The Final Meals Of History’s Most Notorious Death Row Inmates Are Eerily Revealing

When you’re staring death in the face, food is probably the last thing on your mind. For inmates on death row, however, a specially-prepared last meal is typically customary. And bar a few restrictions – alcohol and tobacco are usually forbidden – prisoners can generally ask for whatever they like. Throughout the years, then, history’s most notorious criminals have made some startling requests for their final feasts. And what they chose provides an eerie glimpse into the last moments of their lives.

20. Peter Kürten

Peter Kürten received the death penalty in April 1931, almost two years after being branded “The Vampire of Düsseldorf.” The press bestowed the nickname on the then-unknown serial killer due to his propensity for drinking his victims’ blood. When police eventually caught up with him, Kürten unreservedly confessed to his appalling crimes. He was subsequently found guilty of nine murders and seven attempted murders.

For Kürten’s last meal, he requested a fried cut of veal known as Wiener schnitzel. In northern regions of his home country, the dish is commonly served with capers and sardines. However, the killer instead opted for the traditional Austrian pairing of potatoes, accompanied by some white wine. He ate the entire plate, then asked for seconds – and the guards duly obliged.

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19. John Wayne Gacy

From 1972 to 1978, John Wayne Gacy murdered more than 30 men in his Illinois home town. The media dubbed him the “Killer Clown” due to his charity work as “Pogo the Clown,” a character he reportedly also took on during some of his crimes. His horrific spree earned him a death sentence in 1980, and he was finally executed in 1994.

In the late 1960s, Gacy oversaw the operation of a number of KFC restaurants. Accordingly, his final meal request included a bucket of original recipe chicken, plus French fries, fried shrimp and a helping of fresh strawberries. He consumed all this alongside his family, who had been allowed to share a private picnic with him at the prison.

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18. Lawrence Russell Brewer

In 1997 Lawrence Russell Brewer was released from prison under mandatory supervision. During his incarceration for drug possession, however, he joined a white supremacist gang. A year later, he and two other men violently murdered 49-year-old African-American James Byrd, Jr. Brewer was consequently given the death penalty, which was carried out on September 21, 2011.

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Compared to many death row inmates, Brewer’s final meal order was beyond extravagant. Indeed, the full list included a pizza, a pair of chicken-fried steaks, three fajitas, a cheese omelet, a pound of barbecue, a bacon cheeseburger, fried okra, peanut butter fudge, ice cream and root beer. Astonishingly, the guards granted his wish – but the killer didn’t touch any of it. As a result, the state of Texas decided to eliminate last meal requests altogether.

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17. Ted Bundy

Ted Bundy is among the most infamous serial killers in U.S. history. He used his natural charm and charisma to lure dozens of women to their deaths. While the total number of his victims remains a mystery to this day, he confessed to murdering over 30 women across a five-year period in the 1970s. Bundy was executed in Florida in 1989.

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As the electric chair awaited Bundy, food may not have been his priority. You see, the notorious killer actually declined to place a special request for his last meal. But the prison staff were prepared for such an eventuality. The infamous killer was simply given the standard final meal, which consisted of medium-rare steak, hash browns, eggs, toast, juice and milk.

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16. Timothy McVeigh

Before the September 11 attacks, the Oklahoma City bombing was the most lethal act of terrorism ever perpetrated on U.S. soil. In total, the explosion claimed the lives of 168 people, and injured hundreds more. Gulf War veteran Timothy McVeigh received a death sentence in 1997 for masterminding the horrific attack, which he hoped would stoke an uprising against the American government.

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McVeigh’s request for his final feast wasn’t so much a meal as simply dessert. Yes, the 33-year-old asked the prison guards for just two pints of ice cream. Or, more specifically, mint choc chip ice cream. By all accounts, his unusual request was granted. He was then executed by lethal injection on June 11, 2001.

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15. Philip Workman

In the summer of 1981, 28-year-old Philip Workman had a wife, a child, a criminal record and a cocaine addiction. That melting pot of circumstances took him to Tennessee. While there, he proceeded to hold up a Wendy’s restaurant using a .45 caliber pistol. When the police arrived on the scene, Workman tried to flee – and in the ensuing chaos, gunned down an officer. He was sentenced to death for his actions.

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Despite Workman’s situation, his final meal request was entirely selfless. Indeed, he simply asked the guards to donate a pizza to any homeless person near his Tennessee prison. The staff, however, declined his request. Citizens from across the country then responded by donating hundreds of pizzas to homeless shelters across the state, seeking to honor the condemned man’s last wishes.

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14. Marion Albert Pruett

Following Marion Albert Pruett’s testimony over a prison killing in Georgia in 1979, he was placed in the Witness Protection Program. Two years later, he murdered his wife, then went on a cross-country crime spree. Pruett killed five people in total, including three convenience store clerks and also claimed to be responsible for the 1979 murder. He was executed for his crimes in 1999.

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For Pruett’s last meal, he initially wanted roast duck. However, after that request was denied, he then asked for a huge list of items, which he apparently planned to share with a fellow inmate. The final menu included four Burger King Whoppers, a stuffed crust pizza, French fries, pecan pie and six liters of Pepsi, alongside fried okra, squash and eggplant. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the killer failed to polish off the entire meal.

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13. Fritz Haarmann

From 1918 to 1924, German serial killer Fritz Haarmann violently murdered at least 24 young men and boys. In fact, his methods were so horrific that he was dubbed the “Butcher of Hanover.” Haarmann was ultimately sentenced to death and stripped of his German citizenship in December 1924. He went to the guillotine five months later.

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As was customary in Germany, Haarmann only learned his execution date the evening before it was scheduled. Nevertheless, he still put in a last request – even if it wasn’t a traditional meal. The serial killer, in fact, simply asked for Brazilian coffee and an expensive cigar, to be consumed and smoked in his cell.

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12. Ronnie Lee Gardner

In 2010 Ronnie Lee Gardner became the first person executed by firing squad in the U.S. in over a decade. The convicted murderer had requested the method himself, citing his Mormon background. He’d received the death penalty some 25 years earlier for killing an attorney and spent the intervening decades bogged down in the Utah court system. Gardner’s case eventually provoked the state to limit how many appeals convicts can make in capital cases.

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Gardner’s final meal came with an unusual request. Indeed, he asked the guards if he could watch the Lord of the Rings movies while eating lobster tail, steak, vanilla ice cream, apple pie and drinking 7UP. And he did so a whole day and a half before his execution, choosing to spend his final 36 hours fasting.

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11. Odell Barnes

Convicted burglar and rapist Odell Barnes received the death penalty for murdering Helen Bass in 1989. He, however, contested his innocence until his dying breath, and a second defense team found multiple problems with the original case. His situation even gained international attention from anti-death penalty activists in France, who raised $16,000 to support his defense. In the end, though, appeals courts refused to hear new evidence and Barnes was executed by lethal injection in 2000.

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Instead of food and drink, Barnes’ final meal request was for “justice, equality, world peace.” In a final statement, he proclaimed, “I’d like to send great love to all my family members, my supporters, my attorneys. They have all supported me throughout this. I thank you for proving my innocence, although it has not been acknowledged by the courts. May you continue in the struggle and may you change all that’s being done here today and in the past.”

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10. Cleve Foster

In 2002 Cleve Foster and Sheldon Ward met Nyaneur “Mary” Pal at a bar in Fort Worth, Texas. Hours later, she was found dead in a ditch. The two men were subsequently placed on death row for raping and murdering the 30-year-old woman. However, Foster was granted a reprieve from meeting his ultimate fate on three separate occasions. At the fourth time of asking, the U.S. Supreme Court denied his attorneys’ appeal, and he was finally executed in September 2012.

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Given Foster’s multiple reprieves, the convicted murderer had several opportunities to request a final meal. On one occasion, he asked for French fries, two fried chickens and a five-gallon bucket filled with peaches. Ultimately, however, he ended up receiving the standard final meal, as Texas stopped special requests a year before his execution.

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9. Victor Feguer

Victor Feguer’s crimes were deemed brutal enough to warrant execution by the highest office in the U.S. Indeed, President John F. Kennedy personally denied his attorney’s request for clemency. In 1960 Feguer kidnapped and murdered a doctor, seemingly chosen at random, in a possible attempt to steal drugs. He’s now mostly remembered for being the last person executed in Iowa, and for his unusual final meal request.

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Feguer, in fact, didn’t even request a proper meal. Yes, in place of an extravagant feast, he simply asked for a single olive, complete with its pit. Apparently, the condemned man wanted an olive tree to grow from his final resting place as a symbol of peace. Henry Hargreaves, a photographer who shoots prisoners’ final meals, described his request to CBS News as “simple, beautiful and kind of final… Like a full stop at the end of his life.”

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8. Jonathan Nobles

While on death row for double murder, Jonathan Nobles found religion – and in turn, remorse. He was executed in 1998 for stabbing Kelly Farquhar, 24, and Mitzi Nalley, 21, to death. But having converted to Catholicism during his incarceration, he expressed his regret shortly before receiving the lethal injection. “I don’t think I’m the monster who perpetrated these terrible acts,” he said. “Nothing I can do for 1,000 years can relieve me of my responsibility.”

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Nobles’ death row conversion ultimately informed his choice for his last request. You see, the one-time electrician actually elected to take the Eucharist – or Holy Communion – instead of a meal. Before his execution, the killer consumed the metaphorical body and blood of Christ, or bread and wine, one last time.

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7. Reginald Lenard Reeves

At just 19 years old, Reginald Lenard Reeves found himself facing a death sentence for raping and murdering 14-year-old Jenny Weeks. Despite reportedly bragging about the horrific crime to his friends, Reeves appealed his punishment multiple times. However, the evidence linked him conclusively to the murder, and the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals upheld the ruling. He was executed in September 2002, nine years after the teenager’s death.

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Jonathan Kambouris, a photographer who compiled a project examining death row inmates’ final meals, told CBS News, “The last meal is the last choice one can make before being put to death… [It’s] unarguably honest and true.” Reeves’ final meal perhaps reflected that sentiment. The then-28-year-old simply requested two Cokes and four pieces of fried chicken.

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6. Bruno Richard Hauptmann

In 1927 Charles Lindbergh made the first solo flight across the Atlantic ocean, single-handedly changing the face of aviation history. Five years later, his infant son was kidnapped and killed in what was dubbed the “Crime of the Century.” Eventually, police linked Bruno Richard Hauptmann to the murder, and the German carpenter was given the death penalty. He met his fate in April 1936.

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Hauptmann went to the electric chair proclaiming himself an innocent man – a stance much of the American public agreed with. Yes, he refused to confess to the crime, even though he knew doing so would spare him a grisly end. The condemned man nevertheless still chose to place a final meal request. Among the items he asked for were chicken, buttered peas, French fries, olives, celery, cake and cherries.

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5. Charles Rumbaugh

Charles Rumbaugh was placed on death row for killing a jeweler during an armed robbery, but his sentencing proved controversial. That’s because Rumbaugh was just 17 years old when he committed his crime, and Amnesty International argued that executing him violated international agreements. However, his punishment was upheld, and he received the lethal injection in 1985, aged 28.

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According to Sarah Grisham, a spokesperson for the Texas corrections department, Rumbaugh was in high spirits in the hours leading up to his execution. Indeed, he was reportedly “cutting jokes and laughing” with visiting friends and family members. His last meal request, however, was seemingly more somber, consisting of a glass of water and a single flour tortilla.

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4. Charles Peace

Charles Peace was a notorious Victorian cat burglar and killer who spent years on the run from the police. He began his life of crime at an early age, and constantly changed his appearance to evade authorities. He was eventually caught in London in 1878, however, and sentenced to death the following year. His life has captivated storytellers ever since, including Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who referenced Peace in a Sherlock Holmes adventure.

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Peace consumed his final meal on the morning before his execution, requesting a robust breakfast of salty bacon and eggs. He then walked to the gallows accompanied by the prison’s chaplain, who read aloud passages describing hell. In response, the criminal reportedly cried, “Even if England were covered with broken glass from coast to coast, I would walk over it… Just to save one soul from an eternal hell like that!”

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3. Ricky Ray Rector

After gunning down a man at a restaurant in 1981, Ricky Ray Rector fooled a police officer he’d known since childhood into thinking he’d surrender. Instead, however, he shot and killed the officer, then turned the gun to his own head. Rector survived the suicide attempt, but had effectively lobotomized himself. A judge nevertheless ruled he was fit to stand trial, and sentenced him to death on two counts of murder.

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Rector’s sentencing and execution courted controversy in 1992, predominantly owing to his mental deficiencies. And his last meal was perhaps an unfortunate illustration of the issue, as he decided to save the pecan pie he’d requested “for later.” The condemned man did, however, consume the fried chicken, steak and cherry Kool-Aid he’d asked for.

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2. Allen Lee Davis

In 1982 Allen Lee Davis brutally murdered Nancy Weiler, who was pregnant at the time, and her two daughters in Florida. He carried out the attacks while on parole, having previously been sentenced for armed robbery. Davis subsequently received the death penalty for his crimes. However, he suffered severe bleeding during his execution, sparking a national debate over the use of the electric chair.

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Davis was taking medication to thin his blood prior to his execution, which could have contributed to the bleeding. However, the fact that the killer weighed 350 pounds may also have played a part. And his final meal probably didn’t help matters in that department. He, in fact, requested a huge plate of fried shrimp, lobster tail, fried clams, garlic bread, fried potatoes and root beer.

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1. Ronnie Threadgill

In April 2001 Ronnie Threadgill fired his gun at an idling car in Navarro County, Texas, killing 17-year-old Dexter MacDonald. He then hopped into the vehicle and drove off, leaving the teenager’s body behind. Threadgill had spent most of his adult life incarcerated for various misdemeanors, and ultimately served a death sentence for murdering MacDonald. He was executed in 2013.

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Threadgill received the death penalty on July 22, 2002. By the time his execution was scheduled, however, Texas had eliminated last meal requests. As a result, his wish for baked chicken, vegetables, mashed potatoes, bread, sweet peas, punch, water and tea went unfulfilled. The condemned man was instead offered the same final meal given to all death row inmates.

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