1927: Huibrecht Jacob de Leeuw, dynamiter

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.

1939: Pete Catalina and Angelo Agnes, Colorado murderers

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.