Archive for November, 2009

1909: Will James, “the Froggie”, lynched in Cairo

11 comments November 11th, 2009 Headsman

One hundred years ago today, Will James was lynched as a murderer in Cairo, Illinois.

“The Frog” or “The Froggie” was a black man implicated in the murder of a white girl, captured in nearby Belknap and

taken to the most prominent square in the city and strung up. The rope broke and the man was riddled with bullets. The body was then dragged by the rope for a mile to the scene of the crime and burned in the presence of at least 10,000 rejoicing persons. Many women were in the crowd, and some helped to hang the negro and to drag the body.

Part of the mob then sought other negroes. Another part, at 11:15 o’clock, after battering down a steel cell in the county jail, took out Henry Salzner, a white man charged with the murder of his wife last August, and lynched him.* (New York Times, Nov. 12, 1912)


Other pictures related to the Will James lynching are at the Without Sanctuary site here (images 41 through 47).

The grey lady’s dim view of this jubilant scene prompted a letter to the editor in defense — the author’s disclaimer notwithstanding — of the lynching, which paints a grim and striking portrait of the town where it occurred.

CAIRO’S NEGROES.

Former Resident Says They Are Spoiled by Coddling and Are a Menace.

As a former resident of Cairo, Ill., where I was the editor of a daily newspaper for three years, I crave a word, not in defense of the double lynching which occurred there a few days ago, but in explanation of it. Cairo, at the extreme southern point of Illinois, at the junction of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, is peculiarly located. Across one river is Missouri; across the other is Kentucky, and Tennessee is only fifty miles away. Cairo thus becomes a buffer between the North and the South. It is probably the only town in the North which has a true race problem to deal with. … Out of a population of 13,000 in 1900, 5,000 of the inhabitants of Cairo were negroes. Of the 100,000 negroes in the State of Illinois 5 per cent are massed in this one little town. Aside from this, the floating colored population is unusually large, and Cairo, at some time or other, harbors most of the “bad niggers” from St. Louis, Cincinnati, Louisville, Memphis, Vicksburg, and New Orleans. It is these whom citizens fear the most, and for whom the police are constantly alert. Murders by negroes either of white men or negroes are alarmingly frequent, but the murderer usually escapes either to Kentucky or Missouri, and is never heard of again. Thus crime after crime is recorded against the name of Cairo, with no recompense in the name of the law. On the other hand, there is hardly a time when there are not forty or fifty Cairo negroes in the Southern Illinois Penitentiary, all convicted of theft or burglary.

The white people of Cairo have always dealt indulgently with the negro. For years it has been the policy to keep two negroes on the small police force, and there have been negro Justices of the Peace. A negro physician once came near being elected a member of the Board of Education. While they pay but little taxes, the negroes are provided with three public schools. The Sumner was the first colored High School ever established in the United States. Yet this negro population, coddled as it is, is a constant menace to the town. No white woman dare venture outside of the house at night alone for fear of assault. Many outrages of which the world has never heard have been attempted. This is why, as Mayor Parsons says, the effect of the recent lynching will be “salutary.”

Altogether it is not surprising that a lynching took place in Cairo. The only wonder is that one did not take place long ago.

W.L. CLANAHAN
New York, Nov. 14, 1909

That electric arch and celebratory mob are now long gone from Cairo: in the century since Will James was butchered, Cairo, Ill., has withered — striken in part by its own poisonous legacy of racism. (Also by flooding from the adjacent rivers, the routing of transportation corridors elsewhere, and the general deindustrialization of the heartland.)

During the civil rights struggle as played out in Cairo in the 1960’s and 1970’s (more in this pdf), the town’s white business owners made a name for themselves by refusing to integrate their workforces in response to black boycotts … preferring to go out of business and/or leave town.

Cairo today is a near ghost town at one-quarter of its previous population, and generally appalling quality-of-life indicators.

* Salzner’s lynching occurred after midnight, according to the same article; hence, his absence from this article’s marquee.

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1780: Corregidor Antonio de Arriaga, by his slave

1 comment November 10th, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 1780, Incan-Peruvian indigenous leader Tupac Amaru launched his insurrection against the Spanish with the public execution of a Spanish corregidor.

Antonio de Arriaga, as Spain’s man in Tungasuca, had as part of his job description forcing curacas to extract the crown’s tribute from the natives. This put some tension between him and the likes of the strong-willed Tupac Amaru, who advocated fiercely enough for his people’s rights that Arriaga threatened him with death.

It also made Arriaga’s death an invitingly emblematic scene to open the indigenous revolt.

On Nov. 4, 1780, Tupac Amaru kidnapped Arriaga returning from a dinner party, then forced him to sign letters summoning Spaniards and curacas alike to Tungasuca.

There, he mustered his own force of armed natives and performed for them a “carefully staged public ceremony.”

According to a primary source excerpted in The Tupac Amaru and Catarista Rebellions

Account of the Most Horrible Crime Committed by Jose Gabriel Tupac Amaru, Cacique of Pampamarca

On the morning of Friday, November 10th, Tupac Amaru ordered that three columns … be organized from all the people from his Province that were already there. Two were composed of Spaniards and Mestizos armed with muskets, sabers, and sticks; and one of Indians with slings. In the middle of this, he brought out the Corregidor, dressed in his military uniform, and publicly started taking his uniform off, stripping him of his rank following the rituals he had understood and seen in other occasions, until he was left in his shirt. He then put a shroud on him … that had the title of La Caridad on it. He then gave the order to take him to the gallows, accompanied by the Priest and two other clergymen, where he went with a resignation and patience worthy of somebody who was already touching the portals of eternity.

Once on the gallows the Corregidor was forced by the tyrant to publicly declare that he deserved to die in that way. A black slave of the Corregidor [named Antonio Oblitas -ed.] served as his executioner, but the ropes snapped and both fell to the ground. But they suspended them again with a lariat around their necks, and thus they completed the execution in clear sight and tolerance of all his Province. [“they” is as rendered in the book; I have no indication that more than one person was executed. -ed.] Not one voice was raised that would disturb the operation. And most surprising of all was that those same Collectors and those close to the Corregidor were the ones who (oh, what an awful spectacle of perfidy!) sped his way to the ignominious place of execution, and who pulled on his feet so he could die even more violently.

The rebellion, needless to say, was on.

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1944: Georges Suarez, collaborationist editor

Add comment November 9th, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 1944, the restored French Republic shot the editor of the collaborationist newspaper Aujourd’hui (Today).

Suarez‘s (linked page in French) writings (French again) had endorsed the German occupation and called for steps even beyond what the Germans were prepared to take: the wholesale taking of Anglo hostages as proof against Allied bombing raids, for instance.

His trial and execution were the first of many suffered by pro-Vichy writers and journalists condemned by the vengeful free French courts for their part in the Nazi occupation, especially in the first months after liberation. The public intellectuals of the wartime government were, as a matter of fact, in the dock faster than the government itself.

Alice Kaplan, writing of the more infamous collaborationist writer Robert Brasillach who would follow Suarez’ footsteps in a few weeks, observes:

Writers were easy to try. Their files, crumbling now, are rather thin: clippings of their articles from the collaborationist press, underlined in red and blue ink with an occasional commentary; a report by the prefecture of police outlining their political affiliations and behavior during the Occupation; a list of witnesses called by the defense and the prosecution; interviews of the accused, before the trial, going over the charges against him; letters from friends — and enemies — sent to the judge before the trial. It was easier to organize a case against a journalist than a case against a common-law criminal or a financial collaborator. The bulk of the evidence was in newspaper clippings, quickly compiled.

“Treason is a matter of dates,” Suarez’ lawyer averred, channeling Talleyrand. But at this early date of freedom, not six months after Omaha Beach had been wrenched from German hands, there was much less sympathy for the philosophic vagaries of history than some subsequent writers would enjoy — and there was a good deal of indictable behavior:

Whether they faced the charge of treason or of national indignity, the writers were accused of having espoused numerous elements of Nazi ideology: anti-communism; anti-Semitism; support for the releve (the system designed to send French workers to Germany in exchange for French POWs); support for the Milice (Vichy’s police force); support for the German and French troops fighting the Soviets on the Eastern front; attacks against de Gaulle and the Resistance; participation in collaborationist organizations; trips to Germany during the Occupation, in particular to the International Writers’ Congress at Weimar in 1941.

Philip Watts, Allegories of the Purge

In addition to its noteworthy history in the postwar purge of journalists, Kaplan reports that Suarez’s trial may also have been the first in French history for which women were eligible to serve as jurors — although none of the women in the jury pool were ultimately seated, and the milestone seems not to have been widely noticed even at the time.

The execution itself was badly botched: Suarez is said to have survived both the initial fusillade and a second barrage from the firing squad before a third round finished him off.

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1845: Lavinia Burnett and Crawford Burnett

Add comment November 8th, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 1845, husband-and-wife murderers Crawford and Lavinia Burnett (nee Sharp) danced a gallows jig built for two in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

The duo contrived with their son, John, to rob and murder a nearby recluse, Jonathan Selby, for the money he was thought to be hoarding.

The family the slays together, pays together.

Alas for mom, dad, and big brother, 15-year-old daughter Minerva shopped them.

John-boy was still on the lam at this time — he’d be caught soon, and hanged December 26 — but Lavinia and Crawford hanged together before a large crowd in the vicinity of the present-day Fayetteville National Cemetery.

It was the first recorded execution of a woman in Arkansas history, and would be the only such until the year 2000.

Among the ranks of the Burnetts’ illustrious if unsuccessful defense team was Isaac Murphy, who would go on to become a notable pro-Union pol during the Civil War (with a murky part in an infamous massacre of Confederate sympathizers), and subsequently became governor of the state during Reconstruction.

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1550: Jon Arason, the last Catholic bishop of Iceland

Add comment November 7th, 2009 Headsman

At dawn this date in 1550, two sons* of Jon Arason were beheaded at Skalholt, followed by the energetic sextegenerian prelate himself — cementing Lutheranism in Iceland.

As bishop of the northern diocese of Holar and one of the most powerful pols in Iceland, Arason did what he could to maintain papal authority when the Danish King Christian III began pushing Protestantism.

Arason was a practical guy; remote from any prospect of aid, he was content to maintain a cordial balance between his diocese and the southern one of Skalholt. (The two sees were political rivals of long standing; Skalholt’s previous Catholic representative, Ogmundur, had at one point many years before our narrative excommunicated Arason and forced the latter to flee to Denmark.)

Whether driven by the prince or the bishop within,** Arason took advantage of his Protestant opposite number’s timely passing in 1548 to make a play for power in the south as well. Early returns augured well; Arason arrested the Lutheran replacement, got the Icelandic parliament to throw in with him, and captured key points in the Holar diocese, reconsecrating ecclesiastical properties as Catholic.†

But his rival Dadi Gudmundsson turned the tables on the man who was becoming the de facto ruler of the island by ambushing him at a parley. The cleric and the two sons, having been declared outlaws months before by Danish decree, were executed on that basis without trial, lest holding them for the planned hearing the following spring enable their supporters to rally. Arason’s beheading was reportedly botched.

Legally doubtful but practically effectual, the axe that (eventually) decapitated the divine did likewise to his flock. Lutheranism thereafter settled comfortably into the ascendancy: Iceland would not have another Catholic bishop for nearly four centuries, by which time its Catholic population had shrunk near the vanishing point.

Although his faith didn’t have legs on the island, Arason reads very easily as a proto-nationalist figure and political actor; he’s been well-loved by Protestant, Catholic, and irreligious posterity alike.

He also gave Icelandic a bit of vernacular on his way to shuffling off this mortal coil. When a priest named Sveinn proffered the solace, “There is a life after this one!” as the last bishop approached the block, he replied, “Veit ég það, Sveinki!”“This I know, Sveinki!”

In everyday conversation in Iceland, that phrase is still used to tease someone who has just stated the obvious.

* Although this is well into the period when Catholic clergy were supposed to be practicing celibacy, Arason’s indifference to this particular mortification of the flesh is just another bit of his charm. With his mistress Helga Sigurdardottir, he sired nine sons and daughters, marrying them into politically advantageous allegiances where possible. At least eight subsequent Lutheran bishops sprang from his seed; by the present, “virtually all Icelanders can validly claim direct descent” from Jon Arason, according to Iceland, the First New Society.

** Jon Arason was also a notable poet. Ljomur, whose attribution to Arason is speculative, can be enjoyed for free here.

† More particulars about the Icelandic political chessboard are available in this 19th century text (the pdf is easier on the eyes than the text), or in “An Icelandic Martyr: Jón Arason,” by Thomas Buck, in the Jesuit publication Studies: An Irish Quarterly Review, Vol. 46, No. 182 (Summer, 1957), pp. 213-222.

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2003: Four for the oil of Chad

1 comment November 6th, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 2003, seven Chadians were shot in the capital of N’Djamena, with an eighth in the eastern city of Abeche. (A ninth would be executed three days later.)

Chad’s first known judicial executions since 1991 came as a shock to observers; the country had publicly mooted death penalty abolition earlier that very year.

It also seems to have come as a shock for its subjects.

Four of those executed this date — the four that concern us here — were ranking power-brokers in President Idriss Deby’s regime convicted of bumping off the head of the Chad Petroleum Company, one Sheik Ibn Oumar Idriss Youssouf.

Mahamat Adam Issa, Adouma Ali Ahmat, Abderamane Hamid Haroun and Moubarack Bakhit Abderamane had been condemned on Oct. 25, just a month after the Sheikh was assassinated outside the Foreign Ministry. Less than two weeks later, the perps were shot when Deby denied them clemency even with their Supreme Court appeal still pending (pdf). (The Chadian judiciary seems a rickety thing (pdf).)

The murder, for its part, came just a month after Chad christened a $3.7 billion pipeline project.

It’s often called the “Adouma affair” after its principal defendant, which helpfully suggests the murky oil politics surrounding the speedy execution.

Ali Adouma was a former Deby advisor; both Adouma and the victim were from Darfur, in neighboring Sudan, whose conflict has spilled into Chad (pdf).

The Sudanese government had at times sought Adouma’s extradition for financing anti-govenrment Zaghawa forces across the border; while the Zaghawa ethnic minority (whose ranks include President Deby) dominates Chad, its Darfurian brethren have had the worst of their conflict with the Sudanese government.

So even if the convicts’ torture-adduced confessions resembled the truth of the murder, it can be safely inferred that the fact and the haste of their executions were matters of state. (Adouma’s confidence that there would not actually be an execution was reportedly shaken only in the last hours of his life.)

What matter of state is a different, uncertain matter: to calm potential foreign investors who’d be understandably nervous about seeing a petroleum kingpin pinched on the streets without consequence? A sop to Khartoum in Deby’s ongoing diplomatic efforts to limit the knock-on from Darfur to Chad? Or a warning to Deby’s own base? (pdf)

The vague attempts at conciliation by the Chadian President do not please his entourage which almost sees it as treason. Last May, 80 soldiers tried to overthrow Deby and would have assassinated him …

President Idriss Deby, according to observers with knowledge of Chadian politics, would be in a “precarious” situation. The Chad regime, undermined by corruption and ever on the brink of a chronic socio-economic crisis … may become even “tougher”. In N’Djamena, the hasty conviction and execution of Ali Adouma are seen as a sign from the President to his inner circle, even the ones in charge of the national economy, that he is ready to use coercion, even against his own clan.

These pictures of the execution were published in a Chadian paper. In image three, the circled figure is one of the firing squad members, who was himself bizarrely reported fatally shot during the execution. (Whispers continue to circulate that the unlucky executioner had in fact been intentionally eliminated after receiving some sensitive parting confidence from the well-placed condemned.)

“Chad,” said Interior Minister Routouang Yoma Golom, “has given a wonderful example to wrong-doers.”

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2009: Khristian Oliver, Bible basher

30 comments November 5th, 2009 John Temple

(Thanks to John Temple, author of The Last Lawyer: The Fight to Save Death Row Inmates and journalism professor at West Virginia University, for the guest post. -ed.)

Barring a last-minute stay of execution, Khristian Oliver will be put to death late this afternoon.

(Update: Khristian Oliver has indeed been executed as scheduled. His likeness lives on in an altarpiece made by his father, an artist.)

In 1998, Oliver, now 32, shot and killed a man whose home he was burglarizing. Oliver’s guilt isn’t being questioned. The argument his attorneys and supporters are using to stave off his upcoming execution has to do with how the jurors in his case handled his sentencing.

An Oct. 15 story in The Guardian described the scene in the jury room this way:

A clutch of jurors huddled in the corner with one reading aloud from the Book of Numbers: “The murderer shall surely be put to death” and “The revenger of blood himself shall slay the murderer.”

Another juror highlighted passages which she showed to a fellow juror: “And if he smite him with an instrument of iron, the murderer shall surely be put to death.” (Apparently one of the same passages, Numbers 35:16, in fuller context.)

Juries debating this most difficult decision often reach for Biblical guidance, and there are no shortage of verses that relate to capital punishment, including the famous “eye for an eye” passage(s). Courts have ruled this improper, not because the Bible is a religious document, but because it is extrinsic evidence, meaning it was not properly introduced as evidence.

The same issue arose in the central case in my new book, The Last Lawyer: The Fight to Save Death Row Inmates.

To write the book, I shadowed a North Carolina legal team for four and a half years as they fought to overturn the death sentence of a man named Bo Jones. The attorneys crisscrossed the back roads of North Carolina to track down and interview most of the jurors from the trial, two of whom chased them off their property. In the end, the attorneys found one woman who claimed that a Baptist minister on the jury had brought a Bible into the room and quoted passages from it.

In the end, this claim didn’t help Bo Jones. A federal appeals judge threw it out, saying his lawyers hadn’t proved that the Bible-quoting had influenced the jury’s verdict. But Jones’s attorneys had plenty of other arguments up their sleeves, while Oliver’s supporters seem to be putting most of their emphasis on the Bible argument.

It remains to be seen whether this will bewas not enough to spare his life.

Update: Prolific death penalty defense attorney David R. Dow (author of Autobiography of an Execution) on his client, Khristian Oliver.



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1793: The smitten Adam Lux

2 comments November 4th, 2009 Headsman

Among all the strange and pathetic love-stories of the Revolution, when hearts were won within prison walls and wedded by the guillotine, is there another as fantastic and wonderful as that of Adam Luchs? (Source)

Adam Lux (as he’s better known, and a fitter name to his character could hardly be invented), German Republican turned French Revolution representative, was so lovestruck by the arresting figure of Charlotte Corday that it was downright … mortifying.

Many were men to whom the Norman maid played muse, like the poet Andre Chenier.

But Lux was something else.

Thrilled by this chaste heroine’s sacrificial blow against the Revolution’s monster, Lux was supposed to have fallen madly in love with the murderess the one time he actually saw her, on her serene way to the scaffold.

Eros thus yoked to Thanatos, the besotted fellow promptly hurled himself after the exaltation of death. Imitation, after all, is the sincerest form of flattery.

Certainly knowing it to be fatal, Adam Lux published under his own name a vindication of Ms. Public Enemy #1 and her “tyrannicide,” and generally went extravagantly mooning about in this sort of vein as he prepared to get his head cut off this date in 1793:

The guillotine is no longer a disgrace. It has become a sacred altar, from which every taint has been removed by the innocent blood shed there on the 17th of July. Forgive me, my divine Charlotte, if I find it impossible at the last moment to show the courage and the gentleness that were yours! I glory because you are superior to me, for it is right that she who is adored should be higher and more glorious than her adorer!

Adam came off a little needy, you’d have to say.

Not surprisingly, he didn’t get the girl in the end.

Adam Lux to Charlotte Corday
by William James Dawson

Red is the garb thou wearest, red is the deed thou hast done,
And red on a land of blood rises the morning sun.
Kings have ridden this road, conquerors mailed in gold,
But none in such red triumph as this that we behold.

Rose, thro’ a rose-red dawn, go to thy valourous fate,
Queen of all roses thou, splendid and passionate.
And lo ! at thy feet I fling, here, in the gallows-cart,
Passionate even as thine, the rose-flower of my heart.

Turn but a moment toward me, stoop in thy raiment red,
I answer thee look for look, I am warmed and comforted.
Twins are we of one womb, fated sister and brother,
Nursed on the bare bruised breasts of Freedom our great Mother!

Thou, whom none could master, proud and glorious head,
Come, O Rose, to my bosom, come when thou art dead!
They have shorn the beautiful hair, they have bound the strong fair hands,
Signal me with your eyes that love still understands!

Signal, and I will follow : I dwell where thou must dwell,
I shall know thy blood-red raiment either in heaven or hell!
Lo! at thy feet I fling, here, in the gallows-cart,
Passionate even as thine, the red rose of my heart!

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Arts and Literature,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,France,Guillotine,History,Politicians,Power,Public Executions,Revolutionaries,Sex,Treason,Volunteers

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1942: Duncan Scott-Ford, because loose lips sink ships

2 comments November 3rd, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 1942, British merchant sailor Duncan Scott-Ford was hanged at London’s Wandsworth Prison for giving German agents sensitive information about ship movements.

This, of course, was just the sort of thing everyone was trying to discourage.

… and a version to keep young soldiers on the pull Mata Hari-conscious:

For a case that so handily underscored the posters, the Scott-Ford affair made great copy … but not until a day after the hanging itself. Having kept everything secret, the papers were finally allowed on Nov. 4 to announce

that a British subject was executed for treachery at Wandsworth Prison yesterday morning.

Scott-Ford was paid 1,800 escudos by the enemy. This sum, which in English currency is equivalent only to about £18, was all that Scott-Ford in fact received from the enemy, though promises were held out to him which lured him deeper and deeper into the blackmailing clutches of the enemy. Thus when Scott-Ford returned on his second visit to Lisbon with the information which he had collected the Germans, instead of honouring their promises, threatened that they would expose him to the British authorities unless he continued to perform further services, to collect more valuable information and to undergo greater risks in their interest.

Some of the information which Scott-Ford gave to the enemy related to his own ship, and thus imperilled the lives of his own shipmates.

The moral to be drawn from this case is that British and allied seamen when visiting neutral ports should be constantly on their guard against strangers who may frequently approach them for apparently innocent purposes. Such strangers are apt to be enemy agents … (London Times, Nov. 4, 1942)

Shhhhh!

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1924: Ali Reshti and Sayyid Husain, to placate America

2 comments November 2nd, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 1924, diplomatic maneuvering, oil patch politics, and a dead American consul put two Iranian teenagers in front of a firing squad.

Largely forgotten today, the affair which prompted their execution helped Cossack commander Reza Khan‘s ongoing consolidation of power, culminating in another year’s time with his conquest of the Persian throne itself.

By the summer of 1924, he was by title Prime Minister and his domestic opponents could read the writing on the wall: he had made a premature bid for formal executive authority in 1923 only to be rebuffed.* At the same time, he was engaged in the perilous oil game with an attempt to use American companies to break a British oil monopoly.

On July 18, 1924, American Vice Consul Maj. Robert Imbrie and his civilian countryman Melvin Seymour were attacked by a Tehran mob while photographing a well which had become a Moslem devotional site for purported miraculous healings. Imbrie was beaten to death; Seymour was lucky to survive … and it soon emerged that soldiers from the nearby barracks had not only failed to protect the Americans but actually taken part in the assault.

Iran’s emerging strongman lost no time in making the most of it.

The event gave [Reza Khan] … the excuse for declaring martial law and a censorship of the Press … Numerous arrests have been made, chiefly of political opponents of the Prime Minister. (British military attache Col. W.A.K. Fraser)

It’s like Lenin said, you look for the person who will benefit and, uh, you know, uh, you know, you’ll, uh, you know what I’m trying to say …

Assuming one discerns some measure of design in the Imbrie murder, and the convenient outburst of anti-Baha’i paranoia that sparked the fatal incident, one can go a couple of different directions at this point.

  1. That the Prime Minister’s foes, allied with British oil interests (the British angle was so widely believed in Iran at the time that press censorship forbade the incendiary charge), were firing up the rowdies in an attempt to shake his power. This 1924 American cable makes that case:

    “It had the earmarks from the beginning of an artificially inspired movement, of which the organized powers of evil were quick to take advantage in order to create disorder for the Government … Reza Khan found himself faced with a situation before which he was powerless. The fanaticism of the crowd was so incited by the continuous preaching of the Mullahs that any act on his part would have been interpreted as treason to Islam and prima facie evidence that he was a Bahai; hence his unfortunate orders to the military and the police not to intervene under any circumstances in religious demonstrations and under no circumstances to fire.”

  2. That Pahlavi’s own agents fomented the disorder. According to Michael Zirinsky‘s review of the case, another American official speculated that Reza Khan himself hoped a foreigner would die “so that he could declare martial law and check the power of the Mullahs.”

Which, in the event, is exactly what happened.

The U.S. made a great show of demanding exemplary justice, and it had the leverage to do so: Iran (how times change!) wanted American support and American oil exploitation.

Three were condemned to death for their parts in the riot, and after the first, a young soldier named Morteza said to have incited the mob, was shot on Oct. 2, the government announced leniency for the other two.

Not good enough.


“When you are dealing with a government like Persia … if you ask them to execute a Moslem for the death of a Christian … if they do it, you accomplish more for the prestige of your country than if they paid a million.” -a young Allen Dulles, in 1926 testimony to the U.S. House of Representatives.

At American insistence, those other two were recalled to death after all: 17-year-old mullah Sayyid Husain (various alternate transliterations – e.g., Seyid Hussein), who was supposed to have raised the riot-triggering “Baha’i well-poisoner” accusation in the first place, and 14-year-old camel driver Ali Reshti.

Zirinsky once again:

With the ending of the Iran-U.S. dispute by the execution of Ali and Husain on November 2, 1924, Reza was free to leave the capital city. He had support from the foreign legations, he had secured financing for the army, he had reestablished discipline in the Cossack Brigade, and by executing Sayyid Husain — a mullah — he had demonstrated his domination over the clergy … in the course of the next months’ campaign, he completed the unification of Iran and ensured that his government would get all the [Anglo-Persian Oil Company] royalties…

While the Imbrie affair was not the only critical event of Reza’s seizure of total power in Iran, it came at a critical moment in his rise … he used the murder to his best advantage.

And they all lived happily ever after.

* The future Shah’s future rival Mohammed Mossadegh was among the Iranian Majlis members who blocked Reza Khan’s attempt to rule Iran as a republic in 1923.

** “Blood, Power, and Hypocrisy: The Murder of Robert Imbrie and American Relations with Pahlavi Iran, 1924,” International Journal of Middle East Studies, vol. 18, no. 3 (Aug. 1986). Zirinsky quotes an American diplomat who believed Reza Khan was actually intentionally trying to create a situation where a foreigner would be killed, to give him a pretext for bringing his nation to heel with foreign support.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Children,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Iran,Murder,Notable for their Victims,Notable Jurisprudence,Political Expedience,Religious Figures,Rioting,Shot,USA

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