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1975: Dr. Mohamed Forna, former Finance Minister of Sierra Leone

Add comment July 19th, 2017 Headsman

On this date in 1975, Dr. Mohamed Forna and other Sierra Leone dissidents were executed as traitors.

A medical doctor who entered politics and was Minister of Finance in the government of the All People’s Congress (APC) from 1968-1970, Forna grew disenchanted with the parasitical kleptocracy of Siaka Stevens and, with another ex-state minister, Ibrahim Taqi, helped to launch the opposition United Democratic Party.

The party was swiftly banned but Forna remained in the ranks of dissidents, until he was arrested in 1973. In a mass capital trial, 15 alleged “traitors” were condemned to hang — a harvest of souls reduced by about half in the interest of moderation.

Forna’s daughter Aminatta Forna explores the legacy of this horror in her memoir The Devil That Danced on the Water. (Review | excerpt) A former journalist, Aminatta Forna reconstructed events by interviewing the people involved in them, including the witnesses who supplied suborned evidence to doom her father.

The executions began at midnight on 19 July. I was asleep in my dormitory at school. The aeroplane carrying Mum was crossing the Sahara, thirty thousand feet up in the sky.

The first two men to die were soldiers. The civilians were executed in the order in which they were indicted by the court. Mohamed Forna, First Accused, my father, walked the length of the block, past the cells of his companions, towards the noose waiting for him behind the door at the end of the building. I close my eyes and imagine his final walk: his stride, just like my own; broad, flat African feet inherited by me; his handcuffed hands: long, strong fingers, slightly flared at the tip and reborn in my brother; the broad, intelligent forehead, the same brow I see in my sister every time we meet. The men were hanged every half an hour, the men in the other blocks told me. They could tell, you see, because the music and the sounds of the guards’ bacchanal died for a few seconds, then rose up again more clamorous than before. If you listened very carefully in the moments in between, you could hear the sound of the trap door.

The next day my father’s body, and those of the seven other men who had been hanged, were displayed in open coffins before the crowds outside Pademba Road Prison. Stevens had promised a public execution; in the end he had slaughtered them in secret and displayed his trophies afterwards. Under cover of darkness the bodies were removed, loaded into military trucks and driven out to Rokupa cemetery on the road to Hastings, where they were doused with acid and dumped in a mass grave.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Doctors,Execution,Hanged,History,Mass Executions,Notably Survived By,Politicians,Power,Sierra Leone,Treason

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1888: Two in New Jersey, by father and son hangmen

Add comment July 18th, 2017 Headsman

This morning in 1888, two different locales in the U.S. state of New Jersey put two different men to death — respectively hanged by James Van Hise pere and fils, father and son executioners.

George Kearney

(From the New York Herald, July 19, 1888)

In the heart of New Jersey’s great apple whiskey district is Freehold, the drowsy, ancient town where George Richard Kearney was neatly hanged yesterday for the murder of gray haired Mrs. Margaret Purcell, the housekeeper of Mrs. Daniel R. Lyddy, at Elberon, in February.

It is an old fashioned place, and its people are both picturesque and peculiar. Nowhere in New Jersey are the old prejudices and notions cherished as they are in Freehold. The leading newspaper has been going for over three-quarters of a century, and has a circulation of twelve hundred.

But even the fierce heat of journalism has failed to reform or mould New Jersey human nature into modern ideas.

One of the keen features of Freehold philosophy is that a dollar is a dollar. It stares you in the face at every step you take. The genuine native sucks it in with his mother’s milk.

But the last place you would expect to hear that a dollar is a dollar is the cell of a condemned murderer spending his last night on earth.

And yet on Tuesday night men stood in the little brick jail in the rear of the Freehold Court House intriguing to make a few dollars out of the murderer’s agony of mind. The main idea was to get Kearney to confess so that the confession could be peddled for money to the newspapers.

No reporters were allowed to get near him lest the marketable value of the expected confession might be impaired. The most subtle methods were employed to work the negro up to the point of disgorging. He was fed on peaches and coddled. Then he was plied with questions, charged with trying to keep the secret and urged to make all the facts known.

As the night wore on there was a great deal of winking and whispering. Kearney had been worked up, they said, and could not hold out much longer. There was big money in it, perhaps a thousand dollars. So the whispers said. The newspapers would pay high to get a confession.

Every time a reporter appeared to be curious about the chances of a confession the intriguers received a nervous shock. A thrill of horror went through them when it was learned that the HERALD had asked the telegraph operator to hold his wire until midnight. Perhaps some reporter might slyly get hold of the confession. They were such oily, keen eyed fellows, these reporters.

TRYING TO WORK KEARNEY UP.

Kearney held out doggedly. He was innocent of the Purcell murder, he said, and he could not understand why they were so persistent. Even his Bible reading was rudely disturbed by the confession hunters.

The slightest evidence of emotion caused a flutter. When he was seen to weep there was great joy and excitement. Surely he would reveal marketable matter now.

So, while the black browed wretch tried in vain to forget his approaching doom the high toned officials schemed to make a few dollars.

All this was the result of a confession which Kearney made a short time ago, when he acknowledged that he was guilty of an assault upon Miss Angelina Herbert at Eatontown, for which poor old Mingo Jack was cruelly lynched. Under Sheriff Fields, who has charge of the jail, was left out in the cold. Either Prosecutor Haight or Assistant Prosecutor Schwartz sold the text of the confession to a New York newspaper. He divided with no one. Under Sheriff Fields and his father, the Sheriff and all the constables and turnkeys were blazing mad about it according to what the townspeople say. Fabulous stories were told about the amount paid by the New York newspaper for the confession. Some said it was $1,000 and some said it was $100.

Anyhow, the price of Kearney confessions went up. A person who was supposed to have secret means of influencing the murderer to talk was followed about like a man with a straight tip on a race course. A dollar is a dollar, you know. He was treated and flattered. The general impression in Freehold was that to have a one-half interest in genuine Kearney confession was equal to retiring from active business on a comfortable income.

The HERALD reporter who went to witness the hanging had not been in Freehold an hour before he was asked by two different persons for the exclusive use of the last confession of the condemned man. He was sure to break down, they said. Things were being made hot for him.

Later on the reporter learned that Under Sheriff Fields was in a fever of anxiety lest the confession might escape him. He regarded it as a sort of perquisite. One of the death watch officers was pulling a quiet wire to outwit his chief and capture the confession himself.

And Kearney turned the plots all upside down by going to bed without breathing a word of confession, except the private statement he made to Lawyer Johnston.

New York Herald, July 18, 1888:

PREPARING FOR THE GALLOWS.

Hardly had the sun reddened the east yesterday when the murderer got out of bed and dressed himself. He went to the door of his cell and talked with Constable Fleming. When he mentioned his wife he cried heartily. Then he sat down and read the Bible. Now and then some favored person was permitted by the Sheriff to enter the jail corridor and look at the prisoner.

Meanwhile groups of farmers began to assemble in the rear of the Court House, outside of the enclosure where the new scaffold stood. Lawyer Johnston shook hands and chatted with Undertaker Barkalow, who was to bury his client. Men, women and children lingered in front of the jail. The main street put on a busy, metropolitan aspect. All the saloons did a rushing trade.

Then Hangman Van Hise arrived.

He was the hero of the hour. The fact that he was to hang Kearney while his hopeful son was hanging Ebert in Jersey City made him a person of great importance. All the folks in the street smiled and said “How air you?” when he passed. Van Hise is a short man, with a deep chest and heavy shoulders. His features are blunt and coarse. He wears a large red mustache and there is a cold, steady light in his small gray eyes. In appearance he is an ideal hangman.

KEARNEY GETS RELIGION.

While Van Hise was rigging the rope on the scaffold the colored clergymen arrived.

They were Rev. J. Giles Mowbray, of Freehold; the Rev. T.T. Webster, of Fair Haven, and the Rev. Littleton Sturgis, of Asbury Park.

The ministers were admitted to the corridor and Kearney was led out of his cell. He wore a rough white shirt, with a rolling collar, and gray-brown shabby trowsers.

He was a stoutly built man, with a large head, powerful, hairy jaws and thick neck. His smile was snaky and unpleasant to look at. This man of nature had confessed to two horrible outrages upon white women, but denied the last attempt at the same crime which resulted in murder. Brutality and sensuality were stamped plainly upon his dark countenance. He showed the whites of his eyes and his hands trembled as he met the clergymen.

All three kneeled in the corridor and prayed aloud. Their prayers were disturbed again and again by the amateur constables who were having new clubs with red cords served out to them and banged the clubs against every object within reach. The hammering at the gallows also drowned the sound of the prayers.

Kearney knew what the hammering meant. Once he put his hands over his ears.

When the prayers wee done the Rev. Mr. Mowbray poured out some wine and broke bread. He then read the communion service and gave the sacrament to the murderer. Finally he asked Kearney to pick out the religious service he wanted at the scaffold. He sent into his cell for a Bible. Turning over the leaves rapidly he put his black thumb on the eighty-sixth psalm at the words: —

O God, the proud are risen against me and the assemblies of violent men have sought after men soul.

“I want you to read that?” he said horasely.

Kearney next asked that the hymn sung at the gallows should be “Take the name of Jesus with you.” He read over the verse: —

Oh, the precious name of Jesus!
How it thrills our souls with joy
When his loving arms receive us
And his songs our tongues employ!

One or two of the jail officials who looked on at a distance suspected that Kearney was making a confession, and they suffered sharp anguish as they saw a turnkey creep up close enough to hear. If the confession got out it could not be peddled. The officials panted and perspired. Suddenly Kearney leaped up and threw his hands wildly into the air.

“Glory! glory! glory!” he screamed. “I long for the end now. Jesus is mine. I’ve had trials and tribulations here, but there are none above. Glory to God! Glory! Let the end come. Let it come! Glory!”

“MY BLOOD WILL BE UPON THEM.”

His face was convulsed with emotion and tears ran from his eyes. The cries which he uttered could be heard outside of the jail.

When he sat down the clergyman asked him if he wished to relieve his bosom from any secret connected with the crime. He passionately declared his innocence and turning to Mr. Mowbray, said: —

If they hang me they will be taking the life of an innocent man. My blood will be upon them. I had nothing to do with the murder of Mrs. Purcell.

As the clergyman retired Kearney said to a constable that his confession that it was he and not Mingo Jack who assaulted Miss Herbert at Eatontown was true.

“Mingo Jack was innocent,” he said. “They can believe what they please, but I did it. I told the truth in my confession.”

By this time there was a great crowd in front of the jail. Men, women and children pressed against each other in the vain attempt to hear or see some thing.

An old colored woman kept kneeling at the door on the sidewalk and praying in a low voice. A constable drove her away. There was a drove of constables in the flower garden at the jail. Among them was Clay Wooley, who came near having Stanford Potter hanged for the Hamilton murder at Long Branch. Mayor Brown, of Long Branch, passed in to see the execution. The Sheriff was half crazy settling disputes as to who should see Kearney die.

A lot of boys climbed into tree tops which commanded a view of the gallows. Constables drove them away. Up in the tower of the big Court House rows of fingers at the green slats of the belfry showed where a small army of peepers was concealed.

Chief Haggerty, of the New Jersey Detective Bureau, was hid behind a curtain in the window of the jail hospital. The glare of his diamond pin almost revealed him. Nothing was left undone to evade the law, which declares that not more than thirty-eight specified persons shall witness an execution.

Out in the jail yard a reporter who could not gain admittance to the fatal enclosure sat under a cherry tree in a corner half asleep. In a window opposite to him the female prisoners were crowded.

WALKING TO THE GALLOWS.

At last the side door of the jail was thrown open and the death procession appeared.

First came the Sheriff, and after him the prisoner supporter on either side by the Rev. Mr. Mowbray and the Rev. Mr. Webster. The jailer, a reporter, several jurors, S.B. Hinsdale, the official stenographer in the case, and a posse of constables brought up the rear. Kearney walked with a firm step and showed no signs of fear.

His arms were lashed behind hi by means of straps. The black cap falling back from his face like a cowl and the trailing end of the noose around his neck gave him a horrible appearance. As the ghastly figure passed the corridor the female prisoners gasped and shuddered. The murderer was led into the little rough enclosure where the jurors and others were waiting. As the hangman attached the noose to the rope Kearney smiled in the old surly way.

“If you want to say anything, say it to the Sheriff,” said Van Hise.

“I’ve nothing to say.”

The Rev. Mr. Webster started to pray, when the murderer frowned and told him that he wanted no delay. Van Hise at once pulled the black cap over his face.

“Goodby,” said the negro.

“Goodby, George,” groaned the clergyman.

DEATH WITHOUT A STRUGGLE.

The Sheriff signalled to Van Hise, who pressed his foot on a spring at the side of the gallows. The trigger released weights amounting to 650 pounds, which hung over a nine foot pit in the ground. Instantly the body of Kearney was whipped up from the ground. The rope doubled and his head came within two feet of the crossbeam. The body descended with a terrific jar and swung gently to and fro.

It was seen at once that the knot had slipped from the left ear around to the back of the neck and everybody thought there would be a horrible scene of strangulation. The body hung motionless. There was not the slightest motion to show that Kearney was alive.

About a minute after the spring was touched the shoulders and chest moved slightly, but it was merely the usual muscular spasms. The two doctors who were present decided to allow the body to hang for half an hour, after which it was cut down and put in a coffin. The shoes were cut from the dead man’s feet and there was a general scramble for pieces of shoestrings as mementos. Van Hise declared that Kearney’s neck was broken. He was delighted over a telegram from his hopeful son announcing that the hanging in Jersey City was a success.

“He’s a promising young man,” he said. “It’s the first time I have left him alone on a job.”

NO GRAVE FOR KEARNEY.

As none of Kearney’s relatives turned up the Coroner decided to bury the body at the county’s expense. Both the colored cemetery and the white cemetery authorities refused to allow the remains to be buried in their grounds. The Coroner suggested that the coffin might be stood on end in the narrow pit into which the gallows weights dropped and covered over. This ideas was rejected.

“I don’t know where I am to get a grave,” said the Coroner distractedly, after the execution. “I have an idea that I can bury the corpse at any crossroads. It would serve the town right if I buried it on the crossing of the two main streets. I’ll bury it anyhow, even if I have to dig a grave on my own farm. I offered $5 for a grave in a field near the cemetery, but the owner wouldn’t have it.”

The crime for which Kearney was hanged was committed on February 13, 1888. He was coachman for Mrs. Daniel R. Lyddy, and attempted to outrage Mrs. Purcell, the housekeeper. The old woman resisted and he beat her and threw her down a cellar stairs. She was horribly mutilated, but lived for a month afterward. She identified Kearney and made a dying declaration of the circumstances of the crime.

Henry Ebert

(via Augustine E. Costello)

EXECUTION OF EBERT. — On July 18, 1888, in the Hudson County Jail, Henry Conrad Ebert, paid with his life the penalty for the murder of his wife, Elizabeth. The fatal deed was committed on Sunday, November 27th, 1887, and at no time has there been any doubt of Ebert’s guilt.

Ebert dressed himself for the last few steps he was to walk on earth as late as possible, and lingered over the process to an unusual degree. It was not until 9.55 o’clock that Deputy Sheriff Mersheimer informed Sheriff Davis that Ebert had finished his toilet. The particulars that follow, of the hanging, are taken from the daily press:

Precisely at 10 o’clock, six strokes of the Court House bell clanged upon the air. The sound was expected, but caused cold chills to run over those who heard them. How the knell must have affected the doomed man can be better imagined than described.

Sheriff Davis read the list of witnesses, and they formed in double column. The procession passed through the Court House park and entered the jail. They reached the fatal corridor at 10 o’clock.

Sheriff Davis and Deputies Mersheimer and McPhillips left the corridor and went up stairs for the law’s victim. The two faithful clergymen were with Ebert and their presence had a bracing effect. The death warrant was read and then Ebert’s arms were pinioned behind him at the elbows. The deadly noose was adjusted and the black cap placed upon Ebert’s head. All was now ready for the death march.

Sheriff Davis led the way and was followed down the narrow stairs by the two ministers. Next came the murderer with Deputy Mersheimer supporting him at the left elbow and McPhillips at the right. They reached the entrance to the corridor at 10:10 o’clock.

Ebert’s face was deadly pale as he crossed the fatal threshold and caught sight of the grim gallows at the end. His right eye was gone, and the reddened socket seemed to heighten the pallor of his cheeks. [a result of shooting himself after shooting his wife -ed.] He never faltered.

A few short steps brought him beneath the beam. Van Hise Jr. guided him to the cruciform chalk marks upon the floor. The centre point was directly in line with the pendent rope. Ebert’s legs were quickly fastened with straps. A silence that could be felt, prevailed, broken only by the pulsations of the water pipe keeping time to the strokes of the pumping engine at High Service.

Dr. Meury’s voice broke the stillness as the black cap was drawn down, to forever shut out daylight from the murderer’s sight. He prayed earnestly, and as follows:

O, most merciful God, who according to the multitude of thy mercies, dost so put away the sins of those who truly repent, that thou rememberedst them no more; open thine eye of mercy upon this, thy servant, who most earnestly desireth pardon, and forgiveness. Renew in him whatsoever hath been decayed by the fraud and the malice of the devil, or by his own carnal will and frailness, consider his contrition, accept his tears, assuage his pain, as shall seem to thee most expedient for him, and for as much as he putteth his full trust only in thy mercy, impute not unto him his former sins, but strengthen him with thy blessed spirit, and if it be in accordance with thy will. When he shall have departed hence, take him unto thy favor through the merits of thy beloved son our Lord Christ Jesus, to whom with the Father and Holy Spirit shall be all the glory. Amen.

As the “amen” was uttered there was a pause. Then Sheriff Davis signalled to Van Hise, who pressed the gallows treadle. Ebert’s body sprang into the air at 10:13 o’clock.

His neck was not broken, and a horrible sight followed. The knot slipped from its proper place behind the left ear, and was jerked around to the middle of the left jaw. Fully one-quarter of the dying man’s face was exposed as he strangled to death. His hands were bare and turned purple as the oxygen was gradually cut off from his lungs. The forearms raised until the clenched hands repeatedly rested upon his breast.

The lower limbs were forcibly contracted. His feet seemed to reach out for a resting place in vain. The sight appalled most of the witnesses. Many of them turned their heads aside. Dr. Heifer, of Hoboken, said he would not be surprised if Ebert lived for thirty minutes.

At 10:17½ o’clock the weight was raised sufficiently to lower the body until the feet almost touched the floor. The doctors and the newspaper men gathered around the pendant body. The head of the corpse was a few inches higher than the head of the bystanders, and the doctors took turns in noting the condition of the heart.

At 10:20 o’clock the heart rate was 84; at 10:22 it had fallen to 80; at 10:23 it was 60, and at 10:26 the pulsations were inaudible even with a stethoscope. At 10:33 the body was lowered, and Coroner Brackner and his assistants took possession of it. The body was removed to Speer’s Morgue, where an autopsy was held.

Ebert ate dinner with his usual relish, and a short time afterward, Keeper Eltringham asked him if he would like to be shaved. Ebert said he would, and Chris. Munzing, the Newark avenue barber, was called in. When Ebert sat down to be shaved, the keeper said, “You will have to be handcuffed before he begins.” “What for?” said Ebert; “there is no need of that.” “It is the Sheriff’s order,” said the keeper. “Then I won’t be shaved at all,” said Ebert resolutely, and he was not.

Sheriff Davis and the executioner visited the corridor and examined the gallows, and the afternoon passed for the prisoner without incident. He frequently went to the window and looked out at the crowd of curious people who hung over the iron fence. A number of them were his former neighbors, but he did not recognize any of them.

About five o’clock, Rev. Mr. Meury reached the jail. He was accompanied by Rev. John Staehli of Jersey City, who had been selected as his assistant by the spiritual adviser.

Mr. Meury had intended to go to Trenton with Ebert’s brother and counsel to present the petition signed by over 150 residents of the Fourth district, asking for a commutation of sentence, but he was unable to go. As soon as he learned of the unsuccessful result of the appeal to the Court of Pardons, Mr. Meury started for the jail. He went up to Ebert’s cell and broke the news to him. Ebert bore up well, showing outwardly but little change. The faithful pastor then tried to induce Ebert to make a clean breast of the crime, the prisoner with only a few hours between him and eternity, still adhered to his original statement which all the known facts disprove. Mr. Meury came down from the cell about half-past five o’clock, and just at that time Ebert’s brother called at the jail and asked permission to go in and see the condemned man. It did not take Jailer Birdsall a minute to make up his mind, although it was a very trying moment. He directed Keeper Eltringham to refuse him admittance. Young Ebert walked back to the gate and catching sight of his brother at the window of his cell he made a dumb show to let him understand that he had been refused admission. The crowd around the fence pressed in but the young man was too much excited to pay any attention to them. He returned to the door and asked for Mr. Meury. When he saw him he urged him to get permission for him to go in the gallery at the head of the stairs where he could see his brother and call good by to him. Mr. Meury urged Jailer Birdsall to grant this request, but was firmly refused, “I am satisfied,” said Mr. Birdsall; “that my reasons for refusing are good. It will only make a scene and Ebert has already said that he don’t want to see anybody. I don’t think it will be safe to allow them to come together, and I will not take the responsibility. If the Sheriff will come with him and take him in I will not offer any objection.”

Mr. Meury and young Ebert went to the Sheriff’s office, but did not find the Sheriff. The deputy in charge of his office talked to Ebert and convinced him that it would be useless to search for the Sheriff, as the prisoner was in the custody of the Jailer. Young Ebert hung around the vicinity of the jail for a good while. talking to all he knew about the affair.

The Jailer was right, however, for he did not want to run any risks, and the young man’s erratic actions on former visits were enough to inspire any jailer with extra caution.

After the brother had gone a committee from the Council of Red Men called to see Ebert. They were not allowed to do so. They were very much affected by the condition in which they found him, and said that he had been suspended about six months before the murder. They said, “If he had only let us know about his condition or his trouble with his wife we would have gladly helped him; but we only knew that he had fallen behind, and he was dropped under the rule.” They were affected to tears when they talked with the pastor.

Keepers Hanley and Hanlon and Constable Carroll kept watch by turns over Ebert during the afternoon and evening. About eight o’clock Ebert wanted his supper. He ate a hearty meal sent from Jailor Birdsall’s table. There is a peculiar feature about a murderer’s last two or three weeks. Humanity and custom have made it a rule that condemned men, while awaiting execution, shall be fed on a more liberal plan than ordinary prisoners, yet there are no funds for this, and the jailor has to provide it at his own expense. Ebert had had pretty much anything he liked to order for the two weeks previously, and he thought more about his next meal than he did about the next world. After he ate his supper he chatted with Keeper Eltringham about the Order of Red Men, the different processes of making beer and wine in Germany, and when the keeper was changed he spoke to keeper Hanlon about his service in the Prussian artillery service. He said he enlisted when he was seventeen years old, and served until he was twenty-one, and that while doing garrison duty he learned to play the zither and the trombone in the band. He was quite chatty and frequently laughed. He smoked a pipe after supper, and smoked a cigar which Mr. Meury gave him. He was not allowed to have any cigars except those given by the jailer and Mr. Meury, for fear that some dangerous weapon or poison might have been concealed in the cigar. The police drove the crowd away from the front of the jail, and the place was kept pretty clear all night. Pastor Meury went home for a short time about 9 o’clock, promising to return at 11 o’clock. There were few callers except the newspaper men during the evening, but all the principal papers were represented between dark and midnight.

Ebert went to sleep at 11:15 o’clock and slept soundly.

Rev. Mr. Meury, with Rev. Mr. Staehle returned to the jail at 2 o’clock, and went up in about an hour. They found Ebert still sleeping.

Ebert had requested Mr. Meury to admininister the Communion during the day, but when Ebert persisted in refusing to make a confession, the minister would not administer the rite.

At midnight the jail was closed. The heavy iron shutters closed out the sights and sounds of the outer world. No sounds were heard inside of the building. Groups of newspaper men occupied every available space for writing and the night passed quietly. Ebert became restless as morning drew near, and the flies annoyed him by lighting on the wounded eye.

The twittering of the sparrows about 4 o’clock gave the first notice of the coming dawn, and daylight followed very suddenly. The wagons followed and the day’s work began, the sights and sounds of busy life began to come into the jail, still Ebert slept on as unconcerned as if he had no interest in the proceedings.

Rev. Mr. Meury accompanied by Mr. Staehle, went up at four o’clock. They found Ebert awake waiting for them. He greeted them cheerfully and told them that he had slept very well. Mr. Meury asked him if he had anything further to say, and he said, yes. Then Dr. Meury took out a memorandum book and wrote down the statement in German, of which the following is a translation:

I forgive all who have sinned against me. If I killed my wife in a fit of insanity I regret it from the bottom of my heart, as I would never have killed her had I been in a healthy state of mind. I pray God to forgive me, and hope to meet my wife in heaven. I thank the jailor, my pastor, and all who have been so kind to me while I have been here.

The two ministers then examined him as to his spiritual condition, and at his request they decided to administer the sacred communion. They took up the wine and bread at five o’clock.

The Counsel of Henry Ebert were not from the start all sanguine of saving him from the gallows. The verdict reached by the jury was no surprise to them, as their expectations never went beyond a sort of a forlorn hope that the circumstances attending the shooting of Mrs. Ebert by her husband might lead the jury to bring a verdict of murder in the second degree. When that slender prop was swept away it was manifest to them that their application for a writ of error would be denied because they had nothing sufficiently tangible upon which to base any assurance of procuring a new trial for the unfortunate man. Counselor Wm. D. Daly, who through a creditable sense of his duty towards the murderer, fought to the last for him, spent days striving to discover something that might avail Ebert before the Court of Pardons, but as he admitted sorrowfully after returning from that court, his efforts were discouraging, and he was not disappointed that they were unavailing. The main point upon which the lawyers made a plea for clemency for Ebert, was the fact that the killing was the result of a mutual prearranged plan to die together, and to this end the following letter was brought to the attention of the Court of Pardons:

We are being persecuted by the Groeschel family. Fred Groeschel, his wife, and Dorett List, the mother of my wife, have been accepting as true everything which my wife has said during her insanity, and for this reason now they are persecuting me, running me down wherever they can. They are trying to persuade my wife that they may alienate her affections from me. These people, do not know what true love is. They do not know that a true German woman will cling to her husband, even though he should become bad. I, however, was not and am not bad. These people, through their behavior, have made me sick, confused my brain and made me despondent of the love of humanity. My wife dies of her own free will, and has begged me a hundred times to shoot her. I could not do it and would not do it. I am, however, at the present time, in such a frame of mind, that I should like to shoot myself. Should my wife hear this, however, she would be unredeemably lost, and it is better therefore, that we die together. It is my wife’s own wish that we die together, and I do it. I become a murderer in order to make my wife happy.

(Signed) Henry Ebert.

When all hope was gone, Rev. Mr Meury showed these documents to Ebert, and he admitted that they were in his handwriting. The letter was written by him before he left home on the day of the murder. It was intended that it should account to the public for the projected suicide of himself and his wife. It was found wrapped up in a newspaper among Ebert’s effects, which were turned over to his brother by Warden George O. Osborne when the former left the City Hospital. Ebert’s brother did not discover it until after the trial, and then, believing it to be of great importance, he gave it to Mr. Daly, who had him translate it. While it offered proof that mutual suicide was contemplated, in the eyes of the law it did not in the slightest degree mitigate his crime. But it proves beyond all possible doubt that Ebert’s published statement was false, and was made for effect only. It was convincing circumstantial evidence that he meant to kill both himself and wife that ill-fated day. It was quite probable, judging from their wanderings in New York on the day, he having a loaded revolver in his possession, that he or they were merely seeking a favorable opportunity to end their wretched existence. The letter brushed away whatever doubt there might be of his suicidal and murderous intentions, and fixed his responsibility for the fatal crime.

Among Ebert’s effects at the hospital was also found the following:

Tallahassa Council No. 22, F. O R. M.:

“Bury me as a brother and give the balance to our Elsa.”

This is understood to have reference to the money which was to be paid by the Council at Ebert’s death.

Many of the early workers who left their homes on the hill in the morning, paused as they passed, to gaze up at the grim front of the County Jail, where the condemned man awaited his doom. They pointed out Ebert’s window to each other and talked over his fate until the two Third precinct policemen ordered them to move on. At the foot of the hill, three long cattle trains could be seen on the elevated freight roads waiting a chance to reach the abattoir. The lowing of the bovine victims, as they halted upon their unconscious journey to death reminded many of Ebert’s fate, that was coming with equal certainty and even greater speed.

The sun arose, bright and clear, and promised a perfect day. All who felt its influence rejoiced except the man who was to be cut off in the bloom of health and manly vigor. Beneath his window could be heard the juvenile voices of newsboys as they cheerily hawked their stocks of morning papers.

As the hours sped along the crowds in front of the jail, while constantly changing, increased steadily in numbers. Nothing whatever could be seen and little more learned of what was going on inside the building. There was a peculiar morbid fascination about the spot, however, that proved irresistible to many.

The throng of spectators about the jail became more and more dense, and at 8:30 o’clock the end of Oakland avenue, opposite the jail, and the sidewalk of Newark avenue, were practically blockaded. This state of affairs continued until 9 o’clock, when a detail of about 60 police made their appearance. Chief Murphy was in command, with Inspector Lange and Captain Newton, of the Third precinct, to assist him. The crowds were cleared away in short order, and no one outside of those holding proper credentials were then allowed to pass the lines until all was over. A lot of boys who had gained points of supposed vantage close to the windows of the jail office, were particularly sore at being driven off.

When Ebert’s brother applied for admission to the jail, and was persistently refused by Jailor Birdsall, a good many people were inclined to think that it was unnecessarily severe, but the Jailor had good reasons.

About two weeks before, in searching Ebert the keeper found a small package of strychnine sewed into the buckle band of his vest. It was carefully removed and preserved.

When Ebert’s brother was allowed to call on him he handed him a segar. Ebert in taking it did not notice quickly enough that there was something else in the hand that extended the segar. He made motion to cover his blunder, and the motion slight as it was, attracted attention. The segar was tendered while the brothers were parting and as soon as the younger one was out of the room the prisoner was seized and stripped. The keeper found a small package of strychnine in his pocket and upon comparing the package with the other one seized before, it was found that the wrapper was a piece of the same paper in which the first one was wrapped. This proved that young Ebert had smuggled the first package into the jail, After that he could not get near enough to pass him any more articles.

Ebert’s lease of life had expired. His sands of life were run. The fatal noose was about his neck. The signal was given and Ebert’s soul was launched into eternity. He had expiated his awful crime. The gallows had vindicated this outraged majesty of the laws. There was one murderer less in the world. Was the sacrificial warning heeded? Alas, no! Candidates are still awaiting their turn to share a similar fate.

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1946: Draza Mihailovic, Chetnik commander

Add comment July 17th, 2017 Headsman

I wanted much; I began much; but the gale of the world carried away me and my work.

-Draža Mihailovic, last statement to the court

On this date in 1946, Serbian Chetnik commander Draža Mihailovic was shot in Belgrade as a World War II traitor — a verdict that remains controversial to this day.

A colonel* in the Royal Yugoslav Army, Mihailovic escaped Germany’s initial invasion into the mountainous Balkan interior with a few dozen comrades who became the nucleus of a Serbian guerrilla movement.

These royalist Chetniks made a rivalrous opposite number to Josip Tito’s fellow guerrillas, the Communist partizans; it is easy enough to see from Mihailovic’s place in these very pages how matters settled in the end. From the first months of occupation in 1941, Chetniks and Partisans alike struck Axis occupation forces who had carved up Yugoslavia, even coordinating efforts in spite of their vast ideological chasm.

But politics didn’t stop at the border forever.

As the war progressed, the Chetniks gradually found terms with the occupiers, with Mihailovic at an October 1941 meeting dramatically rejecting Tito’s proposed common front. For the Chetniks, the leftist and polyglot Partisans who meant to rule the postwar Yugoslavia were the first enemy, “a motley collection of rascals,” in Mihailovic’s words — consisting of “Jews, Croats, Dalmatians, Bulgarians, Turks, Magyars, and all other nations of the world.”

Officially, tactical partnerships with the Germans and Italians were strictly opportunistic, not a buy-in on fascism — or they denoted a calculation (and Mihailovic’s limitless time-biding greatly aggravated the Allies while the fur was flying) to cautiously preserve his movement’s strength by avoiding engagement with an overwhelming enemy. In practice this policy drove the movement towards near-quisling status, with its major actions being undertaken against other resistance fighters on team partizan,** or to purge non-Serbs from this or that locale, even accepting German and especially Italian subsidies to do it.† Mihailovic’s enemies, he said in 1943, numbered “the Ustashi, the Partisans, the Croats and the Moslems” and “when he had dealt with these, he would turn to the Germans and the Italians.” Priorities are as priorities do.

For obvious reasons this behavior contrasts unfavorably with the Partisans’ militant “death to fascism, freedom to the people” line, and this latter movement’s ferocity in resistance saw it outstrip the Chetniks and seize the initiative for the postwar order. To a far greater extent than most other guerrillas of the bloodlands, the Partisans drove their own homelands’ liberation and left Tito master of a postwar Yugoslavia never occupied by the Red Army.

Mihailovic’s fall mirrored Tito’s rise. The Chetnik commander would be taken months after the war’s end, hiding out Saddam-like in a foxhole on the Bosnian marches. There could be no question of his fate.

Mihailovic and other Chetniks faced a predictably slanted trial for war crimes against Partisans and civilians, culminating in conviction on July 15, 1946 … two days before he faced the guns, with all of eight hours granted him to make his futile appeal. While it’s certain that the charges against him were maximized for the occasion, Mihailovic’s defense citing ignorance of and incapacity to control various units’ local atrocities is also not calculated to flatter a rebel general.


Mihailovic on trial.

Mihailovich was shot along with eight others:

  • Draghi Yovanovich, chief of the Belgrade police during the German occupation;
  • Milan Gushich and Radoslav Radich, Mihailovich aides;
  • Velibor Yonich, Tanasje Dinich, and Djure Dokich, ministers in the Serbian puppet government;
  • and, General Kosta Mushicki and a deputy named Paolovich.

In 2015, a Serbian court controversially reversed Mihailovic’s conviction.

* He’d be promoted to Brigadier General during the war years.

** World sport fanciers surely know that there is a literal team Partizan, founded as soon as World War II ended and one of the major clubs in Serbia ever since (in football, basketball, and 24 other sports). Here they are stealing the Adriatic League hoops championship from Cibona Zagreb on a full-court heave in 2010:

† This last-refuge-of-scoundrels legacy was unpleasantly recapitulated by some Serbian militias assuming the Chetnik brand during the ethnic wars attending Yugoslavia’s crackup in the 1990s. The term is basically a fighting word in certain quarters of the Balkans.

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1450: Jack Cade posthumously quartered

Add comment July 16th, 2017 Headsman

On or around this date in 1450 the body of the rebel Jack Cade was posthumously beheaded and quartered.

He’s one of England’s first names in rebellion, and Cade’s Kentish rising indexed England’s catastrophic breakdown under the weak king Henry VI, a milepost between the waning Hundred Years’ War and the onrushing Wars of the Roses.


Panel of a 1964-1965 ceramic mural in Peckham, by Polish artist Adam Kossowski. (cc) image from Peter Gasston.

And for all of these, Cade included, Henry was the chaos-making variable.

He had just about finished squandering the entire French patrimony so gloriously won for him by the sword-arm of his doughty father Henry V, and defeated troops fleeing French advances in Normandy compounded, as they tramped up the southeast beaten and looting, the general fury at the king’s unpopular marriage to the French princess Margaret of Anjou. With shambolic governance allied to a slumping economy, corrupt taxation, and mounting public debt, things were coming unglued.

Like many kings, Henry benefited from the instinct to target overt blame away from the sovereign himself and towards the aides and counselors who surround him. One of the very most hated of those counselors was the man who had negotiated that French marriage — giving away to the French crown the hard-won provinces of Anjou and Maine as its price. William de la Pole, Duke of Suffolk, was so near to being attainted or lynched around London that King Henry exiled him for his own safety to France. But Suffolk didn’t make there: instead, he was captured at sea and murdered.

When his body washed up in Kent, rumors seem to have anticipated a royal reprisal against that region and in favor of the late hated favorite, perhaps the trigger for the events in this post.

Nevertheless, the “rebels” did not conceive themselves engaged in a seditious enterprise; this is apparent from the manifesto of grievances it issued, with moderating tones and language echoing complaints that the Commons was raising to no avail in Parliament.

Item. The law serves of nought else in these days but for to do wrong, for nothing is spread almost but false matters by colour of the law for reward, dread and favour and so no remedy is had in the Court of Equity in any way.

Item. We say our sovereign lord may understand that his false council has lost his law, his merchandise is lost, his common people is destroyed, the sea is lost, France is lost, the king himself is so set that he may not pay for his meat nor drink, and he owes more than ever any King of England ought, for daily his traitors about him where anything should come to him by his laws, anon they take it from him.

Item. We will that all men know we blame not all the lords, nor all those that are about the king’s person, nor all gentlemen nor yeomen, nor all men of law, nor all bishops, nor all priests, but all such as may be found guilty by just and true inquiry and by the law.

Item. We will that it be known we will not rob, nor plunder, nor steal, but that these defaults be amended, and then we will go home …

The man at the forefront is a cipher: he went by the potent alias of “John Mortimer”, the surname unmistakably linking his cause to the rival royal claimants over at the the House of York, but neither the name of “Jack Cade” by which history recalls his movement nor the antecedent experiences that thrust him into leadership can be attested with any confidence.

He appears by the half-glimpses we catch of him in the period’s chronicles to be a vigorous and intelligent character. He shied away from battle with a royal army, wisely avoiding the taint of treason that would come with entering the field against the king’s own person; but, it was an organized withdrawal that left his forces capable of ambushing and destroying the detachment from that army that the king had sent to pursue them, a testament to Cade/Mortimer’s adroit command.

Panicked when the news of this reversal resulted in his own forces taking up the rebels’ call to punish traitorous lords, King Henry beat feet for the safety of Kenilworth Castle and abandoned the stage of London to this mysterious new character.

The rebel militia seized it on the third of July that year, visiting its promised popular justice in the process upon several of those “false counsellors” detested among the populace — including the Bishop of Salisbury, the Baron Saye and Sele, and the former sheriff of Kent, William Cromer; Shakespeare gives us a bloody-minded* Cade bantering with his prey Saye and Sele in Henry VI, Part 2 — “Ye shall have a hempen caudle, then, and the help of hatchet … Go, take him away, I say, and strike off his head presently; and then break into his son-in-law’s house, Sir James [sic] Cromer, and strike off his head, and bring them both upon two poles hither.”


Charles Lucy, “Lord Saye and Sele brought before Jack Cade 4th July 1450″

Peasant risings like these are made for eventual failure, but it the unusually high water mark achieved by Cade’s rebellion before receding makes another measure of the crown’s weakness. After ceding the Kentishmen the run of London for several days, it took a desperate nighttime battle on London Bridge to finally push them out.

A general amnesty went abroad to induce the rebels to disperse, but it was not for Cade — who fled to Sussex where he was taken, and mortally wounded in the process, by the new sheriff of Kent, Alexander Iden. (A road called Cade Street now runs in the vicinity; there is a monument to his capture in Heathfield.) It was Cade’s good fortune to succumb to his injuries on the journey back to London but the pains of justice were inflicted upon his remains just the same.

Cade died on Sunday, July 12. The precise date for his posthumous disgrace is not certain from the sources available to us. Many writers report July 15, seemingly based on John Benet’s chronicle, which is a strong source and asserts the 15th unambiguously. I’m here guardedly preferring the 16th based on Gregory’s Chronicle, whose authors were clearly Londoners, and who narrated the progress of the week following Cade’s death with specificity.

And that day was that fals traytoure the Captayne of Kentte i-take and slayne in the Welde in the countre of Sowsex, and uppon the morowe he was brought in a carre alle nakyd, and at the Herte in Sowetheworke there the carre was made stonde stylle, the wyffe of the howse myght se hym yf hyt were the same man or no that was namyd the Captayne of Kente, for he was loggyd whythe yn hyr howse in hys pevys tyme of hys mys rewylle and rysynge. And thenne he was hadde in to the Kyngys Bynche, and there he lay from Monday at evyn [i.e., Monday, July 13] unto the Thursseday nexte folowynge at evyn [Thursday, July 16]; and whythe yn the Kynges Benche the sayde captayne was be-heddyde and quarteryde; and the same day i-d[r]awe a-pon a hyrdylle in pecys whythe the hedde by-twyne hys breste from the Kyngys Benche thoroughe owte Sowthewerke, and thenne ovyr Londyn Brygge, and thenne thoroughe London unto Newegate, and thenne hys hedde was takyn and sette uppon London Brygge.

Cade’s is the rebellion that gets the ink, but several other uprisings in the South of England followed in the months ahead … ill omen for the king who would soon experience the ruin of his reign and family.

The History of England podcast covers Jack Cade’s rebellion in Episode 161.

* It is one of Cade’s subalterns in this play who supplies posterity with the immortal quip, “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.”

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Entry Filed under: 15th Century,Arts and Literature,Beheaded,Borderline "Executions",Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Dismembered,England,Execution,Famous,Gibbeted,History,No Formal Charge,Popular Culture,Posthumous Exonerations,Power,Treason,Uncertain Dates

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1738: Baruch Leibov and Alexander Voznitsyn, Jew and convert

Add comment July 15th, 2017 Headsman

On this date in 1738, the Jewish proselytizer Baruch Leibov was publicly burned in St. Petersburg along with a convert, retired Russian naval officer Alexander Voznitsyn. Most of the linked pages in this post are in Russian.

The nobleman Voznitsyn met the Smolensk merchant Leibov in Moscow and the two became friends and spiritual interlocutors. In 1737, Voznitsyn’s wife denounced him for Judaizing as she began to notice that he’d stopped wearing a cross, would pray facing the wall instead of Orthodox icons, and avoided eating certain foods. It emerged too that his Christian confessor had not heard from him in a very long time, and that he had ordered peasants on his estate to destroy some icons.

Both men denied the charges at first, but Voznitsyn’s genitalia confessed his apostasy and after an application of torture, so did Voznitsyn’s mouth.

The subsequent punishment was remarkably harsh even in contemporaries’ eyes — via the curious insistence of the Empress Anna upon severity.

A rarely-used edict from the pre-Petrine 17th century was invoked against Voznitsyn for blaspheming; in the case of Leibov, it was necessary in order to fit him into the statute to construe his having “seduced” Voznitsyn into the Abrahamic faith during the two men’s religious bull sessions. Since Voznitsyn was a seasoned and educated man with a known predilection for spiritual seeking, this finding negated the entire qualifier; if Voznitsyn was “lured” or “deceived” into Judaizing then it was officially impossible for anyone to Judaize absent deception.

But in practice, it was likely the convert’s exceptional qualities that attracted such a demonstrative punishment — “so that such ungodly deeds are discontinued, and such a blasphemer as Voznitsyn and converter to Judaism as Boruch do not dare to deceive others: for the sake of such blasphemous guilt … both to be executed and burned.”

They died together before a vast concourse of gawkers near St. Petersburg’s Admiralty building.

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1852: Louis Lullier, wife in a cask

2 comments July 14th, 2017 Headsman

On this date in 1852, Louis Lullier lost his head for an Edgar Allan Poe-esque murder that was very nearly the perfect crime. He would be the the last person guillotined in Pontoise.*

The stonemason Lullier was caught out by an eagle-eyed bank manager passing a forged bill of exchange. A search of his effects revealed several other such bills under different signatures being readied for circulation … but it turned out that Lullier was laboring under much heavier sins.

“When questioned by the examining magistrate, he appeared labouring under great anxiety, and incoherent words escaped from him,” ran a report published across the channel. (here quoted in The Huddersfield Chronicle and West Yorkshire Advertiser, June 12, 1852)

At length he said he had a horrible revelation to make; and he proceeded to state that nearly a year before he had strangled his wife, had thrust the dead body into a cask, and had deposited it in a cellar, which he indicated. The magistrate was for a moment thunderstruck at this statement, but the prisoner seemed greatly relieved at having made it, and he gave full details of his crime with the greatest sang-froid.

The couple had grown quarrelsome, and when his wife/victim threatened to leave him, Lullier

seized her by the throat and strangled her. He kept the body in his room for two days, and then, having stripped it, he forced it into a cask, and conveyed the cask in a wheelbarrow to a cellar in which he was accustomed to place his tools. The cellar was at some distance from his lodgings, but he wheeled the cask along the streets with the greatest confidence in open day.

No sooner, however, was the murder perpetrated than he became seized with remorse; he neglected his work, and at times stood gloomily before it with his arms folded; he broke off from his friends, abandoned his aged mother, to whom he had been very good, and treated his little child with great brutality, though he had always before shown him great attention. He also took to drinking, and spent a good deal of his time in public-houses with girls of bad character. It was observed that he was almost constantly hanging about the cellar, though no one could tell why, and he was dreadfully agitated when any one approached it.

Jump ahead a year as his last appeals are refused and the Versailles prison chaplain shakes him awake to deliver the news that his imminent beheading will decorate the country’s Bastille Day festivities and a pensive Lullier muses, “I did not think the news could have affected me so much.” (The Lincoln, Rutland and Stamford Mercury, July 23, 1852)

* Birthplace — just his luck — of Francois Villon.

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1807: Richard Faulkner, scared straight

Add comment July 13th, 2017 Headsman

On this date in 1807 at Wisbech, 15-year-old Richard Faulkner hanged in a truly repentant frame of mind — as described by the Norfolk Chronicle of August 1, 1807:

At Ely assizes, held at Wisbech, there was but one prisoner for trial; viz. Richard Faulkner, convicted of the murder of George Burnham a lad about 13 years of age, at Whittlesea, on Sunday, the 15th of February last, by cruelly beating him to death, for no other cause than to revenge his (the deceased) mother’s having thrown some dirty water upon him.

The prisoner himself was not 16, but so shockingly depraved and hardened, that after condemnation he repeatedly clenched his fist, and threatened to murder the clergyman who attended the gaol, or any one who dared to approach him.

Indeed he was so ferocious that the gaoler found it necessary to chain him hands and feet to his dungeon, where he uttered the most horrid oaths and imprecations on all who came near him; and from the Friday to Saturday night refused to listen to any religious advice or admonition.

At length to prevent the termination of his existence in this depraved state, the expedient was devised of procuring a child about the size of the one murdered, and similar in feature and dress, whom two clergymen unexpectedly led between them, by the hands, into his cell, where he laid sulkily chained to the ground; but on their approach he started and seemed so completely terrified, that he trembled every limb, cold drops of sweat profusely falling from him, and was almost momentarily in such a dreadful state of agitation, that he intreated the clergymen to continue with him, and from that instant became as contrite a penitent as he had before been callous and insensible.

In this happy transition he remained till his execution on Monday morning the 13th inst. having fully confessed his crime and implored by fervent prayer the forgiveness of his sins from a merciful God!

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2008: Two alleged prostitutes, by the Taliban

Add comment July 12th, 2017 Headsman

On this date in 2008, the Taliban executed two women whom it claimed were running a prostitution ring for U.S. soldiers based in the city of Ghazni.

The Taliban invited a journalist who gives us a disarmingly placid picture of the two burka-clad women seemingly conversing even as armed men surrounding them in the nighttime gloom prepare to take their lives.

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Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Afghanistan,Borderline "Executions",Execution,Occupation and Colonialism,Power,Sex,Shot,Wartime Executions,Women

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1408: Konrad Vorlauf, Vienna Burgermeister

1 comment July 11th, 2017 Headsman

Konrad Vorlauf, late the mayor of Vienna, was beheaded on this date in 1408 with two other councillors.

The patrician Burgermeister was a casualty of the dynastic civil war between brothers Leopold IV and Ernest the Iron, which manifested in Vienna — a rising city on the brink of becoming (in 1440) the Habsburgs’ permanent residence — as a conflict between the city’s merchant oligarchs (allied to Ernest) and her artisan craftsmen (allied to Leopold).

It was a violent conflict even within city walls: in January of 1408, Vorlauf had seized five Leopold-friendly guild leaders and had them beheaded on the Hohenmarkt. (See this public-domain history of Vienna, in German)

During a subsequent truce, Vorlauf along with fellow Vienna grandees Hans Rock, Rudolf Angerfelder, Stephan Poll, Friedrich von Dorffen, Wolfhardt Schebnitzer, Niklas Untermhimmel and Niklas Flusthart went to a confabulation called by Leopold under his safe conduct, only to be seized on their return by knights allied to his cause and held to ransom.

Vienna duly paid it up but perhaps might have done better to keep the cash. Somewhere around this time Leopold imposed himself in Vienna itself, and when the artisan class caused a ruckus over new taxes, the prince was pressured to seize Vorlauf along with the aforementioned Hans Rock and another councillor named Konrad Rampersdorfer. Their beheading — in the city’s Pig Market, for added disgrace — proceeded under no color of law. The aged Rampersdorfer asserted his seniority for the privilege of dying first, saying

I have hitherto been a precursor to all others, and I have not earned the death penalty, but I have stood always for the natural rights of my prince. Therefore I offer to my fellows my own example, not to fear a righteous death, but to submit to it voluntarily.

With the childless death of Leopold a few years later Ernest became the uncontested chief of the Leopoldian line, and his martyred Viennese compatriots celebrated as municipal patriots — eventually exhumed from their graves and reburied with honor in St. Stephen’s Cathedral. They were fortuitously allied, as events would transpire, to the imperial glory conquered by Ernest’s descendants in what became the chief Habsburg dynastic line (the mighty Maximilian I was Ernest’s grandson).

Today, the place of the mayor’s execution is called Lobkowitzplatz; it’s marked by a plaque paying tribute to the men who bled there in 1408.


Commemorative plaque honoring Vorlauf and the others beheaded with him.

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Entry Filed under: 15th Century,Austria,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Habsburg Realm,History,No Formal Charge,Politicians,Power,Public Executions,Wartime Executions,Wrongful Executions

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1835: Ruel Blake, “often seen among negroes”

Add comment July 10th, 2017 Headsman

On this date in 1835, Ruel Blake hanged in Livingston as one of the white instigators of a supposed slave uprising.

Blake was an foreigner to Madison County, a Connecticut carpetbagger who (according to the vigilance committee’s proceedings) “could claim but few or none as friends” as he was “of a cold, phlegmatic temperament, with a forbidding countenance; kept himself almost aloof from white society, but was often seen among negroes” and “was noted for cold-blooded revenge, insatiable avarice, and unnatural cruelty.” He worked as a wheelwright and carpenter, and had only a single slave, Peter.

But not everyone in Livingston had it in for the guy. As the excitement first began to bubble up as June turned to July, Captain Thomas Hudnall, a wealthy plantation owner gave Ruel Blake money and a horse and sagely suggested he lay low somewhere else while the storm passed. Blake had not yet been accused by anyone, but he’d aroused the ire and seemingly the suspicion of his neighbors when his own slave was accused and Blake administered an unconvincing and pro forma flogging — “he did not wish to hurt [the slave], occasionally striking a hard lick to keep up appearances.” Eventually other white citizens forcibly relieved him of the job, and Blake had the effrontery as he saw his man being thrashed to “[rush] through the crowd to where his negro was, and swore, if he was touched another lick, they would have to whip him first,” a threat that brought him to blows with the man wielding the whip.

Hudnall rightly anticipated that his neighbors’ presumption of “mere” excess sympathy for the slave would soon take a much darker turn: Blake blew town on July 1, and with the arrival into Livingston the very next day of the fantastical slave revolt claims from nearby Beatties Bluff, a $500 reward for his capture soon went nipping at Blake’s heels. In the ensuing panicked days, Blake along with the “steam doctors” Cotton and Saunders — all strangers come to Mississippi, all of them socially marginal and noted for fraternizing with black people — came to be acclaimed as the chief white conspirators, accusations that became self-affirming as men under the lash or in fear of the gallows repeated the names, knowing from their torturers’ leading questions who was already condemned by acclamation.

Blake was captured after just a few days, in Vicksburg, where he posed as a boatman from upriver. Now Hudnall’s favor cut against him, for the flight from Livingston appeared to prove his guilt:

He arrived in Livingston on the 8th of July, under a strong escort, intimations being obtained that an attempt would be made by the clan [John Murrell’s bandits, the alleged nexus of the slave rising plot -ed.] to rescue him.

His appearance in Livingston created a most alarming excitement; and, but for the committee’s being in session, in all probability he would have been forcibly taken from the guard, and immediately executed. After arriving, he was immediately put on his trial before the committee … Every disclosure which was made [by previous interrogations] was replete with testimony against him.

After hearing all the evidence, every opportunity was given him to produce counteracting testimony, which he failed to do. There being no doubt on the minds of the committee, he was, by a unanimous vote, condemned to be hanged; and, just before leaving the committee-room, he requested the committee to give him time to settle his affairs.

On the 10th of July, in the presence of an immense concourse of people, he was executed. He privately commended the verdict of the committee, and said they could not have done otherwise than condemn him from the evidence before them, and publicly, under the gallows, made the same declaration. He protested in his innocence to the last, and said that his life was sworn away.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Borderline "Executions",Businessmen,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Lynching,Mississippi,Public Executions,USA

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