Little Bits of History

Martha Place

Posted in History by patriciahysell on March 20, 2013
Martha M. Place

Martha M. Place

March 20, 1899: Martha M. Place is the first woman to die in the electric chair. Martha suffered a head injury at the age of 23. Her brother claimed she suffered from residual effects for the rest of her life. Martha married William Place in 1893. He had a daughter, Ida, from a previous marriage. William was looking for a stepmother for his daughter who was 12 years old at the time of the marriage. It was rumored Martha was jealous of Ida. Police were called to the Brooklyn, New York house on at least one occasion and Martha was arrested for threatening Ida’s life.

On February 5, 1898, Martha attacked her husband with an axe as he arrived home from work. He fled to a neighbor’s and called police. Martha was found on the floor with the natural gas escaping into the room. She was in critical condition, but was revived. Seventeen-year-old Ida was found in her upstairs bedroom. Her eyes were disfigured by acid thrown in her face and her mouth was bleeding. She had been smothered.

Martha proclaimed her innocence before and during her trial. Her husband took the stand as a key witness against his wife. She was found guilty of murder after his testimony was given. Martha was sent to Sing Sing Prison to await her execution. The prison is located on the Hudson River in Ossining, New York about 30 miles north of New York City. The colorful phrase of being “sent up the river” comes from convicts in NYC being sent upriver to the state penitentiary.

The electric chair, called Old Sparky (at least at Sing Sing, but with other sobriquets in different prisons) debuted in the prison famous for its harsh treatment of society’s worst criminals. The electric chair was supposed to be a kinder, more humane method of execution than hanging, the preferred method in the 1880s. The first person executed was William Kemmler and it did not go as planned. The executioner had to devise a decorous way to place the electrodes on a woman. He succeeded and Martha died instantly. A total of 613 people were executed in the chair before 1963, when it was abolished.

“It’s obvious. Life doesn’t belong to us and what you have not given, you cannot take away.” – Sami Aldeeb

“Must we kill to prevent there being any wicked? This is to make both parties wicked instead of one.” – Blaise Pascal

“Unnatural death is wrong, no matter who does it.” – Antoinette Bosco, whose son and daughter-in-law were murdered

“The death penalty does not do for the victim’s family what they expect it will – it doesn’t give them back what they have lost, and someone else’s son has also been killed.” – Rev. Walter Everett

This article first appeared at in 2010. Editor’s update: The death penalty, or capital punishment, has been invoked for a number of crimes. It is a “capital” crime from the Latin for “head” – capitalis – because of the execution method of beheading. Murder, espionage and treason have been crimes which resulted in the criminal’s execution as have rape, adultery, incest, and sodomy. Court-martials have invoked the penalty for cowardice, desertion, insubordination, and mutiny. There have been many gruesome ways to carry out the punishment such as boiling to death, flaying, slow slicing, impalement, stoning, burning, and a number of other creative methods of tortuous death. Today, China, India, Indonesia, the US are the four most populous nations still using the death penalty.

Also on this day: Shoes – In 1885, Jan Matzeliger patented a shoe lasting machine.
Iditarod Winner – In  1985, the first woman won the Iditarod.
Blue, Lots of Blue – In 1922, the US launched the first aircraft carrier.

Getting What You Give

Posted in History by patriciahysell on January 5, 2011

Westley Allan Dodd

January 5, 1993: Westley Allan Dodd is executed by hanging by Washington state authorities, the first hanging in the US since 1965. Dodd was found guilty of serial murder and was a sexual predator of children. He was 29 years old when executed. He noticed that he was sexually excited by neighborhood boys by the age of nine. By age 13 he was flashing neighbors from his bedroom window. Police were called in, but since no face was seen, no charges were brought. During his lifetime, he abused more than fifty boys ranging in ages from 2 to 12 years of age.

Finding that the judicial system lacked teeth, Dodd went on to fondling and fellating any boy that would allow his abuse. He joined the US Navy after high school to avoid impending charges of child molestation. He was AWOL when he was again apprehended for child molestation and was given a general discharge on disciplinary grounds. However, the 9 year old’s family did not press charges. Dodd served 30 days for luring a child from a playground in 1983 and served 4 months of a 10 year sentence when he was arrested again in 1984 – this time after “successful” psychiatric treatment.

He went on to lure two brothers, Cole (11) and William (10) Neer into the woods where he raped and then stabbed them to death. He was not caught. He then lured Lee Iseli (4) to his home where he escalated the torture, raped and then strangled the toddler. He was attempting to take a boy from a Vancouver, Washington theater when the screaming child attracted attention and his mother’s boyfriend held Dodd until police arrived. FBI files were accessed and his history came to light. At his trial he said, “I must be executed before I have an opportunity to escape or kill someone within the prison. If I do escape, I promise you I will kill prison guards if I have to and rape and enjoy every minute of it.”

Hanging is the second most common means of execution worldwide while shooting is the most frequent. There are four methods of hanging. There are three types of short drops which cause the criminal to strangulate and are a more gruesome means of death. The long drop method snaps the neck and is a more humane and quick method. Dodd was executed by the long drop method. He chose hanging stating that it was the method he used to kill Iseli.

“The real significance of crime is in its being a breach of faith with the community of mankind.” – Joseph Conrad

“The judge is condemned when the criminal is acquitted.” – Publilius Syrus

“The greatest crimes do not arise from a want of feeling for others but from an over-sensibility for ourselves and an over-indulgence to our own desires.” – Edmund Burke

“Too much mercy… often resulted in further crimes which were fatal to innocent victims who need not have been victims if justice had been put first and mercy second.” – Agatha Christie

Also on this day:
Ford Motor Company Wages – In 1914, wages are more than doubled for Ford Motor Company workers.
Failed assassination attempt – Ii 1757,  Robert-François Damiens made an assassination attempt against King Louis XV of France.

“Off With Their Heads” – The Queen of Hearts

Posted in History by patriciahysell on April 25, 2010

Guillotine in use; entertainment for the masses

April 25, 1792: Nicolas J. Pelletier is the first person to be executed by guillotine. A guillotine is a machine made to decapitate those being executed. Earlier types of the machine were in existence as early as 1307, when the Scottish Maiden’s use was first documented. The improved, more humane guillotine was designed by Antoine Louis at the request of Joseph-Ignace Guillotin as a more humane method of execution. Tobias Schmidt won the contract to build them for 960 francs.

Prior to 1792, those of noble birth in France who were condemned to death were beheaded, commoners were usually hanged, but some people were tortured with the wheel [tied to wheel spokes, breaking limbs with hammers, then weaving the sometimes still living person through the spokes and letting birds eat the remains] or burned at the stake.

It was considered more humane to chop off someone’s head and have them die instantly. The guillotine was more efficient at the process than beheading by sword or axe. In egalitarian times, it was also deemed to be more equitable to have both aristocracy and the common criminal executed using the same method. The guillotine was exported to other countries, mostly in Europe. There were tales of heads living without being connected to the bodies, leading to speculation concerning the humanity behind the method. The “living head” issue has never been scientifically proven and there is evidence pointing to loss of consciousness in seconds even if actual death came slower.

Eventually the guillotine became the only means of capital punishment in France. Public beheadings were stopped in 1939. Hamida Djandoubi was the last person executed with the guillotine on September 10, 1977. It is thought that between 15,000 and 40,000 people were executed using the guillotine during the Reign of Terror which lasted from June, 1793 to July, 1974. There is no longer a death penalty in France.

“GUILLOTINE, n. A machine which makes a Frenchman shrug his shoulders with good reason.” – Ambrose Bierce

“The world itself is but a large prison, out of which some are daily led to execution.” – Walter Raleigh

“Laws are rules established by men who are in control of organized violence for the non fulfillment of which those who do not fulfill them are subjected to personal injuries, the loss of liberty, and even capital punishment.” – Leo Nikolaevich Tolstoy

“As long as you have capital punishment there is no guarantee that innocent people won’t be put to death.” – Paul Simon

Also on this day, in 1961 Robert Noyce received a patent for a semiconductor, leading the way to our current computers.