Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Prerequisites for Executing Women

I found this article in the September 5th, 1949 issue of Life magazine.

The text of the article reads:

‘Lonely Hearts’ murderess will be the
seventh woman electrocuted in Sing Sing Prison

In a Bronx courtroom last week Justice Ferdinand Pecora, with shaking voice, pronounced the death sentence upon two stolid defendants who seemed less affected by it than he did. Then hefty Martha Julie Beck, 29, and Raymond M. Fernandez, 34, her ‘Latin lover,’ were hustled off to Sing Sing Prison to die for the murder of an Albany widow they had met through a mail-order ‘lonely hearts’ club. When Martha Beck’s sentence, now set for the week of Oct. 10, is carried out she will follow in the footsteps of seven other unglamorous women who have gone to the electric chair in New York state, six of them at Sing Sing. The six (left): Mrs. Martha Place, who killed her stepdaughter (executed 1899); Mrs. Ruth Snyder, convicted with Henry Judd Gray in the sashweight slaying of her husband (1928); Mrs. Anna Antonio, who plotted her husband’s murder (1934); Mrs. Eva Coo, who insured, then killed her hired man by running over him in a car (1935); Mrs. Mary F. Creighton, who helped her lover poison his wife (1936), and Mrs. Helen Fowler, who, with a partner, bludgeoned a service-station attendant in a holdup (1944).

Now I am not sharing this because I wish to get into a discussion about the death penalty or disparate media coverage of the executions of women or any other such matter. I cannot say whether the media's approach to this topic has changed significantly in the past 60 years.

I just want to make an observation.

Under the photograph of Martha Beck arriving at Sing Sing, the photo has a caption that reads, “Escorted by an officer and matron, 200-pound Martha Beck arrives at Sing Sing, two hours after hearing her sentence.” In the body of the article, the reporter notes that Martha Beck “will follow in the footsteps of seven other unglamorous women who have gone to the electric chair in New York state.”

Life magazine is reassuring their readers that it is okay.

Women are being executed in New York State - but only unattractive ones. 1950’s America could rest easy because no women who were thin and pretty had been executed in our fair nation.

Oh. What a relief.

If you would like to read more about the women mentioned
in this 1949 Life magazine article, try the links below:
Martha Place (1899) / Ruth Snyder (1928) / Anna Antonio (1934)
Eva Coo (1935) / Mary F. Creighton (1936) / Helen Fowler (1944)
Martha Julie Beck (1949) / Sing Sing Prison / An article comparing
Helen Fowler's 1944 conviction with other murder trials


  1. Yeah, even before I read your comments I was thinking, "Jeebus, they really want to hammer in the fact that this lady was portly, don't they :P

  2. The first thing i noticed is the caption under the pic where they said they escorted the "hefty" woman in. Uh, she's a murderer, who cares if she's heavy or not....

  3. I'm glad I'm not the only one who noticed it right away. The impression I get from reading other information about the women mentioned in the article is that most were, even by today's standards, unquestionably guilty. A couple of them might not be convicted of murder if their case were tried in the present day and they had a decent lawyer. But no matter their guilt or innocence, no matter the nature of their crime - how in heaven's name could their weight or appearance possibly be relevant?

  4. "1950’s America could rest easy because no women who were thin and pretty had been executed in our fair nation."

    Guess you've never heard of Barbara Graham, who many claimed was to beautiful to be executed, but was in California's Gas Chamber.

    Seems a lot of newspapers and magazines back in the days pointed out insignificant things. Just about everything I've read about Charles Starkweather always made it a point to point out that he had red hair. Jeez.

    Oh, btw, ALL of those women were executed at Sing Sing. After 1915 all executions were carried out at Sing Sing. Martha Place was the only one executed prior to 1915 and she too was executed at Sing Sing.