January 12 – What happened today?


Norman Afzal Simons

1909Samuel Richard Shockley, Jr. was born on January 12, 1909, in Cerro Gordo, Caney Township, Little River County, Arkansas. His father, Richard Shockley, was a sharecropper who married three times and had eight children. Sam’s mother, Annyer Eugenia, Richard’s second wife, died when Sam was 7 years old. Sam started running away from home after his stepmother, Sally Barton, died of malaria in 1920. When he was 12, his father took him out of school to work in the fields; his formal education ended in the third grade. By the age of 13, he exhibited signs of serious instability.  In 1927, he left the family for good and became a transient. Soon after that, he was arrested for stealing chickens, automobile tires, and accessories in Garvin County, Oklahoma, and on July 3, 1928, was sentenced to one year in the Oklahoma State Reformatory at Granite. While in prison, Sam Shockley was beaten by a fellow inmate, suffering brain damage and numerous scars on his head and neck. He was released in July 1929.  In the early 1930s, he was arrested several times for drunkenness and disorderly conduct, escaped from jail in Birmingham, Alabama, and was beaten by a police officer, receiving further head trauma. In June 1936, Shockley married Betty Moore, but the marriage only lasted a year and a half. They divorced in June 1939.  In March 1938, Shockley was arrested with Edward Johnson for robbing a man of his car, robbing the bank of Paoli, Oklahoma, and kidnapping two employees, Mr. and Mrs. D. F. Pendley; Shockley attempted to escape during the arrest.  Shockley was an inmate at Alcatraz prison, who was executed for his participation in the Alcatraz uprising or Battle of Alcatraz in 1946. He was executed by gas chamber at San Quentin State Prison, San Quentin, California, U.S. on December 3, 1948, at the age of 39. He is buried at Pollard cemetery in Haworth, Oklahoma.

1929Willie Franciswas born on January 12, 1929, and is best known for surviving a failed execution by electrocution in the United States. He was a juvenile offender sentenced to death at age 16 by the state of Louisiana in 1945 for the murder of Andrew Thomas, a Cajun pharmacy owner in St. Martinville who had once employed him.  In 1944, Andrew Thomas was shot and killed. His murder remained unsolved for nine months, but in August 1945, Willie Francis was detained on suspicion of drug trafficking. Police claimed that he was carrying Thomas’ wallet in his pocket, though no evidence of this claim was submitted during the trial. Francis initially named several others in connection with the murder, but the police dismissed these claims. A short time later, while under interrogation, Francis confessed to Thomas’ murder, writing, “It was a secret about me and him.” He had no counsel with him. The meaning of his statement is still uncertain.  Despite two separate written confessions, Francis pleaded not guilty. Many of Francis’ proponents have speculated that he was innocent and had been coerced to make false confessions. During his trial, the court-appointed defense attorneys offered no objections, called no witnesses, and put up no defense. The validity of Francis’ confessions was not questioned by the defense, although he had no counsel at the time. Two days after the trial began, Francis was quickly found guilty of murder by twelve White jurors and the judge sentenced Francis to death despite Francis having been underage at 15 at the time of the crime.  On May 3, 1946, Francis survived an attempt at execution by the electric chair. After the chair failed, it was discovered that the electric chair had been set up incorrectly. At the time, the electric chair was portable and was transported by truck from jail to jail in Louisiana to perform executions. The two executioners responsible had been drinking the night before. Despite their misstep, the executioner was furious at Francis. Foster had said “Goodbye, Willie,” as he flicked the switch. When Francis was still breathing minutes later, Foster shouted, “I missed you this time, but I’ll get you next week if I have to use a rock!”  But, Willie Francis wasn’t executed the next week. Instead, he was suddenly thrust onto the front page of the news. His survival was viewed by many as an act of God. Could Louisiana now, in good faith, put this black teenager to death? The media coverage also drew unwanted attention to the way African Americans were treated in the Louisiana court system. Francis, who was poor, black, and not yet an adult (like many inmates) had few legal protections available to him.  Francis died on May 9, 1947, after a second attempt at execution by the electric chair.

1950Ricky Ray Rectorwas born on January 12, 1950, in the United States. He was an American convicted murderer who was executed for the 1981 murder of police officer Robert Martin in Conway, Arkansas.  On March 21, 1981, Rector and some friends drove to a dance hall at Tommy’s Old-Fashioned Home-Style Restaurant in Conway. When one friend who could not pay the $3 cover charge was refused entry, Rector became incensed and pulled a .38 caliber pistol from his waistband. He fired several shots, wounding two and killing a third man named Arthur D. Criswell, who died almost instantly after being struck in the throat and forehead.  Rector left the scene of the murder in a friend’s car and wandered the city for three days, staying in the woods or with relatives. On March 24, Rector’s sister convinced him to turn himself in. Rector agreed to surrender, but only to Officer Robert Martin, whom he had known since he was a child. Martin arrived at Rector’s mother’s home shortly after 3 p.m. and chatted with Rector’s mother and sister. Shortly thereafter, Rector arrived and greeted Martin. As Martin turned away to continue his conversation with Rector’s mother, Rector drew his pistol from behind his back and fired two shots into Martin, striking him in the jaw and neck. Rector then turned and walked out of the house. Once he had walked past his mother’s backyard, Rector put his gun to his own temple and fired. Rector was quickly discovered by other police officers and taken to the local hospital. The shot had destroyed Rector’s frontal lobe.  Rector survived the surgery and was put on trial for the murders of Criswell and Martin. His defense attorneys argued that Rector was intellectually impaired and not competent to stand trial. However, after hearing conflicting testimony from several experts who had evaluated Rector, Judge George F. Hartje ruled that Rector was competent to stand trial. Rector was convicted on both counts and sentenced to death.  Despite Rector’s mental state, then-Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton made a point of returning to Arkansas to oversee Rector’s January 24, 1992, execution during the 1992 U.S. presidential election campaign. Rector was executed by lethal injection. It took medical staff more than fifty minutes to find a suitable vein. The curtain remained closed between Rector and the witnesses, but some reported they could hear Rector moaning. The state later attributed the difficulty in finding a suitable vein to Rector’s great weight and to his having been administered an antipsychotic medication. Rector died on January 24, 1992, at the age of 42.

1956Henry Brisbon Jralso known as the “I-57 Killer”, is a notorious criminal known for a series of horrific crimes committed in 1973 along Interstate 57, south of Chicago. On the night of June 3, 1973, Brisbon and his accomplices forced a Chevrolet Caprice off the road. The woman driver was ordered to strip and was then brutally assaulted with a shotgun. Less than an hour later, the group stopped another car, ordering the man and woman inside to lie down on the road’s shoulder. Despite their pleas for mercy, Brisbon shot them both in the back, killing them. The total loot from these heinous acts included $54, two watches, an engagement ring, and a wedding band.  Brisbon was ultimately convicted for these crimes, known as the “I-57 murders”, and was sentenced to a prison term of 1,000 to 3,000 years. However, he did not face execution for these killings as Illinois’ death penalty was invalidated in 1972 and was not restored until 1977, the year Brisbon was brought to trial.  While serving his sentence at the Stateville Correctional Center near Joliet, Brisbon killed fellow inmate Richard “Hippie” Morgan during a fight, for which he was sentenced to death. Brisbon’s time in prison has been marked by numerous violent incidents, including participation in attacks on inmates and guards, instigation of at least one prison riot, and assault on a warden with a broom handle. Despite being on death row, Brisbon’s sentence was later altered to life imprisonment without parole.

1967Norman Afzal Simons – Norman Afzal Simons, born on January 12, 1967, gained infamy as The Station Strangler, a South African criminal convicted in 1995 for the heinous rape and murder of 10-year-old Elroy van Rooyen. Simons received a 35-year prison sentence, comprising 25 years for murder and 10 years for kidnapping.


Ruth Snyder

1928Ruth Snyderborn as May Ruth Brown on March 27, 1895, was an American housewife turned murderer. Her life took a notorious turn when she was executed in the electric chair at New York’s Sing Sing Prison in 1928 for the murder of her husband, Albert Snyder. This execution was captured in a highly publicized photograph.  Ruth met Albert Edward Snyder in 1915 in New York City when she was 20 years old and he was a 33-year-old artist. Despite their contrasting personalities and age differences, the couple married and settled in a modest house in Queens. In 1918, Ruth gave birth to their only child, a daughter named Lorraine.  Ruth was described as vivacious and gregarious, while Albert was described as very reserved. Albert’s insistence on hanging a picture of his late fiancée, Jessie Guischard, on the wall of their first home and naming his boat after her reportedly sparked Ruth’s resentment towards him. Some sources also suggest that Albert was emotionally and physically abusive towards Ruth and their daughter.  In 1925, Ruth began an affair with Henry Judd Gray, a married corset salesman. She started planning the murder of her husband Albert, enlisting Gray’s help. Ruth first persuaded Albert to purchase insurance, and with the assistance of an insurance agent, signed a $48,000 life insurance policy that paid extra if an unexpected act of violence killed the victim.  On March 20, 1927, Ruth and Gray garrotted Albert with a picture wire, stuffed his nose full of chloroform-soaked rags, and beat him with a sash weight, then staged his death as part of a burglary. Ruth was ultimately convicted of this crime and was sentenced to death. Her execution marked a significant moment in criminal history due to the infamous photograph taken at the moment of her death.

1975Caryn Campbellwas a 23-year-old registered nurse from Dearborn, Michigan. On January 12, 1975, while on vacation in Colorado, she was abducted and murdered by the infamous serial killer Ted Bundy.  At the time of her abduction, Caryn was staying at the Wildwood Inn in Colorado with her fiancé, Dr. Raymond Gadowski, and his children. The couple was deeply in love despite a nine-year age difference, and Caryn had a great relationship with Raymond’s children. The trip to Colorado was a mix of business and pleasure, as Raymond was attending a cardiology conference in Aspen.  On the evening of her disappearance, Caryn decided to go up to their room to get a magazine while the rest of the family was relaxing in the lounge of the Wildwood Inn. Despite a widespread search of the inn and the surrounding area, no trace of Caryn was found.  Five weeks later, a local worker discovered Caryn’s body less than three miles away from the Wildwood Inn. The discovery was made when the worker noticed a number of birds hovering around an area on a nearby snow bank and decided to investigate. Caryn’s frozen remains had been lying there for nearly 40 days. The coroner’s report indicated that her skull had sustained multiple heavy fractures and her left ear lobe had been slit with a sharp instrument. This was a brutal assault, and authorities determined that her murder took place shortly after she went missing.  Caryn Campbell’s tragic death is a reminder of the senseless violence perpetrated by Ted Bundy, who confessed to 30 murders committed in seven states between 1974 and 1978. Her life and untimely death left a lasting impact, and she is remembered for her dedication to her nursing career and her love for her family.

1976Dame Agatha Mary Clarissa Christie, Lady Mallowan, DBE (née Miller; 15 September 1890 – 12 January 1976) was an English writer known for her 66 detective novels and 14 short story collections, particularly those revolving around fictional detectives Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple. She also wrote the world’s longest-running play, the murder mystery The Mousetrap, which has been performed in the West End since 1952. A writer during the “Golden Age of Detective Fiction”, Christie has been called the “Queen of Crime”. She also wrote six novels under the pseudonym Mary Westmacott. In 1971, she was made a Dame (DBE) by Queen Elizabeth II for her contributions to literature. Guinness World Records lists Christie as the best-selling fiction writer of all time, her novels having sold more than two billion copies. Christie was born into a wealthy upper-middle-class family in Torquay, Devon, and was largely home-schooled. She was initially an unsuccessful writer with six consecutive rejections, but this changed in 1920 when The Mysterious Affair at Styles, featuring detective Hercule Poirot, was published. Her first husband was Archibald Christie; they married in 1914 and had one child before divorcing in 1928. Following the breakdown of her marriage and the death of her mother in 1926, she made international headlines by going missing for eleven days. During both World Wars, she served in hospital dispensaries, acquiring a thorough knowledge of the poisons that featured in many of her novels, short stories, and plays. Following her marriage to archaeologist Max Mallowan in 1930, she spent several months each year on digs in the Middle East and used her first-hand knowledge of this profession in her fiction. According to UNESCO’s Index Translationum, she remains the most-translated individual author. Her novel And Then There Were None is one of the top-selling books of all time, with approximately 100 million copies sold. Christie’s stage play The Mousetrap holds the world record for the longest initial run. It opened at the Ambassadors Theatre in the West End on 25 November 1952, and by 2018 there had been more than 27,500 performances. The play was temporarily closed in 2020 because of COVID-19 lockdowns in London before it reopened in 2021. Christie’s legacy continues to live on, with her books still widely read and her plays performed around the world. She truly was a remarkable woman and a giant in the field of detective fiction.

2016Robert Blackwas a Scottish serial killer and child molester who was convicted of the kidnap, rape, sexual assault, and murder of four girls aged between 5 and 11 in a series of killings committed between 1981 and 1986 in the United Kingdom.  Black was born in Grangemouth, Stirlingshire, in 1947. He was adopted and raised by foster parents, and his troubled upbringing has been well-documented. He was known to have a criminal record from a young age, including charges of sexual assault.  In 1994, he was found guilty of the murders of Susan Maxwell (11), Caroline Hogg (5), and Sarah Harper (10). In 2011, he was also found guilty of the murder of Jennifer Cardy (9). The investigation into Black’s crimes was one of the most exhaustive in British criminal history, involving several police forces and spanning several decades.  Black was apprehended in 1990 and spent the rest of his life in prison. He died in 2016 while serving 12 life sentences at HMP Maghaberry, Northern Ireland. His crimes left a lasting impact on British society and led to changes in law enforcement practices and procedures.


OJ Simpson

1950 – USSR re-introduces the death penalty for treason, espionage & sabotage

1956 – FBI arrests 6 members of the Great Brinks robbery gang

1971 – US Federal grand jury indicts Reverend Phillip Berrigan & five others, including a nun & 2 priests on charges of plotting to kidnap Henry Kissinger

1979 – Los Angeles Hillside strangler, Kenneth Bianchi is arrested in Bellingham, Washington state

1990 – Civil rights activist Reverend Al Sharpton is stabbed in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn

1994 – Malcolm X’s daughter is arrested for plotting American religious leader Louis Farrakhan’s murder

1995 – The murder trial against OJ Simpson begins in Los Angeles

2006 – Turkey releases Mehmet Ali Agca from jail after he served 25 years for shooting Pope John Paul II

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