December 17th, 2013 Headsman
On this date in 1963, gallows traps dropped simultaneously in Bristol and Winchester to hang two men for murdering a Cornish farmer.
Russell Pascoe and Dennis Whitty were laborers living out of a caravan in the Truro area; Pascoe had formerly worked for the victim, William Rowe, and knew a rumor that the 64-year-old recluse kept a small fortune stashed at Nanjarrow farm.
Late the night of August 14, 1963, the young toughs called at Nanjarrow. When William Rowe answered the door, they instantly beat and stabbed him to death. Perhaps they ought to have thought the plan out better, because William Rowe actually did have £3,000 on the premises … but Pascoe and Whitty only found four quid. (They split it.)
The killers were picked up before the week was out.
“We are both over twenty-one, so I suppose we can hang?” Whitty inquired.
Then they both started trying to blame each other. So the answer was yes.
Robert Douglas, later a bestselling author, was then a young prison guard beginning a career in corrections. He was on the detail guarding Pascoe and on friendly terms with the condemned man who was practically his own age.
I can remember saying to Ken [Russell, another guard], ‘I’m not looking forward to this shift — I mean, what the hell are we going to talk about all evening?’ I was only 24 years old myself at the time, and we had built up a good relationship with Pascoe over the previous six weeks – playing cards and Monopoly and listening to the radio.
We went into the cell, and I asked Russell if he wanted a cup of tea. He said he didn’t. So I tried to coax him – ‘I’ve brought you a cream doughnut’ – I’d brought him a cream cake each day as a little treat. With that, he perked up a little and said, ‘ah go on then, I’ll have a tea’.
So we sat drinking tea for a while, none of us really saying anything. Just blathering about nothing to try to fill the silences.
Then Russell suddenly said, ‘They weighed me today, so they’ll know how far I’ll drop.’ Ken and I just looked at each other – what are you meant to say to that?
These were the third- and fourth-last men people put to death under Britain’s capital punishment statutes. (Here’s a picture at the doors of Bristol’s Horfield Gaol.) England would see only one more hanging date, another double execution conducted at two different prisons, before it abolished the death penalty.
* Writing a piece for his local paper about the hanging actually led Douglas into his later career
Also on this date
- 1591: Elisabeth von Doberschütz, Stettin witch
- 1954: Eugen Turcanu, torturer
- 1708: Deborah Churchill, "common strumpet"
- 2009: Mosleh Zamani, because sex kills
- 1883: Patrick O'Donnell, avenger
- 1818: Abdullah ibn Saud, last ruler of the first Saudi state
- 1182: Maria of Antioch
- 1927: Rajendra Lahiri