Posts filed under 'Execution'

1936: Allen Foster, who fought Joe Louis

2 comments January 24th, 2012 Headsman

More than twenty-five years ago, one of the southern states adopted a new method of capital punishment. Poison gas supplanted the gallows. In its earliest stages, a microphone was placed inside the sealed death chamber so that scientific observers might hear the words of the dying prisoner to judge how the human reacted in this novel situation.

The first victim was a young Negro. As the pellet dropped into the container, and the gas curled upward, through the microphone came these words: “Save me, Joe Louis. Save me, Joe Louis. Save me, Joe Louis…”

It is heartbreaking enough to ponder the last words of any person dying by force. It is even more poignant to contemplate the words of this boy because they reveal the helplessness, the loneliness and the profound despair of Negroes in that period. The condemned young Negro, groping for someone who might care for him, and had power enough to rescue him, found only the heavyweight boxing champion of the world. Joe Louis would care because he was a Negro. Joe Louis could do something because he was a fighter. In a few words the dying man had written a social commentary. Not God, not government, not charitably minded white men, but a Negro who was the world’s most expert fighter, in this last extremity, was the last hope.

-Martin Luther King, Why We Can’t Wait

This story isn’t precisely accurate as Dr. King told it, but the factual basis for this empathetic legend is Allen Foster.

On this date in 1936, Foster was the first man executed by lethal gas in North Carolina — and en route to this minor distinction he punched his ticket for commemoration in civil rights literature when he flourished a flamboyant uppercut to witnesses as he was led to the gas chamber and cried out, “I fought Joe Louis!” It was an allusion to having matched with the world champ when both were youngsters in Alabama.

This coincidental brush with celebrity was about as strange as the fact that it occurred in a gas chamber at all.

After the arrival of the electric chair, the South adopted it virtually across the board; North Carolina had switched from hanging to electrocution in 1910.

But the Tarheel State was also generally more progressive than its neighbors;* V.O. Key would write of North Carolina, “It has been the vogue to be progressive. Willingness to accept new ideas, sense of community responsibility toward the Negro, feeling of common purpose, and relative prosperity have given North Carolina a more sophisticated politics than exists in most southern states.”

Part of that “sophisticated politics” was, in the 1930s, a growing debate about the application — indeed, the mere existence — of capital punishment.

According to Trina Seitz’s “The Kiling Chair: North Carolina’s Experiment in Civility and the Execution of Allen Foster” (North Carolina Historical Review, Jan. 2004):

North Carolinians were beginning to doubt the effectiveness of the sanction and the method used to enforce it. Furthermore, private citizens, humanitarians, and state institutions alike were increasingly scrutinizing the demographics of those being put to death.

Though this scrutiny did not lead so far as actual abolition, it provided the receptively reformist environment for Mitchell County Dr. Charles Peterson’s “pet project” of switching the execution protocol to lethal gas.

The reason for his fascination with gas seems to be obscure; the method had never been employed east of the Mississippi. Maybe it had something to do with 1932’s remarkably smooth gassing of a North Carolinian from nearby Burke County in Nevada, the nation’s gas chamber pioneer.

Whatever the reason, Peterson took a seat in the legislature in 1935 and won adoption for his idea in this very first session.

Unfortunately for Peterson — and doubly so for Foster — North Carolina didn’t have quite the same facility with hydrogen cyanide, and Foster’s execution was a notorious botch that immediately got people back on the electrocution bandwagon.

Foster was doomed for raping a white woman — this may be progressive North Carolina, but it’s still the South — and according to Seitz’s rendering of the News and Observer‘s first-hand report:

“Good-bye.” The Negro’s lips framed the words so clearly that no man in the witness room could doubt what he had said. As he said it, he winked and then forced a smile at the faces peering in at him. Then he began to suffer. No man could look squarely into his eyes and fail to perceive that they were registering pain. The Negro fought for breath, knowing he was going to die and fighting to get it over with as quickly as possible …

he sucked the gas desperately until his head rolled back three minutes later, indicating to physicians that the man finally had lost consciousness. But after a period of quiescence, his small, but powerfully built torso began to retch and jerk, throwing his head forward on his chest, where witnesses could see his eyes slowly glaze … The torturous, convulsive retching continued spasmodically for a full four minutes.

Officially, it took about 11 minutes for Foster to die, and as those agonizing minutes dragged by a physician broke the witness room’s mortified silence by exclaiming, “We’ve got to shorten [the execution method] or get rid of it entirely.” Um, yeah? The prison warden was quoted the next day as saying that even hanging was preferable to this.

The ensuing political controversy, however, did not succeed in reverting the method to electrocution.

Like the original electric chair, North Carolina’s gas chamber was the beneficiary of some hasty technical fixes: heating the gas chamber (it was at the freezing point when Foster died; Colorado executioners advised North Carolina that this would impede the gassing); tweaking the chemical formula.

The very next week, a white murderer named Ed Jenkins followed Foster into the toxic plume, this time to rave reviews: he “died painlessly and the method of execution was humane”. These advances were enough to keep the gas chamber in place, although the state legislature considered several bills to return to electrocution from 1937 to 1943.

During one such debate, North Carolina playwright Paul Green testified to the assembly (per Seitz),

Some day the electric chair and the gas chamber will be set up in the State Museum as symbols of an age of horror and ignorance. School children will look at them and feel superior to us as they look back upon an era of ignorance

Three hundred sixty-two people ultimately died in North Carolina’s gas chamber. And as Green anticipated, the execution chair resides today in the state’s Museum of History.

* This is still true of North Carolina: it has employed the allegedly more humane method of lethal injection since 1984, when no other Southern state save Texas used the needle until the 1990s; that use has been sparing enough that its per-capita execution rate remains markedly lower than most other former Confederate states; and in 2009, North Carolina implemented a still-controversial Racial Justice Act empowering condemned prisoners to challenge their sentence with statistical evidence of racial disparity even though courts don’t require this at all.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Botched Executions,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Gassed,History,Milestones,North Carolina,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Rape,USA

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1892: Patrick Boyle, bindle bandit

Add comment January 23rd, 2012 Headsman

On this date in 1892, Patrick Boyle was hanged in Edwardsville, Illinois.

Boyle was a hobo who, whilst off a-tramping with a fellow-vagrant outside Nameoki, Ill., robbed said vagrant by shooting him in the back.

The victim was in good enough shape after this attack to comply with Boyle’s directive to turn out his pockets (yielding 95 cents) and cough up his bindle (yielding a couple of shirts) … and still doing well enough after transacting the business end of the stickup to hike back to Nameoki as Boyle made his getaway.

Sadly for him, the wound (however non-debilitating) was discovered to be mortal, and he passed away. But of course, he was around long enough to incriminate Boyle.

It didn’t take long for the law to catch up with Boyle, although he escaped once and made it 35 miles in handcuffs before recapture.

(A body can get around in manacles when he’s properly motivated.)

Once firmly in custody, legal matters advanced with the dispatch customary to the poor: according to the St. Louis Republic, the case was called in the morning; “a jury was selected by noon”; “The case was given to them at 6 o’clock, and at 10 they brought in a verdict.”)

Boyle was considered somewhat feebleminded and some clemency petitions led Gov. Joseph Fifer* to grant a dramatic last-second stay prior to Boyle’s planned hanging Jan. 16. But the stay was only good for one week, to give his supporters enough time to make a then-unusual appeal to the Supreme Court. It didn’t work.

* Fifer is a bit (in)famous for having just the previous year pardoned killer Thomas Neill Cream, who used this unexpected liberty after his first murder to strike out across the pond and become one of England’s more notorious serial killers. On the other hand, Fifer couldn’t find any mercy for the surviving Haymarket men.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Diminished Capacity,Execution,Hanged,Illinois,Murder,Theft,USA

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1536: The Münster Rebellion leaders

5 comments January 22nd, 2012 Headsman

On this date in 1536, Bernhard Krechting, Bernhard Knipperdolling, and Jan van Leiden were chained to stakes in the Münster public square, tortured with flesh-ripping tongs for more than an hour, killed with daggers thrust into their hearts, and their remains hoisted in cages in the city cathedral as a warning against any kindred misbehavior in the future.


Detail view (click for the full image) of Jan van Leiden et al being put to death in Münster. In the background, the Lambertuskirche spire shows the three cages in which the victims’ remains were gibbeted.

And the point was taken: the appalling deaths of these men also marked the death of early Anabaptism’s pretensions to secular political power.

These three unfortunates were the top surviving leaders of the Münster Rebellion, a revolution that turned that city into an Anabaptist commune for more than a year.

Just a few years before, southern Germany had been shaken by an apocalyptic peasant rebellion led by Thomas Muntzer, a sort of proto-Anabaptist.*

Though northern Germany was spared that particular maelstrom, that same religious tension and social discontent soon blew a hyperborean wind.

In the early 1530s, “Melchiorites” — Anabaptist followers of radical preacher Melchior Hoffman — proliferated rapidly among workers of the long-prosperous but now-waning Hanseatic territories in northern Germany and the Low Countries.

And these converts did not intend the meek example of evangelical martyrdom. They meant to rule.

In 1535, Democratic-Anabaptist types stormed the Amsterdam city hall; in a separate action, others seized and fortified a Friesland monastery before being overrun. An allied movement, less theologically distinct, won temporary control of Lübeck in 1533, before being expelled by force of arms.

Only in Münster did the Anabaptists realize the full flower of their project, albeit for a very brief period of time. Winning power over the course of the year 1533 by dint of internal politicking, energetic recruitment, and fortuitous imperial distraction, Münster Anabaptists booted out the 1% and started turning the place into a visionary “New Jerusalem.”

Among those visions, the most notorious was polygamy (pdf), introduced by Jan van Leiden when he inherited leadership after the charismatic firebrand Jan Matthys died in a sortie against a siege in April 1534. The story has it that van Leiden wanted to marry Matthys’s attractive widow Divara, though whether motivated by considerations of the loins or legitimacy is up to the reader’s good conscience.

There’s quite a controversial historiography surrounding their polygamous turn: while contemporary enemies were pleased to ascribe it to libertine devilries, German Communist intellectual Karl Kautsky vociferously defended the Münster Anabaptists — arguing that they resorted to polygamy for social stability when the gender disparity in the city had fallen past 3:1 owing to the vicissitudes of war.

And war, as Kautsky noted, was the commune of Münster’s essential condition, just like that of Paris.

Community of goods was the basis of the whole Baptist movement. For its sake the great fight was waged at Münster. It was not, however, the chief factor in determining the character of the Münster Baptist government, that factor being the siege. The town was a great war-camp; the demands of war took precedence of all other matters, and sentiments of freedom and equality were active only in so far as they were compatible with military dictatorship.

After a year and more under siege, Munster finally succumbed to Prince-Bishop Franz von Waldeck.

Jan van Leiden, by this time dignified the “King of Jerusalem”, was taken along with two of his chief aides and designated for this superlative punishment (many others less exalted faced less exalted executions, too).


For decades after the execution, the Anabaptists’ remains rotted publicly in cages on the tower of St. Lambert’s — like these still displayed there to this day. (cc) image from Rüdiger Wölk, Münster.

For Anabaptists as a whole this catastrophe commenced a long period of persecution and reckoning. But from such travails would the movement leave its mark. Indeed, it was also in January 1536 that a young Dutch priest named Menno Simons accepted adult baptism … and began a religious career that would make him the founding namesake of the Mennonites.

Dan Carlin’s “Hardcore History” podcast treats the Münster rebellion here.

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Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Germany,Gibbeted,God,Gruesome Methods,History,Martyrs,Occupation and Colonialism,Politicians,Power,Public Executions,Put to the Sword,Religious Figures,Revolutionaries,Torture

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1880: Daniel Searles, the first hanging in Tioga County

2 comments January 21st, 2012 Headsman

From the New York Evening Express, January 21, 1880.

DANIEL SEARLES HANGED.

THE NEGRO MURDERER OF OLD MR. REWEY

Sketch of a Brutal Crime — The Condemned Man Owns His Guilt and Admits the Justice of His Sentence.

OSWEGOOWEGO, N.Y., January 21. — The first instance of capital punishment in Tioga county occurred here to-day at noon. The extreme penalty of the law was inflicted upon Daniel Searles, an illiterate negro, who in June last murdered Eldridge Rewey, an aged farmer, who lived alone in the neighboring vilage of Newark Valley.

The murder was for the purpose of robbery, and was one of fiendish atrocity. Calling at the farmer’s house in the early evening of June 25, Searles felled him senseless to the floor, and then cut his throat with a razor.

He obtained about $300 by searching the house, and, on preparing to leave, noticed that his victim had revived. Rewey had also drawn a knife from his pocket, as if to defend himself, which the negro wrested from him, and with which he nearly decapitated his helpless victim.

He was arrested next day, tried before Judge Follett at OswegoOwego, and on December 8 was sentenced to be hung to-day.

Searles has made no attempt to deny his guilt, openly confessing the crime and saying he deserved to die for it. He has preserved a brave exterior throughout, and passed his last night on earth seemingly with less anxiety than did his executioner.

The execution took place in a temporary frame structure in the jail-yard, erected for the purpose. A cordon of military attended. The gallows was the same on which Penwell was executed at Elmira in July, 1877, for wife murder. The ponderous drop weighed three hundred pounds.

The spectators were in attendance at 11:45, some two hundred being present. Prayers were said in the prisoner’s cell at noon and the death warrant read to him.

Part of the Daily Triple: 1880 and Death.

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

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1880: Andrew Scott and Thomas Rogan, bushrangers

1 comment January 20th, 2012 Headsman

On this date in 1880, Andrew George Scott and Thomas George “condemned to death for the part they took in the outrage at Wantabadgery, resulting in the death of constable Bowen, were executed at Darlinghurst Gaol.”


Andrew George Scott, aka Captain Moonlite (top); Thomas Rogan (bottom)

Scott is our main man here, an Anglican lay reader turned grifter turned flat-out outlaw with the nom de plunder “Captain Moonlite”: one of the strangest characters in Australia’s criminal annals.

How did a fellow with such a family-friendly alias end up involved in an “outrage”?

This colorful, charismatic immigrant (from Ireland, via New Zealand — and, legend has it, with a side trip to Italy to fight with Garibaldi) became a notorious public figure when, in outlandish masked getup, he robbed the bank of the South Victoria gold rush town of Mount Egerton.

His distinctive voice — remember, he was a parish reader — was recognized by his erstwhile friend at the other end of the gun, but Scott brazenly reversed the accusation and actually had his victim in the dock for a time. This Mount Egerton crime is the source of the man’s luminescent nickname, after the signature placed on a stickup note.

When he got out of prison in 1879 — having defended himself with panache, and escaped once along the way — he had a public profile, and actually got out on the lecture circuit for a brief spell.

But he soon returned to the annals of preposterous criminality.

Gathering five young followers, Moonlite went full-time into the bush. Allegedly spurned in a bid to join Ned Kelly‘s gang, Moonlite et al sought work at Wantabadgery Station.

When this refuge, too, turned them away, the outlaws found themselves in a rather pathetic state of hunger and desperately seized the place by main force. The resulting “outrage” was not a wholesale plunder of the station or wanton abuse of the prisoners (no rapes, no murders … although Moonlite did conduct a kangaroo “trial” of one of his hostages for attempting to escape: the verdict was not guilty): it was the inevitable ensuing shootout with police in which the bushrangers James Nesbitt and Augustus Wernicke died, along with the constable Bowen.

Two of the other three who survived this shootout also survived their brush with the law by blaming Captain Moonlite. The “Captain” may have been plenty eager to accept this fatal inculpation for reasons beyond those of mere honor.

In his prolific prison correspondence awaiting execution, Scott avowed his broken-hearted love for James Nesbitt, one of the two companions who had been killed in the shootout. The terms are astonishingly explicit for the time.

“My boy with a golden heart who died trying to save me … He was my constant companion; we had the deepest, truest bond of friendship. We were one heart and soul, he died in my arms and I long to join him, where there shall be no more parting. He died in my arms; his death has broken my hear. When I think of my dearest Jim, I am nearly driven mad. My dying wish is to be buried beside my beloved James Nesbitt”

Scott hanged wearing a ring of the late Nesbitt’s hair,* but his wish to share a burial plot was not honored — until Captain Moonlite was exhumed and reburied in 1995.


(cc) image from AYArktos.

* Asserted in Who’s Who In Gay and Lesbian History from Antiquity to World War II.

Part of the Daily Triple: 1880 and Death.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Australia,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Hanged,History,Homosexuals,Murder,Occupation and Colonialism,Outlaws

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1880: Prevost, predatory Parisian policeman

1 comment January 19th, 2012 Headsman

From a Paris Dispatch report via the New York Times. (Additional paragraph breaks have been added for readability.)

It is just 10 years ago, day for day, that the notorious Troppman, the murderer of the Kink family, was executed on the Place de la Roquette. This morning another convict of the same stamp underwent the penalty of death on the same spot.

Prevost, the policeman who murdered the woman Blondin and the jewelry-dealer, Lenoble, and afterward cut their bodies up and threw the pieces into the sewers, was guillotined there at daybreak.


Thwack: Prevost clobbers Lenoble.

It having become known last night that his appeal for mercy had been rejected by the President of the Republic, a large crowd began to assemble as early as 9 o’clock round the place of execution. To prevent a recurrence of the scenes of disorder which took place there when the young criminals Lebiez and Barre, the assassins of the woman Gilles, were put to death, a strong force of infantry and cavalry guarded the square and kept the people at a distance.

The crowd, in spite of the bitter cold and piercing north-east wind, grew more numerous toward midnight, and by the hour of execution all the thoroughfares leading to the spot were crammed with people.

The executioner arrived at 4 o’clock, and, aided by his assistants, erected the guillotine about 20 paces from the central door of the prison. The guillotine once in order, the headsman and his assistants entered the prison to arrange what is called the toilet of the culprit previous to his death.

The Abbe Crozes, the Chaplain of the jail, was the first to enter the prisoner’s cell. Prevost started up, gazed wildly at the reverend gentleman, and then buried his head in his hands, trembling and groaning.

“Alas!” said the Chaplain, “there is no hope now but in the mercy of God.”

Prevost had lured the jewel-trader Lenoble on the pretext of arranging a transaction, then for no reason save crass acquisition of his wares bludgeoned him to death with the iron rod-and-ball device used to link railroad cars.

It was a premeditated and gruesomely executed crime.

Using butchers’ knives he had pre-obtained for the purpose, Prevost spent the next several hours skinning Lenoble, dismembering Lenoble, and ultimately dicing Lenoble up into cutlets so that he could heap Lenoble in a basket and dispose of Lenoble’s bits in less-suspicious fragments in a variety of sewer grates and refuse heaps.

Such as was recovered was heaped together at the morgue, “a mass of quivering flesh, stripped of skin … bones covered with their tendons, sternum, ribs with fragments of the chest, bones of the shoulder blades and arms … the liver, heart and guts, and the fragments of skin torn off one by one from each severed part.”*

After his capture for this shocking crime, he admitted that he’d also been the author of the unsolved murder several years before of his lover, Adele Blondin — likewise for pecuniary gain, and likewise disposed of in pieces after Pevost’s ghoulish close work with corpse and saw.

The condemned man then left his bed, but he was too much overcome to dress himself. That task was done by the executioner and his assistants. He was then left alone with the Abbe Crozes to prepare his soul. He embraced the Chaplain several times and wept bitterly.

“Take courage, take courage,” said the reverend gentleman.

“Yes, yes,” replied Prevost, “I will take courage and try to meet my fate. I ask pardon of the Police administration, to which I belonged seven years.”

“If this … pawnbroker has been murdered by some one of a higher class in society,” Dostoyevsky had mused in Crime and Punishment in 1866, “how are we to explain this demoralisation of the civilised part of our society?”

Prevost’s demoralization afflicted his cognition as well as his conscience, because he had actually made previous chit-chat with fellow-officers to the effect that were he to commit the perfect crime he would surely go and butcher the body for no-fuss disposal.

The condemned man, after kissing the crucifix three or four times, marched out to the guillotine wit a firm step, and in an instant he was on the fatal bascule.

The spring was touched, a dull thud was heard, and the next second his head fell into the basket.

After the execution the body and head of the murderer were taken to the School of Medicine, and, having been sown together, electrical experiments were made on them, and in the opinion of all the doctors present death must have been instantaneous.

* This quote, and the other interspersed crime details, and the nice bashing illustration, are all via this French crime pamphlet.

Part of the Daily Triple: 1880 and Death.

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

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1902: Gideon Scheepers, Boer guerrilla

5 comments January 18th, 2012 Headsman

Scheepers lives because they shot him.”

-Hermi Baartman, Graaf-Reinet Museum

On this date in 1902, Kommandant Gideon Jacobus Scheepers was shot by the British for his exploits in the Boer War.

The young Dutch-descended Scheepers (here’s his Afrikaans Wikipedia page) was a soldier from the still-independent Boer states which were being reduced in this war to British dependencies.

In 1901, late in the proceedings, Scheepers took a column of irregulars into the British Eastern Cape Province and wrought havoc behind the lines. Some exploits are the stuff of legend, like the time he rode into a town, released all the Boer prisoners, locked up the British magistrate, and hauled down the Union Jack — to the delight of the Boer locals.

He would spend that year giving the British much better than he got, but the war was also infamously dirty.

According to David Harrison’s The White Tribe of Africa: South Africa in Perspective, “Scheeepers’ men also flogged and shot natives who helped the British, looted as well as burned farms, and executed Boer ‘traitors’.”

Was any of that criminal?

Since Scheepers was over enemy lines, the Boers who joined him could be held liable for treason … but that didn’t hold for Scheepers himself. His execution turned on holding these unsavory acts as war crimes: his 30-count charge sheet included seven arsons, seven murders, and various and sundry abuses of prisoners and blacks. Scheepers was really sore about the last; natives were supposed to be kept out of the fighting, but the prisoner very credibly insisted that the ones he “murdered” were under arms as scouts for the British.

“We Afrikaners will never find justice under the English,” Scheepers wrote as a prisoner. “Everything is for the kaffirs.”

(There’s a vociferous defense of Scheepers from a pro-Boer history here, and a more sober one by a London press correspondent here.)


Scheepers is read the death warrant on January 17, 1902 — before Graaf-Reinet townspeople assembled by British orders.

For non-Loyalist Boers and for many throughout the world — the U.S. House of Representatives even moved a resolution calling for Scheepers to be accorded POW status according to the Geneva Convention — it smacked of a setup.


Gideon Scheepers (mostly obscured by his guards) tied to a chair for execution.


Just shot, Gideon Scheepers slumps backward in his chair.

While martyrdom guaranteed Scheepers a lasting legacy, bizarre posthumous turns helped elevate it into legend. When the dead man’s family turned up after hostilities to retrieve his bones, the grave turned out empty, leading to a years-long saga with colorful frauds presenting bogus remains, a mentally ill man doing the Grand Duchess Anastasia act and claiming to be Scheepers, and the actual corpse remaining stubbornly elusive.

The bereaved mother’s ultimately fruitless search for her son’s final resting place inspired the poem “Gebed om die Gebeente”(“Prayer for the Bones”), by D.J. Opperman. (Here’s a translated version.) That verse was recently set to music as a cantata by composer Hendrik Hofmeyr.

Scheepers’ allies, however, had simply been beaten in the field. On May 31, 1902 they capitulated to the British.

If we are asked why in 1978 a memorial should be erected for a man who died in 1902, then the answer is simple. The life and work of this man was such that history placed him in the heroes’ gallery and nothing and no one can deprive him of that place.

-Nationalist Prime Minister John Vorster upon the unveiling of a Scheepers monument

This interesting “On the Trail of Gideon Scheepers” series has a detailed and richly illustrated narrative of the man’s final year.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,England,Execution,Famous,Guerrillas,History,Mature Content,Murder,Occupation and Colonialism,Popular Culture,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Separatists,Shot,Soldiers,South Africa,War Crimes,Wartime Executions

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2006: Clarence Ray Allen, “beyond rehabilitation”

6 comments January 17th, 2012 Meaghan

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

On this day in 2006, Clarence Allen was executed by the state of California for his role in the murders of three people.


Clarence Ray Allen packing heat and bravado in the 1970s (top); and, as a geriatric condemned man (bottom).

He could be seen as a kind of poster child for the death penalty: Allen was already serving a life sentence in prison for murder when he had the witnesses against him killed. As the Ninth Court of Appeals noted,

Given the nature of his crimes, sentencing him to another life term would achieve none of the traditional purposes underlying punishment. Allen … has proven that he is beyond rehabilitation.

The California Attorney General’s office provides a detailed account of his crimes here. (pdf) Crime Magazine ran a detailed piece on Allen in 2009. For Executed Today, a summary will suffice:

Allen, a father of two, presented an outward appearance of respectability (in fact, he ran a thriving security business) while organizing a gang of young people to help him commit many burglaries. In June 1974, Allen, his son Roger and other accomplices burglarized a Fresno supermarket and stole, among other things, $10,000 in money orders. Roger’s seventeen-year-old girlfriend, Mary Sue Kitts, later told Bryon Schletewitz, whose parents owned the supermarket, who had committed the burglary.

Allen had warned his gang that “snitches” would be put to death, and when he found out what Kitts had done he ordered her murder. Another member of the gang, Eugene Farrow, actually committed the deed, strangling Kitts and dumping her body in a canal. Her body has never been found.

Allen was convicted of the burglary and Kitts’s murder in 1977 and sentenced to life. Farrow pleaded guilty to second-degree murder.

After his conviction, Allen ordered the murders of eight of the witnesses who had testified against him at the trial, including Schletewitz and his parents. His other son, Kenneth (lovely family they are), supplied weapons and transportation to Billy Ray Hamilton, a recently paroled prisoner who had been offered $25,000 to commit the murders, and Hamilton’s girlfriend, Connie Sue Barbo. In 1980, Hamilton and Barbo broke into the supermarket and shot Schletewitz as well as Douglas Scott White and Jacqueline Rocha, two teenagers who were just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Fortunately, Barbo was caught at the scene and Hamilton was arrested just a few days later, before he could get on with the hit list.

In 1982, Allen was sentenced to death for the three murders. Hamilton was also sent to Death Row, where he remains. Barbo got a life term. Kenneth accepted a plea agreement that offered minimal prison time in exchange for his testimony, but when he recanted his original statements the agreement was canceled and he got a life sentence.

Already fifty years old at the time of the supermarket murders, Allen had to wait a further twenty-six years for his date with death. While he was on Death Row his health deterioriated markedly.

By the time he was executed he was diabetic, nearly deaf, legally blind and confined to a wheelchair. He also had a heart attack in 2005 and had to have bypass surgery.

Given the circumstances of his crimes, his advanced age and poor health were the only mitigating circumstances his attorneys could think of to argue for a reprieve. The Ninth Court of Appeals didn’t agree that this constituted cruel and unusual punishment.

Writing for the panel of judges, Judge Kim Wardlaw said,

His age and experience only sharpened his ability to coldly calculate the execution of the crime. Nothing about his current ailments reduces his culpability and thus they do not lessen the retributive or deterrent purposes of the death penalty.

For the same reasons, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger refused to intervene to stop the execution, saying, “His conduct did not result from youth or inexperience, but instead resulted from the hardened and calculating decisions of a mature man.”

On the day of Allen’s execution, he had to be lifted from his chair onto the gurney. His last words were: “It’s a good day to die. Thank you very much. I love you all. Goodbye.” It took eighteen minutes and an extra dose of potassium chloride for him to die.

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Entry Filed under: 21st Century,California,Capital Punishment,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Guest Writers,Lethal Injection,Murder,Organized Crime,Other Voices,Ripped from the Headlines,USA

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2003: Daniel Juan Revilla

1 comment January 16th, 2012 Headsman

On this date in 2003, Daniel Juan Revilla was executed in Oklahoma for beating his girlfriend’s daughterson to death.

“Daniel gave his last few years to his project in the hope that his laughter and good spirit would live on through his work.”

Six months after his 18th birthday, Revilla appeared at the Jackson County hospital with his girlfriend’s infant son, screaming that the child had stopped breathing. The boy never revived.

Doctors trying to save little Mark Gomez couldn’t help but notice a catalogue of injuries: burns, bruises, cuts, brain hemorrhaging. Revilla’s explanation of careening through the house Homer Simpson-esque with the child — scalding him by trying to revive him with bathwater, bonking his head on the door running out to the hospital — didn’t persuade many.

Indeed, trial testimony from the mother and others tended towards the notion that Revilla openly disliked the kid because it wasn’t his, and was given to violently taking out his frustrated reproductive rivalry. He may have tried to “accidentally” kill the child previously.

The victim’s father, Juan Gomez, emerges from the news reports as a distinctly more impressive character, remembering the “short time, but still a good time” he had with Mark without losing empathy even for his murderous rival.

“I do forgive Mr. Revilla,” Juan Gomez told the media. “He was young at the time and I don’t think he realized what he did until it was too late. And I feel very sorry for his family for the loss of their son.”

Some thoughts of Daniel’s (about death row and the death penalty; he didn’t remark on the facts of the case) remain preserved on an ancient Internet page here. Sample:

The death penalty is unequivocally imposed arbitrarily. If you can’t afford justice, you’ll receive just as much justice as you can buy. In the case ofthe poor, that equals : none. There are those on death row, right now, with witnesses, evidence, DNA proof…etc, who can prove their innocence, if only they could afford it. Sadly, they can’t. Nor can they fight the Goliath system that oppresses them…They will die… The indigent, since they cannot afford to hire competent legal representation, are forced to capitulate. They abdicate their lives to the states ‘indigent defense system.’ An unimpressive, underfunded, jerkwater organization; implemented and appointed by the state, to facilitate the state’s desire to escort you through the formalities and into the execution chamber.

A comic series he drew during the half of his life he spent being escorted through the formalities and into the execution chamber was recently published as Dirt Road.

On this day..

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

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1999: Recak Massacre

2 comments January 15th, 2012 Meaghan

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

On this day in 1999, Serbian militants killed approximately 40 to 45 Kosovo Albanians near the village of Reçak in Kosovo. The victims allegedly included a twelve-year-old boy and at least one woman.

Depending on who you listened to, it was either a massacre against innocent civilians, or a military action against guerillas.

The New Kosova Report, adopting the former point of view, summarizes in a 2008 article:

In the early morning of 15 January, 1999, forces from Serbian Interior Ministry (MUP) and Yugoslav Army (VJ) moved into the village with tanks and began to shoot at houses sheltering civilians. After ransacking all the houses, they gathered 28 Albanian men and boys and ordered them to head towards a hill outside the village for questioning. There they were sprayed with machine guns and 23 of them died. Only five survived by pretending they were dead. Another 22 people were shot and/or decapitated at different places in the village. Some in a ravine behind the village, while others in front of their houses.

A local villager named Shefqet Avida gave photographer and BBC Radio reporter Melanie Friend an account which was later quoted in Friend’s book No Place Like Home: Echoes from Kosovo.

Policemen — Serbs — were hiding here, expecting them. I heard the Serbs saying, “Anyone under fifteen years old, don’t touch, but upwards of sixteen or seventeen years old, just kill them …” The people, when they were captured here, were made to stay in line, and every one of them was shot, and after that with a … very nice knife … they took eyes from the faces and hearts from the chest, and the Serbs later said, “That’s not true, we didn’t do that,” the mice, they’d eaten them. […]

Serbian police were shooting until four or five in the afternoon. When the observers arrived in the morning, we went with them to see the place where the people were murdered. Three of us stayed here all night to guard the bodies. […] Thirteen members of my family were killed there.

The Serbs denied having murdered civilians and claimed all those killed were all Kosovo Liberation Army fighters, shot during a skirmish with Serbian forces. To this day, many maintain the entire thing was staged, a hoax set up by the KLA in order to get support for their side.

Trying to sort the matter out, the European Union dispatched forensic experts to the scene from Finland. Helena Ranta, one of the experts, concluded that “There were no indications of the people being other than unarmed civilians.” When her opinion was broadcast in a press release, many mistook it for being the opinion of the entire group of scientists.

The Finns’ official report, however, has never been released. Dr. Ranta, a forensic dentist, later accused officials from the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of pressuring her to go against the Serbs.

Yugoslav and Belarusian scientists also examined the bodies and said they believed all the dead were KLA combatants. In response, critics blasted them for using allegedly out-of-date and unscientific testing methods.

News of the killings made headlines all over the world and incited NATO to finally get involved in the war. A couple of years later, Yugoslav dictator Slobodan Miloševic was brought up on war crimes charges; ordering the Reçak killings was one of them. It was later removed from the indictment for lack of evidence, however. (Miloševic died before his trial was concluded.)

In 2001, a Kosovo Serb police officer was sentenced to fifteen years in prison for participating in the killings. Outside observers, including the United Nations and Amnesty International, criticized the trial proceedings, accusing the Kosovo war crimes tribunal of ethnic bias and politically motivated decision-making. As of this writing, no one else has been called to account for what happened in Reçak.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Borderline "Executions",Children,Cycle of Violence,Escapes,Execution,Executions Survived,Guerrillas,Guest Writers,History,Innocent Bystanders,Kosovo,Mass Executions,No Formal Charge,Notable Sleuthing,Occupation and Colonialism,Other Voices,Serbia,Shot,Summary Executions,Torture,Wartime Executions,Women,Yugoslavia

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