Jokes Told by Death Row Inmates Right Before Execution

Execution, arguably the ultimate "most horrifying" moment a person could face. It stands to reason you wouldn't expect death row inmates to be cracking jokes in the moments before their deaths. It surely takes some kind of psychopathy, bravery, or gallows humor (literally, in this case) to tell jokes right before an injection or electrocution.  

Between 1976 and 2006, nearly 1,500 people were executed in the United States. Some used their last minutes to express heartfelt apologies to victims or families, some claimed innocence until the very end. A few greeted death with lighthearted quips. 

Probably, these jokes told by death row inmates were intended to be funny. But they might give you the chills. From puns to movie references, jokes inmates told before they were executed were in many cases unbelievable. 
Photo: Ken Piorkowsk / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA-2.0

  • George Appel

    “Well, gentlemen, you are about to see a baked Appel.” 

    George Appel uttered this pun while strapped to the electric chair in New York City. He was given the death sentence for killing a police officer in 1928.

  • “Yes, hurry it up, you Hoosier b*stard! I could kill a dozen men while you’re screwing around!” 

    Carl Panzram was a busy serial killer, rapist, and burglar. He claimed to have committed 22 murders and more than 1,000 rapes. Panzram was executed by hanging in Kansas on September 5, 1930.

  • “How’s this for a headline? ‘French Fries.’"

    James D. French was the only prisoner executed in the United States in 1966. He was sentenced to life in prison for committing a first-degree murder, then upgraded to the electric chair after murdering his cellmate. 
  • John Eldon Smith

    “Well, the Lord is going to get another one.” 

    John Smith, along with his wife, was sentenced to death for the murder of a couple, to claim their insurance money. Smith’s wife, Rebecca Akins Smith Machetti, was the male victim’s ex-wife. Smith was electrocuted in Georgia on December 15, 1983.
  • "Yeah, I think I’d rather be fishing.” 

    Twenty-five-year-old Jimmy Glass was executed in 1987 for shooting a couple to death during a burglary in 1982.

  • Gary Burris

    “Beam me up.”

    In case you didn’t get it, Gary Burris’s last words referred to a popular catchphrase from Star Trek. Burris was executed by lethal injection on November 20, 1997, for shooting a taxi driver in Indianapolis.