Posts filed under 'Hanged'

1864: James Utz, St. Louis spy

1 comment December 26th, 2015 Headsman

Confederate agent James Morgan Utz had a blue Christmas indeed in 1864, awaiting his December 26 execution for espionage.

The Missourian had been captured traveling with a small band out of St. Louis disguised in Union uniforms and carrying supplies and ciphered messages for the invading Confederate army of General (and former governor) Sterling Price.

The federals handled Utz as a spy and a military court sentenced him to hang — a sentence that had already been carried out by the time President Lincoln’s grant of executed clemency arrived.

Tuesday morning last I was horrified at the announcement by a friend that Jas. Utz, Paul’s companion and leader in their attempt to go South, had been executed, being hung on Monday, the day after Christmas, in the jail yard.

It plunged me in a stupor or excitement from which my mind was not free for the entire day. The sentence barely issued and the punishment instantly carried out! The hurry, the suddenness was most revolting. No time given for taking leave of family, friends! No time for appealing for mercy or for a reprieve. No time allowed for composing himself for death!

-Diary of a family member of Paul Fusz, one of Utz’s secret party. (Fusz, only 17 when captured, was pardoned after serving six months at hard labor.)

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Confederates,Death Penalty,Espionage,Execution,Hanged,History,Last Minute Reprieve,Missouri,Pardons and Clemencies,Reprieved Too Late,Soldiers,Spies,USA,Wartime Executions

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1690: John Bennet, the original Golden Farmer

Add comment December 22nd, 2015 Headsman

As we have seen in the past two posts, the character exalted in the Newgate Calendar as William Davis, the Golden Farmer bears scant resemblance to the real-life man named William Davis who went to the Tyburn tree.

But there was a robber with the nickname “Golden Farmer” — it just wasn’t William Davis.

John Bennet, alias John Freeman, was hanged one year and one day after Davis, on December 22, 1690, part of a huge batch consisting of no less than 14 men and women.

John Bennet, far from the winning outlaw of the Newgate Calendar, led a gang responsible for numerous violent home invasion robberies, sometimes working with another criminal famous enough for his own nickname (and his own fabricated adventures), Old Mobb. One victim of the “Golden Farmer” described how he harvested his crop:

the Prisoner, with others, to the number of nine came on the 16th of October 1689 to her House at Grays in Essex, and entring forcibly, pretended, with horrid Oaths and Excerations, That they had the King’s Broad Seal to seize all the Mony, &c. having Vizard Marks on and Pistols in their Hands, and that they drove her Husband and Servants into the Celler, and there set a Guard over them, threathing Death to those that Stirred; and then forc’d this Deponent, with many Threats of Death, and often clapping Pistols to her Breast, to go with them from Room to Room to shew them where the Plate; Money, and Goods of value were; and perceiving a Soldier belonging to the Block-house coming by whilst they were rifling, they fetched him in, under pretence of drinking with some good Fellows, and put him into the Gutter; and so carryed off to the value of 5 or 600 l. in Money, Plate and Jewels.

Though his identity was known, his habit of constantly relocating his residence made him difficult to track. At last, one victim had his wife and sister stake out Bennet’s own wife until they could get a bead on him. At that point, they raised a hue and cry for the watch. Bennet killed a gendarme named Charles Taylor in his flight (this is the crime he hanged for, though many of his thefts would have secured the sentence just as well); with a furious mob now in pursuit, Bennet was finally subdued by a hail of brickbats, but only after shooting someone else, too.

To judge by the length of his entry, the Newgate Ordinary harrowed Bennet ceaselessly, and though the robber “shed many Tears” and “did acknowledg this Crime” he refused to make any more than a generic breast of his outlawry — perhaps to protect those of his confederates who were still at large. Despite the standard threats of hellfire “I could not prevail with him to give any Testimony of his syncere turning to the Lord, to whose all-discerning Eye and determination of his Soul’s State I must leave him,” concluded the exasperated Ordinary.

Bennet was hanged at “Salisbury-court end in Fleetstreet, near the Place where he had committed the Murther” and hanged “without making any Speech or Exhortation.” The other 13 doomed souls were then taken to Tyburn for a more conventional mass execution.

It appears that Bennet’s nickname became carelessly attached to William Davis through a 1714 bestseller with the voluminous title The History of the Lives of the most noted Highwaymen, Footpads, Housebreakers, Shoplifts and Cheats of both Sexes in and about London and other places of Great Britain, for above 50 years last past; wherein their most secret and barbarous Murders and unparalleled Robberies, notorious Thefts and unheard of Cheats are exposed to the Public, by Captain Alexander Smith. Smith, writes Lincoln Faller in Turned to Account: The Forms and Functions of Criminal Biography in Late Seventeenth- and Early Eighteenth-Century England, probably had to have known that Davis was not the Golden Farmer but “cared not at all for historical accuracy and sought (when he felt the need of it) only after its appearance. Happening to have a name and a date at hand, he attached it to some appropriate adventures.” Then, “later writers follow Smith’s version of the Golden Farmer’s life even more slavishly, repeating the same errors, telling (with occasional embroideries) the same fanciful anecdotes about him.” Hence, our Newgate Calendar figure — the distant echo of a real criminal distorted by a succession of fabulists.

* Dick Turpin had a similar criminal profile that ended up being subsumed by his knight-of-the-road reputation to posterity.

Part of the Themed Set: The Creation of a Newgate Calendar legend.

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Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,History,Murder,Public Executions,Theft

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1689: William Davis

Add comment December 21st, 2015 Headsman

Yesterday, we posted about “William Davis, the Golden Farmer” — a character in the Newgate Calendar. While the calendar is presented as straight criminal biography, its heavy dollop of authorial moralizing is a clue to scrutinize its characters before accepting their factual veracity.

The “William Davis” of the Newgate Calendar turns out to be a bit of a Frankenstein’s monster stitched together from the remains of various dead men. He appears to have obtained his name and his attributed date of execution — within a small margin of error! — from the December 21, 1689 hanging of a man named William Davis. Far from the dashing highwayman of decades’ distinction that the Newgate Calendar presents, Davis was a run-of-the-mill young ne’er-do-well who was condemned for burgling a house to the tune of £200.

Of this man’s career, we have the Ordinary of Newgate’s hurried summing-up:

William Davis desired all his dear Brethren to take warning by him, left they come to the fame punishment, telling them, That he was but 23 years of Age, and that he had been a Robber for Four years last past, not only in England, but in other Countries; and could not be contented to abide with his Parents at home, (tho’ he lived well) but run into Extravagances, keeping com pany with lewd Women, besides breaking the Sabbath day; and was guilty of all manner of enormous Sin, for which he prayed God to forgive him.

Two other men were hanged on the same occasion: Walter Mooney, for killing a coachman who refused to take them to Spitalfields; and John Peartman, “for Robbing one John Hozey upon the Road between London and Bristoll, of a Gelding Price 12 l. a Hat 3 l. a Hatband value 10 s. a Point Cap value 3 l. a Suit of Linnen for a Child value 40 s. with a Box value 6 d.”

Part of the Themed Set: The Creation of a Newgate Calendar legend.

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Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,History,Public Executions,Theft

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1689: William Davis, the Golden Farmer

Add comment December 20th, 2015 Headsman

From the Newgate Calendar:

The Golden Farmer was so called from his occupation and from paying people, if it was any considerable sum, always in gold; but his real name was William Davis, born at Wrexham, in Denbighshire, in North Wales, from whence he removed, in his younger years, to Salisbury, in Gloucestershire, where he married the daughter of a wealthy innkeeper, by whom he had eighteen children, and followed the farmer’s business to the day of his death, to shroud his robbing on the highway, which irregular practice he had followed for forty-two years without any suspicion among his neighbours.

He generally robbed alone, and one day, meeting three or four stage-coaches going to Salisbury, he stopped one of them which was full of gentlewomen, one of whom was a Quaker. All of them satisfied the Golden Farmer’s desire excepting this precisian, with whom he had a long argument to no purpose, for upon her solemn vow and affirmation she told him she had no money, nor anything valuable about her; whereupon, fearing he should lose the booty of the other coaches, he told her he would go and see what they had to afford him, and he would wait on her again. So having robbed the other three coaches he returned, according to his word, and the Quaker persisting still in her old tone of having nothing for him it put the Golden Farmer into a rage, and taking hold of her shoulder, shaking her as a mastiff does a bull, he cried: “You canting bitch! if you dally with me at this rate, you’ll certainly provoke my spirit to be damnably rude with you. You see these good women here were so tender-hearted as to be charitable to me, and you, you whining whore, are so covetous as to lose your life for the sake of mammon. Come, come, you hollow-hearted bitch, unpin your purse-string quickly, or else I shall send you out of the land of the living.”

Now the poor Quaker, being frightened out of her wits at the bullying expressions of the wicked one, gave him a purse of guineas, a gold watch and a diamond ring, and they parted then as good friends as if they had never fallen out at all.

Another time this desperado, meeting with the Duchess of Albemarle in her coach, riding over Salisbury Plain, was put to his trumps before he could assault her Grace, by reason he had a long engagement with a postilion, a coachman and two footmen before he could proceed in his robbery; but having wounded them all, by the discharging of several pistols, he then approached to his prey, whom he found more refractory than his female Quaker had been, which made him very saucy, and more eager for fear of any passengers coming by in the meanwhile; but still her Grace would not part with anything.

Whereupon by main violence he pulled three diamond rings off her fingers, and snatched a rich gold watch from her side, crying to her at the same time, because he saw her face painted: “You bitch incarnate, you had rather read over your face in the glass every moment, and blot out pale to put in red, than give an honest man, as I am, a small matter to support him on his lawful occasions on the road,” and then rode away as fast as he could, without searching her Grace for any money, because he perceived another person of quality’s coach making towards them, with a good retinue of servants belonging to it.

Not long after this exploit, the Golden Farmer meeting with Sir Thomas Day, a Justice of Peace living at Bristol, on the road betwixt Gloucester and Worcester, they fell into discourse together, and riding along he told Sir Thomas, whom he knew, though the other did not know him, how he was like to have been robbed but a little before by a couple of highwaymen; but as good luck would have it, his horse having better heels than theirs, he got clear of them, or else, if they had robbed him of his money, which was about forty pounds, they would certainly have undone him for ever. “Truly,” quoth Sir Thomas Day,” that would have been very hard; but nevertheless, as you would have been robbed between sun and sun, the county, upon your suing it, would have been obliged to have made your loss good again.”

But not long after this chatting together, coming to a convenient place, the Golden Farmer, shooting Sir Thomas’s man’s horse under him, and obliging him to retire some distance from it, that he might not make use of the pistols that were in his holsters, presented a pistol to Sir Thomas’s breast, and demanded his money of him. Quoth Sir Thomas: “I thought, sir, that you had been an honest man.” The Golden Farmer replied: “You see your Worship’s mistaken, and had you had any guts in your brains you might have perceived by my face that my countenance was the very picture of mere necessity; therefore deliver presently, for I am in haste.” Then, Sir Thomas Day giving the Golden Farmer what money he had, which was about sixty pounds in gold and silver, he humbly thanked his Worship, and told him, that what he had parted with was not lost, because he was robbed betwixt sun and sun, therefore the county, as he told him, must pay it again.

One Mr. Hart, a young gentleman of Enfield, who had a good estate, but was not overburdened with wit, and therefore could sooner change a piece of gold than a piece of sense, riding one day over Finchley Common, where the Golden Farmer had been hunting about four or five hours for a prey, he rides up to him and, giving the gentleman a slap with the flat of his drawn hanger over his shoulders, quoth he: “A plague on you! How slow you are, to make a man wait on you all this morning. Come, deliver what you have, and be poxed to you, and go to hell for orders!” The gentleman, who was wont to find a more agreeable entertainment betwixt his mistress and his snuff-box, being surprised at the rustical sort of greeting, began to make several sorts of excuses, and say he had no money about him; but his antagonist, not believing him, made bold to search his pockets himself, and finding in them above a hundred guineas, besides a gold watch, he gave him two or three slaps over the shoulder again with his hanger; and at the same time bade him not give his mind to lying any more, when an honest gentleman desired a small boon of him.

Another time this notorious robber had paid his landlord above forty pounds for rent, who going home with it, the goodly tenant, disguising himself, met the grave old gentleman, and bidding him stand, quoth he: “Come, Mr. Gravity from head to foot, but from neither head nor foot to the heart, deliver what you have in a trice.” The old man, fetching a deep sigh, to the hazard of losing several buttons of his waistcoat, said that he had not above two shillings about him; therefore he thought he was more of a gentleman than to take a small matter from a poor man. Quoth the Golden Farmer: “I have not the faith to believe you; for you seem by your mien and habit to be a man of better circumstance than you pretend; therefore open your budget or else I shall fall foul about your house.” “Dear sir,” replied his landlord, “you cannot be so barbarous to an old man. What! Have you no religion, pity or com- passion in you? Have you no conscience? Have you no respect for your own body and soul, which must be certainly in a miserable condition, if you follow unlawful courses?”

“Damn you!” said the tenant to him, “don’t talk of age and barbarity to me; for I show neither pity nor compassion to any. Damn you, don’t talk of conscience to me! I have no more of that dull commodity than you have; nor do I allow my soul and body to be governed by religion, but interest; therefore, deliver what you have, before this pistol makes you repent your obstinacy.” So, delivering his money to the Golden Farmer, he received it without giving the landlord any receipt for it, as his landlord had him.

Not long after committing this robbery, overtaking an old grazier at Putney Heath, in a very ordinary attire, but yet very rich, he takes half-a-score guineas out of his pocket, and giving them to the old man he said there were three or four persons behind them who looked very suspicious, therefore he desired the favour of him to put that gold into his pocket; for in case they were highwaymen, his indifferent apparel would make them believe he had no such charge about him. The old grazier, looking upon his intentions to be honest, quoth: “I have fifty guineas tied up in the fore-lappet of my shirt, and I’ll put it to that for security.” So riding along, both of them check by jowl, for above half-a- mile, and the coast being clear, the Golden Farmer said to the old man: “I believe there’s nobody will take the pains of robbing you or me today; therefore, I think I had as good take the trouble of robbing you myself; so instead of delivering your purse, pray give me the lappet of your shirt.” The old grazier was horridly startled at these words, and began to beseech him not to be so cruel in robbing a poor old man. “Prithee,” quoth the Golden Farmer, “don’t tell me of cruelty; for who can be more cruel than men of your age, whose pride it is to teach their servants their duties with as much cruelty as some people teach their dogs to fetch and carry?” So being obliged to cut off the lappet of the old man’s shirt himself, for he would not, he rode away to seek out another booty.

Another time this bold robber, lying at an inn in Uxbridge, happened into company with one Squire Broughton, a barrister of the Middle Temple, which he understanding, pretended to him that he was going up to London to advise with a lawyer about some business; wherefore, he should be much obliged to him if he could recommend him to a good one. Counsellor Broughton, thinking he might be a good client, bespoke him for himself. Then, the Golden Farmer telling his business was about several of his neighbours’ cattle breaking into his grounds and doing a great deal of mischief, the barrister told him that was very actionable, as being damage feasant. “Damage feasant,” said the Golden Farmer; “what’s that, pray, sir?” He told him that it was an action brought against persons when their cattle broke through hedges, or other fences, into other people’s grounds, and did them damage. Next morning, as they both were riding toward London, says the Golden Farmer to the barrister: “If I may be so bold as to ask you, sir, what is that you call ‘trover’ and ‘conversion’?” He told him it signified in our common law an action which a man has against another that, having found any of his goods, refuses to deliver them upon demand, and perhaps converts them to his own use also.

The Golden Farmer being now at a place convenient for his purpose — “Very well, sir,” says he, “and so, if I should find any money about you, and convert it to my use, why then that is only actionable, I find.” “That’s a robbery,” said the barrister, “which requires no less satisfaction than a man’s life.” “A robbery!” replied the Golden Farmer. “Why then, I must e’en commit one for once and not use it; therefore deliver your money, or else behold this pistol shall prevent you from ever reading Coke upon Littleton any more.” The barrister, strangely surprised at his client’s rough behaviour, asked him if he thought there was neither heaven nor hell, that he could be guilty of such wicked actions. Quoth the Golden Farmer: “Why, you son of a whore, thy impudence is very great, to talk of heaven or hell to me, when you think there’s no way to heaven but through Westminster Hall. Come, come, down with your rhino this minute; for I have other guess customers to mind, than to wait on you all day.” The barrister was very loath to part with his money, still insisting on the injustice of the action, saying it was against law and conscience to rob any man. However the Golden Farmer, heeding not his pleading, swore he was not to be guided by law and conscience any more than any of his profession, whose law is always furnished with a commission to arraign their consciences; but upon judgment given they usually had the knack of setting it at large. So putting a pistol to the barrister’s breast, he quickly delivered his money, amounting to about thirty guineas, and eleven broad-pieces of gold, besides some silver, and a gold watch.

Thus the Golden Farmer, having run a long course in wickedness, was at last discovered in Salisbury Court; but as he was running along, a butcher, endeavouring to stop him, was shot dead by him with a pistol; being apprehended nevertheless, he was committed to Newgate, and shortly after executed, at the end of Salisbury Court, in Fleet Street, on Friday the 20th of December, 1689; and afterwards was hanged in chains, in the sixty-fourth year of his age, on Bagshot Heath.

This is quite a fine adventure and not unlike many of the Newgate Calendar chronicles we have featured here — especially its earliest subjects, from the 17th and early 18th century, where historicity shades easily into legend.

It is obvious that our Golden Farmer has a good deal of the legendary about him; as related by the Calendar, which would scarcely have been in a position to observe the various vignettes alleged, he is through his crimes little more than a cutout for voicing social resentments — utterly ignoring the remarkable Jekyll-and-Hyde feat hinted in the lead of maintaining a decades-long career on the road while passing as a respectable farmer.

Outlaw biographies, a stock template for this period, often exist for the very purpose of satirizing such putative respectability. No surprise, the Golden Farmer excoriates a Whitman’s sampler of characters who might attract a scornful snort down at ye olde tavern: lawyers, landlords, nobles … even the elderly and a suspicious religious minority. In another version, we have an added episode that shows our man posterizing tricky wandering tinkerers.

One time overtaking a tinker on Blackheath, whom he knew to have seven or eight pounds about him, quoth he, “well overtaken, brother tinker, methinks you seem very devout; for your life is a continual pilgrimage, and in humility you almost go bare-foot, thereby making necessity a virtue.”

“Aye master,” replied the tinker. “Needs must when the devil drives, and had you no more than I, you might go without boots and shoes too.”

“That might be,” quoth the Golden Farmer, “and I suppose you march all over England with your bag and baggage?”

“Yes,” said the tinker, “I go a great deal of ground, but not so much as you ride.”

“Well,” quoth the Golden Farmer, “go where you will, it is my opinion your conversation is unreproveable, because thou art ever mending.”

“I wish,” replied the tinker, “that I could say as much by you.”

“Why, you dog of Egypt,” quoth the other, “you don’t think that I am like you in observing the statutes; and, therefore, had rather steal than beg in spite of whips or imprisonment.”

Said the tinker again, “I’ll have you to know that I take a great deal of pains for a livelihood.” “Yes,” replied the Golden Farmer, “I know thou art such a strong enemy to idleness, that mending one hole you make three, rather than want work.” “That’s as you say,” quoth the tinker, “however, sir, I wish you and I were farther asunder; for i’faith I don’t like your company.” “Nor I yours,” said the other, “for though thou art entertained in every place, yet you enter no farther than the door to avoid suspicion.”

“Indeed,” replied the tinker, “I have a great suspicion of you.” “Have you so,” replied the Golden Farmer, “why then it shall not be without a cause; come, open your wallet forthwith, and deliver that parcel of money that’s in it.”

Here their dialogue being on a conclusion, the tinker prayed heartily that he would not rob him; for if he did, he must be forced to beg his way home, from whence he was above a hundred miles. “I don’t care if you beg your way two hundred miles,” quoth the Golden Farmer, “for if a tinker escapes Tyburn and Banbury, it is his fate to die a beggar.” So taking money and wallet too from the tinker, he left him to his old custom of conversing still in open fields and low cottages.

A pub called the Golden Farmer and subsequently the Jolly Farmer — named in honor of this knight of field and road — stood in Surrey from the late 17th century until it closed in 1996.

Part of the Themed Set: The Creation of a Newgate Calendar legend.

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Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Gibbeted,Hanged,History,Outlaws,Public Executions

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1750: John Young, resisting

Add comment December 19th, 2015 Headsman

A piece titled “Extract of a Letter from Edinburgh, dated Dec. 20″ in the May 16, 1751 edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette:

John Young, late Serjeant in Lord Ancram’s Regiment of Foot, was executed here Yesterday Afternoon, pursuant to the Sentence of the High Court of Justiciary, pronounced against him, on a Remit made to that Court by the Lords of Session; before whom a full Proof was deduced of Young’s having vended false Notes of the Royal Bank of Scotland, knowing them to be so forged and fabricated.

This unhappy Man had amused himself, before Trial, with the Hopes of being acquitted; after Sentence, with those of obtaining a Pardon; for which great Interest was used by the Officers of the Army, &c. though all to no Purpose; the Hurt done to publick Credit by such destructive Practices rendering it necessary that an Example should be made to deter others from committing the like in Time coming. Indeed this unfortunate Man complained bitterly of his hard Fate, in eing made the only Sacrifice to Justice, while two others, rather more culpable than he, (they being the very Engravers and Fabricators of the Notes) found Means to save themselves by turning Evidences against him, who did not scruple to accuse him of Perjury, though with what Truth I cannot determine.

Young, however, at the Day, nay, at the very Time of Execution, betook himself to a very unusual Expedient to save his Life for a Time, seeing then all his Hopes of Pardon entirely baffled: The Magistrates appointed to witness the Ceremony having assembled about two o’Clock, at the Prison Door, with the proper Officers, the Guard, and an infinite Multitude of Spectators; they, attended by two Clergymen, went up to the Prisoner, and having read over to him the Sentence, they asked his Objections to the executing the same. Young answer’d, that he had none: But observing the Sentence appointed the Execution to be performed betwixt the Hours of Two and Four in the Afternoon, that suggested a Thought to him, that if he could preserve his Life till past Four, the Magistrates could not afterwards execute him. Accordingly he desired Leave to retire a short Time with two reverend Ministers, for ghostly Consolation; which being granted, he return’d with them to the Iron Room, where he had been confin’d since under Sentence; and after talking a little with them, he begg’d they would allow him to spend a few Minutes in private Devotion, which seeming reasonable, they withdrew, and he usher’d the Clergymen to the outer Door of his Apartment, which shutting behind them, he retired to the inner Room, the Iron Door of which he also immediately bolted.

Soon after the Officers of Justice, surprized at his Delay, endeavoured to open the Door, which, to their great Surprize, they found bolted: Then they knock’d, and desired him to come out. No, said he, in this Place I am resolved to defend any Life to the utmost of my Power.

On this the Door was attempted to be forced, but it, as is said, being of Iron, in vain were the most violent Endeavours used for that Purpose.

This extraordinary Accident was immediately rumour’d about. My Lord Provost was sent for, and accordingly appeared in Person. The City Clock was stopp’d, and Surprize and Expectation appeared in every Face. A considerable Time being spent to no Purpose in forcing the Door, that Attempt was given over, and the only possible Method of getting in was found to be by breaking up the Floor of the Room over Head of the Prisoner, which at length was, in about two Hours, effectuated; and a Passage being opened, a Gun was presented to him, the Prisoner, in order to terrify him, and compel him to open the door; but this did not frighten him in the least; for he said, that as he liv’d, so he desired to die, like a Soldier. The Fellow, however, who held the Gun, being a little remiss, Young making a Leap up, laid hold of the Muzzle, and pulled it down, threatening, on getting Possession of the Piece, to shoot the first Man that dar’d to enter; but happily the Gun was unloaded, which prevented so fatal a Catastrophe. Rewards were then offered to such of the City Guard as would go down and seize him; and at length, after severals refusing, one Fellow had the Courage to go down, whom Young welcom’d with a violent Blow, on the Breast from the Butt of his Gun, that laid the Soldier on the Ground. Had Young been arm’d with a Sword or Bayonet, it is likely the Fate of the first Adventurer would have stopp’d the Attempts of a second; but he having only an empty Musket, and the Passage being wide, three or four more jump’d in at once, and at length after a violent Struggle, overpowered and bound the unhappy Victim, who still refusing to walk, the Door was opened, and he dragged headlong down Stairs, in a most deplorable Condition. When he was brought out, he ask’d if it was Four o’Clock (as indeed it then was) but being answered, That he should e hanged were it past Eight, he immediately composed himself to suffer that so much dreaded Death. Still however, did he refuse being accessary [sic] to his own Murder (as he was pleased to term it) by walking, as usual, to the Place of Execution: He was therefore forced upon a Cart, where the Hangman, fitting by him, holding the End of the Rope, which was immediately put about his Neck, he was in this Manner dragged to the Grass Market, amidst thousands of amaz’d Specattors; where again refusing to ascend the Scaffold, he was carried up by the Guard, and after about fifteen Minutes, being near Half an Hour past Four, and almost dark, he was hang’d by the Neck till he was dead.

This poor Man served in the Army many Years, with Reputation; was beloved by his Officers, being never before conicted of the least Offence, and was said to have been recommended to the first vacant Colours in his Corps.

The extraordinary Manner of his Exit, the strenuous Efforts to preserve his Life, and the unhappy Success that attended them, made him an Object truly worthy of Compassion.

He was a middle aged Man, very tall, and remarkably well-look’d.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Capital Punishment,Counterfeiting,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,Pelf,Public Executions,Scotland,Soldiers

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1946: One sex killer and four POW camp murderers

Add comment December 18th, 2015 Headsman

This date in 1946 saw the largest mass execution in Alberta: five men all hanged for murder.

One of these, Donald Sherman Staley, was a hated sex-murderer who had raped and killed boys in Calgary and Alberta that summer. But he is the undercard in this event.*

The remaining four were all German prisoners of war from the lately concluded world war. They did not, as their onetime commanders in Europe, face judgment for war crimes: no, Bruno Perzonowsky, Walter Wolf, Heinrich Busch and Willi Mueller had while marking time in the Medicine Hat POW camp contrived to execute a fellow-prisoner as a subversive.

Naturally this camp “execution” was rank murder from a legal perspective. But the day-to-day reality of the Medicine Hat camp was that the few Canadian officials banked on the 12,000 or so German detainees to run the place themselves.**

Medicine Hat’s German leadership consisted of Nazi ideologues, but the politics and life experiences of its inmates, regular grunts snatched from various battlefields, deviated widely from the Reich’s ideal. In 1943, convinced that the less fascist elements in camp were cogitating a plot to displace the Nazi silverbacks in camp, that clique convened a drumhead trial and hanged August Plaszek, a Catholic and former French Foreign Legionnaire.

After the war ended, this murder too resulted in a hanging — but as of the second killing that is the focus of this post, the Canadian investigation was being stonewalled and the true believer types still bossed Medicine Hat with near-impunity.

The second murder was triggered by a threat not to Nazi authority in Medicine Hat — but in Berlin.

After the shock of the Valkyrie plot that came within a whisker of assassinating Hitler, the Fuhrer publicly demanded a purge of traitors, anywhere and everywhere.

The POW Karl Lehmann was just such a one, to Hitlerian eyes. Another Catholic — a dubious class for sure — Lehmann was a husky former languages professor who had been dragooned into the military and subsequently captured in Tunisia.† He had been in Medicine Hat for two years when Col. Stauffenberg’s bomb went off in Wolfsschanze, growing ever bolder vilifying the Third Reich and anticipating its approaching defeat.

In September 1944, our quartet of future gallows-fodder lured Lehmann to a room where he sometimes gave lectures, and there began browbeating him about communists in camp. As Lehmann vainly denied any such connection, his assailants got a noose around him and hoisted him to his death.

Having now had two political assassinations on their watch, Canada finally got serious and threatened the entire population of prisoners with the prospect of being punished as murderers were they merely to fail to report a murder plot to which they had become privy. They also started reshuffling the prisoner population in an effort to break up the Nazi prison gang. Both measures worked — aided, of course, by the advance of Allied armies in the European theater — and nobody had the ill fortune to follow Karl Lehmann’s fate.

Lethbridge Gaol had to be outfitted with a whole new condemned bloc just to hold the prisoners bound for their end this date. (Its existing capacity was only two.)

* Staley’s desperate argument for clemency was that he was a “sexual insane” who could not govern his compulsions: “I must have been born this way and should not be held responsible for what I done, but should receive treatment of some kind instead of being condemned to die for something I can’t help.” “Merciful” proposals ran towards employing him as a guinea pig for mental health hospitals’ experiments with, e.g., lobotomy.

** Canada’s deference to German detainees also made it party to a scandalous execution of Wehrmacht deserters conducted by a surrendered German army in Canadian custody in 1945. (Canada helpfully supplied their prisoners the necessary guns.)

† Under Field Marshal Rommel‘s command, no less: though he was perhaps Hitler’s ablest general, the Desert Fox all but openly disdained national socialism. He was himself implicated in the July 20 plot, and made to commit suicide.

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1897: John Morgan, the last public hanging in West Virginia

Add comment December 16th, 2015 Headsman

This date in 1897 marked the last public hanging in the history of West Virginia.

The chief character in the dramatic milestone was a fellow named John Morgan,* condemned for murdering an aged widow named Chloe Greene and her two children near Ripley, W. Va. It was a mean trick indeed, as Mrs. Greene had taken in Morgan when the latter was an orphan, and raised him to manhood; Morgan had married and moved out of the house, but was on good terms with his adoptive family.

On the morning of November 3, as Mrs. Greene’s children James Greene and (by a previous husband) Alice and Matilda Pfost puttered around with their routine chores, Morgan — having spent the night at the house — suddenly took up a hatchet and started slashing. Matilda and James were slain, along with the 70-year-old Mrs. Greene; Alice survived a skulll-fracturing bash from the hatchet and managed to escape when her assailant turned his attention to her sister. Were it not for Alice’s eventual testimony, the author of this ghastly and seemingly purposeless carnage might never have been known. As best one could determine, he butchered his lifelong benefactors for no better reason than to steal the $56 they had in the house thanks to the recent sale of some horses.

Wheeling Register, Nov. 6, 1897.

In a triumph of the “speedy trial” system, Morgan was condemned a mere two days after the murder — “one meting out the swiftest justice to a murderer ever known in the annals of criminal history in West Virginia,” the admiring Wheeling Register reported on Nov. 6. (Not neglecting to note that a greater delay might have invited the verdict of Judge Lynch.)

He hanged just six weeks after that, but proved himself a cool customer in that short time. He sold a confession of the crime for $25, so that he could afford a suit to wear on the gallows … and then made a brave bid to balk gibbet and suit alike of its big occasion.

Boston Journal, Dec. 4, 1897.

It seems that one evening about two weeks before his scheduled (and, since we already know how this ends, his actual) death, Morgan was playing checkers in the jail corridor with one of his guards. He made a great show of exhaustion, and when the guard ducked out to pick up Morgan’s supper, Morgan stuffed a dummy into his bed in a posture of deep sleep, then climbed himself on top of the cell while the guard quietly left the meal for his “sleeping” captive. Once the cell was locked up for the night, Morgan just slipped right out.

The escape was not discovered until morning, but Morgan was recaptured after only a couple of days abroad — not nearly enough to interfere with the execution. His bravado cracked at the end; press reports have him in a state of collapse on that morning. “The scene in the jail this morning beggars description,” the Baltimore Sun reported on Dec. 17. “His spiritual advisers were praying, singing and pleading with the doomed man to surrender his soul to its Maker, while Morgan was a pitching, crying, agonizing man.” He managed to pull himself together well enough to die game.

If only Morgan’s avarice could have abided a little patience! December 16 would have been an excellent day to rob the good citizens of Jackson county, since practically all of them — a reported 5,000 souls at least — turned out for the first hanging in that locale for 47 years. (Ripley had only 700 residents and not nearly enough rooms to handle the swell, so impromptu campings sprang up all around the outskirts of town.)

Baltimore Sun, Dec. 17, 1897.

The uncouth scene, with the usual horror of drinking and carousing even compassing 2,000 women unladylike enough to present themselves led West Virginia to abolish public executions in 1898.

* His actual name by birth was John Raines. Perversely, he used the surname of a man whom his father, Andy Raines, had murdered when Raines was a tot; it was because his father was subsequently killed resisting capture that Raines/Morgan was an orphan.

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1889: Abushiri, German East Africa rebel

Add comment December 15th, 2015 Headsman

On this date in 1889, the Germans hanged Abushiri as a rebel.

European empires arriving to East Africa naturally entered a going history of local conflicts and accommodations. In the case of the region at hand, the archipelago of Zanzibar lying just off the coast had been absorbed by, and then spun off from, the domain of the sultan of Oman. As we lay our scene in the late 19th century, it is an independent Sultanate of Zanzibar whose dominion extended to the adjacent Swahili coast and inland, an area also known as the Zanj.

Zanzibar was a British interest here, but the islands themselves do not quite enter this fray directly; the sultanate based there actually survived until 1964.

But in the 1880s, Germans scrambling for Africa arrived to gobble up the sultanate’s mainland possessions. Germany, truth be told, was a little bit late to this game, and although it secured some noteworthy footholds like Cameroon and Namibia, the Second Reich suffered a distinct little imperial brother complex vis-a-vis the British and the French — both of whom had more extensive holdings in Africa, to say nothing of everywhere else in the world.

Certainly the German public, flush with the boom of industrialization and having only just shown the French what-for on the battlefield, clamored for its rightful share of overseas acquisition. The popular thirst for expansion dragged along reluctant chancellor Otto von Bismarck into an adventure so inimical to the good order he prized.

One such German dreaming big dreams of bigger maps was a cocksure 29-year-old doctor of history, Carl Peters. Fresh off a few post-academic years knocking about in a London astir with the white man’s burden, Peters co-founded the German East Africa Company and then put that colonial corporation literally on the map with a bold expedition to Zanzibar. Within a few weeks of arriving in November 1884, and despite the explicit dissuasion of the German consulate there, Peters had obtained via just the right mixture of largesse and menace treaty rights to 155,400 square kilometers conferred by a number of coastal chiefs in the mainland ambit of the Sultan of Zanzibar.

When Peters returned in glory to Germany brandishing these concessions, Chancellor Bismarck was practically forced to accept them as a German protectorate … and charter Peters’s corporation to start exploiting it. The mid-1880s saw a minor local race between Peters and rival British explorers to establish their respective colonial presences on the Swahili coast,* resulting in an 1886 Anglo-German agreement formally dividing the region’s spheres of influence: British to the north, German to the south. Today this line, shooting near-straight to the southeast from Lake Victoria to the Indian Ocean with a slight bend round Mount Kilimanjaro, forms the border between Kenya and Tanzania.

We are, at length, arriving at the unfortunate party whose execution occasions this post.

The problem for young Master Peters with his personal agglomeration of the fatherland was nothing but that familiar difficulty for invaders from time immemorial — and Peters was ultimately an invader, no matter what treaties he could wrangle. For his short spell as the commercial governor of this distant land, Peters earned of his Bantu subjects the sobriquet Milkono wa Damu: the man with blood on his hands.

Diplomats could partition the land in Berlin, and could even compel the supine sultan to acknowledge their arrangements. But no edict could command legitimacy for the man with blood on his hands.

Beginning in September 1888, rebels comprising both Arabs and Swahili tribesmen sacked German East Africa Company assets up and down the coast Peters had so diligently won for Germany. Rousted from most of its towns and trading posts, the Company hunkered down in its territorial capital of Bagamoyo and cabled Berlin for help. Bismarck paternally relieved the in-over-its-head company with the aid of mercenaries hired from Egypt and Mozambique, crushed the uprising with customary roughness, and ushered Peters’s firm out of the colonial administration business in favor of adult supervision. The little protectorate soon became German East Africa, administered as a proper colonial appendage of the German Empire.

This Abushiri revolt (English Wikipedia entry | German) is named for its most prominent leader, a mixed-race Arab-Oromo coastal planter named Abushiri ibh Salim al-Harthi (English Wikipedia entry | German). He would be betrayed to German hands trying to escape and promptly executed; however, resistance by others continued to 1890.

They struck down
The flag of Islam
And now proposed
To raise their own.

They came to Pangani
Full of wrath,
They fitted up the house
And laid cannon.

And the ship at Maziwe
The whole town was humbled
And the Europeans
Strode about the streets.

The town was silent,
No one spoke,
Not a free man
Said a word.

-Swahili poet Hemedi al-Buhriy†

This new disturbance, whose suppression Britain also aided, helped lead London and Berlin back to the negotiating table for the Heligoland-Zanzibar Treaty of 1890 — a comprehensive African arrangement to settle up spheres of influence not only on the Swahili coast but touching Namibia and Togoland, too. Meanwhile, Germany gave up remaining claims north of the Swahili coast dividing line and ceded Zanzibar itself to British authority; in exchange, she obtained the islands of Heligoland off her northwest shoulder — closing a potential security vulnerability.**

Among the many curiosities of the years to follow for the great imperial powers concerned, few are more vexing than just why it was that England and Germany went to war in 1914. Profitable as that bloody effusion has been for these grim annals, it posed as antagonists two countries that had long been thought by keen observers to be natural allies — a belief shared by numerous British and German statesmen. Otto von Bismarck was certainly one of these; his desire for an English alliance (against France and Russia) was a pole star of the Iron Chancellor’s foreign policy. Indeed, he worked amicably with his British opposite number Lord Salisbury; Bismarck once opined of his unwillingly adopted East African holdings that they were “admirably suited to become the sacrificial ram on the altar of friendship” with Great Britain.

But that isn’t what happened.

The failure of these great powers’ flirtation with one another, and the arrangements they ultimately made with other powers instead, defined the belligerents of the Great War. And while we would scarcely propose to lay the charnel houses of Verdun and Gallipoli at the shores of Zanzibar, it has sometimes been postulated that the fatal obstacle to Britain’s arrangement with Germany might have been the paucity of horses to swap.

Thanks to far-flung colonial expansion, Britain had many borders with France all over the globe, and accordingly had frequent need to collaborate and an ample store of chips to trade. With Germany, she had but a few intersections, in Africa — and these were settled almost too comprehensively (pdf) after the Abushiri revolt.

* It goes without saying that the sultan was none too happy about this development, but he was made to get used to the idea. (Germany sent warships, and Great Britain declined to back the sultan.)

The Anglo-German agreement accordingly limited the sultan’s authority on the coast to a 10-mile strip. Although the European powers commanded whatever leases they desired from this zone, Zanzibar’s anomalous territorial claims on the mainland would not be extinguished until the post-colonial era. When that day came, the 10-mile strip made for quite a sticky wicket during negotiations for Kenyan independence in the 1960s. The whole situation lies very far from the scope of this post, but the connosseur of diplomatic Gordian knots should pause to enjoy this pdf exploring the whole mess.

** Each party valued the thing it received quite a bit more than the thing it traded away in this treaty. From Britain’s perspective, Heligoland would be nigh-indefensible in the event of war with Germany; from Germany’s perspective, the claims it gave up outside of German East Africa were little better than phantasmal.

† via Charles Pike’s “History and Imagination: Swahili Literature and Resistance to German Language Imperialism in Tanzania, 1885-1910,” The International Journal of African Historical Studies, Vol. 19, No. 2 (1986)

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1754: Eleanor Connor, rogue

Add comment December 9th, 2015 Headsman

Seven people were hanged at Tyburn on this date in 1754.

For these minor malefactors — six thieves and a murderer, the latter of whom was ordered for posthumous anatomization — we simply cull from the day’s ordinary’s account, and focus on one Eleanor Connor.

A Catholic Irishwoman “about 35 years of age” and familiar by several aliases, she evidently refused to confide in the Protestant divine whose business it was to harrow the doomed prisoners’ souls. “How, or to what she was brought up, we have no authority to say,” her interlocutor puzzles. “No other account can be given of her, than what her behaviour has afforded, since she has been in England.”

She had been in London from a decade or so since, an inveterate pickpocket haunting “the theaters, and Covent Garden” and indeed “any public places … convenient for carrying on such practices.”

Arrested in Bristol in 1748, the hanging sentence was moderated to convict transportation. But an indenture to a distant master on the fringe of the New World wilderness was itself such a frightful fate that prisoners were occasionally known to prefer death outright; Eleanor Connor was just this side of such desperation, for she made bold to depart her prison ship shortly after it set sail by hurling herself off the deck under cover of poor weather to be retrieved from the waves by some boats hired by her partners in the underworld. While the Ordinary passes over this extraordinary gambit in a sentence or two, surely such a desperate and dangerous escape has as just a claim on poetic commemoration as any adventure of Turpin. A brine-drenched Eleanor Connor and her friends must have drank off the chills of the sea that night beside an exultant hearth.

Here she disappears from the annals of the courts, and hence from the Ordinary’s capacity to track her; by rumor he understands that she has changed her location often and her husbands nearly so much, navigating the margins as a picaro in both England and Ireland.

Around 1752 she appeared in Liverpool, making an honest go of it as a chandler. Into her thirties now and having passed through who knows what scrapes in the meantime, perhaps she was considering the limitations a criminal career based on manual dexterity might impose upon her once youth slipped away. But whether due to old habit or the capital requirements of a business startup, she did not yet abandon her diving profession and was caught picking the pocket of a gentlewoman at the marketplace. Once again she was imprisoned, and once again the camaraderie of the criminal caste came to her rescue, overpowering the turnkey on a pretended jail visit and liberating Eleanor. Whatever else one might say of this woman, she inspired the loyalty of her friends: one very much wishes we somehow had a record of her many adventures outside the gaze of the law.

Whatever they were, there were not many more of them. Soon after the band had relocated to London, our habitual cutpurse was recognized as a fugitive and taken up once more. It was a simple matter to reinstate her old suspended death sentence from that original Bristol conviction.

Condemned in February, she convinced a jury of matrons that she was quick with child … but after several months it became apparent that this was a ruse. The Ordinary is small enough to sneer at this intrepid character’s unavailing attempts to rescue her life yet again by making herself sympathetic to the magistrates: “she was not yet without some excuse, she pretended to be very weak after labour, and begged the court would take it into consideration, (a common expression, without any real meaning, among these unhappy wretches) and transport her for life; but she was ordered now to her former sentence.”

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1591: Four of The Sixteen

Add comment December 4th, 2015 Headsman

When the Huguenot prince turned Henri IV of France finally mastered his realm by attending Catholic services in his capital city with the legendary words “Paris is worth a mass,” he was not merely overcoming some residual sectarian prejudice. There had been civil war in France for the best part of a century, and the bitterness of Catholic opposition to a Protestant king would eventually claim Henri’s life.

And in that conflict, Paris herself was militantly Catholic.

During the last phase of France’s devastating Wars of Religion, suitably titled the War of the Three Henrys, a Paris dominated by the staunch Catholic League held out against a joint siege by the sitting, Catholic king Henri III — who was so much the moderate sellout as to have made common cause with his cousin and heir, the Protestant Henri of Navarre (our future Henri IV).*

We have dealt elsewhere in these pages with those dramatic years, including Paris eventually falling into the hands of a despot clique of Catholic fanatics known as “The Sixteen” — who made so bold as to execute Catholic “politiques” of insufficient zeal.

An armed march of the Holy League in Paris in 1590. (Anonymous painting)

Just days after the signal hanging of jurist Barnabe Brisson in November of 1591, the city was taken back in hand by the Duke of Mayenne, a Catholic whom some radicals wished to advance to the throne.

Mayenne preferred the role of kingmaker, stabilizing the long unrest of his realm. He was horrified by the Sixteen, and on December 4 he seized four of their number — Nicolas Ameline, Barthelemy Anroux, Jean Emmenot and Jean Louchart — and had them summarily hanged at the Louvre. The Sixteen’s days were done.

Mayenne had the wisdom not to follow these exemplary executions with any provocative purges — neither of the other 12 nor other intemperate elements in town — but proclaimed a general amnesty. It was he who, over the months ahead, smoothed the way for Henri IV’s famous mass.

* The third Henri in the War of the Three Henrys was the late Duke of Guise, whom King Henri III had had assassinated. The House of Guise was characteristically an ardent Catholic party in these years, so his murder had helped sunder the allegiance of Paris to her king.

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Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Capital Punishment,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Execution,France,Hanged,History,Politicians,Power,Public Executions,Summary Executions

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