Posts Tagged ‘Sing Sing electric chair’

The final days of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg

March 2, 2015

On April 5, 1951, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were sentenced to the electric chair for committing espionage for the Soviet Union.

Rosenbergs1951trialFor the next 14 months, a flurry of appeals, pleas, and protests was hatched to try to save the lives of the husband and wife convicted spies, ages 32 and 35, both natives of the Lower East Side.

In March 1952, their lawyers filed an appeal in Federal court, claiming the conduct of the sentencing judge, Irving R. Kaufman, denied them a fair trial.

That appeal was denied, as was an appeal to the Supreme Court claiming the death penalty was cruel and unusual punishment.

Rosebergsdailynewsheadline“Doomed couple in Sing Sing for 18 months take news calmly,” a headline read in October 1952.

A stay of execution pushed back their scheduled March 9 date with death. Meanwhile, a clemency plea to the president was dismissed in February 1953.

Eisenhower replied that “their betrayal of United States atomic secrets to Russia could bring to death ‘many, many thousands of innocent citizens,'” wrote The New York Times in May 1953.

In May, the Supreme Court ordered the stay vacated. Electrocution was set for the week of June 15.

Religious leaders around the world cabled President Eisenhower and asked for clemency for the couple. Protesters marched in Boston, Los Angeles, and outside the White House.

Rally For The Rosenbergs

A final Supreme Court ruling, with only Hugo Black and William Douglas dissenting, paved the way for their deaths on June 19.

Rosenbergsdailynewsheadline2In New York that afternoon, 5,000 supporters rallied at the north end of Union Square, spilling onto East 17th Street (above).

But the execution proceeded that evening at about 8 p.m.

Julius went first. “As a clean-shaven Rosenberg neared the brown-stained oak chair he seemed to sway from side to side,” wrote the Times.

Ethel “entered the death chamber a few minutes after the body of her husband had been removed,” said the Times.

Wearing a green polka-dot dress and her hair close cropped, she kissed the cheek of a prison matron and was then strapped into the chair, a leather mask put over her face.

Rosenbergsrallygettyimages2After five shocks, she was pronounced dead.

Whether the death penalty was an appropriate punishment is still a contentious topic. Both admitted no culpability, but Soviet-era files later revealed that Julius was indeed a spy.

Ethel appears to have been implicated by her own brother, who testified against her to spare his own wife from prosecution.

[Top photo: AP; second and fourth images, NY Daily News; third and fifth photos: Getty Images]

A priest, a maid, and a Second Avenue murder

March 13, 2013

HansschmidtOrdained in his native Germany in 1904, Roman Catholic priest Hans Schmidt was assigned to St. Boniface Church, at Second Avenue and 47th Street, in 1908.

There he met Anna Aumuller, a beautiful 21-year-old housekeeper for the church rectory. Aumuller was an immigrant too; she came to New York from Austria five years earlier.

They started an affair. Schmidt even obtained a wedding license and performed a secret but obviously illegal marriage ritual.

In early September, Aumuller found out she was pregnant. Terrified that his affair would be exposed, Schmidt slit Aumuller’s throat, cut up her body, and dumped it in the Hudson River.

Unfortunately for Schmidt, a pillowcase containing some of Aumuller’s body parts washed up on the Hoboken side of the river later that month.

AnnaumullerPolice quickly traced the pillowcase back to an apartment Schmidt and Aumuller shared in Harlem.

Schmidt confessed, and officials realized that in addition to being a murder suspect, he was also running a counterfeiting ring.

At his trial, he claimed God ordered him to kill Anna. Nonsense, prosecutors replied; he was simply faking insanity to escape execution.

The jury gave him the chair in February 1914. Several months later, Schmidt changed his story: He now claimed that he accidentally killed Aumuller during a botched abortion, and should only be penalized for manslaughter.

He went to the electric chair anyway on February 19, 1916—still the only priest in U.S. history ever executed for murder.

A piece of cord busts a 1936 Manhattan murderer

January 7, 2013

BeekmanplacemurderOn April 10th, 1936, Nancy Titterton, a 34-year-old writer and book reviewer, was found dead in the empty bathtub in her apartment at 22 Beekman Place.

She’d been raped and strangled, her body left unclothed except for a pair of rolled-down stockings. The pajamas she’d worn the night before were wrapped around her neck.

The murder made headlines because it was so brutal. “There were signs of a struggle in the bedroom,” wrote Michael Kurland, author of Irrefutable Evidence: A History of Forensic Science.

Beekmanplace“Ligature marks on the victim’s wrists indicated that she had been tied up before she was raped, but the rope had apparently been cut off and taken away.”

Adding to the media fascination was the fact that Titterton was known in literary circles; her husband was an NBC bigwig.

Also, crimes so vicious just didn’t happen on posh Beekman Place, a two-block residential enclave in the East 50s (above photo).

Luckily police had evidence to work with. Underneath Titterton’s body in the bathtub was a 13-inch cord, similar to the cord of a Venetian blind.

They traced the cord to a Pennsylvania upholstery wholesaler. It just so happened that the two men who discovered Titterton’s body were from a local upholstery shop; they were delivering a couch to the apartment.

Fiorenza Leaves for Death HouseOne of the delivery men, the shop’s owner, was cleared. The other, a 24-year-old assistant named John Fiorenza, had spent time in prison for theft, where a psychiatrist labeled him a possible psychopath.

Police brought Fiorenza in for questioning. He admitted to raping and murdering Titterton, who he’d met the day before when he came to her apartment to pick up the couch.

“He claimed to have returned to the apartment convinced that Nancy Titterton had fallen for him during their brief encounter the day before,” wrote Kurland.

“When she rebuffed him, he became so furious he tied her up and raped her. . . . Afterward, he had strangled her and left her in the bathtub.”

Convicted of murder in a trial that started six weeks after the slaying, Fiorenza (at right, the morning of his execution) went to the electric chair at Sing Sing in January 1937.

A pretty girl’s mysterious morphine overdose

August 26, 2011

In January 1891, Helen Potts was a brunette beauty at the Comstock School, an elite finishing school at 32 West 40th Street.

One night, the 19-year-old complained of a headache. She took a quinine pill a medical student had prescribed for her. Within hours, after waking momentarily and telling classmates she was having fantastic dreams, she was dead.

Reporters, captivated by the mysterious death of a wealthy good girl, began digging around. What they found dominated newspaper headlines for years.

Turns out that Helen and the med student, Carlyle W. Harris, had secretly wed a year earlier.

Harris must have regretted it, because he rather quickly stopped seeing Helen—who soon told him she was pregnant.

After an abortion (or “operation,” as The New York Times put it in this article), Helen enrolled at the Comstock School. The following January, her life was over.

In 1892, Harris was hauled into court. Prosecutors insisted that he put a lethal dose of morphine in Helen’s quinine pill so he could be free of her.

After a three-week sensational trial, which hinged on whether Helen’s body showed signs of an opium overdose, Harris was convicted of murder.

He was electrocuted at Sing Sing in May 1893, insistent that he was innocent.

A Brooklyn wife’s life ends in the electric chair

June 11, 2011

Three men had already been executed by the state of New York by the time it was Martha Place’s turn in March 1899.

As the first woman to be sentenced to death via electrocution, she received lots of media attention.

Place, 44, was living at 598 Hancock Street in Brooklyn with her husband, William, a widower who had a 17-year-old daughter, Ida.

When William came home one night in 1898, he was met by an ax-wielding Martha. Upstairs lay Ida’s body, with her eyes burned out. Later it was determined that Martha suffocated her after throwing acid in her face.

Martha was put on trial; every day she wore the same black dress. Convicted of Ida’s murder, she was sentenced to be electrocuted at Sing Sing within six weeks, reported The New York Times in July 1898.

“The indifferent, rather cynical look which was on her face throughout the trial had entirely disappeared,” the Times stated.

“She was pale, and wept as she entered the room. She trembled as she faced Judge Hurd, and seemed for the first time to realize the position in which her crime had placed her.”

Appeals for a new trial, plus a request by Governor Teddy Roosevelt to spare her life, didn’t work out.

On March 20, 1899, Place was strapped into the wooden chair; out of deference to her sex, electrodes were put on her ankles rather than a more intrusive spot on her body. She was buried in New Jersey.