Famous American Criminals Who Were Executed

American history is filled with interesting and twisted tales of some of the world’s most evil criminals. Famous murderers, rapists, and other types of devious criminals have roots in the USA. These criminals spent their life’s final moments on death row waiting for their last meal and the long walk to their execution. What were the most famous executions in American history? What crimes were committed to earn a spot on death row? In what ways were these American criminals executed? This list answers those questions and more.

Execution in America has evolved over the decades. Firing squads and hangings used to be popular methods of execution, whereas lethal injection and the electric chair are the most commonly used methods today. The electric chair was once such a controversial method of execution in the United States that many lawyers argued that it was cruel and unusual punishment, and by the rule of the Eighth Amendment, should be outlawed. There were even a few cases where the electric chair was faulty and needed multiple tries to execute a convict.

The criminals on this list have very different crimes and marks on the world, but their way out of the world was very similar. These men and women were all executed through the American legal system. 

  • Aileen Wuornos
    Photo: Florida Department of Corrections / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    In 1991, Aileen Wuornos made headline news when she was arrested for killing at least six men who she claimed had tried to rape her.

    Her self-defense excuse didn't work, and she was sentenced to death by lethal injection. She was executed in 2002.

    • Age: Dec. at 46 (1956-2002)
    • Birthplace: Rochester, Michigan, United States of America
  • Frank Abbandando, AKA the Dasher, was a member of Murder, Inc., a gang of thugs who created chaos in New York in the 1930s. Abbandando was a contract killer for the powerful gang and was convinced his connections would lead to a not-guilty verdict.

    However, he was found guilty and was executed in 1942.     

    • Age: Dec. at 31 (1910-1942)
    • Birthplace: New York City, New York
  • John Wayne Gacy
    Photo: White House Photographer / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Famous for his reputation of dressing up like a clown for fundraisers and children events, John Wayne Gacy killed and sexually assaulted at least 33 young men between 1972 and 1978.

    He was sentenced to death for 12 of his murders and spent 14 years on death row. On May 10, 1994, he was executed by lethal injection. 

    • Age: Dec. at 52 (1942-1994)
    • Birthplace: Chicago, Illinois, United States of America
  • Gary Gilmore
    Photo: Clark County Prosecutor's Office / Wikipedia / Fair Use

    Gary Gilmore had a history violent crimes throughout his life, but it was a gas station stick-up that led to his demise. He killed a gas station attendant and later a motel manager while robbing them. He was caught but only charged with the first murder.

    While on death row, he tried to kill himself twice and was finally executed on January 17, 1977, by firing squad.

    • Age: Dec. at 36 (1940-1977)
    • Birthplace: McCamey, Texas