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1843: Sarah Dazley

Add comment August 5th, 2020 Richard Clark

(Thanks to Richard Clark of Capital Punishment U.K. for the guest post, a reprint of an article originally published on that site with some explanatory links added by Executed Today, and footnotes which are also my own commentary. CapitalPunishmentUK.org features a trove of research and feature articles on the death penalty in England and elsewhere. -ed.)

Sarah was born in 1819 as Sarah Reynolds in the village of Potton in Bedfordshire, the daughter of the village barber, Phillip Reynolds. Phillip died when Sarah was seven years old and her mother then embarked on a series of relationships with other men. Hardly an ideal childhood.

Sarah grew up to be a tall, attractive girl with long auburn hair and large brown eyes. However she too was promiscuous and by the age of nineteen had met and married a local man called Simeon Mead. They lived in Potton for two years before moving to the village of Tadlow just over the county border in Cambridgeshire in 1840. It is thought that the move was made to end one of Sarah’s dalliances. Here she gave birth to a son in February 1840, who was christened Jonah. The little boy was the apple of his father’s eye, but died at the age of seven months, completely devastating Simeon. In October Simeon too died suddenly, to the shock of the local community. Sarah did the grieving mother and widow bit for a few weeks, before replacing Simeon with another man, twenty-three-year-old William Dazley. This caused a lot of negative gossip and considerable suspicion in the village. In February 1841, Sarah and William married and moved to the village of Wrestlingworth three miles away and six miles north east of Biggleswade in Bedfordshire. Sarah invited Ann Mead, Simeon’s teenage daughter, to live with them. It seems that all was not well in the marriage from early on and William took to drinking heavily in the village pub. This inevitably led to friction with Sarah which boiled over into a major row culminating in William hitting her. Sarah always had other men in her life through both her marriages and confided to one of her male friends, William Waldock, about the incident, telling him she would kill any man who hit her. Sarah also told neighbours a heavily embroidered tale of William’s drinking and violence towards her.

William became ill with vomiting and stomach pains a few days later and was attended by the local doctor, Dr. Sandell, who prescribed pills which initially seemed to work, with William being looked after by Ann Mead and showing signs of a steady recovery. Whilst William was still bedridden, Ann — not entirely realising what she was seeing at the time — observed Sarah making up pills in the kitchen.

Sarah told a friend of hers in the village, Mrs. Carver, that she was concerned about William’s health and that she was going to get a further prescription from Dr. Sandell. Mrs. Carver was surprised to see Sarah throw out some pills from the pillbox and replace them with others. When she remarked on it, Sarah told her that she wasn’t satisfied with the medication that Dr. Sandell had provided and instead was using a remedy from the village healer. In fact the replacement pills were those that Sarah had made herself. She gave these to William who immediately noticed that they were different and refused to take them. Ann who had been nursing him and had still not made any connection with the pills she had seen Sarah making, persuaded William to swallow a pill by taking one too. Inevitably they both quickly became ill with the familiar symptoms of vomiting and stomach pains. William vomited in the yard and one of the family pigs later lapped up the mess and died in the night. Apparently Sarah was able to persuade William to continue taking the pills, assuring him that they were what the doctor had prescribed. He began to decline rapidly and died on the 30th of October, his death being certified as natural by the doctor. He was buried in Wrestlingworth churchyard. Post mortems were not normal at this time, even when a previously healthy young man died quite suddenly.

As usual Sarah did not grieve for long before taking up a new relationship. She soon started seeing William Waldock openly and they became engaged at her insistence in February 1843. William was talked out of marriage by his friends who pointed to Sarah’s promiscuous behaviour and the mysterious deaths of her previous two husbands and her son. William wisely broke off the engagement and decided not to continue to see Sarah.

Suspicion and gossip was now running high in the village and it was decided to inform the Bedfordshire coroner, Mr. Eagles, of the deaths. He ordered the exhumation of William’s body and an inquest was held on Monday the 20th of March 1843 at the Chequers Inn in Wrestlingworth High Street. It was found that William’s viscera contained traces of arsenic and an arrest warrant was issued against Sarah. Sarah it seems had anticipated this result and had left the village and gone to London. She had taken a room in Upper Wharf Street where she was discovered by Superintendent Blunden of Biggleswade police. Sarah told Blunden that she was completely innocent and that she neither knew anything about poisons nor had she ever obtained any. Blunden arrested her and decided to take her back to Bedford. What would be a short journey now required an overnight stop in those days and they stayed in the Swan Inn, Biggleswade. Sarah was made to sleep in a room with three female members of the staff. She did not sleep well and asked the women about capital trials and execution by hanging. This was later reported to Blunden and struck him as odd.*

The bodies of Simeon Mead and Jonah had also now been exhumed and Jonah’s was found to contain arsenic, although Simeon’s was too decomposed to yield positive results.

On the 24th of March 1843, Sarah was committed to Bedford Gaol to await her trial and used her time to concoct defences to the charges. She decided to accuse William Dazley of poisoning Simeon and Jonah on the grounds that he wanted them out of her life so he could have her to himself. When she realised what he had done she decided to take revenge by poisoning William. Unsurprisingly these inventions were not believed and were rather ridiculous when it was William’s murder she was to be tried for. In another version William had poisoned himself by accident.

She came to trial at the Bedfordshire Summer Assizes on Saturday the 22nd of July before Baron Alderson, charged with William’s murder, as this was the stronger of the two cases against her. The charge of murdering Jonah was not proceeded with but held in reserve should the first case fail.

Evidence was given against her by two local chemists who identified her as having purchased arsenic from them shortly before William’s death. Mrs. Carver and Ann Mead told the court about the incidents with the pills that they had witnessed.

William Waldock testified that Sarah had said she would kill any man that ever hit her after the violent row that she and William had. Forensic evidence was presented to show that William had indeed died from arsenic poisoning, it being noted that his internal organs were well preserved. The Marsh test, a definitive test for arsenic trioxide, had been only available for a few years at the time of Sarah’s trial. Arsenic trioxide is a white odourless powder that can easily pass undetected by the victim when mixed into food and drink.

Since 1836 all defendants had been legally entitled to counsel and Sarah’s defence was put forward by a Mr. O’Malley, based upon Sarah’s inventions. He claimed that Sarah had poisoned William by accident. Against all the other evidence this looked decidedly weak and contradicted the stories Sarah had told the police. It took the jury just thirty minutes to convict her. Before passing sentence Baron Alderson commented that it was bad enough to kill her husband but it showed total heartlessness to kill her infant child as well. He recommended her to ask for the mercy of her Redeemer. He then donned the black cap and sentenced her to hang. It is interesting to note that Baron Alderson had, at least in his own mind, found her guilty of the murder of Jonah, even though she had not been tried for it.

During her time in prison, Sarah learnt to read and write and began reading the Bible. She avoided contact with other prisoners whilst on remand, preferring her own company and accepting the ministrations of the chaplain. In the condemned cell she continued to maintain her innocence and as far as one can tell never made a confession to either the matrons looking after her or to the chaplain.

There was no recommendation to mercy and the Home Secretary, Sir James Graham, saw no reason to offer a reprieve. The provision of the Murder Act of 1752, requiring execution to take place within two working days, had been abolished in 1836 and a period of not less than fourteen days substituted. Sarah’s execution was therefore set for Saturday the 5th of August 1843. A crowd variously estimated at 7,000 – 12,000 assembled in St. Loyes Street outside Bedford Gaol to watch the hanging. It was reported that among this throng was William Waldock.

The New Drop gallows was erected on the flat roof over the main gate of the prison in the early hours of the Saturday morning and the area around the gatehouse was protected by a troop of javelin men. William Calcraft had arrived from London the previous day to perform the execution.

Sarah was taken from the condemned cell to the prison chapel at around ten o’clock for the sacrament. The under sheriff of the county demanded her body from the governor and she was taken to the press room for her arms to be pinioned. She was now led up to the gatehouse roof and mounted the gallows platform, accompanied by the prison governor and the chaplain. She was asked if she wished to make any last statement which she declined, merely asking that Calcraft be quick in his work and repeating “Lord have mercy on my soul”. He pinioned her legs, before drawing down the white hood over her head and adjusting the simple halter style noose around her neck. He then descended the scaffold and withdrew the bolt supporting the trap doors. Sarah dropped some eighteen inches and her body became still after writhing for just a few seconds, as the rope applied pressure to the arteries and veins of her neck, causing a carotid reflex. Sarah was left on the rope for the customary hour before being taken down and the body taken back into the prison for burial in an unmarked grave, as was now required by law.

It was reported by the local newspapers that the crowd had behaved well and remained silent until Sarah was actually hanged. Once she was suspended they carried on eating, drinking, smoking, laughing and making ribald and lewd remarks. Copies of broadsides claiming to contain Sarah’s confession and her last dying speech were being sold among the crowd, which amazingly people bought even though she had made neither. You can see a broadside about her hanging below. Note the stylised woodcut picture that was modified to show a man or a woman as appropriate.

The 1840s were a time of great hardship nationally and yet Sarah, whilst hardly wealthy, did not seem to suffer from this and it was never alleged that she was unable to feed her child or that she was destitute. Extreme poverty in rural areas did appear to be the motive in some murders at this time, especially of infants. Sarah’s motive seems to be a much more evil one, the elimination of anyone who got in the way of her next relationship.

Sarah’s was the first execution at Bedford since 1833 and she was the only woman to be publicly hanged there. In fact Bedfordshire executions were rare events and there were to be only two more in public, Joseph Castle on the 31st of March 1860 for the murder of his wife and William Worsley on the 31st of March 1868 for the murder of William Bradbury.

Notes on the period.

Queen Victoria ascended to the throne in 1837, at the age of eighteen and her reign saw a great deal of change in the penal system. For the first thirty one years of it executions were a very public event enjoyed by the masses. People would come from far and wide to witness the spectacle, in some cases special trains were even laid on! Broadsides were sold at many executions giving the purported confessions of the prisoner and there was considerable press interest, particularly where the criminal was female.

Thirty women and two teenage girls were to be executed in England and Scotland in the thirty one year period from May 1838 to the abolition of public hanging in May 1868. Of these twenty-one had been convicted of poisoning (two thirds of the total). Sarah Chesham was actually executed for the attempted murder of her husband but was thought to be guilty of several fatal poisonings as well. Attempted murder ceased to be a capital crime in 1861 under the provisions of the Criminal Law Consolidation Act of that year. Mary Ann Milner would have made the total thirty three had she not hanged herself in Lincoln Castle the day before her scheduled execution on the 30th of July 1847. There were no female executions in Wales during this time but a further ten women were hanged in Ireland during the period, all for murder.

Sarah Chesham‘s case prompted a House of Commons committee to be set up to investigate poisoning. This found that between 1840 and 1850, ninety seven women and eighty two men had been tried for it. A total of twenty-two women were hanged in the decade 1843-1852 of whom seventeen had been convicted of murder by poisoning, representing 77% of the total. There were no female executions in the years 1840-1842 in England. This rash of poisonings led to a Bill being introduced whereby only adult males could purchase arsenic. Poisoning was considered a particularly evil crime as it is totally premeditated and thus it was extremely rare for a poisoner to be reprieved whereas it was not unusual for females to be reprieved for other types of murder, such as infanticide. One of the few poisoners to be reprieved was Charlotte Harris in 1849 who had murdered her husband but who was pregnant at the time of her trial.

* I’m baffled as to why anyone would find it odd — much less incriminating — for a person freshly in custody on a potential capital charge to lose sleep fretting about the horrors of execution. -ed.

** Alderson took part in his share of capital trials, as did any judge of consequence in his day, but was notable as a jurist on the more progressive and less bloody-minded end of the spectrum. An oft-quoted comment of his cautioning against stretching facts to fit your theory would have prevented many a wrongful punishment imposed by tunnel-visioned investigators: “The mind is apt to take pleasure in adapting circumstances to one another, and even in straining them a little if need be, to force them to form parts of one consecutive whole … and in considering such matters to overreach and mislead itself, to suppose some little link that is wanting, to take for granted some fact consistent with previous theories, and necessary to render them complete.”

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1786: Phoebe Harris, coiner

Add comment June 21st, 2020 Richard Clark

(Thanks to Richard Clark of Capital Punishment U.K. for the guest post, a reprint of an article originally published on that site with some explanatory links added by Executed Today. CapitalPunishmentUK.org features a trove of research and feature articles on the death penalty in England and elsewhere. -ed.)

Up to 1790, women convicted of High Treason and Petty Treason were burned at the stake. Although I am sure you have a perception of what High Treason is, as a crime in those days, it also encompassed several other offences, notably coining. Coining covered several individual offences relating only to gold and silver coins, e.g. clipping coins to provide coin metal for forgeries, colouring coins to make them appear of higher value, making counterfeit coins and having the equipment to do any of the above. Coining was considered treasonable because it directly affected the State and confidence in the currency.

The crime.

Under the name of Mrs. Brown, Phoebe Harris had rented a room from one Joel Sparkes at a house in Drury Lane, London (No. 19, in Swan-yard) before Christmas 1785. A friend of hers, Francis Hardy, had recommended her to Sparkes, describing her as a captain’s widow with a private income. In reality, it seems that Phoebe had been separated from her husband for two or three years. Whilst Phoebe lived at this address she was regularly engaged in filing and clipping coins and then using the metal to make new counterfeit coins in sand moulds. Francis Hardy was the person who was later to inform the police of the goings on at No. 19. There was a suggestion, flatly denied by him in court, that Francis Hardy had had a relationship with Phoebe. He did, however, take her teenage daughter in as a servant on the day of her mother’s arrest.

Arrest.

At about 5 o’clock in the afternoon of Saturday, the 11th of February 1786, John Clarke (a constable) went to No. 19 in consequence of the information he had received and found Phoebe Harris and Elizabeth Yelland in the first floor room. He and his assistants, George Meecham, Patrick Macmanus, and William Andrews, broke down the locked door and arrested the two female occupants. They then searched the room in which they found some counterfeit coins and the necessary equipment for coining in an adjoining closet.

When John Clarke compared the counterfeit shillings to genuine ones, it was clear that they had been cast from a mould made from a genuine shilling. In all, some 12 counterfeit coins were discovered, both shillings and sixpences. One of the genuine sixpences had a hole in it and this was evident in the counterfeits.

A little later, after the rooms had been searched, Elizabeth’s brother, Joseph Yelland, returned home and was also arrested. All three were taken to Bow Street to appear before a magistrate. They were remanded in custody at Newgate to stand trial at the next Sessions of the Old Bailey.

The trial.

Capital trials at this period took up very little time with a number being conducted during a single day. The April Sessions of the Old Bailey in 1786 were held on Wednesday, the 26th of that month, before Mr. Baron Eyre. Among those indicted were Joseph Yelland, otherwise known as Holman, Phebe Harris (spelling of Phoebe as given in the original indictment) and Elizabeth Yelland, who were jointly charged with two specimen counts, as follows: “for that they, on the 11th of February last, one piece of false, feigned, and counterfeit money and coin, to the likeness and similitude of the good, legal, and silver coin of this realm, called a shilling, falsely, deceitfully, feloniously, and traiterously did counterfeit and coin, against the duty of their allegiance, and against the statute.” There was also a second count of coining a sixpence. The shilling is the equivalent of the current 5p coin, whilst a sixpence is the equivalent of 2.5p. Although in 1786, these two coins had much greater purchasing power they were still coins of small denomination.

The prosecution was opened by Mr. Silvester, assisted by Mr. Wilson and Mr. Garrow led the defence. [Silvester and Garrow were famous combatants at the bar. See this post for another instance. -ed.]

The case was heard before the 2nd Middlesex jury, consisting of twelve men. Both sides were able to call witnesses and cross examine those for the other side. In this case, the Crown called the constables involved in the raid, together with the landlord and his son. They also called Francis Hardy, who gave direct eyewitness evidence of the manufacture and colouring of the counterfeit coins. The coining equipment found in the rooms was produced in court as evidence. Hardy also suggested that the group had bought forged coins from other criminals to pass off as good — also a capital crime then, known as uttering. He stated in his testimony that she continued with the coining business even though she knew that Hardy was fully aware of what she was doing. It appears that there had been some disagreement between Hardy and Phoebe and this may have led to him informing on her.

The defence was principally based upon the testimony of character witnesses for each of the defendants who averred them to be people of good character. Phoebe addressed the court as follows: “My Lord and Gentlemen of the Jury, I am an unhappy woman; I was desired by a young man of the name of John Brown, to take the room, which I did, and he brought the things found in the room; and desired me to secrete them, and I not knowing the nature of them, or for what purpose they were intended, did do so, and so I told the gentleman when they came and took me: as to my sister-in-law, I being very ill, she came to clean the room for me, and the gentleman found her cleaning it on her knees: and my brother-in-law came some time after the gentlemen had been in the room.”

She also called two character witnesses.

The jury took some time in their deliberations before finding Phoebe guilty and, despite Francis Hardy’s evidence against them, acquitting Elizabeth and Joseph Yelland. As was normal sentencing of all those convicted, took place at the end of the Sessions. Nine prisoners were condemned to death, these being: Hannah Mullins, William Smith, Edward Griffiths, James May, George Woodward, Daniel Keefe, Jonathan Harwood and William Watts, who were sentenced to be hanged while Phoebe was condemned to be burned at the stake. Many other prisoners were sentenced to transportation or imprisonment. Hannah Mullins and James May were subsequently reprieved to transportation. The condemned were returned to Newgate prison to await their fates.

Execution.

Phoebe Harris was to be the first woman burnt at Newgate, as distinct from Tyburn or Smithfield, and her execution was carried out just after 8.00 a.m. on the morning of Wednesday the 21st of June 1786. A huge crowd, estimated at some 20,000 people, had turned out to watch this gruesome spectacle.

At 7.30 a.m. six men, Edward Griffiths, George Woodward, William Watts, Daniel Keefe, Jonathan Harwood and William Smith were brought out through Newgate’s Debtor’s Door and led up onto the “New Drop” gallows. They were prepared in the usual way and the drop reportedly fell around 8.00 a.m.

After they were suspended, Phoebe was led from the Debtor’s Door of Newgate by two sheriff’s officers to a stake that had been erected halfway between the gallows and Newgate Street. The stake was some 11 feet high and had a metal bracket at the top from which a noose dangled. Phoebe was described as, “a well made little woman of something more than thirty years of age, with a pale complexion and not disagreeable features.” She was reported to be terrified and trembling as she was led out. She mounted a stool and the noose was placed around her neck and was allowed a few moments to pray with the Ordinary before her support was removed and she was left suspended. According to V. A. C. Gatrell’s book The Hanging Tree she died hard, he reported that she choked noisily to death over several minutes.

After hanging for half an hour, the executioner put an iron chain around her upper body and fastened it to the stake with nails. Two cart loads of faggots were now piled around the stake and then lit. It is reasonable to assume that she would have been quite dead by this time. After a while, the fire burnt through the rope and Phoebe’s body dropped, remaining attached to the stake by the chain. It took over two hours to be completely consumed by the fire, which continued to burn until midday.

Comment.

Only two more women were to suffer Phoebe’s fate. These were Margaret Sullivan on the 25th of June 1788 and Catherine Murphy on the 18th of March 1789, both for coining. At the April Sessions of 1790, Sophia Girton was also convicted of this offence but her execution was delayed until after Parliament had passed an Act (Act 30 Geo. III, c.48) substituting ordinary hanging for coining offences on the 5th of June 1790. In fact, Sophia was ultimately pardoned, on condition of transportation for life to New South Wales, on the 12th of June 1790.

Executions by burning at Newgate were distinctly unpopular with the local residents of what was a respectable business area of the City. They had sent a petition to the Lord Mayor requesting that Phoebe’s execution be carried out elsewhere. This was an early version of “not in my back yard” rather than a protest against the severity of her punishment. It was later reported that some locals became ill from the smoke from her body. There were similar protests over the Sullivan and Murphy executions and a great feeling of relief when Sophia Girton was reprieved, and the whole ghastly business passed into history in 1790.

The Sheriffs were also becoming increasingly unhappy about attending burnings, and it was they who brought forward the Bill to end this practice. Even though by this time the condemned woman was dead before the faggots were lit, it must have still been a gruesome and revolting spectacle and one which conveyed a feeling of injustice. Men convicted of coining offences were hanged in the same way as other condemned males. The Times newspaper took up this theme after Phoebe’s burning and printed the following article: “The execution of a woman for coining on Wednesday morning, reflects a scandal upon the law and was not only inhuman, but shamefully indelicate and shocking. Why should the law in this species of offence inflict a severer punishment upon a woman, than a man. It is not an offence which she can perpetrate alone — in every such case the insistence of a man has been found the operating motive upon the woman; yet the man is but hanged, and the woman burned.” One can only agree with the “Thunderer’s” sentiments as the Times came to be known. Other London newspapers carried similar articles. Again similar outrage was expressed two years later at the burning of Margaret Sullivan, although strangely there was little media interest at the burning of Catherine Murphy.

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2004: Three for honor-killing a 6-year-old

Add comment May 31st, 2020 Richard Clark

(Thanks to Richard Clark of Capital Punishment U.K. for the guest post, a reprinted section from a longer article about capital punishment in Kuwait that was originally published on that site. (Executed Today has taken the liberty of adding some explanatory links.) CapitalPunishmentUK.org features a trove of research and feature articles on the death penalty in England and elsewhere, including a wider history of the juvenile death penalty in England. -ed.)

On the 31st of May 2004, three executions were carried out simultaneously at 8.15 a.m. in the courtyard of the Nayef Palace. The criminals, two Saudi nationals, Marzook Saad Suleiman Al-Saeed, aged 25, Saeed Saad Suleiman Al-Saeed, aged 28 and 24 year old Kuwaiti Hamad Mubarak Turki Al-Dihani, had been convicted of the abduction, rape and murder of a six year old girl.

It was a particularly appalling crime that had received a great deal of media coverage. Their victim, Amna Al-Khaledi, was kidnapped from her home on the 1st of May 2002 and driven to a remote desert area, where she was gang raped and stabbed five times in the chest before her throat was slit. The three men were arrested some three weeks after Amna’s body was discovered. They had murdered Amna in a so called honour killing to avenge a sexual relationship between her elder brother, Adel Al-Khaledi, and Al-Saeed’s sister. Amna’s brother was given a five-year prison term for having the illicit sexual relationship.

(Honour killings are committed to avenge a perceived affront to a family’s honour, such as an out of wedlock relationship or a female relative marrying without her parents’ consent.)

A third Saudi, Latifa Mandil Suleiman Al-Saeed, a 21-year-old female cousin of the two brothers, was sentenced to life in prison for taking part in the abduction.

Some 1,000 people, including Amna’s relatives, were at Nayef Palace to see the aftermath of the executions according to Interior Ministry spokesman Lt. Col. Adel Al-Hashshash. Incongruous photographs appeared in the press the next day showing the hanging bodies with Kuwaiti women in full Islamic dress taking photos of them with their state of the art mobile phones. The bodies were taken down some 20 minutes after the execution and covered with white sheets. The head of the Penal Execution Department, Najeeb Al-Mulla, announced that it took Hamad Al-Dehani approximately 6 minutes to die, while the two Saudi brothers were timed was 8½ minutes and 5½ minutes respectively. Saeed Al-Saeed and Marzouq Al-Saeed had asked for their remains to be buried in Saudi Arabia and the three convicted asked for the authorities to donate a charity project in their names.

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1849: Sarah Harriet Thomas, the last female juvenile hanged in Great Britain

Add comment April 20th, 2020 Richard Clark

(Thanks to Richard Clark of Capital Punishment U.K. for the guest post, a reprinted section from a longer article about under-18 girls executed in the 19th century that was originally published on that site. (Executed Today has taken the liberty of adding some explanatory links.) CapitalPunishmentUK.org features a trove of research and feature articles on the death penalty in England and elsewhere, including a wider history of the juvenile death penalty in England. -ed.)

Sarah’s was to be Bristol‘s final public hanging on the flat roof of the gatehouse of New Gaol in Cumberland Road. She was a house maid to sixty one year old Miss Elizabeth Jefferies, who according to Sarah, did not treat her well and had locked her in the kitchen all night among other perceived abuses. There was almost certain to be conflict between a cranky, elderly spinster and a rebellious young girl and this culminated in Sarah bludgeoning Miss Jefferies to death with a large stone as she slept, on the night of Sunday the 4th of March 1849. Sarah had also killed Miss Jefferies’ dog and thrown its body into the lavatory. She left the house, but not without helping herself to some of her mistresses’ jewellery. Miss Jefferies’ brother was alerted to a possible problem by a neighbour who noticed that the window shutters were still closed and called the local constable to help him investigate. When they forced entry they made the gruesome discoveries. Suspicion immediately fell upon Sarah and she was arrested the next day at her mother’s house in Pensford. Initially she told the police that another girl had committed the killings and that she had only been involved with ransacking the house.

She was tried at Gloucester on the 3rd of April 1849, the public gallery being particularly crowded to hear every gruesome detail. Sarah seemed not to treat the court proceedings seriously until she was convicted and the judge donned the black cap and sentenced her to be hanged by the neck until she was dead. On hearing these words of doom she collapsed and had to be carried from the dock by two warders. A petition was got up to save her but this was to no avail. Sarah made a confession to the prison governor, Mr. J A Gardiner and two female matrons seventeen days before her execution and it was read to her every day in case she wanted to correct it. In the confession she told of the ill treatment that she had endured from Miss Jefferies and spoke of her regret in having committed the killings.

On Thursday the 19th of April the gallows was erected and William Calcraft, the hangman, arrived from London. He was to have George Smith from Dudley to assist him. The following morning a huge number of people had assembled in front of the prison to watch Sarah die.

She was dragged up two flights of stairs by six warders onto the gatehouse roof and then up a few more steps onto the platform. She was held on the trap by two warders whilst Calcraft strapped her legs, placed the white hood over her head and tightened the halter style noose around her neck. As the preparations continued Sarah cried out “I won’t be hanged; take me home!” Calcraft quickly operated the trap and Sarah’s body dropped about eighteen inches through it, quivering for a few moments before becoming still. Everybody present on the gatehouse roof was upset by the distressing scene they had witnessed and the governor of the prison fainted. Sarah’s body was buried in private in an unmarked grave within the prison later in the day.

Even the by now veteran hangman, Calcraft, was greatly affected by this job and said later that Sarah Thomas was “in my opinion, one of the prettiest and most intellectual girls I have met with.”

A crime reporter, one Mr. E. Austin, who attended the execution reported: “Ribald jests were bandied about and after waiting to see the corpse cut down, the crowd dispersed, and the harvest of the taverns in the neighbourhood commenced.” However, some in the crowd felt pity for the poor girl. Sadly for the majority it was probably seen much more as a free, slightly pornographic show put on by the authorities for their voyeuristic pleasure.

Sarah was the last teenage girl to be hanged in Britain. One hundred years earlier she would have suffered a far worse fate as her crime would have been deemed to be Petty Treason and she would have been burnt at the stake for it.

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1817: Ann Statham, infanticide

Add comment March 21st, 2020 Richard Clark

(Thanks to Richard Clark of Capital Punishment U.K. for the guest post, a reprint of an article originally published on that site with some explanatory links added by Executed Today. CapitalPunishmentUK.org features a trove of research and feature articles on the death penalty in England and elsewhere. -ed.)

Ann Statham was an unmarried twenty eight year old woman who had lived with her mother near Wichnor (nowadays spelt Wychnor) between Lichfield and Burton on Trent in Staffordshire. Thomas Webster drove the Mail Coach between Birmingham and Derby and had got to know Ann who lived just a few yards from the main road that he traversed each journey. They formed a relationship and she moved to Birmingham to be with him. They had been living together for some ten months at the time of the crime and Ann had quickly become pregnant by him. Unlike some men of the time it seems that Thomas was happy to support Ann and the baby.

In June 1816, the now heavily pregnant Ann moved to Derby where her baby boy was born. She returned to Wichnor aboard Thomas’ coach on the 23rd of July, when the baby was five weeks old. She stopped off at nearby Burton on Trent on the way back and went to visit John Mason who was a constable in the town. John saw that Ann had a baby with her and heard it cry although he was later to tell her trial that he could not identify the baby as he did not see its face which was covered by a shawl. On the following Saturday John took Ann to the Three Tuns public house in Wichnor and noticed that she did not have the baby with her. He enquired after it and was told by Ann that it had died suddenly, she thought from a fit. She said that she was going to bury the baby at Walton and John offered her money to help with the funeral expenses which she told him she didn’t need.

On the evening of Tuesday the 29th of July, Ann was walking along the tow path of the Trent and Mersey canal and was seen with the baby by a bargeman named John Deakin. He testified at her trial that the bank was in poor condition and very muddy.

The wife of the landlord of the Three Tuns, Mrs. Thompson had spoken to Ann on the Tuesday evening and she had told her that she had suffered a fit whilst walking along the tow path and dropped the baby who had fallen into the canal. This surprised Mrs. Thompson, as she had known Ann for some years and had never known her have a fit.

The body was recovered by a another bargeman, Thomas Wooton, on Sunday the 28th of July who spotted a small bundle in a white bed gown and cap floating in the water. He took it to the Three Tuns where it was placed in the store room. First thing on the Sunday morning the body of a baby was viewed by John Mason and it seemed to be about the same age as Ann’s baby. John sent for Charles Nicholls, another constable from Burton and he went to Ann’s mother’s house where she was eating breakfast with her mother and questioned her. When he asked her where her baby was she became agitated and she told him that it was in Derby. He persisted with the questioning, reminding her that she had been seen with the baby near the Three Tuns on the Tuesday evening. Ann simply repeated that the baby was in Derby, an answer that in no way satisfied constable Nicholls who arrested her.

William Challinor, a butcher from Burton, had also seen Ann with the baby when she had visited the town a few days earlier and had been able to see its face so was able to positively identify the dead baby as hers.

Mr. Enoch Hand, the Coroner, who performed the inquest on the corpse, asked Ann if the child had been christened and she told him that it had, as William Statham. Death was found to be due to drowning and it was recorded that there were no marks of violence on the body.

She was taken to Burton and was committed by the magistrates to stand trial at Stafford Assizes, charged with the baby’s murder. Charles Nicholls was in charge of Ann for the journey to Stafford Gaol on Tuesday the 8th of August and told the court that she had said to him “Do you think I shall be hung? … They cannot hang me for nobody saw me.”

Ann had to wait nearly nine months until the Staffordshire Lent Assizes of 1817 for her trial which took place on the Wednesday the 19th of March of that year, before Mr. Justice Park. The prosecution was led by a Mr. Dauncey and the various people mentioned above gave evidence against her. Mr. Justice Park pointed out to the all male jury the various contradictions in Ann’s story and they returned a verdict of guilty.

Before passing sentence the judge told Ann that the crime of murder of an infant was a particularly heinous one, especially as at one moment it appeared that she had been breast feeding the little boy and the next she had had dropped him into the canal and left him to drown. There was no apparent motive for the crime. Thomas Webster, the father, was happy to support them both and all her friends knew about the pregnancy and birth.

He then passed sentence on her, telling her that “she was to be taken to the place from whence she came and that on Friday next she was to be taken from there to the place of execution where she was to be hanged by the neck until she was dead” and that afterwards her body was to be delivered to the surgeons for dissection. Ann would become the first woman to be executed outside Stafford Gaol.

Ann had now just two days left to live in accordance with the provisions of the 1752 Murder Act.

As was customary at many prisons at this time, the gallows was set up over the imposing main entrance of the gaol on the flat roof of the gatehouse, as this location was much easier to guard and afforded the many spectators a good view of the proceedings. In the condemned cell Ann seemed resigned to her fate and had confessed her guilt to the chaplain. The execution was set to take place between eleven o’clock in the morning and noon and a large crowd had assembled in Gaol Square. Soon after eleven o’clock Ann was duly led up onto the gatehouse roof in a procession with the under sheriff, the chaplain and several turnkeys. She ascended the few steps onto the platform of the New Drop style gallows and knelt in prayer with the chaplain. It is reported that the structure collapsed at this point, sending Ann, the chaplain, the hangman and the turnkeys into a heap on the roof below. The gallows was quickly repaired enabling the execution to take place an hour or so later. By this time Ann was, unsurprisingly, in a great state of agitation and had to be supported on the drop by two turnkeys whilst the preparations were made. The bolt was released by the unidentified executioner and Ann paid the ultimate price for her crime. Her body was left to hang for the normal hour, before being taken back into the Gaol. It seems that she was not actually dissected but that her body was symbolically cut several times before it was returned to her friends for burial.

If one accepts the evidence against Ann, which is difficult to question nearly two centuries later, it is clear that there was no recognition of the possibility that she was suffering from post natal depression at the time. Could this explain her actions? As stated earlier it appears that the father was willing to support Ann and the baby and that she was not stigmatised by her friends or in danger of loosing her job as the result of her pregnancy and William’s subsequent birth. In 1817 she was simply seen as evil and a murderess, now she would be viewed quite differently and be examined by psychologists to determine her motives and her responsibility for her actions.

Strangely the Staffordshire Advertiser newspaper makes no mention of the gallows collapse nor does it give any real details of her execution. However Ann was the last prisoner to be hanged on top of the gatehouse Lodge at Stafford. From here on executions were performed on a portable gallows, similar in pattern to the one used at Newgate, drawn out in front of the gatehouse. This arrangement was used for the execution of Edward Campbell for uttering forgery on the 16th of August 1817, who was the only other person was hanged in the county that year. Ann was one of seventeen prisoners condemned at the Lent Assizes but the only one to be executed. Only three more women were executed at Stafford. They were twenty four year old Mary Smith for the murder of her bastard child at Bloxwich, who was hanged on Wednesday the 19th of March 1834, Ann Wycherley, for child murder on the 5th of May 1838 and finally Sarah Westwood for poisoning her husband with arsenic who was executed on Saturday the 13th of January 1844. Male executions continued to be carried out at Stafford until 1914 when part of the prison was turned over to the military during World War I. After which Staffordshire executions took place at Winson Green prison in Birmingham.

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1739: Elizabeth Harrard

Add comment December 21st, 2019 Richard Clark

(Thanks to Richard Clark of Capital Punishment U.K. for the guest post, a reprint of an article originally published on that site with some explanatory links added by Executed Today. CapitalPunishmentUK.org features a trove of research and feature articles on the death penalty in England and elsewhere. -ed.)

The recovery of the body of a tiny baby boy was carried out by the Beadle of Isleworth, Mr. John Thackery, on Saturday the 14th of July 1739. He had been summoned to the bank of the Powder Mills River by a local farmer, one Mr. Ions who had discovered the baby floating in the river. Mr. Ions had taken the baby from the water and placed it on the grass beside the bank. The Beadle examined the corpse and noted that it had only been in the water a short while and was not bloated. He also noted that the little boy had received a severe blow to the left side of the head and that there was congealed blood around the wound. John Thackery took the child to the Stock House and the Middlesex Coroner, Mr. Wright, was informed of the death. Whilst there Mr. Thackery was told that there was a suspicion that one Elizabeth Harrard, of Isleworth was the mother of the baby and he duly investigated this. Elizabeth was detained by the Overseers of the Poor for neighbouring Teddington and bought back to Isleworth. She was in a very weak condition and Thackery was ordered to get her a bed as she was too ill to be sent to Newgate prison.

After Elizabeth’s arrest a Mrs. Elizabeth Nell examined the prisoner in her capacity as a midwife. Elizabeth told Mrs. Nell that she had given birth to a baby, claiming that it had been born on the previous Monday in a field and that she had been disturbed by some men and left the baby. Mrs. Nell replied that she did not believe this story and Elizabeth told her that the child was stillborn. Again Mrs. Nell said she did not believe this as she could tell from the corpse that the baby had been born alive. It seems that Elizabeth did not realise that Mrs. Nell was a professional midwife and when this was pointed out to her, Elizabeth gave another version of events. She now told Mrs. Nell that the baby had been born alive and had survived for just fifteen minutes. Elizabeth was resting by the river bank after giving birth and had the child on her lap when it rolled off and fell into the river. Mrs. Nell persisted with her questioning and the story changed a little, with Elizabeth now saying that the baby had lived for thirty minutes and that she wrapped it part of her apron and threw it into the river after it had been dead for an hour. Mrs. Nell had examined the corpse after it was recovered and noted that there was no water in it, in other words it had not drowned and felt that the cause of death was a severe blow to the head.

The Inquest was held on Wednesday the 18th of July and the coroner directed Mr. Thackery to show the body to Elizabeth. She begged him not to saying “’tis my own child, born of my own body.” Thackery asked her how she could tell that it was her child without seeing it. Elizabeth continued to insist that it was her child and implored the Beadle not to open the coffin.

The coroner’s court found that the child had been murdered by its mother and Elizabeth was committed for trial at the Old Bailey. This took place on the 6th of September 1739 and evidence was brought against her by John Thackery, Mrs. Elizabeth Nell and Mrs. Elizabeth Thackery (the Beadle’s wife), with Samuel Goodwin giving evidence for Elizabeth. John Thackery related the above story to the court.

Mrs. Thackery, the Beadle’s wife, also gave evidence against Elizabeth. Her husband had initially taken Elizabeth to a pub called the Sign of the Bell after her arrest and had asked his wife to look after her. She told the court that she had asked Elizabeth if she was the mother of the baby that had been found and Elizabeth agreed that she was. She also named the father as one John Gadd whom she had lived with for some time but who had deserted her when she became pregnant. She had also had a previous pregnancy by him which had miscarried. Elizabeth confessed to Mrs. Thackery that the baby had been born alive and that she had put it into the river. She told Mrs. Thackery that she was very poor indeed and had nothing to wrap the baby in, other than an old piece of apron.

In her own statement Elizabeth told the court that on the day the baby died she had walked to Richmond to seek work and had to rest because she had gone into labour. The Beadle of Richmond came to her and refused to get a woman to help her, instead threatening her and telling her to leave the parish immediately. She was similarly treated by Beadle of Twickenham and left in the field by the river to sort out her problems by her self. She told the court that she was in a very poor physical condition by this time and that she did not know whether the baby was dead or alive. Mrs. Nell confirmed that Elizabeth had told her of the Beadle of Richmond refusing her any form of assistance.

The only witness for the defence, other than Elizabeth herself, was Samuel Goodwin. He told the court that he has seen Elizabeth with John Gadd on several occasions and that she had told him that Gadd had taken the apron from her after the baby was born, torn off a piece of it and wrapped the baby in it before taking it away. He implied that it was therefore Gadd who had thrown it into the river and not Elizabeth. Against the rest of the evidence this was not really convincing and the jury returned a verdict of guilty against Elizabeth.

The Folly, Extravagance, and Luxury of young Gentlemen at this Time, especially of those about the Inns of Court, is but too notorious: Would they take warning by my Example, they would undoubtedly prevent those shocking Evils that are the sure Attendants upon Extravagance and Debauchery. Let them in the full Career of their Pleasures, reflect upon me. I have enjoy’d all the mad Delights the World could supply me with, have exhausted my Patrimony, impair’d my Health, and embarrass’d my Circumstances, in the Pursuit of Pleasure, and the Gratification of the Passions; the Consequence of which Conduct and Indulgence, (with bitterness of Soul I speak it) is my inevitable Destruction. Dear Friends, let Moderation and Temperance guide you in pursuit of Pleasure, acquiesce in the Dispensations of Providence, rest satisfy’d with the Portion that Heaven has bless’d you with, and be scrupulously tender of every Man’s Property. I am now upon the Point of bidding an eternal Adieu to the World, and what I speak is, from the very bottom of my Soul, and from the clear Ideas I have of the Beauty and Excellence of Virtue and Sobriety, and the pernicious Result of Vice and Immorality. Finally, my Brethren, whatsoever Things are honest, whatsoever Things are just, whatsoever Things are lovely, whatsoever Things are of good Report, if there be any Praise, if there be any Honour, think on these Things.

-last letter of William Barkwith, another condemned executed on Elizabeth Harrard’s same hanging-day

She was returned to Newgate to await sentence at the end of the Sessions and was duly condemned to hang. The Recorder did not recommend leniency in Elizabeth’s case and so she was scheduled for execution on the next “hanging day” which was to be Friday the 21st of December 1739. With her in the carts that morning were John Albin, John Maw, William Barkwith, James Shields, Charles Spinnel and Thomas Dent, all of whom had been convicted of highway robbery, Richard Turner who was to hang for stealing in dwelling house and Edward Goynes who had murdered his wife.

The usual procession set off for the journey to Tyburn where the prisoners were prepared by John Thrift and his assistants before all ten were launched into eternity together as the carts were drawn from under them. After they were suspended Susanna Broom was led to a stake that had been set up near the gallows and strangled and then burned for the Petty Treason murder by stabbing of her husband, John.

Elizabeth was one of seven women who were hanged nationally in 1739, and one of four to die for the murder of her bastard child.

Comment. It is impossible in this day and age to imagine the mental and physical condition that Elizabeth was in at the time the baby died. She was totally destitute, abandoned by her boyfriend, in great pain, very weak from having just given birth and denied assistance of any kind by the authorities. If indeed she did kill her baby it is not hard to understand the total desperation that led her to do so. However none of these factors, all of which were either known to the court at the time, or were basically self evident facts, were seen as an excuse for her crime in 1739.

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1785: Elizabeth Taylor, hanged for burglary

1 comment August 17th, 2019 Richard Clark

(Thanks to Richard Clark of Capital Punishment U.K. for the guest post, a reprint of an article originally published on that site with some explanatory links added by Executed Today. CapitalPunishmentUK.org features a trove of research and feature articles on the death penalty in England and elsewhere. -ed.)

On August 17, 1785, Elizabeth Taylor was only the third woman to be hanged on the New Drop gallows outside Newgate.*

Elizabeth and her brother Martin were convicted of burgling the house and shop of Samuel Hooker at Highgate in London on the night of Sunday the 7th of May 1785. They got quite a haul, nearly £200 worth of goods comprising sixty yards of Irish linen cloth, ten linen handkerchiefs, two hundred and fifty yards of thread lace, two thousand yards of silk ribbon, thirty yards of muslin, two silk handkerchiefs and some silver spoons and tableware. Elizabeth had been a servant in the Hooker household and had left his employment about sixteen months earlier.

On the night of the 7th Mr. Hooker locked up as usual before going to bed and was satisfied that everything was secure. Sometime after midnight Elizabeth, Martin and possibly a second man arrived at the house where they carefully removed four course of brickwork from under the kitchen window without disturbing the sleeping occupants. Martin was able to get through this hole and then went into the shop, taking the items that he found and passing them out to Elizabeth.

The crime was discovered the following morning when Mr. Hooker came down and was surprised by the amount of light in his kitchen from the sun shining through the hole that had been made. He checked round and went into the shop where he noticed various items missing. In a state of agitation he went next door and fetched his neighbour to look at the situation. He then fetched the local constable, Mr. Thomas Seasons and reported the burglary and the considerable loss of stock to him.

On the 18th of May, Mr. Hooker and Mr. Seasons went to Martin Taylor’s home and searched it. They discovered a cap which had some lace on it and a few yards of ribbon which Mr. Hooker was able to identify but none of the other property. Martin was arrested at the house. Mr. Hooker and Mr. Seasons then went to the home of a friend of the Taylors, Mrs. Halloway, who was a part time dress maker with whom Martin had lodged. She claimed in court that Martin had asked her to make two shifts for his sister from the material that he had brought to her. Mrs. Halloway knew Elizabeth from her visits to the house. Here Mr. Hooker and Mr. Seasons discovered pieces of the Irish linen cut up into panels for shirts and shifts. They also discovered one of the handkerchiefs that had been stolen. Further searching of the house revealed some more of the items in the upstairs room of another lodger, Mrs. Powell. Mr. Hooker and the constable’s next visit was to Bow fair where they apprehended Elizabeth who tried to make a run for it with the help of some of the bystanders. When she was searched a small quantity of ribbon was found in her pocket book. She was taken back to Mr. Season’s house and then before a magistrate where she made a confession. She told Mr. Seasons that she and two men had committed the burglary.

Elizabeth and Martin were committed for trial by the magistrates and appeared at the June Sessions of the Old Bailey which opened on Wednesday the 29th of that month before Mr. Justice Buller. Mr. Silvester led the prosecution and the defence was handled by Mr. Garrow.**

Various witnesses were called including Mr. Hooker, Mr. Seasons, Mrs. Halloway and Mrs. Powell, each giving their account of the events and being cross examined for the defence. Mr. Garrow questioned the constable as to the circumstances in which Elizabeth had made her confession and whether or not he had placed under duress to extract it. He suggested to the constable that he had threatened her with being hanged if she did not confess, something which Mr. Seasons denied, telling the court that he tried to dissuade her from making a confession to him and that she continued because she thought, in his opinion, that it might save her from the gallows.

Martin Taylor was allowed to make a personal statement in his defence in which he told the court that he had bought fourteen yards of the linen for twenty two pence a yard from an acquaintance in the Borough with the intention of having it made up by Mrs. Halloway into clothes for his wife and sister. Elizabeth simply told the court that she knew nothing about the crime at all. Not a statement that was likely to impress the jury in view of the evidence against her.

Both Elizabeth and Martin were convicted and sent back to Newgate to await sentencing at the end of the Sessions. No less than twenty-two men and three women were condemned to hang on that Friday. However fifteen men and the other two women were reprieved and had their sentences commuted to transportation.

The execution of the eight remaining prisoners was to take place on the portable “New Drop” gallows outside the Debtor’s Door of Newgate on Wednesday the 17th of August 1785. They were among a group of eight prisoners to die that morning. With them on the platform was James Lockhart who had been convicted of stealing in a dwelling house, John Rebouit, John Morris and James Guthrie convicted of highway robbery and Richard Jacobs and Thomas Bailey who had also been condemned for burglary.

The actress Elizabeth Taylor — no relation — taking her leave of the soon-to-be-executed Montgomery Clift in the 1951 classic A Place in the Sun

At around 7.30 a.m., the condemned were led from their cells into the Press Yard where the Under Sheriff and John Villette, the Ordinary, (Newgate’s chaplain) met them. Their leg irons were removed by the prison blacksmith and the Yeoman of the Halter supervised the proceedings as the hangman and his assistant bound their wrists in front of them with cord and also place a cord round their body and arms at the elbows. White nightcaps were placed on their heads. The prisoners were now led across the Yard to the Lodge and then out through the Debtor’s Door where they climbed the steps up to the portable wooden gallows. There were shouts of “hats off” in the crowd. This was not out of respect for those about to die, but rather because the people further back demanded those at the front remove their hats so as not to obscure their view of the execution. Once assembled on the drop, the hangman, probably Edward Dennis, put the nooses round their necks while they prayed with the Ordinary. Elizabeth might have had her dress bound around her legs for the sake of decency but the men’s legs were left free. When the prayers had finished at about 8.15, the under sheriff gave the signal and the hangman moved the lever, which was connected to a drawbar under the trap, causing it to fall with a loud crash, the prisoners plunging 12-18 inches and usually writhing and struggling for some seconds before relaxing and becoming still. If their bodies continued to struggle, the hangman, unseen by the crowd, within the box below the drop, would grasp their legs and swing on them so adding his weight to theirs and thus ending their sufferings sooner. The dangling bodies would be left hanging for an hour before being either returned to their relatives. It was not recorded whether Elizabeth struggled or whether she died easily.

Although still by no means an instant death at least being hanged outside Newgate and being given some drop was a considerable improvement over executions at Tyburn with the long and uncomfortable ride to the gallows where prisoners died a much slower death as they got virtually no drop.

* The other two were Frances Warren and Mary Moody.

** William Garrow was a wet-behind-the-ears barrister at this moment having been called to the bar just the year prior, but he went on to a career as one of the age’s great Whig jurists and (thanks to his unusually energetic advocacy for his clientele) a key figure in the development of the adversarial trial model. He’s notable for coining — in 1791, in a case that he lost — the phrase and then-novel doctrine “presumed innocent until proven guilty”. He’s the subject of the 2009-2011 BBC series Garrow’s Law. -ed.

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1988: Elina Zlatanova, the last woman executed in Bulgaria

1 comment March 8th, 2019 Richard Clark

(Thanks to Richard Clark of Capital Punishment U.K. for the guest post, a reprint of an article originally published on that site with some explanatory links added by Executed Today. CapitalPunishmentUK.org features a trove of research and feature articles on the death penalty in England and elsewhere. -ed.)


With special thanks to Andrey for contributing this fascinating insight into Bulgarian justice during the Communist era. -RC

In the early hours of March 8th, 1988 in the town cemetery of Sliven in Southeast Bulgaria, “Elina Zlatanova” was executed by a single handgun shot to the back of the head for the murder of her two young sons. Ironically, the execution fell on International Women’s Day and Mother’s Day — a semi-official and universally celebrated holiday in Bulgaria. The symbolism was presumably not lost on the authorities

Background.

We do not know the actual (birth) name of the woman executed on this day. Elina Zlatanova was the name given to her in the mid-1980s by the Communist authorities as a part of the so-called “Revival Process” — the forceful assimilation of Bulgaria’s Turkish minority. She was a midwife and her husband, “Martin Zlatanov” (another victim of the forced renaming), was a doctor in the hospital of Kardzhali, a town of 60,000 with an ethnically Turkish majority.

Her father was a onetime Member of Parliament (this was not as impressive as it may sound — most of the 400 members of the Communist rubberstamp parliament were chosen pretty much at random from loyal party cadres and, of course, they were the only candidates on the ballot). Her family was well respected in the city.

And her marriage was an unmitigated disaster. Zlatanova had to wait hand and foot on her husband and his unmarried brother, was not allowed to leave the house except for work or to go to the nearest shop and was denied contact with her family. The last straw probably came when she heard rumours that her husband had a mistress. These rumours were substantiated when, three months after the murder, he moved back into the apartment where his children died with his mistress and eventually married her, emigrating to Turkey where they apparently live to this day.

The crime.

On January 19th 1986, “Midwives Day” in Bulgaria, Elina expected to be taken to a social function by her husband, but instead he came in late and didn’t even acknowledge her. After he left for work the next morning (20.01.1986), she took a 20-litre can of diesel fuel (essential because of frequent power outages), poured it all over the apartment and set it on fire. Her 10-month-old son, Elin, was asphyxiated in his crib; his older brother Neven (age 4), tried to escape and Elina stabbed him with a kitchen knife. Her intention, apparently, was to also perish in the fire, but when the flames got too close, she got out of the blazing apartment.

Trial.

At first Elina claimed that an unknown man in blue work coveralls had broken in and set the place on fire, but soon afterwards the stab wounds on the older boy’s body were found and she made a full confession (Bulgarian police at the time were rather too good at extracting confessions, but there is next to no doubt about the circumstances of this case).

At the trial she pleaded guilty to all counts and reportedly fainted any time the boys were mentioned. Her lawyer, the late Reni Tzanova, attempted a defence of insanity and, given Elina’s behaviour in and out of court during the trial, it came as a shock when she was found to have been fully aware of her actions and fit to stand trial. Elina seemed resigned to her fate, her last words in court were “I could not have ever been a mother. I do not deserve to live, but, if you let me, I will try to atone for my guilt.” The guilty verdict, even given the extenuating circumstance of her marriage, was preordained, but it was still unusual for a woman to get the death penalty.

Execution.

At this time, commutations and pardons were handled by the State Council, or rather by the State Council’s judicial secretaries. They routinely commuted female death sentences, especially after 1978 when life in prison was also made part of the Bulgarian penal code (until then the penalty for aggravated murder was 10 to 15 years imprisonment or death). For whatever reason, they declined to intervene in this case.

An elaborate shooting mechanism had been installed in the execution chamber of Sofia Central Prison in 1982, but, then as now, the only prison for females in Bulgaria is the one in Sliven. This meant that any arrangements for the execution were left to the discretion of the prison director there, his deputies and the district prosecutor. At one or two in the morning of March 8, Elina was taken from her cell, put in a van and driven to a pre-dug pit on the grounds of the local cemetery. She probably was made to stand on the edge of the pit and a volunteer from the prison guards shot her once in the back of the head. There are no further details of this execution but in an earlier one, due to nerves and/or the unlit ground, the executioner did not have a precise aim and the woman’s heart was still beating 16 minutes after the shot and she finally expired as the officers present were arguing whether to allow for a coup de grâce.

Comment.

In Communist Bulgaria, murders and executions did not happen — at least, according to the official press. The information, therefore, is usually at least, somewhat based on rumours and speculations. In this case, the speculation of Andrey is that what ultimately cost Elina her life was the fact that she was Turkish and her crime took place in a predominantly Turkish city. By the late 1980s even the true believers could see that you cannot make Turks into Bulgarians at gunpoint, and so those who resisted assimilation (the vast majority of Bulgarian Turks) had to be driven out of Bulgaria.

The resistance often took a human toll — between 1983 and 1989 at least nine men were executed for various terrorist attacks and acts of armed resistance that left at least 16 dead and many wounded. Later, from May to August 1989, when borders were temporarily opened, 40% of the Bulgarian Turks (about 360,000 people) left their homes and sought refuge in Turkey in the so-called Grand Excursion (since they were on tourist visas). Quite a lot of those did not leave willingly, but their hand was forced through mass workplace firings, forced evictions from state-owned property, seizure of property and various other suppressive methods.

Elina’s case was not in any way political, but its notoriety among Kardzhali’s 50,000 Turks made the authorities think she should be made an example of “the awful majesty” of the state. The murder of the two boys was a horrific act which met four of the eight criteria for aggravated murder in the Bulgarian penal code, any one of which could result in a death sentence — and yet other similar murders did not result in execution. Once Elina’s fate was known, many among those who knew about the case (who were predominantly Turkish) would have been aware of this double standard. Essentially, Andrey speculates that her execution was a part of a campaign of terror, waged by the Communist Bulgarian state against its Turkish population, designed to either to cow into submission or drive out in terror those who resisted the “Revival process”. Around 200,000 thousand didn’t return after the “Grand Excursion”, and many of those who are still in Bulgaria have deep mistrust of the authorities, so unfortunately this campaign may have been successful.

Executions of male prisoners in Sofia Central Prison.

The shooting mechanism referred to above consisted of two Makarov pistols with their handles and triggers removed, placed on two separate adjustable stands. Instead of a traditional trigger, they were wired so that the firing pins were activated electrically. They were operated by flipping a switch and pressing a button. The second gun was on a separate circuit and was not supposed to fire unless a sensor did not detect the report of the other gun within a set amount of seconds.

Usually guards burst into the cell of the condemned prisoner around 22:30 in the evening, and apparently they almost always informed him (between showers of expletives) that his pardon has been granted, helping him gather his personal belongings for transfer to another cell or prison — even though most prisoners were aware of their impending doom, the charade was kept until he was pinioned.

After certain preparations, the condemned was lead down a corridor to a small room, which on two sides had crimson floor length curtains instead of walls. The prisoner was secured in a fixed chair with his back around 60 cm from one of the “curtain” sides, his verdict was read to him and the guards and officials left the room, leaving the prisoner looking at the mirrored wall directly in front of him (which was, in fact, a one-way mirror). The curtains were designed to conceal the gun nozzle from the condemned and the most credible account has two guns (main and spare) on two separate stands in the corners behind the prisoner, aiming for the temples. There are differing accounts about the procedure, as well as over-elaboration, which is one of the reasons that this mechanism was seldom, if ever, used. Interviews with at least a dozen people who worked in the prison at the time revealed that none had firsthand accounts of executions performed with the machine, while some had vivid recollections how Capt. or Lt. so-and-so “blew X’s brains out” with his pistol

The last execution in the prison took place on November 4th, 1989, six days before the fall of the Communist regime. In 1991 the mechanism was still there, but by 1994 it had vanished (it is presumed that some of the guards decided to supplement their salaries by selling it for scrap). Since the death penalty was not formally abolished until 1998, had the moratorium been lifted, any executions would have taken place in the “traditional” manner. The death chamber is used as a storage room today, with very little left to remind of its former use.

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1995: Angel Mou Pui-Peng

Add comment January 6th, 2019 Richard Clark

(Thanks to Richard Clark of Capital Punishment U.K. for the guest post, a reprint of an article originally published on that site with some explanatory links added by Executed Today. CapitalPunishmentUK.org features a trove of research and feature articles on the death penalty in England and elsewhere. -ed.)

Angel Mou Pui-Peng, a 25-year-old unmarried mother, was hanged in Changi prison before dawn on Friday the 6th of January 1995. She became the 95th person (and third woman) to hang under Singapore’s strict 1975 anti-drug laws. Cheuk Mei-mei, 29, also from Hong Kong, was executed in 1994 and another three women were executed for drug trafficking in 1995 including two who were only 18 at the time of their crime. Altogether 30 people were hanged in Singapore for drug trafficking in 1995 with a further six men and one woman (Flor Contemplacion) being hanged for murder. Although there have been more women executed for murder, only one other woman has been hanged for drug offences since the end of 1995. (Navarat Maykha, a Thai national, was executed in September 1996.)

Under Singapore law, the death sentence is mandatory for anyone over 18 convicted of trafficking in more than 15 grams (half an ounce) of heroin, 30 grams (one ounce) of morphine or 500 grams (18 oz.) of cannabis. Prisoners have an automatic right of appeal to the Appeal Court and if that fails, may petition the President for mercy. However, death sentences are virtually always carried out. I know of only one case where a reprieve was granted — to a Burmese man who was completely illiterate and clearly had no idea that he was committing a crime.

Angel, a resident of then-British Hong Kong born in then-Portuguese Macau,* was arrested at Singapore’s Changi airport on August the 29th, 1991, after arriving from Bangkok with a suitcase containing 20 packets totaling over 4.1 kg of heroin according to the Central Narcotics Bureau. At her trial, she claimed she did not know the false-bottom suitcase contained heroin and thought she was carrying contraband watches instead. She was found guilty and sentenced to death in 1993 and as usual in Singapore, both her appeals were rejected.

However, she was granted a temporary stay of execution on the 22nd of December 1994, apparently to allow her family to visit her over Christmas, after a plea by her mother and nine year old son, having been originally scheduled to hang on Friday the 23rd of December with two Singaporean drug traffickers.

On the eve of her execution, her lawyer Peter Yap said that she was “normal and calm” when he saw her. He said she “was emotionally stable and prepared to die. Spiritually she was very strong.” He also said Angel was comforted by the settlement of guardianship for her son.

The day before her execution, she would have been weighed by Singapore’s executioner, Darshan Singh, to enable calculation of the correct drop. The British Home Office 1913 table of drops is still used. Unusually, Angel was executed on her own (due to the stay.) At about 5.30 a.m., she would have been escorted by her guards to a waiting room to be prepared. Shortly before 6.00 a.m. her hands would have been handcuffed behind her back and a black cloth hood placed over her head. She would then have been led the few meters to the gallows at 6.00 a.m. local time. Her legs would have been strapped together and the leather covered noose placed round her neck. Singh then told her “I am going to send you to a better place than this. God bless you.”

After execution, the body was returned to relatives and she was cremated in the early evening at Mount Vernon crematorium after a short service attended by her family and friends.

“Our sister Angel has now been taken to heaven — a place we will go and we shall hope to see her there one day,” an elderly pastor, speaking in Cantonese, told the congregation of some 25 people.

“When are you coming back to Hong Kong?” a young woman cried in Cantonese as she, Angel’s sister, Cecilia, and a few others watched the coffin, covered in black velvet, disappear into the furnace.

Her father, reportedly reconciled with his daughter during her brief stay of execution, broke down uncontrollably after the cremation.

Macau was a Portuguese province and the President of Portugal, Mario Soares and the Portuguese government appealed for clemency on the grounds of Angel’s youth and the fact that she was only a carrier. But according to Portuguese officials, Singapore said it could not differentiate between foreigners and its own people.
The Governor of Macau expressed deep sorrow and called the execution “revolting,” the Portuguese news agency Lusa reported. “For someone like me who is a citizen of a country that takes a pride in being one of the first that abolished capital punishment, the loss of human life is something that is incomprehensible and even revolting,” Lusa quoted Governor Rocha Vieira Vasco as saying in a message to Angel’s mother. Chris Patten, who was at the time the Hong Kong Governor, said the British colony had supported a plea for clemency put forward by Britain and the European Union.

* Both colonies became Chinese territories in the late 1990s.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Drugs,Execution,Guest Writers,Hanged,Other Voices,Portugal,Singapore,Women

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1885: Robert Goodale, messily

1 comment November 30th, 2018 Richard Clark

(Thanks to Richard Clark of Capital Punishment U.K. for the guest post, a reprint of an article originally published on that site with some explanatory links added by Executed Today. CapitalPunishmentUK.org features a trove of research and feature articles on the death penalty in England and elsewhere. -ed.)

45-year-old Robert Goodale was a market gardener who had been married to a lady called Bethsheba for 22 years. He owned a piece of land at Walsoken Marsh, near Wisbech, where he grew fruit and vegetables. On the property was a house that was used only for storage and not lived in, together with a well. The Goodales lived in Wisbech with their two sons, aged 18 and 21. All of them would walk to Walsoken in the mornings and work on the land.

On the 15th of September 1885 Bethsheba did not arrive at the market garden and a search was made for her. Her body was discovered the following day in the well. Examination of the body revealed that she had been struck three times on the head, most probably with a bill-hook, and then thrown down the well, where she drowned.

Goodale was arrested by Sgt. Roughton on suspicion of murder and later charged with the crime. He came to trial at the Norfolk Assizes at Norwich before Mr. Justice Stephen on Friday the 13th of November 1885.

Evidence was presented of the Goodales’ unhappy marriage and of threats of violence made against Bethsheba by her husband. A witness testified that he had heard a quarrel in the Goodales’ house on the afternoon of the murder. Dr. Stevenson the Home Office analyst said he had found traces of mammalian blood on the prisoner’s hat and jacket.

The defence led by Mr. Horace Browne contended that the case against Goodale was very weak. He conceded that husband and wife were not on good terms but insisted that Goodale’s conduct was not consistent with that of a murderer. He rebutted the blood stain evidence and suggested that it had come from the prisoner having a nose bleed. At this time it was not possible to determine the group to which the blood belonged and therefore it could not be certain that it was the victim’s blood, or even that it was human rather than animal blood.

The trial resumed on the Saturday and after the closing speeches and the summing up it took the jury just 20 minutes to reach their verdict of guilty of the wilful murder of his wife. Goodale was sentenced to death and removed to the Condemned Cell in Norwich Castle to await execution on Monday the 30th of November.

He was visited by his two sons and his sister on the Friday. Later that day he asked to see the governor of Norwich Castle, Mr. Dent. He and the Chief Warder went to Goodale’s cell where he told them that the crime had taken place due to extreme provocation. He claimed that his wife had told him that she liked other men. Mr. Dent took Goodale’s statement down in writing and sent it to the Home Secretary. The Rev. Mr. Wheeler and a former Sheriff of Norwich went to London and made representations for a reprieve at the Home Office. On Sunday the 29th of November the governor received a letter saying that the Home Secretary had not found cause to grant a reprieve.

James Berry had arrived at the prison and tested the drop on the Monday morning in the presence of the governor and under-sheriff. The gallows there had been constructed some three and a half years earlier for the execution of William Abigail on the 22nd of May 1882. The trap doors were set level with the floor over an 11′ 5″ deep brick lined pit in the middle of a small yard. This yard was approximately 48 feet long by 15 feet wide near the Castle wall, opposite Opie Street. The gallows consisted of a black painted wooden beam supported by two stout uprights set over the black painted trap doors.

Goodale stood 5′ 11″ tall and was a heavy man at 15 stone (210 lbs.) with a weak neck. Berry considered that a drop of 5′ 9″ should be given. He used a “government rope” that had been used for the hanging of John Williams at Hereford a week earlier.

At 7.55 a.m. on the Monday morning the bell of St. Peter’s church began to toll and the officials proceeded to the condemned cell. A procession then formed consisting of the governor, the Rev. Mr. Wheeler, the surgeon, Mr. Robinson and the under-sheriff, Mr. Hales. Mr. Charles Mackie of the Norfolk Chronicle represented the press. They went down a passage that connected the cell to the gallows yard where Berry met them and pinioned Goodale, after which they continued into the prison yard.

Here Berry strapped Goodale’s legs and applied the white hood and the noose. Goodale several times exclaimed “Oh God, receive my soul.” As the church clock struck for the eighth time Berry released the trap doors and Goodale disappeared into the pit, but the rope sprung back up to the horror of the witnesses.

As they looked down into the pit they could see the body and the head lying separately at the bottom.

The law required that an inquest be held after an execution and this was presided over by Mr. E. S. Bignold, the Coroner. Mr. Dent gave evidence that the machinery of the gallows was in good working order and that Goodale was decapitated by the force of the drop. Mr. Dent did not think that a drop of 5′ 9″ was excessive and in fact thought it was insufficient for a man of ordinary build. He also stated that James Berry was perfectly sober.

Berry himself testified and at the end of this the Coroner absolved him of any blame for what had happened. The jury returned a verdict that Goodale “came to his death by hanging, according to the judgement of the law.” They further said “that they did not consider that anyone was to blame for what had occurred.”

This is the only occasion of a complete decapitation occurring at a hanging in England, Scotland and Wales, although Berry had several partial ones.

Assuming that Goodale actually weighed 15 stones (in some reports it is given as 16 stones) and that Berry had correctly set the drop at 5′ 9½” or 5′ 10″ then the energy developed would have been around 1218 foot lbs. This is around 100 foot lbs. more than would have been given after 1939 for a man of normal build with a normal neck. The “Goodale Mess” as it came to be known, led to a lot of unfavourable comment in the press.

Just one day after the most damning newspaper editorials had appeared, the head of the Prison Commission, Sir Edward Du Cane, wrote to the Home Secretary on the 2nd of December. In his letter he suggested the setting up of a Committee on Capital Punishment (which became the Aberdare Committee).

Footnote:

The Norwich Chronicle published an interview with Goodale’s spiritual advisor, the Rev. Mr. Wheeler, a Baptist minister. He felt that maybe Goodale might not have been convicted of murder if he had said earlier what he said in his confession on the Friday evening. When Bethsheba fell into the well, he fetched a ladder to go down and look for her but that he could not get down the well since the opening was just 18 inches wide and he could not physically fit through it.

Had he spoken up earlier, Mr. Wheeler said, the police would have found the ladder still in the well and the dirt of the well on Goodale’s clothes. It might have led to a verdict of manslaughter.

When Goodale finally came forward with this tale, it was too late.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Borderline "Executions",Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Guest Writers,Hanged,History,Murder,Other Voices

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