Posts filed under '19th Century'

1851: James Jones and Levi Harwood, but not Hiram Smith

Add comment April 15th, 2016 Headsman

For the April 15, 1851 hanging of James Jones (James Burbage was his actual name) and Levi Harwood, we crib from PlanetSlade’s collection of murder ballads. While this ballad amply narrates the murder committed in a home invasion, click through to PlanetSlade to find out about the third man who wasn’t hanged — the one who actually pulled the fatal trigger, but who saved himself by testifying for the crown to send his mates to the gallows.

Of all the crimes on Earth the worst,
Foul murder is of all accursed,
Assassins are by all abhorred,
Despised by men, condemned by God.

We are condemned and death is nigh,
And in two dismal cells we lie,
James Jones and Harwood: it is true,
We’ve murder done, no pity knew.

A minister of God we’ve slain,
For sake of gold, man’s curse and bane,
Poor Mr Hollest kind and good,
We left him weltering in his blood.

To Frimley Grove, ’twas there we went,
On robbing we were fully bent,
The rector’s house we soon broke in,
And then to plunder did begin.

With faces masked, disguised to all,
And pistols loaded well with ball,
Like vile assassins on we crept,
To where the good old couple slept.

But Mrs Hollest struggled brave,
And nobly fought their lives to save,
Undaunted, boldly bore her part,
A woman with a warrior’s heart.

Her husband had one ruffian down,
And held him firmly on the ground,
The coward wretch for help did call,
‘Twas then the other fired his ball.

Thy wound was fatal, good old man,
Thy blood in streams around it ran,
We both escaped while thou didst bleed,
And now we suffer for the deed.

How could we thus such monsters prove,
To murder those whom all did love?
To want thou didst assistance lend,
And ever was the poor man’s friend.

Widows weep thy loss: they mourn,
The only friend they had is gone,
And orphans’ tears they quickly fall,
For thou a father’s been to all.

And Mrs Hollest? She was kind,
Distress in her a friend did find,
Her sole delight it seemed to be,
To dry the tears of misery.

So we confess the crimes we’ve done,
Is there no hope on Earth? There’s none,
Grim death will drag us to the tomb,
A scaffold is the murderers’ doom.

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

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1895: Richard Burleson, Crab Shack controversy

Add comment April 12th, 2016 Headsman

A few months ago as of this writing, Joe’s Crab Shack in Roseville, Minnesota made unfortunate news for its indecorous decision to include a black-and-white photograph of an old Texas hanging in its zany family dining table collage: that of the April 12, 1895 execution of Richard Burleson in Groesbeck, Texas. (Not a lynching, as it was widely characterized: it was a legal public execution.)


The hanging of Richard Burleson as interpreted by oe’s Crab Shack.

The image was adorned by a dreadful word bubble in which the doomed man exclaims, “All I said was, ‘I don’t like the gumbo!'” perhaps suggesting that uninspired dishes are best not returned at this establishment.

Here’s now the New Orleans Daily Picayune of April 13, 1895 described the actual, gumbo-less event.

Burleson Executed
For the Murder of J.G. McKinnon.

Groesbeck, Tex., April 12. — (Special.) — Richard Burleson slept all night, arose this morning, ate a hearty breakfast and was quite cheerful. At 10:30 Sheriff Gresham read the death warrant to him and told him to prepare for death. His spiritual advisers, J.H. Linn, of Mexia, and J. Beckham and J.M. Jackson, of Groesbeck, were with him several hours, but he refused to accept Christ or acknowledge his guilt. At 11:50 a.m. he ate a light dinner and prepared to arrange his toilet. At 2 o’clock he bade his brother good-by, who was in an adjoining cell, charged with aggravated assault. He walked up the steps leading to the gallows as though the end was not so near. The trap did not work at first and necessitated some three minutes’ delay. He became impatient, and told the officers that he could hang three or four niggers in that length of time himself. He never shed a tear or seemed to dread death in the least. At 2:05 he shot through the trap. His neck was broken; he never quivered nor moved a muscle. At 2:20 he was pronounced dead. When his body was sent down such a crowd had gathered on the platform to see him that the platform fell with a crash, but, fortunately, no one was hurt. He sold his body to Dr. W. M. Brown for $5. He was 21 years old at the time of his death, and lived in Limestone county, at Tehuacana, where his mother and wife, whom he married three months before hw as arrested for this crime, reside. He spoke in high terms of the officers. The crowd was estimated at 4000, and everything passed off very quietly.

The crime for which Burleson was sentenced to be hanged was a most horrible one, and one which stirred the community as it had not been stirred in many years.

The evidence was circumstantial, but no evidence could be found more closely linked together than was that on which he was convicted.

May 2, 1894, the murderer followed the venerable Mr. J.G. McKinnon out of Mexia and asked permission to ride in his wagon, which was readily granted him; he assaulted the helpless old man shortly after he had gotten into the wagon and with some heavy object tied up in a jacket beat him over the head until life had been crushed out of his victim. He then robbed the dead body and leaving the scene of the crime fled to Tehuacana, where he was living.

A few hours later he was arrested at his home. In order to give him a legal trial the sheriff slipped across country and put him in jail at Corsicana, where he has been kept ever since, with the exception of the time when he was on trial at this place.

This was the first legal hanging in Limestone county in seventeen years.

After news of the Crab Shack’s tasteless appropriation of this picture got all over the Internet and triggered public protests, the restaurant found a less risible inanity upon which to plate crustaceans.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Hanged,Murder,Public Executions,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Ripped from the Headlines,Texas,Theft,USA

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1836: Maria del Rosario Villa and Gervasio Alipas lynched in Alta California

Add comment April 7th, 2016 Headsman

California on April 7, 1836 saw the first known installment of what would become a rich tradition of history of vigilance committee lynchings in the state — over an affair of the heart.

This was Alta California under Mexican rulership, a decade before the Yankees gobbled it up in the Mexican-American War.

Maria del Rosario Villa had abandoned her husband Domingo Felix (or Feliz) back in 1834 to take up with a vaquero named Gervasio Alipas (or Alipaz). The honor-stricken husband spent two years fruitlessly trying to reconcile until in 1836 at his behest the alcalde successfully pressured Maria into returning to her husband.

But on the couple’s return trip to their ranch, the lover Alipas intercepted them and did the husband Felix to death. Narciso Botello’s* annals describe that Alipas “took hold of his [Felix’s] horse and threw himself on Felix, grabbed him by his neckerchief, and pulled him off, dragging him along downhill and twisting the neckerchief, strangling him” — then pitched the choking victim into a gully where he finished him off with a machete. “Later it was proven by the tracks that the wife had been present.” (Source) She helped him dump the body near San Gabriel Mission, too.

Outraged both by the dastardly murder and by the wanton violation of matrimony that precipitated it, a gang of 55 organized themselves as a Junta of the Defenders of the Public Safety, led by Victor Prudon, a recent arrival to the area from the Hijar-Padres colony.** As no militia could be mustered inclined to oppose its will, on April 7 the junta forced open the jail where Alipas was interred, stood him up behind a church, and shot him to death. Villa — being held in an apartment at a private residence — was likewise forced out and marched to a nearby stable where she got the same treatment.

The vigilantes deposited the bodies back at the jail with the communique,

Junta of the Defendres of the Public Safety —

To the First constitutional Alcalde:

The dead bodies of Gervacio Alispaz and Maria del Rosario Villa are at your disposal. We also forward you the jail keys that you may deliver them to whomsoever is on guard. In case you are inned of men to serve as guards we are at your disposal.

God and Liberty. Angeles, April 7, 1836.

Victor Prudon, President
Manuel Arzaga, Secretary

And that was the end of the Defenders of the Public Safety, who disbanded a few days later, never to reconstitute. Indeed, while vigilance committees became regular features on the Californian landscape in later years, this is the sole such incident ever known to have occurred there under Spanish or Mexican rule.

* A Mexican who would serve two terms in the state assembly of California after it became a U.S. state in 1850.

** Mexico at this point was still in its first generation of independence; its hold on sparsely-populated California was not strong — and the missions set down there to convert natives to Christianity and project a Spanish presence had Russian competition.

The Hijar-Padres colony (Padres was the name of the colony’s organizer, Hijar its financier) was a nucleus of 200-odd souls dispatched to settle in California by one of the liberal intra-Santa Anna governments. The leaders soon became embroiled in a complex political rivalry with California’s governor and the colony itself failed to take root, its emissaries settling and taking work wherever they could. Many set down roots in California’s “Southlands” where Los Angeles, then just a small town but still the regional capital, would one day splay out its sunlit superhighways. While colonists were involved in the vigilance committee proceedings, no member of the love triangle was a colonist. (See C. Alan Hutchinson, “An Official List of the Members of the Híjar-Padrés Colony for Mexican California, 1834,” Pacific Historical Review, Aug. 1973.)

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Borderline "Executions",California,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Lynching,Mexico,Milestones,Murder,Public Executions,Sex,Shot,Summary Executions,USA

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1809: Four by William Brunskill at Horsemonger Lane

Add comment April 4th, 2016 Headsman

Jackson’s Oxford Journal, April 1, 1809:

ASSIZES. — At Surry [sic] assizes, the following capital convicts received sentence of death: — J.A. Davison, J. Mason, J. Wood, and S. Hilton, for burglary; W. Leech, for highway robbery; J. Bartlet, [sic] for an unnatural offence; T. Hall, for extorting money under a threat of charging J. Clarke with an unnatural offence; H. Edwards, for shooting at W. Smith; J. Stenning, for forging a note; C. March, for cattle-stealing; S. Turner, for privately stealing; and Mary Ann Ellis, J. Hopkins, and J. Cobb, for stealing in dwelling-house. The Judges reprieved all except Bartlett, Edwards, Mason, and Wood.

Robert Skinner was indicted for attempting to ravish Mary Ann Hill, on the 16th of February last, at Wandsworth. The prosecutrix, who stated herself to be only 16 years of age, deposed that her father was a market-gardener at Wandsworth, and the prisoner worked in his service. On the 16th of February last they were at work together in a shed. He was binding coleworts, and she was trimming them.


A field of colewort. (cc) image by patchara yu.

After he had finished, he came to where she was sitting and threw her down. He was, however, interrupted by the coming of a cart, or she believed he would then have committed the offence charged. On cross-examination, she said her father had a cottage in his garden in Garret-lane, and she, her sister, and another girl slept there alone. On the 14th of January the prisoner was there in the evening; they gave him some beef-steaks for his supper, and he would not go home. She gave him the mattress to lie upon without side her chamber door. — In the night she heard a noise, and got up to see what it was; they were both naked. She did not tell her father of this. A few nights afterwards they had him to supper again, and got him some sausages; he would stay all that night, and she then let him lie in the same bed, but she did not let him lie next to her. The Learned Judge here interrupted, and observed it was ridiculous to talk of any attempt at a rape after this. The prisoner was of course acquitted.


Jackson’s Oxford Journal, April 8, 1809:

EXECUTION. — James Bartlett, for an unnatural crime; Henry Edwards, for highway robbery; and John Biggs and Samuel Wood, for burglary, were executed yesterday morning, [April 4, 1809] at the usual hour, on the top of the New Prison, Horsemonger-lane, in pursuance of their sentence. The crowd assembled on the melancholy occasion was excessive. The unfortunate men met their fate with great fortitude, and died acknowledging the justice of their punishment. Biggs sarcastically observed to the Executioneer, [sic] when he was pinioning him in the usual way — “I wish you had a better office.”* — He with the rest died extremely penitent. A hearse conveyed the body of Bartlett to Limehouse, where he is to be interred. — He is stated to have conveyed before his trial upwards of 1500l. to his daughters.

* The hangman so busted upon was William Brunskill, who already had near a quarter-century in his poor office by that time. It’s a bit hard to tell from the printed account, but since Brunskill had some notable ten-thumbed hangings to his credit — like that of Joseph Wall seven years before — the “better office” remark might have been a Monmouth-esque professional rebuke.

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1894: Walter Smith

Add comment March 27th, 2016 Meaghan

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

On this date in 1894, Walter Smith was hanged at the Nottingham Gaol by executioner James Billington, for the murder of Liverpool nurse Catherine Cross.

Smith invited Cross to the lace factory where he worked so he could show her a piece of equipment he had designed. He was anxious to impress her and, while they were looking at the lace-making machine, he pulled out a gun, waved it around and shouted, seemingly in jest, “Your money or your life!” The gun went off; Catherine was hit. Smith shot her two more times, then fled the scene.

She survived for another few days, and told the police what had occurred.


Tough Sell: from the Derby Mercury, March 14, 1894

The shooter’s best defense angle was to claim an accident, citing an absence of motive, an argument that is more easily made when one has not pulled the trigger repeatedly … of the gun that one has only just bought the day before. Trial testimony indicated that Smith might have had a romantic interest in Cross and it was inferred that he killed her out of jealousy because she was already engaged to marry someone else, but the victim herself seemed perplexed as to what had occurred, and why.

Alison Bruce, writing of the case in her biography Billington: Victorian Executioner, says,

Smith’s trial lasted for three days; his defence that the gun had gone off accidentally was accepted for the first shot but unsurprisingly rejected for the following two.

Billington performed the execution without an assistant and death was instantaneous.

It had been twenty-six years since England’s last public execution, but interest in even the refraction of death’s spectacle was still sufficient at this point to jam the roads near Bagthorpe Jail (today, Nottingham Prison) with a reported 6,000 spectators whose only reward was to see the gaol hoist its black flag signifying completion of the deed.

From the Nottingham Evening Post‘s same-day coverage of the hanging:

The morning mists had not yet risen when the first portions of the crowd that assembled outside the gaol to witness the raising of the black flag took up their position near the entrance gates, but the sun was shining brightly, shining over as beautiful bit of landscape as is ot be found in the immediate neighbourhood of Nottingham. By slow degrees those mists lifted, and the scene without was fresh and cheerful, the songs of the birds adding to the charm … As time wore on the thoroughfares leading to the place became lively with people hurrying to the scene. At half-past seven crowds began to roll up in larger numbers. Some thousands had now arrived, and their general behaviour was not such as to call for very unfavourable comment. It is not too much to say that had the execution been a public one their numbers would have been multiplied a hundred or a thousand fold. It was a holiday morning. If they could not actually see the hanging they could at least witness te sign which assured them that he had paid the penalty of his crime. The elevated embankments at the four crossroads were thickly lined with sight-seers. From these coigns of vantage they could command a good view of the front of the gaol, on the top of which rested the flag-pole. Away in the distance knots of people foregathered, and hundreds climbed the stone wall in the road near the building in spite of the fact that the top had been freshly tarred to prevent mischief to quick hedges above … It was exactly at a quarter to eight when the prison bell first knelled the doom of the unhappy man, and there was an evident increase of excitement. As the last knell sounded the black flag was hoisted, signifying that the exxecution had taken place, and the crowd quickly dispersed.

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1823: John Newton, violent spouse

Add comment March 24th, 2016 Meaghan

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

On this date in 1823, 40-year-old farmer John Newton was hanged for the murder of Sarah, his wife, who was heavily pregnant with their fifth child.

What happened is this: George Edwards, a local man, stopped by the Newton house and asked John for repayment of three shillings owed him for a lamp he’d sold the couple. In response, John flew into a rage, saying he had already given Sarah the money to settle the debt. This wasn’t the first time she’d done this, he told Edwards, and she had to be taught a lesson. He called Sarah into the room and threatened to thrash her.

Edwards was aghast and begged John not to hurt his wife, saying he’d rather forget about the three shillings altogether than have John do something so stupid. The three of them sat down and shared several jugs of weak beer — Edwards refusing to depart until John promised he would not hurt Sarah. As he left, he warned John that if he abused his wife, he, Edwards, would never speak to him again.

In the early hours of the next morning, John showed up at Edwards’s house and asked him for directions to the doctor’s, saying Sarah was suffering from pregnancy-related complications and “a bad job has happened.” When the doctor came, however, he found this wasn’t the case at all. Sarah had, in fact, been brutally beaten. Although she was given medical attention, she died at around midnight.

In Nicola Sly’s book Shropshire Murders, she notes,

The medical witnesses all agreed that Sarah Newton had died as a result of blood loss and, since the newspapers of the time seemed strangely reluctant to detail her injuries, it can probably be assumed that she had a miscarriage, caused by the beating and kicking she had been given by her husband.

Newton’s defense was three-pronged: first, he pointed out that Sarah had previously hemorrhaged after giving birth. Second, he claimed she had attacked him and he had hit her only in self-defense and only a few times with an open hand. Third, he presented various witnesses to suggest he had been insane at the time.

None of these arguments impressed: the jury deliberated all of two or three minutes before finding him guilty of willful murder. John said, incredulously, “I have lost my life for three shillings.”

John Newton wasn’t the only person to face trial in connection with his wife Sarah’s death, however. After John’s execution, the coroner who handled Sarah’s death inquest was brought up on charges of malpractice.

The coroner, a man named Whitcombe, had dismissed half the jury before the case was over because he considered the investigation to be “trifling.” He tried to persuade the rest of the jury members that Sarah had died “by visitation of God” before settling for an open verdict. He had Sarah’s body dissected before the inquest jury could examine it, and his own inspection of the body was judged to be perfunctory. Whitcombe had also failed to call George Edwards to the stand during the inquest, even though he was an important witness; Whitcombe also had an improper private interview with the defendant.

Whitcombe’s jury judged him culpable of “gross violation of his duty,” but in view of the fact that he had retired from his post in the meantime, he was not punished.


From the Caledonian Mercury, April 7, 1823

EXECUTION OF JOHN NEWTON, FOR THE MURDER OF HIS WIFE.

After this unfortunate man had been conveyed from the place of trial to the jail, on Saturday evening, he continued for many hours in a state of great agitation and mental distress.

On Sunday he attended divine service in the chapel of the prison, where he conducted himself with propriety. On the more near approach of the hour of dissolution his feelings again became more agitated.

At about a quarter after 12, on Monday, he was brought towards the scaffold, exclaiming, as he passed along, “I have lost my life for three shillings.” Having ascended the lodge of the jail, where he passed a few minutes in prayer with the chaplain, and some fellow prisoners, he was conducted to the scaffold; when, looking towards the immense multitude assembled, he exclaimed in a very loud tone, several times, “John Bolton!” “John Bolton, of The Hem!”

A voice appeared to answer from the crowd; and the prisoner then exclaimed, “John Edwards, are you come from Severn Hall?”

While on the scaffold, he said to the crowd, “This is a sad death to die, my lads, for a young man lie me; God bless you all.”

“I would give all the world it had not happened.”

He exclaimed two or three times, “Don’t hang me.” “I hope, gentlemen, you’ll not hang me yet.”

Occasionally he ejaculated, “Lord have mercy on me!”

Previous to being turned off, he put off his shoes (which he wore slipperways) from his feet; and when the drop fell he died instantly, and apparently without a struggle.

The unhappy man occupied a farm of about 170 acres, had been married about ten years, and has left four children. He told a gentleman who visited him, he had been a very bad husband at all times; that when he committed the fatal act, he struck and kicked his wife several times; and that, but for the interposition of Providence, he should, under the influence of his ungoverned feelings, at the same time have sacrificed the life of the child who interposed its cries in behalf of its mother: this addition to his crimes was happily prevented by the poor child outrunning and escaping from him. The unhappy criminal was a large and very muscular man. -Salopean Journal

Part of the Themed Set: Shropshire.

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1812: John Griffiths, crummy friend

Add comment March 23rd, 2016 Headsman

Chester Chronicle, Feb. 14, 1812:

On the morning of Saturday the 1st inst. William Bailey, collier, of Old Park Iron Works, near Shifnal, Shropshire, was found robbed and murdered in an iron-stone work, at Red-lake, in the parish of Wellington, having his throat cut and skull fractured in several places.

Suspicion immediately attached the crime to John Griffiths, a cooper, who resided about two hundred yards off, (and that from his bad character, he having been twice convicted of felony, as well as its being known that he had recently much importuned the deceased for the loan of cash,) and he was accordingly taken into custody in the [fear?] of absconding.

Notwithstanding there had been much rain during the preceding day, and the roads dirty in consequence, yet the shoes of Bailey were perfectly clean when his body was found; and it was conjectured that he had been murdered in some building and his remains carried to where they then lay.

The search was in consequence directed to a house lately erected by Griffiths about one hundred yards off, and the attention of those who entered it was attracted by stains of blood on the wall, and a quantity of sand which appeared to have been recently laid on a part of the floor. The latter was immediately ripped up, and underneath it was found a vault about eight feet long, four feet wide, and five deep, to which there was no communication but by removing the boards of the floor.

The boards were much stained with blood, and a considerable quantity in a coagulated state, which had evidently run down between them, was found in the bottom of the vault. A shirt, marked with the initials of Bailey’s name, was found hid under some coals in the cellar, and which has been sworn to as his property. A cooper’s bloody adze, exactly corresponding with the fractures in Bailey’s skull, was found on the floor; and a large horse pistol secreted in the brick work.

No part of Griffith’s working apparel, or dirty linen, could be found; but it appeared his wife had been washing the major part of the preceding night. A woman that lives nearly opposite the end of Griffith’s new house, and about twenty yards off, swore that on the night of the murder, at about half past nine o’clock, she saw (from her window) Griffiths come out of his house, and reconnoitre the road both ways, and seeing no one in sight, drag out a bag containing some weighty matter, and haul it round the end of his house in the direction to where the body of Bailey was found.

A bag was found in Griffith’s house containing a quantity of coagulated blood at the bottom of it.

Bailey’s house at Old Park, was robbed of every thing valuable on the night of the murder, and, no doubt, by the murderer or his associates; from his person was stolen an old silver watch, maker’s name, “C. Harrison, Limerick, No. 76.” Bailey was in the 64th year of his age, and of the Methodist persuasion; Griffith is about 28, and pretended to be of the same profession; he was at the meeting the same evening immediately after the murder. They were in the habit of praying together in private.

Coroner’s verdict, wilful murder against John Griffith. He is now in Shrewsbury gaol to take his trial at the next assizes. He denies all knowledge of the murder, and says if he should be found guilty, he is determined not to be publicly hanged. Griffith is a native of Wellington.


Original caption: “The above is a plan of the premises: — a. — The road to Potter’s Bank. — b. — Griffith’s dwelling house. — c. — Red Lake. — d. — The house, from whence the woman saw Griffith in the act of hauling the bag out of his new house. — e. — Road to Old Park Iron Works. — f. — Griffith’s New House. — g. — Iron Stone Work. — h. — Here Bailey’s body was found. — i. To Ketley Iron Works.”

Salisbury and Winchester Journal, April 6, 1812

At Shrewsbury Assizes, on Friday se’nnight, John Griffiths was tried for the wilful murder of Mr. W. Bailey, of Ketley, near Wellington, on the evening of the 31st of January last.

The deceased and the prisoner lived near each other, and were in habits of intimacy, the latter having experienced many acts of friendship from the former, whom he at length resolved to murder, in order to get possession of some cash bills which he understood he had about him.

The prisoner was a cooper by trade, and was carrying on his business in a house he had newly built, but to which he had not wholly removed. He was seen on the evening stated dragging something from his new house round the old one, to the spot where the body of the deceased was found, the skull beat in with a hammer part of a cooper’s adze, and Griffiths’s adze was found bloody on the hammer part, which exactly fitted the wounds.

Blood was found on the floor of a room in his new house, and had run through to the cellar; the walls were sprinkled with it, and attempts had evidently been made to scrape it off, and to clean it from the floor. A train of circumstances, related by different witnesses, brought the fact so close home to the prisoner, that the Jury had no hesitation in pronouncing him Guilty.

He was hanged on Monday last, and his body given to the surgeons for dissection. He had previously made a full confession of his guilt.

Part of the Themed Set: Shropshire.

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1824: Richard Overfield, wicked stepfather

Add comment March 22nd, 2016 Meaghan

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

On this date in 1824, only three days after his indictment, Richard Overfield was hanged in Shrewsbury, England for the murder of his three-month-old stepson, Richard Jr.

The child died on September 21 the previous year. Overfield’s wife, Anne, rushed to the doctor’s after finding her little son in apparent agony. When she kissed the baby, she noticed his lips were white-colored and blistered and tasted bitter.

Little Richard Jr. died later that day in spite of the doctor’s attempts to save him.

“Overfield, it turns out,” notes Samantha Lyon in her book A Grim Almanac of Shropshire,

worked in a carpet factory and so had access to sulphuric acid. This he stole to administer to the baby. The already terrible picture this forms is made all the more grotesque when you know how sulphuric acid kills: the acid is so corrosive that it burns the mouth, throat, esophagus and stomach when ingested. It can, and often does, cause the sufferer to experience severe thirst and to have difficulty breathing.

The motive came out during the trial: Overfield knew when he got married that Anne was pregnant with another man’s child. This was, in fact, why he married her in the first place.

The parish didn’t want to pay out welfare for yet another illegitimate baby, so they offered Overfield a lump sum of money to marry its mother. Any baby born more than a month after marriage would be considered legitimate and its purported father would have to support it.

Overfield accepted the parish’s offer, but although the baby bore his name, he told Anne he would never accept her son as his own. And since he already had the lump-sum payment, well …

“There seems to have been absolutely no step-paternal feelings on the elder Richard’s part,” notes David J. Cox’s book Foul Deeds and Suspicious Deaths in Shrewsbury and Around Shropshire:

[He] was heard to frequently express a hatred for the infant and on several occasions was reported as stating that he would not support his wife or her ‘bastard child.’

Matters came to a tragic head …

At his trial Overfield tried to blame the family cat: he’d seen it lying on top of the baby’s face, he said, and shooed it away, and little Richard started choking shortly thereafter.

Beyond that, he had little to say for himself. The jury showed its contempt for his so-called defense by convicting him after only five minutes’ deliberation.

Overfield made a full confession and expressed public repentance for his crime. He calmly accepted his fate.

Part of the Themed Set: Shropshire.

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1875: Jesse Fouks, for murdering the Herndon family

Add comment March 19th, 2016 Headsman


Sunderland (U.K.) Daily Echo and Shipping Gazette, April 6, 1875.

A despatch from Brentville, Prince William County, Va., dated March 19, says: —

Jesse Fouks, the negro who murdered the Herndon family, consisting of Jeremiah Herndon, his wife, and a coloured boy named Addison Russell, near Cedar Run, in the lower part of this county, on the 4th of last December, was hanged this morning.

The circumstances of this murder were very horrible. Mr. Herndon, a well-to-do farmer, was about 70 years of age, his wife was a few years younger, and the coloured boy about 18 years old.

On the morning after the murder, Mr. Summerfield Herndon, a son of the venerable couple, who resided not far from their farm, went to pay a visit to his parents. Entering their yard, he saw bloody footprints, which led to the door of the dwelling. Passing into the house, a ghastly spectacle was presented to his view. Upon a pallet on the floor the coloured boy Russell lay cold in death, with his head split open. Upon the bed lay Mrs. Herndon, weltering in blood. A little later Mr. Herndon was found lying in a field about 400 yards from the house, barefooted and bareheaded, with his head and face cut and bleeding in many places.

On being asked who had done this deed, Mr. Herndon, who seemed bewildered, said he did not know who had done it; that he had been walking about all night, and felt cold when he went into the water.

He was taken to his house, and there told a clearer story to Justices Horton and Woodyard of a quarrel with Jesse Fouks, who had been hauling wood for him.

It was ascertained, on searching the house, that 235 dols. had been taken by the murderer. Fouks was arrested on suspicion at the house of a neighbour the day after the murder.

Both Mr. and Mrs. Herndon lingered some days, Mrs. Herndon dying on the Wednesday following, and Mr. Herndon on the succeeding Friday. Fouks was tried, found guilty, and duly sentenced to be hanged.

On the 31st of last January he made an attempt to escape from gaol. He burned a hole through the partition of his cell, and got out into the passage, where there was nothing to prevent his escape except an iron-grated door, which was unlocked, and the outer door.

On his appearance at the outer door, he was met by the gaoler’s wife, who, with great presence of mind, seized him and called for help, but he managed to get free and got away.

He was captured on the following day in a straw rick, about six miles from Brentsville.

He acknowledged his guilt, and said that on the evening of the murder he took some meat, and that Mr. Herndon threatened to prosecute him; that he went into the house to try to induce the old man not to prosecute him; that he refused to retract, and that they then began quarrelling, and Mr. Herndon took up the axe and threatened to knock his brains out.

Fouks retreated to the door (the door being open), seized the axe handle, and to use his own words, “Old Satan was in me. I struck Mr. Herndon; took da axe from him, and den struck de old woman twice wid de axe. I did’nt strike her wid nuffin else, and den I struck Add (the coloured boy) twice wid de axe also.”

About 1,000 persons were present at the execution. The prisoner exhibited the utmost self-composure, and warned his hearers to escape the effects of bad passion.

Last Tuesday Fouks gave his body to a physician of Fauquier County, saying that the doctors would get it anyhow.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Hanged,History,Murder,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,USA,Virginia

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1868: Eleven samurai, for the Sakai Incident

Add comment March 16th, 2016 Headsman

On this date in 1868,* eleven samurai committed seppuku before the French consul in Japan spared their nine comrades.

The affair was stunning punishment for what’s known as the Sakai Incident — an offense eight days prior that occurred during Japan’s Boshin War, a last rearguard battle of loyalists to the (now officially ended) Tokugawa Shogunate against the rising imperial party of the Meiji Restoration.

What’s noteworthy for our purposes in this period is that the Meiji espoused an anti-foreigner policy — one that was not the less intently felt by the Meiji base for being entirely insincere on the part of elites.

It was in this tense context that a boat full of French sailors from the corvette Dupleix called on March 8 at Sakai — a port city whose shogunate forces had routed. It had been recently occupied by imperial troops.

Japan had only been opened to the west 15 years before, and access was still quite restricted; there might have been a misunderstanding between the French sailors and Sakai’s Tosa clan occupiers over whether this city was open at all. There was definitely a misunderstanding once the tourists ran into samurai on shore, and before you know it high words and suspicious glares turned into a street skirmish that left eleven Frenchmen dead.


Illustration from Le Monde Diplomatique (1868)

This Sakai Incident (English Wikipedia entry | French) incensed western powers, and not only the French: the British, Dutch, Prussians, Italians, and Americans all pulled down their embassy colors in solidarity pending adequate satisfaction for the French. Japan at this moment was not at all in a position to take a stand against foreign gunships over this dust-up, and it met the conditions — which consisted of some personal groveling by a state minister, the payment of a 150,000-piastres indemnity, and the execution of the officers and soldiers involed. The punishment would be self-administered by seppuku at a Sakai shrine. This set the scene for a powerful climax, in which the soldiers one by one tore out their own guts in a ceremony that must have played as defiance no less than submission.

Quoting the Moniteur, the London Morning Post of May 19, 1868 (news was slow in those days) describes the operatic punishment.

On the 15th [a Japanese] high functionary brought a written reply from his Government conceding all the satisfaction required. On the following day Captain du Petit-Thouars, commander of the Dupleix, landed at Sakai to witness the execution of two officers, a subaltern, and 17 Japanese soldiers, condemned to death as the principal authors of the aggression. The two chiefs were the first put to death, after which nine others perished successively. Captain du Petit-Thouars then seeing that the Japanese Government was decided on carrying out its engagements to the end, and ceding to a feeling of humanity, stayed the execution, declaring that he considered the reparation sufficient, and that he proposed to ask the Minister of France to intercede for a commutation of punishment in favour of the other condemned.

The last nine beneficiaries of the captain’s clemency were sent into internal exile instead.

The Japanese writer Mori Ogai wrote a short story about this affair, Sakai Jiken. (See Suicidal Honor: General Nogi and the Writings of Mori ?gai and Natsume Soseki.)

* There are some citations that give the date as the 23rd. The original reporting I have located unambiguously asserts that the execution occurred on the 16th.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Japan,Mass Executions,Murder,Political Expedience,Put to the Sword,Soldiers

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