Time to go

“Make it snappy,” he said, and so they did. Those are the last words of Charles H. Simpson, convicted of murdering a California grocery-store owner during a $3 robbery. As the late Studs Terkel noted in his forward for this anthology, we all know we’re going to die. But those sentenced to death, unlike the rest of us, know exactly when and why. Whatever we expect from condemned men and women, their last words rarely supply it. Rambling pleas, lectures to avoid vice, pithy, funny or preachy, these statements have one thing in common: It’s the last thing any of these people ever said. Eva Dugan was a trifle smart when she said, “The world loves a good sport and hates a bad loser,” at the scaffold in Arizona in 1930. Then she was accidentally decapitated by the noose as she dropped through the trapdoor. This book is like a wreck on the road; we can’t really look away, but we’re not gaining anything, either.