Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Profession of Executioner: Robert G. Elliott

Three Famous Cases

Although Robert G. Elliott, executioner, may be long forgotten , five whom he executed --- convicted in three cases --- remain in the public consciousness, even after almost 80 years. They are, in order of execution, Nicola Sacco, Bartolomeo Vanzetti (1927), Ruth Snyder, Henry Judd Gray (1928), and Bruno Richard Hauptmann (1936). Few cases in the 20th Century aroused such interest and passions.

The details of these cases have been described in Crimelibrary articles. Denise Noe (The Murder of Albert Snyder) recounted the Snyder-Judd case in fascinating detail. The celebrated cases of Sacco and Vanzetti (The Legacy of Sacco and Vanzetti) and Hauptmann and the Lindbergh baby kidnapping (Theft of the Eaglet) were reported by Russell Aiuto.

Charles Lindbergh Jr.
Charles Lindbergh Jr.
The significance of the three cases, as one would expect, induce Elliott to devote an entire chapter to them in his autobiography. Clearly, although they constitute less than 1 percent of the condemned that he executed, they hold a special case in his career. There are three reasons for the notoriety of these cases. In one instance, Sacco and Vanzetti, it was the sense that a gross injustice had been done, and that politics and the hysteria of the Red Scare was the driving force for their conviction and execution. In the second case, Ruth Snyder and Judd Gray, it was one of the most publicized cases of sex and passion, a forerunner of many similar cases that were to follow in 20th Century history of crime, but one of the first to engage the tabloid, as well as the respectable press. The fact that a surreptitious photograph of Ruth Snyder, taken at the moment of her death, was published the day after her execution further sensationalized the execution. Finally, the third case, the execution of the kidnapper and murderer of the child of Americas hero, Charles Lindbergh, produced a national fascination unlike any other in the annals of murder up to that time.

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