Posts filed under '20th Century'

1935: Tully McQuate, \”If I hang, I hang\”

Add comment May 24th, 2016 Headsman

On this date in 1935, one of the all-time great names in American gallows history hanged at California\’s Folsom Prison for one of the all-time crimes of ingratitude.

Tully McQuate (or Tulley, or Tullie; the name means \”peaceful\”) entered the annals of criminology via a sack of dismembered human remains discovered in San Diego\’s harbor in 1934.

These gory parts turned out upon examination to have formerly constituted a well-to-do 74-year-old widow named Ellen Straw. Mrs. Straw, it transpired, had taken a shine to an Ohio-born drifter thirty years her junior after hiring him to do her yard work, and finally invited said McQuate to live with her.

Period reportage describes her as his \”benefactress\” but it appears the favors were reciprocal.

\”She took a liking to me and I took a liking to her,\” he explained in a matter-of-fact confession. (Los Angeles Times, May 28, 1934)

She took me into her home and we got along pretty well for about a year. Then she began to get jealous of me and we began to quarrel.

One night we went down to a mission — neither of us was very religious, but we used to get a kick out of it. We quarreled on the way home. She went to her room and I went to mine. She kept on quarreling with me — I could hear her through the wall.

Finally I got up to get a drink of water. I found a clawhammer that I had been using around the house. I took it and went in and hit her over the head with it. I guess I hit her twice. [The court would find that he hit her six or seven times. -ed.]

I never had any intention of killing her, but when I saw she was dead, I just covered her up and went back to bed.

\”Well, if it\’s done, it\’s done,\” I said to myself. I knew it was all up with me then. I knew they would find me some time. But I didn\’t care. When I lost my family I had nothing left to care about. [McQuate\’s wife had divorced him years before. -ed.]

I left the body there for six days. I never did see her face again. Then I decided I\’d better get rid of it, so I took the knife and a saw — I couldn\’t get the body into the sack.

McQuate projects a pragmatic matter-of-factness about the situation that\’s equal parts disarming and blood-chilling. One can at least say for him that he faced the consequence with the same equanimity.

Well, I guess my time has come. I\’ve confessed — told the whole truth — and I\’ll plead guilty. There\’s no use putting the State to the expense of a trial. I\’ve paid taxes myself.

McQuate was as good as his word. Indeed, when the legal proceedings required two days — perhaps anticipating appeal avenues, the District Attorney successfully insisted that McQuate, who had intended to represent himself, must have an attorney in a death penalty case — the murderer griped on the second day, \”It\’s so foolish. I did it; let \’em sentence me and get it over with. If I hang, I hang.\” (Los Angeles Times, June 5, 1934)

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,California,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,Murder,USA

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1916: Four French soldiers of the 96 RI

Add comment May 22nd, 2016 Headsman

Four French soldiers of the 96th Régiment d\’Infanterie were shot 100 years ago today for resisting an order to return to their World War I trenches on the western front. Their names (per French Wikipedia\’s tragically lengthy entry on World War I executions) were Émile Frédéric Lhermenier, Lucien Baleux, Félix Louis Milhau, and Paul Pierre Regoult. Baleux was only 19 years old.

We have an affecting memory of the demoralizing effect of this shooting upon their fellow soldiers in the 55th division courtesy of a remarkable epistolary war memoir. Titled Émile et Léa : Lettres d\’un couple d\’instituteurs bourguignons dans la tourmente de la Grande guerre (Emile and Lea: Letters of a Burgundy teacher-couple amid the turmoil of the Great War), the book was lovingly assembled in the early 200s by Emile and Lea\’s grandson Michel Mauny, from a box marked \”GUERRE\” that turned out to be heavy with over 1200 letters exchanged by husband and wife during Emile\’s years at the front. (See French review here)

Two days after the quadruple execution, Emile heartbreakingly wrote

Four soldiers of the 96th having been sentenced to death, the companies of the 5th Battalion 246th [regiment] were responsibe for providing the four firing squads. Of my company, we had five soldiers, four corporals, and five sergeants. Fortunately I was not designated for this horrible work.

Our comrades described the scene to us. It was mournful, poignant. All were stunned to have participated in the execution. Perhaps those unhappy four deserved it (I do not know), but we should find another way to enforce the law in the century we live in. One of them it seems had only 18 or 19 years. I think I, who used to live with children and young people, I would have gone crazy had I been forced to participate in this drama.

According to Michel Mauny\’s commentary on the incident, a machine-gun captain in the regiment was so overwhelmed he became fixated on the nightmare of being executed himself, and eventually had to be relieved from his duties with dementia. \”After twenty months on campaign, the commanders must be truly cruel to put four of our comrades to the post!\”

That man, Captain Paul Tuffrau, wrote in a letter a few days afterwards

In the first days of the week, there was a morning where four soldiers were shot … I did not hear the volley, but I knew from Bourgoeois and Geoffroy that we had taken the prisoners an hour early before the guns. One of them, a strong lad of nineteen, committed to the war, as strong as an ox, bellowing out \”Kill me? Go ahead! It\’s impossible!\”

Bayon directed the execution; he had prepared four pole with ropes, for he guessed they would resist. It was quickly done, everyone in haste to finish; once all were bound the four platoons were lined up facing left, took aim, and there was not even a command for the first shot caused all the others. Afterwards Bayon imposed eight days\’ punishment on a sergeant who was to represent the division and arrived four minutes late: \”You made these men die twice, you!\”

Such records as remain do not make clear why this quartet joined the 600-plus French troops shot for military offenses during the Great War, but three other soldiers from the same regiment accused of the same offense in the same incident did not have the honor of dying for France but suffered only demotion. Was it that four sufficed \”pour encourager les autres\” — that three would show a want of backbone, and five would be barbarity?

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,France,History,Military Crimes,Shot,Soldiers,Wartime Executions

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1945: Pvt. George Edward Smith, on VE Day

Add comment May 8th, 2016 Robert Walsh

(Thanks to Robert Walsh for the guest post. Mr. Walsh\’s home page has a trove of articles about historical executions, including another American serviceman hanged at Shepton Mallet. -ed.)

VE (Victory in Europe) marked the official end of hostilities in the European theatre of operations and quite possibly the largest and most joyous celebration in human history.

Unless, of course, you happened to be former US Army Air Forces Private George Edward Smith.

While most of the rest of the world basked in the joy of victory and the relief of the European war being over, Private Smith had a rather more pressing engagement to think about. The rest of the population might be about to enter a brave new world, but Smith was about to depart rather suddenly from the old one.

It was his execution day.

Smith, previously serving at RAF Attlebridge in Norfolk with the US Air Force\’s 784th Bombardment Squadron, wouldn\’t be celebrating the end of the European war. He\’d be watching the clock tick relentlessly down to 1 a.m. when he\’d be escorted from the Condemned Cell at Her Majesty\’s Prison, Shepton Mallet, Somerset (loaned to the US military for the duration of the war). He\’d be sat near the gallows pondering a past that was about to cost him his life while hoping for a reprieve that wouldn\’t arrive and a future that was already lost.

While most of the world celebrated, George Edward Smith was going to die.

Smith\’s guilt wasn\’t in any doubt. Near RAF Attlebridge lay the sleepy Norfolk town of Honingham and the stately home named Honingham Hall (demolished in the 1960s).

Honingham Hall and the adjoining land were home to distinguished diplomat Sir Eric Teichmann, a long-serving figure vastly experienced in the Far East and serving as advisor to the British Embassy at Chungking. He\’d noticed, as so many country gentlemen do, that he had a problem with poachers. December 3, 1944 would be the last time he had a problem with anything. It was in the small hours of the morning that he met George Edward Smith.

Smith and his accomplice Private Wijpacha had \’borrowed\’ a pair of M1 carbines from the base armoury and decided to do a spot of illicit hunting. Teichmann, familiar with the fact that poachers aren’t usually violent offenders and will usually run if challenged, heard gunshots from nearby woodland and went out to investigate. He went out unarmed, challenged Smith and Wijpacha — and Smith promptly shot him once through the head with his M1. Both men fled hurriedly back to their base, hoping that their absence wouldn\’t be noticed.

Of course, a senior British diplomat lying murdered in the woodland was noticed.

Before long both men were arrested and questioned, during which Smith confessed, a confession he later retracted claiming that it was made under duress. That, not surprisingly, cut no ice whatsoever with either the American military or the British authorities. Smith and Wijpacha were court-martialled at RAF Attlebridge and Wijpacha (who hadn\’t fired a shot) received a lengthy prison sentence. Smith, the triggerman, drew the death penalty.

Under the Visiting Forces Act, 1942 the Americans were free to try, imprison and condemn their own criminals independent of the British system of justice, not that it would have made any difference to Smith\’s case. Murder was then a capital crime in Britain regardless of the criminal\’s nationality. If Smith hadn\’t been condemned by an American court-martial then a British trial would have seen the judge don the legendary \’Black Cap\’ and pass what British reporters once called \’the dread sentence\’ especially given the status of the victim.

Smith was promptly shipped to the prison at Shepton Mallet in the county of Somerset to await a mandatory review of his case and, if clemency was refused, execution.

View of Shepton Mallet (left) and its execution shed (right)

Shepton Mallet had been a civilian prison for centuries before being turned over to the British military, who then lent it to the Americans as part of the Visiting Forces Act. Until its final closure a few years ago Shepton Mallet remained the oldest prison in the UK still operational, a dubious distinction now belonging to Dartmoor. There were, however, a few difficulties with the arrangement.

The Americans carried out 18 executions at Shepton Mallet during their tenure between mid-1942 and September, 1945. Two (Alex Miranda and Benjamin Pyegate) were by firing squad, upsetting local people, who knew very well what it meant to live next to a military prison and hear a single rifle volley at 8 a.m. The American military also preferred hanging common criminals to allowing them to be shot like soldiers.

The problems were simple. The locals didn\’t like firing squads made no secret of it. Not surprisingly, there were complaints. The US military felt being shot was too good for most of its condemned and the British didn\’t like the methods and equipment used by American hangmen, who had acquired a nasty and thoroughly-deserved reputation for using badly-designed scaffolds, the wrong type of rope and the antiquated standard drop instead of a drop length scientifically calculated by the prisoner\’s weight.

The British also regarded American hanging equipment as outdated, while American military hangmen John Woods and Joseph Malta were entirely unfamiliar with the British kit. And British hangmen had evolved hanging to almost an art, needing mere seconds to complete the procedure.

Another problem was that the gallows at Shepton Mallet hadn\’t been used since March, 1926. By 1942 it was considered unfit for service and needed replacing. A compromise had to be reached, and was.

The Americans could continue executions at Shepton Mallet, but the vast majority (16 out of 18) were performed by British hangmen using a British gallows in an extension built onto the end of one of the cellblocks. The Americans were permitted their usual practice of having the condemned stand strapped, noosed and hooded on the gallows while their death warrant and charge sheet were read out and then being asked for any last words. This caused executioner Albert Pierrepoint, master of the speedy hanging, to complain at what seemed to him a cruel, unnecessary delay in ending the prisoner\’s misery.

Pierrepoint also complained about overcrowding in the gallows room during executions. At a British hanging there would be the prisoner, the hangman, his assistant, the prison Governor, the Chief Warder, the doctor, the Chaplain and two or four prison officers. At an American military hanging there were usually twenty or so people clustered around the trapdoors and lever. He felt a hanging should be both quick and perfect and that a crowded gallows room invited disaster.

Hangman Thomas Pierrepoint.

By VE Day the arrangement was well-established. Thomas Pierrepoint, uncle of Albert and brother of Henry (both of whom were also hangmen) performed 13 of the 16 hangings at Shepton Mallet while Albert performed the remaining three when he wasn\’t busy elsewhere.

Their assistants were Steve Wade, Herbert Morris and Alexander Riley. Tom Pierrepoint had performed the last hanging at Shepton Mallet in 1926 (that of murderer John Lincoln) assisted by Lionel Mann. While the two firing squads were performed at 8 a.m., the hangings would be carried out at 1 a.m. which was discreet enough not to arouse neighbors\’ ire.

Smith\’s case was reviewed. Not surprisingly, his appeal was denied as were other requests including (most generously, under the circumstances) one from Lady Teichmann, widow of his victim. His date was set for 1 a.m. on what turned out to be the very day Europe\’s guns fell silent. Tom Pierrepoint would do the job assisted by Herbert Morris. Smith was transferred to the Condemned Cell a few days prior to the execution date where he was granted free access to the military Chaplain.

When the time came, while the rest of the population celebrated the arrival of a new world and Smith contemplated his departure from the old one, it went as smoothly as could be expected. Smith was taken from his cell wearing standard military uniform, from which any badges or flashes marking him as a soldier were deliberately removed. Paperwork was completed signifying his dishonourable discharge from the US military as a common criminal and the US military were determined that he should die like one.

Given the delays caused by the reading of the charge sheet and death warrant and Smith being asked for his last words (he apparently had none) it took 22 minutes between Smith being taken from his cell and being certified dead by the prison doctor. Compare this with a standard British execution (minus the bureaucracy and speechifying) where 22 seconds would have been considered twice as long as was needed to do the job. Smith\’s punishment, however, wasn\’t done yet. Executed American servicemen were initially buried at Brookwood cemetery, but then moved to the notorious \’Plot E\’ of the Oisne-Aisne Military Cemetery in France. Plot E is deliberately hidden from the rest of that cemetery. Its residents have no names on their graves, only numbers. They have no headstones or crosses, only flat stone markers. No American flag hangs in their plot. It doesn\’t appear on the plan of the cemetery even today and the markers are placed facing away from the graves of other Americans. Visits to Plot E are still discouraged and it wasn\’t until a Freedom of Information request in 2009 that the names of those buried there were released.


A view of the \”Dishonored Dead\” in Plot E, Oise-Aisne American Cemetery. (cc) image by Stranger20824.

Whatever they may have done, and some committed truly dreadful crimes, it seems distasteful to virtually deny their existence and shame them even after death. It also denied their families and friends the chance to visit and grieve, despite the fact that they themselves had committed no crime.

That said, it\’s no different to the routine imposed on condemned British criminals. In fact, the British death sentence expressly demanded that inmates be buried in unmarked graves within the prison walls inflicting the same suffering on their friends and relatives. The British hanged were officially designated \’Property of the Crown,\’ many of whom were not properly reburied until after abolition. At many British prisons they still remain in unmarked graves according to the following sentence:

Prisoner at the Bar, it is the sentence of this Court that you be taken from this place to a lawful prison and thence to a place of execution where you shall be hanged by the neck until you are dead, and that your body be afterwards cut down and buried within the precincts of the prison in which you were last confined before execution. And may the Lord have mercy upon your soul.

Remove the prisoner …

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Guest Writers,Hanged,History,Milestones,Murder,Other Voices,Soldiers,U.S. Military,USA,Wartime Executions

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1943: Rev. Leonard Kentish, kidnapped Australian civilian

Add comment May 4th, 2016 Headsman

On lonely scrubland at the Aru Islands port of Dobo on this date in 1943, the Japanese military beheaded kidnapped Australian Rev. Leonard Kentish.

Nobody knew his fate at the time — his wife spent years tring to discover it — but the so-called \”Kentish Affair\” was one of the true oddities of the Pacific War: a civilian of no particular import to the war effort who was snatched from Australian territorial waters.

On January 22, 1943, the civilian Kentish, chief of Northern Territory Methodist missions to the aboriginal peoples, had hitched a ride on the HMAS Patricia Cam, a wooden tuna trawler that had been requisitioned as a wartime naval transport. The Patricia Cam wasn\’t running any blockades — she was strictly for local cargo runs, in this instance shuttling among Elcho Island and the Wessel Islands just off Arnhem Land.

She had no radar capacity, and no inkling at all of her fate that afternoon when the Aichi E13A floatplane dove out of the sky and skimmed above the Patricia Cam, within 100 feet of the mast — dropping a bomb amidships that ripped open the trawler\’s belly and sent her to the bottom.

While survivors scrabbled in the Arafura Sea for \”overboard drums, planks, boxes — anything that would float\” the raider circled for another pass, splintering with a second bomb an emergency canoe that men were crowding into, then strafing the waves with machine gun fire. Finally, the victorious seaplane set down in the waves.

And then mysteriously, the pilot gestured Rev. Kentish into the vacant seat of his plane, and took off. Kentish was the only prisoner taken, and his countrymen never again laid eyes on him.

Sixteen other people survived the attack and were rescued a few days later. But poor Mrs. Violet Kentish remained entirely in the dark as to the fate of her husband. \”I know that Len is not beyond God\’s love and care wherever he may be,\” she vainly pleaded to the Minister of the Navy. \”But you will understand because we are only weak humans, the heartache and longing for one we loved so much.\” (Quoted in Australia\’s Forgotten Prisoners: Civilians Interned by the Japanese in World War Two)

After World War II, she desperately resorted to firing letters to newspaper editors, until an intelligence officer chanced to read one published in the Argus and made the necessary inquiries via U.S. Gen. Douglas MacArthur\’s staff in Tokyo to unravel the mystery. In the clipped official findings:

1. The Rev KENTISH was taken on board a Jap float plane on Jan 22 43 after it had sunk the patrol vessel HMAS \”PATRICIA CAM\” off WESSEL IS.

2. Unfortunately no info can be obtained of the whereabouts of the Rev KENTISH until 13 Apr 43, when he arrived at DOBO.

3. The Rev KENTISH was held at DOBO as a prisoner till the 4 May 43. Throughout this period he was subjected to ill treatment by severe bashings, the most common being punches in the nose and eyes to such an extent that his nose was broken, and he had great difficulty in seeing. His diet, as such, was just sufficient to keep him alive.

4. On the morning of 4 May he was taken in to the scrub, (a distance of under 200 yds from the township of DOBO) where a grave had been prepared, and executed.

5. The execution was carried out by the order of 1st Lieut SAKIDJIMA.

6. The remains of the Rev KENTISH have been recovered, and handed over to Capt STOCKWELL, of the War Graves Unit. They will be transported to AMBON, and buried in the Internees cemetery there.

7. This case is now considered closed. All dates must be treated as approx.

The consequence of this inquiry was a 1948 war crimes case against Lt. Sagejima Maugan, who was hanged in Hong Kong on August 23, 1948 for conducting Rev. Kentish\’s execution.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Australia,Beheaded,Cycle of Violence,Execution,History,Indonesia,Japan,No Formal Charge,Occupation and Colonialism,Religious Figures,Torture,War Crimes,Wartime Executions

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1942: Robert \”Rattlesnake\” James, the last man hanged by California

Add comment May 1st, 2016 Meaghan

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

On this date in 1942, red-haired Robert S. James became the last man judicially hanged in the state of California. He\’d earned the noose three times over. The press called him \”the Diamondback Killer\” or \”Rattlesnake James\”.

\”Robert James,\” records Robert Keller in his book 50 American Serial Killers You\’ve Probably Never Heard Of, Volume Five, \”must rank as one of the most creative killers in the annals of American crime. Not content with such mundane methods as shooting, stabbing or strangling, James resorted to such inventive devices as auto wrecks, drowning and rattlesnake bites.\”

James\’s cunning homicides and his proclivity for cross-country travel meant his crimes went unnoticed for years.

Born Major Raymond Lisenba in 1895, he seemed destined to a hardscrabble life of Alabama sharecropping like his parents until his brother-in-law paid for him to go to Birmingham and attend barbering school.

In 1921, at age 26, Lisenba married. His wife quickly left him, however, and filed for divorce, citing extreme cruelty. James moved to Kansas and married again, and began an affair with a young local girl. He made her pregnant, and after her father showed up at his barbershop with a shotgun, Lisenba skipped town and moved to Fargo, North Dakota, abandoning wife no. 2. He also changed his name.

From here on out, he goes by Robert S. James.

In 1932, \”Robert\” married Winona Wallace and took out a life insurance policy on her. After three months of wedded bliss, they went on an outing to climb Pike\’s Peak. During the journey, though, the couple was in a single-car accident and Winona sustained a serious head injury, while her husband was completely unharmed: he had jumped out of the out-of-control vehicle just before impact.

The police who responded for some reason thought nothing of the bloodstained hammer they noted in the car\’s back seat.

Although Winona\’s head wound was grave, she pulled through, and was discharged from the hospital after two weeks, with no memory of the accident. She never recovered that memory because shortly after arriving home she drowned in her own bathtub. Her husband suggested she had still been suffering vertigo from the head injury.

James collected on Winona\’s $14,000 life insurance policy, moved back to Alabama and married again. He found he was unable to take out a policy on the new wife, however, and filed for an annulment on the very day of their wedding.

Undaunted, James turned his attention to his nephew, Cornelius Wright. He insured the young man, with double indemnity in case of accidental death, then invited him over to visit. During the visit, James lent Cornelius his car. Cornelius drove it off a cliff and was killed.

The insurers paid.

Curiously, James sent a telegram to his sister informing her of her son\’s death before it actually happened.

James moved to Los Angeles and married a fifth time. It was wife #5, Mary Busch, who proved to be his undoing.

In 1935, James conspired with an acquaintance named Charles Hope to murder Mary. They decided to use rattlesnakes, and Hope obtained two large large Colorado diamondbacks to do the job. The snakes had names: Lethal and Lightning. They performed well in field tests on chickens.

Mary was pregnant at the time, and James convinced her to get a home abortion. To this end, she allowed herself to be tied to a chair, blindfolded and gagged for the procedure. Her husband then forced whiskey down her throat to quiet her, and he and Hope shoved her bare foot into a box containing the rattlers.

They left her there to die, but when they returned later, Mary was still alive, although had been bitten three times. James dragged her into the bathroom and drowned her in the tub, then he and his accomplice threw her body into an ornamental fish pond on his property.

Then James called the police to report the tragic accident.

Authorities who arrived at the scene found Mary lying in very shallow water. Her grieving widower mentioned she had dizzy spells quite often and would fall down. The police speculated she might have been bitten by a rattlesnake and then, in shock, stumbled into the pond. They did a search of the property and did find something strange: a bottle containing black widow spiders, hidden in a corner of the garage. But what did that have to do with anything?

Mary\’s death was ruled accidental and James collected yet another insurance payout.

He appeared to have gotten away with it again.

However, several months later, it came undone.

A sharp insurance investigator found out about James\’s previous wives and the fact that one of them had drowned after being heavily insured. The investigator informed the police, who bugged James\’s house and discovered he was committing incest with his niece.

This was a crime in California, although she was a legal adult. The police hauled him in for questioning. \”Interrogation techniques,\” remarks Keller, \”were somewhat more brutal than they are today and under questioning, James let something slip about Mary\’s death. Investigators immediately seized on this and eventually extracted a confession.\”

Charles Hope\’s role in the crime came out — he\’d been paid $100 for his assistance in the murder — and he turned state\’s evidence and was sentenced to life in prison. During the trial, Lethal and Lightning were presented as evidence, and Lethal caused a bit of a stir in the courtroom when it escaped during lunch.


Star witness.

The Los Angeles Times notes, \”Columnist Walter Winchell dropped by the courtroom; so did actor Peter Lorre, who studied James\’ impassive face and beady eyes for one of those psychotic killer roles he often played.\”

James was inevitably convicted of Mary\’s murder and sentenced to death, but prolonged his life with a few years of appeals. In Lisenba v. California, the Supreme Court upheld his confession in spite of the third-degree methods by which it was obtained.

The lag from trial to execution caused by Rattlesnake\’s judicial review, however, made him by the time of his hanging the last convict whose death sentence predated California\’s adoption of the gas chamber. California was executing in volume at this period, and almost all by gas: everyone knew as Robert James went to the gallows that he was to be the last to die on that anachronistic device.

And the executioner — who to be fair was probably out of practice — underscored the reason for that shift by botching the job, leaving his prey to strangle to death for ten ghastly minutes. San Quentin\’s warden, Clinton Duffy, an opponent of the death penalty described the hanging to reporters but his story was deemed too graphic to be printable. In this more permissive age we can use it with impunity … but it\’s liable to put you off your appetite.

The man hit bottom, and I observed that he was fighting by pulling on the straps, wheezing, whistling, trying to get air, that blood was oozing through the black cap. I observed also that he urinated, defecated and the droppings fell on the floor, and the stench was terrible. I also saw witnesses pass out and have to be carried from the witness room. Some of them threw up. It took ten minutes for the condemned man to die.

When he was finally dead enough to cut him down, \”big hunks of flesh were torn off\” James\’s purple face; \”his eyes were popped,\” and his tongue \”swollen and hanging from his mouth.\” (source)

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Botched Executions,California,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Guest Writers,Hanged,Milestones,Murder,Other Voices,Pelf,Torture,USA

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1952: Lloyd Edison Sampsell, the Yacht Bandit

Add comment April 25th, 2016 Robert Elder

(Thanks to Robert Elder of Last Words of the Executed — the blog, and the book — for the guest post. This post originally appeared on the Last Words blog. Fans of this here site are highly likely to enjoy following Elder\’s own pithy, almanac-style collection of last words on the scaffold. -ed.)

Thanks for a million things. Thanks for a million things. I\’ve got a son, six foot three inches, one hundred and seventy pounds. He\’s married, got two kids. He\’s in the service overseas right now. … So I\’ve left something good—one decent thing out of a dirty life …

— Lloyd Edison Sampsell (aka \”the Yacht Bandit\”), convicted of robbery and murder, gas chamber, California.
Executed April 25, 1952

Sampsell and an accomplice plundered Pacific Coast banks before stealing away in his yacht. He pilfered a total of $200,000 in his career but died with only $5.27 to his name. Sampsell, age fifty-two, was convicted of killing Arthur W. Smith in a San Diego finance company robbery.

Before the gas took its effect, he turned to the nearly one hundred witnesses gathered and winked.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,California,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Gassed,Guest Writers,History,Murder,Other Voices,Pelf,Theft,USA

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1947: Jozef Tiso, collaborationist Slovakian President

Add comment April 18th, 2016 Headsman

The first and only president of Nazi Germany\’s puppet Slovak state, Jozef Tiso, was hanged on this date in 1947 as a traitor.

A Catholic priest in the twilight years of Austria-Hungary, Tiso got in the ground floor on the growth industry of nationalism when that polity fell apart after World War I.

Declaring himself a Slovak, he became during the 1920s — the first years of Czechoslovakia — an increasingly prominent exponent of the right-wing Slovak People\’s Party, which he represented in the Czechoslovakian parliament from 1925. By the time party founder Andrej Hlinka passed away in August 1938, Tiso was the natural heir — and right in time for the crisis of Czechoslovakia\’s dismemberment on behalf of Sudetenland Germans.

Berlin\’s policy, too, was for an independent Slovakia — in fact, more stridently than Tiso himself, who mapped as a moderate within his own party, more supportive of gradual methods than revolutionary ones. \”A Czech state minus Slovakia is even more completely at our mercy,\” Goering mused in October 1938. \”Air base in Slovakia for operation against the East very important.\”

In secret negotiations with Slovakian leaders during the autumn and winter of 1938-39, the Third Reich\’s brass made clear that its intention to guarantee Slovakia\’s independence was an offer that could not be refused. When Slovakian separatist movements triggered the Prague government\’s military occupation of Slovakia on March 9, 1939, Tiso was summoned to Berlin where Hitler gave him an ultimatum on March 13:

The question was: Did Slovakia want to lead an independent existence or not? … It was a question not of days but of hours. If Slovakia wished to become independent [Hitler] would support and even guarantee it … (Shirer)

The next day, Tiso was back in Bratislava, reading the terms to the Slovak Diet — with the clear undertone that the deed would be accomplished by Wehrmacht boots if it were not done by parliamentary votes. Tiso became the Prime Minister of the First Slova Republic that very evening (he became President later in 1939), and soon implemented an enthusiastically rigorous anti-Semitic line. (Tiso had been on about the Jews right from the start of his public career in the early 1920s.)

Slovakia is not a populous country, so its deportations made only a modest contribution to the Holocaust in absolute numbers. But from a prewar census population of 88,951 Jews, some 70,000 were deported to German camps and over 90% of these died. Thousands of others fled Slovakia as refugees; today, Slovakia\’s Jewish populace has all but disappeared.

Captured in Bavaria after the war, Tiso was extradited by the Americans back to Communist Czechoslovakia where a court condemned him for collaboration, judging that he had been \”an initiator, and, when not an initiator, then an inciter of the most radical solution of the Jewish question.\” He was hanged in his priestly garb three days after that verdict.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Botched Executions,Capital Punishment,Crimes Against Humanity,Czechoslovakia,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,Heads of State,History,Politicians,Religious Figures,Treason

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1947: Louise Peete, Tiger Woman

Add comment April 11th, 2016 Headsman

Louise Peete died in the Caliornia gas chamber on this date in 1947.

Stock of \”cultured, educated people\” — her words — she turned teenage delinquent, got kicked out of her private school, and commenced a colorful career as an itinerant prostitute and scam artist. Her gallantries — and larcenies — are supposed to have driven two early husbands to suicide, though given her subsequent career one can\’t help but wonder.

Lofie Louise Preslar (as she was born) or Louise Gould (as she came to style herself) got the surname by which she is best known from a Denver salesman named Richard Peete. Though this pair fought wantonly and soon separated, Louise still bore his name when her wealthy lover Jacob Denton mysteriously went missing, days after Louise moved into his Los Angeles mansion. Eventually, he turned up … under the floorboards. Louise had been signing checks in his name, and when her bad forgeries were noticed concocted a cockamamie alibi about a \”Spanish woman\” who had got the man\’s arm amputated.

This wasn\’t even the murder that Ms. Peete was executed for, but it made her a national celebrity: a black widow who had preyed on a magnate from the shadow of yellow journalism\’s newbuilt Xanadu.

American Newspapers (Hearst and otherwise) from sea to sea ran breathless updates from the trial of the \”Tiger Woman\”, and local interest in Tinseltown — well, it was intense.


Olympia (Wash.) Daily Recorder, Jan. 19, 1921.

In a 2½-week trial, Peete was convicted of Denton\’s murder, but the all-male jury declined to hang her and ordered a life sentenced instead. While she served it, a despondent Richard Peete — who continued to profess his absconded wife\’s innocence — shot himself. She just had some way with men.

Paroled for good behavior in 1939, Louise proved that prison had not sapped her gift for attracting convenient deaths to her proximity.

The notorious Tiger Woman, now nearing 60, was a sensation of the past but Peete still had advocates who believed in her innocence, worked for her release, and took her in when she was paroled. Peete went to work for one of those advocates as her housekeeper (until the advocate died), and then got the same gig for her parole officer (until the officer died), and then moved in as the live-in caregiver for two more of her jailyears advocates, Arthur and Margaret Logan.

This couple had actually taken in Peete\’s daughter for a time during her prison sentence, and in gratitude, Peete reprised for them all her greatest hits.

In June 1944, Margaret Logan disappeared (just like Mr. Denton had); then, posing as his sister, Peete had the dementia-addled Arthur committed.

Living now in the victims\’ house (as with Denton\’s), Peete began plundering their assets (as with Denton\’s). Eventually (as with Denton) someone noticed the forged signature, and when that happened the inquiry brought Tiger Woman into the light yet again: Margaret Logan\’s corpse was mouldering away in the back yard.

First as tragedy, then as farce. Even her new lover when all this stuff broke proceeded to commit suicide.

She still claimed innocence — sans \”Spanish woman\” this time — but the evidence at hand coupled with the suspicious pall of violent death that had always seemed to shadow her career made that an impossible sell. A jury of mostly women sent her to death row.

She was the second (of four) women gassed in California.

A few books about Louise Peete

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,California,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Gassed,Murder,Pelf,USA,Women

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1985: Major Zin Mo, failed assassin

Add comment April 6th, 2016 Headsman

On this date in 1985, North Korean Major Zin Mo was hanged in Buma\’s Insein prison.

Eighteen months earlier nearly to the day, a huge bomb ripped apart Rangoon\’s monumental mausoleum tribute to martyred founding hero Aung San.

The bomb was meant for visiting South Korean president Chun Doo-hwan,* who planned to lay a wreath at the site. But the infernal machine detonated too early, sparing its target — though 21 others lost their lives, 17 of them Korean, including Foreign Minister Lee Beom-seok.

The ensuing manhunt turned up three North Korean commandos, each of whom had been detailed short-fused grenades to commit spectacular suicide to evade capture.

Zin Kee-Chu started pulling stuff out of his bag. First a pile of money came out and while the policemen were temporarily distracted by the cash he then pulled out a hand grenade and detonated right there.

Their hand grenades had short 1 second fuses unlike our M-36 hand grenades with the longer 4 seconds fuses. So the explosion was immediate and some policemen and Captain Zin Kee-Chu himself were killed there. (Source)

But Major Zin Mo survived his explosives, albeit with devastating injuries, and fellow-captain Kang Min Chul lacked the fortitude to make the suicide attempt at all. Under none-too-gentle interrogation, Zin Mo kept his mouth shut and accepted his secret execution for the People\’s Republic. Zin Kee-Chu didn\’t have any better stomach to hang for his country than to blow himself up for it; he didn\’t hang and lived out his life in Burmese captivity, having apparently cut a deal to tell all in exchange for his life.

There\’s a phenomenal firsthand retrospective on these events, liberally illustrated, here, written by a present-day Burmese exile who was in Rangoon on the day the mausoleum was bombed.

* Chun was the guy who emerged in charge after Korea\’s intelligence chief bizarrely assassinated President Park Chung-hee in 1979.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Assassins,Attempted Murder,Burma,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Korea,Murder,North Korea,Notable for their Victims,Soldiers,Terrorists,Torture

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1954: Henry Frank Decaillet

Add comment April 2nd, 2016 Meaghan

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

On this date in 1954, 52-year-old Henry Frank Decaillet met his death in the gas chamber at San Quentin in California.

Teenage girls seem to have been his type; when he married at 23 years old, his bride was just 14. They had five children, four of whom survived to adulthood. By the time of Decaillet\’s crime, though, he and his wife had been estranged for years and had separated.

Decaillet, a farmhand, had joined his local Pentecostal Church and there he met Phoebe Ann Bair described as \”a pretty brunette large for her age.\” Her family was also part of the church. She was thirteen. He fell in love with her, he said, and they entered into a sexual relationship for about a year.

The affair had become the subject of local gossip by mid-1953 and the local police had a chat with Decaillet about the risks associated with having sex with minors. Phoebe herself had cooled towards him. He heard she had been \”messing around with some boys\” her own age and he became frantic.

On the evening of June 11, Decaillet accosted Phoebe at a Pentecostal Church meeting. She refused to speak to him and he drove to her house and took a .22 caliber rifle out of his car. He\’d been carrying it around in his vehicle for some time, debating over what to do. Now he had made up his mind. He went into the Bair home, where three of Phoebe\’s siblings and two other children were present. When they saw the gun, they went running out the door for the police.

Decaillet hid in a closet in the house. Phoebe and her parents arrived home at 9:45 p.m. Mr. and Mrs. Bair realized they\’d left one of their other children behind at the church and left to pick her up, telling Phoebe to stay home and get ready for bed. After her parents left, as Phoebe was standing in the kitchen, Decaillet shot her through a crack in the door. She ran and tried to reach the front door, but he chased after her, grabbed her and shot her three more times in the head.

When the police arrived at the Bair residence, Decaillet was sitting on the sofa with rifle in hand and Phoebe\’s head cradled in his lap. He admitted to his crime, saying he\’d been planning it for weeks.

He said Phoebe had been leading an immoral life and he had killed her \”to stop her from becoming a prostitute.\”

Decaillet had little to say for himself after that. Although he was a heavy drinker who\’d been treated at the state hospital for alcoholism — in fact he became a Pentecostal as part of his effort to turn over a new leaf — he was sober at the time of the murder. He said he knew what he\’d done was illegal and wrong and agreed that he should die for it. He pleaded guilty to murder, without requesting leniency.

Less than a year passed between murder and execution.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,California,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Gassed,Guest Writers,Murder,Other Voices,Sex,USA

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