Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Francis "Two Gun" Crowley

'Give My Love to My Mother!'

Rudolph Duringer, mugshot & prints
Rudolph Duringer, mugshot & prints

The era between 1920 and 1940 was the pinnacle of capital punishment in America. At Sing Sing in 1932, 20 men went to their deaths in the electric chair. The following year, 18 men suffered the same fate. From the time Crowley arrived at the prison in June 1931 until his execution in January 1932, he watched thirteen prisoners walk the "last mile". He became well acquainted with the procedures used on Death Row and sometimes conversed with other prisoners who were waiting for their own executions. He told them what to expect and described in detail what would happen in the death chamber. On December 10, 1931, "Fat" Duringer said his own goodbyes as he stepped into the death chamber for the murder of Virginia Brannen.

"There goes a great guy, a square shooter and my pal!" said Crowley as the big man shuffled down the hall. Robert G. Elliot, Sing Sing's famed executioner, kept a diary of every execution he performed. Under the entry for Rudolph Duringer #172, Elliot wrote: "'Big Rudy' The largest man to be put to death in the chair at Sing Sing ... He hung his head as he entered the chamber but he did not falter."

As the date for his own death grew near, Crowley grew melancholy and for a time, dropped the bravado for which he was famous. He began to draw pictures of bridges and skyscrapers in New York City and constructed miniature models of buildings. "He showed an aptitude for drawing," said Lawes in his book, Twenty Thousand Years in Sing Sing, "and his sketch of the death house was quite accurate and comprehensive." Most of his time was spent in his cell, alone with books and his drawings. "During his last six-months in the death house, he was perfectly happy by himself," wrote Lawes. When he was with other inmates, however, Crowley reverted back to the "Two Gun" character that was expected of him. "Left to himself, he was a well-behaved, somewhat studious and altogether likeable boy," said Lawes, who sent the killer a quart of ice cream shortly before his date with death.

Meanwhile, Helen Walsh waited to see her former boyfriend for weeks on end. She came to Sing Sing on many occasions but was turned down time after time. Crowley refused to see or speak with her. "She's out!" he told the press, "She's going around with a cop! I won't look at her!"

On January 21, 1932, at 11 p.m., Crowley was led from his cell and escorted to the death chamber. Holding a 15-inch crucifix given to him by Father McCaffrey, the prison chaplain, Crowley held his nerve. He sat down in the electric chair as nervous guards attached the restraints.

"I don't think the lower one is tight enough, P.K.," he said to the principal keeper. Crowley recognized one of the officers as someone he knew from Ossining. "Okay, Sarge!" he called to the man. "Hello, Crowley," replied Sergeant John Lyons who commanded the work detail. A black leather mask was then pulled down over Crowley's face.

"My last wish is to send my love to my mother," he said in a muffled voice. Seconds later, the switch was turned and Crowley was hit with 2,000 volts of electricity. Under the entry for Francis Crowley #178, Robert Elliot described "Two Gun's" last moments: "Hard boiled to within short time before final date ... He entered the chamber with a forced smile asked for his mother and thanked Warden ... His was a case of a bad boy looking for adventure." Outside the prison, Anna Crowley, Helen Walsh and other family members were distraught and had to be carried from the scene. "Two Gun" Crowley was later buried at Calvary Cemetery in New York City.

Newspaper clipping
Newspaper clipping

The Daily News called him "midget Frank Crowley" and "the 19 year old pigmy killer." Another story described him as "the diminutive little killer" and "a half-pint moron!" Even The New York Times couldn't resist calling Crowley "the puny killer" and pointed out to its readers more than once that he was "undersized, under-chinned, under-witted." And his ex-girlfriend Vera Dunn once said, "That guy would kill his own mother!" But it was New York City Police Commissioner Mulrooney who had the final word. After "Two Gun's" execution, he told reporters: "He was a fake bad man with the soul of a rat!"

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