Posts filed under 'Crime'

1845: Sarah Freeman, Shapwick Murderess

1 comment April 23rd, 2019 Headsman

Hanged April 23, 1845 for poisoning her brother Charles Dimond — and commonly suspected to have offed several other family members by means of arsenic — the “Shapwick Murderess” Sarah Freeman insisted her innocence to her very last breath. “I am as innocent as a lamb,” she said to the hangman William Calcraft as he noosed her.

Serial poisoner or wrongfully executed? Find out more at the Capital Punishment UK Facebook page

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

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1831: Gesche Margarethe Gottfried, the Angel of Bremen

1 comment April 21st, 2019 Headsman

The Domshof town square still holds a spuckstein (“spit stone”) where passersby can revile Gesche Margarethe Gottfried, a serial poisoner beheaded in Bremen on this date in 1831.


Ptooey! (cc) image by Jürgen Howaldt.

Gottfried wielded the 19th century’s weapon of choice for subtle domestic homicide, arsenic, mixed into spreadable fat, a concoction known as Mäusebutter after its intended legitimate use. This delectable served for 15 murders over as many years in the 1810s and 1820s.

The “Angel of Bremen” — so earned for her kindly habit of nursing her victims through the death throes she prepared them — began as is customary with her spendthrift first husband, followed soon by the three children she had by him, her own mother, father, and brother, and her second husband.

After a six-year break apparently because her access to Mäusebutter had run out, Gottfried was able to resume her career in 1823 by offing her second husband followed by a series of less intimate acquaintances: a neighbor, a landlady, a maid, a creditor. All of her murders seemingly had some pecuniary motive, including those early ones of her own kin (think inheritance). But in many instances the apparent profit was very minor, and her motivations remain uncertain to this day. The phrenologists who examined her head after execution certainly had some ideas: “the brain exhibits an enormously large organ of Destructiveness, with a very deficient Benevolence. This combination appears to have rendered its possessor almost a hyena or tiger in her dispositions.” (Source)

At last one of her proposed victims, one Johann Rumpff who was the husband of the “landlady” Wilhelmine Rumpff already poisoned by Gottfried, became suspicious enough of her to have meals she served to him examined by a doctor, which led speedily to her arrest and to all the rest.

Gottfried was the last person (male or female) publicly executed in Bremen. She survives well enough in the cultural memory to earn periodic tribute on stage, screen, and literature …

… and for the discerning Bremener desiring to see upon whom their sputum falls at Domshof, the Angel’s death mask can still be gawked at the Focke Museum.


(cc) image by Jürgen Howaldt.

German speakers might enjoy the Life of Poison-Murderer Gesche Margarethe Gottfried composed by her attorney Friedrich Voget: part 1, part 2. or see archive.org.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Arts and Literature,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Germany,Murder,Pelf,Popular Culture,Public Executions,Serial Killers,Women

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1800: William M’Ilnea, true to the cause

Add comment April 19th, 2019 Headsman

The Caledonian Mercury of Edinburgh reported on April 26, 1800 news from across the Inner Seas at Carrickfergus, north of Belfast. (Line breaks have been added to the trial report for readability.)

CARRICKFERGUS ASSIZES

At an Assizes held at Carrickfergus the 14th April inst. the following persons were tried: —

William M’Ilnea, for the murder of Alexander M’Kelvey at Ballygoland, to be hanged on Saturday the 19th April, inst. which sentence has been put in execution.

James Parks, gent. for sending a challenge to Edm. Alex. M’Naghten, Esq. to be imprisoned one year, and until he pays a fine of 50 marks, and gives security before the Mayor of Carrickfergus to be of the peace and good behaviour for seven years.

Henry Wray, Esq. for delivering the challenge wrote by Mr Parks, to Edm. A. M’Naghten, Esq. to be imprisoned a fortnight, and until he pays a fine of one mark and gives like security.

TRIAL OF WILLIAM M’ILNEA.

It appeared in evidence, that the prisoner was a blacksmith by trade, that a person of credit and respectability, walked in company with the deceased and M’Ilnea, a few perches along the road, as conveying him towards home; it was nine o’clock at night on the 29th of July last, of course nearly dark; the witness returned home, and left the deceased and M’Ilnea still walking together, but in a few minutes was alarmed with the hue and cry of Alex. M’Kelvey being killed; witness went immediately to the house where the deceased lay and found him languishing in extreme pain under his mortal wound.

A woman of credit deposed, that she was returning from milking, and near her own house saw the deceased and M’Ilnea as in a struggle together, and heard from the deceased a lamentable cry of “Oh Billy, Billy!”

Witness ran up to them, and laying her hands on M’Ilnea’s shoulders, exclaimed, “what the devil are you doing?”

On this she received no answer, but looking at the deceased, she found, “he had his bowels in his hands,” and he cried out to witness, “observe that man, Billy M’Ilnea, my murderer!”

Deceased then ran into witness’s house, where he languished in great torture till the next day, when he was visited by two surgeons and two magistrates, before whom he gave a clear and circumstantial account of the murder, by the hand of the prisoner, declaring upon his oath, that while M’Ilnea and he were walking in apparent friendship, and mutual confidence, the former, taking him by one hand under a friendly mask, with the other treacherously drew out a concealed instrument called a butridge, used by smiths in shoeing horses, and therewith ripped open his belly and stomach, so that his bowels instantly fell out:

The examinations of the deceased to this effect were produced in court, and verified by the magistrates who took them.

M’Kelvey died in 30 hours after he was wounded. It appeared there had been a former dispute between the parties, which probably might produce a wish in M’Ilnea to be the instrument of vengeance, but there arose strong grounds to believe that the deceased owed his fate to an ill-founded suspicion that he was an informer; but even this most honourable and religious pretence for massacring him in cold blood was unfounded.

The fact being thus fully proved home, upon M’Ilnea, to the most perfect satisfaction of the whole Court — the prisoner, vainly attempted a ridiculous defence, by producing some of his near relations, to traduce the character of the deceased, and to prove that the prisoner had no weapon in his custody at the time of the murder. It was treated with the contempt it deserved, and the Jury without hesitation, returned a verdict of Guilty — when the learned Judge, after a short, but most pointed and pathetic address, instantly pronounced the awful sentence of the law, viz. “Execution at the common gallows, on the next day but one (Saturday) and subsequent dissection at the county Infirmary.”

He was accordingly hanged on the day appointed.

Such was the delusion of this unhappy man: that after the most solemn and public appeals to God of his innocence, he was privately heard to say to a near relation, “do not on any account acknowledge that I killed the man, for I must die true to the cause.”

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

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1802: John Beatson and William Whalley, mail robbers

Add comment April 17th, 2019 Headsman

From the Hampshire/Portsmouth Telegraph (Leeds, England), Monday, April 26, 1802:

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

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2011: Mao Ran, young drug lord

Add comment April 13th, 2019 Headsman

Mao Ran, a 25-year-old export/import employee with a heroin trafficking empire dating back to her university days, was executed in Xiamen on this date in 2011.

Not to be confused with manga assassin Ran Mao

According to Chinese reports, Mao Ran “began to get involved in drug trafficking after knowing her foreign boyfriend, OBI, who was also a drug lord and later ordered her to organize others to conduct illegal drug trafficking.”

Two women she recruited as couriers were seized by customs in separate 2008 and 2009 busts that netted over 3 kg of product between them.

Alarmed by the arrests, Mao ran (sorry) but was captured by police soon after.

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Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Capital Punishment,China,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Drugs,Execution,Lethal Injection,Ripped from the Headlines,Women

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1726: Edward Burnworth and his gang, London Lives

Add comment April 12th, 2019 Headsman

Edward Burnworth and his gang — a group of villains who “seem to have risen to notoriety on the downfall of [Jonathan] Wild” by the estimation of the Newgate Calendar — were executed on this date in 1726, and thereafter hung in chains.

We endorse a bio of this coterie of thieves turned murderers on LondonLives.org. This wonderful site “makes available, in a fully digitised and searchable form, a wide range of primary sources about eighteenth-century London, with a particular focus on plebeian Londoners”; it’s in the spirit as the oft-cited-by-Executed Today site Old Bailey Online site, and involves some of the very same principal authors.*

Their zoom-in on Burnworth et al finds the gang slaying one Thomas Hall, a gin shop owner who was attempting to set up as a thief-taker in the vacuum created by the hanging of the aforementioned Jonathan Wild — previously London’s preeminent thief-taker and (simultaneously) crime lord. Burnworth, William Blewitt, Thomas Berry, John Legee, John Higgs, and Emanuel Dickenson all suffered together and were gibbeted in chains thereafter, two apiece at St. George’s Fields, Putney Common and Kennington Common, although the last of these was given over to his friends for burial after just one day of exposure in consideration of his father’s honorable military service.

(Burnworth unsuccessfully attempted to exonerate of theft a man bound for the gallows a month before him, by confessing to the crime.)

* Tim Hitchcock, a historian now at the University of Sussex and a director instrumental to both sites, has previously provided some commentary directly to Executed Today as well, weighing in for example on the controversial identity of “Smugglerius” as well as OldBaileyOnline.org digitization practices. There are several other related “history from below” sites in his orbit: Locating London’s Past, Connected Histories, and The Digital Panopticon: The Global Impact of London Punishments, 1780-1925.

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

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1827: Sarah Jones, firm infanticide

Add comment April 11th, 2019 Headsman

From the Bristol Mercury of April 16, 1827:

EXECUTION OF SARAH JONES.

This unfortunate victim to seduction was 26 years of age, and lived with her father and mother, Thomas and Mary Jones, who resided in a small cottage, forming one of a row of houses, situated on the side of the Sirhowy tram-road, called Pye-corner, in the parish of Bassalleg, in the county of Monmouth.

On Tuesday morning she took a farewell leave of her wretched parents, which she bore with considerable firmness, being the least affected of the three. — A neighbor, who spoke to her character, was, at her desire, permitted to see her the same morning, and speak to her in the Welsh language. She was particularly communicative; detailing the circumstances most minutely, which led to her present situation. She said it was not her intention to have destroyed the hapless infant, until three months before her confinement, when she discovered her seducer, Flook, had married another woman; she then formed the diabolical plan of having her revenge in the murder of his infant.

On Monday, the 23d of October, at breakfast, she found herself ill, and went up stairs; about ten or eleven her mother came up, disturbed by her voice; she sent her down for some fresh linen; and whilst the mother was going down stairs, the child was born: — she immediately seized one of two pen-knives which were in her pocket by her bedside, and in a minute or two after the birth, gave it two gashes in the throat; the mother coming up with the linen, she hid the body between the sacking and the bed, on some straw lying between, and lay on it until the Friday night. On that night Flook came to see her, — she was then down stairs in the chair (her father asleep) — he immediately noticed the alteration in her size, on which she told him of the horrid deed she had committed, and entreated him to assist her, by burying the body; — he consented; and, having sewed it up in some spare sacking, she gave it him through the window.

She positively declares her father knew nothing of the transaction, till Potter, the game-keeper, brought the body to the house; that she had concealed her situation from her mother, denying her pregnancy, even the Sunday evening before her confinement; and that the mother believed the child to have been still-born, up to the time of the coroner’s inquisition.

Sarah Burley, a fellow prisoner, under sentence of imprisonment, for stealing money, at Newport, slept with her during the night; — she slept remarkably sound, being only disturbed by supposing she saw her coffin lying by her bedside: she asserts, she has felt ever since her sentence, the sensation of having a rope round her neck, and that she often lifted her hand to remove it. She spoke in the most flattering manner of the attentions of the keeper, Mr. T. Phillips, to whose humanity and instructions she was indebted for her firmness of mind; — she took a prison farewell of the friend to whom she revealed her mind, without tears, and viewed the prospect of the near approach of her death with the greatest resignation.

Additional Particulars. — This unfortunate woman was of short stature, stout made, with nothing in her countenance indicative of ferociousness, she stood during her trial without any perceptible emotion, but on receiving sentence was obliged to be supported by one of the officers in attendance, and was carried from the bar to the chaise which conducted her to the gaol; she has asserted that even then, she was as collected as she ever was in her life, and was only exhausted from the joy she felt that her mother was acquitted. She had made up her mind for the worst on first entering the gaol, and her whole anxiety was, lest her poor mother should be found guilty, and she should be thus accessory to another death.

She slept soundly the last night, awaking about 6 o’clock, and on viewing the fatal spot observed that every thing was ready and she was so herself. After divine service she received the sacrament with several other criminals, and was from thence ushered to the drop, walking with a steady step, on arriving at the lodge she took a last farewell of several around her, expressing her confidence of being in a few minutes happy, she then ascended the place where the executioner awaited her, in the performance of his painful duty, the only observation she made, was not to draw the rope too tight, and having kissed those around her, begged the cap might be then pulled over her face, she then stept on the platform with firmness, on the rope being adjusted, she begged the executioner to draw her clothes tight around her, which he did by tying a handkerchief, having retired, the drop fell, and in about a minute vitality ceased.

After hanging an hour her body was delivered to her friends, for interment in Bassalleg churchyard; on its being made known that the part of her sentence relating to her dissection was remitted, she felt much gratified and hoped they would let her body remain one night at her father’s house. Thus died this unhappy woman in her 26th year, her fate has excited much commiseration and miserable must be the recollections of her seducer; her resignation was praiseworthy, her repentance contrite, and her conduct firm and decided beyond precedent under such circumstances; endued with great strength and presence of mind, she only wanted the advantages of education, and to have been under the moral restrictions of the Christian code to have been an useful character in society, may her end be (in the impressive language of the Learned Judge who tried her) a warning to the unguarded of her age, and to those wretches unworthy the name of men who have, or who may seduce females to a similar state of degradation; throughout the trial the humanity of the Learned Sergeant was apparent, and the feeling manner in which he pronounced the dreadful fiat of the law drew tears from the eyes of a majority of the largest assemblage of spectators within that court. The crowd assembled at her execution was unusually large, and, as is customary, but no ways creditable to them, two thirds were females.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Abortion and Infanticide,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,Murder,Public Executions,Wales,Women

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1858: Alexander Anderson and Henry Richards

Add comment April 9th, 2019 Headsman

The story behind this stunning photograph of Alexander Anderson and Henry Richards on their Lancaster, Pa., gallows on April 9, 1858 we’re going to outsource to our friend (and occasional guest-blogger) Robert Wilhelm at Murder by Gaslight.

The only official witnesses were the twenty-four jurymen who convicted them, the sheriff, two deputies, two clergymen and state senator Cobb — a proponent of the death penalty who attended all Pennsylvania hangings.

Outside the prison walls, the public found other ways to witness the execution. People in surrounding houses could see inside the prison yard from their roofs. One entrepreneur erected a scaffolding on a hill outside the prison and charged a dollar a seat. Those without a view stood outside the prison walls waiting to cheer when the execution was confirmed.

Why were these men so hated? Read the whole thing at Murder by Gaslight.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Hanged,Murder,Pennsylvania,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Theft,USA

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1913: A day in the death penalty around the U.S.

Add comment April 4th, 2019 Headsman

Alabama

From the Evening Star, April 4, 1913:

Florida

From the Tampa Tribune, April 5, 1913:

South Carolina

From the Charleston News and Courier, April 5, 1913:

West Virginia

From the Lexington Herald, April 5, 1913:

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Alabama,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Electrocuted,Execution,Florida,Hanged,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,South Carolina,USA,West Virginia

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1942: Ewald Schlitt, performative cruelty

Add comment April 2nd, 2019 Headsman

From Hitler’s Prisons: Legal Terror in Nazi Germany:

Despite the unprecedented legal terror [inside Germany], he [Hitler] continued to attack the legal apparatus as slow and formalistic, comparing it unfavourably with the unrestrained actions of the police. … In the autumn of 1941, he complained repeatedly in his private circle that the German judges passed too lenient sentences … In May 1941, he complained to Goebbels that inmates could emerge from prison ‘fresh and unused’, ready to act once more against the state — a statement which showed Hitler’s disregard for the brutal realities inside penal institutions. He had made a similar point a few months earlier to Himmler, telling him that criminals knew that inside penitentiaries ‘everything is nice, hygienic, nobody will do one any harm, the Minister of Justice vouches for that’.

Hitler’s simmering hostility towards the legal system blew up in spectacular fashion in the spring of 1941. The spark was yet another supposedly lenient court sentence. On 14 March 1942, the district court in Oldenburg found the engineer Ewald Schlitt guilty of having abused his wife so badly that she eventually died. However, the judges decided that Schlitt had not acted in cold blood but was liable to sudden violent fits of temper. Rather than condemning him to death as a ‘violent criminal’, the court sentenced Schlitt to five years in a penitentiary. When Hitler heard about this case, he exploded with rage. Ignorant of the details, he demanded that Schlitt be executed and took the court’s sentence as confirmation of the impotence of the judiciary. If there were any more such sentences, Hitler fumed in his private circle on Sunday 22 March 1942, he would ‘send the Justice Ministry to hell through a Reichstag law’. Hitler made no secret of his fury. On the very same day, he berated the acting Minister of Justice Schlegelberger on the telephone. Highly agitated, Hitler exclaimed that he could not understand why criminals were treated so leniently at a time when the ‘best’ German soldiers were dying at the front. Hitler threatened Schlegelberger with very serious consequences should the legal system fail to change.

The Reich Ministry of Justice immediately engaged in damage limitation, following Hitler’s outburst. Two days after his phone call, Schlegelberger wrote to Hitler to reassure him about the ruthlessness of the legal system: ‘My Fuhrer, I share your desire for the harshest punishment of criminal elements with the greatest conviction.’ To prove his point, Schlegelberger informed Hitler that the Schlitt case would be taken up by the Reich Court. The court duly delivered the desired result. On 31 March 1942, it quashed the original sentence against Schlitt and instead sentenced him to death, a decision which was immediately relayed to Hitler. Ewald Schlitt was guillotined two days later. Schlegelberger did not let the case rest here. He was concerned enough to inform the general state prosecutors, in a meeting on the day of Schlitt’s retrial, about Hitler’s threats. …

In previous protests by Hitler against court sentence he considered too ‘mild’, the file had been closed after the execution of the offender. But not this time. One of the reasons why Hitler did not let matters rest was his growing concern about the home front. In March 1942, the Nazi leadership knew that rations would have to be cut and evidently feared a backlash among the population … The Nazi leaders were convinced that the legal system would be unable to deal with any unrest. Thus, after Hitler had discussed the forthcoming cuts in rations with Goebbels on 19 March 1942, the two men went on to complain about the failures of the judiciary and to talk about the need for tougher measures on the home front. It was at this point that Hitler floated the idea of convening the Reichstag to give himself special powers against ‘evil-doers’, an idea he returned to after the Schlitt case. The cut in rations, the most serious during the entire war, was finally introduced on 6 April 1942, and caused great disquiet. Hitler’s apparent concern about this was betrayed in an extraordinary outburst at dinner on the very next day. Inevitably, his thoughts circled around the 1918 revolution and, with unprecedented ferocity, he vented his homicidal determination to prevent another ‘stab in the back’:

If a mutiny broke out somewhere in the Reich today, then he would answer it with immediate measures. To start with, he would:

a) have all leading men of an oppositional tendency … arrested at home and executed, on the day of the first report;

b) he would have all inmates in concentration camps shot dead within three days;

c) he would also have all criminal elements rounded up for execution within three days on the basis of the available lists, irrespective of whether they were in prison or at liberty at the time.

The shooting of this scum, which comprised a few hundred thousand people, would make other measures appear unnecessary, as the mutiny would break down by itself due to a lack of mutinous elements and fellow-travellers.

Only two weeks later, Hitler rang Goebbels and instructed him to take the very unusual step of summoning the Reichstag.

I also expect that the German jurisprudence understands that the nation is not there for them but they for the nation. That not the entire world is allowed to perish, in which also Germany is included, so that there is a formal right, but that Germany has to live, notwithstanding the formal interpretation of justice.

I have no understanding for it, just to mention an example, that for instance a criminal who married in 1937 and then mistreated his wife that she became mentally deranged and who then died of the results of his last mistreatment, is sentenced to 5 years of hard labor in a moment when 10,000 brave German men have to die in order to save the homeland from Bolshevism, that means to protect their wives and children.

I will take a hand in these cases from now on and direct the order to the judges that they recognize that as right what I order.

What German soldiers, German workers, peasants, our women in city and country and millions of our middle-class etc. do and sacrifice all only with the one thought of victory in their minds, then one can ask a congenial attitude for them who have been called by the people themselves to take care of their interests.

At present there are no self-styled saints with well-earned rights, but we all are only obedient servants in the interests of our people.

-From Hitler’s April 26, 1942 address to the Reichstag

On 26 April 1942, the Reichstag deputies assembled in Berlin, curious as to the purpose of the meeting. … The legal system, Hitler warned [in his address], must have only one thought: German victory. It was high time, he continued, that the legal system realised that it did not exist for its own sake, but for the nation. As an illustration of the inane approach of the judiciary, Hitler pointed to the Schlitt case. … The deputies cheered loudly, broke into chants of ‘Heil’ and then passed a resolution that explicitly exempted Hitler from ‘existing statutes of law’, giving him the right to remove from office and punish anyone ‘failing their duties’. Hitler was officially above the law.

Hitler’s attack in the Reichstag on 26 April 1942 received a mixed reception from the German public. Many Germans, it seems, supported Hitler’s views. But conservatives and members of the bourgeoisie started to voice some concerns about the threat to the rule of law. The German legal officials themselves were stunned … One senior judge exclaimed in private: ‘Out of shame, each judge has to hide his face from the public’. The officials feared that the attack would destroy public confidence int he independence of the judiciary and provide further incentives for the police to interfere in the legal process. To discuss measures which would increase Hitler’s confidence in the judiciary, the Reich Ministry of Justice held two meetings with senior regional officials in early May 1942 in Berlin. The meeting on 6 May was chaired by State Secretary Freisler. Hitler’s speech, he acknowledged, had hit the legal system like a ‘thunderstorm’. Freisler reminded the officials of the lessons which needed to be drawn: the legal officials had to become harder, focusing even more on retribution …

Hitler continued to complain in private about the weakness of the legal system. On 22 July, for example, he once more ranted at length about the judiciary, concluding that nobody resembled the jurist more closely than the criminal.

The Nazi leaders made sure that legal officials knew that Hitler was still unhappy. On the same day as Hitler’s latest private outburst, on 22 July 1942, Goebbels made an explicit speech to the officials at the People’s Courtk outlining the Nazi leaders’ criticism of the judiciary. Goebbels’s comments had special significance because, as he informed his listeners, Hitler had personally approved them. Goebbels began by complaining that many judges still had the wrong attitude, derived in large measure from their legalistic training. After referring in detail to several ‘unbearable’ sentences, Goebbels made crystal clear what was required from the judiciary. During the war, it was not important whether a judgment was fair or unfair; rather, it had to protect the state by eradicating the ‘inner enemies’: ‘The starting point is not the law, but the decision [that] this man has to disappear’.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Germany,Guillotine,History,Murder,Wartime Executions

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