Posts filed under 'Capital Punishment'

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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1767: Elsjen Roelofs

Add comment September 9th, 2019 Headsman

Elsjen Roelofs was broken on the wheel at Assen on this date in 1767 — an unusual fate for a woman, inflicted for poisoning her husband. The sources about her, and the links in this post, are almost exclusively in Dutch.

A farmer’s daughter who made a property-driven arranged marriage to another farmer, Roelofs was seemingly (so a neighbor described) driven to her desperate act when the said Jan Alberts purposed to move away, which would have separated her from her own family.

This poignant story is speculatively novelized by Janne IJmker in Achtendertig Nachten (Thirty-Eight Nights, which was the distance of time between the pregnant Roelofs delivering her daughter in prison on August 2, and the execution of the sentence). (Here’s a review.)

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Arts and Literature,Broken on the Wheel,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Gruesome Methods,Murder,Netherlands,Public Executions,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.

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

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1751: James Welch and Thomas Jones, the right guys this time

Add comment September 6th, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1751, two hangings atoned the rape-murder of Sarah Green, and the wrongful execution of a previously accused assailant.

We have detailed previously in these pages the 1749 hanging of Richard Coleman for being a party to that awful crime. Although the dying victim charged him by name, Coleman — scarcely alone in this respect among the numerous victims of England’s noose-rich Bloody Code era — avowed his innocence to the very last.

I do also most solemnly protest, that I am not in any Manner of Degree guilty of that most inhuman Murder of Sarah Green, neither was I at Newington, or in Kennington-Lane that Night that the cruel Fact was committed on Sarah Green.

Events would bear out his words, even if the poor man wasn’t around to say “I told you so.”

It turns out that three men perpetrated the crime, James Welch, Thomas Jones and John Nichols, none of whom was Richard Coleman.

Centuries before cold case units, these guys had got clean away with murder provided they could just manage not to blab about it. As the Newgate Calendar informs us, however, James Welch found the life-and-death imperative of discretion defeated by the urge to make small talk with a stranger.

Welch, one of the murderers, and a young fellow named James Bush, while walking on the road to Newington Butts, their conversation happened to turn on the subject of those who had been executed without being guilty; and Welch said: “Among whom was Coleman. Nichols, Jones and I were the persons who committed the murder for which he was hanged.” In the course of conversation Welch owned that, having been at a public-house called Sot’s Hole, they had drunk plentifully, and on their return through Kennington Lane they met with a woman, with whom they went as far as the Parsonage Walk, near the churchyard of Newington where she was so horridly abused by Nichols and Jones that Welch declined offering her any further insult.

Bush did not at that time appear to pay any particular attention to what he had heard, but soon afterwards, as he was crossing London Bridge with his father, he addressed him as follows: “Father, I have been extremely ill; and as I am afraid I shall not live long, I should be glad to reveal something that lies heavy on my mind.”

Thereupon they went to a public-house in the Borough, where Bush related his story to his father, which was scarcely ended when, seeing Jones at the window, they called him in and desired him to drink with them.

He had not been long in their company when they told him they had heard he was one of the murderers of Sarah Green, on whose account Coleman had suffered death. Jones trembled and turned pale on hearing what they said; but soon assuming a degree of courage said: “What does it signify? The man is hanged and the woman dead, and nobody can hurt us.” To which he added: “We were connected with a woman, but who can tell that was the woman Coleman died for?”

In consequence of this acknowledgment Nichols, Jones and Welch were soon afterwards apprehended, when all of them steadily denied their guilt; and, the hearsay testimony of Bush being all that could be adduced against them, Nichols was admitted evidence for the Crown. In consequence of which all the particulars of the horrid murder were developed.

The prisoners being brought to trial at the next assizes for the county of Surrey, Nichols deposed that he, with Welch and Jones, having been drinking at the house called Sot’s Hole on the night that the woman was used in such an inhuman manner, they quitted that house in order to return home, when, meeting a woman, they asked her if she would drink; which she declined unless they would go to the King’s Head, where she would treat them with a pot of beer.

Thereupon they went and drank both beer and geneva with her, and then, all the parties going forward to the Parsonage Walk, the poor woman was treated in a manner too shocking to be described. It appeared that at the time of the perpetration of the fact the murderers wore white aprons, and that Jones and Welch called Nichols by the name of Coleman — circumstances that evidently led to the conviction of the unfortunate man of that name.

On the whole state of the evidence there seemed to be no doubt of the guilt of the prisoners, so that the jury did not hesitate to convict them, and sentence of death was passed of course.

After conviction these malefactors behaved with the utmost contrition, being attended by the Rev. Dr Howard, Rector of St George’s, Southwark, to whom they readily confessed their offences. They likewise signed a declaration, which they begged might be published, containing the fullest assertion of Coleman’s innocence, and, exclusive of his acknowledgement, Welch wrote to the brother of Coleman, confessing his guilt, and begging his prayers and forgiveness. The sister of Jones living in a genteel family at Richmond, he wrote to her to make interest in his favour; but the answer he received was, that his crime was of such a nature, that she could not ask a favour for him with any degree of propriety. She earnestly begged of him to prepare for death, and implore pardon at that tribunal, where alone it could be expected.

They were executed on Kennington Common, on 6th of September, 1751.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,Murder,Public Executions,Rape

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1917: Albin Köbis and Max Reichpietsch, Wilhelmshaven mutineers

Add comment September 5th, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1917, German sailors Albin Köbis and Max Reichpietsch were shot at the Wahner Heide proving ground near Cologne.

They’d been convicted at court martial of being “ringleaders” of a mutiny of increasingly militant anti-war seamen from the battleship Prinzregent Luitpold, who on August 2 had marched into the port of Wilhelmshaven to resist their continued participation in the futile bloodbath.

“Nobody wanted a revolution, we just wanted to be treated more like human beings,” said one of their number, sentenced by the same military tribunal to 15 years. But this was a bit coy, considering that Kobis wrote his parents that “I die with a curse on the German-militarist state.”

And why not? The Russian Revolution was in full swing at this moment, while the navy had become a center of radicalized anti-war and anti-imperialist sentiment. In a year’s time another sailors’ mutiny would set off the events that finally forced an end to the Great War — and after the armistice, sailors like Rudolf Egelhofer were again prominent in revolutionary ventures like the Munich Soviet. If there is one thing we can state with confidence about the Wilhelmshaven event, it’s that some participants most certainly aspired to a revolution.

Likewise the contemporary left-wing press recognized in Köbis and Reichpietsch heroes and fellow-travelers; they were saluted as martyrs in their own day, and after World War II, East Berlin had a Köbisstrasse appropriately near to the naval headquarters. While some Communist martyrs were persona non grata on the other side of the Berlin Wall, West German television also aired a dramatization in 1969, called Marinemeuterei 1917.


Memorial to Reichpietsch (left) and Köbis (cc) image from Gordito1869.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Germany,History,Martyrs,Military Crimes,Mutiny,Revolutionaries,Shot,Wartime Executions

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1964: Mohamed Chabani

Add comment September 3rd, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1964 — one day shy of his 30th birthday — Algerian officer Mohamed Chabani was executed as a traitor.

It’s a verdict that posterity has washed its hands of; Chabani (other transliterations include Shabani and Chaabani) was officially rehabilitated in 1984 and his name decorates public spaces in Algeria.

But in 1964, when Algeria was but two years into her post-France independence, this former FLN fighter become Algeria’s youngest colonel was governor of the fourth military district in Biskra when he a href=”https://www.lematindz.net/mobile/news/23034-boumediene-a-commandite-lassassinat-de-chaabani-et-ali-tounsi-na-pu-le-kidnapper-video.html”>fell foul of the Defence Minister Houari Boumediene.

Boumediene was in the process in this interim of consolidating power to his own circle; the following year he would overthrow President Ahmed Ben Bella and rule Algeria until his death in 1978. Boumediene allegedly feared that Chabani would form an independent bloc that could oppose him, and attempted to have the young commander assassinated.

“How long is it since you began to travel by short stages and side-tracks?” the Marquise de Merteuil demanded of Valmont in a different context. “My friend, when you want to get somewhere — post horses and the main road!”

Boumediene’s main road was to arrest Chabani for a supposed separatist plot to break away oil-rich southern Algeria and have him shot in Oran.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Algeria,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Posthumous Exonerations,Power,Shot,Soldiers,Treason

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1853: Gasparich Mark Kilit

Add comment September 2nd, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1853, Hungarian patriot-priest Gasparich Mark Kilit was executed by the Austrian empire for his part in the failed revolutions of 1848-1849.

Gasparich — it’s a Hungarian link, as are most sources about the man — was a Franciscan who served as a camp priest to the nationalist insurgents under Perczel, who made him a Major.

After the revolutions were defeated and suppressed, he managed to live a couple of years under a pseudonym. But, writing for a Hungarian newspaper and dabbling with new radical movements, he was hardly keeping his head down. He’d even become a socialist on top of everything else. Captured late in 1852, Gasparich’s fate might have been sealed by the early 1853 attempted assassination of Emperor Franz Joseph and the resulting pall of state security.

Gasparich was hanged at a pig field outside Bratislava in the early hours of September 2, 1853.

A street and a monument in Zalaegerszeg, the capital of the man’s native haunts, preserve Gasparich’s name for the ages.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Austria,Capital Punishment,Czechoslovakia,Death Penalty,Execution,Habsburg Realm,Hanged,History,Hungary,Martyrs,Power,Religious Figures,Revolutionaries,Separatists,Soldiers,Treason

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1662: Claude Le Petit, dirty poet

Add comment September 1st, 2019 Headsman

Poet Claude Le Petit was burned in Paris on this date in 1662 for “verse and prose full of impieties and blasphemies, against the honor of God, the Virgin and the State”.

Although in his youth he had fled abroad to escape the custody of the Jesuits, Le Petit was back in Paris studying law when he took up the pen to lampoon the scandals of the great and the good. He’s most famous for Le Bordel des Muses, a collection of 73 little sonnets, songs, and other tidbits plus five great lampoons about several of the European capitals his expatriate feet had trod: Paris Ridicule, Madrid Ridicule, London RidiculeVienna Ridicule, and Venice Ridicule. Alas, of this magnum opus only the first two of these Ridicules, plus eight of the little poems, survive to us.

He’s known for scabrous verse but Le Petit had a subversive outlook that made him far more dangerous in the eyes of France’s gathering absolutism than some mere pornographer, as in two surviving pieces that he wrote against the 1661 execution of Jacques Chausson, for sodomy.*

If we burned all those
Who do like them
In a very short time alas
Several lords of France
Great prelates of importance
Would suffer death.
Do you know the storm that rises
Against all good people?
If Chausson loses his case,
The arse (“le cu“) will not serve any more.
If Chausson loses his case,
The cunt (“le con”) will prevail.
I am this poor boy
Named Chausson
If I was roasted
At the flower of my age
It’s for the sake of a page
Of the Prince of Conde. [a bisexual lord -ed.]
If the bastard D’Assouci. [a raunchy poet who was possibly the lover of Cyrano de Bergerac -ed.]
Had been taken
He would have been roasted
In the flames
Like these infamous two
Chausson and Fabri.

After Chausson was indeed executed, Le Petit wrote:

Friends, we burned the unfortunate Chausson,
That rascal so famous, with a curly head;
His death immortalized his virtue:
Never will we expire in a more noble way.
He sang cheerfully the lugubrious song
And bore without blanching the starched shirt,
And the hot fagots at the fiery stake,
He looked at death without fear or shudder.
In vain his confessor exhorted him in the flame,
The crucifix in hand, to think of his soul;
Then lying under the stake, when the fire had conquered him,
The infamous one towards the sky turned his foul rump,
And, to die finally as he had lived,
He showed his naughty ass to everyone.

Writing behind the mask of anonymity, Le Petit was obscene, yes, but more important was that he deployed obscenity to mock the powerful extending even to the sovereign and the organs of society that upheld his authority. In his tour of Paris Ridicule — lingering stanza by stanza over various landmarks and institutions — we’re drawn to his commentary on the site of his own future passion, the Place de Greve where public executions were staged:

Unhappy plot of land
At the dedicated public gibbet,
Where we massacred
A hundred times more men than at war.

It’s said that Le Petit was exposed when a gust of wind incidentally whipped a leaf from his latest profane commentary out an open window and into the hands of a passing normie who reported the smut and thereby cascaded an avalanche upon the young writer. (Le Petit was only 23 at his death.)

“I believe this punishment will contain the unbridled license of impious and the rashness of printers,” one official noted** — underscoring the overt intention of the execution to intimidate other practitioners on the growing print culture scene. Le Petit’s fame and that of his outlaw pasquinades only grew as a result of his punishment — but this outcome was by no means detrimental to the intended policy, since each impression also came with the murmured recollection of its creator’s fate.


Claude Le Petit verse on the ceiling of a porch at rue de Nevers near Pont Neuf. (cc) image by vpagnouf.

* The original French verse is from Chausson’s French Wikipedia page.

** Cited in this Francophone academic paper on the affair.

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Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Artists,Arts and Literature,Burned,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,France,History,Lawyers,Public Executions

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1996: Rodolfo Soler Hernandez, burned on video

Add comment August 31st, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1996, the people of the Veracruz town of Playa Vicente visited an orderly extrajudicial lynching on an accused rapist and murderer.

This “illegal execution” (in the words of the Veracruz Attorney General) made the airwaves around Mexico and abroad thanks to horrifying video showing the suspect — obviously beaten — lashed to a tree and agonizingly consumed in flames. Warning: Although this is an edited and narrated version of the video, it’s still extremely disturbing.

According to an Associated Press wire report, Hernandez’s “execution” was only the most visible of a spate of vigilante justice around that time, authored by people infuriated by the corruption and inaction of official law enforcement.

Saturday [apparently the same day, August 31 -ed.], residents of Motozintla in southern Mexico overran the town jail, seizing three men and burning two of them alive on lampposts, Mexico’s official Notimex news agency reported. The men were suspects in several assaults, including the rape of a young girl.

On Monday in Puebla state, police saved two other criminal suspects from being taken from their cells and killed, Notimex said.

Residents in the Mexico state town of Tolman recently beat and then held for more than a day in their town square a man suspected of a robbery and shooting. They vowed to kill him if any of his victims died of their wounds.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Borderline "Executions",Burned,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Lynching,Mature Content,Mexico,Murder,Public Executions,Rape,Torture

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1694: Mette Jensdatter, Viborg infanticide

Add comment August 30th, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1694, a young woman died an infanticide in Viborg, Denmark.

Denmark in the 17th century consolidated into an absolute monarchy and with this came a consolidation of the sovereign power of life and death. Once a local office compassion a variety of obligations and prerogatives, the executioner gig became in this period a state-level appointee answering to the governor, and charged with exercising his law enforcement aspect throughout a region.

According to a post formerly at the Viborg Museum site but now consigned to the digital oubliette, executioners so appointed soon began exercising their privileged labor position to do gouge prices as well as limbs, eventually requiring (in 1698) a royal edict fixing their fees thusly (all prices are quoted in rigsdalers):*

Beheading with an ax 8 dlr.
Plucking off a hand or a finger 4 dlr.
Nailing up a severed head and hand (pair) 4 dlr.
Hanging 10 dlr.
Dismantling gallows 4 dlr.
Breaking someone on the wheel 14 dlr.
Mounting a broken body on the wheel 7 dlr.
Corpse burial 3 dlr.
Tearing flesh with red-hot tongs (per tear) 2 dlr.
Public whipping 5 dlr.
Burning a person 10 dlr.
Burning condemned books 3 dlr.

Hopefully Viborg was saving its rigsdalers accordingly for in the same era as this list we have — again via the Viborg Museum’s phantom post — a sad instance of a domestic tragedy that is all too familiar in these pages:

On 30 August 1694 was the executioner summoned to execute maid Mette Jensdatter. The story behind was tragic; Mette, who was in the house of Søren Kristensen Høeg in St Michael’s Street, secretly gave birth on the first of August to a boy. On the same day she killed her child and hid the body under the bed. Søren Høeg was classified as the child’s father, but apparently Mette alone was tried and convicted.

Høeg did not escape the opprobrium of his neighbors and his conscience, for a few months later he attempted suicide and in punishment was banished from Viborg.

* I’ve limited the list to the most grisly entries.

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Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Abortion and Infanticide,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Denmark,Execution,Hanged,History,Murder,Public Executions,Women

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