On this date in 1903, there was a double hanging at the state prison in Michigan City, Indiana: William Jackson, a black man, and Ora E. Copenhaver, who was white.
According to the Indianapolis Star‘s history of capital punishment in Indiana, they were the seventh and eighth persons to be executed since Indiana adopted the death penalty in 1897. Ora (sometimes called “Orie” in press reports) was twenty-six years old at the time of his death; Jackson was forty-five. Copenhaver had murdered his wife (unnamed in the press reports) in Indianapolis on September 7 the previous year:
Shortly before their dinner hour on the day of the tragedy Copenhaver called his wife to the door and without a warning or giving her any inkling of his intent, drew a revolver from his pocket and fired four shots at her, three of which took effect […] Copenhaver, after shooting his wife, calmly walked to a neighboring store and telephoned to the police station, informing the desk sergeant that a murder had been committed. He then awaited the coming of the police and surrendered himself. Jealousy was ascribed as the motive for the deed.
Justice was swift and without mercy: Copenhaver was convicted by a jury of his peers on October 15, a mere 38 days after the shooting. He was formally sentenced on October 28, and the sentence was carried out seven and a half months after that. The Fort Wayne News called the murder “dastardly” and praised the death sentence. The Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette, citing an unnamed “authentic source,” claimed that in the weeks before his death Copenhaver feigned insanity in an effort to evade his punishment. Yet he was calm and ready when the moment came.
Little information can be found about Jackson, described as “an Evansville Negro.”
On some unspecified date in 1902, he killed his coworker, a night watchman named Allan Blankenship, at a mill in Melrose, Indiana. He also robbed his victim of the princely sum of $3.90. Contemporary reports state Jackson seemed “wholly indifferent” about his sentence and spent most of the last day of his life reading the Bible. He had no last words.
That put Xoxe on the wrong side of the emerging rift in the Communist bloc, between Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin and independent-minded Yugoslav strongman Josip Tito.
After Tito broke with Stalin in 1948, Moscow froze the naughty Yugoslavs out of the international communist club and began suppressing “Titoist” elements whose national political or economic orientation augured potential annoyance for Soviet supremacy.
Albanian chief Enver Hoxha in later years would become somewhat notorious as the last unabashed Stalinist leader in Europe. (Hoxha took an “anti-revisionist” stance on Khrushchev’s later denunciation of Stalin.) So you can see the bind Koci Xoxe was about to be in.
Hoxha’s own pro-Soviet orientation was akin in its way to Tito’s anti-Soviet orientation: for Tito, Moscow meant domination, but for Hoxha, Yugoslavia was the resented aspiring regional hegemon. Albanian economic ministers complained that trade links disproportionately benefited Belgrade, and Yugoslavia once high-handedly marched troops into Albania to contain a conflict in neighboring Greece.
At any rate, Hoxha went energetically along with Uncle Joe on the Tito question … whose answer, on this date, was a bullet for Hoxha’s former Defense Minister.
Australian liberal campaigner Edith Cowan — a notable suffragist, and later an activist for disadvantaged children — enjoys the distinction of being her country’s first female Member of Parliament.
But Cowan was disadvantaged herself in her own childhood by the hanging on this date in 1876 of her father, explorer Kenneth Brown.
While Kenneth entered this world in England, his family emigrated to Australia in his infancy, and there established the pastoral outpost Glengarry Station.
Is this sufficient to justify a wholly unrelated excerpt from Glengarry Glen Ross? Reader, it is.
Kenneth Brown would come to spend a lot of time at that station, in between jaunts exploring Western Australia. Edith Cowan — nee Edith Brown, obviously — was born there, though her mother (Brown’s first wife) died in childbirth a few years later.
Brown’s remarriage to Mary Tindall was less than an unqualified success.
He and Mary regularly argued about both Kenneth’s drinking, and his suspicion that Mary was unfaithful. After an afternoon of drinking and arguing, Kenneth shot and killed Mary. There were three trials and two juries were discharged before a third reached a guilty verdict, all amid embarrassing publicity and gossip. Brown’s appeal for clemency was denied and in 1876, when Edith was 15, he was executed for his wife’s murder. More than 100 years later, Edith Cowan’s grandson wrote that the effect on the family was crippling, and extended on into later generations. (Source)
Edith Cowan isn’t the only notable family connection for this date’s featured act: Kenneth Brown’s younger brother was politician Maitland Brown, infamous to Australia’s aboriginals as the leader of the La Grange expedition/massacre.
Even the grand jury summoned to indict the killer had to be dismissed after repeatedly returning only second-degree charges.
This case cries out for primary research beyond the scope of this blog’s daily deadlines further to the motivations of the characters involved, but the bottom line is that Vowell hanged before a highly sympathetic crowd — calling “Good-bye, Mart!” as he “died game” — in Paragould, Ark.
* Given the famous characters evoked by name, we need to note that our day’s principal, Mart, was actually named Martin Van Buren Powell, which would presumably make him a namesake of abolitionist former U.S. President Martin Van Buren.
On this date in 1675, Puritan colonists’ hanging of three Wampanoag Indians helped trigger a brutal bout of ethnic cleansing, King Philip’s War.
The condemned men’s victim, Wassausmon — known by his Christian, Anglicized name of John Sassamon — was a converted Massachuseuk, briefly a Harvard attendee (1653)*, and eventually a translator for several tribes when dealing with the early settlers. Sassamon fought on the colonists’ side during the Pequot War, which has graced these pages before, and was generally seen as very sympathetic to the colonial cause, at one point becoming a schoolmaster at the inception of the towns of Natick and Ponkapoag.
After his work as a translator, Sassamon returned to the Puritan fold to become a minister in the Plymouth Colony.
Because of his high position in both the white and native worlds, though, he drew some resentment from both sides. It was Sassamon’s sense of loyalty to both sides of the growing tension between the natives and colonists that led to his demise.
Though initially trade-friendly with the burgeoning colonies to the north and east, the Wampanoag were also feeling the squeeze from the Iroqouis Confederation gaining power to the west. In 1671, the colonies presented the Wampanoag with an ultimatum: give up their arms and submit to English law, or be forced out.
The colonists had tried this tactic before with the Pequot (hence the Pequot War), Narragansett, and other native tribes with great success. As expected, Philip blinked, and the English moved in.
But the Sachem was predictably unhappy with the relationship. Three years later, he had assembled a band of warriors and was ready to, er, renegotiate.
Sassamon got wind of Philip’s planned attack on Plymouth Colony and warned its governor Josiah Winslow. Two months later, Sassamon was fished out from under the ice of Assawompset Pond.
With one witness claiming that a trio of King Philip’s men had knocked off the translator and dumped the corpse, the Puritans became convinced that Philip was already getting involved in their affairs.
In June 1675, four months after Sassamon’s body was found, a mixed jury of Indians and colonists convicted three Pokanoket Indians of murdering Sassamon, and on June 8, they were hanged.**
The executions helped bring tensions to the breaking point, and Philip decided it was his time.
After suffering months of casualties, the colonists finally gained a foothold in the conflict in December. By spring, King Philip’s War was in full swing, with atrocities happening on both sides. But the native forces were being worn down, and the colonists began clawing back. Despite rampant destruction of towns across the colonies (including complete abandonment of a dozen or more), the colonists had fortresses to retreat to and boats to resupply them; the natives needed to trade with the colonists to get their arms. The situation was unsustainable, and when Canadian supply lines fell through, King Philip’s adventure was over.
Persistent enemies of many of the raiding tribes, the Plymouth-allied Mohegans took the offensive and broke up Philip’s warrior bands, scattering them across the Northeast. By the following summer, the Narragansett were defeated and dispersed, and the colonists were granting amnesty to natives who surrendered and could document non-participation. (Others were not so lucky.) In July, King Philip himself was isolated and on the run, taking refuge in Mount Hope. It was there that John Alderman, a Native American, shot him on August 12, 1676.
* Harvard, founded in 1636, started its “Indian Harvard” in 1655 which saw a total of five students: Caleb Cheeshahteamuck (Aquinnah Wampanoag) took a degree in 1665 and died of tuberculosis a year later; classmate Joel Iacoombs (Aquinnah Wampanoag) disappeared in a shipwreck off Nantucket before walking; John Wampus (Aquinnah Wampanoag) bailed after a year and went to sea; and Benjamin Larnell and an otherwise unnamed “Eleazer” caught smallpox and died the year they enrolled.
** One account reports that only two of the Indians died on the first drop; the third was spared by his rope breaking, and after confessing the guilt of all three, he was re-executed.
Earlier this year, a gentleman named John Nelson made the news for a 150-mile horse ride in Scotland — tracing the route his great-great-great-grandfather had taken in 1811 on a legendarily Javert-like pursuit of a horse thief.
“I didn’t expect to see you, Knockburnie” a surprised George Watson is supposed to have said to that relentless ancestor, naming place where farmer John Kerr had given the itinerant tinker shelter.
“I didn’t expect you would steal my horse,” Kerr replied.
He’d had a full week in the saddle to think of the right action-hero one-liner for this moment, ever since spontaneously setting out in pursuit of the absconded equine on the morning of the theft.
On this date in 1879, there was a public hanging in St. Charles, Missouri.
John Blan or Bland had murdered his brother-in-law in a log cabin following a dispute about money: Blan clobbered him with a club, then fled into the surrounding woods, only to return after his victim’s family had patched the poor fellow up and put him to bed and finish the guy off with a shotgun. It’s a murder that smacks of irresolution; Blan would later say that he was “scared and did not know what [he] was scared about” and that, afflicted by “the haunts,” he fancied the victim he had just shot pursuing him through the darkened forest. (Blan was also drunk.)
We’re attracted to this story because of the humanizing glimpse of a weak man terrified under the shadow of death that the newspaper reports of his hanging provide. On the scaffold or otherwise, we don’t all check out with a haughty disdain for the reaper.
The story below comes from the June 7, 1879 St. Louis Daily Globe-Democrat, which source had previously (March 6, 1879) reported the prisoner’s unsteady conduct “during the days the evidence was being taken, manifested a great deal of bravado, but after the jury had gone out yesterday evening he grew solemn and seemed to realize his terrible danger. When he came into Court this morning to hear the verdict, he had a haggard expression, as if he had passed a night of intense anxiety. When the verdict was read perfect quiet pervaded the Court-room, and the prisoner turned very pale and supported himself by holding to the arms of his chair. He had evidently not expected such a verdict.”
The doomed man’s nerves had not improved in the interim.
By 6 o’clock Blan began to weaken and frequently shed tears. … At 7:30 o’clock Blan with sobs, told the Sheriff he was afraid he could not stand it. At 7:35 there was a sudden call for the guards at the outside door of the jail and quite a commotion inside. It was soon ascertained that Blan had made a desperate break for liberty. Rev. Mr. Morton and the Jailer were in the cell with him, and just as Dr. Johns, the County Physician, opened the cell door with a drink for Blan, he pushed the Jailer and minister aside, rushed to the door, struck at the Doctor, hitting him on the shoulder and knocking him out of the way, passed through the entry into the Jailer’s kitchen (the only way out) and there ran into the arms of Sheriffs Rienzi and Cook and a number of his deputies, who secured him after a hard struggle …
In a very few minutes Blan was taken on to the scaffold, and there, supported by several Deputy Sheriffs, the death warrant was read to him by Sheriff Rienzi.
Blan was much agitated, was very pale, and his legs seemed too weak to support him … after a short prayer … Blan then asked, “How much time have I got? Can I live till 9 o’clock?” He was told to step on the trap, which he did, and his feet were bound. He asked for water, and when it was given him said to those assembled: “I wish everybody well. May the good stay good, and the bad get better. I have no bad feeling against anybody. I did the deed.” The Sheriff then placed the black cap, and Blan cried out: “Farewell to everybody. Whisky [sic] and trouble got me into this scrape. I don’t deserve hanging.” The rope was adjusted and the trap sprung at 7:52 o’clock.
Belize, B. Honduras, June 5. — Nora Parham, aged 36, the East Indian mother of eight sons, was hanged today for the murder of the man with whom she had been living.
So ran a minute, page-10 wire story in the London Times* from the British Central American possession soon to become self-governing as the country of Belize.
The unfortunate subject of the story was the first, and remains to date the only, woman put to death in Belize.
But she’s very much more than a bit of trivia.
A domestic violence victim hanged for murdering her batterer — who just happened to be a cop — Parham remains a lively source of controversy down to the present day.
Nora’s position as the victim in an abusive marriage, combined with serious doubt about whether she truly killed her husband at all, have given her enduring appeal. There’s a going campaign to issue her a posthumous pardon. In fact, there was a going campaign before she died to issue her a humous pardon, opposed by a governing party paper on the grounds that “sympathy” ought not “change court rulings.”
And it’s hard not to feel sympathy for Nora Parham and the years of beatings she’s reported to have endured in her relationship with Ketchell Trapp. One doubts even the harshest magistrate would condemn a person in her situation to hang today.
“By refusing to treat the pair as wife and husband, not just cop slayer and cop,” argues this volume on gender politics in colonized Belize, “the government deepened its own highly political silence about domestic and community gender oppression and violence and added a threatening element to its re-call to ‘domestic womanhood.'”
That cop/husband was doused with gasoline and set afire, but admitted as he expired from these ghastly injuries that he had been beating Parham before the fatal fire.
Even so, it sounds like a calculated way to kill a person.
But many believe, as Parham testified at her trial** that it wasn’t homicide at all … that Trapp was incidentally splattered with gasoline during his donnybrook with his wife, then carelessly set himself ablaze lighting a cigarette while off in the outhouse. (While naked, no less. What a way to go.)
“While he came back in the bedroom, I had a gasoline iron [in] my hand with a pan of gasoline.
“He came in the bedroom with a stick in his hand and hit me on my head. When he was going to hit me another hit, I threw the gasoline on him and he grabbed away the pan from me, and I went through the backdoor and he stone me with the said pan.
“After he stoned [me], I ran around the house and he never see where I got to. I went in the house through the front door, then I took the gasoline iron from where I left it and put it in the box.
“While I was inside I heard a noise and I run to see what it was. When I went I saw Ketchell Trapp come out of the latrine under fire. I then run up to help him but I see I could not, then I continued running towards the Hospital back street, running towards the station.
-Nora Parham, at trial
That trial excerpt is drawn from a strongly pro-Nora account with more details about the case here.
Belize still hands down death sentences, but has not carried one out on anybody, man or woman, since 1985.
* June 6, 1963
** All-male jury, which was true of all juries in Belize until 1970.
That Columbus, on his first voyage, took his departure from Gomera indicates the importance assumed by the Canaries in the development of trade with the New World and this, conjoined with their productiveness, as they became settled and cultivated, rendered them a centre of commerce frequented by the ships of all maritime nations, as well as an object of buccaneering raids, in an age when trade and piracy were sometimes indistinguishable. Their proximity to Morocco and the Guinea coast moreover exposed them to attacks from the Moors and gave them an opportunity of accumulating Moorish and negro slaves, whom the piety of the age sought to convert to Christians by the water of baptism. In various ways, therefore, there came to be abundant material for inquisitorial activity, although the JudaizingNew Christians, who furnished the Spanish tribunals with their principal business, appear to have been singularly few.
There was no haste in extending the Spanish Inquisition to the Canaries … It is not until the time of Diego de Muros [Spanish link], who was consecrated in 1496, that we have any evidence of such action … [and even then] every act, from the preliminary arrest to the final decision, was regulated from Seville …
Irregular and imperfect as may have been the organization of the tribunal, it yet managed to accomplish some convictions. In 1510 there was held an auto de fe in which there were three reconciliations for Judaism and one, of a Moorish slave, for reincidence in Mahometan error, while a fifth culprit was penanced for Judaism. Then in 1513 occurred the first relaxation, that of Alonso Fatima, a native Morisco, who had fled to Barbary. This was always deemed sufficient evidence of relapse to former errors, and he was duly burned in effigy. It was probably also to 1516* that may be attributed the first relaxation in person — that of Juan de Xeres of Seville, for Judaism. It shows that the tribunal was indifferently equipped that, when he was sentenced to torture, the physician whose presence was obligatory on such occasions, Doctor Juan Meneses de Gallegas, was required personally to administer it. It was exceedingly severe, extending to eleven jars of water; the accused was unable to endure it; he confessed his faith, was sentenced to relaxation as a relapsed and for fictitious confession, and was executed on Wednesday, June 4th. …
on June 4, 1530, another oblation was offered to God, in an auto celebrated with the same ostentation as the previous one [in 1526, with seven executions]. This time there were no relaxations in person, but there were six effigies burnt of as many Moorish slaves, who had escaped and were drowned in their infidelity while on their way to Africa and liberty. There were also the effigy and bones of Juan de Tarifa, the husband of the Ynes de Tarifa who had denounced herself in 1524; he was of Converso descent and had committed suicide in prison, which was equivalent to self-condemnation. There were three reconciliations, of which two were for Judaism and one for Islam and five penitents for minor offences.
This use of religious terror in service of slavery — the burning of those effigies who had been “drowned in their infidelity on their way to Africa and liberty” — was an overt policy of the tribunal.
Pious zeal for the salvation of these poor savages led to their baptism after capture; they could not be intelligent converts or throw off their native superstitions, and no one seemed able to realize the grim absurdity of adding the terrors of the Inquisition to the horrors of their enslaved existence. When a negro slave-girl was bemoaning her condition, she was kindly consoled with the assurance that baptism preserved her and her children from hell, to which she innocently replied that doing evil and not lack of baptism led to hell. This was heresy, for which she was duly prosecuted.
Under the inquisitorial code the attempt to escape from slavery thus was apostasy, punishable as such if unsuccessful, and expiated if successful by concremation in effigy. This is illustrated in an auto, held by Zayas and Funez, June 24, 1576, in which among sixteen effigies of absentees were those of eight slaves, seven negroes and one Moor. They had undergone baptism, had been bougt by Dona Catalina de la Cuevas and were worked on her sugar plantation. They seized a boat at Orotava and escaped to Morocco, for which they were duly prosecuted as apostates and their effigies were delivered to the flames — a ghastly mockery which does not seem to have produced the desired impression in preventing other misguided beings from flying from their salvation.
* A footnote in the text of our source notes that “in the record concerning Juan de Xeres, the year is omitted, but as Wednesday fell on June 4 in 1511, 1516, 1533 and 1539, the probable date is 1516.”
On this date in 1955, Barbara Graham was gassed at California’s San Quentin Prison, along with two confederates in the brutal murder of an elderly widow.
Following the classic sob-story vector from orphan to juvenile delinquent to petty criminal, Graham found her calling as femme fatale.
She entered adulthood with World War II, and spent the war years alternating between failed marriages and the working-girl beat for Pacific military bases.
“Sure, I was a prostitute — and a damn good one,” she later confided to a reporter. “Why do people make so much of sex anyway? It’s part of our natural make-up, like getting hungry for food. If you want to eat, you go to a grocery store or a restaurant. If you need sleep, you sleep. If you want sex, why not get it?” (Source, a thorough .doc file)
Police made a bigger deal of perjury when she unwisely tried to help out some underworld friends by swearing to a demonstrably bogus alibi for them. She did some real time, tried to go straight in a boring Nevada town, and inevitably — for the likes of this site — returned to the siren lures of California.
It was back to the familiar job servicing the familiar hunger … but now with a new hunger of her own: heroin.
And heroin meant a now-ravenous appetite for cash.
Barbara Graham’s trip to the gas chamber and to California crime history began when she and some fellow-addicts tried to satiate that latter craving by burgling the Burbank home of Mabel Monohan, who was rumored to live alone with a lot of portable valuables.
The job was a botch from beginning to end: someone bludgeoned the crippled woman to death, but nobody found the supposed boodle. And as the police investigation led back towards the culprits, two of them flipped on their confederates.
(The first of them was kidnapped and murdered to prevent his testimony while everyone was still on the lam. The second happily took his place as the stool pigeon once everyone was in custody. Graham, proving that those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it, got caught on a wire trying to suborn perjury on her own behalf, dramatically destroying her alibi defense mid-trial.)
Shock murder authored by vamp courtesan? (The informant would testify that Graham personally pistol-whipped the victim into a bloody heap.) Hellooooo, California noir.
In its day, Graham’s case prompted all the moralistic hand-wringing familiar to the condemned-hottie tableau down to our present age. And at least that much unconcealed voyeurism. On the eve of her death, the Los Angeles Times palpitated:
“Nothing can be done now — I’m lost,” Mrs. Graham sobbed yesterday when told that Federal judges here and in San Francisco had turned down the latest bids for a stay of execution …
Two years in prison waiting for death have taken their toll of the once attractive convicted murderess.
Her reddish-blond hair has reverted to its natural black color. She has lost about 30 pounds. She is gaunt, tense and near hysteria.
The two men who shared her crime, her sentence, and her fate, did not endure a similar public microscope. Why would they? Jack Santo and Emmett Perkins — and this is the first we’ve even bothered to name them in this post — were just two dude hoods from central casting. Three hours after “Bloody Babs” succumbed to the fumes,* Santo and Perkins were gassed together as the forgettable postscript, “chatt[ing] amiably” with one another in the little metal shed while San Quentin’s personnel did all the preparatory business. (Los Angeles Times, June 4, 1955)
Graham’s persistence with a decreasingly plausible innocence story similarly amplified the pathos of her situation.