Posts filed under 'Botched Executions'

1883: Mampuru, Sekukuni rival

Add comment November 22nd, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1883, the Boer South African Republic hanged Bapedi chief Mampuru.

Sekukuni

Mampuru is notable as the half-brother and rival — eventually murderous rival — of Sekukuni (also rendered Sekhukhune), the chief of the Pedi or Bapedi people. Their backstory is significant: Mampuru had been the intended heir of their shared father, King Sekwati, but the warlike Sekukuni had seized rulership instead when Sekwati died in 1861.

While Mampuru skulked in exile with the neighboring Swazi, it was Sekukuni who led his people’s resistance to the incursions of the Dutch Boers settling the Transvaal.

In 1876, he successfully fought off the Boer Transvaal Republic — which contributed to it becoming in 1877 the British Transvaal instead, at least according to the British.

Less successful was Sekukuni in the war soon prosecuted against him by the British. Extensively narrated here (also see part 1 of this same article sequence here), the upshot was that the British eventually trapped Sekukuni’s last defenders in a rocky hill remembered as the “Fighting Koppie” and captured him. The Swazi, with that displaced rival Mampuru, fought in this war with the British.

Sekukuni and his surviving family would be marched to Pretoria and imprisoned there until 1881.

In the intervening years, power was rebalanced all around among the players. Mampuru had been able to re-establish himself among the Bapedi with no small help from his British allies — but those British allies had been defeated by a Boer rebellion in the First Boer War.* One article in the settlement ending the Boer-British conflict permitted Sekukuni’s release.

As might be expected the ex-chief’s return to his homeland was scarcely welcomed by his brother. After some months of political acrimony, Mampuru settled the feud by having a team of assassins stab Sekukuni to death in his sleep, on the night of August 13, 1882.

For Mampuru, the sibling rivalry win was as Pyrrhic as it surely was satisfying, for he was immediately branded an outlaw by the Boer Transvaal and himself obliged to flee from the countrymen whom he meant to rule. When the Boers captured him, they had him condemned a murderer and hanged him stark naked for an audience of 200-plus white men in Pretoria. As an added indignity, they botched the hanging and dropped Mampuru to the ground on their first go, when the noose snapped. (In 2013, the jail where he hanged was renamed for Mampuru.)

Cowardly murderer or anti-colonial resistance martyr? That’s still up for debate.

* A result to be avenged/reversed 20 years on.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Botched Executions,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Murder,Occupation and Colonialism,South Africa

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1852: The assassin of Korfiotaki

1 comment September 25th, 2019 Headsman

From a New York Times report of Nov. 13, 1852, corroborated by other press by foreign and domestic.

On September 25, 1852, in Athens, Greece, the unnamed assassin of Korfiotaki, one of King Otto of Greece‘s cabinet ministers, was executed under circumstances peculiarly horrible. Another murderer was guillotined under his eyes in order to lend and additional horror to his punishment. Nevertheless he managed, by some slight [sic] of hand, to throw off his chains, to draw a long knife, and to throw himself upon the executioner. The latter however dealt him a stunning blow just in time which knocked him backwards on the drawn knife of one of the executioners assistants. Between them both they speedily finished the condemned. The ceremony proper took place. His lifeless body suffered decapitation. The crowd had taken his side in his fight with the executioner and encouraged him by a volley of bravos, while the latter was saluted with a shower of hisses and execrations.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Assassins,Beheaded,Botched Executions,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Greece,Guillotine,History,Murder,Posthumous Executions,Public Executions,Put to the Sword

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1878: John Speer

Add comment September 20th, 2019 Headsman

From the Galveston (Texas) News, September 24, 1878:


Execution of Speer.

The First White Man Hanged is in McLennan County.

A Solemn and Impressive Scene — Speer’s Letter to his Friends in Arkansas and Texas — History of the Murder and Prosecution.

WACO, Sept. 20. — John W. Speer born in Arkansas in 1852, whose execution took place here to-day for the murder of the Rev. J.S. Pledger, came to Texas in 1874 on account of bad health, and remained with his brother-in-law until July, 1875, when he was arrested, being charged with the murder. His father die when he was 16 years of age, and his mother died July 6, 1877, the day after being notified of his second conviction. In early life he was of lively disposition, fond of excitement, but not such as would indicate anything of malice or violence toward any one, even an enemy. A fair education was acquired before his father’s death, but from that time it was necessary for him to make every effort for his own support, and to accomplish this he rented a piece of land in this county and commenced farming, his land adjoining that of Mr. Pledger. Ill will existed between the two for some time, and a double fence had been constructed in consequence.

On the 13th day of July, 1875, Rev. J.S. Pledger, while plowing in his field, was shot down by some one concealed in the weeds between the fences, and a man plowing with Mr. Pledger recognized J.W. Speer as the one who fired the fatal shot. He was arrested shortly after and remained in prison until May, 1876, when his trial took place. Messrs. Herring, Anderson & Kelly were retained for his defense, and did all in their power to save him, but the jury returned a verdict of murder in the first degree, assessing the death penalty. An appeal was taken, and the case remanded. In July, 1877, a new trial was had before Judge L.C Alexander, resulting in a verdict the same as the former one. Again his counsel appealed to the higher tribunal, when in due time the judgement was affirmed, and on July 6, 1878, Judge Alexander sentenced him to be hung on August 28. Gov. Hubbard granted a respite until September 20, after declining any commutation of punishment, though earnestly petitioned to do so by many citizens of this county, for the following reasons, addressed to Col. Parrott:

[some boilerplate omitted -ed.] … No newly discovered proofs tending to show the innocence of the defendant have been presented to the executive. No proofs tending to mitigate or palliate the crime, or bring it under the denomination of murder in the second degree, or manslaughter, have been presented. The statement of facts, certified by the district judge as being the only evidence on the final trial, has alone governed the executive in determining his decision in this case. From a most earnest review of this evidence, he arrives at the conclusion that the defendant was guilty of murder, as charged. A credible witness swears positively to seeing the defendant kill the deceased by a gun, which he saw defendant hold in his hands, and di[s]charge at the body of the deceased; and that from the wounds then received did die. Other witnesses testify to a chain of circumstances establishing the guilt of the defendant as clearly as the positive evidence. Add to all which the defendant, when not under duress, and when not under threats, or under promises of liberty or life, confessed to having killed the deceased … The crime is not relieved by any mitigating circumstances. If the facts as sworn to are true, it was an assassination of an old and unarmed citizen, who had no opportunity of defense, or even notice of the fate which awaited him. With such convictions, formed upon the evidence presented, the executive can not interfere with the judgment of the court.

R.B. HUBBARD, Governor.

Your correspondent visited him on yesterday in company with his spiritual adviser, Rev. M.H. Wells, and found him in good health, and quite cheerful, considering his approaching doom.

In response to questions asked him he declines to make any confession, as it would do him no good, but only bring trouble upon others. In a letter to his friends he says: “I will leave no statement of my case. You will judge me as leniently as possible. I will make my confession to God alone, not to man.” He appears quite reconciled to his fate, and claims every reason to hope for the pardon of his sins, and acceptance at the throne of grace. In his will made on the 17th inst. he bequeathed the remaining estate to his sister, now twelve years of age, sent his trunk by express to his brother, and placed papers and other valuables in the hands of Rev. M.H. Wells to be disposed of as directed. He renders grateful thanks to sheriff Ross and John Magee, the jailer, and other officers and many friends for constant and uniform kindness to him during his long imprisonment. The members of the young men’s christian association have done much to encourage him by their kind words and earnest prayers. His great regret is that he has not yet been able fully to forgive those who were instrumental in bringing upon him this great trouble, and not coming to his rescue as they promised.

Early this morning crowds of people from the surrounding country gathered around the jail. The trees and housetops and every available window were filled with anxious spectators, awaiting the hour of execution, and not less than 3000 persons were on the ground.

At half past 2 o’clock Mr. Wells and other ministers of the methodist church, members of the young men’s christian association and representatives of the press were admitted into the jail, when Speer was brought into the room outside the cage, where religious services were conducted by Mr. Wells, in the following order: Singing first, “Jesus, lover of my soul,” reading the fifty-first psalm; second, hymn, “There is a fountain filled with blood;” prayer by Mr. Wells; after which the sacrament of the Lord’s supper was administered. Prayer by the Rev. W.R.D. Stockton, followed by singing “What a friend we have in Jesus,” and “Shall We Meet Beyond the River,” the latter at the request of the prisoner, and during the singing he shook hands with all in the room; then turning to his companions in prison, bade them good-by, expressing the hope they should meet in heaven. The services and leave-taking were one of the most solemn and impressive scenes it has ever been my lot to witness. Deputy sheriff J.S. Moore then came forward and read the death warrant, the prisoner listening attentively and without any apparent emotion.

The door being thrown open, he took the arms of his spiritual adviser and A.R. McCollum, of the Telephone, who was a friend of his youth, and walked with a firm step around the building, and up the steps to the platform of the gallows, where he stood alone and unmoved during a short and fervent prayer. The rope was then adjusted, his arms and feet pinioned, during which there was no perceptible emotion, but a smile lit up his countenance, which continued until the black cap was drawn over the face. The officers and friends descended from the platform, and at 4.05 the wedge was knocked away, and J.W. Speer was suspended between earth and heaven. The rope having slipped his neck was not broken, but he strangled. At 4.17 the physicians pronounced him dead, and at 4.22 he was cut down and placed in his coffin. Mr. A.R. McCollum took charge of the corpse, and had it buried in the Waco cemetery, Rev. M.H. Wells conducting the burial services.

Just before ascending the scaffold, Speer gave to McCollum, to whom I am indebted for a copy, the following statement in his own handwriting:

WACO, TEXAS, Sept. 18, 1878.

To my friends in Arkansas and elsewhere:

I adopt the present mode of returning thanks to you for your sympathy and assistance during my late trouble. Though all your efforts have been of no avail toward prolonging my life, yet I duly appreciate the endeavors you have made in my behalf, and thank you as freely and heartily as if your wishes had been accomplished. I have been often asked for a written statement of the case against me, with the names of all persons concerned in the murder, but I have, and must still, decline to give such a statement. But for the gratification of my friends, I will give the names of all the parties that I know of, commencing with myself. To a certain extent I am particepts criminis with W.S. Nolan and J.W. Wilson, though I myself never had a cross word with Mr. Pledger in my life. There may be others who are morally guilty, whom I do not know of. More than this I do not wish to say, but leave those who hav eknown me best to judge for themselves. A lady friend once asked me why I did not tell all that I knew of the case and try to save my own life. In answer to her, I will say I have been as she thinks much wronged by W.S. Nolan, J.M. Nolan and J.W. Wilson, and it was my intention at one time to try to do so, but I listened to the persuasions and promise of assistance from J.M. Nolan and W.S. Nolan until it was too late for me to do anything but await my fate and meet it as best I could.

I have been informed that J.M. Nolan has been recently working against me, and my reasons are good for believing the report to be true. Prejudice at one time was very strong against me here, but since my last trial public opinion seems to have changed to some extent, and I now believe that I have the sympathy of all good citizens. Though the change has come too late to do me any good, yet I am grateful to the people, and thank them from my heart for their sympathy and kind appeal to the governor asking executive clemency in my behalf. I know that my friends have thought it very strange that Gov. Hubbard did not commute my sentence to imprisonment for life. But I can only say that it was my misfortune that the case of Emil Houillion was presented and acted on before mine. Had my case been first of the two before his excellency, I think his decision, would have been different.

My treatment here has been very good. Col. Ross, sheriff, and Mr. McGee, jailer, and Mr. McGee’s family have been very kind to me. I have no irons of any sort on me, and have been allowed all the liberties and favors that a person could ask — more, in fact, than one in my condition could expect. To you, my friends, I would respectfully remember his excellency Gov. Miller, of Arkansas, United States senator A.H. Garland, of that state and Col. A.B. Williams, who have indeed tried to befriend me in this trouble; and should it ever be in your power to assist either of these gentlemen, then think of me, who will remember them and you when with my Father in heaven. There are many others, both in this country and there, whose memory and friendship are very dear to me, but their names are too numerous to mention in this statement. It is indeed a priceless pleasure to me to know that I have so many friends and few enemies; and I hope my friends will remember me in after years with pleasure, and not let my memory die entirely out of their hearts. One of my earliest friends, who knew me when I was a little boy in Camden, Arkansas — Mr. McCollum, editor of the Telephone — will kindly take charge of my remains and see that everything is properly attended to, and should any of my friends ever come to Waco and wish to see the last resting-place allotted me here, Mr. McCollum will no doubt cheerfully show them my grave. I would have much preferred that my death could have been a natural one; but, as it is, I feel prepared to go, as a christian should, with hopes of a happy home in heaven. And I shall hope, sooner or later, to meet you all there, where pain and grief have no part, but all is joy and peace. I have one great consolation — that my mother is not here to suffer with my sisters. But I soon will be with her, and await them there. As my time is short, I will bring this letter to a close. May God, in his infinite love and mercy, ever bless and protect you while on earth, and finally reunited us in His upper and better kingdoms, is my daily prayer. In life and in death I remain, with love and well wishes, your true and much wronged friend, formerly of Antoine, Arkansas,

JOHN SPEER

A detachment of the Waco Greys, under command of Capt. Robinson, and of the Central City Guards, under command of Lieut. M.V. Fort, were detailed as guard during the day. Doctors Hamlet, Willis, Holbert, Park, Campbell and Tollivero were announced by the sheriff to be in attendance. The reporter of the News and other representatives of the press, together with some seventy-five others, were admitted into the jail yard, amongst whom were a daughter of Mr. Pledger, the murdered man, and her four children.

The above is the record of the first execution of a white man in McLennan county, and may we not hope that few such scenes will occur in future! -R.G.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Botched Executions,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,Murder,Texas,USA

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1731: Catherine Bevan, burned alive in Delaware

1 comment September 10th, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1731, a double execution of 50-year-old Catherine Bevan and her young servant — perhaps lover — Peter Murphy was nightmarishly marred by Bevan’s burning alive.

Such was indeed the sentence upon her for “petty treason”, a now-archaic legal category that compassed the betrayal — in practice, murder — of an authority. (Compare to “high treason”, meaning the betrayal of the ultimate authority, the sovereign; the legal categories show that these offenses are analogues.) Quite often in such cases the authority in question was the man of the house, and so it was here too: Bevan and Murphy beat and throttled to death her husband, Henry Bevan. Both wife-on-husband and servant-on-master homicide qualified as petty treason.

Crucially for the American colonies, the latter category included slaves in resistance to their masters. Petty treason was an offense elevated beyond “mere” murder because it implied an attack upon the received order upon which all society depended; one expression of the heightened outrage accorded to petty treason was that women* thus convicted could be sentenced to burning, rather than “mere” hanging. This interesting Widener Law Library blog about the Bevan case notes that out of 24 documented burnings of women in early America, 22 were burnings of enslaved women. (Enslaved men were also subject to this fate for crimes particularly threatening to the stability of the Slave Power, like arson.)

Bevan was one of the two exceptions, although it must be noted that there were other prosecutions of white domestic murderesses in the colonial period that simply got the culprits hanged instead of burned. In the looser confines of the New World, the growing English reticence about sending [white] women to the stake predominated; in fact, when Delaware found itself with another spousal parricide on its hands in 1787, its legislature hurriedly amended the still-extant burning-at-the-stake statutes to provide for simple hanging instead.

One reason for the squeamishness was what happened to the widow Bevan.

It was design’d to strangle her dead before the Fire should touch her; but its first breaking out was in a stream which pointed directly upon the Rope that went round her Neck, and burnt it off instantly, so that she fell alive into the Flames, and was seen to struggle.

Pennsylvania Gazette, September 23, 1731

* “In treasons of every kind the punishment of women is the same, and different from that of men” who in some instances could be drawn and quartered, writes Blackstone. “For, as the decency due to the sex forbids the exposing and publickly mangling their bodies, their sentence (which is to the full as terrible to the sensation as the other) is to be drawn to the gallows, and there to be burned alive.”

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Botched Executions,Burned,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Delaware,England,Execution,History,Murder,Occupation and Colonialism,Public Executions,USA,Women

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1873: James Connor

Add comment September 8th, 2019 Headsman

The Capital Punishment UK Facebook page exhumes a ghastly artifact for us in the form of the September 8, 1873 hanging of James Connor at Kirkdale Gaol … and then his second hanging moments later.

A former boilermaker and sometime prizefighter, Connor had accosted a woman on the street with an aggressive proposition, then come to blows with the good Samaritans who attempted to intervene. One of them died from the blade wounds Connor dealt him; the other survived to firmly fix the identity of the rake.

That was on August 11, not even a full month before the man’s execution, and what was paid in haste was also surely paid in full after the stoical condemned instead of dropping to his death crashed into the side of the scaffold. According to the article shared by CPUK, it was not that the rope itself snapped but that “the splicing of the loop through which one end of the rope passes to form the noose had given way with the weight of the man.”

Either way, having built himself up to die game, Connor was somewhat unmanned at the horror spectacle of having his hood removed to behold prison officials scrambling to reset his gallows for a second pass. Per a broadside report,

After utterring [sic] a few deep groans he muttered to Warder Bradley, “What do you do this, do you call this murder?” The chaplain recommenced his ministrations, and entreated him in tremulous voice to keep up. At this point Connor, although suffering terrible physical pain, was heard to exclaim in a feeble voice, “After this you should let me off; surely this is enough. I stood it like a brick the first time.”

Of course, he had to stand it a second time too. Thankfully a third try was not required to accomplish the deed.

It was one of the last executions in the lengthy and botch-prone career of hangman William Calcraft, who was nearing his 73rd birthday at the time. Already he had was being surpassed in his art by the scientific professionalism of Marwood; by 1874, Calcraft was forced to hang up his brittle nooses for good.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Botched Executions,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,Murder

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2018: Carey Dean Moore

1 comment August 14th, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 2018, Nebraska executed Carey Dean Moore for killing two cab drivers all the way back in 1979 — 39 years earlier.

It had been over 20 years since Nebraska carried out any execution, but Moore’s real milestone was in the ongoing drug supply breakdown of the U.S. lethal injection system. Moore was the first U.S. prisoner executed using the opiate fentanyl — in his case, in combination with diazepam, cisatracurium, and potassium chloride. Nebraska’s supply of the last two of these stood within weeks of its labeled expiration.

The German pharmaceutical firm that manufactured some of Wilson’s lethal cocktail sued the Cornhusker state for its intent to use its product as a mankiller. U.S. judge Richard G. Kopf — who formerly blogged bench life at his site Hercules and the Umpiretartly rejected this appeal, finding that after four decades on death row it had become curiously essential to the majesty of justice that Moore be executed right now: “Any delay now is tantamount to nullifying Nebraska law, particularly given the rapidly approaching expiration of two of the drugs and the total absence of any feasible alternatives.”

Although the execution went ahead, it did not go smoothly. According to the Lincoln Journal Star,

Members of the media who witnessed Moore’s death Tuesday by lethal injection described reactions of Moore to the drugs that included rapid and heaving breaths, coughing, gradual reddening of the face and hands, and then a purple cast to the skin. 

But about 15 minutes into the procedure, about a minute after Moore’s eyelids appeared to open slightly, Corrections Director Scott Frakes, who was in the room with the condemned prisoner, said something into his radio and the curtains closed for the media witnesses.

The curtains did not open again for 14 minutes, six minutes after Lancaster County Attorney Pat Condon pronounced Moore dead at 10:47 a.m., and 29 minutes after the first drug, diazepam, was administered at 10:24.

The curtain that shielded the four media witnesses from what happened during that time is significant, as they were not allowed to view everything that happened in the room. That hindered transparency and true reporting of the effects of the drugs, observers have said.

Don’t worry, we have the assurance of Frakes et al that everything worked fine and was done by the book while the curtain was down.

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Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Botched Executions,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Lethal Injection,Milestones,Murder,Nebraska,Ripped from the Headlines,USA

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1643: Philippe Giroux, former president of the Dijon Parlement

Add comment May 8th, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1643, a remarkable trial-of-the-century political case climaxed when a former judge was beheaded for murdering his noble cousin and the cousin’s valet.

Book CoverPhilippe Giroux’s amazing and disconcerting case is the subject of a page-turning microhistory by James Farr, A Tale of Two Murders: Passion and Power in Seventeenth-Century France, which is the source of essentially every detail about the case in this post. “There is substantial evidence surviving from this case,” Farr writes … “and not all of it points the same way.”

Philippe Giroux had, in the suspicious eyes of his peers in Dijon society, ample motive that would connect him to the September 6, 1638 disappearance of Pierre Baillet and Philibert Neugot: common rumor had him so infatuated with Baillet’s wife, Marie Fyot, as to aspire to marry her.

But Giroux was no ordinary lustful bourgeois: he was the paramount judge at the Parlement of Dijon, a powerful client of an even more powerful patron, the Prince of Conde. Giroux’s kin and allies peopled the Burgundy courts.

Perhaps it is no surprise in the Three Musketeers-era France addicted to dueling that a person of this prominence would attract a nemesis, but rare indeed that a vendetta could pull such a powerful figure so low as the scaffold. This bilious triumph was savored in the end by Giroux’s hated rival Pierre Saumaise de Chasans.

A fellow judge whose enmity with our date’s principal reached back at least to 1627, Saumaise, in Farr’s words, presented his contemporaries

a personality of unrelentingly pious self-righteousness blending seamlessly into base self-interest. A quarrelsome man constantly at odds with his fellow judges, Saumaise was involved in twenty-two quarrels with other judges in Parlement, was reprimanded eleven times as the culprit, and was censored seven times. During the seventeenth century the Parlement as a whole was drifting toward lenience in criminal sentences, but Saumaise swam against this current. For example, in 1633 Saumaise was assigned as a rapporteur to ten cases appealed to Parlement from lower courts across Burgundy. In only one of those cases did Saumaise seek to lessen the punishment imposed by the lower court …

Another gruesome example of Saumaise’s severity. In 1633, for conviction of a murder, the grapegrower Bazille Borde was broken on the wheel (more often murderers were hanged or beheaded). As Saumaise watched, the executioner shattered Borde’s arm and leg bones with a metal rod, and then pitched him onto a raised wheel, face up, to die slowly and in agony. His accomplice merely had his head chopped off, after which Saumaise and the presiding judge split the epices of sixty-six ecus (more than the victims combined would have earned in years).

Most disturbing of all of the examples of Saumaise’s stern, unmerciful jurisprudence is the series of cases for witchcraft that Saumaise prosecuted in March 1633. In other parts of France and Europe a witch hunt swept widely during the early seventeenth century, but with the exception of a few flare-ups, Burgundy was largely spared. Saumaise oversaw one of those flare-ups. For a bloody week in the middle of March, Saumaise signed his name as a rapporteur to seven sentences which capped the trials of twenty-five accused witches. Lower courts had ordered banishment, but under appeal at Parlement (required by law for all capital offenses tried in lower courts) Saumaise and the presiding judge demonstrated their belief that firmer punishment was needed. Saumaise saw to it that several of the victims were tortured, and three were eventually burned at the stake. Saumaise and the president assigned to these cases, by the way, pocketed for their efforts 400 ecus (that is, 1,200£, or more than a journeyman artisan — or any of the victims — might earn in fifteen years). In all, in 1633 alone Saumaise shared with his presidents about 700 ecus in addition to his regular wages. Fellow judges, including Philippe Giroux, were deeply troubled by the severity of Saumaise as a judge. By Giroux’s count, Saumaise submitted fifty-six people accused of crimes to be tortured, broken on the wheel, or beheaded, prompting Giroux to conclude in disgust that Saumaise was “a crow who is most content among dead bodies.”

From the late 1620s and throughout the 1630s these two sniped at each other in the august chambers of the king’s justice and with the less discriminating public squibs facilitated by the era of movable type. On the whole, Saumaise did not get the better of his confrontations with Giroux, even once being forced to perform the amende honorable before their legal peers with a galling public affirmation of his enemy’s honor that must of tasted like ash in Saumaise’s mouth.

That was early in 1639, mere weeks after Giroux allegedly slaughtered Pierre Baillet. It would be prove to be the apex before the wheel of fortune very abruptly threw him down.

Giroux attempted to press his advantage over Saumaise by pursuing a rape charge against him, but the case speedily fell apart with the whiff of suborned perjury about it. Meanwhile, two judges not in Giroux’s network had been detailed to investigate the Baillet murder, and a constellation of evidence was emerging from the Giroux servants and associates who had been interrogated. However much of this was circumstantial and hearsay, it was certainly more than the president of Parlement ought to have said against him per the Caesar’s-wife standard.

In July 1640 Giroux was arrested and although his confinement was comfortably befitting his station it would continue for the remainder of his life — Giroux powerless while the evidence compounded to do aught but issue learned public factums savaging the case against him as a concoction of Saumaise’s vendetta. Indeed, as a purely juridical matter, this prosecution did suffer from some debilitating flaws which help to explain the protracted three-year gap from arrest to judgment and execution. Most notably, it lacked bodies, which were legally required to prosecute a murder case in the absence of a confession or an eyewitness, neither of which proved forthcoming. Had Giroux, as a servant had alleged, efficiently pitched the victims undetected into his latrine where quicklime had dissolved their remains into the ordure? If so, it might never be possible to conclude a judgment; certainly the magistrate Giroux remained wisely steadfast in his denials and could be relied upon to perceive where his prosecutors’ claims were most vulnerable. In Giroux’s telling the prosecution and the hand of his personal enemy had veered into an outright stitch-up, with every witness favorable to himself excluded and the prejudicial evidence of his rivals’ kin granted outsized credence. Are we seriously to believe this senior judge butchered his own cousin in his own home, that the victims or “victims” had not instead (as other rumors suggested) upped sticks and left the country or fallen prey to some wilderness brigands?

In such a gap might a litigant preserve his life. Still and all, O.J. Simpson was acquitted but also permanently stripped of his public stature and respectability. How much more these pains would have weighed on a dignitary of the king’s courts, in a society where family, honor, and reputation were the true coin of the realm. However stoutly he defended himself from his cell, Giroux found events running away from him, and even the favor of the Prince of Conde coldly withdrawn — as discovered when his father presented himself in the prince’s court to petition for his son and was advised that he’d be seeing the inside of the Bastille should he not speedily fly. His son contemplated the same strategem, but his jailbreak plot was detected before it could be implemented.

When a sack apparently containing the remains of the victims was finally uncovered — the identification dramatically cinched by a playing card that a tailor had sewn into one of the men’s collars to stiffen it — the fallen president of Parlement knew his doom was sealed although even to his confessors he staked his immortal soul upon his innocence. The courts so long uncertain about the fate of their former colleague now had a clincher. They imposed financial penalties that, while irrelevant to his own final hours, devastated and permanently diminished Giroux’s house thereafter, plus the sentence of beheading, a merciful abatement considering the more brutal executions at the law’s disposal for cases of murder.

After hearing the sentence of death [early afternoon of May 8], Giroux was led into the holding cell of the courthouse and prepared for execution. He was stripped of the symbols of his presidential office — ritually divested of his bonnet carre and his scarlet robe, which in any case he had not been permitted to wear since his incarceration. Such a ritual officially cast the felon into the dishonorable netherworld of social disgrace. Execution everywhere in early modern Europe “imported infamy” upon the condemned, and this was made visible by the physical treatment of the criminal’s body. The body in those days was not thought of as simply the integral possession of the individual human being but rather as a socially defined entity that signified status and standing in a highly stratified system. This system, as Giroux knew as well as anyone, was held together and given meaning by that pervasive notion of honor that so preoccupied men like him. The loss of honor could ruin a family, most directly by ending descendents’ [sic] prospects of marrying. It was undoubtedly because of this fear of dishonor that upon being led into the holding cell, Giroux turned to Comeau and said with tears in his eyes, “I beg you to assure my Lord the Prince [of Conde] that I remain his servant, and I beg him that this poor innocent who is my son and who has the honor to carry [Conde’s] name must not suffer from the disgrace of his father. Perhaps he will be more fortunate that I.” …

Spared both the humiliation and the pain of being broken on the wheel, Giroux gasped, “God be praised! These men have much charity and mercy, because according to the crimes of which I have been accused, I ought to be more rudely treated.” Opting for beheading was one indication that the judges were trying not to dishonor Giroux. Another was that they withheld a customary phrase in the sentence of death. Usually death sentences called for actions that would obliterate the memory of the convicted felon and destroy in posterity the honor of his or her family. The body might be burned and its ashes scattered to the wind, or dismembered and buried in an unmarked grave, or documents from the trial declaring the innocence of the accused, such as factums, might be destroyed. The judges ordered none of these steps.

Now Saumaise had the satisfaction of seeing the amende honorable ritual reversed to his advantage, as a bound Giroux begged public forgiveness on his knees during his shameful procession to death. “Ah, my father! My son! My kin! My friends! What will you not suffer from this affront that will burst upon you all!” Farr has him exclaiming. He had a quarter-mile yet to walk to the Place du Morimont (present-day Place Emile-Zola).*

The streets were lined with a hundred armed men who held in check a crowd “so numerous” and packed so densely, according to Larme, “that one could suffocate among them.” Giroux apparently regained his composure, for he now strode between the two priests “with constancy and firmness,” as Larme reports. The former president had the presence of mind to bid adieu to several people whom he recognized along the way. He even smiled, showing no evidence that he was suffering inside. It was in this state that he entered the chapel beneath the scaffold where, still clutching the crucifix, he bade a final goodbye to his son and asked him always to remember his father with respect and love. He then prostrated himself before the altar, saying, “Receive, O Lord, my death in expiation for my sins.” He rose, turned to the priests, and asked them to promise to take his body to the family estate at Marigny for burial. He emerged from the chapel and climbed the steps of the scaffold. He faced the crowd, and bowed deeply three times. Then, his back to the executioner, he dropped to his knees. He heard his sentence of death read to him yet again, this time by an assistant to the royal prosecutor general named Deschamps, and then recited a series of litanies. After that, Deschamps drew close and said that he had orders to ask Giroux one last time whether he had killed Monsieur Baillet, whether Marie Fyot was involved in the conspiracy, and who his accomplices were. Giroux, steadfast in his innocence to the end, replied, “I have told you everything I know.”

Giroux was confessed a final time by Father Chaudot, received absolution, and awaited the approach of the hooded headsman. The executioner removed Giroux’s flowing wig to blindfold his eyes. Giroux clutched the crucifix and drew it close to his heart just before the executioner’s sword flashed toward Giroux’s exposed neck. The first blow did not sever the former president’s head, not did the second. The crowd gaped in horror and then erupted in sympathy for Giroux while he was being hacked to death. Larme too looked on horrified, and reported that many in the crowd tried to storm the scaffold and wanted to tear the executioner limb from limb, shouting “Death to the headsman!” And they would have done so, Larme assures us, if the soldiers posted all around the gallows had not kept them at bay. It ultimately took the headsman five blows of the broadsword to cut off Philippe Giroux’s head.

* Find here a grim French-language tour through the notable public punishments administered at this location down the years.

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Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Beheaded,Botched Executions,Capital Punishment,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,France,History,Judges,Lawyers,Murder,Public Executions

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1738: Nicolas Doxat de Demoret

Add comment March 20th, 2019 Headsman

Swiss officer and military engineer Nicolas Doxat de Demoret — also referred to as Doxat de Moretz or Doxat von Morez — was beheaded on this date in 1738 for surrendering to a Turkish siege.

Native — as his name suggests — of Demoret, Doxat was a career soldier who had served the Austrian empire since 1712. The generation of Doxat’s service saw Austria’s greatest expansion into the Balkans, with Turkey forced to cede to the empire most of present-day Serbia. Doxat emerged with some war wounds and a general’s epaulets.

Unfortunately 18th century Vienna did not have access to the Internet articles informing it that this would represent its greatest expansion in the Balkans — for, in 1737, Austria jumped into a Russo-Turkish War with an eye to gobbling even more, and instead started suffering the defeats that would return its conquests to the Sublime Porte.

General Doxat owned one of these defeats, the October 1737 surrender of the Serbian city of Niš to an Ottoman siege — yielded too readily, in the judgment of Austrian authorities. He had weeks of supplies remaining but with little water and no prospect of relief he judged the situation hopeless and accepted an arrangement that permitted the honorable withdrawal of his garrison.

Despite the appeals of comrades in arms for clemency, the emperor confirmed the sentence of a war council, and Doxat was beheaded* in Belgrade on March 20, 1738. Barely a year later, that city too was in Turkish hands.

* The beheading, conducted in the botch-prone seated position, was botched — the first blow gouging the general’s shoulder and knocking him prone, where he was inelegantly finished off.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Austria,Beheaded,Botched Executions,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Habsburg Realm,History,Military Crimes,Nobility,Serbia,Soldiers,Wartime Executions,Yugoslavia

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1819: John Van Alstine

Add comment March 19th, 2019 Headsman

John Van Alstine was (incompetently) hanged two hundred years ago today for murdering Schoharie County, N.Y., deputy sheriff William Huddleston — whom he bludgeoned to death in a rage when Huddleston turned up to execute a civil judgment forcing the sale of Van Alstine’s property to service a debt. The man acknowledged having a ferocious temper.

“It is not a year since I stated in Judge Beekman’s presence, (and, I stated it as the firm conviction of my mind), that there were two things I should never come to — the state’s prison and the gallows,” the confessed murderer mused in his public reflections, below. “How often have these words occurred to me since the regretted 9th, and taught me the vanity of human boasting, and the weakness of human resolution, when opposed to long indulged passions.”


This document has also been transcribed here.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Botched Executions,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,Murder,New York,Public Executions,USA

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1867: Ciosi and Agostini, at the Polygone of Vincennes

Add comment January 21st, 2019 Headsman

From the London Times, Jan. 23, 1867, under a January 22 dateline:

The two soldiers (Corsicans) who committed a murder and robbery some time since at Neuilly, and were sentenced to death by court-martial, were shot yesterday morning, in presence of a large crowd, at the Polygone of Vincennes. One of them, [Jean-Baptiste] Agostini, was so exhausted that he had to be tied to a post to keep him from falling to the ground. The other, [Jean-Antoine] Ciosi, was more courageous, and, having addressed the shooting party to this effect, — “Dear comrades, on my conscience, I committed the crime for which I die, but I committed no robbery. I ask pardon of God, and of you. Farewell!” he himself gave the word to fire. The troops marched past the bodies as they lay on the ground. The interment took place in the burial ground of Vincennes, under the supervision of the chaplain of the fort.

A longer French-language account of the crime and execution — including the necessity of a brain-splattering coup de grace to complete the sentence — can be found here. There’s some fuzziness with the date cited in different places but French press reports (for instance, from Le Figaro on January 22) unambiguously place it on Monday the 21st.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Botched Executions,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,France,Murder,Public Executions,Shot,Soldiers

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