Posts filed under 'Death Penalty'

1505: One Bolognese thief hanged, and another saved by Saint Nicholas

Add comment April 15th, 2017 Cherubino Ghirardacci

(Thanks to Augustinian friar Cherubino Ghirardacci for today’s guest post, from his History of Bologna. The Saint Nicholas in question for this picturesque vignette is not Santa Claus (though that figure’s real-life inspiration also had an averted execution to his hagiography) but the medieval mystic Saint Nicholas of Tolentino … a popular Italian saint who appears to have obtained an informal niche profile as the intercessor who would help a fellow survive a hanging: he had already been credited with saving a man wrongfully accused of murder who hung four days on the gallows in 14th century Aquila. -ed.)

It has happened in these days, that is to say on April 15, Tuesday, that two thieves have been hanged; one sixty years old and one about eighteen, and the execution took place on the usual spot, that is in the cattle market; and the minister of justice ordered that they should be left hanging upon the gallows until the usual hour, when the members of the Company of the Dead came to remove them for burial, and having taken down from the gibbet the old man and having placed him on the bier, they then deposed the youth, called Pietro Antonio of Bologna. He had been adopted by one who dwelt in the Borgo of San Pietro, and was already a novice of San Jacomo; this one was found alive and of so much vivacity it seemed as though he had been reposing on his bed asleep: but however with the neck injured, because the halter had entered into it, and had almost sawn through the throat.

The bystanders, marvelling much at this unusual sight, quickly had him carried to the Hospital to care for him; and there came a messenger from the Senate to see, and to hear everything that had happened; and Pietro Antonio said that he had been helped by the glorious saint Nicholas of Tolentino, to whom he had vowed, that if he escaped this opprobrious death, he would vest himself in his habit, and that he being on the gallows, the glorious St. Nicholas supported him by holding the soles of his feet in his hands. This was considered a marvellous miracle in the city, and every one ran to visit him and hear him discourse.

On Sunday, April 27, the Brothers of San Jacomo came in procession to the Hospital to fetch the above-mentioned Pietro Antonio and to conduct him to San Jacomo, and they pass together with the “Compagnia della Morte” behind San Petronio and before this church, and they go before the palace of the family Antiani, and below the “Madonna del Popolo”; and the condemned man is dressed in white with a black mantle, and with no cap on his head, and with the same halter round his neck with which he was hanged. When he reaches this spot, he falls on his knees and adores the Queen of Heaven, and wishing to rise, the simple women around tear off some of his clothes in devotional excitement; but being covered with another cape, he arrives at the church of San Jacopo, and there in the presence of all the city, the halter is taken from his neck and laid by him on the altar; and by the reverend prior of that said convent, Master Giovanni de Ripis, he was solemnly dressed in the Carmelite habit and called Brother Nicholas, in honour and reverence of St. Nicholas of Tolentino; and the ceremonies of vesting him being over, the friars meanwhile chanting the Te Deum Laudamus, he was presented by the said Prior to the very holy image of the glorious St. Nicholas, which is behind the choir in the chapel of St. Thomas Apostle and St. Nicholas, now called of the Madonna of Heaven, because when he made his vow he had in his mind this venerated image. Then he placed there his votive offering, his true portrait painted on canvas, and also the same halter with which he was hanged, the which things one may still see today in this said church.

He lived four years very devoutly, tending the sick; but then, tempted by the devil, he threw away his habit, and giving himself once more to thieving he was taken and hanged with the golden halter to the long balcony of the Podestà, and died for his sins.

The record of this miracle appears, with all the expenses, in an authentic book of 148 pages, in the Sacristy of these said monks, where are mentioned the sums spent on the procession, and miracle, and of the votive panel picture, which was made by master Ercolese, painter, and cost in all lire 3 and soldi 11.

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Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Executions Survived,Guest Writers,Hanged,History,Italy,Myths,Not Executed,Other Voices,Public Executions,The Supernatural,Theft

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2015: Siti Zainab

Add comment April 14th, 2017 Headsman

On this date in 2015, in the Islamic holy city of Medina, Saudi Arabia beheaded Indonesian domestic worker Siti Zainab after a very long wait.

Zainab, a maid, was condemned to death in 1999 for stabbing to death her cruel* employer. Her execution went on pause for more than 15 years until all of the victim’s children could reach adulthood and exercise their right to enforce or mitigate the death sentence; still, for all that lead time, Saudi Arabia irked Jakarta by failing to notify consular offices of her impending beheading.

In addition to the usual controversies Saudi Arabia’s aggressive headsmen engender when dispatching the kingdom’s widely abused migrant workers, Zainab’s case raised hackles over the condemned woman’s alleged “suspected mental illness.”

* Cruel according to Zainab and her defenders. Indonesian NGO Migrant Care argued that the murder was outright self-defense.

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Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Indonesia,Murder,Public Executions,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Ripped from the Headlines,Saudi Arabia,Women

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1979: Major Bijan Yahyahi, prison torturer

1 comment April 13th, 2017 Headsman

Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Courts went up in the very first days after the victory of the Iranian Revolution. These courts still exist nearing 40 years on but were oriented initially like many revolutionary tribunals towards clearing out hated servants of the old regime.

And like many revolutionary tribunals they developed a reputation for delivering justice more swift than measured — with one-sitting procedures where defendants faced hectoring judges and surprise charges without benefit of that “Western absurdity,” a defense counsel. For the Ayatollah Khomeini, revolutionary courts weren’t a probative exercise but a vehicle for delivering popular justice. “If the revolutionary courts did not prosecute them, the people would have gone on a rampage and killed them all,” he said of the courts’ targets.

This sentiment was echoed almost word for word by a spectator in this case, who (according to an April 13, 1979 New York Times profile) shouted at the judges during an adjournment that “if the court forgives him, the people won’t and will get him!” The major’s courtroom was packed with 200-plus spectators, many of whom could show the scars that the Shah’s torturers had left them.

Though he must have known he had no real hope at acquittal, Yahyahi fought his corner — for there was still the hope of a prison sentence, which his co-accused received, instead of death. Accused of abusing prisoners at Qasr Prison, Yahyahi protested that he had been forced to do it, that “the system was there, I didn’t create anything … I’m a nobody.”

“You wouldn’t understand it unless you put yourself in my shoes,” he explained unavailingly. “I asked for a transfer. I tried hard to get out. You must take that into consideration.”

A parade of witnesses described the torments of the Shah’s prison; Major Yahyahi’s rank at the facility was enough to condemn him for command responsibility, even absent witnesses who could link him personally this or that thrashing.

“It is not the individual who is on trial,” the mullah-judge presiding explained, repeatedly. “It is the regime.” The toppled regime, after all, had been convicted already.

Major Yahyahi’s trial (together with four others) consumed the court’s business on April the 12th. By that night Yahyahi was condemned to death; he was executed by firing squad the very next day, only one of ten people put to death around Iran on April 13, 1979.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Iran,Shot,Torture

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1635: Sawney Cunningham, an abandoned Villain

Add comment April 12th, 2017 Headsman

From the Newgate Calendar:

SAWNEY CUNNINGHAM

An abandoned Villain who inveigled and murdered his Wife’s Lover, murdered his Uncle, terrorised the Country-side, and was executed at Leith, 12th of April, 1635

This person had no reason to say he was come of mean parents, or that good education or tuition was denied him, whereby he might have avoided the several pernicious actions and villainies he committed, as will presently be shown in the sequel. His family lived in tolerable good repute at Glasgow in Scotland, where he was born; but, in spite of all the learning his parents had given him, or good examples they had set before him to regulate his passions and direct his conduct right, he abandoned himself, from his earliest acquaintance with the world, to little shuffling and pilfering tricks; which growing habitual to him as he advanced in age, he increased in his wicked practices, till at last he became a monster of profaneness and wicked living.

However, these (which one would take to be) great disadvantages hindered him not from making a very honourable match in wedlock. As his parents could not be blamed with any misconduct, but still kept up an honest and genteel character in the neighbourhood where they lived; and as it would have been infamous to have reproached them for those miscarriages in the son which they had strove all they could to root out of his mind, and could not help, so an old gentleman, who had preserved for a long time an inviolable friendship for the family, entered into an alliance with Mr Cunningham the elder, which at last terminated in giving his daughter to Sawney, and an estate in portion with her of above one hundred and forty pounds per annum, thinking that marriage might be a means to reclaim our adventurer from his ill course of life, and at last settle his mind, to the mutual satisfaction of both families, for which he thought his daughter’s portion would be a good purchase, and well laid out.

But how are mankind deceived, and, in short, all our foresight and consultation.

Sawney no sooner found himself in possession of an estate able to support his extravagances but he immediately gave a more violent loose to his passions than he had hitherto done.

He made taverns and alehouses the frequent places of his resort; and, not content idly to waste the day in debauches and drunkenness, the night too must come in to make up the reckoning.

These destructive steps could not be attended but with hurtful consequences, and he was too soon an eye-witness of some of them; for not having always wherewithal to indulge his usual expenses and method of living, he was forced to have recourse to indirect measures, which ended in pawning everything he had, not only of his wife’s but of his own. Melancholy things were unavoidably to follow, if some redress or care was not taken to put a restraint on this destructive course.

Sawney laughed at his follies, and could not bring himself to believe he should ever want while he had either hands or heart to support him. He was determined to enter upon business as soon as possible —- I mean such business as generally brings so many unhappy men to the gallows. His wife, who was vastly beautiful and handsome, saw this, but with a prudence that became her sex stifled her uneasiness so long, till, no longer able to bear the torment upon her mind, she first began with kind entreaties, since all they had in the world was gone, to fall into some honest way of livelihood to support themselves, for it was much and more commendable to do so than for him to give his countrymen every day so many instances of his riotous and profuse living.

Had Sawney been so good to himself as to have given ear to this remonstrance, without doubt things had succeeded well, and we should never have read the miserable end he suffered. But all admonition was lost on a man abandoned to wickedness, and determined to support his usual extravagances at any rate.

The poor young gentlewoman, instead of being answered civilly for her love and affection to him, met with nothing but harsh and terrifying words, attended with a thousand oaths and imprecations. The parents on both sides, observing this, were in extreme grief and concern, and determined, after a serious consultation, to dissolve the couple; but the young and handsome wife would never consent to part from her husband, though so base to her.

Before we enter upon the first remarkable transaction of Sawney’s life, we think ourselves under an obligation to lay before our readers some account of this young bride’s rare qualifications. In the first place, as I have taken notice above, she was extremely beautiful, not only in a perfect symmetry of features, but likewise to these were joined an exquisite person. She was tall, finely shaped, full-breasted, and had all the other exterior ornaments of her sex. For her temper and the qualifications of her interior part or soul, she was sincere in her love to the last, ever patient under the greatest difficulties, and ready at all times to extricate her husband out of the misfortunes he involved himself in, by lawful and justifiable methods; she had a nice conduct, and an extraordinary restraint upon every passion that might betray her into unforeseen miscarriages.


In Glasgow, where a university was, and consequently young gentlemen of fortune and address, it was impossible for Mrs Cunningham to hide the charms of her face and person so as not to be taken notice of. Several immediately offered their respects, and money was not wanting to promote their suits; but all were below the prudent sentiments of her mind. She could not endure to think of dishonouring the bed of her husband by a base compliance with the richest man in the kingdom, and always she put off her suitor with a frown and a seemingly disdainful air.

But this only served to animate her lovers the more, who now seemed to attack her with a resolution not to quit the siege till she had either capitulated or surrendered herself. Amongst the rest was a certain lawyer, who was so frequent in his importunities that she was quite tired out. However, she was so discreet all the while as to conceal from her husband Sawney the importunities of her several lovers; but their solicitations increasing, and being determined to be delivered of them as soon as possible, she one night, as she lay in bed with her husband, began to discourse to him in words to the following effect:

You are sensible, my dear, of the inviolable love I have, from the first day of my marriage to you, preserved for you, which shall still, let whatever will happen, be as chastely maintained; for the infernal regions shall sooner open and receive me alive than I will dare to break the laws of your bed, or bring dishonour to my person, by a shameless prostitution of my person in the embraces of any man alive. As a proof of what I tell you, you need only be acquainted that for these several months I have been strongly importuned by Mr Hamilton the lawyer to consent to his embraces, but still I have warded off from his addresses, yet cannot be free from him; which makes me now discourse thus, in order to hear your opinion in the matter, and see which will be the safest and best expedient to be delivered of his company.

Here she ended, and Sawney, being thoroughly convinced of his wife’s loyalty and fidelity, first answered her with a desire she should forget all his irregularities, confessing their present poverty had been the immediate consequences of his too liberal and profuse livings but that for the future she should see a good alteration in his conduct, and he would make one of the best of husbands.

“As for Mr Hamilton,” said he,

it is my advice that you do not give him an absolute refusal, but pretending a kind of love at a distance, make him think that a considerable sum of money will finish his expectations, and gain him what he so much longs for. You have youth and beauty on your side, and you may, consequently, command him as you please: for I am not so much a stranger to Mr Hamilton’s temper and inclination but that I know love will influence him to perform generous things. My dear, I have no occasion to acquaint you with our poverty at this time, which, to my extreme grief, has been the consequence of my irregular and profane living; but our wants and necessities may be amply made up by dextrously managing this adventure, the prosecution of which I leave to your own prudence and conduct; and for my part, I shall take effectual care to extricate you and myself out of any consequences that may happen upon it.

Mrs Cunningham, after this conference with her husband, had a thousand thoughts in her head how to manage this scheme so as to make the most advantage of it. She saw that the want of money in her family must oblige her to it, though never so much against the bent of her inclination to the contrary, and therefore, determining to put it in execution as soon as possible, she composed herself to rest for that night.

The next day Sawney got purposely out of the way, but not without a longing expectation of receiving extraordinary matters from his wife’s conduct. Hamilton appeared as usual; and, protesting his love for her was the sincerest in the world, said that it was impossible for him to enjoy a moment’s rest without tasting those joys she could so easily afford him.

Mrs Cunningham at first reproved him for such a bare declaration of his desires, and said that so long as her husband lived she could not, without the most manifest breach of conjugal fidelity, and an eternal infamy to herself, give way to comply with his demands.

“Your person, Mr Hamilton,” said she, “is none of the worst, neither is your sense to be despised; but, alas! heaven has decreed it that I am already another man’s wife, and therefore deprived from gratifying you as I would were the case otherwise. And I have apprehensions of my husband, who is a choleric person, and presently urged into a passion upon the most trifling affairs, which either he doth not like, or squares not with his happiness or interest.”

“Interest!” replied Hamilton. “Why, if that be the case, neither your husband nor you shall have any reason to complain; for, let me tell you once and for all, I do not require a gratification from anyone without making a suitable return. Your circumstances, madam, are not unknown to me; and I am sorry to think that, after having brought Mr Cunningham so plentiful a fortune, I should have a just occasion to say that you are poor. But mistake me not, I scorn to make a handle of your circumstances; neither do I believe Mrs Cunningham would ever consent to my desires on such servile terms.”

Upon this madam answered him with a great deal of prudence and art: she told him that he pleaded handsomely for himself, and if she was not a married woman there should be nothing to obstruct their desires.

Mr Hamilton, finding this, made her a long harangue, in which he endeavoured to show how weak her objection was, with respect to her husband, concluding that what they did might be so artfully contrived that neither Mr Cunningham nor the world should know anything of it. In fine, the lawyer pleaded as if it were for life for her consent, which madam observing, and not caring to prolong the time too far, but dispatch a great deal of business in a little time, she artfully told him that since her stars had so directed the actions of her life that she had no power of herself to contradict them, she resigned herself to him, and said that it was to no purpose to stifle her inclinations for him any longer; for, to be plain with him, she had loved him from their first acquaintance together, before all the men she had ever seen, and that she hoped there was no transgression in an affair which her destiny overruled; and if the world proved censorious, she did not care, and left her cause to be determined by the stars, who, together with Mr Hamilton’s fine person, had influenced her to it.

To be short, an assignation was made, and a porch of one of the churches in Glasgow designed to be the place where these two lovers were to meet. Nothing in the world gave the lawyer so much satisfaction as the thought of having obtained the consent of his fair mistress, who had declared her love to him, and resigned herself up to his arms.

Hamilton promised to make her a present of a purse of a hundred pounds sterling before anything was done, and she on her side assured him she would please him to the utmost, and acquainted him that he might expect all the kindness she was able to afford him. Here they parted, and the lawyer thought the time contained a thousand days till the hour appointed was come, and he in the arms of his mistress.

It arrives, and both appear in the porch; they caress and toy, but no further than the laws of modesty permitted. Hamilton wants to know where Mr Cunningham, her husband, is, and is acquainted that he has gone a short journey into the country, which, however, will take him up eight days; whereas madam has posted him, or he has done it himself, in a private place in his chamber at home. Hamilton seems extraordinarily pleased at his success, and the repose he should find in humouring his appetites now his antagonist was out of the way, as he thought.

In a little time both these lovers come to Sawney’s house, and having entered his bed-chamber, where he was concealed, and a good fire burning, Mr Hamilton pulls out two purses of gold and gives them to her; and then, going to undress himself, Sawney springs out from his secret place, and with one stroke lays Mr Hamilton flat on the floor with a club he had in his hand; for, not contented with his wife’s having received the two purses of gold, he must have the lawyer’s clothes too; and therefore, to make sure of them, he redoubles his blows, till the poor gentleman gave up the ghost at Mrs Cunningham’s feet.

This was a sacrifice to love with a witness.

The lawyer had contributed handsomely before for a night’s lodging, and must he give his life into the bargain? I know not how mankind may think on it; but the affair was carried to a desperate length.

Now Mrs Cunningham, not dreaming her husband would have carried matters to such an issue, seemed frightened to the last extreme at what had been done; but Sawney endeavoured to give her ease by telling her that he would work himself out of the scrape immediately, and, so saying, hoisted the body on his shoulders and went out at a back door which led directly to Hamilton’s house, which easily opening, as a profound sleep in the family and the darkness of the night favoured him, he carried the lawyer to the vault, and placed him upright upon the seat, to the end that the first who found him there might conclude he had died in that place and posture.

Now it seems Mr Hamilton, the day before, had acquainted a particular friend who lived in his house with his success, and how he was to have a meeting with Mrs Cunningham that night. This friend had had the gripes upon him for three or four days, which made him have a very violent looseness, and being obliged to untruss a point about midnight, rises in his night-gown and steps down to the vault, where, opening the door, he spies Mr Hamilton sitting, as he supposed; and taking it that he was come there on the very same errand as himself, stays without a while to let him have a quiet play.

But finding he made no motion to stir, after having waited a considerable time, to his own uneasiness, he opens the door again, and taking him by the sleeve of his coat was surprised to find him fall down. He stoops to take him up, but finds him dead; at which, being in a thousand perplexities, and fearing to be thought the murderer, he brings to mind his acquainting him with the assignation between him and Mrs Cunningham; upon which he concludes his friend had found no fair play there, knowing the husband to be none of the easiest of men.

What should this lodger do in this case? Why, he takes up the body, throws it upon his shoulders, and carries it to Sawney’s house door, where he sets it down. Madam, a little after midnight, having occasion to discharge, gets out of bed and, opening the door, lets the body of her late lover tumble into the house, which putting her into a fright, she runs upstairs into the chamber and tells Sawney how that the lawyer has come back.

“Aye, aye,” says he (just waking out of his sleep), “I’ll warrant he shall come back no more, I’ll secure him presently”; and so saying, gets immediately out of bed, puts on his clothes, and hoists the dead lawyer once more on his shoulders, with a design to carry him to the river and throw him in; but seeing some persons at some distance coming towards him, he steps up to the side of the street till they were got by, fearing his design might be discovered, and consequences were dangerous.

But what should these persons be but half-a-dozen thieves, who were returning from a plunder they had made of two large flitches of bacon out of a cheese-monger’s shop, and as they came along were talking of a vintner hard by, who sold a bottle of extraordinary wine.

Sawney was somewhat relieved from his fears (for fears he could not miss from having) at hearing this conversation. He had not been in his post long before he had the satisfaction of seeing this company put their bacon, which was in a sack, into an empty cellar, and knock the master of the tavern up to let them in.

The coast being now clear, Sawney conveys the dead lawyer into the cellar, and taking out the purloined goods, put his uneasy cargo in the room, and then marches home. Meanwhile the thieves were carousing, little dreaming what a change they should presently find in their sack. Little or no money was found amongst them, and the flitches were to answer the full reckoning, so that they continued drinking till they thought the bacon was become an equivalent for the wine they had drank. One of them, who pretended to be spokesman, addressing the landlord, told him that he must excuse him and his comrades for bringing no money in their pockets to defray what they had expended, especially at such an unseasonable time of night, when he had been called out of his bed to let them in; “but, landlord, in saying this, we have no design of doing you any wrong, or drinking your wine for nothing. For if we cannot answer the shot with the ready cole, we will make it up by an exchange of goods. Now we have got two flitches of bacon in a cellar hard by, which will more than answer our expenses, and if you care to have them, they are at your service; otherwise we must be obliged to leave word with you where we live, or you lie under a necessity of trusting us till the morning, when, on sending anybody along with us, you may depend on receiving the money.”

“Gentlemen,” says the vintner, “you are all mere strangers to me, for to my eyes and knowledge I cannot say I ever saw one of you before; but we will avoid making any uneasiness about my reckoning. I do not care to purchase a commodity I never saw, or, as the saying is, to buy a pig in a poke. If the flitches of bacon you say you have are good, I’ll take them off your hands, and quit scores with you so they but answer my demands.”

Immediately one of them, who had drunk more plentiful than the rest, said he would go and fetch them, and accordingly coming into the cellar, strove to hoist the sack up. “Zounds,” says he, “why, I think the bacon’s multiplied, or I am damnably deceived. What a pox of a load is here to gall a man’s shoulders! Tom might well complain they were heavy, and, by gad! heavy and large ones they are, and the vintner will have a rare bargain of them; much good go along with them!”

And, so saying, he lugs the corpse on his shoulders to the tavern. On coming to open the mouth of the sack, lord! what a surprise were all in to see a man’s head peep out. Mr Dash presently knew the lineaments of the deceased’s face, and cried out: “You eternal dogs! did you think to impose a dead corpse on me for two flitches of bacon? Why, you rascals, this is the body of Mr Hamilton the lawyer, and you have murdered him, have you, you miscreants! But your merits shall soon be soundly rewarded, I’ll warrant you.”

At this all the six were in the saddest plight that could be imagined; nothing but horror and dismay sat on their looks, and they really appeared as the guilty persons. But the vintner, observing them bustling to get away, made such a thundering noise of murderers, murderers, murderers, that immediately all the family were out of their beds, and the watch at the house door to know the reason of such an alarm. The thieves were instantly conveyed to a place of durance for that night, and in the morning were sent to the main prison, when after a little time they took their trials, were found guilty (though innocent) of Mr Hamilton’s death, and executed accordingly.


Sawney came off very wonderfully from this matter, though neither his wife’s admonitions nor his own frequent asseverations to her to leave off his irregular course of life were of any force to make him abandon it. The bent of doing ill, and living extravagantly, was too deeply rooted within him ever to suppose now that any amendment would come; nay, he began to show himself a monster in iniquity, and committed every wickedness that could exaggerate the character of a most profane wretch. For it is impossible to enumerate, much more to describe, the quantity and qualities of his villainies, they being a series of such horrid and incredible actions, that the very inserting them here would only make the reader think an imposition were put upon him in transmitting accounts so shocking and glaring.

The money he had obtained of Mr Hamilton was a dear purchase; it was soon played away with and consumed, which made him throw himself on other shifts to support his pockets; to which end he visited the highway, and put those to death who offered to oppose him.

His character was too well known in the west of Scotland to want any further information about him, which obliged him to retract towards Edinburgh, where, meeting with a gang of his profession who knew him to be most accomplished in their way, he was constituted generalissmo of their body, and each man had his particular lodging in the city.

But Sawney, who ever chose to act the principal part in all encounters, industriously took lodgings at a house noted for entertaining strangers, where he was not long in insinuating himself into their acquaintance, by making them believe that he was a stranger as well as they, and was come to Edinburgh on no other account than purely to see the city, and make his observations upon its public buildings and other curiosities; and that his ambition has been always to procure honest and genteel acquaintance.

Sawney, indeed, had a most artful method to conceal the real sentiments of his mind and hide his actions, which in a little time so gained upon the belief of these strangers, that they could not help taking him for one of the sincerest men breathing. For it was his custom sometimes to take them along with him two or three miles out of the city to partake of some handsome dinner or supper, when he was sure never to let them be at a far thing expense, but generously discharge the reckoning himself.

The design of all this was to make his advantage of them, and force them to pay an extravagant interest for the money he had been out of pocket in treating them. For constantly were persons planted in one place or other of the road by his immediate direction, who fell upon them as they returned to the city, and robbed them of what they had. But the cream of all was, that to avoid suspicion they always made Sawney their first prize, and rifled him, who was sure in the morning to obtain his own loss back again, and a considerable share of the other booty into the bargain.

Some time after this our adventurer, with two of his companions, meeting on the road with three citizens of Edinburgh, affronted them in a very audacious manner, and threw such language at them as plainly discovered that either death or bloodshed was near at hand. He had the impudence to tell the person who seemed the genteellest and best dressed of the three that the horse he rode on was his, and had been lately stolen from him, and that he must return it to him, or else the sword he wore should do him right. Sawney’s companions began with the others after the same manners and would needs force them to believe that the horses they rode upon were theirs. The citizens, astonished at this gross piece of impudence, endeavoured to convince them the horses they rode on were their own, and they had paid for them, and wondered how they durst pretend to dispute an affair which was so essentially wrong; but these words were far from having any effect on Cunningham, and the citizens, in the conclusion, were forced to dismount and give them their horses, and money into the bargain, being somewhat satisfied they had suffered no worse consequences, for Sawney, by this time, was drenched in all manner of villainy, and bloodshed was now accounted a trifle, so little value did he set on the lives of any persons.

Sawney having run a merry course of roguery and villainy in and about Edinburgh for some time, where he made a considerable advantage to himself, so that fortune seemed to have requited him for all the poverty and want he had before endured, determined now to go home to his wife, and spend the remainder of his days agreeably with her, on the acquisitions and plunder he had made on his countrymen.

Accordingly he came to Glasgow, where, among a few acquaintances he conversed with, for he did not care to make himself too public, he gave signs of amendment, which struck those who knew him with such astonishment that at first they could hardly be brought to believe it.

One night, being in bed with his wife, they had a close discourse together on all their foregoing life, and the good woman expressed an extraordinary emotion of joy at the seeming alteration and change in her husband; she could not imagine what reason to impute it to, for she had been so much terrified from time to time with his barbarities that she had no room to think his conversion was real; neither, on reflecting on the many robberies and murders he had committed, could she persuade herself that he could so soon abandon his licentious and wicked courses; for she supposed, if his altered conduct (as she thought) was real, it was miraculous, and an original piece of goodness hardly to be met with.

The sequel will prove that this woman had better notions of her husband than the rest of his acquaintance and those who knew him, and that she built all her fears on a solid and good foundation. The proverb says: “What is bred in the bone wiIl never be out of the flesh”; and this will be remarkably verified in Cunningham, as we shall endeavour to show in its proper place.

For all the signs he gave of an altered conduct, and all the plausible hints to rectify his former mistaken steps, were no other than only to amuse the world into a good opinion of him, that so he might make his advantage, through this pretended conversion, with the greater freedom and impunity. And he was not out in his aim; for it seems, whenever he committed anything sinister, or to the disadvantage of any of his countrymen, and he was pitched on as the transgressor, the town would say: “It could not be, for Mr Cunningham was too much reclaimed from his former courses ever to give in to them again.”


I shall insert a very notable adventure Sawney had with a conjurer, or fortune-teller, to which end I shall trace it up from the fountain-head, and give my readers the first cause that induced him to it. When Sawney was an infant, he was put out to nurse to a poor countrywoman in a little village a mile or two out of Glasgow. The woman, as the boy grew up, could not help increasing in her love for him, and he being an exceeding snotty child, would often say to her neighbours: “Oh, I shall see this lad a rich man one day!” This saying coming to the ears of his parents, they would frequently make themselves merry with it, and thought no more of it than as a pure result of the nurse’s fondling.

Sawney, having enriched himself with the spoils about Edinburgh, actually thought his old nurse’s words were verified, and sent for her to give her a gratification for her prediction. She came, but Sawney had changed his clothes, so that the poor woman did not know him at first. He told her that he was an acquaintance of Mr Cunningham’s, who, on her coming, had ordered him to carry her to Mr Peterson the astrologer’s, where she would be sure to see and speak to him; for he was gone there to get some information about an affair that nearly concerned him.

The nurse and her pretended conductor went to the fortune-teller’s, where, desiring admittance, Peterson thought they were persons who wanted his assistance, and bade them sit down when Sawney, taking a freedom with the reverend old gentleman, as he was known to use with all mankind, began to give a harangue about astrology, and the laudable practice of it.

“I and this old woman,” said he,

are two of the most accomplished astrologers or fortune-tellers in Scotland; but I would not, reverend sir, by so saying, seem to depreciate from your knowledge and understanding in so venerable a science. I came to communicate a small affair to you, to the end that, not relying on my judgment and this woman’s, I might partake of yours.

You are to know, sir, that from six years of age I have led a very untoward life, and been guilty of many egregious sins, too numerous to tell you at present, and what your ears would not care to hear; for my employment has been to lie with other men’s wives, make a share of other people’s money, bilk my lodging, and ruin the vintners; for a whore and a bottle I have sold the twelve signs in the zodiac, and all the houses in a horoscope; neither sextile, quartile, nor trine ever had power over me to keep my hands out of my neighbours’ pockets; and if I had not a profound respect for the persons of my venerable order and profession, I should call Mercury the ascendant in the fourth house at this minute, to lug half-a-score pieces of yours.

By my exceeding deep knowledge in astrology I can perfectly acquaint all manner of persons, except myself, with every occurrence of their lives; and were it not to frighten yourself, I would conclude, from the appearance and conjunction of Saturn and Vulcan, that your worship would be hanged for your profession. But, sir, though destiny hangs this unfortunate death over your head, it is at some distance from it, and may be some years before it strikes you.

Is it not surprising that a man shall be able to read the fates of mankind, and not have any preknowledge of his own? And is it not extremely afflicting to think that one who has done so much good in his generation, and assisted so many thousands to the recovery of things that would have been inevitably lost, without his advice, should come at last to meet with an ignominious halter, as a fit recompense for his services? Good heavens! where is the equity of all this? Certainly, sir, if we are to measure the justice of things by the laws of reason, we must naturally conclude that laudable and good actions deserve a laudable and good recompense; but can hanging be said to be this good recompense? No: but the stars will have it so, and how can mankind say to the contrary?

Sawney Cunningham with the astrologer

Cunningham paused here a while, and the astrologer and old nurse wondered who in the devil’s name they had got in company with.

Mr Peterson could not help staring, and well he might, at the physiognomy of our adventurer, And, in spite of himself, began to be in a panic at his words, which so terribly frightened him.

The nurse was in expectation of seeing Sawney come in every minute, little dreaming the person she was so near was the man she wanted.

Cunningham’s harangue was a medley of inconsistencies and downright banter. It is true the man had received tolerable education in his youth, and consequently might obtain a jingle in several sciences, as is evinced from the foregoing.

“Well, venerable sir,” says he,

do not be terrified at my words, for what cannot be avoided must be submitted to. To put you out of your pain, I’ll tell you a story.

A gentleman had a son who was his darling and consequently trained up in all the virtuous ways that either money could purchase or good examples teach. The youth, it seems, took to a kind and laudable course of life, and gave promising signs of making a fine man; nor indeed were their expectations deceived, for he led a very exemplary life of prudence, excellent conduct and good manners, which pleased the parents so much, that they thought everything they could do for him too little.

But the mother, out of an inexpressible fondness for him, must needs go to an astrologer, and inquire how the remaining part of his life must succeed.

Accordingly the horoscope is drawn, but a dismal appearance results from it; it acquaints the mother that her son shall remain virtuous for two and thirty years, and then be hanged.

“Monstrous and incredible,” says she, “but I’ll take care to secure him in the right way; or all my care will be to no purpose.”

Well, the family are all soon acquainted with this threatening warning. The person determined to be the sacrifice is already nine and twenty years old, and surely they suppose they can easily get the other three years, when all shall go well with their kinsman.

But what avails all the precaution of mankind? This same son obtains a commission of a ship, goes to sea, and, acting quite contrary to his orders, turns pirate, and in an encounter happens to kill a man, for which, on his return to his native country, he is tried, condemned and hanged.

What think you of this, venerable brother? Is not he a sad instance of an overruling influence of the stars? But, not to prolong too much time on a discourse of this nature, let us come to the purpose. You are now, as I cannot do it myself, to tell me my fortune, and this old woman is to confront you if you tell me a lie. There is no excuse to be made in the matter; for, by heavens, on your refusal, I’ll ease this room of your damnable trumpery,* and send you packing to the devil after them!

These words were enough to frighten any man out of his senses; nor could Peterson well discover the intention or drift of his talkative and uneasy visitant.

“What would you be at?” says the astrologer. “Why, do not you see what a terror you have put that good woman into, who trembles like an aspen leaf? I am not used, friend, to have persons come into my house and tell me to my face that I am to be hanged, and then to confirm it, as you pretend, tell me an old woman’s cock-and-bull story of a young man who went to sea, and was hanged for robbing, for which he certainly deserved the punishment he met with. As for telling your fortune, I’ll be so plain with you, that you’ll swing in a halter, as sure as your name is “Sawney Cunningham.”

“Sawney Cunningham!” quoth the mawk, who straight way throwing her arms about his neck, began to kiss him very eagerly, and then, looking earnestly in his face, cried aloud: “O laird! and art thou Sawney Cunningham? Why, I thought thou wouldst come to be a great man, thou wast such a Scotty lad!”

“Do you see now,” says Sawney, “what a damnable lie you have told me, in impudently acquainting me that I shall be hanged, when my good prophetess here tells me, I am a great man; for great men can never be hanged.”

“I do not care for what she says, nor you neither, for hanged you’ll be, and that in a month’s time, or else there never was a dog hanged in Scotland.”

“Pray, brother, how came you to know this, without consulting my horoscope?”

“Know it! Why, your very condition tells me you have deserved hanging these dozen years, but the laws have been too favourable to you, else Mr Hamilton’s death had been revenged before this time of day. Now, to convince you of my superior knowledge in astrology, I mean in telling how far their influence extends over any man’s actions, I will point to you the very action and persons that will bring you to the gallows. This very day month you shall go, in spite of all your foresight and endeavour to the contrary, to pay a visit to Mr William Bean, your uncle by the mother’s side, who is a man of an unblamable character and conversation. Him shall you kill, and assuredly be hanged.”

Was there ever such a prophetic or divining tongue, especially in these modern days, heard of? For the sequel will presently discover how every circumstance of this prediction fell out accordingly.

Sawney, having observed the air of gravity wherewith Mr Peterson delivered his words, could not help falling into a serious reflection about them, and thinking the place he was in not convenient enough to indulge the thought he found rising within him, abruptly left the fortune-teller, and giving his old nurse five shillings returned home.

But what does he determine on now? After having seriously weighed on the several particulars of Peterson’s words, he could not for his heart but think that the old man, in order to be even with him for telling him of being hanged, had only served him in his own coin; so that, after a few hours, every syllable was vanished out of his mind, and he resolved to keep up to his usual course of life.


King James I, sitting on the throne of Scotland at this time, and keeping his Court at Edinburgh, the greatest part of the Scottish nobility resided there, when our adventurer used frequently to go to make the best hand he could of what spoil he found there.

The Earl of Inchiquin, having a considerable post under the King, and several valuable matters being under his care, had a sentinel assigned, who constantly kept guard at this lord’s lodgings’ door. Guards were not much in fashion at this time, and about two or three hundred in the same livery were kept only on the establishment.

Cunningham having a desire of breaking into this minister’s lodgings, and having no way so likely to succeed as by putting on a soldier’s livery, went in that dress to the Sentinel, and after some little talk together they dropped accidentally into some military duty and exercise; which Cunningham so well displayed that the sentinel, seeming to like his brother’s notions, and smile extraordinarily, it made Cunningham stay a considerable time, till in the end he asked the sentinel to partake of two mugs of ale, and put sixpence into his hand to fetch them from an ale-house at some distance from his post, giving some reason for it that it was the best drink in the city, and none else could please his palate half so well as that. Hereupon the sentinel acquainted him that he could not but know the consequences that attended leaving his post, and that he had rather enjoy his company without the ale, than run any risk by fetching it. “Oh!” says our adventurer, “I am not a stranger to the penalties we incur on such an action, but there can no harm come of it if I stand in your place while you are gone.” And with that the sentinel gives Cunningham his musket, and goes to the place directed for the drink; but, on returning, he must needs fetch a pennyworth of tobacco from the same place, during which some of our adventurer’s companions had broken into the lord’s apartments, and rifled the same of three hundred pounds’ value. Cunningham was, however, so generous as to leave the sentinel his musket. The poor soldier returns in expectation of drinking with his friend, and enjoying his company some time longer; but alas! the bird has flown, and he is taken up to answer for his forthcoming, and committed to the Tolbooth Prison, where he was kept nine months in very heavy irons, and had only bread and water all the while allowed him to subsist on. At length he is tried, condemned and hanged. Thus did several innocent persons suffer death for that which ought to have been the portion of our adventurer.

We draw on to his last scene now, which shall be dispatched with all the brevity we are masters of.

Sawney having thus escaped so many dangers, and run through so many villainies with impunity, must needs go to his Uncle Bean’s house, who was a very good Christian, and a reputable man, as we have before observed, to pay him a visit, with no other design than to boast to him of his late successes, and how fortune had repaired the injuries his former misconduct and remissness had done him.

He went, and his uncle, with his moral frankness, bade him sit down, and call for anything his house could afford him. “Nephew,” says he, “I have desired a long time to see an alteration in your conduct, that I might say I had a nephew worthy of my acquaintance, and one to whom I might leave my estate, as deserving of it; but I am acquainted from all hands that you go on worse and worse, and rather than produce an amendment, abandon yourself to the worst of crimes.” The good old man followed this with a long exhortation, after which he issued a flood of tears, which pity and compassion had forced from his eyes; nor could Sawney forbear shedding a tear or two at hearing.

But it was all pretence, and an imitation of the crocodile; for he was determined to take this reverend old gentleman out of the world to get possession of his estate, which, for want of male issue, was unavoidably to devolve upon him after his death.

With this view, after he had made an end of his exhortation, he steps up and, without once speaking, thrusts a dagger to his heart, and so ends his life. Thus fell a venerable old uncle for pronouncing a little seasonable advice to a monster of a nephew who, finding the servant maid come into the room at the noise of her master’s falling on the floor, cut her throat from ear to ear, and then to avoid a discovery being made, set fire to the house, after he had rifled it of all valuable things in it.

But the divine vengeance was resolved not to let this barbarous act go unpunished; for the neighbourhood, observing a more than ordinary smoke issuing out of the house, concluded it was on fire, and accordingly unanimously joined to extinguish it, which they effectually did, and then going into the house, found Mr Bean and his maid inhumanly murdered. Our adventurer was got out of the way, and no one could be found to fix these cruelties upon; but it was not long before justice overtook Cunningham, who being impeached by a gang of thieves that had been apprehended, and were privy to several of his villainies, was taken up and committed a close prisoner to the Tolbooth, where so many witnesses appeared against him that he was condemned and hanged for his tricks at Leith, in company with the same robbers that had sworn against him.

When he went to the place of execution he betrayed no signs of fear, nor seemed any way daunted at his approaching fate. As he lived, so he died, valiantly and obstinately to the last, unwilling to have it said that he, whose hand had been the instrument of so many murders, proved pusillanimous at the last.

* An apposite contribution from the annals of old-tyme English slang, “trumpery” denotes Old Ware, old Stuff, as old Hats, Boots, Shoes,’ etc. (B. E.); goods of no value, rubbish (Grose): also trash and trumpery, and (proverbial), For want of good company, welcome trumpery. Whence (modern) generic for showy trashiness, and as adj., meretricious, worthless (1574).

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1730: A Natchez woman tortured to death at New Orleans

Add comment April 11th, 2017 Headsman

On this date in 1730, French-allied Tunica Indians put a captured Natchez woman to grisly public death under the walls of New Orleans.

This is the English translation of Marc-Antoine Caillot’s Relation du voyage de la Louisianne ou Nouvelle France fait par le Sr. Caillot en l’année 1730, a key firsthand source for the incident in this post.

Months earlier the Natchez had risen in rebellion against the colonists in Louisiana — a bloody settling of accounts the that answered a French push to colonize more land with an attack meant to drive them out of Louisiana altogether. The initial, surprise attacks slew 237 French subjects, many in stomach-turning fashion. Friend of the site Dr. Beachcombing details a particularly atrocious murder in his post on the affair at Beachcombing’s Bizarre History Blog.

So the French were in a state of rage and fright on April 10 — the day after Easter — when an allied tribe, the Tunica, showed up at the Big Easy with six Natchez captives in tow, three women and three children. Chief among them was a woman readily recognized by the French as the wife of a once-friendly Natchez chief now “known for being an enemy of the French.” Indeed, escapees from Natchez captivity slated her with having given the go-ahead for the torture-murder of three of their countrymen.

And this hated foe the Tunica proceeded to offer to the French, as a gesture of goodwill.

As Sophie White explains in her “Massacre, Mardi Gras, and Torture in Early New Orleans” (The William and Mary Quarterly, July 2013),* Louisiana territory governor Etienne Perier in slyly declining the prisoner intentionally condemned her to a speedy and spectacular death. Rather than taking her into official custody for disposal by the French judiciary or diplomatic organs, Perier put her up for a night in the French jail while her captors prepared a performance for the morrow calculated to slake the bloodlust of French and native alike.

White’s narrative is worth excerpting at length here; all the parentheticals come from White’s original text.

Officially, Governor Perier could claim that he had maintained French notions of justice by rejecting the Tunica offer of the prisoner of war (even though at a later date he would openly write of another four male and two female Natchez having “been burnt here”). Yet he allotted a space for the Tunica to torture her and arranged for her to be kept in jail overnight while the Tunica danced the black “calumet of death” in preparation for her execution. In the morning, after gathering firewood, erecting a frame, and painting their faces and bodies, the Tunica “began to run as if possessed by the devil and, while yelling (it is their custom), they ran to the jail where she was in chains”; she was engaged in a final assertion of sartorial self-preservation, “fixing a ribbon to her braided hair,” hair that she knew would soon be scalped.

Like Perier, the colonial populace also became involved in exacting revenge on this member of the Natchez nation. Not only were “all the Sauvages who were in New Orleans” present at the torture ritual but colonists also attended the performance as spectators, as they might in France attend a public execution. They watched as the Tunica tied her to a frame and as a Natchez man who had abandoned his kin and been adopted by the Tunica stepped forward to burn her, starting with “the hair [poil, or body hair] of her … then one breast, then the buttocks, then the left breast” (the ellipses represent a deliberate authorial omission on the part of Caillot). Commentators described the methodical burning of torture victims as a form of slow-cooking (“a petit feu”). For Caillot, the ritual burning of the victim’s genitals, breasts, and buttocks was marked by the carefully observed but gruesome sight of “the abundance of grease mixed with blood that ran onto the ground.” His description evoked the cooking of meat basted in fat, with the frame simulating a spit on which the victim was roasted; if this frame/spit did not physically turn its meat, the torturers made sure that she was evenly roasted on all sides by their methodical movement across her body. This food preparation imagery was followed by other cooking analogies. As they were about to kill her (in contrast to the procedure in France, where spectators waited for the execution to be complete before grabbing souvenir pieces of the criminal’s body), “the French women who had suffered at her hands at the Natchez [settlement] each took a sharpened cane and larded her,” just as French culinary techniques called for piercing meat with a sharp stick prior to the insertion of thin strips of lard.

The Natchez woman was not impressed, but “during that long and cruel torture never shed a tear. On the contrary, she seemed to deride the unskilfulness of her tormenters, insulting them, and threatening that her death would soon be avenged by her tribe.”


Detail view (click for the full image) of a generic depiction of the torture frame, from Jean-Francois-Benjamin Dumont de Montigny’s memoir. Sophie White notes that this figure is identifiably female based on her genitalia and the long scalped hair mounted on the adjacent pole.

Over the next several years, the French not only turned back the attack but largely shattered and Natchez peoples, dispersing their remnants to fragmented communities throughout the U.S. South. Today only a few thousand Natchez souls remain, and their interesting language has died out entirely.

* Though it’s a bit tangential to the subject of this post, readers interested in this milieu might cotton to White’s Wild Frenchmen and Frenchified Indians: Material Culture and Race in Colonial Louisiana.

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1863: The servile murderers of Isaac Strowd and John Lockhart

Add comment April 10th, 2017 Headsman

Scant appetite as North Carolinians showed for the Civil War, the alarm when two eminent white men of Orange County were murdered by their slaves within days of each other (and just days after the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 stoked such alarm that, according to Unruly Women: The Politics of Social and Sexual Control in the Old South, several eminent white citizens sent personal appeals to governor Zebulon Vance to fast-track their condign judicial punishment lest lynch mobs handle them in more summary fashion.

Although the press clippings excerpted here imply five hangings, the Espy File registry records only four, omitting the man convicted not of murder but of accessory before the fact.


Thursday, February 26, 1863 N. C. ARGUS (Wadesborough, Anson County, NC)
-Hillsboro Recorder, 18th – Murder: On Thursday morning last, Mr. Isaac STROWD, living southwest of this place, near the Chatham lines, was killed by some negroes working with him who afterwards carried him about half a mile and buried him in an old field. His body was not found until Sunday morning. We understand one of the negroes has confessed that he killed him, but says that it was by accident. The negroes, four in number, two men and two women, were brought to this place on Monday, and lodged in jail.

Thursday, March 5, 1863 N. C. ARGUS (Wadesborough, Anson County, NC)
-Hillsboro Recorder – Another murder – Mr. John LOCKHART, a respectable citizen residing in the northeastern section of this county, was murdered on Tuesday of last week by three negroes in his employ – one belonging to him and two hired. The negroes have been lodged in jail in this place, to await their trial.

Thursday, March 26, 1863 N.C. ARGUS (Wadesborough, Anson County, NC)
-Hillsborough Recorder – Judge GILLIAM’S first Court was a Court of Oyer and Terminer held in this place. The first case brought on was the trial of America, Daniel and Solomon, three slaves, for the murder of Mr. John LOCKHART. America and Daniel were convicted of the murder. Solomon was an accessory before the fact … The next arraignment was Lucian and Allen, for the murder of Mr. Isaac STROWD … On Saturday night about 12 o’clock the Jury returned a verdict of guilty as to both. On Monday, the five criminals were brought to court for sentence. The judgment of the Court was that they be hung on Friday, the 10th day of April next.

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Feast Day of St. Eupsychius, anti-Apostate

3 comments April 9th, 2017 Headsman

April 9 is the (Roman) feast date of the minor Cappadocian saint Eupsychius.

As martyr to the hated-of-Christians pagan throwback emperor Julian the Apostate, Eupsychius could perhaps be accounted an ironical late victim of the fratricidal family politics that consumed the heirs of the great Christianizer Constantine the Great.

When Constantine kicked off in 337, he left three sons of a disgraced empress whom he optimistically hoped would share rulership. What happened instead was that, inside of a generation, practically the entire Constantinian line laid one another in the earth by dint of bloodthirsty dynastic rivalries, leaving only two men standing.

And it so happened that those two kinsmen faced one another across late antiquity’s gaping spiritual chasm: one a Christian, the other a pagan.

Constantius was the surviving son of Constantine, and regardless his Christian affiliation had secured his initial control of his father’s new eastern capital by unsentimentally butchering the bulk of his extended family including his own uncle Julius Constantius, and Julius’s firstborn son. Two other sons of Julius Constantine, too young for the abbatoir, escaped their brother’s fate and so our future Julian the Apostate grew up under a perpetually dancing Damoclean sword, a bookish philosophizing type enchanted by classical learning — so enchanted that he would eventually, and at first very quietly, apostatize from his substantial Christian education and adhere instead to the old gods.

In the fullness of time, the remainder of Constantius’s family succumbed to various civil wars — including Julian’s only surviving brother, Gallus, executed for treachery in 354 in an incident that could very well have claimed Julian as well if for no other reason than proximity. A prolific writer, Julian would later recall that “if some God, to inure my safety, had not ingratiated me with his [Constantius’s] beautiful and excellent wife, Eusebia, I could not have escaped his resentment.” Perhaps the childless Constantius could foresee well enough that, resentment or no, his last relation would be required for imperial policy soon enough.

And indeed the very next year, having spent many months mulling over whether to kill him, Constantius instead elevated Julius as his junior co-emperor. The young scholar soon distinguished himself as a surprisingly competent leader and battlefield commander, pacifying Germania and Gaul before, almost inevitably, the two emperors turned on one another in civil war. Julian must have been well-favored of goddess Fortuna whom he will defend in this post, for he won that war before the first spear was chucked when Constantius took ill and died as the rivals steered their armies towards one another.

So suddenly, 40 years after the empire had officially gone Christian, it had a pagan ruler — the last pagan ruler it would ever know.

Julian was an intelligent and idealistic young man. Taking power before the age of 30, he set a bold course to massively remake the empire in the image of its most admirable anachronisms: living modestly, paring the bureaucracy, debating Senators as their equal instead of their overlord, and — the attempted rollback that would mark his nickname and his reputation — restoring a pre-Christian cosmology to philosophical preeminence.

A few books about Julian the Apostate

This could have been Julian the Apostate‘s life’s work, twenty or thirty of forty years dislodging Christianity from the official foothold it had only recently attained and creating the groundwork for a pagan-dominated middle ages: fine grist for speculative alternative history, since Julian actually died in 363 in war against the Persians.

Having learned from the failure of previous rulers’ persecutions, he deployed instead the devious and modern mechanic of liberal religious toleration, starving the “Galileans” of the galvanizing force of either state backing or state oppression while perhaps setting their orthodox edifice up to splinter over time as various heretical movements began freely venting their rival doctrines on one another.


Julian the Apostate presiding at a conference of sectarians, by Edward Armitage (1875).

His uniqueness and his erudition have made him an attractive character for modern interlocutors, especially those of the Christ-skeptic variety; Gore Vidal sympathetically centered Julian in an engrossing historical novel, and Gibbon warmly admired him:

The Christians, who had now possessed above forty years the civil and ecclesiastical government of the empire, had contracted the insolent vices of prosperity, and the habit of believing that the saints alone were entitled to reign over the earth. As soon as the enmity of Julian deprived the clergy of the privileges which had been conferred by the favour of Constantine, they complained of the most cruel oppression; and the free toleration of idolaters and heretics was a subject of grief and scandal to the orthodox party. The acts of violence, which were no longer countenanced by the magistrates, were still committed by the zeal of the people. At Pessinus the altar of Cybele was overturned almost in the presence of the emperor, and in the city of Caesarea, in Cappadocia, the temple of Fortune, the sole place of worship which had been left to the Pagans, was destroyed by the rage of a popular tumult. On these occasions, a Prince who felt for the honour of the gods was not disposed to interrupt the course of justice; and his mind was still more deeply exasperated when he found that the fanatics, who had deserved and suffered the punishment of incendiaries, were rewarded with the honours of martyrdom.

It is the last named of these incidents that finally brings us round to our date’s principal.

Like Julian himself, St. Eupsychius had no way of knowing that the new, old order would be a transient epoch. In his zeal to resist a rejuvenated paganism, Eupsychius led a riotous sack of a temple to Fortuna (Tyche). The church historian Sozomen gives us the primary-est historical record, and although it dates to several decades after Eupsychius’s martyrdom we can’t be picky when it comes to antiquity.

It is said that at this time were martyred Basilius, a presbyter of the church of Ancyra, and Eupsychius, a nobleman of Caesarea in Cappadocia, newly wed and in a manner of speaking still a bridegroom. As regards Eupsychius, I conjecture that he was executed because of the temple of Tyche, then destroyed, on account of which destruction, as has been said above, all citizens of Caesarea collectively experienced the emperor’s wrath, while those who personally took part in it were punished, some with death, some with banishment.

Later iterations would expand predictably on Eupsychius’s sufferings — tortures, miracle-making, blood and milk springing from his wound, and even eventually eliding the precipitating riot or arson — all of which conspires to pull a discernibly historical figure behind the dark glass of hagiography.*

Little more than a year later, Julian suffered a mortal wound in battle against the Sassanids. The Constantinian dynasty died with Julian, as did his signature project of Apostasy — a sudden volte-face of that fickle Fortuna whose memory and reputation would persist well beyond the twilight of paganism.

The History of Rome podcast deals with Julian in episodes 143, 144, 145, and 146.

* See L.G. Westerink, “The Two Faces of St. Eupsychius,” Harvard Ukrainian Studies, Vol. 7, Okeanos: Essays presented to Ihor Shevchenko on his Sixtieth Birthday by his Colleagues and Students (1983).

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Entry Filed under: Ancient,Arson,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,God,History,Martyrs,Rioting,Roman Empire,Torture,Turkey,Uncertain Dates

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1819: Robert Dean, “rational incoherence”

Add comment April 8th, 2017 Meaghan

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

On this date in 1819, an apprentice watch engraver named Robert Dean was hanged at. St. George’s Fields, Surrey for the murder of Mary Ann Albert, age four.

The crime appeared, on the surface, to be without motive. Robert was a coworker and good friend of Mary Ann’s uncle, Joseph Williams, and he also became close to Joseph’s sister, Mary Albert. On his frequent visits to the Albert family, he would play adoringly with Mary’s daughter, little Mary Ann.

On the day of the murder, Dean met Joseph at Mary Albert’s house and little Mary Ann sat in his lap for a time. Then Dean and Joseph left the house, but after they had walked only a short distance, Dean made an excuse to go back to the Albert residence. He asked for permission to take Mary Ann for a short walk, and her mother agreed. When they didn’t return, she went out looking for them and was horrified to see her daughter stumbling toward her, blood spurting from a deep gash in her throat.

Mary summoned a doctor, but it was too late: the child died within the hour.

Robert Dean turned himself in to the authorities several days later. Prior to his trial he penned a confession that offered a perplexing reason behind his terrible actions:

On Friday evening last I met a young man named Joseph Williams with whom I had long been intimate, at Mrs. Albert’s house in Jacques-court, Thomas-street. I had long been acquainted with a young woman named Sarah Longman, daughter of Mr. L. at the Grapes, Church-row, Aldgate; my affection for her was extremely great; I had for some time corresponded with her. A dispute unhappily arose; I wrote to her on the subject, expressing my regret at the unfortunate rupture, described the very great regard which I entertained for her, implored her to consent to reconciliation, and begged that she would write me an easily answer. She never replied to my letter. Her father called upon me, and wished that the connexion might be discontinued. These circumstances had an indescribable effect upon my mind; I was miserably unhappy, and was incapable for attending to my business, and gave myself up entirely to despair. I endeavored to prevail upon her to renew the correspondence. I felt that I could not be happy in this world without her, and was determined to leave it. Thoughts of a dreadful description entered my mind, and must have proceeded from the Devil. I felt that I should leave the world in a state of happiness if I could murder her, and determined to perpetrate the deed. I had been home from two days, business not being very brisk, and on Friday evening I called to see Williams, at Mrs. Albert’s. We both came out together and walked in company to the theater. We did not go in; I told Williams that I wanted to see a gentleman in the Borough, and should go that way. We parted and I returned to Mrs. Albert’s. After talking in a very friendly manner with the family, I asked for a knife and they gave me a case-knife. I took an opportunity of concealing it unperceived in my pocket. I shortly went out with the child to buy her some apples, which having done, I returned to the court. A sudden thought came over my mind, that if I murdered the child, who was innocent, I should not commit so great a crime as murdering Sarah Longman, who was older, and as I imagined, has sins to answer for. In a moment I pulled the knife out of my pocket, put the child down out of my arms, held her head back and cut her little throat. In an instant I imagined that I was in the midst of flaming fire, and the court appeared to me like the entrance of hell. I ran away, not knowing where I went or what I did; I wandered about in a state of distraction until I surrendered myself up to the watch-house.

In other words, Robert Dean, spurned by his lover, chose to take out his rage on a toddler, “who was an innocent,” whose family liked and trusted him, and who had nothing to do with the love affair at all. Mary Ann Albert’s mother was obliged to testify against him at trial, and the Newgate Calendar records that when she “beheld the prisoner at the bar, she burst into an hysteric scream of horror, and was for a long time incapable of giving her evidence, until she was relieved by a flood of tears.”

His guilt was never in doubt; for those who saw him at trial he “appeared to be in a kind of idiotic stupor” and “being called upon to make his defence, merely said in a wild manner, that he was not guilty.” (Trewman’s Exeter Flying Post, April 8, 1819)

Dean’s disordered thoughts likewise governed his embrace of the death sentence; “his general appearance was that of a maniac, but on all subjects he spoke rationally, although often incoherently.” Did he fear to hang? The example of Enlightenment philosophers comforted him. “Why should I complain, knowing as I do that the change I am going to make is for the better? Where is Voltaire now? — in hell: where is Tom Paine? — in hell: God have mercy upon them as he has upon me.”

A cast of Dean’s head was made after his execution and phrenologists made a careful study of it. According to their findings,

Disappointment in love, aided perhaps by other causes, appears to have produced diseased action in the brain: and the different mental faculties are here seen acting like so many limbs of an automaton, when their different organs happen to be excited by external objects, those which are largest always taking the lead. Thus Amativeness, and apparently Adhesiveness, excite Destructiveness, and Dean first resolved to kill Sarah Longman. The little child, however, fell accidentally in his way, and his Veneration and Benevolence seem to have started into activity in favour of his young woman: he would not kill her because “she would have much sin to answer for.” Impelled, however, by the diseased energy of his large Destructiveness, he could not refrain from murder, but slew the infant, to whom nevertheless he had previously been tenderly attached. After giving scope to Destructiveness, his moral organs came into action, and he was overwhelmed with remorse, and gave himself up to the police.

On this day..

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

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1900: William Pepo, the first hanged in Teton County, Montana

Add comment April 7th, 2017 Headsman

Today’s entry of the mystery man who was the maiden execution in Teton County, Montana unfolds via the period reportage of the Anaconda Standard.


Anaconda Standard, June 5, 1899

Great Falls, June 4. — William Pepo is guilty of the murder of Julius Plath. So the jury in Teton county has decided, but as his lawyers have decided to appeal the case, William may escape paying the penalty which a verdict of guilty of murder in the first degree is supposed to carry.

All of the evidence was of the circumstantial kind, but it points clearly to the guilt of Pepo.

The facts of the crime, whose story has been told before in this column, are these:

One day during the last summer a ranch hand rode into the town of Choteau and sought the office of the sheriff. He said that the body of an unknown man had been found in a deserted cabin on the Muddy, with all the earmarks of foul play surrounding it.

No one knew the name of the dead man, and there was nothing to give a direct clue to it.

Several people had seen two men pass their places and one of them tallied in description with the dead man. One woman, at whose house the pair had stayed overnight, remembered that they came from Canada, and were evidently Germans.

William Hagen, the sheriff of Teton county, went to work on the case, and, following up slight clues, and helped perhaps a trifle by chance, came to the conclusion that the victim was Julius Plath of Pembroke, Ontario, who had been working on the Crows’ Nest Pass railway.

Then came the search for his companion, and after many months he was found working under an assumed name as a ranch hand near Spokane. He was arrested and brought back.

Then came some steady painstaking work, which followed the course of the two men up to where the body was found, and so thoroughly was this chain of evidence established that the denials of Pepo as to acquaintance with Plath, with the crime or with the neighborhood were not credited by the jury, although they debated the case all night before agreement.

Charles Simons, charged with having shot and killed Charles Buckley in a barroom row, was found guilty of manslaughter and the jury fixed the punishment at the minimum — one year in the penitentiary.


Anaconda Standard, Jan. 23, 1900

Special Dispatch to the Standard.

Helena, Jan. 22. — William Pepo, convicted in Teton county for the murder of Julius Plath, in the summer of 1898, will have to pay the penalty of his crime upon the gallows, unless the governor interferes, which is hardly possible, as the supreme court to-day affirmed the judgment of the lower court.

“We find no error in the record, and must affirm the judgment and order appealed from,” says the supreme court in concluding a decision by Associate Justice Hunt. The opinion deals with the various points raised by Pepo’s counsel, but finds none of them of sufficient merit to warrant an interference with the action of the lower court.

One of the errors assigned by Pepo’s counsel was the alleged misconduct of the jury, it being claimed that while the jury was deliberating on the case, the bailiff entered the jury room and remained several hours.

One of jurors, by the name of Dehass, made affidavit to that effect. The bailiff made counter affidavit to the effect that early one morning he entered the jury room, taking some lunch and bedding. All but four of the jurors were asleep. The four who were awake were talking in the other end of the room, but not about the case.

The bailiff took a two-hour nap in the room and then left. He swore positively that he heard not one word of the conversation. Some of the jurors made affidavit to the same effect.

“From the foregoing affidavits, we think it is fair to say that there was no misconduct on the part of the jury, which tended in any way to prejudice the substantial rights of this defendant,” says the court, in disposing of this contention.

Another alleged error was the action of the lower court in allowing a witness to relate a conversation between Plath and the witness, when it was claimed the defendant was not present. The decision find no error in this, since the same witness subsequently testified Pepo was present. The action of the lower court in refusing to give an instruction that a witness having a casual acquaintance with a party is not entitled to much evidence is sustained.

“We are also asked to reverse the judgment because the verdict is not sustained by the evidence,” continues the opinion. “To this assignment, we have given the most attentive consideration, and our judgment is that it is very seldom that a case presents itself which so entirely fulfills the exact requirements of the law in relation to the measure of proof demanded to sustain a conviction of murder, where the state relies upon circumstantial evidence.

Under this assignment the argument is advanced that the evidence as to the identity of the body is unreliable and unsatisfactory. Counsel makes the point that there was no direct evidence to identify the body found as that of Julius Plath, who was alleged to have been killed by the defendant, Pepo.

Section 358 of the penal code provides that ‘No person can be convicted of murder or manslaughter unless the death of the person alleged to have been killed, and the fact of the killing by the defendant as alleged, are established as independent facts: the former by direct proof and the latter beyond a reasonable doubt.’

This statute is taken from the New York code, which is identical in its language, with this exception, that the New York code provides that the death of the person alleged to have been killed and the fact of the killing of the defendant as alleged, shall each have been established as independent facts. But we think that the same rules of interpretation should be applied to the Montana statute that controls in New York. The evidence in all respects sustains the verdict of murder.

The murder of Plath was one of the mysteries of Northern Montana and a crime that was not explained for some time. In an abandoned claim on the Muddy river to the northwest of Great Falls, the body in a bad state of decomposition was found in June, 1898, by a farm hand, who went into the place to get a mower sickle

A piece of iron, covered with blood, showed the weapon used.

The body was dressed in clothing that afterwards assisted in the identification, although for the time being nothing was found to show who this murdered man was.

A locket lying on the floor and a memorandum book in the pocket of an overcoat hanging on the wall also assisted in the identification. One proved to be the property of Plath and the other of Pepo.

Pepo and his victim, it was subsequently learned, came to Montana together from the Northwest Territory.

Both left the railroad at Shelby. Plath is known to have had $120 in his possession, and this is supposed to have furnished the motive for the crime.

During the trial it developed that several persons had seen two men corresponding to Pepo and Plath. They said they were going to Choteau. A farmer directed them to the cabin where the body was found as a good place to sleep on the way.

Others remembered them by such identifications as the charm on Plath’s watch, the photographs of him sent from Canada, his clothing and other articles.

A reward by the authorities and diligent work on the part of the Teton county authorities, assisted by relatives and acquaintances of the murdered man in Canada, finally fixed Pepo as the murderer and Plath as the victim.

The murderer was arrested in Washington. This was nine months after the discovery of the body. Pepo, when arrested, was living under an assumed name. He carried the very watch that Plath was known to have owned. Pepo’s trial and conviction followed.

Judge Smith of Kalispell will probably sentence him to be hanged at Choteau in a few weeks.


Anaconda Standard, Apr. 4, 1900

Special Dispatch to the Standard.

Helena, April 3. — An appeal to Governor Smith in behalf of executive clemency for another murderer was turned down to-day, when the governor announced that he could not see his way clear to interfere with the judgment of the courts in the case of William Pepo, under sentence of death to hang at Choteau next Saturday, April 7. Pepo was convicted of killing Julius Plath in a cabin on the banks of the Muddy river, in Teton county, a few miles north of Great Falls.

The murder was committed June 14 or 15, 1898. The decomposed body of Plath was not found until several days after the crime was committed. A farm hand who had occasion to enter the cabin to procure a mowing machine sickle came across the body lying upon a bunk in a sickening state of decomposition.

There appeared to be no clew to the murderer and it was several months afterward before suspicion was attached to Pepo. He was brought back to Montana, tried and convicted. The supreme court refused to grant him a new trial and he was sentenced to expiate his crime upon the gallows.

J.G. Bair, his attorney, appealed to the governor for a commutation of sentence to life imprisonment on the ground of lack of evidence to connect Pepo with the crime. The governor has been examining the record in the case for several days and this afternoon he sent a letter to Mr. Bair stating that he could not interfere. The letter was very brief. It follows:

I have finished reading the transcript in the matter of the application for executive clemency for William Pepo. In this case the evidence is so convincing and clear the jury could not have reached any other conclusion. It shows a most cold-blooded murder and there is no doubt Pepo was the murderer. I must absolutely refuse to interfere with the sentence of the court.

Pepo is said to be without a friend in the world save the Choteau attorney who sought to save his neck. His execution will be the first legal hanging that ever took place in Teton county.


Anaconda Standard, Apr. 8, 1900

Special Dispatch to the Standard.

Great Falls, April 7. — In the yard of the county jail in Choteau this morning at 6:09 o’clock William Pepo was hanged for the murder of Julius Plath. He exhibited no nervousness or fear and his last words were:

Gentlemen, I have nothing to say, only that I am about to be hanged an innocent man.

It was the first legal execution in Teton county, and from start to finish went without the slightest hitch of any kind.

There were about 50 spectators. The only outside officer of the law present was Sheriff Hubbard of Kalispell.

After all visitors had left last night the condemned man employed his time in writing, playing cards and conversation with the death watch until 3 o’clock this morning, when he went to bed and dropped off to sleep at once.

At 5:15 a.m., when he was aroused by Deputy McDonald, he was sleeping so soundly it was necessary to call several times to awaken him. After getting up he greeted the guards pleasantly and ordered breakfast, but later countermanded the order with the remark that his time was too short to waste any of it in eating.

At his request Father Snell was admitted and talked with him alone for some time, after which he asked that Attorney Bair, who has defended him throughout, be admitted to his cell, and in a few moments’ conversation he bade him goodbye and reiterated his innocence. Rev. Cunningham next conversed with him and Pepo listened to him very attentively and answered him earnestly.

At 6 o’clock the death warrant was read to him in his cell by Under Sheriff Haggerty and he was led out into the corridor, where he bade an earnest goodbye to the officers who had been his keepers for the past 18 months, and spoke a pleasant word to each.

His arms were strapped down and the walk to the scaffold began, the condemned man walking firmly and without assistance between Deputies Devlin and Armstrong, followed by Sheriff Hagen and Under Sheriff Haggerty and Rev. Cunningham.


To the Gallows.

As they walked down the north side of the jail in the alleyway formed by the high board fence erected about the yard, the morning air was crisp and chill, and the condemned man, turning to one of the officers, said jokingly: “It’s a little cool out here; this must be like the weather they tell about in North Dakota,” and smiled pleasantly.

Some of the guards had previously been talking of North Dakota weather to him, and his last earthly joke referred to the conversation.

As he turned the angle of the building and stepped under the gallows, he faced the silent, uncovered crowd, who had been admitted a few minutes before, calmly and quietly, by far the most self-possessed man present, and looking them over, he bowed pleasantly three or four times to parties he knew and said in a low voice, though clearly and distinctly:

Gentlemen, I have nothing to say, only that I am about to be hanged an innocent man.

Sheriff Hagen placed the strap about his knees and the condemned looked down with apparent interest and carefully placed his feet together so as to assist the sheriff.

The noose was placed about his neck, but he never flinched a hair’s breadth.

Rev. Cunningham, in a low tone, recited the prayers for the dead. For a moment, Pepo closed his eyes, as if listening.

A meadow lark in the field outside the prison walls whistled its morning note loud and clear; the condemned man opened his eyes again and looked out upon the crowd of awe struck faces and uncovered heads and the early morning sunlight which he never again would see.

The voice of the minister, broken and low, sounded monotonously.

Pepo glanced up inquiringly and Sheriff Hagen dropped down over his head and face the terrible black cap, shutting out all view of the world and sunlight from William Pepo forever.

Instantly the sheriff sprang away and gave the signal to the unknown man in the box alongside the gallows; the 400 pound weight fell to the ground like a plummet and the body shot up in the air four feet and settled down again without a perceptible tremor or more sign of life than if a block of wood. His neck was broken instantly.

Drs. Brooks and Cooper watched the pulse that in 10 minutes was forever stilled, and in 20 minutes the body was cut down and placed in a coffin, and the long strain upon all the officials connected with the case was over.

For the Epworth league was left a long letter of thanks for their services to him. To Rev. Cunningham was left a letter with the superscription, “Not to be opened until after my death.” In this letter he said in part:

“I Am Not Guilty.”

I am not guilty and consequently should not be held responsible for the crime. If this crime is really and truly atoned for by the ator in this world while you live, I hope you will tell those that have been instrumental in fastening it on me that they have my forgiveness as I have been forgiven. When you read this I will stand before the throne of God, whose grace passes all understanding. Amen.

Those are his last written words, and from them can be seen how strongly he urged his innocence and how far from any such thing as an admission he stood.

Since the action of Rev. Warman in the matter of Hurst‘s confession he has been particularly anxious to impress upon every one his innocence and feared lest some one should allege some such thing of him after his death.

He was buried this afternoon, Rev. Cunningham conducting the services.

With the hanging of William Pepo, the man of mystery, was closed a chapter in the book of one man’s life which will never be read by mortal eye, for just as sure as was his taking off, his name was not Pepo, and some time in the past he has trod walks of life other than those which he has during the time that the evidence in his case has been traced to him.

Looking at him last night calmly smoking and chatting cheerfully with those about him it was hard to recognize about him any of the accepted tributes of the common murderer. Pleasant faced, intelligent, well read, iron nerved and ready witted, he showed by every action the man of education and good raising. He refused at all times to give any chance for his photograph being taken, even by a kodak, and his last statement to Attorney Bair, the one man nearer to him in the effort to save his life than any other, was,

They do not know my name, nor do you. I shall not bring disgrace upon my family by letting them know that I have died a felon’s death. I will carry it with me out of the world.

A Man of Mystery.

Absolutely nothing has been learned of his past life further than six years back except what he himself has told and that, when investigated, was found not to be true.

He has not asked that one human being be sent for, nor had he ever mentioned the name of a person whom he wished to know of his terrible position.

Of his past life he has been as silent as the tomb except as to the indefinite stories mentioned.

That a man of his age, intelligence, ability and strong personality should not have in the wanderings of a lifetime one single friend or relative to come forward at such an hour, if called upon, seems incredible. In speaking with Under Sheriff Haggerty yesterday he referred to the Hurst and to the Calder cases. Of Rev. Mr. Warman he spoke very bitterly for giving publicity to the Hurst confession, and said Hurst’s wife and family would curse him for his action in the case until their dying day.

Speaking of Calder, he said:

I had made up my mind to go out of the world as Calder did, cursing God and man, but Rev. Mr. Rogers’, Rev. Mr. Cunningham’s and Father Snell’s talks to me have changed my mind, and I forgive every one connected with my trial. I firmly believe there is a God and I will go to Him expecting to receive the justice in the other world which has been denied in this world.

He expressed thanks for the favors which the sheriff’s office had shown him, breaking down for a few moments and shedding tears. Yesterday, Rev. Mr. Cunningham and members of the Epworth league had services in the corridor, as they have had every day for the past week, and at his request sang certain hymns.

Not once since a week after his sentence has his appetite failed him, and his sleep has been as regular and peaceful as a child’s.

His Iron Nerve.

His favorite pastime when no visitors were present has been playing cards with the death watch, and when he won he laughed as heartily as if he never had a care in the world.

Yesterday his beard was trimmed up and he was dressed in a new suit of clothes, and when the Standard reporter visited him he was received as courteously as though an invited guest.

Pepo was smoking and politely passed a package of cigars out through the iron bars, urging acceptance with the uncanny remark that there was more than enough to last him until 7 o’clock a.m. and after that he wouldn’t need any.

In the corridor with the death watch were many who came to visit him, and as Pepo recognized each one he shook hands heartily and expressed his pleasure at his meeting them and talked pleasantly on the topics of the day, alluding every little while to his own case as though it were an incident which he did not care to have those present feel any embarrassment in commenting on.

To one of the death watch he laughingly related the fact that “Tom” was to be one of the watchers.

“Did you think of it?” he continued. “You and Tom were the death watches the first night of my sentence, and now you will be with me my last night.”

The incident did not appear to strike the death watch addressed as at all humorous, but Pepo laughed softly again at the recollection.

At first he was disinclined to speak of his case for publication, as he believed the newspapers had not treated him fairly, but later he talked quite freely. He asked his attorney, who was present, to write a contradiction of a statement which appeared in a Dupuyer paper, in which he was quoted as saying that certain men in Washington would testify that he was working in that state June 15, 1898, which was the supposed date of the murder of Plath.

He dictated the writing, took the sheet of paper and read it with satisfaction and signed his name without a tremor, asking that Under Sheriff Haggerty and the Standard men sign it as witnesses. The statement reads:

His statement.

In an interview published in your paper some time since you quoted me as having said that I could obtain evidence from Washington showing I was there, in Washington, on or about June 15, 1898. This is a mistake; I meant to say I could get witnesses there who would testify that I was in Washington at work on the date that James Hannan testified to having seen me trying to cross the mountains, namely, on July 29, 1898.

In explaining this, Pepo said:

I don’t wish any injustice done my attorney; had I been able to secure such evidence I would have told him and I would not now be here with but six or eight hours to live; such evidence would have cleared me. Men would testify I commenced work there on July 4, but that would not do. I don’t know when I commenced to work there myself, as I was drunk for a long time. When the sheriff arrested me in Washington for murder I was never so surprised in my life. They say I was seen here after the murder. I never was in Choteau in my life until brought back by the sheriff. On June 14, when I am said to have done this thing, I expressed a package in Lethbridge at the express office there. The newspapers did not treat me fairly. They condemned me before I was tried and branded me a low-browed murderer. Had I friends to call upon, and state my side, the case might have been different. I am innocent and God knows it. But it is all over now, and I don’t want to make you people sick of listening to my troubles. They will soon be over, anyhow; let what is gone by go: it can make no difference now and talking of it does no good.

And all this without the slightest attempt at bravado or whine. One of the guards offered him a whiskey cocktail, but he refused it and said, smilingly:

No; I have had one and that is enough now; I don’t want you to think I need or wish courage to meet the end.

All the evening of the many who visited him he was the most calm and unembarrassed. His voice was clear and even and at no time did he evince the slightest excitement or nervousness, and, though he referred quite frequently to his coming death, it was without regret or a semblance of more interest than if it were the getting of his morning meal.

A little white kitten romped upon the floor of his cell and he expressed concern as to what would be its fate after the morning, when he would be taken away and he could feet it no longer. One of the officials promised to look after the kitten and he seemed much relieved.

For quiet, unostentatious iron nerve and calm placidity in the face of death upon the gallows, Pepo’s every word and movement last night and also this morning must stand alone.

Either he went to death innocent, which the evidence flatly disproves, or his career in crime has sent more men than Julius Plath out of the world unshriven.

He was not in the class of most moral degenerates and must go down, if guilty, as an iron-nerved prince of criminals, who played his last card, and losing, paid the forfeit with his life without the quiver of an eyelash.

The crime for which William Pepo to-day suffered the death penalty was the murder of Julius Plath in a cabin on the Muddy river, about 20 miles from Choteau, in Teton county, about the 15th of June, 1898. The case throughout was circumstantial and most remarkably illustrates that “murder will out,” no matter how carefully guarded.

Pepo and Julius Plath were acquainted in Canada, and early in June, 1898, left Lethbridge together to come to the United States, Plath having $120 in currency on his person.

They came in over the narrow guage [sic] and beat their way over the railroad as far as Pondera, where they left the railway and started together for Choteau.

The last seen of them was June 14, when they were directed to the cabin where the murder was committed.

On June 29, parties finding the cabin door fastened forced it open and found the body of a man who the evidence afterwards tended to show was Plath. The dead man had been killed while asleep by having his skull crushed by a large iron bolt, which was found lying near.

All the dead man’s clothes were taken charge of by the authorities and afterwards identified as belonging to Plath. Near the body was found an overcoat, in the pocket of which was a memorandum book belonging to and written in by Pepo.

The dead man was unidentified and was buried unknown.

Months after, when the murder had almost been forgotten, a letter came from Plath’s brother in Toronto, Canada, asking for the whereabouts of Julius, and by chance it fell into the hands of some one who thought it worth while to refer it to the authorities.

Further inquiry brought a photograph of the dead man, and this photograph was the first link in the chain which brought William Pepo to the gallows to-day and gave Sheriff Hagen the first ray of light upon a murder whose darkness seemed impenetrable.

The dead man when found was too badly decomposed for identification, but a man who had seen Pepo and Plath traveling together identified the photograph as being that of the smaller of the two men.

The clothing shown in the photograph also corresponded exactly with that found upon the dead man. The photograph was taken by Neapole, Pembroke, Canada, and is marked “exhibit D.” Later Plath’s brother came from Canada and identified the clothing as that of his brother Julius.

Then began the search for Pepo, who had disappeared as completely as though the earth had swallowed him up. Search was unavailing, until one day a letter came from a young lady to friends in Canada, who stated that she had met Pepo, but that he was going under the name of William Ferris and did not wish her to say anything about it.

The letter was from Davenport, Wash., and the young lady was unaware that Pepo was wanted on any charge; and again the hand of fate pointed out the murderer when all chances of discovery seemed buried forever.

The information was correct. Pepo was found in Davenport under the name of William Ferris, and was promptly arrested in May last and brought to Choteau, where link by link the evidence was forged against him, and last June he was found guilty of the murder of Julius Plath and sentenced to hang on July 17.

John G. Bair of Choteau was appointed to the defense of Pepo and County Attorney Erickson prosecuted. On both sides the battle was a stubborn one and well contested, but the evidence for the prosecution was too strong to overcome.

After the sentence Pepo’s attorney continued the fight and carried the case to the supreme court on appeal, and the doomed man was given a brief respite, but the judgment of the lower court was sustained, and on the 6th of last month Pepo was again called before Judge Smith in the court room at Choteau and for the second time listened to the death sentence, which was carried out to-day.

During the trial and after Pepo refused to allow his picture to be taken and in going to and from the court house pulled his coat collar above his neck to baffle any chance for snap shots. The accompanying pictures is a very good one and is from a pen sketch done by W.H. Clinkerbread, the Choteau artist. [Unfortunately the picture alluded to does not in fact appear in the paper. -ed.]

Pepo was a German and had not a friend, relative or acquaintance in the United States. He was a man of large frame, weighing about 180 pounds, and being 5 foot 10. He was 40 years of age.

After his second sentence for a while he refused to eat and expressed the intention of starving himself, but his fortitude was unequal to the task and he gave the trial up.

Although without money, his case was fought by his attorney to a finish just the same, and 10 days ago Mr. Bair went to Helena and personally appeared before Governor Smith and made a plea for life imprisonment for his client on the grounds of the evidence being circumstantial throughout and that there was a chance for a reasonable doubt.

When Mr. Bair appeared before the governor the case of Hurst, who was hanged at Glendive, had just been presented, with petitions containing 7,000 names, asking for clemency. For Pepo the case was different. He was unknown, without a dollar and had not a relative or friend in the state but his attorney to speak for him; but the result was the same.

The governor refused to commute the sentence of either man — the one with relatives and thousands of friends petitioning, the other without a friend save his faithful attorney. Hurst was hanged on March 30 and Pepo to-day. In refusing to commute the death sentence in Pepo’s case Governor Smith wrote his attorney Tuesday:

Mr. J.B. Bair, Choteau, Mont. —

Dear Sir: I have finished reading the transcript in th ematter of the application for executive clemency for William Pepo. In this case the evidence is so convincing and clear the jury could not have reached any other conclusion. It shows a most cold-blooded murder, and there is no doubt Pepo was the murder. I must absolutely refuse to interfere with the sentence of the court. I am, very respectfully,

ROBERT B. SMITH, Governor.

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1724: Sister Geltruda and Fra Romualdo, at a Palermo auto de fe

1 comment April 6th, 2017 Henry Charles Lea

(Thanks to Henry Charles Lea for the guest post, which first appeared in his The Inquisition in the Spanish Dependencies: Sicily – Naples – Sardinia – Milan – The Canaries – Mexico – Peru – New Granada. The Inquisition was abolished in Sicily in 1782, but an interesting Palermo museum preserves its artifacts. -ed.)

When, in 1718, Savoy exchanged Sicily with Austria for Sardinia, the Emperor Charles VI would not endure this dependence of the [Inquisition] tribunal upon a foreign power and procured, in 1720, from Clement XI a brief transferring the supremacy to Vienna. In accordance, however, with the persistent Hapsburg claims on the crown of Spain, the Inquisition remained Spanish. A supreme council for it was created in Vienna, with Juan Navarro, Bishop of Albarracin as chief who, although resident there gratified himself with the title of Inquisidor-general de Espana, but in 1723 he was succeeded by Cardinal Emeric, Archbishop of Kolocz.

Apparently it was deemed necessary to justify this elaborate machinery with a demonstration and, on April 6, 1724, an auto de fe was celebrated at Palermo with great splendor, the expenses being defrayed by the emperor.


Detail view (click for the full image) of a French print of the auto de fe.

Twenty-six delinquents were penanced, consisting as usual mostly of cases of blasphemy, bigamy and sorcery, but the spectacle would have been incomplete without concremation and two unfortunates, who had languished in prison since 1699, were brought out for that purpose. They were Geltruda, a beguine, and Fra Romualdo, a friar, accused of Quietism and Molinism, with the accompanying heresies of illuminism and impeccability. Their long imprisonment, with torture and ill-usage, seems to have turned their brains, and they had been condemned to relaxation as impenitent in 1705 and 1709, but the sentences had never been carried out and they were now brought from their dungeons and burnt alive.


Detail view (click for the full image) of an engraving, The Great Auto De Fe At Palermo Italy 6 April 1724

Less notable was an auto de fe of March 22, 1732, in which Antonio Canzoneri was burnt alive as a contumacious and relapsed heretic.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Arts and Literature,Austria,Burned,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Diminished Capacity,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,God,Guest Writers,Habsburg Realm,Heresy,History,Italy,Martyrs,Occupation and Colonialism,Other Voices,Public Executions,Religious Figures,Sicily,Torture,Women

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