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Gerhard Arthur PUFF





Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Bank robber - To avoid arrest
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: July 26, 1952
Date of arrest: Same day
Date of birth: 1914
Victim profile: FBI Special Agent Joseph J. Brock, 44
Method of murder: Shooting
Location: Manhattan, New York, USA
Status: Executed by electrocution by the federal authorities in New York on August 21, 1954

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 electric chair.

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 Most Wanted.

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 25, 1951.

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 earmuffs.

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 list.

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 alerted.

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 end.


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 -

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.m.

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 cryptic.



The victim

Special Agent Joseph John Brock, 44, married and the father of three children.



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