Tuesday, May 13, 2014

FIRE BUG - 1935

The Life and Death of Warren Cramer

Warren Cramer was just plain bad.

As a teenager, he confessed to an arson spree in Denver. 
As an adult, he confessed to a murder in San Francisco -- and was executed in the gas chamber.

On Aug. 26, 1935, Cramer, 17, son of a prominent dentist and attorney from Oakland, California, confessed to setting 20 fires across Denver in five days, including blazes at a Catholic cathedral, two Catholic churches, City Hall and police headquarters.

"I got a thrill out of it," Detective Sergeant Walter Fox quoted the youth as saying, according to an Associated Press story printed in the Southeast Missourian newspaper. "It was fun, especially last night when I started a fire in police headquarters."

Cramer said he used a stolen bicycle to move from fire to fire.

Police caught him at a night club phone booth.

At first, police had suspected a "religious fanatic" or "Nazi sympathizer" with setting the church fires, according to a United Press story printed in the Telegraph-Herald of Dubuque, Iowa.

A headline in the Herald Journal of Spartanburg, South Carolina, read: "DENVER FEARFUL OF FIRE MANIAC."

The boy's father, Dr. Harry Cramer, said his son served 10 months at the Preston industrial school for petty theft and had repeatedly run away from home since he was 12.

Dr. Cramer also said the boy's mother, who died shortly after his birth, "was insane" and "this undoubtedly explains his actions," according to an Associated Press story in the Lawrence Journal-World of Kansas.

Cramer went onto an "eight-year career of thievery, arson and jail breaking" and was executed in California's gas chamber at San Quentin on May 14, 1943, for the slaying of Ernest Saxton, a San Francisco drug store clerk in 1942, according to a United Press story printed in the Bend Bulletin of Oregon.

At the end, San Quentin Warden Clinton Duffy described Cramer as a “brilliant” man who thought he had a “rotten streak in his system which he couldn’t control.”

His last words in the gas chamber were: "I can't smell anything yet ... It smells like rotten eggs," according to the book "Last Words of the Executed" by Robert K. Elder and Studs Terkel.

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