Archive for August, 2008

2007: Frank Duane Welch, a cold case CSI caught

Add comment August 21st, 2008 Headsman

One year ago today, justice was served better late than never, courtesy of the crime lab.

The 1987 rape and murder of Jo Talley Cooper, a pregnant 28-year-old Norman woman killed while her infant son lay unharmed in the next room, had stood unsolved for a decade.

Coincidentally — unluckily for Frank Duane Welch — forensic DNA testing was just coming online during that decade. A match in another case led the database to its culprit, in the Cooper murder and a similar crime around the same time.

Apart from the manner of his capture — and the incidental minor distinction of being the last person killed in Oklahoma’s busy death chamber before the 2007-2008 execution moratorium due to court challenges to lethal injection — Welch is an almost wholly unremarkable character, central casting for the modern American death row, a paragon of the banality undergirding appalling, life-shattering crimes.

The penpal site of the Canadian Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty still preserves Welch’s c. 1999 appeal for correspondence:

My name is Frank Duane Welch, I am a 38 yr. old white male who is confined on Death Row within the Oklahoma Department of Corrections. I enjoy watching numerous sporting events, such as football, baseball, tennis and rodeo. Here on Death Row we have only two options of exercise, basketball or handball. I try and take advantage of both in order to stay in shape. Besides sports, I enjoy a good book, novels mostly. My tastes in music are first country and then some light rock, no heavy metal. My educational background consists of a bachelors degree in Animal Science. Now as for what I am looking for in a pen pal. I am looking for a friend, age not important. One who is willing to be straight forward with me, no games. For I will be straightforward with them. I need someone who is willing to help me both emotionally and financially. Someone who, when I am having a bad day, is willing to listen and give support. I am a proud man, but it is hard being alone in this place, no one to share your thoughts and feelings with. For this is the reason I have written this letter. If you are willing to accept me as I am and not hold my faults against me, I would love to hear from you.

According to the macabre* blog Dead Man Eating, Welch checked out with a belly full of pizza and a two-liter Coke, tritely last-wording:

There is nothing that can change the horrible thing I done. There is nothing that can change that. I take full responsibility for what I done. I am truly, truly sorry for all the hurt and pain I have caused you. I take full responsibility for what I’ve done. There’s no excuse for it. There never was. It was just me.

I love y’all. God bless y’all. I’m ready.

Maybe that’s as much closure as one can have in this world. That infant child who survived the horror had grown into a 20-year-old man who had never known his mother. Travis Cooper’s testimony at the clemency board hearing helped seal Welch’s fate.

It would be different if my mother would have died of natural causes. It would be different if it was God’s will, but the truth is that an evil man named Frank Welch took her life … And the unspeakable things he did to her, my mother, is what fills me with anger, the pain, and the loneliness that I feel to this day.

“None of this will ever bring my mom back,” Cooper told reporters after the execution. “I miss my mom.”

* Pot. Kettle. Black.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Lethal Injection,Murder,Notable Sleuthing,Oklahoma,Rape,USA

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1191: Muslim prisoners at Acre

Add comment August 20th, 2008 Headsman

On this date in 1191, Richard the Lionheart had 2,700 Muslim prisoners of Acre demonstratively executed before his opposite number Saladin, when ransom arrangements dilated.

Courtesy of Project Gutenberg, here is Guizot on this ugly prod to action from the Third Crusade

From the 1st of August, 1191, to the 9th of October, 1192, King Richard remained alone in the East as chief of the crusade and defender of Christendom. He pertains, during that period, to the history of England, and no longer to that of France. We will, however, recall a few facts to show how fruitless, for the cause of Christendom in the East, was the prolongation of his stay and what strange deeds—at one time of savage barbarism, and at another of mad pride or fantastic knight-errantry—were united in him with noble instincts and the most heroic courage. On the 20th of August, 1191, five weeks after the surrender of St. Jean d’Acre, he found that Saladin was not fulfilling with sufficient promptitude the conditions of capitulation, and, to bring him up to time, he ordered the decapitation, before the walls of the place, of, according to some, twenty-five hundred, and, according to others, five thousand, Mussulman prisoners remaining in his hands.

The only effect of this massacre was, that during Richard’s first campaign after Philip’s departure for France, Saladin put to the sword all the Christians taken in battle or caught straggling, and ordered their bodies to be left without burial, as those of the garrison of St. Jean d’Acre had been. Some months afterwards Richard conceived the idea of putting an end to the struggle between Christendom and Islamry, which he was not succeeding in terminating by war, by a marriage. He had a sister, Joan of England, widow of William II., king of Sicily; and Saladin had a brother, Malek-Adhel, a valiant warrior, respected by the Christians. Richard had proposals made to Saladin to unite them in marriage and set them to reign together over the Christians and Mussulmans in the kingdom of Jerusalem. The only result of the negotiation was to give Saladin time for repairing the fortifications of Jerusalem, and to bring down upon King Richard and his sister, on the part of the Christian bishops, the fiercest threats of the fulminations of the Church. With the exception of this ridiculous incident, Richard’s life, during the whole course of this year, was nothing but a series of great or small battles, desperately contested, against Saladin. When Richard had obtained a success, he pursued it in a haughty, passionate spirit; when he suffered a check, he offered Saladin peace, but always on condition of surrendering Jerusalem to the Christians, and Saladin always answered, “Jerusalem never was yours, and we may not without sin give it up to you; for it is the place where the mysteries of our religion were accomplished, and the last one of my soldiers will perish before the Mussulmans renounce conquests made in the name of Mahomet.”

Good thing that Jerusalem issue has since been cleared up.

The BBC treated the scenario — complete with the resultant loss of the last chunk of the supposed True Cross — in a chunk of its 90-minute documentary on the Third Crusade:

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 12th Century,Ayyubid Empire,Beheaded,Borderline "Executions",Capital Punishment,Crusader Kingdom,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,England,Execution,History,Hostages,Israel,Mass Executions,Mature Content,No Formal Charge,Notable Participants,Occupation and Colonialism,Political Expedience,Public Executions,Soldiers,Summary Executions,Wartime Executions

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1937: Ikki Kita

3 comments August 19th, 2008 Headsman

On this date in 1937, intellectual Kita Ikki (Kita is the family name) was executed by the Japanese military government for inspiring a failed coup d’etat the previous year.

A onetime socialist turned radical nationalist, Kita — born Kita Terujiro — preached a doctrine of authoritarian national restoration around some socialist-sounding communitarian purpose, coupled with an unapologetic imperialism.

His Outline Plan for the Reorganization of Japan (the translation is from a reader, Sources of Japanese Tradition, partially excerpted here) argues that in the wake of Europe’s self-immolation in World War I, initiative lay with the Land of the Rising Sun — and that the country must adopt a muscular unity of purpose to grasp it.

The entire Japanese people, thinking calmly from this perspective which is the result of Heaven’s rewards and punishments, should, in planning how the great Japanese empire should be reorganized, petition for a manifestation of the imperial prerogative establishing “a national opinion in which no dissenting voice is heard, by the organization of a great union of the Japanese people.” Thus, by homage to the emperor, a basis for national reorganization can be set up.

Truly, our 700 million brothers in China and India have no path to independence other than that offered by our guidance and protection. And for our Japan, whose population has doubled in the past fifty years, great areas adequate to support a population of at least 240 million or 250 million will be absolutely necessary a hundred years from now. For a nation, one hundred years are like a hundred days for an individual. How can those who are anxious about the inevitable developments or who grieve over the desperate conditions of neighboring countries find their solace in the effeminate pacifism of doctrinal socialism? … At a time when the authorities in the European and American revolutionary creeds have found it completely impossible to arrive at an understanding of the “gospel of the sword” because of their superficial philosophy, the noble Greece of Asian culture [meaning Japan, of course] must complete its national reorganization on the basis of its own national polity. At the same time, let it lift the virtuous banner of an Asian league and take the leadership in the world federation that must come. In so doing let it proclaim to the world the Way of Heaven in which all are children of Buddha, and let it set an example that the world must follow.

One could quibble about particulars, but it’s essentially fascism — paralleling Mussolini in doctrine as well as ideological evolution. (According to W.G. Beasley Kita also co-founded a Gen. Jack Ripper-esque Society for the Preservation of the National Essence.)

A military coup was supposed to get the ball rolling, which made him a guru to an aggressive cadre of young officers who tried to seize the government in the February 26 Incident, named for the date in 1936 it took place.

Kita wasn’t himself involved in the coup, but his intellectual sponsorship was enough of a connection for the Kempeitai.* Modern Japanese Thought tartly observes that Kita’s vision for an imperial dictatorship didn’t turn on any misty-eyed allegiance to the emperor’s person.

When he was executed for his role in the mutiny of 1936, he was ordered to recant by saying “long live the emperor” as a final act of reverence and submission. He is reported to have refused by replying that he had vowed long ago never to joke about his own death.

In Fighting Elegy (or Elegy to Violence or Elegy to Fighting), Seijun Suzuki’s 1960’s skewering of militarist 1930’s Japan (review), Kita makes cameos to inspire the main male character to greater feats of violent sublimation of his repressed sexuality. (The following clip is merely the trailer.)

There’s also a 1973 biopic — the last film of Yoshishige Yoshida.

* I don’t have definite documentation on the method of execution; I’m supposing it was hanging, the standard method in Japan since the Meiji period.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Intellectuals,Japan,Power,Treason

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1848: Camila O’Gorman and Father Ladislao Gutierrez, for traditional family values

5 comments August 18th, 2008 Headsman

On this date in 1848, a pregnant 20-year-old socialite and her forbidden lover were shot at the order of an Argentine dictator.

Virtually a lens for the contradictory currents of gender, class and power in her time, Camila O’Gorman was the daughter of an elite family of (as her name suggests) Irish extraction, and a bosom friend of the daughter of her future executioner, dictator Juan Manuel de Rosas.

She fell into a torrid affair with Gutierrez, the family priest, and in 1847 eloped with him, a grand gesture of romanticism that brought a government warrant for their capture to “satisfy religion and the law and to prevent further cases of immorality and disorder.”

A scandal, as one might suppose — there was much chatter over who seduced whom, and whether it was a kidnapping — but a manhunt (and womanhunt)? Rosas appears psychotically enraged by two young people crazy in love, and still more so for summarily decreeing their death when he had them in his clutches. Another priest, it turned out, handed them over — more in sadness than in anger, in the manner of such folk, but understanding deep down that the arbitrary law is the law and immorality and disorder don’t go about preventing themselves.

O’Gorman was the first woman executed in independent Argentina, and she was eight months pregnant: the better to “satisfy religion” (though not the law, which forbade the execution of a pregnant woman), O’Gorman’s unborn child was baptized … by making her mother drink holy water.

The lovers were then shot together at the town of General San Martín, then known as Santos Lugares de Rosas.

The pregnant O’Gorman, borne to her firing squad. The image comes from this Argentinian page (in Spanish) about the heroine.

According to this effusively pro-elopers essay,

Camila and Uladislao’s brave sense of freedom upset the structured norms of a society used to obeying through fear. Their only way of facing the tyrannical power was escaping from a society which would never understand. They did not give up on their love to please the Restorer [Rosas], as was expected in those days. They never showed signs of repentment, [sic] on the contrary their peaceful minds reflected their clean consciences.

And among the many questions this tragic true story might raise, there’s one that particularly appals [sic] us: why did Rosas shoot Camila knowing the law stated a pregnant woman could not be murdered? Was that baby guilty of his parents’ “crime”?

He evidently was, since by being born he would symbolise the testimony not only of the criminal act, but also the evidence of “disobedience” of a moral code imposed by a fearful dictator.

Such Shakespearean drama ripped from recent history has not failed to inspire literary treatment — such as Enrique Molina’s Una Sombra Donde Suena Camila O’Gorman, (“A Shadow Where Camila O’Gorman Dreams”) and this 19th century Spanish text.

On the screen, O’Gorman and Gutierrez’s doomed love was the topic of one of the first Argentine feature films (a century-old silent film now thought lost), and an Academy Award-nominated 1984 film with plenty of talking:

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Argentina,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous,History,Martyrs,Milestones,No Formal Charge,Popular Culture,Power,Religious Figures,Scandal,Sex,Shot,Women,Wrongful Executions

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1571: Marco Antonio Bragadin, flayed Venetian

8 comments August 17th, 2008 Headsman

On this date in 1571, the commander of a Venetian garrison was flayed by the Turks.

Marco Antonio Bragadin (English Wikipedia entry | Italian) — or Marcantonio Bragadin — was the captain of Famagusta as an Ottoman Empire near the peak of its power began to wrest Cyprus from eight decades of Venetian control.

The Turks sacked the wealthy Cypriot capital Nicosia in September 1570, slaughtering or enslaving the inhabitants. Bragadin thereupon received an inducement from the invaders to surrender the last Venetian outpost still remaining in Cyprus: the severed head of Nicosia’s general.

Bragadin was having none of it.

Milord pasha of Carmania,

I have seen your letter. I have also received the head of the lord lieutenant of Nicosia, and I tell you herewith that even if you have so easily taken the city of Nicosia, with your own blood you will have to purchase this city, which with God’s help will give you so much to do that you will always regret having encamped here.

The Famagustans didn’t get quite that much help from God, but they forced a dear purchase in blood. For nearly a year, they repelled the siege; starving and exhausted, they at last accepted a merciful surrender only to have the entire garrison slain (the link is in Italian) at the beginning of this month.

The entire garrison, save Bragadin.

Special torments were reserved for the general who had given them such trouble. Executed Today friend Melisende’s Historic Biography post on Bragadin recounts the nauseating Calvary of the Venetian: mutilated, dragged around his fallen fortress, then exposed on the docks for flaying alive. The skin was stuffed with straw and sailed back to Istanbul as a war trophy for the Sultan Selim II.

One can see here, of course, the narrative of East vs. West in a war for civilization itself, although one should observe that the overthrow of Catholic hegemony on Cyprus restored the privileges of the Orthodox church. But the fall of Cyprus was itself the backstory for one of the pivotal naval battles of the age two months later, the Battle of Lepanto, at which a league of Mediterranean powers including Venice decisively checked Ottoman influence at sea, pre-empting a likely invasion of Italy.

Bragadin, for his part, became a potent symbol blending civic and religious martyrdom in what turns out to be (post-Lepanto) a victorious cause. One might say that he fulfilled a need.

Cultures which have drawn nourishment from their legendary martyrs feel a need to prolong the spectacle of their suffering. They hark back to the desire to keep the dying man with them; and the memory of this desire strengthens their tales of holy victimhood, dramatizes them, keeps them alive. Bragadin’s torture was long-drawn-out, and it must be constantly remembered as such.

… Christians’ preoccupation with relics has been complex, enduring and, at times, feverishly obsessive. It has reached high points in moments when Catholic doctrines and practices have felt most dramatically threatened. During Marcantonio Bragadin’s lifetime, and during the period immediately following, Christendom trembled before the encroaching Muslims. In this context, the story of Bragadin’s martyrdom acquired particular potency: not because the Church proclaimed him a saint, but because by analogy, he seemed to bring the ancient Christian matrydoms up to the present. He seemed to make those sufferings real and explicit, lifting them out of their legendary fogginess. Step-by-step, piece-by-piece, he “demonstrates” the martyr’s ordeal, almost as in a manual of suffering.

Nor was the fulfillment merely conceptual. According to this page on Rome tourist destinations, the painting of St. Bartholomew’s flaying executed for the ancient basilica of Santi Nereo e Achilleo in the 1600 Jubilee alludes directly to the more contemporary event — notice the dark, turban-clad figure on the left.

In 1596, one of the few survivors of Cyprus nicked Bragadin’s hide from Istanbul and returned it to Venice, where it remains today entombed as a relic at the Basilica di San Zanipolo.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Cyprus,Death Penalty,Execution,Flayed,Gruesome Methods,History,Italy,Martyrs,No Formal Charge,Occupation and Colonialism,Ottoman Empire,Power,Soldiers,Venice,Wartime Executions

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1894: Sante Geronimo Caserio, anarchist assassin

9 comments August 16th, 2008 Headsman

On this date in 1894, Sante Geronimo Caserio was guillotined in Lyon, where he had assassinated the president of France two months before.

In the day when the terror stalking European order brandished the black flag of anarchy, the Italian immigrant Caserio (his first name can be rendered either Sante or Santo, and his middle name alternately as Jeronimo, Ironimo or Heironymus) escalated the “propaganda of the deed” into the nightmares of Europe’s executives.

Retaliating for the executions of two previous anarchists, August Vaillant and Emile Henry, Caserio (English Wikipedia entry | Italian | French) stepped up to the carriage of Marie Francois Sadi Carnot on the night of June 24-25 and efficiently planted a dagger in his heart.

Before the decade was out, the Prime Minister of Spain, the King of Italy and the Empress of Austria-Hungary would all likewise be murdered by Italian anarchists.

As one might imagine, Caserio played the role of cocksure martyr to the hilt: asked whether he repented, he vowed to kill another president if given a few minutes; he refused to pursue a mental illness defense or inform on comrades; and at the guillotine, he exhorted the onlookers, “Forza, compagni! Viva l’anarchia!” (The New York Times account of the beheading recounts Caserio’s background, from an obviously hostile class position.)

By the time Caserio lost his head, the propaganda of his deed had already provoked mass arrests of Italians, and a tightening of the lois scelerates (“villainous laws”) cracking down on dissidents.

But as always, one person’s evildoer is another’s hero, and Caserio has his online monuments — like this Italian page, or this blog entry, or this rendition of one of the several songs in his honor:

In an artsier vein, one can also follow the thread of the story to Les Bal des Innocents, a downloadable French production billing itself as “The first feature film under Creative Commons Licence.”

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Assassins,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous Last Words,France,Guillotine,History,Murder,Notable for their Victims,Public Executions,Revolutionaries

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1963: Henry John Burnett, Scotland’s last hanging

Add comment August 15th, 2008 Headsman

On this date in 1963, the executioner paid his last call to Scotland with the hanging of Henry John Burnett for the murder of a rival-in-love seaman.

The type whom parents hope their daughter never dates, Burnett liked to keep his squeeze Margaret May Guyan under lock and key to keep her stepping out on him.

It’s an old, old tale. Boy meets girl, boy makes girl his prisoner, girl gets creeped out and returns to estranged hubby Thomas Guyan at 14 Jackson Terrace in Aberdeen, boy blasts Guyan in the face with a shotgun. How many times have we heard it told?

Even though the noose was on its way out — this is not only the last execution in Scotland, but the only hanging in Aberdeen in the past century and a half — there wasn’t much pussyfooting around when they’d made up their mind to use it: Burnett outlived his victim by only eleven weeks — notwithstanding an insanity plea and clemency petitions from both his own and the victim’s families — before hanging at Craiginches Prison, a facility that surely ought to be somebody’s porn name.

It’s got pride of place in a book about Aberdeen crime history, Blood and Granite. Because you can find anything on YouTube, there’s also this fine teaser for a forthcoming animation project of some kind:

Part of the Themed Set: At the End of the Rope.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,Milestones,Murder,Scotland,Sex

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1936: Rainey Bethea, America’s last public hanging

35 comments August 14th, 2008 Headsman

On this date in 1936, thousands thronged Owensboro, Kentucky, for a glimpse of what would prove to be the last public hanging in the United States.

The U.S. followed the trend of its onetime mother country, England, in moving the formerly iconic public hanging increasingly behind closed doors, but its federalist structure made that change uneven. In Kentucky itself at this time, the law displayed sedimentary layers of death penalty history.

Caught up for killing a 70-year-old woman — done in the midst of a drunken burglary, he had left a telltale ring at the scene; fingerprint analysis also helped establish his guilt — Rainey Bethea was on the hook for murder, robbery and rape. The former two indictments would have subjected him to (private) electrocution at the state penitentiary. The latter charge still carried the punishment of public hanging in the local county seat.

Bethea was charged only with rape.

While the explicit sentencing disparity between the crimes bears the clear marks of racism and patriarchy that made purported black-on-white sexual crimes such live fodder for lynch law, and the four-and-a-half-minute jury deliberation doesn’t have the look of solemnity, Bethea’s actual guilt seems fairly well-established.

But the case attracted a nationwide media swarm not for any exceptional quality of the crime or the anachronistic nature of the punishment, but for the involvement of a female sheriff. The “matronly” (virtually all descriptions of her gravitate to this adjective) Florence Thompson had inherited the top law enforcement post upon the death of her husband … and that meant she had inherited the responsibility of hanging Rainey Bethea, which would make her the first American woman to supervise an execution.

Would she or wouldn’t she? The press descended on Owensboro to cover the edifying spectacle of a plump mother stringing up a rapist, or else maneuvering her way out of the job. Thompson played cagey until the very last moment, when the ringers she had secretly hired appeared on the scaffold while she watched from a nearby vehicle.

In this photo, Bethea — almost totally obscured between his escorts — has just begun ascending the gallows.

The man who threw the trap showed up drunk and performed appallingly, but press reports subsequently focused on the beastly behavior of the “jeering” crowd rushing the gallows to tear souvenirs from the corpse. (For instance, Time and the New York Times.)

But according to Perry T. Ryan’s 1992 review of the case — including interviews with surviving witnesses — little to nothing of the kind occurred. Ryan claims Bethea faced about the most dignified hanging mob imaginable.

Maybe hyped-up atrocities in the hinterlands were part of what distant editors demanded after H.L. Mencken at the Scopes trial. Certainly, the local Messenger-Inquirer painted a sharply different picture from more prominent outlets in this August 16 editorial (titled “Panderers Galore”) whose themes could have stepped fresh from a modern cable TV gabfest:

Ambitious and irresponsible reporters and photographers who swarmed into Owensboro for the Bethea hanging dipped their ready hands into the cloaca of evil designs and plastered over the name of this fair city the dirty results of their pandering.

Those who saw the dawn kindling in the east and ushering in the last sunrise of the despicable creature about to die, did not expect all of the watchers to be in reverent mood, but a calm, quiet demeanor characterized their behavior, as a group, throughout their long wait, surprisingly moderate for an occasion on which the law was exacting the supreme penalty.

Considering the size of the throng that witnessed the hanging Friday morning and that it was composed largely of people, who journeyed to Owensboro from distant places, the wonder is that there was no demonstration, no emotional outburst. There was not the semblance of ‘mob impulse’ or ‘eagerness for the kill.’ For the sensation seeking star scribes of quacks of American journalism, it was entirely too tame an affair. This is the reason that some of them reported it as they wanted it to be — not as it was.

They heard a very few people on the outskirts of the crowd call out at different times: ‘Hurry up,’ ‘Get it over’ or ‘hang him.’ To give screaming bulletins to the yellow press and to ruthless radio commentators, they magnified and colored it into a scene of ‘great disorder’ though there was never a general outcry of any kind.

When a priest held up his hand from the scaffold for silence, as Bethea was about to go to his death, there was no ‘blood thirst’ mob ‘shouting and yelling.’ Present were several thousand, who came from near and far to see a man legally hanged for the most heinous crime ever committed in Daviess county, and several thousand more, who turned out to see how the rest would act. When that hand went up in a gesture for silence, the buzz of the multitude’s conversations died down till the fall of the proverbial pin could have been heard.

The smart scribes and sob sisters looked on. All they saw was a black man standing on a scaffold with a rope around his neck and a mass of people peering up at him. That was too tame, they would call it a ‘jeering’ throng. All they heard was the click of the trap door. That would not do. There would have to be ‘cheering.’ So they said there was. Then they heard cameramen from cities where nothing is cared about the horrible crime Bethea committed. They were bawling at officials to ‘move out of the way,’ to ‘give us a break.’ They had to have their souvenirs to show the half civilized readers of their yellow sheets. The boys and girls who had to tell the story needed more color to regale them with atrocious accounts of how the people behaved. They found a few individuals who had gone in the bizarre which inspired thundering headlines about ‘gayety’ and ‘carnival’ spirit.

In administering the last sacrament, the Rev. H. J. Lammers, of Louisville, made an opening in the hood. When the doctors pronounced Bethea dead, one of the attendants at the scaffold took a tag off the hood. Another then took a fragment and others, who were at arms length from the dead man, followed suit. The blunder of tearing off that tag gave the high powered thrill-writers their big opening. They pictured the crowd as tearing Bethea’s clothes from his body. The crowd was never in disorder and Bethea’s clothes were never torn.

The ‘souvenir hunting mob’ did not even pick up the sox [sic] and shoes the doomed man left at the foot of the gallows. It did not so much as touch the basket in which Agnew and Wheatley, colored undertakers, placed the body, clothes and all, or molest it or them in the slightest as they bore it away.

The scavenger writers who came to depict a ‘jolly holiday’ and ‘gala occasion’ had both, but they never saw a more orderly throng at a baseball game.

The public hanging of Bethea was not a disgrace to Kentucky. But, a disgrace to Illinois, Missouri, Tennessee, and some other states, was the spectacle made of it in their scandal monger press. Owensboro should not be surprised at the scurrilous attack upon it by lurid writers and glib tongued talkers in northern and eastern states for they delight to distort any news from Kentucky into weird barbaric tales. We have learned how best to protect our women from rapists-murderers, white or colored. The only way, it seems, that we will ever be able to protect them from the cruelties of a sordid section of the press, will be by softening the state’s anti-rape law, which makes public hanging mandatory. So many as favor that will please tell the legislature.

Vendors of news occupy an important place in the nation, and their purpose should always be to maintain unquestioned exactness of facts. Where the subject matter is susceptible to coloring there should be no sacrifice of truth. To pervert the high honor of the profession for the paltry reward of more readers is a dangerous venture and one that should be curbed.

Owensboro’s citizenry, than which no finer representatives of high-bred Americans can be found anywhere, regrets that it was necessary to invoke the Mosaic law, but a sobered regret and a more solemn memory is that the hanging was eagerly seized upon and transformed into a picturization of the exhibition of low passions loosed.

We are proud of our city, and justly so, for no people are of finer fiber. The putrid pens of those who wore the garb of the news profession painted in lurid colors purported happenings, and it is sad but true that such distorted reports are accepted while the plain statement of facts is discarded as an attempted apology.

Thousands of those who witnessed the Bethea hanging came from outside the county. They belonged to good families in their communities, temporarily bereft of their better judgment and bent on viewing a scene which ordinarily would be extremely repugnant to them. And the out-of-town reporters found in the visitors elements to embody in their sordid stories.

A thoughtless word here and there, expressed without cognizance of its probability of misuse, and the staid citizen away from home becomes to the wild-eyed correspondent a Kentuckian gunning for human game. There should be available means of calling to account the writer who for a few filthy shekels diverts his sense of justice into the recording of things that never were.

As the editorial intimates, regardless of what actually happened in Owensboro, the circus atmosphere quickly brought the matter of public hangings into question. In 1938, the Kentucky legislature moved all executions behind prison walls … and Bethea secured an indefinite claim to the status of last person publicly executed in the United States.

Part of the Themed Set: At the End of the Rope.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Hanged,History,Kentucky,Milestones,Murder,Notable Jurisprudence,Notable Participants,Public Executions,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Rape,USA

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Themed Set: At the End of the Rope

3 comments August 13th, 2008 Headsman

Every entry on this blog is, of course, an ending of a sort.

But some endings are more final than others.

For centuries in the British Empire and its descendant countries, the hanging — and especially the public hanging — were the very image of the death penalty; its most characteristic venue at the corner of Hyde Park is still marked with a stone.

For many reasons, that model changed in the 19th and 20th centuries: gradually and unevenly, hangings moved behind prison walls or were replaced with (purportedly) more humane methods, even as capital punishment itself came under pressure.

For the remainder of the week, Executed Today remembers a few milestones in the changing landscape of hanging under English-inspired jurisprudence in the mid-20th century.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: Themed Sets

1964: Gwynne Owen Evans and Peter Anthony Allen, England’s last hangings

7 comments August 13th, 2008 Headsman

At 8 o’clock in the morning this date in 1964, two gallows traps 50 kilometers apart opened simultaneously — dropping the last two men England ever hanged.

Gwynne Owen Evans and Peter Anthony Allen couldn’t have been much smaller fare for a milestone as momentous as the last entry in England’s copious annals of execution.


Evans (left) and Allen.

The two twentysomethings had dropped by Evans’s former coworker’s place in the aptly-named port Workington to borrow money. Since the call was at 3 a.m. and the petitioners were armed, it might appear that they had in mind an offer that John Alan West couldn’t refuse. The reader is invited to fill in the rest: a quarrel, a murder, a stolen watch, a medallion dropped at the crime scene with one of the perps’ own names on it …

Three months later, they were on trial for their lives; a month after that, hanged by the neck until dead. If there is tragedy in these hapless thugs, it may be that either could possibly have saved the other by claiming sole responsibility for the murder; since each blamed the other, the jury ended up finding them equally culpable.

While the last hangings in Canada featured two unconnected men hanged together, the last in England had partners in crime hanged separately. Allen died at Liverpool’s Walton Prison; Evans was dropped at Manchester’s Strangeways Prison.*

And unlike the Canadian case, Evans and Allen didn’t die knowing they were likely the last.

Although hangings had slowed to a crawl in Britain — there were just two in 1963, and none in 1964 before this day — death sentences continued to be handed down. But the trend was toward abolition: the British Parliament suspended the death penalty for ordinary crimes late in 1965, and made the suspension permanent in 1969. The handful of exceptional crimes for which the gallows remained nominally available — treason, piracy, espionage — were never enforced as such before those statutes too were removed from the hangman’s jurisdiction by 1998.

* Evans’ executioner, Harry Allen — no relation to Peter Anthony Allen — also conducted the last hanging in Scotland.

Part of the Themed Set: At the End of the Rope.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,History,Milestones,Murder

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