On this date in 1911, Joseph Christock — a “loose-jawed, low-browed fellow, a brother to the ox, under the fine-spun skin of the human” — was hanged for murder.
The last person executed in Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania had, a mere five months before, been a hired farmhand … until he drank himself stupid on cider and proceeded to rape the lady of the farm and murder both her and her 65-year-old mother.
The crime was a straightforward one, even if the prisoner was determined to run out the clock making what reads like a rather self-conscious display of bravado. (He wrote his own death-date into his Bible and coolly showed it off to a reporter; he also attempted suicide several times.)
my grandfather, charles reigle was a asst. warden at this time and joesph christock made an astrological drawing the night before the hanging which i possess along with a photo of my grandfather,joesph christock and the warden which i also posses.
I took the liberty of following up this comment, and Mr. Ron Young generously sent me copies of the images below, along with the following explanation.
The one is a photo of my grandfather, Charles Riegle, and the other is a drawing cristock made for my grandmother, Sarah Riegle. They,along with my mother, Dora and i don`t remember how many more of 13 children they had were living in a house right outside of the prison walls. The drawing always intrigued me because it looks astological, but could mean a number of things. My grandfather passed aroung 1938, so a lot of the stories, i heard were at a young age.
We don’t have any special research to add on this occasion, but submit them here with great gratitude to Mr. Young, and in the spirit of the uncanny. These small artifacts, from the doomed flesh of a long-dead murderer via two generations of a warden’s family, across a random meeting on the Internet and thence to points unknown.
This occupation lifted the virulent anti-semites Baky and Endre into national power, because along with keeping Hungary in the Axis coalition, the Nazis also forcibly overcame its junior partner’s former reticence about Jewish genocide.
Adolf Eichmann arrived into Nazified Hungary and used our day’s two principals (along with another executed collaborator, Andor Jaross, they’re known as the “deportation trio”) as his instruments. Within months, hundreds of thousands of Hungarian Jews were being shipped to the gas chambers. This period is one of the waypoints of pernicious Nazi race theory, when the collapsing German regime spent military resources urgently needed at the front to organize the mass slaughter of Jews.*
And they had to work fast, because by that next winter the Red Army was seizing Budapest. These enthusiastic fascist operators did not fare well by the postwar government.
On this date* in 1815, Anthony Lingard was hanged for murder and robbery at Derby.
Lingard strangled the widow who operated the Wardlow Miers tollbooth in order to rob her poor possessions and lavish those ill-gotten proceeds upon the girl he had impregnated — “with a view to induce her to father the child upon some other person.” That’s the world without contraception for you.
Lingard’s girl thought this bribe fishy and gave him back the widow’s incriminatingly distinctive shoes after hearing reports that footwear had been taken from the murder scene. Then, she testified against him at the Derby Assizes (Lingard had also confessed the crime). Tried on Saturday the 25th, convicted “after a few minutes,” and strung up in front of the county gaol at noontime Tuesday, Lingard “met his fate with a firmness which would deserve the praise of fortitude if it was not the result of insensibility. He appeared but little agitated or dejected by his dreadful situation.”
Rather than the increasingly standard post-execution coda of anatomization, Lingard’s body was given over to a use of more ancient vintage: gibbeting.
Hung up in chains on the aptly named Gibbot Field in Wardlow near the spot of the murder, Lingard’s bleaching bones provided a grisly object lesson to passersby of the consequences of crime. Or, maybe not: though the novelty at first made a crowd-pleasing spectacle, it soon faded into the scenery.
If what was left of Anthony Lingard failed to overawe his criminal counterparts, it did at least leave an impression on poet William Newton, who penned this sad meditation on the local landmark, found in full here. (It must have helped his perspective that Newton was into his sixties when the young pup hanged.)
“The supposed Soliloquy of a Father, under the Gibbet of his Son; upon one of the Peak Mountains”
TIME — Midnight. SCENE — A Storm.
Art thou, my Son, suspended here on high? —
Ah! what a sight to meet a Father’s eye!
To see what most I prized, what most I loved.
What most I cherish’d, — and once most approved,
Hung in mid air to feast the nauseous worm.
And waving horrid in the midnight storm!
Let me be calm; — down, down, my swelling soul;
Ye winds, be still, — ye thunders, cease to roll!
No! ye fierce winds, in all your fury rage;
Ye thunders, roll; ye elements, engage;
O’er me be all your mutual terrors spread.
And tear the thin hairs from my frenzied head:
Bring all your wrathful stores from either pole.
And strike your arrows through my burning soul :
I feel not, — fear not, — care not, — shrink not, — when
I know, — believe, — and feel, — ye are not men!
Storms but fulfil the high decrees of God,
But man usurps his sceptre and his rod.
Tears from his hand the ensigns of his power.
To be the petty tyrant of an hour.
My Son! My Son! how dreadful was thy crime!
Thy name stands branded to remotest time;
Gives all thy kindred to the eye of scorn,
Both those who are, and those that may be born;
Scatters through ages on thy hapless race
In every stage of life, and death, — disgrace:
In youth’s gay prime, in manhood’s perfect bloom.
Ah! more, — it ends not, dies not, on the tomb!
O woman! woman! choicest blessing given.
If pure; — the highest gift of highest heaven!
If lax, corrupt, deceitful, — worse than hell!
Worse than the worst of demons dare to tell!
It was thy lot, ill-fated Son! to find
Thy doom pour’d on thee by the faithless kind;
Fraudful, and false, their treacherous snares they spread.
And whelm’d destruction on thy thoughtless head.
To die, to perish from the face of earth.
Oblivion closing on thy name and birth.
Hid under ground from each invidious eye,
From every curious, every rancorous spy,
Was what thy crime deserved: — not more;
The rest seems cruelty. — When heretofore
Our barbarous sires the aweful Gibbet rear’d.
The Gibbet only, not the laws were fear’d:
The untutored ruffian, of an untaught clime,
Fear’d more the punishment than dreaded crime.
We boast refinement, say our laws are mild.
Dealt equally to all, the man, the child: —
But ye, who, argue thus, come here and see,
Feel with a Father’s feelings; — feel with me!
See that poor shrivell’d form the tempest brave.
See the red lightning strike, the waters lave.
The thunders volleying on that fenceless breast! —
Who can see this, and wish him not at rest?
At rest, — vague word! — the immaterial mind
Perhaps even now is floating on the wind: —
Ah! no, — not mind, — not spirit, — but the shell;
The mind ere this has drank of Mercy’s well:
‘Tis not for that I feel, for that I sigh.
But sweltering, putrid, rank mortality.
O! blind to truth, to all experience blind.
Who think such spectacles improve mankind:
Bid untamed youth on such sights feast his eyes,
Harden you may, but never humanise.
Ye who have life, or death, at your command.
If crime demand it, let the offender die.
But let no more the Gibbet brave the sky:
No more let vengeance on the dead be hurl’d.
But hide the victim from a gazing world.
Anthony Lingard was the last person ever gibbeted in Derbyshire. England abolished gibbeting and hanging in chains full stop in the 1830s.
* The date March 8 is widely attributed on other sites, but the primary documentation for March 28 is unambiguous. I want to suspect a seminal typo somewhere that’s been copied a thousand other times over.
Captured in Canton at the end of the war, Tanaka was tried by the Allied occupiers for permitting the execution of a downed American airman on April 6, 1945. That unnamed airman had been tried in wartime Japan for targeting civilians during his bombing raid, a judgment that Tanaka’s tribunal vociferously disputed.
Though he drew a hanging sentence for that offense, it was not carried out: instead, the doomed general was handed over to the Chinese nationalists to answer for the depredations of his 23rd army.
No surprise, the outcome there was pretty much the same.
A couple of years later, the very justice who had first examined Hunter received a grant to found a school. Brentwood School is still going strong in its fifth century, and on its grounds — directly adjacent, in fact, to the school’s first purpose-built room** — rests a stone for the edification of the generations of Anglican pupils who followed. It honors the young man who died to crack open a book.
WILLIAM HUNTER. MARTYR. Committed to the Flames March 26th MDLV.
Christian Reader, learn from his example to value the privilege of an open Bible. And be careful to maintain it.
An elm tree planted at that spot came to be known as the Martyrs Elm.
1847 illustration of Brentwood School and the Martyrs Elm.
* This is the date per Foxe’s Book of Martyrs; others give March 27. The memorial stone carries the day for our purposes in view of contradictory sourcing.
** The legend that Brentwood School was founded as the justice’s penance for dooming Hunter seems to be unfounded.
On this date in 1915, “the sentences of the court-martial on a batch of 45 mutineers of the 5th Light Infantry were promulgated in public” — as the Straits Times reported — “and, in the case of 22 who were condemned to death, the sentences were executed on the spot.”
A crowd of fifteen thousand watched the spirited Indian sepoys shot dead for revolting the previous month.
This demoralized 800-strong garrison of Punjabi Muslims — who had, it need hardly be added, a noble history of insurrection to think upon — was already deployed far from home to look after the imperial interests of the London gentry while British lads mustered for bayonet charges in No Man’s Lands.
The last straw for these sepoys was a rumor that they were to be shipped to the European theater and made to turn their weapons against the Turkish sultan, their Muslim coreligionist.*
On February 15, 1915, helpfully covered by the celebratory fireworks of the Chinese New Year, about half the garrison left its barracks, attacked its British officers, and started killing any European they came across. (Many British familes took refuge in jail cells.)
Around 40 died in a few days before a mixed British-French-Russian-Japanese force arrived to crush the revolt. It was just one among a number of insurrectionary outbreaks during the war to rattle Britain’s possessions in Asia and elsewhere.
Punishments meted out this day were not the end of it at all; the court of inquiry sat until May, sentencing several dozen to death and many others to prison terms or penal transportation.
And if the mutiny never really threatened British control of Singapore, the ethnic and religious fissures it exposed in the imperial order have obvious resonances (pdf) for our present day.
In order to distinguish mutineers from peaceable citizens, all Indian residents were required to register and obtain passes. This aroused considerable anger, which was exacerbated by the cavalier attitude of some registration officers, who acted as if all Indians were to blame.
* The Ottomans had also issued a call to jihad with the onset of war, hoping to drive just this sort of wedge among Britain’s colonies.
On this day in 2010, reggae artist, politician, activist and convicted child killer Modise Mokwadi Fly was hanged in Botswana’s capital city of Gaborone.
He was the second person to be executed under the administration of President Ian Khama; the first was also a child killer.
Fly, a South African national, had been general secretary of the Botswana Congress Party Youth League. On November 27, 2006, he killed his two-year-old son, Tawana Mosinyi, with an ax while the toddler slept. Fly maintained until his death that Tawana’s death was accidental and he’d actually been trying to throw his ax at the police who were firing shots at his house from outside. The prosecution believed Fly deliberately killed his son to spite the child’s mother, whom he’d recently quarreled with.
After his conviction on October 17, 2008, Fly apologized to Tawana’s family for his death. He sentenced to hang five days later, then he waited a year and a half for his date with death. Witnesses reported he seemed oddly cheerful and gregarious in court, smiling and chatting amiably with his friends and relatives who attended the trial.
In February 2010, the month before his execution, Fly made an attempt to escape from prison. He was the first prisoner to succeed in escaping from Botswana’s death row — but he was only free for fifteen minutes. After his capture, it was alleged, he was brutally beaten by the guards and then placed in solitary confinement so no one could see his injuries.
If the prison did in fact do this, it didn’t work: the news of the alleged mistreatment became public on March 23. Whether the timing had anything to do with his secretive execution the next day is unclear. Predictably, Botswana’s Department of Prisons and Rehabilitation denied that the prisoner had been abused or placed in isolation.
I am full of ambition and hope and of full charm of life. But I can renounce all at the time of need, and that is the real sacrifice. These things can never be hinderance in the way of man, provided he be a man. You will have the practical proof in the near future.
On this date in 1931,* India revolutionary Bhagat Singh was hanged by the British in Lahore, together with Shivaram Rajguru and Sukhdev Thapar. The hanging was surreptitiously done, on the evening before it was officially scheduled, with the men’s cremated ashes scattered into the nearby Satluj River.
Statue of the three March 23 martyrs near Amritsar, Punjab, close to the Pakistani border. (cc) image from Alicia Nijdam.
Though only 23 years of age when he hanged, Singh’s renown as a nationalist freedom-fighter was already considerable. It has not lessened in the intervening decades.
Till that time I was only a romantic revolutionary, just a follower of our leaders. Then came the time to shoulder the whole responsibility. … I began to study in a serious manner. My previous beliefs and convictions underwent a radical change. The romance of militancy dominated our predecessors; now serious ideas ousted this way of thinking. No more mysticism! No more blind faith! Now realism was our mode of thinking.
“It takes a loud noise to make the deaf hear,” read their leaflet, vindicating the (non-lethal) ordnance.
Singh’s arrest, along with a fellow bomb-tosser, was an intended consequence, but the official pursuit of the case against him also led back to Singh’s fellow-revolutionaries and bomb-manufacturers. Some of these were induced to inculpate Singh, Rajguru, and Thapar to the theretofore-unsolved murder of Lahore policeman John Saunders in December 28.
Saunders had been mistakenly assassinated: Singh et al took him for John Scott, a police superintendent who ordered a baton charge against protesters and personally helped beat to death one of the independence movement’s revered fathers.
While the law wrapped its coils about him, Singh led a successful hunger strike for better prison conditions, and kept churning out writing.
His example of sacrificial revolutionary ardor — not to mention his leftist politics — kept him a popular martyr figure for years after his death, all the way down to the present day.
Climactic execution scene from the 2002 Hindi flm The Legend of Bhagat Singh — one of many different cinematic adaptations of his story.
The Shaheedi Mela (Martyrdom Fair) is observed across Punjab each March 23 in honor of these men.
In the diary of that remarkable man, Gen. Patrick Gordon, who left Scotland in 1651 a poor, unfriended wanderer, and, when he died, in 1699, had his eyes closed by the affectionate hands of his sorrowing master, the Czar Peter the Great, the following entry is to be found, under date Hamburg, March 22, 1686:
This day, a man and a woman, a burgher of the towne being the womans master, for murthering, were carted from the prisone to the house where the murder was committed; and there before this house, with hotte pinsers, the flesh was torren out of their armes, and from thence were carted to the place of justice without the towne, and there broken and layed on wheeles.
One James Britton, a man ill affected both to our church discipline and civil government, and one Mary Latham, a proper young woman about 18 years of age, whose father was a godly man and had brought her up well, were condemned to die for adultery, upon a law formerly made and published in print.
It was thus occasioned and discovered. This woman, being rejected by a young man whom she had an affection unto, vowed she would marry the next that came to her, and accordingly, against her friends’ minds, she matched with an ancient man who had neither honesty nor ability, and one whom she had no affection unto.
Whereupon, soon after she was married, divers young men solicited her chastity, and drawing her into bad company, and giving her wine and other gifts, easily prevailed with her, and among others this Britton. But God smiting him with a deadly palsy and fearful horror of conscience withal, he could not keep secret, but discovered this, and other the like with other women, and was forced to acknowledge the justice of God in that having often called others fools, etc., for confessing against themselves, he was now forced to do the like. The woman dwelt now in Plymouth patent, and one of the magistrates there, hearing she was detected, etc., sent her to us.
Upon her examination, she confessed he did attempt the fact but did not commit it, and witness was produced that testified (which they both confessed) that in the evening of a day of humiliation through the country for England, etc., a company met at Britton’s and there continued drinking sack, etc., till late in the night, and then Britton and the woman were seen upon the ground together, a little from the house. It was reported also that she did frequently abuse her husband, setting a knife to his breast and threatening to kill him, calling him old rogue and cuckold, and said she would make him wear horns as big as a bull. And yet some of the magistrates thought the evidence not sufficient against her, because there were not two direct witnesses; but the jury cast her, and then she confessed the fact, and accused twelve others, whereof two were married men. Five of these were apprehended and committed, (the rest were gone,) but denying it, and there being no other witness against them than the testimony of a condemned person, there could be no proceeding against them.
The woman proved very penitent, and had deep apprehension of the foulness of her sin, and at length attained to hope of pardon by the blood of Christ, and was willing to die in satisfaction to justice. The man also was very much cast down for his sins, but was loth to die, and petitioned the general court for his life, but they would not grant it, though some of the magistrates spake much for it; and questioned the letter whether adultery was death by God’s law now.* This Britton had been a professor in England, but coming hither he opposed our church government, etc., and grew dissolute, losing both power and profession of godliness.
March 21 [1643/44*]. They were both executed, they both died very penitently, especially the woman, who had some comfortable hope of pardon of her sin, and gave good exhortation to all young maids to be obedient to their parents, and to take heed of evil company, etc.
While Puritan courts were certainly known to execute for sexualtransgressions, Mary and James appear to be the only documented case in the history of [what is now] the United States of an outright execution for adultery.**
The crime and the setting inevitably call to mind Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, and indeed he would likely have known about this case from Winthrop’s journals.
There are, however, even more compelling parallel cases — which, if they do not end on the scaffold, are at least as dramatic from the standpoint of posterity.
The case of the woman branded for adultery first appeared in the records of York, in what is now Maine. Dated 15 October 1651, the entry reads:
“We do present George Rogers for, & Mary Batchellor the wife of Mr. Steven Batcheller minister for adultery. It is ordered by ye Court yt George Rogers for his adultery with mis Batcheller shall forthwith have fourty stripes save one upon the bare skine given him: It is ordered yt mis Batcheller for her adultery shall receive 40 stroakes save one at ye First Towne meeting held at Kittery, 6 weekes after her delivery & be branded with the letter A.”
Beside that entry, written in the same hand, is the notation, “Execution Done.” It appears that Charles Edward Banks, in his History of York, Maine (1935), recognized the connection between Hawthorne’s novel and this case, for he refers to Mary Batchellor’s branding in a section titled “The Scarlet Letter.”
… the similarities between Hester Prynne and Mary Batchellor are so outstanding that is is tempting to argue for a direct source. For example, Mary Batchellor’s adultery is the only known case involving a child that can be linked to Hester’s plight. By postponing execution of the sentence until six weeks after Mrs. Batchellor’s delivery, the officials of York obviously considered the health of the unborn child. Hawthorne suggests a similar delay in the novel, for when Hester and Pearl appear in the opening scaffold scene, Pearl is “some three months old”.
It’s rather interesting to notice that in Latham and Britton’s case, even the judges who ultimately sentenced the lovers to die were overtly reluctant about doing so: the subtext of Winthrop’s narrative suggests to this reader that, had the pair not confessed, everyone would have been more than happy to use the “two witnesses” loophole to avoid noosing a concupiscent teenager stuck in a barren marriage. Whatever our caricature of them, Puritan elites too had some sense of proportionality about these things.
Even in Hawthorne, where the protagonist is punished only with public shaming, one of the crowd complains,
“This woman has brought shame upon us all, and ought to die. Is there not law for it? Truly, there is, both in the Scripture and the statute-book. Then let the magistrates, who have made it of no effect, thank themselves if their won wives and daughters go astray.”