Posts filed under 'Milestones'

1889: Louisa Collins, the last woman hanged in New South Wales

Add comment January 8th, 2020 Headsman

The last woman hanged in New South Wales, Australia was the “Botany Murderess” Louisa Collins, on this date in 1889.

A transport convict’s daughter from near Merriwa, Collins was accused in the courts and the common run of opinion of murdering both her husbands with arsenic — first Charles Andrews, 13 years her senior and father to nine of her 10 children* — and then Michael Collins, the lover with whom she scandalously fell into bed while husband’s body was still warm, and indeed before: desperate to relieve the financial pressure of their large family, Charles and Louisa had taken in boarders, of whom Michael Collins was one — at least until Charles threw him out for getting too familiar with the lady of the house.

The fact that this adulterous couple immediately shacked up (and, as our principal’s surname will have signaled, shortly thereafter wed) after a stomach ailment felled the husband set tongues a-wag and eyebrows a-cock. The subsequent death of Michael and Louisa’s only child together,** and then of Michael himself, could not but appear confirmation of the very worst.

Although accused, she was only convicted once over the course of four trials.

Where murder is concerned, any one will do for the law no matter the conviction ratio. But the chain obviously smacks of an unseemly jury-shopping, facilitated by the first three panels’ failure to reach any verdict rather than acquit outright and cinched by the Crown’s convincing the court to admit at her last trial previously-barred testimony.

The hard evidence remained stubbornly circumstantial as usual with arsenic cases: her paramour and an insurance policy on her husband supplied a motive that was positive but far from dispositive, and the alleged means was nothing more than a commercial pest controller called Rough On Rats whose presence in the house would have incriminated half of Australia.† (Arsenic was also used in the sheepskin tanning industry where both of Louisa’s late men sweated their daily bread.) Neighbors fleshed out these bare bones with eye-of-the-beholder judgments against Louisa’s comportment, such as the insufficient-mourning canard that’s still a staple of wrongful convictions.

Moreover, Louisa Collins’s case became enmeshed in the era’s web of gender politics: the campaign soliciting clemency on grounds of femininity overlapped but also contradicted the simultaneous campaign for women’s suffrage, goring oxes left and right.

That gore still spatters latter-day observers of this still-fascinating affair, who in recent years have enjoyed two different volumes illuminating the respective silhouette-halves that Louisa Collins presents posterity: a woman railroaded (Last Woman Hanged, by Caroline Overington (author interview)); and, cold-blooded murderess (Black Widow: The true story of Australia’s first female serial killer, by Carol Baxter (author interview)). There’s also a recent historical novel, The Killing Of Louisa, by Janet Lee (author interiew).

Two things that all parties can agree on: first, that her quadruple prosecution makes for a troubling legal spectacle — “a collusion between the prosecution and the state and the judiciary to keep her going to trial until the desired result,” as Baxter put it; and second, that Collins’s eventual hanging at Darlinghurst was a ghastly botch. The next day’s Sydney Morning Herald reported how

The executioner signalled to his assistant to pull the lever, but the handle refused to move. It could be seen that pressure was applied, and also that the pin which held the handle in its place was fast in its slot. The assistant endeavoured to remove the pin, but failed, and in a few seconds a mallet was used. Four or five blows were applied Mrs Collins meanwhile standing perfectly upright and motionless-before the pin gave way.

The delay caused could not have been short of one minute, when the lever moved and the body fell through in a slightly curved position. After one swing to the side and in a moment it was suspended perpendicularly, with the face towards the yard. There was a slight spurt of blood, followed by a thin stream which ran down the dress and spotted the floor beneath. Nearer examination showed that the strain of the drop had so far opened the neck as to completely sever the windpipe, and that the body was hanging by the vertebra. Slowly the body turned round on the rope until the front part faced the doorway, and there it remained stationary until lowered by the executioner on to a wicker bier. Death was instantaneous. After hanging for 20 minutes the corpse was conveyed to the inquest room, and again given over to the female warders.


Poor service: hangman Robert Rice Howard, aka “Nosey Bob” after a distinctive disfigurement of that appendage courtesy of a horse’s backheel.

* Seven of these nine children by Charles Andrews survived infancy. At the time of the alleged murders, five of these children still shared the house with their parents.

** The possible murder of the infant Collins child wasn’t on Louisa’s charge sheet but remains an understandable suspicion.

† As a brand name for arsenic, Rough On Rats became a ready resource for numerous aspiring suicides and homicides.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Australia,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Milestones,Murder,Women,Wrongful Executions

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1829: Thomas Maynard, the last hanged for forgery

Add comment December 31st, 2019 Headsman

The last day of the 1820s marked the last hanging for forgery in Great Britain: that of Thomas Maynard, at London’s Newgate Prison.

Maynard was charged with two other men* for forging an order of His Majesty’s Customs to pay them £1,973. They got the money and for a few months had that blessed relief from the weight of penury and debt; one of the numerous witnesses in their case described how one of Maynard’s confederates “was in difficulties in the year 1828 … I saw him in June last, when he told me his wife had 700l.”

It must have been nice, but they weren’t quite quick enough about executing their plan to sail for America.

Although the sovereign himself was the victim in this instance, British juries had grown ever more reluctant in the early 19th century to impose capital punishment for faking a document to non-violently steal some money — although there were still 218 such executions over the first 30 years of the century.

The availability of the death penalty for such a deed was repealed in 1832.

* Joseph West, who was acquitted, and Richard Jones, who was convicted only as an accessory and transported to Australia.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Counterfeiting,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,Milestones,Pelf,Public Executions

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2008: Charles Laplace

Add comment December 19th, 2019 Headsman

Charles Laplace was hanged in a Basseterre prison on this date in 2008, for stabbing his wife to death. It’s the most recent execution carried out in the Caribbean nation of Saint Kitts and Nevis and it drew the ire of human rights advocates because it was carried out before Laplace could exercise his appeal to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. That had also been the case with Saint Kitts and Nevis’s last previous execution, in 1998.

Capital punishment does remain on the books for the small (pop. 52,000) Commonwealth nation.

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Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,Milestones,Murder,St. Kitts and Nevis

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1953: Carl Hall and Bonnie Brown Heady

Add comment December 18th, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1953 — six months after the execution of a more notorious couple, the Rosenbergs — two Missouri kidnappers were gassed together for the abduction-murder of a millionaire car dealer’s son.

Robert Greenlease owed his millions to a string of midwestern GM dealerships planted at the very flowering of America’s interstate system and suburbanization.

Carl Hall and Bonnie Brown Heady reckoned he’d owe some of those millions to them, too.

On September 28 of 1953, those two snatched little Bobby Greenlease Jr from the grounds of a Catholic school in Kansas City via the all-too-easy expedient of Heady presenting herself as Bobby’s aunt.

Then they extorted Sr. to the tune of $600,000, and after several days’ negotiations, Greenlease paid it through an intermediary — a record US ransom sum that would not be surpassed until 1971.

But the motor magnate never saw his son again. Even by the time they’d sent their first ransom note, the kidnappers had shot little Bobby dead at a deserted farm just over the state line in Kansas.

Although this audacious attack on a minor oligarch made national headlines — it couldn’t help but remind of the Lindbergh baby case — the crooks basically had an opportunity to get away scot-free with all their ill-gotten gains. Bobby Greenlease’s body wasn’t discovered until a couple of days after the ransom was paid, and nobody knew who the abductors were at that point.

Hall and Heady absconded to St. Louis but the wealth, like the crime itself, was just too much for these small-time shoulders to bear. Instead of lying low, Hall — after ditching Heady and taking most of the ransom with him, a reckless provocation of his co-conspirator that might itself have blown up his cover in short order — took up residence in an expensive hotel and started throwing money around. A cabbie reported the shabby character’s suspicious spending, and in no time at all the two were in custody.

A further mystery, never solved, entered the case on the night of Hall’s arrest: half the ransom money disappeared. The mob-connected lieutenant who collared Hall and brought him to the station less $300,000 of the score eventually resigned from the force in disgrace and faced federal prosecution for misappropriation and perjury; the cop indicted with him earned a presidential pardon by turning on his comrade. Other ideas were that the criminals had buried half the money (they claimed this, for a while) and that better-connected figures higher up the food chain had taken in. All the bills’ serial numbers had been recorded but only a few were ever known to have surfaced again in later years, in Michigan and Mexico; where these trace remains of a family tragedy might rest today is anybody’s guess.

As for Hall and Heady, they emerged into the glare of national infamy and — because they had crossed the Kansas-Missouri state line — a federal prosecution. Heady remains to this day the last woman executed under U.S. federal auspices.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch has a detailed photographic retrospective here.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Gassed,History,Kidnapping,Milestones,Missouri,Murder,Pelf,U.S. Federal,USA,Women

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1940: Carl Heinrich Meier and Jose Waldberg, the first hanged under the Treachery Act

Add comment December 10th, 2019 Headsman

I went into this with both my eyes open, telling myself that a man who has an ideal must be willing to sacrifice everything for it or else the ideal isn’t an ideal at all, or the man isn’t a man at all, but a humble creature who deserves only pity.

-Carl Heinrich Meier, last letter to his fiancee (Source)

On this date in 1940, Great Britain carried out the first two executions under its brand-new-for-wartime Treachery Act of 1940.

Raced into the books in May of 1940 amid Nazi Germany’s onslaught on France, the Treachery Act made it a capital crime if, “with intent to help the enemy, any person does, or attempts or conspires with any other person to do any act which is designed or likely to give assistance to the naval, military or air operations of the enemy, to impede such operations of His Majesty’s forces, or to endanger life.” Naturally the realm had centuries of treason statutes to fall back on; the intent in creating this new capital crime of treachery was to target spies and saboteurs who might not themselves be British citizens — and therefore evade “treason” charges on grounds of not owing loyalty to the British Crown. Instead, the Treachery Act explicitly governed “any person in the United Kingdom, or in any British ship or aircraft.”

Carl/Karl Heinrich Meier and Jose Waldberg were textbook cases. They had rowed ashore at Dungeness on September 3 intending to pose as Dutch refugees while reconnoitering ahead of a potential German cross-channel invasion. With them were two other Abwehr agents with the same intent, Charles Albert van der Kieboom and Sjoerd Pons.

While his comrades were noticed by routine coastal patrols and picked up near the beach, Meier picturesquely showed up that morning at a public house in Lydd where his clumsy command of contextual slang and etiquette led the proprietress to turn him in.

They were tried in camera weeks later, by which time the Luftwaffe was systematically bombing the jurors; despite this radically prejudicial context, Sjoerd Pons was actually acquitted — successfully persuading the court that he’d been forced into the mission on pain of a concentration camp sentence for smuggling. (Pons was detained as an enemy alien despite the acquittal.)

The other three men were not so fortunate. Perhaps most to be pitied was “Waldberg” who was really a Belgian named Henri Lassudry: although he had not presented Pons’s same defense to the court it appeared that he also had been coerced into the operation, in his case by Gestapo threats against his family. But none of the three death sentences was to be abated. A week after Meier and Waldberg/Lassudry hanged at Pentonville Prison, van der Kieboom followed them to the gallows.


“Jose Waldberg” aka Henri Lassudry.

The Treachery Act would be used against German agents repeatedly through the war years and in time had the distinction of noosing the last person hanged in Britain for a crime other than murder.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,England,Espionage,Execution,Germany,Hanged,History,Milestones,Spies,Wartime Executions

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1881: Percy Lefroy Mapleton, police sketch milestone

Add comment November 29th, 2019 Headsman

When Percy Lefroy Mapleton plunged through the gallows-trap at Lewes Prison on this date in 1881 for robbing and murdering a train passenger, he had the consolation of a minor milestone in policing history: he was the bobble-headed subject of the first published police sketch.

Mapleton (he gave his name initially as Percy Mapleton Lefroy) entered the annals of crime lore at Brighton‘s Preston Park railway station on the 27th of June, a mere five months before his execution. On that occasion, he presented himself, bloodied and bedraggled, to a ticket agent with a complaint that he’d been assaulted on the train by two unknown men.

Maybe it was the gold watch chain dangling out of his boot (the man said he’d stashed it there for safekeeping) or an unexplained couple of Hanoverian medals he possessed (the man didn’t know anything about those!), or his keen desire to ditch the investigators and return immediately to London for some business (so why take the train to Brighton in the first place?). There wasn’t quite sufficient reason to hold him, but there was ample cause to give him a minder for his ride back to London.

Apparently Sgt. George Holmes hadn’t been fully briefed on suspect escort protocol.

During their ride, police searching the rail line by which the strange bloodied man had arrived turned up the body of an elderly coin dealer named Isaac Gold, the sort of character who would have pocket watches and Hanoverian medals to steal. A telegraph sent from the nearest station arrived ahead of Mapleton’s train, reading

Man found dead this afternoon in tunnel here. Name on papers “I Gold”. He is now lying here. Reply quick.

At this point, explicit instructions to keep eagle eyes on Percy Mapleton would hardly seem to be required — yet they were indeed forthcoming. Despite what headquarters and common sense were telling him, however, Sgt. Holmes allowed the murder suspect to talk him into letting him “change clothes” unsupervised in a house. And so began a nationwide manhunt.

This manhunt would be distinguished by a police sketch of the fugitive created with the help of Mapleton’s acquaintances. London Metropolitan Police’s (then-newborn) Criminal Investigation Department appealed to the press for help and the Telegraph made history by printing the man’s profile, first time such a drawing had hit newsprint for this purpose.

Age 22, middle height, very thin, sickly appearance, scratches on throat, wounds on head, probably clean shaved, low felt hat, black coat, teeth much discoloured … He is very round shouldered, and his thin overcoat hangs in awkward folds about his spare figure. His forehead and chin are both receding. He has a slight moustache, and very small dark whiskers. His jawbones are prominent, his cheeks sunken and sallow, and his teeth fully exposed when laughing. His upper lip is thin and drawn inwards. His eyes are grey and large. His gait is singular; he is inclined to slouch and when not carrying a bag, his left hand is usually in his pocket. He generally carries a crutch stick.

The publicity blitz generated dozens of erroneous reported sightings throughout the country, but successfully put the screws to the wanted man who was hemmed into an untenable boarding house bolt-hole with an increasingly suspicious landlady and a dwindling pool of money. At last he was

apprehended on Friday evening, July 8, at 32, Smith-street, Stepney, where he took lodgings two days after his disappearance from Wallington … He went out very little, and chiefly at night … He described himself as an engraver, and as one who needed quietness. A telegram sent by Lefroy from 32, Smith-street, to his friend Seele was the cause of his arrest. It appears that the suspicions of his landlady, Mrs. Bickers, being aroused by his peculiar mode of living, she sent her daughter to the address indicated on the telegram, which ran as follows: —

From G. Clark, 32, Smith-street, Stepney, to S. Seele, at J.T. Hutchinson’s, 56, Gresham-street, London, E.C. — Please bring me my wages this evening, about eight, without fail. Flour to-morrow. Not 33.

This telegram led some unknown person, it is said, to call at Scotland-yard, and give information.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,History,Milestones,Murder,Notable Sleuthing,Pelf,Theft

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1499: Edward, Earl of Warwick, the last Plantagenet claimant

Add comment November 28th, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1499, the Plantagenet prince Edward, Earl of Warwick lost his head — and his once-mighty house lost its last direct male successor to its claim upon kingship.

A lagging casualty of the Wars of the Roses, little Ted was only three when he lost his old man to a treason charge and a butt of malmsey. The same blade dangled close to Edward’s neck throughout his few years, for he became a potential royal claimant after his young cousins, the Princes in the Tower, were killed off in 1483.

Warwick was all of eight years old at that moment. When he was 10, he was shut up in the Tower of London by Henry VII, never really to leave it again.* “Being kept in the Tower from his tender age, that is to say from his first year of the king [i.e., of Henry VII’s reign] to this fifteenth year, out of all company of men and sight of beasts, in so much that he could not discern a goose from a capon,” in the words of chronicler Edward Hall. Some historians have taken that to mean that Edward was was mentally disabled, but under the circumstances, who wouldn’t be?*

It was cold and eminently practical mistreatment, for this boy however innocent in his own person was the potential champion of the Yorkists. In 1487, an abortive rebellion arose in Warwick’s name, with a 10-year-old kid named Lambert Simnel presented as a faux-Edward. Henry crushed the rebellion and was obliged to make his proofs to the populace by parading the real Edward around London which was at least a rare excursion outside the Tower walls for the tween hostage.**

Pretenders tossed the boy prisoner hither and yon on the currents of fortune. The next one to have a go at Henry, a Low Countries twerp named Perkin Warbeck who claimed to be one of the lost Princes in the Tower, mounted landings in the mid-1490s, vainly hoping to spark a general revolt. After he was finally captured in 1497, he wound up in the Tower with poor Warwick. Warbeck persuaded the desperate youth upon a desperate course — or was it by the intentional policy of that scheming king to dispose of a threat and thereby cinch that famously ill-fated Spanish marriage so productive of clientele for our grim annals? A century-plus later, Francis Bacon described in History of the Reign of King Henry VII the popular suspicion that had attached to this convenient tying up of loose ends:

it was ordained, that this winding-ivy of a Plantagenet should kill the true tree itself. For Perkin, after he had been a while in the Tower, began to insinuate himself into the favour and kindness of his keepers, servants to the lieutenant of the Tower Sir John Digby, being four in number; Strangeways, Blewet, Astwood, and Long Roger. These varlets, with mountains of promises, he sought to corrupt, to obtain his escape; but knowing well, that his own fortunes were made so contemptible, as he could feed no man’s hopes, and by hopes he must work, for rewards he had none, he had contrived with himself a vast and tragical plot; which was, to draw into his company Edward Plantagenet earl of Warwick, then prisoner in the Tower; whom the weary life of a long imprisonment, and the often and renewing fears of being put to death, had softened to take any impression of counsel for his liberty. This young Prince he thought these servants would look upon, though not upon himself: and therefore, after that by some message by one or two of them, he had tasted of the earl’s consent; it was agreed that these four should murder their master the lieutenant secretly in the night, and make their best of such money and portable goods of his, as they should find ready at hand, and get the keys of the Tower, and presently let forth Perkin and the earl. But this conspiracy was revealed in time, before it could be executed. And in this again the opinion of the King’s great wisdom did surcharge him with a sinister fame, that Perkin was but his bait, to entrap the earl of Warwick.

… Howsoever it were, hereupon Perkin, that had offended against grace now the third time, was at the last proceeded with, and by commissioners of oyer and terminer arraigned at Westminster, upon divers treasons committed and perpetrated after his coming on land within this kingdom, for so the judges advised, for that he was a foreigner, and condemned, and a few days after executed at Tyburn; where he did again openly read his confession, and take it upon his death to be true. This was the end of this little cockatrice of a King, that was able to destroy those that did not espy him first. It was one of the longest plays of that kind that hath been in memory, and might perhaps have had another end, if he had not met with a King both wise, stout, and fortunate.

And immediately after was arraigned before the Earl of Oxford, then for the time high steward of England, the poor Prince, the Earl of Warwick; not for the attempt to escape simply, for that was not acted; and besides, the imprisonment not being for treason, the escape by law could not be treason, but for conspiring with Perkin to raise sedition, and to destroy the King: and the earl confessing the indictment, had judgment, and was shortly after beheaded on Tower-hill.

This was also the end, not only of this noble and commiserable person Edward the earl of Warwick, eldest son to the duke of Clarence: but likewise of the line male of the Plantagenets, which had flourished in great royalty and renown, from the time of the famous King of England, King Henry the second. Howbeit it was a race often dipped in their own blood. It hath remained since only transplanted into other names, as well of the imperial line, as of other noble houses. But it was neither guilt of crime, nor treason of state, that could quench the envy that was upon the King for this execution: so that he thought good to export it out of the land, and to lay it upon his new ally, Ferdinando King of Spain. For these two Kings understanding one another at half a word, so it was that there were letters shewed out of Spain, whereby in the passages concerning the treaty of marriage, Ferdinando had written to the King in plain terms, that he saw no assurance of his succession, as long as the earl of Warwick lived; and that he was loth to send his daughter to troubles and dangers. But hereby, as the King did in some part remove the envy from himself; so he did not observe, that he did withal bring a kind of malediction and infausting upon the marriage, as an ill prognostic: which in event so far proved true, as both Prince Arthur enjoyed a very small time after the marriage, and the lady Catharine herself, a sad and a religious woman, long after, when King Henry the eighth his resolution of a divorce from her was first made known to her, used some words, that she had not offended, but it was a judgment of God, for that her former marriage was made in blood; meaning that of the earl of Warwick.

* The situation reminds of little Tsar Ivan VI in the 18th century, although that Russian prince was held from an even younger age, under even more oppressive conditions.

** Being only a figurehead, the pretend Warwick ironically enjoyed great mercy compared to the real one. Simnel was installed in Henry’s kitchens instead and lived out a comfortable life in the royal household.

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Entry Filed under: 15th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,England,Execution,History,Milestones,Power,Pretenders to the Throne,Public Executions,Royalty

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1789: Ann Davis, the first woman hanged at Sydney Cove

Add comment November 23rd, 2019 Headsman

The first woman hanged in colonial Australia was Ann(e) Davis, on this date in 1789.

Convicted in London “for feloniously stealing, on the 27th day of April, eight pair of silk stockings, value 8s. the property of James Atkinson,” Davis was one of 101 female convicts transported to Sydney Cove with the First Fleet aboard the Lady Penrhyn.* Davis would have been in the crowd of onlookers the year before when the fledgling colony conducted its very first execution.

This spectacle did not un-sticky Davis’s fingers, for she was sentenced in Sydney Cove for again plundering wardrobes to the tune of

four linen shirts of the value of twenty nine shillings and six pence; one cheque shirt of the value of four pence; one linen waistcoat of the value of two shillings; two cambrick handkerchiefs of the value of three shillings; one silk waistcoat of the value of two shillings; one dimety waistcoat of the value of eighteen pence of the goods and chattels of the said Robert Sidaway; and one linen bed gown of the value of two shillings; one linen apron of the value of eighteen pence; two linen caps of the value of sixpence; one piece of a cap of the value of one penny; one muslin handkerchief of the value of six pence; and one pair of linen pockets of the value of one penny of the goods and chattels of Mary Marshall in the same dwelling house.

Davis attempted to plead her belly, failing to impress a jury of matrons impaneled to scrutinize her for pregnancy.

Seaman Jacob Nagle piteously recorded her end:

Some time after this, one of the wimen [Ann Davis] stole some wet clothes and was condemned and hung. She strove to bring a free man in guilty that belonged to our ship that was on duty on shore, it being proved by a number of witnesses that he was innocent and new nothing of it. Otherwise, she might have been saved, as the Governor left it to Captain Hunter, but he would not for give her, and when brought to gallos, leading her by two wimen, she was so much intocsicated in liquor that she could not stand without holding her up. It was dreadful to see heir going to aternity out of this world in such a senceless, shocking manne.

As noted by Australia’s Dark Heart the experience of dispatching this creature might have been especially traumatizing to the colony’s unwilling executioner James Freeman — for he was found roaring drunk a few days later and punished with 100 lashes.

* After discharging its human cargo, the Lady Penrhyn proceeded upon further circulating in the Pacific and the Far East; in 1788, she sighted and named the Cook Islands atoll of Penrhyn.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Australia,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,History,Milestones,Public Executions,Theft,Women

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1989: Solomon Ngobeni, the last hanged in South Africa

Add comment November 14th, 2019 Headsman

South Africa conducted its last execution on this date in 1989: that of Solomon Ngobeni, for robbing and murdering a taxi driver.

Apartheid South Africa had long been one of the world’s most prolific users of capital punishment. According to Wikipedia it had logged nearly 3,000 executions over the 30 years previous, including a one-year count of 164 as recently as 1987.

But the policy was about to see a sudden reversal — along with the policy of apartheid itself.

Earlier that same year, the South African presidency had been assumed by F.W. de Klerk. Much to everyone’s surprise, the copper-bottomed Nationalist Party conservative set about dismantling the entire white-rule infrastructure. Once he’d secured his term de Klerk moved with alacrity, immediately permitting some anti-apartheid marches that his security services wanted to shut down and proceeding apace to more dramatic reforms that within a few years saw off apartheid altogether.

Shuttering the Pretoria Central Prison gallows was one early gesture in this same campaign, considering the many martyrs that platform had made of regime opponents down the years. In 1990, de Klerk pronounced a formal moratorium on executions and he never lifted it; in 1995, the first politically weighty ruling of the post-apartheid Constitutional Court abolished capital punishment.

However, Ngobeni has no assurance of maintaining his milestone distinction in perpetuity. In present-day South Africa, blighted by a great deal of violent crime, reinstatement of capital punishment enjoys the support of several political parties and a sizable majority of the public.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Milestones,Murder,South Africa

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1913: Frederick Seekings, the last hanged in Cambridgeshire

Add comment November 4th, 2019 Headsman

The last man hanged in Cambridgeshire was Frederick Seekings on this date in 1913, for the drunken murder of his lover.

“Of limited intellect and a demon in drink,”* this Brampton laborer staggered out of Bell Inn on the 28 of July 28, 1913 with his eventual victim, Martha Beeby.** Both were deep in cups and argument, stumbling drunkenly to the ground as they vociferated until the innkeeper’s son helped steady them on their way.

Later that night, both were found sprawled out together alongside that same road: Frederick splayed over Martha, and Martha dead of a slashed throat. Frederick’s unconvincing claim that she’d done it to herself only confirmed his own guilty conscience; only the fact that he’d been drunk himself presented itself as a mitigating circumstance, but the Crown disputed his true degree of intoxication and the defence failed to persuade the jury to settle on mere manslaughter.

He was hanged by Thomas Pierrepoint in an execution shed at Cambridge County Gaol† in the city of Cambridge November 4, 1913, with little fanfare. There’s been no fanfare at all for 106 subsequent years, for neither city nor shire have since returned to the gallows in any capacity.

According to the Capital Punishment UK Facebook page (corroborated by its commenters), “The gallows from Cambridge was displayed in Madame Tussaud’s wax works in Blackpool in the 1980’s and consisted of two uprights with a crossbeam, bearing the Royal Coat of Arms, set over the double leaf trapdoors.” If there’s a photo of this relic available online, I have not been able to locate it.

* Quote is from the scholarly annotations to Malcolm Lowry‘s lost-then-rediscovered novel of Cambridge, In Ballast to the White Sea, which passingly alludes to the hanging.

** Frederick and Martha cohabited and she commonly went by his surname, Seekings — but they never married, and Martha actually had a never-annulled marriage to a different man.

† Tangentially, Cambridge-curious readers might enjoy this tour of the prison’s early 19th century executions.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Diminished Capacity,England,Execution,Hanged,History,Milestones,Murder

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