1944: Jean Cavailles, philosopher-mathematician 1790: Thomas de Mahy, Marquis de Favras

1957: Walter James Bolton, the last hanged in New Zealand

February 18th, 2011 Headsman

New Zealand got itself permanently out of the execution business after hanging Walter Bolton this date in 1957 for the murder of his wife.

The 68-year-old farmer was condemned after his wife finally succumbed to a year-long bout with some mysterious recurring ailment — and the post-mortem revealed long-term arsenic poisoning. Since Bolton turned out to have been having an affair with his wife’s sister, the pieces just fell right into place.

Jurors found these circumstances credible enough to stretch Bolton’s neck, but there’s the small problem that Walter Bolton himself also tested for arsenic poisoning.

The defense argued that the farm’s wells must have soaked up the poison from sheep dip.

But if you like your wrongful executions more sinister than dunderheaded, you might turn a wary eye to that adulterous sister-in-law, Florence Doherty, who committed suicide a year after Bolton hanged. This 2001 Investigate magazine argues (beginning on p. 24 of the pdf) that Doherty may have been a serial arsenic poisoner.

(Bolton’s hanging was also botched, to complete the official dog’s breakfast.)

Whether or not Bolton was rightly accused, nothing along the lines of a public scandal over the case triggered death penalty abolition in New Zealand.

It was rather the First World’s collctive mid-20th century move away from capital punishment. Various abolition efforts building in the 1950’s finally led to a 1961 free vote on the matter, in which ten members of the conservative National Party broke party ranks to eliminate the death penalty for all ordinary crimes. (Decades later, a Labour government also eliminated the death penalty for treason; New Zealand has only ever hanged one person for that crime.)

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Botched Executions,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Milestones,Murder,New Zealand,Sex,Wrongful Executions

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11 thoughts on “1957: Walter James Bolton, the last hanged in New Zealand”

  1. Jules says:

    Hi. Im not family but a close friend of mine is and he thinks he may have some info that mite be of interest to u. Hes not internet-friendly which is why im posting

  2. william says:

    It is a remote possibility that there was a testimony that could be allowed now.
    As i understand there was one daughter that i knew well enough in those austere times.
    Her name was Sheryl and she told me a little of what was happening but she was only about 13 or 14 at the time and who would listen to a scared girl in those times.
    Even after all these years after meeting Walter Bolton and after all these years i believe Sheryl was telling the truth.
    We were supposed to meet at the Central baths as she just lived around the corner.
    But she never turned up and two weeks later we saw the news paper .
    Cheers Bill

  3. Headsman says:

    Hi, Peter.

    Unfortunately that comment is three years old. I just tried emailing the address left by the poster, and the message bounced as a discontinued account.

  4. Peter Bolton says:

    Hi im a later descendant of his family… And theres alot of stuff pointing to his innocence… And me and others in my family are trying to piece together wat happened so if you have any info please leave a link on here thanks

    Just read the above, I also am a member of the family. Could you please forward my comments and my address to the correspondant for possible communication.

    Thankyou very much
    Peter

  5. GG says:

    Looks to me like an innocent man was executed wrongfully

  6. Umm family says:

    Hi im a later descendant of his family… And theres alot of stuff pointing to his innocence… And me and others in my family are trying to piece together wat happened so if you have any info please leave a link on here thanks

  7. Headsman says:

    Yeah, that was the link in the article as well. The apostrophe hoses it.

    I put that same link into a link-shortening service and that seems to work for me now: http://bit.ly/fKhLtD

    Thanks for catching that.

  8. Fiz says:

    I can’t get the Investigate link to work, Jason!

  9. Fiz says:

    It all sounds highly sinister and horrible.

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