From 2007-8 I produced a series of five paintings and twelve etchings under the title ‘No Human Way to Kill’ in collaboration with the Human Rights Centre at the University of Essex and Amnesty International. They explore the five different methods used in the USA to execute condemned prisoners alongside a survey of twelve different types of execution which have been used around the world over the past 100 years.
Researching this project bought to light the peculiar fact that over the course of the 20th century over 8,000 prisoners were executed across the USA, yet only 50 of these were women (between 1900 and the year 2005). This seemed to be a strange anomaly and posed the questions: Is this because women commit less crime than men, or that the crimes they do commit are not as ‘serious’? Or perhaps it is that our societies have far less of a desire to execute females and more of a need to ‘protect’ them?
As a result I decided to produce a series of small portraits of 36 of these women and add their biographies alongside so we might look more closely at their lives and circumstances and move some way to understanding this cultural phenomena.
Robert Priseman 2016
Selection of 20 works from the series of 36.
Virginia Christian (2014) by Robert PrisemanFlorida State University Museum of Fine Arts
On the 15th of August 1912, Virginia Christian celebrated her 17th birthday. The next day she was strapped into an electric chair and executed.
Christian, a black house maid, was convicted of murdering her employer Ida Belote, a 72 year old white woman, at her home in Hampton on the 1Bth March 1912. Belote frequently beat Christian and in mid· March 1912 an argument broke out between the two when Belote accused Christian of stealing alocket and a skirt. Belote then hit Christian with a spittoon. The dispute escalated when Christian and Belote ran for two broom handles which were used to prop up bedroom windows. Christian grabbed one and struck Belote on the forehead with it. In an attempt to stifle the screams, Christian stuffed a towel in her employer's mouth, which caused her death by suffocation.
When Christian left the house, she ran off with Belote's purse and a ring. Police quickly arrested Christian, who when questioned, admitted hitting Belote but was shocked to learn she was dead, claiming she had no intention of killing her employer.
Elizabeth City County Court tried and convicted Christian for murder and the trial judge sentenced her to death at the state penitentiary in Richmond. Then Governor William Hodges Mann declined to commute the sentence, despite a pleas from both Virginia's parents. After her electrocution, Christian's body was turned over to the state medical school because her parents didn't have the money to transport the body from Richmond. She became the last female minor to be legally executed in the United States.
At the end of the century, in the year 2000, the USA executed 85 condemned prisoners - only 2 of them were women; Betty Beets and Christina Riggs. While over the course of the 20th century over 8,000 prisoners were executed across the USA, yet only 50 of these were women (by the year 2005). Is this because women commit less crimes or because the crimes they do commit are not as 'serious'? Or perhaps it is that our societies have far less of a desire to execute females and more of a need to 'protect' them?
Whatever the answers to these questions, the main issue which overrides all others must surely be: are some people born bad, or do the factors of nurture and environment play a much larger part in human behaviour than nature ever can?
Robert Priseman 2014
Judy Buenoano (2014) by Robert PrisemanFlorida State University Museum of Fine Arts
Born in Texas on the 4th April 1943, Judy Buenoano’s mother died when she was 4 years old.
Buenoano became known as the “Black Widow” following a guilty verdict for the murder of her husband after she poisoned him with arsenic. In addition to the conviction for murder, she received additional sentences for attempted murder and insurance fraud
following the drowning of her paralyzed son and an attempt to kill her fiancé with a car bomb. A previous boyfriend also “mysteriously” died whilst dating Buenoano. Her motive was believed to have been greed, as she collected $240,000 in insurance money.
Executed in Florida State Prison on the 30th March 1998, by electrocution, Buenoano, then aged 54, was the first woman to be executed in Florida for over 150 years.
Martha Beck (2014) by Robert PrisemanFlorida State University Museum of Fine Arts
Martha Beck was born Martha Jule Seabrook on the 6th May 1920, in Milton, Florida.
By 1947 she had two children by two different men, neither one wanting anything to do with her. She placed an advertisement in a lonely-hearts column in 1947, which was answered by Raymond Fernandez. Fernandez visited Martha in Florida and she eventually moved with him to New York. Fernandez regularly answered lonely-hearts ads to meet women, who he then robbed when the relationship soured. He revealed his scheme to Martha and she decided to collaborate, posing as his sister or sister in law. But she grew to become jealous and angry if he had sex with his victims. In 1949 she found Fernandez in bed with one such candidate, Janet Fay, and she smashed her skull with a hammer.
Beck was sentenced to death by electrocution in Sing Sing prison, New York, on the 7th March 1951.
Aileen Wuornos (2014) by Robert PrisemanFlorida State University Museum of Fine Arts
Born Aileen Pittman in Rochester, Michigan, on the 29th February 1956, Wuornos never met her father, Leo Pittman, a schizophrenic who was incarcerated at the time of her birth.
When she was almost four years old, her mother abandoned her to her grandparents, Lauri and Britta Wuornos. She later stated that her grandfather had sexually assaulted and beaten her as a child and that in 1970, at the age of 13, she became pregnant, having been
raped by one of her grandfather’s friends. In 1991 she confessed to killing six men between 1989 and 1990, claiming they had all raped her while she was working as a prostitute, although shortly before her death she admitted there were no rapes and that robbery was her motive.
Aileen Wuornos was executed by lethal injection at a Florida State Prison on the 9th October 2002.
Eva Dugan (2014) by Robert PrisemanFlorida State University Museum of Fine Arts
Born in 1878, Eva Dugan trekked to Alaska during the Klondike gold rush and became a cabaret singer.
She subsequently moved to Pima County, Arizona, where she worked as a housekeeper for a chicken rancher named Andrew J. Mathis. Shortly after her employment was terminated, Mathis disappeared, along with some of his possessions. The police discovered Dugan had a father in California and a daughter in White Plains, had been married five times and all of her husbands had mysteriously disappeared. She was subsequently arrested in White Plains when a postal clerk, alerted by the police, intercepted a postcard from her father in California. She was extradited back to Arizona and tried and convicted for the murder of Andrew J. Mathias.
Dugan was executed on the 21st February 1930 by hanging at the state prison in Florence. The execution was botched, which resulted in her decapitation. This in turn influenced the state of Arizona to replace hanging with the lethal gas chamber.
Helen Fowler (2014) by Robert PrisemanFlorida State University Museum of Fine Arts
Helen Fowler lived in the red light district of Niagara Falls in New York State.
A mother of four, Helen was found guilty of collaborating in the murder of a 63 year old white man named George Fowler, with the help of her common law husband George Knight. George Fowler had been “out on the town” on the evening of his death, apparently boasting that he was carrying a large amount of cash. Helen Fowler and her partner beat George to death with a hammer in order to steal his money. Three of her children testified against her at trial.
Helen Fowler was executed by electric chair at Sing Sing prison on the 16th November 1944 at the age of 37 along with her partner George Knight. She was the only Afro-American woman to be electrocuted in New York State in the 20th Century.
Linda Lyon (2014) by Robert PrisemanFlorida State University Museum of Fine Arts
Lynda Lyon Block was born on the 8th February 1948 in Orlando, Florida. Never close with her mother, who she claimed had been both physically and mentally abusive, Block’s father died of heart failure when she was 10.
In 1993 Block shot a police officer dead with a handgun and was condemned to death in Alabama’s electric chair, known as “Big Yellow Mama”.
On the 10th May 2002, Block walked to her execution wearing a white prison outfit and black hood over her shaven head. Her eyes were wide, blank and emotionless. At 12.01 a.m. the execution began when a 2,050-volt shock was sent through her body for 20 seconds; steam came from the sponge on her head and the electrode on her left leg. She then received 250 volts for a further 100 seconds. At 12.10 a.m. Block was declared dead. Department of Corrections Commissioner Michael Haley said her execution was routine. With this act, a century of using electricity on condemned women in the USA came to an end.
Mary Farmer (2014) by Robert PrisemanFlorida State University Museum of Fine Arts
Irish born Mary Farmer was the third woman to be executed in the
USA during the twentieth century. She was 29 years old.
Whilst living in a rundown house on Paddy Hill near Brownville she murdered her neighbour Sarah Brennan with an axe then stuffed the body in a trunk. Following this, Farmer went to the offices of the Attorney Francis P. Burns and told him she was Sarah Brennan and wished to transfer the title deeds for her home to Mary Farmer.
Burns unwittingly carried out the transfer, Mary forged Sarah’s signature, and the deeds were filed with the county clerk. Mary then told her husband, James, a local mill worker, that she had purchased the house for $1,200 claiming she’d received money to buy the
house from an uncle in Buffalo.
Sentenced to death, Mary Farmer was electrocuted at Auburn State
Prison on the 29th March 1909.
Anna Marie Hahn (2014) by Robert PrisemanFlorida State University Museum of Fine Arts
Anna Marie Hahn was a 32 year old German immigrant who was the first woman executed in Ohio’s electric chair.
In 1933 Hahn had decided to offer her services as a live in “nurse” to elderly men in Cincinnati’s German community. Her first client was 73-year-old Ernst Kohler. He died on the 6th May 1933, leaving a house for Anna in his will. Four further victims followed; Albert Parker, Jacob Wagner, George Gsellman and George Obendoerfer who died on the 1st August 1937. Anna had persuaded George to visit Colorado Springs with her and her son. Once there he was taken ill and died in his hotel room. An autopsy revealed arsenic poisoning and in September 1937 she was charged with his murder. Autopsies on the four other men Anna had worked for also revealed poisoning. She was charged with five murders in total and sentenced to death.
Hahn was electrocuted on the 7th December 1938 at the Ohio State Penitentiary in Columbus.
Wanda Jean Allen (2014) by Robert PrisemanFlorida State University Museum of Fine Arts
One of eight children, Wanda Jean Allen was born on the 17th August 1959.
In 1981, she was living with her then girlfriend, Dedra Pettus. On the 29th June 1981, they got into an argument and Allen shot and killed Dedra. Due to bruises and powder burns on Pettus’s body, forensic evidence suggested that Allen had pistol-whipped Pettus
before shooting her at point-blank range. Allen pleaded guilty to manslaughter and served half of a 4-year sentence. Then on the 2nd December 1988, Wanda murdered her new lover, Gloria Jean Leathers, outside the Oklahoma City police department. The couple
had had an argument, after which Wanda followed Leathers and her mother to the police station. She then shot Leathers who died 3 days later. Allen was charged with first-degree murder.
Wanda Jean Allen spent 12 years on death row before receiving a lethal injection at the Oklahoma state penitentiary on the 11th January 2001.
Barbara Graham (2014) by Robert PrisemanFlorida State University Museum of Fine Arts
Barbara Graham was born Barbara Elaine Ford on the 26th June 1923 in Oakland, California. Graham was the third woman in California to be executed by gas.
In 1953, after giving birth to 2 children, serving a stint in prison and spending years working as a prostitute, Barbara married Henry Graham. Through him she met Jack Santo and Emmett Perkins, and in March 1953, along with two further accomplices named John True and Baxter Shorter, she undertook the robbery of 64-year-old
Mabel Monohan in Burbank. Barbara reportedly gained entry to Monohan’s house by asking to use her phone. Once inside, the gang demanded money and jewels from Monohan while Barbara “pistolwhipped” her. They then suffocated Monohan with a pillow. After they were arrested, True testified against Graham and she was sentenced
to death for robbery and murder, along with Perkins and Santo.
Graham died in the gas chamber at San Quentin State prison on the 3rd June 1955.
Bonnie Heady (2014) by Robert PrisemanFlorida State University Museum of Fine Arts
Bonnie Brown Heady was born on the 15th July 1912 in Burlington Junction, Missouri.
A former gangster’s moll and prostitute, Heady along with her accomplice Carl Austin Hall abducted 6-year-old Robert Greenlease Jr. on the 28th September 1953. Heady collected Robert from his school in Kansas City, where she’d told a teacher she was an aunt who’d come to take him to visit his “sick” mother. The Greenlease family received a ransom note the following day for $600,000, despite Hall having already shot and buried young Robert. On receiving the money, Bonnie and Hall went to St. Louis where they
partied until Hall deserted Bonnie; he was arrested a few days later. On the 7th October 1953 Robert Greenlease’s body was unearthed at Heady’s home in St. Joseph, Missouri.
Hall and Heady were subsequently charged with murder and sentenced to death in the gas chamber at the Missouri state penitentiary in Jefferson City on the 18th December 1953.
Virginia Christian (2014) by Robert PrisemanFlorida State University Museum of Fine Arts
Born on the 15th August 1895, Virginia Christian was the first female juvenile to be legally executed in the United States.
A “wash girl”, Virginia murdered her employer, Mrs. Ida Belote, a 72 year old white woman, at her home in Hampton. Belote frequently hit Christian, and on the 18th March 1912, an argument broke out between the two when Belote accused Christian of stealing a locket and skirt. Belote hit Christian with a “spittoon”, the argument then escalated when Christian and Belote ran for two broom handles which were used to prop up bedroom windows. Christian grabbed one of the broom handles and struck Belote on the forehead. In an attempt to stifle Belote’s screams, Christian stuffed a towel down her employer’s throat, and Belote died of suffocation.
Christian was electrocuted in the State of Virginia on the 16th August 1912, one day after her 17th birthday.
Irene Schroeder (2014) by Robert PrisemanFlorida State University Museum of Fine Arts
Born in 1909 in Benwood, West Virginia, Irene married Homer Schroeder at the age of 15. They had a son, Donnie, a year later.
Irene left Homer and became a waitress. She then joined a gang and was involved in at least 11 murders. Known as the “Gun Girl” she and her gang eventually ran into trouble, coming to a bloody two-hour standoff with the police. Half naked and with her clothes
in tatters, Irene tried to encourage the men in her gang to fight by promising those who survived the shoot-out a “wild night”. Tearing away her remaining clothes she stood up proudly and yelled: “if you survive this, I’ll sleep with you tonight”.
Irene Schroder was executed by electrocution on the 23rd February 1923 at the age of 22, having been convicted of fatally shooting a state highway patrol officer.
Eva Coo (2014) by Robert PrisemanFlorida State University Museum of Fine Arts
Eva Curry was born on the 17th June 1889 in Haliburton, Canada. She moved to New York State in 1921 after marrying her husband William Coo.
In New York, Eva was running a brothel, when she was entrusted with the care of one of her employees, a handyman with learning difficulties named Henry Wright. After the death of Wright’s mother, Coo embezzled his inheritance and burned his house for the insurance. She then conspired with another employee, Martha Clift, to murder him. On the 14th June 1934, the two women drove Wright to a remote location outside Oneonta, New York, where Eva hit Wright with a mallet and Martha ran him over with a car. They then dumped Wright’s body beside the road to simulate a hit-and-run accident.
Coo was executed on the 27th June 1935 in the Electric Chair at Sing Sing Prison.
Louise Peete (2014) by Robert PrisemanFlorida State University Museum of Fine Arts
Louise Peete Judson was born in Bienville, Louisiana on the 20th September 1883 and lived a life of crime, despite benefiting from an expensive education and a cultured upbringing.
In 1912 Peete was accused of murdering her then boyfriend Joe Appel, but was acquitted on the grounds of self-defence. Yet eight years later she was found guilty of the murder of Jacob Charles Denton who was shot dead in Los Angeles. For this Peete served 18
years in California’s Tehachapi Prison before her release on parole in 1939. Then on the 30th May 1944 she murdered her social worker, Margaret Logan. Peete had been living with Logan and her husband at the time.
Peete was convicted of murder in the first degree and was executed in San Quentin’s gas chamber on the 11th April 1947.
Marie Porter (2014) by Robert PrisemanFlorida State University Museum of Fine Arts
37-year-old Marie Porter was the first woman to die in the electric chair in Illinois and only the second woman to be executed there.
She had ordered the murder of her brother, William Kappan on the 13th July 1937, in Belleville, Illinois, after he had refused to make Marie the sole beneficiary of his $3,300 life insurance policy. Marie hired 22-year-old Angelo Giancola, allegedly her lover, and his 20-year old brother John Giancola to help her. At trial in St. Clair Circuit Court, Angelo Giancola admitted firing the fatal shots and Marie was subsequently convicted of conspiracy to murder. Angelo was convicted of 1st degree murder.
Marie Porter was electrocuted at the Southern Illinois State Penitentiary in Chester on the 28th January 1938.
Anna Antonio (2014) by Robert PrisemanFlorida State University Museum of Fine Arts
“Little Anna” was a 28 year old Italian-American mother of three, who was married at the age of 16 to Salvatore Antonio.
She was reported as being a battered wife and was sentenced to death for having hired two men to murder her husband. Only 10 minutes before her scheduled execution she received the first of many stays. A 24 hour stay became a week stay which then became
a month stay. During this period she barely ate and weighed less than 85 pounds when her execution was finally carried out. Many criticized State Governor Lehman for not saving Anna’s life. His response to his critics was, “The law makes no distinction of sex in the punishment of crime; nor would my own conscience permit me to do so.”
Anna Antonio was electrocuted in Sing Sing Prison on the 9th August 1934. At the time of her execution she weighted only 85 pounds.
Marilyn Plantz (2014) by Robert PrisemanFlorida State University Museum of Fine Arts
Marilyn Plantz May hired her teenage boyfriend Clifford Bryson and his friend William McKimble to kill her husband James Plantz for his life insurance policy of $319,000.
Entering his home after work, James Plantz was ambushed by Bryson and McKimble and beaten with baseball bats while his wife and children lay asleep in bed. Marilyn then arose and instructed Bryson and McKimble to “burn him” to make it look like an accident.
40 year old Marilyn Kay Plantz was executed on the 1st May 2001, by lethal injection at Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester. Marilyn and Jim Plantz’s daughter Trina Plantz Wells, 21, appealed to the board to spare her mother’s life. Wells was reported as having cried throughout the entire hearing, having reconciled with her mother after having had no contact with her for 13 years.
Ethel Rosenberg (2014) by Robert PrisemanFlorida State University Museum of Fine Arts
Ethel Rosenberg was born on the 25th September 1915, in New York City. Of all the women executed in the USA since 1903, she is the only one not to have been executed for murder. Along with her husband Julius, she was convicted under Federal authority for conspiracy to commit espionage.
A soviet information courier named Harry Gold had been arrested on the 23rd May 1950. He implicated Ethel’s brother David Greenglass in a conspiracy to pass information on to the USSR. Greenglass in turn implicated both Ethel and Julius Rosenberg. Julius was arrested in July 1950 and Ethel in August of the same year. Whilst on trial, Greenglass claimed Ethel had typed notes containing secret information, which were then given to Gold, who in turn passed them on to Anatoly A. Yakovlev, a Soviet vice consul in New York.
The Rosenberg’s were condemned to death and on the evening of the 19th June 1953 and were electrocuted in Sing Sing prison, New York.
Corrine Skyes (2014) by Robert PrisemanFlorida State University Museum of Fine Arts
Corrine Sykes was a 20-year-old illiterate black housemaid who stabbed her employer, Freda Woodlinger, to death on the 7th December 1944.
Mrs Woodlinger had hired Corrine three days before the murder. Sykes had given a false name and references to hide the fact that she’d just been released from prison having served 11 months for the theft of jewelery. On trial Sykes claimed that her boyfriend, J.C. Kelly, had threatened to kill her and her mother if she did not steal for him. Doubts were raised as to whether the slight Sykes would have had the physical strength to inflict the stab wounds on her employer. Other doubts were also raised about her delicately balanced mental state. The all-white jury weren’t convinced and convicted her of first-degree murder.
Corrine Sykes was electrocuted on the 14th October 1946 at the Rockview Penitentiary in Belefonte.
Ruth Snyder (2014) by Robert PrisemanFlorida State University Museum of Fine Arts
Born on the 27th March 1895, Ruth Snyder was a mother and housewife from Queen’s village, New York. She took out a $48, 000 life insurance policy on her husband Albert Snyder, then murdered him, with the help of her lover, Gary Gray, acting as accomplice.
On the 20th March 1927, Ruth and Gary Gray garrotted Albert, stuffing his nose with chloroform-soaked rags, to help stage his death as part of a burglary. Investigating detectives noted that the burglar had left little evidence of a break in. Snyder’s subsequent execution by electrocution was surreptitiously photographed by Tom
Howard at the moment the electricity was running through her body. The photograph was taken with the aid of a customised miniature camera which was strapped to his ankle. It was famously published in the New York Daily Times.
Ruth Snyder was executed in Sing Sing Prison on the 12th January1928.
Velma Barfield (2014) by Robert PrisemanFlorida State University Museum of Fine Arts
The first woman to be executed by lethal injection was Velma Marge Barfield.
Born on the 23rd October 1932, in North Carolina, by the age of 19 Barfield had 2 children by her then husband, Thomas. In 1966 Thomas was injured in a car crash after which Velma became depressed and addicted to prescription drugs. Thomas died in 1969 and Velma re-married Jennings Barfield in 1970. Six months later Jennings died of arsenic poisoning and in 1977 Barfield began a relationship with Stuart Taylor. She took out forged cheques from his bank account and when he became suspicious she mixed rat poison into his beer. He later died and Velma was charged with his murder. During interrogation she also confessed to killing her mother and two elderly people; John Henry Lee and Dollie Edwards.
Barfield was subsequently executed on the 2nd November 1984, at the Central Prison in Raleigh, North Carolina.
Christina Riggs (2014) by Robert PrisemanFlorida State University Museum of Fine Arts
Born in Lawton, Oklahoma, in 1971, Christina Riggs was a registered nurse and mother of two small children, Justin and Shelby, by two different fathers.
In 1997, whilst at the family home in Sherwood, Arkansas, she planned to sedate her children with amitriptyline before killing them with undiluted potassium chloride. However, the first injection on her son was unsuccessful, so Riggs smothered them both instead. She then laid the children on her bed, covered them with a blanket, and
wrote suicide notes. Following this Riggs unsuccessfully attempted suicide by taking twenty-eight amitriptyline pills and injecting herself with undiluted potassium chloride. Riggs’ defense claimed she was suffering from depression and was apparently unwilling to have her children split up after her envisioned suicide.
Christina Riggs was executed by lethal injection on the 2nd May 2000. She was the first woman to be executed in Arkansas since 1845.
Lena Baker (2014) by Robert PrisemanFlorida State University Museum of Fine Arts
44-year-old African-American Lena Baker was the first and only woman to be executed in Georgia’s electric chair.
She was convicted of murdering Ernest B. Knight, a gristmill owner in Cuthbert, Georgia, who had employed her as a maid. Knight often mistreated her and on the night of the 29th April 1944 Lena claimed that she’d had to act in self-defense after Knight had locked her in the mill and threatened to beat her. She managed to get a hold of his gun and fired it to prevent him killing her.
Baker was executed on the 5th March 1945, going to the chair calmly whilst proclaiming her innocence. She later received a posthumous pardon from the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles in August 2005. They accepted they had made a serious error in not granting clemency and that Baker was guilty of voluntary manslaughter rather than murder. A movie was made about her life in 2008 titled ‘The Lena Baker Story.’
Rhonda Bell Martin (2014) by Robert PrisemanFlorida State University Museum of Fine Arts
Born Rhonda Belle Thomley in 1907, Martin confessed to murdering six people, including three of her daughters, her mother and two husbands.
Before her arrest she had worked as a waitress in Birmingham, Alabama. Her crimes only surfaced when police began to investigate the illness of her husband, Ronald, in the March of 1953. Under questioning Rhonda admitted to poisoning her fourth husband, Claude, in 1951. Eight months after Claude’s death she married his son Ronald, who was subsequently left paralyzed from the effects of poison. On the 19th May 1956, Rhonda Martin was charged with murdering her second husband George Garrett in 1939, 3-year-old Emogene Garrett who died in 1937, six year old Carolyn Garrett in 1940, 11 year old Ellyn Garrett in 1943, her mother Mary Francis Gibbon in 1944 and Claude Martin, who died in 1951.
Rhonda Martin was electrocuted in Kilby Prison, Montgomery, Alabama on the 11th October 1957.
Betty Lou Beets (2014) by Robert PrisemanFlorida State University Museum of Fine Arts
Betty Lou Dunevant was born on the 12th March 1937. She was partially deaf and claimed to have been sexually abused by her father as a child.
She was sentenced to death for shooting her 5th husband, Jimmy Don Beets, at their home in eastern Texas. Beets had a criminal history prior to her arrest for his murder, which included public lewdness, shooting her second husband twice in the back of the head and attempting to run over her third husband with a car. Both men survived and testified at her trial where the prosecution claimed she killed Jimmy Beets in order to collect $100,000 Life Insurance. His body had been discovered in a Wishing Well on their property where Police also discovered the remains of her fourth husband, Doyle Wayne Baker.
Beets was executed by Lethal Injection on the 24th February 2000, at Huntsville, Texas.
Frances Elaine Newton (2014) by Robert PrisemanFlorida State University Museum of Fine Arts
Born on the 12th April 1965, Frances Elaine McLemore Newton was a married mother of three who lived in Harris County, Texas.
Recently separated, Newton was convicted of killing her husband and children with a .25 caliber pistol. She maintained her innocence from the moment of her arrest in 1987 until her execution in 2005. However, three weeks before the killings, Newton had bought life insurance policies on her husband, her daughter, and herself which were each worth $50,000. On these she named herself as beneficiary on her husband’s and daughter’s policies, claiming she forged her husband’s signature to prevent him from discovering that money had been set aside to pay the premiums. Newton was also found to have placed a paper bag containing the murder weapon in a relative’s home shortly after the murders.
Frances Newton was executed by lethal injection on the 14th September 2005, at Huntsville, Texas.
Mary Frances Creighton (2014) by Robert PrisemanFlorida State University Museum of Fine Arts
Mary Frances Creighton was a 36 year old housewife who lived in Baldwin, New York. She was married to John Creighton and together they had a daughter named Ruth.
They lived together with another family, the Applegates. The father, Everett Applegate had sex with his own 12 year old daughter Agnes as well as with Creighton’s daughter Ruth, who was 14 years old at the time. Mary Frances was a willing participant in the arrangement. She and Everett then conspired to poison Everett’s wife, Ada, so that her daughter Ruth could marry “Uncle Ev.”
Convicted of poisoning Ada Applegate, Creighton was electrocuted at Sing Sing Prison on the 16th July 1936. Whilst waiting to be strapped into the electric chair she collapsed several times, her legs apparently paralyzed and she suffered hysteria as a result of her sentence.
Elizabeth Duncan (2014) by Robert PrisemanFlorida State University Museum of Fine Arts
Elizabeth Ann Duncan, also known as Ma Duncan, was born in 1904.
In November 1957 she moved in with her son Frank, in Santa Barbara, California. A few months later Frank met Olga Kupcyzk. Elizabeth demanded he end the relationship and when he refused she threatened to kill Olga. On learning Olga was pregnant Elizabeth hired Luis Moya and Augustine Baldonado to kill her. Moya and Baldonado visited Olga’s apartment on the 18th November, repeatedly hit her about the head, then drove the body to the Casitas damn and buried her. Olga’s body was discovered on the 21st December, when Baldonado led police to the grave, after being arrested on unrelated
charges. Elizabeth came to trial on the 24th February 1959 where she pleaded not guilty for reasons of insanity. However, she was found sane and convicted of first-degree murder.
Elizabeth Duncan was executed in San Quentin’s gas chamber on 8th August 1962.
Dovie Dean (2014) by Robert PrisemanFlorida State University Museum of Fine Arts
Blanche “Dovie” Dean was a 55-year-old grandmother and mother of six children, who lived in Clermont County, Ohio.
She admitted to killing her 69-year-old husband, Hawkins Dean, after she put rat poison in his milk. Dean had originally tried to frame her son by a previous marriage for the murder, but eventually confessed when the sheriff commented that “any woman who could accuse her son of such a crime could easily have done it herself.” Dean said the murder took place after a number of violent arguments with her new husband Hawkins (her third), who she felt could not “perform his husbandly duties.” Dean said: “He wanted a housekeeper and I wanted a home.”
On the 15th January 1954, Dovie Dean was executed in Ohio’s electric chair wearing a “simple green dress buttoned down the front, white anklets and brown shoes.”
Sue Logue (2014) by Robert PrisemanFlorida State University Museum of Fine Arts
Born in 1896, Sue Logue was a teacher and farmer’s wife who lived in South Carolina.
Logue’s husband, Wallace, was killed by a neighbour, Davis Timmerman, after an argument they had involving money. Sue wanted revenge for the death of her husband and arranged for an acquaintance named Clarence Bagwell to kill Timmerman. Unfortunately for her, Bagwell wasn’t able to keep quiet about his involvement in the murder and told the story to a third party. When the police heard what had happened they went to arrest Logue. Initially she refused to give herself up, until the local judge, Strom Thurmond arrived. He entered her house unarmed and persuaded her to hand herself in.
Logue was executed in the Electric Chair on the 15th January 1943.
Bagwell was also sentenced to death for his part in the crime.
Juanita Spinelli (2014) by Robert PrisemanFlorida State University Museum of Fine Arts
Ethel Leta Juanita Spinelli was born in Kentucky on the 17th October 1889 and made history by becoming the first woman legally executed in California and the first woman in the USA to die in the gas chamber.
The leader of a criminal gang who nicknamed her “the Duchess,” by 1940 she and her husband Michael Simeone were living in San Francisco with their three children. Together they committed armed robberies on stores, gas stations and motorists. On the 8th April 1940, whilst robbing a barbecue stand in San Francisco they shot its owner, Leland S. Cash, dead. On the 14th April 1940 while on a picnic with the gang on the banks of the Sacramento River, Ethel added chloral hydrate to a glass of whisky which she persuaded gang member Robert Sherrard to drink. He fell unconscious and they threw him into the river, leaving him to drown. After Sherrard’s body was found Ethel was arrested and the revolver used to kill Leland S. Cash was discovered, with her fingerprints still on it.
Juanita Spinelli was executed on the 21st November 1941.
Betty Butler (2014) by Robert PrisemanFlorida State University Museum of Fine Arts
Betty Evelyn Butler was 26 years old when she died in the electric chair. Butler had been found guilty of murdering Evelyn Clark, a woman with whom she and her two children, a daughter, Quo Vadi s and son, Donald, had been living.
Clarke had offered to pay Butler and her children to live with her in exchange for sex, an offer Butler accepted being as she was destitute. The couple apparently had numerous domestic disputes, up to and including the murder, when Butler beat Clarke unconscious then drowned her in a lake. According to Butler, she had defended herself against Clarke’s “unwanted advances,” while other testimony suggested that Betty was bisexual and murdered Clarke in a rage over her attentions to another woman.
On the 12th June 1954, Betty Butler became the last woman to be executed in Ohio by electrocution.
Ada Leboeuf (2014) by Robert PrisemanFlorida State University Museum of Fine Arts
A 38 year old middle-class Louisiana housewife and mother of four children, Ada Leboeuf was having an affair with the family doctor T. E. Dreher.
Together, Ada and her lover hired a trapper, James Beadle, to shoot dead her husband Jim Leboeuf, a power plant superintendent in Morgan City. Beadle was sentenced to life, whilst Ada Leboeuf and Dreher were both sentenced to death by hanging. While awaiting her execution Ada had a rocking chair brought into her cell, unlimited visitation rights and freshly ironed summer dresses. On the day of her execution, Ada stepped on the gallows trap door, clasped her hands in prayer and in a high pitched, trembling voice said “Don’t let me hang there too long. Don’t make me suffer any more than I have to. Oh God. Isn’t this a terrible thing? Oh God, who can do this thing? It is worse than murder itself”.
Ada Leboeuf was executed on the 1st February 1929.
Lois Nadean Smith (2014) by Robert PrisemanFlorida State University Museum of Fine Arts
Lois Nadean Smith was convicted of murdering 21-year-old Cindy Baillee in Gans, Sequoyah County on the 4th July 1982.
Baillee was a former girlfriend of Nadean Smith’s son, Greg. Along with her son and another woman, Nadean Smith picked Baillee up from a motel on the morning of the murder. As they drove away, Nadean Smith confronted Baillee regarding rumours that Baillee had arranged for Greg Smith’s murder. Lois choked Baillee and stabbed her in the throat despite Baillee denying the plot as they drove to the home of her ex-husband in Gans. At the house, Nadean Smith taunted Baillee with a pistol, finally firing several shots. Baillee fell to the floor, and while her son reloaded the pistol, Nadean Smith laughed and jumped on Baillee’s neck. She then fired four shots into Baillee’s chest and two to the back of her head.
61 year old Nadean Smith was executed by lethal injection on the 4th December 2001.
Karla Faye Tucker (2014) by Robert PrisemanFlorida State University Museum of Fine Arts
Karla Faye Tucker was born in Houston, Texas on the 18th November 1959.
On the 13th June 1983, whilst high on a cocktail of methadone, valium, heroin, marijuana, rum and tequila, Karla and Daniel Ryan Garrett entered the apartment of Jerry Lynn Dean with the intention of stealing his motorbike. Once inside they found Dean in bed and attacked him with a hammer. Dean began making gurgling noises so Tucker finished him off with a pickaxe to “make the noise stop.” She then spotted Deborah Thornton hiding in the room and attacked her repeatedly with the same pickaxe, finally leaving it embedded in her torso. Tucker and Garrett then stole Dean’s money and car. Karla Faye Tucker was arrested on the 20th July 1983 and sentenced to death on the 25th April 1984.
She was executed 14 years later, at Huntsville, Texas, by lethal injection on the 3rd February 1998.
Following on from ‘Outlaws’ I decided to look closely at high school shootings. This project is titled ‘Never Knowing Why’ and consists of three sections. The first is comprised of seven portraits of Dylan Klebold, each based on photographs taken of him at various stages of his childhood. Dylan was one of the two senior year students who carried out a rampage shooting at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, on the 20th of April 1999.
The second set of pictures is a group of nine drawings of the exteriors of schools in the USA where students have carried out shootings, employing coloured crayons as a medium so that the pictures might resonate with the drawings children produce, while the third part of the series consists of five oil paintings which depict the insides of empty class rooms and school corridors where shootings have taken place. They are deliberately empty of people so that we might imagine ourselves standing in them, contemplating what has happened.
Robert Priseman 2016
Florida State University
MUSEUM OF FINE ARTS