Posts filed under 'Crime'

1822: Hannah Halley, scalding infanticide

Add comment March 26th, 2015 Headsman

On this date in 1822, Hannah Halley went to the gallows at Derby for murdering her newborn child — by the gruesome expedient of pouring scalding water on it.*

“That it was her intention to destroy the infant was inferred, from her constant denial of the pregnancy,” observed the Derby Mercury (March 27, 1822), building towards indignation, “and from her having made no preparation of baby linen tho’ the child was full grown at the time of its birth.”

On being charged with the intention of murdering the infant by those who first discovered it, she made no answer; and subsequently when asked what incited her to commit such a deed, she replied “it was the devil who caused her to do it.” This is the usual apology assigned for their evil deeds by those who are too ignorant to analyze the real motives of their actions; who are not willing, from self love, to view their conduct in its true light; and who chuse to refer the corrupt habits formed by previous indulgence, to any cause however improbable and groundless, rather than to their own depraved dispositions.

One might perceive other factors in Halley’s desperation than her depravity.

The 31-year-old cotton mill laborer had conceived the child out of wedlock and lacked the means to care for it. Family and workplace constraints converge here, in what sequence one can only guess: Hannah married a man — not the baby’s father — two months before she secretly delivered.

Infanticide cases we have seen on this site frequently involve a pregnant woman far advanced in her term who raises eyebrows by denying the pregnancy all the way to the end; surely this must also be true of some infanticidal mothers who get away with the deed in the end.

In this instance, the husband too denied knowledge of his wife’s pregnancy: he was believed, and was not punished. I cannot document this hypothesis, but I often wonder if individuals who end up executed for infanticide are falling prey as much as anything to their standing among their community. For a woman of little means like Hannah Halley, does it all come down to whether her popularity among her neighbors — or specifically among the other women who shared her lodging-house and decided to report hearing a baby’s cry from her room — is sufficient to induce them tacitly to go along with the cover story? Was her husband’s convenient (and conveniently accepted) denial only produced because the matter unexpectedly went to the courts?

A woman of “feeble frame”, she died with apparent ease and was given over for dissection afterwards. She was the second and last woman hanged outside Friar Gate Gaol, and the second and last Hannah.

And the march of industry that shaped Halley’s working life was also to be found at work in her death. The Mercury once again:

The drop used on the above occasion was constructed by Mr. Bamford, of this town. It is formed principally of wrought iron, and tho’ it has a general resemblance to that previously in use, it has a much lighter appearance. The great advantages of the new drop consist in the facility with which it can be put up, the consequent diminution of expense on every execution, and the decreased annoyance to the neighbourhood. Formerly it was necessary to commence bringing out the heavy timbers of which the old drop was constructed early in the morning, and many hours were required to complete its erection, during which the loud sounds of mallets and hammers rung in the ears and suddened the hearts of the surrounding inhabitants. The new drop can be prepared for use in ten minutes (as we are informed) and taken down in the same time. In fact it is drawn from the wall of which the front of it forms a part, and is supported by iron rods let down upon the ground beneath. Ingenious however as its construction appears, it would be infinitely more consonant to our feelings to report such improved arrangements in prison discipline, and such modifications of the existing criminal code as should render the use of this dreadful instrument of death less familiar to the public mind.

* The nameless child survived four days in what one supposes must have been unbearable pain.

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1830: George Cudmore, posthumous book-binding

1 comment March 25th, 2015 Headsman

George Cudmore was on March 25, 1830 executed at Devon County Gaol, the present-day site of Exeter Prison.

Wanting to run off with his mistress, Cudmore slipped his wife a lethal dose of the 19th century’s prolific domestic assassin, arsenic. But suspecting the foul play, the surgeon opened Grace Cudmore’s belly and found the incriminating powder. At trial, Cudmore was convicted of the murder while the mistress, Sarah Dunn, was acquitted — somewhat to her own surprise.

The man’s strange last request was for Dunn to witness his hanging — grandly justified as a means to scare straight his ex-lover’s amoral libido. (Dunn already had four children out of wedlock at this point.) Exeter’s Western Times (March 27, 1830) reported that the ghastly sight of her Cudmore’s strangling on the rope “sunk [Dunn] down, and violent hysterics deprived her for awhile, of any further consciousness.”

More strange by far than the man’s late turn to righteousness was the disposal of his remains.

Condemned to the post-mortem terror of dissection, part of Cudmore’s skin was flayed, tanned, and eventually used to cover a book — an 1852 edition of The Poetical Works of John Milton.


Did I request thee, Maker, from my clay
To mould me man? Did I solicit thee
From darkness to promote me?

-Paradise Lost

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1950: Johann Trnka, the last executed in Austria

2 comments March 24th, 2015 Headsman

Austria’s last execution took place on this date in 1950. Johann Trnka, murderer of a 51-year-old widow and her maid — the late Hermine Kolle’s apartment became popularly notorious as the Grauen Haus (“horror house”) after Trnka had finished with it* — holds the distinction.

Austria abolished the death penalty for ordinary civilian crimes on June 30 of that same year, and for all crimes in 1968. It’s gone, but naturally not forgotten; German speakers might enjoy this short pdf survey of the annals of Austrian executioners.

* Or maybe not. See comments.

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1761: Isaac Darkin, dying game

Add comment March 23rd, 2015 Headsman

On March 23, 1761, British highwayman Isaac Darkin — “Dumas” by a dashing alias — hanged at Oxford for robbery.

It might be Darkin’s misfortune to have been born just too late for the mythmaking golden age of highwaymen; a generation or two earlier he might have forged a reputation alongside a Dick Turpin. He was one of the last road agents whose career and genteel pretensions might have suited him for the firmament.

The suave outlaw, noted for his natty attire and correct address, first passed under the shadow of the noose in 1758 around age 18, when a death sentence earned for his first legal brush was respited in favor of conscription into the Seven Years’ War.

Darkin took the deal, but not the troop transport to Antigua: instead he devised a route to early retirement from the infantry by bribing the captain of a merchantman anchored nearby in the Thames to stow him away.

And then, quoth this history of highwaymen, our man “rioted all through the West of England, robbing wealthy travellers and gaily spending his takings on what he loved best: fine clothes and fine ladies. He was so attentive to business that he speedily made a name for himself, the name of a daring votary of the high toby.”

Arrested in Salisbury in 1760 for the famous robbery of a Lord Percival, Darkin beat that charge — but not before becoming a favorite of the city’s ladies who were reported to crowd his cell with callers and coo over him at fashionable tea-times. When “Dumas” escaped the noose on a technicality, some Salisbury women dedicated their enchanting Duval a come-hither ode.

Joy to thee, lovely Thief! that thou
Hast ‘scaped the fatal string,
Let Gallows groan with ugly Rogues,
Dumas mut never swing.

Does thou seek Money? — To thy Wants
Our Purses we’ll resign;
Could we our Hearts to guineas coin
Those guineas all were thine.

To Bath in safety let my lord
His loaded Pockets carry;
Thou ne’er again shall tempt the Road,
Sweet youth! if you wilt marry.

No more shall niggard travellers
Avoid thee — We’ll ensure them:
To us thou shalt consign thy Balls
And Pistol; we’ll secure ‘em.

Yet think not, when the Chains are off,
Which now thy Legs bedeck,
To fly: in Fetters softer far
We’ll chain thee by the Neck.

Alas for its swooning authors, the handsome bandit had no interest in the bonds of matrimony, and just as well — for he would have left his mate a hempen widow.

A mere six weeks after this merry escape, he was snapped up again in Oxford, having returned inevitably to his career and calling.

This time there was no hope of escape and no technicality to hang his hat on.

There was nothing for it but to die “game” — that is, fearless of death — an underworld virtue Darkin carried almost to a fault. He spent his last days “with reading the Beggas’s Opera” and “said it was always his Determination, whenever he should have the ill Fortune to be taken, ‘to suffer without discovering the least Dread of Death; never to betray his Connections, but to die like a Hero.'”*

So indeed he did, as attested by a letter from Oxford published in the London Evening Post (March 21-24 1761) — hurling himself off the gallows without the hand of the executioner.

His Behaviour was extremely undaunted; for when he came out of the Gaol to the Ladder, he ascended it with the greatest Resolution; and the Cord being tied up by his own Desire over the Gallows before he came, he instantly went up four Steps higher than that on which he stepped off to hang himself, put the Cord round his own Neck and placed it, then descending the four Steps down, pulled out a white Handkerchief, tied it round his Eyes and Face, and went off without saying one Word.

His Body was ordered to be brought back into the Castle, to be conveyed to the Museum for Desection [sic]; but he declaring that he valued not Death, but only the Thoughts of being anatomized, a large Gang of Bargemen arose, took him a Way in Triumph, carried him to the next Parish Church; and while some rung the Bells for Joy, others opened his Belly, filled it full of unslick’d Lime, and then buried the Body.

* From Andrea McKenzie’s “Martyrs in Low Life? Dying Game in Augustan England” in the Journal of British Studies, April 2003. For more on the subject, also see the same author’s book-length treatment, Tyburn’s Martyrs: Execution in England, 1675-1775.

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2015: Four more in Pakistan, but not Shafqat Hussain

Add comment March 19th, 2015 Headsman

In what by this week’s measure constitutes a slackening pace, Pakistan hanged four more prisoners today, all for murder: Gulistan Zaman, Abdul Sattar, and brothers Mohammad Asghar and Ghulam Mohammad.

Meanwhile, the controversial scheduled Thursday hanging of Shafqat Hussain was postponed for further investigation by the Interior Minister at the very last moment.

“They dressed him up in white uniform for the execution,” Hussain’s brother* told the press. “Then they asked him to write his last will. He wrote: ‘I am innocent. They want to hang me for a crime I have not committed, to save others who have been freed.'”

Shafqat Hussain’s family reportedly produced a birth certificate supporting its contention that Hussain was 14 when arrested. Pakistan has contended that he was 23.


Shafqat Hussain

* Some news stories are naming that brother as “Gul Zaman” which is also the name reported for one of the killers hanged today. I’m not sure if this is media sloppiness, or if there are two distinct people involved in the day’s drama who happen to share a name.

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2015: Nine more in Pakistan

Add comment March 18th, 2015 Headsman

Today, one day after hanging 12 of its 8,000 condemned prisoners, Pakistan extended its newfound mass-execution campaign. Nine more men went to the gallows at various jails in several Punjab cities.

On the heels of Tuesday’s executions, this binge surely portends a return for Pakistan to the ranks of the world’s most active executioners, sub-China division. Human rights organizations are predictably horrified.

Dawn.com reported the identities of the hanged men — all murderers — as:

  • Lahore (1) — Tahir Shabir
  • Jhang (2) — Ghulam Muhammad and Zakir Hussain
  • Faisalabad (2) — Shafqat and Saeed
  • Rawalpindi (2) — Shaukat Ali and Muhammad Shabir
  • Mianwali (1) — Ahmed Nawaz
  • Attock (1) — Asad Mehmood Khan

More hangings are planned for Thursday, including the controversial execution of Shafqat Hussain, whom advocates say was condemned as a juvenile based on a torture-adduced confession. The shadow of the noose also appears to have triggered a scramble among at least some of those due to be executed to reach private settlements with their victims’ families. Dawn.com reported that Qadeer Ahmed in Rawalpindi and Azhar Mahmood and Muhammad Zaman in Gujrat were both reprieved from Wednesday executions by producing such arrangements at the eleventh hour.

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2015: Twelve in Pakistan

Add comment March 17th, 2015 Headsman

Repudiating its former death penalty moratorium with bombast, the government of Pakistan hanged 12 men today.

From 2008 to 2014, Pakistan while continuing to hand down death sentences had suspended their completion; a soldier condemned by court-martial and hanged in 2012 was the sole execution during that period.

As these pages have recently noted, the December 16 Peshawar school massacre abruptly ended that moratorium.

Islamabad resumed executions almost immediately thereafter, explicitly as a response to that atrocity. Those were, at first, hangings of prisoners convicted of terrorism-related offenses — not connected to Peshawar per se but tit-for-tat in at least a thematic fashion.

Approximately 27 terrorists with pre-existing death sentences hanged over the ensuing weeks.

But in keeping with the tradition of our age, “just terrorists” was just the camel’s nose under the tent.

Earlier this very month, the Interior Ministry announced an end to the death penalty moratorium for all crimes — casting many more people under the pall of potentially imminent execution.

The execution of death sentences may be carried out strictly as per the law and only where all legal options and avenues have been exhausted and mercy petitions under Article 45 of the Constitution of Islamic Republic of Pakistan have been rejected by the president.

Pakistan has continued even during the moratorium to be one of the most active death-sentencing countries in the world, and has an estimated 8,000 “ordinary” condemned criminals. Because many — up to 1,000 — of those prisoners’ judicial processes and clemency appeals ran their course during the time of the moratorium, and because President Nawaz Sharif has shown an avidity in the three months since Peshawar for the hangman’s services, it has been feared that Pakistan’s execution toll this year could easily vault straight into the triple digits.

That prospective hecatomb is yet to be determined — but today’s start will not reassure human rights advocates.

Different media outlets are giving slightly different rosters of the executed this morning, and Zafar Iqbal confusingly appears to be a name shared by two different prisoners — so this list (via the Pakistan Tribune) is offered only tentatively pending more definitive revisions. It appears to me that all or nearly all committed murder, often in the course of some other crime such as robbery or rape.

  • Multan (1) — Zafar Iqbal (another man there named Wazar Nazir was reportedly reprieved at the last moment)
  • Karchi (2) — Muhammad Faisal and Muhammad Afzal
  • Faisalabad (1) — Muhammad Nawaz
  • Rawalpindi (2) — Malik Muhammad Nadeem Zaman and Muhammad Jawed
  • Gujranwala (1) — Muhammad Iqbal
  • Jhang (3) – Muhammad Riaz, Muhammad Sharif, and Mubashir Ali (or Abbas?)
  • Mianwali (2) — Rab Nawaz and Zafar Iqbal

The hanged Muhammad Afzal’s shrouded body is received by his brother in Karachi.

A second man in Multan, named Wazar Nazir, was reported reprieved at the last moment, as was an Asghar Ali in Dera Ghazi Khan.

According to Dawn.com, these executions bring the count of those executed since Peshawar to 39.

At least one more hanging is scheduled for this week: Shafqat Hussain, allegedly tortured into confessing to a murder at the age of just 14 or 15.

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1773: Lewis Hutchinson, “the most detestable and abandoned villain”

1 comment March 16th, 2015 Headsman

Two inconsistent versions of a mass-murderer’s moniker in this American colonial news dispatch* can hardly detract from the horror of Jamaica’s first serial killer. The Scots emigre Lewis Hutchinson owned an isolated estate along the only byway connecting the north and south sides of Jamaica.

“The Mad Master of Edinburgh Castle” sought the most dangerous game in this creepy defile, and as many as 40 or 50 passing travelers might have become his prey when they came calling in need of a bed for the night at his sinister donjon.

Extract of a letter from Kingston, in Jamaica, April 1.

The 16th of last month was hanged at Spanish Town, one James [sic] Hutchinson, the most detestable and abandoned villain, that ever disgraced the human species.

He was a naive of North-Britain, and had a pen in Pedro Valley, in St. Ann’s parish: when any of his neighbours cattle strayed on his lands, he always secured them as his own, and by that means had acquired a little fortune, and it is imagined that many people had been murdered by him for demanding their property, and this conjectue seems but too well founded as you’ll observe in the sequel.

A Mr. Callender (whose land joined Hutchinson’s) had lost a Jack-ass, and seeing him in this wretch’s pasture, went to him and requested that the Ass might be turned in the highway, when he would take care he should trespass upon him no more.

Hutchinson told him this command should be immediately complied with, and when Callender had turned his back and was going away, the villain took a gun, and killed him on the spot. A man then lying sick at Hutchinson’s hearing the report of a gun, crept out of his bed, asked what firing that was, and said, I believe you have shot the man that I heard enquiring about the Ass.

The villain replied, go instantly to your bed, or I’ll serve you the same sauce.

The sick man however in the evening, found means to get privately out of the house, and immediately lodged a complaint, upon which Hutchinson, was apprehended, and by the information of one of his negroes, the place was discovered where he had conveyed the head of Callender, and where near 20 other human skulls were found, the body was thrown into a cockpit (as is here called) a place deemed inaccessible, being down a perpendicular rock, that had been split by an earthquake, or so formed by nature, the bottom of which could not be discerned, hanging however upon a point of the rock which jetted out, the unfortunate man’s body was seen, and well known by his cloaths; by some daring contrivance, a person went down a considerable length, and discovered a great number of human bones, but no skulls, so that it is to be supposed, this merciless villain had always taken off the heads of those he had murdered, in the same manner he did with poor Callender.

At his trial, he had several of our most eminent council to plead for him, and during the whole time for his commitment to his execution, he behaved with the greatest insolence, he employed the whole day before he died, in writing, and told the people he had made his own epitaph, and left a 100l. to have it engraved on his tomb stone. It is long and ill wrote, but he concludes it in these words, speaking of the Courts and Jury,

Their sentence, pride, and malice I defy,
Despise their power and like a Roman die.

Lewis Hutchinson, hanged at Spanish Town the 16th of March, 1773, aged forty years. — Thus was the world rid of this detestable and most execrable monster.

* It was printed many places; the Salem, Mass. Essex Gazette of May 25, 1773 is the specific one I’ve transcribed from.

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1745: Martha Stracey, whore and reprobate-creature

1 comment March 15th, 2015 Headsman

Martha Stracey or Tracey hanged at Tyburn on this date in 1745 for assaulting a man named Will Humphreys and robbing him of one single guinea a few months before.

Stracey, about 18 or 20 years old, was a prostitute and pickpocket — “a perverse, vicious Girl, void of all good Dispositions, and wholly untractable and unadviseable, giving herself up to the vilest Company on Earth, both of Men and Women,” the Newgate Ordinary judged. The Ordinary’s accounts are a reliable feast of purple prose and do not disappoint in discoursing on the young bawd and her fall.

Having no interest in honest work and “renounc[ing] every thing resembling Goodness or Virtue,” she “went idling her Time away on the Streets with her hellish wicked Companions, who induc’d her to commence Whore, upon which she turn’d a meer reprobate-Creature” and “became known to all the Constables, and inferior Officers of Justice in that End of the Town.” Stracey, says the Ordinary, “own’d she was naturally inclined, and not over-persuaded by others, as some of them may or do alledge in Extenuation of their Guilt.”

During the night of Dec. 22-23, Humphreys testified, Stracey and Humphreys met on the Strand. According to Humphreys, she approached him unbidden, and when Humphreys insulted her, two men clobbered him as Stracey skillfully went through his pockets in a few seconds and plucked out the gold coin.

Stracey claimed the affair began when Humphreys “pulled me into an alley, and wanted to be concerned with me.”

No other eyewitnesses could testify to the substance of their rendezvous, but Humphreys’s story about the mysterious male accomplices who after thumping him went on their own way and left Stracey alone with him mid-robbery has the definite whiff of a cover story. The jury — perhaps searching for some grounds to avoid sending the woman to the gallows* — even asked the arresting constable, William Dunn, whether Humphreys’s clothes were really dirty, since he claimed to have been knocked down in the scuffle. (The constable didn’t know.)

But the simple fact was that Stracey did have Humphreys’s gold guinea, whether she achieved by main force or plucked it during a roadside assignation. With the convenient disappearance of her supposed goon squad, Humphreys was now able to seize the hustler on the spot and drag her to the watch. Constable Dunn had someone “search her behind and before (I ask pardon, my Lord)” and finally found the guinea under Martha’s profane tongue.

Before her execution, Stracey did confess that she had stolen the gold piece, under the circumstances that Humphreys’s shady account might lead one to infer:

Martha own’d the Fact she died for, that meeting a Man in the Street in the Evening, about Nine or Ten o’Clock, they speedily came to speak of an Agreement about a certain Affair; and as they were adjusting Matters, Martha thought fit to examine the Gentlemen’s Pockets, and amongst other Things, finding a Guinea, she robb’d him of it, as he Swore against her, and upon this she was convicted of a Street-robbery, one of the greatest Crimes in the Eye of the Law. She did not well remember the Circumstances of this robbery, as being very Drunk, which all of them generally are, when attempting to perpetrate so soul and black Crimes in an audacious manner.

Martha owned her committing of several robberies of this Kind before, she being a constant Street-walker , but did not well remember the Circumstances of the Robbery, she died for, nor the others which were conceal’d, it being impossible to recollect them, for the was always dead Drunk when they were committed. She was very ignorant of Religion, and what Things pertained to the state of her Soul; I endeavoured to instruct her, as the Brevity of Time allow’d, but she was of a mean Capacity and slow of Understanding, and had been so accustomed to do Evil, that she could scarce do any Thing that was good.

* The denomination of the stolen coin made “pious perjury” impossible.

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1899: Cordelia Poirier and Samuel Parslow

Add comment March 10th, 2015 Headsman

On this date in 1899, Cordelia Poirier was hanged in Ste. Scholastique, Quebec with her lover Samuel Parslow.*

Cordelia Viau by her maiden name, the femme fatale in this transaction found that in her marriage to one Isidore Poirier she was much the sturdier spirit.

“She was a masterful woman,” this old public-domain text on insurance crimes muses, “and Poirier seems to have been a man of very common mould. He was not great or strong enough to make his wife admire or respect him, yet was too obstinate to yield to her domination.”

Cordelia soon turned this gap in magnetism to good effect on Mr. Parslow, a local carpenter, to the considerable scandal of their village, Saint-Canut.

An intolerable domestic situation drove Isidore Poirier to the bottle, and Cordelia Poirier to the insurance underwriters — from whom she obtained two separate $1,000 policies on the life of her spouse. Much to the discredit of her agents (and, one must suspect, to the commission wage model), the wife’s blunt inquiries as to whether a death by assassination woud void the policies were met with simple affirmations rather than a summons to the constable.

Sure enough, Isidore Poirier suffered just such a death on November 21, 1897: after vespers (Cordelia was an organist at the church), she and Parslow barged in on the intoxicated Isidore at his home and Parslow slashed him to death with a butcher knife. The body was discovered the next day, and it wasn’t hard to put means to motive and clap the adulterers in gaol.

Having perhaps not thought this venture through, Samuel Parslow and Cordelia Poirier promptly began informing on one another in hopes of avoiding the rope. Their confessions would only cinch one another’s fates. By the time of trial, Parslow had to feebly accuse Mrs. Poirier of hypnotizing him.**

Her cynical domestic crime and vampish reputation earned her an extreme level of disapprobation: her behavior obviously inverted and betrayed the model of domestic virtue whose penumbra of sentimentality has often been counted on to save female murderers from the gallows. Cordelia Poirier was actively hated.

“The crowd inside the jail jeered [Cordelia Poirier],” it was reported — “but even then her nerve did not desert her, and at the suggestion of the executioner she turned and faced the Jeerers, and stood erect and prayed to the last.”

* Thanks to the wonders of database searches, research for this post also revealed a completely different legal drama off the same era related to a competely different Parslow. This story is from the Feb. 4, 1898 Minneapolis Journal.

** All reports do paint Cordelia Poirier as the stronger will in her adulterous relationship, as well as her marital one, and the instigator of the murder.

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