Posts filed under 'Torture'

1630: Guglielmo Piazza and Giangiacomo Mora, colonna d’infamia

Add comment August 1st, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1630, a ludicrous disease panic sent two innocent men to the scaffold in Milan.

Terrified as their family and neighbors dropped dead around them of a raging bubonic plague outbreak, the surviving Milanese sprouted buboes on their brains.


1630 illustration of the plague-wracked Milanese doing the bring-out-your-dead thing.

Just days before the executions marked in this post, a city official named Guglielmo Piazza was noticed by some busybodies “strolling down the street writing from an ink-horn at his belt and wiping his ink-stained fingers on the walls of a house.” They promptly reported him not for misdemeanor property damage but for spreading plague poison, whatever that would be.

Investigators to their shame gave this accusation enough credence to interrogate Piazza under torture, a decision which obviously was tantamount to the execution itself. He broke he sealed his own fate when he broke and confessed, and sealed same for a misfortunate barber named Giangiacomo Mora whom Piazza was made to accuse.

Milan was proud enough of this obvious injustice to stand up an colonna d’infamia (“column of infamy”) denouncing both “poisoners” until a storm finally knocked the lying marble down in 1788. It read,

Here, where this plot of ground extends, formerly stood the shop of the barber Giangiacomo Mora, who had conspired with Guglielmo Piazza, Commissary of the Public Health, and with others, while a frightful plague exercised its ravages, by means of deadly ointments spread on all sides, to hurl many citizens to a cruel death. For this, the Senate, having declared them both to be enemies of their country, decreed that, placed on an elevated car, their flesh should be torn with red-hot pincers, their right hands be cut off, and their bones be broken; that they should be extended on the wheel, and at the end of six hours be put to death, and burnt. Then, and that there might remain no trace of these guilty men, their possessions should be sold at public sale, their ashes thrown into the river, and to perpetuate the memory of their deed the Senate wills that the house in which the crime was projected shall be razed to the ground, shall never be rebuilt, and that in its place a column shall be erected which shall be called Infamous. Keep afar off, then, afar off, good citizens, lest this accursed ground should pollute you with its infamy.

August, 1630.

Prior to the column’s overturning, the Milanese Enlightenment intellectual Pietro Verri wrote a meditation upon it titled Sulla tortura e singolarmente sugli effetti che produsse all’occasione delle unzioni malefiche, alle quale si attribui la pestilenza che devasto Milano l’anno 1630. Italian speakers can enjoy it here.

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Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Broken on the Wheel,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Gruesome Methods,History,Innocent Bystanders,Italy,Milan,Murder,Public Executions,Terrorists,Torture,Wrongful Executions

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2019: Ali Hakim al-Arab and Ahmad al-Mullali, Bahrain opposition

Add comment July 27th, 2019 Headsman

The Gulf state Bahrain shot three men this morning, including two young Shia activists whose condemnation became a worldwide cause celebre. (The third man was an unnamed individual convicted of killing an imam.)


Left: Ali Hakim al-Arab, right: Ahmad al-Mullali

The majority-Shia island, home to American and British military bases, has been ruled by the Sunni House of Khalifa since 1783. In those two-plus centuries, this dynasty has achieved Croesus-like wealth for itself and disproportionately directed the country’s vast oil revenues to a class of predominantly Sunni elites.

This simmering grievance exploded during the Arab Spring era in the form of a 2011 uprising; though these protests were violently squelched by troops requisitioned from Bahrain’s allied Gulf petrokingdoms Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, protests and opposition have continued ever since.

Many of the political prisoners arrested in this crackdown or subsequently were housed in Jau (or Jaw) Prison, notorious for overcrowding and torture. This prison in turn has become the target of numerous actual and attempted jailbreaks in the 2010s, with outside supporters trying to help imprisoned Shia dissidents escape.

The most daring and deadly of these was the January 1, 2017 raid by armed regime opponents that (temporarily) freed ten prisoners. The gunmen, who reportedly prepped for the operation by scouting the prison and environs with drones, slew a police officer during the escape.

Throughout the 2010s Bahrain has met every exertion of its opposition by heightened repression. Just weeks after this jailbreak, it extended military tribunals to civilian cases, a chilling threat to every dissident. And it made a massive example of the people who were allegedly involved in the Jau Prison outrage, both the escapees and the outside activists — all bracketed together under the expansive rubric of “terrorism”. (Bahrain judges have ruled that mere “moral pressure” can supply the violence necessary to qualify an act as terrorism.)

The result was a mass trial of 60 alleged jailbreak participants. There were two acquittals and 56 sub-capital sentences; Ali Hakim al-Arab and Ahmad al-Mullali earned the headlines with death sentences for killing an off-duty officer (not the one shot during the jailbreak). Most of those convicted also had their citizenship stripped into the bargain.

Both men submitted “confessions” under heavy torture, including beatings, electric shocks, having nails ripped out, and possibly even moral persuasion.

Human rights organizations around the world raised alarms yesterday with the ominous news that the men’s families had been summoned to visit their doomed relations at Jau Prison; in London, an activist scaled the Bahrain embassy to unveil a banner demanding clemency.

“One of Bahrain’s darkest days,” said Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy director Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei in a statement. “It appears that the Bahraini government planned this meticulously, timing the executions to coincide with US, EU and UK legislative recesses in order to avoid international scrutiny. These crimes only happened because of the unconditional support lent to dictator Hamad by Washington and London.”

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Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Activists,Bahrain,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,History,Murder,Ripped from the Headlines,Shot,Terrorists,Torture

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1985: Hezekiah Ochuka, ruler of Kenya for six hours

Add comment July 9th, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1985, Kenya air force private Hezekiah Ochuka was hanged for his August 1, 1982 coup d’etat.

By ethnicity a politically marginalized Luo, Ochuka led a putsch of junior airmen whose announcement of leadership over the radio startled Kenyans rising for their breakfast on August 1, 1982.

That leadership lasted only six hours before forces loyal to the ethnically Kikuyu president Daniel arap Moi suppressed it. Some 300 souls were killed in the course of events.

The subsequent security sweep took up not only the putschists themselves but exploited the opportunity to crack down on prominent opposition figures — men like Jaramogi Oginga Odinga and George Anyona, who were tossed into the brutal Nyayo House torture center essentially for being anti-Moi politicians — and beyond them thousands of ordinary Kenyans thought vaguely proximate to sedition by virtue of their politics, lineage, or station in life.

Ochuka himself fled to neighboring Tanzania hoping to find asylum; instead, he was extradited back to Kenya for capital trial and hanged along with two of his collaborators, Corporals Bramwel Injeni Njereman and Walter Odira Ojode, in a badly botched execution.

These men retain to this day the distinction of being the last judicially executed in Kenyan history, even though Kenya still has the death penalty on its books.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,Heads of State,History,Kenya,Milestones,Power,Soldiers,Torture,Treason

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1568: Weyn Ockers, slipper slinger

Add comment June 22nd, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1568 the Dutch Protestant Weyn Ockers was drowned with her maid Trijn Hendricks.

Both were condemned for having taken part in the paroxysm of Calvinist anti-icon riots known as the Beeldenstorm (“icon-fury”) — specifically the 1566 sack of the then-Catholic Oude Kerk in Amsterdam. The Netherlands’ Spanish Catholic overlords were in these months of 1568 busily meting out revenge for the sacrilege.

In a somewhat iconic event of the iconoclasm, Ockers was alleged to have chucked her slipper* at an image of the Virgin Mary perched on the altar — one particularly resented by the reform-minded since the priest encouraged lucrative offerings of parishioners’ valuables to be presented to this icon. One might well doubt the fact of it; Ockers had not been arrested for this offense, but the accusation emerged from the interrogation under torture of other Protestants. Ockers copped to it under torture herself; Hendricks, made of tougher stuff, withstood torture twice and never admitted anything, but still shared her mistress’s fate.

* Not the worst missile that Marian statuary has endured.

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Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Drowned,Execution,God,History,Netherlands,Occupation and Colonialism,Public Executions,Spain,Torture,Women

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2013: The Hawalli monster

1 comment June 18th, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 2013, Egyptian Hajjaj Saadi was hanged with countryman Ahmad Abdulsalam al-Baili at a car park in Kuwait.

Photographers were on hand to record the public execution, just the second in Kuwait since breaking a six-year moratorium on hangings. Saadi in particular was a reviled criminal, dubbed the “Hawalli monster” for the expat district of Kuwait City where he lived — and where, his prosecutors alleged, Saadi lured some 17 or 18 young children, both boy and girls, to rape.

Saadi strenuously denied the charges at trial, insisting that his confession was extracted by torture. No doubt it was. He also said he got no aid from the Egyptian embassy.

Ahmad Abdulsalam al-Baili murdered an Asian couple by torching their flat, and unsuccessfully tried to do the same to an Egyptian couple.

Caution: Mature content. The video in particular shows the actual hanging moment itself; it’s evident that Saadi, a muscular bodybuilder, survived the drop, and in the video he struggles against the rope.



Ahmad Abdulsalam al-Baili


Hajjaj Saadi

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Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Egypt,Execution,Hanged,History,Mature Content,Murder,Public Executions,Rape,Ripped from the Headlines,Torture

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1771: Daskalogiannis

Add comment June 17th, 2019 Headsman

The Crete patriot Ioannis Vlachos — better known as Daskalogiannis — lost his skin to the Turks on this date in 1771.

Statue of the D-man at Anopolis, Crete. (cc) image by AWI.

A wealthy shipping magnate, Daskalogiannis led the Cretan arm of the nationalist Orlov Revolt, which also featured on the Peloponnese. This affair is named not for any Greek but for the Russian admiral Alexei Orlov, who brought his fleet into the Mediterranean to engage the Turks during the 1768-1774 Russo-Turkish War, inspiring the Greek rising in the process.

Unfortunately for the rebels, some initial successes failed to catalyze a national revolution and Russian aid for the breakaway regions came up considerably short of what was pledged. While Orlov’s navy still harried Constantinople, Daskalogiannis for several months maintained a sort of autonomous redoubt from the mountain fastnesses around Sfakia with about 1,300 followers. By early 1771, he was forced to surrender himself at a gorgeous old Venetian fortress, then tortured and was taken to Heraklion and a horrific execution by flaying alive.

He’s commemorated in many street names in Crete, the name of the Chania International Airport, and a number of poems and folk ballads.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Arts and Literature,Businessmen,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Flayed,Greece,Gruesome Methods,History,Martyrs,Occupation and Colonialism,Power,Revolutionaries,Separatists,Torture,Treason,Turkey,Wartime Executions

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1884: Seven anarchists of La Mano Negra

Add comment June 14th, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1884, seven alleged terrorists of the Black Hand* were garroted in Jerez (Xeres), Spain.

This frightening organization was announced to the public via Spanish police discovery of documents purporting to outline their murderous perfidy and conveniently justifying a crackdown on restive Andalusia, then plagued (so the crown saw it) with a burgeoning labor movement.

Whether La Mano Negra (English Wikipedia entry | Spanish) truly existed as an organization has been subject to debate from that day to this, but anarchist worker militants had undoubtedly moved in 1881-82 towards overtly violent confrontation with landowners — bread riots during an agricultural crisis paired with robbery and arson. It was by no means merely adventurism. A Madrid newspaper reporting the sack of a bakery saw for the starving looters only three options: “O la limosna, o el robo, o la muerte” … alms, theft, or death.

Three thousand or more of protesting workers would be arrested in those months, and bound over to be used at the discretion of torturers; in the main, they affiliated to the labor union FTRE rather than anything so exotic as a Black Hand. But several murders that took place during or at least proximate to the Andalusian labor disturbances would be attributed to that sinister appendage and bring seven men controversially to execution in Jerez’s market squae on June 14, 1884.

As for others made to prefer alms or theft, hundreds were burdened with judicial penalties of various sorts and deported to Spanish colonies. A successful clemency campaign in the early 1900s reversed a number of those sentences, finally permitting these anarchists or “anarchists” to return to Spanish soil.

* This fell moniker refers to a number of distinct movements with a violent cast of mind sufficient to expose them to the predations of this very blog — notably, the Serbian terrorists who assassinated Archduke Ferdinand

The successors of the Jerez Black Hand that is the subject of this post also paid their own subsequent notable visit to the scaffold in the 1890s.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Garrote,History,Martyrs,Mass Executions,Murder,Power,Public Executions,Revolutionaries,Spain,Strangled,Terrorists,Torture,Wrongful Executions

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1566: Bartholome Tecia, Geneva sodomite

2 comments June 10th, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1566, student Bartholome Tecia was drowned in Geneva as a sodomite.

Trial documents make him a youth from the valleys of northwest Italy’s Piedmont, where pockets maintained loyalty to the Evangelical Church of Vaud — Vaud being an adjacent Swiss canton that had been annexed by Calvinist Geneva. He was in the big city to study under Theodore Beza, Calvin’s successor in theological preeminence.

He’s been rediscovered by a more queer-friendly posterity. An eponymous play by Jean-Claude Humbert received a Geneva municipal literary prize in 2005, and the present-day Geneva visitor will see a commemorative marker for Tecia unveiled in 2013.


Plaque in Geneva honoring Bartholome Tecia, which reads “BARTHOLOME TECIA.¬†Piedmontese student aged 15, denounced, tortured and sentenced on June 10, 1566 to be drowned in this place, for crime of homosexuality.¬†Today, sexual orientation and gender identity must be universally recognized as basic human rights.¬†Around the world, people continue to be discriminated against, persecuted and sentenced simply because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.” (cc) image by MHM55.

There’s been a bit of pushback against this memorialization in view of the coercion alleged against him by two younger students. Executed Today would be the last to disclaim adolescents’ capacity for sexual predation, but it’s also the case that all three boys as participants in same-sex rendezvous would have feared themselves under the pall of the executioner: Geneva had drowned a similar trio for sodomy in 1554. While it’s obviously impossible at our remove to have anything better than a guess at the motivations and perspectives of the people involved, it does bear consideration that the accusers were powerfully incentivized to put the entire onus on someone other than themselves. For what it’s worth, Tecia militantly refused to confess, even when put to torture.

It happens that one of Tecia’s accusers was Theodore Agrippa d’Aubigne, the son of a participant in the Huguenot Amboise conspiracy to depose King Francis II. Agrippa d’Aubigne would go on to a scintillating military career during the French Wars of Religion, eventually settling in as Governor of Maillezais when his guy Henri IV won that war. That would have been a nice capstone to his career, except that France’s anti-Reformation turn following Henri’s assassination obliged him to flee a French death sentence for exile … to Geneva. He left an impressive literary legacy containing, to the best of my knowledge, no comment on l’affaire Tecia.

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Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Capital Punishment,Children,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Drowned,Execution,History,Homosexuals,Notable Participants,Public Executions,Ripped from the Headlines,Sex,Switzerland,Torture

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1627: Catlyn Fiermoing, village witch

Add comment June 8th, 2019 Headsman

The sorceress Catlyn Fiermoing was burned on this date in 1627 at the village of Wommersom.

A standard witch-hunt case, Fiermoing apparently got into hot water calling on the devil in a fight with her husband 19 years before her death, which summons Old Scratch duly answered and duly sealed the bargain with the usual promissory notes and carnal violations: this at least is the gist of what her interrogation records preserve us. (Dutch speakers can read a summary in here: part 1 | part 2.) She used her supernatural powers to get a little bit of money and kill some local rivals’ cows.

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Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Belgium,Burned,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Public Executions,Torture,Witchcraft,Women

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Feast Day of St. Erasmus (St. Elmo)

Add comment June 2nd, 2019 Headsman

June 2 is the feast date of early Christian martyr Saint Erasmus of Formia.

If a real historical figure, Erasmus of Formia was a martyr from the persecutions of Diocletian, but the most sure thing about him is that his legend has accumulated like barnacles a variety of “spurious” myth and folklore. It’s an agglomeration that reached a critical mass sufficient to elevate him to the ranks of the Fourteen Holy Helpers, medieval Christendom’s roster of popular big-time intercessors.

He was supposedly a Syrian who landed in Italy as a prelate; there’s a St. Erasmus of Antioch who might either be the same guy in his previous guise or a completely different fellow whose conflated feats explain how Erasmus (of Formia) was both a bishop and a hermit. Oddly enough the Roman Martyrology doesn’t even say that he was put to death for the faith, for Erasmus “was first scourged with leaded whips and then severely beaten with rods; he had also rosin, brimstone, lead, pitch, wax, and oil poured over him, without receiving any injury. Afterwards, under Maximian, he was again subjected to various most horrible tortures at Mola, but was still preserved from death by the power of God for the strengthening of others in the faith. Finally, celebrated for his sufferings, and called by God, he closed his life by a peaceful and holy end.”

Later legends do much him much better for drama and Executed Today eligibility, crediting him with a gory disemboweling death. It’s possible that this association proceeds from Erasmus’s official patronage of sailors: it is he who is the namesake of St. Elmo’s Fire, the electric blue light that gathers to a ship’s mast during a storm,* and his nautical portfolio made his iconographic device the windlass, a winch-and-rope crank that devotees have found suggestive (since so many saints are depicted carrying the instruments of their own martyrdoms) of a device for spooling a man’s intestines. Over time, execution by mechanical evisceration became by popular consensus the passion of Saint Elmo.

“This is one example,” writes Rosa Giorgi in Saints in Art “where imagery influenced hagiography.”


The Martyrdom of Saint Erasmus, by Sebastiano Ricci (c. 1694-1697).


The Martyrdom of Saint Erasmus, by Nicolas Poussin (1628).


Central panel of a triptych of Saint Erasmus’s martyrdom by Dieric Bouts (before 1466).

For wincingly obvious reasons, he’s also the saint to call on for any variety of abdominal distress, from stomach and intestinal maladies to the pangs of birth.

* And also a Brat Pack film.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: Ancient,Arts and Literature,Disemboweled,Execution,God,Gruesome Methods,History,Italy,Not Executed,Popular Culture,Religious Figures,Roman Empire,Torture,Uncertain Dates

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