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Wednesday, February 16, 2022

America's Executioners

      From 1926 to 1939, Robert Green Elliott, an electrician from Long Island, New York, the official executioner for six states, electrocuted 387 death row inmates. On January 6, 1927, Elliott executed six men in two states on the same day. In the morning he dispatched three men at the Massachusetts State Prison in Charleston, and in the afternoon, he put to death three men at Sing Sing Prison in New York. Mr. Elliott was paid $150 per execution, but when he killed two or more inmates at the same prison on the same visit, he discounted his fee. 

     Some of Robert Elliott's most infamous executions included Lindbergh kidnapper Bruno Richard Hauptmann who died in the electric chair in April 1936; Ruth Snyder and Judd Grey, executed in 1928 for the murder of Ruth's husband Albert; and Italian anarchists Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, executed in 1927 for the murder of a Boston bank guard. 

     Proud of his work, Robert Elliott craved publicity and became a minor celebrity. His memoir, Angel of Death, written with a co-author, came out in 1940, a year before his death. The book is now a collector's item.

     Robert Elliott, in 1926, was named the official executioner in six states when John Hubburt, a man who had executed 140 inmates, retired. Both men were trained by America's first official state executioner, Edwin Jones. 

     Following Robert Elliott's retirement, most executioners kept a low profile. One exception was Sam Jones, an electrician from Louisiana who executed hundreds of inmates. Like Robert Elliott, Jones was proud of his work. He was interviewed by forensic psychiatrist Dr. Dorothy Lewis in a 1980s television documentary. According to Dr. Lewis, Mr. Jones' attitude regarding killing people was not unlike that of a serial killer. Dr. Lewis expressed concern that in America there was no shortage of people who would enjoy the act of legally executing someone. (Dr. Lewis, the creator of the multiple personality disorder, believed that all murderers were insane and as such should not be executed.)

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