Archive for December, 2018

1988: Sek Kim Wah, thriller

Add comment December 9th, 2018 Headsman

Thirty years ago today, Singapore hanged Sek Kim Wah for his “thrilling” home invasion murders.

A sociopathic 19-year-old army conscript, Sek had got a taste for blood in June 1983 by strangling a bookie and his mistress to prevent them identifying him after a robbery. It was only days after his unrequited crush had given him the cold shoulder; he’d seized the rejection as license to give rein to his darkest desires. “I was frustrated. I like someone to exercise control over me, to care and look after me. But all they are interested in is money. Since everybody is busy about money, I would get it by hook or by crook and the more the merrier.”

Those robbery-murders he got away with in the moment.

On July 23, he bid for an encore performance by forcing his way into a split-level bungalow armed with an M16 pinched from the Nee Soon Camp armory. With him was another 19-year-old, Nyu Kok Meng. It was Nyu’s first crime, and events would prove that he and Sek had made some unwarranted assumptions about one another.

After forcing businessman Robert Tay Bak Hong and his wife Annie Tay to withdraw bank funds for them, Sek set about replaying his previous crime script by eliminating the witnesses, strangling and bludgeoning the couple as well as their 27-year-old Filipina maid Jovita Virador.

Nyu heard the bashing sounds from another room, where he held the M16 on the couple’s 10-year-old daughter Dawn, and Dawn’s tutor Madam Tang So Ha — and he was aghast when he investigated the commotion. Nyu had intended only to steal money, not to hurt anyone. He took his two charges under his impromptu protection, and because of it they both survived to give evidence against him.

“Suddenly, the male Chinese who was holding the long gun rushed into our room and locked the door behind him,” said Dawn.

Nyu refused to let Sek into the room. Sek then decided to leave the house in Mr Tay’s Mercedes car. Nyu handed over his identity card to Madam Tang, and asked her to convey a message to his parents to buy a coffin for him, as he planned to commit suicide after releasing her and Dawn. (Singapore Straits Times, excerpting Guilty as Charged: 25 Crimes that have shaken Singapore since 1965)

Nyu pointed the gun at his head and pulled the trigger … “but nothing happened,” he said. “Frustrated, I put the rifle down.” He fled on Sek’s motorbike as the two souls he saved ran to a neighbor’s house for help. That night, he escaped, temporarily, to Malaysia.

Nevertheless, his clemency — or his stupidity, as Sek called it — saved his neck; he caught a life sentence plus caning.

Sek would not be so lucky and he seemed to know and revel in it from the moment of his capture, mugging obnoxiously for the papers. “I’ve always wanted to die on the gallows,” he exulted at his sentencing. “It must be thrilling to be hanged.” He’d used that same word — “thrilling” — to describe the experience of committing murder.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,Murder,Pelf,Singapore,Soldiers,Theft

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1718: Avram Lopukhin, Peter the Great’s brother-in-law

Add comment December 8th, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1718, Tsar Peter the Great had his brother-in-law beheaded.

The brother of Peter’s discarded first wife Eudoxia Lopukina, our man Avram Fedorovich Lopukhin (Russian link) had neatly installed himself as a grey eminence of the rebellious Tsarevich Alexei.

It was to this youth Alexei that Old Russia turned its hopes while Peter westernized and modernized the empire. Someday Peter would die, and Alexei would inherit, and the clawback would begin.

Lopukhin foresaw a place of power for himself in Alexei’s Russia. He was an old guard boyar prince, formerly an influential courtier, and he had the blood and the ear of the tsarevich.

That also meant he would share the fate of the tsarevich.

What a disaster for Lopukhin when the truculent Alexei made bold enough to outright break with his father by fleeing Russia — but what was even worse was when Alexei returned.

Investigating the matter as a treason, the famously pitiless Peter did not spare his own child from torture and death; still less would he pardon the others in Alexei’s circle whom his inquisitions revealed to be scheming to overturn Peter’s life’s work, if not his very life.

Seditious correspondence and torture-adduced accusations implicated Lopukhin as just such a figure, and he was tossed into the dungeons of Peter and Paul Fortress to face interrogations, knouting, and execution.

Made to confess to desiring the death of the sovereign, Lopukhin had his head publicly on December 8. It was mounted afterwards on a pike overlooking a public market, and his body exposed on a wheel, until the tsar suffered his kinsman’s remains to be interred in the Lopukhin family crypt the following March.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Gibbeted,History,Nobility,Power,Public Executions,Russia,Torture,Treason

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1982: Charles Brooks, Jr., the first by lethal injection

Add comment December 7th, 2018 Headsman

Besides being Pearl Harbor Day and Noam Chomsky Day, December 7 is a black-letter anniversary for capital punishment as the date in 1982 when the United States first executed a prisoner by means of lethal injection.

Charles Brooks, Jr. — who had by the time of his death converted to Islam and started going by Shareef Ahmad Abdul-Rahim — suffered the punishment in Texas for abducting and murdering a car lot mechanic. With an accomplice,* he had feigned interest in a test drive in order to steal the car, stuffing the mechanic in the trunk and then shooting him dead in a hotel room.

The “modern” U.S. death penalty era had just dawned with 1976’s Gregg v. Georgia decision affirming new procedures meant to reduce systemic arbitrariness — and the machinery was reawakening after a decade’s abeyance.

In the wake of the circus atmosphere surrounding the January 1977 firing squad execution of Gary Gilmore, the laboratories of democracy started casting about for killing technologies that were a little bit less … appalling.

“We had discussed what happened to Gary Gilmore,” former Oklahoma chief medical examiner Jay Chapman later recalled. “At that time we put animals to death more humanely than we did human beings — so the idea of using medical drugs seemed a much better alternative.”

This was not actually a new idea: proposals for a medicalized execution process had been floated as far back as the 1880s, when New York instead opted for a more Frankenstein vibe by inventing the electric chair. And the Third Reich ran a wholesale euthanasia program based on lethal injections.

But 1977 was the year that lethal injection was officially adopted as the lynchpin method for regular judicial executions. It happened in Oklahoma, and Chapman’s three-drug protocol — sodium thiopental (an anaesthetic), followed by pancuronium bromide (to stop breathing) and potassium chloride (to stop the heart) — became the standard execution procedure swiftly taken up by numerous other U.S. states in the ensuing years. As years have gone by, Chapman’s procedure has come under fire and supply bottlenecks have led various states to experiment with different drug cocktails; all the same, nearly 90% of modern U.S. executions have run through the needle.*

Texas was one early adopter, rolling in the gurney to displace its half-century-old electric chair. Its debut with Charlie Brooks was also Texas’s debut on the modern execution scene, and both novelties have had a lot of staying power since: every one of Texas’s many executions in the years since — 557 executions over 36 years as of this writing — has employed lethal injection.

* For up-to-date figures, check the Death Penalty Information Center’s executions database.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,History,Lethal Injection,Milestones,Murder,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Texas,Theft,USA

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1787: John Bly and Charles Rose, Shaysites

Add comment December 6th, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1787, the only two men to hang for the infant American republic’s seminal post-independence rebellion went to the gallows at Lenox, Massachusetts.

The newborn United States emerged from the American Revolution (1776-1783) in a parlous financial condition. Forever short of gold and credit, it had paid George Washington’s Continental Army in worthless scrip* and promises of goodwill. Instead, many a Cincinnatus returned from Yorktown to discover his debtor farm dunned by creditors and taxmen, as desperate as he for hard currency.

Come 1786, protests against unpayable taxes verged into an outright rural insurrection in western Massachusetts. Known for one of its principals, Daniel Shays — who like so many of his fellows was a Continental Army veteran turned penniless farmer — this rebellion continued for several months and took earnest aim at the hated Massachusetts merchant elites. Some 4,000 “Shaysites” would eventually admit to** taking the field as rebel guerrillas. They mounted an attack on a federal armory, and seized weapons where they could for their own use.

A few books about Shays’s Rebellion

It was this last act which occasions our men’s hangings.

The new American authorities, who had not so many years ago been beckoning this same populace to take up their muskets in revolution, exercised in this moment a brittle authority and they would calculate that the proper balance of due regard for their power without unnecessary resentment entailed only a circumscribed approach.

Instead of charging Shaysites wholesale, most were waved away with a free pardon. And instead of charging treason, the Bay State made its demonstration cases with regular criminal offenses — for burglary when our men John Bly and Charles Rose followed some Shaysite militiaman’s order to confiscate guns and powder from nearby houses. In 1787, that was still a potential hanging offense.

Of course, everyone understood well enough the real offense. On the eve of their executions, someone got the condemned men to sign onto a “Last Words & Dying Speeches” broadsheet with a lesson addressed “To the good People of Massachusetts, more especially to Daniel Shays, and other Officers of the Militia, and the Select men of Towns who have been instrumental in raising the Opposition to the Government of this Commonwealth:”

Our fate is a loud and solemn lesson to you who have excited the people to rise against the Government … Advert to those things — live peaceably with all men — be not too jealous of your Rulers — remember that Government is absolutely necessary to restrain the corrupt passions of men — obey your Honest Governors — be not allured by designing men — pay your honest debts and your reasonable taxes — use your utmost endeavours to give peace to your divided, distracted country …

There was another legacy: the outbreak of Shays’s Rebellion — and the federal government’s impotence to respond to it (it was haltingly suppressed by state militia, with the insurgents at points escaping into New York for breathing room) — helped catalyze the Constitutional Convention from May to September of 1787, and informed its creation of a stronger federal state and of the system of checks upon democratic action that a rebellious populace might wish to undertake.

There’s a podcast episode about Shays’s Rebellion here.

* So widely shunned was the depreciated paper Continental currency issued during the Revolution that the phrase “not worth a Continental” entered the parlance of the times; it was these notes that had been given to revolutionary soldiers by way of aspirational salary like so many stock options from a foundering Silicon Valley startup. In 1791, these Continentals were bought out by the new federal government at one cent on the dollar.

** This census arrives via applications for the free amnesty eventually offered to the Shaysite rank and file.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Guerrillas,Hanged,History,Massachusetts,Milestones,Power,Public Executions,Revolutionaries,Soldiers,Theft,Treason,USA

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1705: Edward Flood and Hugh Caffery

1 comment December 5th, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1705, Edward Flood and Hugh Caffery hanged at Dublin’s St. Stephen’s Green for robbing one “Mr. Casey.”

Both men were impugned by a witness who subsequently recanted — at which point the victim’s mother-in-law, Elizabeth Price, stepped in to denounce them instead. In their dying statements (republished in James Kelly’s Gallows Speeches: From Eighteenth-Century Ireland) both men insist upon their innocence of the robbery.

It’s unclear to this reader all these centuries later whether we are meant by these doomed “robbers” to understand something unstated between the lines about Elizabeth Price’s animosity towards them, or whether we simply have a case of unreliable witness testimony and tunnel vision. (Obviously we also can’t know whether Flood’s and Caffery’s protestations are reliable.) Judge for yourself, gentle reader:


THE LAST SPEECHES AND DYING WORDS OF

EDWARD FLOOD AND HUGH CAFFERY

Who was Executed at St. Stephen’s-Green, On Friday the 5th of December, 1707 for Robbing of Mr. Casey, at Cabbra?

Good Christians,

Now that I am brought to so scandalous an End, and within a few Minuts of my last Breathing; I here declare before God and the World, that I was not Guilty of this Fact for which I am now to Dye for; neither was I privy thereto, nor to any other Robbery all my Life-time.

One of the same Company that I belong’d to being Confined in the Castle Guard, and transmitted to New-Gate for stealing Cloaths, was in a starving Condition; and that Mr. Casey, who was Robbed, hearing there was some of the Regiment in New Gate, and being Robb’d by some of the same Regiment, as they suppos’d, came to New Gate, to see if he cou’d hear any thing of this Robbery among them.

Then this Man who belong’d to the same Company that I was in, by name Bryan Mac Couly, being in a starving Condition, and Casey making him Drink, and Bribed him, Swore against Four of the same Company; for which we were Apprehended.

In a considerable time after, his Conscience prick’d him; and sent for the Reverend Mr. Jones, who examin’d Mac Couley, who Declared he Wrong’d us Four … That Elizabeth Price, Mother-in-law to the said Casey, hearing that Bryan Mac Couly had made the second Examination, came to him, and said; If he would not Swear against us, she would swear against Caffery and I; so she desired him to Swear, and that he shou’d have for his Reward two Guineas, but he wou’d not.

Then Mrs. Price Swore against Caffery and I, and said she knew us Both well enough … [and] Mrs. Price pitch’d upon one of Man of the Battallion, and said, that was one of the Men, and would have had him confined only he had good proof to the contrary; and made out where he was that Night.

Likewise I declare once more before God and the World, I know nothing of this Robbery that I am to Die for; altho’ I deserved Death before now, but I thank my God not for Robbing or Stealing, but for keeping Company with Women, and I was much given to that Crime, and do trust that God of his great Mercy will forgive me …

Edward Flood

Christians,

Since it has pleased Almight God, that I should Dye this most unfortunate Death; these few minutes that I have to live, shall be to satisfy the World of what was laid to my Charge. And now that I am to dye, I hope all Good Christians do believe that I have a tender regard for my poor soul, (which I hope God will be Merciful to,) and not think that I will dissemble with the World so as to deprive my self of Eternal happiness.

Dear Christians, these being my last Words, I do declare I never was Guilty of this Crime that I now suffer for, nor was I ever Guilty of so hainous a Crime as Stealing or Robbing; but all other small Vices I have been Guilty of, (and hope my Heavenly Father will pardon the same) Cursing, Swearing, and Women was the only Vice I was Guilty of; And that I do heartily forgive the Persons that hath occasion’d this my untimely End. And do further declare, that I never before knew any that was privy to the fact I suffer for; not did I see Mrs Price for 3 Years to my knowledge, ’till she came to New Gate.

I lived with one Ignatius Taffe, at the sign of the Black Swan in Smite-Field; during which service, I have been often in her House, yet never did her any wrong. I Confess I deserv’d Death long ago for the matter of keeping Company with Lewd Women, and I was as much given to that, which is all that troubles my Conscience.

I never wrong’d any living Soul, except I did my Master when I was sent to Buy small Conveniences for the House, then some small thing or other I often kept for my own use: Which is all I shall answer at the Tribunal. And pray God that all Christians may eschew those Vices of Lewd Women, Cursing and Swearing; God will one time or other revenged on ’em that Practice ’em. I desire the prayers of all that sees my untimely End. So fare well.

Hugh Caffery

These are the true Copies of the Dying Persons as delivered by ’em.
Printed by E. Waters in School-House Lane.

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

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1856: Six Tennessee slaves, election panic casualties

Add comment December 4th, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1856, the white citixens of Dover, Tennessee hanged at least six black slaves in the midst of a regional panic.

They could well sense, as could all Americans, the hollowing authority of slavery in the 1850s with the Civil War looming ahead in 1861. Conflict over the issue had split the country sectionally over the disposition of the huge territory annexed in the Mexican-American War; the matter came to literal blows on the western frontier in the “Bleeding Kansas” bush war.

On the cultural plane, these are the years that germinated the definitive anti-slavery novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852); on the legal plane, they produced the the notorious pro-slavery Dred Scott Supreme Court case (1857).

And on the political plane, the slavery issue tore apart the old Whig Party — and so the 1856 presidential election for the first time featured the new anti-slavery Republican Party as the chief opposition. The very first Republican presidential nominee, John Fremont, carried 11 states on November 4, 1856: not enough to capture the White House, but enough to put the Slave Power in fear for its human chattel and catalyze, in the weeks surrounding the vote, paranoid reactions in various southerly locales to the effect that Fremont-inspired blacks would be coming to dispossess all the masters.

Now it only takes a glance at Twitter to evidence the capacity of a presidential ballot to dominate the public mind, so there can hardly be doubt that seditious rumors of liberty fell from black lips which had never been so close to tasting emancipation. “Wait till Fremont is elected, and den I guess as how, missess, you will have to dew de pots yourself,” a Memphis kitchen-slave supposedly told her mistress on the eve of the election. (New York Herald, December 11, 1856) The masters too would have spoken of the same topic, but with trepidation; nobody knew but what the future could hold, and words overheard would have worked their way to and fro across the color line to shape hope, terror, anticipation. The newspapers from the last weeks of 1856 have reports of rumored insurrections and white vigilance committees in Missouri, in Texas, in Arkansas, in Louisiana.

As is usual in slave rising panics no firm evidence exists that black plots consisted in this moment of anything more substantial than whispered hopes. Whites in scattered localities saw Nat Turner everywhere — and nowhere was this more the case than in western Tennessee. There, slaves around the Cumberland River were believed to be organizing a Christmas Day rising* to cut their masters’ throats, run amok, and rendezvous with an imagined army of Fremont liberators. One correspondent described for northern papers how

the credulity of these poor people is such that, in the belief of the whites who excite them, they imagine that Col. Fremont, with a large army is awaiting at the mouth of the river Cumberland … Certain slaves are so greatly imbued with this fable, that I have seen them smile while they are being whipped, and have heard them say that ‘Fremont and his men can bear the blows they receive.’ (via the Barre (Mass.) Gazette, Dec. 19, 1956)

Against such hope — more blows. A truly horrifying and widely republished editorial in the Clarksville (Tenn.) Jeffersonian that Dec. 3 proposed an overwhelming bloodletting to crush this prospective jacquerie.

It is useless to shut our eyes and deny the facts, or sneer at the developments which have been made. Every hour multiplies the proof and corroborates previous discoveries. It is no Titus Oates affair, but a solemn, fearful and startling reality, and must be dealt with accordingly.

The crimes contemplated should be atoned for precisely as though those crimes had been attmpted and consummated. Fearful and terrible examples should be made, and if need be, the fagot and the flame should be brought into requisition to show these deluded maniacs the fierceness and the vigor, the swiftness and completeness of the white man’s vengeance. Let a terrible example be made in every neighborhood where the crime can be established, and if necessary let every tree in the country bend with negro meat. Temporizing in such cases as this is utter madness. We must strike terror, and make a lasting impression, for only in such a course can we find the guaranties of future security …

The path of future safety must be wet with the blood of those who have meditated these awful crimes. Misplaced clemency, and we believe that any clemency would be misplaced, may at no distant day bring upon this people, the horrors and the inexpressible crimes which marked the enfranchisement of St. Domingo. While retributive justice, sternly and unbendingly enforced, will certainly remove the cause of the evils we now suffer and prove our sure protection against their repetition in all time to come.

So far as this writer can establish it is not certain how many people overall in Tennessee and throughout the Slave Power met the guns and nooses of white vigilantes, but some of the best-established are a sextet hanged at Dover on December 4, 1856. This town on the Cumberland was roiled by rumors that slaves from nearby communities intended to march, armed, on Dover itself, an idea that seems not much less fanciful than that of deliverance by Fremont; it became thereby an epicenter of the suppression, and favors us from a sea of unreliable timelines and misstated figures with a concrete eyewitness description.

Tuesday morning [sic — the writer means Thursday, Dec. 4, having narrated Wednesday, Dec. 3 immediately prior], I went to Dover, and arrived there about 2 o’clock. The people had hung four negroes at 11 o’clock that morning, and two more then in town to be hung. I got to the place of execution in time to see the last one go off. Of the six that were hung, three had been preachers. They were all proved to be ring-leaders. I learned that the men at the forge were at work whipping the truth out of their negroes, so I rode out there that night, and was up with them all night. I never had such feelings in my life. I saw a list of negroes that had been whipped, and was told what they all had stated, and then I heard the balance examined — some taking five and six hundred lashes before they would tell the tale … One of the negroes at the forge died from whipping that night, several hours after the operation.

We are at work here to-day. We have one negro in chains, and will hang him I think, certain; if the committee will not the community are determined to do it. I think we will have quite an exciting time here before we get through. I have no doubt but that it is a universal thing all over the Southern States, and that every negro fifteen years old, either knows of it or is into it … (Louisville Daily Courier, Dec. 29, 1856)

Two key academic sources on this affair are:

  • Harvey Wish, “The Slave Insurrection Panic of 1856,” The Journal of Southern History, May, 1939
  • Charles Dew, “Black Ironworkers and the Slave Insurrection Panic of 1856,” The Journal of Southern History, August 1975

* Shades of Jamaica.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Borderline "Executions",Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Hanged,History,Lynching,Mass Executions,No Formal Charge,Power,Public Executions,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Slaves,Summary Executions,Tennessee,Torture,Treason,USA

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2009: Bobby Wayne Woods

1 comment December 3rd, 2018 Headsman

Bobby Wayne Woods was executed by lethal injection in Texas on this date in 2009.

A proud bearer of the classic middle name, Woods in 1997 broke into his ex-girlfriend’s home and kidnapped her two children, both of whom he did to what he thought was death. (11-year-old daughter Sarah Patterson, whom Woods also raped, did die; nine-year-old son Cody Patterson survived a savage beating, barely.)*

What distinguished Woods from a run-of-the-mill capital murder was his disputed competency — a product of what Australia’s Sydney Morning Herald aptly termed a “legal grey area.” A landmark 2002 U.S. Supreme Court case, Atkins v. Virginia, bars the execution of mentally disabled prisoners … but punts the definition of this protected class to the very states that are trying to execute them. Ah, federalism.

Woods was a barely-literate middle school dropout with I.Q. test scores ranging from 68 to 80; the commonplace threshold for mental disability is about I.Q. 70. He definitely did the crime, but was he entitled to protection under Atkins?

The case stuck in the judicial craw, scratching a scheduled 2008 execution and resulting in appeals that resolved only half an hour before Woods received the needle. The whole thing was essentially stalemated by dueling experts on retainer who made the arguments you’d expect them to make for their sides. And since the legal standard is whatever Texas feels like enforcing, that means the guy is not disabled.

* The victims’ mother, Schwana Patterson, was convicted of felony child neglect for failing to intervene in the abduction, out of fear of the assailant; she served eight years in prison for this.

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Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Diminished Capacity,Execution,Kidnapping,Lethal Injection,Murder,Rape,Texas,USA

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1884: Howard Sullivan, too leisurely about escaping

Add comment December 2nd, 2018 Headsman

The moral of this story is that when you have the opportunity to break out of death row, don’t dawdle.


Philadelphia Inquirer, Dec. 1, 1884


New York Herald, Dec. 3, 1884

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Hanged,Murder,New Jersey,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,USA

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1958: Istvan Angyal, Hungarian revolutionary

Add comment December 1st, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1958, Angyal Istvan was hanged for the failed 1956 Hungarian revolution.

A working-class Jew who survived Auschwitz as a boy — his mother and sister were not so fortunate — Angyal was a convinced leftist who became disaffected with the Hungarian regime not because of its Communism but because of its failure to realize the democratic and egalitarian aspirations of that ideology.

A fixture on the youthful intellectual ferment in Budapest in the early 1950s, he was one of the leaders of street protests against Soviet domination during the doomed Hungarian Revolution of 1956, even conferring personally with Prime Minister Imre Nagy during its last days. In a gesture that not all of his comrades would have supprted, he set out the hammer and sickle along with the Hungarian national flag on November 7, the very eve of the revolution’s defeat, arguing to Soviet troops that they were fighting against true communism.

He’s commemorated today at an Angyal István Park in Budapest; it’s evidently “a modern social place with free Internet” and a nifty paper plane art installation.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Hanged,History,Hungary,Jews,Occupation and Colonialism,Power,Revolutionaries,Treason

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