Posts filed under 'Beheaded'

2011: Amina bint Abdul Halim bin Salem Nasser

Add comment December 12th, 2019 Headsman

Per the BBC’s report of a Saudi Interior Ministry statement, a woman named Amina bint Abdul Halim bin Salem Nasser was beheaded for sorcery in the northern province of Jawf on this date in 2011.

The London-based newspaper, al-Hayat, quoted a member of the religious police as saying that she was in her 60s and had tricked people into giving her money, claiming that she could cure their illnesses.

Our correspondent said she was arrested in April 2009.

But the human rights group Amnesty International, which has campaigned for Saudis previously sentenced to death on sorcery charges, said it had never heard of her case until now, he adds.

Amnesty says that Saudi Arabia does not actually define sorcery as a capital offence. However, some of its conservative clerics have urged the strongest possible punishments against fortune-tellers and faith healers as a threat to Islam.

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Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Public Executions,Saudi Arabia,Witchcraft,Women

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1452: Antonio Rizzo, cannonaded

Add comment December 8th, 2019 Headsman

From Charles Stanton in Medieval Maritime Warfare:


In the months preceding the final fall of Constantinople in 1453, the great Ottoman sultan Mehmed (II), the Conqueror, caused to be constructed in less than twenty weeks on the European bank of the Bosporus just north of the city a colossal castle which he called Bas-kesen, meaning ‘Decapitator’ or ‘Throat-cutter’. Later called Rumeli Hisar (‘Castle of the Roman Lands’), it stood opposite the Anadolu Hisar (‘Castle of Anatolia’), built in 1394 by his great-grandfather Bayezit I at the narrowest part of the strait (less than 1km across). It consisted of three main towers and fourteen smaller ones connected by inner and outer curtain walls, covering an area of 31,250 sq. m (almost 7.75 acres). The fortress still stands to this day, glowering down upon passing maritime traffic much as it did when it was completed on 31 August 1452.


The view from the still-standing fortress shows its commanding view over the narrow strait. (cc) image from Olga Petrovska.

The main tower in the middle was 22m (72ft) high and 23.3m (76ft 5 in) in diameter, with 6.5m (21ft 4in) thick walls. Named the Halil Pasha after the sultan’s vizier who built it, it stood closest to the shoreline. On it, Mehmed had positioned what were described as ‘bronze tubes capable of discharging balls weighing over six hundred pounds’. He then gave the citadel’s commander, one Firuz Aga, the following explicit instructions:

Do not allow ships sailing from the Hellespont [Dardanelles] to the Black Sea or from the Black Sea to the Hellespont, no matter under whose flag they may be sailing — Genoese, Venetian, Constantinopolitan, Kaffatinian, Trapezundian, Amisinian, Sinopean, or even under my own flag, and no matter what class they are — triremes, biremes, barques, or skiffs — to sail through without first lowering their sails and paying the customs duties; only after they have done so will you permit them to proceed on their way. Use the cannon to sink the ship that does not comply and submit.

Early the following November two Venetian ships destined for the Dardanelles ignored the injunction and passed through the Bosporus without stopping as ordered. Luckily, they survived the consequent cannonade. A third, carrying grain for Constantinople a short time later, was not so fortunate. The earlier experience had evidently served to provide Firuz Aga’s gunners with the proper range. A single stone from one of the cannon ‘shattered the ship’. The crew of thirty, including the captain, a certain Antonio Rizzo, were subsequently captured and taken to the sultan in Didymoteichos (in Thrace, about 37km or 23 miles south of Adrianople — modern Edirne). ‘He gave orders to behead them all except the captain whose life was to be taken by a stake through the anus,’ recorded a fifteenth-century chronicler known only as ‘Doukas’, who claimed he himself saw Rizzo’s rotting corpse only ‘a few days later’. The impact on maritime warfare was just as dramatic. The advent of a true ship-killing weapon spelled the end of one age and the beginning of another.

In his watershed study Gunpowder and Galleys, early modern military historian John Francis Guilmartin concluded that the one technological innovation most responsible for ushering in a new age of warfare was ‘the use of effective heavy cannon’. It was, therefore, fitting that Mehmed II employed perhaps the largest cannon ever built up to that point to vanquish the first great naval power of the passing medieval period. In his campaign to conquer Constantinople, the Ottoman sultan engaged a Hungarian engineer named Orban to produce a sort of supergun which could smash the several-feet thick Theodosian Walls that had protected the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire for a millennium. ‘In three months’ time a terrifying and extraordinary monster was forged,’ testified Doukas. Mehmed’s Greek biographer, Michael Kritovoulos, provided precise dimensions: the barrel was cast in bronze some 20cm (8in) thick; it measured about 8m (26ft 8in) long, with a bore at the muzzle of 76m (30in) in diameter. In a test, the cannon discharged a 544kg (1,200-pound) stone ball which burrowed itself almost 2m (6ft) into the ground over 1.6km (1m) away. Doukas said that thirty wagons pulled by sixty oxen and 200 men were required to haul it from Adrianople to Constantinople where it was positioned to batter the walls south of the Blachernae Palace.

Not content with this ostentatious display of military power, Mehmed then brought to bear the full force of his powerful new fleet. The Byzantines had barred the entrance to the Golden Horn with a giant iron chain suspended on wooden pontoons between two fortified towers, one on each side. (This chain currently resides in the Turkish Naval Museum of Istanbul.)


(cc) image from Henri Bergius.

A squadron of ten Greek warships was stationed outside it, while another sixteen from Genoa, Venice and other western maritime cities guarded it from inside. Previous Ottoman assaults on this defensive cordon had failed, so the sultan circumvented it by building a road of greased wooden logs across Galata Hill behind the Genoese colony of Pera on the side of the Golden Horn opposite the city. He then, on 22 April, had seventy to eighty ‘biremes on wheeled cradles’ hauled over said byway and into the harbour behind the chain. The manoeuvre demoralized the defenders and enabled Mehmed’s naval forces to attack the city’s sea walls from the Golden Horn at the same time that his army assaulted the land walls. Inevitably, Constantinople fell on 29 May 1453. Vanquished were the last vestiges of Byzantine imperial power and its maritime thalassocracy remained only as a distant memory.

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Entry Filed under: 15th Century,Beheaded,Byzantine Empire,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Gibbeted,Greece,Gruesome Methods,History,Impaled,Ottoman Empire,Power,Public Executions,Turkey,Wartime Executions

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1900: A day in the death penalty around the world

Add comment December 7th, 2019 Headsman

… courtesy of the Foreign News dispatch in the pages of the Boston (U.S.) Daily Advertiser, Dec. 8, 1900:

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Beheaded,Canada,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Germany,Hanged,Murder

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1499: Edward, Earl of Warwick, the last Plantagenet claimant

Add comment November 28th, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1499, the Plantagenet prince Edward, Earl of Warwick lost his head — and his once-mighty house lost its last direct male successor to its claim upon kingship.

A lagging casualty of the Wars of the Roses, little Ted was only three when he lost his old man to a treason charge and a butt of malmsey. The same blade dangled close to Edward’s neck throughout his few years, for he became a potential royal claimant after his young cousins, the Princes in the Tower, were killed off in 1483.

Warwick was all of eight years old at that moment. When he was 10, he was shut up in the Tower of London by Henry VII, never really to leave it again.* “Being kept in the Tower from his tender age, that is to say from his first year of the king [i.e., of Henry VII’s reign] to this fifteenth year, out of all company of men and sight of beasts, in so much that he could not discern a goose from a capon,” in the words of chronicler Edward Hall. Some historians have taken that to mean that Edward was was mentally disabled, but under the circumstances, who wouldn’t be?*

It was cold and eminently practical mistreatment, for this boy however innocent in his own person was the potential champion of the Yorkists. In 1487, an abortive rebellion arose in Warwick’s name, with a 10-year-old kid named Lambert Simnel presented as a faux-Edward. Henry crushed the rebellion and was obliged to make his proofs to the populace by parading the real Edward around London which was at least a rare excursion outside the Tower walls for the tween hostage.**

Pretenders tossed the boy prisoner hither and yon on the currents of fortune. The next one to have a go at Henry, a Low Countries twerp named Perkin Warbeck who claimed to be one of the lost Princes in the Tower, mounted landings in the mid-1490s, vainly hoping to spark a general revolt. After he was finally captured in 1497, he wound up in the Tower with poor Warwick. Warbeck persuaded the desperate youth upon a desperate course — or was it by the intentional policy of that scheming king to dispose of a threat and thereby cinch that famously ill-fated Spanish marriage so productive of clientele for our grim annals? A century-plus later, Francis Bacon described in History of the Reign of King Henry VII the popular suspicion that had attached to this convenient tying up of loose ends:

it was ordained, that this winding-ivy of a Plantagenet should kill the true tree itself. For Perkin, after he had been a while in the Tower, began to insinuate himself into the favour and kindness of his keepers, servants to the lieutenant of the Tower Sir John Digby, being four in number; Strangeways, Blewet, Astwood, and Long Roger. These varlets, with mountains of promises, he sought to corrupt, to obtain his escape; but knowing well, that his own fortunes were made so contemptible, as he could feed no man’s hopes, and by hopes he must work, for rewards he had none, he had contrived with himself a vast and tragical plot; which was, to draw into his company Edward Plantagenet earl of Warwick, then prisoner in the Tower; whom the weary life of a long imprisonment, and the often and renewing fears of being put to death, had softened to take any impression of counsel for his liberty. This young Prince he thought these servants would look upon, though not upon himself: and therefore, after that by some message by one or two of them, he had tasted of the earl’s consent; it was agreed that these four should murder their master the lieutenant secretly in the night, and make their best of such money and portable goods of his, as they should find ready at hand, and get the keys of the Tower, and presently let forth Perkin and the earl. But this conspiracy was revealed in time, before it could be executed. And in this again the opinion of the King’s great wisdom did surcharge him with a sinister fame, that Perkin was but his bait, to entrap the earl of Warwick.

… Howsoever it were, hereupon Perkin, that had offended against grace now the third time, was at the last proceeded with, and by commissioners of oyer and terminer arraigned at Westminster, upon divers treasons committed and perpetrated after his coming on land within this kingdom, for so the judges advised, for that he was a foreigner, and condemned, and a few days after executed at Tyburn; where he did again openly read his confession, and take it upon his death to be true. This was the end of this little cockatrice of a King, that was able to destroy those that did not espy him first. It was one of the longest plays of that kind that hath been in memory, and might perhaps have had another end, if he had not met with a King both wise, stout, and fortunate.

And immediately after was arraigned before the Earl of Oxford, then for the time high steward of England, the poor Prince, the Earl of Warwick; not for the attempt to escape simply, for that was not acted; and besides, the imprisonment not being for treason, the escape by law could not be treason, but for conspiring with Perkin to raise sedition, and to destroy the King: and the earl confessing the indictment, had judgment, and was shortly after beheaded on Tower-hill.

This was also the end, not only of this noble and commiserable person Edward the earl of Warwick, eldest son to the duke of Clarence: but likewise of the line male of the Plantagenets, which had flourished in great royalty and renown, from the time of the famous King of England, King Henry the second. Howbeit it was a race often dipped in their own blood. It hath remained since only transplanted into other names, as well of the imperial line, as of other noble houses. But it was neither guilt of crime, nor treason of state, that could quench the envy that was upon the King for this execution: so that he thought good to export it out of the land, and to lay it upon his new ally, Ferdinando King of Spain. For these two Kings understanding one another at half a word, so it was that there were letters shewed out of Spain, whereby in the passages concerning the treaty of marriage, Ferdinando had written to the King in plain terms, that he saw no assurance of his succession, as long as the earl of Warwick lived; and that he was loth to send his daughter to troubles and dangers. But hereby, as the King did in some part remove the envy from himself; so he did not observe, that he did withal bring a kind of malediction and infausting upon the marriage, as an ill prognostic: which in event so far proved true, as both Prince Arthur enjoyed a very small time after the marriage, and the lady Catharine herself, a sad and a religious woman, long after, when King Henry the eighth his resolution of a divorce from her was first made known to her, used some words, that she had not offended, but it was a judgment of God, for that her former marriage was made in blood; meaning that of the earl of Warwick.

* The situation reminds of little Tsar Ivan VI in the 18th century, although that Russian prince was held from an even younger age, under even more oppressive conditions.

** Being only a figurehead, the pretend Warwick ironically enjoyed great mercy compared to the real one. Simnel was installed in Henry’s kitchens instead and lived out a comfortable life in the royal household.

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Entry Filed under: 15th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,England,Execution,History,Milestones,Power,Pretenders to the Throne,Public Executions,Royalty

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851: Saints Flora and Maria of Cordoba, militants

1 comment November 24th, 2019 Headsman

November 24, 851 was distinguished by the beheadings of Saints Flora and Maria of Cordoba.

These Christian denizens of Muslim Spain embraced their own martyrdoms by purposefully denouncing Islam before a Qadi. In Flora’s case, she qualified as an apostate by virtue of her Muslim father.

While in Cordoban prison being entreated by Islamic scholars to reconsider their path, they were admonished to militancy by another inmate, St. Eulogius, himself a future martyr in a like cause. Citing the example of courageous Biblical heroes like Esther, Elogius’s Exhortation to Martyrdom calls on the virgins not to shrink in the face of of their impending tribulations, even if they were to be threatened with rape.

Unfortunately we don’t have the voice of Flora and Maria, even at second-hand. Their actions certainly announce that they like Eulogius were not ecumenical where Islam was concerned. As Charles Tieszen notes in Christian Identity amid Islam in Medieval Spain Eulogius’s language in his confrontational epistle is determinedly martial, with much about arming oneself for battle with the enemy while calling Muhammad

“forerunner of the … possessed man, servant of Satan, full of lies and son of death and perpetual ruin.” Eulogius goes further, coupling his criticism of Islam and its Prophet with a condemnation of the wider Cordovan Christian community (nostra ecclesia), which in his opinion, approved of Islam by its silence. Accordingly, Flora and Maria must not recant upon their previous insults of Muhammad when they faced the qadi again. If they did, their recantations were to be equated with telling outright lies.

Likewise, any retreat by Flora and Maria was to be equated with Christians who remained silent when it came to passing judgment on Islam. In the end, Flora and Maria could do nothing but uphold their public decrials of Muhammad, for if they “… den[ied] having cursed their prophet, [they] will be cursed; and if [they] have not rejected what the Lord rejects, [they] will be guilty of double sin … And surely whomever we do not curse, on the contrary we bless, and whoever we do not reject, we admit in our fellowship as if we were befriending him.” Threats like these, as we have noted, were commonplace in martyrologies, especially texts that exhorted Christians to stay the course towards martyrdom. In the context of Muslim Cordova, it is difficult not to read the threats as a means for equating recanters with the enemy.

Eulogius lamented those Christians that so willingly accepted the presence of Muslims, their leadership, and their customs:

But we wretches, delighting in [Muslims’] crimes, rightfully condemn ourselves by the prophecies of the psalmist who says: “but they mingled with the gentiles and learned their works, they served their idols, and a scandal took place among them.” Oh, what agony, that we consider it a pleasure to be submitted to gentiles and we do not oppose carrying our yoke with the unfaithful. And thus, in our daily business, we participate in their sacrileges and desire their company more than, according to the example of Lot the patriarch, fleeing the territory of Sodom in order to save ourselves in the mountains.

The mid-9th century was an apogee of such militancy with a number of martyrs into the bargain … but the Christian community of Cordoba nevertheless remained submitted to the gentiles (pleasurably or otherwise) until 1236.

If a ready translation of the prelate’s text into English exists online I have not located it; flex your classical learning and peruse Documentum martyriale in Latin here or (adjacent a Danish translation) here.

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Entry Filed under: Al-Andalus,Arts and Literature,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Early Middle Ages,Execution,God,History,Martyrs,Religious Figures,Spain,Women

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1663: Volkmar Limprecht

Add comment November 20th, 2019 Headsman

Volkmar Limprecht, a pedagogue and city councilor of Erfurt in Thuringia, was beheaded on this date in 1663. Almost all the links in this post are in German.

“A Mephistophelian mixture of reckless egoistic ambition and restless energy, worldly agility, and unfettered frivolity,” our man Limprecht was a pedagogue turned demagogue who won election to the city council and briefly rode his acumen to control of the city and the absurd prospect of asserting leadership of the Electorate of Mainz.

The Elector, Johann Philipp von Schoenborn, dispatched an army to Erfurt to put it in its place, leading the city’s other grandees to overthrow Limprecht for self-preservation and have him condemned a traitor. He was beheaded the day after his sentence, and his head mounted on a spike as a gesture of submission to the Elector.

Google Books has digitized a public domain blackletter summary of the man’s fall here.

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Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Germany,History,Holy Roman Empire,Politicians,Power,Public Executions,Treason

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1925: Fritz Angerstein, crime without criminal

Add comment November 17th, 2019 Headsman

German spree killer Fritz Angerstein was beheaded on this date in 1925.

This tuberculotic managerial type (English Wikipedia entry | German) completes an infernal trinity of notorious mass murderers of Weimar Germany, along with Fritz Haarman and Peter Kürten.

He lived a life of moderate domestic angst, with a sickly wife Käthe whom he loved and who could not carry to term any of her six pregnancies with him; once they had contemplated committing suicide together but called it off; once (seemingly no more than that) Fritz had cheated on her, but he returned to his wife willingly and didn’t actually want to discard her. Things were frostier with the meddling mother-in-law and even known to come to blows, yet still little other than a bog-standard rocky in-law relationship.

By 1924 this family was mired in debt, living in a villa owned by the mining firm who had detected Angerstein’s peculation.

On the night of November 30 to December 1, 1924, as his wife lay coughing up blood, the man snapped and turned that company villa into a charnel house.

After wildly stabbing his wife to death with a hunting knife, Angerstein went downstairs to kill himself only to be interrupted in the act by a scream upstairs as his mother-in-law discovered her daughter’s corpse. He stalked upstairs and visited a like fate on that poor woman; when the family maid burst in, he chased her down the halls as she fled for the door of her attic chamber and hacked her down too.

In a home now with the stillness of the grave, Angerstein caught a few hours’ sleep to ready himself to continue the rampage in the morning.

His 18-year-old sister-in-law arrived overnight on a train: Angerstein butchered her with an axe. A clerk and a bookkeeper of the mining firm came later in the morning, reporting in for work: Anger axed them too. The gardener, the gardener’s assistant, even a german shepherd — all met the same fate.

One might anticipate that this slaughter would culminate in that suicide the man kept attempting but instead he gave himself some non-lethal stab wounds and attempted to set his house on fire, then summoned the police with a story about a deadly home raid by a gang of bandits. Forensics, and Angerstein’s own admissions, soon rubbished this cover story.

The out-of-nowhere senselessness of this bloodbath fascinated and perplexed observers who struggled over interpretations of the — the what? the criminal? the madman? the abyss of the modern soul? He had to be sure points of stress and provocation, ingredients that could plausibly suit the backstory of a monster, but they were also ingredients carried by numberless functionaries of state indistinguishable from Angerstein who were day by day merely quietly dissipating their pains in little hobbies or shabby love affairs, in career obsession, career neglect, alcoholism, cat-fancying, countryside rambles, newspaper perusal, games of darts down the pub, and all the million little ways that we little people pass our little days. That seemed to leave Angerstein’s own instance of these slings and arrows markedly insufficient for the extraordinary consequence, if the money troubles and ailing wife are really supposed to stand for cause. Why this explosion, from this guy, at this time? Surely it wasn’t merely because the hated mother-in-law had ruined the soup that night?

One prominent knight upon these lists was thinker-scribbler Siegfried Kracauer, who might be best-known to later generations as a film critic and a mentor of Adorno. In ruminations published as Tat ohne Täter: Der Mordfall Fritz Angerstein (Crime Without Criminal: The Murder Case of Fritz Angerstein), Kracauer decoded in Angerstein’s outrage the horror of relationships dehumanized, “become objectified, with emancipated things gaining power over people rather than people seizing hold of the things and humanizing them.” Small wonder, then that “the disfigured humanity that has been repressed into the deepest recesses of unconsciousness will reappear in hideous form in the world of things.” (Quoted in Cool Conduct: The Culture of Distance in Weimar Germany.)

A deed without a doer — that is the provocative, the incomprehensible aspect of the Angerstein case. The deed is inconceivable: an orgy of ax blows and arson. Intimidating in its mere magnitude, the crime bursts the bounds of customary statutes as only an elemental event can. It is impossible to do more than stare at it; it is not to be subsumed within existing categories. Nevertheless, there it is, an undeniable fact that, for well or ill, must be registered.

But where is the doer that belongs to the deed? Angerstein? The little, subordinate fellow with modest manners, a feeble voice, and a stunted imagination? … At bottom a mere petit bourgeois, Angerstein can be outfitted with a vicious appearance only in retrospect by overheated journalists. Had one encountered him prior to the crime on the street, one would have asked him for a light and quickly forgotten his features.

Even today, or today once again, he remains stubbornly at home in the narrow confines of inborn mediocrity. His behavior during the trial has been minimal in every respect. There have been no sudden eruption to help us chart a connection between the man and what he did, no outbursts to suggest a subterranean fiendishness, nor the kind of silence that would correspond to what happened. Instead, he has withdrawn into trivialities into a dull state of shock wholly incommensurate with its cause, a confused acceptance of what he himself does not understand.

Angerstein, in Professor Herbertz’s depiction of the events, did not commit the deed; the deed happened to him. Having transpired, it detached itself from him and now exists as a purely isolated fact for which there is no proper cause. It rose up out of nothing for the while of the murders, a dreadful “it” out there in space, unconnected with him. If the soup had not been burned — a triviality become a link in a chain of external causation — Angerstein’s victims would have gone on living and no one but his fellow citizens of Haiger would ever have heard his name. The crime looms gigantically over him; he disappears in its shadow.

In the winter of 1924, the event comes out of nowhere. Minor illegalities preceded it, a confusing swindle, no one knows how or why. Running amok, it seems that a physician’s attentions merely added to the burdens. His previously neatly bounded world was slipping through his fingers. The woman of his obsession draws him with her toward a longing for death, for an end to it all. He may have been thinking of suicide as he stabbed her — but why the frenzy with the hunting knife and the ax, why the senseless bashing of the skulls of uninvolved others? What sucked him, the minor administrator, for a night and a day into the cyclone of devastating violence?

Many details confirm the assumption that the quiet manager was caught unawares by some unknown something inside him. He admits that he himself cannot understand, cannot conceive, that the gigantic fact came out of him. His early attempts to deny it are ridiculously petit bourgeois. Now that he has acknowledged being the perpetrator, he gazes fixedly at what others designate his crime. His evasions from now on have to do with incidentals, his excuses with mere details. The actual misdeeds weigh on him like a block of lead he cannot cast off.

If he is conscious he flees into sleep, sleeping double the usual amount, because his memory wants to disappear. The fact outside there, which is undeniably related to him is completely overwhelming; he does not like to taste or feel it. Suicide is also beyond the bounds of his horizon, now narrowed to a point. His reading is the Bible, which perhaps brings him by way of detours into contact with his wife.

A deed without a doer that has nothing, but nothing, in common with those great crimes committed by people whose names live on in popular memory. Those crimes were manifestations of a will, however misguided; they were eruptions of unbridled natures, twisted minds, the expression of outsized drives and passions. They stemmed from a place in the guilty person, were not just there alongside him, existing inadequately in space.

The deeds that now go by the name of Angerstein lack a personal point of reference, without, however, that meaning that they were born of mental illness. That there is no sufficient reason for them in the consciousness of the doer is what turns them into a tormenting puzzle, what lends them the uncanny remove of mere facts. It may be that depth psychology is correct in claiming that they emerge to the light of day out of the craters of unconscious psychic life; it has not, however, solved the puzzle of how such a thing is possible.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Germany,Murder

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1951: Marcel Ythier, Andre Obrecht’s first

Add comment November 13th, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1951, Marcel Ythier lost his head as France gained a headsman.

Ythier escaped a life sentence at hard labor and fled to Aix-en-Provence to build a burglary career, which improved to a murder career when he shot dead the constable who surprised him in the act in May 1950.

Ythier’s was the first execution conducted by Andre Obrecht, nephew to the great head-chopper Anatole Deibler and the latter’s heir as France’s chief executioner. Indeed, Obrecht would be the last chief executioner in every sense but literally, carrying the title from 1951 to 1976, when he beheaded Christian Ranucci, the third-last fall of the guillotine. (Francophone specialists might go for Obrecht’s memoirs.)

Obrecht resigned the post a few weeks after Ranucci’s controversial death, leaving his own nephew (and longtime assistant executioner) Marcel Chevalier to write the illustrious profession‘s Gallic finale with the two last executions in French history.

Not to worry: the classic bourreau lives on as one of the jokers in Executed Today’s pack of custom playing cards.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,France,Guillotine,Murder

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1810: Metta Fock, embroiderer

Add comment November 7th, 2019 Headsman

Metta Fock was beheaded in Sweden on this date in 1810.

Fock (English Wikipedia entry | Swedish), daughter to the just-hanging-on lesser nobility, got her surname from an impecunious dullard of a sergeant with whom she shared a small farm in Västergötland. At least, she did until Johan Fock and two of her four children suddenly got violently ill and died within days of one another in 1802.

Well might one imagine the rumors that swirled around the widow Fock in these days; she was already suspected of having a lover, so the inference of a libidinous deployment of arsenic was nigh irresistible. She said her family had been stricken by a measles outbreak.

Her contemporaries were as uncertain of the conclusion as is posterity; she was thrown in Carlsten Fortress but spared a death verdict absent a confession — an unusual legal artifact at the time that might have permitted her to live out decades in a dungeon with sufficient obstinacy.

Although she finally buckled and made that confession — under who knows what extremes of misery and resignation; she vainly attempted to retract it later — the most evocative judgment has always been the manifesto of innocence that she embroidered onto 27 strips of linen in 1805, complaining of her unfair treatment. (More conventional writing instruments were being withheld from her.) It’s given Metta Fock a permanent purchase on later sympathies.

There’s a recent historical novel by Ann Rosman, Mercurium, which also casts Fock as a railroaded innocent.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Arts and Literature,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Murder,Sex,Sweden,Women,Wrongful Executions

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1849: Pierre Dudragne, avarice

Add comment November 5th, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1849, Pierre Dudragne was guillotined at Chalon-sur-Saone.

He’d done a doubly dirty deed, choking out the 85-year-old widow Marechal in the course of burgling her Montmort home … and then also murdering the old lady’s servant, Claudine Bray. No honor among thieves: Bray was Dudragne’s own lover and accomplice in the heist, and his motive was the firm preference not to split the boodle with her.

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

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