Gruesome Gertie

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Gruesome Gertie at the Louisiana State Penitentiary museum

Gruesome Gertie was the nickname given by death row inmates to the Louisiana electric chair.


The 1940 Louisiana legislature changed the method of execution, making execution by electrocution effective from June 1, 1941. Louisiana's electric chair did not have a permanent home at first, and was taken from parish to parish to perform the executions. The electrocution would usually be carried out in the courthouse or jail of the parish where the condemned inmate had been convicted. Eugene Johnson, a black man convicted of robbing and murdering Steven Bench, a white farmer who lived near Albany, was electrocuted in the Livingston Parish Jail on September 11, 1941.

In 1957, it was decided to build an execution chamber at the Louisiana State Penitentiary to carry out all executions in Louisiana. Notable executions in the chair were those of Elmo Patrick Sonnier (the inmate on whom the film Dead Man Walking was based) and Willie Francis. Following new legislation enacted in 1991, the State of Louisiana opted for the use of lethal injection as the sole method of execution. The last person executed on Gruesome Gertie was Andrew Lee Jones, on July 22, 1991. During its fifty years, Gruesome Gertie was used for a total of eighty-seven executions. It now sits at the Louisiana Prison Museum in Angola, Louisiana.

Botched execution[edit]

Gruesome Gertie is also infamous for having the first known incident of a failed execution by electrocution in the United States. During the execution of Willie Francis on May 3, 1946, the electric chair had been improperly set up by a drunken prison guard, causing Francis to scream "Take it off! Take it off! Let me breathe!" from behind his leather hood.[1] The execution was aborted, and an appeal was filed to the Supreme Court, which was denied. Francis was later successfully executed on May 9, 1947.[2]

Cultural references[edit]

  • Gruesome Gertie appeared in the film Monster's Ball for the execution sequence. These scenes with the chair were filmed in the actual execution chamber at Louisiana State Penitentiary, where Gruesome Gertie had been used for real executions a decade earlier.
  • Gruesome Gertie is the instrument of death in Ernest J. Gaines's novel, "A Lesson Before Dying". It is used to execute Jefferson, a young black man, wrongly accused of a crime he did not commit.


See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Court to Study Strange Case Of Willie Francis". Prescott Evening Courier. May 9, 1946. Retrieved 2012-08-17. 
  2. ^ Elliott Chaze (May 10, 1947). "Second Trip To Chair-Willie Francis Dies". St. Petersburg Times. Retrieved 2012-08-17. 

External links[edit]