Posts filed under 'Crime'

1796: Jerzy Procpak

Add comment January 26th, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1796 the Polish outlaw Jerzy Procpak was executed. Anticipate Polish in all links to follow.

It takes a stretch to reckon this avaricious cutthroat as a social bandit; nevertheless, he’s chanced to a fair measure of historical renown as an exemplar from the dying age of highwayman. He supposedly turned to crime after being punitively thrown in prison for shooting a grazing heifer he had mistaken for a deer. Thereafter he gathered around him a crowd of army deserters and other rough men who prowled the southern borderlands of Silesia, Moravia, and Slovakia.

The “forest Adonis” was celebrated in folk song, and in folk legend which became practically indistinguishable from his biography.

Captured in November 1795, the brigand admitted without recourse to torture to a charge sheet more than ample to take his life: some 60 highway robberies and 13 murders. We have a description of his costume preserved from those same records: “hat with band sewn on, blue caftan lined red, trousers of the same blue paint, sewn with twine, brown leather moccasins, a thin white tunic and sleeves with beautiful cuffs, a brass pin at his throat …”

Throughout January of 1796, ad hoc courts tried upwards of 200 of his alleged associates in ad hoc tribunals in the Silesian towns of Wieprz, Zywiec, and Milowka. Overall, twenty-one were condemned to death and apart from one man, Blazej Solczenski, saved by intercession of a parish priest, all these death sentences were carried into immediate execution.* Several others from the deserter demographic were returned to the hands of the Austrian army for punishment up to and including death by musketry.

* I assume that this reprieve is the source of the confusion among different texts reporting that Procpak was one of twenty robbers executed, or that those executed numbered Procpak plus twenty other robbers. The former is correct, although the executions were scattered across different days and sites; this source (Polish, like everything else) has the breakdowns with names and dates.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Germany,Hanged,Mass Executions,Murder,Outlaws,Poland,Prussia,Public Executions,Theft

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1887: Georgette and Sylvain Thomas, guillotine couples act

Add comment January 24th, 2019 Headsman

Georgette Thomas was guillotined on this date in 1887 at Romorantin, followed moments later by her husband Sylvain.

This farming couple had burned to death Georgett’s mother Marie Lebon six months previous, aided by Georgette’s brothers Alexander and Alexis who both caught life sentences for their participation.

Lebon’s offense? The family had become convinced that mom was a sorceress on the strength of a compounding series of rural disasters: lost hay, failed harvests, sickness striking down horses and chickens and even the human kids.

To exorcise her infernal influence, they doused her with oil and holy water, set her ablaze, and forced her into the farmhouse fireplace … right in front of those kids she had bewitched.

Some two thousand people crowded the public square for this rare spectacle of a husband-wife joint marital severing. So shocking was the execution of the struggling Georgette Thomas in particular — and so distressed was that veteran taker of heads Louis Deibler, who asked out of any female chops in the future — that France never again publicly guillotined a woman.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,France,Guillotine,Milestones,Murder,Public Executions,Witchcraft,Women

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1892: A day in the death penalty around the U.S. South

Add comment January 22nd, 2019 Headsman

All five of the people executed on January 22, 1892, and all four of the victims associated with their various homicides, were African-Americans.


From the Macon (Ga.) Telegraph, Jan. 23, 1982.

Robert Carter, hanged in the Camden, Alabama, jail on January 22 for murdering his wife, a crime he admitted.

“The murder was most brutal,” wrote the newsman under the headline pictured above, indulging a touch of anatomical hyperbole. “He followed his wife into the woods from the field where both were working and beat her to death, crushing almost all the bones in her body.”


Less certain was the case of the adulterous lovers Jim Lyles and Margaret Lashley hanged in Danville, Virginia, that same January 22 for slaying Lashley’s husband George.

Lashley asserted her innocence from arrest to execution, and her trial jury had recommended her for mercy. The day before execution, Lyles made a full confession in which he claimed sole responsibility for the crime, exonerating his paramour; Lashley’s bid for an eleventh-hour clemency on the basis of was nevertheless denied.

They died together, “displaying not a semblance of weakness” after “the prayer and song service, which lasted thirty minutes, both principals rendering, in strong harmonious voices, the hymns selected for the occasion.” (Columbia, S.C. State, Jan. 23, 1892)


Lucius Dotson hanged in Savannah, Georgia, on the same morning, for the murder of Jeff Goates.

Even at the late date of 1892, Dotson’s brother, “fearing that medical students had captured Lucius’s carcass, had the coffin opened at the depot … and was surprised to find his broken-neck brother in it.” (Charleston, S.C., News and Courier, Jan. 24, 1892)


The last woman ever hanged in North Carolina, Caroline Shipp died on a Dallas, North Carolina gallows before a crowd of some 3,000 souls.

A woman of “barely 20 years old”, condemned for poisoning her infant child. Under the noose, she “displayed great coolness” and “talked eight minutes, re-affirming her innocence, and declared a man [her lover -ed.] named Mack Farrar committed the crime.” The drop of the rope hit her with what a local paper called “a soul-sickening jerk”; it took her 20 minutes to strangle to death.

The event has proven to have a durable hold on Gaston County’s memory, and Shipp’s claim of innocence continues to interest latter-day researchers.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Alabama,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Georgia,Hanged,Murder,North Carolina,Public Executions,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,USA,Virginia,Women

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1867: Ciosi and Agostini, at the Polygone of Vincennes

Add comment January 21st, 2019 Headsman

From the London Times, Jan. 23, 1867, under a January 22 dateline:

The two soldiers (Corsicans) who committed a murder and robbery some time since at Neuilly, and were sentenced to death by court-martial, were shot yesterday morning, in presence of a large crowd, at the Polygone of Vincennes. One of them, [Jean-Baptiste] Agostini, was so exhausted that he had to be tied to a post to keep him from falling to the ground. The other, [Jean-Antoine] Ciosi, was more courageous, and, having addressed the shooting party to this effect, — “Dear comrades, on my conscience, I committed the crime for which I die, but I committed no robbery. I ask pardon of God, and of you. Farewell!” he himself gave the word to fire. The troops marched past the bodies as they lay on the ground. The interment took place in the burial ground of Vincennes, under the supervision of the chaplain of the fort.

A longer French-language account of the crime and execution — including the necessity of a brain-splattering coup de grace to complete the sentence — can be found here. There’s some fuzziness with the date cited in different places but French press reports (for instance, from Le Figaro on January 22) unambiguously place it on Monday the 21st.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Botched Executions,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,France,Murder,Public Executions,Shot,Soldiers

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1823: Giles East

Add comment January 20th, 2019 Meaghan

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

On this date in 1823, Giles East was hanged for the rape of a girl, Sarah Potter, who was under ten years of age.

In spite of the difference in ages, the sixteen-year-old East cohabitated with Sarah’s forty-five-year-old mother, who was also called Sarah, and was named in some accounts as her husband.

The elder Sarah stood beside her husband in the dock as an accessory after the fact; she had allegedly tried to cover up the crime. However, writes Martin Baggoley of this case in his book Surrey Executions: A Complete List of those Hanged in the County during the Nineteenth Century:

Part way into the trial the judge, Baron Graham, apparently unable to believe that any mother would act in such a manner directed that she be discharged. The judge had been especially moved when the victim described her mother crying when she learnt of the crime.

There was an expectation that East would be reprieved because of his youth and it was widely reported that the foreman of the Grand Jury, Grey Bennet MP, who had found the bill against East, had made a strong appeal to the Government on his behalf. However, he issued a statement strongly denying this and added he thought it inconceivable that any member of the Grand Jury would make such an appeal. Furthermore, he suggested that although a strong opponent of capital punishment, he had never known a case of greater atrocity.

East was hanged at Horsemonger Lane Gaol.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Children,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Guest Writers,Hanged,Other Voices,Public Executions,Rape

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2012: 34 in Iraq

Add comment January 19th, 2019 Headsman

From news.un.org (here’s a comparable story from CNN, and here from Reuters):

The United Nations human rights chief said today she was shocked at reports that 34 people were executed in Iraq in a single day last week and called on the country to institute an immediate moratorium on the use of the death penalty.

“Even if the most scrupulous fair trial standards were observed, this would be a terrifying number of executions to take place in a single day,” High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay stated in a news release.

“Given the lack of transparency in court proceedings, major concerns about due process and fairness of trials, and the very wide range of offences for which the death penalty can be imposed in Iraq, it is a truly shocking figure,” she added.

The 34 individuals, including two women, were executed on 19 January following their conviction for various crimes, according to the UN human rights office (OHCHR).

The total number of individuals sentenced to death in Iraq since 2004 is believed to stand at more than 1,200. The total number actually executed since then is not known, although at least 63 individuals are thought to have been executed in the past two months alone.

The death penalty can be imposed in Iraq for around 48 crimes, including a number of non-fatal crimes such as — under certain circumstances — damage to public property.

“Most disturbingly,” said Ms. Pillay, “we do not have a single report of anyone on death row being pardoned, despite the fact there are well documented cases of confessions being extracted under duress.”

She called on the Government to implement an immediate moratorium on the institution of death penalty, noting that around 150 countries have now either abolished the death penalty in law or in practice, or introduced a moratorium.

The High Commissioner also urged the Government “to halt all executions and, as a matter of urgency, review the cases of those individuals currently on death row.”

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Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,Iraq,Mass Executions,Ripped from the Headlines,Women

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1985: Doyle Skillern, under the law of parties

Add comment January 16th, 2019 Headsman

A philosophical Doyle Skillern was executed in Texas on this date in 1985, one of the more galling victims of Texas’s controversial “Law of Parties” — in which all parties involved in a lesser felony (such as armed robbery) may be held liable for a greater felony (such as murder) committed by any of their number.

Skillern and a buddy named Charles Sanne were drug dealers being set up for arrest by a narcotics agent.

In the course of a buy, the suspicious Sanne got the officer, Patrick Randel, into his vehicle on the pretext of doing business elsewhere — intending in fact to rob Randel. While Skillern trailed in a different vehicle, Sanne shot Randel to death (and robbed him). By the accounts of both men the shooting wasn’t premeditated; Sanne said that Randel tried to pull a gun on him and a spontaneous fight ensued.

Textbook law of parties case, made more perverse by the fact that the actual shooter, Sanne, received a prison term and was approaching parole eligibility by the time his non-triggerman accomplice, Skillern, went to the gurney.

(In fairness to the great state of Texas we must observe that Skillern’s jury when considering factors to aggravate the crime found out that he had a previous murder on his record, that of his brother. Sanne’s previous record consisted only of petty crimes.)

Prison officials said that an emotionless Skillern mused upon learning of the rejection of his last appeals, “A lot of people will still have their troubles tomorrow and mine will be over.”

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Drugs,Execution,Lethal Injection,Murder,Texas,Theft,USA

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1739: Two French youths who murdered Choctaws

1 comment January 14th, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1739, two French youths were executed by musketry in the French Louisiana colony for the murder of two Choctaws — a gesture of juridical diplomacy that didn’t work out as the musketeers hoped.

Our source for this unusual event is Patricia Galloway’s “The Barthelemy Murders: Bienville’s Establishment of the ‘Lex Talionis’ as a Principle of Indian Diplomacy” from the Proceedings of the Meeting of the French Colonial Historical Society, Vol. 8 (1985). The “Bienville” of Galloway’s title was Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville, the French Colonial Governor of Louisiana. It was a post he had held intermittently since 1701, which was back when he and his brother Iberville were still exploring the region.*

Bienville was noted for his deft touch with the native inhabitants of the colony he proposed to govern; in Galloway’s words, he “seemed to have an intuitive grasp of the Indian concept of honor and to understand tribal power structures as no other governor did. In addition, he made it his business to learn and use Choctaw or the Choctaw-like Mobilian trade language in his dealings with the Indians — the only governor to do so.”

Be he ever so empathic, Bienville had a sticky wicket with this case of international violence, when each of the nations involved would have disposed of it very differently had it been a purely internal affair.

On the side of the Choctaw and indeed for all of the tribes of the southeast, the available evidence points to blood vengeance as the accepted response to homicide, but there was no governmental institution to carry it out, so the responsibility for the execution of a murderer fell upon the relatives of the victim … the European notion depended upon handing over regulatory powers to a legal institution; the Indian notion, on the other hand, assumed that familial sanctions would keep individuals in line.

It was a situation that demanded the full measure of Bienville’s diplomatic acumen. The Choctaw people were the largest of several native nations in the French colony, dominating the territory of the latter-day state of Mississippi. Years before the events in this post, Bienville had put them on his team by arming them against the British-allied Chickasaw … but in the late 1730s, Bienville was coming off a failed campaign against the Chickasaw, and with the British making diligent trading inroads with the Choctaw, it wasn’t necessarily a given that they would stick within the French sphere of influence. Indeed, there was a chief of rising stature within the Choctaw nation named Red Shoe whose calling card was pushing a bro-British turn.

Onto this delicate stage barged two Creole half-brothers, whom Galloway identifies as Philippe Alexandre (born in 1710) and a youth of whom we know only the surname Barthelemy (born in 1723): as Barthelemy was the name of the (step-, to Philippe) father who stood patriarch to the whole family, it’s the name by which the affair is known. According to the notes taken on the trial** by the colonial official Etienne Salmon as quoted by Galloway, their crime was motivated by nothing but opportunism and racial animus.

They went in a pirogue from Mobile to the Pascagoulas with a Negro slave to look for some food supplies, and there they found a Choctaw and his wife who were proposing to go to Mobile to trade some bear oil and a few deerskins, and who asked them for passage which they granted them. Contrary winds having cast them ashore on some neighboring islands, they went hunting there. The elder of the two brothers proposed to the Negro that he kill the husband and wife, saying that the savages were dogs, and that if they ran across Frenchmen in the same straits in their country they would not object to killing them. The Negro having rejected the proposition, saying that he had [no] reason at all to kill them, that they had done him no wrong, the two brothers discussed the same thing, and the elder told the younger that he would be doing a valorous deed, and that he would be regarded as a true man, if he made the attack; this child allowed himself to be so persuaded that on the following day at sunrise, while everyone was sleeping, or pretending to, the younger shot twice at the husband and his wife, and killed them.

This happened sometime during 1738. It took some months for the disappearance of these hunter-traders to become known to their communities, and for suspicion to fix on the young men involved. The French colony arrested the culprits and Bienville promised his allies “that justice would be done and would be carried out in Mobile before their appointed witnesses.” For Bienville, this meant the strict application of lex talionis through the French judicial mechanism.

The trial took place on January 10 … the two young men were condemned to die, while the Negro was dismissed as guiltless. The original sentence called for hanging, but to spare the dignity of the boys’ family it was changed to death by a firing squad. Salmon reported that the younger brother had no notion of guilt and was convinced that in the dangerous times then prevailing, he had performed a deed worthy of praise. Even Salmon believed that had the situation been different Bienville would have allowed the younger to escape death. But this was not to be, and the young men were returned to Mobile for execution, which took place before Choctaw witnesses on January 14.

The executions placated the Choctaw and, Bienville hoped, established an understanding that crimes between their nations would be properly satisfied by the offender’s nation more or less on the basis of lex talionis: an orderly and reciprocal life-for-a-life punishment.

Seven years ahead and Bienville had been retired to France when at last there came a Choctaw-on-Frenchmen murder to test the precedent. The new governor, Pierre de Rigaud de Vaudreuil, invoked the principle of this Barthelemy case: “We ask nothing of you but justice, since M. de Bienville had justice done you in 1740 [sic] for a man and woman that some Frenchmen had killed.”

The trouble that the French encountered here in having their claim recognized lay in their failure to understand the distinction made by the Choctaw between domestic and international law in a homicide case. The evidence is quite clear that the Choctaw were prepared to accept the notion of setting off the French deaths by an equal number of Choctaw deaths, but they expected the French, as the injured party, to carry out the killings themselves. If the French wanted the Choctaw to carry out the killings, they said, the French would have to persuade close relatives of the required victims to do it, or else there would be an unending train of vengeance set loose in the nation.

The French didn’t know who had actually murdered their three people and “the usual procedure in such cases was to substitute people who were of little use to the tribe or who for some reason already deserved death.” However, the French greedily bid for a political coup by demanding not a marginal victim but the pro-British chief Red Shoe himself. Unsurprisingly, they didn’t find any of Red Shoe’s relatives willing to turn executioner. The only thing left for the Choctaw to try was

killings committed against a group that was the enemy of both French and Choctaw. Therefore, to set off the deaths of three Frenchmen at the hands of pro-English Choctaws, the pro-French Choctaws attempted to fulfill the French demands in part by killing English traders. This was done in a raid on an English convoy which was being escorted by Red Shoe. After Red Shoe was murdered by stealth, two Englishmen were killed in an open attack, making up the required three deaths.

The French, however, completely missed the point of the Choctaw restitution and refused the two English scalps, insisting on two more Choctaw deaths … The deaths of the Englishmen did not go without notice on the pro-English side. Doubtless as a result of a symmetrical demand by the English, the [pro-English] Choctaw killed five French settlers on the Mobile River. These killings were followed by retaliatory raids by French-allied Choctaws on English trade convoys, killing two more English traders.

This is precisely the sort of blood vengeance spiral that Bienville had been trying to militate against, and it soon pulled the whole Choctaw nation into an outright civil war that killed some 800 people and brought the French into the field as well. Galloway once again:

Bienville’s intentions were good, and it is to the credit of the French that they carried out the execution of the half-brothers, against their inclinations, because this was the kind of justice that the Choctaw understood. Nor are the French to be blamed for expecting the Choctaw to make the same kind of concession to their notion of justice. The tragedy arose not because the Choctaw did not want to render justice at all, but because they had no vicarious legal mechanism to carry it out. In the end, therefore, they were forced into civil war because vengeance carried out by a Choctaw, on another Choctaw, in behalf of a third party not a Choctaw, did not leave the avenger free of punishment himself. Like other aspects of southeastern Indian culture, this one was so inconsistent with European understanding that it had to adapt or disappear, and although it did not actually disappear among the Choctaw themselves until 1823, the principle in dealings with white nations was firmly asserted in treaties from the time of the end of the Choctaw civil war. The Choctaw had dearly bought comprehension of Bienville’s principle with the weighty currency of culture change.

* Iberville and Bienville co-founded Fort Louis de la Mobile (present-day Mobile, Alabama) in 1702; this is where the executions in this post occurred. Bienville founded New Orleans in 1718.

** No original record of the trial survives; Salmon’s recollection is the best we’re going to do for primary sourcing.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Alabama,Capital Punishment,Children,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,France,History,Known But To God,Murder,Notable Jurisprudence,Occupation and Colonialism,Political Expedience,Public Executions,Shot,USA

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2011: Leroy White

2 comments January 13th, 2019 Headsman

Leroy White received a lethal injection in the HuntsvilleAtmore, Alabama death chamber on this date in 2011.

White had fatally shotgunned his estranged wife but by now it’ll hardly be remembered beyond the people directly touched by this horror. Yet in its banality this case haas something to tell us about America’s shambolic death penalty system.

Although this rule changed in 2017, Alabama used to permit, and its elected judges very actively practice, overruling a jury life sentence recommendation with a harsher judgment from the bench. Something like a fifth of Alabama’s condemned prisoners were there on judge overrides.

White numbered among this misfortunate fifth, and the trial judge wasn’t the only authority in the process whose priors were stacked against Leroy White.

Post-conviction, a Maryland tax attorney who represented White pro bono withdrew from the case and neither he nor anyone else told White about it. That doesn’t even seem possible but attorneys who are overmatched, stretched thin, and even outright incentivized to screw their clients make up an essential component of the system. In this case, the secret withdrawal caused White to miss a deadline for filing an appeal.

The heroic Bryan Stevenson of the Alabama-based Equal Justice Initiative took over the case once this damage was done, but his appeal for a mulligan on the missed deadline fell on deaf ears because he

didn’t have a persuasive argument on the key issue: given more time to appeal, could he win the appeal on the merits of his case?

Stevenson said about half of the roughly 200 prisoners on Alabama’s death row were represented by a lawyer who is not allowed to spend more than $1,000 on out-of-court time working on the case, unless given permission by the trial court under Alabama indigent defense rules. He said that inequity leads to problems with the quality of assistance defendants are getting.

“The death penalty is not just about do people deserve to die for the crimes they are accused of, the death penalty is also about do we deserve to kill,” Stevenson said. “If we don’t provide fair trials, fair review procedures, when we have executions that are unnecessarily cruel and distressing, or if we have a death penalty that is arbitrary or political or discriminatory, then we are all implicated.”

White still had one last hope: a clemency grant by outgoing governor Bob Riley. Riley’s term in office ended four days after this execution, and he has had no political career since. Did he, like predecessor George Wallace, find his conscience burdened by the executioner’s office? In this precious interval released from all political pressure or consequence did he make use of a free hit at the quality of mercy? Reader, he did not — spurning a plea by the surviving daughter of both victim and killer not to give her another dead family member to mourn.

On this day..

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

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1868: Heli Freymond, the last beheaded by sword in Switzerland

Add comment January 10th, 2019 Headsman

Heli Freymond lost his head on this date in 1868 to an executioner’s sword — the last time that ever happened in Swiss history. (His is also the last death sentence enforced in the canton of Vaud.)

Freymond and his cousin and lover Louise Freymond conspired to murder the man’s pregnant* wife with arsenic.

They might have gotten away with this but avarice for the portion of the wife’s inheritance that had redounded to the wife’s sister led them to make a bid at murdering that sister’s beau. This man survived it, and accurately discerned the hand behind his brush with death; his lawsuit led to the literal and metaphorical exhumation of the late wife’s corpse, too.

Louise Freymond caught a 20-year prison sentence for this, but Freymond was doomed to lose his head. Switzerland had introduced the guillotine as an alternative beheading method some years before, but the old-school two-handed richtschwert blade still remained available for the hands-on touch you only get with hired goons. Twenty thousand souls turned out in Moudon for the occasion.

Heli Freymond was in fact the last person executed at all in Switzerland, for an era: he was still the last when the 1874 constitution abolished capital punishment full stop. However, a crime wave brought the death penalty back in 1879. The last Swiss execution for ordinary crimes occurred in 1940; according to CapitalPunishmentUK’s index of Swiss executions, there were 17 Swiss men (no women) shot during World War II for treason.

* Technically, an initial unsuccessful attempt to poison the pregnant mother Elise Olivier caused a miscarriage; subsequently, another poisoning brought off Elise, too.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Milestones,Murder,Pelf,Public Executions,Sex,Switzerland

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