Posts filed under 'Abortion and Infanticide'

1827: Sarah Jones, firm infanticide

Add comment April 11th, 2019 Headsman

From the Bristol Mercury of April 16, 1827:

EXECUTION OF SARAH JONES.

This unfortunate victim to seduction was 26 years of age, and lived with her father and mother, Thomas and Mary Jones, who resided in a small cottage, forming one of a row of houses, situated on the side of the Sirhowy tram-road, called Pye-corner, in the parish of Bassalleg, in the county of Monmouth.

On Tuesday morning she took a farewell leave of her wretched parents, which she bore with considerable firmness, being the least affected of the three. — A neighbor, who spoke to her character, was, at her desire, permitted to see her the same morning, and speak to her in the Welsh language. She was particularly communicative; detailing the circumstances most minutely, which led to her present situation. She said it was not her intention to have destroyed the hapless infant, until three months before her confinement, when she discovered her seducer, Flook, had married another woman; she then formed the diabolical plan of having her revenge in the murder of his infant.

On Monday, the 23d of October, at breakfast, she found herself ill, and went up stairs; about ten or eleven her mother came up, disturbed by her voice; she sent her down for some fresh linen; and whilst the mother was going down stairs, the child was born: — she immediately seized one of two pen-knives which were in her pocket by her bedside, and in a minute or two after the birth, gave it two gashes in the throat; the mother coming up with the linen, she hid the body between the sacking and the bed, on some straw lying between, and lay on it until the Friday night. On that night Flook came to see her, — she was then down stairs in the chair (her father asleep) — he immediately noticed the alteration in her size, on which she told him of the horrid deed she had committed, and entreated him to assist her, by burying the body; — he consented; and, having sewed it up in some spare sacking, she gave it him through the window.

She positively declares her father knew nothing of the transaction, till Potter, the game-keeper, brought the body to the house; that she had concealed her situation from her mother, denying her pregnancy, even the Sunday evening before her confinement; and that the mother believed the child to have been still-born, up to the time of the coroner’s inquisition.

Sarah Burley, a fellow prisoner, under sentence of imprisonment, for stealing money, at Newport, slept with her during the night; — she slept remarkably sound, being only disturbed by supposing she saw her coffin lying by her bedside: she asserts, she has felt ever since her sentence, the sensation of having a rope round her neck, and that she often lifted her hand to remove it. She spoke in the most flattering manner of the attentions of the keeper, Mr. T. Phillips, to whose humanity and instructions she was indebted for her firmness of mind; — she took a prison farewell of the friend to whom she revealed her mind, without tears, and viewed the prospect of the near approach of her death with the greatest resignation.

Additional Particulars. — This unfortunate woman was of short stature, stout made, with nothing in her countenance indicative of ferociousness, she stood during her trial without any perceptible emotion, but on receiving sentence was obliged to be supported by one of the officers in attendance, and was carried from the bar to the chaise which conducted her to the gaol; she has asserted that even then, she was as collected as she ever was in her life, and was only exhausted from the joy she felt that her mother was acquitted. She had made up her mind for the worst on first entering the gaol, and her whole anxiety was, lest her poor mother should be found guilty, and she should be thus accessory to another death.

She slept soundly the last night, awaking about 6 o’clock, and on viewing the fatal spot observed that every thing was ready and she was so herself. After divine service she received the sacrament with several other criminals, and was from thence ushered to the drop, walking with a steady step, on arriving at the lodge she took a last farewell of several around her, expressing her confidence of being in a few minutes happy, she then ascended the place where the executioner awaited her, in the performance of his painful duty, the only observation she made, was not to draw the rope too tight, and having kissed those around her, begged the cap might be then pulled over her face, she then stept on the platform with firmness, on the rope being adjusted, she begged the executioner to draw her clothes tight around her, which he did by tying a handkerchief, having retired, the drop fell, and in about a minute vitality ceased.

After hanging an hour her body was delivered to her friends, for interment in Bassalleg churchyard; on its being made known that the part of her sentence relating to her dissection was remitted, she felt much gratified and hoped they would let her body remain one night at her father’s house. Thus died this unhappy woman in her 26th year, her fate has excited much commiseration and miserable must be the recollections of her seducer; her resignation was praiseworthy, her repentance contrite, and her conduct firm and decided beyond precedent under such circumstances; endued with great strength and presence of mind, she only wanted the advantages of education, and to have been under the moral restrictions of the Christian code to have been an useful character in society, may her end be (in the impressive language of the Learned Judge who tried her) a warning to the unguarded of her age, and to those wretches unworthy the name of men who have, or who may seduce females to a similar state of degradation; throughout the trial the humanity of the Learned Sergeant was apparent, and the feeling manner in which he pronounced the dreadful fiat of the law drew tears from the eyes of a majority of the largest assemblage of spectators within that court. The crowd assembled at her execution was unusually large, and, as is customary, but no ways creditable to them, two thirds were females.

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

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1780: Elizabeth Butchill, Trinity College Cambridge bedding-girl

2 comments March 17th, 2019 Headsman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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1726: Margaret Millar, infanticide

Add comment February 10th, 2019 Headsman

This broadside hails from the National Library of Scotland’s wonderful archive of such documents, and the curator notes that as a “coal-bearer” — the backbreaking work of toting mined coal from the business end of the mine up and out the shaft — it’s unlikely that Millar was as educated as implied by the prose style that publishers put to her name.

The last Speech and dying Words of Margaret Millar, Coal-bearer at Coldencleugh who was execute [sic] 10. February I726 at the Gibbet of Dalkeith, for Murdering her own Child.

My Friends,

The present Age is so degenerate into Vice and Immorality, That they have the Ascendant over Godliness and Vertue; whereas Religion and Piety are run down by manifest Profanity, Dissimulation and Hypocrisy: So the Sin of unnatural Murder (while one Relation barbarously embrues their cruel Hands in the innocent Blood of another)[.] The Parents theirs in the Blood of their tender Children, the Children theirs in that of their dutiful and affectionate Parents: And in short, That of the Inhuman and cruel Servants (for the love of Money) barbarously butchering their kind and obliging Masters and Mistresses[.] That all these horrid Actions and abominable Sins, are the ready Means to bring down the heavy and just Judgments of GOD upon a People, or Person, who avowedly do commit the same, and whatever Secrefy may be gone about, in the Perpetration of any of these, yet the all-seeing Eye of the Almighty will bring the hidden Things of Darkness to Light, That the guilty Offenders may by the Hand of Justice be brought to condign Punishment, for a Terror and Example to others, who shall or may be guilty of the like Crimes.

Dear People, since I am by the just Sentence of the Law, condemned to suffer this Day a shameful and cursed Death, for that unnatural and cruel Fact, it will be expected by you all, to hear something from me, as to the course of my frail Life, which is now near to a Period.

The place of my Birth was at Dysert in Fife. My Father John Millar was a Salter under my Lord Sinclar there, and I being in my Nonage left to the Care of an Uncle, who put me to the Fostering, and after being wean’d from the Breast, was turn’d from Hand to Hand amongst other Relations, when my Friends being wearied and neglecting me, I was obliged to engage with my Lord Sinclar’s Coalliers to be a Bearer in his Lordships Coalheughs: So being unaccustomed with that Yoke of Bondage, I endeavoured to make my Escape from such a World of Slavery, expecting to have made some better thereof: But in place of that I fell into a greater Snare; which was in a Millers House near unto Lithgow, where my Masters Son and I fell into that Sin of Uncleanness, and I brought forth a Child unto him; which Child was fostered, and lived until it was three or four Years of Age, and died in the small Pox.

After which Time, I came from the foresaid Service into this Place, where I engaged in the Coalcheugh of Coldencleugh, under the Service of Christian Lumsden, which I most solemonly regrate this Day, and which was my Misfortune, she reduced me to great Extremities, by not paying up of my Wages, so duely as I was needful of it, to buy me Cloaths to go to the House of GOD upon his Day, which made me to ran into an Hurry of Dispar, my Land-Lady and others in the Coalheugh suspecting I had an Ear with George Lauder Coal-grieve there, began to make Reflections upon me, which prompted me to greater Vice, as most unhappily hath now fallen out: Which Vice hath brought me to this unhappy and untimely End; he having had that Opportunity of inducing me into that horrid Sin of Adultry, and after which Time I came to be with Child to him, I acquainted him thereof, and when the Time of Birth came, I finding no Subsistance from him, I did most unnaturally imbrue my Hands in the innocent Blood of the Fruit of my Womb.

I must own, that even in my younger Years I was addicted to all Vice, such as neglecting Duty towards GOD, Breach of his Sabbath, and neglecting of his Ordinances: Now I desire that all Persons take a warning of me this Day who am but an Ignorant, or a Castaway, That they be not Breakers of the Sabbath, Despisers of his Ordinances left that their End be such an untimely one as mine.

F I N I S

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Abortion and Infanticide,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,Murder,Public Executions,Scotland,Women

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1951: William Watkins, one man’s life and death

Add comment April 3rd, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1951, William Watkins hanged for drowning his eleventh child.

An execution that was barely noticed in its time and would be nigh-forgotten today, it’s revived in all its messy humanity in a book titled Execution: One Man’s Life and Death. John Mervy Pugh, the son of one of Watkins’s prosecuting barristers, watched Watkins’s two-day trial as a young man and was still so troubled by it many years later that once “it all came tumbling back into my mind” he decided that he “could not let it rest.” Pugh’s empathetic book plumbs the trial and police records, supplemented by interviews with Watkins’s surviving family and even Watkins’s executioner, the ubiquitous Albert Pierrepoint.

“This was one case I never expected would have taken place,” Pierrepoint told Pugh. “In my opinion many men have been reprieved for a lot worse crime than this.” According to Pugh, many others involved the case, from prison warders to court officials, were equally shaken by the unexpected denial of clemency. Watkins’s guards, who had a good feel for how these things played out, had confidently reassured the convict that he would surely never hang.

Forty-nine years old at his death, which was barely ten weeks after the death of the infant for which he was condemned, Watkins was a factory worker who scrabbled an honest if impecunious living with his second family. Once he was charming and gregarious, but an advancing congenital deafness and the strains of Britain’s hard years through Depression and war had left him taciturn and “prematurely old; his once black hair was now steel grey and his face permanently looked as though he needed a shave.” (His vanishing hearing also robbed him of his longtime driving profession.) He’d had nine children with his first wife but had left her for their former boarder whom Pugh anonymizes as “Maisie”. Though never married, the two lived as man and wife in a run-down home at the back of 79 Clifford Lane in Birmingham. They had a four-year-old son together. Then Maisie got pregnant again.

By both parents’ own admissions it was a child that they did not want and could not afford. (Bill still continued dutiful maintenance payments to the family he had deserted; the last one arrived after his arrest.) Maisie gave birth at home — she’d had no medical attention at all during her pregnancy — on the night of January 20, 1951. Minutes after she delivered, the baby was drowned, and Watkins’s fate was sealed.

Bill and Maisie lived cheek by jowl with their neighbors and Maisie’s condition had been obvious; it was no more than a couple of days before their observable comings and goings (specifically, Maisie’s not coming and going) had generated the inference of a birth … and Bill’s evasiveness generated rumors that demanded investigation.

When men arrived bearing papers and sharp questions, Bill’s answers were not very coherent or consistent. His excuses for that — panic in the moment, and the weariness of repeated police questioning later on — did not quite seem equal to the gravity of a dead infant, which he made no effort to hide when pressed. Minutes after the birth, the father said, he was washing the bloody newborn off and “it fell in the bowl.” So … scoop it out? He didn’t, and even said he couldn’t, for no satisfactory reason: alternately because his wife was shouting or, as he once allowed, “I suppose I panicked and we did not want the child.” It’s a disordered story for what in that moment seems for all the world a disordered soul. Quite disturbingly, the child was also found stuffed head-first in a pillow slip; was this because Bill had socked away the corpse in a vain attempt at concealment, or was it because he had callously stuffed the still-living creature inside the sack before “bathing,” intending all along to asphyxiate it?

This last interpretation surely carries an outrage beyond “mere” infanticide, perhaps the very margin by which Watkins swung. In notes before he recommended Home Secretary Chuter Ede against a reprieve (in effect, this recommendation was the decision) Permanent Under-Secretary of State Frank Newsam recorded the view that “this is a shocking case of the massacre of an unwanted infant by drowning as if the infant were a kitten.”

To Pugh’s eye, it seemed Watkins barely helped his own attorneys at all; he remarks that in revisiting the transcripts years later it is obvious how fragmentary was Watkins’s understanding of events, so hard of hearing was he. His near-deafness led others to take him for vacant and stupid; he’s repeatedly referred to as simple-minded by figures who encounter him, even his own barrister, although he was nothing of the sort. Yet Pugh also wonders whether the “prematurely old” Watkins had not indeed simply given up, somewhere along the line. The hangman Pierrepoint shared the same impression when he first spied the prisoner, as he later told Pugh: “he looked so dejected and slightly stooped, as though he couldn’t care less; suddenly I felt sorry seeing a man looking so sad and just waiting to die.”

At 8.00 a.m. the Chaplain arrived and gave Bill communion. Together they said the Lord’s Prayer and in the name of the Christ he served, the Chaplain forgave Bill for what he had done. The two prison officers found themselves affected by the scene and wished that time would not linger; the last hour always seemed the longest.

At 8.40 a.m. Mr Blenkinsop (the Undersheriff) arrived, and was quickly taken to the Governor’s office. Dr John Humphrey (the Prison Doctor) was already there. At 8.55 a.m., Pierrepoint and his assistant stood outside the door of the condemned cell and were joined within a minute by the Governor, the doctor and the Chief Prison Officer.

Within the cell Watkins was now seated with his back to the door, and seconds before the door opened, looked up, sobbing, and said to the Chaplain, “I have never met so many kind people in my life as I have met since I have been here. Why did I have to come to prison before people are so kind?” The Chaplain had to turn away for fear of showing his own emotion. Already the Under-Sheriff had given the signal: it was 30 seconds past 8.59 a.m. The door opened; Pierrepoint was behind Watkins: “Come on, old fellow,” he said in his soft northern voice. He pinioned his arms, and with an officer either side, Bill was escorted through the now opened doors to the scaffold and Pierrepoint remembers that he walked steadily into the chamber. The assistant was down on his knees pinioning his legs, Pierrepoint put a hand under his drooping chin, placed a white hood over his head and then the noose, stepped back and pulled the lever. Since Pierrepoint had entered the room, twelve seconds had passed: William Arthur Watkins was dead.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Abortion and Infanticide,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,Murder

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1588: Two Nuremberg highwaymen

Add comment January 2nd, 2018 Headsman

Nuremberg executioner Franz Schmidt on this date in 1588 broke on the wheel two of the countless violent thieves that haunted the byways of early modernity. As the meticulous Nachrichter did for all his clientele, Schmidt noted the occasion in his diary:

January 2nd. George Hörnlein of Bruck, Jobst Knau of Bamberg, a potter, both of them murderers and robbers. Two years ago Hörnlein and a companion attacked a carrier on the Remareuth, stabbed him four times so that he died, and took 32 florins. Six weeks ago he and Knau were consorting with a whore. She bore a male child in the house, where Knau baptised it, then cut off its hand while alive. Then a companion, called Schwarz, tossed the child in the air, so that it fell upon the table, and said: “Hark how the devil whines!” then cut its throat and buried it in the little garden belonging to the house.

A week later the above-mentioned Hörnlein and Knau, when the whore of the aforesaid Schwarz bore a child, wrung its neck; then Hörnlein, cutting off its right hand, buried it in the yard of the house. Six weeks ago Hörnlein and Knau with a companion, a certain Weisskopf, attacked a man between Herzog and Frauen Aurach. Knau shot him dead, took 13 florins, dragged the body into the wood and covered it with brushwood.

[A long list of murders and highway robberies follows here. Schmidt adds:]

To conclude it would require another half sheet to write down all the people they attacked … The two murderers were led out on a tumbril. Both their arms were twice nipped with red-hot tongs, and their right arms and legs broken; lastly they were executed on the wheel.

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Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Abortion and Infanticide,Broken on the Wheel,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Germany,Gruesome Methods,Murder,Outlaws,Public Executions,Theft

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1650: Not Anne Greene, miraculously delivered

Add comment December 14th, 2017 Meaghan

(Thanks to Meaghan Good of the Charley Project for the guest post. -ed.)

On this date in 1650, 22-year-old Anne Greene was hanged for infanticide.

A maidservant, she had been seduced by her master’s teenage grandson and became pregnant. Anne stated stated she had no idea she was pregnant until the baby suddenly fell out of her while she was “in the house of office” — that is, the outhouse. But when the body was found she was arrested for murder.

Medical evidence supported Anne’s claim that the baby was stillborn. It was premature, born at only 17 weeks gestation, and only nine inches long, and the midwife said she “did not believe that it ever had life.” Nevertheless, Anne was convicted of murder and condemned to death.

After Anne was hanged, she dangled for half an hour while her friends pulled down on her body and thumped on her chest with a musket butt, trying to hasten her death. After half an hour she was cut down, put in a coffin and carted off to the anatomist, Dr. William Petty.

The good Dr. Petty soon realized she wasn’t quite dead.

The story is told in a 1982 article in the British Medical Journal, titled “Miraculous deliverance of Anne Green: an Oxford case of resuscitation in the seventeenth century.” Petty and his assistant immediately set about reviving his patient through various means:

William Petty and Thomas Willis abandoned all thoughts of a dissection and proceeded to revive their patient. They caused her to be held up in the coffin and then by wrenching open her teeth they poured in her mouth some hot cordial which caused her more coughing. They then rubbed and chafed her fingers, hands, arms, and feet, and, after a quarter of an hour of this with more cordial into her mouth and the tickling of her throat with a feather, she opened her eyes momentarily. At this stage the doctors opened a vein and bled her of five ounces of blood. They then continued administering the cordial and rubbing her arms and legs. Ligatures, presumably compressing bandages, were applied to her arms and legs. Heating plasters were put to her chest and another apparently inserted as an enema, “ordered an heating odoriferous Clyster to be cast up in her body, to give heat and warmth to her bowels.”

When Anne regained consciousness, she was unable to speak for twelve hours, but after 24 hours she was speaking freely and answering questions, although her throat was bruised and hurt her. Dr. Petty put a plaster on the bruises and ordered soothing drinks.

Anne’s memory was spotty at first; it was observed that it was “was like a clock whose weights had been taken off a while and afterwards hung on again.” Within two days the amnesia disappeared, although — perhaps mercifully — she still had no memory of being hanged. Within four days she could eat solid food again, and within a month she had made a full recovery.

The Journal of Medical Biography also has an article about Anne Greene, titled “Intensive care 1650: the revival of Anne Greene”. The abstract notes,

A combination of low-body temperature and external (pedal) cardiac massage after her failed execution, it is suggested, helped to keep her alive until the arrival of the physicians who had come to make an anatomical dissection but serendipitously won golden opinions.

Anne Greene was subsequently pardoned; the authorities said God had made His will clear on the matter, and furthermore, her dead baby “was not onely abortive or stillborne but also so imperfect, that it is impossible it should have been otherwise.” She became a celebrity, and tributary poems in her honor circulated widely.


This 1651 pamphlet contains 20-odd poems about Anne Greene’s remarkable survival, ranging in style from very reverent (“Thou Paradox of fate, whom ropes reprieve, / To whom the hangman proves a gentele Shrieve”) to very not (“Now we have seen a stranger sight; / Whether it was by Physick’s might, / Or that (it seems) the Wench was Light”). One of them was a classics-heavy number submitted by 18-year-old Oxford student Christopher Wren, later to set his stamp upon the city’s architecture after the Great Fire.

Wonder of highest Art! He that will reach
A Streine for thee, had need his Muse should stretch,
Till flying to the Shades, she learne what Veine
Of Orpheus call’d Eurydice againe;
Or learne of her Apollo, ’till she can
As well, as Singer, prove Physitian.
And then she may without Suspension sing,
And, authorized, harp upon thy String.
Discordant string! for sure thy foule (unkinde
To its own Bowels’ Issue) could not finde
One Breast in Consort to its jarring stroake
‘Mongst piteous Femall Organs, therefore broke
Translations due Law, from fate repriev’d,
And struck a Unison to her selfe, and liv’d.
Was’t this? or was it, that the Goatish Flow
Of thy Adulterous veines (from thence let goe
By second Aesculapius his hand)
Dissolv’d the Parcae‘s Adamantine Band,
And made Thee Artist’s Glory, Shame of Fate,
Triumph of Nature, Virbius his Mate

She left the area for awhile to stay with friends in the country, taking her coffin with her, “as a Trophy of her wonderful preservation.” She subsequently married and bore three children before dying in 1659, nine years after her hanging.

In 2009, author Mary Hooper wrote a novel based on Anne Greene, titled Newes From the Dead.

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Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Abortion and Infanticide,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Executions Survived,Hanged,History,Lucky to be Alive,Murder,Not Executed,Other Voices,Public Executions,Women,Wrongful Executions

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A day in the executions of Franz Schmidt

Add comment August 4th, 2017 Headsman

The free imperial city of Nuremberg has been a regular feature on this site thanks to the detailed journal of executions kept by its legendary executioner Franz Schmidt.

We have profiled many of the more remarkable cases individually. Today, we’ll pause for a few of central Europe’s lesser criminals whose deaths at Schmidt’s hand on various August Fourths were more representative of the everyday malefactors who paid the last penalty on early modern scaffolds. All block text records Schmidt’s own words.


August 4, 1586: Hans Weber and Lienhardt Hagen

Hans Weber, of the New Town, a potter and thief, whom I whipped out of Neunkirchen ten years ago; Lienhardt Hagen, of Teusslen, a bath-keeper, alias der Kaltbader, a thief and robber, who with his companion helped to attack people by night, tortured them, burnt them with fire, poured hot grease on them and wounded them grievously; also tortured pregnant women, so that one died at Schwertzenbach; stole all manner of things everywhere. The potter was hanged, the bath-keeper executed on the wheel. The bath-keeper had broken into the church at Lohndorff and stolen the chalice, also helped once to steal 500 florins. (a list of many other small sums follows.)


August 4, 1607: Margaret Marranti

Margaret Marranti, a country girl from the knackers’ sheds, who was in service with the innkeeper there, had intercourse with a carrier whom she did not know, and became pregnant. Took service with the farmer at Dorrenhof at Candlemas, concealing her pregnancy. When she was haymaking in the meadows, was seized with pains and contortions, and when the farmer’s wife said she would send for the midwife, the girl made an excuse, and remaining behind at night, gave birth to a child near a shed by the river Pegnitz. She immediately threw the child into the water and drowned it, though it stirred and struggled. Beheaded with the sword here on this account.


August 4, 1613: Matthew Werdtfritzn

Matthew Werdtfritzn of Furth, a Landzknecht, alias ‘Eightfingers,’ a robber. With the help of a companion he attacked the carrier from Regensburg in the Neuenwald, wounded him and his son mortally, and took about 800 florins’ worth of money and goods. Took 84 florins from the baker woman of Lauff, and wounded her lad in the same way, so that he was thought likely to die. Took 40 florins from a carter and 18 florins from the fisherman of Fach; in all twelve highway roberies. For these crimes he was executed on the wheel as a robber.

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Entry Filed under: 16th Century,17th Century,Abortion and Infanticide,Beheaded,Broken on the Wheel,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Germany,Gruesome Methods,Hanged,History,Murder,Public Executions,Soldiers,Theft,Women

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1784: Anne Castledine, infanticide

Add comment March 17th, 2017 Meaghan

(Thanks to Meaghan Good of the Charley Project for the guest post. -ed.)

On this day in 1784, 28-year-old Anne Castledine was executed at Retford, Nottinghamshire for the murder of her newborn baby.

The unmarried Castledine had been obviously pregnant, “being much alter’d in the size and shape of her belly”, then suddenly she was not pregnant but there was no baby to show for it. Suspicious neighbors alerted the authorities.

Although she maintained her innocence, the circumstances were very much against her. Just two years previously, Castledine had been charged with murdering another newborn under identical circumstances. No medical evidence was offered at the trial and she was acquitted in spite of her confession — perhaps indicative of the discomfort European courts had about delivering infanticides to the executioner. But this second time, the judge ordered Castledine to a midwife’s examination.

Castledine then admitted to having strangled her baby after birth. She had sewed its body into her mattress and slept on it for several days before her arrest.

Castledine was hanged alongside Robert Rushton, who had murdered his daughter. As was the case with most murderers executed in England during this period, Anne Castledine’s corpse was dissected after her hanging. Elizabeth T. Hutton noted in her book, Dissecting the Criminal Corpse: Staging Post-Execution Punishment in Early Modern England:

Yet it was Anne’s body that aroused intense medico-legal interest in the Midlands. The General Evening Post recorded that both bodies were ‘taken to county hall in order to be publicly exposed and dissected’. Further source material uncovers however how gender dictated the precise medico-legal steps. Robert’s body was muscular and therefore valuable. He was opened up to be anatomically checked and later dissected in Nottingham town. Anne’s corpse was initially opened up with a ‘crucial incision’, the cross-like cut on her torso, to establish her medical death. Then it was ‘exposed on boards and tressels [sic] in front of County Hall for two days’ so that ordinary people could walk around it and see that a child killer was ‘truly dead’ … [T]he table was mobile, it could be levered up and down to take in and out of County Hall each night, and had to be erected twice on two separate days to satisfy the large crowds filing past over a forty-eight hour period. Meantime there was considerable local discussion about where to dissect such a ‘good body’. She was a fertile young woman and corpses like it attracted a lot of medical competition. In the end a decision was taken by a judge in consultation with the local medical fraternity to send her body to ‘a surgeon in Derby’.

That Derby surgeon, according to lore from the The Date-Book of Remarkable & Memorable Events Connected with Nottingham and Its Neighbourhood, 1750-1879, from Authentic Records, had a novelistic last encounter in the course of his autopsy.

The remains of the young woman were given to Mr. Fox, a surgeon, of Derby. While they lay in a barn near his residence, a strange gentleman came on horseback to view them. He took up the heart, kissed it, squeezed a drop of blood from it upon his handkerchief, and rode away. This gentleman was doubtless the seducer, who had come many miles to take a last look at the once beautiful object of his cruelty and lust.

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1903: Amelia Sach and Annie Walters, the Finchley baby farmers

Add comment February 3rd, 2017 Headsman

On this date in 1903, the Finchley baby farmers hanged together at Holloway Prison.

Though “both repulsive in type” according to the cold notes of their hangman, Amelia Sach and Annie Walters were plenty appealing to young ladies in a certain condition.

Sach’s lying-in house in the north London suburb was a destination of choice for inconveniently pregnant women for a couple of years at the dawn of the 1900s, and there they could deliver discreetly and pay a surcharge for adoption services to place the child with a family.

Except, as the mothers must have understood, few if any of those children were destined to find a doting parent.

The baby farming business stood as cover for post-partum abortion in a society exacting penalties legal, medical, and social against single motherhood and terminated pregnancies alike. The solutions an unexpectedly pregnant maid might turn to were all desperate and unappealing, and in the absence of better provisions for orphans and mothers a significant pattern of infanticide was baked into Victorian* England.


Risky home-brew abortifacients like pennyroyal were another option.

The £25-30 donative solicited of mothers by the Goodwife Sach was not enough to maintain the little darlings surrendered to her care: only enough to ease the conscience to forgetfulness. After delivery under Sach’s eye, the infants would be spirited away by Annie Walters for “adoption.” In her hands, they’d be chloroformed or strangled.

Nobody knows how many souls who might have grown up to serve as cannon meat at the Somme were destroyed untimely by our subtle duo; in the end, they were only tripped up by Walters’s surprisingly careless decision to take one of her charges home — where a neighboring, and nosy, police officer noticed it before it mysteriously disappeared.

Their joint death was the most recent occasion Great Britain carried out a double hanging in which both of the executed were women. For a novelization of the case, pick up Nicola Upson’s Two For Sorrow (review).

* For gratification of the pedants: Queen Victoria died in 1901.

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1781: Margaret Tinkler, abortionist

Add comment November 20th, 2016 Headsman


British Evening Post, Nov. 27-29, 1781

On this date in 1781, midwife Margaret Tinkler hanged at Durham.

Tinkler had care of Jane Parkinson who wished to rid her belly of a pregnancy. The reader might well guess that procuring an abortion in 18th century England was a frightful procedure; in Parkinson’s case it took her life thanks to (as the court found) Tinkler’s “thrusting and inserting 2 pieces of wood into & against the private parts & womb of the said Jane giving the said Jane diverse mortal wounds punctures and bruises of which she languished from 1st to 23rd July & then died.” (Source) All that “languishing” gave the dying Parkinson time to accuse Tinkler; the midwife’s insistence that she had merely counseled her patient how to contrive an abortion rather than performing that abortion fell on deaf ears. (Tinkler maintained that story to her last confession.)

As a murderer, Tinkler was posthumously anatomized. The surgeons discovered “two long black double wire pins, as used at that time in women’s hair … in her belly, which it was supposed she had swallowed to destroy her life.”

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