Posts filed under 'Crime'

1962: LeRoy McGahuey, the last involuntary execution in Oregon

Add comment August 20th, 2017 Headsman

The U.S. state of Oregon has the death penalty on the books, but hasn’t employed it on a non-consenting prisoner since August 20, 1962.

That was the date that former logger LeRoy Sanford McGahuey, with a shrug of his broad shoulders and the sanguine parting observation “That’s it,” paid in the gas chamber for the 1961 hammer slayings of his girlfriend and her son.* (He’s also the last of seventeen people executed by lethal gas in Oregon history.)

The late Oregon political lion Mark Hatfield, who was governor at the time, permitted the execution to go ahead despite misgivings about capital punishment. It was the only time he would ever be called upon to shoulder that burden: Oregon repealed its capital statutes in 1964 during the nationwide death penalty drawdown; Hatfield had moved on to the U.S. Senate by the time voters reinstated capital punishment in 1978. In an interview almost 40 years after the fact, Hatfield said that being party to McGahuey’s death still troubled him.

As Governor of Oregon, how did you resolve your legal charge versus your moral feelings about the death penalty?

Having been governor when we had an execution, I can tell you it still haunts me. However, when you swear to uphold the constitution of the State of Oregon you swear to uphold all of the laws — not just the laws you agree with. I felt there were too many examples in our history when people tortured the law or played around with it.

So if you were governor today, would you have commuted that death sentence?

I don’t know. I would have to wrestle with that. We experienced the repeal of the death penalty when I was Governor. After the first execution, I had my press secretary have as many press people there to witness it as possible; reporting it in all its gory detail. By making it a broadly based experience for all people — by not having it at midnight — we were able to garner enough support to get it repealed. Even though there were executions scheduled to happen during the hiatus time between when the law was passed and the time it took effect, I immediately commuted all the sentences. I believe it was seven. [actually, it was three -ed.]

Oregon currently retains the death penalty but has had a moratorium on executions enforced by its governors since 2011. Its only “modern” (post-1976) executions were in 1996 and 1997, and both were inflicted on men who voluntarily abandoned their own appeals to speed their path to the executioner.

* Technically, McGahuey was executed for the murder of the child, 22-month old Rodney Holt: he’d slain the mother, 32-year-old Loris Mae Holt, in a fit of passion, but he followed up by bludgeoning the tot with premeditation out of (as he said) concern for the boy’s upbringing now that he’d been orphaned.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Gassed,Milestones,Murder,Oregon,USA

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1909: Richard Justin, child batterer

1 comment August 19th, 2017 Meaghan

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

At eight in the morning on this date in 1909, Richard Justin was hanged at Crumlin Road Prison in Belfast, Ireland (now Northern Ireland) for the murder of his four-year-old daughter. Little Annie Thompson — she was born illegitimate, but her parents married a few months before her death — had died at their home at 84 Lepper Street in Belfast on March 12, supposedly from falling out of bed.

A myriad of witnesses, however, reported that Justin abused the child horribly. Her longtime nanny had noticed bruises, a swollen chin, a black eye and one tooth knocked out, but in February, before she could take any action, Annie was removed from her care. Others reported seeing marks and bruises on the child.

When concerned adults asked Annie how she had been hurt, she complained her father had hit and kicked her. People had also heard heartrending cries coming from 84 Lepper Street. One neighbor, for instance, testified she’d heard Annie’s mother wail, “Hit me, and let the child alone.”

The locals were reluctant to intervene in the family’s domestic problems, but after a Mrs. McWilliams saw that Annie’s “wee elbow” was swollen, her wrist was burned and “the skin was off her back,” she told Annie’s mother she was going to complain to the child abuse authorities. She decided not to, though, after Annie’s mother gave her word of honor that the abuse would stop.

It didn’t stop.

The very day of Annie Thompson’s demise, someone had written a letter to the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Children, saying they’d been concerned about her for months and would someone please go to her house and check on her welfare? The anonymous writer added that he or she had meant “to drop you a note last week.”

Too little, too late.

From a forensic standpoint there was the autopsy, which revealed

a litany of injuries. These included some thirty bruises to the chest, arms, thighs and head, though most were several days old. Professor Symmers, who conducted the medical investigation, even went as far as to say they were the worst injuries to a child he had ever seen.

He actually compared her tortured remains to a case he’d seen where a man had been whipped 100 strokes with a cat o’ nine tails. The primary cause of death, however, was a brain hemorrhage

At Richard’s trial in July, ample evidence of child abuse was presented and the prosecution argued that Annie had died of injuries accumulated from the effects of months of beatings. The defense denied that the accused man had ever mistreated his daughter and argued that her death was an accident. Their star witness was Richard Justin’s oldest son, Richard Jr.

According to Richard Jr., he, his younger brother, and Annie were sharing a bed, the girl being closest to the wall. She woke up at 7:00 a.m. and started climbing over the boys to get out of bed, but tripped on the hem of her nightdress, fell off the bed and struck her head on the metal strut of her parents’ bed, an arms’ length away. Annie moaned and wouldn’t move after that. Richard Jr. picked her up and put her back in bed without waking their brother. Richard Sr. then found her lying dead two hours later.

When asked about this in court, Professor Symmers reluctantly allowed the boy’s story about Annie’s fall, if accurate, could explain the brain hemorrhage that had caused her death.

Nevertheless, the jury returned a guilty verdict.

“The defence,” writes Steven Moore in his book Hanged at Crumlin Road Gaol: The Story of Capital Punishment in Belfast,

with some justification, considered that Richard Justin hadn’t been given the benefit of what appeared to be reasonable doubt. There was a possibility, it was felt, the jury had believed him guilty of scheming to kill the child, and that the plot had not succeeded only because of an unfortunate accident. In other words, even if he hadn’t actually murdered Annie, there was no reason to consider him innocent when he had evil intent to the girl. A petition sent to the Lord Lieutenant asking for a reprieve was turned down.

A large crowd gathered outside the prison as Richard Justin was hanged, but there was nothing to see: his execution took place within the prison walls, and even the custom of raising the black flag at the moment of death had been abandoned. He reportedly “walked firmly to the scaffold and had shown great remorse for his crime.”

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Guest Writers,Hanged,Ireland,Other Voices

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1720: Matthew Tompkins, Daniel Lazenby, and Maurice Fitzgerald

Add comment August 15th, 2017 Headsman

THE Ordinary of NEWGATE

HIS ACCOUNT OF The Behaviours, Confessions, and Last Dying Words of the Malefactors that were Executed at Tyburn on Monday the 15th of August, 1720.

The Sunday preceeding the Execution of the Prisoners, I preached to them from the following Words.

Bloody and Deceitful Men shall not live out half their Days. (Psalm 55th, part of the 23d Verse.)

We first observed that the Psalmist every where speaks of Murder with conscious Sense of Shame; The Prophet Nathan’s Parable had pierced his Bosom, and cut deep into his Heart. Well knew he, that Uriah was the poor Man with an only Lamb, that was tender to him, and lay every Night in his Bosom: His Conscience started at his Guilt; and the prospect of Love that was pleasing late, is shocking now: The Beautiful Bathsheba, and the Blood-stain’d Uriah rise up at once to his View; and in the bitterness of Soul he cries out, Deliver Me from Bloodguiltiness O God, Thou God of my Salvation! (ver. 14.)

But deep and hearty was David’s Repentance; and for every Pleasure he paid a thousand Tears. Therefore, notwithstanding his Guilt, he hopes God will save him from his Enemies. That Confidence as he often expresses, so particularly in my Text, Thou, O God, shalt bring them down into the Pit of Destruction; Bloody and Deceitful Men shall not live out half their Days.

From the Words we observed the following Things.

First, We consider’d the Nature of Bloodguiltiness: According to, 1st, the Natural; 2d, the Jewish; 3d, the Christian Law.

Secondly, We consider’d Who were meant by Deceitful Men.

Thirdly, Very briefly advis’d all to a serious Reflection on the Doctrine; because, Bloody and Deceitful Men do not live out half their Days.

First, We consider’d Bloodguiltiness according to the Law of Nature.

This is a tacit Law, engraven on the Heart, that plainly exclaims against Murder. For ’tis not agreeable to Natural Reason to suppose that I and another Rational Creature, being both of Us the Right and Property of some Superiour Being that caused us to be, can have a Right to rob that superior Being of that his other Creature by Murder. That other Creature also has a Natural Right lodg’d in him, by the Creator, to enjoy the Light of the Sun; to sleep, and feed, and whatever else the Creator has thought fit to make him capable of enjoying. As therefore, I did not give him this Capacity of Enjoyment, ’tis plain, I can have no Right to take it from him; Unless indeed where I have a particular Commission from God to do it; which is the Case of the Brutes we devour.

This is according to the Light of Nature: And even the Heathens of Popayan and Paraguay, Tho’ they used to fat up their Captive Foes, to feast upon their Flesh, yet had so much Glimmering of the Dictates of Reason, as to detest, and severely Punish the Murder of their own People; Looking upon no Crimes as Capital but Incest and Murder; But to show their Abhorrence of Them, The Prince with a Dart pursued the Offender and with his own Hands destroyed him.

2d, We consider’d Bloodguiltiness according to the Mosaic Law.

This Law, agreeable to that of Nature, is very express against Murder. Whosoe sheddeth Man’s Blood, by Man shall his Blood be shed.

Under this Head, I took Notice of what I have sometimes thought remarkable, viz. That the very Giver of this Law, Moses, should slay a Man, without any Accusation laid against him. This a Hebrew, who had heard of it, thought a Crime; and accusingly said, Intendest thou to kill Me as thou didst the Egyptian Yesterday? It also made a great Noise in the Land, so that Pharoah was acquainted with it: But Moses fled from the Face of Pharoah, and dwelt in the Land of Midian. (Exod. 2. 15.) The Manner of his Slaying Him, was thus; And he spy’d an Egyptian smiting an Hebrew, one of his Brethren. And he looked this way and that way, and when he saw that there was no Man, he slew the Egyptian, and hid him in the Sand. (Exod. 2. 11, 12.)

The usual way of Answering this Difficulty, is, either by supposing it a wicked Action, tho’ not noted as such in Scripture; Or else, by saying, that Moses had a particular Commission from God to perform this Murder. But certainly that would be an Omission in the Sacred Writ (which far be it from any one to conceive) to leave out such a material Information; because the Murder is committed by a Person who is represented to Us as the Reverse of such a Doer. All Evil-Actions mention’d in Scripture, are mention’d for a Good End; and serve either to deter Us from the same Sins, by the Punishment annex’d to them; Or, to prevent our Despair, by the Sight of God’s Forgiveness: But it can serve to neither, of these Ends, to show Us a Virtuous Man Sinning, without noting him as disagreeing from himself.

This Answer therefore, seems to Me not to come up to the Difficulty. I would rather, with Submission, answer it thus. We must suppose it to be a Lawful Action; and who can assert the Contrary; unless he knew the Nature of the Skirmish between the Egyptian and the Hebrew? For it might be a justifiable Murder, if we suppose the Egyptian to be so beating the Hebrew, as resolving to have his Life; and to be so violent and furious therein, as that the Interposer Moses could not save the Life of the Servant of God, but by taking away That of the Barbarian; I think, with Submission, in that Case, it might be lawful for Moses to do it. The Egyptian was in the nature of an Assaulter, or Robber; and Grotius with the other Ethick Writers, determine, that I and my Friend may defend my own Life at the Expence of a Robber’s Blood. And this especially before the Christian Dispensation.

To this it may be objected, that Moses need not have looked this Way and that Way, to see if any was near, had he had this Cause for slaying the Egyptian. To this I answer, that tho’ this justified the Action in the sight of God, yet Moses knew it would not in the Eyes of Pharoah; who, we may suppose, had rather ten Hebrews should dye, than one Egyptian; As appears from his ordering all the Male Hebrew Children to be slain, only lest the Hebrews should grow too strong.

To confirm this Explication, we may observe, that the rescued Hebrew would not, in all probability, have discover’d his Brother and Deliverer, unless he had conceiv’d an Opinion (without thinking so far as Pharoah’s Partiality towards the Hebrews) that it was not a Criminal Action, on Account of the Murderous Intent of the Egyptian: And He must be the Discoverer, because we read, There was no one present. (ver. 12.)

3dly, The Christian-Law is much more express against Bloodguiltiness, than either the Natural or the Jewish; insomuch, that, Whosoe hateth his Brother is a Murderer. And agen, Whosoe sayeth to his Brother, Thou Fool, is in Danger of Hell-Fire. So far must Christians be from Murder, that Christ says, Resist not Evil; but whosoever smiteth thee on one Cheek, turn to him the Other also. (Mat. 5. 39.) Contrary to the Jewish Law, which said, An Eye for an Eye, and a Tooth for a Tooth.

Secondly, Under the Second general Head we consider’d, who are meant by Deceitful Men, – Bloody, and Deceitful Men.

  • 1st.) By Deceitful Men, may be meant False-Friends. This certainly is very sinful. ‘Tis also imprudent, We should well consider before we take a Friend to our Bosom; and better consider before we throw him thence agen.
  • 2dly.) By Deceitful Men, may be meant Thieves. As the Psalmist says, He sitteth lurking in the thievish Corners of the Streets. Psal. 10. 8.

    It is become usual for Us to see Robbings in the publick Streets; How different are you from the Example of our Saviour; He went about Doing Good, But you Doing Ill: He preach’d Peace thro’ the Streets, But you denounce Slaughter and Rapine. Little then would one think, ye had renounced the World at your Baptism, and profest your selves Followers, Pupils, Imitators of Christ.

    Some in your Conditions have seem’d to value themselves upon their bearing their Misfortunes as becomes Men: But can ye take a sort of Pride in dying Couragiously like a Man, and not be ashamed of having liv’d like Brutes? Was their not something Mean and Base (for that ye will most regard) in inhabiting the Night, and flying the Face of Day, which Man was form’d with an Aspect erect to gaze at? The Apostle says, We are not of the Night, but of the Day; and let us who are of the Day be Sober; putting on the Breast-plate of Faith and Love, and for an Helmet, the Hope of Salvation. 1 Thess. 5. 8.

  • 3dly.) By Deceitful Men may be meant Defamers and Backbiters. This is a Deceit, perhaps as pernicious as the Thief’s, tho’ not equally liable to Punishment: The Robber despoils Us of our Goods, the Defamer, of our Reputations; One injures Us Clandestinely, The other to our Face. But Christ said, Let him who is without Sin among you, first throw a Stone at Her.

Thirdly. The Third General Head was, to perswade All to the Consideration of the Doctrine, for the Reason in the Text, Bloody and Deceitful Men shall not live out half their Days.
Under this Head we consider’d the Misery of being cut off in the Pride and Prime of Youth, while the Face of Nature was delightful, and joyous the Light of the Sun: And that this Misery was but the Natural Consequence of Sin, especially of Bloodguiltiness, agreeable to the Text.

I lastly conjured them, to compensate for their former evil Lives, by the uncommon Earnestness of their Repentance; Never to leave Assaulting the Throne of Grace, till they had some dawning Assurances of Salvation; But so to expend their few remaining Hours, that they might launch forth from Sorrow to Joy; from Pain to Satisfaction; and from a World of Care into Realms of never fading Pleasures.

1. Matthew Tomkins, was Convicted of robbing John Wickers, on the High-way, of 4 Guineas and 16 s. 6 d.

The Account he gave me of himself was as follows.

He said he was 22 Years of Age; a single Man; born at Tunbridge, where he has now a Father and Mother residing in good Credit and Reputation. He said, they brought him up with the utmost Tenderness, and gave him a considerable share of Learning. He never was Apprentice to any Trade; but was in Quality of a Book-keeper for some time, at a great China Shop in London, where nothing was objected against his Behaviour.

He said, he was lately Master of about 400 l. That he then gave himself up too much to Pleasure: He was often advis’d by his Friends to purchase a Place for Life, but never was so happy as to follow their good Counsel; He added, that he liv’d in a very jovial Manner, upon the principal Money, pursuing his Pleasures, and denying himself nothing that might tend to the Gratifying his Inclinations.

Upon a Day (as he told me) he took a Ride to Ware in Hartfordshire, alone by himself; but he there got into some Company, they proposed a Game at Cards, which they said they did not well Understand, ’twas a new Game, but they were told ’twas very Diverting. Mr. Tompkins soon undertook to play with them. When he had lost all his Money, he call’d for his Horse, in order to return to London.

Upon the Road, he said, he met a Man, of a sober Aspect; whose Occupation he should little have suspected from his Appearance. With this Person he fell into Discourse, and was complaining of the Tricks and Deceits of Cards, and related how he had been served at Ware, where he had been bubbled out of all his Money. The Stranger told him, he need not be necessitated for Money, so long as he was upon an open Road; and in short, gave him a Pistol. The next Gentleman they met, they rob’d of four Guineas and some Silver, half of which he had; and parting with his Instructor at London, never saw him after.

This is the Account he gave me of his committing this wicked Action. He also told me, That he had let his Parents know his Misfortunes he was under, but had, at the same time requested of them, not to come to London on that Account, for it was not in their Power to be any way Serviceable to him in that Condition; but that the Sight of them, who had always used him with so great Tenderness and Affection, would greatly aggravate and encrease his Sorrow.

He shou’d me a Book, which a Clergyman sent him, which he said had been the occasion of his passing the sad and Melancholly Hours of Confinement, not only with Patience but with some Satisfaction and Delight.

The Saturday before his Execution, He told me he had then entirely laid aside all Thoughts of the World, and that the Sight of his Acquaintance was become Painful to him; for he had in some measure habituated Himself to think of Heaven, till it was become Grateful to him in the Consideration.

2. David Lazenby, was Convicted of breaking open the Chambers of Charles Wood, Esq; in the Night-time, and stealing thence, some Holland Shirts, Cravats, a Beaver Hat, Sheets, a Cloath Coat and Wast-coat, Worsted Stockings, &c. The Account he gave me of himself was as follows.

He said, He was 26 Years of Age; Born at Market-Weston in Suffolk, of honest and reputable Parents. He was put Prentice to a Weaver; to which Trade he served his 7 Years out. But this Employment not being sufficient to maintain him, he said, he went into the Country; Being there at a loss how to employ his time, and procure a comfortable Subsistance, he at last determin’d to set up a Publick House, which he accordingly did; but soon growing weary of that noisy and quarrelsome Life, he returned again to London, where he met with tolerable Encouragement in his own Trade.

He said, that at the Time he was Apprehended on Suspicion, he liv’d at Hoxton, where he Employ’d 5 Journeymen under him at the Weaving Business .

He told me, that during my Sickness, a Great Distiller in Fore-street had desired to speak with me concerning him; that I would put the Question to him, whether he was not concern’d in robbing his Dining-Room, of several peices of Plate, some marked with his Coat of Arms, and some Plain. When the Prisoner had told me this, I accordingly taxed him, as he was a Dying Man, and had I hoped a value for his Soul, whether he knew any thing of the aforesaid Robbery? But he solemnly protested that he was entirely ignorant of it.

Another Gentleman also in Hoxton-Square, apply’d to me, to desire I would put the Question to him, whither he was not concern’d in the Breaking open his House; he having suspected him on Account of some Tickets for an Entertainment, dropt near his House, with David Lazenby’s Name thereto. But the Prisoner said, the Tickets were accidentally dropt by that House, and were for him and some Friends to make merry innocently together. I hope he was sincere in his Declarations.

3. Maurice Fitzgerald, was condemned for the Murder of a Watchman in the Strand.

He was about 20 Years of Age; born in Ireland; his Education was Liberal and Genteel. As to his Behaviour during his Confinement, after the Sentence pass’d upon him, it was Sober and Grave; he constantly frequented the publick Service in the Chappel, where he appear’d not without Devotion and a sense of Religion, making the Responces very duely, and reading the Psalms alternately after me. Notwithstanding this, It has been thought that he did not dye in the Communion of the Church of England; But this I think he would not have dissembled, had it been so; for I put the Question to him, and he told me that he dyed a Member of the English Church. I frequently talk’d with him about the Nature of his former Course of Life, and his Stabbing a Man sometime ago with a Penknife; he seem’d to acknowledge that among all Courses of Life, the Sober and Serene Man bids the fairest for Happiness even here; and that no Satisfaction really consists in having the Spirits always in a Hurry and a Flutter, and in flying about from one House of Obscenity to another.

The Account of them at the Place of Execution.

Maurice Fitzgerald. At the Tree he spoke to the People present; signifying that he had reason to accuse some Persons as to his being Executed, whom he Named. He then declared, that he dyed in Charity towards all Men; and desired the Spectators Prayers for his departing Soul; adding, that he was pleas’d and easy at his leaving Care and Anxiety. He then gave me a Letter for his Brother; and ask’d me if I had retain’d the Paper he gave me at the Sacrament. He had been Scandaliz’d for Living with a Lady in a vicious Manner, to wit, Mrs. Witworth; That Paper relates to this, and is as follows.

SIR,

I Beg you will satisfy the World, that I was lawfully Married to Mrs. Witfield, according to the Rights and Ceremonies of the Church of England, as I shall answer before the Great and Good God one Day, and to her. Witness my Hand, this 14th of August, 1720. M. Fitzgerald.

David Lazenby. At the Tree, he deliver’d me a Paper, which he desired I would by all means Publish; and was as follows.

WHEN under Sentence of Death, one Mrs. Flowers came to me, concerning a Robbery, which one John Young swore her into: Now, I David Lazenby do solemnly declare upon the Holy Sacrament, which I take this 15th day of August, that the said Robbery (at the Quaker’s next Door to the Nagg’s Head in Islington) was committed by two other Persons, whose Names are John Brush, and Joseph Smith. Neither was Mrs. Flowers any way concern’d in purchasing the Goods.

THO. PURNEY, Ordinary and Chaplain.

LONDON: Printed and Sold by JOHN APPLEBEE, a little below Bridewel-Bridge, Black-Fryers.

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

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1944: Eliga Brinson and Willie Smith, American rapists abroad

Add comment August 11th, 2017 Headsman

Privates Eliga Brinson (of Tallahassee, Florida) and Willie Smith (of Birmingham, Alabama) were hanged on this date in 1944 at Shepton Mallet prison.

The two U.S. servicemen had ambushed and raped 16-year-old Dorothy Holmes in Gloucestershire that April. Tried and sentenced by the U.S. military, their hangings occurred over 100 years after Great Britain abolished the death penalty for rape.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,Rape,Soldiers,U.S. Military,USA,Wartime Executions

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1966: James French, fried

1 comment August 10th, 2017 Headsman

On this date in 1966, James French went to the Oklahoma electric chair, clinching his spot in perpetuity on last-words listicles by cracking to the press pool, “Hey, fellas. How about this for a headline for tomorrow’s paper? French Fries!”*

French had enjoyed five years to work out this chill fare-thee-well since the calculated murder of his cellmate in 1961, back when he, French, was already serving time for murder.

It’s alleged that French committed this ruthless deed in pursuit of the mercy seat, as a form of suicide by executioner; whether this is or isn’t so he had certainly embraced the consequence by the time he presented himself to the judiciary.

“He deserved to die,” the expansive French once informed an interviewer. “And now because of what I did, I deserve to die, too. I don’t want to die. Who does? But the rules are clear: to take a life is to forfeit your own.”

It’s just that his letters imploring speedy implementation of justice could not override procedural errors in his first trial (they biased the jury by presenting French in manacles) nor his second trial (bad jury instruction by the judge) until the third time charmed in 1965.

The man could have lived a long life punning on his surname — perhaps he would have insisted on going by James Freedom as a post-9/11 America blundered into Iraq? — had he chosen to fight his death sentence, for even then the law’s French frying apparatus was grinding to a halt. Just two more executions — Aaron Mitchell and Luis Monge, both in 1967 — would take place in all the land before capital punishment went into a decade-long hiberation during which all previously existing death sentences were invalidated. French’s was the last death by electric chair until John Spenkelink in 1979 and the last ever electrocution in Oklahoma (which has used lethal injection in the modern, post-1972 era).

* His actual, and better, last words in the death chamber were by way of declining to make a final statement: “Everything’s already been said.”

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Electrocuted,Execution,Gallows Humor,Milestones,Murder,Oklahoma,USA

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A day in the executions of Franz Schmidt

Add comment August 4th, 2017 Headsman

The free imperial city of Nuremberg has been a regular feature on this site thanks to the detailed journal of executions kept by its legendary executioner Franz Schmidt.

We have profiled many of the more remarkable cases individually. Today, we’ll pause for a few of central Europe’s lesser criminals whose deaths at Schmidt’s hand on various August Fourths were more representative of the everyday malefactors who paid the last penalty on early modern scaffolds. All block text records Schmidt’s own words.


August 4, 1586: Hans Weber and Lienhardt Hagen

Hans Weber, of the New Town, a potter and thief, whom I whipped out of Neunkirchen ten years ago; Lienhardt Hagen, of Teusslen, a bath-keeper, alias der Kaltbader, a thief and robber, who with his companion helped to attack people by night, tortured them, burnt them with fire, poured hot grease on them and wounded them grievously; also tortured pregnant women, so that one died at Schwertzenbach; stole all manner of things everywhere. The potter was hanged, the bath-keeper executed on the wheel. The bath-keeper had broken into the church at Lohndorff and stolen the chalice, also helped once to steal 500 florins. (a list of many other small sums follows.)


August 4, 1607: Margaret Marranti

Margaret Marranti, a country girl from the knackers’ sheds, who was in service with the innkeeper there, had intercourse with a carrier whom she did not know, and became pregnant. Took service with the farmer at Dorrenhof at Candlemas, concealing her pregnancy. When she was haymaking in the meadows, was seized with pains and contortions, and when the farmer’s wife said she would send for the midwife, the girl made an excuse, and remaining behind at night, gave birth to a child near a shed by the river Pegnitz. She immediately threw the child into the water and drowned it, though it stirred and struggled. Beheaded with the sword here on this account.


August 4, 1613: Matthew Werdtfritzn

Matthew Werdtfritzn of Furth, a Landzknecht, alias ‘Eightfingers,’ a robber. With the help of a companion he attacked the carrier from Regensburg in the Neuenwald, wounded him and his son mortally, and took about 800 florins’ worth of money and goods. Took 84 florins from the baker woman of Lauff, and wounded her lad in the same way, so that he was thought likely to die. Took 40 florins from a carter and 18 florins from the fisherman of Fach; in all twelve highway roberies. For these crimes he was executed on the wheel as a robber.

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Entry Filed under: 16th Century,17th Century,Abortion and Infanticide,Beheaded,Broken on the Wheel,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Germany,Gruesome Methods,Hanged,History,Murder,Public Executions,Soldiers,Theft,Women

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1829: John Stacey, in Portsmouth town

Add comment August 3rd, 2017 Headsman

A barbarous, foul, & horrid deed
I shortly will recite,
Which did occur in Portsmouth town
Upon a Sunday night;
An aged man of eighty years,
His housekeeper likewise,
Were there most basely murdered,
By a monster in disguise.

All in the night, so dark and drear,
He entrance did obtain,
And with a deadly hammer he
Beat out the old man’s brains,
His throat he cut from ear to ear,
Most horrible to view,
And streams of crimson blood did flow
The bed-room through and through.

The aged housekeeper likewise,
Lay butcher’d on the floor,
Her face and hands most cruelly
Were cut, and stabb’d full sore.
Her head it was nearly severed
From off her body quite.
Those who beheld it shivered,
So dreadful was the sight.

When at the bar the murderer stood,
He could not deny his guilt,
‘Twas clearly proved that he
The aged couples blood had spilt;
The Jury found him guilty,
And the Judge to him did say,
You must prepare to end your days,
Upon the gallows high.

-Broadside ballad about double murderer John Stacey, hanged adjacent to the house of his victim on August 3, 1829

On this day..

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

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1766: James Annin and James M’Kinzy

Add comment August 1st, 2017 Headsman

From the Pennsylvania Gazette, Aug. 7, 1766:

BURLINGTON (New-Jersey) August 4

At a Court of Oyer and Terminer, held at Burlington, on Wednesday, the Thirtieth Day of July last, came on the Trial of James Annin, aged 54 Years, and James M’Kinzy, aged 19 Years, on an Indictment for the Murder of two Indian Women, named Hannah and Catherine, who had long resided in the Neighbourhood of the Place where the Murder was committed.

It appeared by their own Examinations, and by the Testimony of credible Witnesses, that they had been on the Western Frontiers of Pennsylvania and Virginia, but that their first Acquaintance began in Philadelphia; that they came to Moore’s Town, in the County of Burlington, on Thursday, the 26th of June last, about Noon, and begged for Charity, and obtained Relief: That while they were eating their Dinners, the two Indians who were murdered, came to the Place where they were, and that the youngest of the Men gave them abusive Language: That the Indians went off, and rested in a Wood, near the Side of the Road: That the one of them was possessed of a clean Shift, and the other of a Piece of new Linen, which they had that Day got: That about 2 o’Clock on the same Day, James Annin sold the Shift, and James M’Kinzy the Piece of new Linen, and a Blanket, about two Miles from Moore’s Town.

That they were parted by Accident, and that many People had seen the Indians lying in View of the Road, and supposed them to be asleep, till Sunday, the 29th of June, when two Persons perceived a Stench, and on going near the Bodies, found they were dead; whereupon the Coroner was called, whose Inquest found them to be murdered by Persons unknown.

On this Alarm the two Criminals were suspected, and pursued.

James Annin was apprehended, and committed to the Goal at Burlington, and the other advertised from the Description given by Annin, and in a few Days taken up by Order of the Mayor of the City of Philadelphia, and sent to Burlington.

The Examinations of the Prisoners, taken before they had an Opportunity of seeing each other, were read, and by each Examination it appeared, that they went to the Indians with Intent to ravish them, if they should refuse their Offers; each acknowledged that he was present at the Murder, but charged the giving the Stroke on the other, and acknowledged also the taking the Goods; in this they persisted at the Bar. The Jury soon found them guilty, and they received Sentence of Death.

On Friday Noon they were hanged at the Gallows; they continued in denying the Fact, and charging it on each other. The Elder declared, he thought it a Duty to extirpate the Heathen, and just before they were turned off, M’Kinzy, the younger of the Men, acknowledged, that one of the Indians, on receiving the Blow from Annin, struggled violently, and that he, to put her out of Pain, sunk the Hatchet in her Head, but that they were both knocked down by Annin.

The youngest of the Squaws was near the Time of Delivery, and had Marks of shocking Treatment, which the most savage Nations on Earth could not have surpassed.

A few of the principal Indians of Jersey, were desired to attend the Trial and Execution, which they did, and behaved with remarkable Sobriety.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,Murder,New Jersey,Pelf,Public Executions,Theft,USA

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1789: Giovanna Bonanno, la Vecchia dell’Aceto

Add comment July 30th, 2017 Headsman

On this date in 1789, the Sicilian poisoner Giovanna Bonanno was hanged in Palermo.

Portrait of an Old Woman, by Giorgione (c. 1500-1510)

Bonanno (English Wikipedia entry | Italian) had borne the unremarked burdens of the poor into her ninth decade; her life prior to the brush with infamy is all but dark to us save a suspected marriage record from 1744. She seems to have scrabbled her way by beggary and folk magic.

In 1786, she chanced upon the the formula to concoct a lethal yet subtle draught from white wine vinegar and arsenic. (She never divulged its precise composition.)

For a few years in the late 1780s Bonanno’s vinegar became the hit choice for the choice hit. It was the ideal concoction: victims couldn’t detect it and doctors couldn’t diagnose it — so dissatisfied spouses, overeager heirs, rivalrous lovers, keepers of grudges, and all other manner of winnowers beat a path to her door.

Inevitably this business was betrayed as word got about; although it would surely have occurred by means of some other leak soon enough, in the event it happened when Bonanno’s delivery-woman realized that her parcel was intended for someone that she knew, and warned him.

As usual, it was the purveyor who bore the brunt of the law, as suppliers and clients alike damned her for a sorceress as well as a poisoner. Although hanged for her crimes, La Vecchia dell’Aceto — “The Old Vinegar” — entered instantly into Sicilian folklore; Italian speakers might enjoy Luigi Natoli‘s novel of that title.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Italy,Murder,Public Executions,Sicily,Torture,Witchcraft,Women

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1820: Stephen Sullivan, for murdering the Colleen Bawn

Add comment July 27th, 2017 Headsman

The hanging this date in 1820 of Stephen Sullivan for killing a 15-year-old a year before closed the real-life case that inspired the popular Irish play The Colleen Bawn.

In the play — which in its own turn is based on the 1829 Gerald Griffin novel The Collegians — an older landowner unhappily wed to an unsuitable younger wife has the marriage murderously annulled by the offices of a loyal factotum.

In The Colleen Bawn, these figures are Hardress (the husband), Eily (the wife),* and Danny (the hunchbacked murderer). It’s still performed today, both on stage and in an operatic adaptation, The Lily of Killarney.

In 1819, their real-life equivalents were John Scanlon, his wife Ellen Hanly, and our man Sullivan, the killer.

Scanlon, the regretful groom and instigator of the murder, had already been captured and executed at a previous assize; Sullivan likewise blamed his patron with his dying breath for “when I looked in her innocent face, my heart shuddered, and I did not know how I could do it!” Somehow he found a way.

The final scene, courtesy of Edinburgh’s Caledonian Mercury, August 14, 1820

* Eily is also the play’s title character — from the Gaelic cailín bán, “fair girl”.

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

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