Posts filed under 'Capital Punishment'

1879: Benjamin Hunter, in the Hunter-Armstrong Tragedy

Add comment January 10th, 2013 Headsman

(Thanks for the guest post to Robert Wilhelm of the Murder By Gaslight historic crime blog, and author of the book Murder And Mayhem in Essex County. Executed Today readers are sure to enjoy Wilhelm’s detailed investigations into long-lost historic crime. This post, reprinted with permission, first appeared last February on Murder By Gaslight. -ed.)

John Armstrong

The night of January 23, 1878, a man was found on the ground with a serious head wound, not far from the home of Ford W. Davis in Camden, New Jersey. Near the wounded man, a hammer and a hatchet were found, each marked with the initials F. W. D. The man was identified as Philadelphia music publisher, John M. Armstrong and when it was learned that he owed Ford W. Davis a sizeable amount of money, Davis was arrested. But Armstrong also owed $12,000 to Benjamin F. Hunter who had insured Armstrong’s life for more than double that amount.

Date: January 23, 1878

Location: Camden, New Jersey

Victim: John M. Armstrong

Cause of Death: Blows from a hammer and an axe

Accused: Benjamin F. Hunter

Synopsis:

Benjamin Hunter

Armstrong was taken to his home in Philadelphia, across the Delaware River from Camden, to be treated for head wounds. As a friend of the Armstrongs, Benjamin Hunter was among the first sent for by the stricken family. In the guise of helping, Hunter suspiciously rearranged the bandages on Armstrong’s head, reopening the wound. But when Armstrong died, Ford Davis was charged with his murder.

Some days later a young man named Thomas Graham was drowning his sorrows in a Philadelphia saloon. Laden with guilt, Graham made statements about the Armstrong murder that were incriminating enough to have him arrested. In jail, Graham made a full confession. Graham was an employee at Benjamin Hunter’s hardware concern and Hunter had offered him $500 to kill John Armstrong. Graham was in need of money and readily agreed.

They made a plan and set a date for the murder and Hunter made arrangements to be in Virginia that day. But Hunter returned to find Armstrong still alive — Graham’s nerve had failed him. Undaunted, Hunter came up with a more detailed plan to murder Armstrong. He gave Graham a hammer which bore the initials F. W. D. then had Graham mail a postcard to Armstrong, purporting to be from Ford Davis, asking Armstrong to meet him in Camden. Graham was to kill Armstrong with the hammer then leave it behind to frame Davis. Graham lost his nerve again but this time lied and said Armstrong never showed up.

Thomas Graham

Hunter decided not to leave anything to chance and met Armstrong, face to face, and persuaded Armstrong to accompany him on the ferry from Philadelphia to Camden. Graham, armed with the hammer and a hatchet that Hunter had given him, also initialed F.W.D., followed after them, riding in a different section of the boat. In Camden they took a streetcar and Graham followed on foot. They got off the car on Vine Street and Hunter left Armstrong and went back to give Graham the signal.

Graham hit Armstrong once with the hammer, but lost heart before he was able to finish the job. He threw the hatchet away and ran back to the ferry. Hunter grabbed the hatchet and attacked Armstrong, striking him on the head. He left Armstrong severely wounded, with a fractured skull.

After Graham’s confession, Ford Davis was released and Benjamin Hunter was arrested for murder.

Trial: June 10, 1878

Benjamin Hunter pled not guilty to the murder of John Armstrong. The defense asserted that there was no evidence that Hunter was in Camden that night. They also provided numerous witnesses that testified to Hunter’s good character. And they challenged the indictment on the grounds that since Armstrong died in Philadelphia, the murder could not be prosecuted in New Jersey.

It came out in court that Hunter had loaned Armstrong a total of $12,000 and to insure his loan Hunter had persuaded Armstrong to agree to a life insurance policy with Hunter as beneficiary. The amount of the policy was $26,000.

Thomas Graham had turned state’s evidence and it was his eye-witness testimony which tightened the noose around Hunter’s neck. The trial lasted 23 days and at the end the jury, with almost no deliberation, found Hunter guilty.

Verdict: Guilty of first degree murder

Aftermath:

Hunter’s attorneys appealed the verdict on the grounds that since Armstrong died in Philadelphia, Hunter could not be convicted of murder in Camden, New Jersey. The appeal was denied and Hunter was sentenced to hang on January 10, 1879.

With all hope gone, Benjamin Hunter confessed. The amount of money he had loaned Armstrong had been so large that he had been losing sleep worrying about it. Armstrong appeared to be using the money to maintain a lavish lifestyle rather than improving his failing business. Hunter’s only hope of retrieving his money was Armstrong’s death.

A week before the execution, Hunter attempted suicide, trying to spare his family and himself the indignity of a hanging. He was not allowed a knife or fork when eating, but he was able to tear away the top of a tin cup and used sharp edge to cut into his leg. Under a blanket he was able to cut an artery without the knowledge of the jailers on his deathwatch, and he had lost a pint and a half of blood before passing out and alerting them. He was saved from death and the execution went on as scheduled.

It was reported that Hunter, due to weakness from the loss of blood, and fear of death had to be carried to the gallows; though some claimed he had been given brandy and was dead drunk when carried in.

The hanging was to be done using a method adopted by the state of New Jersey — used in the case of Antoine La Blanc, among others — in which, rather than falling through a trap, the condemned man is pulled upward when a counterweight is dropped. Hunter’s execution was horribly botched as this eye-witness account attests:

“There was no scaffold. He was hanged in the corridor of the Court House, with a rope reaching up into the Court House over a pulley and to a weight in the cellar below. He was hanged at a cross-like arrangement, made by two corridors populated by men from some of whom the Sheriff demanded ten dollars apiece, and Eli Morgan, Deputy Sheriff to Sheriff Daubman, was to cut a little rope that held a stronger rope that controlled a three-hundred pound weight that was intended to hoist up the murderer into the air. The narrator was within two feet of Hunter when he was hanged. The rope was so long that it failed of its purpose and stretched, and the man went up in the air for but a few feet then tumbled down like a bunch of wet rags. Then Eli Morgan grabbed the rope and hauled him up hand over hand and held him there until he was throttled to death.”

It took Hunter at least fourteen minutes to die of strangulation.

Benjamin Hunter’s brother tried to collect on the life insurance policy and agreed to give the money to the Armstrong family. The insurance company refused to pay and Armstrong’s wife and administratrix of his estate, sued the company. The court sided with the insurance company saying they did not need to pay. The case was appealed all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court who overturned the verdict and called for a new trial. If the insurance company could prove that the policy had been taken out by Hunter as part of the crime of murder, then policy need not be paid, if there was no fraud, then the money must be paid.

The false accusation and imprisonment of Ford Davis had completely prostrated him. Shortly afterwards, partly out of consideration for his innocent sufferings, Davis was appointed crier of the Camden Courts, and he held that position for many years.

Resources:
Books:

Hunter, Benjamin F., and Thomas Graham. Hunter-Armstrong tragedy the great trial : conviction of Benj. F. Hunter for the murder of John M. Armstrong. Philadelphia: Barclay, 1878.

Lawson, John Davison. American state trials: a collection of the important and interesting criminal trials which have taken place in the United States from the beginning of our government to the present day. St. Louis: Thomas Law Books, 1921.

Seen & heard by Megargee, Volume 4, Part 1. Philadelphia: Louis N. Megarcee, 1904.

The Medico-legal journal … New York: Medico legal journal, 1886.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Murder,Pelf,Pennsylvania,USA

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1386: The Sow of Falaise, seeing justice done

13 comments January 9th, 2013 Headsman

There exists a receipt for January 9, 1386, in which the executioner of Falaise, France, acknowledges payment of ten sous and ten deniers

for his efforts and salary for having dragged and then hanged at the [place of] Justice in Falaise a sow of approximately three years of age who had eaten the face of the child of Jonnet le Macon, who was in his crib & who was approximately three months old, in such a way that the said infant died from [the injuries], and [an additional] ten s. tournoise for a new glove when the Hangman performed the said execution: this receipt is given to Regnaud Rigaut, Vicomte de Falaise; the Hangman declares that he is well satisfied with this sum and that he makes no further claims on the King our Sire and the said Vicomte.

From this tiny kernel of primary documentation — the only primary source that exists — an impressive legend has grown up around the “Sow of Falaise”. It’s been alleged by subsequent interlocuters that the condemned sow was dressed up as a person for execution, that other pigs were made to attend in order to take warning by their swinish sister’s fate, and even that the incident became so famous as to merit depiction in a church fresco.


The supposed fresco has been whitewashed, but Arthur Mangin’s L’Homme et la Bete (1872) took a stab at reconstructing it.

This bizarre scenario can’t help but raise the question for we later observers — just what was the objective in trying and “executing” a farm animal? Did the human supporting cast to this scene not feel itself ridiculous?


Scene from The Hour of the Pig.

Book CoverAccording to Paul Friedland‘s research for his fascinating recent survey of public executions, Seeing Justice Done: The Age of Spectacular Capital Punishment in France, the subsequent embroideries around the Sow of Falaise have no basis in fact. They were simply made up … or rather, they were interpolations of authors who were baffled as we to see a sow hoisted on a gibbet.

“Punishment may be about many things, but in the last instance, we citizens of the modern world have an almost visceral need to believe that it is primarily about one thing: deterrence,” Friedland opines.

“The punishment of a pig for murder violates our modern understanding of the essential purpose of punishment because it punishes an animal, which we ordinarily do not believe to be capable of criminal intent, and because it does not lend itself very well to the principle of exemplary deterrence.” The tale’s evolution in later centuries “allowed an incomprehensible anecdote from the past to fit neatly into the modern paradigm of penal deterrence.”

Well, the past is a foreign country. They do things differently there.

Seeing Justice Done situates that murderous pig within an unfolding saga of penal theory and practice stretching from the Roman Empire to the 20th century. And while Friedland’s study focuses on France in particular, the historical threads he teases out will look familiar much further afield.

We had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Frieldand about his book recently, and we’re pleased to present it here not in our customary Q&A form, but as Executed Today‘s debut podcast. The mediocre sound quality is on me, but Dr. Friedland’s insights are more than worth it. (Unlike your host, Friedland is a podcasting natural; catch him in a July 2012 episode of the New Books In Human Rights podcast.)


Trouble seeing the podcast player? Access the interview on podbean.

Other executions referenced in this podcast: Christ | the brutal 1757 execution of Damiens | Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette | the filmed 1939 execution of Eugen Weidmann | the last execution in France ever | Saddam Hussein‘s filmed hanging

(n.b. the intro/outtro music is Blind Lemon Jefferson‘s “‘Lectric Chair Blues”, a 1928 recording now in the public domain.)

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1813: The Yorkshire Luddites, for murdering William Horsfall

1 comment January 8th, 2013 Headsman

This is the bicentennial of the hanging of three Luddites for the murder of manufacturer William Horsfall.

“Luddite” has come to refer imprecisely to a wide range of anti-mechanization machine-wrecking in early 19th century Britain; however, it’s most properly applied to a specific 1811-1816 movement.

While often understood casually as a sort of mindless technophobia, wreckers — Luddites and otherwise — actually had material labor grievances. New more efficient power looms reduced skilled workers to the ranks of unskilled subsistence labor, or to those of the superfluous unemployed.

With trade unionism illegal (and severely repressed), their means of resistance were of a desperate character. Lord Byron, almost alone in Parliament, rose to defend them: “These men were willing to dig, but the spade was in other hands; they were not ashamed to beg, but there was none to relieve them. Their own means of subsistence were cut off; all other employments pre-occupied; and their excesses, however to be deplored and condemned, can hardly be the subject of surprise.”

Hence, Byron sarcastically remarked, “new capital punishments must be devised, new snares of death must be spread, for the wretched mechanic who is famished into guilt.” Parliament did indeed extend its capital statutes to the protection of these new looms.


Via

“Wrecking,” in the analysis of the late Eric Hobsbawm, “was simply a technique of trade unionism in the period before, and during the early phases of, the industrial revolution.”

Hobsbawm quotes a Nottingham town clerk describing the way textile manufacturers “acquire entire control of their workmen” by putting them to work on the owners’ power looms rather than hiring out workers who use their own looms. “Perhaps the most effectual manner in which the combination [read: proto-union] could coerce them was their former manner of carrying on war by destroying their frames.”

And the descriptor “war” was not far off.

The Luddites — so named for legendary loom-smasher Ned Ludd — proliferated in 1811-1812. Beginning in Nottingham with a protest against falling wages signed by General Ned Ludd and the Army of Redressers, they tapped a wellspring of discontent.

It was a time of war, of economic crisis, of spiking wheat prices whose rise to an 1812 record peak further immiserated those who scraped to earn a living by the sweat of their brow. A generation after the French Revolution, with Napoleon rampant on the continent, English elites had reason to fear their own legitimacy stood on unstable ground.* In 1811, the king even went mad.

And they thrive well who from the poor
Have snatched the bread of penury,
And heap the houseless wanderer’s store
On the rank pile of luxury.

-Percy Bysshe Shelly, “The Devil’s Walk” (1812)

From their birthplace in Nottingham, Luddite societies spread out through textile country, conspiring by moonlight to break into factories and smash up frames or commit other acts of industrial sabotage. (There’s a pdf timeline here) Byron, the Luddites’ defender, owned that the night before he departed a recent visit to Nottingham, “forty frames had been broken the preceding evening as usual, without resistance and without detection.”

Terrified manufacturers — some were known to have armored their establishments with what amount to siege fortifications; others, to outfit homes with early panic rooms as bolt-holes in the event of a Luddite attack — met this mob action violently. Westminster put 12,000 troops into Luddite country to fight the wreckers.

And the wreckers fought back.

William Horsfall, owner of a Marsden wool mill with 400 employees, had vowed to “ride up to his saddle in Luddite blood” … which promise gave a poetic twist to his actual fate: while riding on Huddersfield‘s Crosland Moor** in April 1812, a group of Luddites lying in wait opened fire on him and shot Horsfall through the groin.

“As soon as he fell after being wounded the inhuman populace surrounding him reproached him with having been the oppressor of the poor — they did not offer assistance,” an officer later reported. “Nor did any one attempt to pursue or secure the assassins who were seen to retire to an adjoining wood.” A fellow-manufacturer helped Horsfall to an inn, where he expired painfully 38 hours later.

It was several months before the powers that be were able to crack it.

Eventually, the energetic Huddersfield magistrate Joseph Radcliffe† was able to exploit the threat of hanging to force a Luddite cropper‡ into impeaching his confederates in the plot. This investigation is covered in marvelous detail at the Luddite Bicentenary blog, an outstanding resource on the period in general, but for our purposes we’ll sum up to say that the hunt for Horsfall’s killers wound up zeroing in on George Mellor, Thomas Smith, and William Thorpe.

They were tried over 11 hours on a single day, January 6, 1813 (summary: 1, 2, 3, 4).

That was a Wednesday.

That Friday, the three hanged in their manacles behind York Castle under heavy military guard to forestall any possible rescue, having never admitted any part in the murder. The authorities judiciously eschewed a more demonstrative (and potentially riot-inducing) execution at the scene of the crime.

“The number of people assembled was much greater than is usual in York, on those melancholy occasions; but not the slightest indication of tumult prevailed, and the greatest silence reigned during the whole of this solemn and painful scene,” the Leeds Mercury reported§ — and darkly explicated the intended lesson of the scene for other machine-wreckers.

all those who may have been so far infatuated as to become members of such societies should, from this moment, and by one common consent, desist from taking another step in furtherance of their objects. They must now see that they have stood on the brink of a frightful precipice, and that another step might have plunged them into that gulph which has overwhelmed their less fortunate associates.

The mailed fist deployed against wreckers in 1812-1813 did indeed smash the movement. Still, sporadic Luddite attacks would continue as late as 1816, and Luddite veterans went at the fore of the 1817 Pentrich Rising … just outside the place it all began, Nottingham.

* It was in just this period — in fact, only a few days after William Horsfall’s murder — that Prime Minister Spencer Perceval was assassinated. Given the conditions abroad in the land, many an elite feared upon first notice of this event a revolutionary rising … although Perceval’s killer turned out to be a deranged merchant whose confused private grievance had nothing to do with Britain’s social tensions.

** Not far from the spot of Horsfall’s murder — and a standard stop on every present-day Luddite commemorative walk — you’ll still find William Horsfall Street.

† Radcliffe’s exertions in the war against the Luddites secured for his family a still-extant baronetcy.

‡ Benjamin Walker, the Luddite informer who sent Mellor, Smith, and Thorpe to the gallows, was denied the advertised £2000 reward and wound up a beggar in London.

§ Leeds Mercury report via a reprint in the London Times of Jan. 12, 1813. (Also see this excerpt.)

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1836: Abraham Prescott, homicidal somnabulist

Add comment January 6th, 2013 Meaghan

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

On this day in 1836, Abraham Prescott was hanged in Hopkinton, New Hampshire.

His crime was sensational at the time; the trial record can be viewed here. The slaying was horrifying in and of itself, and there was the added element of betrayal: Prescott had turned on the people who had treated him like kin.

A gentleman farmer, Chauncey Cochran, had taken Abraham Prescott in during his mid-teens and given him a place to stay on his farm in Pembroke, New Hampshire. In return, Prescott worked for Cochran on the farm.

This relationship continued amicably for three years, and Abraham grew very close to Chauncey and his wife, Sally. They trusted him and treated him like a son.

Our story begins on January 6, 1833, three years to the day before Prescott swung. During the early morning hours, Prescott took an ax and struck Chauncey and Sally in the head as they slept. Either he didn’t mean to kill them or he didn’t know how to aim, because he delivered glancing blows that merely caused considerable bruising and bleeding.

Abraham told them he’d been sleepwalking, and he hadn’t even realized he’d attacked his master and mistress until he saw Chauncey rising up from the bed, covered in blood. He wasn’t the first person on these pages to use the sleepwalking defense, but Abraham’s wild story actually worked — that time, anyway.

Perhaps the Cochrans were blinded by their affection for their employee. Perhaps they simply had no common sense. In any case, they accepted Prescott’s explanation and didn’t summon the police or even dismiss him. After he axed them both in bed. Most bosses would probably consider that a one-strike offense.

A report of this “unhappy and and almost unheard-of occurrence of somnambulism” was actually published in the New Hampshire Patriot several days later. Even after subsequent events cast the incident in a very sinister light, Chauncey still referred to it as “the accident.”

Several months passed and Prescott behaved normally, diligently working on the farm and causing no trouble. Then, on June 23, Sally asked him to go with her on a berry-picking expedition.

They set off together, and several hours later he came home alone and visibly agitated.

When asked what was wrong, Abraham said he’d been bothered by a toothache and lay down against a tree to rest. He evidently fell asleep, and when he woke up Sally was lying prone. Abraham had been sleepwalking again, and had clubbed her with a three-foot wooden stake, and he thought he’d killed her.

This time Chauncey didn’t give Prescott the benefit of doubt. The eighteen-year-old found himself jailed and charged with capital murder.

Abraham Prescott’s lawyer went for the insanity defense, focusing on his culpability rather than his actions. Prescott was not terribly bright and may have actually been developmentally disabled. Various witnesses testified that there was mental illness in his family. Abraham’s mother said he’d had hydrocephalus as an infant and had sleepwalked frequently during his childhood. Several doctors testified about somnambulism and insanity, and how the defendant could be a good example of both, although they were all speaking theoretically as none of them had examined him.

(Fun fact: one of the expert witnesses was George Parkman, who was himself the victim of a homicide sixteen years later and is featured elsewhere on these pages.)

The prosecution had a much easier time of it: they had a very good case that Prescott had murdered his mistress deliberately. His attempt to conceal her body suggested he knew the wrongfulness of his actions. He was under the impression that he stood to inherit everything if the Cochrans died (since they said he was “like family”).

Vis-à-vis the sleepwalking, Abraham’s own statements contradicted each other. When questioned right after his arrest, he had provided a much more straightforward account of what happened, one that didn’t involve somnambulism: Abraham said that while he and Sally were picking berries, he had done or said something “improper” to her and she threatened to tell her husband. He killed her because he was afraid he would be sent to prison if Chauncey found out about it.

(Prescott subsequently retracted that statement and went back to the sleepwalking story.)

Even after conviction, however, questions remained. Several reprieves were issued while the state tried to figure out whether or not he was crazy and, if so, how crazy. He copped a retrial because the first jury that convicted him had been improperly exposed to the popular belief in Prescott’s guilt by virtue of being barracked at a local pub. The sentencing judge at his last trial remarked on the court’s meticulous solicitation of “the most experienced witnesses, in our own and neighboring States, to throw upon the secret operations and sudden derangements of the mind, and all the evidence which the highest records of the history of man could furnish.”

Prescott spent in all two years awaiting execution, a very long time in those days. In the end, however, the law decided that Prescott knew what he was doing that day in the strawberry patch, and he had to die.

We will never know for sure why he killed Sally Cochran. The only thing that can be said with certainty is that Abraham Prescott was a very troubled young man.

A large crowd braved a snowstorm to watch him die.

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1655: Jane Hopkins, Bermuda’s last known witch execution

2 comments January 5th, 2013 Headsman

The last known witchcraft execution in Bermuda history occurred on this date in 1655.

The isolated English colony was at this period laboring under social crisis, or a set of crises. It had been declared in rebellion by Cromwell‘s parliament for taking too-vigorous umbrage at King Charles‘s execution. Its official C of E ministers were being challenged by breakaway independents of various stripes of Puritanism. The tobacco crop blew away one year. And it may have had a perilous gender imbalance (too many women, too few men: Bermuda definitely did have this problem in the 18th century). (Source for this whole paragraph) Perhaps it’s no surprise that its Puritan governor* would oversee a spasm of witch persecutions from 1651 to 1655.

Jane Hopkins and another woman named Elizabeth Page were both stuck in the dock on this occasion. They’d recently arrived on the Mayflower** and the captain “did vehemently suspect them to be witches,” seemingly on account of their traveling sans male.

Page bewitched the ship’s helm according to a witness who beheld her run “her finger over the compas, And yt ran round from North to South, And turned backe againe.” That’s pretty impressively infernal, but here in the 17th century they knew to look for some hard forensic evidence … so a group of matrons in Bermuda was empaneled to feel Elizabeth Page up in search of a witch’s teat. Much to the woman’s good fortune, she possessed “not any marke or spotts or signes … only something more than ordinary (in a certain place).” She was accordingly acquitted.

Jane Hopkins’ body was not so ordinary.

The eyewitness testimony against her was a fellow-passenger to whom Hopkins sighed that she wished God would send some sign clearing up all these suspicions of devilry. A rat — ubiquitous in seafaring life, mind you — promptly appeared. To add to this damning divine indictment, a peeping tom on the ship watching her dress had noticed some sort of mark on her shoulder.

Sure enough, Hopkins’s gropers discerned “in her mouth a suspicitious marke and under her arme she hath a dugge or Teat, And upon her shoulder a wart, and upon her necke another wart … all these were insensible when they were prickt.” With this sort of slam-dunk evidence, the jurymen could hardly do otherwise than agree that Hopkins “hath felonously and wickedly consulted and covenanted with the Devil & him hath suckled and fedd contrary to nature & the law of God and man, as doth appeare by markes & signes upon her body.” (The full trial records can be perused here)

It’s not absolutely certain that Jane Hopkins was the last person executed in Bermuda for witchcraft. There were several additional witch prosecutions to follow in the 17th century: some ended in acquittal, others in conviction. There was even at least one more death sentence, but that hanging was stayed and the final disposition of the case is unknown.

* Governor Josiah Forster’s legacy for the isles — other than hanging witches — was the “Forster Chair” made in his honor.

** Not the same ship as the Mayflower of Plymouth Colony fame.

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1897: The Bicol martyrs of Philippines independence

Add comment January 4th, 2013 Headsman

On this date in 1897, eleven pro-independence Filipinos were shot at Manila’s Bagumbayan execution grounds.

These eleven,* together with one who was tortured to death on a prison brig and three others who died exiled to prisons elsewhere in the Spanish empire, comprise the Fifteen Bicol (or Bikol) Martyrs.

Spanish suppression of the unfolding Philippine Revolution was in full martyr-making; just days before, the same site had seen the execution of Dr. Jose Rizal. (A few days after this, it made still another batch of martyrs.)

“They died bravely,” a Filipino newspaper reported. “They died like those who are sustained by a sacred ideal.”

They were.

This date’s victims had been rounded up on September 16 at Naga City in the Bicol Region. It was the aftermath of Spain’s discovery of the anti-colonial Katipunan secret society, and mass arrests followed by torture-aided interrogation were the order of the day.

These would not, in the end, avail.

As a result, the “Quince Martires” are still commemorated in independent Philippines every January 4, which is a public holiday in Naga City … and commemorated throughout the year at that city’s Plaza Quince Martires, and its monument.


(c) image courtesy of Wally Ocampo.

* Rev. Fr. Gabriel Prieto; Gabriel’s brother, Thomas Prieto; Rev. P. Severino Diaz; Rev. P. Inocencio Herrera; Manuel P. Abella; Manuel’s son, Domingo I. Abella; Camilo Jacob; Florencio Lerma; Macario Valentin; Cornelio Mercado; and Mariano Melgarejo.

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1661: The effigy and books of Giuseppe Francesco Borri

Add comment January 3rd, 2013 Headsman

Alchemist, prophet, and dashing Italian rogue, the Jesuit-educated Giuseppe Francesco Borri (English | Italian) was burned on this date in 1661.

Luckily, he was hundreds of kilometers away.

A Milanese noble by birth, Borri was studying in Rome when he experienced a vision and started expounding a mystical theology decidedly not acceptable to Catholic orthodoxy.

That Mary’s mother was conceived of the Holy Spirit, and therefore that the Madonna was a goddess. That, with the limitless proceeds of the philosopher’s stone, he’d bankroll a spiritual army under the wings of the archangel St. Michael.

The charismatic young prophet began attracting quite a following — including the eccentric Swedish Queen Christina, then hanging around Rome after her abdication and indulging her own taste for alchemy — and was soon obliged to flee Rome for Milan, and then Milan for Switzerland, with the Inquisition at his heels. (He’s supposed to have left behind the occult markings that adorn the Porta Alchemica.)

While the heresiarch was safe abroard, the Roman Inquisition went ahead with its business without him. It was ruled that Borri was

to be punished as a heretic for his errors, that he had incurred both the ‘general’ and ‘particular’ censures, that he was deprived of all honour and prerogative in the Church, of whose mercy he had proved himself unworthy, that he was expelled from her communion, and that his effigy should be handed over to the Cardinal Legate for the execution of the punishment he had deserved.

Nothing daunted, the “executed” Borri set up as a doctor, scientist, astrologer, and alchemist in northern Europe — Strasbourg, Amsterdam, and Copenhagen. Throughout the 1660s his alchemical arts attracted the patronage of royalty as well as an endless stream of ailing patients and curious hangers-on. Borri even claimed to have accomplished the feat of transmuting a base metal into gold, which magical product can still be seen at a Danish museum.


Borri’s alchemy gold.

In a way, he did: the guy became fabulously wealthy. And he never stopped promulgating his cabalistic spiritual theorems.

Unfortunately his Danish patron died in 1670, and while en route to his next gig in Turkey he was arrested in Hapsburg territory and handed over the papacy. Borri was not put to death bodily, but spent the remainder of his life imprisoned in Rome, finally dying in the Castel Sant’Angelo in 1695.

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1946: Franz Strasser

2 comments January 2nd, 2013 Headsman

On this date in 1946, former Nazi Kreisleiter Franz Strasser was hanged at Landsberg Prison for war crimes.

Strasser was condemned for shooting five downed American airmen in Czechoslovakia in December 1944, an American tribunal dismissing the defense: “There is not a scintilla of evidence to support STRASSER’s contention that he shot the prisoners to prevent their escape.” (A pdf scan of the entire verdict is here.)

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Czechoslovakia,Death Penalty,Execution,Germany,Hanged,History,Murder,Occupation and Colonialism,War Crimes

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1841: Archilla Smith, Trail of Tears Cherokee

2 comments January 1st, 2013 Headsman

On this date in 1841, Archilla Smith was hanged over a tree branch in Cherokee Country (since the gallows hadn’t been delivered in time) for the murder of John MacIntosh.

Our narrative for this event is Indian Justice: A Cherokee Murder Trial at Tahlequah in 1840, a volume derived from the reports of 19th century poet John Howard Payne, who’s best known for writing “Home! Sweet Home!”.

Payne lived with the Cherokees in Georgia immediately preceding their forcible removal to Oklahoma along the Trial of Tears, and then repaired to Oklahoma with the evicted tribe. (Payne unsuccessfully lobbied the U.S. Congress against its removal policy.)

The procurement of Cherokee signatures on the treaty that gave legal cover to the tribe’s expulsion from Georgia was a source of bitter controversy … and a generation of internecine violence. Our principal for this date’s post, Archilla Smith, himself affixed an X-mark to this notorious document, and he was defended at the trial in question here by another signer, Stand Watie.

Payne’s book, however, does not much treat the political context of Indian removal, nor even read as something like a true crime book: the brawl between the killer and the victim, two aggressive men with a passing and private quarrel, is little more than the background fact; the question for the jury turned on little but the degree of wilfulness or intent in the fatal stab wound Smith dealt, and various witnesses describe the same scene of their melee with slight differences of shading.

Rather, it’s a courtroom drama, and an outsider’s sketch of Cherokee jurisprudence (amalgamating tribal and Anglo-Saxon practices) circa 1840. It’s also the first newspaper any Oklahoma trial.

There as no appearance of bitter feeling on either side. The accused and the judge and jury and spectators, all seemed in the best of humor with one another. The accused smoked much of the time; and his judge, and most of the jury, every now and then would get up and go across the log-court to him with “Arley, lend me your pipe;” and receive his pipe from his mouth (as is the Indian custom); and revel in the loan of a five minutes’ smoke. … The wife and handsome young daughter of the accused attended … His three young sons, one a boy about ten, — the others about twelve and fifteen, were in the court room nearly all the time, and often sat by their father’s side.

-Payne

At one point, the judge digresses into the ancient right of clan vengeance and dismisses it in view of the “improved” system. But Payne’s postscript notes that one of Smith’s own jurors (from the first jury) would himself be killed just days after the execution when the juror attempted to exact family retribution on a murderer who had been acquitted in court. This is the snapshot of an evolving society.

Archilla Smith’s first jury hung. The second jury tried to hang, but was forced by the judge to come to a conclusion. Finally, it convicted Smith on December 26, 1840. Smith took word of his fate evenly.

“You are every one of you old acquaintances of mine, Jurors,” he remarked after hearing his fate. “You have been several days engaged about my difficulty. But I have no hard thoughts against any one of you, Jurors, nor Judge, against you. I believe your object has been that my trial should be a fair one.”

Cherokee law required that after five days, the sentence be executed. Accordingly, the hanging was fixed for New Year’s Day at noon.

Because there was also no tribal prison, Smith was simply held under guard in a log hut, and was able to get around the new Cherokee capital of Tahlequah with those guards. In Payne’s narrative, this invites no trouble on the part of the prisoner, whose bonhommie even after his death sentence belies the ill-tempered knife-slayer described by court witnesses. (Though Smith did once try to bribe his guard to let him escape.)

Accordingly, on one of those five days between sentence and hanging, Archilla Smith and his friends simply rode up to the Cherokee Chief John Ross to appeal personally for a pardon. He’d obtained about two hundred signatures on a petition supporting such an act of clemency.

Nevertheless, Ross, a foe of the removal treaty and of Stand Watie,* told them that the matter was out of his hands … but Smith and his party still ate dinner at Ross’s home that evening and nothing untoward occurred. Open hospitality was a Cherokee custom, and Ross regularly entertained dozens of visitors at his two-and-a-half-story log house, “as many as the table can accommodate.”

When the hang-day finally came, two different men preached under the noose.

The first, an Anglo named Worcester, who issued a bog-standard 19th century Anglo hanging sermon in English:

Almighty God! We see before us an awful instance of thy power. May it eventuate in an equally impressive exemplification of thy love. May the bitter fruit of the one sin for which atonement is now about to be exacted, procure the pardon of many. May it not only produce sincere penitence and consequent acceptance with thee, in the unhappy sufferer who now stands upon the threshold of eternity, but operate as a warning to all who either witness or hear of his fate. May it show this people to what dreadful results intemperance may lead; and when they see that the great commandment ‘whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed’ cannot be evaded; may it bring them to a salutary meditation through which all may be converted. In the name and through the meditation of our blessed Savior, we ask that the influences of the Holy Spirit may draw this blessing on the nation; and may the victim now offered up to the violated laws have cause to bless a doom, which if it awaken him to a proper knowledge of Thee and of himself will yet prove to him a happiness and a mercy into thy hands, oh blessed Savior, we commend his spirit.

The second gallows-preacher was a half-blood Protestant minister named Reverend Young Wolf — and this reverend had actually been the foreman of the jury which condemned Archilla Smith in the first place. Young Wolf preached in Cherokee, thus:

God of heaven! Creator of all things! Thou, who knowest our inmost thoughts I pray to thee have mercy on this man. He is standing on the threshold of death. He will presently leave this world to enter the world of spirits. Thou canst see into his heart. Thou art aware whether the charge for which he suffers is true or not. If he is guilty, I supplicate thee to forgive all his sins. Into thy hand we submit ourselves. We assemble together as a people to witness the death which our friend is about to suffer; and may it make us remember that we too, are born to die sooner or later, and prepare to meet thee in peace. May the view of thy power which we are now beholding, humble us before thee. May we continue humble. We are now about to part with our friend Archilla. We give him up to thee. May he receive thy pardon for his sins, that hereafter we may all come together again before thy throne and unite there in thy praise!

The doomed addressed the multitude last.

He, too, spoke in Cherokee, and the natives whom Payne spoke with were divided as to whether the “escapes” and “third time” which Smith mentioned referred to the two times that his juries refused to convict him, or to two previous, undetected crimes.

Friends, I will speak a few words. We are to part. You will presently behold how evil comes. I do not suffer under the decree of my Creator but by the law passed at Tahlequah. — Friends, you must take warning. — I think, perhaps, that my being hated has brought me to this. No man can hope every time to escape; and the third I have been overtaken by the law. But avoid such practices. — I suppose I was preordained to be executed in this manner. I am ready to die. I do not fear to die. I have a hope, there, to live in peace. (Tears now gushed from his eyes.) I should not have shed tears had not the women come here to see me. — I have no more to say.

* Ross and Watie were lead figures of the rival factions within the Cherokee polity, and they would be recognized as opposing chiefs by the Union and the Confederacy (respectively) during the coming U.S. Civil War. Stand Watie lives on in bar bets: he has the distinction of being the last Confederate general (and his First Indian Brigade the last Confederate force in the field) to surrender to the Union, on June 23, 1865.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Georgia,Hanged,History,Murder,Notable Participants,Public Executions,USA

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2010: Zeng Jinchun, corrupt anti-corruption official

Add comment December 30th, 2012 Headsman

On this date in 2010, a former Communist Party of China (CPC) anti-corruption official was shot … for corruption.

Zeng, former secretary of the Chenzhou Municipal Commission for Discipline Inspection of the CPC and vice secretary of the CPC Chenzhou Municipal Committee, gorged on 31 million yuan ($4.7 million) in bribes from 1997 to 2006, doling out lucrative mining contracts and sinecures in exchange.

Although known in the Hunan coal-mining city as “a modern-day Heshen” — Chenzhou residents whose businesses had been widely subject to Zeng’s crude protection-racket shakedowns set off fireworks to celebrate his arrest — Zeng was all but impossible to dislodge.

Zeng bribed up to higher officials for protection as effectively as he squeezed those below. It’s just another piece of the graft so endemic in China that it’s frankly represented in popular literature. (And has often appeared on the execution grounds, too.)

“Officials, especially high-ranking ones, are basically not held accountable for paying bribes,” a journalist who wrote a book about Zeng told NPR. “This is because China’s judiciary is not independent enough.” Zeng wasn’t even charged with this crime — just extortion.

Zeng’s well-placed protectors defeated at least three investigations. He was only overcome by an order from the very top: President and Party Chairman Hu Jintao, who scribbled onto a secret report of Zeng’s antics,

“To Comrade Wu Guanzheng: Put more effort into investigating corruption in Chenzhou. Signed, Hu Jintao, July 19, 2006.”

Three months later, Zeng was under arrest.

The effects of power, corruption, privilege, and cutthroat economies did not go with him. After all, on the same date Zeng was put to death, officials elsewhere in Hunan province also announced the execution of one Chen Haitao for torching an airport shuttle bus. The blaze killed two and seriously injured three others.

Chen committed the arson to revenge society as he had “blamed his business failure on social injustice,” the court said in a statement.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Businessmen,Capital Punishment,China,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Pelf,Politicians,Ripped from the Headlines,Shot

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