March 2nd, 2013 Headsman
On this date in 1886, David Roberts was hanged at Cardiff for a murder-robbery the October previous.
Both Roberts and his father, Edward Roberts, were arraigned for the murder. The Robertses, father and son, had both been playing cards with the late David Thomas on the night of the crime, and left together with him (as well as another man).
The next day, David Thomas was found in a field bludgeoned and stabbed to death, with David Roberts’ pipe nearby. A search of the Roberts home revealed £66 stashed away in a bloody handkerchief, the approximate amount Thomas as known to have made at market on the day before he died.
David Roberts made a voluntary written confession specifically claiming sole responsibility for the murder. He even pleaded guilty in court, shouting out, “I swear my dad had nothing to do with this murder!”
Apparently he was persuasive: prosecutors decided to present no evidence against Edward Thomas and allowed him to be acquitted.
So Roberts stood alone on the trap this day, having at least the comfort of having done right by his family duty. Unfortunately the hangman did not quite do right by Roberts fils as he appeared to survive the drop. Witnesses were hastily conducted away while Roberts dangled, still twitching and strangling. The error was ascribed to the condemned man’s “muscular neck,” but this alleged physiognomy only mattered because at this late date British hangmen still designed the parameters of the drop impressionistically.
All that was changing to follow the professional example of the scientific William Marwood, however. Later in 1886, a commission was formed under former Liberal Home Secretary Baron Aberdare to examine the issue. This commission ultimately produced the first official table of drops specifying the fall that should be allotted to prisoners based on their weight, with a view to reliably breaking the neck.
Also on this date
- 1871: Ma Hualong, Dungan rebel
- 1942: Jakub Lemberg and family
- 2006: Ali Afrawi and Mehdi Nawaseri
- 1974: Salvador Puig Antich and Heinz Ches, the last garroted in Spain
- 1585: William Parry, Vile and Base
- 2005: Han Bok-nam, whose death was illicitly filmed