In the long and often brutal history of the world many people have been found guilty of crimes which the prevailing government thought warranted the ultimate punishment.
I personally don’t like the death penalty as you can’t reverse a wrong verdict when someone else is found to be the culprit. Be that as it may, here follows a list of people who accepted their fate and made the best of their last moments with some interesting last words. Then there are those who refused to accept their fate for a single second and produced challenging or confrontational statements.
Some of history’s most infamous murderers are still remembered after many years not so much for their almost forgotten crimes but their creative final words.
Some of them showed how sick they were even with the Grim Reaper staring them in the face with his dark hood and foul breath.
My favourite of all is the urbane George Appel, executed by electric chair in 1928 for killing a police officer.
The Comedian / Punster: Appel Strudel
“Gentlemen, you are about to see a baked Appel.”
Other sources state his words to be “all the ladies love a baked Appel.” or “Folks, you’re about to see a baked Appel.”
Whatever his exact words George Appel retained his sense of humour to the end and had a last minute reprieve been granted he could have gone on to be an early Jay Leno or Trevor Noah.
Comedian No. 2
James French, execution date 10 August 1966, also made a pun to remember for posterity:
“How’s this for your headline? French Fries.”
Another one who missed his true calling in life!
Jimmy Glass, sent to the electric chair in Louisiana on 12 June 1987, also made a rather witty, tongue-in-cheek remark in his last moments:
“I’d rather be fishing.”
I’m sure most of us can think of thousands of things we’d rather be doing than facing legal murder by the State…
Robert Alton Harris, gassed on 21 April 1992 for murdering two boys, was also quite phlegmatic about his fate:
“You can be a king or a street sweeper, but everyone dances with the Grim Reaper.”
( a misquote from a movie: Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey)
David Castillo, facing the ultimate penalty on 23 August 1998 had a profound truth to share:
“There is no man that is free from all evil, nor any man that is so evil to be worth nothing.”
All Aboard the Mother Ship
Aileen Wuornos, murderess of several men, who suffered from antisocial personality disorder was executed on 9 October 2002. She was played by Charlize Theron in the movie Monster (2003). Wuornos expressed her expectation of returning with Jesus in the big mother ship:
“I’d just like to say I’m sailing with the Rock and I’ll be back like ‘Independence Day’ with Jesus. June 6, like the movie, big mother ship and all. I’ll be back.”
Turning to the Cross
Murdered John Marek’s last statement on 9 August 2009 reminds one of the Biblical account of the repentant thief on the cross and seems to indicate sincere regret at his actions:
“Jesus, remember the sinners.”
Last words of James Jackson, last day 7 February 2007:
See you all on the other side. Warden, murder me … I’m ready to roll. Time to get this party started.”
The first part of Robert Charles Towery’s last words make sense, and he made a tearful apology to his victim’s family but may have begun losing his mind at the very end, despite potatoes forming a part of his final meal:
“I love my family. Potato, potato, potato.”
The Unrepentant Clown
John Wayne Gacy, the ultimate creepy clown, died at the hands of the State on 10 May 1994 after a killer career spanning many years and resulting in the deaths of at least 33 young men. His final statement shows he felt he had nothing at all to feel remorseful about and is a direct challenge to the authorities to find hidden bodies of more victims:
“Kiss my ass. You’ll never find the rest.”
A clown like this would give you lifelong nightmares! I mean, would you take a balloon from this guy?
The Psycho Dracula
Peter Kurten, the “Vampire of Dusseldorf” who had a fetish for blood, was lucky they didn’t dig him up and drive a garlic-infused stake through his heart…
“Tell me. After my head has been chopped off, will I still be able to hear, at least for a moment, the sound of my own blood gushing from the stump of my neck? That would be a pleasure to end all pleasures.”
Another Sick Mind: The World’s Worst Misanthrope?
Carl Panzram didn’t have the slightest regard for anyone, alive or dead. He was sentenced to death in 1930 for multiple murders. His deep hatred extended to himself and he even responded to human rights activists who tried to intervene on his behalf with death threats.
“ In my lifetime I have murdered 21 human beings, I have committed thousands of burglaries, robberies,larcenies, arsons and, last but not least, I have committed sodomy on more than 1,000 male human beings. For all these things I am not in the least bit sorry.
“Hurry it up, you Hoosier bastard! I could hang a dozen men while you’re screwing around!”
One of the sickest and most violent murderers in history; he expressed a wish to strangle the whole world given half a chance, and allegedly spat in the executioner’s face while the noosed was being fastened:
“I wish the entire human race had one neck and I had my hands around it!
Supping with the Devil?
Edward Rulloff is also known for having the largest brain on record which is kept in a glass jar in the creepy-sounding Wilder Brain Collection. Indeed he was pretty smart, being an expert in philology: the study of the origin of languages. But he had a very dark side: he was also a habitual criminal and his crime career culminated in the murder of a store clerk. He was also accused of beating his wife and daughter to death and poisoning his niece and sister-in-law. He was executed in 1870 and the last words witnesses heard were:
“Hurry it up! I want to be in hell in time for dinner.”
He was the last guy to be publicly hanged in New York State.
Where did it all go wrong?
David Long, facing a lethal injection on 8 December 1999, reflected how his earlier life in California reform schools and penitentiaries had the opposite of the intended effect and that the terrible conditions churned out monsters:
“I can’t really pinpoint where it started, what happened, but really believe that’s just the bottom line, what happened to me was in California. I was in their reformatory schools and penitentiary, but ah, they create monsters in there.”
The Anarchist Martyr
George Engel was one of four guys found responsible for the 1886 Haymarket bombing in Chicago and who were not fortunate enough to have their death sentences overturned.
The Haymarket affair began as a peaceful workers’ protest which escalated into violence and a blast which left seven police officers and four civilians dead. The entire trial was a travesty of justice but we won’t go into the messy details which are outside the scope of this article. They became martyrs for the workers’ cause.
Like many extremists and suicide bombers today Engel was quite happy to die for his beliefs. He was hanged together with fellow anarchists Fischer, Spies and Parsons. Engel was heard to yell the following:
“Hurrah for anarchy! This is the happiest moment of my life.
Erskine Childers, an Irish patriot of the Rebellion, facing a British firing squad on 24 November 1922:
“Take a step forward, lads. It will be easier that way.”
Was it really so good?
John W. Rook, executed 20 September 1986 for raping and subsequently running over a hospital nurse:
“Freedom, freedom at last! It’s been a good one!”
A Sense of Drama
A dramatic exit line from a little but lethal fellow named Francis “Two Gun” Crowley, put to death in 1931 for murdering a cop: he had led a gangster life for some months before this and faced the end at the tender age of 19:
“You sons of bitches. Give my love to Mother.]
A Sense of Star Trek
Last communication of Gary Burris, 20 November 1997, convicted of the murder of an Indianapolis taxi driver in 1980:
“Beam me up.”
Despair and Resignation
Ray Gardner faced the firing squad for the rape and murder of a 17-year old girl, sad and alone in September 1951 following a string of appeals for clemency:
“I’m ready to go. No one will miss me. My life has been worthless.”
Childhood crime chickens come to roost?
Eddie Slovik was shot by firing squad for desertion in France on 31 January 1945, proving that during war time the minds of the more “democratic” nations were just as twisted as the evil they appeared to be fighting. He is however the only soldier who received the death penalty for desertion since the Civil War.
Resigned to his fate he looked to his past of petty crime for answers:
“Don’t worry about me. I’m okay. They’re not shooting me for deserting the United States Army – thousands of guys have done that. They’re shooting me for bread I stole when I was 12 years old.”
Shortly afterwards Father Carl Patrick Cummings, said to Slovik, “Eddie, when you get up there, say a little prayer for me.” Slovik answered, “Okay, Father. I’ll pray that you don’t follow me too soon.” These were his last words .
His widow Antoinette petitioned several successive presidents over the next 34 years before her own death for a posthumous pardon but none of them responded favourably.
Another reflection on the Past
John Deering seems to have showed signs of a criminal bent from a young age:
“When I was a kid raising hell everyone told me I’d end up on the gallows, so I thought I’d fool them. Also, there’s an old saying I like: Live by the sword and die by the sword.”
How did he fool them? Instead of being hanged he was made to face a firing squad on the last day of October 1938.
His last words were: “Good-bye and good luck! Okay, let it go.”
He was the subject of an experiment to gauge heart activity during execution and he willingly allowed physicians to monitor his heart activity during his dying moments. He put up a brave front but in reality was as frightened as any of us would be.
His last act was one of mercy and compassion even after death. He had willed for his eyes to be available for corneal transplantation. They were removed , frozen and flown to San Francisco, where they were used in an operation to successfully restore sight to a 27-year old man.
His body was donated to the medical department of the University of Utah.
Showing Regret for a Moment of Madness
Then there are those who openly acknowledge their crime and express their sincere regret at how events unfolded.
James W. Chambers fatally shot Jerry Oestricker following an unfortunate altercation between the two men. Chambers was eventually executed on 15 November 2000. He asked the Oestrciker family’s forgiveness and stated he never intended it to turn out the way it did.
“I understand the feelings of the Oestricker family, and I ask their forgiveness…I want to stress to them that I did not go down there that night to harm Jerry. I deeply regret how it turned out.”
Rocky Barton addressed his children and other family members in 2006 before paying the ultimate price for murdering his wife:
“I love you all, and I’m sorry for what I done. I’m sorry for killing your mom and what I done to you.”
Carlos Granados also acknowledged his crime and asked his victim’s mother’s forgiveness. He stabbed his girlfriend Kathy and killed her 3 year old son:
Kathy, you know I never meant to hurt you. I gave you everything, and that’s what made me so angry. But I never meant to hurt you. I’m sorry.”
Murderous Mix: Booze, Despair and Anger
Gerald James Holland was found guilty of murdering a 15 year old girl and given a lethal injection on 20 May 2010. He too admitted his failings and wished he could turn the clock back:
“I’m really deep down in my heart sorry it happened. I wish this would bring her back. I want you to know that I’m very sorry this ever happened. I knew it was wrong but it was alcohol, despair and temper that caused it. That’s it.”
Marvallous Keene was found guilty of five murders during a killing spree in Ohio on Christmas Eve 1992 with three accomplices. He was only 19 at the time. After years on death row he paid with his life on 21 July 2009 after the following brief phrase:
“I have no words.”
His closing statement was much shorter than his last meal request which included a Porterhouse steak, jumbo deep-fried shrimp and German chocolate cake.
They didn’t get my order right
Thomas J. Grasso, executed for murder in 1995, was more concerned about his unsatisfactory last meal:
“I did not get my Spaghetti-Os, I got spaghetti. I want the press to know this.”
He too missed his calling in life and should have been a restaurant critic!
Was hers the hand which struck the fatal blow?
Barbara Graham was executed for a murder and robbery as part of a gang. Facing death on 3 June 1955 her last statement is an indictment of the justice system:
“Good people are always so sure they’re right.”
Was she declaring her innocence of the actual murder, or simply proclaiming her disavowal of the death penalty?
Proclaiming Their Innocence to the Last
Another person who rightly or wrongly protested his innocence of any crime was Lionel Herrera, convicted by the always zealous Texas authorities for killing two police officers.
“I am innocent, innocent, innocent. Make no mistake about this. I owe society nothing. I am an innocent man and something very wrong is taking place tonight.”
Roger Keith Coleman, accused and convicted of murdering his sister-in-law and executed on 20 May 1992 was another one convinced of his innocence to the end:
“An innocent man is going to be murdered tonight. When my innocence is proven, I hope Americans will realize the injustice of the death penalty as all other civilized countries have.”
It’s true that many murderers disassociate themselves from their heinous crimes, and any student of psychology can confirm that, but what if at least a handful of them are telling the truth? Even in the modern age forensic evidence can be faulty and when the death penalty is involved, people for whom it’s already too late may be cleared by later evidence.
The Battered Wife and the Insurance Money
Anna Antonio declared her innocence of murder with the following statement before being sent to the electric chair on 9 August 1934. She was found guilty of conspiring with one of his friends, Sam Ferracci, to murder her abusive husband of 12 years. He and Vincent Saetta ambushed and killed him on 27 March 1932.
Her execution had been stayed several times and there was considerable pressure to reprieve her due to the troubled life she had led with her husband, and for the sake of her children:
“I don’t care what you do to me. I am not afraid to die. I have nothing on my conscience. I never killed anyone.”
Communication Problems: No last minute reprieve?
Until the last moment Jeffrey Matthews hoped the governor would call to cancel his execution by lethal injection in 2011, but in vain:
“I think that governor’s phone is broke. He hasn’t called yet.”
A deft definition
The fact that the guilty rich can afford better lawyers to get them off doesn’t go unnoticed. Take John Spenkelink’s last words before he was executed on 25 May 1979:
“Capital punishment: them without the capital get the punishment.”
That is one reason why I can’t generally support the ultimate penalty. Certainly nothing short of premeditated murder should warrant it. The police have often been under pressure to seek scapegoats – especially ones who are unable to seek able defence due to their lack of material resources.
It must be said that most of the folk above were certainly guilty and in many cases could never be rehabilitated as murder was an inherent instinct of their perverted minds. In such instances the death penalty is justified for the sake of society – if it can be proved beyond any shadow of doubt that they were the killer.
So there we have it: a wide variety of killers and non-killers, with many different motives and a wide, often disturbing range of closing words.