Posts filed under 'New Zealand'

1934: William Bayly, bad neighbor

Add comment July 20th, 2018 Headsman

New Zealand farmer William Bayly or Bayley hanged at Auckland’s Mount Eden Prison on this date in 1934 as the world’s worst neighbor.

They never did find the body of his victim, Sam Lakey, but the two sheep farmers “hated each other. ‘You won’t see the next season out, Lakey!’ yelled Bayly, which was just one of the dozens of dire threats they exchanged.” (This according to a True Crime Library profile.)

Lots of folks make tall talk when their blood is up but Bayly had the courage of his ill-considered machismo and not only offed Sam but Sam’s wife Christobel as well — staging a wife-murder + suicide hypothesis by dumping Mrs. Lakey and the murder weapon into a swamp, while incinerating Sam Lakey in a benzine drum. Unfortunately for him, the killer was such an obvious suspect* that his property became an immediate target for search, and human remains were found before all could be disposed of. Bayly would argue his innocence all the way to the gallows, but at trial he had no defense to present.

The Lakeys had no relatives to claim their remains; they were only properly reburied in 2015.

* There were also suspicions that Bayly might have killed his cousin years earlier.

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

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1895: Minnie Dean, the only woman hanged in New Zealand

Add comment August 12th, 2015 Headsman

On August 12, 1895, Willamina “Minnie” Dean became the only woman executed in New Zealand’s history.

An immigrant from Scotland, Dean married an innkeeper making bank in a gold rush boom town. If only the mines had not played out!

After they did, the Deans fell on hard times; Charles kept pigs instead of inns, and Minnie kept unwanted children. This “baby farming” industry carved out a curious niche in the Victorian heart of darkness — the domestic heart of darkness, not the colonial one.

Between the dearth of contraception and the stigma attached to unwed mothers, there was a ready market of unwilling parents hoping someone would whisk their little angels away. The “Winton baby-farmer” did just that — for a fee.

The question, then as now, is whether the many infants who died in Dean’s care perished because of calculated homicide, or because of the staggeringly high infant mortality rate of the era. Since baby farmers took one-time fees to take in children whom they would thereafter have to maintain, their incentives were to turn over the stock as quickly as possible — either by placing the child with an adoptive parent or … well …


This report (from the Aug. 14, 1895 Daily Telegraph) alludes to a fictitious lady-in-waiting of legend, whose shadowy inspiration in fact was a real-life Scottish expatriate beheaded for infanticide by Peter the Great.

Police surveilled and investigated Minnie Dean’s operation off and on for more than five years before her June 1895 capital trial: inquests after children’s deaths in 1889 and 1891 attributed them to natural causes but also noted deplorable sanitary conditions. Police found that she had attempted to take out life insurance policies on at least some of the kids.

Fearful of the attention (but still needing the income), Dean became more furtive, and this only made her look the more guilty. As greatly as the circumstances have changed, Dean’s case and others like it mirror the difficulty present-day judiciaries still have in drawing a bright line around childhood fatalities that can be convincingly attributed to abuse.

In the end it wasn’t the coroner who undid Dean, but an eagle-eyed railway attendant who noted the woman boarding a train with a baby and a hatbox … and later leaving the train with a hatbox but no baby. Now the investigation closed in on the Winton baby-farmer quickly: when Dean could not produce the infant granddaughter a woman claimed to have given up to her, police put a spade to her garden and turned up three corpses in the topsoil. The three-year-old boy had an undetermined cause of death, but the two infant girls had perished from suffocation and a laudanum overdose. One of them was the missing infant granddaughter. Murder charges ensued.

Her attorney was Alfred Charles Hanlon, who would go on to a brilliant career at the bar but was here defending his very first homicide — and was unable to interest the jury in an alternative configuration of the incriminating circumstances, namely that Dean had covered up accidental deaths fearing just that they would be taken for murders. (A 1985 TV series about this attorney, Hanlon, explored the case in its first episode, which can be seen online here.) Still less did that angle interest gawkers crowding the courtroom and the hustlers who sold them hatboxes carrying grotesque baby dolls.

Dean maintained her innocence on the scaffold (at least “as far as intention and forethought was concerned”)

As an appropriate postscript, a boy trying to eyeball the macabre proceedings from the roof of a building overlooking the gaol fell off of it, fracturing his skull.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Abortion and Infanticide,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Milestones,Murder,New Zealand,Women

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1942: Coastwatchers on Tarawa

1 comment October 15th, 2014 Headsman

On this date in 1942, the Japanese military occupying the atoll of Tarawa beheaded 17 New Zealand Coastwatchers, along with five civilians.

Tarawa, a fishhook-shaped atoll that belongs to the Republic of Kiribati, was one of many specks of South Pacific land to which Australia and New Zealand deployed World War II Coastwatchers.

These small teams of mixed civilian and service personnel, as well as locals, kept up 24-hour watch for Japanese naval movements.* The tips provided by coastwatchers in the Solomon Islands during the Guadalcanal campaign led Vice Admiral William Halsey to exclaim that “the coastwatchers saved Guadalcanal, and Guadalcanal saved the Pacific.”

But their lonely forward positions also potentially exposed coastwatchers to considerable danger.

Even as Guadalcanal was unfolding in August and September in 1942, Japan was fortifying the occupied Gilbert Islands** (present-day Kiribati) in the wake of the Makin Island raid. Seventeen coastwatchers in the Gilberts were swept up in the process, and transferred to Tarawa along with five civilians (three British, one Australian, and one New Zealander). There they were held at the atoll’s old lunatic asylum, on the islet of Betio.

On Oct. 15, Allied planes bombed Tarawa. One of the captives got loose and ran onto the beach, frantically trying to signal the bombers. Instead, the Japanese — who fretted prisoners on their occupied islands becoming a fifth column in the event of an attack — summarily executed not only the signaler but all their captives.

“I saw the Europeans sitting in line,” one Tarawa local remembered later.

One Japanese started to kill the Europeans. He cut off the head of the first European, then the second, then the third, then I did not see any more because I fainted. When I came to, I saw the Japanese carrying the dead bodies to two pits.

In November 1943, a U.S. amphibious invasion took back the island at the bloody Battle of Tarawa. Twelve hundred Americans, and several times that many of the island’s Japanese defenders and Korean war slaves, were slain.

Old gun emplacements from that battle — as well as a monument to the New Zealand coastwatchers — can still be found on Tarawa.†

Catch these sights while they last. The average height above sea level for Kiribati is two meters, making global climate change liable to send the nation’s scattered islands to Atlantis. Kiribati residents have already begun turning up in Australia and New Zealand as climate change refugees.


(cc) image from Nick Hobgood.

* When the occasion arose, coastwatchers also rescued stranded Allied servicemen. After LTJG John F. Kennedy’s torpedo boat was rammed by a Japanese aircraft carrier in August 1942, it was a pair of Solomon Island natives dispatched by an Australian coastwatcher who found the future U.S. President and his surviving crew.

** Seven other coastwatchers besides those beheaded this date had been captured in the Gilberts when Japan first (but lightly) occupied it following Pearl Harbor. They survived the war as POWs in mainland Japan.

† There was a monument to the dead coastwatchers from shortly after the war. The remains of the seventeen, however, were long neglected by the New Zealand government, and have only recently been turned up … by Americans scouring Betio for casualties from the Battle of Tarawa.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Kiribati,Mass Executions,New Zealand,No Formal Charge,Occupation and Colonialism,Soldiers,Summary Executions,Wartime Executions

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1866: Mokomoko and the Maori killers of Carl Volkner

1 comment May 17th, 2014 Headsman

On this date in 1866, five Maori men hanged for the murder of a German proselytizer.

Hesse-born Carl Sylvius Völkner* arrived in New Zealand as a Lutheran missionary in 1849; by 1861, he was directing an Anglican-run mission at Opotiki, the center of Maori Te Whakatohea territory.

Unfortunately for Volkner, his mission to win souls overlapped with the British mission to win land.

This same early 1860s period saw a sharpening of the European-Maori conflict on the North Island where Volkner kept his mission — the bloodshed in turn fostering the militant Pai Marire or Hau Hau faith in place of the settlers’. Though the Te Whakatohea weren’t directly involved in this war, they had felt its effects: refugees, food shortages, disease outbreaks.

Volkner, who was seen by Maori as a pro-government character and a British spy,** was warned that under the fraught circumstances he might be wise to extend his most recent trip to Auckland indefinitely and wait for things to simmer down.

He did not heed that warning.

On March 2, 1865, the day after Volkner’s return to Opotiki, a group of Pai Marire hanged the missionary to a willow tree outside his Church of St. Stephen, then butchered the dead body.

The Pai Marire leader Kereopa Te Rau then preached from the church’s pulpit with Volkner’s severed head at his side, in the course of which he tore the eyeballs from his grisly prop and, calling one “the Queen” and the other “Parliament”, theatrically devoured them. (Kereopa Te Rau is nicknamed “Kai whatu”, “the eyeball eater”.)

Old eyeball eater would eventually hang for this display as well, but he avoided capture until the 1870s — so this narrative takes its leave of him here.

The slaughter of the European evangelist at the very steps of the protomartyr’s church in turn fired the fury of white New Zealand.

The most immediate response was the government’s landing 500 soldiers in Opotiki in September 1865. From there they raided throughout Te Whakatohea territory (confiscating some 240,000 hectares that would feed white settlers’ surging demand for real estate) and put crops to the torch until the tribe surrendered up some 20 chiefs for punishment of the Volkner affair.

Five of those eventually hanged for their participation: Heremita Kahupaea, Hakaraia Te Rahui, Horomona Propiti and Mikaere Kirimangu … and a man named Mokomoko who was then and remains now the most controversial execution of the bunch.

Mokomoko’s guilt was sharply disputed by eyewitnesses who gave conflicting accounts of whether he was even present at the church on March 2. It was Mokomoko’s rope that strangled Carl Volkner, but the man himself insisted that he was not present. (The three witnesses who placed him on the scene said he carried the rope, suggesting participation far exceeding a bystander.)

Maori tradition preserved Mokomoko as an emblem of wrongful persecution, along with his song Tangohia mai te taura i taku kaki kia waiata au i taku waiata (Take the rope from my neck that I may sing my song):

Violent shaking will not rouse me from my sleep
They treat me like a common thief
It is true that I embrace eternal sleep
For that is the lot of a man condemned to die.

Shielded from the harsh light
With narrow eyes I reflect on the retribution taken at Hamukete
Remember how I was taken on board ship (chained)
The memory of it burns me with shame.

Bring me justice from distant lands to break my shackles
Where the sun sets is a government in Europe
It is for them to say that I must hang
Then shut me in my coffin box.

Under pressure from Mokomoko’s descendants, latter-day New Zealand has made a number of gestures of apology for Mokomoko’s hanging over the past 20-odd years, culminating in a posthumous pardon.

* A copse of rocks sprouting out of New Zealand’s Bay of Plenty is named for our man — the Volkner Rocks, also known as Te Paepae o Aotea.

** He sent reports to the government about subversive activity.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Hanged,History,Martyrs,Mass Executions,Murder,New Zealand,Occupation and Colonialism,Posthumous Exonerations,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Wrongful Executions

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1923: Daniel Cooper, baby farmer

Add comment June 16th, 2013 Headsman

On this date in 1923, Daniel Cooper was hanged in Wellington, New Zealand for murder.

Cooper and his second wife — his first died under suspicious circumstances; many people suspected Cooper of poisoning her — had a racket as a “health specialist” in the Wellington suburb of Newlands. Their “rest care home” attracted police surveillance as a front for baby-farming/infanticide.

Baby-farming involved taking a payment from a new mother to give up her child with the wink-wink understanding that the child would be placed for “adoption.” Occasionally, this adoption might even happen; in general, however, the mother’s fee would not be enough to maintain the child for any length of time, and the newborn would either be murdered outright or kept in such meager care as to succumb to neglect.

Representative instance from Daniel Cooper’s case: a pregnant woman named Mary McLeod paid £50 for Cooper to arrange her child’s adoption by an unnamed couple from Palmerston North. McLeod delivered the child on October 12, 1922, at the Coopers’ farm, where both mother and daughter were cared for for a few days. On October 20, Cooper told McLeod that the Palmerston North family had collected the infant. Nobody ever saw it again. Cooper also had two children with a lover named Beatrice Beadle, and these were also “adopted” to parts unknown.

Daniel was finally arrested on December 30, 1922 for performing an abortion (completely illegal in New Zealand at the time), and the ensuing investigation turned up evidence of 10 additional abortions and, eventually, three children’s bodies on the couple’s property. Prosecutors would eventually argue that Mary McLeod’s child was one of these.

“Out-Heroding Herod” screamed sensational headlines around the “Newlands baby farmers” case.

While Daniel Cooper was easily convicted of murder, his wife Martha Cooper was adroitly defended by former Liberal M.P. T.M. Wilford — who characterized the wife as “a soulless household drudge without a mind of her own,” and won her acquittal on that basis.

At 8 a.m. on June 16 (shortly after releasing a confession which likewise exonerated Martha), Daniel Cooper was walked with his eyes tight shut to the gallows at Terrace Gaol,* hooded, and hanged.

Original newspaper coverage of this case can be perused freely at New Zealand’s Papers Past database of pre-1945 clippings.

* Since demolished; Te Aro school occupies the site today.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Abortion and Infanticide,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Murder,New Zealand

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1957: Walter James Bolton, the last hanged in New Zealand

11 comments February 18th, 2011 Headsman

New Zealand got itself permanently out of the execution business after hanging Walter Bolton this date in 1957 for the murder of his wife.

The 68-year-old farmer was condemned after his wife finally succumbed to a year-long bout with some mysterious recurring ailment — and the post-mortem revealed long-term arsenic poisoning. Since Bolton turned out to have been having an affair with his wife’s sister, the pieces just fell right into place.

Jurors found these circumstances credible enough to stretch Bolton’s neck, but there’s the small problem that Walter Bolton himself also tested for arsenic poisoning.

The defense argued that the farm’s wells must have soaked up the poison from sheep dip.

But if you like your wrongful executions more sinister than dunderheaded, you might turn a wary eye to that adulterous sister-in-law, Florence Doherty, who committed suicide a year after Bolton hanged. This 2001 Investigate magazine argues (beginning on p. 24 of the pdf) that Doherty may have been a serial arsenic poisoner.

(Bolton’s hanging was also botched, to complete the official dog’s breakfast.)

Whether or not Bolton was rightly accused, nothing along the lines of a public scandal over the case triggered death penalty abolition in New Zealand.

It was rather the First World’s collctive mid-20th century move away from capital punishment. Various abolition efforts building in the 1950’s finally led to a 1961 free vote on the matter, in which ten members of the conservative National Party broke party ranks to eliminate the death penalty for all ordinary crimes. (Decades later, a Labour government also eliminated the death penalty for treason; New Zealand has only ever hanged one person for that crime.)

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Botched Executions,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Milestones,Murder,New Zealand,Sex,Wrongful Executions

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1842: Maketu Wharetotara, New Zealand’s first execution

Add comment March 7th, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1842, New Zealand carried out its first official execution: the hanging of Maori teen Maketu Wharetotara for murdering five people.

The son of a Nga Puhi chief named Ruhe, Maketu took employment as a farmhand for a white household.

An ill-tempered white servant evidently offended him sufficiently to split the bugger’s skull with an axe … and since Maketu wasn’t the type to leave a job half-done, he went ahead and murdered the rest of the household, too.

European settlers, still a minority, initially worried that this outburst might herald the onset of a general native rising. The police magistrate even refused to apprehend the criminal, who had fled back to his people, for fear of triggering conflict.

But internal Maori politics would not let the boy off so lightly.

One of the household members he had murdered was a mixed-race granddaughter of another important Nga Puhi chief, which raised the specter of intertribal strife.

To pre-empt a possible bloodbath, Ruhe turned his own son over to the Europeans.

By British law, it was a pretty cut-and-dried case with a pretty predictable outcome which became, for the crown, a precedent establishing its authority over incidents of interracial violence.

(Maketu Wharetotara — baptized “Wiremu Kingi” by an Anglican minister on the morning of his execution — obtained his milestone status because another Maori minor who had previously been condemned to death died of dysentery before they could noose him.)

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Children,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Hanged,History,Milestones,Murder,New Zealand,Nobility,Notable Jurisprudence,Occupation and Colonialism,Public Executions,Racial and Ethnic Minorities

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1920: Dennis Gunn, hanged by a fingerprint

6 comments June 22nd, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 1920, Dennis Gunn’s fingerprints made history by hanging their owner for murder.

“You’ll have a job to prove it,” said Dennis Gunn when police charged him with murder.

Use of the fingerprint in forensic science had been developing over the decades preceding, and already begun to earn its bones with criminal convictions.

Dennis Gunn’s conviction marked a watershed in the mainstreaming of the youthful science, especially in New Zealand and the British Empire/Commonwealth: the first execution that hung — so to speak — on a print.

The 25-year-old was tied to the murder of Ponsonby postmaster Augustus Braithwaite because a smudge left on a stolen cashbox matched the prints Gunn had contributed to the nascent New Zealand fingerprint library when he had been convicted of evading military service two years before.

Armed with this connection, a police search of Gunn’s environs turned up the apparent tools of the crime — a revolver (with yet another matching print), a thieves’ kit, and more pilfered proceeds of the postal strongroom.

Gunn attempted to indict the reliability of the fingerprint evidence at trial, and according to the London Times (Apr. 20, 1920) he had the support in this endeavor of “public demonstrations of sympathy, men and women rushing to shake hands with Gunn.”

But it didn’t fly with the jury.*

Gunn’s condemnation, read the official report,

disposes of all attempts to question the conclusiveness of this class of evidence, and proves the truth of the remark of the Chief Justice of Australia, that a man who leaves a clear fingerprint on an object leaves there an unforgettable signature.

Law enforcement organs around the world rapidly accepted the principle.

Too rapidly? Some think so; and, in the train of a new century’s bulletproof identification technology, DNA, wrongful convictions founded on purported fingerprint matches have drawn some renewed scrutiny (pdf) to the technique that put Dennis Gunn on the Mount Eden Prison gallows this date in 1920.

* Playing for time after conviction, Gunn copped to the robbery and tried to pin the murder on a supposed confederate. No dice.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Milestones,Murder,New Zealand,Notable Sleuthing,Pelf

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1869: Hamiora Pere, Maori “traitor” to the Queen

2 comments November 16th, 2008 Headsman

On this date in 1869, Hamiora Pere became the only New Zealander ever executed for treason.

Maurice Shadbolt’s Season of the Jew is a historical novel of the conflict that doomed Hamiora Pere. It’s told from the standpoint of Te Kooti, who liked to compare the Maori cause to that of the Israelites resisting Egypt, and founded a religious sect that still persists today.

Pere* came by the distinction quite accidentally — even setting aside the queer circumstance of his “betraying” a state on the opposite side of the globe by resisting its claim to his ancestral homeland.

Hamiora Pere was one of five Maori prisoners from the Siege of Ngatapa during Te Kooti’s War — an indigenous resistance against British colonization — to face the fatal charge.

The crown handled these cases carefully.

Though all five men drew death sentences (mandatory for treason), the government was evidently trying to stay out of the martyr-making business — as revealed by a judge’s comment during official deliberations.

I believe the result is the very best that could have been arrived at. I am glad to know that Mr McLean thinks that one execution will be useful as more would have been by way of example and caution.

Unfortunately for Hamiora Pere, the one of those five who was most likely set up to be the “example,” Wi Tamararo, committed suicide in prison shortly after his sentence.

Pere seemingly became the next in line for hanging because he was associated with murders in a noteworthy massacre at Matawhero that slew 33 Europeans and 37 of their Maori allies. Notably, however, the charge of murder actually filed against him was dropped prior to trial since he could be placed at the scene of the attack, but not directly shown to have killed anyone. Even off the indictment, it may have been the thing that doomed him.

Whatever the nature of the deliberations — and this report (pdf) of New Zealand’s Waitangi Tribunal inconclusively attempts to unpack the story with the patchy evidence available — the remaining convicts got clemency. Four years later, they were pardoned outright.

Pere got the noose at Wellington, and the accidental historical footnote. He would seem destined to maintain his unusual distinction indefinitely, since New Zealand has abolished the death penalty altogether.

Fear of Death

It is the circumstantial distinction of his case that earns Pere his place in this blog out of the numberless thousands to meet his same fate.

But in the end, he faced the gallows in that existential nakedness common to all us mortal wretches beholding death. Many in these pages meet their ceremonial end with with bravado; Hamiora Pere, by contrast, suffered all the pitiably human torments of fear, according to the report of the Daily Southern Cross:

He received the notice of his approaching death with calmness, and it was not until the morning before the execution that he gave any outward sign that he realised his terrible position. … [after his last farewell with his family he] became terribly distressed. He evidently fully recognised his position; he knew that he had looked for the last time on those from whom only he had any right to expect sympathy; every incident was reminding him how rapidly his term of life was decreasing, and it was not until his spiritual adviser … had been with him some time, that he became more composed.

[on the morning of the execution, Pere’s] responses [to his spiritual advisor] were accompanied by a peculiar moaning, and by convulsive sobbing. … the prisoner, quite a young man, and with nothing in his general appearance worthy of special remark, was sobbing bitterly, and was evidently suffering from intense mental agony; he looked anxiously around, yet stood firm and erect while he was being pinioned, repeating, as well as his trembling voice would allow, the prayers that were being offered on his behalf. … At the foot of the steps [to the gallows] the prisoner halted a moment, but, being led up, was quickly placed in the centre of the platform, under the noose, which was immediately fixed round his neck. From the time the prisoner left his room, until the rope was adjusted, he continued praying in a low moaning tone, interrupted frequently by violent sobbing …

* Also spelled “Peri” and, occasionally, “Pera”.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,England,Execution,Guerrillas,Hanged,History,Milestones,Murder,New Zealand,Notable Jurisprudence,Occupation and Colonialism,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Soldiers,Treason,Wartime Executions

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