Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods


Death Machine

On August 12, 1912, seven executions were performed at Sing Sing Prison. The New Rochelle Pioneer, a local newspaper, reported the event in this manner: "In Sing Sing prison Monday morning there were put to death seven men, the greatest number at any one time in the history of executions by electricity." The first to go to his death was John W. Collins, 23, a black man from Manhattan, who shot a New York City cop on July 1, 1911. Collins was drunk and firing his pistol through his apartment door when cops entered. Patrolman Michael Lynch was shot in the chest when he tried to arrest Collins. Collins sat in the electric chair quietly and had no final words. The executioner, Edwin Davis, fiddled with the controls as he prepared to administer the final jolt. Davis was a veteran of many such executions and was the official executioner for New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts. When Warden Kennedy gave the signal, Davis turned the dial and 1,700 volts crashed into the prisoner's body with the force of a giant sledgehammer.

Joseph Ferrone, 30, was next to die. Although he also sat quietly, he was expected to cause a great deal of trouble. During his trial for murdering his wife in New York, he frequently cursed at witnesses and swore revenge. When he was found guilty, Ferrone smashed a glass on the table and viciously cut a juror with the broken piece. Several times, he tried to kill himself in the depths of the Tombs prison and when he was finally transported to Sing Sing, he fought the cops all the way to the cell door. As he prepared to die, Ferrone sat rigid in the chair and refused to say a word.

Filippo Demarco (Courtesy Westchester County District Attorney's Office)
Filippo Demarco
(Courtesy Westchester
County District Attorney's

When the attendants brought in Filippo DeMarco his face was frozen in terror. He was forcibly place in the chair as the straps were tied snugly to his sweating arms and legs. As the young man stared straight ahead into the eyes of the witnesses, the dial was turned , sending the fatal current into his helpless body. He died within two minutes. Next to die was Vincenzo Cona. On the way to the death room, Cona fell into a faint and became unconscious. He could not be revived , but it was decided that the execution must proceed. Cona was carried to the chair where his limp body was laid back into the seat, still warm from DeMarco's execution. While the unconscious man slumped into the chair, the electrodes were attached to his body. The deputies had received a great deal of practice in their routine and fastened all the straps quickly. Under the expert guidance of Dr. Amos Squires, the county coroner and prison physician who would witness 114 such executions, a wide restraining belt was pressed against the chest and then pulled under both arms. A small sponge soaked in water was then pressed against the forehead as a cap was lowered onto the head. The wet sponge ensures a firm contact and allows the current to better do its lethal work. At the moment of death, Cona tensed up rigid until it looked as if he would leap from the chair. His face turned crimson red and a thin, persistent column of smoke appeared from behind his ears. In one minute the current was turned off. Then, as is customary in Sing Sing executions, a second application of current was administered to guarantee death.

After Cona, the procession of the doomed continued. One by one, Guista, Cali and Salvatore DeMarco entered the death room. They sat in the same cursed chair and stared at the same gray walls as they each took their last breath. The executioner received $200 per execution, or $1400, a sizable sum for one day's efforts when the average weekly wage for an American was $10.50. The prison guards grew physically tired from removing and carrying the bodies to and from the death chamber. A relief crew had to be brought in to assist the original team. Justice, at times, can be hard work.

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