1961: puff of smoke and a killer died


The small, hexagonal gas chamber on the second floor of the Maryland Penitentiary was last used on June 9, 1961.

It was only 5 years old at the time. Until 1956, prisoners sentenced to death were hanged.

Its last occupant was Nathaniel Lipscomb, convicted of murdering Mae Hall, Lottie Kite and Pearl Weiss, all of East Baltimore. The women were raped and strangled over a two-week period in late 1958 and early 1959.

His lawyer, Robert B. Watts (later a judge) recalled: "There was no question he was guilty. He told me right off."

Mr. Watts pleaded for the mercy of the court, but Judge James G. Cullen sentenced Lipscomb to death. On the night of the execution, a dozen witnesses filed into the room, where Lipscomb was already tied to a chair and electrodes to monitor his heartbeat were attached to his forehead and legs.

At 10:03 p.m., the executioner pushed the button that mixed the lethal chemicals in a pan. There was a puff of white smoke.

According to a witness: "Lipscomb took five breaths of the poison. The veins of his neck bulged and he threw back his head. His body arched. . . . Slowly his head tilted forward. He was dead."

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