Archive for July, 2011

1602: Charles de Gontaut, duc de Biron

Add comment July 31st, 2011 Headsman

On this date in 1602, Charles de Gontaut, duc de Biron, was beheaded in the Bastille for treason.

The son of a celebrated soldier* in the intractable French Wars of Religion, Charles de Gontaut (English Wikipedia page | French) was no slouch himself on the battlefield.

Henri of Navarre, in prevailing over his rivals for power in France and becoming King Henri IV, had good cause to appreciate Gontaut’s service, and even consider the man a friend.

But our Gontaut, having ascended the posts of Admiral, Marshal, Governor of Burgundy — and, of course, Duke — still coveted greater prestige. “Ambitious, arrogant, and of no great intelligence,” is this popular history’s judgment. (p. 360)

So he started conspiring with the Duke of Savoy — even as Gontaut bore the French standard in the field against this same character — for an arrangement to set himself up as an independent ruler or otherwise do something seriously deleterious to Henri’s kingdom.

The stories consistently report (pdf) that the lenient Henri was disposed to pardon his man if Gontaut would but make the show of submission implied in begging pardon, confessing his sin, vouchsafing loyalty, and all the rest of it, but out of pride and/or stupidity, Gontaut did not do it.

This fatal vanity recommended the Duc de Biron as a character study for his contemporary, English playwright George Chapman, whose The Conspiracy and Tragedy of Charles, Duke of Byron was published in London (heavily censored, at the insistence of the French ambassador) in 1608.

* Charles de Gontaut’s father, Armand de Gontaut, was also godfather to the child who would grow up to become Cardinal Richelieu.

Also on this date

Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,France,History,Nobility,Soldiers,Treason

Tags: , , , , , ,

1915: Charles Becker

Add comment July 30th, 2011 Headsman

On this date in 1915, New York City cop and New York City mafioso Charles Becker was electrocuted at Sing Sing for engineering a hit on bookie Herman Rosenthal.

This case of police corruption and gangland gunplay owned the Big Apple’s headlines in the early nineteen-teens — it even gets a callout in The Great Gatsby. Whether it was rightly decided has been hotly contested ever since.

Author Mike Dash, who maintains a dashing historical blog, delved into this Jabba’s Palace in Satan’s Circus: Murder, Vice, Political Corruption and New York’s Trial of the Century. He was generous enough to grant Executed Today permission to excerpt Satan’s Circus for the narration of Becker’s last hours.


Sing Sing had already prepared for Becker’s death.

Invitations had been despatched in the middle of July to those chosen to witness the execution. There were three dozen in total, and they went to doctors and to a sanitary engineer, to representatives of the press, and to the operators of several wire services. One, scarcely surprisingly, was sent to Swope of the World, but the reporter — to his undoubted chagrin — was recuperating from a bout of rheumatic fever and his doctor had forbidden him to attend. Swope despatched another World reporter in his stead; the man arrived at Ossining bearing a large sheaf of handwritten instructions setting out in considerable detail exactly how the story should be covered. Preparations were also made to cater for the needs of the large body of newsmen expected to descend on Sing Sing without the benefit of invitations. Linemen spent several days installing additional telegraph wires and Morse code senders in a shack opposite the death–house.

Inside the condemned cells, white curtains were fitted across the bars of all the cells that Becker would have to pass on his way to the execution chamber, so that the other inmates would not be able to see him as he walked by. In the execution chamber, guards tested each piece of equipment. The lieutenant’s electrocution was scheduled to be the first at which a new system of signals would be used, as the New York Times reported:

Instead of the old method, by which the executioner signalled with his arm to the man in charge at the power plant, there is a little electric button behind the chair, and above it is tacked a placard bearing the following gruesomely suggestive instructions: “Five bells, get ready; one bell, turn on the current; two bells, turn on more current; three bells, turn on less current; one bell, shut off current; six bells, all through.”

New York’s newspapers remained predominantly hostile to the condemned man. The Times spoke for most of the Manhattan press when it observed that Becker’s death sentence was a punishment not just for Herman’ s death, but for the arrogance Rosenthal’s killer had displayed during his strong–arm days: ‘He paid for the times when “Big Tim” called him “Charlie”. He paid for his one–time power, that almost of a dictator, over the underworld of New York. And he paid for his pride in all this.’ Several dailies had issued their reporters with instructions to study Becker carefully for signs of weakness or incipient collapse; in the end, opinion seemed evenly divided between those who thought that the policeman continued to display an ‘iron nerve in the face of doom’ and those who discerned the onset of a nervous breakdown.

The lawyers were more generous. [Williiam] Bourke Cockran paid tribute to his client’s astounding self–control: ‘His hand is just as cool and his voice as steady as can be.’ John McIntyre said that he had never previously doubted the verdict of a jury in a murder trial. ‘But in this case I say that if Becker is executed tomorrow I will carry to my grave the conviction that at least one innocent man has suffered the death penalty.’ And Joseph Shay, another of the lieutenant’s old attorneys, released a statement of his own: ‘I believe that Becker is dying a martyr, and that his innocence will be established in time, perhaps by the deathbed confession of Vallon or Webber. Rose is too low to confess even on his deathbed.’

Becker himself was woken early on his last morning. At 8am his prison clothes were exchanged for special black cotton shirt and trousers, made without metal buttons or wire stitching; he was given black felt slippers instead of shoes. A guard shaved a spot on his temple, ready for the electrode. Another appeared carrying a pair of shears and neatly slit Becker’s trouser leg almost to the knee. When the time came this would allow the death–house guards to affix a second wire to the condemned man’s calf.

The next portion of the day was passed in writing: a love letter for his wife, a final statement for the press. At two in the afternoon the policeman saw his relatives for the last time. His brothers John, the detective, and Jackson, now a Wall Street broker, found him sitting in his cell, gazing at a small photograph of Helen that he kept on the wall. The meeting was so difficult that the two men were relieved when one of the other prisoners along death row broke the awkward silence by singing ‘Rock of Ages’. Becker joined in with the chorus.

Helen Becker reached Sing Sing, pale and breathless from her journey, soon after 11pm. Her husband had been waiting for her with increasing anxiety for most of the evening. Becker was so popular in the death–house that he had received special permission to spend more than an hour and a half with his wife in the warden’s room. The guards, who had been given strict instructions to keep their eyes on the prisoner at all times, turned their backs as the couple embraced for the final time. ‘No condemned man at the prison had ever had such sympathetic treatment,’ observed the World.

Helen left the prison at 1.30 in the morning, and Becker was returned to his cell. ‘I am tired of the world and its injustice to me,’ he told Father Curry, the New York priest. ‘My happy life has been ruined; I have not been given a chance a mere dog would get.’ Warden Osborne, coming to say good-bye at 2.30am, found his prisoner awake and sitting on the edge of his cot, ‘his chin sunk in his hands’. At four, Father Cashin heard Becker’ s last confession, which contained no admission of guilt and ended with the firm assertion: ‘I am sacrificed for my friends.’

The execution was set for 5.45am. Outside the walls, a double line of guards poked long sticks through the fence that marked the limit of the prison grounds to keep back the crowds assembling there. Inside, the executioner – a small, sharp-faced, balding electrician dressed in a baggy grey sack suit, a striped shirt, polka–dot tie and pointed patent leather shoes – checked his equipment for the final time.

Becker was the one hundred and sixteenth prisoner to die at Sing Sing since electrocution was first used to execute a man in August 1890. The victim on that occasion had been an axe-murderer named William Kemmler, who was accidentally subjected to ‘a far more powerful current than was necessary’ and died ‘in convulsive agony’, flames jetting from the base of his spine and purplish foam spewing from his lips. The technique for electrocuting a man had been refined somewhat since then, but it was still common for the death-house to fill with the odour of burning flesh and scorched hair as the moistened electrical conductors placed against the condemned man’s skin dried out. A lengthy electric shock could ‘turn blood into charcoal and boil a brain’. When a prisoner was ready to enter the chamber, he was issued with thick muslin underwear, and little wads of cotton would be forced into his ears and nostrils to prevent scalding brain fluids spurting forth uncontrollably when the current was applied.

Thomas Mott Osborne, who had vowed never to be present when a man in his charge was being executed, walked away from the death–house at 5am, leaving Deputy Warden Johnson to bring the policeman from his cell. Becker, who was still awake when Johnson came for him, went quietly to his death. A dozen steps took him from his cot to the door leading to the execution chamber. At 5.42 the witnesses clustering inside saw a narrow red door swing open, and the condemned man entered the room. He walked with a strange, hobbled gait, his knees locking involuntarily. His face was a mask. The chair, surprisingly insubstantial, stood on a thick rubber mat almost in the centre of the room. There was no glass and no partition to separate Becker from the witnesses who had come to watch him die, the nearest of whom sat only 10 feet away. The electric chair itself, the man from the American observed, ‘had had a double coat of varnish and its metal fixtures had been burnished for the occasion.’ Straps dangled loosely from its arms and legs, and a heavily–insulated wire hung from a goose-necked fixture above it. The policeman’s guards, anxious to spare the condemned man the agony of a lengthy wait, hurried so much with the buckles that they neglected to secure one of the restraints that stretched over his chest. Becker’s last words, uttered as another leather strap was fastened across his mouth, were a recitation of the Catholic litany: ‘Into Thy hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit.’

Five bells rang, then one. The executioner took his hands out of his pockets and threw a long wooden lever on the wall. The raucous drone of electricity filled the room, a green flash shot from the equipment and Becker’s muscular body lurched forward against the straps, his head twisting sideways and upwards as though attempting to escape the shock.

Charley Becker was the largest man ever brought into the execution chamber at Sing Sing, and it may be for this reason that his electrocution was horribly botched. Too little current was applied at first, so that the death agonies became protracted. The temperature within the dying man’ s body rose to 140 F, the loose strap across his chest burst open, flames were seen to spurt from his temple, and despite the administration of 1,850 volts for a full 60 seconds, Charles Farr, the death–house doctor, found Becker’s heart ‘not only still beating, but pounding strongly.’ In the end it took nine minutes and three separate jolts to kill the prisoner, though the representative of the World observed that ‘to those who sat in the grey-walled room and listened to the rasping sound of the wooden switch lever being thrown backward and forward, and watched the greenish-blue blaze at the victim’s head and feet and the grayish smoke curling away from the scorched flesh, it seemed an hour.’ The whole affair was described in later years as ‘the clumsiest execution in the history of Sing Sing.’

As the reporters gathered to witness the execution filed out of the chamber, they were handed copies of Becker’s final letters. The first was addressed to Governor Whitman:

You have proved yourself able to destroy my life. But mark well, Sir, these words of mine. When your power passes, the truth about Rosenthal’s murder will become known. Not all the judges in this State, nor in this country, can destroy permanently the character of an innocent man.

The second letter was a final testament. Becker had spent much of the night memorising it, in the hope of being allowed to deliver it himself, but the guards had not permitted this.

‘I stand before you,’ this statement began,

in my full senses knowing that no power on earth can save me from the grave that is to receive me, and in the presence of my God and your God I proclaim my absolute innocence of the crime for which I must die. You are now about to witness my destruction by the State … And on the brink of my grave, I declare to the world that I am proud to have been the husband of the purest, noblest woman that ever lived, Helen Becker. This acknowledgement is the only legacy I can leave her. I bid you all goodbye. Father, I am ready to go.

CHARLES BECKER

When most of the reporters had left, Becker’s corpse was removed to the autopsy room for the usual examination, arms dangling, head hanging back, legs swinging. Dr Farr stripped the black cotton shirt from the lieutenant’s hulking body, and was startled to discover that it concealed the little photo of Helen that Becker had kept on the wall of his cell. The dead man had pinned it to his undershirt, with the face turned inward, over his heart.

I have no idea.

Also on this date

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Botched Executions,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Electrocuted,Execution,Guest Writers,History,Murder,New York,Organized Crime,Other Voices,Pelf,USA,Wrongful Executions

Tags: , , , , , , ,

1947: Three Jewish terrorists and two British hostages

1 comment July 29th, 2011 Headsman

On this date in 1947, three members of an Irgun commando team who had engineered a massive prison break of Zionist terrorists were hanged for the affair.

The Acre Prison Break was a meticulously coordinated operation by the Zionist underground in British Mandate Palestine that, a Conservative MP later charged, “reduced British prestige to a nadir.”

A team of guerrillas attacked the prison from the outside, coordinating with imprisoned Irgun and Stern Gang operatives who had explosives smuggled into their cells to help detonate their way through the walls. Hundreds of prisoners — most of them Arabs availing the opportunity — escaped.

According to the London Times (May 6, 1947), 16 escaping prisoners were slain in the affray, with eight British guards and police wounded.

More crucially for our purposes, five of the guerrillas who assailed the prison were captured. Three — Haviv Avshalom, Yaakov Weiss, and Meir Nakar — were taken armed, and sentenced to death by the British.

To browse the contemporaneous western press coverage is to visit a Holy Land very familiar to the present-day reader, filled with “terrorists” and “extremists” and “fanatics” and “murderers” abetted by “those who incite them from a safe distance and supply the funds and the weapons which they put to such deadly use.”* Except that this discourse was directed at Jews, not Arabs.

One good way to earn such an imprecation would be to kidnap two British soldiers and hold them hostage against the execution of the sentence. That’s exactly what the Irgun did.

The British searched for their men, but disdained to stoop the majesty of the law at the pleasure of some seditious blackmailer. So, early this morning at that same Acre Prison they had lately helped to liberate, Avshalom, Weiss, and Nakar went to the gallows.


Left to right: Avshalom, Weiss, and Nakar.

Palestine awaited with anxiety the expected discovery of two kidnaped British sergeants whom the Irgunists have vowed to kill in retaliation. The Mosaic law of vengeance applies and any show of clemency would be regarded by the extremists as evidence of cowardly submission.

-New York Times, July 30, 1947

The Irgun had already applied that Mosaic law of vengeance.

On the evening of that same July 29, it hanged its two hostages, intelligence corps sergeants Clifford Martin and Marvin Paice. The bodies were moved and strung up in a Eucalyptus grove near Netanya, to be discovered the next day, booby-trapped with a land mine. A scornful note announced their condemnation for “criminal anti-Hebrew activities.”


The bodies of Sgts. Clifford Martin and Marvin Paice, as discovered on July 31, 1947, hanging from Eucalyptus trees.

Moderate, mainline Zionists were horrified.

Of all the crimes that took place till this day on this land, this is the most grievous and disgusting one and will stain the purity of our peoples struggle for freedom. May this act of hanging remain as a sign of Cain on the doers of this disgraceful deed! The heavens and the earth are my witnesses that most of our population took desperate measures to free the hostages and prevent this shame.

-Netanya Mayor Oved Ben Ami

Said disgraceful deed-doers were far from apologetic.

And you could say they had a point, since although the threat did not prevent the death sentences at hand from being carried into execution, its example proved to be a lively deterrent: Avshalom, Weiss, and Nakar were the last Zionists executed by the British. Then-Irgun leader, and later Israeli Prime Minister, Menachem Begin made no bones about the trade.

The Brits were a little less sanguine about “the sergeants affair”.

A Times editorial for Friday, Aug. 1 fulminated against “the violent deeds of the Palestine terrorists [that] will not readily be effaced,” comparing them to “the bestialities practised by the Nazis themselves.”**

Over the ensuing long weekend’s summer bank holiday, racist riots against Jews shook Britain. Jewish businesses, cemeteries, and synagogues were smashed up and vandalized all over the island, to the horror this time of milquetoast liberals like the Manchester Guardian, with again-familiar lines like: “to answer terrorism in Palestine with terrorism in England is sheer Hitlerism. We must be desperately careful to see that we do not let ourselves be infected with the poison of the disease we had thought to eradicate.”

Fine points for debate in Britain, which within months was bugging out of the Levant as open war engulfed Palestine — the violent birth pangs of modern Israel and its embrace of its own subject populace with its own frustrated national ambitions pursued by its own violent extremists.

* London Times editorial, May 21, 1947.

** Irgun propaganda’s riposte: “We recognize no one-sided laws of war. If the British are determined that their way out of the country should be lined by an avenue of gallows and of weeping fathers, mothers, wives, and sweethearts, we shall see to it that in this there is no racial discrimination.”

Also on this date

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,England,Execution,Hanged,History,Israel,Jews,Martyrs,Milestones,Murder,Occupation and Colonialism,Revolutionaries,Separatists,Terrorists

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Unspecified Year: Tess of the d’Urbervilles

2 comments July 28th, 2011 Headsman

On an unspecified July date in an unspecified late-19th century year, the title character of Thomas Hardy‘s Tess of the d’Urbervilles was hanged for murder.

Recent film adaptations of Tess of the D’Urbervilles. The book is available free from Gutenberg.org.

The heroine, “goodness made interesting” — or “A Pure Woman Faithfully Presented,” in the words of the subtitle — has been torn between the man she loves, Angel Clare, and one she loathes, Alec d’Urberville. Alec’s early, unwelcome attentions lead him to forcibly deflower young Tess, and the revelation that she is not a virgin ultimately shatters her prospectively happy marriage to Angel.

Years later, Angel returns from seeking his fortune in Brazil to find Tess miserably wed to her onetime rapist. But no sooner has Tess sent Angel away than she chases him down in the streets of Sandbourne.

“Angel,” she said, as if waiting for this, “do you know what I have been running after you for? To tell you that I have killed him!” A pitiful white smile lit her face as she spoke.

“What!” said he, thinking from the strangeness of her manner that she was in some delirium.

“I have done it — I don’t know how,” she continued. “Still, I owed it to you, and to myself, Angel. I feared long ago, when I struck him on the mouth with my glove, that I might do it some day for the trap he set for me in my simple youth, and his wrong to you through me. He has come between us and ruined us, and now he can never do it any more.”

The two flee together overland, intending to wait out the search that must pursue them and slip away to a ship. They have a few days’ idyllic refuge in an abandoned house, and at once blissful and tragic, Tess foreshadows her fate:

“I fear that what you think of me now may not last. I do not wish to outlive your present feeling for me. I would rather not. I would rather be dead and buried when the time comes for you to despise me, so that it may never be known to me that you despised me.”

Finally forced to move on, they cinematically take their rest at Stonehenge — Tess literally sleeping on an altar.


One of the illustrations of the original serialized version of Tess.

There they are captured — on a pagan shrine, their love long frustrated in its licit form, at last fulfilled on the lam. (“Fulfillment” is the title of the novel’s last section.)

Hardy wastes no words on his heroine’s travail with the judiciary, which is merely inexorable.

The city of Wintoncester, that fine old city, aforetime capital of Wessex, lay amidst its convex and concave downlands in all the brightness and warmth of a July morning. The gabled brick, tile, and freestone houses had almost dried off for the season their integument of lichen, the streams in the meadows were low, and in the sloping High Street, from the West Gateway to the mediæval cross, and from the mediæval cross to the bridge, that leisurely dusting and sweeping was in progress which usually ushers in an old-fashioned market-day.

From the western gate aforesaid the highway, as every Wintoncestrian knows, ascends a long and regular incline of the exact length of a measured mile, leaving the houses gradually behind. Up this road from the precincts of the city two persons were walking rapidly, as if unconscious of the trying ascent — unconscious through preoccupation and not through buoyancy. They had emerged upon this road through a narrow, barred wicket in a high wall a little lower down. They seemed anxious to get out of the sight of the houses and of their kind, and this road appeared to offer the quickest means of doing so. Though they were young, they walked with bowed heads, which gait of grief the sun’s rays smiled on pitilessly.

One of the pair was Angel Clare, the other a tall budding creature — half girl, half woman — a spiritualized image of Tess, slighter than she, but with the same beautiful eyes — Clare’s sister-in-law, ‘Liza-Lu. Their pale faces seemed to have shrunk to half their natural size. They moved on hand in hand, and never spoke a word, the drooping of their heads being that of Giotto’s “Two Apostles”.

When they had nearly reached the top of the great West Hill the clocks in the town struck eight. Each gave a start at the notes, and, walking onward yet a few steps, they reached the first milestone, standing whitely on the green margin of the grass, and backed by the down, which here was open to the road. They entered upon the turf, and, impelled by a force that seemed to overrule their will, suddenly stood still, turned, and waited in paralyzed suspense beside the stone.

The prospect from this summit was almost unlimited. In the valley beneath lay the city they had just left, its more prominent buildings showing as in an isometric drawing — among them the broad cathedral tower, with its Norman windows and immense length of aisle and nave, the spires of St Thomas’s, the pinnacled tower of the College, and, more to the right, the tower and gables of the ancient hospice, where to this day the pilgrim may receive his dole of bread and ale. Behind the city swept the rotund upland of St Catherine’s Hill; further off, landscape beyond landscape, till the horizon was lost in the radiance of the sun hanging above it.

Against these far stretches of country rose, in front of the other city edifices, a large red-brick building, with level gray roofs, and rows of short barred windows bespeaking captivity, the whole contrasting greatly by its formalism with the quaint irregularities of the Gothic erections. It was somewhat disguised from the road in passing it by yews and evergreen oaks, but it was visible enough up here. The wicket from which the pair had lately emerged was in the wall of this structure. From the middle of the building an ugly flat-topped octagonal tower ascended against the east horizon, and viewed from this spot, on its shady side and against the light, it seemed the one blot on the city’s beauty. Yet it was with this blot, and not with the beauty, that the two gazers were concerned.

Upon the cornice of the tower a tall staff was fixed. Their eyes were riveted on it. A few minutes after the hour had struck something moved slowly up the staff, and extended itself upon the breeze. It was a black flag.

“Justice” was done, and the President of the Immortals, in Aeschylean phrase, had ended his sport with Tess. And the d’Urberville knights and dames slept on in their tombs unknowing. The two speechless gazers bent themselves down to the earth, as if in prayer, and remained thus a long time, absolutely motionless: the flag continued to wave silently. As soon as they had strength, they arose, joined hands again, and went on.

Among the numerous potential inspirations for the character of Tess was a woman we have already met in these pages: Elizabeth Martha Brown, an battered wife who slew her husband. The teenaged Hardy saw her publicly executed one rainy morning in Dorset in 1856.

Also on this date

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Fictional,Hanged,Murder,Sex,Uncertain Dates,Women

Tags: , , ,

1990: Gideon Orkar, for a Nigerian coup

Add comment July 27th, 2011 Headsman

On this date in 1990, Nigerian Major Gideon Gwaza Orkar and dozens of others* were shot for a coup attempt against that country’s military strongman, Gen. Ibrahim Babangida.

Orkar was the guy on state radio early on the morning of April 22 announcing the revolution:

On behalf of the patriotic and well-meaning peoples of the Middle Belt and the southern parts of this country, I , Major Gideon Orkar, wish to happily inform you of the successful ousting of the dictatorial, corrupt, drug baronish, evil man, deceitful, homo-sexually-centered, prodigalistic, un-patriotic administration of General Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida.

The dictatorial, drug baronish evil man had himself come to power in a 1985 coup, and when not fending off coups kept busy reorganizing the state to his satisfaction and stalling on the promised civilian handover. (“IBB” ultimately held an election in 1992, invalidated the result, and turned over power the next year to understudy dictator Sani Abacha.**)

Said state reorganization was not to the liking of Orkar et al, and the putsch broadcast accused Babangida of wanting to make himself into a president-for-life.

Intriguingly, the broadcast also proffered a strong regional critique of “the favoured class and their stooges” who were gobbling up “the supposedly national wealth derived in the main from the Middle Belt and the southern part of this country, while the people from these parts of the country have been completely deprived from benefiting from the resources given to them by God.”

Accordingly, the government of the abortive coup intended “a temporary decision to excise the following states namely, Sokoto, Borno, Katsina, Kano and Bauchi states from the Federal Republic of Nigeria.” Those states, at the time, constituted the entire northern band of Nigeria, which was also the stronghold of Islam in Nigeria. (Babangida was a Muslim, as was his successor.)

What “excision” of the northern states might have meant in practice was never realized, since Babangida escaped his would-be usurpers and prevailed when the sides fought it out over the course of April 22. One survivor of the coup later described the grievance in these words: “Anytime we went to the Hausa areas in the North, we were given Hausa and Islamic regalia and if you didn’t wear it, they would not be happy with you. It got to a stage that if you were in the Army, you have to speak Hausa.”

So, if inclined to cast a gimlet eye upon the inroads of sharia in those same northern states, one might view Orkar as some sort of prophet. He and his comrades certainly strike many as a nobler and more far-sighted clique than the usual “autocratic general” type.


On trial for their lives: from left to right, Capt. Harley Empere, Major Gideon Orkar, Capt. Perebo Dakolo, Lt. Cyril Ozoalor, Lt. Nicholas Odeh

Despite the fate of Orkar and others this date, some of the plotters managed to escape the country to a better fate. For instance, Major Saliba Mukoro fled to the United States, got advanced degrees in criminal justice, and was a Mississippi Valley State University professor prior to returning to run for a governorship in 2011. (He lost.)

* Amnesty International makes it (pdf) 42 on this date, including Orkar and nine other officers — plus 27 others executed on September 13. Most of the executed and some other casualties of the affair are enumerated here.

** Abacha is the guy who hanged Ogoni poet/activist Ken Saro-Wiwa.

Also on this date

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Mass Executions,Nigeria,Power,Shot,Soldiers,Treason

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

1992: 42 Iraqi merchants

3 comments July 26th, 2011 Headsman

On this date in 1992, 42* Baghdad merchants who were among several hundred rounded up over the preceding 48 hours were executed at Saddam Hussein‘s command at Abu Ghraib prison and the Interior Ministry compound.

A year and change on from the close of the Gulf War, Iraq’s economy was groaning under a murderous program of economic sanctions.

The merchants were accused of profiteering by manipulating food prices — a chilling threat to businessmen, but one that had little power to arrest the wreck of Iraq’s economy. Prices for food, and everything else, were spiking under the blockade.

“Hardly any Iraqi trader sent anything to his country from our warehouse” after the executions, according to a Jordanian exporter quoted by Reuters.** “They tell us even if the goods are given to them for free, they are not ready to risk their lives.”

These executions have put some former Iraqi officials at risk of their lives in American-occupied Iraq.

The country’s longtime Deputy Prime Minister, Tariq Aziz, was tried for his life in 2008-2009 for ordering these executions; Aziz received a 15-year sentence.†

But at the same trial, two of the late dictator’s half-brothers, Watban Ibrahim al-Tikriti and Sabawi Ibrahim al-Tikriti, drew death sentences for the same affair.

Just days ago as of this writing, those two gentlemen were transferred from American to Iraqi custody, where they figure to be put to death very soon — though this is a matter of ongoing political wrangling.

* It’s not completely unambiguous to me that the “42 merchants” at issue in several post-Saddam trials were all executed on July 26 (though Amnesty International seems to think so); the roundup and execution process was less than orderly. But it’s certainly the case that at least many died this date.

Some testimony and trial documents related to the incident are available in pdf form here.

** Chicago Sun-Times, Aug. 3, 1992.

† Aziz has subsequently received a death sentence in a different and politicized case; that sentence was internationally condemned and Iraq’s president has stated that he will never implement it.

Also on this date

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Businessmen,Capital Punishment,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Innocent Bystanders,Iraq,Mass Executions,No Formal Charge,Pelf,Power,Ripped from the Headlines,Shot,Summary Executions,Wartime Executions,Wrongful Executions

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

1844: The Bandiera brothers

Add comment July 25th, 2011 Headsman

On this date* in 1844, the Italian nationalists Attilio and Emilio Bandiera were shot with seven companions at Cosenza, Italy.

The Bandieras (English Wikipedia page | Italian) were Venetian officers in the Austrian navy — sons, indeed, of an admiral in that service.

Having been caught out in a mutinous agitation, the patriotic lads had been obliged to flee to Corfu (then under British administration)

But whispers soon reached them of a nascent rising in the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, and they took a small party to the toe of the Italian boot looking to get in on the glory.

They didn’t find the rumored revolutionaries — just martyrdom.

Reprieves preserved eight of the seventeen death-sentenced for the escapade; shot along with the renowned national martyrs together crying “Viva l’Italia!” were Nicola Riccioti, Domenico Moro, Anarcharsis Narde, Giovanni Verenui, Giacomo Rocca, Francesco Berti, and Domenico Lapatelli. (London Times, Aug. 12, 1844)

Venice visitors can pay their respects to the two at the Church of San Giovanni e Paolo, where they’re buried.

* There are some citations for July 23 out there, but the numerical bulk of the sources, and those closest to the event itself, clearly prefer July 25. e.g., the London Times of Aug. 12, 1844 cites the Journal of the Two Sicilies in reporting July 25; as noted by Mazzini and Marx, then-exiled Italian risorgimento figure Giuseppe Mazzini, who corresponded ineffectually with the martyrs, published a poem for this anniversary date in the July 25, 1846 edition of the Northern Star:

And in distant years the story
Still shall our children tell
Of those who sleep in glory
At Cosenza where they fell.

Also on this date

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Austria,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous,Habsburg Realm,History,Italy,Martyrs,Mass Executions,Occupation and Colonialism,Power,Revolutionaries,Separatists,Shot,Soldiers,Treason

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

1588: Nicholas Garlick, Robert Ludlam, and Richard Simpson

Add comment July 24th, 2011 Headsman

On this date in 1588, three Catholic priests were hanged, drawn, and quartered at St. Mary’s Bridge in Derbyshire.

Though we find Catholic proselytizers at risk of their lives throughout the Elizabethan period, at few moments was the profession of the Old Faith more fraught than during the summer of 1588.

Elizabeth’s Catholic rival Mary, Queen of Scots had lost her head just the year before, having been the focal point of one too many Catholic plots to overthrow Elizabeth. England’s support for Dutch Protestants rebelling against Spain had drawn the Spanish Armada, a feared invasion force even at this moment beginning to engage the English navy a couple of weeks ahead of its ultimate defeat. Even the French Wars of Religion were running white-hot, with an ultra-Catholic pogrom in Paris that spring.

If ever the wrong religion constituted treason, this was the time.

This also made it a great moment for zealous local authorities to crack down on suspected Catholics. When that happened in Derbyshire, a raid of a recusant‘s property (prompted by a tip from the target’s nephew) turned up two Popish clerics living in the lovely medieval manor house on-site, Padley Chapel.


Padley Chapel. (cc) image from kev747.

Fathers Nicholas Garlick and Robert Ludlam were condemned within days to a traitor’s death for endeavoring to “seduce” the Queen’s subjects to Catholicism.* Their few hours left in this vale of tears were sufficient to firm the resolve of a wavering fellow-priest, Richard Simpson, who joined Garlick and Ludlam on the scaffold.

A hagiography of these men — they have all since been beatified — notes that the less steely Simpson “suffered with great constancy, though not with such (remarkable) signs of joy and alacrity as the other two.” But considering he was out there getting disemboweled for God and you’re just sitting around reading some blog, you probably ought to cut him a little slack.

When Garlick did the ladder kiss,
And Sympson after hie,
Methought that there St. Andrew was
Desirous for to die.

When Ludlam lookèd smilingly,
And joyful did remain,
It seemed St. Stephen was standing by,
For to be stoned again.

And what if Sympson seemed to yield,
For doubt and dread to die;
He rose again, and won the field
And died most constantly.

His watching, fasting, shirt of hair;
His speech, his death, and all,
Do record give, do witness bear,
He wailed his former fall.

There are still pilgrimages made in honor of the “Padley Martyrs” every year on the anniversary of the priests’ arrest, July 12.

* Garlick, at least, had been a specific target of priest-hunters for some time; he appears in reports to Francis Walsingham‘s spy network, where he is once accursed as “the demonite,” presumably for taking part in some well-publicized exorcisms in 1585-1586. (These exorcisms seem to be reflected in Shakespeare’s King Lear.) There’s a very large pdf touching the “demonite” reference: a scan of the public-domain 19th century tome The Troubles of our Catholic Forefathers.

Also on this date

Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Drawn and Quartered,England,Execution,God,Gruesome Methods,History,Martyrs,Public Executions,Religious Figures,Treason

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

1403: Thomas Percy, Earl of Worcester

1 comment July 23rd, 2011 Headsman

On this date in 1403, Henry IV made sauce of the Earl of Worcester after the Battle of Shrewsbury.

Thomas Percy was the uncle of northern rebel Sir Henry Percy, evocatively known as “Hotspur”.*


Rampant: statue of Hotspur Harry Percy at Northumberland’s Alnwick Castle. (cc) image from Bootneck Photography.

This Northumberland lord, whose name hints at his reputation for for ferocity and impetuousness, was not necessarily incensed in principle at Henry Bolingbroke‘s usurpation of the English crown as Henry IV. In fact, he took an appointment to put down the anti-Lancastrian rebellion of Welsh troublemaker Owain Glyndwr. (Percy didn’t succeed.)

But this royal imposter didn’t pay off Percy richly enough in either coin or respect.

Hotspur left Wales to whomp the Scots at the Battle of Humbleton Hill, but King Henry’s demand that he turn over the big-name prisoners taken in that battle (instead of ransoming them for profit) — coupled with Henry’s own refusal to ransom Hotspur’s brother-in-law Edmund Mortimer from Welsh captivity — provoked a furious row between “king” and “subject”. Henry IV is supposed to have denounced Henry Percy a traitor and drawn a blade on him.

“Not here,” Hotspur raged, “but in the field!”

Alas: the field wasn’t kind to the Percies this time.

A revolt raised by a guy named Hotspur should hardly fail for want of ambition, and this one was the hottest of spurs: the Percies (with our day’s principal, Uncle Worcester) made a pact with Glyndwr (still going strong in Wales) and Glyndwr’s hostage-turned-son-in-law Edmund Mortimer (who was the uncle of the kid who should have been king) to give Bolingbroke the boot and carve up the realm between them.

Shakespeare represents this argument at the start of Henry IV, Part 1, and the conflict it engenders will drive that play’s story. This is Hotspur privately fuming after Henry has refused to help Mortimer (Act I, Scene 3):

let my soul
Want mercy, if I do not join with him: [i.e., Mortimer]
Yea, on his part I’ll empty all these veins,
And shed my dear blood drop by drop in the dust,
But I will lift the down-trod Mortimer
As high in the air as this unthankful king,
As this ingrate and canker’d Bolingbroke.

Orson Welles’ Chimes at Midnight abridges this and several other Shakespeare plays, and its opening action — after the Falstaff and credits — sets our stage. Worcester here is played by French Connection villain Fernando Rey.

Shrewbury was the result, a battle that up to the moment it commenced seemed amenable to mediation. Worcester himself negotiated face to face with King Henry, but refused to submit himself trusting the sovereign’s mercy. “On you must rest the blood shed this day,” Henry told him.

Some of that blood was Hotspur’s, as a result of a freak combat injury: he took a fatal arrow to the face when he raised his armor’s visor to get some air.**

Worcester didn’t outlive him by much — as depicted in Act V, Scene 4, he was summarily executed shortly after the battle:

KING HENRY IV

Thus ever did rebellion find rebuke.
Ill-spirited Worcester! did not we send grace,
Pardon and terms of love to all of you?
And wouldst thou turn our offers contrary?
Misuse the tenor of thy kinsman’s trust?
Three knights upon our party slain to-day,
A noble earl and many a creature else
Had been alive this hour,
If like a Christian thou hadst truly borne
Betwixt our armies true intelligence.

EARL OF WORCESTER

What I have done my safety urged me to;
And I embrace this fortune patiently,
Since not to be avoided it falls on me.

KING HENRY IV

Bear Worcester to the death and Vernon too:
Other offenders we will pause upon.

(Vernon was one of two knights executed with Worcester in Shrewsbury.)

* Yes, the English football club Tottenham Hotspur is named for the dashing Henry Percy. “Audere Est Facere” is the team’s motto, “to dare is to do” … even though that totally didn’t work out for Hotspur himself.

** Oddly enough, Hotspur’s opposite number Prince Henry (the future victor of Agincourt, Henry V), also got shot in the face in this batt

Also on this date

Entry Filed under: 15th Century,Arts and Literature,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,England,Execution,History,Nobility,Power,Public Executions,Revolutionaries,Soldiers,Summary Executions,Treason,Wartime Executions

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

1635: Domingos Fernandes Calabar, traitor?

Add comment July 22nd, 2011 Headsman

On this date in 1635, Domingos Fernandes Calabar was garroted at Porto Calvo.

A mulatto plantation owner, Calabar (Portuguese Wikipedia page) did his patriotic duty according to the dictates of Brazil’s Portuguese colonizers when an expansionist Netherlands showed up hungry for a bite of Brazil.

But after rounding up a volunteer militia and helping repel Dutch incursions in 1630 and 1632, Calabar switched sides and joined Holland.

Why he switched sides remains permanently obscure. Popular explanations include: the seductions of Netherlander lucre (Calabar’s detractors like this one); a politically mature calculation that the Dutch would make more progressive colonizers than the Portuguese (this was Calabar’s own defense: “I spilled my blood for … the slavery of my homeland … With its actions, the Dutch have proven better than the Portuguese and Spanish”);* or … somewhere in between

He was rewarded for his devotion [to the Portuguese] by the contempt of his countrymen, who were envious of his prowess. Wounded by this conduct, he left the Portuguese and joined the Dutch.

Whatever the reason(s) for it, Calabar’s switch was efficacious: he knew the lay of the land, and he was vigorous in helping the Dutch foothold of “New Holland” expand. The Dutch commissioned him a Major, and he gained a reputation for his ambushes.

I never met a man so well-adapted to our purposes … the greatest damage he could cause to his countrymen, was his greatest joy.

-English mercenary in the Dutch service

The Portuguese official Matias de Albuquerque eventually turned the tables and captured Calabar in a Portuguese ambush. He not only had the disloyal subject strangled, but quartered the body for public display.

This gruesome warning against collaboration did not prevent New Holland from growing to around half the Brazilian territory … but since Brazilians don’t speak Dutch today, you might have an idea how this is going to end.

After “New Holland” was re-conquered and re-re-conquered, the Dutch Republic under Johan de Witt — preferring a commercial empire to a territorial one — gave up its untenable position in exchange for 63 tons of gold.

As the (eventual) winners of this imperial affray, the Portuguese wrote a distinctly unflattering history of Domingos Fernandes Calabar, the disreputable traitor. He’s a sort of Benedict Arnold character synonymous with disloyalty for any Brazilian schoolchild.

But other interpretations are available.

During Brazil’s Cold War military dictatorship, when traitorousness might seem downright reputable after all, the “official version” was slyly subverted in several different stage productions, the best-known of which is a musical called Calabar: In Praise of Treason.**

Most of the information about Calabar online is in Portuguese; for instance, biographies here and here.

* Let it not be implied that the Dutch were out for anything other than the plunder of empire themselves: Calabar’s own home region of Pernambuco was desirable precisely because of its sugar cane cultivation.

Incidentally, the vicissitudes of war enabled many African slaves to escape to Maroon communities like Palmares — just a few miles away from Porto Calvo.

** See Severino Jaão Albuquerque, “In Praise of Treason: Three Contemporary Versions of Calabar,” Hispania, Sept. 1991. “Less interested in settling the issue of Calabar’s martyrdom than in provoking serious debate about the meaning of loyalty and national identity in times of political repression and in the context of a dependent culture, these plays … bring to the fore the manifold ambiguities the colonized face reacting to the hegemonic rule of the colonizer.”

Also on this date

Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Arts and Literature,Brazil,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Garrote,History,Netherlands,Occupation and Colonialism,Portugal,Power,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Soldiers,Strangled,Summary Executions,Treason,Wartime Executions

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Previous Posts


Calendar

Archives

Categories




Recently Commented

  • JCF: “the pleasing mistress with the...
  • Tan: It’s essential to have a clean skin before...
  • Asher: Hiram I ask a question from u when u will in...
  • Asher: If u study deeply then Prince Mustafa was the...
  • abba hey: I am caesarion:)

Accolades