Archive for July, 2009

1976: Lt. Col. Abu Taher

4 comments July 21st, 2009 Headsman

At 4 a.m. this date in Dhaka Central Prison, Lt. Col. Abu Taher was hanged for treason.

A series of coups in the mirrored-sunglasses era of military governance shook the young state of Bangladesh:

  • The autocratic Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was toppled by a revolt of junior officers on August 15, 1975;
  • Senior brass in turn felled the ruling junta on November 3, 1975, jailing powerful officer Ziaur Rahman;
  • A quick counter-coup of junior officers — also remembered as the “sepoy mutiny”* — mounted by leftist war hero Abu Taher on November 7 put Ziaur Rahman’s hand back on the helm of state.

While November 7 is still marked in Bangladesh as National Revolution and Solidarity Day, its author got short shrift from its beneficiary.**

Abu Taher, a retired officer and a hero of the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War that had detached the former East Pakistan from Islamabad, had visions of social revolution. But three coups in as many months is the sort of thing to rattle the new big man, and Zia consolidated his own power by eliminating threats to both left and right political flanks.

A mere 17 days after doing that National Revolution and Solidarity thing, the guy with the mass movement (pdf) of armed men was arrested for treason. He faced a military tribunal the following year.

Taher scorned the charges against him, but of course the fix was in.

* An allusion to colonial history.

** However, Taher’s own date of martyrdom is also still marked by his posthumous partisans.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Activists,Bangladesh,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous,Hanged,History,Martyrs,Power,Revolutionaries,Soldiers,Treason,Wrongful Executions

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1889: “Cattle Kate” Ella Watson lynched

4 comments July 20th, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 1889, Ella Watson, a homesteader with a small ranch, was demonstratively lynched by vigilantes of Wyoming’s powerful cattlemen.


“Cattle Kate”

In the Western frontier amidst the rapine of the Gilded Age, ranching oligopolists had Wyoming by the throat.

Ellen Watson was a late-30’s escapee of an abusive marriage in Kansas who had homesteaded her own land and set up shop as an independent proprietor.

This put her in a class of people soon to be pitted in a resource war against the big ranchers — the Johnson County War, to erupt in 1892.

Watson was a casualty of the increasingly violent run-up to open “war”, a period when the catchall “cattle rustling” charge did the dirty work of licensing arrests and property seizures (and worse) deemed convenient for Big Cattle. When the latter decided that Watson’s stock was stolen, they seized her and partner James Averell and strung them up.

Hanging from the limb of a stunted pine growing on the summit of a cliff fronting the Sweetwater River, were the bodies of James Averell and Ella Watson. Side by side they swing, their arms touching each other, their tongues protruding and their faces swollen and discolored almost beyond recognition. Common cowboy lariats had been used, and both had died by strangulation, neither fallen over two feet. Judging from signs too plain to be mistaken a desperate struggle had taken place on the cliff, and both man and woman had fought for their lives until the last.

The subsequent trial of the paramilitaries ended in acquittal when potential witnesses were bought off or intimidated into silence, leaving “Cattle Kate” a legendary figure most defined by cattlemen-controlled Cheyenne newspapers. These made her out to be not only a thief but a (literal) whore, an image sharply contested by George Hufsmith’s The Wyoming Lynching of Cattle Kate.

Michael Cimino’s legendary cinematic Hindenburg Heaven’s Gate is about the Johnson County War, and features Isabelle Huppert as Watson, opposite Kris Kristofferson as Jim Averell. The film treats her sympathetically … but she’s also a madam who accepts payment for her cathouse’s services in the form of rustled cattle.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Borderline "Executions",Hanged,History,Lynching,No Formal Charge,Pelf,Power,Public Executions,Summary Executions,USA,Women,Wyoming

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2005: Mahmoud Asgari and Ayaz Marhoni, gay teens

39 comments July 19th, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 2005, two teenagers were hanged in Mashhad, Iran.

Affecting photos of these two youths, their faces etched in fright and grief, their 16- and 18-year-old bodies pitifully boyish next to their executioners, became an immediate worldwide sensation.

These shocking images were quickly followed by a storm of controversy. The crime for which Asgari and Marhoni swung was the rape of a 13-year-old while both the offenders were themselves minors; gay organizations and human rights groups subsequently became mired in contentious dispute over whether (as a factual, legal, or tactical matter) they could be said to have succumbed to a “lethal reign of terror targeting Iranian gays”. For instance, was the conviction reliable, or a pretext? Would these boys actually have self-identified as “gay”?

To that were added charges and countercharges among western campaigners of racism, imperial lickspittle-ism, objective-pro-Islamic-fascism, and the like. Like, awfully convenient that Iran’s longtime dim view of homosexuality has everyone exercised at just the moment bombing Tehran was being openly mooted.

But whatever the text: those pictures. Still, those pictures.

It is certain that both Mahmoud Asgari and Ayaz Marhoni were juvenile offenders, whose execution is anathema almost everywhere in the world but Iran — just one of that country’s unique characteristics.

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Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Capital Punishment,Children,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Hanged,Homosexuals,Iran,Mature Content,Rape,Ripped from the Headlines,Sex

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1865: Chief Ahan of the Tsilhqot’in

Add comment July 18th, 2009 Headsman

“The Indian Ahan,” read the dispatch in the British Columbian this date in 1865, “will have expiated his crime upon the gallows ere these lines meet the public eye. The execution will take place in the rear of the jail early this morning.”

Ahan and another Tsilhqot’in (or Chilcotin) were of the party of Klatsassin, whom we have already met in these pages. Months after the Chilcotin War‘s mass execution, the luckless pair were arrested trying to pay what would have been a routine-for-them bit of blood money.

Both were condemned; Lutas received clemency, and his freedom. (“I eagerly availed myself of some favorable circumstances in the case of Sutas and sent him back pardoned to his tribe. A sufficient number of Indians has now perished on the scaffold to atone for the atrocities committed last year.”)

Documents related to this proceeding are archived at a canadianmysteries.ca page on Klatsassin.

Ahan’s execution in New Westminster, now part of the Vancouver, B.C. metropolis, isn’t dead, though — and isn’t even past.

Over the course of the past year, a public school project in the city that had been built over an old pauper’s grave that might have become the hanged man’s resting place was gravely (ahem) complicated by the continuing Tsilhqot’in search for Ahan’s remains. While Ahan’s own situation remains unresolved, the suit on his behalf eerily outlined the macabre past lurking everywhere beneath our workaday feet.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Canada,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Guerrillas,Hanged,History,Murder,Occupation and Colonialism,Power,Public Executions,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Soldiers,Wrongful Executions

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1793: Charlotte Corday, Marat’s murderess

13 comments July 17th, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 1793, Charlotte Corday lightly dropped her head beneath the guillotine for the murder of Jean-Paul Marat.


The Death of Marat, by David.

She is of stately Norman figure; in her twenty-fifth year; of beautiful still countenance: her name is Charlotte Corday, heretofore styled d’Armans, while Nobility still was … A completeness, a decision is in this fair female Figure: ‘by energy she means the spirit that will prompt one to sacrifice himself for his country.’ What if she, this fair young Charlotte, had emerged from her secluded stillness, suddenly like a Star; cruel-lovely, with half-angelic, half-demonic splendour; to gleam for a moment, and in a moment be extinguished: to be held in memory, so bright complete was she, through long centuries!–Quitting Cimmerian Coalitions without, and the dim-simmering Twenty-five millions within, History will look fixedly at this one fair Apparition of a Charlotte Corday; will note whither Charlotte moves, how the little Life burns forth so radiant, then vanishes swallowed of the Night.

Carlyle’s voluptuous prose is well-suited to our heroine (for so she has officially seemed, since fall of Robespierre, or from the very first): in the mere hours from striking dead the ferocious Jacobin Jean-Paul Marat on July 13 to her beheading this day, she captivated the country and immortalized her name.

Hapless beautiful Charlotte; hapless squalid Marat! From Caen in the utmost West, from Neuchatel in the utmost East, they two are drawing nigh each other; they two have, very strangely, business together.

Or was it strange at all?

Implacable in her purpose, utopian in her design, unafraid to plant a butcher’s knife into the chest of an enemy of France, Corday has a little something in common with her mortal foe.


Charlotte Corday, by Paul-Jacques-Aime Baudry.

These make casting too easy: Marat, bad because he was ugly and ugly because he was bad; Charlotte, therefore, just the reverse. (She was also a virgin; they made sure to check at the autopsy.) Our Norman assassin’s looks have inordinately exercised her interlocutors from the moment of her arrest; her prosecutors, too, understood them as essential.

“Not at all pretty,” a contemporaneous government article (cited in Crisis in Representation) put about. “She was a virago, brawny rather than fresh, without grace, untidy as are almost all female philosophers and eggheads … an old maid … with a masculinized bearing … [who] had thrown herself absolutely outside of her sex.”

And there it is. Charlotte Corday’s power to excite both rapture and repulsion is plainly rooted in the unexpected contradiction between her sex and her crime. If she is a resolute political assassin, surely she is not feminine … or is it the other way around?

Take Andre Chenier‘s engorged ode: “Fair, young, resplendent, led to the executioners, you seemed to be riding in your bridal car … You alone were a man and vindicated the human race. And we, vile eunuchs, a cowardly and soulless herd, we know how to repeat some womanly whimper, but the steel would weigh heavy in our feeble hands. … One scoundrel less crawls in this slime. Virtue applauds you. Hear the majestic sound of its virile praise, heroic maid.” This is “throwing herself outside of her sex” in the affirmative sense of uplifting herself beyond mere womanhood, a girl so heroic she might almost qualify as a dude.

Place it at the historical pivot into a modernity unready to reckon with the place of the woman, and confusion reigns.

“The spectacle of such wickedness, beauty, and talent united in the same person,” a newspaper recorded, “the contrast between the magnitude of her crime and the weakness of her sex, her appearance of actual gaiety, and her smile before the judges, who could not fail to condemn her, all combined to create an impression on the spectators that is difficult to portray.”*

Still, this judgment offers more insight than some latterly “tributes,” like this Anglo magazine piece 30 years later: “an ornament and an honour to the sex of woman … Woman is the child of feeling. From this source spring up all her good and bad qualities. It is seldom ambition or policy which leads her on to any enterprise: it is the passions. … it was under the influence of such feelings that Charlotte Corday performed that act, which virtuous and generous minds, so far from considering a crime, will look upon as one of the most heroic deeds of recorded history.”

Which is a fascinating form of sexism, since it was precisely Corday’s unearthly calm — masculine virtue! — that awed the Revolutionary Tribunal. But everything about Charlotte Corday is up for interpretive grabs; Nina Rattner Gelbart even argues, in “The Blonding of Charlotte Corday” (Eighteenth-Century Studies 38.1 (2004)) that though a real-life brunette, her depictions trend increasingly flaxen-haired.**

As for Charlotte Corday her work is accomplished; the recompense of it is near and sure. The chere amie, and neighbours of the house, flying at her, she ‘overturns some movables,’ entrenches herself till the gendarmes arrive; then quietly surrenders; goes quietly to the Abbaye Prison: she alone quiet, all Paris sounding in wonder, in rage or admiration, round her. …

On Wednesday morning, the thronged Palais de Justice and Revolutionary Tribunal can see her face; beautiful and calm: she dates it ‘fourth day of the Preparation of Peace.’ A strange murmur ran through the Hall, at sight of her; you could not say of what character. Tinville has his indictments and tape-papers the cutler of the Palais Royal will testify that he sold her the sheath-knife; “all these details are needless,” interrupted Charlotte; “it is I that killed Marat.” By whose instigation? — “By no one’s.” What tempted you, then? His crimes. “I killed one man,” added she, raising her voice extremely (extremement), as they went on with their questions, “I killed one man to save a hundred thousand; a villain to save innocents; a savage wild-beast to give repose to my country. I was a Republican before the Revolution; I never wanted energy.” There is therefore nothing to be said. The public gazes astonished: the hasty limners sketch her features, Charlotte not disapproving; the men of law proceed with their formalities. The doom is Death as a murderess. To her Advocate she gives thanks; in gentle phrase, in high-flown classical spirit. To the Priest they send her she gives thanks; but needs not any shriving, or ghostly or other aid from him.

On this same evening, therefore, about half-past seven o’clock, from the gate of the Conciergerie, to a City all on tiptoe, the fatal Cart issues: seated on it a fair young creature, sheeted in red smock of Murderess; so beautiful, serene, so full of life; journeying towards death,–alone amid the world. Many take off their hats, saluting reverently; for what heart but must be touched? Others growl and howl. Adam Lux, of Mentz, declares that she is greater than Brutus; that it were beautiful to die with her: the head of this young man seems turned. At the Place de la Revolution, the countenance of Charlotte wears the same still smile. The executioners proceed to bind her feet; she resists, thinking it meant as an insult; on a word of explanation, she submits with cheerful apology. As the last act, all being now ready, they take the neckerchief from her neck: a blush of maidenly shame overspreads that fair face and neck; the cheeks were still tinged with it, when the executioner lifted the severed head, to shew it to the people. ‘It is most true,’ says Foster, ‘that he struck the cheek insultingly; for I saw it with my eyes: the Police imprisoned him for it.’†

In this manner have the Beautifullest and the Squalidest come in collision, and extinguished one another. Jean-Paul Marat and Marie-Anne Charlotte Corday both, suddenly, are no more. ‘Day of the Preparation of Peace?’ Alas, how were peace possible or preparable, while, for example, the hearts of lovely Maidens, in their convent-stillness, are dreaming not of Love- paradises, and the light of Life; but of Codrus’-sacrifices, and death well earned? That Twenty-five million hearts have got to such temper, this is the Anarchy; the soul of it lies in this: whereof not peace can be the embodyment! The death of Marat, whetting old animosities tenfold, will be worse than any life. O ye hapless Two, mutually extinctive, the Beautiful and the Squalid, sleep ye well,–in the Mother’s bosom that bore you both!

In Carlyle’s third volume on the French Revolution, “Charlotte Corday” is the first chapter in Book IV: The Terror.

While the assassin went contentedly to her death, and left smitten admirers in her passing, more realistic politicians saw that all her magnificent stoicism, all her self-sacrifice, had doomed the liberals who were her political fellow-travelers and opened the door to the very Terror she meant to avert. (And also that the gesture might have been better directed elsewhere, since Marat was already dying.)

“She has killed us,” prophesied Girondin deputy Pierre Vergniaud. “But she has taught us how to die.”

What meaning this leaves one with — any at all? — is the subject of the Peter Weiss play-within-a-play Marat/Sade, which sets a cast of lunatics in the Napoleonic era under the direction of the Marquis de Sade to portraying Marat’s rendezvous with Charlotte Corday.

* Cited by Elizabeth R. Kindleberger in “Charlotte Corday in Text and Image: A Case Study in the French Revolution and Women’s History,” French Historical Studies, Vol. 18, No. 4 (Autumn, 1994).

** Also of interest from Gelbart is the Vichy government’s affinity for our murderess: “Antisemitism made of Marat a Jew and a vile creature, dark, dirty, satanic, a bloodthirsty monster. In contrast, Corday was pure, saintly, beautiful, virginal, and of course fair.”

† The slap given Charlotte Corday’s severed head is historically attested by the French press (which was aghast); the famous story about it of a much more fantastic quality is that the severed head blushed — and, in the phrasing of Englishwoman Helen Maria Williams, “exhibited this last impression of offended modesty.” The legend of Charlotte’s crimsoned cheeks always comes up in the backstory of the guillotine’s experiments to determine if a head retained consciousness; Charlotte’s blush may in fact be credited as one of the reasons these experiments actually came to pass.

Part of the Themed Set: The Feminine Mystique.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Arts and Literature,Assassins,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous,France,Guillotine,History,Martyrs,Murder,Notable for their Victims,Popular Culture,Public Executions,Women

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1546: Anne Askew, the only woman tortured in the Tower

7 comments July 16th, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 1546, Protestant martyr Anne Askew was martyred for her Protestantism.

One of the more intriguing religious martyrs of Tudor England, Askew was a gentlewoman forced to take her older sister’s place in an arranged betrothal when said sister (as was the style in the 16th century) dropped dead young.

Askew’s adherence to Protestantism put her at loggerheads with her Catholic husband, a domestic prefiguring of the factional political dispute that would see her to a Smithfield stake: the Reformation that rent England was itself contested within, with more aggressively reformist Protestant types resisted by the more conservative Catholic-without-Rome faction. Taking the wrong line at the wrong time was taking your life in your hands, and in the treacherous Tudor court, religion became the stalking-horse of deadly politics.

A like conflict played out in townships and households throughout the realm.

Askew and her husband separated (but were not granted divorce) over her conversion to Protestantism; she moved to London and started preaching doctrines anathema to the doctrinaire. As a noblewoman herself, she was absorbed into social circles reaching Henry VIII’s last wife, Katherine Parr.

Askew’s outspoken heterodoxy soon brought her into conflict with anti-Protestants, and when the “send her back to hubbie” strategy didn’t take, they had her clapped in the Tower.

Here she evidently became a pawn in courtly politics; with the obese and aging king liable to drop dead any moment, religious and political authority during the succession was at stake.

Askew was therefore racked in the Tower in an effort to extract evidence against powerful women of known Protestant inclinations, possibly up to and including the queen herself.

Then came Rich and one of the council, charging me upon my obedience, to show unto them, if I knew any man or woman of my sect. My answer was, that I knew none. Then they asked me of my Lady of Suffolk, my Lady of Sussex, my Lady of Hertford, my Lady Denny, and my Lady Fitzwilliam. To whom I answered, if I should pronounce any thing against them, that I were not able to prove it. Then said they unto me, that the king was informed that I could name, if I would, a great number of my sect. I answered, that the king was as well deceived in that behalf, as dissembled with in other matters.

Then they did put me on the rack, because I confessed no ladies or gentlewomen to be of my opinion, and thereon they kept me a long time; and because I lay still, and did not cry, my lord chancellor and Master Rich took pains to rack me with their own hands, till I was nigh dead.

Then the lieutenant caused me to be loosed from the rack. Incontinently I swooned, and then they recovered me again. After that I sat two long hours reasoning with my lord chancellor upon the bare floor; where he, with many flattering words, persuaded me to leave my opinion.

Askew didn’t talk, and the act of torturing a woman shocked contemporaries so much that it has never been officially repeated. She was burned to death with three fellow-heretics in Smithfield, so crippled by torture that she had to be carried in a chair to the pyre.


Anne Askew’s executed, together with John Lascelles, John Adams and Nicholas Belenian. Preaching in the pulpit is Nicholas Shaxton, who avoided the fagots with a timely recantation.

Askew survives to us as a particularly consequential Protestant martyr not only for her what-might-have-been proximity to a court plot that might have altered the course of English history, but because she left her own testimony to the ordeal.

Her Examinations — firsthand accounts of her interrogations — were reportedly smuggled out of England where they were published by John Bale. Still, we come by Anne’s own voice in the mediated form of other (male) publishers with their own agendas.

One reading of Bale’s editions that has now become conventional envisions Askew’s narrative as an embattled text: an authentic narrative, the autobiography of a learned and valiant woman, onto which Bale has imposed an insensitive, misogynistic misreading.

Specifically, Bale has been dinged for shoehorning source material that reveals a contentious and tough-minded critic into the vanilla pattern of the meek woman suffering for the faith — a cardboard cutout martyr shorn of less consumer-friendly unfeminine behavior.

While both Bale and Protestant martyrologist John Foxe, who also published versions of the Examinations, stand in that sense between us and the “real” Anne Askew, their polemical needs are precisely the reason we are able to descry the woman standing behind the martyr-archetype.

while her body was consumed by the flames, her identity remains at least partially preserved. The Henrician Anglo-Catholics made Askew famous through the process of her trial and public execution. The Protestant reformers rhetorically retrieved Askew’s broken, tortured, criminalized body from the stake and restyled it as a saint and symbol of their cause. Her identity thus paradoxically emerges in a variety of ways from the tensions … that we find in all the scraps of surviving archival material relating to her. (Theresa D. Kemp, “Translating (Anne) Askew: The Textual Remains of a Sixteenth-Century Heretic and Saint,” Renaissance Quarterly, Vol. 52, No. 4 (Winter, 1999))

Part of the Themed Set: The Feminine Mystique.

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Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Artists,Arts and Literature,Burned,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,England,Execution,God,Heresy,History,Intellectuals,Martyrs,Nobility,Political Expedience,Power,Public Executions,Religious Figures,Torture,Women

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1977: Princess Misha’al bint Fahd al Saud and her lover

9 comments July 15th, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 1977, a 19-year-old royal adulteress and her paramour were executed in a Jeddah parking lot by the order of the girl’s powerful grandfather.

Princess Misha’al‘s fate has been obscured by secrecy and the Rashomon-like interpretations imposed upon it by observers.

In its outline (and the first stock interpretation we’re imposing) it’s that timeless human tragedy, the love story, in which headstrong royal daughter and suffocating traditional family square off over the seditious power of the feminine libido.

The princess, in a youthful arranged marriage by most accounts, took up with a Saudi boy while both were studying abroad in cosmopolitan Beirut, and dangerously attempted to maintain the affair back in the royal kingdom to the point of a quixotic (and obviously foiled) escape attempt. Whether under color of a judicial proceeding — the story says Misha’al refused to walk away by simply renouncing her lover and defiantly brought down the death sentence by confessing adultery — or simply on his own authority, the girl’s staunchly conservative* grandfather exercised his right as tribal patriarch to inflict an honor killing for the disgrace they had brought on the family.

The execution in Jeddah — she by gunshot,** he by a very clumsy beheading — that is supposed to have occurred on this date was public, but quiet; news of it got abroad only slowly and incompletely. Small wonder that, once it did, the blended motifs of Romeo and Juliet, harem titillation and oil politics made dynamite material for high-, middle- or lowbrow exploitation.

In 1980, the affair became the subject of one of the most notorious television programs ever aired, the docudrama Death of a Princess. This film’s airing in Britain in 1980 led Riyadh to expel the British ambassador, and cost £200 million of lost revenue for the UK from canceled orders and product boycotts by the Saudis.†

It was aired on in the United States on PBS in 1980 to similar controversy, as oil companies rushed to distance themselves from it.

Rebroadcast in 2005, Death of a Princess is available online for your judgment (as is this partial script): is this a muckraking expose of a shameful crime? orientalist heavy petting? “a sensitive and thoughtful exploration of the Arab dilemma,” as per its own advance publicity? and what did the official apologies (and in only a few countries, censorship) say about the political weight of the petroleum industry?

These, meanwhile, are the western reactions, already removed from events by a further layer of mediation, a forest of axes seeking grinding. If the writer who composed this piece is to be believed, the executed girl has posthumously achieved a sort of universal symbolic gravity in the Arab world, standing for the plight of any hopeless cause of justice dashed against authoritarian power.

* For the House of Saud, it must be recalled, the personal was political in the problematic confrontation between tradition and modernity athwart the desert kingdom’s sea of oil.

** “Princess Misha’al” was executed fully veiled, which permits the rumor that the slain woman was actually a surrogate and the onetime royal favorite lives on incognito somewhere.

† According to the July 4, 1980 London Times.

Part of the Themed Set: The Feminine Mystique.

Editor’s note: References to “Princess Misha” corrected; thanks to hannah for the clarification.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Arts and Literature,Beheaded,Borderline "Executions",Botched Executions,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous,History,Martyrs,No Formal Charge,Notable Jurisprudence,Notable Participants,Popular Culture,Public Executions,Royalty,Saudi Arabia,Scandal,Sex,Shot,Volunteers,Women,Wrongful Executions

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Themed Set: The Feminine Mystique

5 comments July 15th, 2009 Headsman

Our tour through the world’s condemned has made the company of many a woman, but our hobby is a noticeably gendered one: whether as common criminals, fallen royals, political prisoners, war criminals, or any other subset of the execution-prone, women who face the headsmen map differently in the public conscience than men.

If the distinctions are none other than those that structure every social transactions, the dramatic tableau of the scaffold raises the stakes, sharpens the gendering, be she whore or madonna, black widow or holy maid.

Often, condemned women excite more sympathy, even romantic longing; occasionally, a crime’s inversion of femininity redoubles their opprobrium. A few criminal categories — abortion, witchcraft — are, for lack of a better term, female-gendered by default.

Though this series hardly marks the last women for these pages, three very notable cases in very different situations offer a vantage point not only on female and male through history, but on one’s own response to the spectacle of the executed woman.

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Entry Filed under: Themed Sets

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1939: Howard Long, New Hampshire’s most recent hanging

1 comment July 14th, 2009 Headsman

As of today, it’s been 70 years since the U.S. state of New Hampshire carried out an execution, despite maintaining a death penalty statute almost continuously since.

“Craving for boys,” Long was condemned for molesting and beating to death a 10-year-old in 1937, evidently his second molestation/murder: in the first, he reportedly drove around for 10 hours with his prisoner before plucking up the heart to do the thing, the sort of mental picture to cast a child murder victim of a wannabe-serial killer in the unexpected aspect of boredom.

Long’s execution in the bicentennial of New Hampshire’s first legal hangings was itself the first in 21 years in the Granite State. Although a handful of cases since have potentially fit the steadily narrowing set of death penalty circumstances, none has actually come so far as the gallows (or, today, theoretically, lethal injection) before taking one of the many possible exits — plea bargain, sentence reduction, premature death — from the capital punishment system.

New Hampshire’s present-day death row consists of only one person, and earlier this year its legislature actually voted to abolish the death penalty, a measure spearheaded by State Rep. Renny Cushing, who is the son of a murder victim.* The measure was vetoed by Gov. John Lynch.

* Full disclosure: also a personal friend. Cushing founded Murder Victims Families for Human Rights (MVFHR).

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,Milestones,Murder,New Hampshire,Ripped from the Headlines,Sex,USA

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1971: Ten failed putschists in Morocco

1 comment July 13th, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 1971, four generals, five colonels and a major who had attempted a coup d’etat in Morocco less than three days before were shot without trial at the military barracks in Rabat.

The senior officers* had taken military cadets and stormed the palace where birthday celebrations for King Hassan II were taking place. They captured the monarch himself before the cadets themselves wavered, and loyal troops successfully counterattacked. Ninety-two people, including the Belgian ambassador, were killed in the affair; the king was at their state funeral on this date at the time the putschists were being shot.

This selection of the coup’s leadership gunned down this day in Rabat did not make an end to the reverberations; other trials followed later in the year, and some others who were implicated were simply “disappeared”.

Although we lack the testimony of any of the coup leaders themselves for their motivations, it occurred in the context of political and social upheaval in post-colonial Morocco. Frank H. Braun (“Morocco: Anatomy of a Palace Revolution That Failed”, International Journal of Middle East Studies, Vol. 9, No. 1 (Jan., 1978)) argues that it was rooted in an eclipse of the traditional prerogatives of the military — and especially of the Berber nobility, who can be said to be the authors of the attempt.

So too can its failure be ascribed to the scant support this parochial and backward-looking cause commanded; non-Berber officers didn’t join the plot. Even so, with one of his government’s traditional pillars of support so heavily compromised (and decimated by this day’s executions and other reprisals), the coup led Hassan II to somewhat liberalize Morocco’s constitution the following year.

Which did not exactly still the tumultuous power politics scene in Rabat.

Mohamed Oufkir, the general who had coolly suppressed the 1971 coup** to become the preeminent military officer in the country, mounted his own bid for power in 1972 and suffered the same fate as this date’s doomed rebels.

* Notably, Mohamed Medbouh (French link), “one of my closest collaborators” in the estimation of the king himself (but also of “the mentality of a jackal”). His surname actually meant “cutthroat,” and was earned by his father’s literally having his throat cut — and surviving — in the 1920’s.

** A Berber himself, Oufkir may have been aware of the earlier coup — and cunning enough not to commit himself until he saw which way the wind was blowing.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Mass Executions,Morocco,No Formal Charge,Power,Shot,Soldiers,Summary Executions,Treason

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