An interview with Rob Elder, author of Last Words of the Executed
I’m innocent! I’m innocent! I’m innocent!
As guards dragged him into the gas chamber:
Don’t let me go like this, God!
—Robert Otis Pierce, convicted of murder, California. Executed April 6, 1956
I’d just like to say I’m sailing with the Rock and I’ll be back like ‘Independence Day’ with Jesus, June 6, like the movie, big mother ship and all. I’ll be back.
—Aileen Wuornos, convicted of murder, Florida. Executed October 9, 2002
Some claim innocence. Others beg for forgiveness. At least three cheer for their favorite football teams. Through final utterances like these, author Rob Elder constructs a compelling oral history of American capital punishment ranging from women put to death during the Salem witch trials, to some of the most infamous criminal figures of the twentieth century like Ted Bundy and Illinois’ own John Wayne Gacy.
And though there’s been a moratorium on the death penalty in Illinois for some time now, in an interview for The Onion A.V. Club, Elder discusses more of the famous last words of local convicts not lucky enough to escape the chair, the chamber, or the noose. From the interview:
AVC: Any other Illinois big shots?
RE: A gentleman who was executed in Pennsylvania is probably Chicago’s most notorious serial killer. H. H. Holmes, the devil in Erik Larson’s The Devil In The White City, admitted he killed two women, but claimed he didn’t kill the other people. But what’s more interesting than his last words are his final instructions. He killed more than 20 people in a hotel that he built basically to trap people, and he sold their remains to medical schools. In order to defend his own body, he asked that they cement him into a coffin to fend off grave robbers.
AVC: Wasn’t Chicago native John Wayne Gacy our most notorious serial killer?
RE: Gacy was famous not just because he sexually molested and strangled his victims, but because around the neighborhood he was known as Pogo the Clown. The press named him “The Killer Clown.” He was also famous because while in prison he made these childlike paintings of the Seven Dwarfs. But any childlike manner is not reflected in his last words. He just said, “Kiss my ass.”
Read the complete interview on The Onion‘s A.V. Club website, and read an excerpt from the book. Also don’t forget to check out Elder at the Stop Smiling magazine storefront tonight at 7 pm and Printer’s Row Lit Fest this Saturday, June 12, 4:00 pm at Digitally Lit, Room 2.