Archive for September, 2012

1927: Huibrecht Jacob de Leeuw, dynamiter

1 comment September 30th, 2012 Headsman

On this date in 1927, Huibrecht Jacob de Leeuw was hanged for blowing up the mayor of Dewetsdorp, South Africa.

This 26-year-old town clerk had spent himself into debt and started dipping his beak in the public finances to tide him over. Unfortunately for him, the malfeasance was detected.

On April 7, 1927, Mayor von Maltitz openly accused him of corruption at a meeting with the town’s finance committee; the session was adjourned for lunch pending the apparently imminent sack of the young wastrel.

When the committee reconvened (less de Leeuw), it was suddenly blown to smithereens by an explosion.

All three died, but two survived long enough to tell investigators what they’d been working on. As Robin Odell observes in his Mammoth Book of Bizarre Crimes,

De Leeuw had succeeded in destroying his accusers, along with the damning evidence of the account books but was now a prime murder suspect. He was sent for trial at Bloemfontein in August 1927. A town hall employee testified that he saw two cans of petrol in the town clerk’s office on the day of the explosion. And a local shopkeeper described how de Leeuw had appeared in her shop that afternoon in an agitated state saying, “I only want some matches.”

Clearly, what de Leeuw’s crime packed in megajoules it lacked in subtlety. Even had he made clean kills and left no deathbed implications, it’s hard to imagine how the trail wouldn’t have led right back to the guy who was just in the room with all the victims.

There’s a chapter on this fellow (more words than this author has found for him anywhere else) in a long-out-of-print 1951 South African volume, The Evil that Men Do, by Benjamin Bennett.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Murder,Pelf,South Africa

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1939: Pete Catalina and Angelo Agnes, Colorado murderers

Add comment September 29th, 2012 Headsman

CANON CITY, Col. Sept. 30 (AP) — Two convicted murderers died in the lethal gas chamber and a cardiogram, a record of heart action, showed that one of them died without fear.

Pete Catalina, 41, a Salida (Col.) pool hall operator convicted of shooting a man in an argument over a 50-cent stack of poker chips, agreed to meet death wearing equipment recording his last heart beats.

Angelo Agnes, 31,* a Denver Negro convicted of slaying his estranged wife, declined to wear the device. Like Catalina, however, he did not fight the lethal fumes and both men were pronounced dead at 8:02 P.M., exactly two minutes after Warden Roy Best released gas into acid containers beneath their chairs.

I.D. Price, an electrical expert who operated the heart recording instruments, said that Catalina’s heart beat appeared strong and even for one minute and 10 seconds, then stopped abruptly when he inhaled the poison fumes. Agnes inhaled the gas 55 seconds after its generation began.

The “quickest and most humane execution we ever had” was later alleged to have experienced a gas leak that caused witnesses to flee their seats.

* Agnes was friendly with Joe Arridy, who had been executed in the same gas chamber earlier that same year.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Botched Executions,Capital Punishment,Colorado,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Gassed,Murder,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,USA

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1637: William Schooler and John Williams

Add comment September 28th, 2012 Robert Wilhelm

(Thanks for the guest post to Robert Wilhelm, author of the Murder By Gaslight historic crime blog, and of the book Murder And Mayhem in Essex County. Executed Today readers are sure to enjoy Wilhelm’s detailed investigations into long-lost historic crime. -ed.)

On September 28, 1637, two men convicted on separate counts of murder in the Puritan colony north of Boston — in what is now Essex County — were executed on the same gallows. The first was William Schooler, convicted a year earlier of killing Mary Scholy on the path to Pascataquack; the second was John Williams convicted of killing John Hoddy near Great Pond in Wenham.


Original (c) image from Murder And Mayhem in Essex County, used with permission.

In the autumn of 1636, an Agawam Indian walking through the Winnacunnet woods, north of the town of Newbury, found the body of a young white woman, lying in a thick swamp about three miles north of the Merrimack river. From the condition of the body, he could tell that the woman had been dead for several months. She lay naked, with her clothing still in a pile not far from the body. The Indian took the news to Newbury, and led the Englishmen to the spot so they could see for themselves.

The woman’s name was Mary Sholy. She was identified more by the circumstance than by appearance, since the flesh had begun to rot. Mary had left Newbury several months earlier, traveling north to her home at the English settlement at Pascataquack. The people of Newbury were also fairly certain who had killed her; they believed she had been ravished and murdered by the man she had hired to guide her journey home, an outsider named William Schooler.

In London, England, William Schooler had been a vintner with intemperate habits. Schooler was, by his own admission, a common adulterer. After wounding a man in a duel he fled to Holland to escape the law; then, leaving his wife behind, he traveled to New England. In 1636 he was living in a shack by the Merrimack River within the limits of Newbury but outside the boundaries of sanctioned Christian behavior.

Mary Sholy, a servant girl, was looking for someone to guide her to Pascataquack, to return to her master. Pascataquack — now Portsmouth, New Hampshire — was a small settlement, about twenty-three miles north of Newbury. It is not known why Mary Sholy had come to Newbury; it is unlikely that her master would have sent her there without providing a guide back. The journey from Newbury to Pascataquack would have been too perilous for a young woman to take alone, first crossing the Merrimack River in a canoe, then following the route to Pascataquack, which was described as little more than a path through the woods. In 1636, even the well-traveled path between Ipswich and Newbury was too narrow for a horse cart. In addition to the possibility of losing her way and becoming hopelessly lost in the woods between the two settlements, there was a very real danger of being attacked by wild animals or hostile Indians.

Seeing an opportunity to make a little money, William Schooler sought out Mary and offered to guide her home for fifteen shillings. He did not tell her that he himself had never made the trip to Pascataquack before. Two days after their departure, William Schooler was back in Newbury alone. When asked why he had returned so soon Schooler replied that he had guided Mary to within two or three miles of Pascataquack, where she stopped, saying she would go no further. Schooler left her there and returned to Newbury.

The people of Newbury remained suspicious and Schooler was questioned by the magistrates in Ipswich. When he returned from the trip he had blood on his hat and a scratch on his nose the “breadth of a small nail.” He explained that the blood was from a pigeon he had killed and the scratch on his nose was from walking into some brambles. He was released, as there was no evidence then that a crime had been committed.

The following year the Pequod tribe took up arms against the English colonists and Schooler was drafted to serve in the militia. He deemed this service to be an oppression and publicly spoke out against it. His outspoken opposition was considered “mutinous and disorderly,” and the governor issued a warrant against him. When he was arrested, Schooler assumed it was about Mary Sholy and began to vehemently defend himself against the charge of her murder. Schooler;s behavior made the magistrates suspicious and, since they now knew Mary Sholy had been murdered, they decided to reopen the case.

Newbury residents who knew him came forward to volunteer information on Schooler’s character. In a Puritan court the character of the accused was as important as the physical evidence against him.

Schooler denied that he murdered Mary Sholy but the jury found him guilty and he was sentenced to hang. The court and the clergy tried desperately to persuade Schooler to confess but he would not. Schooler was contrite, saying he had told many lies to excuse himself, but vehemently denied that he had killed or ravished Mary Sholy. Some ministers argued that the evidence against him was not sufficient to take away his life, but Governor Winthrop denied Scholler a reprieve, saying: “but the court held him worthy of death, in undertaking the charge of a shiftless maid, and leaving her (when he might have done otherwise) in such a place, as he knew she must needs parish, if not preserved by means unknown.”


John Williams was a ship carpenter who had recently come to America from England. In 1637, he was in prison in Boston for theft. Williams and another prisoner, John Hoddy, escaped from the jail and traveled north. They had gone beyond Salem and were on the road to Ipswich, on the east end of the Wenham Great Pond when they had a falling out. The two men had a fight that ended with the death of John Hoddy.

There are two versions of what happened next. In one story John Hoddy’s dog held Williams at bay until the noise drew the attention of enough residents of Wenham to apprehend Williams and take him to jail in Ipswich. The more likely story says that Williams took everything belonging to Hoddy, including his clothes, and buried his body under a pile of stones. Williams proceeded to Ipswich where he was apprehended, after having been recognized as a criminal. Though his clothes were bloody when arrested, he would confess to nothing until a week later, when the body of John Hoddy was found. Cows at a farm near Great Pond smelled the blood and made such a “roaring” that they got the attention of the cow keeper, who on investigation found Hoddy’s naked body under a heap of stones.

Around the same time the justice of the peace in Ipswich learned that both Williams and Hoddy were escaped prisoners. Williams was indicted for the murder of John Hoddy and tried by the Court of Assistants in Boston. Though he confessed to the murder, the court insisted on enforcing Williams’s right to due process, and tried the case before a jury. Williams was, of course, found guilty and sentenced to death.

The double hanging, on September 28, 1637, took place on Boston Common, where all executions in the Massachusetts Bay Colony were held.

Get Murder and Mayhem in Essex County here.

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Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Guest Writers,Hanged,History,Massachusetts,Murder,Other Voices,Public Executions,USA

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1975: The last executions under Franquismo

Add comment September 27th, 2012 Headsman

Though Spain’s last execution is often misremembered as that of handsome anarchist Salvador Puig Antich in 1974, that milestone actually occurred with the shooting of five anti-Franco terrorists in three different cities on September 27, 1975.

It was an ugly coda to an ugly regime and a 40-year history of political killings.

Gen. Francisco Franco had the previous year been forced by his failing health to hand over power, raising hopes for a democratic transition. But after surprisingly recovering, Franco surprisingly took back his strongman role — and anti-Franco revolutionary movements that had been biding their time greeted the return of Franquismo with a wave of bombings and assassinations.

Spain’s cabinet met in September 1975 to consider eleven death-sentenced prisoners — three Basques of the separatist ETA, and eight members of the communist revolutionary organization FRAP. It upheld five of those sentences, all involving the killing of policemen. (Two women, who both claimed to be pregnant, were among those reprieved.)

The five who ultimately died were (and these are all Spanish Wikipedia links):


Headline from the London Times, September 27, 1975. The garrote was not, in fact, used for any of the executions.

The shootings met angry — often violent — reaction throughout Europe. Spanish embassies in the Netherlands and Turkey were attacked; several countries recalled their ambassadors; and French protesters rioted on the Champs Elysees. The EU predecessor entity EEC (Spain was not then a member) voted to freeze its trade relations with Spain.

And it was about more than just the five humans shot to death.

They had all been condemned within a month before their deaths, by military tribunals requiring harsh mandatory death sentences for crimes against public order. As the unsettled situation on the ground implied quite a lot of disorder and anti-government violence, observers worried that the regime’s willingness to actually carry out those sentences would unleash a “death machine” of unstoppable condemnations, met with inevitable reprisals, and still more unstoppable death sentences. Satans mördare, in the words of outspoken Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme. Devilish murders.

The devil had plans for a different soul.

The ailing Franco succumbed to Parkinson’s Disease on November 20, 1975, once again introducing the period of relative calm and stability that Spain could have been enjoying for the previous year had the late caudillo just stayed in retirement. Spain abolished the death penalty under its post-Franco constitution.

Spanish-speakers may enjoy this documentary focusing on one of this day’s victims: parts 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5. Indeed, this gruesome parting Franco made with his mortal coil has inspired many remembrances up the present day, especially given the martyrology-friendly anti-fascist credentials of the five. There’s also a 1991 film called The Longest Night and the Luis Eduardo Aute song “At Dawn”:

* This man’s widow Silvia Carretero, who was herself arrested and tortured (while pregnant!) under Franco, pushed an unsuccessful 2010 lawuit for her husband’s execution.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,History,Milestones,Murder,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Revolutionaries,Ripped from the Headlines,Shot,Spain,Terrorists

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2003: Vignes Mourthi, framed in Singapore?

Add comment September 26th, 2012 Headsman

On this date in 2003, 23-year-old Malaysian Vignes Mourthi was hanged in Singapore’s Changi Prison as a drug courier, along with his supposed collaborator Moorthy Angappan.

Mourthi vigorously maintained his innocence, and his family has done likewise in the years since, helping turn the young factory worker into a wrongful-execution poster child.

It was a Sgt. Rajkumar who arrested Mourthi by posing as a buyer of his cargo. Rajkumar would later present an undated, unsigned “confession” purporting to show that Mourthi was completely aware that it was heroin he was moving. At first read one might might indeed doubt Mourthi’s insistence that he thought he was carrying “incense stones” … but his compatriot Angappan was indeed an incense dealer and a family friend known to Mourthi as such.

British journalist Alan Shadrake‘s 2010 indictment of Singaporean justice Once a Jolly Hangman (banned in its titular city-state) calls Mourthi’s hanging “arguably one of the most appalling miscarriages of justice in Singapore’s history”.

Rajkumar’s testimony about Mourthi’s confession was instrumental in hanging the young man, but just a couple of days after he arrested Mourthi, Rajkumar himself was arrested (and then released on bail) on a rape accusation. According to the recent book Once a Jolly Hangman, whose denunciations of Singapore’s death penalty system earned its author a prison term in the repressive city-state,

Intense efforts were … made by Rajkumar’s many friends in the CNB and a police friend at Clementi Police Station to persuade ‘J’ to withdraw her statement. The bribes involved large sums of money, which she refused … There were frantic, secret meetings between Rajkumar, his police officer friends and his accuser in shopping malls and fast-food outlets during which he, his family and friends continued to offer large sums of money in exchange for withdrawing her allegations. All this intrigue was going on while Rajkumar was busy getting enough evidence together to ensure Mourthi would be found guilty and hanged.

So. That’s less than ideal.

Sadly for the accused, none of this credibility-melting information was ever known during Mourthi’s trial and appeal. After Mourthi’s execution, the bad cop who hanged him went on trial for corruption over his witness-tampering, and eventually served 15 months.

Certainty is never given to mortals. But Mourthi’s father for one has no doubt: “I know he is innocent.”

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Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Drugs,Execution,Hanged,Malaysia,Ripped from the Headlines,Singapore,Wrongful Executions

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1561: Sehzade Beyazit, inevitably

1 comment September 25th, 2012 Headsman

On this date in 1561, the Persian Shah abandoned Ottoman prince Sehzade Beyazit to the vengeance of his “magnificent” father.

A late and sad casualty of Istanbul’s pivotal family tragedy, Beyazit was actually a son of Suleiman the Magnificent‘s favorite wife, the freed Ukrainian slave Hurrem Sultan or Roxelana.

Unfortunately, he wasn’t the first son.

After Roxelana engineered the execution of heir apparent Mustafa on spurious grounds, Beyazit and his brother Selim were the last princes standing.

The natural rivalry between the two for eventual power was surely colored by the clear portent Mustafa’s execution had sent that the succession game was rigged for Selim. After several years of growing estrangement, Beyazit finally revolted outright only to be defeated in battle by Selim in 1559.

The loser found refuge in Persia, but only long enough for the Safavids to negotiate the price of his surrender to the hands of Suleiman … whose executioner went on the road to the Persian city of Qazvin to strangle not only Sehzade Beyazit but his four sons, too.

Extirpating the treasonable branch of the family tree cleared the succession for Selim, whose eight-year turn in power would be remembered as moment the hitherto-all-vanquishing Ottomans began their long, slow slide to Sick Man of Europe status. Particularly given that coda, Suleiman’s own

long reign is flawed by tragedy more subtle than the hubris which had overcome his ancestor Bayezit the Thunderbolt; more consequential than the gilded misery reserved for later sultans. The higher men rose in the empire, the closer they got to the bowstring; and the reign of Suleyman seems in retrospect coiled round with a silken garotte …

When the Austrian ambassador took leave of Suleyman in his old age, it was scarcely a living being he described, but a sort of metaphor of empire, rotting and majestic, fat, made up, and suffering from an ulcerous leg.

There’s more about this misfortunate lesser son in Turkish here, and a Turkish poem he wrote beseeching his father’s forgiveness here.

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Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Capital Punishment,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Iran,Ottoman Empire,Persia,Power,Royalty,Strangled,Turkey

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1830: Stephen Simmons, the last executed by Michigan

1 comment September 24th, 2012 Headsman

On this date in 1830, Stephen Simmons was publicly hanged in Detroit, Michigan: the very last time that state has conducted an execution.*

Michigan was the first English-speaking jurisdiction in the world to abolish the death penalty for ordinary crimes. Death penalty foes celebrate March 1 as “International Death Penalty Abolition Day” (pdf) after the date Michigan’s law took effect.

Simmons himself was a minor malefactor in the scheme of things but amply detested in the day of his crime.

A tavern-keeper by trade, he had a habit of getting into the whiskey himself, to violent effect. One night at home, a sodden Simmons picked a fight with his wife Livana and killed her with a vicious blow to the abdomen. The main trouble in this noteworthy trial (pdf) was seating a jury not completely biased against him.

An estimated two thousand people turned up to watch him pay for his crime, and for their “comfort and entertainment” the authorities had “wooden grandstands erected on three sides of the scaffolding, uniformed militia to be deployed around the scaffolding as a guard of honor, a military band to serenade the crowd while it waited for the main event, and vendors to patrol the grounds hawking food, whiskey, and rum.”

Sounds like a place about to abolish the death penalty, right?

Executed Today was pleased to speak with David Chardavoyne, law professor at Wayne State University and the University of Detroit-Michigan, about this case and its place in Michigan’s early path to abolition. Chardavoyne is the author of the award-winning book A Hanging In Detroit: Stephen Wayne Simmons and the Last Execution Under Michigan Law

Book CoverET: To set the scene, what is Detroit like in 1830?

DC: In 1830 Detroit was the capital of the Michigan Territory, but it had only about 2,000 inhabitants. It was, though, a bustling community because it was the entryway for the tens of thousands of settlers heading into the wilderness west and north of Detroit. Most buildings were on a narrow strip of land between the river and Jefferson Avenue, although the capitol, jail, and Simmons’s execution site were further north, about a half mile from the river.

This was the last execution in Michigan, but to what extent can we really say that it led to the end of the death penalty there? It strikes me that support must have been pretty soft to start with if that’s the case.

To be precise, the last execution under Michigan law — there were 2 executions under federal law a short time later and the Chebatoris execution in the 1930s.

I conclude in my book that there is no real evidence that the Simmons case caused the abolition of capital punishment. Most people living in Michigan in the 1840s, and almost all of the legislators who voted for abolition, arrived in Michigan after 1830 and there was no mention of that case in the extensive debates in the constitutional conventions in 1835-36 or in the legislature in the 1840s.

However, incidents surrounding the Simmons execution show that unease about capital punishment existed in 1830. First, the fact that most killers before and after 1830 were convicted of manslaughter whatever the facts. Second, the alleged mob that tore down the city whipping post right after Simmons’s execution. Third, Governor Cass, in his annual address a couple of months later stated that he was sorry that the law did not allow him to reduce Simmons’s sentence to time in prison.

Why was it that this one hanging, of a guy who had clearly killed his wife even if not intentionally, so powerfully affected people? And how troubled were Michiganders by the case itself, before the specific events of execution day?

Whatever effect the Simmons execution had on the spectators had little to do with Simmons but rather their exposure to a gruesome death. The people seem to have been genuinely outraged by the crime and the fact that the victim was his wife, so that it was very difficult to seat a fair jury. There is little to no evidence of any sympathy for Simmons.

What about the accounts of attendees stunned and shamed by Simmons’ last-minute plea for mercy in the midst of the public-festival environment.

In the book, I explain that my research puts this whole story very much in doubt. It first appeared almost 50 years later in a speech at the state historical convention, but it is not clear that the speaker was even in town that day. It was picked up and repeated by subsequent writers, but the Detroit newspaper at the time made no mention of it, nor did the very few other witness accounts.

When Michigan did abolish the death penalty, how were people talking about the Simmons case? Did it swing any votes?

Again, the Simmons case seems to have been forgotten by then, or at least neither side thought that it would help their arguments.

We’re accustomed now to think of clemency decisions as highly political. How did Lewis Cass’s political aspirations affect his handling of Simmons, if they did at all? And for that matter, did he or anyone else end up suffering any political fallout for the way events ultimately transpired?

As noted above, under territorial law Cass’s only option was to pardon Simmons — he could not just reduce the sentence. It may or may not have been relevant that he left town early on the day of the execution to visit his mother in Ohio and did not attend the execution.

What’s really amazing is that Michigan has kept the death penalty off the books for nearing two centuries. That can’t all be about Stephen Simmons. What is it about Michigan’s culture, politics, or demographics that has kept it so staunchly anti-death penalty?

This is a question that writers have been asking for decades. Remember that abolition was a close-run thing. Religion, political party, and other divisions do not appear to have been a factor in the voting.

My guess is that it had to do with personality. The legislators in 1846 were mostly young men who were adventurous and optimistic enough to leave their friends and families in the east for the frontier. Such people, according to my psychologist friends tend to be against capital punishment. Why capital punishment was never reinstated is a tribute, I think, to the fact that the system works. Every so often a particularly bad killing starts politicians shouting about bringing it back, but it never goes anywhere. Since 1963, of course, the ban has been in our state constitution, and removing it would be very difficult.

* As Prof. Chardavoyne mentions, a few executions have been conducted in Michigan under federal (not state) law since 1830.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Michigan,Milestones,Murder,Public Executions,USA

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782: 4,500 Saxons by order of Charlemagne

7 comments September 23rd, 2012 Headsman

On an unknown date in the latter half of 782, Charlemagne did some seriously nasty business with a captured army of Saxons.

In the late 8th century, the King of the Franks was fighting a decades-long running campaign against Saxon tribes at the edge of his sprawling European empire.

One part Christianizing the pagans and two (or more) parts territorial aggrandizement, Charlemagne’s exertions on the Rhinish frontier were opposed by Widukind, or Witikind, or Widochind, whose “forest-child” name belies its owner’s legendary ferocity.


Widukind was reclaimed in the Renaissance as a patriotic or national figure. (Source)

In the summer of 782, when Charlemagne perhaps thought he had whatever passed for peace among the querulous Saxons, Widukind raised a revolt and dealt the Franks a stinging defeat that put a couple of imperial legates into the ground and made some martyrs out of clerics he found in the wrong place at the time.

Charlemagne’s forces counterattacked and routed the Saxons at the Battle of Suntel (or Sonnethal) Mountain, and thereupon

questioned the primores of the Saxons, all of whom be had summoned to attend him, as to who was responsible for the rebellion which had taken place. And since they all declared that Widukind was the author of this wickedness but were unable to deliver him up in view of the fact that he had taken himself off to the Northmen once the deed had been done, no fewer than 4500 of the others, those who had fallen in with his promptings and committed such a gross outrage, were handed over and at the place on the river Aller called Verden, at the king’s command, all beheaded in a single day. Thus was punishment executed; and the king then retired to winter-quarters at Thionville, where he celebrated both the Lord’s birthday and Easter in the customary fashion.

This merciless slaughter of prisoners is one of the lasting blights on Charlemagne’s impressive reputation. Even so, the reputation had the last word: three years later, Witikind was finally defeated and delivered up, in person, to the Frankish ruler … who accepted the Saxon pagan’s submission and forced him to convert to Christianity.


Charlemagne receives Witikind’s submission at Paderborn in 785.

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Entry Filed under: Beheaded,Early Middle Ages,Execution,France,Germany,History,Known But To God,Mass Executions,No Formal Charge,Power,Put to the Sword,Soldiers,Summary Executions,Treason,Wartime Executions

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1944: Pietro Caruso, fascist chief of police

2 comments September 22nd, 2012 Headsman

On this date in 1944, Pietro Caruso was shot to death by a firing squad for his reign as the head of police in fascist Rome.

Renowned for his sadism towards the enemies of Mussolini, Caruso was most infamous for his role rounding up Italians* for a Nazi mass-execution just months before — the Ardeatine Massacre.

Subject of the first war crimes trial in Allied-occupied Italy, Caruso almost wasn’t around long enough to make this blog: an angry mob invaded the courtroom where he was tried just days earlier, attempting to lynch him.

Authorities managed to safeguard the war criminal, but the mob sated its bloodlust by grabbing another fascist who had turned state’s evidence and was all set to testify against Caruso until he was hauled out and drowned in the Tiber.

Apparently they didn’t need his evidence anyway.

The war, of course, was not yet over … and in northern Italy’s ongoing fascist enterprise, the blackshirts conducted retaliatory executions to retaliate for executing Caruso for retaliatory executions.

* Caruso’s defense: the Nazis had demanded 80 prisoners of him for this reprisal execution. Caruso moderated it to 50. David Broder would have approved.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Italy,Milestones,Occupation and Colonialism,Politicians,Shot,War Crimes,Wartime Executions

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1783: Mutinous prisoners of the Swift

Add comment September 21st, 2012 Headsman

On this date in 1783, six men were hanged at Tyburn for “returning before expiry” from convict transportation.

This was a neat little euphemism covering a very desperate act at the sundering of the American colonies from their mother country.

We’ve previously covered in these pages the underappreciated extent of convict transportation from the British Isles in populating the future United States. Anthony Vaver, who blogs at Early American Crime, in his recent book Bound With An Iron Chain pegs convicts as the second-largest bloc of American “immigrants,” (after African slaves) to the tune of 50,000 souls in the 18th century.

The American Revolution put a halt to that human traffic.

In time, London would transition to dumping its criminal cargo on Australia.

But at the moment the colonies broke free, the Down Under wasn’t yet fulfilling that role, and policymakers faced a conundrum. The judicial machinery continued to sentence thieves to transportation; without an outlet, those unfortunates accumulated cheek to jowl aboard stinking prison hulks on the Thames.

What to do? In 1785, a Parliamentary committee looked back wistfully on the good old days:

That the old system of transporting to America answered every good purpose that could be expected from it; that it tended directly to reclaim the objects on which it was inflicted, and to render them good citizens; that the climate being temperate, and the means of gaining a livelihood easy, it was safe to entrust country magistrates with the discretionary power of inflicting it … that it tended to break, in their infancy, those gangs and combinations which have since proved so injurious to the community; that it was not attended with much expense to the public …

(cited in Botany Bay: The Real Story)

Well, it so happened that this effective and affordable solution, though interrupted by war, was not legally barred in the new United States.

So Britain did what any cost-conscious imperial power would do: sent out a ship with some convicts to see if they couldn’t still be gifted to labor-hungry America. “Perhaps a greater insult to any Nation could hardly have been offered,” griped one Founding Father afterwards.

The gallows held little terror for some prisoners sentenced to convict transportation, who might even have preferred execution. London’s Public Advertiser reported this never-implemented threat on March 24, 1785:

We hear that one of the respited capital convicts, who received sentence of transportation at the adjourned session at the Old Bailey, told the Recorder, in his own name and those of his companions, that they did not esteem the being pardoned, on condition of transportation to Africa, as an act of mercy, but had much rather be hanged at home; and that they were determined to endeavour to sink either the lighter which is to convey them to Gravesend (to which place they are to be guarded by 30 of the militia) or the ship which is to carry them over.

Alright, America. You don’t have to be that way about it.

The ship detailed for this insulting mission was the Swift, and its passage was troubled long before it sighted the Chesapeake. The “cargo” of the Swift mutinied and ran the ship aground in England.

Thirty-nine escapees were recaptured and most sentenced once again to transportation, but six swung at Tyburn on this date. They really were at the end of an era, and not only of North American convict transportation: Tyburn itself hosted its last public execution just a few weeks later.

Nothing daunted, the owners of the Swift reassembled a slate of captives and made another run, reaching Annapolis, Md. on Christmas eve: fortuitous timing, because irritated state legislators weren’t in session and therefore couldn’t block the ship’s unwanted merchandising. The problem was, it was little better wanted by its intended market. According to Vaver, “[o]nly 30 of those on board were sold by mid-January … [the shippers] managed to sell most of the convicts by the spring, but they incurred serious losses after having to provide food, clothing, and medicine for those who languished on board the ship until they could be unloaded.”

They were the last British convicts sold in her rebellious colonies. One last ship made another voyage in 1784 and was turned away flat by every U.S. port, finally managing to offload in British Honduras.

Ere the decade was out, London had established a new penal colony at Botany Bay and set about transferring this particular “special relationship” from the United States to Australia.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,History,Mass Executions,Occupation and Colonialism,Public Executions,USA

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