Archive for November, 2008

284: Aper, by Diocletian

6 comments November 20th, 2008 Headsman

On this date* in 284, one of Rome’s greatest emperors claimed the purple by summarily executing his rival before the approving army in Anatolia.

The Emperor Diocletian christened his reign with a bit of scaffold theatricality, but he might have been the real perp.

For half a century, the Roman Empire had waded through crisis. In its political manifestation, a parade of forgettable emperors had marched through the throne room, each to be assassinated, overthrown, or otherwise disposed of by some equally forgettable aspirant en route to a similarly unenviable end.

At length, out of this unpropitious bunch, rose one Diocles, a low-born Dalmatian of classical education whose martial gifts saw him rise through the legions. His opportunity came when the emperor Carus, barely a year on from succeeding his assassinated predecessor, died on campaign against Persia allegedly struck by lightning (quite possibly a euphemism for something more dagger-like), leaving his son Numerian in charge.

As the army meandered back to the friendly confines, Numerian secluded himself in his litter. And after a while, the litter started to stink.

Sometime on the journey, he’d been secretly killed — but by whom?

The principals this day are our leading suspects. (And it’s a little mystifying in either case just what was gained by leaving the body hidden so long.) We turn to Gibbon to narrate what must have been a riveting — not to mention definitive — proceeding adjudicating between them a few kilometers past Nicomedia (moder Izmit, Turkey) towards Chalcedon (now the Kadikoy district of Istanbul).

A general assembly of the army was appointed to be held at Chalcedon, whither Aper was transported in chains, as a prisoner and a criminal. A vacant tribunal was erected in the midst of the camp, and the generals and tribunes formed a great military council. They soon announced to the multitude that their choice had fallen on Diocletian, commander of the domestics or body-guards, as the person the most capable of revenging and succeeding their beloved emperor. The future fortunes of the candidate depended on the chance or conduct of the present hour. Conscious that the station which he had filled exposed him to some suspicions, Diocletian ascended the tribunal, and raising his eyes towards the Sun, made a solemn profession of his own innocence, in the presence of that all-seeing Deity. Then, assuming the tone of a sovereign and a judge, he commanded that Aper should be brought in chains to the foot of the tribunal. “This man,” said he, “is the murderer of Numerian;” and without giving him time to enter on a dangerous justification, drew his sword, and buried it in the breast of the unfortunate praefect.** A charge supported by such decisive proof was admitted without contradiction, and the legions, with repeated acclamations, acknowledged the justice and authority of the emperor Diocletian.

Though there isn’t any direct evidence of it, posterity is entitled to suspect on grounds of means, motive and opportunity, that the eventual beneficiary of Numerian’s demise — the emperor henceforth known as Diocletian — was its true author.

Whether obtained by fair means or foul, Diocletian put the laurels of state to good use, stabilizing government by introducing the “Tetrarchy” — the rule of the empire’s eastern and western halves by two emperors (“Augusti”) each aided by a “Caesar” who was also the heir apparent.

Diocletian’s two decades in power before his anomalous voluntary retirement constitute a watershed in the late history of Rome, and not only because the cycle of imperial assassinations and civil war took a welcome generation-long hiatus.

Although he’s also remembered for initiating the last major persecution of Christians, his administration set the stage for the rise of Constantine the Great, the Galilean’s first imperial champion. Constantine’s father was one of the original tetrarchs, the Caesar of the west.

And in the longer term, Diocletian’s division of the empire between east and west would sow the seed of the later separation of Byzantium and Rome, and the corresponding division in the Christian world. No surprise, then, that the first ruler profiled in Lars Brownworth’s 12 Byzantine Rulers podcast is this date’s executioner:

[audio:http://www.12byzantinerulers.com/audio/02-Diocletian.mp3]

More audiophilia about Diocletian and the tetrarchs in this lecture from Isabelle Pafford’s UC-Berkeley course on Roman history. (The first 6:45 or so consists of class business and carryover from previous lectures.)

[audio:http://webcast.berkeley.edu/media/s2008/hist106b/hist106b_20080425.mp3]

* As with much in the ancient world, sourcing is tenuous, and there is some scholarly debate over whether the events in this post should be ascribed to November 20, or to November 17, or to September 17, or to some other date. Since this blog, notwithstanding its title, embraces the occasional execution whose date is uncertain, I am prepared to wave aside textual uncertainty in the interest of a ripping good story.

** According to the Historia Augusta, Diocletian had a superstitious reason to carry out this bloodthirsty act personally.

This story my grandfather related to me, having heard it from Diocletian himself. “When Diocletian,” he said, “while still serving in a minor post, was stopping at a certain tavern in the land of the Tungri in Gaul, and was making up his daily reckoning with a woman, who was a Druidess, she said to him, ‘Diocletian, you are far too greedy and far too stingy,’ to which Diocletian replied, it is said, not in earnest, but only in jest, ‘I shall be generous enough when I become emperor.’ At this the Druidess said, so he related, ‘Do not jest, Diocletian, for you will become emperor when you have slain a Boar (Latin: Aper).’ ” … It is now well known and a common story that when he had killed Aper, the prefect of the guard, he declared, it is said, “At last I have killed my fated Boar.” My grandfather also used to say that Diocletian himself declared that he had no other reason for killing him with his own hand than to fulfill the Druidess’ prophecy and to ensure his own rule. For he would not have wished to become known for such cruelty, especially in the first few days of his power, if Fate had not impelled him to this brutal act of murder.

Part of the Themed Set: The “Ex” Stands For “Extrajudicial”.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: Ancient,Assassins,Borderline "Executions",Execution,History,Murder,No Formal Charge,Notable Participants,Political Expedience,Politicians,Power,Public Executions,Put to the Sword,Roman Empire,Soldiers,Summary Executions,Turkey,Wartime Executions

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1928: Marshall Ratliff lynched for the Santa Claus Bank Robbery

19 comments November 19th, 2008 Headsman

On this date in 1928, the man whose disguise christened one of the most bizarre crimes in Texas’s colorful history was lynched behind a theater … producing “The Noose”.

The Santa Claus Bank Robbery was, in the words of one columnist present for the affair,

the most spectacular crime in the history of the Southwest … surpassing any in which Billy the Kid or the James boys had ever figured.

The story begins on December 23, 1927, in the town of Cisco, where a genial man dressed as Saint Nick strolled down the main drag dandling playful children en route to the First National Bank.

Santa — Marshall Ratliff — and three accomplices then conducted one of the most inept bank robberies in that craft’s ample stock of ineptitude.

A general gun battle erupted during the robbery, owing to the general citizenry being armed, and a standing reward available from the bank association for shooting a bank robber in the act. When the quartet finally fought their way to the getaway car — killing two cops in the process — they realized it was almost out of gas.

After a few days’ dodging a manhunt, everyone was rounded up, one of them in corpse form. Two of the surviving three drew death sentences, and Henry Helms sat in the Lonestar State’s electric chair on September 6, 1929.

But Kris Kringle — er, Ratliff — had his execution delayed by a sanity hearing that brought him back to Eastland County, where he feigned illness and killed a guard in an abortive escape attempt. The good folk decided they’d had about enough of due process.

Quoth a newspaper report of the day (reproduced in A.C. Greene’s book on the case):

All yesterday afternoon they gathered in little groups about the town and muttered about [the guard] Jones’ shooting which physicians said probably would prove fatal. Last night a crowd in front of the jail swelled to nearly a thousand at 8:30 o’clock.

At about 9 o’clock, some 200 men slipped into a side door of the jail and asked for the man. Jailer Gilborn refused to give him up. They overpowered Gilborn, took his keys and got Ratliff.

… He was dragged in the direction of the public square, but the crowd would not wait to go those few blocks.

At 200 yards from the jail a strong telephone cable was pointed out, a rope flung across it. A noose was put around Ratliff’s neck, a dozen men on the other end of the rope bent their weight, and Ratliff was jerked from the ground.

The rope broke. Messengers were sent for another, and again the mob set to its task. Then someone remembered that men about to die are usually given a chance to say a last word. For another moment he was lowered to the ground, but, displeased at his mumbling, the crowd yelled, “String him up!”

Part of the Themed Set: The “Ex” Stands For “Extrajudicial”.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Borderline "Executions",Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,Lynching,Murder,Texas,Theft,USA

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Themed Set: The “Ex” Stands for “Extrajudicial”

4 comments November 19th, 2008 Headsman

Somewhere in the foggy marches that stretch between a ceremonial Tyburn hanging and the many guises of lethal collective violence in the workaday world dwells the editorial discretion of Executed Today, keeping a lonely vigil at a forgotten customs-post.

What, after all, is an execution?

This site has dallied before, and will dally again, with those border cases — summary executions and borderline executions.

Joined thematically as near-executions, these next three days are of themselves as different from one another as three different killings can be … suggesting the topical breadth spanned by the ultimate sanction.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: Themed Sets

2005: Elias Syriani, a family affair

1 comment November 18th, 2008 Headsman

On this date in 2005, North Carolina executed 67-year-old immigrant Elias Syriani at Raleigh’s Central Prison for the murder of his wife — despite the emotional clemency intervention of the couple’s children.

Syriani, an ethnic Assyrian driven from his native Jerusalem by al nakba who moved to the U.S. from Jordan through marriage to a Jordanian immigrant, had a stormy marriage hit the rocks in 1990. Teresa filed for divorce after a few years facing Elias’s violent objections to her westernized behavior.

Syriani responded by jumping her when she drove home one night, and stabbed her to death with a screwdriver in front of their 10-year-old child.

This case meandered forgettably through the bowels of the criminal justice system; the traumatized children moved on (.pdf).

Until the year before Syriani met his fate, when the mysteries of the human heart flipped the script.

The four children visited Syriani and found themselves forgiving their mother’s murderer … and forging an unexpected bond with the father they hadn’t known for a decade. They called it a miracle, a gift from their late mother to go from “hate, absolute hate, to love in a split second.”

The children — by then grown — became Syriani’s advocates for executive clemency, posing an unusual challenge for Gov. Mike Easley: in an environment that (rhetorically, at least) often counts on survivors’ rage and grief as arbiters of punishment, would he spare a father for killing a mother when the children said execution would redouble the family’s injury?

But commutations rarely happen — there’s just no percentage in them for politicians.

“After careful review of the facts and circumstances of this crime and conviction, I find no convincing reason to grant clemency and overturn the unanimous jury verdict affirmed by the state and federal courts.” (Easley)

This startling story became the subject of a 2007 documentary, Love Lived on Death Row

[flv:http://www.executedtoday.com/video/Love_Lived_on_Death_Row_trailer.flv 440 330]

The following are excerpts from an interview with the film’s Producer/Director Linda Booker originally conducted by Sean O’Connell of The Charlotte Weekly.

When did you first hear about/become interested in this story?

Back in July 2005, I was checking the weather on a local news website and scanning the headlines when the article about the Syriani siblings forgiving their father caught my eye. I think at first it interested me because I have been involved with our local domestic violence agency as a volunteer and fundraiser, but as I read the article something about their reconciling with and forgiving their father really touched me. At this point they had begun to share their story with the public and had just appeared at a domestic violence conference in Charlotte called “Hope to Heal.”

At what point did you get the idea to film the story in documentary form? How long did it take to complete the film?

It was an immediate reaction for me upon reading the article that their story might make a compelling documentary film. I printed it out and carried it around with me. But I was still finishing up interviews and editing my first documentary project “Millworker: the Documentary” so I didn’t act on it right away. Then several months later I learned that they would be speaking in Chapel Hill, close to where I live, and I thought, “okay, if I feel this strongly about this, here’s my chance to meet them and film their discussion.” So there I was, a relatively new filmmaker and very nervous about that first step, but I received permission to film that night. That’s also when I first heard about and met Meg Eggleston, who had been writing letters and visiting Elias Syriani on death row for four years and the Syriani sibling’s attorney Russell Sizemore, who was helping them through their father’s clemency appeal pro-bono. I came to learn that Meg’s friendship with Elias was an essential part of their father’s transformation and was such an interesting story in itself.

I started filming in October 2005, edited in the fall of ’06 and started doing preview screenings in early ’07. Since then the film has screened at film festivals and many grassroots screenings with various non-profits and faith groups as sponsors in the U.S. especially in North Carolina.

The Syriani children are open and honest in the film. Did you have trouble accessing them? Were they open to the idea of participating in the film, even though at this point it could not help their father?

I started filming interviews with Meg Eggleston and Russell Sizemore first who trusted that I was not trying to do a sensationalized story, but that I recognized the Syriani’s story of forgiveness was inspirational, regardless of the outcome of the clemency appeal. The Syrianis knew that I was working with Meg & Russ, but out of respect for all they were going through, I did not push the issue of their participation. About six months after the appeal, I wrote them about participating and subsequently we went to California and Chicago in the summer of ’06 to film interviews with them. While they know that a part of the discussion around the film will be capital punishment, the Syriani siblings have expressed that they want their story to live on in hope that their experience of surviving a domestic violence tragedy and the healing that came from forgiveness will touch people’s hearts and help others.

I think it’s because this case is so unique, but I found the film’s stance on the death penalty unclear. Can you, as the filmmaker, clarify your thoughts on the death penalty?

Well, I’ll take that as a compliment, because the documentaries I admire aren’t pounding you over the head with the filmmaker’s opinion. I can tell you that making this film made me face how I felt about the death penalty and I spent a lot of time researching and doing some deep thinking about the issue.

Needless to say it’s very complex, and it is completely understandable that feelings of anger and retribution can occur when you have lost a loved one to violence. We need to do more for those dealing with the aftermath of murder with as much support, assistance and counseling services as possible, especially children. But as I went to restorative justice forums and have met many people who belong to organizations such as Murder Victims Families for Reconciliation, I kept hearing stories about how the death penalty was causing more grief, stress and division in families that had experienced murder. Between making the documentary and doing the research, I came to the conclusion that I couldn’t support a system of justice that can possibly create more pain and victims in its wake and that was also irreversible and arbitrary.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Lethal Injection,Murder,Ripped from the Headlines,USA

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1939: Nine Czech students

2 comments November 17th, 2008 Headsman

Today is International Students’ Day and a public holiday in the Czech Republic and in Slovakia thanks to the martyrdom of nine at the hands of the Nazi occupation forces this day in 1939.

The previous fall, Hitler had cowed the allied powers into ceding the mountainous Czechoslovakian Sudetenland to the Third Reich in order to avert war — leading to Neville Chamberlain‘s famously mistaken “peace in our time” speech.

In March 1939, Germany reneged its part of the bargain and gobbled up Bohemia and Moravia, essentially the modern Czech Republic.

That this would collapse Chamberlain’s vision of peace and set Europe’s powers on the road to war with Berlin was cold comfort to the occupied Czechs. They had their own problems.

On October 28, youth demonstrations in Prague against the occupation resulted in the shooting of Charles University medical student Jan Opletal

Two weeks later he succumbed to the injury, and his funeral turned into an anti-occupation riot forcibly quashed by German arms. According to the London Times account:

On November 17 at 3 a.m., the Gestapo entered all students’ colleges, men’s and women’s, without allowing them to dress, tied the students in groups of three, and dragged them away … Between 3 o’clock and 8 o’clock in the morning the Gestapo visited students’ homes and lodgings. Those opposing arrests and parents who withheld information were immediately shot at, and the wounded were refused attention. The Gestapo broke into high schools as well as into the university …

The prisoners were taken to the Ruzyn barracks and to the Sparta football stadium, where cold water was flung over them and were made to wait until the evening. Then, in the barrack yard, 124 students and teachers* were shot before their fellow-students, the first nine being presidents of students’ associations, including the brilliant young sociologist Dr. Matoushek [English Wikipedia entry | Czech], son of a former Minister of Commerce.

Universities in the cities were declared closed for three years; they would not in fact re-open until after the war.

The day, subsequently memorialized as den boje studentu za svobodu a demokracii (Day of the Students’ Fight for Freedom and Democracy), entered Czech history a second time a half-century later. A student protest at Opletal’s grave on this date in 1989 helped catalyze the Velvet Revolution that toppled Czechoslovakia’s Communist government.

* The larger figure was circulated in the days following by Czech sources. It is not clear to me whether that number proved unfounded, or whether subsequent memorials simply came to focus on the leading nine — whose executions are certain, and were even announced by German communique.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Activists,Capital Punishment,Czechoslovakia,Death Penalty,Execution,Germany,History,Martyrs,Mass Executions,No Formal Charge,Occupation and Colonialism,Popular Culture,Power,Rioting,Shot,Summary Executions,Wartime Executions

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1869: Hamiora Pere, Maori “traitor” to the Queen

2 comments November 16th, 2008 Headsman

On this date in 1869, Hamiora Pere became the only New Zealander ever executed for treason.

Maurice Shadbolt’s Season of the Jew is a historical novel of the conflict that doomed Hamiora Pere. It’s told from the standpoint of Te Kooti, who liked to compare the Maori cause to that of the Israelites resisting Egypt, and founded a religious sect that still persists today.

Pere* came by the distinction quite accidentally — even setting aside the queer circumstance of his “betraying” a state on the opposite side of the globe by resisting its claim to his ancestral homeland.

Hamiora Pere was one of five Maori prisoners from the Siege of Ngatapa during Te Kooti’s War — an indigenous resistance against British colonization — to face the fatal charge.

The crown handled these cases carefully.

Though all five men drew death sentences (mandatory for treason), the government was evidently trying to stay out of the martyr-making business — as revealed by a judge’s comment during official deliberations.

I believe the result is the very best that could have been arrived at. I am glad to know that Mr McLean thinks that one execution will be useful as more would have been by way of example and caution.

Unfortunately for Hamiora Pere, the one of those five who was most likely set up to be the “example,” Wi Tamararo, committed suicide in prison shortly after his sentence.

Pere seemingly became the next in line for hanging because he was associated with murders in a noteworthy massacre at Matawhero that slew 33 Europeans and 37 of their Maori allies. Notably, however, the charge of murder actually filed against him was dropped prior to trial since he could be placed at the scene of the attack, but not directly shown to have killed anyone. Even off the indictment, it may have been the thing that doomed him.

Whatever the nature of the deliberations — and this report (pdf) of New Zealand’s Waitangi Tribunal inconclusively attempts to unpack the story with the patchy evidence available — the remaining convicts got clemency. Four years later, they were pardoned outright.

Pere got the noose at Wellington, and the accidental historical footnote. He would seem destined to maintain his unusual distinction indefinitely, since New Zealand has abolished the death penalty altogether.

Fear of Death

It is the circumstantial distinction of his case that earns Pere his place in this blog out of the numberless thousands to meet his same fate.

But in the end, he faced the gallows in that existential nakedness common to all us mortal wretches beholding death. Many in these pages meet their ceremonial end with with bravado; Hamiora Pere, by contrast, suffered all the pitiably human torments of fear, according to the report of the Daily Southern Cross:

He received the notice of his approaching death with calmness, and it was not until the morning before the execution that he gave any outward sign that he realised his terrible position. … [after his last farewell with his family he] became terribly distressed. He evidently fully recognised his position; he knew that he had looked for the last time on those from whom only he had any right to expect sympathy; every incident was reminding him how rapidly his term of life was decreasing, and it was not until his spiritual adviser … had been with him some time, that he became more composed.

[on the morning of the execution, Pere’s] responses [to his spiritual advisor] were accompanied by a peculiar moaning, and by convulsive sobbing. … the prisoner, quite a young man, and with nothing in his general appearance worthy of special remark, was sobbing bitterly, and was evidently suffering from intense mental agony; he looked anxiously around, yet stood firm and erect while he was being pinioned, repeating, as well as his trembling voice would allow, the prayers that were being offered on his behalf. … At the foot of the steps [to the gallows] the prisoner halted a moment, but, being led up, was quickly placed in the centre of the platform, under the noose, which was immediately fixed round his neck. From the time the prisoner left his room, until the rope was adjusted, he continued praying in a low moaning tone, interrupted frequently by violent sobbing …

* Also spelled “Peri” and, occasionally, “Pera”.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,England,Execution,Guerrillas,Hanged,History,Milestones,Murder,New Zealand,Notable Jurisprudence,Occupation and Colonialism,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Soldiers,Treason,Wartime Executions

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1924: Daisuke Namba, for the Toranomon Incident

1 comment November 15th, 2008 Headsman

On this date in 1924, just two days after his sentencing, Japanese student Namba Daisuke was hanged for attempting to assassinate the the future emperor Hirohito.

Namba (or Nanba) was a 24-year-old Communist and son of a Japanese parliamentarian.* Inflamed by reports of Japanese atrocities in Korea and by the execution years earlier of leftist agitator Shusui Kotoku, Namba fired a pistol at the 22-year-old Prince Regent in a Tokyo intersection.**

It was a pretty simple case: no doubt he’d done it, and no sympathy for the assailant. The act shook Japan so deeply that Namba’s prosecutors stuck to the story that the offender must be deranged — even though he clearly was not. Under the circumstances, that wouldn’t cut enough ice to mitigate the sentence anyway.

In the words of the judge who sentenced him:

Daisuke has made a blot upon Japanese history. He believed in violence and had determined to kill the Prince Regent. He committed a great crime in attempting to injure the imperial family, which has never oppressed the poor.

To which Daisuke had a direct reply:

Long live the Communist Party of Japan!

As is often the case, the gesture of violence against the established order provoked a still more repressive crackdown. The Prime Minister resigned for the security lapse, to be replaced a more conservative government that pushed through the radical-hunting measures of the Peace Preservation Law.

And the award goes to …

Simple enough as far as the assassin goes.

Let’s take a sideways turn into a digression from the blog’s macabre daily fare to ponder a strangely pleasant ripple effect of this young man’s shot.

According to Ben-Ami Shillony’s Politics and Culture in Wartime Japan, the incident forced the resignation of a senior police official charged with keeping an eye on subversives.

You’re welcome, Ichiro. (The Major League superstar won the Matsutaro Shoriki Award twice during his Japanese professional career, in 1994 and 1995.)

This gentleman, Matsutaro Shoriki, transitioned into a career as a media mogul, building up one of the country’s most prominent papers. In that capacity, he took to promoting baseball in Japan.

Though this imported sport had an existing — and growing — popularity from the first decades of the century, Shoriki became the father of Japanese baseball by sponsoring American all-star teams to play on Japanese tours and creating the country’s first professional baseball team.

Shoriki even survived an assassination attempt of his own, at the hands of a nationalist who thought bringing Babe Ruth to the Land of the Rising Sun was treasonable.

Today, he’s remembered generously and his name adorns one of Japanese baseball’s major awards. But if not for Daisuke Namba’s shot, he might have served those years moving paper in the tokko, trying to ferret out dangerous elements.

* The father had to resign his seat in the Diet, of course; not only his immediate family but his former schoolmasters and his whole hometown were put under the pall. According to Time, Namba’s relatives were formally released from their debt of shame by Hirohito in 1926, and took the unblemished name Kurokawa.

** Hirohito did not become Emperor until his father’s death in 1926.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Assassins,Capital Punishment,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Infamous,Japan,Notable for their Victims,Notable Participants,Revolutionaries,Treason

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1817: Policarpa Salavarrieta, Colombian independence heroine

1 comment November 14th, 2008 Headsman

This morning in 1817, a Colombian seamstress was shot in Bogota for spying on the Spanish forces fighting to quell South America’s Bolivarian independence movements.

Policarpa Salavarrieta — it was the name her brother used for her; her legal given name and origin are romantically lost — was infiltrated into Bogota during the reconquista, when a Spain recovering from Napoleon’s intrusion deployed in force to quash the separatist aspirations of its New World colonies.

It was the day of Simon Bolivar, but Spain had completed its apparent pacification of New Granada* in 1816, and established a stronghold in Bogota. Subversives had to mind their P’s and Q’s.

Although she was a known agitator in the city of Guadas, “La Pola” could slip into Bogota without drawing attention.

There, she used her skills as a domestic to hang around royalist households, sewing up clothes while snooping around, and helping revolutionaries recruit soldiers.

She was arrested when the Spanish busted the network, (the link is in Spanish) and shot publicly with her lover, Alejo Sabarain, and a number** of others — all men, none of them half so well-remembered or beloved as Salavarrieta. She was supposed to have ignored the priests murmuring te deums in her ear on the scaffold in order to exhort the onlookers to resistance.

Over the years to come, she would become an emblematic martyr of independence; just see how many times her theme is visited in this history of Colombian painting (Spanish again). She’s also the only historical (not mythological/allegorical) woman ever used on Colombian currency.

As will be readily surmised, of course, she merits her tribute because the movement in whose service she died soon rallied and carried the day.

* The Spanish territory of New Granada encompassed most of the ice cream of the South American cone.

** Various numbers are given for the day’s total execution count. This site (Spanish) says a total of nine — Policarpa Salavarrieta and eight men, including Alejo Sabarain — and persuasively names all of them.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Colombia,Death Penalty,Espionage,Execution,Famous,History,Martyrs,Mass Executions,Occupation and Colonialism,Power,Public Executions,Revolutionaries,Separatists,Shot,Spain,Spies,Treason,Wartime Executions,Women

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1849: Frederick and Marie Manning, a Dickensian scene

7 comments November 13th, 2008 Headsman

On this date in 1849, husband-and-wife murderers Frederick and Marie Manning (or Maria Manning) were publicly hanged together outside Horsemonger Lane Gaol in London.

An image of Marie Manning (nee Marie de Roux) from the Victorian popular press — from this romantic biography of Tolstoyan length available free from Google books.

The felonious pair — she a Swiss-born domestic; he a shifty laborer with a penchant for the inside job — lured to dinner in their Bermondsey home a wealthy friend who had designs on the redheaded knockout, then murdered him for his loot and stuffed the limed body under the floorboards. They were apprehended separately on the lam.

As is typical when a heartthrob femme fatale stands in the dock, a sensational trial of the “here today, gone tomorrow” variety ensued. The crime, nicknamed “the Bermondsey Horror” (here (pdf) is a book chapter-scale recounting), had each accusing the other, with the outcome usual for this site.

A massive, jeering throng turned out to see the two off (Mrs. Manning’s choice of black satin for the occasion is said to have caused the look to go out of fashion).

Among that crowd was Charles Dickens,* who took a break from working on David Copperfield to write The Times a letter published Nov. 14 demanding that executions be removed within prison walls on account of the unedifying conduct of the spectators.

Sir — I was a witness of the execution at Horsemonger-lane this morning. I went there with the intention of observing the crowd gathered to behold it, and I had excellent opportunities of doing so, at intervals all through the night, and continuously from daybreak until after the spectacle was over.

I believe that a sight so inconceivably awful as the wickedness and levity of the immense crowd collected at that execution this morning could be imagined by no man, and could be presented in no heathen land under the sun. The horrors of the gibbet and of the crime which brought the wretched murderers to it, faded in my mind before the atrocious bearing, looks and language, of the assembled spectators. When I came upon the scene at midnight, the shrillness of the cries and howls that were raised from time to time, denoting that they came from a concourse of boys and girls already assembled in the best places, made my blood run cold. As the night went on, screeching, and laughing, and yelling in strong chorus of parodies on Negro melodies, with substitutions of “Mrs. Manning” for “Susannah,” and the like, were added to these. When the day dawned, thieves, low prostitutes, ruffians and vagabonds of every kind, flocked on to the ground, with every variety of offensive and foul behaviour. Fightings, faintings, whistlings, imitations of Punch, brutal jokes, tumultuous demonstrations of indecent delight when swooning women were dragged out of the crowd by the police with their dresses disordered, gave a new zest to the general entertainment. When the sun rose brightly — as it did — it gilded thousands upon thousands of upturned faces, so inexpressibly odious in their brutal mirth or callousness, that a man had cause to feel ashamed of the shape he wore, and to shrink from himself, as fashioned in the image of the Devil. When the two miserable creatures who attracted all this ghastly sight about them were turned quivering into the air, there was no more emotion, no more pity, no more thought that two immortal souls had gone to judgment, no more restraint in any of the previous obscenities, than if the name of Christ had never been heard in this world, and there were no belief among men but that they perished like the beasts.

… I am solemnly convinced that nothing that ingenuity could devise to be done in this city, in the same compass of time, could work such ruin as one public execution, and I stand astounded and appalled by the wickedness it exhibits. I do not believe that any community can prosper where such a scene of horror and demoralization as was enacted this morning outside Horsemonger-lane Gaol is presented at the very doors of good citizens, and is passed by, unknown or forgotten.

Dickens would base a French maid named Mademoiselle Hortense in his next novel, Bleak House on Marie Manning.

This question of public as opposed to private hangings was a lively debate at the time, and Dickens’s view was hardly uncontested. A letter in response from one F.B. Head of Oxenton countered thus:

The merciful object of every punishment which the law inflicts is not so much to revenge the past crime as to prevent its recurrence. Now, Mrs. Manning’s last moments clearly explain, or rather indisputably prove, the benefit which society practically derives from a public execution. … as for a few fleeting moments she stood, with bandaged eyes, beneath the gibbet, how unanswerably did the picture mutely expound the terror which the wicked very naturally have of being publicly hanged before the scum and refuse of society! “The whistlings — the imitations of Punch — the brutal jokes and indecent delight of the thieves, low prostitutes, ruffians and vagabonds,” so graphically described by Mr. Charles Dickens were — by her own showing — not only the most fearful portion of her sentence but, under Providence, these coarse ingredients may possibly have effected that momentary repentance which the mild but fervent exhortations of the chaplain had failed to produce.

But, besides the impolicy of divesting the death by law of a murderer of the most effective portion of its terrors, there are, Sir, I submit, higher and infinitely more important reasons, which make it our bounden duty to require that every criminal who suffers death should be executed in public.

So long as it shall be deemed advisable by us, by laws divine as well as human, to deprive the murderer of his life, the whole process of his trial, ending in an act of such awful responsiblity, ought to be performed in open day, in order that the community may at all events clearly see what it is they are doing — what it is they have done. The purple hands of the wretched sufferer sufficiently explain what the white nightcap hypocritically conceals, namely, the dreadful act that has been performed; and, although thieves and prostitutes may ridicule the convulsions they witness, there will, it is to be hoped, in a free country and with a free press, always be found among an English crowd some one fellow-creature possessing the kindly feelings of Mr. Charles Dickens, who, should he see sufficient reasons for doing so, will not only call upon the country most seriously to consider whether the punishment he delineates has not exceeded the offence, but, as an honest witness, will condemn and expose any unnecessary harshness or cruelty that may have accompanied it.”

Even the legendary British humor magazine Punch weighed in, with a famous cartoon skewering the mob who turned up for public hangings.**


“The Great Moral Lesson at Horsemonger Lane Gaol”, Punch magazine’s rendition of the Mannings’ execution — turning its gaze not on the scaffold but on the unruly crowd beneath it. It comes with a poem.

Public executions would continue in England until 1868.

* Not the only literary big wheel in the crowd: Herman Melville also checked it out. No indication they bumped into each other, and no surprise: the crowd was so huge that at least one spectator was crushed to death against a police barricade. (As reported by Hanging in the Balance: A History of the Abolition of Capital Punishment in Britain, which numbers the onlookers at 30,000 and claims 2.5 million execution broadsheets were sold.)

** According to Dickens and Crime, Dickens actually observed the hanging with the Punch cartoonist who sketched “The Great Moral Lesson” (the two went in together to rent out a well-placed roof “for the extremely moderate sum of Ten Guineas”). That artist, John Leech, had illustrated Dickens’ A Christmas Carol a few years before.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,Murder,Pelf,Popular Culture,Public Executions,Women

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1874: William Udderzook, because a picture is worth a thousand words

2 comments November 12th, 2008 Headsman

On this date in 1874, William Udderzook was hanged in West Chester, Pennsylvania for an insurance scam gone horribly macabre — accidentally making judicial history in the process.

Udderzook and his brother-in-law Winfield Scott Goss had contrived to pick up some easy scratch by insuring Goss’s life and having him “burned to death” in a laboratory fire; Udderzook procured a medical cadaver for the purpose, and duly identified its charred remains the late lamented Goss, who was in fact laying low in Newark under an assumed name.

An amateurish stunt by today’s standards, but forensic science was still in its infancy. During the Civil War just a decade before, the majority of the dead had been buried unidentified. Personal recognition was still the best way available in most cases to tell who was who.

Udderzook and Goss’s wife therefore collected on their say-so, but insurance adjusters smelled fraud. It was through their pressure that the “Goss-Udderzook tragedy” unfolded, and became an object lesson and test case in the science of establishing identity.

Goss was the first hoisted on his own petard, for his faked death meant that Udderzook could not afford to have investigators find him alive. So Udderzook murdered Goss, this time for real — real gruesome, that is. When the body was discovered, it had been dismembered, disemboweled, and repeatedly stabbed.

When Udderzook faced trial, Goss’s identity with “Wilson” (his assumed name) was the central question, and it was established using photography. (The same way they identified the body, actually, per a contemporary New York Times account here. (pdf))

Udderzook fought the photographic identification all the way to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court — which turned aside the appeal with a landmark ruling whose embrace of the photographic science would unlock its forensic potential:

That a portrait or a miniature painting from life and proved to resemble the person may be used to identify him cannot be doubted, though, like all other evidences of identity, it is open to disproof or doubt, and must be determined by the jury. There seems to be no reason why a photograph, proved to be taken from life and to resemble the person photographed, should not fill the same measure of evidence. It is true that the photographs we see are not the original likenesses; their lines are not traced by the hand of the artist nor can the artist be called to testify that he faithfully limned [sic] the portrait. They are but paper copies taken from the original plate, called the negative, made sensitive by chemicals, and printed by the sunlight through the camera. It is the result of art, guided by certain principles of science. . . .

It is evident that the competency of the evidence in such a case depends on the reliability of the photograph of a work of art, and this, in the case before us, in which no proof was made by experts of this reliability, must depend upon the judicial cognizance we make of photographs as an established means of producing a correct likeness. The Daguerrean process was first given to the world in 1839. It was soon followed by photography, of which we have nearly a generation’s experience. . . . We know that its principles are derived from science; that the images on the plate, made by the rays of light through the camera, are dependent on the same general laws which produce the images of outward forms upon the retina through the lenses of the eye. The process has become one in general use, so common that we cannot refuse to take judicial cognisance of it as a proper means of producing correct likeness.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,Murder,Notable Jurisprudence,Notable Sleuthing,Pelf,Pennsylvania,USA

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