Posts filed under 'Capital Punishment'

1942: Boris Vilde, linguist

Add comment February 23rd, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1942, Estonian linguist and ethnographer Boris Vilde was shot with his French Resistance circle at Fort Mont-Valerien.

St. Petersburg-born, Estonian-raised, the young scientist came to Paris at age 25 (French link) with his life in a backpack.

In the eight short years remaining to him before he gave his life for his adopted land’s anti-Nazi resistance, Vilde cofounded the Paris Musee de l’Homme. (When visiting, be sure to look for the skull of Suleiman al-Halabi, a Syrian executed for assassinating one of Napoleon’s Egyptian officers in 1800.)

It says here that Vilde even imported the French word “resistance” into Estonian.

Boris knew whereof he spoke.

His Musee de l’Homme group recruited scientists and intellectuals and published anti-fascist propaganda.

When the Vichy government infiltrated it and had its principals condemned, one of Vilde’s compatriots is said to have bellowed at the firing squad at the last moment,

Imbeciles, it’s for you, too that I die.

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1880: Ippolit Mlodetsky, Loris-Melikov’s would-be assassin

Add comment February 22nd, 2010 Headsman

If you were a person of any privilege or official authority in late 19th century Russia, chances are that Narodnaya Volya was planning to take a shot at you.

If you were General Loris-Melikov, a Ukrainian Jew did that to you two days before this date in 1880.*

And if you were that errant assassin, Ippolit Mlodetsky, this was your execution date.

Even though Melikov rated as something of a liberal on the Russian autocracy spectrum, he had no qualms about ordering legal proceedings barely this side of summary.

Gen. Melikoff, on Wednesday evening, ordered a court-martial to assemble on Thursday morning. The trial of the prisoner was opened at 11 o’clock in the morning. The prisoner was insolent in his language and demeanor, and refused to stand up or take any part in the proceedings. He said he had nothing to add … that he did not want to be troubled any more, and wanted the matter finished. … at 1 o’clock … judgment was pronounced against him. The judgment on the prisoner sentenced him to be hanged, and his execution was appointed for 10 o’clock this (Friday) morning on the Simeonofsky Plain, near the Tsarskoe-selo Railway terminus.

And so he was.

Mlodetsky’s public hanging was witnessed by novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky in the very square where Dostoyevsky himself had faced mock-execution for revolutionary activity 30 years before.

Dostoyevsky was, even then, pulling together his magnum opus, The Brothers Karamazov.

The very day Mlodetsky tried to kill Melikov found Fyodor Mikhailovich chatting with fellow reactionary journalist Aleksey Suvorin about the plague of terrorism and its accompanying social malaise.

On the day of the attempt by Mlodetsky on Loris Melikov I was with F. M. Dostoyevsky.

… Neither he nor I knew anything about the assassination. But our conversation presently turned to political crimes in general, and a [recent] explosion in the Winter Palace in particular. In the course of talking about this, Dostoyevsky commented on the odd attitude of the public to these crimes. Society seemed to sympathize with them, or, it might be truer to say, was not too clear about how to look upon them … (Quoted here.)

Dostoyevsky in this conversation revealed that for the planned sequel to The Brothers Karamazov — never to be realized in the event —

he was going to write a novel with Alyosha Karamazov as the hero. He planned to bring him out of the monastery and make a revolutionary of him. He would commit a political crime. He would be executed.

(Much more about this sequel in this paper.)

Melikov’s brush with death did not dissuade him from continuing to push for constitutional reforms as the antidote to terrorism, including introduction of a parliament. Tsar Alexander II was on the point of implementing that proposal … when he himself was assassinated by Narodnaya Volya, precipitating a political backlash.

That murder of Alexander II helped put the kibosh on the Karamazov sequel, which would thereafter have become politically problematic.

Nor was that the only artistic casualty of the Russian terrorists.

A discomfiting thematic similarity in Mlodetsky’s execution with that of the protagonist resulted in the cancellation of a just-opened opera: The Merchant Kalashnikov. (It would be a few more decades before that connection could appear ironic.)

* The assassination attempt occurred on February 20, with the execution on February 22, according to the Julian calendar still in use in Russia at that time. By the then-12-days-later Gregorian calendar, the dates were March 3 and March 5, respectively.

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1951: Charlie Gifford, politician-killer

3 comments February 21st, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1951, Charlie Gifford was electrocuted in Florida’s Raiford Prison for murder.

The murder victim was popular young Florida legislator/war hero Charles Schuh, whose promising political career ended abruptly on April 24, 1950, when the 71-year-old Gifford strode into his St. Petersburg offices and shot him dead over some head-scratching private grievance relating to Schuh’s legal practice. (Schuh represented Gifford’s ex-wife in a divorce proceeding.)

An insanity defense didn’t fly, though Gifford’s purchase on reality seems to have been … hit and miss. The septuagenarian perp didn’t seem to mind the death sentence.

The murdered legislator’s son, Charles E. Schuh, grew up into a political career of his own, eventually becoming mayor of St. Petersburg. Charles E. Schuh’s recent passing brought out this fascinating story by a former reporter who witnessed Gifford’s execution.

The electric chair was in the center, but the controls were behind a glass-enclosed area. I was repelled by the sight of “Old Sparky,” the electric chair. I was even more horrified to see that the executioner, a local electrician, wore a black hood reminiscent of the Inquisition. …

Today I am a decade older than Gifford was then, but to a 22-year-old reporter he seemed to be just a frail old man with a shaved head.

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1388: Nicholas Brembre, Mayor of London

1 comment February 20th, 2010 Headsman

One day after Nicholas Brembre’s treason trial was interrupted for the sudden capture and summary execution of his political ally Robert Tresilian, the former Mayor of London was back in the dock of the Merciless Parliament this day to receive (and immediately suffer) the Lords’ judgment that he be hanged.

Like Robert Tresilian, Brembre had backed the young Richard II’s bid to throw off the influence of a circle of advisors during the dangerous 1380s.

Brembre spent the early part of the decade bursting his ample coffers with a plum customs-collection gig (in which capacity he employed Geoffrey Chaucer), with a couple of stints as London mayor mixed in.

He earned a reputation for corruption and election-rigging (“on the day of the election … Sir Nicholas and others of his faction ordered to the Guildhall of London certain persons, ‘foreigns’ and others in great numbers, who were armed, to make the election”).

A wiser fellow than myself once said, sometimes you eat the bear and sometimes the bear, well, he eats you.

A rough customer to the last, Brembre tried (pdf) to mount a defense by right of single combat. It was not taken up.

He was drawn from the Tower through the city on a hurdle to Tyburn, resting at furlong intervals he gave great penance, beseeching mercy from God and men against whom he had sinned in past times, and many commiserating prayed for him. And when the noose was put on him so that he might be hanged, the son of Northampton* asked him whether the aforesaid things done elsewhere to his father by Brembre were legally done. For Northampton was formerly a mayor of the city of London, a richer and more powerful citizen among all those who were in the city, and through certain ones, associates who were death-bearing plagues, namely Brembre, Tresilian and others, was enormously vexed by certain nefarious conspiracies and confederacies then condemned to death, and with all his goods stripped hardly escaped alive. And concerning those things Brembre confessed that neither piously nor justly but with a violent heart for the sake of destroying Northampton he had infelicitously committed those things. And seeking forgiveness, hanging by the rope, he died when his throat was cut. Behold how good and pleasant it is to be raised up to honors! It seems to me better to carry out business at home among paupers than be thus lordly among kings, and at the end climb the ladder among thieves; since it is more a matter of onerousness than honor to assume the name of honor. You who are reading, look down to regard him, and you might be able to consider by their ends how their works receive results. For in every work be mindful of the end. (Source)

Richard II subsequently outmaneuvered the foes whose ascendance in 1388 forced Brembre’s execution; in 1399, the attainder was posthumously reversed … just before his royal patron Richard II was overthrown by Henry IV.

* “Northampton” here refers to former London Mayor John of Northampton, not to be confused with the ennobled Earl of Northampton — which latter title was actually held at this time by Henry Bolingbroke, the future King Henry IV and a member of the anti-Ricardian Lords Appellant party that engineered Brembre’s downfall. (Got all that?)

Part of the Daily Double: The Merciless Parliament.

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1388: Robert Tresilian, former Chief Justice

2 comments February 19th, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1388, England’s former Chief Justice was executed for his executive-friendly jurisprudence.

For some reason, this illustration of Tresilian’s execution from Froissart‘s chronicles shows him receiving a dignified beheading, rather than a nude hanging.

The ambitious Robert Tresilian (or Tresillian) had shimmied his way up the 14th century legal ranks for his dutiful service to the monarch, including presiding over a “bloody assize” after Wat Tyler’s revolt.

Despite stringing up 500 rebels, Tresilian couldn’t have been too upset about the disturbance: it also killed off the sitting Chief Justice and opened the seat for a man of Tresilian’s talents and loyalty.

A few years later, Richard would require of this position a legal opinion vindicating his personal authority as against the council his rivals had foisted upon him. Tresilian duly produced a writ affirming the unitary executive authority.

The upshot of this opinion was to put that council at risk of life and limb. It turned out to be more dangerous to its author.

When the Lords Appellant defeated the Ricardian party, Tresilian was among the royal retainers attainted for treason by the vengeful “Merciless Parliament”.

The lords thereupon announced that in matters of such high concern the rules of civil law oculd not be observed; the parliament was itself the supreme judge; it was not to be bound by the forms which guided inferior courts, that were merely the executors of the ancient laws and customs of the realm, and of the ordinances and establishments of parliament.

In a characteristically judge-like juxtaposition of wit, naivete and arrogance, Tresilian was somehow smart enough to go into hiding but dumb enough to hide by disguising himself and hanging around the parliament where his associate, London Mayor Nicholas Brembre, was putting on a theatrically futile defense. Since Tresilian had absconded, he was already judged guilty in absentia and liable to suffer execution immediately upon capture.

This date in 1388, that’s exactly what happened: capture, and summary hanging.

Before they had argued to the finish the end of the trial against Nicholas Brembre, the hapless Tresilian occupied their attention. He had been located above the gutter of a certain house annexed to the wall of the palace, hiding among the roofs the sake of watching the lords coming and going from parliament. However, when resolute soldiers had entered that house and looking around found no one, a certain knight with intent expression strode to the father of the house and pulled his head up by the hair, drawing his dagger, saying, “Show us where Tresilian is or your days are numbered.” Immediately, the terrified father of the household said, “Behold the place where that man is positioned at this moment,” and under a certain round table which was covered for deception with a tablecloth, the unfortunate Tresilian, disguised as usual, was miraculously discovered. His tunic was made out of old russet, extending down to mid-shin, as if he were an old man, and he had a wiry and thick beard, and wore red boots with the soles of Joseph, looking more like a pilgrim or beggar than a king’s justice. This event was immediately made clear to the lords’ ears, and when, quicker than a word, the aforesaid five appellants under a hasty pretext left the parliament without explaining the reason for their departure, all who remain in parliament were stunned, and many others followed them with passionate zeal. And when at the palace gate they had seized Tresilian, leading him toward the parliament, they proclaimed in a universal voice, “We havet hym! We havet hym!” Meanwhile, interrogated in the parliament how he would excuse himself concerning the false treachery of this kind and other things done by him, he remained nonetheless stock-still and mute, his heart hardened even in the face of death, and he would not confess to the things committed. Immediately parliament was broken for the sake of this matter, and on the grounds of dealing with Tresilian they sent away for the day Brembre, who had remained present. And at once Tresilian was led to the Tower of London so that execution of his sentence might be carried out on his person. His wife and daughters, moaning and imploring weepingly, were present at hand there in that place, and with voiceless requests, kissing him first from one side then the other, they forgave him for one or another of the crimes he had committed. But she, overwhelmed with sorrow in her heart, fell to the ground as if dead. At length Tresilian was bound hand and foot to a hurdle, and along with a vast multitude of lords and commoners, horsemen and pedestrians, he was dragged from the back of horses through the city squares, resting at intervals of about the length of a furlong out of considerations of charity, to see if he wanted to repent anything. But alas, he did not publicly confess, and indeed it is not known what he would say to his friar confessor, nor has it been ours to discover: the friars well treated Tresilian, preserving him from his transgression. And when he had come to the place of Calvary that he might be made defunct, he did not want to climb the stairs but goaded by sticks and whips that he might ascend, he said, “While I carry a certain something around me, I am not able to die.” Immediately they stripped him and found particular instructions with particular signs depicted in them, in the manner of astronomical characters; and one depicted a demon’s head, many others were inscribed with demons’ names. With these taken away, he was hanged nude, and for greater certainty of his death his throat was cut.

“His fate,” wrote Baron John Campbell, “seems to have excited little compassion, for he had shown himself ready to mete out like injustice to others, and he had extra-judicially pronounced opinions which, if acted upon, would have been for ever fatal to public liberty.”

Part of the Daily Double: The Merciless Parliament.

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1960: Oliviu Beldeanu, for the Berne incident

Add comment February 18th, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1960, Romanian anti-communist Oliviu Beldeanu was executed at Jilava prison for a headline-grabbing protest he’d orchestrated in Switzerland five years before.

Beldeanu (here‘s his Romanian Wikipedia page) was the ringleader of a group of Romanian exiles who’d commandeered the Romanian embassy in Bern(e) in February 1955.

The aptly-named Berne Incident was meant to be a symbolic protest — Communist symbols smashed, damaging secret correspondence released, that sort of thing — but it did also result in an embassy driver being shot to death.

These “legionary fascist groups”* and “traitors abroad,” (pdf) (in the official lexicology of Bucharest) were handled fairly gently by Switzerland, predictably keen to stay clear of diplomatic incidents.

Beldeanu et al drew lenient prison sentences from which they were released early.

And that would have been the end of it … but a Communist cloak-and-dagger operation after the ex-cons were freed lured Beldeanu to Berlin. He was kidnapped by the East German Stasi and flown to Romania, there to be subject to a perfunctory trial and speedy execution.

* “Legionary fascist” denunciations — associating the Switzerland activists with Romania’s notorious Iron Guard — cited by Paul Nistor, “The five who scared … America, too. The immediate effects of the attempt in Bern (1955) over the Romanian diplomacy”, Valahian Journal of Historical Studies, Dec. 2009.

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1872: Gomburza

2 comments February 17th, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1872, reformist Filipino priests Mariano Gomez, Jose Burgos and Jacinto Zamora (together, the first syllables of their surname formed the acronym “Gomburza”) were garroted in Manila for their alleged support of an anti-Spanish mutiny.

These three clerics were leading exponents of liberalization; they notably pressed the rights of the native-born clergy as against the powerful religious hierarchy of imported Spanish priests.

While that critique had a somewhat receptive ear under the forward-thinking governorship of Gen. Carlos-Maria de la Torre, a more reactionary successor did not look as kindly on such agitation.

When naval shipyard workers rebelled in the 1872 Cavite Mutiny — over higher taxes, including a surcharge to avoid forced labor, not over the Gomburza priests’ agenda as such — the colonial administration used it as a pretext to seized the priests and condemn them for subversion.

Alas, Spain couldn’t manage to garrote away its subject peoples’ aspirations.

A bad end for Gomez, Burgos and Zamora was just the start for reform and independence agitation in the Philippines.

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1535: Etienne de la Forge, John Calvin’s friend

Add comment February 16th, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1535, as a 25-year-old religious dissident named John Calvin fled Paris, the merchant who had hosted his circle’s Protestant salons was reduced to ashes in Paris.

Though France would ultimately remain Catholic, the Protestant Reformation found rich soil and enjoyed a measure of early official tolerance for reasons of statecraft.

But a sharp crackdown was provoked when Protestants engineered the placement of anti-Catholic posters in several towns during a single night in October 1534 — the so-called Affair of the Placards.

This spelled the end of the circle of dissidents who met at the Rue Saint-Martin.* Young Calvin high-tailed it out of town — a period of wandering and living incognito that would wash him up on the shores of Lake Geneva — but the owner of that Rue Saint-Martin house, Etienne de la Forge (aka Stephanus Forgeus) was denounced to the authorities.

The date for this execution comes from The Century of the Renaissance, a public domain book available free from Google. It’s also backed in the roster of execution dates from Michelet’s Histoire de France. This looks to me as if it comes from primary documentation, but Feb. 15 is sometimes also reported.

* Calvin apparently had an appointment during this period in Paris to meet a scholar he would later execute, Michael Servetus, but the tete-a-tete never came off.

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1979: Four Generals of the Shah

9 comments February 15th, 2010 Headsman

Shortly before midnight this date in 1979, Iranian royalist Generals Mehdi Rahimi, Reza Naji, Manuchehr Khosrodad, and Nematollah Nassiri were shot in a Tehran school courtyard after a snap trial by the newborn Iranian revolutionary regime.

General Mehdi Rahimi.

The Iranian Revolution had only just overthrown the remains of the absconded Shah’s regime; the country observes the “Decade of Fajr” over the first 11 days of February, commemorating the “Dawn” of the Islamic Republic from the return of Ayatollah Khomeini to the fall of the luckless loyalists installed by Pahlavi on his way out the door.

In this uncertain situation, the new regime seized its newfound authority … violently.

General Rahimi — probably the most voluptuously eulogized of the bunch — still pulls tribute for his loyalty to the collapsing monarchy, and his salute to the Shah even when in revolutionary custody.

Lower-profile to posterity, Naji had once governed Isfahan under martial law; Khosrodad was a general of the air force; and Nassiri headed the hated secret police SAVAK.

All were convicted of the catch-all charge of “corruption on earth” (just imagine what they’d do with the banksters!), and upon a quick confirmation of sentence from Khomeini, immediately shot. (Their property was also confiscated.)


See? Shot.

The notorious hanging judge who chaired the drumhead tribunal later recalled in his memoirs

The first people I tried and punished for their deeds were Nematollah Nasiri, head of SAVAK, and Khosrodad, air force commander; Naji, martial law administrator of Esfahan, and Rahimi, martial law administrator of Tehran and head of police force. … All the people who were sentenced to death by the Revolutionary Tribunals were the best examples of ‘corruptor on earth’ and they were executed as such.

A Corruptor on earth is a person who contributes to spreading and expanding corruption on earth. Corruption is what leads to the decline, destruction and the deviation of society from its nature. People who were executed had strived in spreading corruption and prostitution, circulating heroin, opium and licentious behavior, atheism, murder, betrayal, flattery, and, in sum, all these vile qualities. These people’s problems were aggravated by the fact that they did not repent once they saw the people’s revolution.

I believed at the time, and I still believe, that all the parliamentarians and senators, all governors, heads of SAVAK and police, who held office after 1963 and the Imam’s boycott, should be sentenced to death. High-ranking ministry officials who were instrumental in the survival of the [Shah's] apparatus and who, for getting close to the Shah and his family, would accept any humiliation are all convicted (condemned).

To sum up, all the people that I condemned and who were executed in the early days of the establishment of the Revolutionary Tribunals and later in the Qasr prison were all corruptors on earth and, based on the Quran, their blood was a waste.

(The executions were announced on February 16, and that date is sometimes cited as the execution date. Feb. 15 appears to be more strongly attested to me. Whatever the clock said, these men’s deaths marked the start of a juridical bloodbath.)

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1994: Andrei Chikatilo, the Butcher of Rostov

5 comments February 14th, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1994, Ukrainian serial killer Andrei Romanovich Chikatilo was shot dead in a soundproof room in Novocherkassk, Russia, for a stupendous serial murder spree in the 1980s USSR.

The quintessential case study in anonymous middle-aged melancholy turned larger-than-life horror, the sexually dysfunctional Chikatilo raped, murdered and mutilated dozens in a homicidal career beginning at the unusually late age of 42.

After that initial foray into rape-murder in 1978, three years passed before the factory clerk (molestation allegations had drummed him out of teaching in the interval) began his harvest of 50-plus victims: children and teenagers of both sexes, and young adult women.

In addition to the staggering body count, the murders of the “Rostov Ripper” were marked by orgiastic savagery: breasts severed, eyes gouged out, genitalia mutilated and even eaten, and bodies lacerated with scores of stab wounds.

Like many monsters, he was also, as much as his more well-adjusted fellows, a creature of his own time and place.

Chiktilo was a socially maladjusted child in part due to his father’s capture by the Germans during World War II, subjecting the family to the postwar ostracism that awaited returning POWs. (Some sources also say Chikatilo saw his mother raped by German soldiers.)

The part of his life for which he’s most famous, meanwhile, drew out into a years-long bloodbath even though he was a suspect from the very first murder — a crime for which another man was wrongfully executed. Sclerotic bureaucracy and investigative cock-ups hobbled the police effort throughout, a sort of criminological emblem of the Soviet Union’s twilight. Authorities were loathe to involve the public by admitting the presence of a serial killer, a type officially associated with bourgeois society.

Chikatilo was arrested once in 1984 carrying a Bundy-esque murder kit, but authorities couldn’t make anything stick (Chikatilo’s Communist Party membership helped); another officer stopped him leaving the forest where bodies turned up, but didn’t search the satchel which contained his most recent victim’s severed breasts. Chikatilo was investigated early on, but ruled out as a suspect because of a blood type mismatch between his blood and crime-scene semen — apparently the result of a rare biological anomaly that (combined with authorities’ outsized confidence in forensic detection) bought him years of killing and involved thousands more suspects before investigators finally circled back to Andrei Romanovich.

Even at his last arrest, investigators who knew they had their man nearly let him slip away because they couldn’t charge him within 10 days — finally cajoling a confession and the killer’s cooperation at nearly the last possible hour.

According to Cannibal Killers, the Chikatilo task force solved 1,062 unrelated crimes, including 95 murders, while puzzling out the Rostov Ripper.

There’s much more about Chikatilo’s career at trutv.com; the 1995 film about the Chikatilo murders, Citizen X, indulges some dramatic license, but it’s pretty watchable for a TV movie.

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