Archive for December, 2007

2006: Angel Diaz

10 comments December 13th, 2007 Headsman

On this date one year ago, Angel Diaz suffered lethal injection for the 1979 murder of a topless bar manager.

And “suffered” was the word. The procedure was botched, and Diaz took 34 minutes — and a second dose of the lethal three-drug cocktail — before dying, with chemical burns left on both arms.

The incident provoked an immediate media storm and a moratorium on executions in Florida pending the perversity of public servants molding killing procedure by committee. As a result, Diaz remains the last person executed in Florida, and 2007 will be the first year since 1982 that the Sunshine State puts nobody to death.

The debacle in Florida has been a microcosm for the nation. Lethal injection as an execution protocol was by this time last year already facing growing scrutiny. It was immediately apparent that Diaz’s execution could spell serious trouble for the American death penalty’s legal machinery.

And indeed that machinery has now ground to a halt, if only a temporary one. Facing judicial confusion, the Supreme Court is weighing a potential landmark case on the constitutionality of lethal injection, with actual executions — at least involuntary ones — under a de facto moratorium for months yet to come.

That same disquiet is setting down legislative as well as judicial milestones: New Jersey is poised to has this very day become the first American state to abolish the death penalty since 1965.

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Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Botched Executions,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Florida,Lethal Injection,Murder,New Jersey,Notable Jurisprudence,Ripped from the Headlines,USA

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1635: Ivan Sulyma

4 comments December 12th, 2007 Headsman

On this date in 1635, Cossack commander Ivan Sulyma was put to death in Warsaw for razing the Kodak Fortress on the Dnieper River.

Sulyma‘s death, a footnote historically, unfolded in the rising action of Zaporozhian Cossacks‘ conflict with the Polish-Lithuanian empire then at the peak of its power.

Those famed corsairs of the steppes made their way in the world by plunder. The European powers at play around the Black Sea domains of the Zaporozhian host — Poland, Russia and the Ottoman Empire — each struggled to exploit Cossack raiders for their own ends of statecraft.

The Zaporozhian Cossacks, as portrayed by Ilya Repin

It was perhaps the misfortune of Poland to claim suzerainty during this unruly horde’s upswinging arc. The Poles endeavored to gather the Cossacks into the formal apparatus of the state, “registering” an elite corps of Cossacks inducted into the armed forces while reducing the remainder to peasantry.

The registry’s size and privileges became a permanent bone of contention, driving a cycle of uprisings through the 1620’s and 30’s that sapped Cossacks’ loyalty to the Polish crown.

Sulyma was a partisan of the militant unregistered Cossacks, fresh from war against the Ottomans. He returned to find that Poland had thrown up a fortress controlling the Dnieper, with an eye both to checking Cossack provocations against the now-peacable Turks, and to controlling internal Cossack disturbances.

Sulyma sacked the fortress, slaughtering its 200 inhabitants, but the disturbance was quickly put down and loyal registered Cossacks handed over the rebel. By the late 1630’s, Poland had imposed a peace of arms on the region … but hardly a secure one. As historian Orest Subtelny notes:

[E]ach successive uprising reflected the growing strength and military sophistication of the rebels. Their numbers grew, their tactics improved, and Cossack identification with the plight of the peasantry and the defense of Orthodoxy deepened. The decade-long Golden Peace merely masked a problem that was waiting to explode again.

It exploded in 1648. Where Sulyma had failed, Bohdan Khmelnytsky would succeed — breaking the Cossack lands permanently free of Poland.

Remembered to the modern state of Ukraine as a father of the country, Khmelnytsky’s immediate achievement was to rearrange the balance of power in Eastern Europe. Poland, ravaged by invading Swedes just as the Cossacks slipped away, fell into permanent decline — leaving a vacuum filled by Russia, which soon pulled the Cossacks into its orbit.

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Entry Filed under: 17th Century,20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Dismembered,Execution,Gruesome Methods,Hanged,History,Murder,Occupation and Colonialism,Poland,Power,Revolutionaries,Russia,Soldiers,Treason,Ukraine

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1962: Arthur Lucas and Ronald Turpin

18 comments December 11th, 2007 Headsman

Forty-five years ago today, two men linked by nothing but fate stood back to back on the gallows of Toronto’s Don Jail and became the last hanged in Canada.

Book CoverToday, Executed Today interviews author Robert Hoshowsky, whose new book The Last to Die explores how this day’s events came to pass.

The doomed men were far from Canada’s greatest criminals. The 29-year-old Turpin was a small-time thief who shot a policeman while fleeing a restaurant robbery; the 54-year-old Lucas was convicted of killing an FBI informant despite lingering questions over his guilt and his mental impairment. Both were petty criminals with little previous violence to their history, seemingly almost too small for the historical role that even on the night of their hanging they seemed probable to play.

The Last to Die is the first book about Canada’s last execution, and has been met with general acclaim. CourtTV Canada recently profiled the story:

Executed Today: Why you, why now, why this book? What brought you to it?

Robert Horshowsky: I’ve worked as a freelance writer for almost 20 years now, and in that time, some stories were assigned to me, while others were the product of my own imagination. This book, like many before it, got its start as an article.

In 2001, I was in the library at Maclean’s magazine, where I worked as a Researcher-Reporter. They have a large section on Canadian history, and I saw a book by John Robert Colombo, who is very well known for his works on history and trivia. I believe the book was 1001 Questions About Canada. Picking up Colombo’s paperback, the first page I turned to asked, “When was the last execution in Canada?” The brief paragraph mentioned Ronald Turpin, a Canadian criminal, and Arthur Lucas, a Black man from Detroit. Both men were hanged on Dec. 11, 1962. Since it was a book of trivia, there wasn’t much more information than that, which got me thinking, “I wonder if I can pitch a story on the 40th anniversary for the December 2002 issue of Maclean’s?” Although it is a weekly news magazine, Maclean’s often ran articles on subjects of historic note, and the story I submitted on Turpin and Lucas was very well-received by the editors.

The one thing I have been accused of my entire working life is over-researching a subject, and the piece entitled “The Last Night of the Condemned” was no exception. My editor at the time said, “You’re not writing a book” in regard to the amount of research I had conducted, and I took this, perhaps subconsciously, as a challenge.

I was hooked by the stories of Turpin and Lucas for a number of reasons. There had never been a book about them, a fact that still boggles my mind. The end of the death penalty in different countries is a subject that is widely covered. The last two men to hang in England, for example, were Peter Anthony Allen and Gwynne Owen Evans. They were executed in 1964, and a book was published about them a year later. Turpin and Lucas were hanged in 1962, and my book was published in 2007, 45 years after the fact. Of course, there were newspaper and articles about them, a chapter here and there, or a mention in a law textbook, but not much else, certainly not a book. Through my research I soon discovered that others had attempted plays and documentaries about the two, with little success. This made me wonder if the subject was cursed, which is certainly how I felt sometimes.

ET: What effect did writing the book have on you?

The book took a toll on me physically and mentally. Research at times was slow and painful, and obtaining documents – especially from the Canadian government – was a tedious and frustrating process. In Canada, we have something called the Freedom of Information and Access to Privacy Act, which I used over and over again to obtain jail records, court documents and the like on Turpin and Lucas. In the United States, I used the Freedom of Information Law to access documents on Arthur Lucas; since he was an American from Detroit, I figured there would be rap sheets and the like on him, which there were. All these documents were very useful, but getting hold of them was a real challenge, since you have to prove the person you’re inquiring about is dead, that no other persons will be incriminated or named in the documents, etc.

The hardest thing for me to deal with was the cancer that took my mother’s life in March of this year. Her last wish was that I finish this book, and I struggled against two deadlines: the publisher’s, and my mother’s. As soon as I finished a chapter, I gave it to mom to read, followed by the next. Completing the book was a bittersweet experience: although she read the entire thing, mom didn’t live long enough to see it published, passing away six weeks before it was printed. In hindsight, I’m shocked I didn’t fall to pieces. The most difficult section for me to write was the funeral of Frederick Nash, the policeman shot to death by Turpin. I wrote this after interviewing his widow, and three of his four daughters – the eldest was 11, and one of them, Karen, was only two months old when he died. That was tough, the mental image of these little kids holding flowers outside the church, not quite realizing that their father was never coming home again. That was one of the reasons I wanted to write an entire chapter about those people left behind, like officer Nash’s children, the Salvation Army chaplain who was with Turpin and Lucas when they died, and many others involved in the cases. Far too often, true crime books focus almost entirely on the killers, and not enough on the families of the victims.

ET: Canada was trending towards abolition, and Lucas and Turpin knew themselves that they might be the last ones hanged. Was it just happenstance, or was there some intentionality in pushing these cases in particular? What was the fallout in Canada?

RH: In the early 1960s, there was a push in many countries to eliminate capital punishment, and Canada was no exception. As early as 1914, a Canadian Member of Parliament named Robert Bickerdike introduced a private members’ bill for the abolition of the death penalty. Although it was defeated, there were other members’ bills over the years. In 1935, a woman named Thomasina Sarao was unintentionally decapitated during her hanging in Montreal, which led to more and more executions in Canada taking place behind closed doors. Sarao’s beheading didn’t directly lead to the end of capital punishment, but the idea of a woman dying in such a gruesome fashion certainly didn’t help the pro-death penalty camp!

Ronald Turpin

By the 1950s, more changes were made to Canada’s Criminal Code, limiting the reasons a person could be executed. By 1961, changes were made which divided murder into a capital and a non-capital crime. One of the reasons you would die was for the murder of a police officer, a crime committed by Roland Turpin when he shot Fred Nash in February of 1962. There was always the possibility that even though you were found guilty of murder, the jury could recommend mercy, sparing your life. This didn’t happen in either Turpin or Lucas’s case.

Prior to the executions of Turpin and Lucas, there were a number of appeals for both men. The Salvation Army chaplain who was spiritual advisor to both men, Cyril Everitt, even appealed to the Prime Minister at the Time, John Diefenbaker. Law professors tried to fight the hangings, with no effect.

There was no doubt Ronald Turpin killed the police officer. I believe he suffered from some sort of mania or persecution complex. This certainly wouldn’t absolve him of shooting and killing a cop, but there is no doubt – to me at least – that Turpin was mentally unstable.

Arthur Lucas

As for Arthur Lucas, there was a lot of evidence against him, and all of it was circumstantial. Chaplain Everitt wasn’t to save both men body and soul, and he believed with all his heart that Arthur Lucas was innocent.

There wasn’t so much fallout after the hangings as there was serious doubt. Doubt about the guilt of either man, especially Lucas, who was convicted entirely on circumstantial evidence. Doubt about the competency of their legal representation, which was conducted by a brilliant but alcoholic lawyer named Ross MacKay, who acted for both Turpin and Lucas. Imagine it: MacKay was just 29 years old and inexperienced. Turpin and Lucas were his first and last capital cases, and he had no budget, compared to the estimated $40,000 spent by the government to prosecute Lucas alone. On top of that, Mackay had less than three weeks between the trial of Arthur Lucas, and the trial of Ronald Turpin. There is evidence that MacKay showed up to court hung over on some days. And the majority of the newspapers were against Turpin – who had a lengthy criminal record for break-ins and the like – and Lucas, who was slow (his IQ was just 63, borderline retarded), and happened to look like a killer. Read More

ET: What about some of the other participants in this drama? Who’s the unsung character in this story?

RH: There are a number of unsung characters in the book. The two that stand out most remain Ross MacKay and Chaplain Everitt. MacKay the lawyer had a problem with the bottle all his life, but representing the last two men to be hanged in Canada just made his predicament much worse. After the trials, a popular Halloween costume among lawyers was a noose worn ‘round the neck. One lawyer would ask the other, “Who are you supposed to be?” and the response was, “One of Ross MacKay’s clients.” It was very sad, since MacKay didn’t have a hell of a lot to work with. The Canadian courts had thousands of dollars, veteran detectives, top prosecutors and forensic experts at their disposal; MacKay had a unrepentant client who murdered a policeman and left his four daughters without a father, and a menacing-looking Black American pimp who was accused of coming to Canada and murdering a witness in an FBI drug trial. Neither man drew much sympathy from the press or the public, but MacKay did his best to represent them.

Chaplain Cyril Everitt

The other key unsung hero is Chaplain Everitt. He was the Salvation Army Chaplain at Toronto’s Don Jail, where Turpin and Lucas were hanged. He befriended both men about 10 months before they were hanged, and went to see them several times a day to talk, pray, or play chess or checkers. Everitt truly believed people could be rehabilitated, and did everything he could to save the lives of these two men. Both Turpin and Lucas had lousy childhoods full of neglect and abuse, and Everitt was probably the only decent men they ever knew in their lives.

In many ways, Everitt’s bond of friendship with the two cost him more than I’m sure even he could imagine. Everitt devised a signal with the hangman, and shared it with Turpin and Lucas. The key word in the scripture he would read as they stood on the gallows was “Salvation,” and they knew the second they heard it that it meant they were about to die. He not only saw them hang, but conducted their funeral service at three in the morning with the full moon over his head. He said he would be with them “to the end,” and the man kept his word.

Perhaps there are those of us who could bear to see a stranger hanged, but a friend? Two friends? I’m not suggesting Everitt lost his mind over what happened – the man continued to do work for the Salvation Army for many years afterwards – but the experience of befriending Turpin and Lucas and seeing them die affected him for the rest of his life. He visited their unmarked graves all the time until he simply got too old and couldn’t do it any longer.

ET: It’s clear from the promotional copy that the botched hanging is a specific area you cover. What happened, and how did it stay so hush-hush in such a high-profile event?

RH: The code of secrecy among police officers is strong, but the code of silence among jail guards is virtually unbreakable. The few Don Jail guards I talked to would not go on the record under any circumstances, and one of them said he feared losing his pension if he discussed in detail what really happened to Arthur Lucas. This was 40 years after the fact. The retired police officers I spoke to were much more forthcoming, especially the homicide cops, who are a pretty fearless bunch. The extreme reluctance to talk is one of the reasons why details of the hangings didn’t come to light until many years later – in fact, some people thought Turpin and Lucas were buried on the Don Jail grounds, another common misconception.

The Don Jail’s former gallows area

The story of what happened the night of the hangings became blurred over time, even by people who were there, like Chaplain Everitt. He gave a number of interviews to the media over the years, usually on the anniversary of the hangings. In a 1981 documentary, Everitt said Turpin fainted on the way to the gallows. “They had to carry him,” said Everitt, who believed Turpin never regained consciousness. In every single interview he gave before 1981, Everitt never once mentioned Turpin fainting, nor did he reveal what happened to Lucas until a few years before he himself died in 1986.

One of the rumours is that Turpin did not just faint when he saw the noose hanging in mid-air, but that he actually dropped dead on the spot of a heart attack. If this happened today, there would have been a great kerfuffle to revive the condemned man or woman, only to have them put to death at a later time. In Canada, the common belief was callous but pragmatic: he’s going to die in a few moments, so why delay the inevitable? There was no other word except Everitt’s that Turpin fainted; one of the police detectives present at the hanging told me, “Turpin didn’t faint. He hanged.” I put a lengthy footnote in the book about this. All accounts I tracked down said Turpin was conscious when he died on the gallows. The only odd thing about his death is that there is a cemetery record that has the word “accidental” written next to his name. I’ve never had a satisfactory explanation about that one. It could be some past cemetery employee’s idea of a joke, or a one-word protest against capital punishment.

As gruesome as Turpin’s death was, Lucas’ end was far more disturbing. It was a double execution, two nooses, with both Turpin and Lucas standing back-to-back on the same platform, black hoods over their heads. No one talked about what happened to Lucas for years afterward, and many believe the hangman was drunk and responsible for the mistake, which was not the case. Lucas was practically decapitated. The image of two men dropping to their deaths is horrific enough, but I can’t imagine what it would be like to see blood spraying everywhere when one of them hits the bottom of the rope. Lucas’ head was barely clinging to the rest of his body. Now, try to imagine blood everywhere, and having to climb on a stepladder and press a stethoscope against the chest of each man in turn, listening to their dying heartbeats for almost 20 minutes. That was the responsibility of the jail doctor. The media was told the deaths of the two was “practically instantaneous,” and that’s the story that stuck for decades. Everitt only revealed what happened in 1985, a year before his own death. When he did tell his story, Everitt said the hangman miscalculated Lucas’s weight. This was not the case, since Lucas lost about 50 pounds in jail. It is likely Lucas had syphilis, which would have weakened his muscles, connective tissue and blood vessels, resulting in his near-decapitation. The awful way that Lucas died was a secret Everitt kept from his wife and son all those years.

ET: The Conservative party has made some noises about death penalty reinstatement and backed off supporting Canadian nationals on death row in the U.S. Are there any lessons today’s policymakers ought to be learning from Canada’s last hanging?

RH: Great question. First, anyone who thinks the subject of reinstatement won’t continue to be debated is fooling themselves. Bringing back capital punishment is often mentioned when names like Clifford Olson or Paul Bernardo come up, or when there is a random killing of a young person who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. There will always be those who believe that the death penalty is a deterrent, which I don’t believe, for a number of reasons. The majority of us are law-abiding citizens, and few people – with the possible exception of a hit man – don’t get up the morning and think, “I’m going to kill someone today.” What often happens instead is some fool gets drunk, gets into an argument with another drunk, and punches him until he falls and bleeds to death. Is the death penalty a deterrent in that case? Being drunk isn’t an excuse, but was the man or woman’s intent to commit murder? In some instances, the reminder of capital punishment might stop someone from pulling his trigger aimed at a police officer, if they know that that move will result in their own life being taken.

If there’s anything to be learned from the lessons of the past, it is that there is often considerable doubt about a man’s guilt or innocence, despite DNA evidence and expert testimony. For every monster like Paul Bernardo there is a Guy Paul Morin, a David Milgaard, and most recently, William Mullins-Johnson, who was convicted largely on the flawed testimony of a coroner. It cost Mullins-Johnson 12 years of his life, which he will never get back. The same can’t be said for earlier Canadian convictions, like that of Wilbert Coffin, who was hanged in 1956. I wouldn’t trust the testimony of less than three independent experts in any one field if my life were on the line (one Canadian, one U.S., one European), and I certainly wouldn’t expect a Canadian court to rely on anything less.


The Last to Die: Ronald Turpin, Arthur Lucas, and the End of Capital Punishment in Canada

By Robert Hoshowsky

Published by Dundurn, whose blog also hosts a radio interview with the author. Update: And also a ping to this post.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Arts and Literature,Botched Executions,Canada,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Diminished Capacity,Execution,Hanged,History,Interviews,Mature Content,Milestones,Murder,Other Voices,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Ripped from the Headlines,Wrongful Executions

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1937: Teido Kunizaki

1 comment December 10th, 2007 Headsman

On this date in 1937, Japanese intellectual Teido Kunizaki was shot as a “spy of the Japanese army” in Moscow.

The reader is not deceived to infer from the date and place the dread hand of Stalin’s NKVD at the height of the Soviet purges. The fate of the Soviet Union’s tiny community of Japanese emigres, one of the hidden chambers in a house of horrors, only became fully understood after the Soviet Union collapsed.

The leader of the Japanese section of the German Communist Party in Weimar Germany, Kunizaki’s opposition to Japanese intervention in China and involvement in a publication as subversively titled as Revolutionary Asians had made him unwelcome in Germany shortly before Hitler took power.

But arriving in Russia in September 1932 with his German wife, he stepped into a struggle for power within the Japanese Communist Party’s Russian organs.

According to Tetsuro Kato, the professorial Kunizaki was among those denounced by another seminal Japanese communist, Kenzo Yamamoto — a working-class activist who distrusted intellectuals.

Kunizaki’s execution this day was only one of many wrought on the Japanese party by the Soviet secret police in the dangerous exchange of accusations and denunciations. On this date, Yamamoto himself was already in prison; early in 1939, he would swallow the same draught as Kunizaki — denounced, as it emerged after the Cold War, by yet another of Japan’s revered old Marxists.

In the 1920s and 1930s, there were about 100 Japanese who dreamed of living in “the paradise of the working class” and went to the USSR. These people were mainly communists, who were oppressed by the imperial police in Japan. There were also ordinary workers, intellectuals and artists who were not communist … Almost all Japanese living in the USSR [in the 1930’s] faced the same destiny. The exact number of victims is not yet known, but I now estimate there to have been about 80 Japanese [shot by the NKVD].

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Espionage,Execution,History,Intellectuals,Power,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Russia,Shot,USSR,Wrongful Executions

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1793: Sydney Carton posing as Charles Darnay

10 comments December 9th, 2007 Headsman

On an unspecified date in December 1793 is set one of literature’s immortal execution scenes, when ne’er-do-well Sydney Carton heroically goes to the guillotine in the place of his aristocratic doppleganger Charles Darnay at the climax of A Tale of Two Cities.

In Charles Dickens‘ classic 1859 novel of the French Revolution, Darnay, the good-hearted scion of the cruel Evremonde line, falls prey to the Revolutionary Terror.

The dissolute, tormented Carton is the respectable Darnay’s literary dark twin, whose appearance he also happens to strikingly resemble. Driven by an unrequited love for Darnay’s wife, who stands in danger not only of losing her husband but of following him to the scaffold, Carton contrives to switch places with the doomed noble.

While those saved by his sacrifice flee for England, Carton goes to the guillotine in a batch of 52 condemned prisoners,* one of them a sweet and frightened girl he comforts tenderly.

His prophetic thoughts as he awaits the blade form the conclusion of the novel, and the last sentence ranks among literature’s most recognizable lines.

“I see that I hold a sanctuary in their hearts, and in the hearts of their descendants, generations hence. I see her, an old woman, weeping for me on the anniversary of this day. I see her and her husband, their course done, lying side by side in their last earthly bed, and I know that each was not more honoured and held sacred in the other’s soul, than I was in the souls of both.

“I see that child who lay upon her bosom and who bore my name, a man winning his way up in that path of life which once was mine. I see him winning it so well, that my name is made illustrious there by the light of his. I see the blots I threw upon it, faded away. I see him, fore-most of just judges and honoured men, bringing a boy of my name, with a forehead that I know and golden hair, to this place — then fair to look upon, with not a trace of this day’s disfigurement — and I hear him tell the child my story, with a tender and a faltering voice.

“It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.”

A Tale of Two Cities is one of thousands of public-domain books available for free at Project Gutenberg. Stanford’s “Discovering Dickens” community reading project guide annotates the novel here.

* Never one for understatement, Dickens crowds his mass execution tableau with far too many extras. “The Terror” is usually dated from September 1793 through July 1794, but only during its bloodiest last two months would so many as 52 have been guillotined together; at the time of Carton’s execution, half as many would have constituted a large group.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Arts and Literature,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Escapes,Execution,Famous Last Words,Fictional,France,Guillotine,Innocent Bystanders,Mass Executions,Nobility,Not Executed,Notably Survived By,Public Executions

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1596: Francisca Nunez de Carvajal, her children, and four other crypto-Jews of her family

3 comments December 8th, 2007 Headsman

On this date in 1596, the Inquisition sent nine Jewish converts to Christianity to the stake in Mexico City for Judaizing — a cruel fate offering a window into a secret history of New World settlement.

When Spain expelled its Jews (and subsequently its Muslims), those who did not flee had to convert. Conversions at swordpoint being of suspect sincerity, the Inquisition spent much of the following centuries hunting Conversos — so-called “New Christians” — who secretly preserved their outlawed faiths.

For some crypto-Jews, the New World held an appeal akin to that which would draw later generations of northern Europe’s religious minorities.

Latin America in particular attracted considerable numbers of New Christians. The advantage of these territories was that they offered the New Christians a familiar culture and the possiblity of direct — even if infrequent — contact with the mother countries … These factors also helped permit [crypto-Jews] to practice Judaism.

The Carvajals (or Carabajals) were just such a family, settling in Monterrey under the aegis of their kinsman, Spanish governor Luis de Carvajal y Cueva.

But in 1590, the governor’s sister Francisa was tortured by the Inquisition into implicating her entire family in Judaism.

They got off with a humiliating public recantation, but evidence of a relapse a few years later resulted in Francisca being burned at the stake at an auto de fe — along with her children Isabel, Catalina, Leonor and Luis, and four of their in-laws. The 30-year-old Luis left a testimonial to his faith and his tortures.

A headstone in New Mexico, USA, suggests crypto-Jewish descent. Image used with permission.

Despite the grisly doings of this day, however, the Inquisition never could extirpate Jews from its American territory.

These hidden communities filtered into Mexico and north to the present-day United States, keeping adapted versions of Jewish traditions secretly alive.

Still, crypto-Jews produced scant potentially self-incriminating documentary evidence. Although DNA testing has latterly entered the scene, the true extent and nature of these populations has been the subject of lively scholarly controversy.

But the Carvajals and others like them, seemingly lost to the Inquisition’s depredations, are coming alive again. This day’s executions are the subject of a modern opera and a spring 2008 Texas A&M symposium.

And the wider community of crypto-Jews have their own umbrella organization and a burgeoning body of historical literature.

Books about crypto-Jews

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Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Arts and Literature,Auto de Fe,Burned,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Garrote,God,Heresy,History,Jews,Martyrs,Mass Executions,Mexico,Occupation and Colonialism,Public Executions,Religious Figures,Spain,Strangled,Women

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43 B.C.E.: Cicero

7 comments December 7th, 2007 Headsman

On this date in 43 B.C.E., the 63-year-old Roman statesman Cicero, fleeing the proscription of the Second Triumvirate, was caught and decapitated near his villa south of Rome.

Arrogant, eloquent and opportunistic, Cicero was a polarizing figure in his forty years in the public eye. He was a Senator from an upstart family who espoused the conservative Republican cause, and a master rhetorician. Twenty years earlier, he had received the honorific Pater Patriae for steering the Roman Republic through the Catiline conspiracy.

But not Cicero nor any other Roman had healed the social rot in which Catiline’s plot sank roots. The Republic continued to weaken even as Cicero poured out the volumes of rhetoric and philosophy for which later generations would celebrate him.

Ironically, Cicero survived the resumption of civil war in 49 B.C.E. despite backing the losing faction; it was the (momentary) peace between Marc Antony and Octavian that doomed him: to consolidate power, the dictators proscribed numerous political rivals.


Massacres of the Triumvirate
(1566) by Antoine Carn. Analysis (pdf).

Cicero, a bitter nemesis of the assassinated populist Julius Caesar and his heir apparent Antony, was among the casualties.

Plutarch described the scene:

[H]is assassins came to the villa, Herennius a centurion, and Popillius a tribune, who had once been prosecuted for parricide and defended by Cicero; and they had helpers … Herennius hastened on the run through the walks, and Cicero, perceiving him, ordered the servants to set the litter down where they were. Then he himself, clasping his chin with his left hand, as was his wont, looked steadfastly at his slayers, his head all squalid and unkempt, and his face wasted with anxiety, so that most of those that stood by covered their faces while Herennius was slaying him. For he stretched his neck forth from the litter and was slain, being then in his sixty-fourth year. Herennius cut off his head, by Antony’s command, and his hands — the hands with which he wrote the Philippics.

It would be too glib to say that the Republic died with him, for Cicero himself recognized that Caesar’s war had already fatally compromised it. When Antony and Octavian at length returned to arms to settle their accounts with one another, nothing but the pantomime would remain.

After a bloody century, Rome had her peace at last.

[T]he first example, prototype, and original of tyranny has been discovered by us in the history of our own Roman State, religiously founded by Romulus … We have observed Tarquin, not by the usurpation of any new power, but by the unjust abuse of the power which he already possessed, overturn the whole system of our monarchical constitution.
-Cicero, “On The Commonwealth”

The BBC’s In Our Time does Cicero in podcast form here.

Part of the Themed Set: The Fall of the Roman Republic.

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Entry Filed under: Ancient,Arts and Literature,Beheaded,Borderline "Executions",Famous,Intellectuals,Italy,Politicians,Power,Roman Empire,Summary Executions

41 B.C.E.: Arsinoe IV, Cleopatra’s sister

9 comments December 6th, 2007 Headsman

On an unknown date late in 41 B.C.E., Cleopatra’s younger sister and rival Arsinoe was put to death in Asia Minor as the famous queen cemented her fatal alliance with Mark Antony.

Like Cleopatra herself, Arsinoe lived her short life in the internecine maelstrom of Ptolemaic politics under the sway of a Roman Empire itself immersed in civil strife. Violent death was something of an occupational hazard.

Nevertheless, had some flash of prescient irony visited her when Antony’s legionaries unsheathed their blades, she might well have wondered at the small happenstances of fate that left her a nigh-forgotten footnote in her sister’s story, rather than the other way around.

Three siblings had grasped at the Egyptian throne during the Alexandrian War, and whether it was charm or cold calculation won Caesar’s backing for Cleopatra, Arsinoe and her brother Ptolemy XIII still pressed the Roman garrison of Alexandria with a vastly superior force in a battle that was said to have set the Library of Alexandria aflame.

Timely Roman reinforcements decided the matter, and Arsinoe was marched in chains at Caesar’s sumptuous quadruple Triumph of 46 B.C.E. — though she was spared the execution that typically concluded such an ignominy and instead packed off to a temple on the coast of modern-day Turkey.*

In Margaret George’s historical novel The Memoirs of Cleopatra, the danger of maintaining an enemy who has styled herself Queen is neatly summarized in a conversation between Caesar and Cleopatra set after the Triumph:

“I have spared Arsinoe.” [said Caesar]

My [Cleopatra’s] first feeling was a rush of relief. My second was worry. Arsinoe the proud would not retire quietly.

“Where is she to go?”

“She has requested sanctuary at the great Temple of Diana in Ephesus,” he said. “And I will grant it, if you agree.”

Ephesus! Too close to Egypt! Better send her to Britain! Yet … I would gamble, and be merciful. Perhaps I was not enough of a Ptolemy after all. Arsinoe would not have granted it.

“Yes, I will allow it.”

That very perception of her potential danger hung over Arsinoe like the sword of Damocles.

The sword fell — figuratively and literally — five years later after Cleopatra seduced Mark Antony at Tarsus in the autumn of 41. Her terms for Egypt’s alliance supposedly included elimination of this lingering rival — though if Arsinoe had made common cause with Caesar’s Republican assassins, Antony may well have had his own reasons to dispatch the young woman.

Arsinoe’s death helped seal a pact that was itself destined for a bloody end. Distracted by his foreign paramour, Antony steadily lost political ground to his adversary Octavian. In another decade’s time, open war broke out again.

The Egyptian fleet would gather at Ephesus, not far from Arsinoe’s final resting place, bound for the catastrophic Battle of Actium whose outcome added Cleopatra’s and Antony’s blood to the soil from which sprung the long reign of Octavian — soon to be styled Augustus Caesar, the first emperor of Rome.

* A Temple of Artemis — either in Miletus (as Appian has it), or the wonder of the world in Ephesus (as Josephus has it). She met her death at the temple — whichever it was — dragged to its steps and put to the sword. Ephesus seems to be the more generally accepted locale, and an octagonal tomb there has been speculatively identified as Arsinoe’s.

Part of the Themed Set: The Fall of the Roman Republic.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: Ancient,Borderline "Executions",Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Egypt,Execution,Heads of State,History,No Formal Charge,Notable Participants,Power,Roman Empire,Royalty,Summary Executions,Turkey,Uncertain Dates,Women

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63 B.C.E.: Publius Cornelius Lentulus

7 comments December 5th, 2007 Headsman

On this date in 63 B.C.E., Publius Cornelius Lentulus was executed by strangulation in Rome’s Tullianum for conspiring to overthrow the Roman Republic.

He was one of the key figures in the Catiline conspiracy, a political intrigue set against a ruinous social crisis that pushed the country to the precipice of civil war.

Roman had fought Roman intermittently over much of the preceding 70 years in episodes underpinned by a class conflict pitting wealthy landowners (politically represented by the Senate) against the growing populations of plantation slaves who tilled their fields and urban plebeians displaced from independent farming on the other. Debt was choking the Roman economy.

Catiline, an ambitious politician from a fading patrician family, had sought the consulship on a populist platform of debt forgiveness; failing to win the office through legal channels, he maneuvered to take it by force. The affair is known mostly through the testimony of its enemies, so it is difficult to gauge the true mixture of opportunism and conviction that informed the conspirators.

A cliffhanger sequence of moves and countermoves against the consul Cicero ensued, highlighted most spectacularly by one of Cicero’s famous orations driving every Senator to seat himself away from Catiline — who nevertheless rose passionately in his own defense.

Catiline left Rome to raise an army in the countryside, leaving Lentulus (himself a former consul) to manage the intrigue within Rome.

Lentulus made the least of the moment, dilating when he could have acted and exposing the plot by dint of a ham-handed attempt to involve visiting Gauls with grievances of their own.

The arrested conspirators’ fate was debated in the Senate this very morning. The young Gaius Julius Caesar, then conducting an affair with Cicero’s Cato’s [correction] sister, stood against (illegal) summary execution, but the victories he would enjoy over Cicero yet lay some years into the future; fearing an attempted rescue, the Senate’s grim sentence was carried out immediately. Cicero personally escorted Lentulus to his death.

Lentulus’ failure likewise doomed Catiline, whose army shrunk from desertions before its commander hurled it into martyrdom with a stirring speech that recalled in passing “how severe a penalty the inactivity and cowardice of Lentulus has brought upon himself and us.”

Part of the Themed Set: The Fall of the Roman Republic.

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Entry Filed under: Ancient,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Heads of State,History,Italy,Notable Participants,Politicians,Power,Revolutionaries,Roman Empire,Strangled,Summary Executions,Treason

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Themed Set: The Fall of the Roman Republic

6 comments December 5th, 2007 Headsman

Our third Themed Set installment.

During the last century B.C.E., Rome was convulsed by civil wars. When the flames subsided, the Roman Empire had been born out of the ashes of the Republic — though the powerless forms of the latter were diligently preserved by the emperors.

The three executions remembered next all took place during — and as consequence of — this epochal struggle for power.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: Themed Sets

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