Archive for April, 2019

1919: Seven Thule Society hostages

Add comment April 30th, 2019 Headsman

A century ago today, seven hostages taken from the German pre-Nazi Thule Society were executed by the short-lived Munich Soviet just before it was crushed by right-wing militias.

The Thule Society (logo at right) was a Bavarian volkisch club with a profound interest in stuff like crackpot race theory and Teutonic mythology; its very name alludes to a legendary territory hypothesized since antiquity to lie at the fringes of the world, often associated with Scandinavia and with the origins of the Aryan race.*

Society members figured in the founding of the German Workers’ Party (DAP), the party which became the National Socialist German Workers’ Party (NSDAP), better known as the Nazis. Former Thuler Hans Frank was among those eventually hanged via the postwar Nuremberg trial.

One will readily imagine where this lot stood in relation to the Soviet Republic that was declared in Bavaria in early April, and the sentiment was fully returned. As right-wing Freikorps paramilitaries intent on destroying the Red Bavarian statelet surrounded Munich, the Communists seized seven Thule Society members — notably Countess Haila (or Hella) von Westarp and Gustav Franz Maria, Prince of Thurn and Taxis and held them in the basement of the Luitpold Gymnasium.

On April 30, 1919, all these seven were executed by order of the Communist sailor Rudolf Egelhofer, together with either two or three captured Freikorps prisoners, an affair known as the Münchner Geiselmorde (“Munich hostage-murder”).


Countess Haila von Westarp

The very next day, the Freikorps broke through Munich’s defenses and commenced the bloody rout that destroyed the Munich Soviet.

The Thule Society as a body survived and briefly prospered after its brush with the revolutionaries’ muzzles — the eventual Nazi party newspaper Völkischer Beobachter was previously a Thule Society-owned periodical called the Münchener Beobachter — but it fizzled out into a memory during the 1920s.

Still, this esoteric nursemaid to the infancy of national socialism features prominently in histories of Third Reich occultism; aficionados might wish to browse some of its iconography in this Pinterest gallery, or just punch their distinctive name into your search environment of choice and feel that third eye opening.

* The element Thulium is named for Thule, because it was discovered by a Scandinavian chemist. More recently, the word made the news when astronomers controversially christened the most distant observed trans-Neptunian object “Ultima Thule”.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Borderline "Executions",Execution,Germany,History,Hostages,Mass Executions,No Formal Charge,Shot,Summary Executions,Wartime Executions,Women

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1947: Karel Čurda and Viliam Gerik, Czechoslovakia resistance betrayers

Add comment April 29th, 2019 Headsman

Turncoat Czechoslovakian resistance fighters Karel Čurda and Viliam Gerik were hanged for traitors on this date in 1947.


Čurda (left) and Gerik

Both were special operatives trained in England and parachuted into Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia. Gerik (Czech Wikipedia entry) became separated from his compatriots and couldn’t re-establish contact. Seemingly panicked as he contemplated his lonely situation in Prague, he turned himself in in early April 1942 and became a Gestapo collaborator, informing on his underground compatriots. Among other things, he identified the body of his onetime companion on his parachute jump, Arnošt Mikš — who had committed a well-timed suicide to avoid capture after killing a gendarme in a shootout. Gerik’s helpful ID enabled the Gestapo to shoot Mikš’s brothers by way of collective punishment.

This man did not greatly prosper by his betrayal even during the war years, for after later attempting to break free from his masters and re-establish contact with the resistance he was tossed in Dachau and only released when that camp was liberated by the U.S. Army, going in his case from frying pan to fire.

Far more notorious was the Judas act of Čurda (English Wikipedia entry | Czech), whose proximity to the operation that killed Reichsprotektor Reinhard Heydrich enabled him to give up the assassins hiding out in the basement of Prague’s St. Cyril and Methodius Cathedral.

Čurda’s reward was a half-million Reichsmarks and a German wife with whom he had a child, prior to his postwar arrest; such payoffs obviously make him a ready target of vilification, although more sympathetic interpretations exist suggesting that Čurda acted days after the demonstrative eradication of the village of Lidice because he feared that his own family or town might suffer the same fate.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Czechoslovakia,Death Penalty,Execution,Germany,Hanged,History,Infamous,Occupation and Colonialism,Treason

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1494: Joan Boughton, “old cankered heretic”

Add comment April 28th, 2019 Headsman

Lollard heretic Joan Boughton was burned on this date in 1494 — purportedly England’s first female Christian martyr.

Followers of pre-Luther English church reformer John Wyclif(fe) had been thick on the ground in the early 15th century, terrifying the English state into a violent suppression.

But these years of headline repression did not suffice to drive Lollardy into the grave … only underground. The Lollard heresy continued to persist, quietly, its trajectory and dimensions largely undocumented, barely surfacing here and there with the odd arrest. “Between 1450-1517, Lollardy was almost wholly restricted to the rural districts, and little mention is made of it in contemporary records,” notes this history. “How extensively Wyclif’s views continued to be secretly held and his writings read is a matter of conjecture.”

Its adherents still had the stuff of martyrdom, for on this occasion decades on from the heyday of Lollardy and into the reign of Henry VII,

an old cankered heretic, weak-minded for age, named Joan Boughton, widow, and mother unto the wife of Sir John Young — which daughter, as some reported, had a great smell of an heretic after the mother — burnt in Smithfield. This woman was four score years of age or more, and held eight opinions of heresy which I pass over, for the hearing of them is neither pleasant nor fruitful. She was a disciple of Wycliffe, whom she accounted for a saint, and held so fast and firmly eight of his twelve opinions that all the doctors of London could not turn her from one of them. When it was told to her that she should be burnt for her obstinacy and false belief, she set nought at their words but defied them, for she said she was so beloved with God and His holy angels that all the fire in London should not hurt her. But on the morrow a bundle of faggots and a few reeds consumed her in a little while; and while she might cry she spoke often of God and Our Lady, but no man could cause her to name Jesus, and so she died. But it appeared that she left some of her disciples behind her, for the night following, the more part of the ashes of that fire that she was burnt in were had away and kept for a precise relic in an earthen pot.

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Entry Filed under: 15th Century,Burned,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,England,Execution,God,Heresy,History,Martyrs,Milestones,Public Executions,Women

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1877: James Singleton, Beeville character

Add comment April 27th, 2019 Headsman

James Edward Singleton caught a death sentence in Texas after setting out from Beeville with a business partner carrying a wad of cash with which they intended to set up a saloon in Rockport.

The business partner never made it there, and Singleton swung in Beeville on April 27, 1877, after having been arrested boarding a boat with all their saloon boodle in his pocket. He left this colorful last will and testament; the reader will not be surprised to learn that it was not honored. (The document survives in damaged condition; ellipses indicate lost text.)

In the Name of the Omnipotent, Omnipresent, Omnificient of science and common sense Amen. I, J.E. Singleton (cosmopolite) Now sojourning in Galveston Jail, State of Texas, And, being of sound mind. Do by these presents, Will, divise, and bequeath, (for the diffusion of anatomical knowledge among mankind) — my mortal remains to J.J. Swann, on the following conditions.

First, that my body — after the execution — be prepared in the most scientific & skillful manner known in anatomical art, and placed in his Office, in the Courthouse in Beeville … O … ter temple of Justice … may …

Second. It is my express desire — If [his prosecutor -ed.] Dave Walton has no objections — That two drumheads, be made of skin. On one of which shall be written in Indellible characters Popes universal prayer, & on the other the following Verdict, –

We, the Jury, find the defendant, Jas. E. Singleton, guilty of murder in the first degree, as charged in the Indictment, and assess the penalty of death.

The said drum heads to be presented to my distinguished friend and fellow citizen, Frank Boggus — drummer for Tom Holly’s division — On the following conditions that he, the aforesaid Frank Boggus, shall beat, or cause to be beaten on said drum heads the popular tune [Old Mollie Hare] … front on the 8th day of June Annually.

The viscera, and other parts of my body, useless for anatomical purposes, I wish composted for a fertilizer, and presented to Mr. Barclay, proprietor of the Grand Palace Hotel in Beeville, to be used by him for the purpose of nourishing the growth of cabbage, turnips, pertaters, and other garden sass, that the worthy people of Bee County — or at least the masculine portion thereof — may have something to relieve the monotony of hash & dried apples, during their brief sojourn at the aforesaid Hotel, while assembled at Beeville, for the purpose of dishing out Justice to Violators of the Law.

J.E. Singleton.

The foregoing is my last will and testement, and I wish J.J. Swann to act as Executor. I feel very grateful to the Citizens of Bee County in general, and to J.J. Swann in particular for the many favors conferred upon me by them. I also feel that I am indebted to them, to some extent pecuniarily, and being at present in Indigent circumstances, I write and leave this will, alike to liquidate my debts, and prove my gratitude.

Singleton really was quite a character. Newspapers around the Republic reported his pig-out last meal request of “one dish ham and eggs, one apple pie, one peach pie, one egg custard, one fruit pudding, one large pound cake, and two bottles of wine.” He also attempted to cheat the hangman by taking his own life, leaving a note for his mother that also hit the papers in which he confesses himself in very human terms not excluding his amusing disdain for the community that was preparing to take his life. (This from the Galveston Weekly News of May 7, 1877:)

Dear Mother — When you read this, I, your sinful, rebellious, neglectful son, will be no more on this earth. But, mother dear, I am not going to give these worthy people of Bee county the pleasure of publicly executing me. You will understand by this that I contemplate destroying my own life. And such is the case. I am aware that you look upon it as an unpardonable sin, or almost as such, but I can not bear the idea of being hanged in public, before a gaping multitude of fools, and especially Bee county fools. I am compelled to lose my life, mother dear; there is no other alternative, and you will pardon me, I’m sure, for this act, for it is only shortening my existence a few hours at most.

As for the justice of my conviction, I will not speak or write falsely to you at this time, and I reckon the verdict of the jury was a just one. I did the murder, but not with malice aforethought, as every one thinks, nor was I actuated by any hope of gain. It was for a quarrel about a trifle, and the provocation was not sufficient to warrant the killing; therefore, I don’t feel justified.

It’s hard, mother dear, for me to calmly contemplate death, and a great deal harder, when I think of your long suffering toll and privations for me. I know you are suffering and will suffer after my death. I would to God I could avert it from you, but I can not; but I think it’s better to take my life, than to be executed by the minions of the law in this place. I will not ask you not to grieve for me, mother, for I know that would be useless; but try and bear up the best you can. I trust that we may meet again in that better world beyond the grave. I do not feel capable of saying anything that will strengthen or comfort you at this time, when I know how much you need comfort and strength. But one thing, mother, please for my sake, and for the sake of Lee and Mamie, do not despair nor give up, if you can help it. Think how you, and none but you, can instruct them how to be great and good men. Some would think that my career was a contradiction of what I say, but God knows that the fact of my now being under sentence of death, and my name forever disgraced, is not the consequence of my home training. I was taught things that were right, but I was too weak and sinful to profit by your good teachings, but I do hope to God it will be different with the two younger ones. Teach them always to do right at all times, and for my sake teach them to think with pity and never with scorn of the disgraced and outcast murderer. For with all my faults, I always loved them; but I am not much afraid on that score, if they continue as they are now, as I do not in the least doubt their love for me. I saw Mamie this evening. I am thankful that I was permitted to see him once more. I regret not having seen Lee very much, but as I did not, you must convey my loving farewell to him. I must close this, mother, for writing here, solitary and alone as I am, of our loved ones causes such a rush of old half-forgotten memories that I am almost overpowered. I am not as near cast-iron as I thought. Well, dear, dear mother, farewell, and may God, in His infinite mercy, bless, comfort and console you is the prayer of your loving but unhappy son.

JAMES EDWARD SINGLETON

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

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1831: Atanasio, shot for some buttons

Add comment April 26th, 2019 Headsman

This episode from Mexican Alta California comes from the short-lived administration of Manuel Victoria, who proved himself such a martinet in his few months as governor of that territory that a rebellion that December forced Victoria’s resignation.

Our source is Hubert Howe Bancroft, a historian of the American West, in this volume of his chronicle of California:

The administration of justice was a subject which early claimed the new ruler’s attention. It had been much neglected by the easy-going Echeandia, and crime had gone unpunished. Criminal proceedings had been often instituted, as we have seen in the local presidial annals of the last six years, but penalties had been rarely inflicted with fitting severity. Victoria had strict ideas of discipline, and no doubt of his ability to enforce the laws. He is said to have boasted soon after his arrival at Monterey that before long he would make it safe for any man to leave his handkerchief or his watch lying in the plaza until he might choose to come for it. How he carried out his ideas in this direction will be apparent from a few causas celebres of the year.

The case of Atanasio was pending when Victoria came. Atanasio was an Indian boy less than eighteen years of age, a servant in sub-comisario Jimeno’s office, who had in 1830 stolen from the warehouse property to the extent of something over $200. The prosecution was conducted by Fernandez del Campo, Padres, and Ibarra as fiscales; and the last-named demanded, in consideration of the youth and ignorance of the culprit, as well as on account of the carelessness with which the goods had been exposed, a sentence of only two years in the public works. The asesor, Rafael Gomez, after having sent the case back to the fiscal for the correction of certain irregularities, rendered an opinion April 18th, in favor of the death penalty; and by order of the comandante general Atanasio was shot at 11 a.m. on the 26th. Gomez was an able lawyer, and I suppose was technically correct in his advice, though the penalty seems a severe one. Naturally the Californians were shocked; and though an example of severity was doubtless needed, Victoria was not fortunate in his selection. The circumstance that led to the culprit’s detection seems to have been his using some military buttons for gambling with his comrades; and the popular version of the whole affair has been that an Indian boy was shot by Victoria for stealing a few buttons.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,California,Capital Punishment,Children,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Mexico,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Shot,Theft

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1804: Hans Jakob Willi, Bockenkrieger

Add comment April 25th, 2019 Headsman


(cc) image by Paebi

“We are free Swiss, completely equal citizens. That government that will not hear the voice of the people is a tyranny.”
Hans Jakob Willi, leader of the Bockenkrieg, who was executed on 25 April 1804.

The defeat of the Old Swiss Confederacy by Napoleon had shaken up political arrangements in Switzerland, creating the successor Helvetic Republic. As Napoleonic revolutions were wont to do, this new state aimed to centralize, universalize, and rationalize, having done with archaic redoubts of canton authority and ancient feudal privileges.

This new Republic was a short-lived affair, held up only by French bayonets; upon their withdrawal in 1802, it succumbed quickly to civil strife which necessitated the Corsican’s mediation — and a new political order which restored some powers of the prostrated cantons.

It was the consequent flex of Zurich upon its former provincial domains that brought about the Bockenkrieg insurgency — a rural rebellion near Horgen requiring Zurich to impose its will by means of a very picturesque suppression.


The Bocken estate after the battle for the manor during the Bockenkrieg, 28 March 1804 by Johann Jakob Aschmann (c. 1804)

Hans Jakob Willi, a cobbler turned soldier who gave the insurgency a veteran military man at its fore, was injured in battle, resulting in the speedy collapse of the rising. A court martial declared his death, despite Napoleon’s attempted intercession on Willi’s behalf.

German speakers might enjoy this public domain history on the rebellion.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Power,Soldiers,Switzerland,Treason

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1821: Athanasios Diakos, Greek War of Independence hero

Add comment April 24th, 2019 Headsman

Greek independence hero Athanasios Diakos died by Ottoman impalement on this date in 1821.*

Though he acquired his nickname Diakos (“deacon”) from a youthful spell in a monastery, this fellow Athanasios (English Wikipedia entry | Greek) while the Turks still governed Greece made his way as a klepht — Greece’s version of the Balkan hybrid outlaw/guerrilla archetype, similar to the hajduk figures among the South Slavs. All of these outlaw types took to the mountains where they could subsist as brigands and mercenaries beyond the reach of the Porte, and seek opportunities where they might to strike at Ottomans. Many of the Greek persuasion, Diakos included, adhered to the Filiki Eteria secret society that aspired to liberate Greece.

With the onset of the Greek War of Independence in early 1821, Diakos jumped right into the fight. Picturesquely, he met a much larger Turkish detachment in battle at Thermopylae where he made like Leonidas and with a handful of companions heroically held out against impossible odds at the Alamana Bridge.

Captured wounded, Diakos spurned the temptation of an officer’s commission in the Turkish army should he but switch sides with words that remain legendary in his homeland to this day: “I was born a Greek, I shall die a Greek.” He was impaled at the city of Lamia, fearlessly musing, “Look at the time Charon chose to take me, now that the branches are flowering, and the earth sends forth grass.”


The Apotheosis of Athanasios Diakos, by Konstantinos Parthenis (1933).

He’s a very famous and beloved figure in Greece, albeit much less so in parts beyond. The village where Diakos was allegedly born has been renamed for him full stop.

* The narratives I’ve seen run a bit hinkie between the Battle of Alamana on April 22 and the great klepht’s death on April 24 since there’s a two-day gap and everyone seems to agree that he was ordered for execution “the next day”. I’m sticking to the agreed death date here, which is universal, but as best I can discern the timeline alternatives for accounting the missing day appear to break down between the notion that Diakos was impaled on the 23rd and lingered on his spike overnight before death, and that it was not until the 23rd that the Ottoman commander had the opportunity to interrogate him and decide his fate and thus “the next day” was the 24th. I haven’t located a source that appears dispositive on this issue.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous,Famous Last Words,Greece,Gruesome Methods,Guerrillas,History,Impaled,Martyrs,No Formal Charge,Occupation and Colonialism,Ottoman Empire,Power,Public Executions,Revolutionaries,Separatists,Soldiers,Summary Executions,Turkey,Wartime Executions

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1845: Sarah Freeman, Shapwick Murderess

1 comment April 23rd, 2019 Headsman

Hanged April 23, 1845 for poisoning her brother Charles Dimond — and commonly suspected to have offed several other family members by means of arsenic — the “Shapwick Murderess” Sarah Freeman insisted her innocence to her very last breath. “I am as innocent as a lamb,” she said to the hangman William Calcraft as he noosed her.

Serial poisoner or wrongfully executed? Find out more at the Capital Punishment UK Facebook page

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

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1939: Jose Aranguren, Civil Guard general

Add comment April 22nd, 2019 Headsman

Spanish general Jose Aranguren was shot on this date in 1939 by Franco’s Spain.

A brigadier general of the Civil Guard — an internal-to-Spain paramilitary/law enforcement force that remained predominantly loyal to the Republic during the Spanish Civil War — Aranguren (the very cursory English Wikipedia entry | the more detailed Spanish) at the outset of hostilities efficaciously suppressed the Nationalist rebels in Barcelona and even gave evidence that contributed to the execution of his mutinous opposite numbers.

From 1937, he served as the Republican military governor of Valencia.

He eschewed the opportunity to flee Spain at the end of the war, counting on his faithful adherence to his plain duty to vindicate himself against the fascists.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Shot,Soldiers,Spain,Treason,Wartime Executions

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1831: Gesche Margarethe Gottfried, the Angel of Bremen

1 comment April 21st, 2019 Headsman

The Domshof town square still holds a spuckstein (“spit stone”) where passersby can revile Gesche Margarethe Gottfried, a serial poisoner beheaded in Bremen on this date in 1831.


Ptooey! (cc) image by Jürgen Howaldt.

Gottfried wielded the 19th century’s weapon of choice for subtle domestic homicide, arsenic, mixed into spreadable fat, a concoction known as Mäusebutter after its intended legitimate use. This delectable served for 15 murders over as many years in the 1810s and 1820s.

The “Angel of Bremen” — so earned for her kindly habit of nursing her victims through the death throes she prepared them — began as is customary with her spendthrift first husband, followed soon by the three children she had by him, her own mother, father, and brother, and her second husband.

After a six-year break apparently because her access to Mäusebutter had run out, Gottfried was able to resume her career in 1823 by offing her second husband followed by a series of less intimate acquaintances: a neighbor, a landlady, a maid, a creditor. All of her murders seemingly had some pecuniary motive, including those early ones of her own kin (think inheritance). But in many instances the apparent profit was very minor, and her motivations remain uncertain to this day. The phrenologists who examined her head after execution certainly had some ideas: “the brain exhibits an enormously large organ of Destructiveness, with a very deficient Benevolence. This combination appears to have rendered its possessor almost a hyena or tiger in her dispositions.” (Source)

At last one of her proposed victims, one Johann Rumpff who was the husband of the “landlady” Wilhelmine Rumpff already poisoned by Gottfried, became suspicious enough of her to have meals she served to him examined by a doctor, which led speedily to her arrest and to all the rest.

Gottfried was the last person (male or female) publicly executed in Bremen. She survives well enough in the cultural memory to earn periodic tribute on stage, screen, and literature …

… and for the discerning Bremener desiring to see upon whom their sputum falls at Domshof, the Angel’s death mask can still be gawked at the Focke Museum.


(cc) image by Jürgen Howaldt.

German speakers might enjoy the Life of Poison-Murderer Gesche Margarethe Gottfried composed by her attorney Friedrich Voget: part 1, part 2. or see archive.org.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Arts and Literature,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Germany,Murder,Pelf,Popular Culture,Public Executions,Serial Killers,Women

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