We have touched in the past on the odd practice of executing effigies of criminals, a custom for which France had a particular penchant.
On this date in 1638, mannequins of Andre Armand, Gabriel Bonnaud, Sebastien Mareschal, and Simon Armand were “hanged” for murder.
As described in this French text, proceedings were delayed when, the previous November, the wife and mother-in-law of one of the absconded offenders appealed the sentence in their own inimitable way: by vandalizing the mannequins.
Thanks to Sonechka for deciphering the archaic French.
Sometime in early January — nobody seems to know quite when — North Korean intelligence official Ryu Kyong disappeared, apparently executed.
The number two man, and perhaps de facto number one man, in the State Security Department and a longtime Kim Jon-il ally, Ryu was reportedly “summoned by Kim Jong-il in early January and on his way to Kim’s residence, was arrested by members of the General Guard Bureau. He was interrogated and secretly executed.”
Speculative reason: the Leader viewed Ryu as having grown too powerful, and therefore as a potential rival to a clean succession for Kim Jong-un.
“With Ryu, many others were purged at the State Security Department,” a Seoul analyst said. “We can say that as he gained control of the department, Kim Jong-un needed to give jobs to people loyal to him.”
On this date in 1916, Sergeant John Robins of the 5th Battalion, Wiltshire Regiment — demoted for the occasion to Private — was shot “at a point on the beach 400 yards North of the mouth of the Gully Ravine” for disobeying orders.
This redundantly named topography was a feature of an ill-starred (for the British) peninsula Robins’s army was quite ready to see the back of: Gallipoli.*
Winston Churchill’s brainchild for a knockout punch in the First World War had long since come to grief — the enduring grief of the British, Australian, and New Zealand troops who died by the thousands under Ottoman guns whilst attempting to seize the Dardanelles, open the Black Sea, knock the Turks out of the war, and expose the Central Powers’ soft underbelly.
It didn’t do any of those things, but it did help Mel Gibson’s career.
The first days of 1916 were the very last days of the Gallipoli campaign, by which time the object was just to get out.
Actually, the invaders’ positions had been steadily, stealthily evacuated over the preceding weeks — successfully slipping away without alerting the Ottomans to the opportunity for a turkey shoot. The evacuation, at least, was a triumph.
Sergeant Robins was a part of this hot mess; he’d once had to flee from his bed when the Turks surprised his camp and overran it. But it didn’t seem to be jangled nerves that did him in so much as the everyday infirmity of the flesh.
By December 1915, a quarter of his unit was laid up on the sick rolls, but when Robins begged off a patrol assignment for unwellness, the powers that be didn’t reckon him among the legions of ill — but court-martialed him for refusing an order. A rather stunned Robins attempted to explain:
On the night in question I was not well enough to go out. I was eight and a half years in India where I suffered a good deal from fever and ague, and I still get fits of this. I had been suffering from this for several days off and on, and the wet weather had greatly affected me. I have been out here for nearly five months and this is the first trouble I have ever been in. I have always done my duty. This would not have happened if I had been quite well. At the time I did not realise the seriousness of what I did.
He realised the seriousness when he was shot at 8 a.m. on January 2, 1916. A week later, his unit — all his countrymen’s units — were out of Gallipoli.
Executions on New Year’s Day have not been unheard-of in U.S. history, but it’s been Auld Lang Syne since the last such event — a North Carolina double-gassing on this date in 1943.
The previous year, January 1, 1942, had seen the Tar Heel state host the Rose Bowl at Duke University’s stadium: that was just 25 days after Pearl Harbor, and the California coast was considered a potential target. With war in the Pacific trending America’s way, however, the tournament of Roses — although still not the associated parade — was back in Pasadena on New Year’s 1943. So instead, North Carolina did this.*
Daniel and Rosanna Phillips, black sharecroppers, died consecutively in the Raleigh Central Prison gas chamber for the ax murder of their farm owner a mere five months before.
This laboring couple, lovers living out of wedlock (they married after the murder), seem to have had a violent relationship with one another; their 13-hour trial would feature the defendants’ mutual recriminations of black magic, and allegations by each that the other one was the real killer. (Theft appears to have been the motive.)
The U.P. wire report (as run in the New York Times, Jan. 2, 1943) says that the pair forgave each other by the end. Still, Daniel was gassed first “at the request of the State Parole Commission, on the possibility that he might make a last-minute statement exonerating his wife,” which would have spared Rosanna. One wonders if she was still in a forgiving mood when she found out that he hadn’t breathed the word that might save her.
At least some newsmen also reported a malfunction in the chair’s cyanide-dropping rack for Rosanna’s execution, which required guards to re-open the chamber after its strapped and hooded subject had been sealed in, and putz about the mechanism while she waited.
* Actual reason to do this on New Year’s Day: the mere happenstance of automatically scheduling execution dates a set number of days after the defendants’ last appeal failed.
On this day in 1942, three anonymous Jewish residents of the Bialystok Ghetto in Nazi-occupied Poland were hung in the public square across the street from the Judenrat (Jewish Council) building. The three worked at the ghetto’s oil factory, and had been caught smuggling sunflower seeds.
The residents of the ghetto paid little attention to the execution, accepting it with resignation. It was hardly remarked on.
But this event was yet another small indication of dire events looming in the near future. Compared to those in other Nazi ghettos, such as those at Warsaw and Lodz, the Bialystok Jews had it pretty good. The ghetto, noted Sara Bender in her 2008 book The Jews of Bialystok During World War II and the Holocaust, was “organized, industrious, and even prosperous. Unlike other ghettos, it never experienced starvation or abject poverty.”
And it was seen as relatively safe. This day’s sort of vicious, arbitrary executions for minor rule infractions, which were so common elsewhere, were not at all frequent in Bialystok. Neither were the mass deportations that had by late 1942 decimated almost all the other ghettos.
Well, Bialystok’s turn was coming.
Unbeknownst to the Bialystokers, just as the sunflower seed smugglers were meeting their end, the powers that be in Berlin were debating the future of the ghetto. The Nazis in immediate charge of the ghetto wanted to keep it, and had logical reasons for doing so: namely, that it was a center of great industry, producing all kinds of goods for the German Army at almost no cost.
Killing off tens of thousands of hardworking slaves during wartime makes about as much sense as hanging three people over sunflower seeds, but this is what Berlin decided to do.
In early- to mid-February 1943, there was a surprise Aktion in the ghetto: 2,000 were killed and a further 10,000 deported to the Treblinka Extermination Camp. About 30,000 remained.
Once it was over, most of the surviving Bialystokers breathed a sigh of relief and hoped against hope that the worst was over — while a small underground group quietly organized an uprising for when the time came.
The rebellion, however, never really had time to get off the ground. When the final deportation occurred in August 1943, almost everyone went quietly in shock to their deaths. A cell of less than 100 fighters put up a few days’ struggle, enough to earn a footnote in history, before the last of the ghetto blew away with the ashes.
Extortion — which was formally on Lu Dongming’s charge sheet — of other cafe owners was the apparent motive: though the stakes in the Hefei cybercafe business might be a little lower than for the lords of industry, Chinese capitalism has a distinct gangster component.
On December 29, 1543, Ivan the Terriblearrived — with the summary execution of hated boyar Andrei Shuisky (Shuysky).
Call it Ivan’s rite of passage.
The 13-year-old Ivan IV had technically “ruled” Russia since toddlerhood, when his father died suddenly in the prime of life.
But in reality, the “ruler” was not the master of his domain.
The powerful boyar nobles ran roughshod during his minority, scrapping for power, poisoning off his mother,* and behind the Kremlin’s closed doors overtly treating the kiddo’s regal person like a redheaded stepchild.
“What evil did I suffer at [the boyars’] hands!” Ivan later remembered of these years in his hostile correspondence with the exiled noble Kurbsky.
we and our brother … remained as orphans, [having lost] our parents and receiving no human care from any quarter; and hoping only for the mercy of God … our subjects had achieved their desire, namely, to have a kingdom without a ruler, then did they not deem us, their sovereigns, worthy of any loving care, but themselves ran after wealth and glory … they began to feed us as though we were foreigners or the most wretched menials. What sufferings did I endure through [lack of] clothing and through hunger! For in all things my will was not my own; everything was contrary to my will and unbefitting my tender years. (Source)
Ivan’s indomitable personality and mercilessness, later the stuff of legend, make their first appearance in these formative years. Biding his time, nurturing his hatred, he survived his humiliations and designed a show-stopping vengenace. “Then,” remembers Ivan, “did we take it upon ourselves to put our kingdom in order.”
In the span of a single feast on this date in 1543 the young prince elevated himself from abused orphan to feared sovereign when he unexpectedly accused the attending boyars of mismanagement and had the greatest man among them — Andrei, of the mighty Shuisky family, the de facto head of state** — arrested and brutally put to death.
(The most colorful versions of this have it that Shuisky was thrown to the dogs to be devoured; I’m inclined to suspect this is embroidery upon the chronicler’s report that it was mean little Ivan’s kennel-keepers who were the men tasked with arresting and beating to death the nobleman.)
With his terrible blow, Ivan — still only an (unusually warped) adolescent after all this time — freed his hands and truly began the strange and cruel reign that would earn him the awestruck sobriquet Grozny, “terrible”. He got the ball rolling by purging a couple dozen other Shuisky loyalists.
While Ivan Grozny had his way in his reign’s political conflicts with Russia’s nobility, the violent monarch also shockingly killed his own son during a fit of rage — effectively destroying his own lineage. In the Time of Troubles invited by the resulting power vacuum, Andrei Shuisky’s grandson briefly claimed the throne as Tsar Vasily IV.
Though this power grab didn’t work out any better than had his grandfather’s, Vasily was the last [legitimate] product of the Rurik dynasty† dignified as Tsar of Russia, before the Romanovs were elevated to that station.
* Allegedly. Ivan certainly thought so.
** Andrei’s brother Ivan, equally loathesome to the tsar, had passed on the Big Man in Russia mantle to Andrei when he died a couple of years before.
† The Shuiskies were merely a junior branch, but they were a branch.
Two politically sensitive cases, otherwise unrelated to one another, were joined in hanging at Iran’s Evin Prison on this day last year, possibly in a tit for tat following the November assassination of a nuclear physicist.
Camp Ashraf was still there when the U.S. invasion rolled into Baghdad in 2003. (As of this writing, it’s only just now being closed.) While MEK has long been considered a terrorist organization, including by the U.S. State Department,* Iraq’s new occupiers also found this nest of exiles a convenient ally for its own campaign against Iran’s mullahs.
The organization has been much in the news of late both as a bargaining chip in regional diplomacy, and for lavishly bankrolling a lobbying campaign to get off everybody’s official terrorism lists — positioning itself as simply an Iranian opposition group. (It claims to have renounced violence.)
From Tehran, of course, there’s much less gray shading: the MEK is an enemy.
The first time was in 1976; the last, and ultimately fatal, in 2007. He had just returned from Camp Ashraf to visit his son and commemorate the anniversary of Iran’s late-1980s mass execution of prisoners, an atrocity that claimed a large share of MEK sympathizers in apparent retaliation for the organization’s aforementioned wartime aid to Baghdad.
Saremi got the all-purpose mohareb death sentence — roughly, “waging war against God,” which can potentially compass any resistance to the Islamic Republic — basically for having a going association with PMOI. According to NCRI, Saremi’s prosecutor alleged that
[h]e visited Ashraf and during that he received necessary trainings and returned to the country … and eventually he was arrested in August 2007 for his repeated activities and participation in counter revolutionary ceremonies and gatherings in support of PMOI and dispatching reports to this grouplet (PMOI). During a search in his house some CDs, films, pictures from PMOI and hand written organizational documents linked to the grouplet were found and confiscated.
Ali Saremi’s portrait and memory are now powerful props for the MEK terrorism de-listing campaign.
Ali Akbar Siadati
Also hanged this day was a man named Ali Akbar Siadati, about whom only sketchy information appears to be available.
Siadati was condemned for spying for Israel from 2004 until his arrest in 2008, allegedly supplying Iran’s foe a wide range of sensitive military information — a crime to which Siadati confessed, according to the state news agency IRNA.
Who Siadati was, how he had access to military intelligence, and why (apart from money) he might have betrayed it seems to be publicly obscure.
That prospectively apocalyptic year of 1666 saw the onset of the Scottish Covenanters‘ mass martyr-making under the English gallows.
Three dozen or so were put to death in the aftermath of the Battle of Rullion Green. Among them, nine men — seven in Ayr, two in Edinburgh — paid with their necks on this date.
The Covenanter tragedy stretches back to the first English Civil War, when English parliamentarians enlisted the aid of Scottish Presbyterians by agreeing to a covenant guaranteeing presbyterian church governance in Scotland and England. Essentially, that meant representative ecclesiastical authority, rather than top-down power from the king, via bishops.
The Presbyterians took this covenant very seriously indeed.
This made Presbyterians, for whom reformed church governance was the issue, amenable to inroads from the royalist camp. As soon as Charles I lost his head, the un-purged Presbyterian Scottish Parliament recognized Charles II … on condition that he get on board.
Charles was not exactly an enthusiastic partner.
A political cartoon shows Scottish Presbyterians literally holding King Charles II’s nose to the grindstone.
“I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken!”
Mistaken or not, the beaten Presbyterians were optimistic — it’s a ridiculous optimism, in retrospect — that the post-Cromwell Restoration of the exiled monarch would finally Presbyterianize the island. But in 1660, it was Charles wielding the grindstone.
The Presbyterian frustration here is understandable; they twice came out on the winning side in the civil war carrying signed pledges from the victors, and were twice balked of their prize. And the balked prize was only God’s work on earth.
The remaining seven executed this date in Ayr are notable in part because they ought to have been eight.
Memorial stone for the Covenanters executed in Ayr on December 27, 1666. Image (c) Stephen Wagstaff and used with permission.
Ayr’s public executioner fled rather than put godly Scotsmen to death. A Highlander named William Sutherland, who served the same office, was retrieved from nearby Irvine, but he too refused even when threatened with torture.**
The beneficiary of these principled refusals, in body if not in soul, was Cornelius Anderson, one of the eight doomed to die in Ayr who was finally prevailed upon to take the job of hanging his fellows in exchange for his life. Faltering spirit fortified with too much brandy, Anderson clumsily dispatched this group; later, since the obdurate Irvine hangman had been sacked, he had to do the same to two more Covenanters there.
Guilt-ridden and reviled, Anderson actually might have been the most miserable man on the scaffold. He came to a miserable end.
His conscience troubling him, he went to Ireland, where he was no better; nobody would either give him work or lodging. He built a little house in some common place near Dublin, where he and it and all were burnt to ashes. (Source)
* Specifically, they wanted to disband said army, and do so without coughing up its back pay.
** Sutherland’s torture included the summoning of a firing squad ostensibly to execute him if he failed to perform the executions. He called that bluff and was not executed, thereby depriving this site of a rare and precious “Executioner executed for failing to execute” entry.