Archive for October, 2013

Six Years Under: Executed Today’s Sixth Annual Report

3 comments October 31st, 2013 Headsman

They say the coward dies a thousand deaths. Executed Today has now made it six full trips around the sun, and died two thousand, one hundred and ninety-two.*

We’re getting pretty long in the tooth in blog years, and as noted in this space last year blogging daily for five, and now six, years puts us well past our original win conditions for this site.

There has been some consideration hereabouts about how and when to let this blog die its own cowards’ death, but there are still so many stories left untold for the faithful executioner. “Encore un moment, monsieur le bourreau,” as Madame du Barry is said to have begged under the guillotine. Just one moment more … one more year at least.


Andrew Jackson’s execution of six militiamen in the War of 1812 introduced the term “Coffin Handbills” to the language.

Traffic

We logged about 2.77 million pageviews over the past twelve months, bringing the site near 10 million all time. (It should reach that milestone in about a month.)

That figure was spiked by a Reddit frontpage referral to the fascinating medical-history guest post on the nameless woman “Aochababa”, whose 1771 beheading and subsequent medical dissection initiated a new era of anatomical learning in Japan. That post, originally published in 2010, had five-sixths of Executed Today’s one-day traffic record (53,646 on May 1, 2013). On that strength it became the most-trafficked post on the site for the entire year, the most common visitor entrance page other than the home site, vaulting from undeserved obscurity into the site’s top 10 all time.

Also making an enormous move: the Ottoman Grand Vizier Pargali Ibrahim Pasha. This post just snuck into the top 60 last year as it began receiving search traffic after the debut of a Turkish costume drama about the reign of Pasha’s friend, sovereign, and executioner Suleiman the Magnificent. In Executed Today’s sixth year, Pargali was consistently among the top two or three most-seen posts day in and day out; it’s the ninth-most-trafficked post all-time on the site as of this writing, but if the next year is like the last, it could easily stand as high as no. 2 next Halloween. (A different post about the capable heir Suleiman foolishly executed also reached the top 50.) For close-but-no-cigar cultural ephemera, the TV series Vikings drove “Ragnar Lodbrok” to the no. 21 search term for the year — surely a spoiler for viewers who learned that the show’s protagonist is destined for execution in a snakepit. Like those snakes, such search wins can be poisonous; while once we had one of the few pages on the whole Intertubes about this fellow, it has subsequently been buried by posts about the television program.**

Current events spurred other movers. Eva Dugan, the last woman executed in Arizona, shot up into the top 20 thanks to the wall-to-wall media coverage of Jodi Arias’s Arizona capital murder case. John Bennett, the last U.S. military execution to date, cracked the top-posts list for the first time because of Major Nidal Hasan‘s death penalty court-martial for the Fort Hood shootings. We’re not above drawing such connections explicitly ourselves on Twitter, where we’ve sent about 17,200 tweets (4,500 in the past year) to a follower universe now nearing 3,000.

The all-time top posts hereabouts run as follows:

1. Ted Bundy (January 24, 1989)
2. Eleven from the Stutthof concentration camp (July 4, 1946)
3. Mohammad Najibullah (September 27, 1996)
4. Samuel K. Doe (September 9, 1990)
5. Rainey Bethea (August 14, 1936)
6. Green Tea Hag (March 4, 1771)
7. Hideki Tojo (December 23, 1948)
8. Jesse Washington lynched (May 15, 1916)
9. Pargali Ibrahim Pasha (March 15, 1536)
10. Thomas Cromwell (July 28, 1540)
11. Karl Hermann Frank (May 22, 1946)
12. Nguyen Van Lem (February 1, 1968)
13. Fou Tchou-li (April 10, 1905)
14. Mahmoud Asgari and Ayaz Marhoni (July 19, 2005)
15. Eugen Weidmann (June 17, 1939)
16. Pulitzer Prize-winning firing squad photograph from the Iranian Revolution (August 27, 1979)
17. James Corbitt (November 28, 1950)
18. The rapists of Maggie dela Riva (May 17, 1972)
19. Allen Lee “Tiny” Davis (July 8, 1999)
20. Eva Dugan (February 21, 1930)
21. Three partisans in Minsk (October 26, 1941)
22. Charles Starkweather (June 25, 1959)
23. Julius and Ethel Rosenberg (June 19, 1953)
24. Hamida Djandoubi (September 10, 1977)
25. Claus von Stauffenberg (July 21, 1944)
26. Amon Goeth (September 13, 1946)
27. Pvt. Eddie Slovik (January 31, 1945)
28. Mohamed Oufkir (August 16, 1972)
29. Karla Faye Tucker (February 3, 1998)
30. Ruth Snyder and Judd Gray (January 12, 1928)
31. Eight July 20 anti-Hitler plotters (August 8, 1944)
32. Witold Pilecki (May 25, 1948)
33. John Bennett (April 13, 1961)
34. Arthur Lucas and Ronald Turpin (December 11, 1962)
35. Michael X (May 16, 1975)
36. Henry Francis Hays (June 6, 1997)
37. Robert Francois Damiens (March 28, 1757)
38. Dhananjoy Chatterjee (August 14, 2004)
39. Edith Thompson and Frederick Bywaters (January 9, 1923)
40. Princess Misha’al bint Fahd al Saud (July 15, 1977)
41. Du’a Khalil Aswad (April 7, 2007)
42. The Stoning of Soraya M. (August 15, 1986)
43. Zoya Kosmodemyanskaya (November 29, 1941)
44. Partisans by the Sonderbataillon Dirlewanger (Uncertain date, 1942)
45. Mary Surratt and the Lincoln assassination conspirators (July 7, 1865)
46. Hannah Ocuish (December 20, 1786)
47. Che Guevara (October 9, 1967)
48. Prince Mustafa (Oct. 6, 1553)
49. Marion Braidfute (Uncertain date, 1297)
50. Maximilien Robespierre (July 28, 1794)
51. The Belsen war criminals (December 13, 1945)
52. William Johnson (June 20, 1864)
53. Mohammed Bijeh (March 16, 2005)
54. The In Cold Blood killers (April 14, 1965)
55. Henri Languille (June 28, 1905)
56. The Lonely Hearts Killers (March 8, 1951)
57. Cameron Todd Willingham (February 17, 2004)
58. Father Miguel Pro (November 23, 1927)
59. Dr. Jose Rizal (December 30, 1896)
60. Willie Francis (when he was successfully executed May 9, 1947)
61. Cleopatra’s sister Arsinoe (late 41 BCE)
62. Not Willie Francis (when he survived the electric chair May 3, 1946)
63. John Wayne Gacy (May 10, 1994)
64. Mona Fandey (November 2, 2001)
65. 14-year-old George Stinney, Jr. (June 16, 1944)
66. England’s last hangings (August 13, 1964)

For whatever it’s worth, the most popular post actually published in Year VI was by a very wide margin the first-person account of a horrifically botched Thailand execution.

One of the more noticeable site trends in the past year has been the continued steady growth in traffic share of mobile devices. Those accounted for only a bit over 10% of the traffic in Year V (Nov. 2011-Oct. 2012), but that soared to 25% in Year VI (Nov. 2012-Oct. 2013). The month-over-month change shows a still stronger trend than that, with site views from desktop devices bottoming out at 68.7% in August 2013 before rebounding ever so slightly the past two months. Both mobile phone views and tablet views have grown by about +50% relative to where they were last October — perhaps facilitated by plumping for WPTouch Pro, money very well spent by my lights.

Guest Posts

The site has always managed to get by on the kindness of strangers, several of whom once again contributed a trove of guest posts.

In addition to those named below, a special thanks is due my correspondent “Mastro Titta” (here‘s the inspiration for the name) for adding countless names and dates to our expansive archives of potential source material. Similar gratitude goes to Tom E. for reasons which will become clear in the near future.

Grazie to them, and to all of these …

Co-authored with Bora Chung

Our 2001 days‘ meta-post musings on the death penalty in dystopian literature

Nancy Bilyeau

May 17, 1521: Edward Stafford, Duke of Buckingham
May 27, 1541: Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury

Richard Clark

July 29, 1879: Kate Webster of the Barnes Mystery

dogboy

May 23, 1876: The Lennie mutineers
July 14, 1584: Balthasar Gerard, William the Silent’s assassin

Robert K. Elder

Mar. 9, 1981: Steven T. Judy
Aug. 16, 2001: Jeffrey Doughtie

Meaghan Good

With this year’s contributions (and there are many more already scheduled for future dates), Meaghan’s published posts on Executed today ran past 100. As noted last year, we’d have been hard-pressed to keep this operation running all these years without her prolific and thoroughly researched output.

Nov. 13, 1943: the Zalkind family
Nov. 14, 1930: Mao Zedong’s wife
Nov. 15, 2011: Oba Chandler
Nov. 28, 1828: James “Little Jim” Guild
Dec. 13, 1889: John Gilman
Dec. 16, 1678: Stephen Arrowsmith
Dec. 23, 1926: Petrus Stephanus Hauptfleisch
Dec. 27, 2001: Kojiro Asakura
Jan. 6, 1836: Abraham Prescott
Jan. 19, 1894: Albert Bomberger
Feb. 6, 1997: Michael Carl George
Feb. 18, 1862: Margaret Coghlan
Feb. 26, 1909: C.Y. Timmons
Mar. 22, 1882: George Parrott, who was tanned and made into a pair of shoes after hanging
Mar. 24, 1936: George W. Barrett
Mar. 30, 1883: Emeline Meaker
Apr. 6, 1752: Mary Blandy
Apr. 7, 1933: The “killers” of Pavlik Morozov, an engrossing story of Soviet mythmaking
Apr. 13, 1942: Four Jews from Bedzin and Sosnowiec, with a cameo in the classic Holocaust graphic novel Maus
Apr. 15, 1921: Mailo Segura
Apr. 25, 1900: A triple hanging in McMinnville, Tenn.
Apr. 27, 1940: Wilhelm Kusserow
May 2, 1883: Heinrich “Henry” Furhmann
May 12, 1936: Buck Ruxton
May 25, 1721: Joseph Hanno”, “miserable African”
June 1, 1936: Arnold Sodeman
June 3, 1886: 22 Uganda Martyrs
June 8, 1866: Anton Probst
June 10, 1944: The Massacre at Oradour-sur-Glane
June 14, 1897: Choka Ebin
June 18, 1827: Kentucky Gov. Joseph Desha pardons his plainly guilty son Isaac
June 20, 1944: Jakob Edelstein and family
June 24, 1890: A segregated quadruple hanging
July 1, 1943: Gay Dutch Resistance fighter Willem Arondeus
July 9, 1920: Lee Monroe Betterton
July 30, 1888: A 76-pound Newfoundland
Aug. 9, 1786: Tom, a “faithful, industrious, healthy slave”
Aug. 18, 1941: 534 Lithuanian Jewish intellectuals
Aug. 19, 1897: Harvey DeBerry
Aug. 23, 1849: Rebecca Smith, to save her children from want
Aug. 28, 1765: Three Burglarious Johns
Aug. 31, 1876: The reprieve of boy serial killer Jesse Pomeroy
Sep. 12, 1864: George Nelson, Indiana Jones rapist
Sep. 15, 1939: Charles McLachlan
Sep. 18, 1953: Louisa May Merrifield
Oct. 2, 1901: James Edward Brady
Oct. 4, 1648: Alice Bishop
Oct. 5, 1943: The children of the Bialystok Ghetto
Sometime in early Oct. 1943: Yitskhok Rudahevski
Oct. 16, 1946: Neville Heath, torture-killer
c. 19: Some wicked priests of Isis, according to Josephus

Melissa S. Green

Apr. 14, 1950: Eugene LaMoore Alaska’s last execution

Courtney Thomas

Mar. 25, 1586: Saint Margaret Clitherow
May 14, 1631: Mervyn Touchet, Earl of Castlehaven

Robert Wilhelm

Jan. 10, 1879: Benjamin Hunter, of the Hunter-Armstrong Tragedy

Interviews

In addition to outright guest posts, interviews with a variety of expert sand specialists illuminated a number of unusual cases.

Editor’s Picks

Regardless of traffic prominence, these are a few of the many daily posts that were among the most interesting to research and write.

Meta Content

A want of hours in the day led us to go easy on some of the aspired-to meta content. In addition to the post for our 2001st consecutive day (op. cit.), we extended our sidebar “decade-defining executions” series to the 1970s, and ginned up an election day tour of U.S. Presidents and the death penalty. We also took a very quick and dirty look at which U.S. governors have signed the most death warrants.

If all goes well, we’ll manage a bit more of these in the year to come.

* Actual sum total of persons executed in the 2,192 posts — or however many it ends up being — would be an interesting figure to have but an extremely tedious (not to say depressing) job to compile.

** This same thing happened with Cameron Todd Willingham: when the New Yorker put the story in the national eye, our longstanding account of Willingham’s likely innocence was one of the few already online and became one of the most visited pages on the site in 2009. As one can see from the traffic ranker above where it now sits at #57, it’s been subsumed for everyday websearchers by the many thousands of new Willingham links in the past few years.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: Administrative Messages

1698: The last Streltsy executed in October

Add comment October 31st, 2013 Johann Georg Korb

This entry in our Corpses Strewn series on the October 1698 extirpation of the Streltsy is courtesy of the diaries of Austrian diplomat Johann Georg Korb, an eyewitness to the events.

Again, in front of the Kremlin Castle two others, whose thighs and extremities had been broken, and who were tied alive to the wheel, with horrid lamentations throughout the afternoon and the following night, closed their miserable existence in the utmoft agony. One of them, the younger of the two, survived amidst his enduring tortures until noon the following day. The Czar dined at his cafe (commode) with the Boyar Leo Kirilowicz Narefkin, all the representatives and the Czar’s ministers being present. The successive and earnest supplications of all present induced the monarch, who was long reluctant, to give command to that Gabriel who is so well known at his court that an end might be put with a ball to the life and pangs of the criminal that still continued breathing.

For the remainder of the rebels, who were still guarded in places round about, their respective places of confinement were also their places of execution, lest by collecting them all together this torturing and butchery in the one place of such a multitude of men, should smell of tyranny. And especially left the minds of the citizens, already terror-stricken at so many melancholy exhibitions of their perishing fellow men should dread every kind of cruelty from their sovereign.

But considering the daily perils to which the Czar’s Majesty was hitherto exposed, without an hour’s security, and hardly escaping from many snares, he was very naturally always in great apprehension of the exceeding treachery of the Strelitz, so that he fairly concluded not to tolerate a single Strelitz in his empire, — to banish all of them that remained to the farthest confines of Muscovy after having almost extirpated the very name. In the provinces, leave was given to any that preferred to renounce military service for ever, and with the consent of the Voivodes to addict themselves to domestic services. Nor were they quite innocent: for the officers that were quartered in the camp at Azov to keep ward against the hostile inroads of the enemy, told how they were never secure, and hourly expected an atrocious outbreak of treason from the Strelitz; nor was there any doubt but that they had very ambiguous sympathies for the fortunes of the other rebels. All the wives of the Strelitz were commanded to leave the neighbourhood of Moscow, and thus experienced the consequences of the crimes of their husbands. It was forbidden by Ukase, under penalty of death, for any person to keep any of them or afford them Secret harbour, unless they would send them out of Moscow to serve upon their estates.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Broken on the Wheel,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Gruesome Methods,Guest Writers,History,Other Voices,Power,Public Executions,Russia,Soldiers,Torture,Treason

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1480: Cicco Simonetta

Add comment October 30th, 2013 Headsman

On this date in 1480, Francesco Simonetta — known as Cicco to his contemporaries — was beheaded at the Castello of Pavia.

Simonetta (English Wikipedia entry | Italian) was your basic 15th century polyglot Italian humanist, whose aptitude saw him into the service of the condottiero Francesco Sforza.

Simonetta’s honors and appointments multiplied as Sforza’s reach expanded; when Sforza died, and then Sforza’s heir was assassinated, a 7-year-old became Duke of Milan.

The late 1470s saw a bitter power struggle during the child duke’s minority for effective control of the state: on the one hand, the boy’s uncle Ludovico; on the other, the boy’s mother Bona of Savoy. Simonetta was the able minister of state for Bona, and his faction briefly prevailed and saw Ludovico into exile.

Simonetta had put several years of hustle into balancing the political factions that kept Bona — and via Bona, himself — in control. Alas for their cause, Bona was eventually induced via her lover, a natural rival of Simonetta’s, to just go and invite Ludovico to return to Milan

Simonetta looked grave, as he well might, when he heard the news. “Most illustrious duchess,” he said to Bona the next day, “do you know what will happen? My head will be cut off, and before long you will lose this state.”

And so it was.

Bad news for Francesco Simonetta, sure, but Ludovico would one day use his position to commission Da Vinci’s The Last Supper.

Simonetta’s legacy beyond peninsular politics is somewhat less august. His treatise on code-breaking, Regule ad extrahendum litteras ziferatas sine exemplo (Rules for Decrypting Coded Documents), is a tipsheet for busting elementary substitution ciphers: determine the language, look for common words, exploit the letter patterns caused by standardized word endings (like -ing and -ed in English), isolate the vowels.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 15th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Italy,Political Expedience,Politicians,Power,Torture,Treason

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1927: Baldomero Rodrigues, and then Baldomero Rodrigues again

Add comment October 29th, 2013 Headsman

On this date in 1927, Cuban murderer Baldomero Rodrigues was garroted in Pinar del Rio prison.

But when his body was laid out on a stretcher for disposal and the official witnesses were filing out of the death chamber, Rodrigues began showing signs of life.

It was “a defect in the garrote or due to careless adjustment of the metal band which fits about the victim’s neck to cause strangulation,” an Associated Press wire report ran.*

In present-day Iran, one of the most aggressive death penalty states going, a drug dealer managed to survive a hanging just weeks ago as I write this in 2013. That man got shipped to the hospital and placed on life support, with the justice minister eventually announcing that he wouldn’t be noosed again.

Gerardo Machado‘s Cuba was not so squishy.

With nary a pause to await further instruction, the execution-chamber guards forcibly subdued Rodrigues, who had reanimated sufficiently to “put up a furious struggle.” They forced their thrashing victim back onto the garrote, double-checked the metal band this time,** and tightened it until it asphyxiated Rodrigues a second time … then left the now-actually-lifeless body on the machine a full 22 minutes to make good and certain of their work.

* Here quoted from the Oct. 30, 1927 Los Angeles Times. Also see the New York Times from the same date for a truncated paraphrase of the same report.

** Presumably.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Botched Executions,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Cuba,Death Penalty,Execution,Executions Survived,Garrote,Murder,Strangled

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Sometime around 19 AD: Some wicked priests of Isis (… allegedly)

Add comment October 28th, 2013 Meaghan

(Thanks to Meaghan Good of the Charley Project for the guest post. -ed.)

October 28 marked the start on the Roman calendar of the Isia, a dayslong festival in honor of the Egyptian goddess Isis, who enjoyed a wide following in the Roman Empire. (There’s a temple of Isis in the ruins of Pompeii.)

In recognition of the Isia, we’re unearthing an extremely dubious but suitably execution-related slander of the Isis cult by the Roman-Jewish historian Flavius Josephus — who writes that at some unspecified date around 19 AD, during the reign of Emperor Tiberius in Rome, a freewoman named Ide and some priests from the cult of Isis were crucified for their role in a wacky conspiracy.

It is known from several ancient historians that followers of both Isis and Yahweh were banished from Rome at about this time, but the specific immediate causes are unclear. Both were “foreign” (and still more, eastern) religions, so might have come in for a bit of expedient demagoguery; the emperor Augustus, only five years dead at that point, had been down on Isis-worship in general thanks in part to his rival Cleopatra, who associated herself with the goddess.

Suetonius says that Tiberius “abolished foreign cults, especially the Egyptian and the Jewish rites, compelling all who were addicted to such superstitions to burn their religious vestments and all their paraphernalia.” Cassius Dio attributes the Jews’ punishment to their successful proselytizing; such a pattern also intermittently worried future emperors with respect to Isis, and could be consistent with the Senate’s decree that those who renounced their cult(s) could stay.

Josephus alone offers scandalous specific triggers for these expulsions in his twenty-volume Antiquities of the Jews, which covers the history of the Jewish people from Adam and Eve right up to the First Jewish-Roman War.*

There’s a different backstory for each community’s expulsion, according to Josephus — very much at pains to distinguish cases we today, and Josephus’s contemporaries, might naturally take to be connected. Both stories have a novelistic feel of collective punishment for particular crimes, but it’s noticeable that while the Jews’ fate is mildly attributed to a couple of individual criminals (already outcast by the Jews) defrauding a Roman convert who wanted to donate to the temple in Jerusalem, the Egyptian rite gets fabulously shown up as systematically corrupt and a menace to the honor of good Roman matrons.** Josephus is mining here an existing Roman stereotype of Isis-worship as a libertine cult, but he wrote Antiquities in about 93-94 CE, a time when Isis had waxed in the favor of the emperor Domitian as well as his predecessor Vespasian.

Second-century Roman statue of Isis, which can be seen in Rome’s Capitoline Museums

Per Josephus, Paulina, wife of Saturninus, was a wealthy married woman “of a beautiful countenance” and “great modesty,” and a devoted follower of Isis. Decius Mundus, a prominent Roman aristocrat, fell in love — or more like in lust — with her, and tried to seduce her. She rejected him. He offered her presents; she refused them. Finally he offered the staggering sum of 200,000 Attic drachmae for, as Josephus tactfully puts it, “one night’s lodging.” Paulina was outraged by his suggestion.

Despondent, Decius Mundus went home and declared his intent to starve himself to death. A freed slave in his household, a woman named Ide who was “skillful in all sorts of mischief,” couldn’t stand to watch him waste away like this and took pity on him. She could get Paulina to sleep with him, she promised, and she’d do it for the bargain rate of 50,000 drachmae, 75% off.

Knowing that Paulina could not be bought at any price, and also knowing of her devotion to the cult of Isis, Ide resorted to trickery: she went to two corrupt Isis priests and promised to split the 50,000 drachmae with them if they would help deceive the lady. They agreed, rejoicing at the prospect of being 25,000 drachmae richer.

The elder of the two priests went to Paulina with a stunning revelation: the jackal-headed Egyptian god Anubis had noticed her piety and fallen in love with her, and desired to spend a jackal-headed night with her.

Paulina, who in another era would probably have bought the Brooklyn Bridge and some oceanfront property in Arizona, was delighted by the news. She passed the message on to her husband, asking for permission to “sup and lie” with the God, and Saturninus, “full satisfied with the chastity of his wife,” agreed to share her.

So she want to the temple and had dinner with Anubis (who remained invisible and silent during the meal), then the priest escorted her to the bedroom, put out the lights and shut her in.

Whereupon Decius Mundus emerged from his hiding place and made sweet love to Paulina all night long in the dark, slipping away at dawn.

Whether he wore the jackal’s mask has not been recorded.

Paulina went home in a cloud of post-coital bliss, enraptured by her encounter with the god. She told her husband all about it, and all her friends, who weren’t sure whether to believe her. None of them challenged her, though, such was her reputation as a modest and religious woman.

Decius Mundus let her spread the story around for three days, then came to her and told her the truth, and laughed in her face. She may have rejected him while he was Mundus, he added maliciously, but she had sure liked him when she’d thought he was Anubis!

Furious and humiliated, Paulina tore her own clothes in hysterics when she realized what she’d done. She demanded Saturninus go complain to Tiberius about how she’d been treated, and her embarrassed husband complied.

Tiberius was not one of Rome’s nicer emperors, but he took ample action to avenge Paulina’s dishonor: he razed the temple of Isis to the ground, threw her statue into the river, and suppressed the cult. Lastly, Tiberius ordered that Ide and the Isis priests involved in the conspiracy be crucified.

But Decius Mundus? He got off lightly, merely being banished from Rome. Tiberius decided there were mitigating circumstances, namely that “what crime he had committed was done out of the passion of love.”

* Josephus himself was a rebel Galilean commander in this war; he was captured by the Roman general Vespasian when Josephus weaseled out of a group suicide pact as the Siege of Yodfat ended in a bloody rout. Taken as prisoner to his opposite number, Josephus boldly hailed Vespasian as future emperor. Vespasian did indeed achieve the purple, and pensioned Josephus as a house historian (and Roman citizen) under his own protection.

** See Horst Moehring, “The Persecution of the Jews and the Adherents of the Isis Cult at Rome A.D. 19,” Novum Testamentum, Dec. 1959.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: Ancient,Capital Punishment,Crucifixion,Death Penalty,Execution,Gruesome Methods,Guest Writers,History,Italy,Other Voices,Pelf,Public Executions,Religious Figures,Roman Empire,Scandal,Sex,Slaves,Uncertain Dates

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1698: Old Believer popes and Princess Sophia’s petitioners

1 comment October 27th, 2013 Johann Georg Korb

This entry in our Corpses Strewn series on the October 1698 extirpation of the Streltsy is courtesy of the diaries of Austrian diplomat Johann Georg Korb, an eyewitness to the events.

Today was assigned for the punishment of the popes — that is to say, of those who by carrying images to induce the serfs to side with the Strelitz, had invoked the aid of God with the holy rites of his altars for the happy success of this impious plot. The place selected by the judge for the execution was the open space in front of the church of the most Holy Trinity, which is the high church of Moscow. The ignominious gibbet cross awaited the popes, by way of reward in suit with the thousands of signs of the cross they had made, and as their fee for all the benedictions they had given to the refractory troops. The court jester, in the mimic attire of a pope, made the halter ready, and adjusted it, as it was held to be wrong to subject a pope to the hands of the common hangman. A certain Dumnoi struck off the head of another pope, and set his corpse upon the ignominious wheel. Close to the church, too, the halter and wheel proclaimed the enormity of the crime of their guilty burden to the passers by.

The Czar’s Majesty looked on from his carriage while the popes were hurried to execution. To the populace, who flood around in great numbers, he spoke a few words touching the perfidy of the popes, adding the threat, “Henceforward let no one dare to ask any pope to pray for such an intention.” A little while before the execution of the popes, two rebels, brothers, having had their thighs and other members broken in front of the Castle of the Kremlin, were set alive upon the wheel: twenty others on whom the axe had done its office lay lifeless around these wheels. The two that were bound upon the wheel beheld their third brother among the dead. Nobody will easily believe how lamentable were their cries and howls, unless he has well weighed their excruciations and the greatness of their tortures. I saw their broken thighs tied to the wheel with ropes strained as tightly as possible, so that in all that deluge of torture I do believe none can have exceeded that of the utter impossibility of the least movement. Their miserable cries had struck the Czar as he was being driven past. He went up to the wheels, and first promised speedy death, and afterwards proffered them a free pardon, if they would confess sincerely. But when upon the very wheel he found them more obstinate than ever, and that they would give no other answer than that they would confess nothing, and that their penalty was nearly paid in full, the Czar left them to the agonies of death, and hastened on to the Monastery of the Nuns, in front of which monastery there were thirty gibbets erected in a quadrangular shape, from which there hung two hundred and thirty Strelitz. The three principal ringleaders, who presented a petition to [Peter’s half-sister and rival] Sophia, touching the administration of the realm, were hanged close to the windows of that princess, presenting, as it were, the petitions that were placed in their hands, so near that Sophia might with ease touch them. Perhaps this was in order to load Sophia with that remorse in every way, which I believe drove her to take the religious habit, in order to pass to a better life.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Arts and Literature,Broken on the Wheel,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Gruesome Methods,Guest Writers,Hanged,History,Mass Executions,Other Voices,Power,Public Executions,Religious Figures,Russia,Soldiers,Torture,Treason

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1964: Eric Edgar Cooke, the Night Caller

Add comment October 26th, 2013 Headsman

On this date in 1964, Western Australia conducted its last hanging — that of Eric Edgar Cooke.

Cooke was one of Australia’s worst serial killers, and also one of its strangest: the eight homicides were almost unpatterned save for their rage.

A harelipped, bullied youth turned delinquent turned small-time criminal — he had numerous arrests to his name for theft, for vandalism, for torching a church that rejected his choir audition, for auto theft and for being a peeping tom — Cooke busted out of obscurity and into nightmares on the night of Australia Day 1963 when he gunned down five random people in Perth‘s comfortable suburbs. But even by then he had already been stabbing and shooting at people, and menacing them with cars.

Cooke’s Australia Day spree comprised four distinct incidents united to one another and to Cooke’s previous patterns by little but a lust for the hunt: his sole methodology was opportunism. Cooke shot a couple parked in a car (they survived), then an accountant through his apartment window (not so lucky); then, Cooke murdered a young man asleep on an open veranda, and rang the doorbell of another house to lure a fifth victim (both of these men also died).

As he’d been previously arrested on the strength of his fingerprints, Cooke had taken the precaution to wear gloves, leaving police a very cold trail indeed. The shock of the one night’s carnage multiplied as weeks, and then months, elapsed with no arrest. Thirty thousand men were fingerprinted in a futile fishing expedition.

An isolated western city in the midst of a transformative population boom, Perth learned mistrust from Eric Edgar Cooke. Of course that can’t literally be true; Perth was half a million people strong by this time. But in the civic memory Cooke’s Australia Day signposts an innocence lost. Estelle Blackburn in her Broken Lives depicts Cooke as the baleful spirit come to scourge Perth’s newly, complacently prosperous. (See this pdf.) It was

[t]he small city … [that] had ways of a friendly, easy going big country town where people left their doors unlocked and their car keys in the ignition of open cars. They trusted each other. He turned it into a city of suspicion and terror. For the first time people started locking the doors of their homes and cars, stopped going out at night and slept with guns or any weapons they could find under their pillows.

There’s a kernel of truth in this cliche, for Cooke liberally exploited Perthians’ inattention to security. When finally arrested in August of 1963 after he shot an 18-year-old babysitter, his confession explained that thanks to car owners’ habit of just leaving the keys in the ignition, he had frequently stolen vehicles parked for the night, used them in hit-and-runs or other crimes, and returned them before morning … the owners very often none the wiser.

Cooke had, meanwhile, also strangled a social worker in the Perth suburbs in February 1963, and stabbed to death a South Perth beautician during a home invasion robbery back in 1959. He proved to have a photographic memory of his misdeeds, and could detail exactly the objects he had stolen in hundreds of long-past burglaries. He copped in all to eight murders and 14 attempted murders.

With such evidence from Cooke’s own mouth his barristers had little choice but to pursue an insanity defense. This didn’t fly with the courts, but neither too did Cooke’s more embarrassing admissions to two murders for which two other men were already imprisoned. (Officially, the crown only credited him with six of his eight kills.) A “villainous unscrupulous liar” he was called for those claims; Darryl Beamish and John Button each served many more years in prison for these two disputed murders; with Blackburn’s help, they were both formally vindicated in the 2000s.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Australia,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Milestones,Murder,Serial Killers

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Feast Day of Saints Crispin and Crispinian

Add comment October 25th, 2013 Headsman

This day is called the feast of Crispian.
He that outlives this day and comes safe home,
Will stand o’ tiptoe when the day is named
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall see this day, and live old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbors
And say, “Tomorrow is Saint Crispian.”
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars,
And say, “These wounds I had on Crispin’s day.”

…And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered-
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers.

-Henry V, Act 4, Scene 3

Though the band of brothers is much better-known than Crispin and Crispinian themselves, Shakespeare’s immortal verse alludes to a pair of questionable third-century martyrs whose feast date this is.

They were supposedly Christian missionaries proselytizing in Gaul, or possibly Britain,* and there made to suffer for the faith under Diocletian‘s persecutions: Crispin Crispian’s version of the period’s characteristic “execution survived” story has them being pitched into the drink with millstones, but failing to drown. As usual, the Romans had more methods in reserve than God had escapes.

Somewhat derogated latterly since their historicity is so shaky, C+C are the patrons of leather workers and related professions including tanners, saddlers and cobblers.

And in the great spirit of reappropriating ancient martyrs, fellows this handy with thongs and harnesses were claimed by one Toronto church as patrons of leather fetishists.

“These wounds I had on Crispin’s Day” indeed.

Oh, and speaking of St. Crispin’s Day and war and literature, October 25 is the anniversary not only of Agincourt but also of the Crimean War battle that inspired Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poem “The Charge of the Light Brigade”.

Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die.
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon in front of them
Volley’d and thunder’d;
Storm’d at with shot and shell,
Boldly they rode and well,
Into the jaws of Death,
Into the mouth of hell
Rode the six hundred.

* There’s a Crispin and Crispianus pub in England dating all the way to Templar times and later frequented by novelist and public hanging scold Charles Dickens.

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Entry Filed under: Ancient,Arts and Literature,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Drowned,Execution,France,God,Language,Martyrs,Popular Culture,Religious Figures,Roman Empire,Uncertain Dates

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1690: An infanticide, a coiner, and a highwayman

Add comment October 24th, 2013 Headsman

Hanging day — and burning day, and drawing-and-quartering day — at Tyburn this date in 1690 saw a dozen souls condemned to shuffle off this mortal coil.

Nine of these were reprieved, mostly various shoplifters and thieves. (One, Constance Wainwright, was just 16 years old: she stole a silver teapot and a petticoat.)

Mercy Harvey — named only M– H– in her Old Bailey indictment — was a domestic servant and “a very Ignorant Silly Girle” who bore a son out of wedlock. A young woman in such a predicament in 1690 London could be liable to lose her position, and in a city swelling up daily with new arrivals there could be very far to fall indeed.

The Ordinary of Newgate devotes the most space in his account to her, suggesting that she was the most amenable of the condemned to his ministry. Mercy Harvey described to him a timeless predicament.

I discoursed with her, and ask’d, Whether she had any Promise of Marriage with him who begat it? She answered no. Or whether he did promise any Maintenance for herself? She replyed no: but by often soliciting her she yielded to his Desires. She said that when she proved with Child, she dispaired how to provide for it, and so Satan tempted her to expose the Child to Death.

The young woman confessed her crime on hanging-day, but in a state of near collapse, and she was “very sick, and unfit for Discourse.”

What added torture Harvey must have experienced with the rough hemp rope around her neck as the Ordinary with “unwearied industry” dilated to volley “all manner of Godly Exhortations” at her two male counterparts.

Thomas Castle and Thomas Rowland both refused to play their part, clinging by their obdurance to a last remnant of dignity or to fleeting extra moments of life.

Castle had suffered the added indignity of being dragged to the fatal tree on a sledge. Condemned a traitor under England’s bloody code for coining 50 counterfeit shillings (coin-clipping materials were found stashed up his chimney in an iron box), Castle was fortunate enough to have the disemboweling-and-quartering part of his sentence remitted.

The last character of the bunch was one of those stock characters of a passing age, the highwayman. Thomas Rowland had skipped out two decades prior on an apprenticeship in the exciting field of bricklaying and taken to the roads, where according to a colorful Newgate Calendar record he “always robbed in women’s apparel, which disguise was the means of his reigning so long in his villainy.” (But he made his getaways, we are assured, riding astride his mounts — not sidesaddle.)

We don’t know if Rowland caught any flak in Newgate for this abrogation of masculinity, but Rowland “was so abominably wicked that the very morning on which he died, lying in the Press Yard, for he wanted for no money whilst under confinement, a common woman coming to visit him, he had the unparalleled audaciousness to act carnally with her, and gloried in the sin as he was going to execution.”

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Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Abortion and Infanticide,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Counterfeiting,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,History,Murder,Outlaws,Pelf,Public Executions,Theft,Women

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1698: 350 Streltsy by the boyars’ own hands

Add comment October 23rd, 2013 Johann Georg Korb

This entry in our Corpses Strewn series on the October 1698 extirpation of the Streltsy is courtesy of the diaries of Austrian diplomat Johann Georg Korb, an eyewitness to the events.

This differed confiderably from those that preceded. The manner of it was quite different, and hardly credible. Three hundred and thirty at a time were led out together to the fatal axe’s stroke, and embrued the whole plain with native but impious blood: for all the Boyars, Senators of the realm, Dumnoi, Diaks, and so forth, that were present at the council constituted against the rebel Strelitz, had been summoned by the Czar’s command to Bebraschentsko, and enjoined to take upon themselves the hangman’s office. Some struck the blow unsteadily, and with trembling hands assumed this new and unaccustomed task. The most unfortunate stroke among all the Boyars was given by him whose erring sword struck the back instead of the neck, and thus chopping the Strelitz almost in halves, would have roused him to desperation with pain, had not Alexasca* reached the unhappy wretch a surer blow of an axe on the neck.

Prince Romadonowski, under whose command previous to the mutiny these four regiments were to have watched the turbulent gatherings in Poland on the frontier, beheaded, according to order, one out of each regiment. Lastly, to every Boyar a Strelitz was led up, whom he was to behead. The Czar, in his saddle, looked on at the whole tragedy.

* Alexasca was a nickname for the (future) Gen. Aleksandr Menshikov, one of young Peter’s loyal boon companions.

Peter scornfully reproached many of the nobles who trembled at being compelled to behead some rebels; adding in a strain of sanguinary justice, “No victim is more acceptable to the Deity than a wicked man.” Mentchikof, however, did not labour under such delicate feelings; for as a prelude to the execution of one hundred and fifty Strelitz, he drove through the streets of Moscow in a sledge, brandishing a naked sword, and boasted of his adroitness in cutting off twenty heads. (Source)

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Beheaded,Botched Executions,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Guest Writers,History,Mass Executions,Notable Participants,Other Voices,Power,Public Executions,Russia,Soldiers,Torture,Treason

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