But when his body was laid out on a stretcher for disposal and the official witnesses were filing out of the death chamber, Rodrigues began showing signs of life.
It was “a defect in the garrote or due to careless adjustment of the metal band which fits about the victim’s neck to cause strangulation,” an Associated Press wire report ran.*
In present-day Iran, one of the most aggressive death penalty states going, a drug dealer managed to survive a hanging just weeks ago as I write this in 2013. That man got shipped to the hospital and placed on life support, with the justice minister eventually announcing that he wouldn’t be noosed again.
With nary a pause to await further instruction, the execution-chamber guards forcibly subdued Rodrigues, who had reanimated sufficiently to “put up a furious struggle.” They forced their thrashing victim back onto the garrote, double-checked the metal band this time,** and tightened it until it asphyxiated Rodrigues a second time … then left the now-actually-lifeless body on the machine a full 22 minutes to make good and certain of their work.
* Here quoted from the Oct. 30, 1927 Los Angeles Times. Also see the New York Times from the same date for a truncated paraphrase of the same report.
This entry in our Corpses Strewn series on the October 1698 extirpation of the Streltsy is courtesy of the diaries of Austrian diplomat Johann Georg Korb, an eyewitness to the events.
This differed confiderably from those that preceded. The manner of it was quite different, and hardly credible. Three hundred and thirty at a time were led out together to the fatal axe’s stroke, and embrued the whole plain with native but impious blood: for all the Boyars, Senators of the realm, Dumnoi, Diaks, and so forth, that were present at the council constituted against the rebel Strelitz, had been summoned by the Czar’s command to Bebraschentsko, and enjoined to take upon themselves the hangman’s office. Some struck the blow unsteadily, and with trembling hands assumed this new and unaccustomed task. The most unfortunate stroke among all the Boyars was given by him whose erring sword struck the back instead of the neck, and thus chopping the Strelitz almost in halves, would have roused him to desperation with pain, had not Alexasca* reached the unhappy wretch a surer blow of an axe on the neck.
Prince Romadonowski, under whose command previous to the mutiny these four regiments were to have watched the turbulent gatherings in Poland on the frontier, beheaded, according to order, one out of each regiment. Lastly, to every Boyar a Strelitz was led up, whom he was to behead. The Czar, in his saddle, looked on at the whole tragedy.
Peter scornfully reproached many of the nobles who trembled at being compelled to behead some rebels; adding in a strain of sanguinary justice, “No victim is more acceptable to the Deity than a wicked man.” Mentchikof, however, did not labour under such delicate feelings; for as a prelude to the execution of one hundred and fifty Strelitz, he drove through the streets of Moscow in a sledge, brandishing a naked sword, and boasted of his adroitness in cutting off twenty heads. (Source)
This isn’t exactly the most historically important execution, but as the Newgate Calendar says, “The circumstance which attended the execution of this unfortunate man alone entitles him to a place in our pages, for otherwise his case is void of interest.”
What follows is the Calendar’s entry, which comes verbatim from the Aug. 23 London Times.
He was apprehended for a highway robbery, and convicted at the Old Bailey, when he received sentence of death. From the time of his conviction, he either affected, or suffered, complete insanity; but this did not release him from the consequence of his sentence; and, on Monday, August 22d, 1814, he was executed in front of Newgate, along with William Henry Lye, for burglary; John Mitchell, for forgery; Francis Sturgess, and Michael Mahoney, for highway robbery; and John Field, alias Jonathan Wild [not that one -ed.], for burglary. By half past six o’clock the Old Bailey, and houses adjacent, were crowded to great excess. At half past seven Mahoney was brought forward, for the purpose of being disencumbered of his irons. While his irons were knocking off, it was found necessary to search for a knife to cut some part of the cordage, which confined the irons. Mahoney, seeing this, stooped, and, with an Herculean effort, tore it asunder. This being the only Catholic, the Rev. Mr. Devereux attended him in constant prayer, in which he joined most fervently. Sturgess, Field, and Mitchell, conducted themselves with great propriety. The unfortunate Ashton had been in a state of insanity since the receipt of the awful warrant for his execution. In the Press Yard he distorted his countenance horribly. He was the fifth who mounted the scaffold, and ran up the steps with great rapidity; and, having gained the summit of the platform, began to kick and dance, and often exclaimed, ‘I’m Lord Wellington!’ The Rev. Mr. Cotton, who officiated for the first time as Ordinary, enjoined him to prayer, to which he paid little attention, and continued to clap his hands as far as he was permitted by the extent of the cord. Mitchell often invited him to prayer. All that could be done was ineffectual, and it was necessary to have two men to hold him during the awful ceremony. When they released him for the purpose of the Lord’s Prayer being said, he turned round, and began to dance, and vociferated, Look at me; ‘I am Lord Wellington!’ At twenty minutes past eight o’clock the signal was given, and the platform fell. Scarcely, however, had the sufferers dropped, before, to the awe and astonishment of every beholder, Ashton rebounded from the rope, and was instantaneously seen dancing near the Ordinary, and crying out very loudly, and apparently unhurt, ‘What do ye think of me? Am I not Lord Wellington now?’ then danced, clapped his hands, and huzzaed. At length the executioner was compelled to get up the scaffold, and to push him forcibly from the place which he stood.
Quite a baptism for the Rev. Horace Salusbury Cotton’s very first gig as the Ordinary. Cotton noted Ashton’s remarkable behavior in his execution diary; the relevant pages can be seen here.
Nothing daunted, Cotton enjoyed a 25-year run in the position (he was the cleric Charles Dickens saw at work when the writer visited Newgate in 1835), and “enjoyed” really does seem like the right word. “He was a robust, rosy, well-fed, unctuous individual, whose picture may be seen in Cruikshank‘s plate of the Press yard in Pierce Egan‘s ‘Life in London,’” wrote Horace Bleackley. “His condemned sermons were more terrific than those of any of his predecessors, and he was censured by the authorities for ‘harrowing the prisoner’s feelings unnecessarily’ in the case of Henry Fauntleroy, the banker.”
Dr Cotton, Ordinary of Newgate, Announcing the Death Warrant, by a prisoner named W. Thomson. This 1826 watercolor is at the Tate gallery.
On this date in 1812, William Booth was hanged at Stafford for counterfeiting.
Booth might have murdered his brother John, who was found beaten to death in a Warwickshire stable in 1808. He defeated that charge for want of evidence.
But he would not be two times lucky before the bar.
As a “farmer” living on 200 acres, he enjoyed the privacy to build his own mint, complete with forged royal stamps for churning out banknotes — more than enough cause to hang a man should he be caught, which Booth was. He was a difficult fellow to arrest, the Bury and Norwich Post reported (Aug. 19, 1812), because his farmhouse turned out to be “a little fort, full of trap-doors, and barred and bolted like a bastile.”
Booth’s engineering acumen might have come in handy for his executioners. As a broadside notes, the gallows Booth
ascended with a firm and steady step, but turned his back upon the populace almost immediately; after some time spent in prayer, the rope was adjusted, and a signal being given by the malefactor, (throwing his handkerchief from him that he was ready to submit to his fate,) the drop sunk, when, shocking to relate, by the cord slipping from the fatal tree, the unfortunate man fell from the top of the gallows upon the platform, a distance of eight or ten feet, where he remained motionless and insensible for some minutes.
The stunned prisoner was gradually revived, and redoubled his pieties. The fall must have rendered the noose unusable, because for some reason a delay ensued sufficient to stretch out the proceedings to two full hours, all of which Booth spent in the shadow of the gallows. Even when they finally had him trussed up and ready to hang again, they needed a do-over: Booth once more dropped his handkerchief, but the drop embarrassingly failed to dislodge. Booth, who had twice prepared himself to walk to the brink of death only to twice survive, asked for his handkerchief back once the apparatus had been fixed so that he could re-drop it.
Having faced two capital trials, and two executions, Booth couldn’t even get buried right on the first time. Apparently a re-drawing of the county line required his remains to be exhumed and re-interred, giving rise to a ballad, “Twice Tried, Twice Hung, Twice Buried”.
(Although this version proposes twice hanged and once drowned: suffice to say, Booth lived an interesting death.)
On this date in 1699, Madame Angelique-Nicole Tiquet lost her beautiful head … eventually.
The talk of every Parisian in the spring of 1699 for attempting the life of her husband, Angelique-Nicole Carlier had been well-known in Paris circles since the 1670s; coincidentally or not, that was a period when a perceived boom in “husband-killing” burgeoned the phenomenon into an outright moralpanic.
In those bygone days, Mademoiselle Carlier did her manslaying metaphorically, wielding only her limitless charms (not excluding a wealthy inheritance left by her industrious albeit untitled late father). This reputed “masterpiece of nature,” alas, exchanged her magnum opus for deniers on the livre when she succumbed to the suit of Claude Tiquet, a respected councilor of the Parlement of Paris so bedazzled by the young woman that he did not pause to consider her liberalities. Although quite past her in age, Tiquet won her hand with the promise of wealth so capacious that he wooed his intended with a bouquet of flowers studded with 15,000 l. worth of diamonds — and plied her aunt with still more largesse to advance his case.
But actually, Monsieur Tiquet was not wealthy. He stretched his fortune to acquire these amorous bribes as, let us say, investments in a happy future.
“Thus they united their fortunes for life, equally blinded as to each other,” George Henry Borrow wrote. “Such are the steps that lead to the most unhappy destinies.”
The wife’s prodigality — and her belated discovery as she blew through the putative family fortune that it was he who had married the money, and not she — soon brought domestic relations to a frosty pass.
Madame kindled a more edifying romance with a young captain of the guards; Monsieur strove in vain to check her moves with locked doors and snooping skulks. They separated to distinct wings of the family house, seeing one another only rarely — and in deathly silence — while each schemed his or her embittered schemes. Years they wasted at this intolerable impasse.
Despairing at last of being rid of either her horrible husband or his horrible debts, Madame Tiquet took her plotting far enough to compass her spouse’s death. “It is impossible,” she cried in one unguarded moment to a friend, “for me to have any enjoyment of myself while my husband lives, who is in too good health for me to look for such a quick revolution of fortune.”
So she engaged the services of her porter and of a freelance villain, and on the evening of April 8, 1699, these two assassins ambushed Claude Tiquet as he returned from a friend’s house and shot him three times. One ball only barely missed the heart. Tiquet survived, and he demanded those who came to his aid take him not to his own house but back to his friend’s. Of enemies, he said, “I have none but my own wife.”
This scenario speedily became the talk of Paris, and it did not take long for sentiment to coalesce against the wife. The hired assassins implicated Madame Tiquet in a years-long conspiracy to murder her husband whose previous installments — a missed ambush; a failed poisoning — had come to naught. Both Madame Tiquet and the porter, Jacques Moura, received a sentence of death, each appropriate to their respective stations: she to lose her neck, and he to swing from his.
There nevertheless remained some ambiguity about her real guilt, for the evidence was mostly circumstance and inference and colored by the purely titillating qualities of the public scandal. And then there was the fact that she was an attractive woman.
Angelique’s brother, a guardsman like the condemned woman’s lover, organized a petition for pardon. Surprisingly, even Monsieur Tiquet threw himself at Louis XIV‘s feet to plead for the life of his would-be murderess and the mother of his children. But it is said that when the Sun King wavered in his firmness, the Archbishop of Paris himself insisted upon the sentence. That prelate’s warning that save Madame Tiquet’s head should drop, no man could feel safe in his house must have fallen very ominously from the lips of the executive manager of Parisian confessionals.
Madame Tiquet heard the final failure of her appeals this day from an official who in the springtime of life had himself numbered among Mademoiselle Carlier’s suitors. And because the condemned would still not consent to confess the plot, that admirer was further obliged to order her to the cruel water torture to extract her statement.
In this procedure, the poor sinner is stretched out as on the rack, and eight pots of water painfully forced down the gullet. Madame Tiquet endured only a single pot before she calculated her inability to withstand the procedure and admitted all. Even so she continued to insist on the innocence of her lover: “I took care not to let him into the secret, else I had lost his esteem forever!”
These justice-satisfying preliminaries dispensed with, the condemned were conducted to the Place de Greve to suffer the penalty of the law. Thousands crowded the streets and windows, as was becoming the style for the execution spectacle of the era. Genuinely contrite or else wanting to play the part, she conversed humbly with her confessor and her condemned porter, exchanging absolutions and exhortations to die with Christian firmness.
Proceedings were delayed by a thunderstorm, although Madame Tiquet showed nothing but equanimity to wait at the foot of the scaffold while the weather passed. Jacques Moura hanged first: the undercard attraction.
Then the talk of all the town mounted those beams to give her own final performance, one remarked upon by all observers for its poise and stagecraft. The later memoirs of the Sanson family, written after that name inscribed itself on the guillotine during the French Revolution, dramatized the scene. It includes the regrettable inability of their own ancestor Charles Sanson de Longval* to equal the doomed woman’s grace under pressure.
When Angelique’s turn was come, she advanced, gracefully bowing to my ancestor, and holding out her hand, that he might help her to ascend the steps. He took with respect the fingers which were soon to be stiffened by death. Mdme. Tiquet then mounted on the scaffold with the imposing and majestic step which had always been admired in her. She knelt on the platform, said a short prayer, and, turning to her confessor,
“I thank you for your consolations and kind words; I shall bear them to the Lord.”
She arranged her head-dress and long hair; and, after kissing the block, she looked at my ancestor, and said:
“Sir, will you be good enough to show me the position. I am to take?”
Sanson de Longval, impressed by her look, had but just the strength to answer that she had only to put her head on the block.
Angelique obeyed, and said again:
“Am I well thus?”
A cloud passed before my ancestor’s eyes; he raised with both hands the heavy two-edged sword which was used for the purpose of decapitation, described with it a kind of semicircle, and let the blade fall with its full weight on the neck of the handsome victim.
The blood spurted out, but the head did not fall. A cry of horror rose from the crowd.
Sanson de Longval struck again; again the hissing of the sword was heard, but the head was not separated from the body. The cries of the crowd were becoming threatening.
Blinded by the blood which spurted at every stroke, Sanson brandished his weapon a third time with a kind of frenzy. At last the head rolled at his feet. His assistants picked it up and placed it on the block, where it remained for some time; and several witnesses asserted that even in death it retained its former calmness and beauty.
For an interesting consideration of the Tiquet affair, including her posthumous use in polemical melodrama either critiquing or celebrating her repentance of a life of iniquity, there’s a freely downloadable academic paper here. It’s by the author of this wild true-crime mystery unfolding elsewhere in France at just about the same time.
* Charles Sanson de Longval was the first Sanson executioner, the founder of the dynasty of headsmen. He had fallen into the dishonorable profession from a much more respectable social station and had been transplanted to Paris from Rouen only a few years before.
Thanks for the guest post to Nancy Bilyeau, the author of The Crown and The Chalice, thrillers set in Tudor England. The main character is Joanna Stafford, a Dominican novice.
On this date in 1541, 68-year-old Margaret Pole, countess of Salisbury, was beheaded within the confines of the Tower of London, as befitted her rank. She was cousin to Henry VIII’s mother, and well trusted by the king for years. Yet this intelligent and dignified aristocrat died without trial in a horribly botched execution that is considered a low point of Henry’s reign.
Margaret knew better than most how difficult it was to survive royal storms if your family was close to the throne. Yet despite all her efforts to stay out of danger, it was her family that doomed her to the axe in the end.
When Catherine of Aragon arrived in England to marry Prince Arthur, Margaret became one of her ladies and a deep friendship sprang up. Years later, when Margaret was a relatively young widow, tall and red-haired, and Catherine was married to Arthur’s brother, Henry VIII, Margaret was singled out for several great honors. In 1512, the king gave Margaret many of the lands of her Warwick grandfather and a family title. She became the countess of Salisbury in her own right.
Margaret was selected by king and queen to be the governor for the 9-year-old Princess Mary, their only child. In a separate, vast household, she would be the one to guide Mary toward her destiny as heir to the throne. Some of Margaret’s own children made excellent marriages, such as her daughter Ursula to the oldest son of the duke of Buckingham. Her son, Reginald, began to shine as a cleric and intellectual; Henry VIII paid for his studies at the University of Padua.
The Pole family fortunes crashed — as so many others did — after Anne Boleyn became the second wife of Henry VIII. Not surprisingly, Margaret had sided with Catherine and Mary during the divorce struggle. When in 1533, the king’s men came to Mary’s household to claim her jewels as part of Henry’s move to bastardize his daughter, Margaret refused to hand them over. She was then discharged from her office by the king, who called her a “fool.”
Margaret did and said nothing else that was publicly critical of the king. She never saw Catherine of Aragon again and rarely saw Mary, to whom she had been a second mother. She spent her time in country retirement. She adhered to traditional Catholic doctrine, and priests lived in her homes. This was not illegal, but as religious reform gained steam, it brought her under scrutiny.
However, from the safety of France and Italy, her son, Reginald, chose to make public remarks sharply critical of Henry VIII. He published a treatise in 1536 attacking the king’s claim to superiority over the English church and calling on the princes of Europe to depose him. The king was enraged.
Margaret and her oldest son, Henry Pole, Lord Montagu, wrote Reginald letters pleading with him to cease his attacks. “Do your duty or you will be my undoing,” she warned — correctly.
In 1538 another of Margaret’s sons, Geoffrey, was questioned and then confined in the Tower of London. He eventually gave statements that his brother, Montagu, and their relations and friends sympathized with Reginald Pole and had privately criticized Henry VIII. Under law, this was treason, punishable by death. All the noblemen accused of being part of the “Exeter Conspiracy” were executed. But there was no proof that Margaret Pole ever wrote or said anything that fell under the definition of treason.
It didn’t matter. She was questioned, held under house arrest, and then imprisoned in the Tower of London for two years. She suffered in the winters, and Henry VIII’s fifth wife, the teenage Catherine Howard, bravely sent her some warm clothes.
A minor rebellion broke out in England, led by a Neville, her mother’s family, but unconnected to Margaret. Nonetheless, it seems to have prompted Henry VIII to eliminate the woman whom he had once trusted and admired, who was his closest female relative after his daughters.
Early in the morning of May 27, the Constable of the Tower woke up Margaret to tell her she would die within the next few hours. The ailing countess replied she had never been charged with any crime.
Because of her royal descent, she was executed on the Tower grounds, on the same spot as Anne Boleyn five years earlier, before more than 100 spectators. There was not enough time to erect a scaffold; also, the executioner was not in residence, only his novice.
Margaret commended her soul to God and asked the spectators to pray for the king and queen, Prince Edward and of course the Princess Mary. Reports conflict on what happened next. Some say she refused to kneel before the block on the ground, or to stand still. The novice swung at her with his ax, hacking at her shoulders, before managing to kill her. It may have taken 10 chops.
On this date in 1934, Georges-Alexandre Sarrejani (alias Sarret) became the last person guillotined at Aix-en-Provence
This charmer — most of the links today are in French — ticked one off the bucket list by seducing a pair of sisters, Catherine and Philomene Schmidt.
These he used as partners in a simple insurance scam way back in 1920: get them to marry a couple of men at death’s door, produce bogus medical exams declaring them to be in robust health, and pocket the proceeds when they kick the bucket. Sarrejani pocketed got the lion’s share because he threatened to denounce the Bavarian sisters as World War I spies. Insurers had their suspicions but couldn’t prove anything.
In 1925, a defrocked priest and said priest’s mistress threatened to turn in the scam artists.
Sarrejani, again with the full complicity of his women, horrifyingly disposed of the threat.
After shooting both dead, he ducked off to Marseilles to pick up a bathtub and 100 liters of vitriol (aka sulfuric acid). With this, Sarrejani and his mistresses marinated their victims until they had dissolved into a foul brackish puddle, which was nonchalantly poured out into the garden.
It’s this stomach-turning crime that Sarrejani is most famous for, and got the “trio infernale” immortalized on the silver screen in a gruesome 1974 film.
However, this murder was unknown for six years and might have gone permanently undetected had not the infernales attempted an even more primitive insurance scam in 1931. How many victims, one wonders, have been successfully acid-bathed by murderers restrained enough to get away with it.
At any rate, in 1931 Catherine Schmidt insured herself and faked her own death, substituting a tuberculotic corpse. She had the carelessness to show herself in Marseilles where someone recognized her as a “dead” woman … and in the ensuing interrogation, she turned the denunciation game right around on Serrejani. I’ll show you a Bavarian spy, mister.
The result was France’s most headline-grabbing trial since the bluebeard Henri Landru, pictures of which can be gawked at this French forum thread. Sarrejani had some legal training, enabling him to drag out the melodrama even further to the great delight of the nation’s editors.
When all was said and done, Sarrejani was set to lose his head; the Schmidts got just 10 years in prison. Call it the dividend on that insurance-fraud money he’d muscled out of them.
The whole ghastly affair had one last horror when Sarrejani met the blade this morning just outside the prison walls: the blade stuck halfway down, leaving embarrassed executioners to do 10 minutes of live troubleshooting while their patient below (justifiably) fulminated against their incompetence.
On this date in 1886, David Roberts was hanged at Cardiff for a murder-robbery the October previous.
Both Roberts and his father, Edward Roberts, were arraigned for the murder. The Robertses, father and son, had both been playing cards with the late David Thomas on the night of the crime, and left together with him (as well as another man).
The next day, David Thomas was found in a field bludgeoned and stabbed to death, with David Roberts’ pipe nearby. A search of the Roberts home revealed a £66 stashed away in a bloody handkerchief, the approximate amount Thomas as known to have made at market on the day before he died.
Apparently he was persuasive: prosecutors decided to present no evidence against Edward Thomas and allowed him to be acquitted.
So Roberts stood alone on the trap this day, having at least the comfort of having done right by his family duty. Unfortunately the hangman did not quite do right by Roberts fils as he appeared to survive the drop. Witnesses were hastily conducted away while Roberts dangled, still twitching and strangling. The error was ascribed to the condemned man’s “muscular neck,” but this alleged physiognomy only mattered because at this late date British hangmen still designed the parameters of the drop impressionistically.
All that was changing to follow the professional example of the scientific William Marwood, however. Later in 1886, a commission was formed under former Liberal Home Secretary Baron Aberdare to examine the issue. This commission ultimately produced the first official table of drops specifying the fall that should be allotted to prisoners based on their weight, with a view to reliably breaking the neck.
Minutes after midnight on this date in 1909, an Oregon plasterer named C.Y. Timmons was hanged at the state prison in Salem, Oregon for the murder of Estella, his wife of two years.
On October 21 the previous year, he had put an ax in the back of her head, slit her throat from ear to ear with a straight razor and then attempted to take his own life with the same razor. The two were discovered by the neighbors at 7:30 the next morning when a partially unclothed C.Y. came knocking on their door, “covered in blood from head to foot.”
Timmons quickly regained his ability to speak and told authorities Estella had cut his throat while he was sleeping. He grabbed the razor from her hand, slit her throat in self-defense, and then finished her off with an ax. Then he lay down and waited until dawn before he went and asked for help.
The truth came out, however, and at his trial in mid-January 1909, C.Y. admitted that he’d gone round the bend with jealousy over his younger wife’s* affair with one Robert Hornbuckle. C.Y. and Estella had been quarreling for a long time about her relationship with Hornbuckle. Only the day before the murder, the couple had met with an attorney to procure a divorce — a drastic measure in that day and age.
During the meeting, Estella told the lawyer that her husband had a violent temper, especially when he had been drinking, and that he had threatened her life on numerous occasions.
C.Y. apparently believed his victim’s alleged infidelity would outrage the jury into acquitting him. Not so; they deliberated a whopping 35 minutes before finding him guilty. C.Y. broke down in tears when the verdict was read. And, for what it’s worth, all evidence indicates that Estella’s “affair” with Hornbuckle existed only in her husband’s imagination.
[A]t 12:31 p.m., the trap was sprung and Timmons dropped six feet, one inch. The force of the drop caused the neck wound to open and for some time the hanging figure breathed through the gaping wound beneath the rope, and the body was drenched with blood. The attending physicians differed on whether Timmons’ neck was broken in the fall, but later examination proved that the vertebrae had been dislocated. This complication, breathing through the open wound, prevented pronouncement of death until 12:54 p.m., and the body was allowed to hang another seven minutes to ensure he was dead.
The murderer was buried separately from his victim, at the Lee Mission Cemetery in an unmarked grave.
* Her age was given in different accounts as either 19 or 21; C.Y. Was 37. Another pathetic detail to her tragic life: Estella was an orphan, raised in an orphanage after her parents both died of tuberculosis.
Thailand uses lethal injection today, but our narrator here was the last to conduct executions by that country’s previous execution method, a unique shooting arrangement that prevailed through 2002.*
The prisoner to be executed was tied to a wooden cross, hands pinned in a prayerful position (wai), and facing a wall; behind him (or occasionally, as in today’s post, her), a screen; behind the screen, Chavoret Jaruboon with a mounted automatic rifle that would discharge a burst of up to 15 bullets into the vicinity of the heart, generally terminating life immediately.
The clientele this date were three members of a kidnap gang. Ginggaew Lorsoungnern, a former domestic for a Pathumwan, Bangkok family, had picked up from school the six-year-old child who was her former charge and delivered her to a bunch of toughs. When the ransom delivery went awry — the parents were supposed to toss the money out of a moving train at the spot of a flag, but missed the flag owing to darkness — the enraged kidnappers stabbed the little boy to death. Ginggaew allegedly flung herself over the child in a vain effort to protect him.
Inasmuch as her inside position was the lynchpin for the whole operation, however, these hystrionics would not save her from reprisal. (It wasn’t quite judicial reprisal since the execution was carried out by executive decree: not uncommon in dictatorial 1970s Thailand.) It probably didn’t help that coroners discovered soil in the victim’s lungs … meaning that when they’d dumped his body into its grave, he wasn’t yet dead.
The case was a media sensation. The late executioner’s 21st century book (copyright date: 2006) says that he was even then still “constantly asked about Ginggaew.” For what it’s worth, he thought the sentence was too harsh for her part in the crime. But executioners don’t get to make these decisions.
Ginggaew was the first woman shot in Thailand since 1942, and the first that Chavoret Jaruboon ever saw executed. In his time, he shot three women; Ginggaew is not among their number because in 1979, he was only a member of the execution team, not the man with his finger on the trigger. He was an “escort”, part of the team that brought the doomed from their cell to the execution chamber and then removed the corpse.
Escort duty was “one of the most emotional roles in the whole process of execution,” he writes. “Even the executioner does not have to see the body after he has done his job.”
And on January 13, 1979, the day Ginggaew died followed by two of her collaborators, the escorts had especially unpleasant duty.
While the men died stoic, Ginggaew was frantic, and fainted repeatedly over the hours before execution. “I didn’t do it, I didn’t kill the boy,” she pleaded. “Please don’t kill me, I didn’t kill him.”
Worse was to come.
At 5pm Ginggaew was selected to be brought to the execution room first. The escorts helped her to her feet but she immediately crumpled to the ground. She sobbed that she felt too weak to stand … As she approached the room she had to be revived from another faint.
I found this very difficult to deal with. Between us [escorts on the execution team] we finally got the stricken woman to the cross. She cried while they bound her at the waist, shoulders, and elbows. Her arms were brought up over the beam in a position of prayer. Still, she struggled and tried vainly to break free. The escorts pulled across the screen and fixed it so that the white square indicated where her heart was. Then they stepped out of range. I walked to the gun to load it and aim it at the target on the screen. I was aware that Ginggaew was still struggling. Normally once the prisoner was fixed to the cross they gave up fighting, but this was not the case with her. I secured the gun over her stifled sobs, locking it into position. When I was satisfied, I nodded at Prathom to take over. He took his position and at 5.40pm exactly he released ten bullets into Ginggaew’s body.
Doctor Porngul went up to her and checked for the pulse and retina response. As expected, he confirmed her dead. The escorts quickly untied her body, which was bleeding profusely from the chest, and laid her face down on the floor. She jerked and twitched a little. This wasn’t out of the ordinary but was distressing to witness. Her chest burst open and the blood looked like it would never stop flowing. They carried her into the morgue, the tiny room that we used just off the execution hall. I followed them just to make sure everything was alright. They placed her gently on the bed and we went out to prepare for the next one. What happened then will never leave me.
As the second prisoner, Gasem, was brought into the execution room, there was a sound from the morgue. I could see everything from where I was standing as the door was wide open — Ginggaew was trying to get up. The shocked escorts and I ran back to her. There was blood everywhere. One of the escorts rolled her over and pressed down on her back to accelerate the bleeding and help her die. Another escort, a real hard man, tried to strangle her to finish her off but I swept his arms away in disgust. We stood there watching her gasp for breath for I don’t know how long, but it could only have been a minute or two. I was filled with pity for her. I couldn’t help thinking that she was dying the way that little boy had died — except suffocating from blood instead of earth.
Meanwhile, Gasem had been shot. He died instantly from ten bullets. He had not resisted his death in any way, and spoke to nobody on the way to the cross. After the doctor confirmed that Gasem was definitely dead he checked on Ginggaew. Amazingly she was still breathing. It was a horrible, horrible situation. He told the escorts to put her back on the cross. The men complied, somewhat relieved to be able to just follow orders. It was a grim, nauseating job and they were covered in her blood when they turned to pull the screen across. This time the full quota of 15 bullets were used, and finally, she was dead.
You might wonder why we didn’t just shoot her where she lay, but it would have been against the regulations. Also, I don’t know that any of us could have stood so close to the young girl and pulled the trigger. As it was, the escorts moved as quickly as possible, each of us was concerned that her suffering should not be prolonged.
Pin had had to wait outside for ten minutes until Ginggaew was carried to the morgue for the second time. He was then brought in and tied to the cross. At 6.05pm Prathom pulled the trigger, sending 13 bullets into his back. The doctor went to check on him and discovered that he too was still alive, only just, but still breathing all the same. I loaded the gun again and Prathom shot a further ten bullets, this time killing him instantly. We were all in need of more than one stiff drink that evening.
There are a couple of reasons why Ginggaew had such a terrible death. Firstly her heart wasn’t on the left side as with most people. She most probably had Kartagener’s Syndrome, which is when a person is born with their heart on the right-hand side instead of the left. And even if it was she wasn’t secured firmly enough to the cross so she was able to move around, therefore the bullets would miss their target. It showed the importance of binding the prisoner as tightly as possible, for their own sake. I had my doubts when she was first pronounced dead. I thought I could detect some strain in her neck, and maybe that’s why I followed the escorts to the morgue. The head should normally flop backwards with the cross being the only support for the limp body.
Ginggaew, Gasem, Pin, and all others who were executed by shooting entered the execution building through this red door … now disused and overgrown since Thailand scrapped shooting. Pic from this Norwegian Amnesty International page.
After Thailand switched to lethal injection, Chavoret Jaruboon retired to a monastery. His books show no disquiet about his career. He explicitly supported the death penalty.
“What I do is empty this story (the executions) from my mind. If I don’t do that I don’t know what (the executions) will do to me.”