Archive for October, 2016

1862: Thomas Sanders, rapist

Add comment October 31st, 2016 Headsman

Thomas Sanders was hanged on this date in 1862 at Melbourne Gaol.

An ex-con at Norfolk Island, Sanders took to the bush with another man named John Johnson and in 1862 perpetrated a terrifying home-invasion raid upon the farm of Henry Cropley. They spent five hours there, eating, relaxing, and terrifying the family, comfortably remote on Keilor Plains from any possible source of help. Nobody died — but Sanders too a liking to the family serving-girl Mary Egan and raped her. Egan gave the evidence about her harrowing ordeal — and subject to Sanders’s own direct cross-examination* — just three weeks before Sanders hanged:

The tall man was standing in the middle of the room. I turned to look at him, and he told me to turn my face away, and put a chair for me against my master and missis. He then told the other man to “tie my master’s hands up,” and pulled a rope out of his pocket, and tied him up. He afterwards told me to get up and make tea. I got up and stood at the fire, but was so frightened I could not make tea.

When I saw my master tied up I began to cry, and the little man came up and told me to “shut up,” at the same time pulling a pistol out of his pocket. Sanders then searched the rooms. I saw him as I was standing at the mantelpiece. Johnson was walking about the kitchen with a double-barrelled pistol in each hand.

I thought they were then going away, but they came back again, and Sanders saw the ham hanging up in the kitchen. After they had had their own supper, Sanders sent Johnson to ask me if I would have any. I said I would not.

They had been drinking a bottle of port wine and some spirits. I then heard them go into my rom and pull out my little box. Sanders then said it was time to put the girls to bed.

He told my missis to go into her room, and then came back and took the cradle in. He stopped there some time. I can’t say how long, and then came out, and said to me, “You, girl, you go to bed.”

I went in, and he followed me into my room with the candle.

I was going t bed with some of my things n, and he made me get out and take off everything, except my chemise.

He then tied me hand and foot to the four corners of the bed, and as my foot slipped while he hurt my ankle, I kicked him in the face.

He then said, “Oh, you —- little wretch; I’ll give it to you for that.” I ceased to resist him, as I saw it was no good, and my master had told me to do what he told me. I did not resist him, because he had pistols in his pocket and he said if I did not do what he ordered me he would blow my head off, and would think no more of my life than a cat’s.

He ordered me then to be quiet, and tied my hands behind me. He then brought the other man in, and said, “Isn’t she an enticing little devil.”

I didn’t hear the other man say anything.

They then went out, and took the candle with them, and, after remaining a few minutes, Sanders returned, and said, “Now, my good girl, I’ll give it to you for kicking me in the face.”

It was in the dark. I could not see him, but I knew his voice. I think he was undressed.

He got into bed, and I said to him, “For God’s sake not to do anything t me, for I was a poor orphan girl.”

He did not seem to hear, but I spoke loud enough for my master and mistress to hear.

I then heard him at the foot of the bed, and he asked me “if I had any relations in the colony.”

I said “Yes, I had brothers and uncles.”

He said he didn’t care, and then he had connection with me.

I said, “God help me; there is no help.”

(The witness here described the circumstances, and was almost unable to proceed from agitation. They distinctly proved that a rape was committed.)

Afterwards I begged him to untie me, as the flesh was rising over the ropes, and hurt me. He then untied me.

I never told any one afterwards, as I never dreamt they would be taken up. I afterwards told the doctor everything.

The witness here looked round, at the desire of the Bench, and said, “These are the two men. The one (pinting to Sanders) is the man who had connexion with me.”

* Egan was credited with maintaining her composure admirably under the trying circumstances, but at noe point Sanders asked a question “of such a brutal nature that her firmness, which had been remarkable, gave way, and she had to be removed, in a fainting fit, from the court. The prisoner Johnson made some remark, and Sanders exclaimed “Oh, she’s well tutored!”

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Australia,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,Rape

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Deathed Up to the Nines: Executed Today’s Ninth Annual Report

Add comment October 31st, 2016 Headsman

When The Day of the Dead rolls around it’s time to break out the candles for another birthday, somehow Executed Today‘s ninth since it entered crying in 2007. Hell, we’ve been around so long that Day of the Dead has evolved new traditions in our lifetime.

If you’re among the 4,651 or so humans and bots who follow @executedtoday on Twitter you might have inferred from our erratic presence that it’s been more like the nine circles of hell managing the most recent year out.


The frozen lake of the loveless is where bloggers go.

This perdition stuff is as narrow as it is exaggerated. Overall, this writer’s life is in a better place than it was 12 months ago — it’s merely that the transitions involved grievously strain the allotment left for executions. Executioners, strange caste, still have other interests.

The ninth year now in the books was not a triumph but a dark passage, a test to survive; it has not produced many of this site’s greatest posts — and the best among them surely include Meaghan Good’s guest offerings, without which Executed Today would have folded up its gallows long ago — but at least there have been 365 plus the leap year.

We’re ready for Year X.

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1857: James Copeland, repentant gangster

Add comment October 30th, 2016 Headsman

On this date in 1857, “the great southern land pirate” James Copeland went to the gallows in the now-abandoned Mississippi town of Augusta.

Copeland‘s criminal career is the subject of a wonderfully old-timey reader by the Perry County sheriff who noosed him. (As it says right there on the title plate. Sheriff J.R.S. Pitts does not shrink from injecting his own story into the narrative, and to get to the action the reader must first wade through tedious digressions into the hangman’s biography, his civic-minded rationales for a prurient interest in outlaws — “such a life and history cannot fail, even at this late date … of materially interesting and benefiting the public at large” — and some whinging about the libel suits that dogged his attempts to materially benefit the public at large.)

After an “introduction”, a “preface”, and an “explanatory”, our volume comes at last to an illustrated 100-page autobiographical narrative which Pitts says that Copeland dictated to him while cooling his heels in jail.

Hardened and violent in life, Copeland under the eaves of death seems to made that familiar return to God and repentfully confessed his path into depravity beginning with youthful delinquencies the condign punishment of which was consistently deflected by his mother, “who always upheld me in my rascality.”

Having fallen into a legal scrape for pig-thieving, Copeland left behind charming rascality for Godfather territory when he made contact with an outlaw named Gale Wages and concocted a plan to vacate the charges by destroying the documentation … by torching the courthouse in which they rested.

“Such a sight I never had before beheld,” Copeland remembered of the blaze. “The flames seemed to ascend as high, if not higher than the tops of the tallest pine trees; they made everything perfectly light for over two hundred yards around.” After that bonfire, Copeland gave himself over to the guidance of a man who turned out to be halfway between Jabba the Hutt and a Masonic lodge chief.

Wages, Copeland found, had “a great many persons concerned with him, in different parts of the country, some of them men of wealth and in good standing in the community in which they lived.”

They had an organized Band that would stand up to each other at all hazard; they had a Wigwam in the city of Mobile, where they held occasional meetings … they had many confederates there whom the public little suspected …

I was there introduced by Wages, (who was their president,) as a candidate for membership, I should have been rejected, had Wages not interceded for me. I was finally passed and admitted to membership. Wages then administered to me the oath, which every member had to take. I was then instructed and given the signs and pass-words of the Clan.

Maybe the gang was right to doubt him, for Copeland broke this oath by divulging to his hangman-biographer numerous names of members as well as the Encyclopedia Brown-esque cipher this gang used to send coded messages.

Over the course of the next decade and more, Copeland’s narration has the gang and he romping through Dixie in misadventures that range from the charmingly picaresque — finagling a guest role at a Methodist pulpit by posing as wandering preachers upon which they netted several hundred dollars from the inevitable passed hat — to the much less charming:

A legend of $30,000 in gold that the squad claimed to have buried in Catahoula Swamp still circulates in Mississippi — spur to thus-far frustrated treasure hunters down to the present day.

We can’t know to what degree the voice that we read is Copeland’s own or that of Pitts interposing but the narrator we have affects at times a stagey horror at his sins.

With the gang determined to be rid of an Irish boatman on the Mississippi, Copeland draws the short straw to bludgen him to death in his sleep: “Oh, God! when I look back, it makes me shudder. Even now it chills the blood in my veins.” Copeland bashed his brains in with a hatched and as day broke they slipped the weighted corpse into the river.

Copeland had moved up the ranks enough to share the marquee in the “Wages-Copeland gang” by the time things got real dark. In early 1844, a summit of the gang’s leadership determined spies were afoot and four of the suspected “butted their heads against a slung-shot hung to a man’s arm, and they went floating from Mobile wharf down the channel of the river.” Others they left “in a situation where he told no more tales” and “fed … the contents of two double-barrel shot-guns, about forty-eight buck-shot, and put him in a swamp near Eslaya’s old mill” and “put a rope around his neck, and we very soon squeezed the breath out of him.”

The end of the line could really have been any one of these incidents or the numerous others this post elides — enough blood feuds and hand-to-hand murders and the odds are sure to turn against you in the long run.

In 1849, now a wanted man, Copeland started drinking at a grocery near Mobile

and became intoxicated, and in that situation I imagined every man I saw was trying to arrest me. I fell in with a man by the name of Smith, an Irishman, and a difficulty occurred between us; I concluded that he intended to arrest me. I drew my double-barrel shot gun upon him and intended to kill him. He was too quick for me; he threw up my gun, drew his dirk and stabbed me just above the collar bone.

Having made himself both conspicuous and immobile, Copeland was tracked down by a posse and now he was really in the soup: “one indictment against me in Alabama for larceny, and another against me in Mississippi for murder.” Copeland pleaded guilty in Alabama and served a jail sentence there, hoping that the passage of years would buy him some opening to escape the hanging sentence that would surely await in neighboring Mississippi. But the Magnolia State was on its game and had a timely extradition request ready to receive James Copeland the moment his term in the Alabama pen expired.

The day arose clear and beautiful on which the sentence of the law and of outraged humanity was to be executed on the man who had so often violated their most sacred behests. The sky was blue and serene; the atmosphere genial; all nature was calm and peaceful; man alone was agitated by the various strong emotions which the execution of the fatal sentence of retributive justice on a fellow-man could not but create.

The place of execution was distant from the city of Augusta one-quarter of a mile. The gallows was erected on a beautiful elevation that was surrounded by the verdure of shrubby oak and the tall, long-leaf pine. The ground was everywhere occupied by thousands of spectators, gathered from Perry and the surrounding counties, to witness the solemn scene. It was indeed one that they will long remember.

About the hour of noon, the prisoner, after being neatly clad, was led from the jail by the officers of the law, placed in the ranks of the guard formed for the occasion, and the procession moved slowly toward the fatal spot.

Soon the doomed man appeared on the gallows. The death warrant was then read to him, and he was informed that he had but a short time to live.

He proceeded to address the awe-struck and silent multitude. He especially urged the young men present to take warning from his career and fate, and to avoid bad company. His misfortune he attributed principally to having been mislead while young.

When he had concluded, a number of questions were asked by the immediate spectators, in relation to crimes which had transpired within their knowledge; but he would give no direct answer — shrewdly eluding the inquiries.

The Sheriff then asked him, in hearing of many lookers on, if the details of his confession, previously made to that officer, were true. He replied that they were.

His hands were then tied and the cap pulled over his face, and he was told that he had but a few moments to live. He exclaimed, “Lord, have mercy on me!” and he was praying when the drop fell, and a brief struggle ended his blood-stained career.

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

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1543: Pietro Fatinelli, betrayed by Lando

Add comment October 29th, 2016 Headsman

On this date in 1543, a young nobleman named Pietro Fatinelli executed for plotting to overthrow the mercantile oligarchy of the Tuscan city-state Lucca.

The Fatinelli family “was of ancient lineage, but had recently played little part in the running of the government,” according to Mary Hewlett in The Renaissance in the Streets, Schools, and Studies. Lucca itself was beginning to wane in importance in the 16th century in the shadow of her Italian rivals and the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V

The young Pietro was able enough to establish himself as an envoy to the imperial court, and ambitious enough to conceive it the platform from which he would redeem the fortunes of Lucca and Fatinelli alike.

Complicit with his friend Captain Giambattista Bazzicalupo di Chiavari, Fatinelli pltted to do away with some of the principal families whom Fatinelli detested, as they represented the merchant oligarchy that spurned his more ancient and noble family.

News of the plot came to the ears of the Lucchese government when Fatinelli unadvisedly mentioned his intentions to Count Agostino Lando, an opprtunistic nobleman from Piacenza, while the two were residing in Venice.


You can’t trust Lando.

Thinking to make some profit at no risk to himself, Lando secretly informed the Lucchese of Fatinelli’s intentions. The signoria acted with utmost secrecy and was able to seize the unsuspecting Bazzicalup di Chiavari while he was reconnoitring in Lucca. They put him to the torture and he cnfessed and revealed the details of the plot, after which he was summarily executed. [August 25, 1542 -ed.]

As Fatinelli resided at the imperial court and had powerful prtoectors, the Lucchesi had a difficult time extraditing him. It took all their powers of persuasion to prove to the emperor that Fatinelli was a traitr. Eventually convinced, Charles V handed Fatinelli over to the Lucchesi, who tried him and publicly executed him after he apologized to the citizens of Lucca. The emperor insisted that, as a last favour, the young man be given the name of his denouncer, as a reward for having repented and admitted his guilt.

Though Fatinelli was defeated, the disaffection with his native city-state proved far deeper-seated than his own person. Just four years after Fatinelli’s hot head fell on the scaffold, another Lucchese nobleman attempted an even more daring revolution.

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Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Italy,Lucca,Nobility,Power,Public Executions,Torture,Treason

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1996: Arshad Jameel, military man

Add comment October 28th, 2016 Headsman

Pakistani army Capt. Arshad Jameel (or Jamil) was hanged at Hyderabad Prison 20 years ago today.

Capt. Jameel exploited a security sweep to orchestrate the summary execution of nine Indian-armed terrorists … who turned out not to be terrorists at all, but ordinary residents of Tando Bahawal village whom Jameel had a personal grudge with.

It was a resonant case in a country dominated by its military and only wide public outrage at the journalistic expose unveiling the crime put Jameel in the dock of a military court.

Even so, the wheels turned so painfully slow that Pakistanis could not but suspect an institution accustomed to a broad grant of impunity of dragging its feet. Four years deep into Jameel’s appeals, two sisters of victims protested the delay by publicly immolating themselves on September 11, 1996. They died painfully of their burns, but they got the result they wanted: appeal denied.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Crime,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Murder,Pakistan,Soldiers

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1905: Ed Lamb, bully

Add comment October 27th, 2016 Headsman

This date in 1905 was — in the title of the Manatee County Historical Society publication about the case — The Day They Hanged Ed Lamb in Braidentown/Bradentown/Bradenton.

It all started in the schoolyard.

Lamb’s son was the resident bully at the local Braden River School until one day that January he picked a fight with the son of Dave Kennedy and surprisingly got his — the bully’s — ass kicked.

Like many a child since, young master Lamb sent his problem up the generational chain of command. Ed Lamb, a mill hand, raised the beef with Dave Kennedy, a farmer, when the latter stopped by the mill a few days later to sell his wares, even menacing Kennedy with a knife.

But for the second time, a Kennedy went all lion on a Lamb and overpowered his antagonist. Enraged and embarrassed, Lamb stalked away to his nearby home, got a shotgun, and wasted Dave Kennedy. Masculinity: vindicated. Stunned bystanders allowed Lamb to escape.

Our Manatee County correspondent gives the surreal vignette from his own family history of the Kennedy children — being dismissed from school at news of the murder — walking home on a dirt road that very day and passing the disgraced Lamb family on a wagon with their possessions, heading out of town. “One of the children standing beside the roadway became frightened thinking that Ed Lamb would pop out fo the trunk at any moment.” He didn’t: Ed was on a lam all his own, and was recaptured the next morning and spirited away to Tampa to protect him from lynching. Lamb spent the months between his conviction and his execution harrying the local newspaper with letters entreating folks straighten up and get right with God, letters that notably failed to breathe word one of apology to the Kennedies.

The drop fell at 12 minutes past 12:00 non. But the rope slipped and the prisoner was raised a second time and shot into eternity. He was rendered unconscious by the first shock and never knew that he was let to fall a second time. His neck was broken by the second fall and he was pronounced dead by Dr. John Holten of Sarasota. He mounted the gallows cool and fearless and died without a murmur or a struggle. Inside the jail, 40 witnesses were in the jail when the execution took place, the gallows being inside the building. A few white people and a great many Negroes were congregated around the jail, but perfect order was maintained.

Lamb’s son, brother and sister-in-law were present when he mounted the scaffold, but were overcome and left before the drop fell. The doomed man kissed them goodbye and asked them to meet him in heaven. His wife was unable to come to the jail to see him for the last time. Was photographed. Lamb dressed himself for the scaffold with great deliberation. And at his request, was photographed after being attired for death. He talked freely. But in his last speech he said nothing about the crime for which he suffered. He said that he was willing to die. That he had made his peace with God and wanted all of his heirs to meet him in a better world. Sheriff Wyatt was cool and carried out his part well. The noose was adjusted and the black cap pulled down over the prisoner’s face. And the trap sprung that sent the murderer to meet his maker. The death warrant directed that the execution take place in private between the hours of 11:30 and 12:00, but the sheriff allowed the condemned man 12 minutes longer lease on life.

Manatee County paid Coursey and Barnett $16.70 for Lamb’s hangin’ suit, and paid J.W. Wilhelm & Co. $21.35 for his coffin.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Florida,Hanged,History,Murder,USA

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2010: Jeffrey Landrigan, thiopentaled

1 comment October 26th, 2016 Headsman

Jeffrey Landrigan was executed in Arizona for murder on this date in 2010 — via an import drug that made his case a recent landmark in the ongoing U.S. tussle over lethal injection.

Landrigan broke out of jail in 1989 where he was serving a second-degree murder sentence and did a first-degree murder in the course of an armed robbery.

By the time this mundanely terrifying killer was ready to face his punishment, U.S. states were beginning to feel the pinch from anti-death penalty activists’ campaign to shut off the supply of a key drug in the lethal injection protocol — sodium thiopental.

Since the very first lethal injections, sodium thiopental has stood as the first of the standard three-drug cocktail: sodium thiopental to induce unconsciousness, pancuronium bromide to inflict muscle paralysis, and potassium chloride to stop the “patient’s” heart.

Sodium thiopental owed this juridical responsibility to its place as the Brand X medical anaesthetic thirty or forty years ago. But in the time since, that medical role has been overtaken by propofol, leaving sodium thiopental ever less frequently manufactured — and exposing a potential vulnerability in the executioner’s supply chain. Death penalty abolitionists targeted that weak point with effect, especially once the last U.S. manufacturer of sodium thiopental, pharma giant Hospira, got out of the game.

Sodium thiopental expires, so states that intend to conduct lethal injection executions couldn’t really stockpile. Instead, they have two options:

  • Find a new source for sodium thiopental; or,
  • Find a new lethal injection procedure

In the past few years, those laboratories of democracy known as state legislatures have experimented promiscuously with re-jiggering the lethal injection to account for the inhospitable thiopental climate with the upshot that there no longer remains one standard lethal injection protocol, but multiple mutations innovated and cribbed state by state — and each mutation is liable to change again without warning in response to the next setback.

This ongoing drama has played out throughout the 2010s, but it so happened that Landrigan’s long road to death reached its end about where the scarce thiopental story began.

In Arizona’s case at the comparatively early date of 2010 — back when Hospira had already suspended domestic thiopental manufacture — the gap was filled by requisitioning the drug from an overseas supplier.

Easy enough, one might suppose: C11H17N2NaO2S is C11H17N2NaO2S no matter its brand label.

But it turns out that the production and the import of medical drugs are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, and neither Arizona nor the fly-by-night British pharmaceutical maker it contracted had bothered satisfying the paperwork requirements. Landrigan’s appellate lawyers fastened on this failure, arguing that the state’s calculated ignorance of its drug’s purity was inviting a painful botch.

Landrigan’s story and the larger lethal injection crisis into which it fits was the subject of the very first episode of the popular podcast More Perfect — whose beat is the U.S. Supreme Court.

That institution had a low moment in this drama interceding at the 11th hour to okay Landrigan’s execution after a Kafkaesque legal shell game in which Arizona repeatedly ignored lower courts’ orders to supply documentation about its proposed execution drug, then argued — and won the argument! — that the prisoner’s lawyers were only speculating that the drug might be impure or harmful and couldn’t prove any problem. Try that one out on your customs officer the next time you get pinched carrying contraband at the border. A Ninth Circuit Court judge punished bad faith with a stay of execution, but the high court reversed that stay on a 5-4 vote this very October 26, allowing Landrigan’s execution hours later.

“The state flatly stonewalled the lower courts by defying orders to produce information, and then was rewarded at the Supreme Court by winning its case on the basis that the defendant had not put forward enough evidence,” Hofstra law professor Eric Freedman lamented to the New York Times. “That is an outcome which turns simple justice upside-down and a victory that the state should be ashamed to have obtained.” It’s a line that mirrors the critique exasperated death penalty advocates have leveled against their foes for suing to block “cruel and unusual” executions on the back of drug supply kinks that they themselves engineered.

The messy resolution of Landrigan’s own case was very far from a solution to the underlying dilemma. In the years since, European manufacturers have themselves been squeezed out of the lethal injection supply chain by anti-death penalty pressure, while the states’ various adaptations have worked themselves out in a mess of litigation and human experimentation. It’s a story still being written — into the very flesh, sometimes, of men like Jeffrey Landrigan.

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Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Arizona,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Lethal Injection,Murder,Ripped from the Headlines,USA

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1770: William Linsey, resolutely bent upon working wickedness

Add comment October 25th, 2016 Headsman

On this date in 1770, inveterate burglar William Linsey was hanged in Worcester, Mass.

Linsey never killed anyone but just couldn’t lay off the thieving — as he owned himself in a gallows broadsheet: “Having so often escaped with impunity, for my wretched crimes, I was under no awe or restraint, neither learning God nor regarding man, resolutely bent upon working wickedness.” That didn’t mean he didn’t get caught: he frequently did, and once was pilloried, flogged, and branded all in the same day as punishment for fraud.

The quote is courtesy of a Linsey profile by friend of the blog and occasional guest poster Anthony Vaver, on his site Early American Crime — which notes that Linsey ultimately fell foul of a sort of colonial three-strikes law escalating penalties for mere property crimes all the way to the gallows in the case of repeat offenders.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,Massachusetts,Pelf,Public Executions,Theft,USA

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1492: 27 Jews of Sternberg, for desecrating the Eucharist

Add comment October 24th, 2016 Headsman

On this date in 1492, 27 Mecklenburg Jews were burned together outside the gates of the city of Sternberg.


Illustration of the burning of the Sternberg Jews, from Hartmann Schedel‘s Weltchronik (1493)

These unfortunate victims of the Sternberger Hostienschänderprozess we have already met via their Catholic intercessor, Father Peter Dane. Although Father Dane got away for the moment — his punishment would arrive five months hence — the scandal consisted of Dane’s alleged provision of his parish’s consecrated Host to Mecklenburg’s impious Hebrews for their profanation in occult Semitic liturgies.

Defiling the Eucharist was a recurrent substratum of the old blood libel canard: what blood more dear than the literal flesh of Christ?

Mecklenburg’s elimination of her Jewry — for those spared the stake were banished — had a tortured legacy thereafter, as one might expect. In the immediate aftermath, Sternberg became such a discomfitingly profitable pilgrims’ destination that Martin Luther denounced by name its services to Mammon. (See our previous post on Fr. Dane for the details.)

Centuries afterwards, Weimar hyperinflation put Sternberg’s pyres and the coin of the realm together again when Sternberg issued its own notes, one of them blazoned with its famous burning Jews. Picture pulling one of these out of your wallet at the corner kiosk:

Sternberg’s Church of St. Mary and St. Nicholas, which prospered in the pilgrimage days, has a still-extant chapel of the holy blood built in honor of (and thanks to the donatives earned by) the outraged Eucharist. Today the historic chapel holds a contemporary sculpture titled “Stigma” — a reminder of the dark day in 1492 the chapel once celebrated.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 15th Century,Burned,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Germany,God,History,Jews,Mass Executions,Popular Culture,Public Executions

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1828: Charles French, York printer

Add comment October 23rd, 2016 Headsman

On this date in 1828, a young printer’s assistant morally corrupted by the theater went to the gallows at York, Upper Canada (soon to become Toronto, Ontario).

After boozing it up at a performance of Tom and Jerry, or, Life in London* at Frank’s Hotel, 21-year-old Charles French fell into a drunken row with Edward Knowlan or Nowlan and shot him dead, in a case that occasioned a local moral panic about the dangerous carousing nurtured by the nightlife in the small frontier town.

Frank’s Hotel, York’s very first theatrical venue, was “neither under order nor restraint,” French’s respectable parents pleaded in their unsuccessful clemency missive. It was “the haunt of the gay and dissolute, the idle and the profligate, the ruffian and woman of bad fame, those who show in the light of the moon were there — and from its temptations few parents or masters could restrain the youth.” (Source) Theater troupes were banned from York stages for five years after the French affair.

French’s defense had likewise attempted to raise doubts about his mental competency, and although this worked as well as it usually did in a 19th century courtroom there was no small sentiment for French’s reprieve: (K)nowlan was a notorious goon, and the circumstances of the fray seemed muddled enough to bring the shooter’s degree of calculation into question. Two alleged accomplices, acquitted in separate trials, swore that Knowlan had menaced French before French shot him.

The close clemency call carried a sharp political undertone. French was an understudy of the reform publisher William Lyon Mackenzie and his victim a Tory brawler who dealt out bruises in the service of Upper Canada’s “Family Compact” ruling clique. That his petition for mercy was rejected by Lt. Gov. Peregrine Maitland eventually became one of the (lesser) briefs against the Family Compact advanced a decade later during the Upper Canada Rebellion.

* The period’s several Tom and Jerry plays — no overt relationship is known between them and the 20th century Tom and Jerry cartoons — derived from Pierce Egan‘s smash hit Life in London, or, the day and night scenes of Jerry Hawthorn, esq., and his elegant friend Corinthian Tom in their rambles and sprees through the metropolis. The title characters capture vignettes around the city, naturally not excluding the condemned hold at Newgate, which they tour with their friend Bob Logic on the pretext of consoling one of Logic’s old friends.

An opportunity presented itself to our TRIO to visit the Condemned Yard in Newgate. “It was a mournful sight,” Logic observed to the Corinthian; “but as it was the intention of Jerry not to neglect visiting any place that might afford him information during his stay in London, he had been induced to make the proposition to Hawthorn; yet, he was free to confess, it was more especially on his own account, as he was compelled to attend, and companions would, therefore, prove very agreeable to his feelings upon such a melancholy occasion.” “We will accompany you, Bob,” replied Tom and Jerry.

The Plate represents the Morning of Execution, and the malefactors having their irons knocked off previous to their ascending the fatal platform that launches them into eternity. The Yeoman of the Halter [i.e., the hangman — at the time of Egan’s writing this would have been John Foxton] is in waiting to put the ropes about them. The Clergyman is also seen administering consolation to these unfortunate persons in such an awful moment; and the Sheriffs are likewise in attendance to conduct the culprits to the place of execution, to perform the most painful part of their duty, in witnessing the offended laws of their country put in force. It is a truly afflicting scene; and neither the pen nor the PENCIL, however directed by talent, can do it adequate justice, or convey a description of the “harrowed feelings” of the few spectators that are admitted into the Condemned Yard upon such an occasion. The tolling of the bell, too, which breaks in upon the very soul of the already agonized malefactor, announcing to him that he has but a few minutes to live, adds a terrific solemnity to the proceedings: —

Hear it not, Duncan, for ’tis a knell
That summons thee to heav’n or to hell.

The Condemned Yard is long, but narrow, and contains a great number of cells, one above another, forming three stories in height. Each cell measures nine feet in length, and six in width. [Compare with Dickens’s description -ed.] Every indulgence is allowed to those prisoners immediately the “death-warrant” arrives at Newgate, ordering them to prepare for execution. They are then allowed to remain in the Large Room (which the Plate represents), in order that the Clergyman may attend upon them as often as they desire it, and who, generally, previous to the morning on which they are to suffer, sits up praying with them the whole of the night. It is really astonishing, upon most of these occasions, to witness the resignation and fortitude with which these unhappy men conduct themselves: many of the most hardened and desperate offenders, from the kindness, attention, and soothing conduct of the Rev. Mr. Cotton, who is indefatigable in administering consolation to their troubled minds, have become the most sincere penitents; nay more, several prisoners, who have received a free pardon after having been ordered for execution, have since publicly declared that they should never again be in such a fit state to meet eternity. The criminal on the left side of the Plate, lifting up his hands in the attitude of prayer with the Clergyman, was once a character of considerable note at the West End of the Town, and from his vivacity, then designated “Lively Jem!” He soon ran through a fine fortune; and, to keep up his extravagances, he plunged into those destructive habits which ultimately brought him into this ignominious situation. Lively Jem, like most others, saw his error too late to repair it. He had not strength of mind sufficient to bear with the reverses of fortune; to fall from splendour to poverty was too much for his feelings; and, to avoid the jests and sneers of his once dashing acquaintance, under the appellation of “poor fellow!” and being excluded from their company, he thus violently terminated his thoughtless career. Jem had been at college with the Oxonian, and as his last request, lie had sent a message to Logic to attend upon him on this mournful occasion, in order to be the bearer of some important circumstances respecting himself to a female, to whom he had been very much attached, and who had also never been absent from him except this fatal morning. Logic was too much of a man to neglect another in the hour of misfortune; and it was to fulfil the request of a dying unfortunate acquaintance, that he came, accompanied by Corinthian Tom and Jerry, to the condemned Yard of Newgate.

On this day..

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

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