Posts filed under 'Crime'

1898: George Clark, fratricide

Add comment October 21st, 2017 Headsman

From the San Diego Union, January 25, 1898:

Napa, Cal., Jan. 24. — In the presence of the sheriff and district attorney of Napa county, and of six other witnesses, George Willard Clark has confessed that he was the murderer of his brother, W.A. Clark, at St. Helena on last Thursday.

Mrs. Levina Clark was married to William A. Clark more more [sic] than twenty years ago in Clay county, Illinois. She is 46 years old and the mother of seven children. George W. Clark, the murderer, became intimate with her thirteen or fourteen years ago. Their relations continued while the husband was in California making a home for her, and during that time a child was born of which George Clark was the father.

After coming to California to live at and near St. Helena, Napa county, Mrs. Clark professed Christianity, and attempted to break off relations with her brother-in-law, but he persisted in his attentions. At times he asked her if she would live with him in case of her husband’s death. Last month he put strychnine in his brother’s coffee on two occasions, but the brother detected the poison and had the coffee analyzed by a druggist. Then, on Thursday morning George Clark lay in wait for his brother and shot him, while he was preparing breakfast in the kitchen of his St. Helena home.

The murderer was brought to Napa. On Saturday Mrs. Clark told at the inquest the story of her relations with her brother-in-law, but George Clark continued to declare his innocence of t[h]e murder, until he was finally induced to make a full confess, the details of which do not differ materially from the facts of the crime already reported and confirmed by the statement of Mrs. Clark.


From the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat, January 26, 1898:

The pretty little city of St. Helena nestling in the picturesque Napa valley just a few miles from the Sonoma county line is now shocked and dismayed over one of the most hideous crimes, bristling with the darkest sense of horror, frightful in its details.

The circumstances attending the cruel murder of William A. Clark in the gray dawn of last Thursday morning at St. Helena, as told by the murdered man’s wife at the inquest held Saturday, and on Sunday in the confession of the accused brother of the deceased, were such as to cause stout men’s hearts to quail and to paralyze the better feelings of the women of St. Helena who know Mrs. Clark, not, however, to respect her for many of them had known of her character long before the awful story of the crime.

A PRESS DEMOCRAT reporter spent several hours at St. Helena Sunday and visited the scene of the tragedy. Everything around the town seemed gloomy. A pall seemed to have enveloped the vicinity of the little homestead where the cruel bullet fulfilled its ghastly mission and robbed W.A. Clark of his life.

A glimpse was caught of Mrs. Clark’s face. To say the least of it, it was repulsive. The pictures of her which have appeared in the metropolitan dailies, if anything, flatter her. She is big, ungainly in figure, and not the least bit pretty. What surprises the people of St. Helena and everyone else who knows her, whether by sight or by description, is that any man, especially the brother of him who had taken her to be his wife, could have become infatuated with such a creature as to commit a foul murder in order to marry her, coupled with almost certain discovery of the crime, and the accompanying reward of capital punishment for the offense.

By the people of St. Helena Mrs. Clark is not pitied. How could she be after the revolting story of the double life led by her with the self confessed murderer at the inquest? No. Vina Clark is left alone in her “sorrow.”

Many people are ready to accuse the wretched woman of being a party to the crime. The trend of her dreadful story regarding her illicit relations with her dead husband’s brother, coupled with the repeated declarations of George Clark that she had many times promised to marry him if her husband should die, would seem to prove that she is morally, if not legally an accessory to the terrible crime.

On Saturday night and Sunday, after the revelations made at the inquest, the guilt of George Clark was firmly established in the minds of every resident of St. Helena. Ask everybody you met on the streets of that city as to what their opinion was of the murder and they would reply: “The most cold blooded affair ever perpetrated and beyond doubt the brother did the deed.”

The circumstances of the killing are familiar to the readers of the PRESS DEMOCRAT. Last Thursday morning W.A. Clark was shot down at his home at St. Helena. George W. Colgan was the first person to bring the news to Santa Rosa, and the PRESS DEMOCRAT was the first paper north of San Francisco to publish the report.

Soon after the crime the officers suspected George Clark of the murder. Why? Because it had been rumored in the community that it was George Clark who had on two occasions tried to poison his brother by putting strychnine in his coffee. The officers knew this.

The officers went to George Clark’s house. They found him in bed. He was apparently asleep. He was awakened and told of the murder. He expressed great surprise and consternation at the news.

The officers espied under the bed the suspects’ shoes. Those shoes were wet with fresh mud. A few minutes later those shoes corresponded with the prints in the mud at the murdered man’s house. Little by little the yoke was clasped upon the brother’s shoulders, and he is now awaiting trial in Napa county jail.


From the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat, October 8, 1898

San Quentin, Oct. 5. — George W. Clark, who is to be hanged at San Quentin Friday of next week, has made formal confession that he, and he alone, is responsible for the death of his brother.

Clark, it will be remembered, is the man who was enamored of his brother’s wife, and with whom he had sustained forbidden relations.

He imagined that if his brother were put out of the way the woman would marry him.

Detection quickly followed the commission of the crime, and for a time Mrs. Clark was believed to be implicated.

The confession of the condemned man is made with a view of clearing her, as he had previously intimated that she had been aware of his intention to commit murder. The confession is as follows:

San Quentin state prison, Cal., October 4, A.D. 1898. — To whom it may concern: I, George W. Clark, incarcerate, believing that I am about to die, and sincerely desiring in these, my last days on earth, that the truth with reference to the specific crime with which I stand charged, shall be known, do hereby solemnly state that I, and I alone, am guilty of the same. That no one save myself alone was in any wise implicated in the same either before or after the fact, and the same was wholly plotted, planned, arranged and executed by myself with the knowledge or consent directly or indirectly of no one save myself only. I make this my last statement, more particularly to and to exhonerate [sic] one Mrs. Lavina Clark, then wife and present widow of William A. Clark, now deceased. I positively aver that she was not implicated therein in any shape or form, and so far as my knowledge goes had no knowledge or suspicion thereof.

(Signed)
G.W. Clark.

Witness: F.L. Abrogast, B.J. O’Neil.


From the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat, October 22, 1898

San Quentin, Oct. 21. — George W. Clark of St. Helena, who murdered his brother because he loved the brother’s wife, was executed this morning at the penitentiary here. Coward though nature made the man, religion was able to transform him. Even Durrant was not more cool than Clark when he stepped on the death trap. The officers of the prison, knowing the mental and moral weakness of the fratricide, were prepared for what they most dread, a “scene” at the gallows. Until recently Clark shrank with most pitiable terror from the fate that the sentence had set upon him. Within the past few days, however, Chaplain Drahm the prison [sic] converted the condemned man and filled him with fortitude and resignation. Clark’s guards thought it was merely a temporary exultation of spirit that would depart when the prisoner stood on the brink of death. They erred.

An hour before his execution Clark said to a press representative that he would die like a brave man.

I am ready. The grave has no terrors for me; death has lost its sting. The Lord has been very good to me and I bear up bravely through this aid. My hope is in God. His strength and not my own supports me today.

Beyond acknowledging my gratitude to God I have no statement to make. In the next life I shall receive my just due. I bear malice to no man, have no complaint to make, and will spend my last hour in pious exercises. The prison officials have been very kind. They could not have done more for me than they have done.

Then Clark began to pray with Chaplain Drahm. With hymns and prayer they passed the speeding minutes until at 10:25 o’clock Warden Hale interrupted the devotions. The fratricide waived the reading of the death warrant. Guards fastened straps to his wrists and ankles and the little procession formed and [ … ] to the slate-colored gallows in the next room.

Clark climbed the thirteen steps of the scaffold with firm tread. Of the fifty spectators a number were from Napa county. From the death trap Clark recognized a number of acquaintances to whom he nodded and smiled, as though he were passing them on the street.

Quickly the knot was adjusted behind his ear, the black cap was drawn over his face, Amos Lunt, the hangman, lifted his hand as a signal, three concealed men cut three ropes, one of which released the trap, and the body of the fratricide dropped and hung quite still.

Prison Surgeon Lawler, assisted by Dr. Mish of San Francisco and Dr. Jones of San Rafael, felt for the pulses and for respiratory movements. It was 10:32 o’clock when the body dropped. Ten minutes later the pulses ceased to beat and the lungs to expand. The corpse was cut down and laid in a coffin.

Mindful of the ghastly incident of last Friday, when the rope nearly pulled Miller’s head from the trunk, Warden Hale was cautious that Clark should not be cut. The rope was given only five feet of slack, and after the execution the head of the corpse swung in the very aperture left by the opened trap door. It was a nice calculation, well made. The stiff, new hemp caused a slight abrasion from which blood trickled, but the flesh was not torn.

Clark murdered his brother that he might be free to marry his brother’s widow. He had been unlawfully intimate with the woman during thirteen years.

Very early one morning Clark went to his brother’s hom and found the man whom he was about to murder lighting the kitchen fire. Clark crept to a window and shot his brother from the rear. The victim died instantly.

Clark was arrested on suspicion, and in the county jail at Napa broke down and confessed. He was convicted on March 23 of murder in the first degree. He was the twenty-first man hanged at San Quentin penitentiary.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,California,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,Murder,Sex,USA

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1771: Mary Jones, hanged for shoplifting

Add comment October 16th, 2017 Richard Clark

(Thanks to Richard Clark of Capital Punishment U.K. for the guest post, a reprint of an article originally published on that site with some explanatory links added by Executed Today. CapitalPunishmentUK.org features a trove of research and feature articles on the death penalty in England and elsewhere. -ed.)

Mary was thought to be about eighteen or nineteen years old but was already married with two children when her husband, William, was press ganged into the Navy to go to the Falkland Islands, leaving her virtually destitute. She lived with her friend Ann Styles in Angel Alley in the Strand and was at times reduced to begging to feed herself and the infants. It is said that she had her baby with her in the cart as she was taken to Tyburn to be hanged.

There had been a spate of shoplifting incidents in Ludgate Street area of London during 1771 and the shop keepers were on high alert and keeping watch for suspects. On Wednesday the 7th of August Mary, with one of her children in tow and Ann Styles went on a shop lifting expedition in the Ludgate Street. They may have other accomplices with them although no one else was arrested. Mary and Ann were observed going in and out of a large number shops. Thomas Ham, a shopkeeper himself and a witness at the trial, was suspicious of their activities and kept a close eye on them. He estimated that he had seen them go into as many as fifteen shops in the street, between three o’clock and six o’clock that afternoon. Finally the pair went to the drapery shop owned by a Mr. William Foot and expressed interest in buying a child’s frock. Nothing that they were shown appeared to be what they wanted and Mary made to leave the shop but Mr. Foot’s assistant, Christopher Preston, noticed that she had something concealed under her cloak. He went after her and brought her back into the shop where he discovered she had concealed four pieces of worked muslin which she had taken from the counter. Christopher Preston told the other assistant, Andrew Hawkins, to fetch a constable while he kept the women in the shop. The constable arrested them both and they were taken to the Compter (a local lock up jail).

Both women were charged under the Shoplifting Act with the theft of the muslin which was valued at £5. 10s. (£5.50) The actual offence at this time being called “privately stealing in a shop”. The value of the goods stolen, being more than five shillings (25p), made it a capital crime. The pair were tried at the Sessions of the Old Bailey held on Wednesday the 11th of September 1771, Thomas Ham, Christopher Preston and Andrew Hawkins each giving evidence for the prosecution.

Mary and Ann were permitted to speak in their own defence. Mary told the court of her struggle to support two children without her husband and that she had always been an honest woman.

Ann told the court that she had merely gone with Mary to by the child’s clothes and that she had nothing to do with the theft.

The trial lasted no more than two hours and Mary was convicted as she was actually in possession of the stolen items but Ann was acquitted. Mary received the mandatory death sentence and was transferred to Newgate to await her trip to Tyburn. When the Recorder of London prepared his report for the King and Privy Council there was no recommendation to mercy for Mary, despite her age and circumstances. As was normal for non murder cases she was to spend some time in the Condemned Hold until the next “hanging day”. She would have been regularly attended by John Wood, the then Ordinary (Newgate’s prison chaplain) and would have been expected to attend Sunday religious services. She and the other condemned criminals had a special area in the centre of the chapel, surrounded by a high partition so that they could not be seen by or communicate with the other prisoners. On the table in front of them was a coffin!

On the morning of Wednesday the 16th of October she was brought to the Press Yard of Newgate where the halter noose was put round her neck and her arms tied to her body with a cord above the elbows. She was made to get into the cart and sit on her own coffin.

With her for her last journey were four men, James Allen who had been convicted of stealing in a dwelling house, William Penn, Richard Thompson and John Hughes who had all been convicted of highway robbery.

The procession consisting of a court officer responsible for prisoners, Reverend John Wood, the Ordinary, the hangman and his assistants and a troop of javelin men started out for Tyburn, about two and a half miles away. The procession made its slow and bumpy passage along Holborn, St. Giles, and the Tyburn Road (now called Oxford Street), to Tyburn itself near what is now Marble Arch. A stop was often made at St. Sepulchre’s Church where the bell would be tolled, and the minister would chant, “You that are condemned to die, repent with lamentable tears; ask mercy of the Lord for the salvation of your souls.” As the procession passed on, the minister would tell the audience, “All good people, pray heartily unto God for these poor sinners who are now going to their death, for whom the great bell tolls.” Here friends might present the criminals with small nosegays (bunches of flowers).

Stops were made at two public houses along the way, probably the Bowl Inn at St Giles and the Mason’s Arms in Seymour Place, where the condemned would be allowed an alcoholic drink. Once they left the second pub it was a short journey to the gallows.

On arrival at Tyburn around noon, some two to three hours after they had left Newgate, the prisoners were greeted by a large crowd.

Mary’s cart was backed under one of the three beams of the gallows and Edward Dennis, the hangman, uncoiled the free end of the rope from her body and threw it up to one of his assistants balanced precariously on the beam above. They tied the rope to the beam leaving very little slack. The Ordinary prayed with her and when he had finished the hangman would have pulled a night cap over her face if she had been able to afford one. As you can imagine the preparations took quite some time where a batch of five prisoners was being hanged.

When everything was ready, the City Marshall gave the signal and the horses were whipped away, pulling the prisoners off the carts and leaving them suspended. They would only have a few inches of drop, at most and thus many of them would writhe in convulsive agony for some moments, their legs paddling the air — “dancing the Tyburn jig” as it was known, until unconsciousness overtook them. The hangman, his assistants and sometimes the prisoners’ relatives might pull on the prisoners’ legs to hasten their end. It is not recorded whether or not Mary struggled or was one of the fortunate few who quickly became still. The five bodies were left to hang for an hour before being cut down and claimed by relatives or friends and taken for burial.

One can well understand why the law in this period in history is now referred to as the Bloody Code. Of the two hundred and ninety four people executed at Tyburn in the decade from 1765 to 1774 only twenty five were to die for murder and three for rape. The rest mostly suffered for various types of property related crime, such as highway robbery, burglary, housebreaking and forgery.

It seems amazing today that a young mother should be hanged for what would now considered to be a minor crime, yet in 1771 nobody would have thought anything of it — it was a regular and perfectly normal event. If it was Mary’s first offence, as she claimed, she would probably get a community service order now, especially as he had dependant children. However Georgian justice was being applied increasingly severely at this time. Sixty-two men and six women received the death sentence during this year, of whom thirty four of the men and one of the women, Frances Allen, were to share Mary’s fate. Frances Allen was hanged on Wednesday the 7th of August for housebreaking.

A few years later her case was raised in Parliament by Sir William Meredith, the Whig Member for Liverpool, when he was opposing a motion to make yet another offence capital. He told the House that he did not believe “a fouler murder was ever committed against law, than the murder of this woman by law”. His eloquence was to no avail however and the Bill was carried.

It is a circumstance not to be forgotten, that she was very young, (under nineteen) and most remarkably handsome. She went to a linen draper’s shop, took some coarse linen off the counter, and slipped it under her cloak. The shopman saw her, and she laid it down again. For this she was hanged. Her defence was, ‘that she lived in credit, and wanted for nothing, till a press-gang came, and stole her husband from her—but since then she had no bed to lie on, nothing to give her two children to eat, and they were almost naked: and perhaps she might have done something wrong, for she hardly knew what she did.’ The parish officers testified the truth of this story. But it seems there had been a good deal of shop-lifting about Ludgate; an example was necessary — and the woman was hanged for the comfort and satisfaction of some shopkeepers in Ludgate-street. When brought to receive sentence, she behaved in such a frantic manner as proved her to be in a distracted and desponding state; and the child was sucking at her breast when she set out for Tyburn gallows! Let us reflect a little on this woman’s fate. The poet says, “An honest man’s the noblest work of God.” He might have said, with equal truth, that a beauteous woman is the noblest work of God. But for what cause was God’s creation robbed of its noblest work? It was for no injury, but for a mere attempt to clothe two naked children by unlawful means. Compare this with what the State did, and what the law did. The State bereaved the woman of her husband, and the children of a father, who was all their support: the law deprived the woman of her life, and children of their remaining parent, exposing them to every danger, insult, and merciless treatment, that destitute and helpless orphans suffer, Take all the circumstances together, I do not believe that a fouler murder was ever committed against law, than the murder of this woman by law.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Guest Writers,Hanged,History,Mass Executions,Other Voices,Public Executions,Theft,Women

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1767: Tom, slave of the Baylor family

Add comment October 15th, 2017 Headsman

From The Baylors of Newmarket: The Decline and Fall of a Virginia Planter Family, by Thomas Katheder. The specific “Baylor” referenced in this text is John Baylor III, a slave merchandising heir then in the midst of squandering the family fortune through his passion for horseracing. (In the latter capacity, Baylor also imported the legendary colonial stud Fearnought.) Baylor died in 1772, still straining his creditors for maintenance of his oligarchic station … but his son John Baylor IV died in a debtor’s prison that his “gentleman justice” father had helped to construct. We have the date of the hanging, although not the explanation for the delay between trial and execution, via a different book, Murder at Montpelier.

In colonial Virginia, the county courts, which were controlled by “gentleman justices” like Baylor, governed the counties with an oligarchic, unchecked, and largely self-perpetuating rule utterly unthinkable in modern America.

With legislative, executive, and judicial functions combined into a single governing body, the county courts impacted the day-to-day lives of Virginians more than any other civil authority. The county court adjudicated most civil matters, including debt and contract disputes, presided over nonfelony criminal cases (accused felons were bound over for trial at the General Court in Williamsburg), and determined whether wills were admitted to probate and whether deeds, mortgages, or other instruments were worthy of being recorded in the county records.

The justices established the amount of the county levy each year and decided who was exempt from taxation and exactly how the money would be spent — no road, bridge, or public building could be built without their approval. They issued bonds, permits, and licenses, including permits for ferries and mills, as well as licenses for taverns and inns; they even set the prices that could be charged for alcoholic beverages.

They appointed all county officers, including tax collectors, the county clerk, militia officers, the coroner, and the sheriff (some of these positions were subject to the royal governor’s usually perfunctory assent). As historian Jack P. Greene points out, in colonial Virginia “[n]ot a single local civil or judicial officer was elected.”

The justices also apprenticed orphans to artisans or tradesman; they fined the parents of illegitimate children or sometimes ordered they be publicly whipped; and they put able-bodied paupers to work or exiled them from the county if they were from somewhere else (under ancient English custom and law the poor were supposed to be dealt with in their home communities.)

The justices were most powerful when they sat as a “Court of Oyer and Terminer” under special commission from the governor. In that capacity the justices could — and did — try slaves for capital offenses and order their execution, without any right of appeal.

In the summer of 1767 one of Col. Baylor’s slaves, Tom, was tried and found guilty of breaking into a white planter’s house and stealing items worth about five shillings. The Orange County Court, presided over by James Madison Sr. (father of the future president) [and a man who had lost his father to an alleged slave murder -ed.], noted that Tom was “precluded from the Benefit of Clergy” because he had already received it once before and ordered him executed.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,England,Execution,Hanged,Notable Participants,Occupation and Colonialism,Public Executions,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Slaves,Theft,USA,Virginia

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1998: Faisal Saleh bin Zuba’a, speedy trial

Add comment October 14th, 2017 Headsman

From Executions in Yemen, 1998-2001:

October 14 [1998]: Faisal Saleh bin Zuba’a, a tribesman, executed two days after killing a local pediatrician. In an unusually fast trial, the man was found guilty of killing Dr. Mohammad Hayel while trying to steal his car. Reuters quoted an official as saying: “Citizens in Marib who attended the execution opened fire in the air expressing their happiness that justice had been done.”

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Murder,Public Executions,Shot,Theft,Yemen

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2017: Robert Pruett

4 comments October 12th, 2017 Headsman

Texas this evening executed Robert Pruett, a 38-year-old man who last saw the outside of prison as a 15-year-old boy … and who perhaps had no hand in either of the murders that defined his life and death.

He was sent to jail as a child under the “law of parties” for being present when his father stabbed a neighbor to death — an offense that caught him an unthinkable 99-year sentence before he was old enough to drive.

It’s claimed by way of justifying his death by lethal injection tonight that in 1999 he murdered a guard. Pruett has always denied this and has never been linked by physical evidence to the murder — a very late attempt at DNA testing yielded a frustratingly indecisive outcome — and the testimony against him consisted of prisoners whose status as wards of the state issuing the prosecution predictably compromises their evidence. Pruett never quite had conclusive proof of his innocence so his “merely” questionable guilt fits a depressingly frequent pattern: use the prosecutor’s muscle to get a conviction on the books, then ride procedural inertia all the way to the gurney.

Anti-death penalty nun Sister Helen Prejean of Dead Man Walking fame has a Twitter thread summarizing the case for Pruett beginning here.

Innocent or guilty, Pruett is — was — a man of unusual erudition. A blogspot blog last updated in 2007 has some fascinating reflections from a much younger man, years before he was a figure of interest for New York Times op-eds.

As I lie awake at night pondering my predicament, a feeling of futility envelopes me. The maxim that had once helped me develop an insatiable will wants to fade away. I waited too long to fight, says some voice that I hardly recognize as my own. It’s over. I should acquiesce to my fate … Yet there’s another voice from the depths of my soul rebuking the other, warning me against throwing the towel in. I’m not a quitter, it says, I can do this if I set my mind to it. That sounds more like the Robert I know. There’s still time to prove my innocence. It’s foolish to waste it with all the negative thoughts of defeat.

Just three days before Pruett’s execution, Current Affairs editor Nathan J. Robinson wrote a captivating review of a nine-chapter autobiography of Pruett’s that demands a full read. I have not been able to locate a link to the actual autobiography itself and would be grateful for anyone who might be able to direct me; nevertheless, Robinson’s lengthy excerpts achingly humanize the late writer from his behind-the-8-ball childhood to his maturation under the executioner’s very long shadow.

It wasn’t until I got to death row that I realized my ignorant and hateful views on race were a reflection/projection of how I felt about myself, that I’d constructed a complex ideology totally rooted and parallel to the things I most disliked about me. I used to go on tangents about the criminality exhibited by the black youth of America, how it needs to be addressed and curbed, but the truth was that I was talking about myself the entire time and didn’t even realize it. It’s a truth that we project onto others the things we most hate about ourselves. Carl Jung said that our shadow selves, the part of our psyches that we store repressed emotional themes and the aspects of our personalities we dislike, is represented by what we hate/dislike in others. You are what you hate …

Somehow, I believe it took me coming here, living the life of extreme adversity that I have, in order to conquer my shadow and grow in the ways I have … I needed to have my life ripped away from me, to face a hopeless situation and experience great loss and pain in order to finally break through and spread my own wings.

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Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Lethal Injection,Murder,Ripped from the Headlines,Texas,USA,Wrongful Executions

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1989: Jimmy Chua and his Pudu Prison siege accomplices

Add comment October 10th, 2017 Headsman

On this date in 1989, six men went to Malaysia’s gallows for orchestrating a notorious prison revolt three years earlier.

The Pudu Prison siege began on October 17, 1986, when the inmates in question rushed a prison clinic, taking hostage a doctor and a laboratory technician using improvised shanks. For nearly six tense days, the desperados held the medics to ransom in the former British colonial gaol, demanding their own release along with getaway cars and cash.

The ringleader was one Jimmy Chua (pictured at right), a former policeman turned gangland figure who had been detained on a murder charge; accomplices Ng Lai Huat, Sin Ah Lau , Lam Hock Sung, Yap Chee Keong, and Phang Boon Ho were all in prison on various firearms violations. The intrinsic impossibility of their position was underscored over the course of the siege, as Kuala Lumpur gawkers began to join the armed soldiery surrounding the jail: the prisoners who had made themselves centers of attention did not dare trust food sent by the guards, eating only the dwindling provisions that were left on hand at the time of their clinic attack. So how exactly were they ever going to come to an endgame where they would trust assurances to walk out the gates to a mystery car?

This distant hypothetical never crested the horizon, because with the help of a signal from another inmate, Malaysian special forces were able to slip into the facility while the prisoners’ guard was down and take the lot by storm, unharmed and without firing a shot. That meant everyone was around to face trial for kidnapping, which just so happened to carry a maximum sentence of death by hanging despite the absence of a fatality.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Kidnapping,Malaysia,Mass Executions

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1884: Thomas Orrock and Thomas Harris

Add comment October 6th, 2017 Headsman

From Illustrated Police News, Oct. 11, 1884:

EXECUTION OF ORROCK AND HARRIS AT NEWGATE.

The two murderers, Thomas Henry Orrock and Thomas Harris, underwent the penalty of the law on Monday morning within the prison of Newgate. The circumstances of the crimes for which they suffered have been given so recently that it will not be necessary to state more than that Orrock was convicted of the murder of a police-constable named Cole, who had endeavoured to take him into custody after he had broken into a Baptist Chapel in Dalston, by shooting him with a revolver; and the other, Harris, was convicted of the murder of his wife, to whom he had been married a great many years, and who had borne him a large number of children, eleven of whom are still alive, by cutting her throat with a razor in the bedroom they occupied at Kilburn.

The first-mentioned murder was committed nearly two years ago — namely, on the 1st of Dec., 1882. The murderer got clear away, and as it was a dark, foggy night, it was generally thought to be impossible to recognise him, and the murder had nearly died away from the public mind, when, through the active exertions and inquiries made by Inspector Glasse, of the N Division of police, [including an early foray into firearm forensics -ed.] the prisoner was apprehended and his guilt of the crime was conclusively established … [he] persisted to the last in declaring that the act was not a premeditated one, and that all he was endeavouring to do was to make his escape.

The prisoner, it will be remembered, was an attendant at the chapel where the burglary was attempted, and he bore a very good reputation with the Rev. Mr. Barton, the minister of the chapel. …

His wife, who is only twenty-one years old, has been with him every day, and took a parting farewell of her unhappy husband last Saturday. At the time they were married the murder had been committed but six weeks; they were each only nineteen years old, and the bride little thought, when she clasped the hand of her husband at the marriage ceremony, that she held the hand of a murderer, almost red with the blood of his victim.

The story of the culprit’s life appears somewhat remarkable when the gravity of the offences with which he was charged are taken into consideration. Born of respectable parents in the year 1863, young Orrock was guided in the paths of virtue. His father, mother, and two sisters were regular attendants at the Baptist Chapel Ashwin-street, Dalston, the elder members of the family holding seats. In connection with the chapel is a Sunday school, which for a considerable time the youth attended. He was spoken of as a well-behaved, unassuming boy, and his general conduct was so marked as to be highly commended by the superintendent and teachers. Services of song were frequently held at the chapel, evening classes were formed, and other attractions provided, in which Orrock appeared to take delight. The pastor, the Rev. Mr. Barton, took great interest in the welfare of the youth, but unfortunately declining health caused the reverend gentleman for a time to relinquish his duties.

Between thirteen and fourteen years of age, Orrock was apprenticed to a cabinet-maker at Hoxton, and to this circumstance is attributed his downfall. The company with which he came in contact was of a dissolute class, and a short time after his apprenticeship his father had cause to reprimand him. His attendance at chapel became less frequent, and his general conduct entirely changed. About three years ago Orrock’s father died in Colney Hatch Lunatic Asylum. The mother being left a widow without any provision, and receiving little or no assistance from her son, after some time married again a respectable man, highly esteemed as a local preacher.

As stated at the trial Orrock, at the time of the murder, was not a constant attendant at the chapel, although at one time he held a seat. It would appear, indeed, that he was almost compelled to be present, as he was paying his addresses to a respectable young woman, who, in conjunction with her employer, frequented the chapel. She was engaged as an assistant in a draper’s shop in the locality, and, as in the case of the criminal, special interest was taken in her, she being left without father or mother. It will remembered that Orrock was actually planning the robbery whilst attending a service at the chapel, also that he was present at the funeral of his victim. When his marriage took place with the young woman alluded to six weeks had elapsed after the commission of his crime …

Orrock’s marriage did not appear to have brought about any change in his behaviour, as in the month of September, 1883, he was sentenced at the Middlesex Sessions to twelve months’ imprisonment for housebreaking and stealing a quantity of jewellery, value £20, and £45 in gold. It was while undergoing this sentence that Inspector Glasse informed him of the more serious charge he would have to answer, telling him that the information was laid by his accomplices.

When the murderer was placed in the dock of the Old Bailey his astounding self-possession attracted much notice. His appearance was that of a fresh, decent-looking young fellow, rather boyish, with a slight moustache — the last person one would expect to find in a criminal dock.

At the close of the trial, it will be remembered, Mr. Justice Hawkins expressed the greatest commiseration for the prisoner’s sister under the painful circumstances in which she was placed. In her case, as that of Orrock’s young wife, the shock of the occurrence led to premature confinement At the final parting on Saturday the wife of the convict was thoroughly broken down with grief.

With regard to the other prisoner, Harris, who is forty-eight years old, there does not appear to be any doubt that he has for a long time been in the habit of treating his unhappy partner in a most brutal manner. Upon one occasion he (the other prisoner Harris) was sentenced to a month’s imprisonment for a brutal assault upon her, and he had repeatedly threatened that he would murder her. The prisoner, however, who was a very rough, ignorant man, persisted in asserting that he was utterly unconscious of what took place on the night of the murder, and the earnest exhortations of the Rev. Mr. Duffield appeared to have very little effect upon him, or to bring him to anything like a proper sense of his condition. The only observation that could be obtained from him in reference to his crime was, “I speak the truth. I cannot say more. I know nothing about how it happened.” …

The prisoners went to bed about ten o’clock on Sunday night, Mr. Duffield having been with them alternately during the previous two hours. Orrock appeared to be quite resigned, but Harris exhibited the same callous demeanour that has characterised him since his conviction. Both prisoners got up at six o’clock on Monday morning, and very shortly afterwards they were visited by the Rev. Mr. Duffield, to whom both men expressed their gratitude for the kindness and attention shown them. Mr. Sheriff Phillips and Messrs. Crawford and Whitehead, the Under-Sheriffs, arrived at the prison about half-past seven o’clock, and were received by Captain Kirkpatrick, the Governor, who shortly afterwards accompanied them to the cells where the prisoners had been brought.

Berry, the execution, was in attendance, and the ceremony of pinioning was rapidly performed. Orrock was the first who was brought out. He walked with a firm step, was placed under the beam, and the rope put round his neck before his unhappy companion, Harris, had been placed by his side. The Rev. Mr. Duffield then read the Burial Service, and at a given signal the drop fell, a distance of seven feet five inches, and death appeared to be instantaneous, the executioner apparently having performed his work in the most skilful manner. The skin on Harris’s neck was slightly abrased, but it was stated that this was generally the case where the criminals are advanced in life, Harris being forty-eight years of age.

A considerable crowd assembled outside the prison, and it was necessary to have the attendance of two police-constables to keep the road clear.


From the Bristol Mercury, Oct. 13, 1884:

EXTRAORDINARY DEATH FROM EXCITEMENT

A death of a remarkable character, connect with the execution of the two murderers Orrock and Harris at Newgate on Monday last, has been the subject of an inquiry before the Southwark Coroner.

Eliza Kate Williamson deposed that … she was the wife of the deceased, Alexander Ben Williamson, aged 45, who was a labourer in a foundry. He came home from work on Monday night apparently quite well, and after tea sent witness for an evening newspaper in order to read the account of the executions.

She returned with a paper, and he read the account aloud, but stopped at intervals, quite overcome with emotion, and he cried several times. Witness begged him to put the paper away, saying she did not want to hear any more about it, but he would not do so, and completed the account to himself. They then went to bed, but about 1.30 a.m. the witness was awoke by a noise and found the deceased struggling by her side and trying to call out something about the execution.

She tried to rouse him, but he fell on the floor, and continued struggling and muttering after she lifted him back on the bed. He then vomited and afterwards fell into a stupor, from which he never rallied. A doctor was obtained, but death ensued about 24 hours after witness first noticed the deceased struggling.

In answer to the coroner, the witness added that the deceased was quite sober on Monday, but the execution of the two men made a great impression on him. He had read all about them in a Sunday edition of a newspaper, and frequently talked about the condemned men.

Mr. Alfred Matcham, parish surgeon, deposed that death was due to apoplexy, which he had no doubt was brought on by the excitement consequent on reading and dwelling upon the details of the executions on Monday. The struggling probably arose from dreaming of the execution, and the excitement of the dream had no doubt caused a blood vessel to burst in the brain. The jury returned a verdict of “Death from natural causes.”

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,History,Murder,Notable Sleuthing

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1737: Five Johns

Add comment October 5th, 2017 Headsman

October 5 was a hanging-date at Tyburn in 1737.

The most self-evident oddity of this routine bulk execution was that five of the six men executed upon the occasion bore the same Christian name to the gallows, which is an even better hit rate than the classic middle name: wife-murderer John Totterdale, thief John Cotton, highway robber John Goswel, highway robber John Richardson (“indicted with John Lovell, not taken”), and highway robber John Purdey.* The sole exception was Goswel’s accomplice Robert Barrow, who “was miserably Poor and naked, and was in so very pitiful a Condition, that he declar’d he was willing rather to die than live.”

The name John dominated English christenings for centuries in a way that your latter-day Olivers, Noahs, and (quelle horreur!) Muhammads could never dare to dream. For the best part of a millennium, the post-Norman tongue thrilled to curl around this solid monosyllable by which Christ himself had flanked his movement via a beheaded forerunner and an apocalyptic evangel.

Overall, the pool of names in common usage on Blighty in centuries past was smaller and more static than today’s faddish kaleidoscope; according to Chris Laning in the 16th century “there were only about 30 to 40 common names in circulation for each gender, with perhaps another 100 or so that you would run across from time to time.” And among boys and men, the name “John” towered above all others.

A study of funerary brasses from 1107 to 1600 suggests that something like a staggering 30% of males might have carried this name; a study from the Agincourt Honor Roll agrees, its list concentrated to about one-third for Johns, a second third for Williams and Thomases, and the remaining third for all other names.** While this data is well before the hanging we feature in this post, John reigned supreme from Plantagenet through to Windsor … until just a few decades ago, in fact, when it began a precipitous and continuing tumble.†


Source: Office for National Statistics

But in the 18th century, the ubiquitous John rode tall in the saddle, often robbing the other travelers as it would seem. A search of Executed Today‘s data based on the British hanging rolls kept at capitalpunishmentuk.org gives the name a better than 20% market share of the 18th century gallows. If anyone remarked all the Johns gone to Tyburn this October 5, it was a statistical certainty that they also had in mind a few kinfolk and buddies with the same moniker who would soon come in for a grim spot of ribbing.

Not so contemporary readers, particularly among the younger generation; unthinkably, the once-invincible John has in the present bleakness plummeted all the way outside the top 100 boys’ names.

* The roads were a dangerous adventure in these Bloody Code days; we have formerly noticed the lament of Horace Walpole that “one is forced to travel, even at noon, as if one was going to battle.”

** Curious that for all the bargemen, beggars, ploughmen, pages, shepherds, shopkeeps, scriveners, tinkers, archers, chandlers, M.P.s, hatters, mariners, grenadiers, bakers, day-traders, coal-heavers, fox hunters, yeoman warders, and, yes, doomed criminals to claim the name … there has been only the one King John.

† The name John has taken a similar plunge in the United States.

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

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1818: James Ouley

1 comment October 1st, 2017 Headsman

This date’s entry arrives to us via the 1921 Indiana Magazine of History, looking back to frontier times over a century before. According to the Espy File‘s index of U.S. executions, this appears to be just the second hanging since Indiana attained statehood in 1816.

ORGANIZATION OF THE FIRST COURT

The first session of the circuit court of Crawford county convened at Mount Sterling, August 1, 1818. Hon. Davis Floyd, Judge Green, and James Glenn composed the court. Since there was no courthouse in Mount Sterling then, James Brasher let the judges use his new log house. This house was too small to accommodate all of the jurors, hence they sat around on logs in the yard.

Sheriff Daniel Weathers was present and returned the names of the following men for a grand jury: Cornelius Hall, Lazarus Stewart, Alex King, William Osborn, James Lewis, Elias Davis, Elisha Potter, Alex Barnett, William Potter, Robert Yates, Peter Peckinpaugh, William Scott, Reuben Laswell, Abraham Wiseman, George Tutter, Martin Scott, John Sturgeon, Robert Sands, Isaac Lamp, Ed Gobin, and Malachi Monk.

These men elected Cornelius Hall foreman. After due consideration the jury returned a bill against James Ouley for murder in the first degree. The evidence showed that Ouley had followed William Briley through the woods for some distance and had then shot him in the back about where his suspenders crossed.

The ball came out in his neck making a wound about 8 inches deep. Briley died almost instantly and Ouley escaped with his horse and about 75 cents in money.

Briley lived near the present town of English. He had left home with a sack of wool and was going to Corydon to get the wool carded. He was traveling on the Governor’s Old Trail which ran from Corydon to Vincennes. The exact spot where the shooting occurred cannot now be located. It happened near the top of White Oak hill in what was then Whiskey Run township.

This act occurred July 1, 1818. Some men happened by and found Briley. They started to carry him to his cabin over on Dog creek. After they had gone about two miles they decided that they would bury him there. So a grave was dug and the body was buried just as the men had found it. Briley had no person living with him and Ouley might have escaped if he had hidden the body.

The news spread rapidly and the whole community was aroused. The only evidence then against Ouley was that he had disappeared from home that same day on which the man Briley was killed and that some woman had seen him following Briley through the woods.

Jonathan Chambers and Zedekiah Lindley who were prominent men volunteered to catch Ouley. These men had no warrant for his arrest but they were experts in catching horse thieves and felt sure that they could catch Ouley if he could be found anywhere. So they traveled all over southern Indiana but did not find him. They then crossed the Ohio river near Mauckport and began hunting for him in Meade county, Kentucky. After a two weeks’ tramp they came to the town of Brandenburg and decided to give up the hunt and let him go. While stopping at the tavern one day they saw men hauling cord wood into town. From these men they learned that there was a wood cutter out in the forest who had come there from Corydon a short time before. That night Chambers and Lindley crept up and caught Ouley in his cabin. They brought him back to the old block house near Marengo and chained him to the logs in the house and guarded him day and night till the trial came off on the first day of August.

The bill returned by the grand jury read:

James Ouley late of Crawford county, a yeoman not having the fear of God before his eyes, but moved |and seduced by the spirit of the Devil on July 1, 1818, with force and arms in Whiskey Run township in and upon William Briley in the peace of God then and there being wilful and of malice a fore thought did make and against James Ouley with a certain rifle gun of the value |of $10 loaded with gun powder and a certain leaden bullet with which gun the said Ouley did shoot William Briley in the back and the ball came out in his neck making a wound about 8 inches deep from which wound Briley died almost instantly.

The trial began at once. Ouley pleaded not guilty and demanded that the county furnish him an attorney. The court appointed Henry Stephens and Harbin Moore to defend while William Thompson was appointed prosecuting attorney for that session of the court.

Daniel Weathers, the sheriff, had a large number of men present from which these men were selected for a petit jury: Elisha Lane, Constance Williams, Marcus Troelock, Joseph Beals, Andrew Troelock, David Beals, John Goldman, James Richie, William May, George Peckinpaugh, Thomas W. Cummins, and Robert Grimes. Constance Williams was selected foreman of the jury.

The trial was conducted out of doors in the woodyard. The jurors who were among the best men in the county were sworn to hear the evidence and to decide the case. After all the evidence was in and the court had instructed the jurors, the jury retired to consider the evidence. After some time the jury returned a verdict of guilty and placed his sentence at death.

The counsel for defense asked for a new trial on these grounds:

  1. That the verdict was contrary to the state law;
  2. That the evidence was not sufficient;
  3. The conduct of the jurors was not proper;
  4. That outsiders talked to the jurors during the trial;
  5. That Elisha Lane had expressed his opinion before the trial began;
  6. That one of the jurors was too much indisposed to pay the proper amount of attention that such a case demanded. The juror in question was said to have been asleep.

The court not being fully advised adjourned till the next day when it refused the defendant a new trial and asked him if he had any further reason why sentence of death should not be passed upon him. He asked the court to arrest the judgment of the jurors on these grounds:

  1. That he was a wheelright made the evidence uncertain;
  2. That the bill did not have the name of the state or county in it.

The court overruled the argument and passed this sentence upon him:

That he should be kept in the old block house in the custody of the sheriff till October 1, 1818, when he should be taken out on the same road pr on what ever new road might be laid out by that time in one half mile of Old Mount Sterling, between the hours 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. and hanged by the neck till dead.

Sheriff Weathers took the prisoner back to the block house and chained him to the logs. Men kept guard over him day and night. Yet he attempted to gnaw out. Years afterwards when the block house was torn down one could see the place where he had gnawed with his teeth on the logs of the block house.

Cornelius Hall who was a carpenter, volunteered to make the casket for Ouley. On the day of execution the coffin was put into a wagon and Ouley was chained and hauled back to Mount Sterling and hanged. He was buried in the old field near the site of the hanging. His grave was marked for a long time but now no trace of it can be found. Henry Batman who cleared the old field in 1900 said that he found a spot of clay near the road about three feet by six and thought that must have been the dirt which was thrown up from the grave. There was not much direct evidence against Ouley in the case but the jury was sure that he was guilty. So they wanted to make an example of him for the rest of the outlaws who lived in the county.

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

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1848: Harris Bell

Add comment September 29th, 2017 Headsman

From the New York Commercial Advertiser, Oct. 3, 1848:

Honesdale, Pa., Sept. 29, 1848.

I have just returned from the execution of Harris Bell. He was the murderer of Mrs. Williams, the wife of Rev. Gershom Williams, of Scott township. She was going from her house to the Sabbath school on Sabbath morning, when, in passing through a piece of woods, she was seized by Bell for a brutal purpose and died amid her struggles.

Bell was apprehended not long after the commission of the crime, and has lain in prison in this borough about a year and two months.

I visited him in prison and was officially, and by his own request, desired to attend him to the scaffold. Although an unpleasant duty, yet how could I decline the request of a poor man under such circumstances?

Bell was nurtured of vicious parents, and cast forth upon the world destitute of education and of any religious knowledge, and was left like a wild animal, to rove abroad and pick up his food as a vagabond. He commenced an abandoned life in early years, was instructed into vice by others, and always lived in its practice. His mind, or what mind he had, was weakened by his vicious courses, and his passions were inflamed so as, at times, to defy all self control.

Twice he was imprisoned for attempts to commit the crime for which he suffered, and he was shut up some five years in the penitentiary.

While in prison here, he exhibited a diversified character, sometimes making a shrewd observation, and then a foolish speech to excite a laugh. But he had sufficient intelligence and conscience to know right from wrong, as was evinced by his concealing the evidence of the murder, and by other irrefragable proofs.

Condemned by an intelligent jury, he was sentenced by Judge Jessup to die. An application was made for his reprieve, for the purpose of having his sentence commuted to imprisonment for life by the Legislature, as the Governor in this state cannot commute a sentence though he can pardon; but this was unavailing. Governor Johnson passed through our borough a few weeks since, and visited Bell incognito, at the request of the counsel for the defence, bur mercy could not be extended to him.

He freely confessed his guilt, acknowledged his dependence on the blood of Jesus Christ to cleanse him from guilt, and seemed to feel that he had truly repented and would be saved. He was executed in the prison yard, or rather in a building without a roof prepared for the occasion, and every thing was conducted with propriety.

He was attended by two clergymen, twelve witnesses, and the various officials which the law allows. Religious services were held on the scaffold, and Bell himself addressed the spectators in an appropriate manner. At the close of a prayer by one of the attending clergymen, the scaffold dropped and Bell was suspended for about twenty minutes; and when he was taken down, life was extinct.

His body goes to the surgeons for dissection.

At Bell’s request, the Rev. Mr. Rowland will preach a funeral sermon in the Presbyterian Church on Sabbath evening. I wonder what kind of sermon it will be. It is rather singular to preach a funeral sermon for one who has been hanged, but I imagine that the preacher knows what he is about, and will at least have a crowded house.

It makes me nervous to see a man strangled to death, even though it is according to law. Yet I fully believe in the justice and expediency of capital punishment, in some cases.

Yours &c.

A SPECTATOR

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

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