Read OUR FRIEND THE MURDERER of Said the Observer, free online book, by Louis John Stellman, on

“No, I don’t believe in capital punishment,” said the Observer, as he rose from the barber’s chair and adjusted his collar before the glass. “It’s less expensive for the government than to board a man for life, and it satisfies the popular idea of justice, but I doubt very much its efficiency in the suppression of crime.

“Take the average murderer, for instance. He seems to look forward to his execution with happy anticipation. He may have been a hopeless dyspeptic who killed his wife in an agony of indigestion, following a repast of hot biscuits and flannel cakes, such as ’mother used to make,’ but as the hour of death approaches, he regains his appetite, and, just before the solemn moment, partakes of a hearty breakfast. His whole life may have been a record of flagrant cowardice, yet he walks steadily to the scaffold and dies ‘like a man’; he may have been illiterate to a degree, yet in the very shadow of the gallows he writes a statement for publication the depth and power of which astonishes the world. From the sentence to the finish, the murderer’s life is one bed of roses. Every pretty girl who visits the prison brings him flowers and sweets, and begs eagerly for his autograph; great authors write books about him; great lawyers draw up petitions from notable men and women asking for his pardon, and the governor’s secretary works night and day, declining their requests, writing special permits and “standing off” tearful relatives, friends and sweethearts, who spring up as if by magic to plead his cause.

“No other man gets half the flattering attention that is given the condemned; no one else is given half the chance to make a glorious finish. By some occult influence his faults are utterly effaced and every latent talent is developed to a point of absolute perfection. When this ‘ne plus ultra’ is reached, a quick curtain is dropped over his career, and he lives in the memory of countless thousands as a martyred hero of the most splendid moral and mental attainments.

“Who would not sacrifice life for such a climax? Many men have said to Fame and Wisdom, ‘Let me look upon your face and die’; many have come to view their Gorgon features and cheerfully paid the price, and still more have perished miserably on the way.

“Now, what is the murderer’s sacrifice compared to these? He is carefully attended, afforded every luxury, and at last, is whisked away into eternity, quickly, and, as far as possible, painlessly, with a grand opera and limelight effect.

“We have learned many things from Mongolia; gunpowder, the printing press and many other great discoveries have been traced back to Celestial origin. Let us, then, adopt her method of dealing with troublesome subjects. A ‘harikari’ sentence saves the nation much trouble and expense. A coroner’s verdict of ‘suicide by request,’ is much more simple, and just as good as a lengthy criminal prosecution, besides affording the transgressor a choice of weapons. He may prefer a strychnine sandwich to the rope, or an unobtrusive blow-out-the-gas transition to the electric chair; he may choose to loiter carelessly in the path of a metropolitan trolley car; to caress the rear elevation of an army mule, or insist upon reading a spring poem to an athletic and busy editor. Many persons are particular upon these subjects and, if the individual liberty, which is the watchword of our nation, is to be preserved, some license should be allowed even a felon under such conditions.

“If we really wish to decrease and discourage vice, however, let us go about it in a logical manner and hold up a terrible example to those premeditating crime. The prisoner should be visited by none but religious advisers of every denomination, except on certain days when free admittance should be granted to sketch artists, camera fiends, elocutionists and young authors. All newspaper articles relating to his case should be carefully suppressed; no reading matter furnished him except dialect stories, and amateur photographs, taken by visitors, should be hung upon the wall. Between times the prisoner might be employed in washing dishes for a cooking school and testing the products of pupils. After two months of unremitting toil, according to this itinerary, he might be safely liberated, if life remained, and it is safe to say that his experience, when related to associates, would have a more deterrent effect upon the ‘profesh’ than several kinds of death penalties could hope to produce.”