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The Memorable Last Meals of Ten Infamous Death Row Inmates
The tradition of giving death row inmates a special last meal dates back several thousand years. Some historians believe ancient peoples gave their condemned peers specific last meals out of fear of the spirit world. In ancient Greece, leaders had to feed a person before execution so they could cross the River Styx into the underworld with a full stomach. If not, the dead were destined to come back as hungry ghosts. Even the Puritans held large meals for prison inmates condemned to die. They felt that the meals were parallel to the Last Supper of Jesus Christ and thus meant the men destined for execution could receive atonement.
By the early 1800s, the last meal was a common thing in prisons across the United States. It was meant to offer a humane, soft final moment for the person condemned to die at the hands of the state. Then, in the early 1900s, several U.S. states began to really solidify the ritual of the last meal. In 1924, Texas started to hold a specific “last meal” event for each condemned prisoner after the state government took over executions from each county. The practice quickly spread from there. By the middle of the 20th century, every state had last meals as part of their tried and true execution events.
This post looks at the last meals of ten notorious killers condemned to live their final days on death row. In all ten cases, these inmates chose very specific, very unique meals to eat before they met their maker. And as you’ll soon see at the very bottom of this list, one inmate recently ended up ruining the practice for all the rest.
10 Gary Simmons Jr.
Gary Carl Simmons Jr. was a grocery store butcher who was convicted of a horrific 1996 slaying. Simmons was living in Mississippi at the time when a drug dealer named Jeffery Wolfe drove there from Houston. Wolfe and his girlfriend were in town to collect on a $20,000 drug debt that Simmons and another man named Timothy Milano had been putting off paying.
Unfortunately for Wolfe and his girlfriend, Simmons and Milano didn’t have the money. They also didn’t have any drugs to offer up as payment. So when an argument broke out, Milano fatally shot Wolfe with a rifle. Then, Simmons hog-tied Wolfe’s girlfriend and locked her in a closet. The two men later took her out to rape her. They told the woman that “her life depended on how well she performed sexually.”
After they were done raping her, Simmons and Milano went back to Wolfe’s body to dismember it with knives from Simmons’s grocery store gig. Then, they threw the dead man’s remains into a bayou behind the home where the murder occurred. Wolfe’s girlfriend managed to escape the house when they were out doing this. She ran to a neighbor’s home and called the police. When the cops came, they arrested Milano and Simmons.
Milano ended up being sentenced to life in prison, but Simmons got the death penalty. As for his last meal, Simmons’s stomach was bigger than his eyes. The condemned inmate ordered a meal that logged in at just under 29,000 calories. It contained a little bit of everything: pizza, Doritos, McDonald’s fast food, french fries, ice cream, and a strawberry shake. Perhaps unsurprisingly, he didn’t finish it before being taken away to die.
9 Timothy McVeigh
Timothy McVeigh remains one of the most infamous and awful killers in all of American history. In 1995, he was involved with the bombing of a federal government building in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. The bomb blew away much of the federal complex. Tragically, 168 people died in the blast, with hundreds more seriously injured in the fallout. His trial was a massive affair with wall-to-wall media coverage throughout. Then, after he was convicted, his execution was an even bigger deal.
When it came time for him to die, there weren’t enough seats in the chamber’s gallery for victims’ families to witness the state-sanctioned killing. Considering he claimed 168 victims, the hundreds of family members and close connections who wanted to be on hand couldn’t all fit in the gallery. So prison officials set up a closed-circuit video feed, and hundreds of mourners watched justice be served through a television screen.
As for McVeigh’s last meal, the contents were remarkably simple: the convicted terrorist ordered two pints of mint chocolate chip ice cream and nothing else.
8 Ted Bundy
Ted Bundy remains one of the most notorious serial killers in American history. Before he was put to death by the state of Florida at the age of 43, he had killed women in far-flung places from the Sunshine State to Colorado, California, and Washington. He was eventually convicted of rape, necrophilia, and three dozen counts of murder. His awful run of terror should have ended sooner than it did. But he escaped from a Colorado prison in the middle of his terrible spree, went back on the run, and killed more unsuspecting women throughout the rest of the 1970s.
When it came time for him to finally face the electric chair in 1989, the entire country was ready for him to die. And on the fateful day of his execution, Bundy didn’t appear ready to make one last show before death. Florida prison officials came to him asking whether he wanted something special for a last meal, and he declined.
Without any special requests for them to put together, they simply gave the man what every other prior death row prisoner had gotten when they declined special dishes: medium-rare steak, eggs over easy, hash browns, buttered toast, milk, juice, and coffee. He wasn’t hungry, though; Bundy didn’t eat a single bite of the meal before he was electrocuted.
7 Robert Alton Harris
Robert Alton Harris caught his death row destiny after a crime spree that spread across San Diego in the summer of 1978. First, he and his younger brother stole a car. Then, they kidnapped two teenage boys. When the two teens protested at their treatment, Harris coldly executed both boys. According to courtroom testimony, he told them to “quit crying and die like men” before shooting them to death. He also robbed a bank before being apprehended by the San Diego Police.
Then, a new fact of the case came out in a terrible twist: One of the officers who arrested Harris and his brother after the crime spree was the father of one of the boys who had just been killed. The cop had no idea about the murderous connection until after the arrest was made.
By the time he was arrested, charged, and convicted, all of San Diego was sick of Harris’s reign of terror. He was quickly sentenced to death by a judge following his sordid trial. Then, after a series of appeals and courtroom battles, fate came for Robert Alton Harris. In 1992, he was led to the execution chamber in the death row at San Quentin State Prison.
For his final meal, he ordered quite a feast of unhealthy proportions: a 21-piece bucket of KFC chicken, two large Domino’s pizzas, a bowl of ice cream, a bag of jelly beans, a six-pack of soda, and one final pack of Camel cigarettes. It’s unclear whether he knew one little change made by prison officials on that fateful day: They cooked him two Tombstone pizzas instead of the requested Domino’s fare.
6 Bruno Richard Hauptmann
Bruno Richard Hauptmann was a German immigrant who came to America in search of a new life. Sadly, that’s not what he got. Instead, the immigrant carpenter was accused of kidnapping and killing the infant son of aviation legend and superstar pilot Charles Lindbergh during the Great Depression.
Hauptmann forever maintained his innocence, and many people at the time—and many more now—believe he was framed. But the evidence at the scene and the jurors who were seated to hear the case didn’t see it that way. The salacious and tragic case became the “Crime of the Century,” and news coverage of the event was, to that point, unparalleled by anything that came before it.
In 1936, after the “Trial of the Century” that convicted Hauptmann in the baby’s kidnapping and murder, a judge sentenced him to death. With no appeals in place like what death row inmates go through nowadays, Hauptmann had nowhere to turn. Just weeks after his conviction, he was sent to the electric chair at New Jersey State Prison in the city of Trenton.
On the day of his death, he got a simple meal before the end came: roasted chicken, cherries, french fries, buttered peas, olives, and celery. To top it off, he was given a slice of cake for dessert. Then, he was led to the electric chair, where he proclaimed his innocence right up until the moment he was pronounced dead.
5 John Wayne Gacy
John Wayne Gacy is, without a doubt, one of the creepiest serial killers in all of American history. He was a married father of two young children in the early 1970s. In his spare time, he worked as a clown at local hospitals, trying to cheer up sick kids. He was known around town for dressing up in a clown costume and makeup to donate his time to charity events, too. And he was a manager of several KFC restaurants around Chicago in his professional life.
By all outward appearances, he was a normal guy with a family life and community commitments. But behind the scenes, he harbored a dark and disturbing secret.
Gacy killed at least three dozen teenage boys and young men between 1972 and 1978 before he was tracked down and caught. He buried the remains of more than a dozen of them underneath his home in the Chicago suburbs. When his crimes were unearthed (literally), he was charged with multiple counts of murder and jailed. After a shocking criminal court case, Gacy was sentenced to death.
On May 10, 1994, his day of execution finally came. When it came time for his last meal, Gacy asked for a full helping of what he knew best: KFC chicken. The former chicken restaurant manager requested a bucket of original recipe KFC, a bowl of french fries, a dozen fried shrimp, and a pound of strawberries. After eating to his heart’s content, he was executed by lethal injection.
4 Adolf Eichmann
Adolf Eichmann was a notorious SS officer who carried out unspeakable atrocities during the Holocaust. As one of Adolf Hitler’s most trusted confidantes, Eichmann oversaw the gassing deaths and executions of untold numbers of Jewish people, Gypsies, homosexuals, and other unfortunate people across Germany’s concentration camps. After the Holocaust, and once World War II ended, Eichmann fled Germany before he could be captured.
He went to Argentina, where he lived in secret with a large group of other former Nazi officers and leaders. But his freedom wouldn’t last long. Israel’s Mossad agents tracked him down along with several other Nazis. Then, they brought the men back to Europe and put them on trial for massive human rights violations.
Eichmann became infamous during the trial for testifying that he was merely following orders when he carried out the awful executions. He was “just doing his job,” as he stated on the stand, and simply carried out Hitler’s wishes without a second thought. The shocking and frank admission came to best exemplify what historians would later call the “banality of evil.” At the end of his trial, he was found guilty of years of war crimes under the rule of Nazi Germany and sentenced to death.
When it came time for him to die at an Israeli prison in 1962, he was sent off to the gallows to hang. But not before he had one final meal—or, really, just a drink. The last thing Adolf Eichmann ever consumed before death was a bottle of dry, red Israeli wine known as Carmel.
3 Gary Gilmore
Gary Gilmore robbed two men in rural Utah in the summer of 1976. Then, in a bid to make sure no witnesses were left behind, he shot the two men to death and discarded their bodies. His plan to avoid leaving witnesses was foiled, though, when he accidentally shot himself with the murder weapon. He wasn’t severely wounded, but he left a literal trail of evidence behind in dripping blood.
Cops followed the trail, tracked the blood, and were eventually able to figure out Gilmore was the killer. He was arrested, charged, and ultimately convicted of the murders. At his sentencing hearing, a Utah judge determined it was appropriate for him to face the death penalty.
Gilmore’s story turned strange after that. While awaiting his execution on death row, he started to demand to be executed. Most prisoners before him had fought their fates tooth and nail, but Gilmore wanted to forgo all his appeals and die. Lawyers and judges had to reevaluate the death row appeals process because of his then-unique demands. And his story was so significant that it became the subject of author Norman Mailer’s The Executioner’s Song. That novel went on to win the Pulitzer Prize.
As for Gilmore, death would come to him soon enough. On January 17, 1977, he was executed by firing squad at Utah State Prison. His last meal before death was a simple one: a hamburger, a baked potato, a hard-boiled egg, and some coffee. Rumor has it he even took three shots of Jack Daniel’s whiskey that was smuggled into the prison.
2 Velma Barfield
Velma Barfield was a mother and grandmother who had been caught killing people with arsenic and other methods of poisoning during her life. The North Carolina woman was outwardly a devout Christian and similar to many of the other older women in the state at that time. But she harbored a dark secret that eventually came out in time.
Velma had murdered five people via arsenic poisoning, including her very own mother. She was also suspected of killing two of her former husbands, who had died prematurely under mysterious circumstances. She wasn’t charged in those two deaths, but the arsenic murders were tied to her in court.
After being convicted of the killings, Velma went on death row at the women’s auxiliary of the state’s Central Prison in Raleigh. While on death row, she kept herself busy by praying and knitting things for her grandchildren. Then, on November 2, 1984, it all ended for Barfield. She made history very early that morning by being the first woman ever executed by lethal injection.
Hours earlier, on the night of November 1, she was given her last meal. Rather than go for a full spread, Velma chose to eat a few snacks to cap her sordid life. The grandmother opted to dine on Cheez Doodles, a Kit-Kat candy bar, and a bottle of Coca-Cola.
1 Lawrence Russell Brewer
Lawrence Russell Brewer was a passenger in a truck driven by a man named Shawn Berry outside the city of Jasper, Texas, early in the morning on June 7, 1998. At about 1:30 am, they came upon a man named James Byrd Jr., who was walking home on a rural road after a party. Brewer, Berry, and a third passenger named John King were all white; Byrd was black.
They offered Byrd a ride, but instead of carrying it out, they attacked him. Then, they tied a chain to his feet, attached it to the truck, and dragged him behind the pickup down a dirt road. Byrd died from massive injuries while being dragged. His head was eventually decapitated too. Then, the men left Byrd’s body on the road and fled the scene of the crime. Soon, though, they were picked up by cops and charged with the heinous murder.
Brewer, who had been involved in white supremacist groups while serving a prior prison sentence, was tried and convicted of the murder. Then, he was sentenced to death. But his death row stay would significantly change the last meal policy in Texas. When it came time for his last meal in 2011, Brewer requested an unreal amount of food.
There was a Pizza Hut Meat Lover’s pizza, two chicken-fried steaks, a triple-meat bacon cheeseburger, a cheese-and-ground beef omelet, a bowl of ketchup-smothered fried okra, a pound of barbecued meat with a loaf of white bread on the side, three full orders of fajitas, a pint of vanilla Blue Bell ice cream, and a piece of peanut butter fudge cake. To top it off, Brewer asked for three root beers.
Then, when the food came, he discarded it all. The condemned man never ate a bite of it, and it had to be thrown away. When word got out about the stunt, Texas prison officials were incensed. Public outcry and complaints from lawmakers prompted them to officially discard the Lone Star State’s last meal policy, which had begun in earnest nearly a century before.
When it came time for future executions to be carried out, they simply handed condemned inmates whatever meal was being served to the rest of the prison population on that day. In that way, Brewer’s memorable final stunt ended thousands of years of common practice with last meals before death.