Posts filed under 'Administrative Messages'

Executioner-in-Chief: a tour of U.S. Presidents and the death penalty

3 comments November 5th, 2012 Headsman

George Washington as Revolutionary War general did not scruple to hang or shoot troublemakers to keep order in the Continental Army, and even approved the first federal execution in U.S. history. But none of that held a candle to the import of the (possible) summary execution Lt. Col. Washington’s forces dished out in a frontier skirmish back in 1754 that helped start the Seven Years’ War.

A sour note on America’s first president: he was ready to let Thomas Paine, that firebrand, go to the guillotine in revolutionary France. (Paine barely avoided that fate.)

Washington’s successor John Adams was a lawyer who had notably defended the British redcoats who fired on an American crowd at the Boston Massacre — successfully defeating a capital charge, to his great pride.

I have reason to remember that fatal Night. The Part I took in Defense of Captn. Preston and the Soldiers, procured me Anxiety, and Obloquy enough. It was, however, one of the most gallant, generous, manly, and disinterested Actions of my whole Life, and one of the best Pieces of Service I ever rendered my Country. Judgement of Death against those Soldiers would have been as foul a Stain upon this Country as the Execution of the Quakers or Witches, anciently. As the Evidence was, the Verdict of the Jury was exactly right.

Adams stood at loggerheads with his eventual successor Thomas Jefferson over federal powers and foreign diplomacy, a conflict that eventually led the controversial rendition of a sailor whom the British hanged in Jamaica. Though the victim was humble, the case remains a keystone executive powers event still cited in legal briefs to this day.

The fourth president James Madison — scion of an old Virginia plantation family, Madison’s grandfather had been poisoned by his own slaves in a landmark death penalty case — tried his luck seizing Canada from the British while they were busy with Napoleon and got the White House torched instead. (Indirectly generating the national anthem.) That didn’t mean that soldiers savvy enough to desert were spared the firing squad.

Madison was followed by James Monroe, the last president from the “Founding Fathers” generation. The young Monroe had served in the Continental Congress, and was a member of the first U.S. Senate; he had also been the U.S. envoy to Revolutionary France at the climax and conclusion of Robespierre’s Terror, and leveraged French-American goodwill to save from the guillotine the kin of the American Revolution hero (and French Revolution proscribed reactionary) Lafayette.

Like his presidential father, John Quincy Adams traced the family name to colonial slaveholders; in J.Q. Adams’s case (though not his father’s, since the lineage came via wife and mother Abigail Adams), one piece of human chattel once in the family was a famous escaped slave turned pirate who met his end on the gallows. John Quincy Adams was named for the magnate who used to own that fellow.

Less genteel by far was Andrew Jackson, who readily shot alleged deserters in the War of 1812 and raised himself to presidential contention with the legally doubtful hanging of two British subjects during his incursions into Florida. (Propaganda traducing Jackson for his executioner proclivities gave birth to the first “coffin handbills”.) Legal or not, Jackson successfully pried the state out of Spanish hands: thanks for the hanging chads, Old Hickory!

The Honey Badger of the White House, Jackson said he only had two regrets: “I didn’t shoot Henry Clay and I didn’t hang John C. Calhoun.” Calhoun was Jackson’s own Vice President.


Political cartoon shows Andrew Jackson stringing up his predecessor John Quincy Adams, who balked Jackson of the 1824 election.

Jackson’s other Vice-President Martin Van Buren succeeded as a one-termer. Van Buren was the former Attorney General of New York, in which capacity his office had helped prosecute a few capital cases in its day (Van Buren personally assisted in the capital prosecution of Maggie Houghtaling and Nathan Foster); he also put a bow on Jackson’s ghastly “Indian removal” policy by forcing the Cherokee into a death march to Oklahoma.

William Henry Harrison and his grandson Benjamin Harrison are among the Republic’s less remarkable executives, but their blue-blooded family traces its roots back to a beheaded English noblemen.

The John Tyler administration had tragedy in the cabinet itself when the son of Tyler’s Secretary of War was controversially hanged at sea for mutiny by a paranoid ship’s captain. This execution helped spur creation of the U.S. Naval Academy to professionalize the whole outfit.

Only a few years later, a like fate befell the son of Millard Fillmore‘s Attorney General: that lad was executed in Cuba after being captured on a filibustering expedition.

Filibustering, a discreditable hybrid of piracy and putsch, was (among other things) a strategy to maintain the Slave Power’s political parity by annexing neighboring territories of southerly latitudes. It was all the rage at this point in U.S. history in part due to Anglo success in the Texas Revolution and James K. Polk‘s ensuing Mexican-American War. That war gave the U.S. more than half of Mexico, and gave Mexico heroic martyrs in the noblest bunch of turncoats that Yankees have never heard of, the San Patricios — Irish immigrants who got wise to the odious land-grab and deserted the forces of future U.S. President Zachary Taylor to fight for the Mexicans.


In this “cryptic satire” of the 1848 election, outgoing Democratic president James K. Polk (depicted as the executioner) and the party’s successor nominee Lewis Cass (with victims on a chain as he flourishes his top hat) have various rival politicians of the era lined up for beheading. (Detail view; click for the full image.)

Manifest Destiny was in the air. Isaac Stevens, a Mexican-American veteran, got posted to the new Washington Territory as a plum for supporting Franklin Pierce. There, Stevens strong-armed the indigenous peoples, eventually resulting in the hanging of Chief Leschi.

Also in the air: civil war. The last antebellum president, James Buchanan, went whistling past the imminent graveyards, instead trying to stir up more trouble with Mexico over an American citizen’s hanging — a provocation that even made it into Buchanan’s State of the Union address.

But the real provocation of his time was anti-slavery paladin John Brown‘s raid on Harpers Ferry and subsequent hanging in Virginia, omen of the bloody war to come.

With the 1860 election of Abraham Lincoln, the slavery question was settled on the battlefield, with scads of military executions into the bargain. Honest Abe earned his “Great Heart” reputation for liberal clemency grants with a number of pardons, including one on the very day of his assassination. (Outside of the war between the states, Lincoln also advanced the largest mass hanging in U.S. history, of 38 Sioux in Mankato, Minn.)


Northern propaganda widely anticipated treasonous Confederate President Jefferson Davis being “hanged on a sour apple tree”: a sour apple is one of the caged Davis’s heraldic props in this depiction of John Brown come to avenge slavery upon him. Davis was not executed, however.

Lincoln was the first U.S. President to be assassinated, and the conspirators in the operation were hanged inside of three months on Andrew Johnson‘s okay. Johnson also leaned on France to withdraw from a Mexican intervention, hanging out to dry their imported puppet Hapsburg emperor whom Mexican republicans promptly shot.

Stateside, the tragic era of Reconstruction ensued, rolled back by Southern resistance that extended to extrajudicial executions. Prior to his presidency, former Union commander Ulysses S. Grant quashed a war crimes case over Confederate General George Pickett’s wartime execution of POWs; once in office, Grant took a similar bygones-be-bygones approach to Spain’s execution of U.S. nationals to avoid war over Cuba. Grant also appointed Isaac Parker to a federal judgeship in Fort Smith, Arkansas, and Parker became the Old West’s most famous hanging judge.

Late 19th century America is an age of weak and forgettable presidents, although the march of science continued apace and American ingenuity gave birth to the electric chair.

James Garfield (who counts as an ancestor the very first man hanged in the Plymouth Colony) had his term cut short by an assassin’s bullet. The vice president who succeeded him, Chester A. Arthur, could hardly in good conscience spare the assassin Charles Guiteau, even though Guiteau was as mad as a march hare.

Democratic President Grover Cleveland, who got his start in politics as the sheriff of Buffalo, N.Y., had actually personally conducted executions, leading Republicans to label him “the Buffalo Hangman”.

Republicans to this day have not captured the White House without taking Ohio, but that was no problem for the first 20th century occupant of the White House. William McKinley, himself a product of the Ohio political machine, mounted the Spanish-American War, and the U.S. took over Spain’s former job of executing Filipino rebels. But McKinley didn’t even make it through 1901 before an immigrant anarchist (subsequently electrocuted) assassinated him and put Theodore Roosevelt in the White House.

Teddy did not hesitate to let the law take its course; he denied clemency, for instance, in the first fairly legal hanging in Alaska and the case of two Philippines War deserters. But closer to home, all Roosevelt’s bluster — “whoever in any part of our country has ever taken part in lawlessly putting to death a criminal by the dreadful torture of fire,” Roosevelt said, “must forever after have the awful spectacle of his own handiwork seared into his brain and soul. He can never again be the same man” — was useless against the burgeoning of lynch law. Lynchings increased every year of Roosevelt’s tenure and white southern congressmen blocked any federal response. The NAACP was founded days before T.R. left office.

William Howard Taft used the Nicaraguan government’s execution of two American terrorists as an excuse to invade. After losing the 1912 election, Taft was appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court where he pushed the judicial reorganization that still structures the high court’s handling (and usual rejection) of death penalty appeals. (His great-grandson Bob Taft served as governor of Ohio during that state’s recent ramp-up of executions.) Before his own 1930 hanging, mass murderer Carl Panzram fantastically claimed to have burgled Justice Taft’s home in 1920 and committed 10 murders with the ex-president’s stolen gun.

Woodrow Wilson invaded Haiti after a political execution, but he kept the U.S. out of World War I until he didn’t. Wilson presided over the nadir of race relations … which is why an Oklahoma white supremacist named his son for Woodrow and gave the future folk troubadour Woodie Guthrie a lynching in the family to live down.

Roaring past the Twenties, we come to the Great Depression. That economic calamity ousted President Herbert Hoover, who could nevertheless count himself fortunate to have escaped a Buenos Aires bombing attempt plotted by Severino di Giovanni — an anarchist eventually executed in Argentina for other more successful terrorist attacks in retaliation for Sacco and Vanzetti‘s electrocution.

Hoover gave way to Franklin Delano Roosevelt. FDR, who narrowly escaped assassination himself, was surprisingly among the 20th century’s more prolific U.S. executioners owing to his pre-presidency tenure as Governor of New York. As the wartime president for most of World War II, Roosevelt also convened a secret military tribunal that ordered the electrocution of a group of German saboteurs who’d been dropped by submarine on the U.S. mainland.

Harry S Truman named Robert Jackson to prosecute the postwar Nuremberg trials, and saw the Cold War begin with the Chinese execution of military chaplain John Birch. (Hence, the Society of his name.) Closer to home, Truman survived an assassination plot, and commuted the resulting death sentence of the Puerto Rican nationalist who had come gunning for him.

Dwight David Eisenhower took office well-known to Americans for his wartime generalship. It was he who approved the controversial shooting of Eddie Slovik during that war; Slovik remains the last American executed for desertion. As commander-in-chief, Ike had more life-and-death decisions to make … like refusing clemency to Soviet agents Julius and Ethel Rosenberg.

The 35th president John F. Kennedy put his signature to the last U.S. military execution to date … as well as the overthrow (and summary execution) of troublesome South Vietnam ruler Ngo Dinh Diem. Lyndon Baines Johnson and his Defense Secretary Robert McNamara reaped the whirlwind for that.


“How can they say he hasn’t faithfully executed the law?” runs the caption to this Watergate-era Herblock cartoon.

The death penalty was disappearing from the U.S. at this period, although this was hardly true throughout America’s global sphere of influence. Thus, Henry Kissinger under Richard Nixon toppled Allende and made countless martyrs, then complained in the Gerald Ford administration when Angola shot an American mercenary.

Jimmy Carter is an outspoken death penalty foe these days, but when the death penalty returned to the U.S. it was courtesy of a 1976 Supreme Court ruling called Gregg v. Georgia. Carter as governor of Georgia signed the legislation at issue in that case, reinstituting the death penalty and setting the template for the contemporary capital murder trial.

(In an embarrassing sidelight, Carter’s wife Rosalynn took a handshake photo with Illinois Democratic operative John Wayne Gacy, later exposed as a serial killer.)

Carter’s successor Ronald Reagan was a tough-on-crime guy, but owing to the death penalty lull which spanned Reagan’s political career, he only signed off on one single death warrant in his entire life. Reagan’s secret arms-for-hostages deals with Iran, however, did result in the hanging of the Iranian official who exposed the Iran-Contra scandal.


Death penalty politics were so toxic that a CNN journalist without any apparent trace of shame posed this question as a “gotcha” in a 1988 presidential debate.

Reagan’s Veep George Bush, once a World War II airman who came within an ace of being executed on a Japanese-occupied Pacific island, knew a good thing when he saw it and kept clobbering Democrats as soft on crime. God only knows what bodies are under his floorboards from his years in the CIA, but Bush as politician never had to make that agonizing life-or-death decision in any case coming out of the judiciary. It’s quite possible, however, that the unfinished business Bush pere left with Saddam Hussein encouraged his famously execution-happy son George W. Bush to blunder his way into Iraq. Bush the younger also authorized the first modern federal execution, that of Oklahoma City bomber Tim McVeigh.

Though he couldn’t match the younger Bush’s execution count, inter-Bush President Bill Clinton famously kneecapped the party’s liberal base by theatrically overseeing the execution of a mentally disabled black cop-killer while on the 1992 campaign trail.

The post-Bush successor, Barack Obama, showed little taste for capital punishment, drone assassinations aside — but the father for whom he titled his autobiography came to the U.S. to sire the future president on a scholarship program created by Kenyan politician Tom Mboya. Mboya was later murdered, and his assassin swung in 1969.

Against every standard of reason and probability, he was succeeded by authoritarian twitter troll Donald Trump, whose want of statecraft had not excluded him from making a notorious intervention in the country’s racialized death penalty politics back when he was merely a loudmouthed real estate developer in 1989. The Donald put his John Hancock to his first real-life death warrant during the COVID-19 pandemic.


Full-page advertisement Donald Trump published in the New York Daily News on May 1, 1989 demanding the execution of five Black and Latino youths accused in a high-profile gang rape attack on a jogger in the city’s Central Park. The ‘Central Park Five’ were later cleared of any involvement in the crime but only after spending between 6 and 13 years in prison apiece. Despite DNA exonerations, Trump has continued to claim that the men are really guilty.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: Administrative Messages

Executed Today’s Fifth Annual Report: Hang Five

3 comments October 31st, 2012 Headsman

Well, we made it.

As mentioned last year, having Executed Today run for five years was, when the site was launched, the crazy-optimistic aspirational idea. October 30, 2012 completed five full years with nary a day missed since the debut; with this day’s Halloween post, we’re into the trackless seas of Year VI. Here there be dragons.

This site has a strange rhythm for authorship, like the spiritual transports of the monastic rule: perpetual sleep deprivation, numbing repetition, immersion in arcane texts. Some days it’s endless drudgery, and the prior has to nudge you awake mid-chant; other days, the ingredients mysteriously add up to some bizarre ecstatic state and the posts pour effortlessly out of the fingers.


Blogging: alternate interpretation. Thanks to rutger_vos for the image.

The most sobering thought is that this site is the magnum opus of my life so far. If I get jumped by a vampire this Hallow’s Eve, this blog is the first thing in my obit. And like the undead, it would survive its owner’s corporeal death: as of this writing, there are more than 90 posts already pre-scheduled for the months ahead.

Which means that, yes, we’re planning to go after those Year VI dragons.

Traffic

Site pageview numbers show a steady growth, from 1.9 million in November 2010-October 2011 to more than 2.3 million in November 2011-October 2012. The site will enjoy its seven millionth all-time pageview tomorrow. While there’s nothing wrong with 20% growth, the “natural” growth path of the site is even higher. It’s just been suppressed of late by …

Care to celebrate with a fifth of vodka?
The great malware scare of 2012

Probably the less said about this the better. If you’re a regular visitor, you already know you’ve enjoyed intermittent spells of Google’s maddeningly non-transparent site malware scarlet letter over the past few months. I’m sorry. I’m trying.

I wish there were any indication that said efforts were to any purpose at all. Google (whose blacklist is the source of all the red flags) randomly interdicts the site every couple of weeks for no apparent reason. All site scans show everything clean, and Google must agree since it un-blacklists the same site without any changes a few hours later.

It’s certainly possible that there lies below a real and cunningly intermittent bug, but given that Google has blithely false-positived the site before, it’s also possible that Google just blithely false-positives the site.

I do any due diligence I can find to do, but with so much time seemingly run to waste one grows numb to the specific events: they blow in like the weather, remote from any causation or control or actionable information or evidence of actual harm. At the end of the day there’s an indifferent, unaccountable algorithm that’s either screwing up (but can’t be appealed), or else capturing an elusive piece of information (but not divulging it). And a site administrator who’s barely keeping up.

Frustrating.

Other, less irksome traffic facts

Just a few small snapshots from Executed Today’s statistical profile these days.

  • After standing for 3 1/2 years, the one-day traffic record set August 13, 2008 when Andrew Sullivan linked the site was finally overwhelmed on March 5, 2012 thanks to a link from Cracked.com.
  • That same link makes Cracked the top non-search engine traffic source for the entire year.
  • In a virtual tie behind Cracked: Wikipedia* links (led by Eva Dugan and Andrei Chikatilo), and Twitter links.
  • As we make the turn into Year VI, about 200 folks subscribe to Executed Today updates by email; these are part of the 1100-1200 who read the site via RSS feed.
  • Over 5,000 tweets emanated from the @executedtoday Twitter feed, bringing it to an alarming lifetime total of around 12,400 micro-updates; this has not deterred followers from hitching on at a net pace north of two per day, now numbering over 1900 in all.
  • The U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, and the U.K. (of which, overwhelmingly England) together constitute about 68.6% of the 1.1 million distinct site visitors over the past year. Half of the remainder hail from elsewhere in western Europe, apart from the British Isles.
  • The most prominent traffic sources outside of western Europe and North America? In descending order: Philippines, India, Poland, Brazil, Russia, Singapore, Malaysia, South Africa, Turkey, the Czech Republic, and Japan. All of these countries’ browsers called on Executed Today more than 5,000 times over the past year.
  • China just edged Serbia for 46th place on the traffic ranks, trailing Pakistan, Slovakia, and Thailand. Hong Kong, as a separate region, ranked 40th, but even China plus Hong Kong fell just short of 5,000 visitors for the year.
  • I had no recorded visits at all from North Korea, Western Sahara, or South Sudan. (But I did get six from East Timor.)
  • Slightly over 10% of the site’s visitors read it on a mobile device. The iPad barely topped the iPhone as the most popular such platform; each had about 4% of the site’s total traffic share. Android devices collectively notched about 3%.

Top Posts

The most popular posts on Executed Today to date are mostly 3+ years old, and owe their numbers in part to the statistical accumulation intrinsic to longevity. (The most popular posts that were actually written in the previous twelve months concern George Stinney, the 14-year-old whom South Carolina electrocuted for rape in 1944, and the Sikhs who assassinated Indira Gandhi … both 20th century executions, like almost all the all-time most-trafficked posts.)

These top 60 posts (and this list excludes the popular top-ten lists; all the “executions that defined decades” posts would be among the top 60) are truly an elite group on the site, comprising about one in 30 of all the daily posts in the blog’s first 1,827 days. In hard number terms, Ted Bundy (whose post is home to a long discussion thread closing in on 6,000 comments) has been viewed over 133,000 times, while the second- and third-place posts are around 50,000. Those posts at the bottom of this list have been viewed over 9,000 times apiece.

1. Ted Bundy (January 24, 1989)
2. Eleven from the Stutthof concentration camp (July 4, 1946)
3. Samuel K. Doe (September 9, 1990)
4. Mohammad Najibullah (September 27, 1996)
5. Rainey Bethea (August 14, 1936)
6. Jesse Washington lynched (May 15, 1916)
7. Hideki Tojo (December 23, 1948)
8. Thomas Cromwell (July 28, 1540)
9. Karl Hermann Frank (May 22, 1946)
10. Fou Tchou-li (April 10, 1905)
11. Pulitzer Prize-winning firing squad photograph from the Iranian Revolution (August 27, 1979)
12. Mahmoud Asgari and Ayaz Marhoni (July 19, 2005)
13. Nguyen Van Lem (February 1, 1968)
14. Allen Lee “Tiny” Davis (July 8, 1999)
15. James Corbitt (November 28, 1950)
16. The rapists of Maggie dela Riva (May 17, 1972)
17. Julius and Ethel Rosenberg (June 19, 1953)
18. Eugen Weidmann (June 17, 1939)
19. Claus von Stauffenberg (July 21, 1944)
20. Three partisans in Minsk (October 26, 1941)
21. Amon Goeth (September 13, 1946)
22. Charles Starkweather (June 25, 1959)
23. Hamida Djandoubi (September 10, 1977)
24. Witold Pilecki (May 25, 1948)
25. Ruth Snyder and Judd Gray (January 12, 1928)
26. Mohamed Oufkir (August 16, 1972)
27. Pvt. Eddie Slovik (January 31, 1945)
28. Henry Francis Hays (June 6, 1997)
29. Michael X (May 16, 1975)
30. Arthur Lucas and Ronald Turpin (December 11, 1962)
31. Karla Faye Tucker (February 3, 1998)
32. Du’a Khalil Aswad (April 7, 2007)
33. Eight July 20 anti-Hitler plotters (August 8, 1944)
34. Edith Thompson and Frederick Bywaters (January 9, 1923)
35. Partisans by the Sonderbataillon Dirlewanger (Uncertain date, 1942)
36. Che Guevara (October 9, 1967)
37. Zoya Kosmodemyanskaya (November 29, 1941)
38. Robert Francois Damiens (March 28, 1757)
39. The Belsen war criminals (December 13, 1945)
40. Dhananjoy Chatterjee (August 14, 2004)
41. Maximilien Robespierre (July 28, 1794)
42. The Stoning of Soraya M. (August 15, 1986)
43. Princess Misha’al bint Fahd al Saud (July 15, 1977)
44. Hannah Ocuish (December 20, 1786)
45. The In Cold Blood killers (April 14, 1965)
46. Mohammed Bijeh (March 16, 2005)
47. William Johnson (June 20, 1864)
48. John Wayne Gacy (May 10, 1994)
49. Marion Braidfute (Uncertain date, 1297)
50. Willie Francis (May 9, 1947)
51. Cameron Todd Willingham (February 17, 2004)
52. Dr. Jose Rizal (December 30, 1896)
53. The Lonely Hearts Killers (March 8, 1951)
54. Eva Dugan (February 21, 1930)
55. Mary Surratt and the Lincoln assassination conspirators (July 7, 1865)
56. Cleopatra’s sister Arsinoe (late 41 BCE)
57. Father Miguel Pro (November 23, 1927)
58. Henri Languille (June 28, 1905)
59. Pargali Ibrahim Pasha (March 15, 1536)
60. Nam Cam (June 3, 2004)

Guest Posts

Guest-written content has been a mainstay on the site from day one and instrumental to its continued existence. Year V was no exception: some six weeks’ worth of posts were, er, executed by folk other than I.

Particular thanks go to Meaghan Good not only for her amazingly prolific contributions but for her flexibility around the site’s editorial needs. (Read: she’s been willing to let me bump posts out a year when something else comes up or there are competing schedule priorities. I do this to my own posts all the time, but I hate to ask it of others.) Meaghan wrote almost 10% of this past year’s posts, and she found almost all those executions through her own research as well.

I don’t know how or why she does it, but I’m so thankful that she does.

dogboy

Oct. 2, 1629: Jeronimus Cornelisz

Robert K. Elder

Nov. 24, 1933: Earl Quinn
Oct. 13, 1933: Morris Cohen

Meaghan Good

Nov. 1, 1943: Not Anatoly Kuznetsov
Dec. 31, 1942: Three Bialystok Jews
Jan. 9, 1900: Louisa Masset
Jan. 13, 1943: Jarvis Catoe
Jan. 15, 1999: Recak Massacre
Jan. 27, 1961: Wasyl Gnypiuk
Feb. 8, 1942: Icchok Malmed
Feb. 24, 1942: Five Jews in Sokal
Mar. 2, 1942: Jakub Lemberg and family
Mar. 13, 1956: Jesus Maria de Galindez
Apr. 7, 1903: George Chapman
Apr. 8, 1763: Elizabeth Morton
Apr. 9, 1945: Johann Georg Elser
June 10, 1896: Amelia Dyer
June 16, 1944: George Stinney
June 1953: 32 merciful Soviet soldiers
Summer 1943: Marianne Elise Kurchner
July 9, 1941: Not Shaike Iwensky
July 14, 1941: Jake Bird
July 16, 1936: Mary Creighton
Sometime in 1301: False Margaret
Aug. 9, 1934: Anna Antonio
Aug. 17, 1942: Irene Nemirovsky
Aug. 18, 2011: Li Lindong
Aug. 21, 1887: Israel Lipski
Aug. 29, 1890: Otto Lueth
Sep. 5, 1937: Andrei Arzhilovsky
Sep. 10, 1943: Phillip Coleman
Sep. 11, 1942: Ten for Meir Berliner’s murder of a Treblinka officer
Sep. 13, 1944: Noor Inayat Khan
Oct. 1, 1926: Tony Vettere
Oct. 3, 1945: Henry William Hagert
Oct. 5, 1900: Coleman Gillespie

Scott Hendrix

1,500th day special post: The Hand of Glory

John Melady

Dec. 7, 1869: Nicholas Melady, the last public hanging in Canada

Mary O’Grady

Dec. 9, 1999: James Beathard
Mar. 10, 1762: Jean Calas

Robert Wilhelm

June 8, 1693: Elizabeth Emerson
Sep. 28, 1637: William Schooler and John Williams
Oct. 7, 1898: Alfred C. Williams

Interviews

We’re also very grateful to the various authors and experts who shared their insights on such diverse figures as …

Editor’s Picks

Just some of the everyday posts I particularly enjoyed researching, writing, or generally learning about this year.

  • Shahla Jahed, the footballer’s mistress who hanged after an Iranian O.J. trial
  • Jewish anti-slavery insurrectionist Isaac Yeshurun
  • Brokeback outback? The touching story of gay bushrangers
  • The Anabaptist Munster rebellion
  • Allen Foster‘s dying allusion to youthful sparring dates with black pugilist Joe Louis got his gassing mentioned by Martin Luther King
  • Aris Kindt, the hanged thief who ended up on a Dutch dissection table … and in a Dutch master’s painting
  • Wyatt Outlaw’s lynching in 1870 North Carolina emblemized the tragic defeat of Reconstruction
  • Lady Hamilton, the Scottish lady-in-waiting in Peter the Great’s court, who may or may not have snuck into Scottish ballads
  • Take an example from Paul Warner Powell: please confirm your understanding of your Fifth Amendment rights before bragging about committing capital murder to a prosecuting attorney
  • Formerly a perfectly accepted local wise woman, Matteuccia di Francesco got burned at the stake after San Bernardino of Siena came around firing up witchcraft hysteria
  • Pierre Vigier‘s contested hanging in a Gascony whose putative ducal lord was the English king highlighted the confusing lines of feudal authority … and presaged the coming age of the nation-state
  • William Frederick Horry, which is really a post about the career of the cool and professional new guy who hanged him — William Marwood
  • Antioch’s Muslim defenders were perplexed by Crusader knight Rainald Porchet, who instead of arranging his own ransom incited his captors to martyr him
  • There was once a worldwide campaign to establish the innocence of James Hanratty, hanged on questionable circumstantial evidence in Great Britain. But latter-day DNA tests confirmed his guilt after all
  • Leo Tolstoy was pretty shaken up after seeing Francis Richeux guillotined. Consider that beside his depiction of an execution scene in War and Peace
  • Everyday heroes: Joan Peterson refused to help some unscrupulous local pols disinherit a local woman by accusing her of witchcraft. So those pols accused Joan of witchcraft instead
  • Public sympathy for Andrew Wilson, hanged for robbing an excise collector, caused his hanging to set off a chain of events triggering one of Edinburgh’s most destructive riots
  • A missionary preserved an account of Chief Zacharias Kukuri‘s hanging during the German genocide of the Herero in present-day Namibia
  • Extraordinary rendition during the Stuart Restoration, when three fugitive regicides were kidnapped from the Netherlands
  • A little misunderstanding about just how much “emancipation” the Russian serfs were getting led to Anton Petrov‘s revolt and subsequent execution
  • The dangers of theology: Danes like Michael Blodorn really got into “suicide-by-executioner”
  • Public defender Johnny Mostiler made out pretty well mailing in defenses for indigent people in Spalding County, Ga. His clientele, like Curtis Osborne, did not
  • Lee Akers survived one of the most horrific prison fires in history (author Chester Himes, then a fellow-prisoner with Akers, wrote about it) only to die in the Ohio electric chair
  • Francois de Montmorency was executed for his dedication to the weird and intractable subculture of dueling
  • A showy 1680 Madrid auto de fe was the last of its kind
  • Merchant mariner who tries to ram a submarine: hero or war criminal?
  • The great-grandfather of the current Dallas County District Attorney
  • French triple murderer Henri Pranzini‘s public guillotining was of interest both to the artist Gauguin and to a young St. Therese of Lisieux
  • Thackeray (maybe it was Thackeray) mocked sympathy for an 18th century philologist-murderer by penning a satirically sympathetic homage to an 18th century foundling-flogging murderer
  • This hilariously lowbrow patriotic travestying of art following Alexander II’s near-assassination at the hands of Dmitry Karakozov is one of my favorite anecdotes on the site
  • Beware the rampaging vegetarians
  • Bosavern Penlez‘s hanging under the riot act for grabbing some linens from a whorehouse being destroyed by a mob almost set off a riot of its own
  • The best post series of the year was all about Jamaica’s Morant Bay Rebellion

Linkbait

We also added new companions to the long-popular “10 executions that defined the 2000s” post. This was our take on the Nineties and Eighties death penalty cases that loomed largest.


Yes, sure, they attract plenty of clicks. But they’re not cynical features; it’s actually quite diverting to think about and write these up.

With the site set to surpass the 2,000-post mark in the year ahead, expect to see more roundup, highlight, and list-type posts that offer new views of the vast content reservoir hereabouts.

In addition, of course, to the usual steady stream of fresh daily posts replenishing said reservoir.

* I don’t place my own site’s links on Wikipedia — seems a little tacky — so any traffic from that quarter is as near to earned as possible.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: Administrative Messages

On the late and unlamented malware warnings

Add comment July 30th, 2012 Headsman

Visitors to Executed Today have for the past fortnight generally faced a gantlet of virus warnings labeling this an attack site. Depending on how you interact with your Internets, that warning may have shown in your browser, as an interstitial via a click from a search, as a pop-up from a firewall or virus scanner locally installed on your machine, or other ways.

I want to apologize sincerely to all visitors (actual or prospective) who were affected by this obnoxious interposition.

For much of those two weeks, I’ve been attempting to persuade the (gratifyingly many) inquirers that the warning was a fiction being perpetrated by Google. Unsurprisingly, between “random blogger” and “Palo Alto borg”, most readers preferred safe to sorry. Site traffic tanked by around 70%.

Nevertheless, my implausible story was accurate. The site has been perfectly safe. Google has been gratuitously befouling it.

For anyone interested in the incredibly tedious details, this is the rough sequence of events:

  • For about 3-4 hours running up to 12 noon GMT on Sunday, July 15, the site was indeed compromised by a Rootkit exploit. Google’s malware-sniffer — and it’s one of the maddening contradictions in this affair that Google automates your scarlet letter but requires an impenetrable manual process to remove it — noticed this within about half an hour.
  • This exploit was repaired in very short order by a combination of shuffling plugins and security updates, and immediately reported for removal from Google’s blacklist.
  • Google took its sweet time, but 11 hours later, it did remove executedtoday.com from its blacklist.

In the usual course of things, this would be the end of it.

However, in this case, Google’s algorithms and/or employees blacklisted not only the master site executedtoday.com but a host of individual archive paths such as executedtoday.com/2007/ and www.executedtoday.com/category/milestones/. These archives have never had any special properties apart from the main site: in reality, if one is safe, they’re all safe; if one is buggy, they’re all buggy.

Now, Google helpfully publishes its blacklist, and damn near every antivirus service uses it without further scrutiny as an automatic no-fly list. So even if you, gentle user, never use its services yourself, Google likely acts as a discreet behind-the-scenes butler, screening your guests: for the webmaster, satisfying Sergei and Larry is an offer you can’t refuse.

In a vain quest to accomplish this, the ensuing two weeks after the initial infection was a Kafkaesque cycle in which a dozen-plus requests posted to Google via its execrable webmaster tools led a dozen-plus faceless Google employees to (redundantly) certify ExecutedToday.com malware-free and remove ExecutedToday.com (the main site) from Google’s blacklist … not a one of them also removing any of the many archive links. The review process has no transparency, no visible timetables, and no apparent method of appeal. All you can do is keep re-submitting, cajoling, explaining (if you know the explanation: I didn’t know for more than a week, but is it really for me to know the ins and outs of Google’s own listing process?), begging, threatening, whatever, over and over, and hope the next review defies the experiences of the countless ones preceding.

The net effect during this period was that visitors could get to the home page (not blacklisted!) just fine. Clicking on any (or nearly any) link within the site navigation, however, produced a false malware error.

So once again: I am very sorry that visitors to the site experienced this horrible situation for such a protracted period of time, and I assure all that we do take seriously your safety as a visitor to the site.

To speak a little more plainly, however, Google’s dogshit service in placing me in the position to have to extend this apology is pretty horrendous. Yes, this was originally my own fault for getting caught out by the (original, short-lived) malware issue; and yes, this is #firstworldproblems by any definition. It’s easy enough for some small-time blogger to slate a Silicon Valley behemoth for having an irresponsible indifference to false positives, but it’s a sobering reminder of the ubiquitous control that Google and just a few other companies exercise over most users’ experience of the Internet.

Thanks, by the by, to Sucuri.net for ultimately unraveling the mystery. Their service in this whole affair was very well worth their modest fee for malware monitoring and cleanup.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: Administrative Messages

10 executions that defined the 1990s

Add comment January 2nd, 2012 Headsman

Hindsight is this blog‘s whole milieu, so even though our reactions are now conditioned by an intervening decade, we’re pleased to follow up our popular “10 executions that defined the 2000s” post with this retrospective on the 1990s. Hey, what could go wrong with a prequel?

We take you back to the days before Y2K. Communism had fallen, violent nationalism was back in style, a self-styled “hyperpower” went all-in on neoliberalism, and a little thing we call the Internet began minting increasingly preposterous millionaires. As always, the world’s hangmen, headsmen, triggermen and, increasingly, plunger-pushers just kept plugging away at yesteryear’s harvest of evildoers (or good-doers).

Whatever else it may have left the world, it certainly left a decade’s worth of noteworthy executions.

10. Zarmina

This secretly-filmed video of a woman being shot through the head in a Kabul stadium in 1999 generated worldwide disgust with the Taliban.

9. Chen Chin-hsing

Author of a crime spree that captivated and terrified a nation, Chen (with two accomplices who didn’t live to face the courts) “shook public confidence in law and government with the kidnap-murder of a TV celebrity’s daughter and a string of subsequent gun battles, killings, rapes and a hostage drama.” (Don’t forget about the underground plastic surgery!) His deadly seven months on the very public lam toppled the Taiwanese government and created one of the world’s highest-profile pro-death penalty activists.

8. The Tupac Amaru rebels

This dwindling band of softhearted leftist guerrillas took the Japanese embassy in Lima hostage for 126 days. Then-Peruvian strongman (today, Peruvian prisoner) Alberto Fujimori had the embassy taken by storm — and the rebels all shot on the spot.

7. Farzad Bazoft

Reporter for the London Observer hanged as a spy in Saddam Hussein‘s Iraq for sniffing around its weapons programs. A few months later, Iraq invaded Kuwait and western protests — somewhat pro forma in the moment, since Iraq was still an ally — suddenly became very explosive.

6. Ricky Ray Rector

Trying to shed his party’s soft-on-crime image, then-Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton burnished his hip conservative-Democrat credentials by leaving the presidential campaign trail to oversee Rector’s execution personally — even though the cop-killer, lobotomized by a suicide attempt, famously saved the pie from his last meal to finish “later”.

As president, Clinton made good on the promise implicit in this execution.

5. Andrei Chikatilo

This infamous Ukrainian madman’s decade-long spree of sexual savagery was notoriously abetted by clumsy police work paralyzed of admitting a serial killer in the waning days of the Soviet workers’ republic.

4. Rosalie Gicanda

Revered Tutsi Queen Dowager whose summary execution with her ladies-in-waiting at the onset of the Rwanda genocide signaled that nobody was safe.

3. Ken Saro-Wiwa

“The ecological war that the Company has waged in the Delta will be called to question sooner than later and the crimes of that war be duly punished. The crime of the Company’s dirty wars against the Ogoni people will also be punished.” This Ogoni artist and activist remains a potent emblem long after he was hanged by the Nigerian dictatorship for the security of Shell’s oil fields.

2. Mohammed Najibullah

The man at the very hinge of the post-Cold War world, this last of the Soviet-backed Afghan rulers was hauled out of a U.N. compound and lynched on a traffic pylon by the conquering Taliban.

1. Srebrenica

The most dread name from the post-Yugoslavia dirty wars is that of the town where Ratko Mladic’s Serbian army slaughtered 8,000 Bosnian Muslims in July 1995.


Honorable Mentions

A few other executions to remember the 1990s by…

On this day..

Entry Filed under: Administrative Messages

Hand of Glory: 1,500 days and counting

7 comments December 8th, 2011 Headsman

(cc) image from Chris Chan.

Today’s post marks the 1,500th consecutive day of death-blogging for Executed Today.

False modesty aside, we consider it a rather glorious achievement of the pen-hand to have hit this milestone. (Previous end zone celebrations: 500 | 1000 (and 1))

And in the spirit of marking the digital feat denoted by this sort-of round number, we thought a bonus post was in order on capital punishment’s own glorious hand — the legendary Hand of Glory.

Like that dread artifact itself, today’s entry comes from someone else’s hand. Thanks to Carroll University historian Scott Hendrix (co-editor of Rational Magic) for lighting the way to some forbidden gallows-lore…


In J.K. Rowling’s The Half Blood Prince, Draco Malfoy employs a particularly grisly tool to escape from the Room of Requirement under the cover provided by a Peruvian Instant Darkness Powder: a Hand of Glory.

In the Harry Potter mythos this device provides light that is only visible to the holder, making it the perfect instrument of young Malfoy’s escape. That is, assuming that he doesn’t mind carrying a mummified hand equipped with fingers that burn with a gruesome light. Many people might balk at going to such lengths, and the reader could be forgiven for assuming that Ms. Rowling was exercising a bit of literary license in order to titillate and provoke her young (and sometimes not so young!) readers’ imaginations.

However, should one wish to take a trip to the charming Whitby Museum* in Whitby, North Yorkshire, England, a Hand of Glory is prominently displayed — perhaps (this is a perhaps to which I shall return later). According to the accompanying placard — though I admit I had to investigate the museum’s website to refresh my memory, as I’d not seen it in almost a decade — Joseph Ford, a local stonemason and art historian found the hand hidden in the wall of a thatched cottage in nearby Castleton in 1935.


(cc) image from twiggles.

He “immediately identified it as a ‘Hand of Glory.'” In a way, it makes sense that he would do so, as it seems that stories of such hands had become quite popular in England beginning in the nineteenth century. Several books, such as Thomas and Katharine Macquoid’s 1883 About Yorkshire and Sabine Baring-Gould’s 1873 Curious Myths of the Middle Ages, described such hands.

According to the authors these were instruments of the blackest magic, wrought by witches working in the darkest night. Through invocation of demons and the enactment of foul rituals, these witches created a magical burglar’s tool from the severed hand of an executed thief.

It seems that such tales found the Victorian imagination of English readers to be fertile ground, as the tales were told and retold. No doubt readers found themselves deliciously chilled at the idea of burglars employing such a device of black magic, guaranteed not only to open locked doors but also to keep sleepers asleep and off their guard as those with dark designs crept into their homes.

But as the title of Baring-Gould’s book would indicate, the story of the Hand of Glory had real legs. It persisted over the course of centuries and made its way across the European continent.

It was not, though, quite as old as Baring-Gould would have his readers believe.

The earliest known description of the Hand of Glory can be found in the work of the Jesuit canon lawyer and theologian, Martin del Rio. His Six Books of Magical Essays, published between 1599 and 1600, is a veritable smorgasbord of lore relating to black magic and witchcraft. One should not get the idea that del Rio approved of the things he wrote about, however. Rather, he wrote in order to educate Inquisitors about the tools employed by their foes, the witches he assumed to prowl the continent preying on the good Christians who relied on the priesthood for protection. Announcing his intent in the introduction his Six Books, del Rio wrote that

magic follows heresy, as plague follows famine. We have seen heresy flourishing in Belgium and we see swarms of witches laying waste the whole of the North, like locusts. The heretics are strongly opposed by the Jesuits. This book is a weapon in that war.

Therefore, descriptions of the tools used by practitioners of black magic were intended to combat the “swarms of witches” that so concerned him. These witches found instruments such as the Hand of Glory, which he describes in book two of his study, to be ideal for carrying out their plots.

Del Rio’s Six Books of Magical Essays proved to be a runaway best seller, going through twenty editions between 1599 and 1755. Among the many stories it spread were those of the Hand of Glory, and soon we see stories arising of thieves making use of these devices in order to rob and plunder the inhabitants of Germany, France, and eventually, England.

Sometimes there were local variations relating to their manufacture, as in German tales in which witches made the Hand from the fingers of unborn children. Nevertheless, in all the stories the Hand of Glory is demonic and its use damns to hell those unfortunates desperate or foolish enough to manufacture it.

But what was the source of these tales? Isn’t it reasonable to assume that del Rio was relating stories of actual practices and that many of these practices had an ancient pedigree?

Perhaps we shouldn’t be so fast to leap to such conclusions, for del Rio was an enthusiastic purveyor of many tales that had no objective basis in fact, such as his stories of the Witches’ Sabbat. He described these events as dark versions of the Catholic mass, when Satan came forth in the form of a goat or a dog and “witches came forward to worship him … [offering] candles made of pitch or a child’s umbilical cord, and kiss him on the anal orifice in a sign of homage.”

Such tales were lurid and memorable … and absolutely lacking any basis in fact. (We think -ed.) Historians have given different rationales for why writers such as del Rio told and retold such stories and a full consideration of that topic would take us very far afield from our subject.

Let’s just say for now that exhaustive research by the best minds in the field have shown that there is no evidence that anything like a Witches’ Sabbat ever happened, anywhere.

Similarly, many of the stories del Rio told are likely the result of his willingness to pass along hearsay accounts. In fact, pretty much any tell he relates should be taken with many grains of salt — including stories of the Hand of Glory. There’s no doubt that it was a good story, but a story was all it was. Therefore, efforts such as those undertaken by the early twentieth-century philologist W.W. Skeats to explain the name as coming from the French, main de gloire, which he assumed to be a corruption of mandrake, are unnecessary exercises in verbal gymnastics. The entire reason he even made the effort was so that he could provide a “scientific” explanation for the powers of the Hand by explaining away the stories as nothing more than descriptions of hallucinations induced by ingestion of the mandrake root. But since stories of the Hand of Glory were nothing more than stories, rather than descriptions of something that black magicians had once manufactured, there’s little need for “scientific” explanations of the Hand’s powers.

This brings us back to the Hand of Glory displayed so prominently in the Whitby Museum.

According to the museum this is the only example of a Hand of Glory in existence** … yet it is singularly missing any sign of having been subjected to flames, used as a candle, or otherwise employed as a magical burglary tool.

Why is that? Did someone make it, then hide it, then never use it? Perhaps (there’s that “perhaps” again!). Or perhaps Joseph Ford was a little too quick in his identification of the hand he found in the wall of the thatched cottage as a Hand of Glory. Perhaps instead it’s nothing more than what it appears to be: a withered hand that could have been severed in some sort of accident, coming to be mummified in the many untold years before it was discovered. However, that would hardly make a good story for the charming museum in Whitby. After all, del Rio’s tale of a mummified hand taken from an executed thief and given magical powers through demonic invocation — that certainly makes for a better story both for the Whitby Museum, as well as for J. K. Rowling.†

On the lone bleak moor,
At the midnight hour,
Beneath the Gallows Tree,
Hand in hand
The Murderers stand
By one, by two, by three!
And the Moon that night
With a grey, cold light
Each baleful object tips;
One half of her form
Is seen through the storm,
The other half ‘s hid in Eclipse!
And the cold Wind howls,
And the Thunder growls,
And the Lightning is broad and bright;
And altogether
It ‘s very bad weather,
And an unpleasant sort of a night!
‘Now mount who list,
And close by the wrist
Sever me quickly the Dead Man’s fist!—
Now climb who dare
Where he swings in air,
And pluck me five locks of the Dead Man’s hair!’

And now, with care,
The five locks of hair
From the skull of the Gentleman dangling up there,
With the grease and the fat
Of a black Tom Cat
She hastens to mix,
And to twist into wicks,
And one on the thumb, and each finger to fix.—
(For another receipt the same charm to prepare,
Consult Mr Ainsworth and Petit Albert.)

‘Now open lock
To the Dead Man’s knock!
Fly bolt, and bar, and band!
— Nor move, nor swerve
Joint, muscle, or nerve,
At the spell of the Dead Man’s hand!
Sleep all who sleep!— Wake all who wake!—
But be as the Dead for the Dead Man’s sake!!’

The Hand of Glory: The Nurse’s Story, Richard Harris Barham

* The Whitby Museum is full of necrophernalia.

** The Walsall Museum claims to have an entire arm of glory.

† As well as for bloggers.

Scott E. Hendrix is an historian of medieval and early-modern intellectual history. He’s written a number of books and articles on subjects ranging from astrology to witchcraft, from riots to the history of science. He is an assistant professor of history at Carroll University and the co-editor of Rational Magic.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: Administrative Messages,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Guest Writers,Hanged,History,Myths,Other Voices

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Executed Today’s Third Annual Report: Third Time Lucky

6 comments October 31st, 2010 Headsman

Of executions, hangings, murders, and bombs people now write and speak as they used to speak about the weather. Children play at hangings. …

Yes, this executioner at first hand knows that he is an executioner, and that he does wrong, and is, therefore, hated, and he is afraid of men, and I think this consciousness and this fear before men atone for at least a part of his guilt.


His guilt? CG art (c) Eugene Fokin, used with permission.

But you all … you indirect participators in the iniquities perpetrated every day — do not seem to feel your guilt, nor the shame your participation in those horrors would evoke. It is true that, like the executioner, you fear men … You are all afraid; but, unlike that executioner, you are afraid, not because you know you are doing evil, but because you think other people do evil. …

for me the horrible work goes on of these hangmen, at first enlisted with difficulty, but now no longer so loathing their work; for me exist these gallows, with well-soaped cords, from which hang women, children, and peasants; for me exists this terrible embitterment of man against his fellow-man.

Tolstoy

Somehow, since our Halloween 2007 launch, the grim furies have scourged this blog along for three full years of fresh ghoulish content every single one of 1,096 straight days. Talk about rigor mortis.

Like the executioner, we’re usually all business here. But Halloween is a special occasion, and even we can let our hair down on our anniversary.

Embiggening

The blog traffic stats go up and to the right, just like they’re supposed to, now averaging well over 5,000 pageviews daily, with more than 700 feed subscribers. (Pageviews are up more than 50% since last year’s annual report, even though advertising rates haven’t budged. What a bargain!) Residents of 187 different countries have visited Executed Today in the past year.

In all, there were nearly 1.6 million pageviews from last Nov. 1 to the present — as against 1.1 million pageviews cumulative for the first two years of this site’s existence. (For all that growth, the single-day traffic record is still held by a day in the site’s penurious first year: that one time Andrew Sullivan linked me. If Sully doesn’t come through with another link, however, traffic growth trajectory suggests he won’t hold that distinction much longer.)

The site’s Twitter feed has grown more than 150%, to 470-some followers … although given the meteoric growth of Twitter itself, I’m not sure how much weight to put on that. If you do follow me on Twitter, you’ll get about 6-12 tweets daily about executions and connected subjects of crime, violence, and history, and no tweets about how drunk I am or that the circle line is running late or the last time I moved my bowels. Like I said: proper executioners are all business.

Where Are You?

The top 20 countries in terms of traffic are basically the usual suspects; the shuffling on this list is pretty minor year to year. The U.S. was over half the pie last year, and lost some of that ground; Poland and New Zealand both had disproportionate increases in their traffic.

United States
United Kingdom
Canada
Germany
Australia
France
Philippines
Netherlands
Poland
Italy
Spain
New Zealand
India
Ireland
Sweden
Belgium
Malaysia
Finland
Brazil
Norway

There was some sort of Slavic renaissance on the site in Year III; in addition to Poland, visits from Russia, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Serbia, Macedonia, Croatia, and Ukraine also surged far above the baseline traffic growth metrics.

The average for pages viewed per visit (2.1), time spent on site (2:29) and “bounce rate” (69% of visitors who leave without clicking a second page) all remained essentially level; given that one might expect the many new visitors to the site to be more casually engaged than returning regular readers, I take that as a positive.

How’d You Get Here?

The site’s historic 60-30-10 ratio of search traffic-referral links-direct lookups stayed pretty much the same, with image searches specifically accounting for over 8% of the overall traffic.

Day by day, much of the daily surge and undertow in traffic is noticeably (to me) accounted for by search hits, and these often tip me to some bit of breaking news. The most popular search remains “executed today”; “executedtoday.com” is also in the top 10, and I’ve also filtered out a couple of site searches explicitly invoking this domain’s Ted Bundy discussion (more on that in a moment). As can be readily observed, there are a couple of searches for specific methods of execution (specifically: nasty methods of execution), but most of the leading search terms are lookups on specific individuals. (Executed individuals … except for one search on an executioner’s name, that of English hangman Albert Pierrepoint.)

thomas cromwell execution botched
samuel doe execution video
soraya manutchehri
thomas cromwell
michael x
samuel doe
albert pierrepoint
ling chi
zhang minsheng
john albert taylor
lingchi
ruth snyder
botak chin
karl hermann frank
drawn and quartered
botched executions
hamida djandoubi
charles starkweather
broken on the wheel
jenny wanda barkmann
masha bruskina
maggie dela riva
lois nadean smith
du’a khalil aswad video
hannah ocuish
mohammed bijeh
karl hermann frank execution video
khristian oliver
samuel doe execution
peter stubbe

What’d You See When You Got Here?

This has become one of my favorite parts of the annual report. With nearly 1,100 daily entries now posted along with meta-content, I’m going to extend it from last year’s top 25 to the top 40 all-time posts.

1. Jan. 24, 1989: Ted Bundy, psycho killer

Now with more traffic than the next three posts combined, this 3,000-plus comment living thread on one of America’s most infamous serial killers just keeps going strong.

It’s not the #1 post every single day; news-driven search hits or traffic to the day’s anniversary posts not infrequently surpass it. But it’s almost always one of the top two or three, and it’s the default number one when nothing else is cooking.

Many thanks to author Kevin M. Sullivan and the many other posters on this thread for making it one of the site’s most captivating pages.

2. Sep. 9, 1990: Samuel K. Doe

The former Liberian dictator, famously captured and tortured to death on video, which many an Internet denizen comes a-searchin’. (I have only a truncated and relatively PG version of that video.)

3. July 21, 1944: Col. Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg

He tried to kill Hitler. More importantly for his search prominence, he was cinematically portrayed by Tom Cruise.

4. Aug. 14, 1936: Rainey Bethea, America’s last public hanging

Holding steady from fourth place last year, this post’s traffic is almost unnaturally consistent: 20 to 60 hits a day from people who mostly run searches trying to find out when America’s last public hanging took place.

(Also of note: the execution was overseen by a female sheriff, although she ended up delegating the actual execution to male hangmen while she remained off the scaffold.)

5. July 4, 1946: Eleven from the Stutthoff concentration camp

The “Jenny Wanda Barkmann” from the top search hits list above was a comely Nazi guard, publicly strangled to death on the gallows on this date.

6. July 28, 1540: Thomas Cromwell

As noted above, “thomas cromwell execution botched” is your search term winner for the year.

7. May 15, 1916: Jesse Washington lynched after conviction

Not a literal execution, though the connection between lynching and the death penalty as varietals of communal violence is uncomfortably close — especially when, as in this case, the outrages of the Negro upon the virtues of southern white women are at issue.

This post’s images of Jesse Washington’s blackened remains are among the more unpleasant illustrations on the site.

8. May 22, 1946: Karl Hermann Frank

Again, the appeal of multimedia. Frank’s hanging in Prague, by the old Austro-Hungarian “pole hanging” method, was filmed. He earned his death in part for one of the war’s most notorious atrocities, the Lidice massacre.

9. Dec. 23, 1948: Hideki Tojo and six other Japanese war criminals

The wartime Prime Minister of Imperial Japan.

10. Apr. 10, 1905: Fou Tchou-Li, by a thousand cuts

People come here looking for the ghastly photos of China’s old “slow slicing” execution method, that so exalted the likes of Bataille.

11. June 19, 1953: Julius and Ethel Rosenberg – Cold War cause celebre
12. June 6, 1997: Henry Francis Hays – White supremacist whose lynching of a random black youth cost the Klan its headquarters
13. Apr. 7, 2007: Du’a Khalil Aswad – Her “honor killing” stoning to death was filmed
14. Sep. 10, 1977: Hamida Djandoubi – The last drop for the French guillotine
15. July 8, 1999: Allen Lee “Tiny” Davis – So rotund, Florida built him a new electric chair
16. Dec. 11, 1962: Arthur Lucas and Ronald Turpin – These guys knew there was a good chance they’d be the last men hanged in Canada.
17. Nov. 28, 1950: James Corbitt, the hangman’s mate – Those search hits on “Albert Pierrepoint” find this story of the famed executioner hanging a former customer of Pierrepoint’s pub
18. Oct. 9, 1967: Ernesto “Che” Guevara – You might have heard of him.
19. Jan. 31, 1945: Private Eddie Slovik – The last U.S. soldier executed for desertion
20. Nov. 29, 1941: Zoya Kosmodemyanskaya – Famed teenage anti-Nazi partisan
21. Feb. 17, 2004: Cameron Todd Willingham – He’s the reason Texas Gov. Rick Perry will never be president.
22. July 19, 2005: Mahmoud Asgari and Ayaz Marhoni – Photographs of these two youths going fearfully to their deaths focused attention on the plight of homosexuals in Iran.
23. June 25, 1959: Charles Starkweather – This seminal heartland spree killer has his own Springsteen song.
24. Dec. 13, 1945: The Belsen war criminals – Another in the continuing “hot Nazi prison babes hanged” series
25. Sep. 13, 1946: Amon Goeth – The villainous concentration camp commandant in Schindler’s List
26. November, 1942: Partisans by the Sonderbataillon Dirlewanger – A graphic photo (with no specific known attribution date) of German units executing prisoners on the bloody eastern front
27. May 25, 1948: Witold Pilecki – Polish Home Guard agent who had once infiltrated Auschwitz, but ran afoul of the Communists after World War II
28. Jan. 12, 1928: Ruth Snyder and Judd Gray – The inspirations for Double Indemnity, doubly notable because a reporter secretly snapped a blurry picture of Ruth Snyder in the electric chair.
29. Jan. 9, 1923: Edith Thompson and Frederick Bywaters – An English love triangle; Thompson’s controversial, and botched, hanging was said to have contributed to the suicide of her executioner.
30. Aug. 8, 1944: Eight July 20 plotters – The aforementioned Stauffenberg was actually executed on the night of the coup by another German officer trying to cover his own complicity. These eight co-conspirators met a more official end: tortured by the Gestapo, abused in the People’s Court, and strangled on piano wire.
31. May 16, 1975: Michael X – Black nationalist hanged in Trinidad for burning to death a Tory M.P.’s daughter.
32. May 17, 1972: The rapists of Maggie dela Riva – Callow sons of the elite electrocuted for raping a well-known Filipina actress.
33. Oct. 26, 1941: Masha Bruskina, Kiril Trus and Voldia Shcherbatshevich – This post has graphic photos of partisans publicly executed by the Wehrmacht in Minsk
34. Feb. 1, 1968: Nguyen Van Lem – The prisoner summarily shot through the head by South Vietnamese Gen. Nguyen Ngoc Loan, in one of the Vietnam War’s most unforgettable images
35. Sep. 27, 1996: Dr. Mohammad Najibullah – The Soviet-sponsored former Afghan head of state, strung up on a traffic pylon when the Taliban took power.
36. July 15, 1977: Princess Misha’al bint Fahd al Saud – Nineteen-year-old Saudi royal adulteress
37. May 10, 1994: John Wayne Gacy – Democratic machine operative, amateur harlequin, serial killer
38. Aug. 14, 2004: Dhananjoy Chatterjee – The only person hanged in India in the past generation … though he doesn’t seem destined to be the last.
39. Apr. 28, 1945: Benito Mussolini, his mistress, and his aides – Afterwards, their bodies were strung up for public abuse in Milan
40. Mar. 28, 1757: Robert Francois Damiens – You’ll read a ghastly description of his quartering in Foucault’s Discipline and Punish. Appropriately for Foucault (though not mentioned by him) Casanova also helped his friend get busy while watching the execution.

I mention this every year, because it bears mentioning every year: there’s a striking traffic advantage for executions of a more recent vintage. I have fortuitous search placement on Tudor politician Thomas Cromwell — that fact surprises me somewhat — and since he’s recently been one of the main characters on a hit TV show, he gets plenty of search love.

After that, you need to get all the way down to #40 to find the next post about someone who was executed before the 20th century … even though just a bit over half the site’s content concerns pre-20th century executions. By my count, World War II alone accounts for 13 posts in the top 40, and 20 more of those entries are postwar executions. The same effect is also visible in the search terms.


The Stefaneschi Triptych: Christ, flanked by the executions of St. Peter and St. Paul.

Guest Content

Again, guest content to the tune of nearly a month was generously supplied by various friends of the site. Copious thanks to all of the following:

Anthony Vaver

Caitlin GD Hopkins

David Carson

dogboy

Elizabeth M. Hull

emperorhadrian

Jeffrey Fisher

John Temple

Jonathan Shipley

Meaghan Good

Melabesq

Robert Elder

Sarah Chan

I’m also grateful for these expert interviews:


This poster of the triangular Tyburn gallows is available from Madame Talbot’s Victorian & Gothic Lowbrow.

Other Highlights

Random. This little innovation actually got introduced last year and remains one of the most popular bits on the site. Every thirtieth pageview or so is from someone just dialing up a random execution — about 53,000 for the year.


Okay, this was pretty cool.

Legibility. If the text on the site is a bit easier on the eyes lately, it’s thanks to Ramon Garcia‘s pro bono CSS work.

Milestone. There’s no shortage of material, but I’m a little surprised my constitution has held out long enough to make it to 1,000-plus consecutive days. We take it one day at a time, coach.

Killed the Radio Star. My post on Arkadi Berdichevsky, a Soviet economist purged in the 1930s who also happened to be the father of conservative intellectual Jon Utley, actually prompted Mr. Utley to get in touch with me and led to an appearance on Antiwar Radio.

Metadeath. This post to mark the odometer rolling over to 2010 actually has more clicks than any posts save Bundy and Doe. Given three years of content in the reservoir and the way list posts are catnip to clickthroughs … there may be a few more of these in the offing.

Editor’s Picks. These posts aren’t necessarily big traffic-earners or major award-winners. But — to me, at least — they stood out somewhat from the everyday, as unusually interesting.

  • Ali Resti and Sayyid Husain, to placate America Great moments in American foreign policy: “When you are dealing with a government like Persia … if you ask them to execute a Moslem for the death of a Christian … if they do it, you accomplish more for the prestige of your country than if they paid a million.”
  • Four for the oil of Chad. Natural resource politics: scary.
  • The time when America went to war to protect the P.O.W. status of foreign terrorists. Or the time when trying unlawful combatants outside the Geneva Conventions outraged Britain and the U.S.
  • The Slaves of the Zong: cold-blooded summary “executions” of slaves when they became more profitable dead than alive.
  • Robert Kett, rebelling against the landlords’ enclosures of common lands that marked the dawn of capitalism. There’s more on enclosures in the hanging of these 19th century poachers
  • Aesop, of the fables. He’s supposed to have been executed by Delphians by hurling off a rock … for stinginess.
  • Young Goethe’s family was involved in the case of Susanna Margaretha Brandt, an infanticide who might have inspired the Gretchen character in his Faust
  • Joshua Tefft, the only person drawn and quartered in (what is now) the U.S.A. … for being too friendly with the neighboring Indians.
  • Mary Carleton, a 17th century adventuress whose manipulation of identity and celebrity is downright postmodern.
  • William Williams, the last hanged in Minnesota — a story also bound up in the move from public to secretive executions late at night and behind prison walls.
  • The Amboyna Massacre, in which Dutch colonial authorities in Indonesia waterboarded English prisoners into confessing to a fantastical terrorist plot, then executed them en masse
  • Jacques de Molay, the last Templar Grand Master, historical conspiracy theory nexus
  • Mehmed Kemal, executed by defeated Ottoman Turkey for the Armenian genocide, as it tried to make enough amends for the recent First World War to survive. (It didn’t.)
  • The Tour de Nesle affair saw princesses and knights with an excessive investment in romantic love set up the Hundred Years War.
  • Caryl Chessman, death row author and lightning rod for death penalty proponents and opponents alike.
  • Italian national heroes Cesare Battisti and Fabio Filzi — lavishly photographed martyring themselves to Austria-Hungary.
  • The first major war crimes trials of World War II took place in 1943, in the USSR … and those hanged as a result of the Krasnodar trials were not German soldiers, but alleged Soviet collaborators.
  • A mass execution Ivan the Terrible carried out at the height of his oprichnina terror.
  • Valery Sablin, the misunderstood inspiration for The Hunt for Red October.
  • Maharajah Nandakumar, a nasty little judicial assassination in colonial India that helped set the scene for a more orderly Empire.
  • Elizabeth Martha Brown, a disturbingly sexy hanging witnessed by young go-getter Thomas Hardy — and arguably an inspiration for his novel Tess of the D’Urbervilles.
  • Neptune, an African in Suriname whose butchery was vividly recorded by John Gabriel Stedman.
  • Roux de Marsilly, a hook to the Man in the Iron Mask
  • Gasim, the character Peter O’Toole executes just before taking Aqaba in Lawrence of Arabia
  • Thomas Nash, controversially renditioned to the British by the Federalists in 1799
  • A montage of cultural artifacts generated by Sacco and Vanzetti
  • A notorious mass impaling by Vlad the Impaler
  • All the entries in the Executions by Effigy themed set, a truly strange old practice
  • The Babington Plot, busted by Queen Elizabeth’s spymaster Walsingham
  • Mehdi Hashemi, who exposed the Iran-Contra scandal
  • “The Rand … never again saw a significant white mineworkers’ strike” after South Africa hanged C.C. Stassen in 1922

… topical for year three, we are obliged to mention

And, because third time lucky is scarcely guaranteed — more like a guideline, or wishful thinking — we might also direct you to an older post noting Thomas Egan: 3 tries, 2 ropes, 1 innocent man.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: Administrative Messages,Mature Content

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Special: One Thousand and One Nights for One Thousand and One Deaths

3 comments July 27th, 2010 Headsman

July 26, 2010 marked the 1,000th consecutive consecutive day of fresh death content delivered since this here site debuted on Halloween 2007.

Since rounding the milestone of 500, traffic has grown (nearly 80% of this site’s pageviews have occurred during the second half of its existence to date), awards have been garnered, and many, many heads have been harvested.

Quite a journey.

To celebrate the start of Executed Today‘s second thousand days, we are pleased to welcome scholar Elizabeth M. Hull for a feature excursion into what we flatter ourselves is our literary mirror, One Thousand and One Nights … which is the story of 1,001 stories, each related by the wife of the sultan to stave off her own execution.

By the way: the post below checks in right at 1,001 words.


1,001 Arabian Nights, when no one (real) was executed.

Once there was a young girl named Shahrazad who outwitted death and an angry king. But like all stories, this one begins long before that.

It is said that Shah Zamán returned home unexpectedly and found his wife asleep in the arms of their black cook slave. Naturally, Shah Zamán “drew his scymitar and, cutting the two in four pieces with a single blow, left them on the carpet and returned presently to his camp.”

Sick from dwelling “on the deed of his wife,” Shah Zamán witnessed the daily orgy between his brother Shahryár’s concubines and slaves, while Shahryár’s Queen’s “slobbering” slave “winding his legs round hers, as a button loop clasps a button, … threw her and enjoyed her.”

King Shahryár’s greater power should have made him safe from women’s treachery; it did not. When the brothers discovered that even the wife of a powerful Jinn had cuckolded her husband 600 times, they concluded that “they all do it and that there is no woman but who cuckoldeth her husband.”

After slaying his wife, his ten concubines, and their lovers, Shahryár initiated his famous wedding policy, “marrying a maiden every night and killing her the next morning” before she could betray him. The slaughter went on every day for three years, until “there remained not in the city a young person fit for carnal copulation.”

The real story of Shahrazad is the story of damaged masculine honor and the holocaust it requires: 1,108 women and 11 men, until there is no one left to kill. The fundamental condition of this fictional world is men’s inability to control women’s sexuality — or even to control their own sexual desires. After all, the king does not give up sex; instead he kills his partners. His shame, jealousy, grief, rage, and power empty his city of life.

Shahrazad’s own story begins in this empty city.

The virgin whose father has carried out the executions volunteers to marry Shahryár. Her father warns her not to be like the Bull in the tale, and she eagerly asks for the story, which he frames in another cautionary tale. She still marries the king, but her father’s stories set the pattern for her stratagem: play upon natural human curiosity and the love of a good yarn, wrapped in another good yarn, rolled into a tangle of story threads.

Shahrazad tells her husband the story of the Trader who mistakenly killed his wife, and, famously, dawn comes just as he is about to kill his son, “knife in hand — And Shahrazad perceived the dawn of day. … ‘What is this to that I could tell thee on the coming night, were I to live and the King would spare me?’ Then said the King in himself, ‘By Allah, I will not slay her, until I shall have heard the rest of her tale.’ So they slept the rest of that night in mutual embrace.”

The cliffhanger involves the trader’s love for his wife and his child, feelings Shahryár long ago killed in himself, since by executing his wives he has eliminated any children they might have borne. An empty city, and a sterile palace.

A complicated dance develops between Shahrazad and Shahryár, its rhythm set by the nights he spends with her between the setting and rising of the sun, metaphorical death and birth.

The classic Richard Francis Burton translations of the Book of the Thousand Nights and a Night are also available free on Gutenberg.org.

The stories themselves are a kind of life, not just in the liveliness of adventure, love, sexual humor, and trade. Like life they are full of interruptions, new stories springing from old ones, proliferating, fertile, oozing the kindness and evil in the hearts of man and woman.

The tales reflect the conflict between men and women in Shahryár’s past. Often, women are adulterous, jealous, abusive, and rapacious; occasionally men are angry and brutally violent. Most especially, death fills the tales, thousands of deaths, mostly murders and executions. The famous hero Sindbad, for example, cast into the tomb with his dead wife, murders other widows and widowers for their food and water, takes their valuables, and becomes rich. Sharazad’s world is Darwinian: survival justifies killing.

Sometimes, women govern better than men. In the final story, Ma’aruf finds a ring that controls a Jinn, loses it to his father-in-law, who loses it to his Wazir, who loses it to Ma’aruf’s wife. When her husband tells her to give the ring to him or to her father, she says: “I will keep the ring myself, and belike I shall be more careful of it than you. … So fear no harm so long as I live.” Indeed, they remain happy until she dies.

The point could have been that Shahryár’s life will be happy as long as Shahrazad lives –- if her story ended there. Instead, Ma’aruf’s jealous first wife tries to steal the ring; she is killed by his son in one last conflict with a wicked stepmother. The story ultimately suggests that good women protect their husbands, but so do children.

Sharazad will base her appeal for clemency not just on her own value and but also on her children’s. By now, “Shahrazad had borne the King three boy children … one walking, one crawling and one sucking.” Connecting the stories to their sons, she says to Shahryár, “‘these thousand nights and a night have I entertained thee with stories,'” and asks him for her life: “‘for, an thou kill me, they will become motherless and will find none among women to rear them as they should be reared.’ When the King heard this, he wept and straining the boys to his bosom said, ‘… Shahrazad, I pardoned thee before the coming of these children, for that I found thee chaste.'”

We never learn how he knows that she is chaste. Perhaps giving him life, life created just for him, not only through children but through the stories that restored his own desire for tomorrow, was enough.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: Administrative Messages,Arts and Literature,Fictional,Guest Writers,Other Voices

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Death Be Not Proud: Executed Today wins a Clio

15 comments January 9th, 2010 Headsman

Yesterday night, your humble servant won the 2009 Cliopatria Award for best writing of a history blog.

Embarrassed headsmen are no pretty sight, but considering the depth and breadth of the history blogging community, I’m red-cheeked under the hood at stuff like this:

Given its format — the story behind a different historical execution, every day — Executed Today could by rights be monotonous and depressing. It is testament to “The Headsman’s” skills as a writer and storyteller that his blog is nothing of the sort. An engaging and astonishingly prolific blogger, The Headsman writes witty and accessible prose, jumps from continent to continent and century to century with ease, and despite two years of daily blogging he is still finding new things to do with his premise.

That’s a pretty close description to this blog’s aspiration. I’m gratified that it sometimes succeeds.

One glance at the other winning blogs (Georgian London, Curious Expeditions) and posts (Curating the Oceans: The Future of Singapore’s Past, Richardson’s Rules of Order), or at the other Best Writer nominees, or at any of the previous Clio winners, underscores the quality of the field. Best writer? How do you choose among this bounty? Clio hangs out with Calliope, after all.

So, very great thanks to the jury of professional historians for entertaining a mere hobbyist’s contributions. And special gratitude to Tim Abbott of Walking the Berkshires for both the nomination and a good bit of encouragement; to the guest bloggers and interviewees who liven things up around these dolorous parts; and to many others who know who they are, or ought to. Thanks above all to the site’s readers, new and old, regular and sporadic.

A few of the more satisfactory posts in the past year are conveniently arranged in Executed Today’s recent annual report: see here for stuff I wrote, and here for guest content that frequently puts it to shame.

why swell’st thou then;
One short sleepe past, wee wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die.

John Donne

On this day..

Entry Filed under: Administrative Messages,History

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Executed Today’s Second Annual Report: Once Bitten, Twice Die

5 comments October 31st, 2009 Headsman

Here at Executed Today, we know where the bodies are buried. As of today, we’ve buried two years’ worth in daily death-blogging since our auspiciously topical launch two Halloweens ago.

As you sow … so shall you reap.


The Triumph of Death (topically detail view; click for the full canvas of wholesale grim reaping), by Pieter Brueghel the Elder, c. 1562.

Where Are You?

The 15 leading domiciles of Executed Today visitors are:

United States (just over half)
United Kingdom (1/8th)
Canada (a bit over 5%)
Germany
Australia
France
Philippines
Netherlands
Italy
Poland
Spain
Ireland
Sweden
Belgium
India

At this point, we’re dropping into a long slope of closely clustered countries with tiny individual footprints.

It’s always interesting to notice the differing behavior of site visitors. The overall average for visitors was to spend 2:29 on the site and visit 2.1 pages, with 70% of visitors “bouncing” or leaving after seeing just one page. But that average conceals many variations.

Loved It
  • Visitors from Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates each had about 3.3 pageviews and over 5 minutes on the site per visit, though similar numbers were not recorded elsewhere in the Middle East. Kuwaitis, remarkably, were more than 50% likely to visit a second page on the site.
  • The Dutch spent over 3 minutes on the site per visit, bounced only 65% of the time, and viewed 2.85 pages apiece.
  • New Zealand had site-average bounce rates, but Kiwis who stuck, really stuck. They spent more than 4 minutes on the site on average.
  • Relative to the averages, Estonians stuck around 20% more often, viewed 20% more pages, and spent 50% more time on the site.
Hated It
  • Only 28 visitors were recorded from Mongolia, but every single one of them left the site without clicking another link.
  • I got nearly 1,000 visits from Vietnam, but they averaged barely 30 seconds on the site and only 1.3 pages per visitors. (The Vietnamese showed similar disinterest last year, too.)
  • Iranians bounced 87.9% of the time.
  • Although in the top 10 for traffic, the Philippines had less than 1.5 pageviews per visitor and a bounce rate approaching 80%.

How’d You Get Here?

Searches accounted for nearly 60% of all traffic to Executed Today (another 30% came from referral links, and just over 10% from direct lookups, e.g., a browser bookmark).

As was the case last year, “executed today” was the most popular search lookup, and “executedtoday.com” was also in the top 10. Let’s set those aside.

The #1 search term besides “executed today” was “colonel claus von stauffenberg” — courtesy of the movie Valkyrie. “claus schenk graf von stauffenberg” and “col. claus von stauffenberg” also both placed in the top 20 and “col stauffenberg” in the top 50, so clearly Tom Cruise wins the year’s search battle. (Interestingly, people who arrived on these searches tended to browse the site less, with only about 1.5 pageviews per visitor. Search visitors in general perform a bit less well than other visitors, but the difference was really pronounced with Valkyrie-generated visitors.)

Excluding Stauffenberg-related searches, the top 15 search terms generating traffic to Executed Today since last Halloween were:

samuel doe
lingchi
samuel doe execution video
albert pierrepoint
arsinoe
amon goth
broken on the wheel
ling chi
ricky lee green
hamida djandoubi
charles starkweather
sidney reilly
jenny wanda barkmann
michael x
botched executions

… I noticed last year that searches on individually named executed women drove more traffic than those on individually named men. That seemed to be somewhat less true this year, even leaving Col. Stauffenberg aside; Jenny Wanda Barkmann is the only woman in the top 15. However, if we extend the table to the top 20, we would add:

rosalie gicanda
edith thompson
john spenkelink
william chaloner
princess mishaal bint fahd

Other women such as Sue Logue, Lois Nadean Smith, Ruth Snyder, Karla Faye Tucker, Hannah Ocuish and Ethel Rosenberg are also among the top 50. It’s still probably the case that women’s executions attract interest and searches disproportionate to their frequency, just as they’ve attracted our eye for a couple of thematic collections (1, 2).


What’d You See When You Got Here?

As of the end of year two, the most popular posts in Executed Today’s history are …

1. January 24, 1989: Ted Bundy, psycho killer

No contest, really.

The runaway number one, more than 25% ahead of its closest competition for pageviews. For such an infamous killer of such recent vintage, I was doubtful about finding something new to contribute on the subject.

Fortunately, author Kevin M. Sullivan, whose new book The Bundy Murders: A Comprehensive History published earlier this year, took care of it by turning the post’s discussion thread into a conversational salon for far-flung folks interested in the killer’s career. As of this writing, the Bundy comment thread is pushing 1,200 entries and still consistently among the most popular posts on the site every single day.

2. July 21, 1944: Col. Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg, for the plot to kill Hitler

Ah, the power of a multimillion-dollar Hollywood ad campaign. Thanks, Tom.

The Valkyrie traffic graph shows a spike in the winter of 2008-09 when the film released on the silver screen, and an aftershock bump in the spring when it went out on DVD.

Although I didn’t “earn” the big traffic by anything other than timeliness, this post also happens to be one of the better ones on the site.

3. September 9, 1990: Samuel K. Doe

A monument to human morbidity, the post about the deposed former President of Liberia is not particularly high-quality, was not blessed with any high-profile links, and has never been especially promoted.

However:

Samuel K. Doe’s pre-execution torture was filmed.

People go Googling for that film.

I’m on the first page of hits, with an embed of as much film as I’ve ever been able to locate.

Voila: traffic.

If anyone out there has the Doe video in its entirety, send it to me and this post will give Ted Bundy a run for his money in no time.

4. August 14, 1936: Rainey Bethea, America’s last public hanging

A stats accumulator type rather than a Hall of Famer, this post benefits from favorable search engine placement for a variety of oft-searched phrases about America’s last public execution, and has been up for 14+ months.

I liked unearthing the local newspaper’s angry response to big-city interlopers portraying them as a mob of bloodthirsty yokels … and I definitely enjoy going back to this bit of warm fuzz from the comments section:

I have enjoyed your work, and would like to thank you for your effort. I particularly like how you avoid the easy, sensationalist macabre approach for something more sombre and cerebral, supported by generous hyperlinks.

5. July 4, 1946: Eleven from the Stutthof concentration camp

This post features images of a few of the Third Reich’s cutest concentration camp guards strangling to death. As you might imagine, there’s a steady market of search hits for that sort of thing. (One of the most popular metadata pages on the site is the tag for Jenny Wanda Barkmann, the foxiest hanged Stutthof guard of them all.)

6. June 6, 1997: Henry Francis Hays, whose crime cost the Klan

Hays was the first white person executed for murdering a black person in Alabama in 84 years — specifically, for lynching young Michael Donald.

The shocking photo of Michael Donald’s body that my post contains has much exercised contributors to the Michael Donald Wikipedia entry, and for a time the article “compromised” on the subject of including it with page versions that linked my humble post from this banner phrase:

WARNING GRAPHIC PICTURE MICHAEL DONALD

Obviously, that generated plenty of clicks.

Alas, more sober-minded editors have not only toned down the article, but removed any link at all to Executed Today. Look for Henry Francis Hays to sink in the rankings in the year ahead if that situation isn’t rectified.

(Note: I don’t insinuate my links into Wikipedia and had nothing to do with this article in any version.)

7. December 11, 1962: Arthur Lucas and Ronald Turpin

This post dates all the way back to the blog’s second month of existence.

It’s an interview with the author of a book about these two unconnected criminals who became the last to hang in Canada, and it was for a short while early in Executed Today’s history the most popular post on the site.

It’s continued since that time to build up almost two years’ worth of unspectacular but steady daily traffic on search hits by people trying to find out … well, who the last people hanged in Canada were.

8. June 19, 1953: Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, “the first victims of American fascism”

It’s interesting to me that few of my top posts are of the household-name execution victims — the Robespierres, the Anne Boleyns, the Tsar Nicholases — which I generally attribute to the competitive search market. There are a lot of pages about Joan of Arc on the Internet, and only so much real estate on search engine results.

Though I’m only on Google’s third page when searching a phrase like (julius and ethel rosenberg), this post is one of the top results when using variants that include the word “execution” (e.g., ethel rosenberg execution) — I presume because of the blog’s name.

Between the minority of people who search this way and the minority of people who wade all the way to the third page of Google hits, this post gets a small-but-just-big-enough slice of an enormous pie.

9. May 15, 1916: Jesse Washington lynched after conviction

The dramatic photographs of the charred body (and celebratory crowd) at one of America’s most infamous lynchings have generated steady traffic with a handful of one- or two-day spikes from minor newsquakes, like this passing reference in the New York Times that quintupled the post’s traffic for a single day.

10. November 29, 1941: Zoya Kosmodemyanskaya

The teenage partisan martyred by the Nazis isn’t exactly a household name worldwide, but she’s searched more often than you might think; these searches don’t skew disproportionately to the former Soviet Union, either.

Gratifyingly, hits to this page come overwhelmingly from searches on Zoya’s name, as opposed to pervy variations on the “women hanging” theme.

This post’s traffic was at a trickle level for its first year, but bumped up to a higher level around the end of 2008 without ever having a clear single spike, giving its traffic graph an odd stair-step look. I’ve never been able to explain this; my two unsatisfying working theories are:

  1. that Executed Today crossed some ranking threshold in the likes of Google pagerank that catapulted the post onto the first page of search results, meaning I started capturing a larger share of traffic that was always there;
  2. that exiled Burmese activist Zoya Phan, who was named for Kosmodemyanskaya, crossed a threshold of public prominence sufficient to increase the frequency with which the name was searched.

… And Others

The remainder of the top 25:

11. September 10, 1977: Hamida Djandoubi – The last man guillotined, and as noted above, one of the top search hits for the site.
12. February 17, 2004: Cameron Todd Willingham – Long-neglected but suddenly popular guest post about a possible wrongful execution that’s been front-page news for the past two months.
13. August 8, 1944: Eight July 20 plotters – A second beneficiary of Valkyrie search traffic.
14. July 8, 1999: Allen Lee “Tiny” Davis – Gruesome bloody photos of the Florida electric chair’s last client.
15. April 10, 1905: Fou Tchou LiLingchi or “slow slicing” death “by a thousand cuts” that inspired Georges Bataille.
16. January 9, 1923: Edith Thompson and Frederick Bywaters – A deadly love triangle turned enduring cause celebre.
17. August 12, 1833: Captain Henry Nicholas Nicholls – The #1 post this time last year, thanks to a link from Andrew Sullivan, but scant ongoing traffic promises further sinkage in the year ahead.
18. December 13, 1945: The Belsen war criminals – Featuring Irma Grese, the “Beast of Belsen”.
19. June 25, 1959: Charles Starkweather – The spree killer who embodied the underbelly of the American dream to the likes of Stephen King and Bruce Springsteen.
20. October 9, 1967: Ernesto “Che” Guevara – One of the posts most frequently sought out by visitors viewing a second or third page. Play the mp3, and be sure to join the comment thread’s ideological pissing match!
21. November 28, 1950: James Corbitt – This post is really about prolific British hangman Albert Pierrepoint, on the occasion of his hanging a man he actually knew.
22. December 26, 1862: 38 Sioux – The largest mass execution in U.S. history.
23. January 15, 1943: Sue Logue, Geoge Logue and Clarence Bagwell – Randy young Strom Thurmond made Sue “the only person seduced on the way to the electric chair.”
24. April 7, 2007: Du’a Khalil Aswad – Features a horrificially graphic video of a Yazidi honor killing victim being stoned to death.
25. Uncertain date in 41 B.C.E.: Arsinoe IV – Cleopatra’s sister, who got search traffic earlier this year when scientists claimed to have reconstructed her appearance.

Noticing a pattern? Of the top 25 posts, 22 concern executions that occurred in the 20th or 21st century … and two of the exceptions (#17 and #25) are on the chart solely because of freak, one-time external events (an A-list blog link and an unpredictable news cycle, respectively). In fact, if you throw out those two anomalies and keep going down the list, 29 of the top 30 posts on Executed Today are about 20th or 21st-century affairs, and 26 of those are executions that took place within the past 75 years. (Slightly over half the total posts on this site overall concern pre-20th century executions.)

The list of most popular posts for only Executed Today’s second year (as opposed to all time) is very nearly the same: Arthur Lucas and Ronald Turpin no longer make the top 10, but Cameron Todd Willingham does, a bit of minor shuffling occurs in a few other places … the similarity is no surprise, since nearly 900,000 of the site’s 1.1 million pageviews occurred during its second year.

Noted in passing: the highest-ranking meta-content on the site by a country mile is Seven Generic Halloween Costumes You Can Spice Up With an Execution Story, which dates to last year but has experienced a massive traffic surge this October for obvious reasons. It’s actually pushed its way into the top 20 posts. A heavy preponderance of hits come from searches, especially image searches, for costumes (“pirate costume” being the most frequent); as a result, this post about more generalized Halloween fare is much more popular than its sister offering Nine Executed People Who Make Great Halloween Costumes.

Most Popular Posts by Month

October 2009: Masha Bruskina, Kiril Trus, and Volodia Shcherbatsevich, though only five days old, it outdraws the month’s preceding content on the discomfiting appeal of a comely girl hanged
September 2009: Dr. Mohammad Najibullah, deposed Afghan president notable for the gory photos of his body hanging from a traffic pylon
August 2009: Bronislav Kaminski, Waffen SS collaborator
July 2009: Princess Misha’al bint Fahd al Saud, a disobedient Saudi princess
June 2009: The village of Lidice, for the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich
May 2009: Karl Hermann Frank, who helped engineer the aforementioned Lidice operation
April 2009: Rwandan Queen Dowager Rosalie Gicanda, a prominent genocide victim whose killer was recently arrested
March 2009: William Chaloner, a counterfeiter captured by Isaac Newton which was guest-blogged by the author of a recent book about the case
February 2009: Nguyen Van Lem, the Viet Cong summarily executed in a famous Vietnam War photo and newsreel
January 2009: Ted Bundy, psycho killer
December 2008: The Belsen war criminals
November 2008: James Corbitt, the hangman’s mate
October 2008: Ernesto “Che” Guevara, iconic revolutionary
September 2008: Samuel K. Doe, deposed Liberian president
August 2008: Rainey Bethea, America’s last public hanging
July 2008: Col. Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg, tried to assassinate Hitler
June 2008: Henry Francis Hays, for a racial murder
May 2008: Jesse Washington lynched
April 2008: Fou Tchou-Li, by a thousand cuts
March 2008: Robert-Francois Damiens, disciplined and punished
February 2008: Cameron Todd Willingham, wrongful arson execution?
January 2008: Edith Thompson and Frederick Bywaters, adulterous lovers
December 2007: Arthur Lucas and Ronald Turpin, the last hanged in Canada
November 2007: Zoya Kosmodemyanskaya, Russian partisan
October 2007: Peter Stubbe, werewolf?


Guest Content

Once again, the site relied on the kindness of strangers to make it through another year. Thanks to the following guest posters for pulling through with a month’s worth of content (the second straight year I’ve enjoyed that kind of support) in these fantastic guest posts:

Alexandre Dumas, pere

Anthony Vaver

Caitlin GD Hopkins

dogboy

Gilbert King

James Durney

Jeff Matthews

Jonathan Shipley

Kristin Houlé

Lara Eakins

Laura James

Louise Yeoman

Mark Davis

Richard Clark

Rob

Royelen

Sarah Owocki

Thomas Levenson

Expert interviews also shed some light on these subjects:


Miscellaneous Indicators

Feed subscriptions. This highly volatile and undependable figure has been solidly in the high 400s for a while now, sometimes giving a prairie dog peek up above 500. Just short of half those subscribers are in the U.S.; South Africa (!) is the runaway #2, with Canada third. After those three, it’s a plateau of high-income countries who are all essentially tied. Russia and the United Arab Emirates are in that group among the top feed subscribers despite not being among the high-traffic web browsing sources; conversely, Italy and the Netherlands send plenty of web visitors but have few feed subscribers.

Twitter. I can’t say this is my favorite medium, but yes … Executed Today tweets and twats. 180-some followers get regular blurbs about ongoing death penalty news, much of it from the far-flung network of informants and search feeds that keep the site stocked with future content.

Random acts of violence. I have to credit sometime guest blogger and translator Sonechka for the idea to add one of the most popular features on the site:


I started routing that through bit.ly since local stats were having trouble with it — probably hurting my bounce rate and average page counts in the process, but gaining the url shortening service’s click stats. And bit.ly says the Random Execution button has been pushed 20,000 times in the past 22 weeks.

Editor’s Picks. In the daily blog business, some posts hit and some don’t, and one really never knows what to expect from any given day. Cameron Todd Willingham didn’t get any particular buzz, traffic, or link love when it went up, but it became the site’s starring content 18 months later when The New Yorker caught on to the story.

Having enumerated all the traffic-getters and guest posts above, I thought I’d spare a thought for a few of the in-house posts that aren’t on those lists and might have slipped through the cracks … but that were fun to research, or to write, or (hopefully) to read. While the most-trafficked posts tend to skew towards executions within someone’s living memory, you’ll notice that the author has had the most fun with some older fare.

Presented in no particular order:

… and, of course, our Year 2 wrap couldn’t be complete without:

On this day..

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D

5 comments March 13th, 2009 Headsman

Due to a weakness for occasional meta content, this blog actually had its 500th post a few weeks ago.

March 13, 2009, however, marks the 500th consecutive sun of daily death-blogging, dating from Executed Today’s launch on Halloween 2007.

That this milestone falls on Friday the 13th is, of course, wholly accidental.

Special thanks on this occasion to my many excellent guest posters and interviewees, without whom I could scarcely have mustered 500 days of stamina.

(Additional milestone: the 500,000th recorded page view for this site will also take place in the next couple of days.)

On this day..

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