Posts filed under 'Death Penalty'

1588: St. Margaret Ward, the Pearl of Tyburn

Add comment August 30th, 2020 Richard Challoner

(Thanks to 18th century English Catholic Bishop Richard Challoner for the guest post — originally from Memoirs of Missionary Priests — on an intrepid Elizabethan Catholic, hanged in an anti-Catholic crackdown following the defeat of the Spanish Armada. While the timing of her execution might have been circumstantial, she earned her martyr’s crown fully by pulling off an daring jailbreak that loosed an English priest who might otherwise have hanged in her place. She’s one of three women among the 40 Martyrs of England, along with St. Margaret Clitherow and St. Anne Line, all three of whom are commemorated on August 30. Also martyred on the same occasion were John Roche (the waterman who aided Margaret Ward), a priest named Richard Leigh, and three other lay Catholics condemned for aiding priests — Richard Lloyd, Richard Martin, and Edward Shelley.)

THE HISTORY OF MRS. MARGARET WARD.

Keeping watch at London’s St. Etheldreda’s, an escape-rope curled in her basket. (cc) image from John Salmon.

Mrs. Margaret Ward was born at Congleton, in Cheshire, of a gentleman’s family, and was ia the service of a lady of distinction, when Mr. Watson, a secular priest, was confined in Bridewell for his religion. The story of this gentleman is thus related by the bishop of Tarrasona, J. 2. c. 5.

Richard Watson was a priest of the seminary of Rheims, a virtuous and zealous missioner, who had laboured much in the Lord’s vineyard; but being apprehended, and confined to Bridewell, was, at length, by force of torments, and the insupportable labours, and other miseries of the place, prevailed upon, through human frailty, to go once to the protestant church; upon which, he was set at liberty. But such was the remorse he felt in his soul after this sin, that, instead of bettering his condition by being thus enlarged, he found his case far worse, and the present torments of his mind much more insupportable, than those which he before had endured in his body, the more because he had now lost his God, whose divine grace had formerly been his comfort and support; whereas he now could find no comfort, either from God or man; but the heavens were become to him as of brass, and the earth as iron.

In this melancholy condition, he went to one of the prisons, where some others, his fellow priests were confined, to seek for counsel and comfort from them; and here, having confessed his fault, with great marks of a sincere repentance, and received absolution, desiring to repair the scandal he had given, in the same place where he had sinned, he returned to the church at Bridewell, and there, in the middle of the congregation, declared with a loud voice, that he had done very ill in coming lately to church with them, and joining in their service; which, said he, you untruly call the service of God, for it is, indeed, the service of the devil. He would have said much more, but was prevented by the people, who immediately laid hold of him, and stopping his mouth, dragged him to prison; where they thrust him into a dungeon so low, and so strait, that he could neither stand up in it, nor lay himself down at his full length to sleep. Here they loaded him with irons, and kept him for a whole month upon bread and water; of which they allowed him so small a pittance, that it was scarce enough to keep him alive, not suffering any one to come near him to comfort him or speak to him.

At the month’s end, he was translated from this dungeon to a lodging at the top of the house, where, at least, he could see the light, and was less straitened for room: but the adversaries of his faith made this lodging more troublesome to him than the former, by plying him continually, sometimes with threats, sometimes with prayers and promises, to engage him to go again to church, and to seem, at least outwardly, whatever he might inwardly believe, to be of their religion: so that their continual importunities made him perfectly weary of his life. In the mean time, the catholics, who heard of his sufferings, durst not attempt to come near him, to succour or comfort him, for fear of being taken for the persons who had persuaded him to what he had one, till Mrs. Margaret Ward, a gentlewoman of a courage above her sex, undertook to do it.

She was in the service of a lady of the first rank, who then resided at London; and hearing of the most afflicted condition of Mr. Watson, asked and obtained leave of her lady to go and attempt to visit and relieve him. In order to this, she changed her dress, and taking a basket upon her arm, full of provisions, went to the prison, but could not have leave to come at the priest, till, by the intercession of the gaoler, whom Mrs. Ward had found means to make her friend; with much ado she obtained permission to see him from time to time, and bring him necessaries, upon condition that she should be searched in coming in and going out, that she might carry no letter to him, or from him; which was so strictly observed for the first month, that they even broke the loaves, or pies, that she brought him, lest any paper should thereby be conveyed to him; and all the while she was with him, care was taken that some one should stand by to hear all that was said. But, at length, beginning to be persuaded that she came out of pure compassion to assist him, they were less strict in searching her basket, and in hearkening to their conversation; so that he had an opportunity of telling her, that he had found a way by which, if he had a cord long enough for that purpose, he could let himself down from the top of the house, and make his escape.

Mrs. Ward soon procured the cord, which she brought in her basket under the bread and other eatables, and appointed two catholic watermen, who were let into the secret, to attend with their boat near Bridewell, between two and three o’clock the next morning; at which time Mr. Watson, applying to the corner of the cornice his cord, which he had doubled, not sufficiently considering the height of the building, began to let himself down, holding the two ends of the cord ia his hands, with a design of carrying it away with him, after he had got down, that it might not be discovered by what means he had made his escape. But, by that time he had come down something more than half the way, he found that his cord, which he had doubled, was not now long enough; and he, for some time, remained suspended in the air, being neither able to ascend or descend, without danger of his life.

At length, recommending himself to God, he let go one end of his cord, and suffered himself to fall down upon an old shed or penthouse, which, with the weight of his body, fell in with a great noise. He was very much hurt and stunned by the fall, and broke his right leg and right arm; but the watermen run in immediately to his assistance, and carried him away to their boat. Here he soon came to himself, and, feeling the cord, remembered his coat which he had left in the fall, which he desired one of the watermen to go and bring him. And when they were now advanced in their way, he bethought himself of the cord, and told the watermen, that if they did not return to fetch it, the poor gentlewoman that had given it him would certainly be put to trouble. But it was now too late; for the noise having alarmed the gaoler, and others in the neighbourhood, they came to the place, and finding the cord, immediately suspected what the matter was; and made what search they could to find the priest, but in vain; for the watermen, who had carried him off, took proper care to conceal him, and keep him safe, till he was cured: but God was pleased that, instead of one who thus escaped from prison, two others, upon this occasion, should meet with the crown of martyrdom, as we shall now see.

For the gaoler seeing the cord, and being convinced that no one but Mrs. Ward could have brought it to the prisoner, and having before found out where she lived, seat, early in the morning justices and constables to the house, who, rushing in, found her up, and just upon the point of going out, in order to change her lodgings. They immediately apprehended her, and carried her away to prison, where they loaded her with irons, and kept her m this manner for eight days. Dr. Champney and father Ribadaneira add, that they hung her up by the hands, and cruelly scourged her, which torments she bore with wonderful courage, saying, they were preludes of martyrdom with which, by the grace of God, she hoped she should be honoured.*

After eight days she was brought to the bar, where, being asked by the judges, if she was guilty of that treachery to the queen, and to the laws of the realm, of furnishing the means by which a traitor of a priest, as they were pleased to call him, had escaped from justice, she answered, with a cheerful countenance, in the affirmative: and that she never, in her life, had done any thing of which she less repented, than of the delivering that innocent lamb from the hands of those bloody wolves. They sought to terrify her by their threats, and to oblige her to confess where the priest was, but in vain; and therefore they proceeded to pronounce sentence of death upon her, as in cases of felony: but, withal, they told her, that the queen was merciful; and that if she would ask pardon of her majesty, and would promise to go to church, she should be set at liberty, otherwise she must look for nothing but certain death.

She answered, that as to the queen, she had never offended her majesty; and that it was not just to confess a fault, by asking pardon for it, where there was none: that as to what she had done in favouring the priest’s escape, she believed the queen herself, if she had the bowels of a woman, would have done as much, if she had known the ill treatment he underwent. That as to the going to their church, she had, for many years, been convinced that it was not lawful for her so to do, and that she found no reason now to change her mind, and would not act against her conscience; and therefore they might proceed, if they pleased, to the execution of the sentence pronounced against her; for that death, for such a cause, would be very welcome to her; and that she was willing to lay down not one life only, but many, if she had them, rather than betray her conscience, or act against her holy religion.

She was executed at Tyburn, August 30, 1588, showing to the end a wonderful constancy and alacrity; by which the spectators were much moved, and greatly edified.

Whilst these things were acting, Mr. Watson was under care in the waterman’s house, who, as soon as he was recovered, thought proper to withdraw farther from danger; and that he might be the better disguised, changed clothes with the waterman, who joyfully accepted the change, and put on, with great devotion, the clothes of one whom he regarded as a confessor of Christ. But not long after, walking in the streets, he met the gaoler, who took notice of the clothes, and caused him to be apprehended and carried before a justice of peace, where, being examined how he came by those clothes, he confessed the whole truth; upon which he was committed, prosecuted, and condemned: and making the same answers as Mrs. Ward had done, with regard to the begging the queen’s pardon, and going to church, he endured the same death with much spiritual joy in his soul, and a constancy which many admired, and were very much edified by it.

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Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,England,Execution,God,Guest Writers,Hanged,History,Martyrs,Mass Executions,Other Voices,Public Executions,Religious Figures,Torture,Women

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1929: John Fabri, condemned

1 comment August 29th, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1929, John Fabri — or Giovanni Fabri, as you’d call him in his native Italy — died in Sing Sing prison’s electric chair.

This case is the subject of an episode from the well-producedd Syracuse.com miniseries The Condemned. Enjoy it here; the entire series is here.

Thanks to @kilamdee for the tip on this resource.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Electrocuted,Execution,History,Murder,New York,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,USA

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1909: Joe Gauvitte, wife-slayer

Add comment August 27th, 2020 Headsman

From the Spokane, Wash. Spokesman-Review, Aug. 28, 1909:

Joe Gauvitte Is Hanged

Pays Death Penalty for the Murder of his Wife

WALLA WALLA, Wash., Aug. 27. — Joe Gauvitte, the bartender of Spokane, who killed his wife, was hanged at 5:50 this morning in the penitentiary yard. There were few visitors present and the prisoner was not allowed to speak on the platform, although he desired to do so, it being the wish of the warden that no death statement be given there.

In lieu of this, Gauvitte asked Father Jones to issue a statement thanking the officers for their courtesies and declaring he desired death. Father Jones arrived at Gauvitte’s cell at 4 o’clock and remained with him until the execution. Contrary to custom, the condemned man ate no breakfast, but devoted the time to his conference with the priest.


Joseph Gauvitte, who was hanged yesterday for wife murder, was arrested some time before he killed his wife, the evning of June 27, for having attempted to stab her. At another time he was arrested by complaint of his wife on a charge of insanity. According to his confession he was afraid she was about to leave him and he said he could not bear the thought of the separation.

In his confession, made to Prosecuting Attorney Fred C. Push, Captain of Police Coverly, Sergeant McPhee and Deputy Sheriff George Sweet, after his arrest for the murder, Gauvitte said:

The thought of killing my wife came to me on Saturday afternoon when I was at work. I thought that if I could not have her no one else could. I took a few drinks early in the night to nerve myself. While I was in the Bodega saloon my wife passed on a Broadway car and I went hurriedly down College avenue to reach the corner of Maple street before she got there. I waited and saw her alight from the car. I waited until she was almost abreast of me and then made sure she was the right person. Certain of her identity, I stepped out from behind a tree and fired point-blank at her twice. She groaned and staggered into the street and I followed. I was afraid I might only have wounded her, and I wanted to be sure to kill her.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,Murder,USA,Washington

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2020: Lezmond Mitchell

Add comment August 26th, 2020 Headsman

Although overshadowed by wildfires, hurricanes, political drama, economic collapse, civil unrest, and a goddamned pandemic, a noteworthy federal execution took place on August 26, 2020.

Lezmond Mitchell, the only Native American on federal death row, was killed by lethal injection at Terre Haute, Indiana for murdering 63-year-old Alyce Slim and her nine-year-old granddaughter Tiffany Lee. The offender and both victims were members of the Navajo Nation, and the crimes occurred on the Navajo Reservation in the northeast corner of Arizona.

Mitchell and a companion named Johnny Osringer — underaged, and therefore serving a life sentence instead — were picked up hitchhiking by the victims in 2001. They stabbed Alyce Slim to death when she stopped to let them out, then to murder the terrified little girl in greater privacy, drove her 30 miles into the mountains sitting next to her grandmother’s bloody corpse.

The horrific crime carried with it a problematic jurisdictional question that’s legacy of the continent’s Anglo conquest.

Within their treaty lands, indigenous nations still assert internal sovereignty when it comes to handling criminal offenses — sovereignty that Congress has legislated against by placing some big-ticket crimes like murder and rape under federal jurisdiction.

Neither this arrogation of authority in general nor its application to Mitchell in particular have been embraced by the Navajo Nation, which has advocated against the execution for many years and on the day it occurred issued a statement denouncing it.

The Navajo Nation’s position, from the beginning, was to advocate for the sovereign status of the Nation. Our decision not to accept the death penalty in federal cases remains a Navajo decision, but in this instance the federal government ignored the Navajo Nation. This is an affront to our Nation because we should be the ones to decide these matters. The federal government charged a crime that was added in 1994 to the Federal Death Penalty Act and blindsided the Navajo Nation by using this to sidestep the Navajo Nation’s position.

We have a court system that is fair and just for all persons. We have laws that protect our People. We have brave men and women on our police force to watch over us. Crimes committed on the Navajo Nation are for us to decide. Our judicial and public safety system considers restorative justice in court cases as based on our custom and traditions of hozho’ and k’e. Federal officials may not understand our family connections and our strength in keeping harmony. So, we invite them to meet with us and find an answer to address this important death penalty matter.

The Navajo Nation asked for clemency in Mr. Mitchell’s case in changing his sentence to life in prison without possibility of release. This is the same request supported by U.S. Senators, U.S. House Representatives, Tribal Nations, and tribal organizations. But our collective voice was ignored. We don’t expect federal officials to understand our strongly held traditions of clan relationship, keeping harmony in our communities, and holding life sacred. What we do expect, no, what we demand, is respect for our People, for our Tribal Nation, and we will not be pushed aside any longer.

We thank the many Tribal Nations who supported the Navajo Nation’s stand on sovereignty, and we appreciate the Tribal organization’s letters advocating for tribal sovereignty. We now call on all Tribal Nations and Tribal organizations to begin a dialogue on a respect for tribal sovereignty, respect for all Tribal Nation, and respect for Native Americans. We are moving forward in this fight and we ask all to join us.

Mitchell’s was the fourth federal execution conducted in little more than a month as part of a calculated campaign by Trump administration attorney general William Barr. Prior to the current paroxysm, the United States federal government (as distinct from its 50 states’ separate jurisdictions) had conducted only three executions — all in the early 2000s, most notably Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh — in the past 57 years.

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

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1783: John Grinslade and John Cunningham

Add comment August 25th, 2020 Headsman

From Felix Farley’s Bristol Journal (Bristol, England), Saturday, August 30, 1783:

Monday was executed at Hall-Down, near Exeter, John Grinslade, aged 22, for the murder of the Rev. Mr. Gilbert Yarde; and John Cunningham, aged only 17, for the murder of John Pratt. The former expressed sorrow for his offences, and declared he died in charity with all men: The latter, from whose youth and ignorance no great degree of sensibility could be expected, appeared rather stupified than grieved at his fate. Cunningham professed himself a Papist.

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

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2012: Nine in Gambia

Add comment August 23rd, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 2012, the small west African country of Gambia suddenly shot nine.

Effectively abolitionist, Gambia had not exercised capital punishment since 1981, when an attempted coup led to one (1) execution.

But it did have a (seemingly) latent death row of close to 50 souls* and in August 2012 autocratic president Yahya Jammeh used that stockpile to suddenly break the death penalty moratorium with a shock mass execution.

Those executed included one woman, at least two Senegalese nationals, and several soldiers involved in anti-Jammeh mutinies. The nine were identified as

  • Dawda Bojang
  • Malang Sonko
  • Lamin Jarjou
  • Alieu Bah
  • Lamin F. Jammeh
  • Buba YarboeLamin B.S Darboe
  • Gebe Bah (Senegalese)
  • Tabara Samba (Senegalese, female)

As might be expected for such an impetuous deed, several of these individuals so suddenly killed were not even at the end of their legal journeys through the state’s regular channels. Buba Yarboe’s family had been fighting for recognition of his mental illness as a mitigating condition; Yarboe and Malang Sonko both had judicial appeals remaining that had not yet been heard; Lamin Darboe’s sentence had been irregularly vacated and then reinstated. No matter.

Jammeh backed off his threats of follow-up executions to purge the entirety of its death row, and Gambia has conducted no further executions since that one dark day. His successor Adama Barrow officially re-imposed a moratorium and in 2019 commuted all remaining death sentences with an avowed intention to abolish capital punishment altogether.

* Reports on the size of Gambia’s death row at this time varied. The UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions named 39 still-living condemned individuals in a letter to President Jammeh days after the nine were killed.

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Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Gambia,Mass Executions,Milestones,Murder,Mutiny,Shot,Soldiers,Women,Wrongful Executions

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1946: Döme Sztójay, former Prime Minister

Add comment August 22nd, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1946, the former wartime fascist Prime Minister of Hungary was shot for being the former wartime fascist Prime Minister of Hungary.

Dimitrije Stojakovic by birth, the Vojvodina-born ethnic Serb Magyarized his name to Döme Sztójay as he rose up the ranks in the intelligence services in independent, post-Habsburg Hungary.

He had for many years been the Hungarian ambassador to Berlin and a noted pro-Third Reich figure when in 1944 Nazi Germany took over its erstwhile Axis junior partner upon catching wind of Budapest’s interest in cutting a peace deal with the Allies to exit a fast-deteriorating war. Given a choice between outright German occupation and selecting a suitable local quisling, Regent Miklos Horthy appointed our guy Döme Sztójay.

He only held the office for five months before ill health and shifting political tectonics pushed him out, but he made his sinister mark in that time as an instrument of the Holocaust in Hungary. Hungarian Jewry had of course been afflicted prior to then by anti-Semitic laws and various outrages, but it had been spared wholesale deportation and extermination thanks to the resistance of Regent Horthy and others — the very domestic elite strata which Germany was here sidelining.

Now that the place was under Berlin’s management, Adolf Eichmann arrived to coordinate a terrifyingly swift mass slaughter, which in the span of a few months in the spring-summer 1944 took over 400,000 Hungarian Jews (from a prewar population of about 825,000) off to death camps. The special effort given to this particular extermination at a juncture in the war when the men and materiel involved were so obviously needed elsewhere has made it an event of special interest to Holocaust scholars.

As hostilities wrapped up, Sztójay managed a preferential-to-war-criminals surrender to the American army instead of the Red Army, but he had nothing of any unique value to offer the West that would have entitled him to special consideration — and so he was extradited back to Hungary to face the music.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Heads of State,History,Hungary,Politicians,Shot,Soldiers,War Crimes

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1497: Lorenzo Tornabuoni, Florentine nobleman

Add comment August 21st, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1497, five Florentines were beheaded for a seditious conspiracy, headlined by the scion of one of the city’s leading families.

Our scene is the Italian city-state of Florence, during the 20-year intrregnum with the Medici family out of power. Lorenzo the Magnificent had died in 1492; his much less magnificent son and successor Piero the Unfortunate was expelled in 1494. For the time being the Dominican cleric Savonarola holds sway; after his fall a few months hence, it would briefly be Machiavelli’s humanist republic.

For these years the Medici schemed from exile, and Florentines guarded warily against their prospective restoration … the circumstance that will bring five heads to the block here. Earlier that same month of August 1497, the Florentine apothecary Luca Landucci noted the arrest of a man who “when flogged … confessed to a certain plot with Piero de’ Medici, and accused many, who were sent for and detained n the Palagio and the Bargello, and put to the rack. Amongst these were Lorenzo Tornabuoni, Gianozzo Pucci, Bernardo Del Nero, Niccolo Ridolfi, and others who fled.”

Landucci’s diary records the speedy progress of this investigation.

6th August. Signore Rinuccio and other leaders were sent for, and soldiers were hired in the Piazza.

10th August. There was much talk in the city as to what would be done with them (these prisoners); some said they were not guilty, and some said they were.

13th August. It was said that the Tornabuoni had despatched an estafette to the King of France, to beg that he should request the liberation of Lorenzo.

This Tornabuoni family were powerful bankers and their name is preserved to this day on one of Florence’s major city streets. The elderly patriarch Giovanni Tornabuoni was Piero de’ Medici’s great-uncle and had long been tight with that family — and it’s due to their prominence as well as the unexpected extremity of political execution that we’re drawn to gawk in particular here at Giovanni’s son Lorenzo.

As a matter of fact, art lovers can still gawk at him thanks to his doting wealthy dad.

Look for Lorenzo mugging for the viewer as he beholds the expulsion of Joachim in a Domenico Ghirlandaio fresco at the Tornabuoni Chapel at the church of Santa Maria Novella.


Detail view; click for the full image

And a pair of Botticelli frescos now held at the Louvre are thought to model bride and groom on the occasion of Lorenzo’s sensational marriage to the beautiful daughter of a rival noble house, Giovanna degli Albizzi.


A Young Man Being Introduced to the Seven Liberal Arts (likely modeled on Lorenzo Tornabuoni)


Venus and the Three Graces Presenting Gifts to a Young Woman (likely modeled on Giovanna degli Albizzi)

All the brushwork in the world couldn’t save even this strapling oligarch when events tied him to a prospective Medici restoration, even though it broke soft republican hearts. Our apothecary Luca Landucci “could not refrain from weeping when I saw that young Lorenzo carried past the Canto d’ Tornaquinci on a bier” and if his diary is to be believed the dry eyes were few and far between.

17th August. The Practica [Court] met and sat in the Palagio from the morning till midnight. There were more than 180 men. And the five prisoners were condemned by word of mouth to be put to death and their property to be confiscated according to law. The five men condemned were Bernardo Del Nero, Niccolo Ridolfi, Giovanni Canbi, Gianozzo Pucci, and Lorenzo Tornabuoni, for whom all Florence was sorry.

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Entry Filed under: 15th Century,Arts and Literature,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Florence,History,Italy,Mass Executions,Nobility,Power,Public Executions,Torture,Treason

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2005: Abdul Islam Siddiqui

Add comment August 20th, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 2005, Pakistani soldier Abdul Islam Siddiqui was hanged for an assassination attempt against President Pervez Musharraf.

In the December 2003 near-miss, jammed remote control triggers detonated C4 explosives that brought down the Jhanda Chichi Bridge in Rawalpindi … but it was moments after Musharraf’s convoy had already crossed it. “There was an explosion just half-a-minute after we crossed (the bridge),” Musharraf told a television interviewer. “I felt the explosion in my car.”

That gentleman spent the 2000s riding the tiger of Pakistan’s treacherous internal politics after deposing the elected Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in a bloodless coup. He survived several assassination attempts, often originating — as this one did — from Islamist factions of the powerful Pakistani military aggrieved by Musharraf’s efforts to curb their influence, and with his post-9/11 collaboration with the U.S. War on Terror.

But in a rush to strike back against such actors, did Pakistan get the wrong guy? Siddiqui claimed innocence up until his hanging, and years afterward some of his alleged co-conspirators claimed that they’d been tortured for weeks on end to extract their denunciations.

Several other death sentences were imposed in this affair, although none were executed for many years after, when a 2014 terrorism incident caused Pakistan to discard an execution moratorium and initiate a hanging binge.

Musharraf himself, who stepped down in 2008 and now lives in exile in Dubai, was controversially condemned to death in absentia in December 2019. It’s vanishingly unlikely the sentence will ever be executed.

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Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Assassins,Attempted Murder,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Notable for their Victims,Pakistan,Torture,Treason

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1830: Cornelius Burley

Add comment August 19th, 2020 Cornelius Burley

(Thanks to Cornelius Burley for the guest post, which was originally his “confession” on the scaffold at the first-ever hanging in London, Ontario, on August 19, 1830. “Poor, ignorant, weak-minded and almost an idiot,” he’s an unlikely author for the erudite tract — so it’s a fair bet that it was wrung out of him/ghost-written by his minister, who published the dang thing afterwards. More serious than the style is the content: many people to the present day have suspected Burley innocent of the crime to which he here “confesses” and that the real killer of the constable might have been one of the Ribble family with whom he was hiding out. -ed.)

As I am on this day to be executed as the just reward of my crimes, and the only satisfaction which can be made to meet the penalty of the civil law which I have violated, I feel it to be my duty to all those who stand here as spectators of my disgrace, and also to God, who has been justly offended with me on account of my transgressions, to make the following humble confession before I die; and I sincerely pray that it may be acceptable in the sight of the Almighty God, and have a tendency to check the progress of evil, and prevent others from doing as I have done.

I have always been wicked and thoughtless from my youth, having been brought up under the tuition of my parents who were tender and kind in many respects, but never appreciated the benefits arising from education of religion therefore I never was instructed to read or write, nor did they ever attempt to impress my mind with religious sentiments; having no attachments to any system of religious instruction themselves, I was left to wander through the world under the influence of depravity, with out the advantages of education or religious instruction to counter-balance the influences of my natural propensities of evil of various kinds, particularly that of frequenting places of profane resort. I was often found in the merry dance, and lost no opportunity of inducing thoughtless and unguarded females to leaves the paths of innocence and virtue. I lived in constant neglect of the holy Sabbath, and considered it as a day of profane amusement and I entirely neglected the worship of God; and daring profaneness employed my tongue, which ought to have been employed n the service of God, and in imploring his pardoning mercy.

I was married at the age of 21 to a respectable young woman by the name of Sally King; but soon found pretext to forsake her, as jealousy arose in my mind (perhaps without any just causes) that she was guilty of the same crime that my propensities led to. Some time after this, perhaps in June 1829, I married a second, (the first being still alive) — her name was Margaret Beemer, of Waterloo.

The unfortunate circumstances which led to my untimely end were as follows: A misunderstanding took place between Mr. Lamb and myself, in which I considered that the said Mr. Lamb defrauded me; and I could get no legal redress for the fraud, and being influenced partly with a spirit of revenge and partly with a desire to get redress, I took the law into my own hands and shot a steer belonging to the said Mr. Lamb for which transgression a warrant was issued, and I was pursued and taken; but by a stratagem I escaped from the constable, and fled to the township of Bayham in London district, whither I was pursued by Mr. Pomeroy, the unfortunate victim of my rashness.

I made use of various means to escape from him and those who were aiding him in pursuit of me, until the dark and unhappy night of the 15th September, 1829, when the heart appalling deed was committed, the thoughts of which produce the keenest remorse.

That evening I took the fatal instrument of death and after close examination that it was in order to do execution, I fled to avoid them, but in my flight I came near meeting them before I was aware of my danger; but as soon as I saw them I stepped behind a tree to avoid being seen by them, but Mr. Pomeroy at this moment altered his course and came toward the tree behind which I stood. I then supposed that he saw me, and was determined to take me; I then under the impression at the moment, concluded that my escape could not be effected without taking the life of Mr. Pomeroy; I accordingly presented my rifle, and ordered him to stand back, but gave him no time to escape till I fired on him, which shot was instrumental in bringing him to an untimely grave, and me to this disgraceful end. Yes! O yes! It was I who did this murderous deed; it was I alone who was guilty of this horrid and bloody crime, and none but I was guilty of shedding the blood of that trusty man, Mr. Pomeroy, who was faithfully performing his duty to his King and country.

As an act of justice due to Anthony Ribble, I am constrained to say that he had no hand in the crime whatever. Neither had any other person. It was altogether my own act for which I now feel to abhor myself and feel deeply humbled in the sight of God. O that I could recall that most shocking and dreadful deed! But as I cannot, I wish to warn all others nor to do as I have done. And I further say, that now considering myself as a dying man, I attach no blame to his Lordship the Chief Justice, nor his assistant on the Bench, the Sheriff, the Jurors, or Witnesses in my conviction and execution, as I believe they all acted from pure motives, and did their duty with punctuality in obedience to the laws of the country; and I only suffer the penalty that is justly due my crimes. I feel grateful for, and desire to acknowledge the favour of being visited by the ministers of the different denominations, whose instructions have been instrumental in leading me to my last refuge, which is Christ alone; and in my great extremity I have gained a confidence that through the merits of Christ alone I will be saved, although the chief of sinners.

I now big farewell to the world, and to all earthy things at the age of twenty six; and I sincerely hope that all you who behold my disgrace, will take a warning by my untimely end, and avoid the snares into which I have run. I freely forgive all that have injured me, and I sincerely ask forgiveness of all whom I have injured, but particularly God, whose righteous laws I have violated, but who has become the reconciled through Jesus Christ, and had given me as evidence of his love. O praise the Lord! I now leave this world with the fullest confidence that my sins are washed away in the Blood of the Lamb, and with sincere desire for the happiness of all I leave behind, I say again FAREWELL.


After his hanging — and his second hanging, when the rope broke on the first try — Burley’s skull was removed and sawed open by a phrenologist. It took a circuitous route through private collections and museums and was only buried in 2001.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Botched Executions,Canada,Capital Punishment,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Guest Writers,Hanged,History,Other Voices,Public Executions,Wrongful Executions

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