Gerhard Arthur Puff (died August 21, 1954)
was an American gangster, executed by the federal authorities in New
York for killing a federal agent.
In 1952 Puff traveled from Kansas City to Manhattan
with his 17-year-old wife, Annie Laurie. By then, Puff's résumé as a
bank robber had already earned him a spot on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted
List. Shortly after he arrived at the Congress Hotel, FBI agents
waited to arrest him, but before they captured him, he shot and
fatally injured one of them.
For the murder of a federal agent, he was tried by
the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York and
sentenced to death. At the time, people sentenced to death by the
federal government were executed by the method authorized by the state
where the crime took place, so Puff was put to death in the Sing-Sing
Puff was one of the first people New York State
Electrician Dow Hover was hired to execute. He was either 39 or 40
years old at time of his execution on August 12, 1954. The execution
was the fifth federal execution since President Dwight D. Eisenhower
took office on January 20, 1953.
Gerhard Puff was born in Dresden, Germany
and brought to America by his parents at the age of 13, in May of 1934
at age of 20, became a Naturalized American Citizen through the
Naturalization of his father. They made their home in Milwaukee,
Wisconsin. Puff started an early life of crime that led to murder and
his ultimate execution in 1954, was eventually listed as the FBI's 10
June 21st, 1934 at age of 20 was convicted of
disorderly conduct. On August 22nd, 1935 at the age of 21, was
sentenced to serve three concurrent terms of 1-5 years each in the
Wisconsin Penitentiary for stealing domesticated animals. Several
months later he was transferred to the State Reformatory at Green Bay,
Wisconsin. While at the Reformatory, Gerhard assaulted one of the
guards and was sentenced to an additional 1-10 years, beginning when
his other sentence expired. He was sent back to the State Penitentiary
in Febuary of 1937 and was finally released on May 24th, 1939 after
serving almost 4 years imprisonment. He was now 25 years old.
On December 28th, 1942, at the age of 28, he was
sentenced for assault in the process of armed robbery, going back to
the State Penitentiary in Wisconsin for 1-9 years. On September 6th,
1945 at the age of 31, he escaped. 15 days later he was apprehended in
a stolen car and returned to Prison. He was discharged on November
19th, 1947 at the age of 33.
In June of 1948 at the age of 34, he was found
guilty of breaking into a Warehouse at Beaver Dam, Wisconsin. Also at
that time charged with the 1945 Prison Escape. Recieving terms of 1-4
years and 12-17 months, respectively. He began serving his sentence in
June of 1948 and was released on April 25th, 1951 at the age of 36.
Between Prison sentences he worked as a Truck Driver, Farm Hand, and
Machinist Helper. He enjoyed expensive clothes, big cars, dancing,
sports, and gambling. To satisfy his costly habits, he returned to a
life of crime.
On May 2nd, 1951 was arrested by the Milwaukee
Police in Wisconsin for armed robbery and lodged in the Milwaukee
County Jail on a $3,000.00 Bond. Gerhard struck up with a fellow
inmate there, a gun-crazed youth named George Arthur Heroux. On
October 17th, 1951, an unknown party through a Chicago Bonsman in
Illinois posted a cash bond to have Gerhard released. He was to report
for trial on November 15th, 1951, but did not appear. 8 days later, he
robbed a Johnson County National Bank in Prairie Village, Kansas,
escaped with $62,000.00. He had teamed up with George Heroux.
The FBI got involved and followed his elusive trail
to New York City, after George Heroux was captured in Miami, Florida
and gave them a lead. They set up a surveillance at a hotel and
waited. They waited in the Lobby for Puff, who tried to make a break,
he shot and killed Special Agent Joseph J. Brock. Shooting him in the
chest twice and taking his gun. Agents waiting outside called for him
to surrender, there was a short gun battle, Puff was injured and
collapsed to the sidewalk. He was treated at a nearby hospital then
taken to the Prison Ward at Bellevue Prison, New York.
On May 17th, 1953, in New York at the age of 39,
was found guilty of 1st degree murder and sentenced to death. On
August 12th, 1954, at the age of 40, he was given his last meal, the
two largest meals the Prison ever served, at Sing-Sing Prison in
Ossining, New York. He was strapped in the Electric Chair. His final
words was simply, "Good-Bye Marshall." He was electrocuted, ending a
lifelong crime spree.
Gerhard Arthur Puff
Gerhard Arthur Puff took his
first steps toward a life of crime at the age of 20 when, in his home
city of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, he was arrested on June 21, 1934 and
convicted on a charge of disorderly conduct. Seven years earlier he
had come to the United States from his native Dresden, Germany, and
only the previous month he had been admitted to U.S. citizenship
through the naturalization of his father.
Puff's next conviction
occurred a year later for stealing domestic animals. On August 22,
1935, he was sentenced to serve three concurrent terms of one to five
years each in the Wisconsin State Penitentiary. Several months later
he was transferred to the State Reformatory at Green Bay.
While at the reformatory, Puff
assaulted one of the guards and, on conviction, was sentenced to an
additional term of one to 10 years to begin at the expiration of the
sentences he was then serving. He was sent back to the State
Penitentiary in February, 1937 and was discharged on May 24, 1939
after serving a total of approximately three years and nine months.
Puff was returned to the
penitentiary to begin serving a sentence of one to nine years
following a conviction on December 28, 1942, for assault with intent
to commit armed robbery. On September 6, 1945, he escaped. Fifteen
days later he was apprehended in a stolen car and again returned to
prison. He was discharged on November 19, 1947.
The following June, Puff was
found guilty of breaking and entering a warehouse at Beaver Dam,
Wisconsin. He was also charged with the 1945 prison escape, and on the
basis of these convictions he received concurrent terms of one to four
years and 12 to 17 months, respectively. He was again committed to the
Wisconsin State Penitentiary in June 1948 and was released on April
Between prison sentences Puff
was employed at various times as a truck driver, laborer, farm hand,
and machinist helper. He also had experience in the printing trade,
but to satisfy his fondness for expensive clothes, big automobiles,
dancing, sports, and gambling, he again turned to crime.
On May 2, 1951, Puff was
arrested by the Milwaukee Police Department on a charge of armed
robbery and was lodged in the Milwaukee County Jail in lieu of $3,000
bond. While in jail awaiting trial he became acquainted with George
Arthur Heroux, a sullen, gun-crazy youth, who was released from the
jail on August 23, 1951.
On October 17, 1951, an
unknown party, acting through a Chicago bondsman, posted a $3,000 cash
bond for the release of Puff. He was to report for trial on November
15, but he did not appear.
Eight days later, the Johnson
County National Bank and Trust Company of Prairie Village, Kansas, was
robbed by two armed men of more than $62,000 in cash, large numbers of
American Express Travelers checks and several denominations of Series
E, unissued United States government bonds.
The robbers gained entry to
the bank at approximately 8:05 a.m. by forcing an employee to open the
front door. While one of the outlaws herded bank employees into a
reception room located near the front of the bank and stood guard over
them with what was described as a M1-type carbine, the other bandit
made the cashier open the vault. The loot was collected in a muslin
bag resembling a pillowcase and bearing the printing of the Federal
Reserve Bank of Kansas City, Missouri.
The getaway was made at 8:42
a.m. in a cream-colored, late- model convertible automobile which was
abandoned a few minutes later less than a half-mile from the bank.
This car had been stolen on November 3, 1951, in the downtown business
district of Tulsa, Oklahoma. At the time it was abandoned by the
robbers, it carried a set of license plates which had been stolen in
Hollister, Missouri on November 4, 1951.
Witnesses to the robbery said
that both bandits wore white mechanic-type coveralls with narrow blue
cuffs on the sleeves and light-colored hunting caps with upturned
A complaint was filed before a
United States Commissioner at Topeka, Kansas, on December 3, 1951,
charging Gerhard Arthur Puff with participating in the robbery. The
other person charged with the stick-up was George Arthur Heroux. The
names of the two were added to the FBI's Ten Most Wanted Fugitives
The search for the bandit pair
during the ensuing seven months was intense and relentless. Then, on
July 25, 1952, George Arthur Heroux was apprehended at Miami, Florida.
From clues gained through the
apprehension of Puff's criminal associate it was determined that Puff
might attempt to make contact with persons at a certain hotel in New
York City. During the night and morning of July 25-26, 1952,
therefore, FBI agents set up a surveillance at this hotel. Agents were
strategically located in the lobby of the hotel, in rooms on the ninth
floor, at the hotel entrance, and in the streets surrounding the hotel
while FBI radio cars cruised in the vicinity.
The room under observation,
Room 904, was registered to a "John Hanson." Another room had been
vacated that day by a man named "J. Burns." Hotel employees identified
Burns as Gerhard Arthur Puff. It was felt Puff might attempt to
contact Hanson with whom he was friendly. In substantiation of this a
note was found on the bed in Room 904 indicating that "Burns" desired
to contact Hanson that night or the following morning.
At approximately 9:00 a.m. on
the morning of July 26, a new shift of special agents replaced the
group on duty in the hotel. Special Agent Joseph John Brock, 44,
married and the father of three children, was placed in charge of this
group and he and two other agents were stationed in the hotel lobby.
Shortly before noon two girls
visited Room 904, then left the hotel. Special agents in radio cars
followed them to another hotel. At 1:20 p.m., they returned to the
first hotel and again went to Room 904.
Within a few minutes an
individual resembling Puff entered the hotel. After making a telephone
call to Room 904 he went up to the room in the elevator. The hotel
clerk confirmed the fact that the individual was Puff, and agents were
It was decided to wait for
Puff to return to the lobby before arresting him. Special Agent Brock
took up a position at the foot of a small stairway.
Puff did not remain at Room
904 but returned to the first floor in a few minutes by the stairway
where Agent Brock was stationed. Puff encountered Agent Brock, shot
him twice in the chest, took his gun, then with a gun in each hand,
Puff made a zig-zagging dash through the lobby, firing another shot at
converging agents. Agents outside the hotel called to Puff to
surrender. He answered with gunfire. Agents posted behind parked cars
returned the fire and Puff collapsed to the sidewalk.
He was taken to a hospital for
treatment, then to the prison ward at Bellevue.
Special Agent Brock was
treated by a doctor who appeared on the scene, then rushed to a
hospital where he was pronounced dead shortly after arrival.
On May 15, 1953, in the U.S.
District Court for the Southern District of New York, Gerhard Arthur
Puff was found guilty of murder in the first degree and sentenced to
death in the electric chair. Puff's attorney appealed the conviction
but to no avail and on August 12, 1954, at Sing Sing Prison, Ossining,
New York, the killer's career of violence came to a final, irrevocable
The Last Executioner
Dow B. Hover was paid by the state to run its
electric chair in the 1950s and '60s. The job may have cost him more
than he earned.
By Jennifer Gonnerman - VillageVoice.com
Tuesday, Jan 18 2005
For 51 years, a family in upstate New York has
closely guarded one of the most explosive, and unusual, secrets any
family could have: Its late patriarch, Dow B. Hover, was New York
State's executioner. Hover held the job in the 1950s and 1960s and was
the last man in the state to activate the electric chair. He left
behind evidence of his work—letters from Sing Sing's warden—hidden in
a filing cabinet in his house.
Hover, who lived in Germantown and worked as a
deputy sheriff for Columbia County, took extreme precautions to ensure
no newspaper would ever reveal his identity. On the nights he drove to
Sing Sing to carry out an execution, he employed a novel strategy in
order to elude pesky reporters: He changed the license plates on his
car before he even left his garage.
Hover worked in the infamous Sing Sing death house,
where 614 people perished between 1891 and 1963—more people than at
any other prison in the nation during that time. New York's last
execution took place almost 42 years ago, yet the debate over the
death penalty continues. Last summer, the Court of Appeals ruled that
the state's death penalty was unconstitutional, and now the public
debate has grown even louder. Just in the last week, the state
assembly convened two public hearings, in Albany and Manhattan, on the
future of New York's death penalty.
Maintaining public support for the death penalty
has long depended on keeping the act of killing prisoners shrouded in
secrecy—no television cameras, no interviews with the execution team,
no revealing of the executioner's identity. Conversations about the
death penalty often remain abstract, focused on issues like "justice"
and "deterrence." Rarely do they focus on how the death penalty
affects those most intimately involved, transforming everyday people
into professional killers. The voices and stories of the people who
carry out executions are almost never heard.
Dow B. Hover had two children, both of whom are now
in their seventies and still live in Germantown. They have not paid
much attention to the political debate swirling around the death
penalty. In fact, neither likes to think much about the issue at all.
But on a recent Saturday, Hover's children finally decided to discuss
their family's secret. They spoke to the Voice about their father, his
execution work, and his own life's end.
On August 5, 1953, a headline in The New York Times
declared: "State Executioner Quits." At the time, the executioner's
name was well-known. Joseph P. Francel had held the job for 14 years;
his name regularly appeared in the media. Just two months earlier,
he'd pulled the switch that sent 2,000 volts of electricity into the
bodies of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. The married couple, convicted of
conspiring to steal atomic secrets for the Soviets, were the most
famous of the 137 people Francel executed.
Dow B. Hover, 52, replaced Francel, securing the
job through his contacts at the Columbia County sheriff's office. Like
his five predecessors, Hover was a trained electrician. Now, in
addition to his work as a deputy sheriff, Hover would earn $150 every
time he put on a suit, made the 160-mile round-trip to Sing Sing, and
pulled the switch for the electric chair. (Adjusted for inflation,
this $150 payment is equivalent to about $1,000 today.) Hover would
also receive gas money, usually eight cents per mile. Soon, typed
one-page letters from Wilfred L. Denno, Sing Sing's warden, began
arriving at his home, notifying him of every scheduled execution.
One of the first people Hover was hired to execute
was 40-year-old Gerhard Puff. In 1952, Puff traveled from Kansas City
to Manhattan with his 17-year-old wife, Annie Laurie. By then, Puff's
résumé as a bank robber had already earned him a spot on the FBI's Ten
Most Wanted list. Shortly after Puff and his wife arrived at the
Congress Hotel on West 69th Street, FBI agents flooded the lobby. The
agents were waiting for Puff to emerge from an elevator. Instead, Puff
snuck down the stairs, then approached one of the agents and shot the
man, killing him.
Puff's execution was scheduled for Thursday, August
12, 1954, at 11 p.m., the usual appointed time for executions. That
night, Hover left his Germantown home at 6:30 and arrived at Sing Sing
at 9:30, according to travel records he kept. In the meantime, guards
had already brought Puff his last meal: fried chicken, cranberry
sauce, sweet potatoes, brussels sprouts, asparagus tips, salad, and
strawberry shortcake. Shortly before 11, two guards led Puff down a
20-foot corridor to the electric chair and ordered him to sit. They
fastened five leather straps across his body. A mask was placed over
his face and electrodes were attached to his leg and head.
Standing in an alcove adjacent to the death room,
facing a switchboard, Hover could see Puff. It was his duty to lower
the lever, but not for so long that the body began to cook. Not so
long that the reporters and other witnesses seated out front could
smell burning flesh. Some men required more shocks than others, and
there was a certain skill involved in making sure that Puff was
electrocuted just long enough to kill him. At 11:08 p.m., a doctor
pressed a stethoscope over Puff's heart and declared him dead.
By 11:30, Hover was back in his car, heading north.
This time he appears to have sped more quickly along Route 9G.
According to Hover's travel log, he pulled into his driveway at 1:30
A few days later, Hover received a letter from Sing
Sing's warden with two checks—"one in the amount of $150.00 and the
other in the amount of $12.80 covering your services at this
institution in the case of Gerhard A. Puff." The language in these
letters was always the same—exceedingly formal and intentionally
Special Agent Joseph John Brock, 44, married and the father of three