Having decided he would like to go to a school for divinity and needing $1,500 to pay the tuition fees, William Hickman, 20, figured the best way was to kidnap a little girl and ransom her. He chose Marian Parker, 12, daughter of a Californian bank executive, and sent ransom demands in telegrams to her father signed “The Fox.”

But before he collected the money, Hickman strangled the girl in what he later said was obedience to voices from God. He painted her cheeks with heavy rouge, wired her eyelids open, and performed gruesome mutilations on her torso. Then he propped up her body in the back of his car and drove to an arranged meeting point to collect the ransom money.

In the evening half-light William Parker saw his daughter in the car and thought she must be drugged. He paid over the money to Hickman, who drove round the block and deposited the mutilated remains of the girl on the pavement.

He was arrested in Oregon and when he was hanged at San Quentin on Friday, October 19th, 1928, he became the first ransom kidnapper in the United States to pay the supreme penalty.

Hickman showed signs of cracking up days before his hanging. He had to be held upright by warders on the scaffold and when the trap was sprung he fainted. His body sagged sideways and as the trap opened it was almost horizontal.

As he plunged through the open space his feet struck one side of the scaffolding, knocking off his shoe, while his head hit against the other side.

When the rope grew taut with a twanging noise, his body was jerked first into an upright position and then it began to circle round in loops. His feet almost touched the shocked spectators, three of whom fainted. His hands worked spasmodically, showing that despite the terrible fall and the sudden jerking upright of his body, he was not dead. In fact, as the post-mortem revealed, he was slowly strangled – the same fate suffered by his victim.

His lawyer afterwards wrote a book pointing out the injustice of hanging a man he believed was obviously insane.