Posts filed under 'Borderline “Executions”'

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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1967: The USS Liberty attack … after executions in El Arish?

Add comment June 8th, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1967, during the Six-Day War between Israel and Egypt, Israeli warplanes and torpedo boats assailed the USS Liberty, an allied American communications (read: espionage) vessel — not an execution by any stretch, but perhaps occasioned by other executions?

On a sunlit afternoon in the Mediterranean the Liberty, about 13 miles off the coast of Gaza which Israel was then engaged in prying from Egypt’s hands, sunbathing American seamen found themselves suddenly being bombed by Israeli planes, and even found their lifeboats strafed by those same planes — clearly intent upon sinking the Liberty with no survivors. A torpedo hit amidships ripped open the ship at the waterline.

The Liberty was the only large ship anywhere in the vicinity and recordings of the Israeli fighter pilots’ communications with their control tower confirm that her prominent U.S. markings were observed by her assailants.

Only by dint of some heroic and lucky jury-rigging was the ship’s communications tower coaxed to send out a life-saving SOS to the U.S. Sixth Fleet, maneuvering hundreds of miles distant. In all, 34 Americans lost their lives in what Wikipedia delicately calls the USS Liberty Incident; another 170-plus were injured, while the Liberty herself limped back to Malta for repairs. She’d be decommissioned in 1968.

This shock bloodbath between two countries who have proven firm and ever firmer allies in the half-century since has long been shrouded in mystery and speculation.

Sure, maybe the U.S. prized its statecraft enough to wave the whole thing off as an accident. But what compelling motivation drove Israel to attack the Liberty — at the risk of jeopardizing its relationship its superpower partner?

Many far wiser than a humble headsman have had a go at this question. In his history of the National Security Agency, Body of Secrets, James Bamford suggests that the Liberty‘s offense in Israeli eyes resided in its proximity to a number of war crimes that she would be able to document — including mass executions of Egyptian POWs at the north Sinai town of El Arish in the aftermath of a nearby battle.

Although no one on the ship knew it at the time, the Liberty had suddenly trespassed into a private horror. At that very moment, near the minaret at El Arish, Israeli forces were engaged in a criminal slaughter.

By June 8, three days after Israel launched the war, Egyptian prisoners in the Sinai had become nuisances. There was no place to house them, not enough Israelis to watch them, and few vehicles to transport them to prison camps. But there was another way to deal with them.

As the Liberty sat within eyeshot of El Arish, eavesdropping on surrounding communications, Israeli soldiers turned the town into a slaughterhouse, systematically butchering their prisoners. In the shadow of the El Arish mosque, they lined up about sixty unarmed Egyptian prisoners, hands tied behind their backs, and then opened fire with machine guns until the pale desert sand turned red. Then they forced other prisoners to bury the victims in mass graves. “I saw a line of prisoners, civilians and military,” said Abdelsalam Moussa, one of those who dug the graves, “and they opened fire at them all at once. When they were dead, they told us to buiy them.” Nearby, another group of Israelis gunned down thirty more prisoners and then ordered some Bedouins to cover them with sand.

In still another incident at El Arish, the Israeli journalist Gabi Bron saw about 150 Egyptian POWs sitting on the ground, crowded together with their hands held at the backs of their necks. “The Egyptian prisoners of war were ordered to dig pits and then army police shot them to death,” Bron said. “I witnessed the executions with my own eyes on the morning of June eighth, in the airport area of El Arish.”

The Israeli military historian Aryeh Yitzhaki, who worked in the army’s history department after the war, said he and other officers collected testimony from dozens of soldiers who admitted killing POWs. According to Yitzhaki, Israeli troops killed, in cold blood, as many as 1,000 Egyptian prisoners in the Sinai, including some 400 in the sand dunes of El Arish.

Above interpretation suffices as a hook for this here executions blog but its explanatory force feels far less than sufficient.

The facts alleged here against Israel have been contested; one of the sources quoted above, Gabi Bron, has said that only five (not 150) prisoners were executed at El-Arish, and that the dead there were overwhelmingly legitimate battle casualties. But let an intentional massacre number not merely hundreds but thousands upon millions and still we would sit very far from dampening the ardor for any policy that has been decided in Washington or Langley. Surely it is unnecessary to dwell upon what these same statesmen were simultaneously doing in Southeast Asia.

Where that leaves the matter is a still-going debate. Was it a false flag attack meant to be laid to Israel’s Arab enemies? Did the spy ship need to be blinded to hide Israel’s forthcoming (June 9-10) incursion into the Golan Heights? Do war atrocities reveal more than this writer supposes? Or are we really to take seriously the thought-it-was-an-Egyptian-ship official line?

A few books about the U.S.S. Liberty

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Borderline "Executions",Egypt,History,Israel,Known But To God,Mass Executions,No Formal Charge,Occupation and Colonialism,Shot,Soldiers,Summary Executions,Wartime Executions

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1798: The Gibbet Rath massacre

Add comment May 29th, 2020 Headsman

British forces occupying Ireland conducted the Gibbet Rath massacre on this date in 1798, slaying 300 to “500 rebels bleaching on the Curragh of Kildare — that Curragh over which my sweet innocent girls walked with me last Summer, that Curragh was strewed with the vile carcasses of popish rebels and the accursed town of Kildare has been reduced to a heap of ashes by our hands.”

Those are the words of Captain John Giffard, an officer of the force under Major-General James Duff, the Limerick commander who marched into neighboring County Kildare to quell the risings there related to the 1798 Irish Rebellion.

By the time Duff arrived, the Kildare rebels had already been defeated at the Battle of Kilcullen (May 23-24) and had come to a negotiated surrender. A less belligerent British generaal had taken a large rebel surrender on May 27 at Knockaulin Hill by granting an amnesty and showing the flexibility and personal courage to present himself bodily at the rebel redoubt to reassure the Irishmen of their safety.

Events would show that those popish rebels came by their fear honestly.

Duff was detailed to take in another body of rebels availing themselves of the same amnesty upon the Curragh, a broad open plain on the fringe of Kildare town.

Apparently angered past military discipline by the sight on their march of casualties from the rebellion — Captain Griffard’s bloodthirsty effusions above were occasioned by seeing his own son among the dead — Duff decided to subject the Curragh prisoners to a pompous harangue against treason, after which his infantry and cavalry suddenly attacked the disarmed rebels, killing hundreds. According to Duff’s letter to his superiors that same day, the slaughter was triggered when one or more of the rebels discharged their weapons during the stacking of arms.

Kildare, two o’clock, p.m. — We found the rebels retiring from the town on our arrival, armed; we followed them with the dragoons. I sent on some of the yeomen to tell them, on laying down their arms, they should not be hurt. Unfortunately, some of them fired on the troops; from that moment they were attacked on all sides — nothing could stop the rage of the troops. I believe from two to three hundred of the rebels were killed. We have three men killed and several wounded. I am too much fatigued to enlarge.

Duff received commendation, not condemnation, for this action, and Irish rebels still in the field understandably took warning that future surrenders courted summary death.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Borderline "Executions",England,Execution,History,Ireland,Mass Executions,No Formal Charge,Occupation and Colonialism,Shot,Summary Executions,Wartime Executions

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1754: Joseph Coulon de Jumonville, the first Washington atrocity

Add comment May 28th, 2020 Headsman

A volley fired by a young Virginian in the backwoods of America set the world on fire.

Horace Walpole (Source)

On the 28th of May in 1754, a wilderness skirmish in colonial Pennsylvania set spark to the Seven Years’ War — thanks to a battlefield execution under the auspices of the future United States founding father George Washington.

The backdrop to what pro-French partisans would call the “Jumonville Affair” was the rivalrous jockeying of French and British flags in contested North American territory. Looking to check French raiding in Ohio that was feared prelude to an attempt to effect control of that valuable and disputed tract, Washington — here a 22-year-old British lieutenant colonel, many years away yet from his future glory as the American Revolution’s great general — had engaged the French 11 miles from present-day Uniontown, Pa..

It was a short fight: Washington got the drop on the French encampment and efficiently flanked them with his Iroquois allies. Fifteen minutes, and about 10 to 14 French killed, told the tale.

It’s remembered now as the Battle of Jumonville Glen, but its namesake wasn’t around to enjoy the distinction. Instead, that defeated French commander, one Joseph Coulon de Villiers de Jumonville, was allegedly taken prisoner by his opposite number but then killed out of hand by the Iroquois leader Tanacharison or Tanaghrisson (known as “Half-King” to Europeans).

There are differing accounts of exactly what happened and only speculative surmises as to why; in the most cinematically catchy version, Jumonville is attempting to communicate his mission to the victorious Washington — the two men do not share a language — when Tanaghrisson steps up to the captive and “cries out ‘Tu n’es pas encore mort, mon père’ (‘Thou art not yet dead, my father’), raises his hatchet over Jumonville’s head, and crashes it into his skull. Reaching into the skull, he extracts a handful of Jumonville’s brains and washes his hands in the pulpy gore.”* According to historian Fred Anderson, this was the native chief making a declaration of war against the French, rejecting their asserted “paternity” over Indians.

Now caught out with a small force of militiamen against a rival state that was sure to be incensed when it caught word Jumonville’s killing, Washington hastily dug in behind improvised palisades, a bunker unassumingly christened “Fort Necessity”. The Iroquois did not stick around, correctly urging Washington that he’d do best to abandon the field as he’d have no prospect of withstanding the large force of French regulars that was sure to answer Jumonville Glen. Just so: on July 3, the French reached the fort and forced its surrender after a few hours’ fighting.

The French-language capitulation that Washington signed on this signal occasion — the only surrender of his military career — characterized the slaying of Joseph Coulon de Villiers de Jumonville as an “assassination”. This word would be grist for years of competing propaganda between the contending empires, especially since the flying musket-balls from these two engagements would spiral into the French and Indian War (within the North American theater) and the Seven Years’ War (the larger European and global great powers war). Proving himself even at this moment to be every bit the American, Washington would spend the rest of his career attributing his assent to this incendiary word to his infelicity with French.

Despite slinking out of Pennsylvania with an L and a grudge against his translator, this frontier Gavrilo Princip did great service for his future country. Great Britain won the big war he’d started; her attempt in the 1760s and 1770s to settle the terms of her resulting domination of North America — like restricting colonization past the Appalachian Mountains, in deference to native allies like the Iroquois, or ratcheting up taxes to service gigantic war debts — only inflamed the colonists into the rebellion that put George Washington’s name onto his own imperial capital, and George Washington’s face on the world’s reserve currency. Tu n’es pas encore mort, mon père, indeed.

* Other accounts have the murder effected by musket shot, or even have Jumonville killed during the battle.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Borderline "Executions",England,Execution,France,History,No Formal Charge,Nobility,Notable Participants,Occupation and Colonialism,Pennsylvania,Put to the Sword,Soldiers,Summary Executions,Tomahawked,USA

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Feast Day of James, the brother of Jesus

Add comment May 3rd, 2020 Headsman

Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you.

Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are motheaten.

Your gold and silver is cankered; and the rust of them shall be a witness against you, and shall eat your flesh as it were fire. Ye have heaped treasure together for the last days.

Behold, the hire of the labourers who have reaped down your fields, which is of you kept back by fraud, crieth: and the cries of them which have reaped are entered into the ears of the Lord of sabaoth.

Ye have lived in pleasure on the earth, and been wanton; ye have nourished your hearts, as in a day of slaughter.

Ye have condemned and killed the just; and he doth not resist you.

Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord. Behold, the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it, until he receive the early and latter rain.

Be ye also patient; stablish your hearts: for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh.

James 5:1-8

May 3 is the current Catholic feast date of the author of the Epistle of JamesJames, the brother of Jesus, also known as James the Just.

He’s a major leader in the New Testament accounts of the primitive church, closely associated with the traditionalist Jewish side of the movement, wont to give precedence to Mosaic law and ritual — a contrast compared to the Gentile-evangelizer St. Paul. James, however, also appears in Acts of the Apostles as a principal decider of the circa CE 50 Council of Jerusalem edict to the effect that non-Jewish converts to Christianity would not be required to circumcise or observe Jewish dietary strictures.

This James has been debatably conflated at times with the Apostle James, son of Alphaeus and/or James the Less* — as in this passage from the Golden Legend:

James the Apostle is said the Less, how well that was the elder of age than was St. James the More. He was called also the brother of our Lord, because I have resembled much well our Lord in body, in visage, and of manner. He was called James the Just for his right great holiness. He was also called James the son of Alpheus. He sang in Jerusalem the first mass that ever was there, and he was first bishop of Jerusalem.

These associations are all matters of scholarly debate, for the name “James” appears repeatedly in the New Testament, and the contexts do not always make it obvious when one encounters a recurring character. No matter how many other faces we might attribute to him, James the first century Jerusalem patriarch was clearly a figure of great authority among the earliest Christians and a co-leader of the Jerusalem Church. His consanguinity with the Messiah cannot have hurt his cause.

There are various accounts given of his martyrdom in 62 or 69** CE which boil down to falling foul of the Jewish authorities, just like his brother. Importantly, he’s referenced by the ancient historian Josephus in a passage from The Antiquities of the Jews that not only casts light upon his death but provides a contemporary non-Christian source verifying the development of this sect. The setup begins with the ascent of a young and aggressive high priest named Ananus, who

was a bold man in his temper, and very insolent; he was also of the sect of the Sadducees, who are very rigid in judging offenders, above all the rest of the Jews, as we have already observed; when, therefore, Ananus was of this disposition, he thought he had now a proper opportunity [to exercise his authority]. Festus was now dead, and Albinus was but upon the road; so he assembled the sanhedrim of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others, [or, some of his companions]; and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned: but as for those who seemed the most equitable of the citizens, and such as were the most uneasy at the breach of the laws, they disliked what was done; they also sent to the king [Agrippa], desiring him to send to Ananus that he should act so no more, for that what he had already done was not to be justified; nay, some of them went also to meet Albinus, as he was upon his journey from Alexandria, and informed him that it was not lawful for Ananus to assemble a sanhedrim without his consent. Whereupon Albinus complied with what they said, and wrote in anger to Ananus, and threatened that he would bring him to punishment for what he had done; on which king Agrippa took the high priesthood from him, when he had ruled but three months, and made Jesus, the son of Damneus, high priest.

Given his importance, James finds his way into quite a few extra-canonical Christian texts as well; for example, there’s an apocryphal Gospel of James dating to the second century. Of particular interest to we connoisseurs of death are gnostic texts from papyri discovered at Nag Hammadi, Egypt titled the First and Second Apocalypse of James: the Second Apocalypse has an account of James’s martyrdom, very detailed in spite of the fragmentary text, after his preaching in Jerusalem troubled the Jews:

On that day all the people and the crowd were disturbed, and they showed that they had not been persuaded. And he arose and went forth speaking in this manner. And he entered (again) on that same day and spoke a few hours. And I was with the priests and revealed nothing of the relationship, since all of them were saying with one voice, ‘Come, let us stone the Just One.’ And they arose, saying, ‘Yes, let us kill this man, that he may be taken from our midst. For he will be of no use to us.’

And they were there and found him standing beside the columns of the temple beside the mighty corner stone. And they decided to throw him down from the height, and they cast him down. And they […] they […]. They seized him and struck him as they dragged him upon the ground. They stretched him out and placed a stone on his abdomen. They all placed their feet on him, saying ‘You have erred!’

Again they raised him up, since he was alive, and made him dig a hole. They made him stand in it. After having covered him up to his abdomen, they stoned him in this manner.

And he stretched out his hands and said this prayer – not that (one) which it is his custom to say:

My God and my father,
who saved me from this dead hope,
who made me alive through a mystery of what he wills,

Do not let these days of this world be prolonged for me,
but the day of your light […] remains
in […] salvation.

Deliver me from this place of sojourn!
Do not let your grace be left behind in me,
but may your grace become pure!

Save me from an evil death!
Bring me from a tomb alive, because your grace –
love — is alive in me to accomplish a work of fullness!

Save me from sinful flesh,
because I trusted in you with all my strength,
because you are the life of the life!

Save me from a humiliating enemy!
Do not give me into the hand of a judge who is severe with sin!
Forgive me all my debts of the days (of my life)!

Because I am alive in you, your grace is alive in me.
I have renounced everyone, but you I have confessed.
Save me from evil affliction!

But now is the time and the hour.
O Holy Spirit, send me salvation […] the light […]
the light […] in a power […].’

After he spoke, he fell silent … [text ends]

* Saint James the Great was definitely a different fellow.

** The proximity of this martyrdom to the Jewish-Roman War (66-73 CE) led some subsequent ancient writers — not Josephus himself — to cite it as a cause of the great Roman Siege of Jerusalem in 70 CE, which famously destroyed the Second Temple.

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Entry Filed under: Ancient,Arts and Literature,Borderline "Executions",Disfavored Minorities,Execution,God,Israel,Jews,Martyrs,Palestine,Public Executions,Religious Figures,Roman Empire,Stoned,Summary Executions,Uncertain Dates

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1919: Gustav Landauer, anarchist intellectual

Add comment May 2nd, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1919, the anarchist writer and intellectual Gustav Landauer was summarily executed — or just murdered — by the Freikorps after the fall of the Bavarian Soviet.

A Jewish bourgeois from Karlsruhe, Landauer (English Wikipedia entry | German was a pacifist who ran in radical circles (with the usual prison interims) around the fin de seicle.

Although the newspaper he edited was confusingly called Der Sozialist, Landauer “wanted a revolution in which — contra Marxists — “individuals, and not the proletariat, would help to fashion a new mode of cooperative living through personal example rather than through politics and party.” He influenced the Bruderhof Movement, the Kibbutzim, and contemporaries like his friend Martin Buber.

Come World War I, he was part of the Social Democrat coalition that rejected that party’s craven support of the national war machine and cleaved off as the Independent Social Democratic Party (USPD), an affiliation that led him into the short-lived workers’ council government in Munich. It was ironic given his long advocacy of non-violent non-cooperation as the key to remaking the world that his last days would be tied to a violent rising of militants, and its violent suppression. He spurned opportunities to escape before the right-wing militias overran the Soviet.

On May 1st 1919 he was arrested by troops from the counterrevolutionary White Guard and thrown into jail in the nearby town of Starnberg. The next morning he was transferred to Stadelheim Prison. An eyewitness later described to Ernst Toller the events of May 2nd:

Amid shouts of “Landauer! Landauer!” an escort of Bavarian and Württemberger Infantry brought him out into the passage outside the door of the examination room. An officer struck him in the face, the men shouted: “Dirty Bolshie! Let’s finish him off!” and a rain of blows from rifle-butts drove him out into the yard. He said to the soldiers round him: “I’ve not betrayed you. You don’t know yourselves how terribly you’ve been betrayed”. Freiherr von Gagern went up to him with a heavy truncheon until he sank in a heap on the ground. He struggled up again and tried to speak, but one of them shot him through the head. He was still breathing, and the fellow said: “That blasted carrion has nine lives; he can’t even die like a gentleman.” Then a sergeant in the life guards shouted out: “pull off his coat!” They pulled it off, and laid him on his stomach; “Stand back there and we’ll finish him off properly!” one of them called and shot him in the back. Landauer still moved convulsively, so they trampled on him till he was dead; then stripped the body and threw it into the wash-house.

Another witness later told Toller that Landauer’s last words to his attackers were “Kill me then! To think that you are human!” Landauer’s body was buried in a mass grave from which his daughter Charlotte secured its release on May 19th that year, but it was not until May 1923 that the urn containing his remains was interred in Munich’s Waldfriedhof. In 1925, with financial backing from Georg Kaiser, a monument was erected by the Anarchist-Syndicalist Union of Munich but it was later torn down by the Nazis, who dug up his remains in 1933 and sent them to the Jewish community in Munich. He was finally laid to rest in the Jewish cemetery on Ungererstrasse. (Source)

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Bludgeoned,Borderline "Executions",Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Germany,History,Intellectuals,Jews,No Formal Charge,Power,Revolutionaries,Shot,Summary Executions,Wartime Executions

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1731: Elizabeth Needham fatally pilloried

Add comment April 30th, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1731 the English madam Elizabeth Needham stood in the pillory at Park Place, St. James’s, London. It wasn’t a death sentence de jure … but it became one de facto.

“Mother Needham” kept one of London’s most renowned brothels, far more exclusive than the dives of Covent Garden, and she made herself famous enough in the 1710s and 1720s to rate a place in the burgeoning print culture: Alexander Pope makes sly reference to her in The Dunciad, and as Hogarth seems to have modeled the titular courtesan of his Harlot’s Progress plates upon her.


Needham was famous for her recruiting talent. Here, Hogarth’s pockmarked Needham figure inveigles a pretty lass — the series’s central character, “Moll Hackabout” — freshly arriving to London from the hinterlands, while actual Needham client (and notorious sex-beast*) Francis Charteris leers from the stoop. In a subsequent panel in this same series, Hackabout as a seasoned whore encounters another Executed Today customer.

In her heyday a variety of japes, capers, and scandals unfolded in her precincts, beyond the obvious that was her stock in trade. For a number of years she carried out business unmolested by any chastisement from the law, but she suffered a couple of arrests in the 1720s and the heat on London’s brothels escalated uncomfortably with the onset of the 1730s. Thus it was that the wily old procuress earned a conviction for keeping a disorderly house on April 29, 1731.

Her punishment included a small fine and the duty to stand twice in the pillory, exposed to public obloquy. We have already noted in these pages that the horrors of such an ordeal extended beyond the reputational to an outright threat to life and limb. While it was not unheard-of for the pillorying to invert into a ritual of celebration and triumph for its sufferer were the crowd in sympathy, “it would seem that the default crowd at the pillory attended in expectation of an aggressive event.” (“Sodomites in the Pillory in Eighteenth-century London” by Peter Bartlett, Social & Legal Studies, December 1997)

This image of a crowd expecting to abuse the convict is consistent with the report in Fogg’s Weekly Journal in November 1728:

One Mitchel stood in the Pillory in Little Britain, for designing to extort Money from a Gentleman, by threatening to swear a detestable Sin against him [i.e., sodomy] — It was reported that he was to stand again in Aldersgate-street, upon which Occasion the Populace assembled, having furnish’d themselves with dead Cats, and other Ammunition used upon such Occasions, but the Person who was to make all the Sport not appearing, they diverted themselves with throwing their dead Cats at one another.

Elizabeth Needham had a wide notoriety that would have been especially charged in a mob’s eyes by her association with a villain like Charteris: we see her in Hogarth’s illustration above (not yet completed as of the time of her death) as the corrupt agent of predatory magnates. Moreover, she was apparently already weakened by illness. And although she was suffered simply to lie face down on the stage rather than standing dangerously exposed in the apparatus — and although she could afford to hire bodyguards to keep the crowd somewhat at bay — she received the aggressive version of the crowd whose abuse proved fatal to her.

Rictor Norton’s invaluable compilations of reporting on eighteenth century crime capture grub street’s coverage of the frightful end of Mother Needham (and one unfortunate spectator):

The famous Mother Needham was set before the pillory facing Park-place. She was so very ill, that she laid along under the pillory, notwithstanding which she was severely pelted, and it is thought she will die in a day or two … A boy getting upon a lamp post near the pillory, fell from the same upon iron spikes, and tore his belly in so violent a manner, that his bowels came out, and he expired in a few hours in great agonies …

Tuesday, May 4. Yesterday morning died Mother Needham … She declared in her last words, that what most affected her was the terror of standing in the pillory to-morrow in New Palace-Yard, having been so ungratefully used by the populace on Wednesday … They acted very ungratefully, considering how much she had done to oblige them.

* Charteris caught his own death sentence in 1730 for raping a servant, although he had the pull to obtain a royal pardon — with the aid of one of those familiar squid-inking campaigns of smearing his victim and casting doubt on the circumstances. “All the world agree he deserved to be hanged long ago, but they differ whether on this occasion,” one noble confided to his diary.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Arts and Literature,Borderline "Executions",Businessmen,England,History,Public Executions,Sex,Torture,Women

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1972: King Ntare V of Burundi

Add comment April 29th, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1972, (former) King Ntare V of Burundi was summarily executed at the outset of the 1972 genocide of ethnic Hutus.

He was the son of Mwambutsa IV, whose half-century reign dated all the way back to the German colonial period which gave way (in 1916) to the Belgian colonial period and finally to independence in 1962. He had a job all the while to manage relations between the majority Hutus and the elite Tutsis: it was this conflict that would write the unpleasant end of this family’s dynasty.

In 1965, a Hutu coup attempt forced Mwambutsa to flee into exile — although the coup did not succeed, and our principal Crown Prince Charles Ndizeye succeeded him as Ntare V. Ntare was all of 18 years old, the only surviving son of his generation but a mere shadow of the half-brother who had seemed destined for this inheritance until an assassin‘s bullet struck him down in 1961. He was not equal to the tumultuous political situation.

Before 1966 was out, Ntare too had been chased into exile by a coup executed by officer-turned-prime minister Michel Micombero — Burundi’s military dictator for the subsequent decade. In 1972, Burundi lured the expatriate prince back to his homeland with a pledge of safekeeping — in the words of the note conveyed to Uganda, whose government arranged to helicopter him back to Burundi,

Your excellency can be assured that as soon as Mr. Charles Ndizeye returns to my country he will be considered an ordinary citizen and that as such his life and his security will be assured. I will do all that I can so that he may participate in the building of Burundi’s society as an honest citizen.

But he was quickly placed under house arrest in Gitega, accused of attempting to invade Burundi at the head of an army of mercenaries.

On April 27, 1972, a Hutu rebellion became the trigger for a genocidal crackdown thought to have claimed 100,000 to 300,000 lives and the cream of the Hutus’ intelligentsia — teachers, civil servants, and community leaders who were systematically hunted by death squads working from kill lists. Hundreds of thousands more preserved their lives only by escaping from Burundi.

Sometime the night of April 29, Mr. Charles Ndizeye became one of the earliest casualties in this bloodbath. The circumstances of his killing have never been entirely clear; the official line at the time was that he was shot spontaneously when supporters tried to liberate him from custody; the counterclaim is that he was lined up and gunned down in cold blood.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Borderline "Executions",Burundi,Execution,Heads of State,History,No Formal Charge,Royalty,Shot,Summary Executions,Wartime Executions

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3rd Century BCE: Grauballe Man

Add comment April 26th, 2020 Headsman

We’ll never have the actual execution date, of course, but April 26 in 1952 was the date that researchers in Jutland hauled out of a peat bog the 3rd century BCE body of Grauballe Man, so spectacularly preserved that his fingerprints could still be taken. His throat slashed, Grauballe Man is thought to have been subjected to either an execution or a ritual sacrifice, and his body dumped into this oxygen-sparse slough so congenial to natural mummification.

The Grauballe Man
By Seamus Heaney

As if he had been poured
in tar, he lies
on a pillow of turf
and seems to weep

the black river of himself.
The grain of his wrists
is like bog oak,
the ball of his heel

like a basalt egg.
His instep has shrunk
cold as a swan’s foot
or a wet swamp root.

His hips are the ridge
and purse of a mussel,
his spine an eel arrested
under a glisten of mud.


Grauballe Man on display at Denmark’s Moesgaard Museum. (cc) image from Colin.

The head lifts,
the chin is a visor
raised above the vent
of his slashed throat

that has tanned and toughened.
The cured wound
opens inwards to a dark
elderberry place.

Who will say ‘corpse’
to his vivid cast?
Who will say ‘body’
to his opaque repose?

And his rusted hair,
a mat unlikely
as a foetus’s.
I first saw his twisted face

in a photograph,
a head and shoulder
out of the peat,
bruised like a forceps baby,

but now he lies
perfected in my memory,
down to the red horn
of his nails,

hung in the scales
with beauty and atrocity:
with the Dying Gaul
too strictly compassed

on his shield,
with the actual weight
of each hooded victim,
slashed and dumped.

These same bogs have yielded other eerily well-preserved time-travelers from antiquity, including Tollund Man (believed to have been hanged in the 4th century BCE) and Elling Woman (believed to have been hanged in the 3rd century BCE). Peat bogs ranging from Ireland and England to Germany and the Low Countries have overall yielded numerous other specimens, ranging up to 10,000 years old — quite a few of them victims of evident violence.

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Entry Filed under: Ancient,Arts and Literature,Borderline "Executions",Denmark,Execution,Known But To God,Put to the Sword,Uncertain Dates

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