Posts filed under 'Escapes'

1869: Charles Orme, rambler

Add comment August 11th, 2016 Headsman

From the Philadelphia Inquirerer, Aug. 12, 1869:

Special Despatch to the Inquirer.

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: —

The Crime.

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 Trial.

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,

Charles Orme.

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

Sir. —

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.

Yours, &c.,
Charles Orme.

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.

The Cell

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.

At theGallows.

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.

An Interruption.

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 day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Botched Executions,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Escapes,Execution,Hanged,Murder,Not Executed,Pennsylvania,Theft,USA

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1765: Patrick Ogilvie, but not Katharine Nairn

Add comment November 13th, 2015 Headsman

“So great a concourse of people has perhaps not been seen”* at Edinburgh’s Grassmarket as assembled on this date in 1765 for the execution of Lieutenant Patrick Ogilvie.

It was, naturally, scandal that brought them out of the woodwork. Lt. Ogilvie’s older brother Thomas in January of that same 1765 had married a young woman named Katharine Nairn. She had barely half of Thomas’s 40 years.

Katharine soon took a shine to the more age-appropriate sibling, just back from his dashing adventures in the East Indies. Within weeks of the marriage, the two people closest to Thomas were making a fool of him in his very own home. Their eventual indictment charged Katharine and Patrick with “yielding to your inordinate desires … in the months of January, February, March, April, May, and June … at different times, and in one or other of the rooms of the house of Eastmiln, and in the out-houses adjacent thereto,” not to mention (we’re guessing during the warmer spring weather) “in the fields.”

Thomas himself seems to have been wise to the cuckoldry rather early on, but either from weakness or inclination made only token attempts to abate it. Great was the astonishment of the neighbors that Patrick wasn’t banned from the house or Katharine disallowed his company.

At length, Thomas died of poison. The suspicions were only natural.

In fact, maybe they were a little bit too natural.

It has been suspected that the true author of Thomas’s destruction and the lovers’ too was not their own unnatural passion but the greed of yet another party in the nest of family vipers living under the eldest brother’s roof: Anne Clark.

The lover of the youngest Ogilvie brother, Alexander, Anne was known as a woman of easy virtue, but she had regardless her sexual continence a potentially compelling motive to be rid of Thomas, or rid of Patrick, or both: as both Thomas and Patrick were childless, the family scandal figured to pour all the family’s estates into the puckish hands of her own man. Patrick and Katharine tried vainly to impugn her at trial as a malicious witness

So when Anne supplied a story that the lovers had openly quarreled with Thomas and even vowed in her presence to murder him — and when Anne plied the court with lurid accounts of creeping up the stairs to listen in on Patrick and Katharine romping in his alcove bed — do we hear the voice of a master villain? That reputed prostitute gave bodice-popping evidence at very great length against her incestuous would-be family —

Mrs. Ogilvie was frequently in a room by herself with the Lieutenant … upon Sunday the nineteenth day of May last, all the family went to church, excepting the two pannels and the deponent [Clarke] … the two pannels left the deponent in the low room, and went up stairs together to the east room above stairs … [and Clarke] in order to discover what was passing, went up the stair, and as the bed in the Lieutenant’s room was an alcove ed, the back of which came to the side of the stair, and there was nothing betwixt the bed and the stair, but a piece of plaster and the timber of the bed, so that a person standing in the stair could hear distinctly what passed in the bed, she stood and listened; and from the motions that she heard, is positive that they were in bed together, and abusing their bodies together, by which she means, they were lying carnally together.

You can read the whole of Anne Clark’s testimony among 130-odd pages of details from the proceedings here.

Ogilvie would hold to his innocence through multiple royal reprieves and all the way to the gallows. When the rope slipped on the first hanging attempt, he was not so daunted by the proximity of the eternal that he feared to repeat the claim: “I adhere to my former confession [profession of innocence], and die an innocent man.”

He also died alone.

His former paramour and possible confederate Katharine had delayed her hanging by pleading her belly — truthfully so, for it seemed that her many springtime frolics had in fact quickened her womb.

She delivered early in 1766 and was bound for execution a few weeks later. But Katharine’s wit supplied what crown sentiment would not and she slipped out of prison in the wardrobe of an old family servant one evening.** She had such a considerable head start before her absence was noted the next day that she reached London, hired a boat to the Netherlands, was blown back to Old Blighty by a gale, and hired another boat for Calais before anyone could catch up to her. She alit on French soil, and vanished into the safety of historical obscurity.

“Such were the different fates of two people, who, as far as we can judge of the affair, appear to have been involved in the same crime,” remarks the Newgate Calendar in an expansive vein. “The one dies, avowing his perfect innocence; the other escapes the immediate stroke of justice, which was suspended over her by the most slender thread.

“Mysterious are the ways of Providence, and, in the language of Scripture, ‘past finding out;’ but it is for mortals humbly to submit to all its dispensations.”

* London Gazetteer and New Daily Advertiser, Nov. 19, 1765.

** Hanoverian gaols had a major security hole where cross-dressing escapees were concerned.

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1944: Roger Bushell and others for the Great Escape

16 comments March 29th, 2013 Headsman

On this date in 1944, the dashing Royal Air Force adventurer and prisoner of war Roger Bushell was shot for his key role orchestrating World War II’s most famous prison break — the Great Escape.


Richard Attenborough plays the Bushell-based character “Roger Bartlett” in The Great Escape, the film based on the story.

South African-born, Cambridge-educated, a pitch-perfect speaker of German and French, Bushell turned in his barristers’ briefs for fighter wings when World War II got underway.

But he was not meant to add Knight of the Air to his c.v., for his Spitfire was downed in its first engagement in May 1940. Bushell wound up in German custody, where he proved to possess a preternatural aptitude for escape.

He slipped German custody in June 1941 and made it within steps of Switzerland before a border guard nabbed him.

Nothing daunted, Bushell escaped again in October 1941 and successfully laid low in Czechoslovakia for months … long enough to finally get swept up in the reprisal roundups following the 1942 assassination of Reinhard Heydrich.

By now he’d wound up in Stalag Luft III, a POW camp adjacent the Silesian town of Sagan (today, Zagan, Poland). Here Bushell would author his breakout masterpiece.

In truth it was a collaborative effort of astonishing scale. Captured soldiers characteristically fled custody, as Bushell himself had before, in ones or twos, or in small groups.

In this camp, Bushell conceived and rigorously managed an industrial-scale operation aiming to bust out more than 200 inmates. “Only” 76 ultimately got out, more than enough for the utter consternation of the Third Reich.

Bushell was going to go big to go home; in fact, his alpha-male code-name among the escape plan’s initiates was “Big X”. Big X mobilized some 600 prisoners to work on three simultaneous escape tunnels, nicknamed “Tom”, “Dick” and “Harry”. Sunk 9 meters underground to stymie German anti-digging seismographs, the tunnels entailed a complex, months-long logistical operation for disposing of dirt, buttressing walls, pumping air. Nor did the escape plans end at the camp wire: teams prepared clothing, papers, maps, money. Every escaping prisoner had a plan and a cover story.

We had a mapping section which turned out 400 maps of the area. Forged passes, they worked day and night turning out some brilliant passes which passed stringent Gestapo checks later on. They were mostly artists, led by an artist called Tim Whelan who was later shot. The clothing department made very good clothes and suits. Compasses, food, you name it, intelligence of course. And train times, we knew all the train times.

-Jimmy James

One of the tunnels was found, and one was abandoned, but “Harry” was completed. 102 meters long, it stretched just beyond Stalag Luft III’s outer perimeter, and agonizingly shy of the nearby tree line. On the night of March 24-25 1944, 76 men (Bushell included) slipped out of “Harry” at intervals minutes apart, and into the freezing dark, scurrying into the woods with silent prayers that the nearby guard tower would not throw a spotlight in their direction. The 77th escapee was finally spotted emerging by camp sentries and captured, shutting down the whole operation.

Despite their prepared plans, the runners were very deep within German territory, and in the dead of a moonless night. Successfully completing their escapes would require crossing land on foot in the snow, navigating multiple Reich train platforms without catching the eye of now-hyper-vigilant inspectors, crossing hundreds of kilometers of territory, and passing off accents and forged papers with credible aplomb.

Not many could really manage this: the honor — the duty, as Bushell and many others thought — was in the attempt.

In all, 73 of the 76 escapees in this caper were recaptured within days. (Click here for the stories of the three who actually got away.)

A furious Adolf Hitler personally ordered everyone concerned executed when news broke of the escape, a flagrant violation of the laws of war. His advisors, concerned at triggering possible reprisals, managed to talk the boss down to the nice round number of 50 executions, a … 31.5% less extensive flagrant violation of the laws of war? Germans too suffered the regime’s fury; Hitler was talked off executing the camp commandant, but that guy lost his job. Some workmen from whom the escapees had stolen electrical cable for work on the tunnel were shot for having failed to report the theft.

And the 50 whom the Reich’s leadership had decided to kill* were shot out of hand at various times and places from March 29 to April 12.**

Their somewhat reduced ranks did not much lessen the ferocity of the Allies’ postwar manhunt for the parties involved in conducting it; the “Stalag Luft III murders” were announced in Parliament as soon as May 1944 and became the subject of a dedicated trial in 1947. The convictions in that case led to a mass hanging for war crimes in Hameln, Germany on February 27, 1948.

For his part, Bushell takes his final rest in Posnan, Poland. Although the men shot on this and succeeding nights for the Great Escape are interred at various spots, a monument near the old camp site at Sagan/Zagan permanently honors “the 50″.

* The specific 50 were chosen by Artur Nebe, who would later be executed by the Nazis himself. The selections were heavy on happenstance; while eastern Europeans and the escape leadership were predictably included, many others were in or out by the feeblest of reasons. For example, the Germans are thought to have passed on shooting escapees named “Nelson” and “Churchill” for no better cause than their conceivable relationship to the famous Britons of those names.

** Meanwhile, Germany menacingly warned POWs that further escape attempts would likely cost a man his life. (Image from this page.)

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1987: Seven Suriname Maroons

Add comment December 31st, 2012 Headsman

This New Year’s Eve, we pay a visit to a notorious atrocity* 25 years ago today during Suriname’s Guerrilla War (Binnenlandse Oorlog).

The full judgment of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights on this matter is available in pdf form here. (There’s more analysis of the reparations awarded by the court in the August 1995 Human Rights Quarterly.)

Inter-American Court of Human Rights
Case of Aloeboetoe et al. v. Suriname
Judgment of September 10, 1993

1. The instant case was brought to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (hereinafter “the Court”) by the Commission on August 27, 1990 … the Commission asserted that “the Government of Suriname violated Articles 1, 2, 4(1), 5(1), 5(2), 7(1), 7(2), 7(3), 25(1) and 25(2) of the American Convention on Human Rights” …

2. … The events that gave rise to the petition apparently occurred on December 31, 1987, in Atjoni (village of Pokigron, District of Sipaliwini) and in Tjongalangapassi, District of Brokopondo. In Atjoni, more than 20 male, unarmed Bushnegroes (Maroons) had been attacked, abused and beaten with riflebutts by a group of soldiers. A number of them had been wounded with bayonets and knives and were detained on suspicion of belonging to the Jungle Commando, a subversive group. Some 50 persons witnessed these occurrences.

3. According to the petition, the Maroons all denied that they were members of the Jungle Commando. The Captain of the village of Gujaba made a point of informing the commander in charge of the soldiers that the persons in question were civilians from various different villages. The commander disregarded this information.

4. The petition asserts that the soldiers allowed some of the Maroons to continue on their way, but that seven of them, including a 15-year old boy, were dragged, blindfolded, into a military vehicle and taken through Tjongalangapassi in the direction of Paramaribo. The names of the persons taken by the soldiers, their place and date of birth, insofar as is known, are as follows: Daison Aloeboetoe, of Gujaba, born June 7, 1960; Dedemanu Aloeboetoe, of Gujaba; Mikuwendje Aloeboetoe, of Gujaba, born February 4, 1973; John Amoida, of Asindonhopo (resident of Gujaba); Richenel Voola, alias Aside or Ameikanbuka, of Grantatai (found alive); Martin Indisie Banai, of Gujaba, born June 3, 1955; and, Beri Tiopo, of Gujaba (cf. infra, paras. 65 and 66).

5. The petition goes on to state that the vehicle stopped when it came to Kilometer 30. The soldiers ordered the victims to get out or forcibly dragged them out of the vehicle. They were given a spade and ordered to start digging. Aside [Richenel Voola] was injured while trying to escape, but was not followed. The other six Maroons were killed.

6. The petition states that on Saturday, January 2, 1988, a number of men from Gujaba and Grantatai set out for Paramaribo to seek information on the seven victims from the authorities. They called on the Coordinator of the Interior at Volksmobilisatie and on the Military Police at Fort Zeeland, where they tried to see the Head of S-2. Without obtaining any information regarding the whereabouts of the victims, they returned to Tjongalangapassi on Monday, January 4. At Kilometer 30 they came across Aside, who was seriously wounded and in critical condition, and the bodies of the other victims. Aside, who had a bullet in his right thigh, pointed out that he was the sole survivor of the massacre, the victims of which had already been partially devoured by vultures. Aside’s wound was infested with maggots and his right shoulder blade bore an X-shaped cut. The group returned to Paramaribo with the information. After 24 hours of negotiations with the authorities, the representative of the International Red Cross obtained permission to evacuate Mr. Aside. He was admitted to the Academic Hospital of Paramaribo on January 6, 1988, but died despite the care provided. The Military Police prevented his relatives from visiting him in the hospital. It was not until January 6, that the next of kin of the other victims were granted permission to bury them.

* But scarcely the only atrocity among Maroons during those years.

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1864: Retaliatory executions by John Mosby

6 comments November 7th, 2012 Headsman

Though executioners don’t quite bat 1.000 — who does, at any human endeavor? — the field on the whole succeeds more often than not.

On this date in 1864, the Confederate guerrilla John S. Mosby had seven Union prisoners executed, but he only managed to kill three of them — an efficiency very well below the Mendoza Line for the executioner’s trade.

It was a rare competence gap for the brilliant cavalryman.

The irregulars Mosby commanded in the Shenandoah Valley had frustrated for six months the consolidation of rampant northern armies, thereby preserving the Confederate capital of Richmond and extending the Civil War.

The situation had quick become intolerable for the Union, and Gen. Ulysses Grant emphasized (pdf) to Gen. Phil Sheridan the cruel anti-insurgent tactics he would countenance for “the necessity of clearing out the country so that it would not support Mosby’s gang. So long as the war lasts they must be prevented from raising another crop.”

By way of example-setting, the Union army had summarily executed six of Mosby’s rangers at Front Royal in September — followed by a seventh who was captured in early October in Rappahanock County.

Incensed, the Confederate “gray ghost” began stockpiling blue bodies from the offending command of George Armstrong Custer — yes, the Little Bighorn guy; he was perceived by Mosby to be responsible for the atrocity, although the actual paper trail on the execution order seems to be a little sketchy.

Mosby, who fancied himself the genteel sort who would closely abide the laws of war when fighting for the right to maintain human chattel, sent a lawlerly appeal up the chain of command seeking permission “to hang an equal number of Custer’s men.” General Robert E. Lee and Confederate Secretary of War James Sedden granted it.

Twenty-seven captives were therefore assembled and subjected to a lethal lottery. Jay Simson’s Custer and the Front Royal Executions of 1864 recounts this horrible affair in an excrutiatingly page-turning narration.

The preparations began innocently enough on a quiet Sunday morning (November 6, 1864) when 27 Union prisoners of war were ushered with no explanation about what was happening out of a brick storehouse located in Rectortown, Virginia …

[They] were then marched to the banks of Goose Creek, about half a mile away. some, but definitely not all, of this specially selected pool of 27 prisoners belonged to Custer’s commands both past and present … [but] of the seven men eventually selected to die on Mosby’s orders only two were actually members of the Michigan Cavalry Brigade.

All 27 of the prisoners were lined up along Goose Creek and then made to draw slips of paper from a hat. Twenty of those slips of paper which were part of the macabre lottery were simply that, blank pieces of paper. The other seven — one for each of Mosby’s men executed at Front Royal and in Rappahanock County — were marked with a number …

Of the men who were forced to draw those slips of paper, some of them simply stared into space. Others, once they understood what was happening, prayed. There were a few of them who simply broke down.

Among the prisoners was a young drummer boy … who broke down completely, sobbing … He drew a blank slip and immediately proclaimed: “Damn it, ain’t I lucky!” When a second drummer boy was found to be unlucky enough to have drawn one of the marked slips of paper, upon the request of the men who had been spared, Mosby personally ordered the boy to be released from the seven condemned prisoners and the 18 remaining prisoners (excluding the first drummer boy) drew from the slips of paper for a second time.

Then one of the seven adults also got himself swapped out of the scrap by flashing a Masonic sign at a Confederate lodge member. The things that stand between life and death.

Out of the nine to come under death’s pall and the seven who were actually marched overnight to the place of execution (as close to Custer’s camp as Mosby dared) only three were there successfully ushered past death’s threshold.

At 4 a.m. on Monday, November 7, 1864 (the day before the election which would give Abraham Lincoln his second term in the White House and would therefore become the signature on the death warrant of the Confederacy), the Rangers and their prisoners reached the execution site in Beemer’s Woods, a mile west of Berryville, and the executions were carried forward. However, everything did not go exactly according to plan.

In the pre-dawn darkness and confusion (either through carelessness or lack of caring for their orders, since none of the prisoners had actually been involved in depredations against Confederate civilians) the Rangers allowed two of the seven prisoners (one of whom, G.H. Soule, 5th Michigan Cavalry Regiment, punched out a guard) to escape outright. Two other prisoners were apparently shot in the head, but surviving, having only been grazed, also escaped since they pretended, and were apparently believed, to be dead. The remaining three prisoners were hanged. The identities and whether or not these three prisoners were members of either Custer or Powell’s commands are unknown. Lt. Thompson, in accordance with his orders attached a placard to one of the hanged men (just as similar placards had been attached to the bodies of all three of Mosby’s hanged men). Mosby’s placard read: “These men have been hung in retaliation for an equal number of Colonel Mosby’s men hung by order of General Custer at Front Royal. Measure for Measure.”

Believing his purpose accomplished, or at any rate close enough for rebel government work, Mosby then wrote to Union General Sheridan justifying the action and assuring him that future “prisoners falling into my hands will be treated with the kindness due to their condition, unless some new act of barbarity shall compel me, reluctantly, to adopt a line of policy repugnant to humanity.”

The letter, and the 3-out-of-7 reprisal, actually worked — with no further measures exacted for measure or tits given for tat. For the waning months of the war the rival forces confined themselves to killing one another on the battlefield, and not in the stockade.

Well, mostly: one of the conspirators in the plot to assassinate Abraham Lincoln in April 1865 — which did assassinate Lincoln, but was really a wider attempt to decapitate the entire northern government — was a former Mosby’s ranger named Lewis Powell aka Payne. Lincoln killer John Wilkes Booth also seemed to flee in Mosby’s direction (Mosby’s units were still in the field, not covered by the April 9 Appomattox surrender.) There exists an unproven but delicious speculative hypothesis that the hand of John Mosby was among those behind an exponentially more ambitious “line of policy repugnant to humanity.”

Be that as it may, Mosby actually became a Republican after the war — for which he received some Southern death threats — and lived fifty eventful years. Among other things, the aged Mosby regaled the young George Patton (whose father Mosby knew) with Civil War stories.

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1788: Not Jean Louschart, rescued by the crowd

1 comment August 3rd, 2012 Headsman

On this date in 1788, France’s last attempt at an execution by breaking-wheel was thwarted by a vast crowd sympathetic to the condemned … which stormed the scaffold in Versailles and liberated the victim.

As neat a parable as one might like to find of the entire revolutionary storm then rising on France’s horizons, Jean Louschart’s tale begins with a conflict at home between the young man Jean — neck-deep in Voltaire, Rousseau, and the rest of Enlightenment thought — and his father, a respected and conservative smith not to keen on the boy’s books. Then add to this, that the Louschart family took on one Madame Verdier as a boarder, and Jean grew smitten with that woman’s daughter Helen, to the chagrin of Madame Verdier … who wanted to marry that girl off to Jean’s own father.

So Mathurin Louschart eventually got into it with his son Jean over the boy’s subversive reading. When Mathurin ordered Jean to be silent, the young man just feeling his oats retorted that this was a novel way of settling the dispute. This jab at the elder’s native prerogatives led Mathurin to drive Jean from the house full stop.

That might have been all there was to it if not for the pull of Helen. The Greeks would have understood.

Jean eventually snuck back intending to elope with the willing Helen and salvage her from her father’s hand, but Helen’s mother sniffed out the plan … and the boy entered his former domicile to find Helen being soundly thrashed by Madame. This led Jean to try to protect her, which led Mathurin to intervene, which led to a dramatic bout of father-son violence in which Mathurin was fatally struck with a smithy hammer. Madame Verdier would accuse the young man of willful murder; Jean’s supporters insisted that he had merely tossed the hammer back into the house as he fled it (having overpowered the father’s own murderous rampage), accidentally causing the father’s death. Jean himself kept mum at trial, certain that he could never convince the judges of this version of events and content to suffer for having shed his father’s blood.

We’ll take it here from the Memoirs of the Sansons. The voice here is the grandson of the venerable French Revolution executioner Charles Henri Sanson, who was before that the venerable executioner of the ancien regime. (The mob addresses him familiarly as “Charlot” here.) Fathers and sons had this much in common at least.

the court sentenced [Jean Louschart] to die on the wheel. The prisoner, however, was not condemned to amende honorable, which included the amputation of the hand; and the judges added a retentum to their sentence by which Jean Louschart was to be secretly strangled before his limbs were crushed.

Now public opinion, in Versailles, had already settled that Jean was innocent, and the news of his forthcoming execution caused general excitement. The execution was appointed to take place on August 3. On the morning of the 2nd, Charles Henri Sanson sent from Paris two carts containing the instruments of torture, and beams and boards for the erection of the scaffold. He himself went to Versailles in the afternoon. The emotion caused by Jean Louschart’s impending fate was limited to Versailles; and my grandfather was so thoroughly convinced that he had to deal with a vulgar criminal that he was greatly surprised when he found the whole town in a fever. The Place Saint-Louis was covered with so great a multitude that the assistants and carpenters could hardly go on with their work. No hostility was manifested, however; the crowd was noisy, but its mood was gay; the name of Jean was scarcely pronounced; and the workmen who were erecting the platform were merely jeered. One of the carpenters having, however, struck an urchin who was throwing stones at him, cries of ‘Death!’ were uttered; in an instant all the mocking faces became dark and threatening ; the assistants and carpenters were attacked, and their lives were in great danger. But a body of a hundred men, who could easily be identified as smiths by their athletic proportions and brawny faces, interfered, and partly by strength, partly by persuasion, they induced the crowd to retreat.

My grandfather had not bestowed much attention on this popular demonstration, but he became more attentive when the interference of the smiths took place. He felt convinced that the crowd was obeying a by-word, and that if it had retreated it was merely because it preferred to wait for a more favourable time for action. He directed his assistants to finish the erection of the scaffold as quickly as possible, and returned to Paris, where he lost no time in acquainting the proper authorities with his apprehensions.

Political emotion had already given rise to many storms in the provinces. Normandy, Bretagne, Bear n had risen on behalf of their parliaments, attacked in their privileges. Dauphine had taken a decisive step; after a long series of riots, the representatives of the three orders, nobility, clergy, and tiers-tiat, had assembled, and proclaimed their provincial independence. Paris, however, had heard with indifference of the arrest of two members of the Parliament d’Espremenil and Monsabert; and the authorities had no idea that a struggle between the Government and the people could take place in the very town inhabited by the King and his Court, so that only a few soldiers were sent to Versailles.

The multitude which had thronged the Place Saint-Louis retired during the night; only a few young men remaining to watch what took place around the scaffold. It was rumoured that Helen Verdier had thrown herself at the Queen’s feet, imploring the reprieve of the culprit, and that Marie Antoinette had prevailed on the King to grant it. The news had doubtless led to the dispersion of the crowd.

Charles Henri Sanson made the most of the circumstance. He caused a strong paling to be erected around the scaffold; and, on their side, the executive magistrates took upon themselves to advance the hour of execution.

It was two o’clock in the morning when my grandfather left the Place Saint-Louis for the prison, and he remarked that the men who were still in the place dispersed in different directions as he went away. Jean Louschart was stretched on his pallet when he entered his cell. The doomed man rose and calmly surveyed him. The clerk of the parliament read aloud the sentence, to which he listened with much attention. He then murmured a few words, among which only those of ‘ Poor father!’ were heard, and he added in a loud voice:

‘In two hours I shall justify myself before him.’ On being told that it was time to depart for the scaffold, he turned to the executioner, saying, ‘You can be in no greater hurry than I am, sir.’

At half-past four o’clock the cart moved in the direction of the Place Saint-Louis. The executive magistrates were in hopes that, owing to the retentum, everything could be finished before the population awoke. But they soon perceived their mistake. The streets were swarming with people. The whole of the population was astir. Deafening clamours burst from the crowd as the cart appeared, and it was with the greatest difficulty that it made its way. The prisoner did not even seem to suspect that all this movement was caused by the sympathy people felt for him. At the corner of the Rue de Satory a piercing cry was heard, and a girl was seen waving her handkerchief. Jean Louschart looked up, and rising to his feet, he tried to smile, and exclaimed, ‘Farewell, Helen, farewell!’ At that moment a smith of high stature and herculean proportions, who was walking near the cart, cried in a thundering voice: ‘It is an revoir you should say, Jean. Are good fellows like you to be broken on the wheel?’

A horseman drove him back, but applause and cheers came from every quarter. It was obvious, by the pale faces of the clerk, the policemen, and the soldiers who surrounded the cart, that the agents of the law were anything but confident. The scaffold, however, was reached without accident. The crowd was thickly packed on the Place Saint-Louis. As the cart stopped Jean Louschart addressed a question to the priest who was sitting near him, and my grandfather heard the latter answer, ‘To save you.’ ‘No, father,’ said the doomed man in a feverish voice and with some impatience; ‘if I am innocent of the intention of committing the crime, my hands are nevertheless stained with blood. I must die, and I wish to die.—Be quick, sir,’ he added, turning to my grandfather.

‘Sir,’ answered Charles Henri, pointing to the infuriated masses that were already breaking through the paling, ‘if there is a man here who is in danger of death it is not you.’

Hardly were the words out of his mouth than a tempest of groans and screams burst forth. The paling was broken and trodden under foot, and hundreds of men rushed on the scaffold. The smith who had already spoken to Louschart was among the foremost. He seized the prisoner in his muscular arms, cut his bonds, and prepared to carry him off in triumph. An extraordinary scene now took place; Jean Louschart struggled violently against his saviours, turned towards the executioner and begged for death with the earnestness usually displayed by other culprits in asking for mercy. But his friends surrounded him, and at length succeeded in carrying him away.

My grandfather’s position was perilous in the extreme. Separated from his assistants, alone amidst a crowd that knew him but too well, he really thought that his last hour was at hand. His countenance probably betrayed his thoughts, for the tall smith came up to him, and seized his arm: ‘Fear nothing, Charlot,’ he cried; ‘we don’t want to harm you, but your tools. Henceforth, Charlot, you must kill your customers without making them suffer.’ And speaking to the crowd: ‘Let him pass, and take care he is not hurt.’

This harangue calmed the crowd, and my grandfather was allowed to withdraw. In less time than it takes to write this account the scaffold and all its accessories were broken into pieces, which were thrown on the pile prepared for the burning of the prisoner’s body; and the terrible wheel was placed on the summit as a kind of crown. Fire was set to the heap, and men and women, holding each other by the hand, formed an immense ring and danced around the crackling pile until it was reduced to ashes.

Louis XVI pardoned the unwillingly liberated Jean Louschart, and abolished the breaking-wheel.

Part of the Themed Set: Scary Escapes.

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1999: Recak Massacre

2 comments January 15th, 2012 Meaghan

(Thanks to Meaghan Good of the Charley Project for the guest post. -ed.)

On this day in 1999, Serbian militants killed approximately 40 to 45 Kosovo Albanians near the village of Reçak in Kosovo. The victims allegedly included a twelve-year-old boy and at least one woman.

Depending on who you listened to, it was either a massacre against innocent civilians, or a military action against guerillas.

The New Kosova Report, adopting the former point of view, summarizes in a 2008 article:

In the early morning of 15 January, 1999, forces from Serbian Interior Ministry (MUP) and Yugoslav Army (VJ) moved into the village with tanks and began to shoot at houses sheltering civilians. After ransacking all the houses, they gathered 28 Albanian men and boys and ordered them to head towards a hill outside the village for questioning. There they were sprayed with machine guns and 23 of them died. Only five survived by pretending they were dead. Another 22 people were shot and/or decapitated at different places in the village. Some in a ravine behind the village, while others in front of their houses.

A local villager named Shefqet Avida gave photographer and BBC Radio reporter Melanie Friend an account which was later quoted in Friend’s book No Place Like Home: Echoes from Kosovo.

Policemen — Serbs — were hiding here, expecting them. I heard the Serbs saying, “Anyone under fifteen years old, don’t touch, but upwards of sixteen or seventeen years old, just kill them …” The people, when they were captured here, were made to stay in line, and every one of them was shot, and after that with a … very nice knife … they took eyes from the faces and hearts from the chest, and the Serbs later said, “That’s not true, we didn’t do that,” the mice, they’d eaten them. […]

Serbian police were shooting until four or five in the afternoon. When the observers arrived in the morning, we went with them to see the place where the people were murdered. Three of us stayed here all night to guard the bodies. […] Thirteen members of my family were killed there.

The Serbs denied having murdered civilians and claimed all those killed were all Kosovo Liberation Army fighters, shot during a skirmish with Serbian forces. To this day, many maintain the entire thing was staged, a hoax set up by the KLA in order to get support for their side.

Trying to sort the matter out, the European Union dispatched forensic experts to the scene from Finland. Helena Ranta, one of the experts, concluded that “There were no indications of the people being other than unarmed civilians.” When her opinion was broadcast in a press release, many mistook it for being the opinion of the entire group of scientists.

The Finns’ official report, however, has never been released. Dr. Ranta, a forensic dentist, later accused officials from the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of pressuring her to go against the Serbs.

Yugoslav and Belarusian scientists also examined the bodies and said they believed all the dead were KLA combatants. In response, critics blasted them for using allegedly out-of-date and unscientific testing methods.

News of the killings made headlines all over the world and incited NATO to finally get involved in the war. A couple of years later, Yugoslav dictator Slobodan Miloševic was brought up on war crimes charges; ordering the Reçak killings was one of them. It was later removed from the indictment for lack of evidence, however. (Miloševic died before his trial was concluded.)

In 2001, a Kosovo Serb police officer was sentenced to fifteen years in prison for participating in the killings. Outside observers, including the United Nations and Amnesty International, criticized the trial proceedings, accusing the Kosovo war crimes tribunal of ethnic bias and politically motivated decision-making. As of this writing, no one else has been called to account for what happened in Reçak.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Borderline "Executions",Children,Cycle of Violence,Escapes,Execution,Executions Survived,Guerrillas,Guest Writers,History,Innocent Bystanders,Kosovo,Mass Executions,No Formal Charge,Notable Sleuthing,Occupation and Colonialism,Other Voices,Serbia,Shot,Summary Executions,Torture,Wartime Executions,Women,Yugoslavia

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1724: Jack Sheppard, celebrity escape artist

8 comments November 16th, 2011 Headsman

“Yes sir, I am The Sheppard, and all the gaolers in the town are my flocks, and I cannot stir into the country but they are at my heels baaing after me.”

-Jack Sheppard

On this date in 1724, the hangman finally got Jack Sheppard.

Sheppard was a thief, a romantic hero, a highwayman of the urban proletariat, a Houdini whom no prison could hold.

It had become possible in his time to ride criminal notoriety into celebrity: Jack Sheppard, a mere 22 at his death, proved as adept with that quicksilver element during his personal annus mirabilis of 1724 as he was with a lockpick.

Sheppard’s world had him fitted to wield a hammer better than thieves’ tools — but at about age 20, a young man awash in the illicit liberty of London’s underbelly, he ditched the square carpenter to whom he was apprenticed to live free by his wits.

Peter Linebaug’s The London Hanged finds in Jack Sheppard’s career and his runaway popularity an important marker of the capital city’s “refusal of subordination: — contra Foucaultian discipline, which “makes the rulers of government and society seem all-powerful.”

An important meaning of liberation … [consisted of] the growing propensity, skill and success of London working people in escaping from the newly created institutions that were designed to discipline people by closing them in. This tendency I have dubbed ‘excarceration’ because I wish to draw attention to the activity of freedom in contrast to its ideological or theoretical expressions…

This lithe youth is most famous for his literal talent for freedom: four times in 1724 he escaped from custody in ever more dramatic fashion.

He busted out through the ceiling of St. Giles Roundhouse. He rappelled with a bedsheet rope down the 20-foot wall of Clerkenwell Prison with his lover.

This sort of thing won the enterprising rogue growing folk hero status. The vaunted Sheppard “made such a noise in the town, that it was thought the common people would have gone mad about him, there being not a porter to be had for love nor money, nor getting into an ale-house, for butchers, shoemakers and barbers, all engaged in controversies and wagers about Sheppard.”*

It also drew the unwanted attention of 1720s London’s Jabba the Hutt: “thief-taker” Jonathan Wild, who managed a vast thieving cartel enforced by Wild’s willingness to turn in non-participants in his ingenious cover role as the city’ preeminent lawman. That’s some protection racket.

Sheppard, to the fame of his memory, scorned obeisance to the crime lord as much as to any guild carpenter and worked for no man but himself. A vengeful Wild shopped him to the authorities.

This time, Sheppard was actually condemned to death for burglary but broke prison again, using yet another classic ruse: the “disguised in smuggled women’s clothes.”

Back on the lam, he posted a cocky letter to his executioner “Jack Ketch” giving his regrets at not having joined two fellow-sufferers on the scheduled hanging date. (September 4.)

I thank you for the favour you intended me this day: I am a Gentleman, and allow you to be the same, and I hope can forgive injuries; fond Nature pointed, I follow’d, Oh, propitious minute! and to show that I am in charity, I am now drinking your health, and a Bon Repo to poor Joseph and Anthony. I am gone a few days for the air, but design speedily to embark, and this night I am going upon a mansion for a supply; its a stout fortification, but what difficulties can’t I encounter, when, dear Jack, you find that bars and chains are but trifling obstacles in the way of your Friend and Servant

JOHN SHEPPARD

London’s finest were determined to put an end to this character’s preposterous run of prison breaks, so when they caught him the fourth time Sheppard found himself loaded with manacles and chained to the floor of a special strongroom in Newgate Prison. Get out of that, Jack.

Somehow, Jack got out of it.

On the night of Oct. 14, Sheppard authored the sublimest breakout in Newgate’s voluminous annals. Picking the locks of his fetters with a small nail, our acrobat scurried up a chimney, picked, prised, or otherwise passed a succession of locked doors in the dead of night, paused to rest on the condemned pew of the gaol chapel, forced a grille, reached the roof, and threw another homemade rope over the wall to scamper down to safety.

And then “he promptly went forth and robbed a pawnbroker’s shop in Drury Lane of a sword, a suit of apparel, snuff boxes, rings, &c., and suddenly made a startling appearance among his friends, rigged out as a gentleman from top to toe.”

There’s no doubt but that Jack had showmanship, but at a certain point he could have done with just the tiniest measure of discretion. But then, this was a man writing his own legend. Sure, he could have put his head down and tried to disappear into some nameless Puritan settlement in the New World. (His distraught mother kept telling him to get out of the country.) He traded those dull and toilsome years for the fame of generations: his candle burned at both ends.

When next Sheppard was detained, it was towards his apotheosis. It was the only time he would be arrested and fail to escape.

A throng of thousands mobbed London’s route to execution this date, almost universally supporting the ace escapologist. And Sheppard very nearly had for them the piece de resistance in his career of magical disappearances: it was only at the last moment before boarding the fatal tumbril that Sheppard’s executioners found the penknife their prey had secreted on his person, evidently intending to cut his cords and spring from the cart into the safety of the surging crowd. What an exploit that would have been.


Detail view (click for full image) of George Cruikshank‘s illustration of Sheppard’s death for William Ainsworth‘s Victorian novel about the legendary criminal. More of these illustrations here.

This indomitable soul has enjoyed a long afterlife as a subversive hero.

A celebrity in his own time, his execution-eve portrait was taken by the Hanover court painter himself, James Thornhill. Sheppard is a very likely candidate as an inspiration for the criminal Macheath in The Beggar’s Opera completed just a few years after his death; likewise, his abandoned apprenticeship makes him the most apparent model for Hogarth‘s “idle prentice” plates.

A century later, prolific historical novelist William Ainsworth** claimed the convict-martyr for an 1839 retelling. This popular potboiler — read it free online here — came in for a spate of 19th century social panic when it was learned that a notorious servant-on-master murder had been carried out by a young man who had recently read it. A two-decade ban on public plays based on the Jack Sheppard novel ensued.

For as much as Jack Sheppard is romanticized in his remarkable individual characteristics, his story has always had a class undertow that raises the hackles of the powerful — and is celebrated by the people who menace that power. Linebaugh, again:

Jack Sheppard, housebreaker and gaol-breaker, was once the single most well-known name from eighteenth-century England. His fame spread across oceans and the centuries. When the bandit Ned Kelly was alive, the Australian press was full of comparisons between him and Sheppard. At the same time on the other side of the globe in Missouri, Frank and Jesse James wrote letters to the Kansas City Star signed ‘Jack Sheppard’. In England his name cut deep into the landscape of popular consciousness. Henry Mayhew noted that Cambridgeshire gypsies accepted Sheppard stories as the archetype of ‘blackguard tales’. Among English sailors anyone with the surname of ‘Sheppard’ was automatically called ‘Jack’. Within the Manchester proletariat of the 1840s his name was more widely known than that of the Queen herself. One of these lads said, ‘I was employed in a warehouse at 6s. 6d. a week, and was allowed 6d. of it for myself, and with that I went regularly to the play. I saw Jack Sheppard four times in one week.’

The oral history of Sheppard has maintained his memory within human contexts where books were scarce and working-class resources for an independent historiography were non-existent. Moreover, that memory was kept in contexts of social struggle in which a continuity, if not a development, with earlier moral and political conflicts was suggested.

* cited in Andrea McKenzie, “The Real Macheath: Social Satire, Appropriation, and Eighteenth-Century Criminal Biography,” Huntington Library Quarterly, December 2006

** Ainsworth is also known for a novel about Sheppard’s near-contemporary, highwayman Dick Turpin.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Escapes,Execution,Famous,Hanged,History,Pelf,Popular Culture,Public Executions,Theft

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1863: Peyton Farquhar, in An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge

1 comment September 1st, 2011 Headsman

It would perhaps be around this time in 1863 that a Southern planter is arrayed for hanging in An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge

This “greatest American short story … a flawless example of American genius” (according to Kurt Vonnegut) was 1890 product of puissant wordsmith Ambrose Bierce.

In this non-chronological story, Peyton Farquhar, “a well to do planter, of an old and highly respected Alabama family,” is entrapped by a Union spy purporting to be a Confederate agent to attempt an act of sabotage in the face of a hanging warning issued by the Union army.

It can be ballparked in late August or early September based on its location in northern Alabama, which essentially didn’t see Civil War activity until the very end of the war. Except, that is, for the maneuvering building up to the Battle of Chickamauga fought just over the border in southeastern Tennessee September 19-20, 1863.* That also squares with seasonal indicators in the text pointing to summer, e.g.: “the flood of last winter had lodged a great quantity of driftwood against the wooden pier at this end of the bridge. It is now dry and would burn like tinder.”

At any rate, the story begins with Farquhar stationed on Owl Creek Bridge awaiting execution … but the rope snaps as he falls, giving him a bid for freedom. As for what happens next: read the story, or take in this economical screen adaptation by French director Robert Enrico aired for American audiences on The Twilight Zone.

* Bierce fought at Chickamauga on the Union side; he wrote a non-fiction memoir and a short story titled “Chickamauga” about the experience.

Part of the Themed Set: Americana.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Alabama,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Escapes,Execution,Executions Survived,Fictional,Hanged,History,Military Crimes,Occupation and Colonialism,Popular Culture,Power,Summary Executions,Terrorists,U.S. Military,Uncertain Dates,USA,Wartime Executions

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1845: Not William Weaver, defended by Abraham Lincoln

Add comment June 27th, 2011 Headsman

This date in 1845 was the appointed hanging of William Weaver, the first convicted murderer in Champaign County, Illinois.

While drunk, Weaver shot to death one David Hiltibrau and despite the able representation of one Abraham Lincoln was speedily convicted. (pdf)

Where the rail splitter failed, fortune prevailed.

“A few days — or nights rather — before that set for his execution,” we read,

a friendly auger passed to him afforded the means of escape. Just then delays were dangerous to poor drunken Bill Weaver, for Sheriff Lewis had the rope and scaffold ready, so he did not await a farewell word from friends, but sped away to the North, as the winds go. At that time the tangled forests and the untramped prairies afforded unexcelled means for seclusion and escape, and the condemned man, once a mile from town, might well bid farewell to every fear of being caught and hanged, as he doubtless did. Years afterward Weaver was heard from in far Northern Wisconsin, a useful, law-abiding citizen. No effort was ever made to bring him back from his delicious exile.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Escapes,Execution,Hanged,History,Illinois,Milestones,Murder,Not Executed,Notable Participants,Public Executions,USA

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