The Anglican Church memorializes the feast of the Oxford Martyrs on October 16 — which also happens to be the date in 1555 that the first and second of those Reformation prelates went to the stake in that city.
The Oxford Martyrs are three in all, a proper trilogy;* the last in chronology if not in precedence was the Anglican Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, who sanctified King Henry’s putting aside his first wife, and was burned at the pleasure of that scorned Catholic’s daughter in 1556. By that time he outlived by seven months the men whose execution we mark here, Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley.
Detail view (click for the full image) of a woodcut illustration of Latimer’s and Ridley’s martyrdom in John Foxe’s 1563 Book of Martyrs.
Given a different set of breaks and perhaps a Y chromosome in the royal offspring, Latimer might easily have been martyred a generation prior under a King Henry who stuck to his papist “defender of the faith” credentials. Latimer was a rising reformer in the late 1520s whose subversive preaching had already got him slapped down by Cardinal Wolsey.
Wolsey’s fall and Henry’s departure from the Roman communion arrived just in time to ramp Latimer from prospective heresiarch to the master pulpit rhetorician of a new order. (He’s particularly remembered for some metaphorical sermons about playing cards.) In 1535, Latimer became Bishop of Worcester in which capacity he did not disdain the office of exhorting Catholic martyrs themselves on the foot of the pyre. Even in Henry’s last years, when militant Protestants could be put to death as readily as recusant Catholics, Latimer courted principled danger by refusing to sign on to Henry’s “six articles” asserting Catholic doctrines like transubstantiation and clerical celibacy. Latimer resigned his bishopric and went to the Tower of London rather than endorse them.
Nicholas Ridley at this period was a reformist priest in Cranmer’s more cautious orbit, who advanced him rank by rank — and with no dungeon interim — to the Bishop of London and Westminster.** Ridley had the honor of being a primary antagonist to the radical John Hooper in the “vestments controversy”, Ridley defending the status quo of clergy bedizened with suspiciously Romish priestly attire despite the poverty of Christ.
Ridley basically won this dispute in the short term, but had scant leisure to celebrate before the sickly young king’s death set the realm up for a contested succession. Under his gilded robes Bishop Ridley spent the brief ascendancy of Lady Jane Grey thundering against the bastard rival who intended to — and very soon did — supplant her.
Tried together in your basic case of victor’s justice, Ridley and Latimer were burned with Cranmer brought out as a witness in an attempt to intimidate him. Cranmer’s vacillating recantations before his own execution do him little credit, but considering how the Ridley died it would require a hard heart not to empathize. Protestant martyrologist John Foxe made purple prose or a very black scene:
Then they brought a faggot, kindled with fire, and laid the same down at Dr. Ridley’s feet. To whom Master Latimer spake in this manner “Be of good comfort, Master Ridley, and play the man. We shall this day light such a candle, by God’s grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out.”
And so the fire being given unto them, when Dr. Ridley saw the fire flaming up towards him. he cried with a wonderful loud voice, In manus teas, Domine, commendo spiritum meum: Domine recipe spiritum meum. And after, repeated this latter part often in English, “Lord, Lord, receive my spirit;” Master Latimer crying as vehemently on the other side, “O Father of heaven, receive my soul!” who received the flame as it were embracing of it. After that he had stroked his face with his hands, and as it were bathed them a little in the fire, he soon died (as it appeareth) with very little pain or none. And thus much concerning the end of this old and blessed servant of God, Master Latimer, for whose laborious travails, fruitful life, and constant death, the whole realm hath cause to give great thanks to Almighty God.
But Master Ridley, by reason of the evil making of the fire unto him, because the wooden faggots were laid about the gorse, and over-high built, the fire burned first beneath, being kept down by the wood; which when he felt, he desired them for Christ’s sake to let the fire come unto him. Which when his brother-in-law heard, but not well understood, intending to rid him out of his pain, (for the which cause he gave attendance,) as one in such sorrow not well advised what he did, heaped faggots upon him, so that he clean covered him, which made the fire more vehement beneath, that it burned clean all his nether parts, before it once touched the upper; and that made him leap up and down under the faggots, and often desire them to let the fire come unto him, saying, “I cannot burn.” Which indeed appeared well; for, after his legs were consumed by reason of his struggling through the pain, (whereof he had no release, but only his contentation in God,) he showed that side toward us clean, shirt and all untouched with flame. Yet in all this torment he forgot not to call unto God still, having in his mouth, “Lord, have mercy upon me,” intermingling his cry, “Let the fire come unto me, I cannot burn.” In which pangs he laboured till one of the standers-by with his bill pulled off the faggots above, and where he saw the fire flame up, he wrested himself unto that side. And when the flame touched the gunpowder, he was seen to stir no more, but burned on the other side, falling down at Master Latimer’s feet; which, some said, happened by reason that the chain loosed; others said, that he fell over the chain by reason of the poise of his body, and the weakness of the nether limbs.
On this date in 1827, a “Carnival of Death” in Richmond saw the hanging of three Spanish pirates who had but recently perpetrated an infamous slaughter all their own.
These men had shipped aboard the brig Crawford out of Matanzas, Cuba. The Crawford was bound for New York, but these Spaniards and a French-born American with the unfortunate name Tardy had a different idea: they had brought aboard a set of Spanish papers for the vessel that would show her under their command, sailing for Hamburg.
One night on the seas, the four rose up and murdered most of the rest of the crew. A cook and a French passenger were spared, as was the mate Edmund Dobson who convinced the hijackers that he could be of service navigating their prize.
The ship’s original papers vanished into the waves, along with Captain Henry Brightman of Troy, Mass., and eight other crew and passengers whose deaths make pitiable reading. Oliver Potter scampered up a mast to escape the mutineers, but having been gashed by their blades he eventually became “exhausted by the loss of his blood, [and] fell to the deck and expired.” Two other men lept overboard and begged for their tormenters to allow them some piece of debris that would keep them afloat, “but the demons regarded [them] not.” (both quotes from the North Carolina Sentinel, June 30, 1827).
It would afterward emerge that Alexander Tardy was a veteran terror of the Atlantic lanes, and had been in the words of a Philadelphia Gazette report widely reprinted around the republic
many years on our coast, and in our cities, planning and executing his black and hellish deeds with all the coolness of a demon, and after having been suffered by the mildness of our laws to escape the gallows, and repeat his murders, when in many other Christian countries he would long since have hung in gibbets … his early execution would have saved hundreds of lives, and certainly the eight lives on board the brig Crawford.
“Hundreds” seems quite a bit on the exaggerated side, but by accounts Tardy had committed several seaborne murders and escaped from hard prison time in Virginia and South Carolina.
The Gazette gives us sneaky murders by poison, rather than slaughterous main-force ship seizures, and it appears that for all his accomplishments in the field of homicide, Tardy seems to have rarely or never actually managed to commandeer a prize: perhaps this was the margin that kept him off the gibbets all those years.
He was not destined for the gallows in this instance, either.
Since our quartet purposed to reroute the Crawford from a run up the coast to a cross-Atlantic voyage, they needed to augment her provisions. To this effect, at the suggestion of the heroic and unusually persuasive mate Dobson,* the Crawford put in at Old Point Comfort on the Virginia capes. There, Dobson was able to slip the pirates and row to shore. By the time he returned with authorities, the Spaniards had put ashore in a vain attempt to flee, while Tardy had cut his own throat.
It was the eventual understanding of the federal (not Virginia) court that tried them before a standing-room crowd that the Galician Felix Barbeto was Tardy’s equal in the plot, and that Barbeto and Tardy had hired the other two Spaniards: Couro (aka Jose Morando) and Pepe (aka Jose Hilario Casaris) both addressed their comrade as “Don Felix”.
Hanging in chains having fallen well out of favor by this date, Tardy “was buried at the low water mark near Old Point Comfort, with his face downward, and every mark of ignominy.” (Alexandria Gazette, July 24, 1827) A few hours later, someone thought to obtain his specimen for the quack science of the day and “he was disinterred, his head taken off, and dispatched to Baltimore, for the inspection of the Galls and Spurzheims of that city. They will probably find the organ of distructiveness [sic], finely developed.”
This was not the last of the Frankenstein stuff, either in medicine or in law. After the Spanish were conducted through Richmond to a public gallows before a vast throng of curious Virginians,* their three corpses were given over to the mania for galvanicexperimentation.
“I happened to be in Richmond the day on which the Pirates were hung,” an anonymous correspondent wrote to the National Intelligencer a few days later.
In an attempt to obtain their bodies for galvanic experiments, &c. a very ludicrous evidence was given of the mania prevailing about State rights. Doct. — who had prepared the galvanic battery, was unapprised that the act of Congress, relative to criminals, authorised the court in certain cases, to consign the bodies for dissection; he, of course, omitted to make the necessary application for the Pirates. But, on the day of execution, finding that the Marshall had no authority to permit the bodies to be taken from the gallows before interment, the Doctor was advised to apply to Governor Giles for permission to take them. He concluded to do so, and knowing there was some difficulty in the case, deemed it advisable to approach his Excellency delicately, and if practicable, get him mounted on his hobby. To that end the Doctor broached the subject of State Rights, and suggested a doubt whether the authority of the Federal Court extended to the right of burying. The Governor caught at the idea, and, without hesitation, told the Doctor that there was no doubt in his mind but that, without permission of the State authority, the Marshal, acting under the authority of the Union, had no right to turn an inch of the soil; he therefore saw no difficulty in the Doctor’s taking possession of the bodies the moment they were cut from the gallows. — This the Doctor felt as sufficient authority, and proceeded to the place of execution.
STROUDSBURG, Pa., Aug. 11, 1869. — Charles Orme, one of the murderers of Theodore Brodhead, the killing of whom at the hands of Orme and a companion of his named William Brooks, near the Delaware Water Gap, on the 25th of September last, created intense excitement in this vicinity at the time, paid the penalty of his heinous crime to-day, by hanging by the neck until he was dead.
Public vengeance here is but half satiated and stern justice has only been one-half administered by the execution of Orme, for Brooks, who bore an equal part in the bloody deed, has escaped the clutches of the law, and has thus far defied pursuit.
A narrative of the murder, a sketch of the murderers, an account of the rial, the subsequent escape, and the final closing scene of the terrible tragedy is appended: —
Theodore Brodhead, the murdered man, was a gentleman universally respected and esteemed, and was a brother of Thomas Brodhead, the proprietor of the Brainerd House, where the robbery occurred. He was formerly engaged in the lumber business, and was about 45 years of age.
The history of the murderers is as follows: —
William Brooks is a Scotchman by birth, 24 years old. He had been in the country one year and a half at the time of the murder. He landed at New York, and worked there a while, and then went wandering to get employment. He worked on railroads and at anything else, and was considered a hard case. Subsequently he turned up at Scranton and worked there. He said he was never arrested before on any charge, and that he could not remember firing the shot that killed Theodore Brodhead, as he was drunk at the time, and has no knowledge of having a pistol. He appeared much dejected and anxious to know if he would be convicted of the murder. He said he had been in Philadelphia and traveled a good deal.
Charles Orme was born in Ireland. He told contradictory stories about himself; said he was in the army, and worked two or three years in New York, and then as a brakeman on the Camden and Amboy Railroad. He was in trouble once “for covering swag.” He lived at Camden, and was familiar with Philadelphia. He was greatly depressed in spirits when arrested, and feared Lynch law, being very anxious to know, when placed in the Stroudsburg jail, if one or both of the Brodheads were killed.
Orme was not as intelligent as Brooks, and did not create such a bad impression. It appears that both men left Scranton together on a freight train, but were put off at Stroudsburg during Thursday, September 24, 1868. They wandered about Stroudsburg, and took drinks at the principal hotels. During that night they robbed a hardware store at Stroudsburg, and stole a lot of tools and a coat, and placed the proceeds of the robbery in a carpet bag and proceeded towards the Water Gap.
They stopped at the Brainerd House and got in with two or three laborers on Saturday morning, about ten o’clock, and took drinks with them, when they were left in the bar-room alone. They waited until Thomas Brodhead went out, and then quietly robbed the drawer of eight dollars. They then went to Luke Brodhead’s tavern, near the Brainerd House, and took a drink, after which they walked a short distance along the road, when they were overtaken by Thomas Brodhead, followed by Theodore.
They were counting and sharing the money when the Brodheads came up. Thomas accused them of the robbery, when they threw the money down, and said “Take the money.” Thomas then told them they must go back with him, when one of them appeared willing at first, and then refused. Thomas then advanced on Orme and grabbed him.
Orme attempted to throw some money over an orchard wall, but a two-dollar note fell to the ground, and as Thomas Brodhead stooped to pick it up, Brooks leveled a pistol at his head. Theodore warned him not to fire, and he turned and shot him (Theodore) through the heart. A scuffle ensued between Thomas and the men, in which several pistol shots were fired, and the former was so badly beaten that he sank to the ground exhausted, whereupon they fled.
The Flight and Capture.
They went down in the Gap and up in the mountains, and after wandering around found they were headed off, the whole neighborhood by this time being in arms and scouring the country for them. Without knowing it they took a cut and came out near the scene of the murder, there being nobody about, the citizens being in the mountains hunting them. They were soon seen, however, crossing the road and wading through Cherry creek, when the alarm was given and the spot was soon surrounded. They hid in some underbrush, but, when summoned, came forth and surrendered. One of them pointed a pistol at the crowd just before the surrender, but did not fire, and both captives threw away their weapons before being caught. There was great trouble to prevent them being lynched by the incensed citizens; the Sheriff and his men saved their lives with great difficulty. After a period of great excitement both men were lodged in the Stroudsburg jail, and the prison was guarded day and night. This was the only murder which had occurred in that section of the country for many years.
The prisoners were arraigned for trial on the 29th of December, and several days were taken up by the cause. They were represented by able counsel, but a verdict of “guilty of murder in the first degree” was returned. An appeal was then taken to the Supreme Court, upon the ground that the Brodheads, being private citizens, and having no warrant, their death, resulting from resistance to the attempted arrest, was not murder, but manslaughter. This the Court below refused to affirm, and this formed the principal assignment of error. The point was argued at length, but was overruled by the Supreme Court, the opinion stating: —
The Prisoners Break Jail.
On Saturday morning, April 3, the citizens of Stroudsburg were startled by the ringing of the alarm bell at three A.M. It soon became known that the prisoners had escaped, and speedily there was gathered at the jail an excited multitude, armed and unarmed, on horseback and on foot, ready to scour the country.
The facts of the escape may be summed up as follows: —
It seems one of the prisoners feigned sickness, and at length tumbled down on the floor of his cell as if in a fit or spasm. The other one called to the old jailer, who was watching in the hall, and asked him if he would come in and help him to lift his companion on the bed. The old man unsuspectingly unlocked the door of the cell, leaving the keys sticking in the lock. The prisoners at once sprang to their feet, commanding the jailer to keep still at the peril of his life. Their hopples [hobbles] and handcuffs they had previously removed without keys by hammering them open, and they now sprang out, closing the cell door on the old jailer, and were soon at liberty outside the jail. They had failed to lock the jailer in, so in a few minutes after their escape the bells rang out the alarm, and at an early hour the chase began. Couriers on horseback were sent out in every direction, while those on foot took to the fields and woods. A blodhound brought from Jersey for the purpose seemed to indicate that the fellows had made for the Pocose Mountains.
An examination of the empty cell led to the discovery of an opening in the wall almost sufficiently large to have admitted their exit from thence. It was made by sawing out a piece from an oak plank, about twelve or fourteen inches wide by two inches thick, and then digging almost through the main wall of the building. The sawing seems to have been done in the usual prisoner style, with a case-knife filed for the purpose. It must have taken many hours of labor. The stones taken from the wall were hide in their bed. Why they chose to operate on the old jailer instead of this opening was a mystery.
Throughout Saturday the excitement was very great in Stroudsburg and vicinity, and business came to a halt equal to the day of the murder. The Sheriff had offered a thousand dollars reward, private individuals had added other hundreds to the offer, and the pursuit was vigorous and earnest. Up to Sunday morning nothing had been heard from the criminals. Many of the pursuers had returned, declaring the chase in vain. At length, at about three o’clock in the afternoon, it was rumored that they had been captured. Soon after, a crowd approached Stroudsburg, when it was found that the prisoner Orme, was in custody, while Brooks was still at large.
Not being accustomed to exercise, they had found it difficult to flee from their pursuers, and were found in a barn of Mr. Long, on Sunday morning, only a few miles from Stroudsburg. A boy had gone into the barn, and on getting hay for his horse, had come upon them. They asked him if he would betray them. He said no. Going to the house, he told his father, who came to the barn, and promised the same thing. He took them to the house, gave them something to eat, and while they were eating, Long set out for Stroudsburg, where he inquired if he would get the reward if he informed the authorities where the prisoners were. Being answered in the affirmative, he told the story, when a party hurried back to the scene. Arriving at Long’s it was found that not only were the fugitives gone, but Long’s horses also. The party followed hastily on, and soon came in sight of the fleeing convicts. These, seeing their pursuers, and not being accustomed to horseback riding, left the horses and the road, and took to the woods in opposite directions. Orme was soon overtaken, when he turned around, threw open his arms, and begged to be shot on the spot. But he was returned to the jail, and to-day forfeited his life for the heinous crime, which certainly created both a greater amount of indignation and excitement than any other which ever occurred in Monroe county.
A Plea for Respite Fails.
Last evening Mr. Ridgway, the Minister of the Methodist Episcopal Church here, and spiritual adviser of the condemned man, received a telegraphic despatch from Harrisburg, sent by some of the friends and sympathizers of Orme, who visited Govenror Geary to endeavor to get a respite, that there was no hope of a reprieve, and that the sentence of the law would certainly be carried into effect. Mr. Ridgway informed Orme of this, and he received the news without any particular emotino, having made up his mind for the worst.
An Attempt to Escape.
It was discovered last evening, about five o’clock, that Orme had been making secret preparations to escape for the last three weeks. Some time ago a woman who visited his cell, informed him that a well-known horse thief, who occupied the same cell, had managed to effect an escape by filing off his chains, and getting through the window on to the roof. She also said that the horse thief left some things in the cell, but the keepers had never been able to find the file.
This was a hint for Orme, and he quietly commenced hunting for the file in corners and crevices of his cell. At last he found it, stowed away in a crack of his cell window that looked into an adjoining sleeping apartment, and which room had recently been occupied nightly by two armed men, who kept watch on Orme, but who vacated the apartment during the day.
On securing the file, Orme commenced a systematic filing on the iron bars of the window mentioned, and had, by persistent efforts, succeeded in nearly severing two of the bars, and entirely cutting through the shackles that secured his feet. His plan was to free himself of his irons, pry off two bars of the window, and when the room mentioned was vacated, get by a stairway to the roof, and then effect his escape. The attempt, however, was frustrated, as follows: —
How the Plan was Foiled.
It was decided to hang the culprit in his cell, there being no jail yard to the prison, and the law provides that hanging must take place within the prison walls.
Late yesterday afternoon Sheriff Miller, accompanied by some other officials, entered Orme’s cell for the purpose of removing him prior to the erection of the gallows. The Sheriff informed him that he would be executed in his cell, and said he had prepared other quarters for him during the remaining short time of his life. When Sheriff Miller stooped down, key in hand, to unlock the chains that bound him, Orme, seeing that all was up with him, told the Sheriff that the use of the key was unnecessary, and giving his legs a shake, off dropped all the chains at once. Orme then showed the Sheriff the filed bars of the window, and related how he intended to escape, and expressed his chagrin at the unexpected interference with his plans. The prisoner was then removed to a cell directly opposite the one he had been confined in, and during the erection of the scaffold he could not only distinctly hear every nail hammered, but could see through the iron grating of his cell door the material used for the scaffold as the workmen carried it by.
The Prison Guarded.
During last night the prison was strongly guarded, both outside and inside, by armed citizens, and men with muskets and pistols were patrolling the streets all night.
Orme Contemplates Committing Suicide.
Last evening Orme was visited by a citizens of Stroudsburg, named Bell, who had shown him numerous kindnesses, and during the interview Orme asked him if, as long as he knew he was to die, it would be wrong for him to commit suicide. Mr. Bell told him it would be very sinful, when Orme, after a moment’s reflection, produced from his clothes a paper containing a considerable amount of morphin [sic], and handed it to his visitor, saying he had kept it to make away with himself, but concluded he would not commit self-destruction. It appears that from time to time morphin had been furnished Orme to make him sleep, but instead of using it he had been carefully keeping it with the intention of taking his own life.
A few days since Orme placed in the hands of Mr. Ridgway, his spiritual adviser, the following document, which has just been made public this morning: —
A Voice from the Prison Cell: or, the Evil of Intoxicating Drinks.
[This was also published under the title “The Wine Cup and the Gallows” -editor.]
STROUDSBURG JAIL, April 17, 1869. — I write this in the hope that it may be the means of arresting the attention, and saving some young man from the path that leads to death and hell — blights and ruins in this world and fixes destiny in the next, amidst the darkness of eternal night: for the sacred volume declares “no drunkard shall inherit the kingdom of God.” Oh! that I could only portray the horrors springing from the first glass, you would shun it as you would the road in which death in its most hideous form was lurking; would to God I had died before I knew the love of passion strong drink can bring to its poor deluded victims, for then I would have had kind friends to weep and think kindly of me, as in solemn silence they gazed into my tomb, but now my earnest prayer to God is that no one who ever knew me may ever hear anything about me. May God in his mercy grant that no more innocent people may suffer on my account.
Oh, young man, by all you hold dear, shun the cup, the fatal cup — if not for your own sake, in God’s name shun it, for the sake of those you hold so near and dear. You may think you are able to take a drink and leave it alone when you wish: let me entreat you, don’t try the experiment, for when it gets hold it rarely ever lets go. It not only destroys you, but friends must suffer also. It may bring a kind and loving mother to an early grave: make an old man of a kind, good father before his time — not to mention brothers and sisters, who must share the sorrow. These things are of daily occurrence; and this is not the worst, for it has incited the mother to murder her innocent babe, the husband to imbrue his hands in the blood of his wife, for whom he would have willingly laid down his own life. Pause! think well before you touch the cup! Remember, you not only venture your own prospects and happiness, but all you hold sacred are involved. Don’t say, I can take a drink and leave off: the chances are against you: and even if they are not, is it right? is it honorable to risk the happiness of others to gratify your own evil appetites? Would to God (that one year ago) I could have seen strong drink as it really is, stripped of all the ornaments thrown over it by those engaged in the traffic; could have seen it as a swift and sure road that was to lead to my present unhappy condition in a felon’s cell, with the prospect of a shameful death. Is it surprising that I would try to save others from the same fate? I know that I have neither the talent nor the education to plead the cause of temperance, but I can tell what the use of intoxicating drinks has brought me to. Can I do less, under the circumnstances, than give a word of advice to some thoughtless ones. Praying (if so great a sinner as I may pray) that God may bless it, and make its truthfulness do what hearing could not be the means of saving some from a drunkard’s end.
For one short moment let your fancy carry you to this lonely cell. You will see me write this with my hands ironed; irons are on my limbs and I am chained to the floor. Do you think what brought me here? I must say, whisy. Is it strange in me to lift a warning voice agianst that which has done me so much harm. Thank God I have not lost all feeling. There are those on the earth, separated from me by “the great waters,” who believe and trust (that whatever I am) I am honest and respected. God forbid that they should ever be undeceived. Oh! is it not hard to pray to God that your dear father and mother, brothers and sisters, your early playmates and friends may never hear about you, or you from them, when one word would be more precious than untold treasure.
A kind word from a stranger is treasured up as something precious, as God knows it is to me. To keep you from such a condition I write this, hoping you will take it in the spirit in which it is given. I write it earnestly and sincerely, trusting that God may bless it to your use. If you are ever tempted to drink think of this advice, and the circumstances under which it is given, and may heaen help you to cast the cursed cup from you. Don’t parley or you are lost. Say no! Stick to it. Once or twice will be enough. Tempers will see that you are firm, and respect you the more for it. Don’t be alarmed at being called a teetotaler. You may be greeted with a laugh or jeer. No matter, you win respect. How often have I wished I could say no, and stick to it, when asked to drink, but my “guess not,” or “think not” was always taken for yes, or if I said no, it was known that I did not always stick to it. A companion who worked by my side was never asked but once, for his “no” meant no! By the power of an emphatic no, when asked to do wrong is the advice of one who has lost all, for the want of a little firmness at first. If I only could tell you all I have lost — lost friends, character, home, all that makes life dear, through drink, by not saying “no,” when asked to do wrong. I could have said it. God gave me understanding. I knew right from wrong but I flattered myself I could go so far, and then let up: now I am lost. God in his mercy grant that this may keep some young man from trending the same path. “Taste not, touch not, handle not,” is the only safe course. Don’t believe in moderate drinking, there is too much danger in it. There is no drunkard living but thought he could leave off when he wished. As I write this I see a fond mother’s face, I hear her last words to me, low and sweet, as she bade her boy God speed, and aid — Be a good boy, shun bad company, and don’t drink.
I see a kind, good father, trying to keep bac the tears, as he gave the same advice, telling me at the same time to “be mindful of God and he would not forsake me.” Alas! all was forgotten, and the result is a felon’s cell, and soon, perhaps, a shameful death. Is it any wonder I should try and warn others? Say you, “that many drink and do not do what I have done?” All true; but none do as I did but what drink, not one. You say a man can take a drink, and not be a drunkard; for God’s sake don’t try it — that is what ruined me. All say at first — “Whisky shall not be my master — I am too much of a man for that.” God help them; how soon they find out that he who said, “Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging and that he that is deceived thereby is not wise,” knew moreabout it than they. Let a man write all his lifetime and he can utter no greater truths; it mocks all our hopes, blunts all the sensibilities and kind feelings that God has given us, and sinks us lower than the beasts that perish; whereas God made us in his own image. Is it not a mocker? It has ever done harm. The first recorded instance is that of Noah, the only man God saw fit to save with his family, when he destroyed the world. How sadly was he mocked by it, cursing his own son. There has always been a curse with it; the Bible is full of warnings against it. For God’s sake heed them, and “if sinners entice thee, consent thou not.” Would to God that I could put on this paper what I feel.
I think some one would pause before taking that which steals away the senses. But my thoughts wander not where I want them; not to scenes of drunkenness and dissipation but to home — home! Would to God I could banish it from my mind. To-night I am a boy again; I see home as plainly as ever — a kind father, a dear mother, brothers and sisters, all rise before me, not only once, they are always with me now. Even in sleep I see them; pleasant thoughts you say. Oh! God, if I could only get rid of them. I think I could dwell on any others with some degree of comfort, to what I now feel; yes, even on the shameful death I am condemned to die; anything, but what I have lost; lost through drink.
Give an ear to this advice; it is the advice of a dying man — dying in his early manhood, through the accursed cup that “biteth like a serpent.” Think of your friends now, lest the time come when the thought of them will be worse than a scorpion’s sting. Oh! if you see any one treading the downward path, that leads to death and hell, speak kindly to him; you know not the power of a kind word. I do not forget one who has spoken kindly to me since I have been here: how heartily I think of them; a kind word first led me to hope that He who hates sin might yet be merciful to the sinner. I know you all hate the crime that brought me here; but when you saw I had none to speak kindly, though hating my great sin, you pitied me, a poor, wretched sinner, and showed me that mercy, divine mercy, could even reach one so vile.
Oh! young men of Stroudsburg — most of you have seen me, most of you have spoken kindly to me, and have acted as well as spoken. The offer of a book or a paper may be little to you, but to me it was a great kindness. Oh! do me the greater kindness still — take my advice kindly; it comes from a criminal, it is true, but my whole heart goes with it. It ought to be the more effective because coming from one who has run the course and has experienced its terrible results. I might tell you more of what I have seen whisky doing to its dupes, but my article would be too long. I close, giving you the advice a good mother gave me — “Keep out of bad company, and don’t drin.” Don’t let this pass unheeded, as I did. You see what it has brought me to. God keep all that read this in the right path, is the prayer of one who, for the sake of loved ones, prefers to sign himself,
He Bears an Assumed Name.
It will appear from the following letter that Orme is an assumed name. —
PRISON CELL, Aug. 7, 1869 — Mr. Martin
My reticence in relation to my connection I may have had with any person in this country, business or otherwise, arises entirely from the fact that I have shamefully abused great privileges which they have granted me; that I do not wish their names to figure in connection with mine. Moreover, any revelations of this kind would only be the means of making known to those that are near (and God only knows how dear to me), my disgraceful end.
The Instrument of Death.
The scaffold is erected in the eastern extremity of the cell recently occupied by the prisoner, and is a rather primitive looking affair, with a drop of about four feet. It consists of two upright posts and a cross beam, to which is affixed the rope and a drop made something after the model of a panel of a dining-table.
The Last Night.
Orme passed the night quietly, and was with his spiritual adviser until about ten o’clock, when he was left alone, but a strong guard remained in the entry near the cell door. He rose at an early hour this morning and partook of a light breakfast, consisting of coffee, eggs, &c. He says he slept during a portion of the night, but complained of a severe headache.
Preparing for Death.
About nine o’clock this morning the Rev. Mr. Ridgway administered the sacrament to the dying man, during which Orme was very devout and reverential. He then proceeded to take a bath in a tub or bucket of water which was placed in his cell, after which he deliberately commenced to dress himself for the terrible ordeal which in a few minutes he was to pass through.
Visitors to the City.
Before eleven o’clock Stroudsburg, particularly in the vicinity of the jail, presented quite a holiday appearance. Many hundreds of persons surrounded the jail, and dozens of vehicles of all kinds formed the cordon around the anxiously expectant populace, many of whom came for miles to only look at the blank walls of the jail. All the taverns and saloons were closed during the day by order of the authorities.
Where the execution took place is about twenty feet square, with a ceiling fifteen feet in height, affording sufficient altitude for the erection of the gallows.
The Time of Death Approaching.
Shortly before eleven o’clock Mr. Pearce, the Presbyterian minister of the Delaware Water Gap, entered Orme’s cell and engaged in earnest prayer, both the condemned man and the clergyman kneeling. Sheriff Mervine and the Rev. Mr. Ridgway then entered the cell, and Orme again partook of the Sacrament with Mr. Ridgway. sheriff Mervine then informed Orme that his time on earth was nearly ended.
Orme expressing his readiness, he was escorted from his cell across the corridor to the place of execution without parade or ceremony. The cell was crowded to excess with jurors, deputy sheriffs and officials generally, and was uncomfortably hot, there not being the least ventilation.
Orme entered the cell at five minutes of eleven o’clock, and proceeded up the rude steps of the scaffold with the greatest firmness and self-composure. He was dressed in a black frock coat, black pants and white shirt, and wore no vest. His thick black hair was well combed, and he made a very presentable appearance. The sheriff and the two ministers both ascended the scaffold after Orme, and after the latter was seated the sheriff read the death warrant, prefacing the same with a few remarks intended to cheer the dying man.
The Prisoner’s Speech.
Orme was then asked if he had anything to say, when he addressed those present in a perfectly cool and collected manner, as follows: —
I hardly know what to say, or rather, how to say anything as I would like. I protest in the first place, against my trial. I know that I was convicted on false evidence, and I am entirely innocent of murder, and God forbid that I should lie at a time like this. I trust in Christ, and am sorry for all crimes I have done, but I did no murder. The evidence was false. I don’t like to say anything against the people of Monroe county, for some of them have been very kind to me. I came here a stranger, and was told to hope in Christ, but was falsely convicted.
Thomas Brodhead made a statement on the night of the murder, and he is considered a gentleman of truth, and he made the same statement three times. After my arrest I was taken to the Water Gap to be identified by him, and he made a different statement. I think the District Attorney should have put both statements in evidence. Before the trial I had no friends; all were against me. I was put here and chained and never got a hearing. I got no change of clothing, not even a shirt, and I had to burn the vermin out with a candle.
At this time Sheriff Mervine interrupted Orme by saying, “Was not that before the trial, Charles?” Orme replied that it was, and continued —
I would like to direct attention to Thomas Broadhead’s evidence. He said I had to go back with him, and said Brooks was willing, and I told him not to go. He said he saw Brooks throw some money over the wall, and while stooping down he heard his brother say “Don’t shoot,” and on looking up saw Brooks pointing a pistol at his brother, and on wheeling around Brooks shot Theodore. After that he said he stooped down to pick up something rolled up like a little bill, and says he saw it was a two dollar bill, and swore to the number. Yet he never saw the bill, for I had not stolen it.
The prisoner the proceeded, in a sort of rambling manner, to say he knew nothing of the murder, and threw his pistol away while Thomas and himself were struggling, for fear he might shoot him. He said that Thomas struck him with a stick. Judge Barnard said that Thomas Brodhead’s evidence was not disputed, but after the trial he might have erred, and if he had said this to the jury, the verdict might have been different. He said he did not like to complain of the jury, but he thought he was very badly treated. He praised his counsel highly, and said he could die knowing that no man could say that he shot Theodore Brodhead.
At that part of Orme’s speech, in which he reflected on his treatment in jail before his trial, ex-Sheriff Henry, who had charge of him at that time, with exceeding bad taste and want of delicacy, advanced from the crowd to the foot of the scaffold, and, addressing the prisoner familiarly as “Charley,” asked him some question about his treatment and his case. Orme answered the question, when ex-Sheriff Henry asked others, and the two got into quite a controversy, which lasted until Mr. Henry was asked to stop. This matter was singularly inappropriate to the solemnity of the occasion. Such a scene has seldom if ever occurred at an execution before this, and should not have been permitted by Sheriff Mervine.
A Last Hope.
Immediate preparations for the execution were then made, when the Rev. Mr. Ridgway stated that Judge Barnard had notified him that he thought it would be proper to hold off the execution until the arrival of the one o’clock train, as it might possibly bring a reprieve from Governor Geary. The Sheriff, at first, did not seem to favor the idea, but Mr. Ridgway pressed it, and Orme, himself, turned to him and said, “Do grant me this short respite, Sheriff? It is the last favor I shall have to ask of you.”
A Short Respite.
The Sheriff, after some hesitation, consented, and the prisoner, who was just about being launched into eternity, was conveyed from the gallows back to his cell, while the spectators all retired from the building. Orme spent the time allotted him in praying and writing notes of thanks to his spiritual advisers and others, and the train arriving, with no reprieve, he was again taken from his cell.
On the Drop Again.
At twenty-five minutes past one o’clock Orme again ascended the scaffold.
The Execution — Orme Twice Hanged.
The Rev. Messrs. Ridgway and Pierce prayed with him until quarter of two o’clock, when the white cap was pulled over his head, and his arms and legs were pinioned with strips of muslin.
Orme stood firm, and moved his lips in prayer with half audible voice, while the Sheriff and ministers retired from the scaffold, and everything being in readiness, the drop fell, and to the intense horror of those huddled together in the cell, the rope broke, and Orme fell to the ground. He was picked up quickly in his half-strangled condition and helped upon the scaffold, when another rope was adjusted, amid a scene of sickening excitement, and again the drop fell and the body of the condemned man was dangling in the air.
The breaking of the rope caused a nervous feeling, which resulted in the noose being badly adjusted, and when the body fell the neck was not broken, and the poor wretch writhed and struggled fearfully. His contortions were heart-rending, and he died a slow death of strangulation. The whole scene was a most revolting one, and will never be forgotten by those who were present. This is the first execution that ever took place in Monroe country, which may be partially the reason for the bungling manner in which it was done.
On this date in 1741, according to Daniel Horsmanden’s relentless chronicle of his pursuit of the great New York slave conspiracy “Duane’s Prince, Latham’s Tony, Shurmur’s Cato, Kip’s Harry, and Marshalk’s York, negroes, were executed at the gallows, according to sentence; and the body of York was afterwards hung in chains, upon the same gibbet with John Hughson.”
Seventeen days have here elapsed since the most recent executions, but despite the lull in corpses New York’s high court has not rested its guard.
Those seventeen days consume 43 pages of Horsmanden’s journal. Roughly half of that space consists of confessions or “confessions”: it was by now obvious that this was the path to safety, and the colonial governor confirmed same by publishing on June 19th an amnesty “offer[ing] and promis[ing] His Majesty’s most gracious Pardon to any every Person and Persons, whether White People, free Negroes, Slaves, or others, who had been or were concerned in the said Conspiracy, who should on or before the first Day of July then next, voluntarily, freely and fully discover, and Confession make, of his, her or their Confederates, Accomplices, or others concerned in the said Conspiracy”
And so Horsmanden’s document grows heavy with lifesaving auto-denunciations. For late June and the first days of July alone we read
Confession of Mink, Negro of John Groesbeck, Before the Grand Jury.
The Confession of Tom, Ben. Moore’s Negro, Before the Grand Jury.
Confession of Wan, Indian Man of Mr. Lowe, Before the Grand Jury.
Confession of York, Negro of Marschalk’s.
Confession of London, Negro of Marschalk’s.
Confession of Pompey, Negro.(Mr. Peter De Lancey’s.) Before One of the Judges.
Confession of Caesar (Alderman Pintard’s) Negro, Before One of the Judges.
Confession of Cato, Col. MOORE’s Negro, Before One of the Judges.
Confessions of several Negroes, Before one of the Judges.
Confession of Starling, Mr. S. Lawrence’s Negro, Before one of the Judges.
The Confession of Quack, WALTER’s Negro. By an unknown Hand.
Confession of Dundee (TODD’s) Negro. Taken by a Private Hand.
Confession of London, (Mr. French’s) Negro, Taken before his Master by a private Hand.
Confession of Jack, (J. Tiebout’s) Negro, Before Alderman BANCKER.
Confession of London, a Spanish Indian (Wynkoop’s) Before one of the Judges.
Confession of Brash, Mr. PETER JAY’s Negro, Taken before one of the Judges.
Confession of Tom, (SOUMAIN’s) By a private Hand.
Examination & Confession of Jack, Mr. Murray’s Negro, Before one of the Judges.
Examination and Confession of Adam, Negro of JOSEPH MURRAY Esq;. Taken before one of the Judges.
Confession of Harry, KIP’s Negro, under Conviction. Before one of the Judges.
Confession of Cato, Mr. Shurmur’s Negro, under Conviction. Before one of the Judges.
Confessions taken this Day by Mr. Nicholls and Mr. Lodge, of the Fifteen following Negroes.
Confessions of the four following Negroes taken by Mr. George Joseph Moore.
Confession of Emanuel, a Spanish Negro, belonging to Thomas Wendover. Taken by a private Hand.
Confession of Cajoe, alias Africa, (GOMEZ’s) By a private Hand.
Confession of Tom, Mr. R. LIVINGSTON’s Negro: Before one of the Judges.
Confession of Pedro (DE PEYSTER’s Negro.) By John Schultz.
Confession of Jeffery (Capt. Brown’s) and Mars (Benson’s) Negroes: Before the Grand Jury.
Confession of Scotland, Mr. MARSTON’s Negro, Before one of the Judges.
Confession of Braveboy (Mrs. KIERSTEDE’s) Before one of the Judges.
Confession of Windsor (Samuel Myers Cohen’s Negro) Taken by John Schultz.
The Confessions of the seven Negroes following, taken by Mr. Nicholls and Mr. Lodge.
Minutes of Othello’s Examination & Confession, Taken before one of the Judges the 29th & 30th June.
Confession of Sam, Negro of Col. FREDERICK CORTLANDT, Before one of the Judges.
The eight following Negro Confessions were taken this Day by Mr. Nicholls and Mr. Lodge.
As each in turn named his names, the city hall’s cellar gaol grew overcrowded with plotters, some hundred or more in total as June ended. “Between the 19th and this day,” Horsmanden remarked in his June 27th entry, “there were upwards of Thirty Slaves more added to [the dungeon], insomuch that the Jail began to be so thronged, ’twas difficult to find Room for them.”
[W]e were apprehensive, that the Criminals would be daily multiplying on our Hands; nor could we see any Likelihood of a Stop to Impeachments; for it seemed very probable that most of the Negroes in Town were corrupted.
The Season began to grow warm, as usual; and … ’twas feared such Numbers of them closely confined together, might breed an Infection.
The spiraling investigation was not only a risk to public health: slaves were valuable property, too valuable to put to the torch without excellent cause. In New York Burning, Jill Lepore estimates that New York had perhaps 450 or so adult black men at this point, and about 200 of them were at some point implicated in the sedition. Horsmanden wasn’t kidding when he fretted “most of the Negroes in Town.”
Facing a potential bloodbath of truly horrifying expense, New York at this point began to pull back — it’s cold comfort to those still doomed like today’s quintet, but today’s mass hanging puts the affair onto the downslope.
On July 1 the colony’s chief justice, James De Lancey, returned from a mission mediating a Massachusetts-Rhode Island boundary dispute that had kept him away from New York for several months.
During De Lancey’s absence the entire progress of the arson scare and its subsequent investigations had unfolded. It had been spearheaded by a junior justice,* our correspondent Daniel Horsmanden.
Horsmanden compiled his The New York Conspiracy, or the History of the Negro Plot in 1742, and was keen to vindicate himself in an event that had obviously become controversial to his contemporaries — so Horsmanden’s account tends to efface the personal role of Horsmanden himself in preference to the institutional authority of the court as a whole.
Nevertheless, to a very great extent the judicial proceedings that turned New York upside-down in 1741 were Horsmanden’s own baby. He’s the chief investigator and interrogator; the confessions above taken “before one of the judges” were taken before Horsmanden. Others he won indirectly (“JOHN SCHULTZ made Oath, That whereas by the Judge’s Orders he took a Confession in Writing from the Mouth of Pedro …”) or secured for open court as a consequence of his private interrogations. A few times he even refers in the third person to actions of the “City Recorder”, which was a municipal office that Horsmanden himself also held.
Not incidentally, Horsmanden was also a man on the make: an arriviste English gentleman induced to try his fortune in the New World after meeting ruin in the South Sea Bubble. De Lancey, by contrast, was fruit of New York’s wealthiest family and an experienced hand in colonial politics. He’s too smooth to have given us a paper trail, but the space between the lines suggests that De Lancey may have returned to bring Horsmanden’s ship into the shore.
On July 2, the chief justice sat in court for the first time in this affair, ordering “Will, WARD’s Negro” to burn without wasting time on a trial. Indeed, although our series is not yet at its end, the negro plot trials are virtually finished once De Lancey returns; his court thereafter opens its daily proceedings only to adjourn, or to collect the pro forma guilty pleas and submissions to mercy of fresh batches of slaves — few of whom are now suffered to submit new confessions that would inevitably denounce new victims. The De Lancey court’s chief business becomes throttling down, emptying its docket, and arranging its inconvenient and unsanitary legion of basement prisoners for release or penal transportation.
But there were still loose ends to tie off, and the credibility of the court could scarcely admit abrupt reversals of what had already transpired.
Despite the amnesty, York (Marschalk’s),** Harry (Kip’s) and Cato (Shurmur’s) all happened to be convicted on the 19th. Discovering hours too late that the governor had extended his reprieve offer that very day, they immediately tried to clamber into safe harbor by admitting what they had already been condemned for — “THAT what was said against him at the Trial Yesterday, was true” — “That all that the Witnesses testified against him in Court on his Trial was true” — “THAT all the Witnesses who spoke against him at his Trial, spoke the Truth.” But that wasn’t good enough to save them, since their confessions post-conviction were not free and voluntary discoveries.
Tony and Prince, who shared their gallows but with whom this author would better share a foxhole, were proud and steely enough to venture a trial on June 26th in the midst of the amnesty window. It was a potential mass trial save that 12 other co-defendants opted out of simply by submitting confessions. Our two holdouts faced a cavalcade of slave accusations supplemented by the white arch-accuser Mary Burton and “asked the Witnesses no material Questions; upon their Defence, they only denied what had been testified against them.” New York executed these courageous men, of course.
According to Peter Zenger’s Weekly Journal (July 6, 1741), none of those executed on June 3 “acknowledg’d any Guilt; but by their Prevarications their Guilt appear’d too plain than to be deny’d” — a fine barometer of the prevailing climate — and one (unspecified) slave survived his execution and “after he had hang [sic] the common Time, or rather longer, when he was cut down, shew’d Symptoms of Life, on which he was tied up again.”
* Horsmanden was actually 12 years older than De Lancey, but outranked by De Lancey in stature and precedence.
** Another of Marschalk’s slaves named London was convicted along with York, Harry, and Cato — and subsequently confessed under exactly the same circumstances as his three hanged mates. It is unclear from Horsmanden’s record why London was spared but York was not merely hanged but gibbeted; one wonders whether the double financial hit to Mr. Marschalk might not have been the consideration — and if so, whether the master had to make an off-the-record Sophie’s choice between his men. Whatever the case, London was among a large number of slaves recommended on July 4 for transportation which had the effect of ridding New York of their seditious presence while also allowing their owners to recoup their sale value.
Corrupt and degrading political associations such as pervade the larger American cities have their natural result in the career of the wretch who expiated his crimes upon the gallows in this city to-day.
He bore the name — Heaven save the mark! — of George Washington Fletcher. Born of a good, respectable family, with a brother an exhorter in the Methodist Church, he has been the black sheep of the flock.
Obstinately repelling all good influences, he has deliberately followed a life of crime from boyhood up, and nothing so well shows the depths to which local politics in this city have sunk as the fact that this man was able defiantly to pursue the life he did merely because he had political friends whose dirty work he did.
Secured immunity from punishment by the small fry ward politicians to whom his aid was valuable, this man was nurtured in the belief that for him the law could have no terrors that “influence” could not remove. The leader of a gang whose services as repeaters at the polls in the interest of a corrupt ring of so-called republicans, Fletcher found that he could defy the law and its officers.
His history is a catalogue of offences against the law, but its sudden ending in the midst of his career, in the very prime of life, proves that justice does not always sleep in Philadelphia, even when a politician is the transgressor.
Fletcher was born in a portion of the city called Southwark in 1845. He was only eleven years of age when his innate cruely of disposition showed itself in cutting off pigs’ tails at a pork packer’s yards. He was committed to the House of Refuge for this offence, was soon released and was a couple of years later engaged in a row with a colored boy named Robert Clayton, now living in Atherton street, near Fletcher’s old home, and gave him a serious stab in the side with a knife.
About this time the rebellion broke out, and Fletcher followed the First Pennsylvania Reserves to the Army of the Potomac, deserted and afterward became what was known as a “bounty jumper.”
At the close of the war he shiped in the navy, and was drawn to fill the Swatara‘s quota, one of the vessels which accompanied Admiral Farragut‘s fleet to Europe. On their homeward cruise he deserted from the Swatara at Antwerp. He swam ashore. He then made his way to Liverpool, from which place he worked his passage to Philadelphia on a merchant ship.
Fletcher and James Hanley had both been runners with the Marion Hose, of the old volunteer fire department, and on the formation of the paid department both secured positions. The two had been companions in boyhood, but had grown up very different in character, Fletcher having become a young “rough” and political “striker,” and Hanley a quiet, inoffensive, sober and industrious young man.
Fletcher and his chosen companions planned a series of robberies, but obtained amateur “kids” to perform the dangerous work, while they obtained the “swag” and divided the profits among themselves.
Fletcher’s later career as a fireman was marked with acts of violence, one of which was the shooting of a companion named Stark, which occurred some time previous to the murder of Hanley. This case was settled, like many others in which he was involved, and never reached the courts.
OUT OF EMPLOYMENT.
Fletcher and his early companion Hanley appeared to continue on friendly terms until the spring of 1874, when Fletcherwas arrested, charged with having committed an outrage on a girl about fourteen years of age, named Mary Elizabeth McHugh.
On the 27th of April, 1874, the Grand Jury found a true bill against him on this charge, and he was tried three days after and acquitted, but the accusation cost him his position in the Fire Department. After losing his situation Fletcher was for a long time out of work. He complained greatly of his troubles and placed the entire blame on Hanley. He frequently made threats that he would kill him, and his desire for revenge increased as his repeated efforts to have himself reinstated in the Fire Department were unsuccessful.
On election day, November 2, 1875, the day before Hanley was murdered, Fletcher attempted to vote illegally at a poll in the First war. Frank Wilcox, residing in Redwood street, interposed objections, whereupon the fireman rough levelled his pistol and fired directly at him, but the motion of a friendly hand caused the barrel to point downward, and the ball lodged in Wilcox’s foot. That same day, with pistol in hand, Fletcher was scouring the vicinity of the “Neck” with the intention of killing one Antonio Hale.
HIS LAST CRIME.
Shortly before eight o’clock on the evening of the 3d Fletcher visited the engine house to which Hanley was attached.
At the door he met one of the members named Pinker, of whom he inquired, “is Jimmy Hanley up stairs?”
Pinker replied that he was.
“Then,” returned Fletcher, “tell him to come down; I want to see him.”
Pinker replied, “No, I won’t, George, because if he comes down here there will be trouble between you and him.”
Fletcher replied quickly, “Oh, no there won’t; I saw him up town to-day and we made up.”
“All right, then,” said Pinker, “I will call him,” and he then called up stairs.
Hanley was reading a book, but laid it down and came down stairs immediately. The words, “How are you to-night?” passed between him and Fletcher, and they went toward the the outside together in a friendly way.
Hanley leaned against the jamb of the door, and as a drizzling rain was falling Pinker asked him if he had not better put a coat on. Hanley said yes, and asked Pinker to get him one.
The latter took a coat from the truck and advanced with it to Hanley, telling him where to place it again when he was done with it.
Hanley had just raised his arms to pull the coat on when Fletcher drew a small pistol and fired. The ball entered Hanley’s left breast, cut through the lung and passed into the heart, and, reeling back into the engine house, the wounded man exclaimed that Fletcher had shot him, and fell. Pinker and some of the other firemen lifted him and carried him up stairs to a lounge, on which he expired in about five minutes.
Fletcher was at once arrested. His trial took place a few weeks later, and, a verdict of guilty of murder in the first degree having been agreed upon by the jury and a new trial refused, Fletcher on the 12th of February was sentenced “to be hanged by the neck until dead.” The Governor nixed fixed just one year ago for the execution, but through the legal delays and arguments in the Supreme Court the execution was postponed.
Since Fletcher’s conviction the most strenuous efforts have been made to secure his pardon, mainly by politicians, in whose behalf he has often rendered important services at the polls.
James H. Heverin, the prisoner’s counsel, has also labored most faithfully in behalf of his client, not ceasing his endeavors to procure a pardon or a reprieve until within twenty-four hours of his death.
HIS LAST HOURS ON EARTH.
Recently the conduct of the condemned man has undergone a change under the ministrations of the Rev. Camp, the Methodist preacher, who has been in faithful attendance upon him.
Fletcher leaves a wife and three children, aged respectively five, three and about two years, all of whom have been frequent visitors to him and have had a softening effect upon him.
He has gradually come to be repentant for his crimes and to take comfort in the consolations of religion. Yesterday he was visited for the last time by his family, his counsel Mr. Heverin, Rev. Dr. Westwood, George H. Stuart and others. His last farewells are said to have been very touching.
Fletcher went to sleep about ten o’clock last night and slept soundly for five hours. His spiritual advisers were with him until he retired, and he prayed fervently with them.
When he awoke this morning, at half-past three o’clock, he lit a cigar and sat on a stool in a thoughtful mood. He talked to Keeper Everly of his death, and said he was prepared to die.
“In three or four hours,” said he, “I shall be in heaven.”
Early this morning he was visited by Rev. Messrs. Camp and Pearce, and sang with them in a clear, loud voice, the “Crucified One,” one of Moody and Sankey‘s hymns, commencing, “It is the promise of God full salvation to give,” which seemed, of all sacred pieces, his favorite one.
His voice rang out clear in the corridor, and the prisoners near him must have distinctly heard it, for his door was partly open. His brother-in-law paid his farewell this morning.
The Sheriff and his party arrived at the prison at eighteen minutes before ten o’clock, and upon being told that his counsel were among the visitors Fletcher sent for them.
An affecting interview was the result, all of the party, including ex-Sheriff Leeds, coming out of the cell with their eyes full of tears.
The scaffold was erected in the convict’s corridor. At ten minutes past ten Fletcher was brought from his cell, and the dismal procession walked to the gallows.
As Fletcher stepped on the fatal trap and faced the spectators below he bore a subdued expression, but displayed no sign of trepidation. A neat black suit* gave him a somewhat clerical appearance, which was heightened by his attitude, his hands being peacefully clasped together, while his head slightly inclined as Mr. Camp prayed fervently that as God had permitted His Son to die for sinners and that whomsoever believeth in Him shall have everlasting life, so might His servant, George Fletcher, have his sins pardoned and be admitted to everlasting life.
Then the doomed man, still betraying no sign of wavering, shook hands with the clergymen, the Sheriff and others, and straightened himself up, while the noose was adjusted, his hands manacled behind his back, and the white cap drawn over his face.
He was then left alone on the scaffold, and all but one of the supports under the trap door on which he stood removed.
Rev. Mr. Camp then lifted his voice in a final prayer, saying, “Now, Lord, we commend the soul of George Fletcher to thine everlasting care. Lord Jesus, receive his spirit, in the name of the Father, Son and —-” He had progressed thus far when he was interrupted by the springing of the trap by the Sheriff, who, by pulling the rope, had pulled away the last upright, and Fletcher’s body fell with a jerk.
STRANGLED TO DEATH.
The trap was sprung at eighteen minutes past ten.
The neck was not broken, and the poor man died slowly by strangulation.
At twenty-five minutes past ten, seven minutes after the fall, the pulse was beating 140 to the minute. It lessened rapidly, but it was not until thirty-five minutes past ten, or seventeen minutes after the fall, that the pulse and the heart ceased their action.
The body was then cut down and taken to the deadhouse, where the physicians formally declared death to have resulted from strangulation.
* The suit was provided courtesy of one of Fletcher’s old political bosses, Jesse Tettermary — a little investment in the future loyalty of his other muscle, perhaps. (Per The North American, June 11, 1877)
From the very first volume of the Transactions of the American Ophthalmological Society, spanning 1864 to 1871. The society, and the journal, are still going strong.
The ellipses omit three other hangings investigated by Dr. Dyer.
FRACTURE OF THE CRYSTALLINE LENS IN PERSONS EXECUTED BY HANGING.
By E. Dyer, M.D., of Philadelphia, Pa.
Three years ago I presented to the Society the result of the examination of the eyes of a man who was hanged, also some experiments on the effects of hanging on the crystalline lens of the dog. In the case of the man the anterior capsule and the lens of the right eye were fractured. The direction of the fracture was horizontal and a line below the centre, extending as far back as the middle of the lens. In the left eye the anterior capsule only as involved. In one dog the same conditions were found, in another only one lens was fractured, and in a third no lesion was detected.
Since then I have experimented on rabbits. Two were hanged and four were strangulated. The trachea in two of the latter were laid bare and tied, but no fracture was detected in any case. Drs. S.W. Mitchell and W.W. Keen, who assisted me at the experiments on the dogs, were present.
The following are the notes of several executions at which I have been present since my report of the case already mentioned. I have been able to examine the eyes of the criminals both before and after death.
Gottlieb Williams, aet. 34, was executed in Philadelphia, June 4, 1867. Drop four and one-half feet; the knot slipped so as to be under the occiput; suspended thirty minutes; convulsive movements lasted five minutes; neck not dislocated.
Examination at 11.54 A.M., five minutes after the body was cut down. Appearance of eyes natural; no protrustion; no injection of conjunctival vessels, corneae clear.
Right eye, pupil well dilated; media clear. Small point seen on the anterior capsule of the lens in the median line, just above the margin of the pupil. At 12, M., spot more distinct; at 12.26 P.M., spot still present, somewhat elongated. Optic nerve normal; retinal vessels small.
Left eye, pupil smaller than the right; cornea clear; lens in normal condition; optic nerve normal; arteries small. I was not allowed to remove the eyes.
Drs. H. Yale Smith, physician to the prison, W.W. Keen and J. Ewing Mears assisted me in the examination.
This unpleasant series of investigations has been pursued ith the hope of throwing some light on the vexed question of the mechanism of the accommodation, but as yet without any satisfactory result.
On this date in 1942, red-haired Robert S. James became the last man judicially hanged in the state of California. He’d earned the noose three times over. The press called him “the Diamondback Killer” or “Rattlesnake James”.
“Robert James,” records Robert Keller in his book 50 American Serial Killers You’ve Probably Never Heard Of, Volume Five, “must rank as one of the most creative killers in the annals of American crime. Not content with such mundane methods as shooting, stabbing or strangling, James resorted to such inventive devices as auto wrecks, drowning and rattlesnake bites.”
James’s cunning homicides and his proclivity for cross-country travel meant his crimes went unnoticed for years.
Born Major Raymond Lisenba in 1895, he seemed destined to a hardscrabble life of Alabama sharecropping like his parents until his brother-in-law paid for him to go to Birmingham and attend barbering school.
In 1921, at age 26, Lisenba married. His wife quickly left him, however, and filed for divorce, citing extreme cruelty. James moved to Kansas and married again, and began an affair with a young local girl. He made her pregnant, and after her father showed up at his barbershop with a shotgun, Lisenba skipped town and moved to Fargo, North Dakota, abandoning wife no. 2. He also changed his name.
From here on out, he goes by Robert S. James.
In 1932, “Robert” married Winona Wallace and took out a life insurance policy on her. After three months of wedded bliss, they went on an outing to climb Pike’s Peak. During the journey, though, the couple was in a single-car accident and Winona sustained a serious head injury, while her husband was completely unharmed: he had jumped out of the out-of-control vehicle just before impact.
The police who responded for some reason thought nothing of the bloodstained hammer they noted in the car’s back seat.
Although Winona’s head wound was grave, she pulled through, and was discharged from the hospital after two weeks, with no memory of the accident. She never recovered that memory because shortly after arriving home she drowned in her own bathtub. Her husband suggested she had still been suffering vertigo from the head injury.
James collected on Winona’s $14,000 life insurance policy, moved back to Alabama and married again. He found he was unable to take out a policy on the new wife, however, and filed for an annulment on the very day of their wedding.
Undaunted, James turned his attention to his nephew, Cornelius Wright. He insured the young man, with double indemnity in case of accidental death, then invited him over to visit. During the visit, James lent Cornelius his car. Cornelius drove it off a cliff and was killed.
The insurers paid.
Curiously, James sent a telegram to his sister informing her of her son’s death before it actually happened.
James moved to Los Angeles and married a fifth time. It was wife #5, Mary Busch, who proved to be his undoing.
In 1935, James conspired with an acquaintance named Charles Hope to murder Mary. They decided to use rattlesnakes, and Hope obtained two large Colorado diamondbacks to do the job. The snakes had names: Lethal and Lightning. They performed well in field tests on chickens.
Mary was pregnant at the time, and James convinced her to get a home abortion. To this end, she allowed herself to be tied to a chair, blindfolded and gagged for the procedure. Her husband then forced whiskey down her throat to quiet her, and he and Hope shoved her bare foot into a box containing the rattlers.
They left her there to die, but when they returned later, Mary was still alive, although had been bitten three times. James dragged her into the bathroom and drowned her in the tub, then he and his accomplice threw her body into an ornamental fish pond on his property.
Then James called the police to report the tragic accident.
Authorities who arrived at the scene found Mary lying in very shallow water. Her grieving widower mentioned she had dizzy spells quite often and would fall down. The police speculated she might have been bitten by a rattlesnake and then, in shock, stumbled into the pond. They did a search of the property and did find something strange: a bottle containing black widow spiders, hidden in a corner of the garage. But what did that have to do with anything?
Mary’s death was ruled accidental and James collected yet another insurance payout.
He appeared to have gotten away with it again.
However, several months later, it came undone.
A sharp insurance investigator found out about James’s previous wives and the fact that one of them had drowned after being heavily insured. The investigator informed the police, who bugged James’s house and discovered he was committing incest with his niece.
This was a crime in California, although she was a legal adult. The police hauled him in for questioning. “Interrogation techniques,” remarks Keller, “were somewhat more brutal than they are today and under questioning, James let something slip about Mary’s death. Investigators immediately seized on this and eventually extracted a confession.”
Charles Hope’s role in the crime came out — he’d been paid $100 for his assistance in the murder — and he turned state’s evidence and was sentenced to life in prison. During the trial, Lethal and Lightning were presented as evidence, and Lethal caused a bit of a stir in the courtroom when it escaped during lunch.
The Los Angeles Times notes, “Columnist Walter Winchell dropped by the courtroom; so did actor Peter Lorre, who studied James’ impassive face and beady eyes for one of those psychotic killer roles he often played.”
James was inevitably convicted of Mary’s murder and sentenced to death, but prolonged his life with a few years of appeals. In Lisenba v. California, the Supreme Court upheld his confession in spite of the third-degree methods by which it was obtained.
The lag from trial to execution caused by Rattlesnake’s judicial review, however, made him by the time of his hanging the last convict whose death sentence predated California’s adoption of the gas chamber. California was executing in volume at this period, and almost all by gas: everyone knew as Robert James went to the gallows that he was to be the last to die on that anachronistic device.
And the executioner — who to be fair was probably out of practice — underscored the reason for that shift by botching the job, leaving his prey to strangle to death for ten ghastly minutes. San Quentin‘s warden, Clinton Duffy, an opponent of the death penalty described the hanging to reporters but his story was deemed too graphic to be printable. In this more permissive age we can use it with impunity … but it’s liable to put you off your appetite.
The man hit bottom, and I observed that he was fighting by pulling on the straps, wheezing, whistling, trying to get air, that blood was oozing through the black cap. I observed also that he urinated, defecated and the droppings fell on the floor, and the stench was terrible. I also saw witnesses pass out and have to be carried from the witness room. Some of them threw up. It took ten minutes for the condemned man to die.
When he was finally dead enough to cut him down, “big hunks of flesh were torn off” James’s purple face; “his eyes were popped,” and his tongue “swollen and hanging from his mouth.” (source)
It is said on the 7th of last May, the day before the execution of Mose Caton, [Robert] Fowler danced a jig on the gallows and said:
“Well, within twenty-four hours Caton will be in hell,” and a short time after the execution remarked: “Who in the hell will be the next one?”
-St. Louis Globe-Democrat, April 24, 1886
You know what they say: if you have to ask …
Robert Fowler was an irascible Union County, Ky. man who had gone to work on a farm, fallen for the farmer’s beautiful daughter, been spurned, and pulled the old Humbert Humbert by instead marrying her 49-year-old widowed aunt.
But Fowler continued to nurse an unrequited lust for 18-year-old beauty Lida Burnett, and it would eventually prove fatal to them both. Fowler ditched her aunt at one point to take another run at the girl, failed, returned to the aunt, and finally jealously threatened Burnett that he would kill her should she make an engagement with anyone but himself.
So Fowler was the natural suspect* when Miss Burnett — having defiantly pledged someone her troth — set out on horseback from her cousin’s house one evening and never made it home.
The ensuing search turned up the poor young lady’s remains, nearly headless from two deep gashes in her throat. News reports from the period are oddly mixed on the question of whether she had been ravished, too.
Fowler’s residence yielded up bloody clothes, still wet from the killer’s attempt to wash them out. “It is thought,” reported the Globe-Democrat blandly on Aug. 19, 1885, “that he will be lynched to-night.”
Contrary to expectations, Fowler survived long enough to let the law take its course. He acknowledged his guilt on the scaffold before a reported crowd of 5,000 or more in Morganfield, who got two hangings for the price of one after Fowler snapped the rope and fell to the ground the first time he was dropped.
* Actually, he was the third suspect: two black men who’d been seen in the vicinity were investigated first.
Berlin’s policy, too, was for an independent Slovakia — in fact, more stridently than Tiso himself, who mapped as a moderate within his own party, more supportive of gradual methods than revolutionary ones. “A Czech state minus Slovakia is even more completely at our mercy,” Goering mused in October 1938. “Air base in Slovakia for operation against the East very important.”
In secret negotiations with Slovakian leaders during the autumn and winter of 1938-39, the Third Reich’s brass made clear that its intention to guarantee Slovakia’s independence was an offer that could not be refused. When Slovakian separatist movements triggered the Prague government’s military occupation of Slovakia on March 9, 1939, Tiso was summoned to Berlin where Hitler gave him an ultimatum on March 13:
The question was: Did Slovakia want to lead an independent existence or not? … It was a question not of days but of hours. If Slovakia wished to become independent [Hitler] would support and even guarantee it … (Shirer)
The next day, Tiso was back in Bratislava, reading the terms to the Slovak Diet — with the clear undertone that the deed would be accomplished by Wehrmacht boots if it were not done by parliamentary votes. Tiso became the Prime Minister of the First Slova Republic that very evening (he became President later in 1939), and soon implemented an enthusiastically rigorous anti-Semitic line. (Tiso had been on about the Jews right from the start of his public career in the early 1920s.)
Slovakia is not a populous country, so its deportations made only a modest contribution to the Holocaust in absolute numbers. But from a prewar census population of 88,951 Jews, some 70,000 were deported to German camps and over 90% of these died. Thousands of others fled Slovakia as refugees; today, Slovakia’s Jewish populace has all but disappeared.
Captured in Bavaria after the war, Tiso was extradited by the Americans back to Communist Czechoslovakia where a court condemned him for collaboration, judging that he had been “an initiator, and, when not an initiator, then an inciter of the most radical solution of the Jewish question.” He was hanged in his priestly garb three days after that verdict.
On this date in 1841, Peter Robinson hanged for a New Jersey murder. Little could he have imagined that he was on his way to the literary canon.
A wealthy merchant and banker named Abraham Suydam had disappeared, and suspicion quickly settled on Robinson — one of his debtors, who suddenly seemed to be a little bit flush with cash and a timepiece too rich for his station in life.
Robinson was arrested and examined before the Mayor of New Brunswick, and from his confused manner and contradictory statements, it was determined that his house should be searched. Accordingly the Mayor, accompanied by several constables, and a number of citizens, proceeded to Robinson’s house for the purpose of searching it. Every room, nook and corner in the upper stories of the house were searched, but without success. At last one of the constables proposed to adjourn to the cellar and see what could be discovered there. This proposition caused the greatest trepidation on the part of Robinson, who strongly remonstrated against it.
He stated that if the floor of his cellar was removed, it would endanger the safety of the building, and there was no telling what would be the consequences. This only made the party feel the more convinced of Robinson’s guilt, and they immediately commenced operations removing the plank of the cellar. A few boards and the earth underneath only had been removed, when the dead body of the unfortunate Mr. Suydam, to the astonishment of all present, was found. His skull was found to be dreadfully fractured, and his head was horribly disfigured by the marks of blows which had been inflicted on it. From the state of his body, it is supposed that he was murdered eight or nine days ago. (New York Commercial Advertiser (Dec. 15, 1840.)
It is commonly thought — thought there does not appear to be any direct evidence for it — that this nationally infamous body-under-the-floorboards murder helped to inspire Edgar Allan Poe‘s classic short story “The Tell-Tale Heart”.*
Published in January 1843, “The Tell-Tale Heart” features a young man who murders an old man, stashes his body under the floor, then pleasantly dissipates the suspicions of the police until a sensation of the victim’s heart noisily throbbing overwhelms him into a confession:
Was it possible they heard not? Almighty God! — no, no! They heard! — they suspected! — they knew! — they were making a mockery of my horror! — this I thought, and this I think. But anything better than this agony! Anything was more tolerable than this derision! I could bear those hypocritical smiles no longer! I felt that I must scream or die! — and now — again! — hark! louder! louder! louder! louder! —
“Villains!” I shrieked, “dissemble no more! I admit the deed! — tear up the planks! — here, here! — it is the beating of his hideous heart!”
Poe’s nameless character denies a motive for the crime, attributing it only to the victim’s “eye” — a mythologizing device which has surely aided the story’s longevity.
Object there was none. Passion there was none. I loved the old man. He had never wronged me. He had never given me insult. For his gold I had no desire. I think it was his eye! — yes, it was this! He had the eye of a vulture — a pale blue eye, with a film over it. Whenever it fell upon me, my blood ran cold; and so, by degrees — very gradually — I made up my mind to take the life of the old man, and thus rid myself of the eye forever.
But if Robinson was the source material, the occult power of the old man’s “eye” was nothing but the oldest motive in the world: plain old luchre.
In 1839, Robinson had borrowed $400 from Abraham Suydam to buy a lot and begin construction of a home upon it, but soon found himself (to use a familiar but anachronistic parlance) underwater.
“Every one to whom I owed a few dollars was after me to sue or get me to give my furniture for the debt,” Robinson recounted in a tearful confession 48 hours before his hanging. (We excerpt it here from the April 17, 1841 Baltimore Sun.) “I did so; I did all that I could; I was driven nearly crazy by these debts … I let them take my furniture until there was scarcely any thing left in the house; and I was ashamed to let any one come into it to see how very poor we really was, and how bad off.”
The harrying of creditors and the passion of the crime seem to have left the murderer’s mind awash in dollars and cents.
Even facing a far more considerable penalty than bankruptcy, Robinson’s confession is obsessed with the winnowing margins of his former debts; scarcely a paragraph elapses without citation of a meticulous mental ledger-book. Robinson recalled the bills incurred to construct his home (“I bought about $250 worth of lumber … The mason work was done for me by Mr. Chessman; for this I was to pay Mr. C. $210. I paid him $110 in cash, and gave him a mortgage for $100 … I had bought some sash frames for my house of a man, and they came to $22.25″ …). He dwelt on his negotiations with Suydam and complained of the lender’s tightfistedness; he recalled the precise value of what he was able to steal from Suydam’s body (“$10 in money, not a cent more … [in] his pantaloons pockets … only two shillings and a penknife”) and the expenses incurred to evade justice (he offered his brother $50 to burn his house down for the insurance, then took a bath unloading Suydam’s gold watch — it “was worth double what I got for it”); yet even so, he was still a little proud of his diligence assailing his debt, in contrast with “Thorne who bought a lot close by mine” and with whom “Mr. Suydam got out of patience.” The killer even had the brass to pat himself on the back for not destroying the papers Suydam had on him: thus, “the relations of Suydam, and his friends, can’t say that they lose any money by the murder.”
At this time I took up a mallet, which I had placed in the basement ready to knock him over with. I then went into the front basement, Mr. Suydam in front of me. I followed behind with the mallet in my hand, he not noticing the same. My intention then was to murder him in the front basement — but my heart failed me. We then went up stairs again in the back room, I carrying the mallet against the palm of my hand. We stood by the fire talking about the house. He was there nearly fifteen minutes. I stated that my wife staid a long time.
He told me that he would go out and take a wall, and return again. He started to go, and I followed, until he got just through the doorway of the back room, which is within three or four feet of the back door, in the entry. I then knocked him down on his knees with the mallet, by striking him n the back of his head, through his hat. He undertook to rise, when I struck him again on the head, and he fell over, and laid still and senseless. I then supposed he was dead, and laid the mallet down; I then went and turned the button of the front door, which all this time was unfastened; and I went down into the front basement. I then went to work and began to dig a small hole; after I had been digging for two minutes, I thought I would not leave the body up stairs; so I went up stairs to bring him down. I saw him on his hands and knees, with his face and hands all bloody. He cried out, “Oh! Peter!” once or twice. Had he begged for his life then, I believe I should have let him off; but I did not want to drag him down stairs alive, and I didn’t want to see him linger there in misery; so I seized the mallet, and again struck him on the head, which knocked him perfectly dead, as I supposed. …
I discovered a chain hanging out of his pocket, and drew from it his gold watch, and put it in my own pocket. I then dug the hole larger, and in throwing out the dirt I threw about half a load of it on his body and head, which completely covered it. He then groaned a little, but I shuddered to hear him, and so I got out and stood upon the dirt and on his head to smother him! He then groaned so hard that I got off from him and struck him with the edge of the spade upon the head, which sunk completely to the brain, and which killed him instantly! …
I now felt as if my heart was completely black, and I was so hardened and callous, and yet so cool and deliberate, that I could have murdered many more. I could, without flinching or hesitating, have killed twenty men if they had come on me one by one.
I don’t believe that I was over a half hour doing the whole exercises of the whole thing! For I had a kind of knack of doing work somehow that others hadn’t. And why, sir, I’ve took hold of floor plank before now, and done forty-five of them in one day, that is, planed and ploughed and grooved them; whereas from sixteen to eighteen is a day’s work for some men.**
As if to complete the American Gothic quality of the crime, Robinson fell through the rope on the first attempt to hang him, then painfully strangled to death on the second try.
* Poe took up a very similar theme — the criminal psychology of a domestic murder concealed by subterranean immurement — later that year in “The Black Cat” (published in August 1843).
** His last wish in this confession: “whatever you do, don’t let the doctors get hold of me and make medicine of me.”