Posts filed under 'Borderline “Executions”'

1066: John Scotus, sacrificed to Radegast

Add comment November 10th, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1066, John Scotus was sacrificed to the Slavic god Radegast.

That’s Scotus not as in the Supreme Court of the United States, but as in Scotland: our man Johannes (English Wikipedia entry | German) was an Hibernian prelate, possibly previously the Bishop of Orkney and/or the Bishop of Glasgow, who came to Saxony in 1053 as the first Bishop of Mecklenburg.

The land was governed by the Slavic Obotrites (Abodrites), commonly known in western chronicles as the Wends. Predominantly pagan, they were at the time of John’s invitation ruled by a Christian king, Gottschalk. This man’s father had converted to Christianity, and Gottschalk himself during his life had apostatized and then re-converted — illustrating the fraught balance between the confessions. A century hence, these northern unbelievers would face the blades of Christendom’s crusaders.


Eisenstein’s Alexander Nevsky is the enduring silver screen remnant of the Northern Crusades of the 12th-13th centuries, but the very first of these campaigns was an 1147 crusade against the Wends.

As one might infer, then, Gottschalk’s aspiration to bring his kingdom over to his faith* did not go to plan, even though (according to the near-contemporary chronicle by Adam of Bremen) he “baptized many thousands of pagans.” Many more thousands than that remained un-moved by his sermons in alien Latin; overall, pagans held perhaps a 2:1 or greater preponderance over Christians among these people.

Wound-up Wends rebelled in 1066, deposing and murdering Gottschalk while his heirs fled into exile. John Scotus was not so nimble as the latter, and his political protection having disappeared, “the aged Bishop John was taken with other Christians in Magnopolis [Mecklenburg Castle] and held for a triumph. And because he confessed Christ he was beaten with rods and then was led in mockery through one city of the Slavs after another. Since he could not be turned from the profession of Christ his hands and feet were lopped off and his body was thrown into the road. His head, however, the barbarians cut off, fixed on a spear, and offered to their god Redigast in token of their victory. These things were done in the chief city of the Slavs, Rethra, on the fourth Ides** of November.” (Cf. Adam of Bremen)

The Obotrites were definitively back in the pagan camp for the foreseeable. There was no successor Bishop of Mecklenburg for nearly a century.

* Religion was also a wedge for Gottschalk’s political perspective, of mastering pagan nobility within his realm, and allying to neighboring Christian princes abroad.

** The Ides of November was the 13th; by Latin locution, using Romans’ inclusive numbering, the “second Ides” was the “second” [first] day before that, i.e., the 12th — and the “fourth Ides” the 10th.

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Entry Filed under: 11th Century,Beheaded,Borderline "Executions",Disemboweled,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Germany,God,Gruesome Methods,History,Martyrs,Public Executions,Religious Figures,Torture

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1984: The Hondh-Chillar Massacre

Add comment November 2nd, 2020 Headsman

This was the date in 1984 of the Hondh-Chillar massacre

It was one of the many atrocities of the 1984 anti-Sikh riots that ensued the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards.

Hondh today sits in ruins. Prior to November 2, 1984, it was a tiny dhani — basically a hamlet — outside a still-extant village known as Chillar in the northern state of Haryana.

On that dread day, a couple of hundred toughs trucked in by the Congress Party arrived at the dhani and set about sacking the settlement and brutalizing the Sikh inhabitants; at least 31 were beaten or burned to death over the course of several hours.

Surviving villagers eventually rallied to drive off the mob and escaped that night from their devastated homes.

Like other anti-Sikh vigilantism this horror has never been published, and allowed to languish into forgetfulness, as was the physical village itself. The place flashed in the news in 2011 when an engineer in nearby Gurgaon learned about the event accidentally and visited the site’s ruins, later posting heartbreaking photos to social media. That brought calls for reopening case files and preserving the site, none of which occurred; the engineer was forced out of his job a few weeks later, however.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Bludgeoned,Borderline "Executions",Burned,Cycle of Violence,Disfavored Minorities,History,India,Innocent Bystanders,Lynching,Mass Executions,No Formal Charge,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Summary Executions

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1647: Francesco Toraldo

Add comment October 21st, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1647, Francesco Toraldo was put to summary death by rebelling Neapolitans.

Toraldo was a decorated commander during the Thirty Years’ War who was all set up to enjoy retirement as the Duke of Palata, a dignity conjured for him by the grateful Spanish.

This title persists in the Spanish peerage to this day, even though the namesake “duchy”, Palata, is a town in Italy — which is where Toraldo had some family holdings.

That meant he was in the neighborhood to get pulled into the action when Naples in 1647 rebelled against the King of Spain, the neglectful overlord of the City of the Sun.

In July 1647 a tax revolt led by a fisherman named Masaniello briefly gained control of the city.*


The Anti-Spanish Revolt of Masaniello in the Piazza del Mercato in Naples on 7 July 1648, by Michelangelo Cerquozzi and Viviano Codazzi, the latter of whom fled Naples because of this very event.

After the city’s merchants murdered Masaniello, Toraldo was called on as governor-general. He enjoyed widespread support among the still-restive populace, and when the Spanish royal house attempted a show of force under John of Austria to decisively quell the disturbance, Toraldo’s defense of the city might have led a more ambitious soul to declare himself the master of Naples. Indeed, many Neapolitans urged this course upon him — but Toraldo hewed to an increasingly untenable middle way of simultaneous fidelity to Spain and the Neapolitan masses that did for him in the end. (In fairness, the bolder attempt would surely have done for him just the same; his safety would have been in retiring.)

Hitherto the people had at least recognised the external sovereignty of Spain. Whilst they fought against the Spaniards, they professed their allegiance to the king of Spain; they rejected the accusation of rebellion, decidedly as well as vehemently; they had respected the pictures and arms of Philip IV and his ancestors, and always called themselves his most faithful people. But by degrees this had changed, and the unsuccessful expedition of Don John had given the last blow to this feeling of attachment to the royal family …A manifesto of the people on the 17th of October, 1647, set forth the grievance of the nation against their rulers, and invoked the aid of the Pope and the Emperor of kings and of princes. Political parties were formed; the most active at first were those who cried “Long life to the Pope! were he but our liege lord.” The Cardinal-Archbishop leaned to this side; the Nuncio Altieri was familiar with intrigues, and his brother was mixed up in it … Others, and amongst them some of the nobility, inclined towards France, and intriguers were not wanting who laboured in behalf of this power … Others again, considered a republic as feasible; but the great mass of the middle class began to perceive the danger into which they had fallen by the last steps taken in the revolution. They had been desirous of the abolition of burdens which were too oppressive, but not of a change in the government and dynasty. They had allowed the populace to have its own way about the gabelles. But when the populace prevailed, they changed their minds, as one insurrection followed upon another, when all commerce was at a stand-still, when all security was at an end, when the town was threatened with being turned into a heap of ruins, and that they were on the point of losing every thing, because they wanted too much. It was this middle class which later gave Spain an easy and bloodless victory.

But till this happened, Naples continued the theatre of horrible scenes. As the negotiations with Don John of Austria led to no results, the people tried to drive away the troops from the posts which they still occupied within the town. Thus Michele de Santis, the butcher who had murdered Don Giuseppe Carafa, led six hundred men against the Spanish post at Porta Meina. The Viceroy, after whom it was called, as has already been mentioned, had built this gate in the wall of Charles Vth, upon the heights of Montesanto, on the slope of the mountain upon which is situated the Carthusian convent and Sant’Elmo. Here stood fifteen Spaniards, armed only with pike and swords; they drove back six hundred men. The leaders perceived that, without the advantage of a commanding position, all individual detached successes were of no avail. Santa Chiara had resisted all their attacks. On the 21st of October a mine was sprung under the tower. Don Francesco Toraldo, who had been too weak to extricate himself, as he might possibly have succeeded in doing from his false position, and who now acted as a sort of check upon the people, commanded the attack in person. The mine was sprung, but being improperly laid, it only injured the neighbouring buildings, which buried numbers of the champions of the people under the ruins. The garrison of the convent made a sally at the same time, and the bands of the assailants withdrew, with the cry of treason. Their unfortunate leader was to atone for the treason; they seized him and dragged him to the market-place. In vain did Don Francesco Toraldo attempt to speak, in vain did his adherents try to silence the mad men. He sank down at the fish-market; they cut off his noble head upon a stone fish-stall. They stuck it upon a speak; thus had first [Don Giuseppe] Carafa’s head been carried in triumph, then that of Masaniello. They tore the still warm heart from the mangled corpse, and carried it in a silver dish to the convent, where Donna Alvina Frezza, the very beautiful wife of the unfortunate man, was staying. The savage murderers desired that the princess would show herself at the gate of the convent to receive the heart of her husband. The nuns, horror-struck, refused to deliver the message: then these savages collected the wood and faggots that were about to set fire to the convent. Toraldo’s widow, informed of the danger appeared at the threshold, and was obliged to receive from the hands of the barbarians this dreadful though beloved present. Many even of the mob wept at this sight. The corpse remained hanging on the gallows for two days, then they took it down, and in one of those sudden revulsions of mind that so often take place amongst the rude masses, they buried their murdered Captain-General with great pomp. (Source)

This fresh detonation of the powder keg led to the populace declaring itself the Neapolitan Republic; as the passage above hints, that project did not long survive the Spaniards’ pressure.

* Masaniello’s populist revolt left a wide literary footprint. Of special note is the opera La Muette de Portici, whose performance in Brussels in 1830 helped catalyze the Belgian Revolution.

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Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Arts and Literature,Beheaded,Borderline "Executions",Execution,Gibbeted,History,Italy,Lynching,Naples,No Formal Charge,Nobility,Occupation and Colonialism,Public Executions,Soldiers,Spain,Summary Executions,Wartime Executions

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1568: Ivan Fedorov, zemshchina boyar

Add comment September 11th, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1568, the Russian boyar Ivan Petrovich Fedorov-Chelyadnin was personally “executed” by Ivan the Terrible.

The vengeful tsar suspecting this man of aspiring to his position had him dressed in royal robes and sat him on the throne, then mockingly paid obeisance before stabbing him to death. It’s unclear whether this great lord had the benefit beforehand of any semblance of judicial process.


Detail view (click for the full image) of Nikolai Nevrev‘s painting of Ivan the Terrible, coiled in fury with dagger drawn, about to “depose” Ivan Fedorov.

The poet A.K. Tolstoy* (cousin of the Tolstoy) sketched the scene in an 1858 verse, “The Staritsky Voivode”:

When the old governor was accused,
That, proud of the nobility and antiquity of the family,
He dreamt of assigning himself a royal dignity,
Ivan ordered him to appear before his eyes.
And to the condemned he brought a rich crown,
And a garment of pearls and gold,
And he laid on the barmi,** and seated him on his own throne
He raised the guilty one on silk carpets.
And, dropping his gaze before him, he fell in the middle of the chamber,
And, bowing to the ground in mock obedience,
Said: “Satisfied in your majesty,
Behold, your slave smites your brow!”
And, having risen with merciless malice,
Plunged a knife into his heart with a greedy hand.
And, bending his face over the overthrown enemy,
He stepped on the corpse with a patterned boot
And he looked into the eyes of the dead, and with trembling unsteady
Sovereign lips snaked a smile.

The late 1560s bring us to the crescendo of Ivan’s oprichnina, years of terror and purging visited by the paranoid sovereign on his internal foes — actual, potential, or imagined.

Although remembered as the name for Ivan’s policy, the oprichnina was also a literal physical territory — created in 1565 when Ivan successfully forced his nobles to give him absolute power over life and death in the appanage of the oprichnina.† Over the succeeding years, Ivan extended both the physical reach of that realm, and the reach of the dictatorial authority that it embodied — threatening the zemschina, a distinct geographical area where terrified boyars administered the incumbent, non-Ivan Russian state.

“Ivan’s open hostility towards the zemshchina could not fail to alarm its leaders,” not Maureen Perrie and Andrei Pavlov in this biography of Ivan the Terrible … and this fact could not fail to catalyze those much-feared internal foes.

It is quite probable in the circumstances that the idea of removing the tsar and transferring the throne to his cousin Prince Vladimir Staritskii might have been discussed among zemshchina boyars. Two foreign observers — the Germans Heinrich von Staden and Albert Schlichting, who both served in the oprichnina — refer to a conspiracy of the zemshchina boyars in favour of Vladimir. An unofficial Russian chronicle also mentions the ‘inclination’ of the opposition to promote Vladimir’s candidature for the Russian throne. But according to a chronicle account there was no overt conspiracy, only discussions (‘words’), for which the boyars who opposed the oprichnina paid a heavy price.

Our date’s principal, Ivan Fedorov, attracted Ivan’s attention in the ensuing investigation. A prince from a venerable noble family, Fedorov had been a pillar of the state, an important governor and military commander, for three-plus decades. It availed him little under Ivan’s suspicion.

Fedorov was placed in disgrace and exiled to Kolomna. Nobles and officials among his supporters were arrested and executed, and many of the equerry’s armed servants were exterminated. The oprichniki [Ivan’s personal army, the enforcers of the oprichnina -ed.] carried out several punitive raids against Fedorov’s lands. Many of the inhabitants were slaughtered (some were put to the sword, while others were herded into their cottages and burned alive). According to Staden, women and girls were stripped naked ‘and forced in that state to catch chickens in the fields’. Buildings were demolished, livestock was slaughtered and chancellery officials were put to death, along with about 300 boyars’ servants.

* A.K. Tolstoy also wrote a tragedy for the stage (banned in tsarist Russia), The Death of Ivan the Terrible.

** Barmi: an ornamental mantle or collar that comprised part of the royal regalia.


It’s the semicircle between Tsar Alexis‘s beard and his crucifix.

The term, now so dreadful in Russian historiography, originally denoted an inheritance of land left to a widow, as distinct from that left to her children.

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Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Arts and Literature,Borderline "Executions",Capital Punishment,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Execution,History,No Formal Charge,Nobility,Power,Put to the Sword,Russia,Soldiers,Summary Executions,Treason

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2014: Steven Sotloff, two lives

Add comment September 2nd, 2020 Headsman

On or just before this date in 2014, American journalist Steven Sotloff was beheaded by his Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL/Da’esh) captors.

A “standup philosopher from Miami” as he self-described, Sotloff was four months past his 18th birthday when the planes struck the towers. The grave that the American empire dug for itself thereafter had an annex sized for Steven Sotloff, too.

After post-graduate studies in Israel Sotloff reported from around the Middle East, notably filing some early stories from the 2012 attack on U.S. agents in Benghazi in a Libya consumed by chaos after NATO deposed Muammar Gaddafi.

On August 4, 2013, Sotloff was kidnapped entering Syria from Turkey. Actually, contrary to this post’s lead paragraph, ISIS wasn’t his captor — just the entity that received him from the Northern Storm Brigade, a US- and Turkish-backed rebel militia that bankrolled itself through smuggling and kidnapping.

“The so-called moderate rebels that people want our [the Obama] administration to support, one of them sold him for something between $25,000 and $50,000, and that was the reason he was captured,” a Sotloff family friend announced — voicing the taboo open secret of the violent Sunni extremists at the heart of the anti-Assad Syrian rebellion.

The journalist now became a chit in the nightmare economy of hostages and spectacle murder. When fellow American kidnap victim James Foley was beheaded in August 2014 in retaliation for American attacks on Da’esh in Iraq, the video of his execution warned that Sotloff would be next. As attacks on ISIS’s Iraqi positions did not abate, he was.

Days after Sotloff’s slaying was released to the world’s digital snuff film archives, the U.S. for the first time escalated its interventions in Syria to overt air strikes on ISIS’s in that country.

As Mark Ames summed up the dog’s breakfast, “here you have this CIA-backed and -trained militia group that kidnaps civilians, photographs with John McCain, allies with ISIS, kidnaps an American, sells him to ISIS, he winds up getting killed, and that winds up triggering American intervention into Syria.”

There’s a Steven Joel Sotloff Memorial 2LIVES Foundation that works in his memory, its name drawn from an elegant line in a letter Sotloff managed to have smuggled out of captivity: “Everyone has two lives; the 2nd one begins when you realize you have only one.”

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Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Beheaded,Borderline "Executions",Disfavored Minorities,Execution,History,Hostages,ISIS/ISIL,Jews,No Formal Charge,Ripped from the Headlines,Syria,USA,Wartime Executions

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1955: Emmett Till lynched

Add comment August 28th, 2020 Headsman

Emmett Till was lynched on this date in 1955.

He’s surely the most recognizable and symbolically powerful of America’s many lynch victims, thanks in large measure to his mother’s Mamie Till’s insistence on an open-coffin funeral that put Emmett’s mutilated face in front of media consumers worldwide.

In its narrow particulars, it resembles more closely a private vendetta than the mob justice evoked by a term like “lynch law”: in the dark hours after midnight the night of August 27-28, two white Mississippians, Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam, barged into the home of a sharecropper named Moses “Preacher” Wright and at gunpoint forced him to surrender his nephew. Chicago-raised and thus insufficiently alert to the full rigor of the color line, young Emmett had transgressed it a few days prior by apparently* hitting on Bryant’s wife, boasting of his prowess with white girls up north.

In retaliation for this offense, the two intruders bundled Emmett into their truck, took him to a barn where they bludgeoned him into the deformed horror that later shocked so many newspaper subscribers — after which they finished him off with a gun and dumped his remains into the Tallahatchie River.

While this was not as exalted as the more recognizably execution-esque summary justice of the whole town, no reader in this year of our lord 2020 can fail to recognize the wanton self-appropriation of policing power by vigilantes justifiably confident in their impunity. This informal extension of the state’s legitimate violence via extralegal but allied actors is a hallmark of lynch law, however its definitional boundaries are drawn.

And indeed an all-white jury predictably acquitted the killers in what they later acknowledged was an act of race-based jury nullification. In a jaw-dropping post-trial Look magazine interview, the pair — shielded from a “double jeopardy” re-trial by their acquittal — matter-of-factly admitted the murder. To the reporter’s eyes they behaved as if they “don’t feel they have anything to hide; they have never regarded themselves as being in legal jeopardy. Not even psychologically are they on the defensive. They took it for granted before the trial that every white neighbor, including every member of the jury and every defense attorney, had assumed that they had indeed killed the young Negro. And since the community had swarmed to their defense, Milam and Bryant assumed that the ‘community,’ including most responsible whites in Mississippi, had approved the killing.”

Yet Till as portrayed by his executioners was a far finer man than they.

Their intention was to “just whip him… and scare some sense into him.” And for this chore, Big Milam knew “the scariest place in the Delta.” He had come upon it last year hunting wild geese. Over close to Rosedale, the Big River bends around under a bluff. “Brother, she’s a 100-foot sheer drop, and she’s a 100 feet deep after you hit.”

Big Milam’s idea was to stand him up there on that bluff, “whip” him with the .45, and then shine the light on down there toward that water and make him think you’re gonna knock him in.

“Brother, if that won’t scare the Chicago ——-, hell won’t.”

But under these blows Bobo never hollered — and he kept making the perfect speeches to insure martyrdom.

Bobo: “You bastards, I’m not afraid of you. I’m as good as you are. I’ve ‘had’ white women. My grandmother was a white woman.”

Milam: “Well, what else could we do? He was hopeless. I’m no bully; I never hurt a nigger in my life. I like niggers — in their place — I know how to work ’em. But I just decided it was time a few people got put on notice. As long as I live and can do anything about it, niggers are gonna stay in their place. Niggers ain’t gonna vote where I live. If they did, they’d control the government. They ain’t gonna go to school with my kids. And when a nigger gets close to mentioning sex with a white woman, he’s tired o’ livin’. I’m likely to kill him. Me and my folks fought for this country, and we got some rights. I stood there in that shed and listened to that nigger throw that poison at me, and I just made up my mind. ‘Chicago boy,’ I said, ‘I’m tired of ’em sending your kind down here to stir up trouble. Goddam you, I’m going to make an example of you — just so everybody can know how me and my folks stand.'”

Taken to the riverbank where he’d be slain, Emmett Till bravely spat on his killers’ last offer of domineering clemency.

They stood silently … just hating one another.

Milam: “Take off your clothes.”

Slowly, Bobo pulled off his shoes, his socks. He stood up, unbuttoned his shirt, dropped his pants, his shorts.

He stood there naked.

It was Sunday morning, a little before 7.

Milam: “You still as good as I am?”

Bobo: “Yeah.”

Milam: “You still ‘had’ white women?”

Bobo: “Yeah.”

That big .45 jumped in Big Milam’s hand. The youth turned to catch that big, expanding bullet at his right ear. He dropped.

* The specifics of what transpired at the Bryants’ grocery to trigger the lynching have been finely parsed and disputed ever since 1955. At a maximally “incriminating” interpretation, he made a crude but unthreatening pass at Mrs. Bryant. By other readings the whole thing might have been merely a misunderstanding. In this author’s opinion, indulging the question of whether Emmett Till was “actually innocent” of wolf-whistling a white woman concedes far too much ground at the outset to his murderers.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Arts and Literature,Borderline "Executions",Children,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,History,Lynching,Mississippi,No Formal Charge,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Sex,Shot,Summary Executions,USA

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2001: Vishal and Sonu, honor killings

Add comment August 7th, 2020 Headsman

Late (and seemingly past midnight) the night of August 6-7 of 2001, two teenage* lovers named Vishal Sharma and Sonu were hanged in the Uttar Pradesh village of Alinagar ka Majra, for loving across the caste line.

Late on Monday night [Monday, August 6, 2001 -ed.] the week before last, a neighbour caught the pair together as they chatted on the roadside next to a bush. She accused them of having “suspicious intentions” and dragged them into her shed. And then she summoned their families. It was not that the teenagers had been caught in flagrante — they were not even holding hands. Their crime was far more primal and ancient: they were from different castes. Under India’s enduring system of social stratification, a relationship between the pair was unthinkable.

Vishal was an upper-caste Brahmin; Sonu was a lower-caste Jat. Though it was not generally known, Sonu had recently been expelled from school for skipping lessons and, it seems, being galat — the Hindi word for immoral.

The girl’s parents, Surender and Munesh, decided there was only one way to escape the terrible social humiliation their daughter had heaped upon them — they would kill her. And so, aided by three neighbours, they proceeded to strangle her in the dark shed, with its abandoned bicycle and mattresses, in front of her terrified boyfriend.

“The boy’s mother told them: ‘Don’t do this.’ The girl’s parents then scolded her, so the boy’s mother went and stood outside,” says local police officer Raispal Singh. “After that, they got a rope. They made a noose out of it and hanged the girl. They then told the boy’s mother and brother and sister-in-law: ‘Now you kill the boy.’ They replied: ‘We can’t kill him. You only kill him.’ At this, the girl’s parents hanged the boy.”

Afterwards, both Vishal and Sonu were burned on an impromptu pyre fired by balls of dung.

“Honor killings”, the extrajudicial slaying of kin for bringing shame on the family — often, as here, tied to caste-breaching illicit concupiscence** — remain a going concern in India, particularly the north. The official annual count of such instances runs to dozens per annum, with an unimaginable 251 in 2015 … yet activists think there are many more that go unreported.

* Seemingly every story situates their ages slightly differently in that older teen/young adult spectrum. The youngest ages I’ve seen reported for the pair were 15 and 16 — the oldest, 18 and 19.

** In other cases, consensual relationships that are opposed by a woman’s family are sometimes reported as “rape”.

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Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Borderline "Executions",Children,Execution,Hanged,India,Lynching,Sex,Summary Executions

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1915: A day in the death penalty (and lynch law) around the U.S.

Add comment August 6th, 2020 Headsman

U.S. hangmen clocked overtime on this date in 1915. The Washington D.C. Herald of August 8 covered the bloodbath thus:

Robert Watkins and John Salter were executed for the murder of Mrs. Mary Lassiter at Evergreen. A militia guard prevented a mob from burning the negroes. The other two executions in Alabama [Millard Carpenter and George James -ed.] were for the murder of white men.

At Fresno, Miss., Peter Bolen and Jim Seales, who killed another negro, were executed while 5,000 persons sang “There Is a Land of Pure Delight.” Bunyan Waters was executed at Fayetteville, Miss.

Nor were legal executions the end of it.

A dispatch from Shawnee, Okla., relating the story of the lynching of Ed Berry, stated that the affair was “one of the most orderly lynchings in the State.” Berry was hanged from a railroad bridge, and his body was riddled with bullets, after which the mob dispersed “in an orderly manner.”

In Trilby, Fla., a crowd of citizens lynched Will Leach, accused of attacking a 13-year-old girl.

Early today a report from Liberty stated that a lynching was almost certain if a mob caught a negro laborer who attacked a farmer’s wife near there.

While this piece focuses on the U.S. South, there was also a hanging on August 6, 1915, in Connecticut. Just minutes after midnight, with the words “Good-bye, Father, good-bye,” followed by a firm “not guilty!” from under the hood, Bernard Montvid died for murdering a Catholic priest named Joseph Zebris, along with Zebris’s housekeeper Eva Gilmanaitis in a home invasion/robbery that earned less than $5. Worse yet, Montvid had to split this paltry blood money with his partner, Peter Krakas — who had already been separately hanged by the time Montvid paid his own penalty.

The Espy file of U.S. executions, a wonderful resource but liable to errors, attributes an August 6, 1915 hanging to the state of Georgia. I’ve trawled several newspaper databases without substantiating this supposed execution of Henry Floyd.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Alabama,Borderline "Executions",Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Connecticut,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Hanged,Lynching,Mississippi,Murder,Public Executions,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,USA

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1919: John Hartfield lynched

Add comment June 26th, 2020 Headsman

John Hartfield (sometimes given as “Hartsfield”) was lynched on this date in 1919 in Ellisville, Mississippi.

“[U.S. President Woodrow Wilson] said the American negro returning from abroad would be our greatest medium in conveying bolshevism to America. For example, a friend recently related the experience of a lady friend wanting to employ a negro laundress offering to pay the usual wage in that community. The negress demands that she be given more money than was offered for the reason that ‘money is as much mine as it is yours.’ Furthermore, he called attention to the fact that the French people have placed the negro soldier in France on an equality with the white men, and ‘it has gone to their heads.'”

-Diary of Wilson’s personal doctor Cary Grayson (Source)

This summer of 1919 was fraught and violent moment in America — later christened the “Red Summer” for the quantity and ferocity of racially motivated outrages.

With the end of the Great War, domestic guardians of order bristled alike at proud and armed black soldiers returning from France’s trenches and at the post-Bolshevik Revolution prospect of subversive agitation — fears that were intimately linked for elites, as the pull quote in this post indicates. Plus, as readers in 2020 surely recollect from the news, everyone was also laboring under the Spanish flu pandemic. Large riots or pogroms with multiple casualties occurred in several U.S. cities, including a five-day street battle in Washington D.C. in July that left 15 or more dead.

Likewise, lynchings surged in 1919 — from 38 and 64 in the preceding two years, to 83, a figure which hadn’t been recorded in more than a decade and has never been approached since.

James Hartfield was one* mark upon this near-hecatomb, a mark underscoring the strength of lynch law in this moment. The mob was disciplined and organized, confident that its actions had the blessing of the state. It acted deliberately, responsive to its own authorities. Nobody got his blood up to string up the man promptly upon capture; instead, Hartfield was delivered to private custody — not jail — and given him medical attention so that he’d be fit for his murder.


The Greenwood (Miss.) Commonwealth ran this headline on the day that Hartfield was killed — one of many newspapers to report the planned lynching ahead of time.

The schedule (Hartfield to be burnt at 5 p.m.) was publicized in advance in the press; even the state’s governor, literal Klansman Theodore Bilbo, issued a sort of official denial of clemency with a public announcement that he couldn’t intervene if he wanted to and he also didn’t want to.

I am utterly powerless. The state has no troops and if the civil authorities at Ellisville are helpless, the state is equally so. Furthermore excitement is at such a high pitch thruout [sic] south Mississippi and if armed troops interfered with the mob it would prove a riot among the citizens.

The negro says he is ready to die and nobody can keep the inevitable from happening. (Huntsville (Ala.) Times, June 26, 1919, under the headline “Governor Will Not Interfere With Lynching”)

And indeed, nobody did interfere.

The below from the next day’s Montgomery (Ala.) Advertiser is one of several versions that saw wide distribution in the republic. Although these reports differ on some details — for example, whether Hartfield was or was not already mortally wounded by the gunshots he’d received from the posse — all unite in noticing the orderliness of this off-book execution.

ELLISVILLE, MISS. June 25 [sic] — Trailed for ten days through three South Mississippi counties by posses which included several hundred members of his own race, John Hartfield, negro, confessed assailant of an Ellisville young woman,** was captured desperately wounded near Collins, at daybreak this morning, rushed by automobile to the scene of his crime, hanged to a gum tree and then burned to ashes. His victim witnessed the lynching.

While negroes took no part in the actual lynching of Hartfield, posse leaders freely admitted they rendered valuable assistance during the chase knowing when they enlisted that it was intended to lynch the fugitive when he was captured. Many of them witnessed the execution.

The lynching was conducted in a manner which the authorities characterized as “orderly.” Guarded by a committee of citizens of Ellisvlle, Hartfield was taken first to the office of Dr. A.J. Carter, who after examination of gun shot wounds received when the fugitive made his fight against capture, declared the negro could not live more than twenty-four hours. In the meantime a group of silent men were piling cross ties and brush in a depression in ground near the railroad trestle. There was no shouting. Arrangements apparently had been made days ago.

The victim of Hartfield’s crime was escorted into the physicians’ office after the wounds had been examined. She positively identified him as her assailant. When she left the negro said to the committee: “You have the right man.”

Then there were quiet conferences. Members of the committee circulated in the crowd. Reports that there would be a “burning” at 5 o’clock gave way to statements that there would be a “hanging at the big gum tree.” Hartfield was told what the crowd itended [sic] doing with him, but only repeated “you have the man.” Later he said he knew he was going to die and declared he wished to “warn all men, white and colored, to think before doing wrong.”

Hartfield was not taken to jail, although earlier reports were that he had been lodged there. From the doctor’s office he was taken to the street and faced the crowd. “You have the right man,” he reiterated. Then a noose found its way around his neck and the trip to the big gum tree was started, the crowd still ominously silent.

Under the big gum tree Hartfield forcibly detained his victim all of the night of Sunday, June 15th. It was under a limb of the same tree that Hartfield was hanged as soon as the rope could be pulled up by hundreds of hands. Then occurred the first demonstration. While the body was in its death struggles pistols were produced by men in the crowd and fired point blank at the swinging form. Before the rope had been cut by bullets, burning fagots were thrown under the body and an hour later there was only a pile of ashes.

The victim with her aged mother witnessed the execution. When she reached her home two hundred yards away, she was informed that more than a thousand dollars had been subscribed for her use by persons in the crowd.

No arrests were made after the lynching and tonight the little town was quiet. Most of the visitors from the surrounding country left for their homes.

The future Vietnamese revolutionary Ho Chi Minh, who lived and worked in the U.S. intermittently in the 1910s where he was influenced by black radicals including Marcus Garvey, also made note of the Hartield outrage in his 1924 essay “Lynching” (see the numbered p. 53 of this large pdf):

When a lynching was to take place or had taken place, the press seized upon it as a good occasion to increase the number of copies printed. It related the affair with a wealth of detail. Not the slightest reproach to the criminals. Not a word of pity for the victims. Not a commentary.

The New Orleans States of June 26, 1919, published a headline running right across the front page in letters five inches high: “Today a Negro Will Be Burned by 3,000 Citizens.” And immediately underneath, in very small print: “Under a strong escort, the Kaiser has taken flight with the Crown Prince.”

The Jackson Daily News of the same date published across the first two columns of its front page in big letters: “Negro J.H. to Be Burned by the Crowd at Ellistown This Afternoon at 5 p.m.”

The newspaper only neglected to add: “The whole population is earnestly invited to attend.” But the spirit is there.

* Although lynched alone, he wasn’t quite the only victim. A white man who misunderstood or defied the commands of the vigilantes during the manhunt was also killed. And reportedly (although I haven’t verified this to my satisfaction) another black man elsewhere in Mississippi was lynched in the subsequent weeks merely for mentioning the Hartfield assassination.

** Family lore from a friend who survived by fleeing Ellisville characterizes Hartfield’s true offense as simply having a white girlfriend.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Borderline "Executions",Burned,Common Criminals,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Hanged,History,Lynching,Mature Content,Mississippi,No Formal Charge,Public Executions,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Rape,Sex,USA

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1790: Seven officers of Papal Avignon

Add comment June 11th, 2020 Headsman

Charles Souvay in “The French Papal States during the Revolution” (The Catholic Historical Review, January 1923) describes the violent reunion to the French nation of the Papal States enclave around Avignon where popes had formerly reigned. This June 11 lynching was as nothing for mob violence compared to the Massacres of La Glacière later in 1790.

In 1789 the French Papal possessions included the two Counties respectively called in Roman Chancery style the Comitatus Avennicinus, or High County, the principal city of which was Carpentras, and the Comitatus Avenionensis, or Low County, named after its capital Avignon; both together having in all an area of less than a thousand square miles. Since 1274, by donation of King Philip III to Pope Gregory X, they belonged to the Popes; and even though several times (1663, 1688 and 1768) the French kings attempted to wrest them from their legitimate sovereign, there was, in 1789, no question of disputing the Papacy’s rights. A Legate administered the two Counties, continuing in the old Papal Castle the moral presence of the popes who had resided there from 1309 to 1378.

The Counties were comparatively an earthly paradise: taxes insignificant; no imposts; living wonderfully cheap — “for one or two sous one could hve a meal of bread, meat and wine”; no militia, scarcely any privileges of nobility; no restrictions on fishing and hunting and to cap it all a miniature representative Assembly. However, the rank and file of the population had a bad name, and it deserved it. In the course of time the country had become the secure haven of all the scoundrels of France, Italy and Genoa: smugglers, fences, vagabonds, swindlers, crooks, convicts escaped from the galleys of Toulon and Marseilles, all flocked there and soon fraternized in debauchery and crime.

Such ingredients constituted a soil admirably adapted for the rapid growth of the revolutionary seed. No wonder, therefore, that towards the end of 1789 rebellion broke out in Avignon, where minds were easily wrought up. Before long it spread beyond the ramparts of the City of the Popes. The high County, however, remained loyal; hence timid: fear of the violence of the demagogues — a fear but too well founded — increased the numbers of the anti-papal faction; and soon the noise they raised was such that the Pope had to intervene. He did it in a fatherly way, promised all the reforms deemed opportune (Briefs of February and April 1790) and sent a Commissary with the charge of trying every possible way to restore order and peace. At Carpentras the pontifical Commissary was shown he was unwelcome; at Avignon he was positively refused admittance.

Then in the papal city Jacobinism, preached by ranting advocates like Tournal, Rovere, the two Duprats, the two Mainvielles, Lecuyer, multiplied its proselytes and stopped at no violence. Within a short while seven or eight riots broke out. On June 10, 1790, at the instigation of the leaders, all the rabble of the city and the suburbs, churls adverse to excise, rapscallions adverse to order, stevedores and longshoremen, armed with scythes, pikes and cudgels, rose up tumultuously, served on the Vice-Legate Casoni notice to quit, turned out of the city the Archbishop Giovio, ousted the Italian officials, obliged the Consuls to resign, hanged the officers of the National Guard and the principal loyalists (June 11)* and possessed themselves of the town hall. For efficiency trust the preachers of the revolutionary gospel.

* Seven men were murdered that day; some were nobles, others priests and others artisans.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Borderline "Executions",Execution,France,Hanged,History,Lynching,Mass Executions,No Formal Charge,Occupation and Colonialism,Papal States,Public Executions,Summary Executions

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