Archive for May, 2019

1729: Philippe Nivet, “Fanfaron”

Add comment May 31st, 2019 Headsman

On the last day of May in 1729, the French outlaw Philippe Nivet was put to death in Paris.

Although some at the time considered that the legendary bandit Cartouche (executed in 1721) was “nothing as compared to Nivet,” it is Cartouche only whom time has remembered.

Nivet — “Fanfaron” by his pseudonym — was nothing to his predecessor when it came to the romance of the road, a consideration understandably overlooked by contemporaries who had their own pocketbooks to consider. To such men, Nivet loomed very large indeed.

Commanding a sophisticated Paris-based network of highwaymen, fences, and safe houses, Nivet was slated with 38 armed robberies from 1723 to 1728, six of them resulting in fatalities — including his last.

Nivet’s final highway robbery victimized Louis David and his wife, dry-goods merchants of Amiens. In August 1728 the couple were returning home, mounted on fine horses, from the Guibray fair where they had done a large volume of business. Nivet and two accomplices joined the Davids and, posing as merchants themselves, accompanied them to a forest near Rouen. Once in the forest, these bandits slit the Davids’ throats, stole their considerable money and jewelry, and rode immediately to the home of a receiver where they broke down the couple’s jewelry to render it unrecognizable. Then, to frustrate pursuers, Nivet and his men secured new mounts from an accomplice who ran a livery stable and rode to Vernon, where they again changed transport by boarding the postal coach for Paris. (Source)

Despite his precautions, Nivet was captured by chance in Paris: bad luck for him on this specific occasion but a mischance asymptotically approaching certainty over the extent of his prolific career. Fanfaron had several months in prison informing on his band — the arrests ran to 68 — before being broken on the wheel. As with Cartouche eight years before, every window opening on the Place de Greve, and every stone of the square itself, was crowded with gawkers.

There’s a short French-language biography from that period that can be purchased online. (There’s a wee summary here.)

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Broken on the Wheel,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,France,Gruesome Methods,Murder,Outlaws,Public Executions,Theft

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1868: Georg Ratkay, the last public hanging in Vienna

Add comment May 30th, 2019 Headsman

Vienna’s last public execution was the raucous May 30, 1868 hanging of Georg Ratkay.

The 23-year-old Hungarian proletarian had migrated to the bustling capital where he found accommodation as a “bedwalker”, literally renting hours in a bed shared by shifts with others. In January of 1868, he bludgeoned a carpenter’s wife to death in the course of robbing her.

For a few months that year it was the outrage on the lips of every Viennese and when the day came lips and limbs and leering eyes thronged as one into the square surrounding the Spinnerin am Kreuz tower, where the execution was to take place. By report of the Neue Freie Presse, the plaza was already bustling with early campers by 2 in the morning although the hanging wouldn’t go off until the evening. Roofs of adjacent taverns and factories made their owners a tidy profit charging gawkers for the vantage point, as did custodians of improvised grandstands hastily thrown up on the scene.

There were many reports of the indecencies of this bawdy and bloodthirsty gaggle, making merry for the “unusually pleasurable spectacle” and lubricated on beer served by vendors who also plied their trade here. Essayist Friedrich Schlögl gave voice to the disdain of respectable Vienna, in a piece quoted from Unruly Masses: The Other Side of Fin-de-siecle Vienna:

These were the habitues of the gallows, of both sexes — pinched faces, regular customers of the noisiest bars, inmates of the dirtiest cellars of poverty and squalor, a composite mixture of the many-headed company of knaves … All who had not been detained in prisons, asylums, and other Imperial establishments for improvement had come out for crude pleasure. Right through until dawn, the mob made the most appalling nuisance; then when day eventually broke and the food sellers came around hawking their “criminal sausages,” “poor sinner pretzels,” “gallows sandwiches,” etc., all hell broke loose and thousands upon thousands became as frenzied as was the fashion at the Brigittenauer Kirtag in days long past.

Only with difficulty (and rifle butts) could the hussars escorting the death party actually force their way through the mob to bring the star attraction to the post for his Austrian-style “pole hanging”.*

Then the “poor sinner” arrived and the official procedure took its undisturbed course. Was the crowd enraged? Was it shocked by the frightful sin? A jubilant cheer echoed through the air when, at the moment the executioner adjusted the candidate’s head, a pole broke and hundreds of curious spectators pressed forward. The joyous cries of at least a thousand throats went on to reward the clever trick of a man who knocked a coachman’s hat off because he “thoughtlessly” kept it on when the priest began his prayer.

The Emperor Franz Joseph I, who was already commuting most of the empire’s death sentences as a matter of policy** and had lost his own brother to a firing squad the year before, was so disgusted by the commotion that he never again permitted such a scene in Vienna. Ratkay’s hanging is commonly described as the last public execution in all of Austria, although according to the Austrian State Archive there were actually six more, all lower-key affairs away from the imperial center, before 1873 legislation formally moved all executions behind prison walls.

* For images of this distinctive execution method, see photos of Italian nationalist Cesare Battisti or video of World War II war criminal Karl Hermann Frank undergoing the punishment.

** The Austrian State Archive page linked above claims that of 559 death sentences from 1868 to 1876, only 14 came to actual execution.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Austria,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Habsburg Realm,Hanged,Milestones,Murder,Public Executions,Theft

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1895: Lafayette Prince

Add comment May 29th, 2019 Headsman

From the Cleveland Plain Dealer, May 29, 1895. The hot swap from “Chaplain Winget” to “Chaplin Wingate” is all [sic].

Columbus, May 28. — (Special.) — Lafayette Prince partook heartily at 6 o’clock of his last meal, at which he was given porterhouse steak, fried eggs and coffee, finishing the meal with strawberry short cake and cream. The other seven inmates at the annex were present at the meal. All appeared to relish the dainty dishes with the exception of Molnar, who was very nervous and excited.

Chaplain Winget conducted general religious services in the annex, in which all took part. At 8:35 Capt. John Langenberger entered the annex and informed Prince that the time had arrived for him to enter the death cage. It was expected that the murderer would weaken when the time came for the final separation from the others, but Prince surprised all by promptly replying to the request of Langenberger, “All right.” He then bade the other inmates farewell and with a light step ascended the stairway to a little narrow cell which he was to leave only to go to his death. At 10 o’clock a report reached the front office that the man so soon to enter eternity was at that time whistling “Irish Moll.”

Prince has always expressed great affection for his little boy and has often wished to see him before his death. When Chaplin Wingate visited the murderer at 10:30 Prince gave him a box of letters and a few small trinkets and requested that they be given to the boy. The letters were those received by the murderer since he was received at the penitentiary.

Prince was still holding out well at 11:30, and when asked how he felt responded “tip top.” He regretted very much that his brother at Cleveland had failed to be present, and said his brother had written him a few days ago that he would be here. “But that makes no difference,” said Prince. “I have made my peace with God and man and am prepared to go.”

Warden James read the death warrant to Prince at 11:30. The condemned man was unmoved during the reading of the instrument, and at the conclusion remarked that he was ready to go and anxious for the execution to be over.

Prince was hanged shortly after midnight. The drop fell at 12:11, and in fourteen and one-half minutes life was pronounced extinct. Prince’s nerve did not desert him to the last, and he died without a show or emotion or a struggle.

While the fastenings of death were being adjusted by two guards the condemned man gazed intently before him and appeared to be the least concerned of all present. Prince was asked if he desired to make a statement and replied: “No; I have nothing to say.” The black cap was then adjusted, the rope placed about his neck and the lever sprung. The body shot through the drop with lightning like rapidity, rebounded, turned half around and then hung limp until life was pronounced extinct. The neck was broken by the fall. The dead house gang entered, removed the body and the final act in the tragedy was completed.


The crime for which Lafayette Prince was hanged was the murder of his wife in Nottingham on the morning of Sept. 17, 1894. Prince had difficulty with his wife for several months. They did not live happily together. She insisted that she would go and assist her brother in gathering his grape crop. Prince remonstrated and insisted that she and the only son, Freddy Prince, should devote their time to gathering the crop on the Prince farm. Mrs. Prince argued that the grapes on the Prince farm were not in a condition to gather. The breach widened and on the afternoon of Sept. 16 Mrs. Prince and her son returned from her brother’s farm, which was two miles distant, and gathering a few personal effects went to her brother’s house and remained all night.

Prince returned home that night and discovered the absence of his wife. He prepared his own supper, ate it and walked over to the house of his brother. The twilight had settled and he hid behind a hay stack to ascertain as to whether his wife would leave the house.

Her brother had loaded a wagon with grapes the night before and was to take them into town early in the morning. He appeared before dawn and hitching the horse drove toward the city on the Nottingham road. Prince could not discover in the darkness whether his wife was on the wagon or not. He ran home, mounted a horse, and, taking a short cut, hid under the shadow of the Nottingham bridge. When the wagon appeared he discovered that his wife was not with the brother. He returned to his house, coolly cooked his breakfast and went back to his brother-in-law’s house, arriving there about 7 o’clock. His sister-in-law was in the kitchen preparing breakfast. The women were alone, the only man in the house having taken the grapes to the city.

Prince knocked at the door and said:

“I want to see my wife, Caroline.”

“I don’t know whether it would be best to do it or not,” replied his sister-in-law.

Prince then shoved her aside, walked through the sitting room and went up stairs.

“For God’s sake, Lafe, don’t go up there; you’ll murder her,” screamed his sister-in-law.

He went up stairs and into a back room, where Mrs. Prince and the boy were in bed.

“Caroline,” said Prince, “I want you to come home with me.”

“I can’t do it, Lafe,” she said, “you’ve promised to treat me right so many times that I’ve no faith in you.”

Prince kneeled on the floor and crying bitterly asked her to come. Freddy was also crying.

“Freddie,” said Prince, turning to his son, “won’t you come home? Come home to your father. I’ll treat you right, my boy. I’ll treat you right.”

The boy cried bitterly and said he wouldn’t do it. Prince arose hurriedly and went down stairs. His sister-in-law followed him out. Prince went out of the house and went to the woodhouse. He was watched carefully by his sister-in-law. He appeared from the woodhouse with an ax in his hand. His sister-in-law screamed and bolted the door. Prince knocked the door in with the ax and rushed up into his wife’s chamber. She was apprised of his approach and leaped from the bed. She ran down stairs, followed by her husband and the boy. He caught her in the yard and was about to strike her with the ax when the boy interfered. He threw the boy roughly aside. He again caught his wife in the road and struck her twice in the head with an ax. She sank to the ground and the boy again interfered. He was thrown roughly aside. Prince struck his wife several times in the head and twice on the body. She was clad in her night clothes and had no protection. One blow nearly cut her body in two. Prince went home and attempted to commit suicide by cutting his throat with a razor. He was unsuccessful.

During last term of court he was tried. Counsel attempted to work the insanity dodge without success. The jury was out forty-five minutes and the case was carried no higher.

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

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1345: Arnaud Foucaud, jobbing trooper

Add comment May 28th, 2019 Headsman

The unmourned fate of Arnaud Foucaud, a peasant swept into the maelstrom of the Hundred Years’ War as a sword-arm for hire in English service, was excavated as an incidental microhistory in Jonathan Sumption’s The Hundred Years War: Trial by Battle.

[F]ighting fell to volunteers drawn from a growing military underworld of disparaged gentry, refugees, drifters, malcontents and petty criminals. The court records and letters of pardon of the period are filled with the stories of their lives. The tale of Arnaud Foucaud could stand for many of them.

He came from the small village of Clion in Saintonge. His family seem to have been rich peasants. He had learned how to fight on horseback and could handle a lance. When Foucaud was about fourteen or fifteen years old he got involved in a village feud and killed one of his antagonists in a fight. This was in 1337, the first year of the war, as the French were overrunning English-occupied Saintonge.

When the Seneschal‘s officers came to arrest him he fled to the nearest ‘English’ garrison, which was at Montendre, an enclave of the duchy about 15 miles from his home. The commander there, a louche petty nobleman from Bearn, hired him as a soldier.

His life at Montendre consisted in keeping watch and periodically pillaging and burning villages. When the castle was captured by the French in July 1338, Foucaud received a safe conduct as part of the terms of capitulation and returned home.

In 1340, after two relatively uneventful years, he went to Jonzac, the nearest market town, and met two relatives of the man whom he had killed. There was a fight. Foucaud himself was badly wounded, but both his antagonists were killed.

Five weeks after this incident, as he was still nursing his wounds, he was arrested. But he never stood trial. The Seneschal only wanted to be rid of him. So he allowed him to go free on condition that he leave the province for good.

Foucaud went to Bordeaux. Here, he took service in the household of Jean Colom, a rich urban knight who employed him as a cavalryman and took him on several expeditions with the army of Oliver Ingham.

In June 1341 another soldier in Colom’s pay persuaded him to join a small armed band which was being formed for some private purpose of the La Motte family. This turned out to be the daring capture of Bourg, by far the most brazen of the [English-allied -ed.] Bordeaux government’s breaches of the truce of Esplechin.

Foucaud fought gallantly in this enterprise and served in the garrison of the town after it had fallen. But his reward was meagre. His wages were unpaid and his share of the spoils amounted to no more than ten livres’ worth of equipment. Moreover, he quarrelled with the garrison commander, who suspected him of being a French sympathizer, and tried to extract a confession by torturing him.

By 1342 he was back in Bordeaux hiring out his services as a jobbing trooper. He joined a band of 100 men recruited by the lord of Pommiers* to carry out long-range raids in Saintonge, but the pillage of this enterprise was worth only fifty livres to be divided between all of them. He fought with Ingham’s army in the campaign of Saintonge and Angoumois in the autumn of 1342, taking part in the capture of Blanzac, and gaining ten livres in cash as his share of the spoil.

At some stage during 1343 he seems to have obtained a pardon from the French royal lieutenant in the south, the Bishop of Beauvais. [the younger brother of Enguerrand de Marigny -ed.] But by the autumn of 1344 he was back in Bordeaux. According to evidence which he gave under torture (and which he tried to retract) he was next hired in Bordeaux by a Bearnais nobleman to take part with twenty-five others in a raid on a small priory not far from the city. He and six men stood guard outside, while the rest went in, tied up the Prior and his servants and stripped the place of gold and silver, horses and everything of value. But the captain of the troop took most of the spoil for himself. Foucaud’s share was only twenty florins.

This incident was his undoing, for it was not covered by his pardon. It is not clear how he fell into French hands. He probably tried to go home. In May 1345 he was taken to Paris and held in the prison of the Chatelet to answer charges of treason, robbery and murder. He was convicted on the 27th and beheaded in Les Halles on the following day.

Foucaud was twenty-three years old when he died. Booty was an incidental bonus for men like him, but it was not booty that drew them to warfare and most of them got very little of it. They were drop-outs, desperados.

* This lord of Pommiers was Guillaume-Sanche III. Guillaume-Sanche IV was destined to end in a very beautiful Froissart chronicle illustration of his 1377 beheading.

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Entry Filed under: 14th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,England,Execution,France,History,Public Executions,Soldiers,Torture,Treason,Wartime Executions

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1919: Frank Willis, but not by Bill Fisk

3 comments May 27th, 2019 Headsman

The futile last appeal of Australia-born artillerist Frank Willis — before his execution at La Havre a century ago today for killing a British policeman — ran thus:

I am 20 years of age. I joined the Australian Army in 1915 when I was 16 years of age. I went to Egypt and the Dardanelles. I have been in a considerable number of engagements there, & in France. I joined the British Army in April 1918 and came to France in June 1918. I was discharged from the Australian Army on account of fever which affected my head contracted in Egypt. I was persuaded to leave my unit by my friends and got into bad company. I began to drink and gamble heavily. I had no intention whatever of committing the offences for which I am now before the Court. I ask the Court to take into consideration my youth and to give me a chance of leading an upright and straightforward life in the future.

This young man’s shooting detail was to have been commanded by Second Lieutenant Bill Fisk of the King’s Liverpool Regiment the father of the great Middle East correspondent Robert Fisk. Fisk has written frequently about his father’s refusal to conduct the execution, which the son says cost his father his military career and was also “the noblest act of his life” although it made no difference at all to the fate of Frank Willis.

Thanks to the investigatory exertions of the Great War Forum, it appears that “Frank Willis” was a pseudonym, and the true name under which this man joined and deserted the Australian army before his British enlistment was Richard Mellor. Mellor’s mother spent the rest of her life vainly petitioning authorities for information about her son’s fate.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Australia,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,France,History,Murder,Shot,Soldiers

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2009: The brother of an Iraqi rape victim

Add comment May 26th, 2019 Headsman

Wikileaks published this incident report from the monumental trove of war secrets leaked at incredible personal cost by whistleblower Chelsea Manning.


AAA MISSION/OPERATION: IRAQI FREEDOM VI / CJSOTF-AP

BBB WHO: MAJOR ABBAS MOHAMMED ARDANI (HADITHAH SWAT CDR)

CCC WHAT: ALLEGEDLY TRANSFERRED A HADITHA SWAT PRISONER TO FACILITATE EJK. (MNC-I CCIR #8)

DDD WHERE: 38S KC 57632 80544, HADITHAH DISTRICT IP STATION

EEE WHEN: 26MAY2009

FFF WHY: MAJ ABBAS (SWAT CDR) HAD PERSONAL GRIEVANCES WITH THE PRISONER.

GGG DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF EVENT: ON 25MAY09, MAJOR ABBAS (SWAT CDR) AND COL FARUQ (DCOP) TOLD NSWDET-7D1 LEADERSHIP THAT THEY WERE GOING TO DELIVER TWO DETAINEES TO AL HADR IN THE NORTH BECAUSE THERE WAS MORE INCRIMINATING EVIDENCE ON THE TWO DETAINEES IN AL HADR THAN IN HADITHAH. WHILE TRAVELLlNG NORTH, MAJ ABBAS ORDERED HIS CONVOY TO PULL OVER AND TRANSFER THE TWO DETAINEES TO HIS UNCLE AND FOUR BROTHERS. ACCORDING TO COL FARUQ, THE AL HADR IP FOUND ONE OF THE DETAINEES DECAPITATED AND THE OTHER WAS RELEASED BY MAJ ABBAS’ FAMILY MEMBERS. MAJ ABBAS IS CURRENTLY IN IP CUSTODY.

OVER A YEAR AGO MAJ ABBAS WAS RELIEVED AS HADITHAH SWAT CDR DUE TO HIS ALLEGED INVOLVEMENT IN THE RAPING OF A FEMALE LOCAL NATIONAL. THE BEHEADED DETAINEE IS REPORTED TO BE THE BROTHER OF THE RAPED FEMALE WHO ALLEGEDLY KILLED MAJ ABBAS’ BROTHER IN RETALIATION FOR THE RAPING OF HIS SISTER.

Closed 090530

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Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Beheaded,Borderline "Executions",Execution,History,Iraq,Summary Executions,Wartime Executions

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1798: The Carnew executions

Add comment May 25th, 2019 Headsman

The Carnew Massacre blackened this date in 1798, in the Irish village of the same name.

It was the morrow of the outbreak of Ireland’s 1798 rebellion against British rule. This rising commenced on May 24 and foundered within weeks leaving a harvest of patriotic martyrs in its wake but those in the moment had not the advantage of hindsight — so as news of the fighting reached County Wicklow, adjacent to the rebel epicenter of Wexford, loyalists there authored a couple of notable summary atrocities by way of pre-emption.

On May 25, the British garrison at Carnew took 28 United Irishmen prisoners already being held in Carnew Castle and had them shot out of hand in an alley.

A similar mass execution of 36 nationalist prisoners occurred on the following day, May 26, at Dunlavin Green.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,England,Execution,History,Innocent Bystanders,Ireland,Martyrs,Mass Executions,No Formal Charge,Power,Shot,Summary Executions,Wartime Executions

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1918: A day in the death penalty around the U.S.

Add comment May 24th, 2019 Headsman

From the Pueblo Chieftain (May 25, 1918):

Salt Lake City, May 24. — Howard H. Deweese, who was shot here today for the murder of his wife, Fannie Fisher Deweese, left a grim legacy for his wife’s former husband. It is a silk handkerchief and the bullets which passed thru the heart of Deweese, first passed thru the bit of silk which he had pinned over his chest.

Before his execution Deweese secured the promise of the warden of the state prison to forward the handkerchief, together with a note to Fisher in New York. The letter, dated at the Utah state penitentiary last Monday, reads:

Mr. H.W. Fisher, 150 Second avenue, New York:

Greetings:

In accordance with customs observed by certain people, I herewith conform with precedents and law governing the conduct of aforesaid people. I have rigidly adhered to my vows. You have violated yours. Therefore, put your house in order. The allotted time customary in such cases is yours. The souvenir enclosed herewith (by the warden of this institution) will doubtless serve to convince you that time, distance, political influence or money cannot change the inexorable workings of things decreed by men who do not hesitate in risking all, even life, for things they have sworn to uphold.

The U.B.C. thru one who has proven loyal, bids you ‘prepare.’ It is written.

(Signed)
J.E.W.

The initials affixed at the bottom of the note stand for Deweese’s alias — J.E. Warren. The “U.B.C.” Deweese explained just before his execution, was the initials of the “Universal Brotherhood Club of New York.”


From the Kansas City Star (May 24, 1918):

DALLAS, TEX. May 23. — A claim that the idea for the Red Cross poster, “The Greatest Mother in the World,” originated in the mind of Leonard Dodd, who with Walter Stevenson is sentenced to hang here tomorrow for murder, was placed here today before the state board of pardons at Austin as part of a plea for commutation of sentence.

Council for Dodd informed the board a draft of the poster had been sent by him to the Red Cross headquarters at Washington and that it was later drawn by an Eastern artist. Dodd, Stevenson, and Emmett Vestal, also convicted of murder, will be hanged tomorrow unless Governor Hobby commutes their sentences. [Dodd and Stevenson hanged; as for Vestal’s … read on. -ed.]


From the Arizona Republic, Jan. 1, 1955:

Evangelist Emmett T. (Texas Slim) Vestal, a man twice condemned to die in the electric chair, is in Phoenix conducting a revival, and illustrating that “no matter how low a man can get, he still can be saved by following Christ.”

For more than 20 years, Mr. Vestal has been preaching in churches throughout the country, and recounting his experiences as bank robber, drug addict, and gang member.

Services will be conducted every night through next Friday at 7:30 p.m. at the Revival Center, 902 N. 24th St.

In 1917 he shot a rival gang leader who tried to ambush him near Victoria, Tex. and was sentenced to die May 24, 1918. Five minutes before the hanging, he was granted a reprieve by the late Governor W.P. Hobby.

He returned to prison, contracted tuberculosis and was sent to a state hospital from which he escaped. Law officials found him in 1926 in St. Louis and took him back to Texas for a new trial because the state had changed his sentence from hanging to electrocution.

He was again convicted and sentenced to die, this time in the electric chair. Three days before the electrocution, his sentence was commuted to life imprisonment by the late Governor Miriam (Ma) Ferguson. Three days after that she granted him a full pardon.

Methodist church workers taught him to read and write and gave him Christian education while he was in prison. After his release he began his evangelic career. He was ordained a baptist minister.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,Last Minute Reprieve,Murder,Not Executed,Pardons and Clemencies,Shot,Texas,USA,Utah

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1936: Adolf Seefeldt, Uncle Tick-Tock

1 comment May 23rd, 2019 Headsman

German serial killer Adolf Seefeldt was beheaded on this date in 1936 by the Third Reich.

The tramp timepiece-fixer with twenty-plus years of child molestation prison time in his 66 years of life, “Uncle Tick Tock” killed at least a dozen boys in the early 1930s whose creepy uniting feature was sailor suit garb. Their bodies — peacefully posed and innocent of any visible sign of violence — would be discovered in protected forest preserves; the nature of the killings makes it possible that he had other prey who have never been recognized as murder victims, but simply taken for natural deaths. Given that he’d dodged a previous murder charge as far back as 1908 one can’t help but wonder.

It’s been debated whether Seefeldt (English Wikipedia entry | German) poisoned his victims, as he confessed, or suffocated them, or even — fanciful hypothesis — dropped them into a hypnotic sleep only to abandon them outdoors to death by exposure.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Germany,Guillotine,Murder,Serial Killers

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1538: John Forest and the image of Saint Derfel Gadarn

Add comment May 22nd, 2019 Headsman

English Franciscan John Forest was burned at Smithfield on this date in 1538 … the undercard to the simultaneous “execution” of a downthrown idol of Saint Derfel Gadarn.

The latter had been ripped from its shrine at Llandderfel in Gwynedd, Wales: the place gets its name from Derfel himself and its devotion to its Celtic patron had not waned in the centuries since but fostered a thriving pilgrimage site where the icon received the offerings of devotees in trust of the saint’s supernatural protection.

Such rituals really infuriated the iconoclastic, monastery-shuttering reformers abroad in England in Henrician England post-Anne Boleyn and in 1538 Derfel G. came in for special “punishment.”

“There is an image of Derfel Gadarn within the said diocese, in whom the people have so great confidence, hope, and trust, that they come daily on pilgrimage unto him, some with kyne, other with oxen or horses, and the rest with money,” fumed the king’s own scaffold-bound Lord Chancellor, Thomas Cromwell. “In so much that there was five or six hundred pilgrims, to a man’s estimation, that offered to the said Image the fifth day of this present month of April.”

Cromwell and team were very keen to show up the superstition, hypocrisy, and money-grubbing wrapped up in these quaint old idols, to expose to the public gaze the contraptions that allowed statues to weep or the priests that dined hearty on the victuals sacrificed by poor pilgrims … and so it came to pass that the May 22, 1538 death of John Forest at the stake was also a great demystifying of old Saint Derfel. Hauled to London from its native haunts, this image was railed at in a showboating sermon by the scaffold-bound Bishop of Worcester, Hugh Latimer.

In this spectacle designed for the cheap seats, Latimer spent hours ceremonially exhorting the patiently trussed John Forest to abjure his heresies. Forest predictably declining, the image of Saint Derfel was then produced and challenged to intervene for his spiritual bannerman, even engaged in a stagey grappling match — until finally the discredited simulacrum was tossed as mere fuel into the pyre that swallowed John Forest. (Forest has the distinction of being the only Catholic martyr burned at the stake during the English Reformation.)

The always enjoyable History of England podcast delves into the frightful fate of Saint Derfel’s icon and Blessed John Forest’s living flesh in episode 236.

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Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Burned,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,England,Execution,History,Inanimate Objects,Martyrs,Notable Participants,Public Executions,Religious Figures

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