Florino. New York Daily News.

Legal appeals succeeded in winning a new trial for Anastasia and Florino and, after a period of six and a half months in Sing Sing's "death house," they were transferred to the custody of the Kings County sheriff on December 10, 1921. (Newspapers of the time reported incorrectly that their death house stay was between seven months and eight and a half months.) Due to missing and suddenly uncertain witnesses, the state's murder case against the two men fell apart and they were set free.

Anastasia and Florino immediately went back to work, intimidating longshoremen and eliminating rivals. They were routinely suspected in gangland killings during the Prohibition Era. While Florino gradually faded into the background, Anastasia emerged as a top Brooklyn underworld figure. He was brought into a sprawling Brooklyn and Bronx Mafia organization commanded at the time by Al Mineo - it later became known as the Gambino Crime Family - and led its strong non-Sicilian faction. After a couple of decades, he attained the top spot in the organization after eliminating its Sicilian leaders, brothers Vincent and Philip Mangano, in 1951.

However, it seems Anastasia's date with "the chair" was not canceled but merely postponed.

Barbershop diagram. New York Times.

Chair No. 4

At seven o'clock on the morning of October 25, 1957, Anastasia left his home, 75 Bluff Road in Fort Lee, New Jersey, in a blue 1957 Oldsmobile registered to his chauffeur and bodyguard Anthony Coppola. Coppola was apparently not with him. Anastasia's movements that morning are not entirely known. The car was parked at Corvan Garage, 124 West Fifty-Fourth Street in Manhattan at twenty-eight minutes after nine. Anastasia entered Arthur Grasso's barbershop in the Park Sheraton Hotel, Seventh Avenue and Fifty-fifth Street, at about ten-fifteen.

A regular at the shop, Anastasia exchanged greetings with the owner, who manned a cashier's stand near the entrance. Anastasia then moved toward Chair No. 4, where his barber Joseph Bocchino worked. Anastasia hung up his topcoat, brown suit jacket and hat and took a seat in Chair No. 4, requesting a haircut.

Bocchino set to work. He was clipping the hair on the left side of Anastasia's head, when two men, faces partly covered with scarves, entered the barbershop from a doorway connected to the Park Sheraton lobby. One of the men quietly instructed  Grasso, "Keep your mouth shut if you don't want your head blown off." Grasso made no sound.

The men advanced with drawn handguns to positions behind Anastasia and opened fire. With the first shots, Anastasia jumped up from the chair, breaking through its footrest. He stumbled forward, crashing into glass shelving in front of a mirror, and then fell to the side, landing and expiring between Chairs 2 and 3. Of ten bullets fired in the attack, five hit their target. Two entered Anastasia's left hand and wrist, which apparently had been raised in an effort at self-defense. One slug penetrated his right hip. One entered his back. The last cracked through the back of his head.

AP photo.

The gunmen silently strode from the shop. Two handguns were later recovered from the area - one a .32-caliber and the other a .38-caliber. One was found in a vestibule of the Park Sheraton. The other turned up in a trash receptacle in a nearby subway station.

Press accounts of the underworld assassination noted that, about three decades earlier, underworld financier Arnold Rothstein had been killed within the same hotel, though it was known at that time as the Park Central.


Investigation

Investigators questioned known underworld figures, including Anthony "Augie Pisano" Carfano, Mike Miranda, Pete DeFeo and Aniello Ercole, as well as Anastasia business partner Harry Stasser.

In the evening of October 25, Anthony Coppola surrendered himself for questioning. Coppola admitted being in the area of the Park Sheraton about forty minutes after his boss and friend was murdered. Without much explanation, Coppola said he intended to meet Anastasia at the barbershop but learned of the shooting on his way there and retreated. He picked up the blue Oldsmobile where Anastasia left it and drove it home to 450 Park Avenue, Fair View, New Jersey. He later had another person drive it back to Manhattan and leave it in a Centre Street parking lot across from the Criminal Courts Building, where it was taken for examination by police.

New York Times
Early press reports suggested that Anastasia was killed in revenge for a recent unsuccessful attempt on the life of Manhattan-based boss Frank Costello. It was noted that Anastasia increased his force of bodyguards immediately after a shot fired at Costello's head resulted in just a superficial wound. These reports misinterpreted the evidence, as it later became clear that Anastasia and Costello were closely allied.

Anastasia's killers could not be identified. There were strong indications that Carlo Gambino, who later became boss of Anastasia's crime family, had been involved in setting up the assassination. Some reports claimed that Joseph Profaci, boss of his own Brooklyn-based crime family, and enforcer Joe "Jelly" Giorelli were also involved.

Anastasia
Investigators learned that Anastasia was planning to establish a private gambling empire in Cuba, effectively invading established underworld territory controlled by Meyer Lansky and Tampa Mafia boss Santo Trafficante and financially supported by Mafia leaders across the U.S. Manhattan District Attorney Frank Hogan learned that Anastasia met with Lansky and allied gangster Joseph "Joe Rivers" Silesi shortly before he was killed and was warned at that time to stay out of Cuba. That put Lansky, Silesi and Trafficante on the list of suspects.

Early in 1958, the FBI received information indicating that Anastasia had been put on the spot by an Irish criminal organization feuding with him over control over the New York waterfront rackets.

In 1963, authorities heard that Anastasia's killers were gangsters "Joe Jelly" Giorelli and Ralph Mafrici. Giorelli, a top man in the Gallo faction of the Profaci Crime Family, had been missing and presumed dead since the Gallos openly broke with their boss in 1961. This information likely grew out of barroom bragging by "Crazy Joe" Gallo, in which he claimed that his crew was responsible for the Anastasia assassination. Additional reports pointed to Costello rival Vito Genovese as the prime mover of the Anastasia killing and the attempt to kill Costello.

In the autumn of 2001, journalist Jerry Capeci reported that all the earlier suspicions were off the mark. According to Capeci, Anastasia was shot by Stephen "Stevie Coogan" Grammauta and Arnold "Witty" Wittenberg, guided by gangster Stephen Armone. The group was assembled, Capeci said, by a Carlo Gambino ally named Joseph Biondo.

See also:


Sources:

  • Albert Anastasia fingerprint record, Nov. 19, 1953, Anastasia FBI file.
  • Berger, Meyer, "Anastasia slain in a hotel here' led Murder, Inc.," New York Times, Oct. 26, 1957, p. 1.
  • Capeci, Jerry, "The Men Who Hit Albert Anastasia" Gang Land column, Oct. 18, 2001.
  • Cook, Fred J., "Robin Hoods or real tough boys? Larry Gallo, Crazy Joe and Kid Blast," New York Times, Oct. 23, 1966, p. Mag 37.
  • Emrich, Elmer F., "Mafia," FBI report, file no. 100-42303-536, NARA no. 124-90110-10079, April 10, 1959, p. 43-44, 58-59.
  • Evans, C.A., "Albert Anastasia," FBI Memorandum to Mr. Rosen, Oct. 29, 1957.
  • FBI memo, Havana 94-13, March 6, 1958, Albert Anastasia FBI file.
  • Freeman, Ira Henry, "Brothers Anastasia - toughest of the toughs," New York Times, Dec. 14, 1952, p. E10.
  • Marino, Anthony, and Sidney Kline, "Anastasia slain as he feared," New York Daily News, Oct. 26, 1957, p. 3.
  • Meskil, Paul, "Yen for Cuba cash doomed Anastasia," New York World Telegram & Sun, Jan. 9, 1958, p. 1.
  • Sing Sing Prison Receiving Blotter entries for Alberto Anastasio, number 72527, May 25, 1921, and Giuseppe Florino, number 72528, May 25, 1921.
  • Van`t Riet, Lennert, David Critchley and Steve Turner, "'Lord High Executioner' of the American Mafia," Informer, June 2015, p. 5.
  • "2 held in grocer's murder," New York Tribune, Aug. 18, 1922, p. 20.
  • "3 sentenced to chair by Brooklyn judge," New York Tribune, May 26, 1921, p. 5.
  • "Albert Anastasia," FBI report, Nov. 15, 1957, p. 1, 10, Albert Anastasia FBI file.
  • "Albert Anastasia: Top Hoodlum," FBI memorandum to Mr. Rosen, Oct. 25, 1957.
  • "Another victim claimed in Degraw Street feud; two suspects in toils," Brooklyn Standard Union, Aug. 17, 1922, p. 1.
  • "Arrested for murder committed last May," New York Daily News, March 7, 1921, p. 3.
  • "Capture alleged slayer," New York Evening World, March 18, 1921, p. 4.
  • "Charged with murder," Brooklyn Citizen, March 7, 1921, p. 1.
  • "F.B.I. giving Hogan Valachi details," New York Times, Aug. 8, 1963.
  • "Found shot near home, man dies in hospital," Brooklyn Standard Union, May 17, 1920, p. 1.
  • "Held for 1920 Brooklyn murder," New York Times, March 7, 1921, p. 11.
  • "Hold Giuseppe Florina for Turello shooting," Brooklyn Standard Union, March 7, 1921, p. 4.
  • "Police hunting hired killers in murder of gangland chief," New Brunswick NJ Daily Home News, Oct. 26, 1957, p. 1.
  • "Quiz murder suspect for crime of year ago," Brooklyn Daily Times, March 7, 1921, p. 1.
  • "Two men held in murder of man shot at party," New York Daily News, Aug. 18, 1922, p. 9.
  • "Two who escaped chair are now held in Ferrara murder," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Aug. 17, 1922, p. 2.

10 January 2018

Criminal Curiosities: Twelve Remarkable reprobates you've probably never heard of.



Out now for the Amazon Kindle.


As a crime writer with a long-time interest in crime's more unusual aspects, I often try to find some of its more overlooked stories. Who needs yet another rehash of Jack the Ripper or JFK reshuffling old evidence while seldom offering anything new? Apart from accountants at publishing companies wanting bestsellers to boost their quarterly balance sheets, at any rate?

All walks of life have their pioneers, those who stand out as the first, last or only example in thier field. Crime is no exception., but crime's stand-outs are seldom as widely acknowledged as, say, the first Moon landing or the discovery of the New World. It's time that changed. Criminal Curiosities is a small step toward that.

Some readers will have heard of William Kemmler or Herbert Rowse Armstrong. Kemmler was, after all, the first convict ever to be legally electrocuted. Armstrong was (and remains, the UK having abolished capital punishment) the first and only British lawyer to be hanged for murder.

But who was the first convict to face the guillotine? Why were legendary figures Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse so closely entwined with William Kemmler and he with them? Whose murder trial saw the victim's body transported to the scene of the crime, then used in a live reconstruction in front of the jury? And how on earth did Dutch art forger Han van Meegeren get away with trading a fake Vermeer for 137 genuine paintings (today worth around $60 million with, of all people, Gestapo founder and Luftwaffe commander Herman Goering? 

You probably don't know. Criminal Curiosities is where you find out.

They're all singular in their own particular way. All have a fascinating tale to tell of their own misdeeds and how they sometimes forever changed the world around them. All of them are often overlooked and some are barely historical footnotes, if that.

Criminal Curiosities is currently available for the Amazon Kindle.






09 January 2018

James Wells, America's worst botched execution.



(Wikipedia).


Call it whatever you want. Old Sparky, Old Smokey, Sizzlin’ Sally or Gruesome Gertie, the electric chair has always had a troubled history. From its very first use (executing murderer William Kemmler on August 6, 1890) it’s been dogged by failures, mechanical and human

Initial problems involved untried equipment, new ideas and inexperienced executioners. Limited knowledge of inflicting humane electrocution spawned a series of experimental executions. Successive inmates endured different numbers of electrodes, different voltages applied for different durations, electrodes placed on different body parts and so on.

In 1892 Charles McElvaine’s hands were placed in tubs of brine to conduct the voltage. He suffered horribly before the now-standard head and leg electrodes were used instead. Malfunctioning or ill-prepared equipment (in the case of Willie Francis and so many others) has also caused horrific scenes in America’s death chambers.

What happened at the former Arkansas State Penitentiary in Little Rock (since demolished and replaced by public buildings) on March 10, 1922 made Kemmler’s suffering look comparatively minor. Murderer and escapee James Wells endured perhaps the worst-botched execution in American history.

Wells, born in 1904 and hailing from Drew County, was an African-American farmhand. Convicted of murdering white Arkansas farmer Peter Trenz (his former employer) on May 18, 1921 Wells was never likely to avoid Old Sparky. He was a poor, black defendant convicted of murdering a respectable white victim. In those less-enlightened times, many whites considered that reason enough.


(Arkansas Department of Corrections).

Arkansas introduced electrocution in 1913, the State also taking over executions from individual counties. During the chair’s lengthy tenure Arkansas executed 195 prisoners. Of these two were Native American men, one white woman, one Hispanic male and 57 white males. The rest, 143 men, were all African-American. Warden Luther Castling had resigned rather than electrocute the ten men then waiting to die. His successor Warden Dempsey didn't have similar qualms.


(From the Daily Ardmorite). 

Aside from being poor, black and convicted of murdering a white when lynching and legal execution was equally likely for that crime, Wells hadn’t exactly done himself any favors after his conviction. On December 9, 1921 condemned killer, bank robber and serial escaper Tom Slaughter managed a spectacular escape from ‘The Walls’ and Death Row itself.

Overpowering guards, Slaughter took the Warden’s family hostage, escaping in Warden Dempsey’s car. Dempsey, whose job it had been to carry out executions, soon found himself unemployed. That in turn caused an excruciating death for Wells.

Slaughter had invited the other condemned inmates to join him. Wells, believing his appeal would almost certainly fail, escaped with him. Slaughter survived only a day before being shot by fellow-escaper Jack Howard. Howard claimed to have escaped only to help bring Slaughter to justice, a claim accepted by Arkansas authorities. Howard was never charged over Slaughter’s death, being pardoned and released several years later.

Wells, soon recaptured, returned to Death Row. He’d escaped on December 9, been recaptured within days and his appeal was denied on Christmas Eve, 1921. A foolish time to attempt escape and humiliate the Arkansas justice system. Not much of a Christmas present, either. That said, nothing can justify what happened at his execution.

On March 10, 1922 all the usual preparations had been made. All that remained was for the executioner to do his job competently and professionally. With Warden Dempsey gone, the new executioner was an Englishman, a former car salesman whose sole qualification and experience consisted of having (as he himself put it) taken ‘a correspondence course in electricity.’ The State of Arkansas had entrusted a delicate, potentially dangerous task to a man utterly lacking expertise, training or experience. It was suggested at the time that the nameless volunteer arrived drunk.


(Arkansas Department of Corrections).


Wells entered the penitentiary’s death chamber singing a hymn. He was still singing as he sat in Old Sparky and the straps and electrodes were applied. He remained singing right up until the executioner threw the switch. As the Dallas Express described it:

“Going to the chair singing, Wells continued to sing until the first charge of electricity was sent through his body.”

Wells was certainly silenced by the first jolt, but he wasn’t dead. Either the first jolt was far too brief or the voltage far too low. Still alive, Wells needed another. Shocked again, he remained alive. A third jolt was called for.

The witnesses began looking uncomfortable. Inmates were supposed to sit down quietly, say their last words and die. A second jolt might be delivered to make sure, but seldom more than that. The executioner shocked Wells repeatedly. Repeatedly the current crackled, doctors checking between jolts. Wells simply wouldn’t die.

After the first jolts had failed horrified witnesses began leaving the execution chamber. With every unsuccessful jolt the remaining witnesses’ disgust grew. By the eleventh jolt everyone involved just wanted it to end. For the twelfth time the switch was thrown, the current crackled and Wells leapt against the restraints. The power was shut off while doctors checked yet again.
James Wells was finally dead.

As the Dallas Express described it, the execution succeeded at:

“The twelfth attempt, according to witnesses, after terrible suffering on the part of the boy.”

The disaster was publicised in Arkansas, Utah, California, Texas, Tennessee and numerous other States where executions, especially of African-Americans, seldom garnered more than a line or two.
Even the New York Tribune covered it, stating:

‘Wells was examined by the State physicians who pronounced him still alive. Another charge of electricity was sent through his body, with the same result. Witnesses began to leave the death room and only a few were still present when the last charges were sent through his body and Wells finally was pronounced dead. Fully twenty minutes were consumed in putting him to death.’


(www.executedtoday.com).

Had Arkansas employed an expert like New York’s Robert Greene Elliott, the nightmarish exhibition would almost certainly have never happened. Elliott performed 387 executions in six States, perfecting the ‘Elliott Technique’; 2000 volts for three seconds, 500 volts for 57 seconds,, 2000 volts for another three seconds, 500 for 57 seconds and a final burst of 2000 volts. Very rarely did he need to deliver more than one cycle.


A bitter irony that, as his executioner, Wells couldn’t have been in safer hands.







Sources:

www.executedtoday.com

The Daily Ardmorite, Oklahoma.

Arkansas Department of Corrections.

The New York Tribune.

The Dallas Express

www.deathpenaltyusa.org

Gruesome Spectacles; Botched executions and America's Death Penalty, Austin Sarat, 2014, Stanford Law Books.