Posts filed under 'Milestones'

1865: Robert Cobb Kennedy, Confederate terrorist

Add comment March 25th, 2020 Headsman

Robert Cobb Kennedy, the last Confederate executed by the Union during the U.S. Civil War, was hanged on this date in 1865 as an arsonist.


Harper’s magazine illustration of an arsonist.

Kennedy, a West Point washout from a Louisiana plantation, was part of an ensemble of Confederate agents who attempted to torch New York City on November 25, 1864 — a mission designed to revenge Sherman’s march.

On that Friday evening, the night after Thanksgiving, the eight conspirators fired 13 Gotham hotels as well as theaters, public buildings, and the ludicrous museum of showman P.T. Barnum.* Nineteen fires were started overall, the plotters hoping that their simultaneous flaring would overwhelm the city’s capacity to respond and turn into a general conflagration. Through a combination of good luck, bad arson, and timely informants the various blazes were caught before they could do any real damage.

That couldn’t quite be said of the arsonists, who were all — even Kennedy — able to slip away safely to Canada before they could be caught. Kennedy risked a return trip through Detroit hoping to reach Confederate soil. He didn’t make it.

“Mr. Kennedy is a man of apparently 30 years of age, with an exceedingly unprepossessing countenance,” by the description of the New York Times (Feb. 28, 1865) as he stood trial before a military tribunal.

His head is well shaped, but his brow is lowering, his eyes deep sunken and his look unsteady. Evidently a keen-witted, desperate man, he combines the cunning and the enthusiasm of a fanatic, with the lack of moral principle characteristic of many Southern Hotspurs, whose former college experiences, and most recent hotel-burning plots are somewhat familiar to our readers. Kennedy is well connected at the South, is a relative, a nephew we believe, of Howell Cobb, and was educated at the expense of the United States, at West Point, where he remained two years, leaving at that partial period of study in consequence of mental or physical inability. While there he made the acquaintance of Ex. Brig. Gen. E.W. Stoughton, who courteously proffered his services as counsel for his ancient friend in his present needy hour. During Kennedy’s confinement here, while awaiting trial, he made sundry foolish admissions, wrote several letters which have told against him, and in general did, either intentionally or indiscreetly, many things, which seem to have rendered his conviction almost a matter of entire certainty.

He was hanged at Fort Lafayette, having admitted to setting the fire at Barnum’s museum (“simply a reckless joke … There was no fiendishness about it. The Museum was set on fire by merest accident, after I had been drinking, and just for the fun of a scare”). His was the only life claimed by the Confederate incendiaries.

* This facility was born under a bad star: although it survived the ministrations of Kennedy and friends, it burned to the ground the following July. Barnum put up a successor museum which also burned down, in 1868 — leading the man to pivot into the circus industry where he fixed his name in the firmament.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Arson,Capital Punishment,Confederates,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Milestones,New York,Terrorists,USA,Wartime Executions

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1542: Margaret Davy, poysoner

Add comment March 17th, 2020 Headsman

Seventeenth century Jurist John Brydall‘s “An abridgment of the lawes of England, touching treasons, rebellious murthers, conspiracies, burning of houses, poysonings, and other capital offences (1679):

Whether killing a man by poyson be more detestable, than by any other means?

To kill a man by poyson, sayes Coke, is the most detestable of all, because it is most horrible and fearful to the nature of man, and of all others can be least prevented, either by Manhood, or providence: This offence was so odious, that by Act of Parliament it was made High Treason, and it inflicted a more grievous and lingring death, than the common Law prescribed, viz. That the Offendor shall be boyled to death in hot water: upon which Statute Margaret Davy [or Davie, or Davey -ed.] a young woman was attainted of High Treason for poysoning her Mistress, and some others, was boyled to death in Smithfield the Seventeenth of March in the same year: But this Act was afterwards repealed by 1. E. 6. c. 12. and 1. Mar. c. 1.

This appears to be the last documented execution by boiling alive in English history. (The far better-known boiling of Richard Roose for attempting to poison John Fisher occurred 11 years earlier, during the run-up to Henry VIII’s marriage to Anne Boleyn.)

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Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Boiled,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Gruesome Methods,History,Milestones,Murder,Public Executions,Treason,Women

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1889: Jessie King, the last woman hanged in Edinburgh

Add comment March 11th, 2020 Headsman

Jessie King, the last woman executed in Edinburgh, was hanged on this date in 1889.

She was a practitioner of that distinctive late Victorian industry of baby farming: for a few pounds (literally just £2 to &pound5;) King adopted illegitimate children from pregnant working-class girls who couldn’t bear the financial or reputational cost of rearing them, with the promise of moving them on to loving homes that was often a reality of shuffling them off this mortal coil — either via neglect or outright homicide.

This particular operation was detected when some youths found a bundle where she’d hidden one such body, and a raid upon the apartment King shared with the much older Thomas Pearson revealed two more dead adoptees. Pearson, who could have easily been construed as the prime mover in this operation, was suffered to turn crown’s evidence, and save his own neck by stretching his lover’s. That wasn’t all she was up against in the courtroom: she also faced the adverse medical testimony of Dr. Joseph Bell, notable as the inspiration for the literary Sherlock Holmes character.

Contemporaries doubted King’s mental health, and she attempted suicide to cheat the hangman. Her Catholic confessor unsuccessfully appealed for clemency with the suggestion that she’d been steered into her crimes by the domineering Pearson.

To save Pearson she made the statement which has done her so much injury. She now declares that he in one of the cases did the deed and in the other two, he stood near directing and guiding her in the administration of the [whisky] …

It seems a more likely solution of this terrible crime that this hard-hearted man and unfaithful husband — an aged man! was there directing the unsteady and clumsy hand of a poor woman he had made his slave.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Abortion and Infanticide,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Milestones,Murder,Pelf,Scotland,Women

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1921: George Bailey, the first Englishman hanged by female jurors

Add comment March 2nd, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1921, George Bailey was hanged at Oxford Gaol for murder.

The milkman was grooming a young woman named Lillian Marks as a potential mistress which all came horribly to public light when Marks reported to police Bailey’s attempt to rape her. The ensuing investigation revealed that the creeper had gone so far as to poison to death his 22-year-old wife to disencumber himself in anticipation of trading up to his prospective paramour. When arrested at a train station he had more doses of prussic acid as well as a suicide letter/confession.

This open-and-shut homicide tried at Aylesbury in January 1921 was distinguished as the first capital trial with women in the jury pool. Maud Stevenson, Annie White and Matilda Tack were the subject of intense — often cringe — attention by Fleet Street for their novelty: only on July 28, 1920 did the UK swear in its first female juror. In Bailey’s case, there was at least one instance of a barrister attempting to bowdlerize some sordid detail on account of the tender sentiments of the lady-jurors, only to be reprimanded by the judge. When free to speak after the case, the women made a point of insisting that nothing about the ordeal of the jurybox taxed the capacities of women, even in a death case.

This march into the courtrooms was part of a broad social advance by women in the train of the Great War, highlighted by suffrage (1918) and opening professional jobs regardless of gender and marital status (1919).

Other advances in the courtroom would follow, albeit glacially. According to friend of the site (and guest blogger) Robert Walsh,

Not until 1950 did a woman appear as lead counsel. That was Rose Heilbron whose client George Kelly was executed in 1950 only to be exonerated decades later. It wasn’t until 1962 that the first female judge appeared, Elizabeth Lane joining the County Court. It took until 1972 for a female judge to preside at the Old Bailey in London, Rose Heilbron again blazing the trail. Bailey and his case are scarcely remembered today, but are legal landmarks nonetheless.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,History,Milestones,Murder,Rape,Sex

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Feast Day of St. Polycarp of Smyrna

1 comment February 23rd, 2020 Headsman

Second-century Christian bishop and martyr St. Polycarp of Smyrna has his feast day on February 23. Be sure to shout supplications loudly, as he’s the patron for earaches.

Reputedly inducted into the mysteries by the Apostle John himself in the late first century, Polycarp was a consequential clergyman in the early church and a living link between the early church fathers and the literal companions of Christ.

As the bishop of the Christian community in Smyrna — these days it’s the Turkish city of Izmir; pilgrims can visit a cave where Polycarp was supposedly tortured, but the ruins of the old Roman amphitheater where he was martyred have been buried by urban development — he’s credited with an important epistle to the Philippians.* Likewise, he’s the addressee of the Epistle of Ignatius to the Smyrnaeans (c. 110).**

Less pleasantly, a mid-second century century document titled Martyrdom of Polycarp is the earliest account of a Christian martyrdom outside the of actual scripture, and unsurprisingly casts its subject in a bold and eloquent mold.

On his being led to the tribunal, there was immense clamour at the news that Polycarp had been apprehended. At last, when he was brought near, the Proconsul asked him, if he were Polycarp; and, on his acknowledging it, he began to persuade him to deny the faith, saying, “Compassionate thine years;” and other similar expressions, which it is their wont to use. “Swear by the fortune of Caesar; think better of the matter; say, Away with the godless men.” But Polycarp regarded with a sad countenance the whole multitude of lawless heathen in the theatre; and waving his hand towards them, groaned, and looking up to Heaven said, “Away with the godless men.” And when the Governor urged him further, and said, “Swear, and I will dismiss thee; revile Christ;” Polycarp replied; “Eighty and six years have I been his servant, and he hath wronged me in nothing, and how can I blaspheme my King and my Saviour.” And on his pressing him again, saying, “Swear by the fortune of Caesar,” Polycarp replied; “If ye vainly suppose that I shall swear by Caesar’s fortune, as ye call it, pretending to be ignorant of my real character, let me tell you plainly, I am a Christian; and if ye wish to hear the Christian doctrine, appoint me a time, and hear me.” The Proconsul answered, “Persuade the people.” Polycarp replied, “To you I thought it right to give account, for we have been taught to give to rulers and the powers ordained of God such fitting honour as hurteth not our souls; but them I deem not worthy, that I should defend myself before them.” The Proconsul said unto him, “I have wild beasts in readiness, to them will I throw thee, if thou wilt not change thy mind.” But he said, “Bring them forth then, for the change of mind from better to worse I will never make. From cruelty to righteousness it were good to change.” Again he said unto him, “I will have thee consumed by fire, since thou despisest the wild beasts, except thou change thy mind.” Polycarp answered; “Thou threatenest me with a fire that burneth for an hour, and is speedily quenched; for thou knowest not of the fire of future judgment and eternal punishment reserved for the ungodly. But why tarriest thou? Bring what thou wilt.” (an 1833 translation)

* Prevailing scholarship holds Polycarp’s epistle to the Philippians to be a concatenation of two distinct epistles.

** Polycarp probably appreciated that this letter featured sections admonishing congregants “Let nothing be done without the bishop” and “Honour the bishop”.

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Entry Filed under: Ancient,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,God,History,Martyrs,Milestones,Public Executions,Put to the Sword,Religious Figures,Roman Empire,Torture,Turkey,Uncertain Dates

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1935: Benita von Falkenhayn and Renate von Natzmer, Germany’s last beheadings by axe

Add comment February 18th, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1935, Germany conducted its last axe-beheadings.

The axees were impecunious noblewomen Benita von Falkenhayn (English Wikipedia entry | German) and Renate von Natzmer (English | German), spies for Poland recruited via society love affairs with Polish envoy Jerzy Sosnowski.*


Benita von Falkenhayn (left) and Renate von Natzmer.

At 6:00 a.m. on February 18th, Benita von Falkenhayn was brought in a state of near-collapse to a courtyard of Berlin’s Plötzensee Prison. There a red-clad prosecutor read out her condemnation espionage and treason and gave her over to longtime Prussian headsman Carl Gröpler.** The old Scharfrichter bent van Falkenhayn over a rude block and crashed his heavy blade cleanly through her neck, dropping her head into a basket. After a hurried clean-up, they repeated the same ritual for Renate von Natzmer.

The Reich had within living memory to folks of Herr Gröpler’s age still remained a quiltwork confederation of small states; one artifact of its unification was penal codes that used beheading for executions yet no further specificity on the manner of beheading. The most usual means was the fallbeil, a small guillotine, but it was ultimately a matter for the jurisdiction where the sentencing took place — and antiquated manual cleavers were still sometimes deployed by the state of Prussia, which included Berlin.

In October 1936, Nazi Justice Minister Franz Gürtner successfully prevailed upon Adolf Hitler to codify the fallbeil as the explicit means of beheading throughout the Reich, putting an end to the archaic reliance on Gröpler’s brawn and aim.

* Sosnowski was released back to Poland in a prisoner exchange and there tried for treason on grounds of getting too friendly with Germany. After the 1939 invasion of Poland by the Third Reich and the USSR, he appears to have come into Soviet custody and pressed into cooperation; various reports have him thereafter dying in custody, being executed by the NKVD, or returning to the field and dying in action or after capture by the Polish Home Army.

** Four days shy of his 67th birthday at this moment, Gröpler was coming into a pension windfall courtesy of the Third Reich’s liberal expansion of capital punishment. He retired in 1937 with 144 documented executions to his name; he died in Soviet custody in January 1946.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Espionage,Execution,Germany,History,Milestones,Nobility,Prussia,Spies,Treason,Women

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1819: Pierre Charles Rodolphe Foulard, Henry-Clement Sanson’s first execution

Add comment February 17th, 2020 Henry-Clement Sanson

(Thanks to Henry-Clement Sanson for the guest post. The former executioner — the last of his illustrious dynasty comprising six generations of bourreaux — was the grandson of that dread figure of the Paris Terror, Charles Henri Sanson. Henry-Clement’s Memoirs of the Sansons: From Private Notes and Documents (1688-1847) describes some famous or infamous executions from the family annals. We have observed in previous Sanson “guest posts” that his annals merit caution as pertains to the adventures of his forefathers; in this instance, however, he communicates — albeit in dramatized form, through an interlocutor ghost-writer — his firsthand recollection of his own debut. -ed.)

MY FIRST EXECUTION.

The first year of my marriage was calm and peaceable. I had every reason to be happy. Thanks to the cares of my good mother, we had very little to think of beyond our pleasures and comforts. My young wife was as cheerful and kind as she was pretty, and our union promised to be one of undisturbed harmony.

My father made no allusion to my promise to take his office;* but that promise was constantly in my mind; it was the only thought that clouded my happiness. Sometimes I looked with sadness at my young partner, thinking that a time should come for her to assume in her turn the title of Madame de Paris. The fulfilment of my pledge was even nearer at hand than I expected. My father was taken ill in the middle of the winter of 1819, and he was laid up for two months. His constant preoccupation during his illness was a sentence of death passed by the assize court of the Seine on a soldier of the Royal Guard, Pierre Charles Rodolphe Foulard, who had murdered two unfortunate women, to steal a watch and a pair of earrings. Foulard was barely twenty years of age, but his crime was so atrocious that there was no hope of a reprieve for him. Foulard’s case, however, had still to pass before the Court of Revision; but my father felt that his health would not permit him to superintend the execution. He was thinking of appealing to one of his provincial colleagues. This was rather awkward, as it was well known that I was to be my father’s successor, and the judicial authorities might well inquire why I did not act as his substitute. Since my marriage I had made a point of following my father in the few executions that had occurred, but I had taken no active part in them. I may add that my father’s part was hardly more active than mine; he had said the truth when he told me that almost everything was done by the assistants, and that the executioner only superintended what his servants did.

The time came for Foulard’s execution; it came sooner than my father expected, so that he was unable to secure some one else’s services. He was much better, but certainly not well enough to resume his duties; and my conscience smote me when he expressed his determination to risk his health, perhaps his life, and execute Foulard. I said to myself that, since I must begin, I had better begin at once, and I proposed to my father to take his place.

He gladly acquiesced, and gave me all the necessary instructions; he also pointed out two assistants on whose zeal I could especially rely; and finally I was assured that my attendance at the execution was little more than a formality. The assistants entered my father’s room just as I was leaving it, and he made them a short speech in which he urged them to afford me their best help and protection.

I was very nervous and frightened; nevertheless, I strictly acted upon the instructions furnished to me, and I gave the necessary directions to the carpenters. As night came on, my discomfort increased. I could scarcely eat any dinner. Fortunately my father was in his room, otherwise he might have insisted on doing the work himself My mother and my wife were as uneasy as I was, but they abstained from making any observation on the matter. After dinner I retired to my room, and passed one of the worst nights of my life. When I got up next morning I was feverish and tired. The assistants were waiting for me in the courtyard. My father had ordered out his carriage for me, and with my new servants I silently proceeded to the Conciergerie. The horses went slowly enough, yet the journey seemed to me fearfully short.

It was yet dark when we entered that dismal prison. My assistants followed me at a short distance. I thought I saw an expression of disdain on the faces of the turnkeys and prison officials. I was in no humour to brook the contempt of men whose position, after all, did not much differ from mine. I assumed a sharp and imperative tone calculated to make them understand that I was not to be imposed upon, and ordered the head gaoler to hand us over the culprit. He led us into a low-ceilinged hall, where Foulard shortly after appeared, accompanied by the worthy Abbe Montes, a priest whose friendship I afterwards acquired. Foulard’s consternation struck me. The unfortunate boy was under age;** had his father left him the smallest sum of money he could not have touched it; nevertheless he was considered responsible. This appeared to me iniquitous, the more so as I was only a year older than he. Foulard was a tall and handsome fellow, and his face betrayed no signs of the perversity he had shown in the perpetration of his horrible deed.

Fauconnier, my chief assistant, saw I was flurried; he came forward and told Foulard to sit down. When the young man’s hair was cut, we got into the cart: the Abbe Montes and Foulard were behind us, and I stood in front with my two assistants.† The almoner of the Conciergerie doubtless perceived that I required encouragement and support as well as the man whose life I was going to take, for he spoke to me with much kindness: “I see, sir, that you are now attending to your father’s duties. Such missions as yours demand no small amount of courage. We are invested with duties which in some degree are akin: you represent the justice of men, I represent the mercy of God. You may be assured of my good disposition towards you, and of my readiness to assist you whenever it is in my power.”

I could not find a single word to answer, although I felt intensely grateful to the Abbe Montes for his kindness. Foulard was taciturn, but when we reached the quay he became very excited, and cried out in a loud voice:

Fathers and mothers! behold the consequences of neglect of one’s children! I am guilty, but my parents are responsible for my crime, for they gave me neither advice nor education.

We reached the Place de Greve. The guillotine raised her two red arms, and the pale rays of a winter sun were reflected by the polished steel of the knife. A great many people were looking on. Foulard embraced the priest, and looked round before ascending the steps. In the first rank of the soldiers who surrounded the guillotine he saw a sergeant of his company. “Come to me, my old comrade,” he cried to him, “and let me bid you farewell.” The old soldier did not hesitate; he came forward and embraced the dying man. Foulard was very excited. He suddenly turned to me: “Let me embrace you too,” he said, “if only to show that I forgive everybody.” This, I confess, gave me a fearful blow. I stepped back. I really think that if the unfortunate man had embraced me I could not have given the signal for his death.

But even in this I am mistaken; this signal I did not give. My assistants saw my movement of retreat and understood the peril. They pushed Foulard up the steps. In less time than I take to write it he was strapped down and his head fell. I looked stupidly at the bloody scene. I saw one of the assistants pushing the headless trunk into a basket, while another was sponging the blood which had spurted on the scaffold.

I was seized with irresistible terror, and I ran away as fast as my legs could carry me. I wandered about town hardly knowing what I was about. I thought people were following and hooting me. It was only when I found myself at Neuilly that I recovered, and even then my conscience smote me bitterly. At last I made up my mind. I had crossed the line, there was no help for it; I had, as it were, passed my examination of executioner, and I could not return on my steps. I went home subdued, if not comforted, and I found some relief in the thought that the first step was made, and the first bitterness had passed.


Shinichi Sakamoto: The Sansons in tragic manga.

* Narrated by the author in the preceding chapter, in which he solicits an interview with his father for the twofold purpose of announcing that “I have thought the matter over for the last two years, and I have now to express my resolve to select no other profession than yours” and also soliciting the old fella’s permission to marry his sweetheart. (Dad approved both of these questionable decisions.)

** The age of majority was 21; it had been lowered during the Revolution from its ancien regime threshold of 25 — a blow against the prolonged authority of a family’s patriarch. (See Suzann Desan, The Family on Trial in Revolutionary France.) This is distinct from marriageable age, which had been increased by revolutionaries from 12 or 14 (for girls or boys, respectively) to 15 or 18. In today’s France all these ages — full legal adulthood, and marriageability — have converged at 18, regardless of gender.

† Sanson himself has a footnote here, noting a deviation from the traditional arrangement of passengers on the fatal cart with a defensiveness that suggests he got some stick about it: “Until then my father and grandfather had occupied a back seat beside the priest, and assigned a front place to the culprit. I was the first to alter this custom. My object was to leave the culprit with his last friend, the priest. I hope this does not appear childish. I acted with the best intention, and I believe I acted rightly.”

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,France,Guest Writers,Guillotine,History,Milestones,Murder,Other Voices,Public Executions,Theft

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1879: Anders Larsson, the first private execution in Sweden

Add comment February 13th, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1879, Sweden conducted its first private execution, that of Anders Larsson.

Executioner Johan Fredrik Hjort.

Deep in the 19th century’s Long Depression, the farmer had murdered his pregnant wife in despair at providing for the whole family.

This positioned him to become the first* subject of an 1877 royal decree moving Sweden’s beheadings behind prison walls. The time and the location of the execution were also supposed to be concealed from the public — announced only after the fact, like present-day hangings in Japan — but in this instance word got around and the walls of Västerås county jail were thronged with would-be gawkers.

* There’s a complete list of modern Swedish executions here.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Milestones,Murder,Sweden

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1889: Louisa Collins, the last woman hanged in New South Wales

Add comment January 8th, 2020 Headsman

The last woman hanged in New South Wales, Australia was the “Botany Murderess” Louisa Collins, on this date in 1889.

A transport convict’s daughter from near Merriwa, Collins was accused in the courts and the common run of opinion of murdering both her husbands with arsenic — first Charles Andrews, 13 years her senior and father to nine of her 10 children* — and then Michael Collins, the lover with whom she scandalously fell into bed while husband’s body was still warm, and indeed before: desperate to relieve the financial pressure of their large family, Charles and Louisa had taken in boarders, of whom Michael Collins was one — at least until Charles threw him out for getting too familiar with the lady of the house.

The fact that this adulterous couple immediately shacked up (and, as our principal’s surname will have signaled, shortly thereafter wed) after a stomach ailment felled the husband set tongues a-wag and eyebrows a-cock. The subsequent death of Michael and Louisa’s only child together,** and then of Michael himself, could not but appear confirmation of the very worst.

Although accused, she was only convicted once over the course of four trials.

Where murder is concerned, any one will do for the law no matter the conviction ratio. But the chain obviously smacks of an unseemly jury-shopping, facilitated by the first three panels’ failure to reach any verdict rather than acquit outright and cinched by the Crown’s convincing the court to admit at her last trial previously-barred testimony.

The hard evidence remained stubbornly circumstantial as usual with arsenic cases: her paramour and an insurance policy on her husband supplied a motive that was positive but far from dispositive, and the alleged means was nothing more than a commercial pest controller called Rough On Rats whose presence in the house would have incriminated half of Australia.† (Arsenic was also used in the sheepskin tanning industry where both of Louisa’s late men sweated their daily bread.) Neighbors fleshed out these bare bones with eye-of-the-beholder judgments against Louisa’s comportment, such as the insufficient-mourning canard that’s still a staple of wrongful convictions.

Moreover, Louisa Collins’s case became enmeshed in the era’s web of gender politics: the campaign soliciting clemency on grounds of femininity overlapped but also contradicted the simultaneous campaign for women’s suffrage, goring oxes left and right.

That gore still spatters latter-day observers of this still-fascinating affair, who in recent years have enjoyed two different volumes illuminating the respective silhouette-halves that Louisa Collins presents posterity: a woman railroaded (Last Woman Hanged, by Caroline Overington (author interview)); and, cold-blooded murderess (Black Widow: The true story of Australia’s first female serial killer, by Carol Baxter (author interview)). There’s also a recent historical novel, The Killing Of Louisa, by Janet Lee (author interiew).

Two things that all parties can agree on: first, that her quadruple prosecution makes for a troubling legal spectacle — “a collusion between the prosecution and the state and the judiciary to keep her going to trial until the desired result,” as Baxter put it; and second, that Collins’s eventual hanging at Darlinghurst was a ghastly botch. The next day’s Sydney Morning Herald reported how

The executioner signalled to his assistant to pull the lever, but the handle refused to move. It could be seen that pressure was applied, and also that the pin which held the handle in its place was fast in its slot. The assistant endeavoured to remove the pin, but failed, and in a few seconds a mallet was used. Four or five blows were applied Mrs Collins meanwhile standing perfectly upright and motionless-before the pin gave way.

The delay caused could not have been short of one minute, when the lever moved and the body fell through in a slightly curved position. After one swing to the side and in a moment it was suspended perpendicularly, with the face towards the yard. There was a slight spurt of blood, followed by a thin stream which ran down the dress and spotted the floor beneath. Nearer examination showed that the strain of the drop had so far opened the neck as to completely sever the windpipe, and that the body was hanging by the vertebra. Slowly the body turned round on the rope until the front part faced the doorway, and there it remained stationary until lowered by the executioner on to a wicker bier. Death was instantaneous. After hanging for 20 minutes the corpse was conveyed to the inquest room, and again given over to the female warders.


Poor service: hangman Robert Rice Howard, aka “Nosey Bob” after a distinctive disfigurement of that appendage courtesy of a horse’s backheel.

* Seven of these nine children by Charles Andrews survived infancy. At the time of the alleged murders, five of these children still shared the house with their parents.

** The possible murder of the infant Collins child wasn’t on Louisa’s charge sheet but remains an understandable suspicion.

† As a brand name for arsenic, Rough On Rats became a ready resource for numerous aspiring suicides and homicides.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Australia,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Milestones,Murder,Women,Wrongful Executions

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1829: Thomas Maynard, the last hanged for forgery

Add comment December 31st, 2019 Headsman

The last day of the 1820s marked the last hanging for forgery in Great Britain: that of Thomas Maynard, at London’s Newgate Prison.

Maynard was charged with two other men* for forging an order of His Majesty’s Customs to pay them £1,973. They got the money and for a few months had that blessed relief from the weight of penury and debt; one of the numerous witnesses in their case described how one of Maynard’s confederates “was in difficulties in the year 1828 … I saw him in June last, when he told me his wife had 700l.”

It must have been nice, but they weren’t quite quick enough about executing their plan to sail for America.

Although the sovereign himself was the victim in this instance, British juries had grown ever more reluctant in the early 19th century to impose capital punishment for faking a document to non-violently steal some money — although there were still 218 such executions over the first 30 years of the century.

The availability of the death penalty for such a deed was repealed in 1832.

* Joseph West, who was acquitted, and Richard Jones, who was convicted only as an accessory and transported to Australia.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Counterfeiting,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,Milestones,Pelf,Public Executions

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Execution Playing Cards

Exclusively available on this site: our one-of-a-kind custom playing card deck.

Every card features a historical execution from England, France, Germany, or Russia!