Lost Limbs Foundation

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Famous Last Words and Meals

Last Meals and Final Words
Punishment and Execution

In many prisons around the world where a 'death row' exists, it is traditional to offer a condemned criminal a 'special' meal. This special meal is sometimes referred to as the 'last' meal, but that is not always the case. The special meal can sometimes be eaten up to two days before the event, with several other regular meals eaten between that time and the time of execution.

Most of the last or special meals you will read here are from the US, because in many other countries there is no last/special meal, (for ease of writing I'll refer to them as 'last meals' from here on in) as the condemned may not be told of the time of their execution until literally minutes before the event, or a final, special meal is not a privileged granted.

The act of allowing the condemned a last meal just prior to execution is a ritual steeped in superstition. If the condemned accepted the offered food it meant they had forgiven the institutions host, the judge who handed the death sentence, all witnesses to the execution and most importantly of all, the executioner, and that their spirit would not return after death to enact revenge.

In days gone past the condemned would also be offered a strong drink with which to fortify themselves for their final walk to the place they would meet their maker. Some places still do offer the shot of rum or other strong liquor. This tradition is believed to come from Proverbs 31:6 'Give strong drink unto him that is ready to perish, and wine unto those that be of heavy hearts'

To create a tighter oath of forgiveness the condemned was offered as fine a food as could be provided. The happier the condemned was with the final meal, the happier his spirit. Generally this meant that the prisoner could request the food they wanted, and even to this day many institutions offer this privilege.

Today there are a number of restrictions in certain countries and states as to what the prisoner may request. Generally the restriction states that the food must come from a local restaurant or equivalent and be under a certain monetary amount.

Some prisons have abolished last meal requests all together after condemned prisoners took advantage of it:

Lawrence Russel Brewer was sentenced to death after he and two others killed James Byrd Jr when they dragged him behind their pick up truck along an asphalt road. Byrd was chained to the truck by his ankles and dragged three miles before his body hit a drain pipe severing his arm and head. For his final meal before execution Brewer requested a triple bacon cheeseburger, a cheese omelette, fried okra, a pound of BBQ meat, two fried steaks, three fajitas, a meat lovers pizza, a pint of ice cream and three ginger beers.

When the food arrived he said he was not hungry and the food was wasted. The following day Brewer was executed by lethal injection, he offered no final statement and the state of Texas abolished all special last meal rights.

At other times a condemned prisoner will order a large amount of food and distribute it to other inmates. Raymond Fernandez who, along with Martha Beck, (known as the 'Lonely Hearts Killers' for they lured unsuspecting women to them through personal classifieds in the 'lonely hearts' sections of newspapers and magazines) did just this soon before he was to visit the execution chamber for the murder of one woman, Janet Fay (though suspected for the murders of up to twenty more).

Fernandez ordered fried eggs, french fries, pie, boxes of cigarettes, boxes of candy, coffee and ice cream. These he distributed to other inmates. Within a few days he and his partner Martha Beck were executed in the Electric Chair. Fernandez last words were "I wanna shout it out; I love Martha! What do the public know about love?"

Here follows some of the world’s most notorious prisoners, what they ordered and their last words:

Ruth Snyder went to the electric chair in 1928, for the murder of her husband Albert. Ruth Snyder became famous not only for the crime, but also as her execution was secretly photographed. Tom Howard managed to get the photo when he gained access to the execution, posing as a writer. He had a secret camera strapped to his leg and when the electricity was administered to Snyder, Howard lifted his pants leg and took the now famous photo.

Snyder’s last meal was chicken rice with Alfredo pasta and parmesan cheese, ice cream, two milkshakes and grape soda. Her last words were:

"Forgive them, Father, they know not what they do!"

Peter Kurten aka The Dusseldorf Vampire was executed in 1931 via guillotine, after being tried and found guilty of the murder of nine adults and children in Dusseldorf, Germany. His last meal was fried potatoes, wiener schnitzel and a bottle of white wine. Not content with the meal, he ordered seconds, which he received. His last words were:

"Tell me, after my head has been chopped off, will I still be able to hear, at least for a moment, the sound of my own blood gushing from the stump of my neck? That would be the pleasure to end all pleasures."

Adolf Eichmann was a German Nazi Senior Officer, and was greatly involved in organising the Holocaust mass murder of over six million Jewish people. He was executed in 1962 via hanging, and his last meal request was simply a bottle of dry red Israeli wine. His final words were:

"Long live Germany. Long live Austria. Long live Argentina. These are the countries with which I have been most closely associated and I shall not forget them. I had to obey the rules of war and my flag. I am ready"

Aileen Wuornos died from lethal injection following her conviction of the murder of six men, while she worked as a prostitute. Wuornos declined a special meal, but rather ate some food from the prison canteen. Just prior to execution she drank a cup of black coffee. Her final words were:

"Yes, I would 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, I'll be back."

Ted Bundy went to the electric chair for the murder of three women, though he later confessed to 30. The true total is believe to be much higher. Bundy’s final meal consisted of a medium-rare steak, eggs, hash browns, toast, juice and coffee. This is considered a traditional final meal given to those who do not request one. Bundy's final words were:

"I'd like you to give my love to my family and friends."

John Wayne Gacy received the lethal injection after he was convicted of murdering 33 teenage boys and young men, 26 of which were found buried in his home. Also dubbed the 'Killer clown', due to his alter ego character Pogo the Clown, whom he used for charitable events and fund raisers, as well as children's parties. For his final meal Gacy ate a bucket of original chicken from KFC and a dozen fried shrimp. He finished them off with a pound of fresh strawberries. Gacy did not seem too happy with going to the chair, as is evident in his final words:

"Kiss my Ass!"

Saddam Hussein, the former President of Iraq, was hanged in 2006 for charges relating to the killing of 148 Iraqi Shi'ites. He refused the last meal offered to him, which consisted of chicken and cigarettes. His final words were "To the hell that is Iraq?" in response to being told to 'Go to hell'. He then began to recite final Muslim prayers before the trap door was opened and he fell with an audible crack.

Timothy McVeigh was executed via lethal injection for the crime of domestic terrorism and mass murder, after he planted and detonated a truck bomb outside the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995, killing 168 people. His final meal consisted of two pints of mint choc chip ice cream. His last words were the poem 'invictus' (meaning unconquered) written by English poet William Ernest Henley:

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

Ricky Ray Rector was executed in 1992 for the murder of police officer Robert Martin in 1981. He had killed a man in a night club, and then agreed to turn himself into police before shooting and killing the officer, then shooting himself in attempted suicide, that left him essentially lobotomised.

When trying to hook him up to the device that would administer the lethal cocktail, Rector had to help staff find a vein. His final meal before lethal injection was steak, fried chicken , kool-aid and pecan pie. He never ate the pie as he said he was "saving it for later."

Ashley Hall 2013.

Photos from top to bottom:
Ted Bundy – Steak, eggs and hash browns
John Wayne Gacy – KFC original recipe
Timothy McVeigh – Mint Choc Chip Ice cream
Aileen Wuornos – Black Coffee

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