Posts filed under 'Capital Punishment'

1917: Sgt. John Wall, Passchendaele casualty

Add comment September 6th, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1917, Sgt. John Thomas Wall of the 3rd Battalion Worcestershire Regiment was shot at dawn during the horrific Battle of Passchendaele, for cowardice.

Passchendaele (or the Third Battle of Ypres) was a futile, weekslong attempt by the western allies to break through in Flanders, a stalemate bought at the price of hundreds of thousands of casualties on each side. Pounding August rains that turned trenches and no-man’s-lands into sucking bogs amplified the misery, and perhaps factored into Wall’s situation.

At 2 a.m. on August 10, Wall’s platoon crawled out of trenches and up Bellewarde Ridge. Theirs was a part of the 25th Division’s attack on Westhoek and while this attack would capture that village, it did so at the cost of 1,291 casualties — and an exposed right flank that left Westhoek open to withering German fire from the adjacent Glencorse Wood.


Detail view of the section of the battlefield attempted by Wall. Click for a wider, but still local, perspective.

John Wall had enrolled in the army in 1912, as a 16-year-old drummer boy. He made sergeant during the Great War, which means that by this point he’d already survived three years of this hell and no disciplinary lapse prior to his fatal one suggests that he was anything other than exemplary soldier.

But on this occasion, Wall turned up on the evening of August 11 not at Westhoek but back in the reserve trenches.

Evidence to his field court-martial a few days later established that his platoon had become lost in the dark and at a lieutenant’s order huddled for safety in a small concrete dugout under German bombardment. Several of their number were requisitioned for a patrol, leaving only Wall and two other men — but the onset of more German fire pinned them down until 5 or 6 p.m. on August 11th. Exhausted and seeing no friendly forces, they fell back under a thunderstorm to their starting position. This was Wall’s whole defense: one of good-faith soldiering, with no recourse to excusing a failure by dint of fatigue or shellshock.

This detailed and sympathetic-to-Wall telling speculates that the remarkably severe punishment Wall received might have been a statement by brand-new regimental commander Alexander Johnston — he was a famous Hampshire cricketer before the war — to assert his authority, given that this, his very first operation in charge, had been such a bloody disaster.

The same post also produces this at-ease letter from Wall to his sister on the eve of his trial, either hoping to soothe his family from the mouth of the grave or else completely oblivious to the impending danger his officers posed to his own life and the future happiness of a forever nameless Belgian girl.

I now take the pleasure of writing these few lines in answer to your most kind and ever welcome letter which I received quite safe. Pleased to hear that you are in the best of health as it leaves me quite well at the present time of writing. Well dear Emily, I received the photo alright and I think he looks very nice it is as you say he does look wicked. Its a nice little boy all the same. Dear Emily, I received the tobacco alright. I wrote back and answered your parcel. They must have crossed on the way. Well dear Emily I had a letter from home the other day they are all getting on alright there at present. We are having soon lovely weather over here very hot the people are all busy harvesting now. You asked me if I have heard about the draft well yes. I have heard about them. Well dear Emily I haven’t married that Belgian girl not yet. I don’t think I shall not till after the war nor where we are because we are not allowed to. Well dear sister, I think I have said all for this time and I will close my short letter in sending my best hope and kisses from your loving brother Jack XXXXXX

P.S. Remember me to all. Thanks very much for the tobacco and photo.

And as an opposite keyhole glimpse from the far side of the dread procedure, this Warfare Magazine article* captures the testimony of a Private Eustace Rushby of the 1/4th Royal Berkshire Regiment, who was apparently part of Sgt. Wall’s firing squad.

The first execution I saw was at Kandis, not far from Doullens, in September 1916, near a Flying Corps aerodrome, and the other occasion was behind Poperinge, and this was September 1917. The firing squad consisted of eighteen men and the witnesses would be anything up to fifty, including ten men from four regiments. I was in the firing party at Poperinge. We found out afterwards that he was from a Worcester Regiment. There were six men lying, six kneeling, and six standing, and we were rehearsed before the victim arrived. We would receive instructions beforehand, but during the actual event there was not a word, not a sound, it was all done by signal. As soon as we fired, we dropped our rifles down where they were, and stepped back clear in our three ranks, and they would come along and check to see that we’d fired. Anyone who refused to fire or fired wide would be severely dealt with. The shooting took place in an orchard. The man was led out by two red caps with a gas helmet round the wrong way. They would warn you it was an order, but they knew it was no good choosing someone who would point blank refuse to fire or whose nerve wouldn’t allow them to do it. We were excused fatigues or guard duty for a week.

* We would be remiss on a site such as this not to excerpt another story from the same article, of a nearby farmer who was suspected of signaling the Germans under guise of his routine labors, and was summarily shot.

There was a windmill at Reninghurst, near Ypres, and the guard who was on duty that day noticed that the sail started to go around, stopped, then started to go round again. And he said, ‘That’s funny, there’s no wind, but it keeps stopping and starting.’ He couldn’t understand it, so he got it into his head to call out the guard. The duty officer took some men and observed what was going on and then went and arrested a Belgian who was using the position of the sails to signal to the enemy. I’d seen this farmer on several occasions going about his normal work. Anyway, they took him away and about half an hour afterwards somebody came along and said, ‘They’ve shot that bloke,’ and we said, ‘Really?’ He said they must have tried him straightaway and brought up a firing squad and shot him.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Belgium,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,England,Execution,History,Military Crimes,Shot,Soldiers,Wartime Executions

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1962: Kartosuwirio, Darul Islam leader

Add comment September 5th, 2020 Headsman

Javanese Islamist rebel Soekarmadji Maridjan Kartosuwiryo (alternatively, Kartosuwirjo or Kartosuwirio) was executed on this date in 1962.

A onetime student of the Islamic trade unionist Tjokroaminoto, who also taught Indonesia’s first president Sukarno,* Kartosuwirio abandoned medical studies to follow a path in religion and politics.

By the late 1930s he led a movement within what was then still a Dutch colony aiming for an independent Indonesia under Islamic law. Japanese occupation during World War II led him to create a resistance militia, Darul Islam, and it was this force that enabled him to establish an embryonic (so he hoped) Islamic state in West Java after the war. Allied movements in Aceh (northernmost tip of the island of Sumatra) and South Sulawesi rallied to his banner, and for some years in the 1950s these guerrillas dominated the countrysides of these territories.

The aforementioned former student Sukarno was riding the tiger in these years, governing a fractious independent Indonesia that forever looked in danger of spinning apart — due not only to Islamic discontent but regional, ethnic, and ideological hostilities.

Sukarno’s solution to this rolling crisis was, by 1957, to implement “Guided Democracy” in order to tamp down the dangerous centrifugal tendencies enabled by the previous, less-guided version.

While this innovation did not hold long-term, it did provide Sukarno with the tools to come to grips with movements like Darul Islam, which was hunted to ground in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Kartosuwirio was captured in early 1962, and made to broadcast a stand-down order to his dwindling ranks of comrades. He was then given over to a court-martial and shot.

Although Darul Islam went to the grave with him, its influence lives on. Veterans of Darul Islam later helped establish the still-extant regional militant network Jemaah Islamiyah, and founded a 1970s-1980s terrorist outfit, Komando Jihad. A regional insurgency also continued in Aceh until around 2005, again peopled by numerous folks who had once fought for Kartosuwirio.

* Sukarno’s first wife was Tjokroaminoto’s daughter. They divorced after a couple of years, with the consequences you would imagine for the Sukarno-Tjokroaminoto relationship.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Guerrillas,History,Indonesia,Power,Religious Figures,Revolutionaries,Shot,Soldiers

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1574: Charles de Mornay, sword dance regicide

Add comment September 4th, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1574, the courtier Charles de Mornay was executed for an aborted plot against the Swedish king.

The French Huguenot had been a mainstay in the Swedish court for many years, and a favorite of King Erik XIV until that man was deposed in 1568.

From 1572, at the instigation of the French ambassador, de Mornay went to work on a plot to assassinate King John III — Erik’s half-brother and successor. This Mornay Plot would have liberated Erik XIV from prison and enthroned in John’s place either (it’s not clear) this same Erik XIV or else their other brother, Charles.

What the plan lacked in subtlety it compensated in showmanship. The idea was to use the Scottish mercenaries present in Swedish service during a scheduled ceremonial performance of their sword dance in October 1573. It turns out that while wheeling around the sovereign twirling blades, it’s a simple enough matter to just twirl one right through him.


Maybe that’s what gave Shakespeare the idea for the big duel in Hamlet.

Apparently Charles de Mornay lost his nerve at the critical moment and didn’t issue his dancing assassins the go-ahead sign — leaving John on the throne, and several folks involved in the plot in position to inform upon it. Indeed, we’ve brushed up against one such previously in these pages, for prior to de Mornay’s exposure a Scottish officer who caught wind of a rumor of the coup became accused of leading it, and was unjustly beheaded as his rewarded for reporting it.

De Mornay was exposed a few months later. King John had Erik murdered in prison in early 1577.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Assassins,Attempted Murder,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Nobility,Notable for their Victims,Power,Soldiers,Sweden,Treason

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1803: John Hatfield, Beauty of Buttermere deceiver

Add comment September 3rd, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1803, the Maid of Buttermere was widowed by the hangman. (She only used to be a Maid, of course.)

Before he was the presenter of BBC’s venerable In Our Time program, Melvyn Bragg wrote a historical novel about (and titled) The Maid of Buttermere

This legendary beauty bound for legendary sorrow entered literary annals and the nation’s romantic consciousness courtesy of a 1792 travelogue by Joseph Budworth (aka Joseph Palmer) titled A Fortnight’s Ramble to the Lakes of Westmoreland, Lancashire, and Cumberland. The 35-ish Budworth/Palmer met the girl in her Cumbrian village and honored or embarrassed her with a breathless chapter celebrating Mary Robinson’s allure:

Mary of Buttermere

Her mother and she weere spinning woollen yarn in the back kitchen. On our going into it, the girl flew away as swift as a mountain sheep, and it was not until our return from Scale Force that we could say we first saw her. She brought in part of our dinner, and seemed to be about fifteen. Her hair was thick and long, of a dark brown, and, though unadorned with ringlets, did not seem to want them; her face was a fine oval, with full eyes, and lips as red as vermilion; her cheeks had more of the lily than the rose; and, although she had never been out of the village (and I hope will have no ambition to wish it), she had a manner about her which seemed better calculated to set off dress, than dress her. She was a very Lavinia,

Seeming, when unadorn’d, adorn’d the most.

When we first saw her at her distaff, after she had got the better of her first fears, she looked an angel; and I doubt not but she is the reigning Lily of the Valley.

Ye travellers of the Lakes, if you visit this obscure place, such you will find the fair Mary of Buttermere.

After this, a side trip to ogle the Lily of the Valley became part of the regular itinerary of Lake District visitors for a couple of years. How Mary felt about, or leveraged, her strange celebrity can only be guessed at but ten years onward she was still unmarried.

Enter John Hatfield.

This fellow made his wastrel’s way by imposture and cozening, having charmed his way into the company of the Duke of Rutland and two different heiresses. He overdrafted all these fortunes and paid some visits to debtors’ prison.

By the time he turned up in the Lake District, he was impersonating an M.P. named Colonel Hope, and under this name wooed and won our fair Lavinia. The poet Samuel Coleridge, who happened to be in the area on a walking tour, wrote up the event for the Oct. 11 edition of London’s Morning Post.

Romantic Marriage

On the 2d instant a Gentleman, calling himself Alexander Augustus Hope, Member for Linlithgowshire, and brother to the Earl of Hopetown, was married at the church of Lorten, near Keswick, to a young woman, celebrated by the tourists under the name of The Beauty of Buttermere. To beauty, however, in the strict sense of the word, she has small pretensions, for she is rather gap-toothed, and somewhat pock-fretten. But her face is very expressive, and the expression extremely interesting, and her figure and movements are graceful to a miracle. She ought indeed to have been called the Grace of Buttermere, rather than the Beauty. — She is the daughter of an old couple, named Robinson, who keep a poor little pot-house at the foot of the small lake of Buttermere, with the sign of the Char, and has been all her life the attendant and waiter, for they have no servant. She is now about thirty, and has long attracted the notice of every visitor by her exquisite elegance, and the becoming manner in which she is used to fillet her beautiful long hair; likewise by the uncommonly fine Italian hand-writing in which the little bill was drawn out. Added to this, she has ever maintained an irreproachable character, is a good daughter, and a modest, sensible, and observant woman. That such a woman should find a husband in a man of rank and fortune, so very far above her sphere of life, is not very extraordinary; but there are other circumstances which add much to the interest of the story. Above two months ago, Mr. Hope went to Buttermere upon a fishing expedition, in his own carriage, but without any servants, and took up his abode at the house kept by the father of the beauty of Buttermere, in the neighbourhood of which he was called the Honourable Charles Hope, Member for Dumfries. Here he paid his addresses to a lady of youth, beauty, and good fortune, and obtained her consent. The wedding clothes were bought, and the day fixed for their marriage, when he feigned a pretence for absence, and married the beauty of Buttermere. The mistake in the name, the want of an establishment suited to his rank, and the circumstance of his attaching himself to a young lady of fortune, had excited much suspicion, and many began to consider him an impostor. [sic] His marriage, however, with a poor girl without money, family, or expectations, has weakened the suspicions entertained to his disadvantage, but the interest which the good people of Keswick take in the welfare of the beauty of Buttermere, has not yet suffered them to entirely subside, and they await with anxiety the moment when they shall receive decisive proofs that the bridegroom is the real person whom he describes himself to be. The circumstances of his marriage are sufficiently to satisfy us that he is no impostor; and, therefore, we may venture to congratulate the beauty of Buttermere upon her good fortune. The Hon. Alexander Hope, the member for Linlithgowshire, is a Colonel in the army, a Lieut. Colonel of the 14th regiment of foot, brother, to the Earl of Hopetoun, and Lieutenant Governor of Edinburgh Castle.

Unfortunately Coleridge labored under a false Hope, and the wide publicity of this union instantly validated the locals’ suspicions of the suitor: plenty of Londoners knew that the real Colonel Hope was off in Vienna. Within a month (Nov. 8) the very same journal printed a lengthy article under a less flattering headline:

Fraudulent Marriage

[The following advertisement has been issued for apprehending the pretended Colonel Hope, who lately married the Buttermere Beauty]

Notorious Imposter, Swindler, and Felon. — John Hatfield, who lately married a young woman (commonly called the Beauty of Buttermere), under an assumed name. Height about five feet ten inches, aged about 44, full face, bright eyes, thick eye-brows, strong but light beard, good complection with some colour, thick but not very prominent nose, smiling countenance, fine teeth, a scar on one of his cheeks near the chin; very long, thick, light hair, with a great deal of it grey, done up in a club; stout, square shouldered, full breast and chest, rather corpulent and stout limbed, but very active, and has rather a spring in his gait, with apparently a little hitch in bringing up one leg; the two middle fingers of his left hand are stiff from an old wound, and he frequently has a custom of putting them straight with his right: has something of the Irish brogue in his speech, fluent & elegant in his language, great command of words, frequently puts his hand to his heart, very fond of compliments, and generally addressing himself to persons most distinguished by rank or situation, attentive in the extreme to females, and likely to insinuate himself where there are young ladies; he was in America during the war, is fond of talking of his wounds and exploits there, and on military subjects, as well as of Hatfield Hall, and his estates in Derbyshire and Chester, of the antiquity of his family, which he pretends to trace to the Plantagenets; all which are shameful falsehoods, thrown out to deceive. He makes a boast of having often been engaged in duels; he has been a great traveller also (by his own account), and talks of Egypt, Turkey, Italy, and in short has a general knowledge of subjects, which, together with his engaging manner, is well calculated to impose on the credulous. He was seven years confined in Scarborough gaol, from whence he married, and removed into Devonshire, where he has basely deserted an amiable wife and young family. He had art enough to connect himself with some very respectable merchants in Devonshire as a partner in business, but having swindled them out of large sums of money he was made a separate bankrupt, in June last, and has never surrendered to his commission, by which means he is guilty of felony. He cloaks his deceptions under the mask of religion, appears fond of religious conversation, and makes a point of attending divine service and popular preachers. To consummate his villainies he has lately, under the very respectable name of the Hon. Col. Hope, betrayed an innocent but unfortunate young woman near the Lake of Buttermere. He was on th 25th of October last, at Ravenglass in Cumberland, wrapped in a sailor’s great coat and disguised, and is supposed to be now secreted in Liverpool, or some adjacent port, with a view to leave the country.

He was indeed captured, convicted on three counts of felony forgery related to his pretense, and hanged on market day at Carlisle.

For the Beauty of Buttermere, the addition of this humiliating personal tragedy only deepened her charm to the literary set. William Wordsworth‘s lengthy autobiographical poem The Prelude contains in Book VII a meditation on the now-older Mary as a doting mother settled in with a respectable farmer, her youthful beauty and her consequent fame both receding into time.

I mean, O distant Friend! a story drawn From our own ground, — the Maid of Buttermere, — And how, unfaithful to a virtuous wife Deserted and deceived, the Spoiler came And wooed the artless daughter of the hills, And wedded her, in cruel mockery Of love and marriage bonds. These words to thee Must needs bring back the moment when we first, Ere the broad world rang with the maiden’s name, Beheld her serving at the cottage inn; Both stricken, as she entered or withdrew, With admiration of her modest mien And carriage, marked by unexampled grace. We since that time not unfamiliarly Have seen her, — her discretion have observed, Her just opinions, delicate reserve, Her patience, and humility of mind Unspoiled by commendation and the excess Of public notice — an offensive light To a meek spirit suffering inwardly. From this memorial tribute to my theme I was returning, when, with sundry forms Commingled — shapes which met me in the way That we must tread — thy image rose again, Maiden of Buttermere! She lives in peace Upon the spot where she was born and reared; Without contamination doth she live In quietness, without anxiety: Beside the mountain chapel, sleeps in earth Her new-born infant, fearless as a lamb That, thither driven from some unsheltered place, Rests underneath the little rock-like pile When storms are raging. Happy are they both — Mother and child! — These feelings, in themselves Trite, do yet scarcely seem so when I think On those ingenuous moments of our youth Ere we have learnt by use to slight the crimes And sorrows of the world. Those simple days Are now my theme; and, foremost of the scenes, Which yet survive in memory, appears One, at whose centre sate a lovely Boy, A sportive infant, who, for six months’ space, Not more, had been of age to deal about Articulate prattle — Child as beautiful As ever clung around a mother’s neck, Or father fondly gazed upon with pride. There, too, conspicuous for stature tall And large dark eyes, beside her infant stood The mother; but, upon her cheeks diffused, False tints too well accorded with the glare From play-house lustres thrown without reserve On every object near. The Boy had been The pride and pleasure of all lookers-on In whatsoever place, but seemed in this A sort of alien scattered from the clouds. Of lusty vigour, more than infantine He was in limb, in cheek a summer rose Just three parts blown — a cottage-child — if e’er, By cottage-door on breezy mountain-side, Or in some sheltering vale, was seen a babe By Nature’s gifts so favoured. Upon a board Decked with refreshments had this child been placed ‘His’ little stage in the vast theatre, And there he sate, surrounded with a throng Of chance spectators, chiefly dissolute men And shameless women, treated and caressed; Ate, drank, and with the fruit and glasses played, While oaths and laughter and indecent speech Were rife about him as the songs of birds Contending after showers. The mother now Is fading out of memory, but I see The lovely Boy as I beheld him then Among the wretched and the falsely gay, Like one of those who walked with hair unsinged Amid the fiery furnace. Charms and spells Muttered on black and spiteful instigation Have stopped, as some believe, the kindliest growths. Ah, with how different spirit might a prayer Have been preferred, that this fair creature, checked By special privilege of Nature’s love, Should in his childhood be detained for ever! But with its universal freight the tide Hath rolled along, and this bright innocent, Mary! may now have lived till he could look With envy on thy nameless babe that sleeps, Beside the mountain chapel, undisturbed. Four rapid years had scarcely then been told Since, travelling southward from our pastoral hills, I heard, and for the first time in my life, The voice of woman utter blasphemy — Saw woman as she is, to open shame Abandoned, and the pride of public vice; I shuddered, for a barrier seemed at once Thrown in that from humanity divorced Humanity, splitting the race of man In twain, yet leaving the same outward form. Distress of mind ensued upon the sight And ardent meditation. Later years Brought to such spectacle a milder sadness, Feelings of pure commiseration, grief For the individual and the overthrow Of her soul’s beauty; farther I was then But seldom led, or wished to go; in truth The sorrow of the passion stopped me there.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,History,Pelf,Public Executions

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1938: Nikolai Bryukhanov, hung by his balls

Add comment September 1st, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1938, former Soviet Finance Commissar Nikolai Bryukhanov (English Wikipedia entry | Russian) was shot during Stalin’s purges.

Bryukhanov — no apparent relationship to Chernobyl nuclear plant director Viktor Bryukhanov — was a Bolshevik agitator going back to his days as a student radical in the first years of the 20th century.

In 1926, he became head of the powerful People’s Commissariat for Finance (NarKomFin) replacing another future purge victim, Grigori Sokolnikov — which meant that he was there at the helm at the moment that Stalin executed his 1928-1929 Great Turn towards Five-Year Plans and forced industrialization.

This pivot also entailed the bureaucratic sidelining of NarKomFin, thanks in part to Bryukhanov’s affiliation with Stalin’s so-called “Rightist Opposition”. (Who were, no surprise, also future purge victims.) This pornographic cartoon circulated among Bryukhanov’s political rivals, the author says with understatement, “illustrates the fragility of Bryukhanov’s position.”

Stalin himself, who in 1930 was not yet in a position to simply murder foes on his say-so, commended the caricature in the spirit of a witch-dunking:

To the members of the Politburo. Hang Bryukhanov by his balls for all of his sins present and future. If his balls hold, consider him acquitted by the tribunal. If not, drown him in the river. J. St.

Deposed here in 1930 from his acme, Bryukhanov nevertheless continued over the succeeding years in several lesser posts relating to administration of the Soviet economy. As with many Old Bolsheviks who had at some point in time resisted Stalin in a large way or a small one, that former enmity lived long in Koba’s mind … and come the era of the purges, what the old man had once scribbled in jest was visited on Bryukhanov’s flesh. (Metaphorically.)

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Politicians,Revolutionaries,Russia,Shot,Treason,USSR

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2006: James Malicoat, little Pranzini

Add comment August 31st, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 2006, James Malicoat was executed in Oklahoma for beating to death his 13-month-old daughter.

As a criminal case, the matter was open-and-shut. “Malicoat admitted hitting Leadford’s head on a dresser a few days before she died and punching her twice in the stomach the day she died, causing her to stop breathing,” the Oklahoma Attorney General’s statement noted. “Malicoat used CPR to revive her before lying down beside her to take a nap. When he awoke, Malicoat noticed Leadford was dead. He put her in her crib and covered her with a blanket before going back to sleep. When Leadford’s mother returned from work, the couple rushed the child to the emergency room, but staff there determined she had been dead for several hours.” The killer never attempted to deny what he had done; even at his clemency hearing, he didn’t request mercy.

While his case made its ponderous path through the judiciary, Malicoat came into the correspondence of a Benedictine monk from a nearby monastery.

“When I first saw the crime, I thought, ‘He needs a friend more than the others. Everyone is going to shrink back because the crime was so horrendous,'” said Brother Vianney-Marie Graham in this moving profile of the two men’s relationship, which spanned the last five years of Malicoat’s life.

In long letters and intermittent visits, Graham coaxed the already-penitent Malicoat towards a spiritual catharsis — often calling him “my little Pranzini” in reference to an inspiration for his mission, the condemned 19th century French murderer Henri Pranzini whose soul was famously won for God by the ministry of Saint Therese of Lisieux. By coincidence — or was it more? — Pranzini and Malicoat shared an August 31 execution date.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Lethal Injection,Murder,Oklahoma,USA

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1588: St. Margaret Ward, the Pearl of Tyburn

Add comment August 30th, 2020 Richard Challoner

(Thanks to 18th century English Catholic Bishop Richard Challoner for the guest post — originally from Memoirs of Missionary Priests — on an intrepid Elizabethan Catholic, hanged in an anti-Catholic crackdown following the defeat of the Spanish Armada. While the timing of her execution might have been circumstantial, she earned her martyr’s crown fully by pulling off an daring jailbreak that loosed an English priest who might otherwise have hanged in her place. She’s one of three women among the 40 Martyrs of England, along with St. Margaret Clitherow and St. Anne Line, all three of whom are commemorated on August 30. Also martyred on the same occasion were John Roche (the waterman who aided Margaret Ward), a priest named Richard Leigh, and three other lay Catholics condemned for aiding priests — Richard Lloyd, Richard Martin, and Edward Shelley.)

THE HISTORY OF MRS. MARGARET WARD.

Keeping watch at London’s St. Etheldreda’s, an escape-rope curled in her basket. (cc) image from John Salmon.

Mrs. Margaret Ward was born at Congleton, in Cheshire, of a gentleman’s family, and was ia the service of a lady of distinction, when Mr. Watson, a secular priest, was confined in Bridewell for his religion. The story of this gentleman is thus related by the bishop of Tarrasona, J. 2. c. 5.

Richard Watson was a priest of the seminary of Rheims, a virtuous and zealous missioner, who had laboured much in the Lord’s vineyard; but being apprehended, and confined to Bridewell, was, at length, by force of torments, and the insupportable labours, and other miseries of the place, prevailed upon, through human frailty, to go once to the protestant church; upon which, he was set at liberty. But such was the remorse he felt in his soul after this sin, that, instead of bettering his condition by being thus enlarged, he found his case far worse, and the present torments of his mind much more insupportable, than those which he before had endured in his body, the more because he had now lost his God, whose divine grace had formerly been his comfort and support; whereas he now could find no comfort, either from God or man; but the heavens were become to him as of brass, and the earth as iron.

In this melancholy condition, he went to one of the prisons, where some others, his fellow priests were confined, to seek for counsel and comfort from them; and here, having confessed his fault, with great marks of a sincere repentance, and received absolution, desiring to repair the scandal he had given, in the same place where he had sinned, he returned to the church at Bridewell, and there, in the middle of the congregation, declared with a loud voice, that he had done very ill in coming lately to church with them, and joining in their service; which, said he, you untruly call the service of God, for it is, indeed, the service of the devil. He would have said much more, but was prevented by the people, who immediately laid hold of him, and stopping his mouth, dragged him to prison; where they thrust him into a dungeon so low, and so strait, that he could neither stand up in it, nor lay himself down at his full length to sleep. Here they loaded him with irons, and kept him for a whole month upon bread and water; of which they allowed him so small a pittance, that it was scarce enough to keep him alive, not suffering any one to come near him to comfort him or speak to him.

At the month’s end, he was translated from this dungeon to a lodging at the top of the house, where, at least, he could see the light, and was less straitened for room: but the adversaries of his faith made this lodging more troublesome to him than the former, by plying him continually, sometimes with threats, sometimes with prayers and promises, to engage him to go again to church, and to seem, at least outwardly, whatever he might inwardly believe, to be of their religion: so that their continual importunities made him perfectly weary of his life. In the mean time, the catholics, who heard of his sufferings, durst not attempt to come near him, to succour or comfort him, for fear of being taken for the persons who had persuaded him to what he had one, till Mrs. Margaret Ward, a gentlewoman of a courage above her sex, undertook to do it.

She was in the service of a lady of the first rank, who then resided at London; and hearing of the most afflicted condition of Mr. Watson, asked and obtained leave of her lady to go and attempt to visit and relieve him. In order to this, she changed her dress, and taking a basket upon her arm, full of provisions, went to the prison, but could not have leave to come at the priest, till, by the intercession of the gaoler, whom Mrs. Ward had found means to make her friend; with much ado she obtained permission to see him from time to time, and bring him necessaries, upon condition that she should be searched in coming in and going out, that she might carry no letter to him, or from him; which was so strictly observed for the first month, that they even broke the loaves, or pies, that she brought him, lest any paper should thereby be conveyed to him; and all the while she was with him, care was taken that some one should stand by to hear all that was said. But, at length, beginning to be persuaded that she came out of pure compassion to assist him, they were less strict in searching her basket, and in hearkening to their conversation; so that he had an opportunity of telling her, that he had found a way by which, if he had a cord long enough for that purpose, he could let himself down from the top of the house, and make his escape.

Mrs. Ward soon procured the cord, which she brought in her basket under the bread and other eatables, and appointed two catholic watermen, who were let into the secret, to attend with their boat near Bridewell, between two and three o’clock the next morning; at which time Mr. Watson, applying to the corner of the cornice his cord, which he had doubled, not sufficiently considering the height of the building, began to let himself down, holding the two ends of the cord ia his hands, with a design of carrying it away with him, after he had got down, that it might not be discovered by what means he had made his escape. But, by that time he had come down something more than half the way, he found that his cord, which he had doubled, was not now long enough; and he, for some time, remained suspended in the air, being neither able to ascend or descend, without danger of his life.

At length, recommending himself to God, he let go one end of his cord, and suffered himself to fall down upon an old shed or penthouse, which, with the weight of his body, fell in with a great noise. He was very much hurt and stunned by the fall, and broke his right leg and right arm; but the watermen run in immediately to his assistance, and carried him away to their boat. Here he soon came to himself, and, feeling the cord, remembered his coat which he had left in the fall, which he desired one of the watermen to go and bring him. And when they were now advanced in their way, he bethought himself of the cord, and told the watermen, that if they did not return to fetch it, the poor gentlewoman that had given it him would certainly be put to trouble. But it was now too late; for the noise having alarmed the gaoler, and others in the neighbourhood, they came to the place, and finding the cord, immediately suspected what the matter was; and made what search they could to find the priest, but in vain; for the watermen, who had carried him off, took proper care to conceal him, and keep him safe, till he was cured: but God was pleased that, instead of one who thus escaped from prison, two others, upon this occasion, should meet with the crown of martyrdom, as we shall now see.

For the gaoler seeing the cord, and being convinced that no one but Mrs. Ward could have brought it to the prisoner, and having before found out where she lived, seat, early in the morning justices and constables to the house, who, rushing in, found her up, and just upon the point of going out, in order to change her lodgings. They immediately apprehended her, and carried her away to prison, where they loaded her with irons, and kept her m this manner for eight days. Dr. Champney and father Ribadaneira add, that they hung her up by the hands, and cruelly scourged her, which torments she bore with wonderful courage, saying, they were preludes of martyrdom with which, by the grace of God, she hoped she should be honoured.*

After eight days she was brought to the bar, where, being asked by the judges, if she was guilty of that treachery to the queen, and to the laws of the realm, of furnishing the means by which a traitor of a priest, as they were pleased to call him, had escaped from justice, she answered, with a cheerful countenance, in the affirmative: and that she never, in her life, had done any thing of which she less repented, than of the delivering that innocent lamb from the hands of those bloody wolves. They sought to terrify her by their threats, and to oblige her to confess where the priest was, but in vain; and therefore they proceeded to pronounce sentence of death upon her, as in cases of felony: but, withal, they told her, that the queen was merciful; and that if she would ask pardon of her majesty, and would promise to go to church, she should be set at liberty, otherwise she must look for nothing but certain death.

She answered, that as to the queen, she had never offended her majesty; and that it was not just to confess a fault, by asking pardon for it, where there was none: that as to what she had done in favouring the priest’s escape, she believed the queen herself, if she had the bowels of a woman, would have done as much, if she had known the ill treatment he underwent. That as to the going to their church, she had, for many years, been convinced that it was not lawful for her so to do, and that she found no reason now to change her mind, and would not act against her conscience; and therefore they might proceed, if they pleased, to the execution of the sentence pronounced against her; for that death, for such a cause, would be very welcome to her; and that she was willing to lay down not one life only, but many, if she had them, rather than betray her conscience, or act against her holy religion.

She was executed at Tyburn, August 30, 1588, showing to the end a wonderful constancy and alacrity; by which the spectators were much moved, and greatly edified.

Whilst these things were acting, Mr. Watson was under care in the waterman’s house, who, as soon as he was recovered, thought proper to withdraw farther from danger; and that he might be the better disguised, changed clothes with the waterman, who joyfully accepted the change, and put on, with great devotion, the clothes of one whom he regarded as a confessor of Christ. But not long after, walking in the streets, he met the gaoler, who took notice of the clothes, and caused him to be apprehended and carried before a justice of peace, where, being examined how he came by those clothes, he confessed the whole truth; upon which he was committed, prosecuted, and condemned: and making the same answers as Mrs. Ward had done, with regard to the begging the queen’s pardon, and going to church, he endured the same death with much spiritual joy in his soul, and a constancy which many admired, and were very much edified by it.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,England,Execution,God,Guest Writers,Hanged,History,Martyrs,Mass Executions,Other Voices,Public Executions,Religious Figures,Torture,Women

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1929: John Fabri, condemned

1 comment August 29th, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1929, John Fabri — or Giovanni Fabri, as you’d call him in his native Italy — died in Sing Sing prison’s electric chair.

This case is the subject of an episode from the well-producedd Syracuse.com miniseries The Condemned. Enjoy it here; the entire series is here.

Thanks to @kilamdee for the tip on this resource.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Electrocuted,Execution,History,Murder,New York,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,USA

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1909: Joe Gauvitte, wife-slayer

Add comment August 27th, 2020 Headsman

From the Spokane, Wash. Spokesman-Review, Aug. 28, 1909:

Joe Gauvitte Is Hanged

Pays Death Penalty for the Murder of his Wife

WALLA WALLA, Wash., Aug. 27. — Joe Gauvitte, the bartender of Spokane, who killed his wife, was hanged at 5:50 this morning in the penitentiary yard. There were few visitors present and the prisoner was not allowed to speak on the platform, although he desired to do so, it being the wish of the warden that no death statement be given there.

In lieu of this, Gauvitte asked Father Jones to issue a statement thanking the officers for their courtesies and declaring he desired death. Father Jones arrived at Gauvitte’s cell at 4 o’clock and remained with him until the execution. Contrary to custom, the condemned man ate no breakfast, but devoted the time to his conference with the priest.


Joseph Gauvitte, who was hanged yesterday for wife murder, was arrested some time before he killed his wife, the evning of June 27, for having attempted to stab her. At another time he was arrested by complaint of his wife on a charge of insanity. According to his confession he was afraid she was about to leave him and he said he could not bear the thought of the separation.

In his confession, made to Prosecuting Attorney Fred C. Push, Captain of Police Coverly, Sergeant McPhee and Deputy Sheriff George Sweet, after his arrest for the murder, Gauvitte said:

The thought of killing my wife came to me on Saturday afternoon when I was at work. I thought that if I could not have her no one else could. I took a few drinks early in the night to nerve myself. While I was in the Bodega saloon my wife passed on a Broadway car and I went hurriedly down College avenue to reach the corner of Maple street before she got there. I waited and saw her alight from the car. I waited until she was almost abreast of me and then made sure she was the right person. Certain of her identity, I stepped out from behind a tree and fired point-blank at her twice. She groaned and staggered into the street and I followed. I was afraid I might only have wounded her, and I wanted to be sure to kill her.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,Murder,USA,Washington

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2020: Lezmond Mitchell

Add comment August 26th, 2020 Headsman

Although overshadowed by wildfires, hurricanes, political drama, economic collapse, civil unrest, and a goddamned pandemic, a noteworthy federal execution took place on August 26, 2020.

Lezmond Mitchell, the only Native American on federal death row, was killed by lethal injection at Terre Haute, Indiana for murdering 63-year-old Alyce Slim and her nine-year-old granddaughter Tiffany Lee. The offender and both victims were members of the Navajo Nation, and the crimes occurred on the Navajo Reservation in the northeast corner of Arizona.

Mitchell and a companion named Johnny Osringer — underaged, and therefore serving a life sentence instead — were picked up hitchhiking by the victims in 2001. They stabbed Alyce Slim to death when she stopped to let them out, then to murder the terrified little girl in greater privacy, drove her 30 miles into the mountains sitting next to her grandmother’s bloody corpse.

The horrific crime carried with it a problematic jurisdictional question that’s legacy of the continent’s Anglo conquest.

Within their treaty lands, indigenous nations still assert internal sovereignty when it comes to handling criminal offenses — sovereignty that Congress has legislated against by placing some big-ticket crimes like murder and rape under federal jurisdiction.

Neither this arrogation of authority in general nor its application to Mitchell in particular have been embraced by the Navajo Nation, which has advocated against the execution for many years and on the day it occurred issued a statement denouncing it.

The Navajo Nation’s position, from the beginning, was to advocate for the sovereign status of the Nation. Our decision not to accept the death penalty in federal cases remains a Navajo decision, but in this instance the federal government ignored the Navajo Nation. This is an affront to our Nation because we should be the ones to decide these matters. The federal government charged a crime that was added in 1994 to the Federal Death Penalty Act and blindsided the Navajo Nation by using this to sidestep the Navajo Nation’s position.

We have a court system that is fair and just for all persons. We have laws that protect our People. We have brave men and women on our police force to watch over us. Crimes committed on the Navajo Nation are for us to decide. Our judicial and public safety system considers restorative justice in court cases as based on our custom and traditions of hozho’ and k’e. Federal officials may not understand our family connections and our strength in keeping harmony. So, we invite them to meet with us and find an answer to address this important death penalty matter.

The Navajo Nation asked for clemency in Mr. Mitchell’s case in changing his sentence to life in prison without possibility of release. This is the same request supported by U.S. Senators, U.S. House Representatives, Tribal Nations, and tribal organizations. But our collective voice was ignored. We don’t expect federal officials to understand our strongly held traditions of clan relationship, keeping harmony in our communities, and holding life sacred. What we do expect, no, what we demand, is respect for our People, for our Tribal Nation, and we will not be pushed aside any longer.

We thank the many Tribal Nations who supported the Navajo Nation’s stand on sovereignty, and we appreciate the Tribal organization’s letters advocating for tribal sovereignty. We now call on all Tribal Nations and Tribal organizations to begin a dialogue on a respect for tribal sovereignty, respect for all Tribal Nation, and respect for Native Americans. We are moving forward in this fight and we ask all to join us.

Mitchell’s was the fourth federal execution conducted in little more than a month as part of a calculated campaign by Trump administration attorney general William Barr. Prior to the current paroxysm, the United States federal government (as distinct from its 50 states’ separate jurisdictions) had conducted only three executions — all in the early 2000s, most notably Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh — in the past 57 years.

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Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Arizona,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Lethal Injection,Murder,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Ripped from the Headlines,U.S. Federal,USA

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