Posts filed under 'Botched Executions'

1817: Ann Statham, infanticide

Add comment March 21st, 2020 Richard Clark

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Abortion and Infanticide,Botched Executions,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Guest Writers,Hanged,History,Murder,Other Voices,Public Executions,Women

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1998: Three Afghan men under a toppled wall

Add comment February 25th, 2020 Headsman

This jaw-dropping story, reported here via an Amnesty International report, made the rounds of international press and appears to be well-founded — and indeed not the only instance of execution by wall toppling in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.*

Three Afghan men, Fazalur Rehman, Ahmad Shah and Abdul Qahir were convicted earlier this year [1998] by a Taleban Shari’a court of committing sodomy with young boys. On 25 February 1998, a stone wall was felled on them by a battle tank before thousands of spectators at Kotal Morcha north of city of Kandahar. They were seriously injured but did not die immediately. The Taleban leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar who had reportedly gone to witness the execution ordered that they remain buried for half an hour saying their lives would be spared if they survived. As the men were still alive at the end of their ordeal, he ordered that they should be taken to the city’s hospital. Two of them died the next day. The third survived but it is not known if he is still in hospital. Agence France Presse quotes the Taleban’s daily newspaper, Anis, as reporting that the three men from the Sangin area in Helmand province, some 100 kilometres northwest of Kandahar, “who had committed the obscene act of buggery were publicly put under a wall after a verdict of the Shari’a court and the Shari’a punishment was thus applied to them. His eminence the Amirol Momenin [Mollah Mohammad Omar] attended the function to give Shari’a punishment to the three buggerers in Dasht-e Sufi area of Kandahar.”

* The same Amnesty report describes a like punishment visited on March 22, 1998, on Abdul Sami, 18, and Bismillah, 22 — again, for sodomy.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Afghanistan,Botched Executions,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Executions Survived,History,Homosexuals,Public Executions,Sex,Stoned,Toppled Wall

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1860: James Stephens

Add comment February 3rd, 2020 Headsman

James Stephens hanged in New York on this date in 1860, for poisoning his wife.

We’ve referenced passingly a number of 19th century hangings on then-trendy “upward-jerking” gallows — whose action is not to drop the offender down through a trap, but to drop a heavy weight which levers the offender up.

Thanks to the Feb. 4, 1860 edition of the New York Herald, we have a very detailed description of this macabre device.

Perhaps the reporter’s skepticism as to this machine’s humane efficacy is informed here by a bit of hindsight, for when it engaged to end the life of our Mr. Stephens,

Up went the culprit high into the air, not with a sudden violent jerk as usual, but slowly, as if by the strength of a man’s arms, instead of a powerful weight of some 300 pounds. It became evident immediately that something was wrong, and soon a rumor went round that the rope had been unwound instead of cut by the hangman. It appeared that the executioner, who was inexperienced, got frightened, and thus the barbarous manner of hanging the culprit was explained.

It was extraordinary that under these circumstances the unfortunate wretch, suspended between heaven and earth, did not exhibit indications of violent suffering. The moment the rope tightened around his neck, and he was elevated about half way up, a slight twitching of the fingers and kicking of the legs were perceptible. Then a few moments intervened without the slightest indication of suffering, except the hard breathing, which was fearful to listen to. After hanging two minutes in this way, another convulsive throe took place; the vessels in the neck seemed to be swelled almost to bursting, the fingers and wrists assumed a bluish hue, and the feet twitched once or twice spasmodically. Three minutes came, and with it a very feeble tremor showed itself in the whole body; but it lasted only a few seconds, when all further motion ceased, and life seemed to be completely extinct. The surgeons, Drs. Woodward, Simmons and Covell, viewed the body after a suspension of five minutes, and gave it as their opinion that animation was certainly gone; but the body was not lowered until fourteen minutes had expired. The surgeons then again examined the body, found no pulse, and the flesh icy cold. Considering the circumstances, the culprit died a remarkably easy death, which was owing, doubtless, to the feeble condition of his constitution. Had he been in good strength at the time of his execution there is no question but that he would have struggled in the most frightful agony for half an hour.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Botched Executions,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,Murder,New York,USA

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1866: The Nashville murderers of William Hefferman

Add comment January 26th, 2020 Headsman

Blood accumulates upon us. Verily, it does seem that the reins of justice have been loosely thrown to the devil, and that we are all driving at breakneck speed in the same direction.

-Nashville Banner (via)

On this date in 1866, four youths employed as teamsters in the Army corrals of Union-occupied Nashville were hanged for a brutal highway robbery/murder.

The victim was William Hefferman, a wealthy railway contractor. His assailants were George Crabb/Craft, James Lysaught, Thomas Perry/Ferry, and James Knight; Knight at 20 was the only one out of his teens. On the night of November 22, 1865, they held up Hefferman’s carriage. The situation turned deadly when Hefferman’s son-in-law, attempting to protect the old man from the blows of the assailants when he refused to give them any money, fired a shot that wounded Crabb — which led to a return shot that mortally wounded Hefferman. He succumbed to the wound a few days later.

This was the immediate, unsettled aftermath of the U.S. Civil War, occasion for a robust crime wave that held Middle Tennessee in terror. “Nashville is infested by bands of robbers and murderers,” complained the Ohio newspaper The Spirit of Democracy (Dec. 6, 1865). Hefferman’s murder would be one of the signal crimes of that interim and draw nationwide outrage — all of which helped the killers’ associates to shop them very speedily. The army’s drumhead court-martial was gaveled in within a week and the hoodlums were lucky to get that far. “Great excitement exists in the city,” a dispatch to the Daily Ohio Statesman (Nov. 28, 1865) reported. “The streets are thronged with men vowing vengeance and threatening lynch law. Tonight meetings are being held in each ward to form a citizen patrol. A spark may incite the crowd to mob law.”

As it was a military trial, the appeal went up the chain of command to U.S. President Andrew Johnson,* who denied it. However, such a proceeding would not have been licit under the imminent (April 1866) U.S. Supreme Court holding in Ex Parte Milligan — which held that military courts cannot try civilians wherever civilian courts are open.

It is their youth, their boyishness, that leaps off the page in the accounts of their last hours — such as this from the Cleveland Daily Leader of January 29:

The four Heffernan [sic] murderers were hung to-day, at thirteen minutes past twelve o’clock. Their real names are James Knight, Thomas Perry, George Crab and James Lysaught. Two had been in the rebel army.

Yesterday several orthodox ministers called, conversed and prayed with the prisoners, who exhibited some emotion. Afterward, Father Begrath, of the Catholic Church, was with them. They all professed the Roman Catholic faith. Knight and Perry were baptised. The other two had been baptised in infancy. The prisoners had previously shown great hardihood, singing such pieces as “Bold Jack Dunaho” and “Bingen on the Rhine.” The past two days had tamed them down, but they were still stolid, frivolous and careless, joking about their doom.

This morning, Perry’s brother brought him clothing. The parting scene between them was heart-rending, Perry giving way to tears and sobs. Colonel Innis provided the others with clothing. Lysaught said, at first, that he didn’t want any pants, as those he had on were good as gold to hang in. Crab was asked to tell who shot Hefferman. He replied, “That is not a fair question; I’ll never tell that in this world.”

Father Begrath came about ten o’clock to attend them in their last moments. Lysaught said he felt as gay as a lay. He said he had been badly treated, else he would be with his parents now. Father Begrath read a touching letter from Lysaught’s parents to the Bishop, asking him to have James’ grave marked that some day they might take the body away. He was earnestly exhorted to repentance, but he remained almost stolid. Some one in the room having a looking-glass, he jumped up, exclaiming, “By golly, I must look at my face once more.” Then turning to Crab, he remarked, “Look at yours — it is your last chance.”

Crab replied, “It aint any use.” Lysaught asked, laughingly, “afraid you’ll break the glass?” when all four seemed much tickled. Crab having eased Lysaught’s handkerchief, the latter playfully snatched it away, saying, “let me smell it everlasting.” Then, turning to Crab, said, “you’re enough to make a monkey grin.”

Perry was asked if he feared to die. He replied “I don’t dread it a bit. It’s best to take it easy, it’s got to come.”

Crab indicted the following letter to Byron Heston, Oswego, New York:

George Crab, the boy who used to run on the packet with you, in 1861, is about to be hung. He requests to be remembered, kindly, to yourself and family.

Perry took his brother aside at parting, and advised him never to indulge in sinful, lazy ways, never to swear, and to let alone whisky, cards and bad houses, “for the like of this has brought me to the gallows. I want you to take my body home and let mother see me. I am sorry she did not see me before I was hung. Tell her to meet me in a better world, as I am prepared to die. God bless you! Good-bye!”

When the priest left them for a few moments they began to chat and joke about the ropes that would hang them, the feeling of contrition being evanescent.

An immense crowd, numbering fifteen thousand persons, were on the ground. At twenty minutes past eleven, the prisoners were brought to the gallows, which they mounted with a firm step, and stood gazing around for nineteen minutes, while the charges and specifications and sentence were read. Perry composedly leaned against one of the uprights, and surveyed the crowd. Crabb took hold of the noose before him, and viewed it with a comic look, testing its strength with his thumb, and rubbing his head against the rope.

Knight buttoned his coat, chewing his cud of tobacco violently and showing nervousness. As his arms were bound he quivered a moment. During the prayer he knelt, bowing his head and holding his handkerchief to his nose, which was bleeding. His last words were: “I have no hard feelings against any one. I am going to a better world.” Lysaught took a farewell chew of tobacco, saying “Pretty rough, ain’t it?” He asked forgiveness of all whom he had injured, adding, “I am glad we had time for repentance; I am glad we were removed from the jail to the Penitentiary. If I had stayed at the jail I would have starved to death.” Crab also asked forgiveness for his misdeeds, and thanked Mr. Johnson, keeper of the Penitentiary, for his kindness. Just before the drop fell, he shrugged his shoulders and exclaimed, “It’s kind o’ cold.” A chum called on him on the platform, and was affectionately kissed by Knight and Crab; as he went down the steps, the former called out, “Take warning by this.”

Just before the drop fell, Perry held out his hat and said, “Jim Johnson give my brother that.”

At thirteen minutes after 12 o’clock the rope was cut, and the four bodies fell with a heavy thump. Lysaught’s neck was broken. The knot slipped with Knight and Crab, who died with many struggles and convulsive writhings. Perry died by strangulation, but did not move much.

After hanging twenty minutes the bodies were cut down and placed in common pauper coffins.

An early attempt was made to erect whisky, candy and apple stands among the crowd of spectators, but the military promptly interfered.

The bearing of the condemned showed that they had agreed to brave it out. Their highest estimation of conduct on such occasions seems to have been to die game. They certainly met death with as little show of fear as it possible to imagine in youths not out of their teens.

* By coincidence, Johnson had been the military governor of Tennessee during the war.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Botched Executions,Capital Punishment,Children,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,Murder,Occupation and Colonialism,Public Executions,Tennessee,U.S. Military,USA

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2007: Barzan Ibrahim al-Tikriti and Awad Hamed al-Bandar, Saddam Hussein aides

Add comment January 15th, 2020 Headsman

Longtime Saddam Hussein aides Barzan Ibrahim al-Tikriti and Awad Hamed al-Bandar — who were co-defendants with the boss at his trial under U.S. occupation — were hanged before dawn on this date in 2007.

As top officials of the Ba’athist government both men’s hands were well-imbrued in blood: Awad Hamed al-Bandar had been a judge who issued death sentences to 143 people charged with complicity in a failed attempt on Saddam’s life during the Dujail Massacre; Barzan Ibrahim al-Tikriti, Saddam’s half-brother, had been his intelligence chief with all that entails. Al-Tikriti was also one of the authors of the terrifying 1979 Ba’ath Party purge in which the doomed were culled from the ranks of the party congress while video rolled and the un-culled were forced to execute them. He also achieved the dubious honor of a place in the U.S. invasion army’s playing card deck of most wanted Iraqis.*

They had initially been slated to hang on the same occasion as Saddam (December 30, 2006) but were briefly respited so that the dictator would have the spotlight to himself on his big day. It’s a good job they did that, because the al-Tikriti’s hanging was badly botched by an excessively long drop, and the noose tore his head clean off.

* We’re biased but we prefer Executed Today’s playing cards.

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Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Botched Executions,Capital Punishment,Crimes Against Humanity,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Infamous,Iraq,Judges,Murder,Occupation and Colonialism,Politicians,Ripped from the Headlines,USA,Wartime Executions

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1883: Mampuru, Sekukuni rival

1 comment November 22nd, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1883, the Boer South African Republic hanged Bapedi chief Mampuru.

Sekukuni

Mampuru is notable as the half-brother and rival — eventually murderous rival — of Sekukuni (also rendered Sekhukhune), the chief of the Pedi or Bapedi people. Their backstory is significant: Mampuru had been the intended heir of their shared father, King Sekwati, but the warlike Sekukuni had seized rulership instead when Sekwati died in 1861.

While Mampuru skulked in exile with the neighboring Swazi, it was Sekukuni who led his people’s resistance to the incursions of the Dutch Boers settling the Transvaal.

In 1876, he successfully fought off the Boer Transvaal Republic — which contributed to it becoming in 1877 the British Transvaal instead, at least according to the British.

Less successful was Sekukuni in the war soon prosecuted against him by the British. Extensively narrated here (also see part 1 of this same article sequence here), the upshot was that the British eventually trapped Sekukuni’s last defenders in a rocky hill remembered as the “Fighting Koppie” and captured him. The Swazi, with that displaced rival Mampuru, fought in this war with the British.

Sekukuni and his surviving family would be marched to Pretoria and imprisoned there until 1881.

In the intervening years, power was rebalanced all around among the players. Mampuru had been able to re-establish himself among the Bapedi with no small help from his British allies — but those British allies had been defeated by a Boer rebellion in the First Boer War.* One article in the settlement ending the Boer-British conflict permitted Sekukuni’s release.

As might be expected the ex-chief’s return to his homeland was scarcely welcomed by his brother. After some months of political acrimony, Mampuru settled the feud by having a team of assassins stab Sekukuni to death in his sleep, on the night of August 13, 1882.

For Mampuru, the sibling rivalry win was as Pyrrhic as it surely was satisfying, for he was immediately branded an outlaw by the Boer Transvaal and himself obliged to flee from the countrymen whom he meant to rule. When the Boers captured him, they had him condemned a murderer and hanged him stark naked for an audience of 200-plus white men in Pretoria. As an added indignity, they botched the hanging and dropped Mampuru to the ground on their first go, when the noose snapped. (In 2013, the jail where he hanged was renamed for Mampuru.)

Cowardly murderer or anti-colonial resistance martyr? That’s still up for debate.

* A result to be avenged/reversed 20 years on.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Botched Executions,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Murder,Occupation and Colonialism,South Africa

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1852: The assassin of Korfiotaki

1 comment September 25th, 2019 Headsman

From a New York Times report of Nov. 13, 1852, corroborated by other press by foreign and domestic.

On September 25, 1852, in Athens, Greece, the unnamed assassin of Korfiotaki, one of King Otto of Greece‘s cabinet ministers, was executed under circumstances peculiarly horrible. Another murderer was guillotined under his eyes in order to lend and additional horror to his punishment. Nevertheless he managed, by some slight [sic] of hand, to throw off his chains, to draw a long knife, and to throw himself upon the executioner. The latter however dealt him a stunning blow just in time which knocked him backwards on the drawn knife of one of the executioners assistants. Between them both they speedily finished the condemned. The ceremony proper took place. His lifeless body suffered decapitation. The crowd had taken his side in his fight with the executioner and encouraged him by a volley of bravos, while the latter was saluted with a shower of hisses and execrations.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Assassins,Beheaded,Botched Executions,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Greece,Guillotine,History,Murder,Posthumous Executions,Public Executions,Put to the Sword

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1878: John Speer

Add comment September 20th, 2019 Headsman

From the Galveston (Texas) News, September 24, 1878:


Execution of Speer.

The First White Man Hanged is in McLennan County.

A Solemn and Impressive Scene — Speer’s Letter to his Friends in Arkansas and Texas — History of the Murder and Prosecution.

WACO, Sept. 20. — John W. Speer born in Arkansas in 1852, whose execution took place here to-day for the murder of the Rev. J.S. Pledger, came to Texas in 1874 on account of bad health, and remained with his brother-in-law until July, 1875, when he was arrested, being charged with the murder. His father die when he was 16 years of age, and his mother died July 6, 1877, the day after being notified of his second conviction. In early life he was of lively disposition, fond of excitement, but not such as would indicate anything of malice or violence toward any one, even an enemy. A fair education was acquired before his father’s death, but from that time it was necessary for him to make every effort for his own support, and to accomplish this he rented a piece of land in this county and commenced farming, his land adjoining that of Mr. Pledger. Ill will existed between the two for some time, and a double fence had been constructed in consequence.

On the 13th day of July, 1875, Rev. J.S. Pledger, while plowing in his field, was shot down by some one concealed in the weeds between the fences, and a man plowing with Mr. Pledger recognized J.W. Speer as the one who fired the fatal shot. He was arrested shortly after and remained in prison until May, 1876, when his trial took place. Messrs. Herring, Anderson & Kelly were retained for his defense, and did all in their power to save him, but the jury returned a verdict of murder in the first degree, assessing the death penalty. An appeal was taken, and the case remanded. In July, 1877, a new trial was had before Judge L.C Alexander, resulting in a verdict the same as the former one. Again his counsel appealed to the higher tribunal, when in due time the judgement was affirmed, and on July 6, 1878, Judge Alexander sentenced him to be hung on August 28. Gov. Hubbard granted a respite until September 20, after declining any commutation of punishment, though earnestly petitioned to do so by many citizens of this county, for the following reasons, addressed to Col. Parrott:

[some boilerplate omitted -ed.] … No newly discovered proofs tending to show the innocence of the defendant have been presented to the executive. No proofs tending to mitigate or palliate the crime, or bring it under the denomination of murder in the second degree, or manslaughter, have been presented. The statement of facts, certified by the district judge as being the only evidence on the final trial, has alone governed the executive in determining his decision in this case. From a most earnest review of this evidence, he arrives at the conclusion that the defendant was guilty of murder, as charged. A credible witness swears positively to seeing the defendant kill the deceased by a gun, which he saw defendant hold in his hands, and di[s]charge at the body of the deceased; and that from the wounds then received did die. Other witnesses testify to a chain of circumstances establishing the guilt of the defendant as clearly as the positive evidence. Add to all which the defendant, when not under duress, and when not under threats, or under promises of liberty or life, confessed to having killed the deceased … The crime is not relieved by any mitigating circumstances. If the facts as sworn to are true, it was an assassination of an old and unarmed citizen, who had no opportunity of defense, or even notice of the fate which awaited him. With such convictions, formed upon the evidence presented, the executive can not interfere with the judgment of the court.

R.B. HUBBARD, Governor.

Your correspondent visited him on yesterday in company with his spiritual adviser, Rev. M.H. Wells, and found him in good health, and quite cheerful, considering his approaching doom.

In response to questions asked him he declines to make any confession, as it would do him no good, but only bring trouble upon others. In a letter to his friends he says: “I will leave no statement of my case. You will judge me as leniently as possible. I will make my confession to God alone, not to man.” He appears quite reconciled to his fate, and claims every reason to hope for the pardon of his sins, and acceptance at the throne of grace. In his will made on the 17th inst. he bequeathed the remaining estate to his sister, now twelve years of age, sent his trunk by express to his brother, and placed papers and other valuables in the hands of Rev. M.H. Wells to be disposed of as directed. He renders grateful thanks to sheriff Ross and John Magee, the jailer, and other officers and many friends for constant and uniform kindness to him during his long imprisonment. The members of the young men’s christian association have done much to encourage him by their kind words and earnest prayers. His great regret is that he has not yet been able fully to forgive those who were instrumental in bringing upon him this great trouble, and not coming to his rescue as they promised.

Early this morning crowds of people from the surrounding country gathered around the jail. The trees and housetops and every available window were filled with anxious spectators, awaiting the hour of execution, and not less than 3000 persons were on the ground.

At half past 2 o’clock Mr. Wells and other ministers of the methodist church, members of the young men’s christian association and representatives of the press were admitted into the jail, when Speer was brought into the room outside the cage, where religious services were conducted by Mr. Wells, in the following order: Singing first, “Jesus, lover of my soul,” reading the fifty-first psalm; second, hymn, “There is a fountain filled with blood;” prayer by Mr. Wells; after which the sacrament of the Lord’s supper was administered. Prayer by the Rev. W.R.D. Stockton, followed by singing “What a friend we have in Jesus,” and “Shall We Meet Beyond the River,” the latter at the request of the prisoner, and during the singing he shook hands with all in the room; then turning to his companions in prison, bade them good-by, expressing the hope they should meet in heaven. The services and leave-taking were one of the most solemn and impressive scenes it has ever been my lot to witness. Deputy sheriff J.S. Moore then came forward and read the death warrant, the prisoner listening attentively and without any apparent emotion.

The door being thrown open, he took the arms of his spiritual adviser and A.R. McCollum, of the Telephone, who was a friend of his youth, and walked with a firm step around the building, and up the steps to the platform of the gallows, where he stood alone and unmoved during a short and fervent prayer. The rope was then adjusted, his arms and feet pinioned, during which there was no perceptible emotion, but a smile lit up his countenance, which continued until the black cap was drawn over the face. The officers and friends descended from the platform, and at 4.05 the wedge was knocked away, and J.W. Speer was suspended between earth and heaven. The rope having slipped his neck was not broken, but he strangled. At 4.17 the physicians pronounced him dead, and at 4.22 he was cut down and placed in his coffin. Mr. A.R. McCollum took charge of the corpse, and had it buried in the Waco cemetery, Rev. M.H. Wells conducting the burial services.

Just before ascending the scaffold, Speer gave to McCollum, to whom I am indebted for a copy, the following statement in his own handwriting:

WACO, TEXAS, Sept. 18, 1878.

To my friends in Arkansas and elsewhere:

I adopt the present mode of returning thanks to you for your sympathy and assistance during my late trouble. Though all your efforts have been of no avail toward prolonging my life, yet I duly appreciate the endeavors you have made in my behalf, and thank you as freely and heartily as if your wishes had been accomplished. I have been often asked for a written statement of the case against me, with the names of all persons concerned in the murder, but I have, and must still, decline to give such a statement. But for the gratification of my friends, I will give the names of all the parties that I know of, commencing with myself. To a certain extent I am particepts criminis with W.S. Nolan and J.W. Wilson, though I myself never had a cross word with Mr. Pledger in my life. There may be others who are morally guilty, whom I do not know of. More than this I do not wish to say, but leave those who hav eknown me best to judge for themselves. A lady friend once asked me why I did not tell all that I knew of the case and try to save my own life. In answer to her, I will say I have been as she thinks much wronged by W.S. Nolan, J.M. Nolan and J.W. Wilson, and it was my intention at one time to try to do so, but I listened to the persuasions and promise of assistance from J.M. Nolan and W.S. Nolan until it was too late for me to do anything but await my fate and meet it as best I could.

I have been informed that J.M. Nolan has been recently working against me, and my reasons are good for believing the report to be true. Prejudice at one time was very strong against me here, but since my last trial public opinion seems to have changed to some extent, and I now believe that I have the sympathy of all good citizens. Though the change has come too late to do me any good, yet I am grateful to the people, and thank them from my heart for their sympathy and kind appeal to the governor asking executive clemency in my behalf. I know that my friends have thought it very strange that Gov. Hubbard did not commute my sentence to imprisonment for life. But I can only say that it was my misfortune that the case of Emil Houillion was presented and acted on before mine. Had my case been first of the two before his excellency, I think his decision, would have been different.

My treatment here has been very good. Col. Ross, sheriff, and Mr. McGee, jailer, and Mr. McGee’s family have been very kind to me. I have no irons of any sort on me, and have been allowed all the liberties and favors that a person could ask — more, in fact, than one in my condition could expect. To you, my friends, I would respectfully remember his excellency Gov. Miller, of Arkansas, United States senator A.H. Garland, of that state and Col. A.B. Williams, who have indeed tried to befriend me in this trouble; and should it ever be in your power to assist either of these gentlemen, then think of me, who will remember them and you when with my Father in heaven. There are many others, both in this country and there, whose memory and friendship are very dear to me, but their names are too numerous to mention in this statement. It is indeed a priceless pleasure to me to know that I have so many friends and few enemies; and I hope my friends will remember me in after years with pleasure, and not let my memory die entirely out of their hearts. One of my earliest friends, who knew me when I was a little boy in Camden, Arkansas — Mr. McCollum, editor of the Telephone — will kindly take charge of my remains and see that everything is properly attended to, and should any of my friends ever come to Waco and wish to see the last resting-place allotted me here, Mr. McCollum will no doubt cheerfully show them my grave. I would have much preferred that my death could have been a natural one; but, as it is, I feel prepared to go, as a christian should, with hopes of a happy home in heaven. And I shall hope, sooner or later, to meet you all there, where pain and grief have no part, but all is joy and peace. I have one great consolation — that my mother is not here to suffer with my sisters. But I soon will be with her, and await them there. As my time is short, I will bring this letter to a close. May God, in his infinite love and mercy, ever bless and protect you while on earth, and finally reunited us in His upper and better kingdoms, is my daily prayer. In life and in death I remain, with love and well wishes, your true and much wronged friend, formerly of Antoine, Arkansas,

JOHN SPEER

A detachment of the Waco Greys, under command of Capt. Robinson, and of the Central City Guards, under command of Lieut. M.V. Fort, were detailed as guard during the day. Doctors Hamlet, Willis, Holbert, Park, Campbell and Tollivero were announced by the sheriff to be in attendance. The reporter of the News and other representatives of the press, together with some seventy-five others, were admitted into the jail yard, amongst whom were a daughter of Mr. Pledger, the murdered man, and her four children.

The above is the record of the first execution of a white man in McLennan county, and may we not hope that few such scenes will occur in future! -R.G.

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

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1731: Catherine Bevan, burned alive in Delaware

1 comment September 10th, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1731, a double execution of 50-year-old Catherine Bevan and her young servant — perhaps lover — Peter Murphy was nightmarishly marred by Bevan’s burning alive.

Such was indeed the sentence upon her for “petty treason”, a now-archaic legal category that compassed the betrayal — in practice, murder — of an authority. (Compare to “high treason”, meaning the betrayal of the ultimate authority, the sovereign; the legal categories show that these offenses are analogues.) Quite often in such cases the authority in question was the man of the house, and so it was here too: Bevan and Murphy beat and throttled to death her husband, Henry Bevan. Both wife-on-husband and servant-on-master homicide qualified as petty treason.

Crucially for the American colonies, the latter category included slaves in resistance to their masters. Petty treason was an offense elevated beyond “mere” murder because it implied an attack upon the received order upon which all society depended; one expression of the heightened outrage accorded to petty treason was that women* thus convicted could be sentenced to burning, rather than “mere” hanging. This interesting Widener Law Library blog about the Bevan case notes that out of 24 documented burnings of women in early America, 22 were burnings of enslaved women. (Enslaved men were also subject to this fate for crimes particularly threatening to the stability of the Slave Power, like arson.)

Bevan was one of the two exceptions, although it must be noted that there were other prosecutions of white domestic murderesses in the colonial period that simply got the culprits hanged instead of burned. In the looser confines of the New World, the growing English reticence about sending [white] women to the stake predominated; in fact, when Delaware found itself with another spousal parricide on its hands in 1787, its legislature hurriedly amended the still-extant burning-at-the-stake statutes to provide for simple hanging instead.

One reason for the squeamishness was what happened to the widow Bevan.

It was design’d to strangle her dead before the Fire should touch her; but its first breaking out was in a stream which pointed directly upon the Rope that went round her Neck, and burnt it off instantly, so that she fell alive into the Flames, and was seen to struggle.

Pennsylvania Gazette, September 23, 1731

* “In treasons of every kind the punishment of women is the same, and different from that of men” who in some instances could be drawn and quartered, writes Blackstone. “For, as the decency due to the sex forbids the exposing and publickly mangling their bodies, their sentence (which is to the full as terrible to the sensation as the other) is to be drawn to the gallows, and there to be burned alive.”

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Botched Executions,Burned,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Delaware,England,Execution,History,Murder,Occupation and Colonialism,Public Executions,USA,Women

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1873: James Connor

Add comment September 8th, 2019 Headsman

The Capital Punishment UK Facebook page exhumes a ghastly artifact for us in the form of the September 8, 1873 hanging of James Connor at Kirkdale Gaol … and then his second hanging moments later.

A former boilermaker and sometime prizefighter, Connor had accosted a woman on the street with an aggressive proposition, then come to blows with the good Samaritans who attempted to intervene. One of them died from the blade wounds Connor dealt him; the other survived to firmly fix the identity of the rake.

That was on August 11, not even a full month before the man’s execution, and what was paid in haste was also surely paid in full after the stoical condemned instead of dropping to his death crashed into the side of the scaffold. According to the article shared by CPUK, it was not that the rope itself snapped but that “the splicing of the loop through which one end of the rope passes to form the noose had given way with the weight of the man.”

Either way, having built himself up to die game, Connor was somewhat unmanned at the horror spectacle of having his hood removed to behold prison officials scrambling to reset his gallows for a second pass. Per a broadside report,

After utterring [sic] a few deep groans he muttered to Warder Bradley, “What do you do this, do you call this murder?” The chaplain recommenced his ministrations, and entreated him in tremulous voice to keep up. At this point Connor, although suffering terrible physical pain, was heard to exclaim in a feeble voice, “After this you should let me off; surely this is enough. I stood it like a brick the first time.”

Of course, he had to stand it a second time too. Thankfully a third try was not required to accomplish the deed.

It was one of the last executions in the lengthy and botch-prone career of hangman William Calcraft, who was nearing his 73rd birthday at the time. Already he had was being surpassed in his art by the scientific professionalism of Marwood; by 1874, Calcraft was forced to hang up his brittle nooses for good.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Botched Executions,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,Murder

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