Archive for July, 2018

1940: Udham Singh, Jallianwala Bagh massacre avenger

Add comment July 31st, 2018 Headsman

A national revenge drama 21 years in the making culminated on the gallows of Pentonville Prison on this date in 1940.

The story of Udham Singh‘s hanging begins long before and far away in the British Raj.

There, a crowd of 20,000-25,000 protesting for independence in the restive Punjab city of Amritsar were wantonly fired upon by Raj authorities — an atrocity remembered as the Jallianwala Bagh massacre. British authorities acknowledged a staggering 379 dead; Indian accounts run much higher than that.

The massacre’s principal immediate author was the army commander Reginald Dyer, who fired on the crowd without warning and with so much premeditation as to bar exits from the Jallianwala Bagh garden for maximum bloodshed — his acknowledged intent “not to disperse the meeting but to punish the Indians for disobedience.” but Punjab Lieutenant Governor Michael O’Dwyer, for many years a noted rough hand in the suppression of national militancy on the subcontinent, had his back. “Your action correct,” read an O’Dwyer-to-Dyer telegram on the morrow of the bloodbath. “Lieutenant Governor approves.”

British opinion was not quite so approving; indeed, many Britons were outraged and both Dyer and O’Dwyer ended up sacked. But as is usual for a horror perpetrated under the flag they also never faced any sort of punishment.

Until Udham Singh, avenger, entered the scene.

A survivor of that horrific day — when he’d been dispatched from the orphanage that raised him to serve drinks to the protesters — Singh had unsurprisingly thrilled to the revolutionary cause. A Sikh by birth, the name he adopted, Ram Mohammed Singh Azad, gestures to his movement’s now-remote spirit of unity across sect and nation.

Come 1934 Singh had made his way to London, where he worked as an engineer and quietly plotted revenge against O’Dwyer, pursuant to a vow he had taken many years before. (Dyer escaped justice in this world by dying in 1927.) And on March 13, 1940, he had it when the retired colonial hand addressed a joint meeting of the East India Association and the Royal Central Asian Society at Caxton Hall. As proceedings concluded, Singh produced a concealed pistol and fired six shots at the hated O’Dwyer, killing him on the spot.

Like many (not all) of his countrymen, Singh gloried in his long-awaited triumph in the few weeks remaining him.

I did it because I had a grudge against him. He deserved it. He was the real culprit. He wanted to crush the spirit of my people, so I have crushed him. For full 21 years, I have been trying to seek vengeance. I am happy that I have done the job. I am not scared of death. I am dying for my country. I have seen my people starving in India under the British rule. I have protested against this, it was my duty. What greater honour could be bestowed on me than death for the sake of my motherland?

Many countrymen shared his exultation, even if those in respectable leadership positions had to disapprove of assassination. Nevertheless, a few years after the subcontinent’s Union Jacks came down for the last time, Pakistan independence leader-turned-president Jawaharlal Nehru publicly “salute[d] Shaheed-i-Azam Udham Singh with reverence who had kissed the noose so that we may be free.”

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Assassins,Capital Punishment,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Famous,Hanged,History,India,Martyrs,Murder,Notable for their Victims,Occupation and Colonialism,Pakistan,Revolutionaries,Wartime Executions

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1913: August Sternickel, terror

Add comment July 30th, 2018 Headsman

Arsonist-murderer August Sternickel was executed by Prussia on this date in 1913.

Sternickel was a miller by training and a thief by inclination, having launched his career in malefaction by stealing from dormitories and swindling on the marriage market.

In 1905, now a released convict nearing 40, Sternickel found work at a Silesian mill and crossed the criminal Rubicon by murdering the owner in order to rob him. He burned down the mill in an (unsuccessful) attempt to conceal the crime and fled Silesia in a (successful) attempt to evade the authorities.

These were still formative years for the bureaucratic state’s capacity to fix and monitor the identities of its subjects, and Sternickel was able — despite the evidence given against him by his confederates — to vanish into the shapeless agricultural workforce, where farmers starved for manpower were little inclined to question a capable hand. From this fluid obscurity, he inflicted during free hours here and there what one contemporary described as his “Sternickel-Schrecken” (“Sternickel-Terror”) on isolated farms. There he could rob and assault with impunity; in 1909, he murdered a hay dealer in the course of a scam, again torching the scene; in 1912, he killed an employer who got too nosy about his missing identification papers, and his wife as well, and even strangled the estate’s luckless 16-year-old milkmaid when she happened upon the murder scene.

It was this last affair that finally resulted in his capture and prosecution, with a sure verdict that Sternickel declined to appeal. The Royal Prussian executioner Lorenz Schwietz cut his head off in Frankfurt an der Oder on July 30, 1913.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Germany,Murder,Pelf,Prussia

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1566: Agnes Waterhouse, the first witchcraft execution in England

Add comment July 29th, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1556, Agnes Waterhouse became the first known woman executed for witchcraft in England.

“Mother Waterhouse” came accused as the matriarch of a whole clan of hags in the Essex village of Hatfield Peverel. Our record for events, a pamphlet titled The Examination and confession of certaine wytches at Chensforde [Chelmsford] in the countie of Essex: before the Quenes Maiesties judges, the xxvi daye of July, anno 1566.,* gives us Mother Waterhouse accused a sorceress along with her daughter, Joan (eventually acquitted), as well as Agnes’s sister, Elizabeth Francis. By accounts they had come by their necromancies via the guidance of a “hyr grand­mother whose nam was mother Eue of Hatfyelde Peue­rell.”

Tudor England had thus far been spared the witch persecutions that were multiplying on the continent, and even here the accusations ultimately invoked the supernatural as the means for actual material injuries: to sicken and kill both livestock and people.

Both Agnes Waterhouse and Elizabeth Francis confessed to a wide array of crimes, facilitated by a feline familiar unsubtly christened “Sathan”; a neighboring child gave evidence against Agnes. Elizabeth Francis would not be executed as a result of this trial — she faced new charges that would hang her in 1579 — but she directly copped to doing murders via the cat. We excerpt below from the “Examination and confession” pamphlet but as rendered into easier-on-the-eyes modern spellings, found here:

she desired to have one Andrew Byles to her husband, which was a man of some wealth, and the cat did promise she should, but that he said she must first consent that this Andrew could abuse her, and so she did.

And after when this Andrew had thus abused her he would not marry her, wherefore she willed Satan to waste his goods, which he forthwith did, and yet not being contented with this, she willed him to touch his body, which he forthwith did wherefore he died.

Item that every time that he did anything for her, she said that he required a drop of blood, which she gave him by pricking herself, sometime in one place and then in another, and where she pricked herself there remained a red spot, which was still to be seen.

Item when this Andrew was dead, she doubting [fearing] herself with child with Satan to destroy it, and he had her take a certain herb and drink which she did, and destroyed the child forthwith.

Item when she desired another husband, he promised her another, naming this Francis whom she now hath, but said he is not so rich as the other, willing her to consent unto that Francis in fornication which she did, and thereof conceived a daughter that was born within a quarter of a year after they were married.

After they were married they lived not so quietly as she desired, being stirred (as she said) to much unquietness and moved to swearing and cursing, wherefore she willed Satan her Cat to kill the child, being about the age of half a year old and he did so, and when she yet found not the quietness that she desired, she willed it to lay a lameness in the leg of this Francis her husband, and it did in this manner. It came in a morning to this Francis’ shoe, lying in it like a toad, and when he perceived it putting on his shoe, and had touched it with his foot, he being suddenly amazed asked her of what it was, and she bade him kill it, and he was forthwith taken with a lameness whereof he cannot healed.

After “fifteen or sixteen years” she traded the little agent of chaos to her sister for some cakes, and afterwards the cat did Agnes’s will instead.

when she had received him she (to try him what he could do) willed him to kill a hog of her own which he did, and she gave him for his labor a chicken, which he first required of her and a drop of her blood. And this she gave him at all times when he did anything for her, by pricking her hand or face and putting the blood to his mouth which he sucked, and forthwith would lie down in his pot again, wherein she kept him, the spots of all the which pricks are yet to be seen in her skin.

Also she sayeth that another time being offended with one father Kersey she took her cat Satan in her lap and put him in the wood before her door, and willed him to kill three of this Father Kersey’s hogs, which he did, and returning again told her so, and she rewarded him as before with a chicken and a drop of her blood, which chicken he ate up clean as he did all the rest, and she could find remaining neither bones nor feathers.

Also she confessed that falling out with one Widow Gooday she willed Satan to drown her cow and he did so, and she rewarded him as before.

Also she falling out with another of her neighbors, she killed her three geese in the same manner.

Item, she confessed that because she could have no rest (which she required) she caused Satan to destroy the brewing at that time.

Also being denied butter of another, she caused her to lose the curds two or three days after.

Item falling out with another of her neighbors and his wife, she willed Satan to kill him with a bloody slice, whereof he died, and she rewarded him as before.

Likewise she confessed that because she lived somewhat unquietly with her husband she caused Satan to kill him, and he did so about nine years past, since which time she hath lived a widow.

Also she said that when she would will him to do anything for her, she would say her Pater noster in Latin.

Latin! And here perhaps we find a hint — for details on the background and specific context of this prosecution are not to be found — that the shocks of the Reformation were one root of events. As Kate Dumycz observes

Mother Eve perhaps started practising her “craft” in the second half of the fifteenth century … a time when, although the existence of witchcraft was acknowledged and people consulted cunning men and women, there was no witchcraft act on the Statute books … this family would have lived through great upheaval that affected all parts of England because of the Reformation. Christopher Marsh comments that many rituals of the Catholic Church (such as charms, sorcery, enchantments) were banned in 1559 and this ruling was a “broader campaign to destroy the credibility of traditional religion by exposing its alleged superstition”. Rosen remarks “Bitterness, resentment and pain that can no longer be discharged through familiar religious channels will almost inevitably be turned upon others; and in their delusions, such women were aided by the learned and by the religious terms in which they continued to think.”

Agnes Waterhouse leaves us a tantalising clue about contemporary attitudes towards religion and those who practised outside the State dictated religion “she was demanded what praier she saide, she aunswered the Lordes prayer, the Aue Maria, and the belefe, & then they demaunded whether in laten or in englyshe, and shee sayde in laten, and they demaunded why she saide it not in engly[sh]e but in laten”. [note: this interrogation occurred during Agnes Waterhouse’s repentant gallows speech, not during the trial -ed.] So, Agnes Waterhouse at least, practised some of the “old ways” and perhaps had not converted to Protestantism and therefore operated outside the beliefs and “norms” of her society. Rosen comments that between 1534 and the time of this trial “there had been eight major religious changes requiring oaths from teachers, ministers and public officials with four total reversals of religious practice enforced by law and death sentence”. … Agnes Waterhouse’s ability to say her prayers in Latin would have been compulsory during Mary’s reign and yet a few years later this factor was used against her as an indication that she was practising witchcraft and thus, as a witch, was unable to say her prayers correctly in English.

Whilst it has long been established by modern day historians such as Keith Thomas that “in England witchcraft was prosecuted primarily as an anti-social crime, rather than as a heresy” Agnes Waterhouse’s case shows that religion must have played a small but significant part in her neighbours’ belief that she was a witch although she was executed as a murderer rather than a heretic.

Agnes Waterhouse, Joan Waterhouse, and Elizabeth Francis were the first of nine women (plus one man) from Hatfield Peverel prosecuted as witches between 1566 and 1589.

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Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,History,Milestones,Murder,Public Executions,Witchcraft,Women

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1731: Captain Daniel McGuire, griller

Add comment July 28th, 2018 Headsman

We return today as we have done several times previously to James Kelly’s Gallows Speeches From Eighteenth-Century Ireland. The crime in question recalls similar tactics being employed around the same time by McGuire’s far more famous English contemporary, Dick Turpin.

The Whole Declaration and Last Speech, Confession and Dying Words of Capt. Daniel M’Guire

who is to be Executed near St. Stevens Green of Thomas Bryan in Fingal, and puting [sic] him on a hot Griddle to make him Confess his Money, the 18th of November last.

Good Christians,

Whereas the World may expect, as tis usual to those in my Condition; to give the Publick some satisfaction, for the many wrongs done to them; so may they now expect the same from me, who have not been, I acknowledge in the presence of God, and as I am a Dying Man, less Criminal then a great many who came to this shameful End; but why shou’d I thus speak, whereas no Death (tho’ never so Ignominious) ought to be regarded by me as shameful, for was I to Suffer a thousand times more, its what my Sins justly deserves; but my great hope is that these my Sufferings may in some measure appease the angry Frowns of an injured God, before whom I expect in some few Minutes to appear, and as I am a dying Man unworthy to approach so good a God, I shall give the World a true and brief account of my mis-spent Life, and do beg of the Same God, that these my words may mollify the Hearts of these who have been misled as I have been.

I was Born in the County of Farmanagh, where I lived till I came to the Years of Twenty, and acquired honest and credible Bread, by going to Fairs and other publick Places, my Employ was selling Merchandize, (but alas! as the unbridled conduct of Youth when they have not the Love and fear of God before their Eyes, are liable to several Misfortunes, such was my unfortunate state to my great Grief, not so much regarding my present state and Misfortune, as the offence I committed against my God, the severity of whose Judgment makes me tremble, but confiding in his infinite Mercy, I now reassume new Courage,) and thus did I continue in my lawfull Employ, till about two Years ago falling into the Company of one who never feared God lead me astray, and I must acknowledge tho’ I’ve been Guilty of several Enormous Crimes ever since, there is not any one of them gives me so great a concern, or loads my Soul with so much Grief, as the misfortune I had to accuse falsely honest Men, which I believe is a Crime of the blackest dye; (but my God whose Mercy surpasses all other thy Attributes, I hope you’ll Pardon all these my offences,) and which ought to be deeply considered by all our Gentlemen, before they wou’d Encourage me or any other of my kind to take away the Lives of honest Men; as I am a dying Man, and as I am to appear before the Tribunal of an unbyassed God, I never wou’d Accuse the undernamed honest Men, was I not encouraged by a certain Gentleman who promised me my Life for the said Discovery, (whose Name for a certain reason I do omit) I own in the sight and presence of God, and as I expect in some few Minutes to surpass the severity of his Judgment, I falsely Accused Dennis Kelly of Garishtown in the County of Dublin, Adam Ward, John Tyers, and his Wife of the said Town: I also declare as before, Michael Burk had no share nor knew nothing of the Robbery of Mr. Fottrel near Killsholachan, or of Councelor Smith’s Cloaths. I also falsely Accused James Murphy in the County of Caterlough, and Edward Hoy of the Parish of Crickstown in the County of Meath. But alas! as I am now going to appear before the Face of my God, I hope they will forgive me, as to the Fact I Dye for, the Evidence as it appeared were Injured, but I Dye in Peace with them and all the World, begging that all my Spectators may Pray for me, I prostrate myself at the Feet of my God, begging Pardon for my Sins, I Dye a Roman Catholick, in the 24th Year of my Age.

Daniel M’Guire.

N.B. The above is my true Speech delivered to the Printer hereof, in the Presence of the Reverend Father Andoe.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Ireland,Public Executions,Theft

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1681: Donald Cargill, Covenanter rebel

Add comment July 27th, 2018 Headsman

Scottish Covenanter Donald Cargill ascended his Edinburgh gallows on this date in 1681 with the undaunted last words, “The Lord knows I go on this ladder with less fear and perturbation of mind, than ever I entered the pulpit to preach.”

This Cameronian radical had been a fugitive for many years, ever since he darkened a thanksgiving service for King Charles II’s restoration by voicing from the pulpit of his Glasgow parish what many feared in their hearts: that Presbyterians were about to get the rough end of the restoration pineapple.

We are not come here to keep this day upon the account for which others keep it. We thought once to have blessed the day wherein the king came home again, but now we think we shall have reason to curse it; and if any of you come here in order to the solemnising of this day, we desire you to remove.

That was the end of Cargill’s career as a licensed preacher. His remaining years were illicit services, ducking arrests, and a flight to the Netherlands; he was wounded in service of the Covenanter cause at the 1679 Battle of Bothwell Bridge.

Back in Scotland by 1680, Cargill’s Queensferry Declaration* dared an open case for rebellion in pursuit of “the overthrow of the kingdom of darkness, and whatever is contrary to the kingdom of Christ,” for

now it cannot be called a government, but a lustful rage, exercised with as little right reason, and more cruelty than beasts; and they themselves can no more be called governors, but public grassators, and public judgements, which all ought to set themselves against, as they would do against pestilence, sword and famine raging among them.

The grassators finally got him the following year.

There’s a short biography of our man, The Life of Donald Cargill, available in the public domain which remarks (discount accordingly for hagiographical perspective), that Cargill was memorialized by an associate as

affectionate, affable, and tender-hearted to all such as he thought had anything of the image of God in them, sober and temperate in his diet, saying commonly, ‘It was well won that was won off the flesh,’ generous, liberal, and most charitable to the poor; a great hater of covetousness, a frequent visitor of the sick; much alone, loving to be retired, but when about his Master’s public work, laying hold of every opportunity to edify; in conversation still dropping what might minister grace to the hearers. His countenance was edifying to beholders; often sighing with deep groans; preaching in season and out of season upon all hazards; ever the same in judgment and practice. From his youth he was much given to the duty of secret prayer for whole nights together wherein it was observed that, both in secret and in families, he always sat straight upon his kneesk with his hands lifted up; and in the posturel as some took notice, he died with the rope about his neck.

* The thrust of this militant manifesto is similar to the Sanquhar Declaration issued by Cargill’s ally Richard Cameron, also in 1680.

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Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,God,Hanged,History,Martyrs,Power,Public Executions,Religious Figures,Revolutionaries,Scotland,Treason

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1961: Rokotov and Faibishenko, black marketeers

Add comment July 26th, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1961,* two 22-year-old Soviet men were — very much to their surprise — shot as black market currency speculators.

Ian Timofeyevich Rokotov and Vladik Petrovich Faibishenko were leaders of a small ring of illicit currency traders who made their bones swapping Soviet rubles with foreign visitors at a handsome markup, earning “wealth” on the scale of moderate personal ease that seems laughable compared to their homeland’s present-day oligarchy. Among this nine-person ring, authorities recovered 344,000 Russian rubles plus about $19,000 in gold coins and a few thousands each of various western European currencies.

These deeds augmented the inherently parasitic act of profiteering by the inherently subversive act of making unchaperoned contact with foreign visitors, at a moment when the Soviet state was particularly sensitive to both infractions. This was nearly the exact apex of the Cold War, in the tense months between the U-2 Crisis and the Cuban Missile Crisis.** “Peaceful coexistence,” Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev said in a 1961 address, means “intense economic, political, and ideological struggle between the proletariat and the aggressive forces of imperialism in the world arena.”

In a 13-day trial concluding on June 15, Rokotov and Faibishenko were sentenced along with another of their circle, Nadia Edlis, to 15 years in prison. You might think that’s a stern message sent, but the excitable Khrushchev took an almost personal offense to their behavior and on viewing the intentionally nettlesome exhibition of the black marketeers’ banknote heaps, exclaimed, “They need to be shot for this!”

The minor matter of having no capital statute on the books for the occasion was resolved on July 1 by the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet, which introduced the death penalty for major economic crimes; the statute was then immediately deployed to retroactive effect in a new trial before the Russian Republic Supreme Court.

Many people more would face capital punishment for economic crimes under that 1961 law.

* The official execution date is elusive but press reports indicate that the Soviet news agency TASS announced it on July 26. Given that their final condemnation had occurred only five days previous, we fall at worst within a narrow margin of error.

** Also of note: the USSR had just revalued the ruble as of January 1, 1961.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Businessmen,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Pelf,Russia,Shot,USSR,Wrongful Executions

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1402: Fang Xiaoru, of the ten agnates

Add comment July 25th, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1402, the Yongle Emperor cemented his seizure of the throne by purging Confucian scholar-bureaucrat Fang Xiaoru with a legendary extermination to ten degrees of kinship.

Our numerous executions on this occasion bring us to the close of a three-year civil war that ensued the death of the Ming dynasty founder, known as the Hongwu Emperor. In this conflict, the old man’s designated successor, a grandson who took the ironic regnal moniker of Jianwen Emperor (meaning “establishing civility”), was defeated and deposed by one of the old man’s sons, a prince whose name can be transliterated as Zhu Di or Chu Ti.

The uncle was much the abler commander while the nephew was plagued by defections. In July of 1402, Zhu Di’s forces captured the capital city of Nanjing; the Jianwen emperor vanished into history’s fogs — burned to death, Zhu Di would claim, citing an unrecognizable corpse charred in the blaze that consumed the imperial palace; rumors long persisted that he had occulted himself into the mountains in a monk’s robes.

Either way, Zhu Di had occasion now to announce himself the Yongle Emperor. “Perpetual happiness,” that one means. And to make sure that everyone would real happy with the new arrangements, Boss Yongle insisted on the immediate fealty of the capital’s intelligentsia. “Those who are guilty I do not dare to pardon,” he said of the late emperor’s ex-ministers. “Those who are innocent I do not dare to execute.”

Most of those presented with these alternatives chose judiciously, as attested by the Yongle Emperor’s subsequent 22-year reign.

But our principal Fang Xiaoru was the most famous among a number of scholars to stand athwart history yelling stop.* For malcontents like Fang, the Yongle Emperor offered a compelling dissuasion in the form of the ancient “extermination of nine agnates”: the collective execution of the traitor’s entire family, compassing nine different classes of relations.

  1. The criminal himself
  2. His parents
  3. His grandparents
  4. His children (and children’s spouses)
  5. His grandchildren
  6. The criminal’s spouse
  7. The spouse’s parents
  8. The criminal’s aunts and uncles
  9. The criminal’s cousins

We don’t know how all his cousins and in-laws felt about the matter but for his own part, Fang was undaunted: “Never mind nine agnates; give me ten!” And that’s just what they did, drafting the scholar’s own pupils into the hecatomb as the tenth degree, an extremity unequaled in the history of China or academia.

All told, the ten agnates numbered 873 people, among perhaps as many as ten thousand noncompliant officials and family members purged overall. Yet still as he died, hewed apart at the waist, Fang dipped his finger in his own gore and scrawled on the floor his own last verdict on the new emperor: the single Chinese character meaning “usurper”.


An execution by “waist severing” delivers what it promises.

* Others include Huang Zicheng and Lian Zining. See “Venerating the Martyrs of the 1402 Usurpation: History and Memory in the Mid and Late Ming Dynasty” by Peter Ditmanson, T’oung Pao, Second Series, Vol. 93, Fasc. 1/3 (2007), pp. 110-158.

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Entry Filed under: 15th Century,Capital Punishment,China,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous Last Words,Gruesome Methods,History,Innocent Bystanders,Intellectuals,Power,Treason

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1951: Arno Esch, liberal

Add comment July 24th, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1951, liberal East German activist Arno Esch was shot in Lubyanka Prison outside of Moscow.

Plaque at the University of Rostock honoring Esch. (cc) image by Schiwago.

Just 17 when World War II ended, Esch emerged as a leading student activist for the Liberal Democratic Party in the postwar Soviet Occupation Zone — a pacifist who advocated political liberalization and civil rights.

These weren’t times for any common fronts: “a liberal Chinese is closer to me than a German communist,” Esch remarked, denoting a clear and present danger in the communist zone: his party attempted in vain to form a coalition across the nascent Iron Curtain with its like-minded brethren in the western zones.

Esch was arrested in 1949 and prosecuted as a spy and counterrevolutionary by a Soviet military tribunal.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Activists,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,East Germany,Execution,Germany,History,Martyrs,Occupation and Colonialism,Power,Shot

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1942: Nikola Vaptsarov, Bulgarian poet

Add comment July 23rd, 2018 Headsman

Poet Nikola Vaptsarov was shot on this date in 1942 for organizing anti-fascist resistance in Axis Bulgaria.

A communist machinist — the Varna naval academy where he learned engineering is now named for him* — Vaptsarov — Vaptsarov was a proper proletarian poet who only ever versified on the side.

Nevertheless, he was well-known in his time and remains so to this day in Bulgaria, particularly given his political bona fides and martyrdom thereto, which bear ready comparison to Spanish Civil War martyr Frederico Garcia Lorca.


Spain

What were you to me?
Nothing.
A land forgotten and remote,
a land of knights and high plateaux.
What were you to me?
The hearth
where blazed a strange and cruel love,
a wild intoxicant
of blood,
of glinting blades
and serenades,
of passion,
jealousy
and psalms.

Now you are my destiny,
now I live and share your fate.
In your struggle to be free
wholly I participate.

Now I’m stirred, now I rejoice
at all your victories in the fight.
In your youth and strength I trust
and my own strength with yours unite.

Crouching in machine-gun nests,
I fight on to victory,
down among Toledo’s streets,
on the outskirts of Madrid.

A worker in a cotton shirt
torn by bullets near me lies,
Ceaselessly the warm blood streams
from the cap pulled o’er his eyes.

It is my blood that I feel humming
through my veins, as suddenly
in him I recognize the friend
I once knew in a factory

where we shoveled coal together,
stoking the same furnace fire,
and found there was no barrier
to check our young and bold desire.

Sleep, my comrade, sleep in peace!
Though now the blood the blood-red flag be furled,
your blood into mine will pass
and stir the peoples of the world.

The blood you gave, already flows
through village, factory, town and state,
arouses, urges and inspires
all working men to demonstrate.

That workers never will lose heart,
but will advance relentlessly,
determined both to work and fight
and shed their blood that men be free.

Today your blood builds barricades,
infuses courage in our hearts,
and with a reckless joy proclaims:
‘Madrid is ours!
Madrid is ours!’

The world is ours! Friend, have no fear!
The whole expanding universe
its ours!
Beneath the southern sky
sleep
and have faith,
have faith in us!

-Vaptsarov

Vaptsarov published his lone book, Motor Songs, in 1940, which was the same year he was interned demonstrating against Bulgaria’s tenuous neutrality and in favor of alliance with the USSR. A few months after his release, the Third Reich forced Bulgaria into the Axis. A member of the Central Military Committee of the Bulgarian Communist Party, Vaptsarov was arrested for doing just the sort of things that such a committee would be doing in 1942.

A Selected Poems volume of his was published posthumously; it can be enjoyed free here.** Perhaps the most moving entry is the very last one, a short composition dedicated to his wife just hours before his execution.

On Parting

To my wife

Sometimes I’ll come when you’re asleep,
An unexpected visitor.
Don’t leave me outside in the street,
Don’t bar the door!

I’ll enter quietly, softly sit
And gaze upon you in the dark.
Then, when my eyes have gazed their fill,
I’ll kiss you and depart.

The fight is hard and pitiless.
The fight is epic, as they say.
I fell. Another takes my place —
Why single out a name?

After the firing squad — the worms.
Thus does the simple logic go.
But in the storm we’ll be with you,
My people, for we loved you so.

2 p.m. — 23.VII.1942

* You’ll also find the man’s tribute on the frigid slopes of Vaptsarov Peak on the Antarctic Livingston Island. More accessibly, there are museums to him in the Bulgarian capital of Sofia as well as Vaptsarov’s hometown of Bansko.

** Some other sites with Vaptsarov poems: here and here.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Artists,Arts and Literature,Bulgaria,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous,History,Martyrs,Mass Executions,Power,Revolutionaries,Shot,Treason,Wartime Executions

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1991: Andrew Lee Jones, the last electrocuted in Louisiana

Add comment July 22nd, 2018 Headsman

Gruesome Gertie galloped her last on this date in 1991, when that Louisiana mercy seat claimed her final soul, Andrew Lee Jones.

Gertie’s reign in the Bayou State ran fifty years and 87 successful electrocutions (out of 88 attempts), although it was cheated of cinematic immortality when the Dead Man Walking film depicted a lethal injection where voltage had done the real work.*

Art was merely imitating life for by the time that film dropped in 1995, Louisiana had long since mothballed Gertie in favor of the the needle.**

As is usually the case, the the criminal himself was only an accidental distinction for the milestone. Andrew Lee Jones in 1984 had abducted eleven-year old Tumekica Jackson, the daughter of his on-again, off-again girlfriend. He raped and strangled to death the little girl — while drunk, he said. In the days after the crime, Jones had hinted to a friend that recently “he did something he didn’t want to do” and he “done fucked up.” But he seems to have had an inkling from death row that he was marked, telling a British pen-friend — more on her in a bit — “I’m definitely hoping that I won’t be the last one to set in that chair. I got the feeling that they are trying to get one more before they put an end to it.

Capital defense attorney David Dow, who joined Jones’s appellate team in its final weeks, remembered Jones’s last hours in his Machinery of Death: The Reality of America’s Death Penalty Regime:

Several of us sat with Andrew throughout the evening in a large room directly outside the execution chamber. In addition to Andrew and me, Debra Voelker (our investigator), Neal Walker, and Michelle Fournet were there. We sat around a table talking. There were guards in the room as well, but they kept their distance. Andrew was handcuffed and shackled at the waist throughout the evening. His feet were also shackled. We would talk for a while, then Andrew would get up and shuffle away to go call his family, and the rest of us would pull ourselves together. We tried as much as possible to take our cues from Andrew. More than anything he seemed to want distraction, and we took turns providing it. Surreal is the only word that comes to mind when I think about that evening. Yet it was real.

One of the most difficult times for Andrew in the long wait came at 9:30 p.m. when we received word that his last appeal had been denied by the Supreme Court. Andrew refused to talk to Nick, who had called from the office to give him the news, because Nick was crying. Andrew had forbidden any tears. He came back from the phone to the waiting room and sat down quietly. Then he looked straight into my eyes and asked, “Why can’t they just do it now? How am I going to get through the next few hours?” I had no answer. I tried to imagine that in a few hours his life would be over while mine would be beginning a new day. i tried to imagine what it was like for him to look at me, knowing this. We stared at each other, and I shook my head. Someone suggested that Andrew purchase something else from the vending machine, and we all laughed thankfully. For Andrew, one of the great thrills of the last day of his life was his ability to put coins in a vending machine, punch a button, and receive food or drink. It had been over seven years since he had come in contact with coins or a vending machine.

Forty-five minutes before Andrew was executed, guards removed him from the visiting room, saying he would return soon. Fifteen minutes later, he walked back in with that smile of his, but awkward and blinking ferociously. In preparation for attaching the electrodes, the guards had shaved his head, one leg, and, as Andrew pointed out, “even my eyebrows.” He was embarrassed. He wondered how he looked. Of course there were no mirrors. Andrew kept blinking. He explained that there were tiny bits of hair from his shaved eyebrows that were getting in his eyes. He was shackled at the waist and couldn’t reach his eyes. Neal pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and asked if it would be okay to wipe Andrew’s eyes for him.

One of the many silences crept over the table where we sat. Andrew laughed. “At least,” he said, “they let me keep my Air Jordans. I thought they’d take those too, but they didn’t. I’ve spent my whole life running and I want to hit the other side running.” Michelle reminded Andrew that he’d always dreamed a plane would crash at Angola, setting him free. Andrew said it wasn’t too late. We all laughed.

The worst moment came when Andrew was led into the execution chamber. It stays with me. Andrew had passed by us in the hall on the way to the door to the chamber. He gave a strained smile and flapped his shackled hands at us. I watched his back after he passed. At the door to the execution chamber, the guards stopped and made Andrew take off his Air Jordans. As he bent to do so, he looked back, directly into my eyes. I will never forget the raw fear in his eyes. There were tears in mine. All pretenses were gone.

After the execution, that British penpal we mentioned, Jane Officer,† co-founded an NGO to support capital appeals in Jones’s memory. Formerly called the Andrew Lee Jones Fund, it’s now known as Amicus. Officer’s book If I Should Die … (review) describes her correspondence and relationship with Jones.

* Artistic license: director Tim Robbins wanted to keep the focus on capital punishment as such instead of permitting the audience to get away with revulsion only at a “less humane” method.

** Ironically that circumstance has latterly jammed up the state’s death chamber; as of this writing, Louisiana hasn’t executed anybody since 2010 owing in large measure to problems with procuring the drugs. Reintroducing the electric chair has been one of the solutions bandied.

† Officer reportedly began writing to Jones after seeing the documentary 14 Days in May, about an egregious wrongful execution in Mississippi.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Electrocuted,Execution,Louisiana,Milestones,Murder,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Rape,USA

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