Archive for March, 2019

1540: Hans Kohlhase, horse wild

Add comment March 22nd, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1540, the legendary outlaw Hans Kohlhase — a crime victim turned revengeful crime lord — executed* in Berlin. It’s a classic case of stubborn cusses escalating a minor property dispute.

En route to the Leipzig fair in 1532, Kohlhase (English Wikipedia entry | German) was stopped by a Saxon nobleman who confiscated some of his horses. In dueling publications years later, Kohlhase would charge that Guenther von Zaschwitz accused him of stealing the horses; von Zaschwitz countered that Kohlhase looked suspicious and got uppity with his retainers when questioned.

Proceeding to Leipzig in a huff, Kohlhase obtained the commendations necessary to confirm his identity and then demanded his property back from von Zaschwitz. The lord agreed … if Kohlhase would pay for the horses’ days of upkeep in his stables. Just a little crap sandwich from the neighborhood bully. Kohlhase didn’t feel like having a bite of it.

Fast forward a couple of years. Suits in the courts bogging down, Kohlhase at his wit’s end resorted to an older form of redress, one consecrated by centuries of tradition but now forbidden by a landmark 1495 legal reform: he declared a feud. Kohlhase really vented his spleen in this one, not bothering as a plausibly wronged party to play for hearts and minds but rather pronouncing his vendetta against the whole Electorate of Saxony.

Thus “justified,” he turned out-and-out bandit, gathering a crew of desperados to his banner and robbing with opportunistic promiscuity while staying a step ahead of a bounty issued against him by Elector Johann Frederick I. To repeat: this is all over a question of who foots the bill for a feedbag. Even Martin Luther tried to talk this vengeful fury off his grudge.

What is just, you will do justly, says Moses; wrong is not justified by other injustice … What you rightly do, you do well; if you can not obtain justice, there is no other advice than that you suffer injustice … Therefore, if you desire my council (as you write), I advise, accept peace.

Kohlhase accepted only the peace of the grave.

The German romanticist Heinrich von Kleist immortalized (and renamed) this uncompromising litigant in the novella Michael Kohlhaas; the same story has been re-adapted for cinema several times more.

* No surviving document specifies whether the execution was by breaking wheel or beheading.

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Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Arts and Literature,Beheaded,Broken on the Wheel,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Germany,Gruesome Methods,History,Holy Roman Empire,Outlaws,Public Executions,Theft

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1952: The last executions in the Netherlands

Add comment March 21st, 2019 Headsman

The last executions in the Netherlands took place on this date in 1952: Dutch SS volunteer Andries Jan Pieters and German SS man Artur Albrecht, both condemned for war crimes committed during the Nazi occupation. Each was implicated in numerous incidents of torturing and executing prisoners.

Both men were shot at Waalsdorpervlakte, outside The Hague. They were the tail end of a 1940s era that brought numerous capital prosecutions for World War II offenses.

Pieters (left) and Albrecht (right).

Capital punishment had been abolished in the Netherlands for ordinary crimes since 1870. Although execution remained theoretically available for military crimes until 1993, nobody after Pieters and Albrecht came close to facing an executioner. Today, the death penalty is completely forbidden in Dutch law.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Milestones,Netherlands,Occupation and Colonialism,Shot,Soldiers,War Crimes

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1738: Nicolas Doxat de Demoret

Add comment March 20th, 2019 Headsman

Swiss officer and military engineer Nicolas Doxat de Demoret — also referred to as Doxat de Moretz or Doxat von Morez — was beheaded on this date in 1738 for surrendering to a Turkish siege.

Native — as his name suggests — of Demoret, Doxat was a career soldier who had served the Austrian empire since 1712. The generation of Doxat’s service saw Austria’s greatest expansion into the Balkans, with Turkey forced to cede to the empire most of present-day Serbia. Doxat emerged with some war wounds and a general’s epaulets.

Unfortunately 18th century Vienna did not have access to the Internet articles informing it that this would represent its greatest expansion in the Balkans — for, in 1737, Austria jumped into a Russo-Turkish War with an eye to gobbling even more, and instead started suffering the defeats that would return its conquests to the Sublime Porte.

General Doxat owned one of these defeats, the October 1737 surrender of the Serbian city of Niš to an Ottoman siege — yielded too readily, in the judgment of Austrian authorities. He had weeks of supplies remaining but with little water and no prospect of relief he judged the situation hopeless and accepted an arrangement that permitted the honorable withdrawal of his garrison.

Despite the appeals of comrades in arms for clemency, the emperor confirmed the sentence of a war council, and Doxat was beheaded* in Belgrade on March 20, 1738. Barely a year later, that city too was in Turkish hands.

* The beheading, conducted in the botch-prone seated position, was botched — the first blow gouging the general’s shoulder and knocking him prone, where he was inelegantly finished off.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Austria,Beheaded,Botched Executions,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Habsburg Realm,History,Military Crimes,Nobility,Serbia,Soldiers,Wartime Executions,Yugoslavia

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1819: John Van Alstine

Add comment March 19th, 2019 Headsman

John Van Alstine was (incompetently) hanged two hundred years ago today for murdering Schoharie County, N.Y., deputy sheriff William Huddleston — whom he bludgeoned to death in a rage when Huddleston turned up to execute a civil judgment forcing the sale of Van Alstine’s property to service a debt. The man acknowledged having a ferocious temper.

“It is not a year since I stated in Judge Beekman’s presence, (and, I stated it as the firm conviction of my mind), that there were two things I should never come to — the state’s prison and the gallows,” the confessed murderer mused in his public reflections, below. “How often have these words occurred to me since the regretted 9th, and taught me the vanity of human boasting, and the weakness of human resolution, when opposed to long indulged passions.”


This document has also been transcribed here.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Botched Executions,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,Murder,New York,Public Executions,USA

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1696: Charnock, King, and Keyes, frustrated of regicide

Add comment March 18th, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1696, a trio of Jacobite conspirators were hanged for their failed assassination plot against King William.

An exiled loyalist to the deposed King James II, the onetime Oxford don Robert Charnock conceived what the propagandists would call “the late Hellish and Barbarous Plott” along with fellow Stuart loyalist George Barclay. Their mission in murdering William III was to catalyze a general Jacobite rising that would reverse the Glorious Revolution and restore James to the throne: it was a recurring campaign against the Dutch usurper throughout the 1690s.

Ambush was the gambit proposed by the worthies in this case, for William.

was in the habit of going every Saturday from Kensington to hunt in Richmond Park. There was then no bridge over the Thames between London and Kingston. The King therefore went, in a coach escorted by some of his body guards, through Turnham Green to the river. There he took boat, crossed the water, and found another coach and another set of guards ready to receive him on the Surrey side. The first coach and the first set of guards awaited his return on the northern bank. The conspirators ascertained with great precision the whole order of these journeys, and carefully examined the ground on both sides of the Thames. They thought that they should attack the King with more advantage on the Middlesex than on the Surrey bank, and when he was returning than when he was going … The place was to be a narrow and winding lane leading from the landing place on the north of the river to Turnham Green … a quagmire, through which the royal coach was with difficulty tugged at a foot’s pace. The time was to be the afternoon of Saturday the fifteenth of February. (Macaulay)

Some 40 assassins had been marshaled for the purpose of surprising the royal party on that occasion but as they nursed their cups in the vicinity’s public houses they received the disquieting intelligence that the king had skipped the hunt that day.

Although the inclement weather was the reason given out, the truth of the matter was that they were betrayed. In a week’s time, most of the conspirators would be in custody* and the country on a virtual war footing against prospective invasion by France. On March 11, the first three prospective assassins stood at the bar: Charnock, Edward King, and Thomas Keyes. They were plainly guilty and condemned accordingly.

King died firmly; Keyes, in “an agony of terror … [that] moved the pity of some of the spectators”; and Charnock, being repelled in his bid to turn songbird in exchange for his life, went out with a missive bitterly defending his project, for “if an army of twenty thousand men had suddenly landed in England and surprised the usurper, this would have been called legitimate war. Did the difference between war and assassination depend merely on the number of persons engaged?” (both quotes from Macaulay) Several additional conspirators would follow them to the scaffold in the weeks to come.


“The Triumphs of Providence over Hell, France & Rome”: Broadside celebrating and satirizing the deliverance of the realm from the Jacobite plot, via the British Museum.

* George Barclay, however, successfully escaped to the continent.

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Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Assassins,Attempted Murder,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,History,Notable for their Victims,Power,Public Executions,Treason

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1780: Elizabeth Butchill, Trinity College Cambridge bedding-girl

2 comments March 17th, 2019 Headsman

A Cambridge University servant was hanged on this date in 1780 for infanticide.

Elizabeth Butchill made her way turning down the beds for the boys attending Trinity College, work she had secured via her aunt who held the same position. She somehow got pregnant, an event which does not appear to have inordinately exercised her eventual judges perhaps by virtue of its very obviousness; as Frank McLynn wryly observes, “It does not need the imagination of a novelist to reconstruct the events that led her to the gallows.”

She was surely desperate to avoid social opprobrium and unemployment, so we find from the Newgate Calendar that “she confessed that she was delivered of a female child on Thursday morning [January 6, 1780], about half past six o’clock, by herself; that the child cried some little time after its birth; and that, in about twenty minutes after, she herself threw the said infant down one of the holes of the necessary into the river, and buried the placenta, &c. in the dunghill near the house.”

“Modest, patient, and penitent” during her confinement awaiting the noose, Butchill died

firm, resigned, and exemplary. She joined with the minister in prayer, and sung the lamentation of a sinner with marks of a sincere penitent, declaring she had made her peace with God, and was reconciled to her fate. Desiring her example might be a warning to all thoughtless young women, and calling on Jesus Christ for mercy, she was launched into eternity amidst thousands of commiserating spectators, who, though they abhorred the crime, shed tears of pity for the unhappy criminal.

Whether the nameless infant’s nameless father shared those tears is a matter for the novelist’s imagination.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Abortion and Infanticide,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,Murder,Public Executions,Sex,Women

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1984: James Hutchins

2 comments March 16th, 2019 Headsman

James W. Hutchins was gassedexecuted by lethal injection in North Carolina on this date in 1984.

Hutchins was “credited” with the largest one-day slaughter of North Carolina law enforcement officers in 1979. An altercation with his teenage daughter* led to a domestic disturbance call, which led eventually to three dead cops all killed in separate shootings.

Hutchins shot Captain Roy Huskey by ambush when he responded alone to the 911 call. Several minutes later, a deputy named Owen Messersmith rolled up to check on the situation since Huskey hadn’t checked in. Messersmith quickly realized the reason, but was shot through the window of his patrol car as he slammed into reverse and “the vehicle drifted backwards across the street and came to rest in a ditch with Messersmith’s body slumped over the steering wheel, causing the horn to blow without stop.” (Wikipedia) The third victim, state highway patrolman Robert L. Peterson, pulled Hutchins over for speeding as the latter fled in his car.

Only by this point did the garbled and chaotic communications flying through dispatch radios that day finally coalesce sufficiently to give cops on the scene a full picture of what was going on: Peterson, for instance, is thought to have been entirely innocent of the knowledge that a suspect in a double shooting was at large in the area.

At any rate, the ensuing manhunt brought Hutchins into custody and a postscript as a part of political lore: in a sort of Ricky Ray Rector play, Democratic Governor Jim Hunt theatrically staged Hutchins’s execution date and denial of clemency in the run-up to his 1984 Senate campaign. But Rector’s sacrifice at least had the excuse of success: not so Hutchins’s. No matter Hunt’s tough-on-crime credentials, he was still trounced at the polls by goggle-eyed racist Jesse Helms.

There’s an independent film about the events in this notorious murder spree, titled Damon’s Law.

* Hutchins was pissed that she spiked the punch for her high school graduation party with vodka.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Lethal Injection,Murder,North Carolina,USA

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1943: Martial Van Schelle, Belgian Olympian

Add comment March 15th, 2019 Headsman

Former Olympian Martial Van Schelle was executed by the Nazi occupation on this date in 1943.

American-born, Van Schelle (English Wikipedia entry | Dutch) was orphaned by the sinking of the Lusitania and got his licks in on the Reich as a member of the American Expeditionary Force.

He later represented Belgium as a multifaceted sportsmen, competing in three summer Olympics, one winter Olympics, and the Gordon Bennett Cup balloon race. (No medals.)

Afterwards, he went into business as a Brussels sporting goods merchant. Dutch Wikipedia credits him with building the first ice rink in his country and numerous others thereafter.

During World War II, Van Schelle bankrolled an underground traffic of refugees off the continent to Great Britain, until the Gestapo arrested him on January 15, 1943. He was eventually shot at Fort Breendonk prison.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Athletes,Belgium,Businessmen,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Entertainers,Execution,Germany,History,Occupation and Colonialism,Power,Shot,Torture,Wartime Executions

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1953: Abel Danos, le mammouth

Add comment March 14th, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1953, the French gangster and Nazi collaborator Abel Danos was shot as a traitor.

Once a small-time crook for the milieu criminal syndicate, Danos upon his arrest went way beyond turning state’s evidence and offered his goon talents to the German police. From 1941 to 1944 he murdered people — he’s believed to have personally executed over 100 French Resistance members during the war — for salary as a member of the French Gestapo. Though arrested at the end of the war, he made a sensational escape and got into the robbery outfit Gang des Tractions Avant; he fatally shot both Italian and French police in that vocation. Career-wise you have to credit the man for focusing on his core value-adds while remaining flexible to embrace new opportunities.

“Le mammouth” — so nicknamed for his heavy build — went extinct courtesy of a firing squad at Fort Monte-Valerien, refusing a blindfold after a last swig of rum.

There’s a 2006 French-language biography of Abel Danos, by Eric Guillon.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,France,History,Occupation and Colonialism,Organized Crime,Shot,Treason

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1889: Samuel Rylands, the first hanged at Shepton Mallet

Add comment March 13th, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1889, the already-venerable prison at Shepton Mallet — which dates to 1610 and was England’s oldest working jail until its closure in 2013 — began its illustrious era as an execution site.

Samuel Reyland/Ryland/Rylands (press accounts used all three variants) bludgeoned, slashed, and strangled to death 10-year-old Emma Jane Davies in Yeobridge, Somerset, on January 2nd of that same year. Some newsmen eagerly attributed to the Yeobridge Murderer a wish “to emulate the London tragedies,” i.e., the Ripper slayings of late 1888. If Rylands’s confession is to be believed, it might have traced instead to a brain injury.


From the Western Mail, Feb. 26, 1889.

Shepton Mallet would remain a site for civilian executions until 1926; it was also favored as the American military prison during World War II, and 18 U.S. military executions took place there.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,Milestones,Murder

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