Until 1907, when the legislature passed a law mandating electrocution as the
official method of execution, New Jersey’s death penalty was carried
out by hanging at the various county jails.
A couple of the jails used state-of-the art “hanging machines” in
place of the traditional gallows whereby the condemned prisoner was forcibly
jerked from a standing position on the ground into the air by a rope around the
neck attached to an arm that flew into the air when a heavy weight on the other
end of the arm was dropped.
The last execution by hanging in New Jersey took place March 23, 1909 when Frederick
Lang was hanged in the yard of the Middlesex County Courthouse in New Brunswick.
Two women were executed by hanging in New Jersey: Bridget Durgen, a domestic
who killed her mistress in Middlesex County in 1867, and Mrs. Martha Meierhoffer,
who murdered her husband in Essex County in 1874.
No women were executed in New Jersey in the 20th century.
The first man to die in New Jersey’s electric chair was Sereris DiGiovanne,
31, from Somerset County on December 11, 1907.
The next application of the electric chair was a “doubleheader” when
two black men from Camden, Stephen Dorsey, 26, and Charles Gibson, 31, were put
to death just six days after DiGiovanne died. Multiple executions in one night
were not uncommon. The greatest number executed in one night was four, occurring
in 1924, 1927 and 1930. Three prisoners died in one night on seven occasions,
the first in 1915 and the most recent in 1955.
The most famous victim of New Jersey’s electric chair was Bruno Richard
Hauptman, who was put to death for the Lindbergh baby kidnapping and murder.
He died on the night of April 3, 1936.
The last man to die in New Jersey’s electric chair was Ralph Hudson of
Atlantic County on the night of January 22, 1963.