Posts filed under 'France'

1953: Abel Danos, le mammouth

Add comment March 14th, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1953, the French gangster and Nazi collaborator Abel Danos was shot as a traitor.

Once a small-time crook for the milieu criminal syndicate, Danos upon his arrest went way beyond turning state’s evidence and offered his goon talents to the German police. From 1941 to 1944 he murdered people — he’s believed to have personally executed over 100 French Resistance members during the war — for salary as a member of the French Gestapo. Though arrested at the end of the war, he made a sensational escape and got into the robbery outfit Gang des Tractions Avant; he fatally shot both Italian and French police in that vocation. Career-wise you have to credit the man for focusing on his core value-adds while remaining flexible to embrace new opportunities.

“Le mammouth” — so nicknamed for his heavy build — went extinct courtesy of a firing squad at Fort Monte-Valerien, refusing a blindfold after a last swig of rum.

There’s a 2006 French-language biography of Abel Danos, by Eric Guillon.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,France,History,Occupation and Colonialism,Organized Crime,Shot,Treason

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1749: Fontauban, spy

Add comment March 5th, 2019 Headsman

A spy named Fontauban was hanged at the northern city of Lille on this date in 1749.

From the scanty information to be had he appears among the more pathetic traitors. Disinherited by his father he had gone into his peculiar trade to great effect during the continent-spanning War of Austrian Succession.

Demobilization was a tough transition for spooks as for everyday soldiers; needing to maintain his income, he made an fatally unsuccessful attempt to engage service with the British — and not for any mere document-copying, but for betraying the king himself.

Despite having been open to outright regicide in exchange for a few grotes, Fontauban’s sentence was commuted to hanging (from the proposed burning and quartering) as a gesture of mercy.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Espionage,Execution,France,Hanged,History,Public Executions,Spies,Treason

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1794: Jean-Pierre du Teil, Napoleon mentor

1 comment February 27th, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1794, the French artillery general Jean-Pierre du Teil was guillotined at Lyon.

The baron du Teil (English Wikipedia entry | French) numbered among many ancien regime officers whose talents were needed but allegiances were suspect in the citizens’ army of revolutionary France. Such figures were forever vulnerable to attack as secret royalists; du Teil while serving in the Army of the Alps fell prey to that very charge made by the ferocious Jacobin rulers of Lyon, Collot d’Herbois and Joseph Fouche.

He’s noteworthy to posterity as a mentor to the young Napoleon Bonaparte at the Royal Artillery School of Auxonne. Du Teil took notice of the precocious teenage artillerist and honored him with special assignments — “a mark of unheard-of favor,” Napoleon gushed in private correspondence.

Napoleon upon his death left 100,000 francs in his will to du Teil’s son “as a token of gratitude for the care this great general took in me.”

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,France,Guillotine,History,Public Executions,Soldiers,Treason,Wartime Executions

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1852: Hélène Jégado, serial arsenic murderer

Add comment February 26th, 2019 Headsman

Prolific French poisoner Hélène Jégado was guillotined on this date in 1852.

An orphaned peasant, Jegado (English Wikipedia entry | French) made her way as a domestic servant which was a very fine situation for exploring her true passion of insinuating arsenic into folks’ meals.

This Jegado did with astonishing frequency in her 18 years as Brittany’s Locusta: though condemned for just three successful murders, her body count is thought to run well into the twenties or thirties. Although she was a habitual petty thief as well, she was a true serial killer for whom only a handful of her many murders redounded to some palpable benefit for her. She killed from a compulsion.

For example, as the servant of a village cure, she brazenly poisoned off seven people in 1833,* including the priest himself and her own sister Anne Jegado. But the village had been ravaged by cholera in recent months and Helene Jegado by all accounts made for a convincingly bereaved tragic actress. Amazingly, nobody got suspicious, enabling her to poison off her own aunt and two other people when she returned to her own town to bury that dearly departed sister. For the next several years she kept moving and moving, new lodgings in new towns throughout Brittany but over and over again in a position to season the soup. Surprising and sudden deaths repeatedly occurred in her proximity but the pattern never caught anyone’s eye.

Her fire for the inheritance powder mostly burned out by about 1841 when she had a suspected 23 victims to her name. “I am going into retreat,” she’s said to have strangely declared to an employer who caught her stealing in 1841. “God has forgiven me my sins!” Then the suspicious deaths stopped.

At this point, Helene Jegado was pushing 40. Maybe she thought to cleanse her soul and make a fresh and un-homicidal start, or simply to retire her murder spree while she was so very far ahead. Maybe the sensational Marie Lafarge arsenic case of 1840 scared her straight and made her aware of dangerous forensics advances. There was also some idea that she had somehow procured a large stockpile of arsenic at the outset of her career, but discarded it in a panic the first time that she felt herself in danger of being accused.

Whatever the reason for her lull, she seems to have managed the cold turkey program admirably for a good long time … but surely somewhere inside her lurked the hunger to again give rein to her compulsion.

The last days of 1849 find her at Rennes, where she resumed just as suddenly as she had stopped: the ailing son of a couple who employed her as their only servant was suddenly finished off through his porridge, and then the couple themselves sickened by another meal (they survived). Now the bit was again in her teeth and she ran with it through a series of employers: in the course of just weeks she made fresh attacks in the Ozanne household, upon the family’s little son (he died); in the hotel owned by Monsieur Roussell, upon the proprietor’s mother (she survived) and a rival servant (she died).

By the autumn of 1850 she again had her fresh — and her final — employment, with the law professor and sometime politician Theophile Bidard.

Yet it was not the sharp observations or relentless deductions of her scholar-master that exposed Helene Jegado: it was a want of sangfroid downright shocking in one who had already filled so many tombs. When another servant of the Bidards died unexpectedly, Rennes medical men who suspected poisoning called on Bidard. Jegado answered the door, and upon hearing them announce their mission to the man of the house she unnecessarily blurted out an assertion of innocence. Nobody had even mentioned her.

Once she invited everyone’s suspicion the rest followed inevitably. Bodies she had given Rennes households to bury during the preceding year showed clear evidence of arsenic poisoning when exhumed, and the pattern of deaths associated with her — even though they lay beyond prosecution — seemingly confirmed the worst. Helene denied all but went to the guillotine on the Champ-de-Mars at Rennes on February 26, 1852.

* These seven and most of the others attributed to Helene Jegado’s potions are merely irresistible inference; she was detected long past any opportunity to establish direct proof of her hand behind any of the pre-1849 deaths.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,France,Guillotine,Murder,Public Executions,Serial Killers,Women

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1525: Jacques de La Palice, “lapalissade”

Add comment February 24th, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1525, a French marshal’s was executed during a crucial battle of the France-vs-Habsburg Italian War, beginning a long posthuous journey to a wordplay gag.


The Battle of Pavia, by Ruprecht Heller (1529).

The Battle of Pavia is best remembered for the fate — not lethal, but much more damaging to statecraft — of King Francis I of France, who was captured on the field by the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V.* Francis spent two years in comfortable but discomfiting imperial custody until he agreed to the humiliating Treaty of Madrid ceding vast tracts of French territory (notably Burgundy) to Charles.**

For all that, Francis kept his head and eventually resumed his station. Jacques de La Palice (English Wikipedia entry | the much longer French) did not exit the Battle of Pavia nearly so well.

The lord of La Palice (or Lapalisse), grandson to a comrade of Joan of Arc, our man had spent a lifetime bearing French arms; he’d been personally knighted by King Charles VIII for his prowess at age 15 in his very first engagement.

The great bulk of his time ever since had been spent on various campaigns in Italy, where France remained more or less continuously at war against the Holy Roman Empire until 1559.

Fighting up and down the peninsula, La Palice earned the impressive rank of Grand Master of France, and it had nothing to do with his chess acumen. He’d actually retired to the pleasures of domesticity after being captured in 1513 at the Battle of the Spurs — so named for the panicked spurring a fleeing French cavalry gave to their horses — only to be recalled to his post in 1515.

Late in 1524 he was among the host accompanying King Francis’s march to recover France’s on-again, off-again transalpine beachhead of Milan. This objective the French achieved with scant resistance, but the expedition turned disastrous in a further advance to Pavia. There, 9,000 imperial troops were dug in to defend; unable to take the city by storm the French put it to siege, fatally overextending themselves.

Come the following February, the Habsburgs had cut Pavia off from Milan and the French encampment was weakened by defecting mercenaries. On the morning of February 24, the imperial forces mounted an attack on the French that turned into a comprehensive slaughter. La Palice was captured early on by the Habsburgs’ landsknecht mercenaries and executed by them at some point later on during the fight. Although his fate was a bit more premeditated, he was only one of many blue-blooded commanders who lost their lives on the field that dark day for France† — suspending French ambitions in Italy, if only for a few years.

The knight’s alleged feats are celebrated in a ballad known as “La chanson de la Palisse” (“The Song of La Palice”). Rather, there are dozens of versions of that ditty, dating from the 16th to the 18th century, of unknown original authorship but agglomerated by the French poet Bernard de la Monnoye into a humorous caper in the 18th century.

This poem presumably (though not certainly) began as a genuine praise song for the dead marshal, opening with this garment-rending stanza:

Hélas, La Palice est mort,
Il est mort devant Pavie ; 
Hélas, s’il n’était pas mort, 
Il ferait encore envie.

Alas, La Palice is dead, 
He died before Pavia; 
Alas, if he were not dead, 
He would still be envied.

Somewhere along the way fulsome became winsome — perhaps via deliberate spoof or maybe the well-known phenomenon of old-timey letter s written to look like f, transforming the verse into a comical tautology:

s’il n’etait pas mort, / Il ferait encore envie (“if he was not dead he would still be envied”)

s’il n’etait pas mort, / Il serait encore en vie (“if he was not dead he would still be alive”)

It’s thanks to this amusing misreading that the French tongue today enjoys the term lapalissade, meaning a laughably obvious truism — and in Monnoye’s composition the entirety of the lyrics consist of such jests; e.g.

Monsieur d’la Palisse is dead,
He died before Pavia,
A quarter of an hour before his death,
He was still alive.

He was, by a sad fate, 
wounded with a cruel hand.
It is believed, since he is dead,
that the wound was mortal.

Regretted by his soldiers,
he died worthy of envy;
And the day of his death
was the last day of his life.

He died on Friday,
the last day of his age;
If he had died on Saturday,
he would have lived more.

(That’s just an excerpt; the much longer full French verse is available at the song’s French Wikipedia page.)

* Ample unverifiable folklore attaches an event so memorable as the capture of a king; a site such as this is bound to note the one that reports that Francis might have been killed on the spot by rampaging foes but for the timely intercession of a young Spanish soldier named Pedro de Valdivia … who would go on to become the conquistador of Chile, and eventually an execution victim himself.

** Francis renounced the treaty as soon as he was released, on the accurate grounds that it was made under duress. In this betrayal of honor, he did his kingdom much the better turn than his distant predecessor John II had done when, captured by the English during the Hundred Years’ War, he dutifully set about extracting from his subjects the ruinous ransom and even returned voluntarily to English custody when he could not fulfill the terms of his parole.

† Another corpse at the Battle of Pavia was Richard de la Pole, Plantagenet pretender to the English throne ever since his brother had been executed back in 1513.

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Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Arts and Literature,Borderline "Executions",Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,France,Habsburg Realm,History,Holy Roman Empire,Italy,No Formal Charge,Nobility,Soldiers,Summary Executions,Wartime Executions

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1916: Phan Xich Long, mystic insurgent

Add comment February 22nd, 2019 Headsman

Vietnamese mystic Phan Xich Long was executed on this date in 1916 by the French, after attempting to expel their occupation and situate himself as Emperor of Vietnam.

In his youth a peripatetic fortune-teller and geomancer, Phan Phát Sanh (as he was then known) formed a secret society by 1911 centered around enforcing his rights as the purported long-lost descendant of Ham Nghi — an 1880s emperor whose short reign ended in French captivity.

By 1912 he was barnstorming the Mekong Delta in saffron robes, buttressing his pretense to the throne with all the aspirations and disappointments of an occupied people. It was now that he took the name by which history recalls him, meaning “Red Dragon”, orchestrated a coronation ceremony, and set himself at the head of a movement equal parts messianic and patriotic, gradually cementing the credibility of his royal bona fides through various rumors and forgeries. The would-be emperor and his adherents made no bones at all about their rebellious intent; Long wielded a ceremonial sword inscribed with the words “First strike the debauched king, next the traitorous officials”.

Debauched kings and traitorous officials had other plans as they usually do, and the French managed to arrest the Red Dragon on the eve of his planned rising on March 1913. It went off anyway; few followers yet realized that their emperor was in manacles, though they soon realized that the invisibility potions that the mystic had prepared for them were nothing of the sort. The rebellion was crushed within days.

Parked in Saigon Central Prison serving a sentence of life at hard labor, Long perceived his moment to strike again when a national mood deteriorating under the privations of World War I birthed another royalist revolt in early 1916. Long evidently maintained secret contacts with these rebels, and his liberation was the objective of their attack upon his prison — and whose failure resulted in Long’s speedy execution under the auspices of a military court that also condemned 57 other insurgents.*

They hadn’t seen the last of him: years later another rabble-rouser would claim to be Phan Xich Long’s reincarnation. Today, there’s a street named for Phan Xich Long in Saigon.

* These appear to me to have been executed by musketry (military court, mind) rather than guillotine but few sources I’ve seen are prepared to take an explicit stand on this detail.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,France,History,Martyrs,Occupation and Colonialism,Power,Pretenders to the Throne,Religious Figures,Revolutionaries,Shot,Vietnam,Wartime Executions

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1358: Perrin Mace, de-sanctuaried

Add comment January 25th, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1358 — during the height of the great peasant rebellion known as the Jacquerie — a bourgeois named or Perrin Mace or Perrin Marc was summarily hanged in Paris.

Just the day before, January 24,* he had in broad daylight assassinated Jean Baillet, longtime treasurer to the dauphin who would become King Charles V. Mace/Marc then fled to the a church, attempting to assert the unreliable right to sanctuary.

The dauphin found the idea that a man could murder a minister of state with impunity just by winning a footrace to a church door as ridiculous as we would in modernity, so he ordered his marshal to bash in said doors and extract the assassin that very night for immediate execution come daybreak.

But this was also an attack on the prerogatives of the church, which provoked a furious response by the bishop — who had the assassin’s remained honorably interred. Still more was it an affront to the Parisian populace whose demands for reform were being frustrated by the dauphin and which accordingly was coming to support his rival Charles the Bad during a general political crisis.

Accordingly, the provost Etienne Marcel on February 22 led a popular march upon the dauphin’s palace, fronted by heralds crying out the grievance:

Pray for the soul of Perrin Mace, a bourgeois of Paris, unjustly executed!

John Baillet, the treasurer of the Regent, had borrowed in the name of the King a sum of money from Perrin Mace.

Mace demanded his money in virtue of the new edict that orders the royal officers to pay for what they buy and return what they borrow for the King, under penalty of being brought to law by their creditors.

John Baillet refused to pay, and furthermore insulted, threatened and struck Perrin Mace.

In the exercise of his right of legitimate defence, granted him by the new edict, Perrin Mace returned blow for blow, killed John Baillet and betook himself to the church of St. Mery,** a place of asylum, from where he demanded an inquest and trial.

The Duke of Normandy, now Regent, [i.e., the dauphin -ed.] immediately sent one of his courtiers, the marshal of Normandy, to the church of St. Mery, accompanied with an escort of soldiers and the executioner.

The marshal of Normandy dragged Perrin Mace from the church, and without trial Mace’s right hand was cut off and he was immediately hanged.

Pray for the soul of Perrin Mace, a bourgeois of Paris, unjustly executed.

Marcel’s protest invaded the royal palace and murdered several of his counselors in front of his eyes — “so close to the dauphin, that the royal dress was sprinkled with their blood,” as this history puts it. Charles survived the encounter but found himself virtually a prisoner and it would be months before he had the satisfaction of pacifying the city (and of seeing Etienne Marcel assassinated in his own turn).

French speakers might enjoy this detailed review of events (pdf).

* There are several January 1358 dates in circulation for these events on this here Internet. My authority for this one is the chronicle Chronique des règnes de Jean II et de Charles states in no uncertain terms that Baillet was assassinated on January 24, Mace was hauled from sanctuary that same night, and he was executed on the morning of the 25th.

** Some other sources give it as the church of Saint-Jacques-la-Boucherie, “Saint James of the Butchers” — named to distinguish it from Saint-Jacques-du-Haut-Pas elsewhere in Paris. This church, dating to the 11th or 12th century, was later rebuilt in Gothic style but pulled down during the French Revolution; only its tower, known as Saint-Jacques Tower, survives.

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Entry Filed under: 14th Century,Assassins,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,France,Hanged,History,Murder,Notable for their Victims,Public Executions

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1887: Georgette and Sylvain Thomas, guillotine couples act

Add comment January 24th, 2019 Headsman

Georgette Thomas was guillotined on this date in 1887 at Romorantin, followed moments later by her husband Sylvain.

This farming couple had burned to death Georgett’s mother Marie Lebon six months previous, aided by Georgette’s brothers Alexander and Alexis who both caught life sentences for their participation.

Lebon’s offense? The family had become convinced that mom was a sorceress on the strength of a compounding series of rural disasters: lost hay, failed harvests, sickness striking down horses and chickens and even the human kids.

To exorcise her infernal influence, they doused her with oil and holy water, set her ablaze, and forced her into the farmhouse fireplace … right in front of those kids she had bewitched.

Some two thousand people crowded the public square for this rare spectacle of a husband-wife joint marital severing. So shocking was the execution of the struggling Georgette Thomas in particular — and so distressed was that veteran taker of heads Louis Deibler, who asked out of any female chops in the future — that France never again publicly guillotined a woman.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,France,Guillotine,Milestones,Murder,Public Executions,Witchcraft,Women

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1945: Angelo Chiappe

1 comment January 23rd, 2019 Headsman

French Nazi collaborator Angelo Chiappe was shot on this day in 1945.

A right-wing legislator and adherent of the fascist Action Francaise movement before the war, Chiappe copped an appointment as the Vichy prefect of the Gard department. There he made himself hateful to the war’s eventual winners by his enthusiasm for hunting French Resistance members, communists, and Jews for forced labor and deportation and worse.

Captured in August 1944, he was shot January 23, 1945 before the gorgeous Roman arena of Nimes.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,France,History,Politicians,Public Executions,Shot,Treason

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1867: Ciosi and Agostini, at the Polygone of Vincennes

Add comment January 21st, 2019 Headsman

From the London Times, Jan. 23, 1867, under a January 22 dateline:

The two soldiers (Corsicans) who committed a murder and robbery some time since at Neuilly, and were sentenced to death by court-martial, were shot yesterday morning, in presence of a large crowd, at the Polygone of Vincennes. One of them, [Jean-Baptiste] Agostini, was so exhausted that he had to be tied to a post to keep him from falling to the ground. The other, [Jean-Antoine] Ciosi, was more courageous, and, having addressed the shooting party to this effect, — “Dear comrades, on my conscience, I committed the crime for which I die, but I committed no robbery. I ask pardon of God, and of you. Farewell!” he himself gave the word to fire. The troops marched past the bodies as they lay on the ground. The interment took place in the burial ground of Vincennes, under the supervision of the chaplain of the fort.

A longer French-language account of the crime and execution — including the necessity of a brain-splattering coup de grace to complete the sentence — can be found here. There’s some fuzziness with the date cited in different places but French press reports (for instance, from Le Figaro on January 22) unambiguously place it on Monday the 21st.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Botched Executions,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,France,Murder,Public Executions,Shot,Soldiers

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