On this date in 1834, one day after overrunning the Alava village of Gamarra, Carlist General Tomás de Zumalacárregui had 118 of its defenders shot.
Zumalacárregui was the outstanding Carlist (read: conservative, absolute-monarchist) officer of the day. (Here‘s a public-domain memoir of his campaigns.)
We meet him on the march in 1834, adroitly reversing the grim royalist position in the First Carlist War — a liberal-vs.-conservative civil war that also mapped onto ethnicity, geography, and royal succession.
On this occasion, he overwhelmed a contingent of liberals and Basques fighting for the child-queen Isabella II. The survivors were taken prisoner and (despite objections from some of Zumalacárregui’s underlings) given a fusillade the next day in the neighboring town of Heredia.
Día 17. Permanecimos en Heredia donde se fusilaron 118 peseteros. (“Day 17: We remained in Heredia, where we shot 118 Chapelgorris.”)
The Fusilamientos de Heredia — still notorious to this day — were distinguished by their number, but they were hardly unique. Both sides in the civil war unapologetically carried out summary executions of prisoners they had no resources to detain and did not care to turn loose. (And in the more everyday interests of sowing terror, or avenging the last time the other guys sowed terror.)
An English peer eventually brokered the Lord Eliot Convention, an arrangement by which both Carlists and Cristinos agreed to stop slaughtering prisoners and exchange them so that they could properly slaughter one another on the battlefield instead.
The Roman Emperor Tiberius expired at Misenum on this date in 37 A.D.
The Death of Tiberius, by Jean-Paul Laurens. Tacitus records that the aged princeps was thought to have expired, to the great relief of all, when word came that he was reviving. “[Praetorian prefect] Macro, nothing daunted, ordered the old emperor to be smothered under a huge heap of clothes.”
As Tiberius had been spending his last years terrifyingly purging Rome of alleged “traitors,” his death was met with some considerable relief. Great news: charismatic young prince Caligula is in charge now!
Anyway, despite the old man’s unpopularity and the manifest injustice of his treason trials, Tiberius’s death did not quite halt momentum of political butchery. Ever thus with bureaucracies.
The people were so glad of his death, that at the first news of it some ran about shouting, “Tiberius to the Tiber,” while others prayed to Mother Earth and the Manes to allow the dead man no abode except among the damned. Still others threatened his body with the hook and the Stairs of Mourning, especially embittered by a recent outrage, added to the memory of his former cruelty. It had been provided by decree of the senate that the execution of the condemned should in all cases be put off for ten days, and it chanced that the punishment of some fell due on the day when the news came about Tiberius. The poor wretches begged the public for protection; but since in the continued absence of Gaius [Caligula] there was no one who could be approached and appealed to, the jailers, fearing to act contrary to the law, strangled them and cast out their bodies on the Stairs of Mourning. Therefore hatred of the tyrant waxed greater, since his cruelty endured even after his death.
But Tiberius’s cruelty didn’t endure too long after his death. Pretty soon, Caligula’s cruelty would have the stage all to itself and Tiberius survivors would be yearning for the good old days.
The History of Rome podcast covers Tiberius’s crazy years and the transition to Caligula here.
* It’s not completely explicit that it was on this same March 16 that news of the emperor’s death hit Rome; therefore, it’s conceivable that the drama described here played out on a subsequent date.
On this date in 1990, Iranian-born British journalist Farzad Bazoft was hanged at Baghdad’s Abu Ghraib prison as an Israeli spy.
The 31-year-old Observer freelancer was in Iraq to cover post-war reconstruction when he caught wind of an explosion at a military factory and set off to investigate.
This sniffing about Iraq’s weapons programs was not the sort of journalism Iraqi dictator (and future fellow gallows-bird) Saddam Hussein had in mind when his government invited Bazoft.
Bazoft was nabbed (along with the British nurse who had accompanied him, Daphne Parish) with photographs and soil samples from the sensitive compound.
Held incommunicado for six weeks, Bazoft was trundled onto state TV on November 1, 1989 to confess to spying for Israel (video of that confession is available from this BBC story).
Bazoft’s companion, Daphne Parish, was released after a few months in prison. She wrote this out-of-print book about her experiences. (Review)
He was convicted of espionage in a one-day, in camera trial on March 10 and hanged five days later.
Many years and wars later, Bazoft’s Iraqi interrogator would tell Bazoft’s former Observer colleagues that the man “was obviously innocent,” but that his fate had been decided at the highest levels.*
A few months after Bazoft’s hanging, when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait and thereby transmogrified from a source of moderation in the region into the new Hitler, Bazoft’s execution naturally went onto the bill of attainder against Baghdad.
Like other Iraqi human rights abuses that became much bigger news only after Saddam became an official enemy, however, Bazoft’s fate exercised some of his defenders more in retrospect than it did in the moment.
Indeed, some British MPs openly endorsed the execution and some Fleet Street contrarians bucked the worldwide humanitarian appeal by publishing embarrassing information about Bazoft (he’d been to jail in Britain) leaked by British intelligence.
(Margaret Thatcher made the seemly applications for clemency, and the incident certainly strained the countries’ relationship. But the Tory government would later be embarrassed by revelations that, before and even after Bazoft’s hanging, it was pushing for closer trade relations and helping British firms skirt the law to ship Baghdad the weapons it would use against British troops in the coming Gulf War.)
* Bazoft is still honored by his former employer and his former colleagues, as well he might be. But the Observer‘s claim that it “proved” Bazoft’s innocence has to be taken with a grain of salt: apart from the de rigueur smoke-and-mirrors, plausible-deniability skein of the espionage game, the interrogator’s exculpatory statement was made by an obviously self-interested party to representatives of a power then occupying Iraq.
Every Person in the Fleet, who through Cowardice, Negligence, or Disaffection, shall in Time of Action withdraw or keep, or not come into the Fight or Engagement, or shall not to do his utmost to take or destroy every Ship which it shall be his Duty to engage, and to assist and relieve all and every of his Majesty’s Ships, or those of his Allies, which it shall be his Duty to assist and relieve, every such Person so offending, and being convicted thereof the Sentence of a Court-martial, shall suffer Death.
The first and last man of that rank executed by the Royal Navy, Byng was one of 15 (!) children of an ennobled admiral. He’d been 40 years at sea himself, a competent, forgettable senior officer unburdened by genius.
The 1750s found him in service of a listless British Empire sliding towards war with France.
In 1756, the Brits belatedly realized the French were about to grab the Mediterranean island/naval base of Minorca (Menorca) from them, and dispatched a too-little, too-late expedition under Admiral Byng.
By the time he got there, the French already had Minorca in hand, save the last, besieged garrison. Byng attempted to land reinforcements for the garrison — without enthusiasm, since he perceived the inadequacy of his force — and was repelled in an inconclusive naval engagement.
The loss of Minorca raised the curtain on the Seven Years War: the first “world war,” in Winston Churchill’s reckoning, in which European alliances would duke it out for continent and colonies.
But it dropped the curtain on the ill-starred Admiral Byng.
Popular outrage at the military setback had the Duke of Newcastle‘s government scrambling to find a scapegoat, and the commander on the scene fit the bill exactly.
A gloating French account of the engagement — “the English had the advantage of the wind, but still seemed unwilling to fight” — reached Albion’s shores ahead of the admiral’s dispatch; when the latter arrived, it was publicly leaked in unflatteringly redacted form that generally made Byng look like a big fraidy-cat.
Having been thus attainted in the court of public opinion, the admiral was hailed before a court martial and convicted of not doing enough to relieve the English garrison and generally not fighting a very good fight.
Only one penalty was prescribed for this offense: death.
“The officers who composed this tribunal” themselves had such misgivings about shooting an officer for an on-the-scene tactical miscalculation “unanimously subscribed a letter to the board of admiralty [reading] ‘for our own consciences sake, as well as in justice to the prisoner, we pray your lordships, in the most earnest manner, to recommend him to his majesty’s clemency.’”
But Hanoverian George II had no upside in getting involved. He faced complaints enough wringing the revenue out of Englanders to defend a hereditary German electorate of no consequence to British security; what sense could there be in antagonizing the irritated masses by going to bat for the official fall guy in the realm’s scandalous military reversal?
On the day fixed for his execution [relates the Newgate Calendar] the boats belonging to the squadron at Spithead being manned and armed, containing their captains and officers, with a detachment of marines, attended this solemnity in the harbour, which was also crowded with an infinite number of other boats and vessels filled with spectators. About noon, the Admiral having taken leave of a clergyman, and two friends who accompanied him, walked out of the great cabin to the quarter-deck, where two files of marines were ready to execute the sentence. He advanced with a firm deliberate step, a composed and resolute countenance, and resolved to suffer with his face uncovered, until his friends, representing that his looks would possibly intimidate the soldiers, and prevent their taking aim properly, he submitted to their request, threw his hat on the deck, kneeled on a cushion, tied one white handkerchief over his eyes, and dropped the other as a signal for his executioners, who fired a volley so decisive, that five balls passed through his body, and he dropped down dead in an instant. The time in which this tragedy was acted, from his walking out of the cabin to his being deposited in the coffin, did not exceed three minutes.
Thus fell, to the astonishment of all Europe, Admiral John Byng; who, whatever his errors and indiscretions might have been, was at least rashly condemned, meanly given up, and cruelly sacrificed to vile political intrigues.
A school of thought does exist that the empire reaped from its rash, mean, and cruel example a generation of aggressive captains and commodores — or, as Voltaire put it shortly afterwards in Candide, “it is thought good to kill an admiral from time to time to encourage the others.” (“pour encourager les autres”)
Whatever the morale effects, the British soon rallied from their early setbacks in the Seven Years’ War and emerged from the conflict undisputed masters of North America and India.
On this date in 1985, Texas executed serial killer Stephen Morin for murdering and robbing Carrie Marie Scott in 1981 — one of at least three, and up to thirty, of his victims, most of whom were (unlike Scott) abducted for rape and kindred brutalizing.
Just the sixth person executed in Texas under its modern death penalty regime, Morin was an IV drug addict.
Death chamber technicians required 40-plus minutes to bore through the resultant scar tissue well enough to poison Morin. He’s been a bullet point on the anti-lethal injection brief ever since. (Oddly, Morin’s execution is not on this list of recent botches.)
But Morin’s most prominent afterlife is a very different object lesson: not medical ethics, but spiritual warfare.
It seems the last woman he kidnapped, Margy Mayfield, survived the encounter by converting the desperate fugitive to evangelical Christianity; this story is still stocked and sold by Focus on the Family. This is Mayfield’s own account of their meeting.
On this date in 1939, Azerbaijani poet Mikayil Mushfig was shot during Stalin’s purges.
The 30-year-old former schoolteacher was a socialist enthusiast as a youth in the 1920s; his work celebrated officially sanctioned subjects like virtuous peasants and workers, and modernization of the alphabet.
How far to go to put aside the backward old ways? Poets debated in verse whether the traditional instrument tar ought to be banned.
He’d had an unsettled life, this Morgan. He’d been a convict, a circus sideshow, a wanderer. But he was about to make his name.
This strange gringo soon to be nicknamed “El Americano” walked into the Escambray Mountains and joined a group of anti-Batista rebels that was unaffiliated with Castro’s 26th of July Movement. Morgan won the respect of Cubans for his courage and his evidently un-mercenary commitment to the cause.
Fatally for him, that cause was a constitutional-democracy take on opposing the Batista dictatorship.
Those two men’s columns nearly exchanged shots when Guevara was dispatched by Castro to reach an understanding with Morgan. Morgan and Guevara came to terms that day — there was a revolution to be won, after all — but animosity would remain between these two impassioned freedom-fighters whose visions of freedom could never be reconciled.
They personify the competing choices before post-Batista Cuba, in those first years when Cuba kept to a tenuous hold on non-alignment.
Morgan supported that revolution; he even made the headlines for dramatically foiling a Dominican-backed plot to topple Castro in 1959.
But it was Guevara who was the future. More radical July 26th members won senior spots in the new administration, while outsiders like Morgan got assignments like frog-farming. Geopolitical events saw Cuba sliding into the Soviet camp.
He was caught in late 1960, held incommunicado for a period, then tried, convicted and condemned two days before his execution (along with fellow-traveler and -plotter Jesus Carreras Zayas (Spanish link)) after nightfall March 11, 1961.
Morgan’s execution was carried out by a fellow Yanqui, Herman Marks — himself destined to run afoul of the Castro regime down the road. (Marks fled back to the U.S.) The sympathetic account of el Americano‘s death is quite the flowery affair, with the Cubans kneecapping Morgan when he defiantly refuses to kneel.
Castro himself is sometimes said to be present, the shadowy observer issuing the fatal commands to which Morgan will not bow, like the insouciant silhouette of Stalin behind a screen at trials where his former henchmen were purged.
A poetic touch, though one would think a head of state might have more pressing business than personally orchestrating executions: and indeed, it seems that Fidel actually spent that evening at a diplomatic reception with Soviet and Chinese ambassadors. Two months later, Castro officially declared Cuba a socialist state.
And as with Morgan, so with many of his brethren-in-arms from the Escambray Mountains. It took Havana the better part of the 1960s to suppress anti-communist “bandits” in Morgan’s old stomping-grounds — Cuba’s (successful) War Against the Bandits.
* There’s more skullduggery in Morgan’s shadowy life than this post has space for, but theories exist that the Dominican plot he “foiled” was actually one he had been an earnest participant in before it was sniffed out by Cuban security, with the war hero Morgan forced to betray it.
The Arnauts and Albanians, of whom these refugees were almost entirely composed, cried from the windows that they were willing to surrender upon an assurance that they would be exempted from the massacre to which the town was doomed; if not, they threatened to fire on the ‘aides de camp’, and to defend themselves to the last extremity. The two officers thought that they ought to accede to the proposition, notwithstanding the decree of death which had been pronounced against the whole garrison, in consequence of the town being taken by storm. They brought them to our camp in two divisions, one consisting of about 2500 men, the other of about 1600.
I was walking with General Bonaparte, in front of his tent, when he beheld this mass of men approaching, and before he even saw his ‘aides de camp’ he said to me, in a tone of profound sorrow, “What do they wish me to do with these men? Have I food for them?–ships to convey them to Egypt or France? Why, in the devil’s name, have they served me thus?” After their arrival, and the explanations which the General-in-Chief demanded and listened to with anger, Eugene* and Croisier [the officers who accepted the Jaffa garrison's surrender] received the most severe reprimand for their conduct. But the deed was done. Four thousand men were there. It was necessary to decide upon their fate. The two aides de camp observed that they had found themselves alone in the midst of numerous enemies, and that he had directed them to restrain the carnage. “Yes, doubtless,” replied the General-in-Chief, with great warmth, “as to women, children, and old men–all the peaceable inhabitants; but not with respect to armed soldiers. It was your duty to die rather than bring these unfortunate creatures to me. What do you want me to do with them?”
The third day arrived without its being possible, anxiously as it was desired, to come to any conclusion favourable to the preservation of these unfortunate men. The murmurs in the camp grew louder the evil went on increasing–remedy appeared impossible–the danger was real and imminent. The order for shooting the prisoners was given and executed on the 10th of March.
This atrocious scene, when I think of it, still makes me shudder, as it did on the day I beheld it; and I would wish it were possible for me to forget it, rather than be compelled to describe it. All the horrors imagination can conceive, relative to that day of blood, would fall short of the reality.**
… the situation of the army, the scarcity of food, our small numerical strength, in the midst of a country where every individual was an enemy, would have induced me to vote in the affirmative of the proposition which was carried into effect, if I had a vote to give. It was necessary to be on the spot in order to understand the horrible necessity which existed.
War, unfortunately, presents too many occasions on which a law, immutable in all ages, and common to all nations, requires that private interests should be sacrificed to a great general interest, and that even humanity should be forgotten. It is for posterity to judge whether this terrible situation was that in which Bonaparte was placed.† For my own part, I have a perfect conviction that he could not do otherwise than yield to the dire necessity of the case. It was the advice of the council, whose opinion was unanimous in favour of the execution, that governed him, Indeed I ought in truth to say, that he yielded only in the last extremity, and was one of those, perhaps, who beheld the massacre with the deepest pain.
Walter Scott, in his biography of the Corsican, judged that the “bloody deed must always remain a deep stain on the character of Napoleon.”
[W]e do not view it as the indulgence of an innate love of cruelty; for nothing in Bonaparte’s history shows the existence of that vice, and there are many things which intimate his disposition to have been naturally humane. But he was ambitious, aimed at immense and gigantic undertakings, and easily learned to overlook the waste of human life, which the execution of his projjects necessarily invvolved … That sort of necessity, therefore, which men fancy to themselves when they are unwilling to forego a favourite object for the sake of obeying a moral precept — that necessity which might be more properly termed a temptation difficult to be resisted — that necessity which has been called the tyrant’s plea, was the cause of the massacre at Jaffa, and must remain its sole apology.
And, Scott adds, “it might almost seem that Heaven set its vindictive brand upon this deed of butchery.”
This city the French wanted so desperately as to “forget humanity” was beset with plague; Antoine-Jean Gros would depict Napoleon on canvas humanely visiting the stricken right around the time he ordered a couple thousand prisoners shot dead.
[a]fter the siege of Jaffe the plague began to exhibit itself with a little more virulence. We lost between seven and eight hundred, men by the contagion during the campaign of Syria.
* “Eugene” is Napoleon’s adopted son-in-law Eugene de Beauharnais, one of the commanders whose expedient clemency inconvenienced the marshal. Beauharnais’s father was executed himself, during the French Revolution.
** Bourrienne goes light on the atrocity details, and makes it sound like it’s all shootings; Muslim sources record bayonet work.
† [sic!] By “terrible situation … in which Bonaparte was placed,” he of course means the terrible situation in which Bonaparte placed himself by launching his Egyptian campaign.
Sixty years ago today, Timothy Evans was hanged at Pentonville Prison still protesting his innocence of murdering his wife and daughter — three years before a neighboring tenant was revealed to be a serial killer.
A drunkard with a tempestuous marriage, Timothy Evans didn’t look like a compelling innocence case when he walked into a police station and confessed to killing his wife while attempting to administer an abortifacient.
Evans’s confession didn’t add up, and he kept changing it — to indicate the involvement of neighbor John Christie. The “botched abortion” angle got complicated when the Evans’s older, un-aborted daughter also turned up dead: like her mom, she’d been strangled.
But the dim suspect’s iterative interpretations of how his family wound up throttled had left his credibility in tatters by the time he came to trial insisting that the confession was wrong. And you’d have to admit that the looming shadow of Executioner Pierrepoint presented a compelling reason to disbelieve his latest revisions.
Here was a man desperately and (to the public) implausibly implicated by a convicted murderer recently hanged: that this man subsequently turned out to be a prolific serial killer did a job to undermine public confidence in the death penalty.
Christie himself hanged for his own crime spree in 1953. He admitted to murdering Beryl Evans, Timothy’s wife, though never to killing daughter Geraldine.
On this date in 1951, the made-for-tabloids killer couple Raymond Fernandez and Martha Beck were electrocuted at New York’s Sing Sing prison for murder.
He was a toupeed middle-aged lothario with a knack for conning personal ad denizens. She was a lovelorn obese single mother* with a serious dark side. Together — through a chance meeting through the personals — they became the Lonely Hearts Killers.
Martha Beck started off as just another of Raymond Fernandez’s targets: charm them, promise engagement or undergo a faux-wedding, and then rob them. He’d pulled this off a few times before; he might have even killed at least one of them.
Fernandez did the love ‘em and leave ‘em routine with Martha, whom he soon realized was penniless. But their passionate hotel rendezvous had been spied by the local bluenoses, who promptly got Martha fired for her indiscretions. She showed up unannounced at Fernandez’s door, and pushed her way right into his life.
Ere long, they were cohabiting — lurid media accounts would later savor their “abnormal sexual practices” and their, er, lifestyle relationship. She caused near-riots among the crush of spectators at their circus trial when she got into specifics of freaky stuff like voodoo fetish play.
“A request from Mr. Fernandez to me is a command,” Martha testified. Since this was so — though the power dynamic between them really seems to have run in the other direction — she willingly joined in Mr. Fernandez’s scam, posing as his “sister” when he went to meet and charm his next mark.
Once such assets as could be had were signed over, the pigeon was disposed of: often, they’d just make the “honeymoon” so unbearable that the target got the picture and left, so humiliated she wouldn’t dare come forward with the story.
And sometimes — nobody seems to know exactly how many times — Raymond and Martha killed together.
Martha (whose own sob story of ostracism and childhood neglect is really quite sad) supplied much of the vengeful energy that impelled the murders. One of their victims was a woman Beck attacked in a jealous rage when Fernandez actually slept with her. (The “sister” would often impose on the sleeping arrangements to obstruct consummation.)
The Lonely Hearts Killers’ crime spree is thoroughly covered elsewhere. It carried them to Michigan, a non-death penalty state where they were arrested. There, they confessed in a ploy to draw a local sentence and avoid execution.
Michigan instead extradited them to New York to stand trial in a sweltering courtroom and on every Gotham newspaper’s daily headlines for the murder of a Long Island widow. That confession given in Michigan helped seal their fate in New York.
Though separated from one another on death row (but they kept up the treacly correspondence), Martha and Raymond were joined in death.
On International Women’s Day of 1951, both were executed in New York’s electric chair, along with two unconnected, run-of-the-mill murderers.
My story is a love story. But only those tortured by love can know what I mean … in the history of the world, how many crimes have been attributed to love?
Given the newspaper ink spilled over these two, it’s no surprise that they’ve inspired plenty of subsequent writers and directors. The Honeymoon Killers (review) is a creepy 1970 classic, with a couple of latter-day imitators.
* She abandoned her two kids to the Salvation Army when she hitched her wagon to Fernandez.