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..
- 1836: Felipe Santiago Salaverry, President of Peru - 2017
- 1719: Collmore, Hang'd, Quarter'd and his Intrals burn'd - 2016
- Corpses Strewn: Collmore and his gang - 2016
- 1813: W. Clements, War of 1812 deserter - 2015
- 1478: The Duke of Clarence, in a butt of malmsey - 2014
- 1862: Margaret Coghlan, the last woman hanged in Tasmania - 2013
- 1799: Constantine Hangerli, tax man - 2012
- 1960: Oliviu Beldeanu, for the Berne incident - 2010
- 1957: Dedan Kimathi, Mau Mau commander - 2009
- 1873: Vasil Levski, for Bulgarian independence - 2008