Posts filed under 'Death Penalty'

1875: Henry Brown, Skinker assassin

Add comment October 22nd, 2013 Headsman

Cincinnati Daily Gazette, May 27, 1875.

ST. LOUIS, May 26. — Philip Pfarr, a German, living on what is known as the Skinker road, several miles from this city, was murdered about half-past 9 o’clock last night, by a negro, name unknown, and his wife, who was about to become a mother, ravished. It appears that a negro man, about twenty-five years old, called at Pfarr’s house, about 5 o’clock last evening, and asked for work.

Mrs. Pfarr told him they wanted no help.

He called again about 7 o’clock, after Mr. Pfarr had returned from his labor in the field, and was again told no help was wanted.

About half-past 9 at night Pfarr and his family were aroused by a noise in the yard, and by the barking of their dog.

Pfarr went out to see what was the matter, and was met by the negro who visited the house in the evening, and struck a violent blow on the head, apparently with some blunt instrument, and his skull fractured.

Mrs. Pfarr, who followed her husband to the door, was then savagely seized by the negro, forced to give up what money was in the house, and afterward brutally ravished.

After the negro had fled, Mrs. Pfarr dragged her insensible husband to the house and aroused her neighbors, and everything possible was done for him, but he remained unconscious until noon to-day, when he died.

Intense excitement prevails in the neighborhood, and twenty mounted policemen have been scouring the woods and fields all day, but at last accounts had found no trace of the fiendish murderer.


Cincinnati Daily Gazette, May 29, 1875.

ST. LOUIS, May 28. — Mrs. Pfarr, whose husband was murdered last Tuesday night at her home, a few miles from this city, was brought to town, to-day, by the police authorities, and promptly and fully identified the negro, Henry Brown, who was arrested last evening, as the man who killed her husband and violated her own person.

Aside from this identification, Capt. Fox, of the mounted police force, has worked the case up to such a point that there is no doubt whatever but that the man under arrest is the one who committed the atrocious deed.


Cincinnati Enquirer, Oct. 23, 1875.

ST. LOUIS, MO., October 22. — About 2,500 specators were present at the execution of Henry Brown, who was hanged to-day in the jail-yard of this country, for the murder of Philip Pfarr, and the rape and robbery of Mrs. Pfarr.

All the forenoon the doomed man was melancholy and uncommunicative. At 11 a.m. his two sisters called on him and bade him farewell.

At 1 p.m. he was led to the scaffold, which he mounted with a ready, fearless step, It was evident that he had been liberally plied with whisky.

He made a rambling speech, twenty minutes long, and was so tedious in its delivery that he had to be reminded that his time was up. His harangue was incoherent and disconnected, such as any drunken man would make. He persistently denied the rape of Mrs. Pfarr, and asserted that he only struck Pfarr in self-defense.

His death was almost instantaneous, the neck having been broken. Eight minutes after the drop fell he was pronounced dead. His body was lowered into a rude coffin and carted off to the bone-yard.

BROWN’S CRIME

Was of a peculiarly atrocious character, involving, as it did, murder, rape and robbery. The scene of this triple deed was a small farm in this county, three miles from the city limits, on which lived a well-known German farmer named Philip Pfarr and his wife. The place is somewhat secluded, no one living nearer than one-quarter of a mile.

According to Mrs. Pfarr’s statement, a negro man, who was subsequently identified as Henry Brown, came to the house on the afternoon of May 26th and asked for work. Mr. Pfarr informed him that he had no work to give him.

The negro continued to loiter around the gate, and Mrs. Pfarr was so suspicious of danger that she would not permit her husband to return to the field to work that afternoon.

About nine o’clock that night Mr. and Mrs. Pfarr were awakened by the loud barking of their dogs. Pfarr went outside to ascertain the cause, and Mrs. Pfarr got up and stood in the doorway.

She heard her husband ask, “What do you want?” and immediately thereafter she heard a heavy blow struck, and saw her husband stagger and fall.

Before she had time to get out of the doorway the assassin, who was none other than Brown, rushed upon her, and throwing her violently upon the floor ravished her before she recovered from the stunning shock of the fall.

To complete his brutality, he struck her a severe blow on the head and demanded what money she had in the house. She delivered her purse, which contained only seventy-fie cents. Taking this he disappeared in the darkness.

The unfortunate woman was at that time in the last stages of pregnancy, and her injuries were so serious that she could scarcely walk. But she managed to go to her husband, whom she found lying at the gate breathing heavily. He was still able to move, and with her assistance reached the door.

She laid him down upon the floor, placing a pillow under his head and covering him with a quilt.

He immediately became insensible, and did not speak again. His skull had been crushed in with a heavy piece of wagon timber, which was found at the gate.

After thus caring for her husband Mrs. Pfarr alarmed the neighbors, who gathered in crowds. When she told her pitiful story the excitement became intense.

Old man Pfarr died at midnight.

By daylight next morning numerous parties had been organized, and the country for miles around was scoured.

More than twenty negroes were arrested and carried into the presence of Mrs. Pfarr, but she failed to identify any of them as the criminal who assaulted her. The excited populace came near lynching two or three suspected individuals, in spite of the declaration of the outraged woman that the right man had not yet been caught.

THE FATAL BELT.

The detection of Brown was brought about by one little circumstance.

In retreating from the room, the ravisher dropped a leather belt from his waist. A police officer took this belt and showed it to a number of people, among whom was a colored woman living near by, who instantly recognized it as the property of her son, Henry Brown.

The entire police and detective force were put on the watch for Brown, who had suddenly and mysteriously disappeared.

The next day his arrest was effected and Mrs. Pfarr was brought to the jail for the purpose of

IDENTIFYING THE ACCUSED.

She had previously failed to identify at least twenty-five colored men, promptly exculpating each as they were produced, but as soon as Brown was brought into her presence she exclaimed, in broken English, that he was the man who had killed her husband, and ravished and robbed her.

In reply to her reproaches, the prisoner hung his head and confusedly said that he did not know what the woman was talking about.

Brown at first bitterly denied all connection with the crime, and alleged that he was not in the neighborhood on the fatal night. The next day, however,

HE CONFESSED

That he was walking past Pfarr’s place on the night in question when Praff came out and set his dog on him, at the same time throwing a heavy stick at him.

He caught the stick in his hands and threw it back, striking Pfarr and knocking him down. He persistently denied the assault upon Mrs. Pfarr.

He was tried September 15th, the jury, on the testimony of Mrs. Pfarr, promptly finding him guilty of murder in the first degree.

His attorneys were untiring in their efforts to save his neck. The Supreme Court refused a writ of supersedeas and the Governor declined to interfere. There was nothing left for the doomed African but the halter and the cap.

AN INTERVIEW WITH BROWN.

Your correspondent called upon the doomed man Wednesday afternoon.

At first he refused to talk, answering questions in profane and vituperative monosyllables.

After a brief time, however, he became more communicative. He bitterly denied the assault on Mrs. Pfarr and alleged that the blow he struck Pfarr was in self-defense.

He made a special request that his body should not be given to the dissectors, and asked his attorney to make a speech for him on the scaffold. His attorney promised him that both requests should be complied with.

Brown’s personal appearance was extremely brutal.

His forehead was low and narrow, his nose flat and his lips thick and projecting. His color was of that black and shiny hue so peculiar to the pale African. His look was diabolic. Nature seems to have stamped him as an assassin and cut-throat. His muscular development was something wonderful, and his strength must have been prodigious. Despite his protestations of justification and innocence, the community feels that his fate was just and well deserved.

(Line breaks have been added to all the above stories for readability relative to their solid-wall-of-text 19th century originals.)

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1698: 250 Streltsy from the walls of Moscow

Add comment October 21st, 2013 Johann Georg Korb

This entry in our Corpses Strewn series on the October 1698 extirpation of the Streltsy is courtesy of the diaries of Austrian diplomat Johann Georg Korb, an eyewitness to the events.

To prove to all the people how holy and inviolable are those walls of the city [of Moscow], which the Strelitz rashly meditated scaling in a sudden assault, beams were run out from all the embrasures in the walls near the gates, on each of which two rebels were hanged. This day beheld about two hundred and fifty die that death. There are few cities fortified with as many palisades as Moscow has given gibbets to her guardian Strelitz.

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1571: Hans Haslibacher, Bern Anabaptist

1 comment October 20th, 2013 Headsman

On this date in 1571, Anabaptist Hans Haslibacher was martyred in Bern, Switzerland.

Haslibacher (German link) joined the oft-suppressed movement in 1532 and quickly established himself as one of the most energetic proselytizers in the Emmental in Bern canton.

Condemned at last in 1571 after a lifetime of arrests, he was honored in a 32-stanza anonymous poem “Das Haslibacherlied” (German) alleging that Haslibacher prophesied that his death would be marked with three signs:

  1. His head when struck off would spring into a hat and laugh aloud;
  2. The sun would turn blood-red;
  3. The town fountain would spew blood.

According to the poem, all three prophesies came to pass … and “the hangman too was heard to say: / ‘Tis guiltless blood I’ve shed today.”

The Swiss Anabaptists are noteworthy as the confessional ancestors of the present-day Amish: the latter sect is named for 17th century Bern canton Anabaptist Jakob Ammann, who was the leader of one faction in a 1693 schism within the Swiss Anabaptist community.

Fortunately (though not for this here site) that schism emerged too late in the day for a classic religious martyrdom. Hans Haslibacher, in fact, was the last Anabaptist put to death for his faith in Bern.

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1998: Twenty-four Sierra Leone rebels

Add comment October 19th, 2013 Headsman

Fifteen years ago today, thousands of Freetown residents piled into a stone quarry on the outskirts of the Sierra Leone capital to cheer the firing squad executions of two dozen soldiers linked to the previous year’s coup.

In an episode of Sierra Leone’s intractable 1990s civil war, the government of Ahmad Tejan Kabbah was overthrown in 1997 by a military clique in alliance with the murderous Revolutionary United Front (RUF).

This was the height of Sierra Leone’s “blood diamond” chaos, and the RUF had earned an international reputation for savagery in exploiting this lucrative trade — most vividly symbolized by thousands of civilians whose arms or legs were chopped off in an effort to induce population flight away from the diamond mines it intended to control.

The RUF lived down to its terrifying reputation when it marched into Freetown with its military allies in May 1997. Disorderly gangs brandishing AK-47s looted buildings in Freetown* as President Kabbah fled the country.

The oppressive putsch was short-lived: Nigerian-backed intervention reversed the coup early in 1998, causing the RUF to melt back into the bush.**

The Freetown populace’s enthusiasm for revenge against the rebels is to be understood in this light. Those shot at the quarry this date included some major figures in the coup, according to the New York Times: “Brig. Samuel Koroma, a former chief of defense staff and the elder brother of the junta leader, Johnny Paul Koroma, who is a fugitive, and Cpl. Tamba Gborie, the man who announced the coup. The junta secretary general, Col. Abdul Karim Sesay, was also executed.”

The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights later found Sierra Leone in violation of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights for denying the soldiers a “right of appeal to competent national organs” which “falls short of the requirement of the respect for fair trial standards expected of such courts.” Sierra Leone was so little perturbed by the non-binding and unenforceable ruling that it didn’t even bother defending itself against the complaint.

* Dubbed “Operation Pay Yourself”.

** They weren’t done by a long shot. In January 1999, the RUF’s more systematically homicidal “Operation No Living Thing” attack on Freetown claimed 7,000 lives, half of them civilians.

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1940: Hans Vollenweider, the last guillotined in Switzerland

1 comment October 18th, 2013 Headsman

On this date in 1940, Hans Vollenweider became the last person executed in Switzerland.

The Swiss had long experience with executions by beheading and, of course, with mechanical refinements, so adoption of the guillotine was a natural fit … especially after Napoleon overran Switzerland.

Actually, Switzerland had experimented with guillotine-like machines centuries before the French introduced the device, but in the 19th century its Jacobin associations led to a running tug-of-war that saw some cantons abolish the guillotine (German link) in favor of a return to public beheading with a sword. At the same time, the pan-European move away from capital punishment saw a precipitous decline in actual executions, culminating with outright abolition in Switzerland’s 1874 constitution.

Although the death penalty was narrowly reinstated by referendum* (more German) in 1879, its use thereafter was sparing and often contested. In 1938, Switzerland adopted by referendum a new, federal criminal code abolishing the death penalty.

But that code did not take legal effect until January 1, 1942 … and in the intervening years, two people would be controversially guillotined under the outgoing statutes.

Hans Vollenweider (German link) “enjoys” the distinction of being the last of these.

He was a triple murderer, although formally condemned only for one of these homicides — and condemned by an Obwalden court not even a month before, on September 19. Vollenweider’s last legal appeal and his application mercy were disposed of in the week before he lost his head.

There’s a 2004 German-language documentary film about this milestone execution, Vollenweider – Die Geschichte eines Mörders (Vollenweider – The Story of a Murderer).

Vollenweider was the last person executed in Switzerland for an “ordinary” crime, but the death penalty did remain on the books for treason until 1992. Seventeen additional people were executed for that crime during World War II — executed by shooting, not beheading.

Switzerland today has abolished the death penalty at the constitutional level for all crimes. It does retain one single guillotine left in a warehouse somewhere as its last keepsake from an increasingly distant era.

* More precisely, the individual cantons were granted the right to introduce the death penalty in their own territories.

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1698: Six Streltsy of rank

Add comment October 17th, 2013 Johann Georg Korb

This entry in our Corpses Strewn series on the October 1698 extirpation of the Streltsy is courtesy of the diaries of Austrian diplomat Johann Georg Korb, an eyewitness to the events.

Only six were beheaded today, who had the advantage of rank over the others, if rank be a distinction of honour in executed criminals.

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1946: Neville Heath, torture-killer

7 comments October 16th, 2013 Meaghan

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

On this date in 1946, 29-year-old torture-murderer Neville George Clevely Heath was hanged at Pentonville Prison for the murder of Margery Aimee Brownell Gardner, 32, an aspiring film actress.

Heath was one of the most notorious British killers of the mid-twentieth century. Although his victims numbered only two (the other being 21-year-old Doreen Margaret Marshall), he stood out from the pack by his brutality and sheer sadism. The Murders of the Black Museum, 1870-1970 provides this graphic description of the terrible injuries he inflicted on Doreen:

She had been struck several times on the back of her head. There were also abrasions on her back, a bruise on her right shoulder and an area of redness around the left collar-bone, as if someone had knelt on her. The left side of her chest was bruised and a rib had fractured, piercing the left lung. Her left arm was bruised, as were both wrists, which appeared to have been tightly tied; they also bore finger-nail imprints of her assailant. The fingers of both her hands were badly cut on the inside, as if she had seized a knife in self-defence. All these injuries had been inflicted before she died, her death itself having been caused by a haemorrhage resulting from two deep knife-cuts across her throat.

After death a nipple had been bitten off and her body had been mutilated. A jagged series of slashes reached from her vagina vertically up to her chest, where they were joined by a deep diagonal cut from each nipple to the centre of her body, forming a Y. A rough instrument, possibly a branch, had also perforated and torn her vagina and anus.

Heath came from a respectable, lower-middle-class background. His parents scraped together enough money for him to attend a private Catholic school, where early on he developed as a reputation as a bully.

As an adult he fell into crime, but there was nothing on his record to suggest he was capable of such gruesome acts; his previous convictions had been for offenses such as fraud, forgery, burglary and deserting the military.

In between stints in jail, he married a woman from a wealthy, prominent family and they had a son. By 1945, however, they were divorced.

Margery, Heath’s first victim, was separated from her husband at the time of her death. She had a masochistic predilection for bondage and flagellation, but even so, Heath was too much for her. In May 1946, they checked into a hotel together and he was so violent that she got scared and had to be rescued by hotel security.

Incredibly, however, when Heath called her to ask her out on another date, she agreed and they met again on June 20. They got drunk at a nightclub and took a cab to a hotel. No one heard any unusual noises during the night, but the next morning Margery’s bound, gagged and mutilated corpse was found in her fourth-floor room.

She had horrific injuries, all inflicted while she still lived, including cuts on her face, arms and back in an unusual criss-cross pattern. The cause of death was suffocation.

There was no sign of Heath, but within a day or two he’d been identified as a possible suspect and was sought for questioning.

Heath’s fiancee read about the murder in the papers and asked him about it. He told her he’d stumbled across the scene after Mrs. Gardner was already dead, and promised to go to the police and make a statement. He never did, but he did send a letter to the chief inspector, saying he’d lent his hotel key to Mrs. Gardner because she had nowhere else to sleep. She went to bed with a man named “Jack” but told Heath to come to her room after 2:00 a.m. to spend the rest of the night with her.

When he did, he wrote, “I found her in the condition of which you are aware. I realized that I was in an invidious position, and rather than notify the police, I packed my belongings and left.” Heath said he had the murder weapon and was mailing it to the police station in a separate package. He never did.

Instead, he went to Bournemouth and checked into the Tolland Royal Hotel under the name Rupert Brooke, after one of Britain’s most famous poets.

There he met Doreen Marshall.

Doreen Marshall.

Heath encountered Doreen on July 3 and asked her to have tea with him. She agreed. Tea turned into dinner, and the date didn’t end until almost midnight. At this time Heath said he would walk Doreen home, although she wanted to take a taxi instead. She was never seen alive again.

On July 5 she was reported missing and the Tolland Royal Hotel staff, knowing she’d dined with Heath, asked him to get in touch with the police. He did so, identifying himself by his alias Rupert Brooke. He told the story about their date and saying he’d left her on the pier and walked back to the Tolland Royal alone.

One of the police officers interviewing him about Doreen Marshall recognized Heath as the man wanted for questioning about Margery’s murder and confronted him, saying, “Isn’t your real name Heath?”

“Rupert Brooke” denied this, and when the police said they were detaining him for further questioning, he asked to be allowed to go to the hotel and get his coat. He’d come back right away, he said.

The cops were not that stupid and sent one of their own officers to fetch the coat. Inside was half a train ticket in Doreen Marshall’s name, as well as a cloakroom ticket issued at a train station on June 23. The police went to the train station to fetch what their prisoner had stored there: it turned out to be a suitcase containing several incriminating items, including clothing monogrammed with Heath’s real name, a bloodstained scarf and handkerchief, and a bloodstained riding crop woven in a criss-cross pattern that, it turned out, matched the marks on Margery’s body.

On July 8, Heath was formally charged with Margery’s murder. At around the same time, Doreen’s body turned up: she’d been dumped, naked, in a clump of bushes about a mile from the Tolland Royal Hotel.

At his trial, none of Heath’s friends or family members came to testify on his behalf. Given the evidence against him, his defense attorney could hardly argue that their client was innocent. Instead they claimed he was insane: only a madman could have committed such acts.

But Heath’s calm, composed manner, and his obvious efforts to cover up his crimes, went against the insanity defense and the jury had no trouble convicting him.

In his final letter to his parents, he wrote, “My only regret at leaving the world is that I have been damned unworthy of you both.” Just before his hanging, he was offered the customary drink of whiskey. He agreed and added, “Better make it a double.”

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1940: Lluis Companys, Catalan president

Add comment October 15th, 2013 Headsman

“Above all, there was a belief in the revolution and the future, a feeling of having suddenly emerged into an era of equality and freedom. Human beings were trying to behave as human beings and not as cogs in the capitalist machine.

-George Orwell, Homage to Catalonia

On this date in 1940, Catalan president Lluis Companys was shot by the Spanish fascists.

Companys had held that notional office for mere hours six years before — but he’s still the last to hold it in any form at all.

Political exile was no unfamiliar terrain for Companys. As a young lawyer, his activism in the first two decades of the century had seen him incarcerated over a dozen times; in fact, his path to political respectability had entailed getting out of a Menorca prison in 1920 courtesy of the parliamentary immunity conferred by winning an election.

And he’d drawn a long sentence for an attempted 1934 rising against a center-right government — the occasion when he had become the President of the Catalan Republic on October 6, and been dispossessed of both office and state by the very next day.

That prison sentence’s reversal by the new republican government in 1936 was a bit of Pyrrhic victory for Companys’s left-wing politics — inasmuch as said republicans’ ascent was also the trigger for the nationalist revolt that resulted in the Spanish Civil War and a military dictatorship lasting until the 1970s.

As the virtual personification of Catalan national aspirations, Companys remained head of the Generalitat de Catalunya from 1933 until his death — in prison, in exile, wherever Companys went he bore along the Catalan cause.

As such, he was in the thick of the civil war’s scrap for control of Barcelona: not only against the fascists but among the left parties whose fractious alliance tore apart in 1937.

It was truly a case of riding the tiger. Companys struggled to maintain the cooperation of his alliance even while the republicans’ Soviet sponsors excommunicated anarchist and anti-Stalinist elements internally. The dreadful spectacle of internecine street fighting among the anti-fascists in May 1937 fills the final tragic pages of Orwell’s Homage, decided by the inescapable materialist circumstances: “the Government could not afford to offend the Communist Party while the Russians were supplying arms.”

Few sources direct much personal blame at Companys for what followed. Under Soviet pressure, he accepted the Communist police raids that had set off the street fighting, accepted the purges and the press censorsip, sacked anti-Stalinist minister Andres Nin from the government. (Nin was later “disappeared” and murdered.)

Who knows but that even these evil days were not still the best that could be made of a bad circumstance: whatever they were, they were not enough for republican Spain or for Catalonia.

When those dreams fell under the fascist advance little more than a year later, Companys couldn’t flee Franco far enough for safety. Soon after his 1939 escape to France, that country was overrun by militaristic rightists from the other direction — and the German occupiers happily handed Companys back to Spain as soon as they got their hands on him.

Condemned after the formality of a perfunctory trial for “military rebellion” conducted on October 14, 1940, Companys was shot the very next morning Montjuic Castle. (See Franco: A Biography)

Spain, where questions of Catalan sovereignty and the Franco years are both sensitive subjects, has never reversed the judgment (Spanish link) against Companys. However, a Barcelona promenade is named in Companys’s honor, as is a major stadium — actually the arena where the anti-fascist 1936 People’s Olympiad in opposition to the notorious master race spectacle of Berlin was to have taken place, before that whole Civil War unpleasantness.

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1757: The Tipplers Revolt leaders

Add comment October 14th, 2013 Headsman

On this date in 1757, 17 people went to the scaffold over wine prices in Portugal.

The seeds of these hangings had been sown back in 1703 when the Methuen Treaty gave Portuguese wines favorable tariff treatment in exchange for reciprocal advantages exporting English wool to Portugal.* “The Portugal Wines,” Daniel Defoe noted, “became our general Draught all over England” with this arrangement, since the deal enabled those libations to undercut French claret.

A nearly thirtyfold boom in wine shipments in the first half of the 18th century brought conflict over the proceeds. Struggling to keep up with demand, some growers adulterated the product, causing friction between the English export “Factors”** and the Portuguese producers.

With this profitable but acrimonious relationship at its most tense point, the authoritarian Marquis de Pombal introduced a royal agency charged with quality control — an act that also made Portugal’s Douro wine region the world’s first demarcated regional appellation. Pombal’s quality control regime, in turn, caused prices for the now-unadulaterated wine to spike.

While this triggered more complaints from the unappeasable British Factors, price changes also hit much closer to home: everyday Portuguese also found the price of regular table wine suddenly rising to their considerable consternation. Take away the wine from your populace at your peril.

On the morning of February 23, 1757, taverngoers and -keepers in Porto marched the streets of Porto in opposition to the royal monopoly, and the protests turned violent: a judge was roughed up, and some property vandalized.

Pombal suppressed ruthlessly this “Tipplers’ Riot” or “Tipplers’ Revolt” (the term “revolt” seems like an overstatement).

On October 14 of that same year, 13 men and four women involved in the mob were put to death in a Porto clapped under martial law. Dozens of others were sent to the galleys, exiled to Portugal’s colonies, or stripped of their property. Pombal, as was his wont, got his way … and the lucrative Methuen Treaty impressively persisted until 1840.

* Part of a larger strategic arrangement joining England, Holland and Austria against Spain and France.

** British exporters of the general Draught were collectively known as the “Factors”; their 1790 trade association and gentleman’s club building, the Factory House, is still to be seen in the city of Porto. “Adulterations” included the addition of grape brandy to stabilize the wine shipment, a practice that subsequently became accepted — and indeed, characteristic of port wine.

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1944: Six German POWs, for Stalingrad’s Dulag-205

2 comments October 13th, 2013 Headsman

On this date in 1944, Wehrmacht Oberst Rudolf Körpert, his deputy Hauptmann Carl Frister, and officers Fritz Müsenthin, Otto Mäder, Richard Seidlitz and Kurt Wohlfarth, were shot in the Soviet Union for their treatment of Russian prisoners of war at Stalingrad.

This was nearly two years on since the Germans had surrendered the eastern front’s horrific signature battle.

The six captured men were principals at the little-known Dulag-205, a transit camp the Wehrmacht erected at Stalingrad for Soviet prisoners of war pending westward deportation to less extemporaneous prisons. (And less extemporaneous mistreatment.)

A minuscule 10 acres, the camp was eventually crammed with up to 3,400 prisoners, triple its anticipated capacity. There was nowhere to send them once the Germans were fatally encircled, and as supplies failed in the last terrible weeks of the besieged Kessel (“cauldron”), the subsistence prisoner rations of putrefying-horseflesh soup were cut off entirely.

Several dozen dropped dead of starvation, overwork, and summary execution each day thence until the merciful end. When the Red Army finally took control of the camp on Jan. 22, 1943, it discovered corpses with obvious signs of cannibalism.

Frank Ellis has the definitive treatment of this affair in “Dulag-205: The German Army’s Death Camp for Soviet Prisoners at Stalingrad” (Journal of Slavic Military Studies, March 2006), and the facts in this posts are drawn from Ellis’s examination of the Dulag-205 interrogation and trial records.*

Our captured men enjoyed the company of NKVD and SMERSH interrogators for a number of months, under what duresses one shudders to imagine.

The rescued Soviet soldiers — who were themselves suspect in the eyes of Stalinist authorities merely for having been captured — provided ample firsthand corroboration of Dulag-205’s miserable conditions.

“The guards were allowed to shoot without any warning at prisoners who approached the barbed wire barrier, who tried to jump the queue for food and at prisoners who tried to have a piss in the wrong place,” one POW told his Soviet interrogators. “Hardly any water or bread was given to the prisoners. The prisoners slept in the dugouts without any bedding, jammed tight. The prisoners were never able to rest since they had to sleep standing and sitting. … There were no baths in the camp. During my whole time in the camp — about 5 months — I did not wash once.”

Moscow had by this time already begun rolling out war crimes trials relating to the German invasion. The guys who were captured with starving Red Army prisoners cannibalizing one another were going to be a prime target.

The subaltern officers, according to Ellis, generally tried to put the blame on Körpert and further up the chain of command, and understandably so. Mäder was a mere adjutant. Siedlitz was the director of camp construction. They weren’t the ones who got the Sixth Army encircled or cut prisoner rations or even made camp-specific decisions like when to set the dogs on a disobedient captive. They had no ability to transfer the prisoners back to the Soviets or to any less horrible detention on their side of the lines. Otto Mäder:

My service in the Dulag was a great spiritual torment for me. It was dreadful to see the terrible condition of Russian prisoners.

I stand before the court at that time when the main culprits responsible for the death of 3,000 Soviet prisoners — Field Marshall Paulus, the army’s chief-of-staff, General Schmidt, Lieutenant-Colonel Kunowski
and the army quartermaster — do not stand before the court. They are not only guilty of the death of Soviet prisoners-of-war, but have put us on the accused’s bench!

You’d expect the guy to say that to a Soviet tribunal, certainly — especially a lawyer, which Mäder was also — but that doesn’t make it untrue. This case was actually evaluated in post-Soviet Russia for possible posthumous rehabilitation. (No dice.)

Intriguingly, the Wehrmacht officers were not tried for violations of the Geneva Conventions; indeed, the USSR had not ratified all of the Geneva Conventions, and this put Germany (which had ratified them) in an ambiguous position relative to its non-ratifying belligerent. (A less kind way to say it might be that the difference served to rationalize dreadfully inhumane treatment.)

Rather, Körpert et al were charged under Soviet laws promulgated only after the Battle of Stalingrad, a sketchy maneuver which Ellis thinks suggests that prosecutors hoped to avoid setting a precedent that could be cited by Germany relative to the USSR’s none-too-gentle treatment of its own prisoners of war.

* Ellis also has a topical recent book out, The Stalingrad Cauldron: Inside the Encirclement and Destruction of the 6th Army.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Concentration Camps,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Execution,Germany,History,Mass Executions,Notable Jurisprudence,Occupation and Colonialism,Russia,Shot,Soldiers,Torture,USSR,War Crimes,Wartime Executions

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