Posts filed under 'Milestones'

1547: Jan Olivetsky, Moravian publisher

Add comment September 20th, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1547, the anti-Catholic publisher Jan Olivetsky was beheaded in the town square of Olomouc. Links in this post are predominantly Czech.

Part of a whole family of pioneers in early Bohemian and Moravian printing — his father Pavel stamped out the first printed editions of Jan Hus‘s writings in Czech — Jan skirted even closer to the lines proscribing subversive and heretical propaganda. Too close.

Jan set up shop a couple miles down the road from Olomouc in Drozdovice where — in addition to ponderous legal compendiums and popular folk stories that comprised his daily bread — he dared to run the presses for a variety of Lutheran sermons and manifestos against the pope.

The outbreak of, and the decisive Catholic triumph in, the Schmalkaldic War of 1546-1547 came a sharp imperial crackdown on this sects trafficking.

He’s regarded as the protomartyr among Moravian publishers, a professional distinction rather than a confessional one.

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Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Austria,Beheaded,Businessmen,Capital Punishment,Czechoslovakia,Death Penalty,Execution,God,Habsburg Realm,History,Holy Roman Empire,Martyrs,Milestones,Power,Public Executions,Religious Figures

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1829: Helena Katarina Löv

Add comment September 19th, 2020 Headsman

Helena Katarina Löv was beheaded with an ax on this date in 1829 at Skanstull — now just a part of Stockholm but at the time, the city’s southerly toll gate and a traditional execution site — for murdering her master’s children.

Löv was not the last woman executed in Sweden, but she does have the distinction of being the last woman publicly executed. (Executions were moved behind prison walls in the 1870s, so we have some photos of the last public beheadings.) She was also the last Swede, man or woman, whose body was burned at the stake after decapitation.

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

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1927: Pascual Ramos, the last execution in Puerto Rico

Add comment September 15th, 2020 Headsman

The last hanging in Puerto Rico history took place on this date in 1927.

Like most such instances, it was more remarkable as a milestone than as a crime. Pascual Ramos, piqued that he’d been fired from a night watchman job upon his boss’s accusation of theft, revenged himself upon that man:

According to eye witness accounts, on December 23, 1926, Pascual Ramos went to the Hacienda Sabater and “[n]ervously … circled the oxcart where Rosso was working. He stalked his prey for forty minutes, waiting for the proper moment to strike the mortal blow.” Those present were unaware of [Carlos] Ramos’ “fierce intentions” and, because of this “unfortunate circumstance, Pascual [Ramos] was able to close in reepeatedly, machete in hand, where Carlos Rosso was working.” Ramos tarried, “waiting for the moment in which Rosso was more exposed so as not to miss and make the blow more effective” …

The “lethal instant came” when Rosso kneeled to unscrew the wooden slab usually placed below an oxcart to keep it horizontal, lightened the load for the oxen while the cart was at rest. As Rosso “lowered his head” Ramos, “with the agility fo a beast, with the speed of a lightning bolt, lifted the weapon and let it fall with all his strength” in the center of Rosso’s neck, “miraculously not completely severing it … The head was left dangling from a thin muscle and, as Rosso’s body fell, lifeless, it resembled a heap of human flesh”.

Twenty-seven people were executed in Puerto Rico under American auspices, after the U.S. seized the territory during the Spanish-American War — including at least five via the holdover Spanish execution method of garroting.

The Puerto Rico legislature abolished the death penalty in 1929, and that prohibition was enshrined in the island-territory’s constitution in 1952. (Article 2, Section 7: “The right to life, liberty and the enjoyment of property is recognized as a fundamental right of man. The death penalty shall not exist.”)

The death penalty remains broadly unpopular in Puerto Rico, and the fact that one of the most prominent recent wrongful conviction cases on the mainland involved a Puerto Rican man, Juan Melendez, surely does the executioner’s standing no further favors. U.S. federal death penalty prosecutions there have a tough row to hoe.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,Milestones,Murder,Occupation and Colonialism,Puerto Rico,USA

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2012: Nine in Gambia

Add comment August 23rd, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 2012, the small west African country of Gambia suddenly shot nine.

Effectively abolitionist, Gambia had not exercised capital punishment since 1981, when an attempted coup led to one (1) execution.

But it did have a (seemingly) latent death row of close to 50 souls* and in August 2012 autocratic president Yahya Jammeh used that stockpile to suddenly break the death penalty moratorium with a shock mass execution.

Those executed included one woman, at least two Senegalese nationals, and several soldiers involved in anti-Jammeh mutinies. The nine were identified as

  • Dawda Bojang
  • Malang Sonko
  • Lamin Jarjou
  • Alieu Bah
  • Lamin F. Jammeh
  • Buba YarboeLamin B.S Darboe
  • Gebe Bah (Senegalese)
  • Tabara Samba (Senegalese, female)

As might be expected for such an impetuous deed, several of these individuals so suddenly killed were not even at the end of their legal journeys through the state’s regular channels. Buba Yarboe’s family had been fighting for recognition of his mental illness as a mitigating condition; Yarboe and Malang Sonko both had judicial appeals remaining that had not yet been heard; Lamin Darboe’s sentence had been irregularly vacated and then reinstated. No matter.

Jammeh backed off his threats of follow-up executions to purge the entirety of its death row, and Gambia has conducted no further executions since that one dark day. His successor Adama Barrow officially re-imposed a moratorium and in 2019 commuted all remaining death sentences with an avowed intention to abolish capital punishment altogether.

* Reports on the size of Gambia’s death row at this time varied. The UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions named 39 still-living condemned individuals in a letter to President Jammeh days after the nine were killed.

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Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Gambia,Mass Executions,Milestones,Murder,Mutiny,Shot,Soldiers,Women,Wrongful Executions

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1872: John Kewish, the last to hang on the Isle of Man

Add comment August 1st, 2020 Headsman

This 2004 episode from Manx Radio gives us the story of John Kewish, hanged on this date in 1872 for killing his father with a pitchfork. Kewish is the last person ever executed on the Isle of Man — indeed even at his own time such a punishment was so passe that the local gallows-makers were vexed by the contract.

Interestingly, because this Irish Sea island is a crown dependency rather than a part of the United Kingdom proper, capital punishment did not end on the Isle of Man when Westminster abolished in the 1960s. Death sentences continued to be handed down there until 1992, and thus it is that a Manx judge holds the distinction of being the last person in the British Isles to pronounce a death sentence from the bench, and a Manx criminal that of being the last to hear it. (Such latter-day sentences were always commuted by Queen Elizabeth II’s royal prerogative.)

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,History,Isle of Man,Milestones,Murder

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1999: Anthony Briggs, last(?) in Trinidad and Tobago

Add comment July 28th, 2020 Headsman

The most recent execution in Trinidad and Tobago occurred on this date in 1999.

A month after the much higher-profile hangings of crime boss Dole Chadee and eight of his associates, the far more mundane criminal Anthony Briggs was executed for murdering a taxi driver.

We’d hesitate to call this the last execution in Trinidad and Tobago. That Caribbean country has continued handing down death sentences and resuming executions has intermittently been a hot-button political issue; it’s perhaps largely because its prisoners submit appeals to the Judiciary Committee of the Privy Council in Westminster that executions never actually go forward. Should the dam ever break, however, Trinidad and Tobago boasts the second-largest death row in the Americas, after the United States.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,Milestones,Murder,Trinidad and Tobago

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1986: Kevin Barlow and Brian Chambers, Dadah is Death

Add comment July 7th, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1986, Malaysia hanged Australian nationals Brian Chambers and Kevin Barlow for trafficking heroin.

The two men were nabbed together at the Penang island airport with 179 grams of heroin in their packs. While Chambers was an experienced drug courier, Barlow was a rookie; reportedly, his visible nervousness in the airport gave the game away. (He had also refused out of revulsion to pack the product into his stomach or anus.)

Although the amount they carried far exceeded Malaysia’s then-brand-new 15-gram threshold for an automatic death sentence, “Westerners” so-called had never yet actually been hanged there. The two were initially sanguine about their situation, expecting a mixture of bribes and diplomatic logrolling to do the trick.

Over the 20 months between arrest and their July 1985 trial, they realized their true predicament.

According to Bruce Dover, who covered their trial for Australia’s Herald Sun, “They turned on each other. The parents and family members who Barlow and Chambers had early agreed to ‘keep out of it’ now watched on helplessly from the court gallery, as each man tried to implicate the other in a desperate gambit that at best would send one man to the gallows while the other walked free … [and] in their efforts to save themselves, each had condemned the other to die.” In Dover’s estimation, the very best they could have hoped to achieve was to have one man shoulder the blame to save the other.

International appeals from all the usual suspects — Australia Prime Minister Bob Hawke, the Pope, various human rights organizations, and even Margaret Thatcher (because Barlow was a British-born dual citizen) — failed to move the Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad. If anything, the clamor only strengthened the domestic political imperative to advertise Malaysian resolve in a high-profile case against the special pleading of foreign busybodies.*

“Like many people of European descent, they [Barlow and Chambers] have assumed that a white skin was protection against local laws,” a Kuala Lumpur newspaper editorialized. “That is also the unspoken assumption among many in the foreign media who are now in this country. The two men should be hanged.”

They were.

A 1988 Australian television film about the Barlow and Chambers case, Dadah Is Death — “dadah” being the Malaysian word for drugs — is a star-studded affair, featuring Julie Christie on the marquee as Kevin Barlow’s mother in her fight to save her son, opposite appearances by then-little-known youngsters Hugo Weaving, Sarah Jessica Parker, and John Polson.

* A similar script played out in neighboring Singapore with a Dutch smuggler a few years later.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Arts and Literature,Australia,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Drugs,Execution,Hanged,History,Malaysia,Milestones

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1961: Edwin Bush, Identikitted

Add comment July 6th, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1961, Edwin Bush was hanged at Pentonville Prison. On March 3 of that same year, he’d stabbed to death an assistant at a Loondon antiques shop just off Charing Cross, using a pair of antique daggers from the shop’s own stock. (The scene of this long-ago crime is presently a bookstore.)


The Identikit sketch, and the actual photo, of the culprit.

Although a small-time criminal, Bush was an important milestone in the evolution of the panopticon.

Poor Elsie May Batten had been attacked early in the morning, and nobody witnessed the crime. The killer/robber (he stole a sword that he later sold for 15 quid — nothing else) hadn’t left behind any usable physical clues.

“It could have taken weeks to identify the culprit,” notes this MyLondon.News profile, “but luckily a change in police technology would be of great assistance.” This new system, called Identikit,

used a standardised set of facial features to help a witness build a more accurate picture of a suspect.

In shop owner Louis Meier’s interview, Identikit was used to build a picture of the suspicious man who had gone into the shop the day before Elsie’s killing to admire the sword.

Another witness, who had seen a man and his blond girlfriend try to sell a sword on St Martin’s Lane that very same day, also did the Identikit procedure. Two facial likeness from two different witnesses were unmistakably the same man — and they were printed in the local newspapers asking people if they had seen a man looking like this and his blond girlfriend.

Janet Wheeler, the 17-year-old blond girlfriend of Bush, saw the Identikit and joked about how they fitted the description, unaware of what her boyfriend had done.

But Eddie couldn’t count on such naivete from Londoners who weren’t his girlfriend. An eagle-eyed beat cop recognized Bush from the same wanted pictures and arrested him on March 16, just steps away from the antiquarian. He was with Janet, shopping together for engagement rings. Once they had him, fingerprints, lineup identifications, and eventually a confession all fell into place.

What’s been left unspoken thus far is the story’s racial character, but that factor permeates everything. Edwin Bush’s mixed Asian-white parentage helped consign him to the periphery of London’s economic life, his unusual look possibly helped cinch the surveillance triumph for Identikit … and if Bush is to be believed, it was everyday racism that triggered his crime.

Provoked, he said, when he visited the store just to browse for the second consecutive day only to have Batten drop a racial slur on him (“You niggers are all the same. You come in and never buy anything.”), Bush

went back to the shop and started looking through the daggers, telling her that I might want to buy one, but I picked one up and hit her in the back. I then lost my nerve and picked up a stone vase and hit her with it. I grabbed a knife and hit her once in the stomach and once in the neck.

Of course, only Bush and Batten were present for their conversation, and it must be acknowledged that when Bush made this allegation about his victim, he needed to give the courts reason to mitigate his sentence.

You can hear all about the case on your run or commute in episode 7 of the Murder Mile UK crime podcast.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,England,Execution,Hanged,History,Milestones,Murder,Notable Sleuthing,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Theft

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1945: Harold Pringle, the last Canadian military execution

Add comment July 5th, 2020 Headsman

The only Canadian soldier to be executed during (… actually well after!) World War II, Harold Pringle, caught a fusillade in Italy on this date in 1945.

A 16-year-old — he fibbed about his age — enlistee from small-town Ontario, Pringle joined the Hastings and Prince Edward Regiment.

Pringle and a mate in the Hasty P’s name of “Lucky” MacGillivray linked up with some British deserters to form a black market outfit in conquered Rome. The “Sailor Gang”* enjoyed several weeks of picaresque living in the lawless city. Unsurprisingly, as Allied military authorities got control of the place they were eager to make examples of these minor gangsters. (Major gangsters were a different matter.)

The shooting death of that mate MacGillivray gave military prosecutors the means to sink the Sailors. One of their number was induced by a sweetheart deal to finger Pringle as for murdering him. Pringle and his comrades all contended that “Lucky” had been shot by mischance during one of the outlaws’ frequent drunken bouts, and having died en route to the hospital, Pringle shot him up posthumously in hopes of making the body look like it had been prey to a gang hit.

Despite all the trouble taken to secure a very dubious conviction, the execution itself was carried out in great secrecy by a tiny rump contingent of Canadians — all their fellows had already been withdrawn from Italy — who were not to speak of it afterwards.

According to Andrew Clark, the author whose research revealed the event to the wider public in A Keen Soldier: The Execution of Second World War Private Harold Pringle, it all came down a political balancing act. Canadian Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King faced a June 1945 election (followed by formation of a coalition government) that a controversial execution might complicate.

However, the British had executed two of their guys in the Sailor Gang case, and reciprocity was expected on a diplomatic level. So the solution was to do it as quietly as possible, and cover it with an official secret designation. Even Pringle himself didn’t find out his sentence was confirmed until the morning of the execution.

Book CoverBook Cover
Left: The classic antiwar novel inspired by the Pringle case, which was the only novel published by Colin McDougall. Right: The 2002 nonfiction treatment that brought the affair to the public eye. Below: A 1955 episode of Four Star Playhouse also seems to be based on the Pringle case, and Colin McDougall is credited with the story.**

There’s a riveting audio interview here with a member of the Hastings and Prince Edward Regiment who had guard duty on the condemned youth on the last night of his life. “Just as brave as could be,” Orville Marshall reports.

* There’s another infamous troupe of deserter-gangsters operating in Rome in this same period, the Lane Gang. The said “Lane” — whose real name was Werner Schmiedel — was hanged by American authorities in June 1945.

** McDougall served in Italy up to the end of Canada’s involvement there, and that is surely how he came to know about the secret execution in a general sense; any more specific vector of information appears to be unknown. However discovered, Pringle clearly haunted McDougall: he took several years to write his magnum opus, and also published a short story in McLean’s in the early 1950s called “The Firing Squad”.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Canada,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Italy,Milestones,Murder,Occupation and Colonialism,Organized Crime,Shot,Soldiers,Wartime Executions,Wrongful Executions

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1778: Bathsheba Spooner, the first woman hanged in the USA

Add comment July 2nd, 2020 Headsman

Bathsheba Spooner, the first woman executed* in the post-Declaration of Independence (i.e., post-July 4, 1776) United States.

The daughter of one of Massachusetts’s most prominent Tory loyalists — the latter fled to Nova Scotia during the events comprising this post, owing to the ongoing American Revolution — Spooner was married to a wealthy Brookfield gentleman whom she utterly despised.

From late 1777 into 1778, Bathsheba beguiled three young would-be Davids — Ezra Ross, a wounded former Continental Army soldier whom she nursed back to health; and James Buchanan and William Brooks, two redcoat deserters — into getting rid of Mr. Joshua Spooner.

Ross she sent on February 1778 business trip with her hubby and instructions to dose him with nitric acid. The youth chickened out and didn’t do it — but neither did he warn his proposed victim what was afoot.

A couple of weeks later, the Brits achieved by main force what their American opposite dared not attempt by stealth, and “on the evening of the first of March, about 9 o’clock, being returning home from his neighbors, near by his own door was feloniously assaulted by one or more ruffians, knocked down by a club, beat and bruised, and thrown into his well with water in it.” Ross, importantly, had been invited by his lover/sponsor to return and he helped to dispose of the body.

They had not a day’s liberty after this shocking crime, evidently having thought little beyond the deed; the very young Ross especially stands out for his naivete — certainly mingled with lust and cupidity as he contemplated the prospect of attaining a frolicsome, wealthy widow — when the wife went to work on him.

As She was going to Hardwick She asked me the Reason of my being so low Spirited?  I made answer It was my long absence from home.  She replyed that her Opinion was, I wanted some one to lodge with — I told her it would be agreeable.  She asked me if Such an One as her self would do?  I made answer If She was agreeable I was.  [Marginal notation: The Dialect was so.]  Upon which She said “After She came off her Journey she would See.”
 
N.B. After her Return She Gave me an Invitation to Defile her Marriage Bed; which I Expected. [accepted] And after that she proposed constantly every sheam [scheme] for her Husbands Death.  [Marginal notation: The spelling is so.]
 
Ezra Ross

The above is a written account given in jail to the preacher Ebenezer Parkman, who preached a thundering sermon three days after the executions titled “The Adultress Shall Hunt for the Precious Life””

a woman who … allows her loose imagination to range and wander after Others, nay not a few, & rove from [her husband] to pollute & defile the marriage bed [indulging] her own wanton salacious desires … How loathsome are all such, and how directly opposite the pure & holy Nature, Law, and Will of God.

So keep thee from the Evil woman, from the flattery of the tongue of a strange woman. Neither let her take thee with her eyelids. There are a thousand dangers, that poor young wretches are in by reason of the snres & traps which are everywhere laid … particularly the poor beardless youth not quite 18. (As quoted in Deborah Navas’s book about the affair, Murdered by his Wife)

Mrs. Spooner, whose Loyalist family ties did her no favors in this moment, sought a reprieve on grounds of pregnancy. Many condemned women in those days made such requests; more often than not they were temporizing devices that bought no more than the time needed for a panel of matrons to examine them and dismiss the claim. In her case, four examiners submitted a dissenting opinion to the effect “that we have reason to think that she is now quick with child.” Although overruled, they were correct: after the dramatic quadruple execution under a thunderstorm at Worcester’s Washington Square, an autopsy found that Spooner was about five months along with what would have been her fifth child.

According to an early 20th century Chicago Chronicle retrospective (retrieved here via a reprint in the Charleston News and Courier, Jan. 24, 1904) her grave can be located on a manor at Worcester that formerly belonged to the great New York City planner Andrew Haswell Green: Bathsheba Spooner’s sister was Green’s grandmother.

A full original record of the proceedings does not survive for us, but this public domain volume has a lengthy chapter about events, with an appendix preserving some of the original documents.

* We’re at the mercy of uncertain documentation in this context, of course, but there are at least none whose executions can be established that predate Spooner’s within the infant republic. Per the Espy file, a woman named Ann Wyley was hanged in Detroit in 1777, but at the time that city was under British administration as part of the province of Quebec.

For its part, Massachusetts hanged several more women in the 1780s, but has not executed any other women since the George Washington presidential administration. It’s presently a death penalty abolitionist jurisdiction.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Capital Punishment,Children,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Massachusetts,Milestones,Murder,Public Executions,Sex,Soldiers,USA,Wartime Executions,Women

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