Folsom's 93

The Lives and Crimes of Folsom Prison's Executed Men


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Folsom’s in Color

Folsom's 22I wanted to share this colorized picture of William M. Gray, Folsom’s 22nd execution. My son has been playing around with Photoshop, and this one particular shot has always stood out to him, so he wanted to see what he could do with it. Given the information surrounding Gray’s case, I’m not entirely convinced he committed the crime for which he hanged. I’ll leave you with his last words.

” . . . there could be no God, else an innocent man would not be hanged.”

 


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Their Last Suppers

I suppose it’s been quite a while since you’ve heard from me, unless you following my ramblings over at AprilJMoore, where I tend to stay busier. Folsom’s has been doing well and is heading into its second printing shortly, which is great news! I’ll keep you posted on that.

In the meantime, I wanted to share with you some additions to Julie Green’s Last Supper collection. You may recall a post I did back in April of 2012 about Julie’s work. On various dinner plates, she paints the last suppers of executed inmates. It’s an incredible collection of 550 plates showing a tiny glimpse into the final hours of a condemned prisoner. I had contacted her about the possibility of painting some of Folsom’s 93 last suppers and through information I provided coupled with her own research, she painted 18 plates. Oppenehimer last supper

#28 Jacob Oppenheimer, July 12, 1913
Candy, cigars

Weber last supper# 23 Adolph Julius Weber, September 27, 1906
A hearty breakfast of toast, eggs, bacon and sausage

Shannon last supper#57 Willard C. Shannon, May 4, 1928
Toast, strawberries and chocolate

You can view the other 15’s last suppers at Julie’s website. Look for:
Ivan Kovalev: february 21, 1896
Paulo Kamaunu, June 19, 1896
George Washington Roberts, September 4, 1896
Alex Kels, January 4, 1924
John Geregac, January 16, 1925
Alfred Bollinger, October 9, 1925
Charles Peevia, August 27, 1926
Paul Rowland, September 27, 1929
Anthony Brown, January 3, 1930
Roy Stokes, January 3, 1930
Walter E. Burke, January 10, 1930
James Gregg, January 10, 1930
Aldrich Welsford Lutz, June 21, 1935
George Hall, March 27, 1936
Earl Budd Kimball, May 22, 1936

You can also see all 550 plates HERE.


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Book Review from NewPages

Thank you, New Pages for the nice review of Folsom’s 93!

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“The matter-of-fact detailing of events in the entries does not make for dull reading. These individual stories are not only mini-biographies but also an informal history of California.”

Check it out HERE.


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The Big House Museum is on it’s way!

I’m thrilled to learn that my friends at the Folsom Prison Museum are edging closer and closer to their dream of building the Big House Museum, that will encompass artifacts and treasures from prisons around the country. Jim Brown, Dennis Sexton, and the rest of the staff at the museum have made preserving Folsom’s history their life’s work and it’s wonderful to see them continuing to make strides toward this new endeavor. Click on the links below to learn more about the Folsom Prison Museum and the efforts to build the Big House Museum.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH

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CLICK HERE TO WATCH

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Book Tour is in Full Swing!

I know this may not be as intriguing as The Royal Birth, but I’m feeling pretty jazzed about my northern California book tour that I’m halfway through with. Just so that you don’t feel left out of all of the excitement, here’s a recap so far:

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July 20th signing at Folsom Prison Museum. This is the trapdoor that the 93 men stood on, seconds before their deaths. (Thanks for the pictures, Linda)!

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(My best Johnny Cash pose–trying not to smile)

The following morning, I made my television debut on Good Day Sacramento with “Chicken Man.” (Felix Sloper, not Cody Stark, Good Day’s fabulous host) 

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WATCH HERE (and see if you can spot the basted bird that makes a surprise appearance).

On Monday, I had my first radio interview . . . a quick 3-4 minute chat with Kitty O’Neal on 1530 KFBK NewsTalk.

Like the TV interview, it went by in a blur.

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I took some time out for some tree hugging . . .

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This morning I had the amazing opportunity to talk with Beth Ruyak on “Insight,” on Capital Public Radio. 

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You can listen in HERE and hear the huge, awkward pause I make when my mind goes blank around the 10 minute mark. 

The fun continues tonight at Time Tested Books (7 p.m.) here in Sacramento, and Modern Times Bookstore in San Francisco tomorrow night at 7 p.m.

Thanks for the great support!


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How the Book Began

This is Tom.

I met him when I was about two-years old, shortly before he passed away in 1979. Growing up, I knew very little about my great-great uncle; only that his wife, my aunt Betty, loved him beyond measure. She often referred to him as, “My Tom.” They did after all, spend forty-two years together. Their relationship, however, wasn’t exactly conventional. They met in 1937 (incidentally, the year of Folsom’s final execution) when she was seventeen. He was forty-six . . . and married. After Tom’s wife refused to grant a divorce, the two carried on an affair until 1968 when Tom’s wife died and the pair married.

Little is known about Tom except that he was a bookie, a self-described professional gambler, and that he had a “heart of gold.” I also know that during prohibition, he and his father smuggled bootlegged liquor to the Hearst Castle. My grandmother recalled a story he told about the San Francisco earthquake of 1906. Apparently, Tom’s father or brother, was the fire chief of the city. They enlisted Tom, a then-teenager, and his friends to help in the aftermath. With the streets in ruins, it was nearly impossible for horses and carriages to navigate the city, so on roller skates, the boys collected bodies and brought them to the morgue.

After forty-two years together, it’s odd to not have some recorded family history, but they weren’t the most forthcoming duo. Much of that had to do with the fact that Tom had a wife. Another, was Tom’s chosen “profession.” His circle of friends and acquaintances included Bugsy Siegel and he even become a silent partner in the Stardust Hotel in Las Vegas with the legendary bootlegger and gambling entrepreneur, Anthony Cornero. Despite the ties to organized crime, Betty was always quick to point out that Tom “never crossed the line” into that world.

Sometime in the ’40s, Tom made a trip to Folsom prison to collect money from an inmate. You couldn’t hide from a bookie in prison. I don’t know if Tom got what he came for, but he did leave with a box of mug shots. “The warden gave them to him,” Betty later said. They were placed in a closet and stayed there until the early 1980s. Tucked in with the pictures sat a 40-page text chronicling the history of Folsom from the early 1880s to 1943, presumably when it was written.  Betty (who had a flair for drama) showed them to me and the family on one of our trips to see her in California in ’88 or ’89.

These photos were freaky and awesome at the same time.

We warily looked through the pictures, fearing somehow, the fiendishness of the subjects would rub off on us. Some had on bowler hats, others bowties. A few had their hair smoothly slicked back, while others appeared disheveled and unkempt. The pictures spanned a number of years, as evidenced by the mens’ evolving fashions and mustache styles. Some mug shots depicted a friendly, neighborly-looking kind of guy, or even a schoolteacher. Others fit the criminal stereotype with their shifty eyes and menacing stare. Many looked downright surprised or stunned, not unlike a typical driver’s license photo.

The pictures and document remained with Betty, but she supplied us with copies of the text. As I grew older, I stored Betty’s unusual treasure in the back of mind, recalling every so often that my great-great uncle visited Folsom prison once and brought back creepy photos of inmates.  So anyway, that’s how the book began and with any luck, it’ll be available next spring from Linden Publishing.

I owe Tom a debt of gratitude for hanging on to these antiquities, because without them, I’m not sure these stories would have been told.