1931: Ernesto Opisso

On this date in 1931, a carpenter became the first Gibraltar native hanged by the British on that strategic peninsula.

Ernesto Opisso was convicted, in his second trial (the first jury hung), of murdering Marie Bassano, the true crime sensation of the day. Strangely, the elderly woman had been killed in her apartment but neither robbed nor sexually assaulted; Opisso was placed in the vicinity by a witness despite his denials, and a “maybe they got into a fight” theory sufficed to outfit him for the halter.

(Courtroom color: Opisso’s lawyer, evidently something of a functional alcoholic, got around a no-drinking-in-court rule by dipping bread in liquor. “Not drinking, m’Lord,” he replied when the judge’s suspicions were aroused. “Eating.”)

Popular dissatisfaction with the questionable verdict against a local was widespread; because nobody on Gibraltar itself would carry out the execution, a hangman had to be imported from Britain.

The London Times reported of the scene on the eve of the hanging, once all prospect of reprieve had been refused,

Scenes of wild disorder were witnessed to-night when crowds surged through the streets demonstrating against the execution fixed for to-morrow morning of a carpenter, Ernesto Opisso, who has been sentenced to be hanged for the murder of an elderly woman. It will be the first execution in Gibraltar since 1896. A reprieve was refused by the Governor in Council. The crowds thronged the streets demanding a reprieve and forced cafes and places of amusement to close. No taxis were to be had, as the drivers are on strike.

So ugly was the situation that troops turned out and are patrolling the streets armed with hockey sticks.

It was Gibraltar’s first execution of any kind since 1896 — and remains to date its last peacetime execution. (Two Spanish citizens were hanged for wartime offenses in 1944.)