Iconic Photos

Famous, Infamous and Iconic Photos

An Execution at Sing Sing

with 13 comments


The person on the chair was one Ruth Snyder, a woman convicted of killing her husband for insurance money. It was the sensational story followed by a tragic verdict–Ruth Snyder would become the first woman to be electrocuted since 1899. [Her adulterous partner Gray met the same fate]. “Ruthless Ruth,” the press called her; her story would become a Hollywood blockbuster with ‘Double Indemnity’. However, it was “the most famous tabloid photo of the decade” (as TIME-Life put it) that immortalized Ruth Snyder. 

Photographers are not permitted into executions in the United States. For the notorious Ruth Snyder case, the New York Daily News was desperate to get pictures; so they hired a Chicago Tribune photographer Tom Howard–virtually unknown to the prison warders or journalists in the New York area. On that fateful day  (12 January 1928), Howard, posing as a writer, arrived early in Sing Sing Prison and took up a vantage position. A miniature camera was strapped to his left ankle, the shutter release button was concealed within his jacket. As Snyder’s body shook from the jolt, Howard hoisted his pant leg and secretly snapped with a one-use camera.

That day’s Daily News’ cover simply said, ‘DEAD!’ with the final blurry image above, which instantly become one of the most indelible images of the 20th century. Howard gained overnight popularity. He received a princely sum and went on to become the head of photography for the White House. The state attempted to prosecute Howard and the newspaper, but nothing ever came of it. For many years afterwards witnesses to executions were searched and asked to hold up their hands so they could not operate hidden cameras. But the damage has already been done. The photo has become a rally cry for the opponents of the death penalty. 





Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

May 13, 2009 at 11:35 pm

13 Responses

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  1. Ruth Snyder,

    Sentada espera,
    a morte eletrica.

    Fred Albano

    Fred Albano

    October 7, 2009 at 2:46 pm

  2. Ruth Snyder,

    O crime
    e o pior castigo
    para o proprio criminoso.

    fred albano

    Fred Albano

    October 7, 2009 at 2:48 pm

  3. […] it appears none was ever taken.  Howard made a pile, his camera wound up in the Smithsonian and, according to some sources, he even got a job in the White House.  What the “severe social problem” was is unclear, and […]

  4. the photographer was whisked away to Cuba as soon as the picture was taken to avoid prosecution, according to the author of the excellent book “the Poisoner’s Handbook” amazing that i should find this picture online.


    March 26, 2010 at 5:33 am

    • My father, Jimmy The Shiv DeStefano gave Ruth Snyder her final hair cut. My interest goes beyond him being the barber. How do you know Howard was sent to Cuba to avoid legal battles? Please tell me

      Jodi DeStefano

      May 18, 2010 at 2:04 am

      • Howard eventually became the head of photography at the White House. He was not “whisked away to Cuba.”


        September 20, 2011 at 9:18 pm

  5. […] later described the resulting image to be ‘the most famous tabloid image of the decade,’ and Tom Howard later went on to […]

  6. […] From the consistent, informative and often disturbing Iconic Photos: […]

  7. […] capturant l’exécution capitale de Ruth Snyder grâce à appareil miniature dissimulé sous son pantalon. A cause du mouvement du corps lors de la décharge, l’image est floue, témoignant ainsi de […]

  8. Boo hoo. You bleeding hearts need to get a life.


    October 13, 2013 at 5:36 pm

    • You dumb-as-a-brick conservatives need to do your homework. The death penalty does not deter, mere retribution is not a sufficient justification, and not everyone who is executed is guilty.


      September 3, 2015 at 12:38 pm

  9. Probably the most disingenious murderers ever. You should never fuck up like that in a capital punishment country if you want to live..but I do hope that the US will get rid of the death penalty and join the ranks of civilized nations.

    Bendik Bjørnstad Foss

    November 2, 2013 at 2:22 am

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