Gruesome Gertie is a super star in the electric chair world. What a name for an electric chair. Gertie is best known for the execution of Elmo Patrick Sonnier, the subject of the book and movie, Dead Man Walking by Sr. Helen Prejean. She also appeared in the movie, Monsters Ball.
Electrocution as a method of execution was introduced in 1881 by its inventor, Alfred Southwick. Dr. Southwick (a dentist and steamboat engineer) got the idea from a news story. An intoxicated man died after touching an electric generator. Dr. Southwick first used electrocution to euthanize dogs, and he later developed the electric chair, which he obviously designed like a dentist’s chair. He believed that electrocution was more humane than hanging.
Gertie was built by inmates at Louisiana State Prison at Angola (the Farm). They chose the chair’s nickname. In 50 years, Gertie end the lives of 87 persons. During the execution, the inmate’s arms, legs and head were restrained with leather straps. The face was covered with a leather mask holding the electrodes. The first person to die in Gertie’s lethal embrace was Eugene Johson. The last to die was Andrew Lee Jones in 1991. Early in her career, Gertie was taken by truck to the Parish holding the inmate. In 1957, the electrocutions moved to a specially constructed building, the Red Hat Cell Block. on prison grounds. The picture below shows Gertie being readied for transport in the back of a truck.
Gertie failed to work properly during the attempted execution of Willie Francis. One of the guards preparing Willie Francis for execution was drunk, and Willie screamed in agony. The execution was stopped, and the execution procedure was appealed to the Supreme Court. The appeal was denied, and Willie was executed again in 1947. Elliott Chaze (May 10, 1947). “Second Trip To Chair-Willie Francis Dies”. St. Petersburg Times. This and other botched executions led to questions about the cruelty of the electrocution procedure. Electrocution as a death penalty option was dropped by all states, often, like Louisiana, in favor of lethal injection.