Posts filed under 'USA'

1855: Jeremiah Craine

Add comment October 26th, 2018 Headsman

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

Susan, receive me; I will soon be with you.

-Jeremiah V. Craine, convicted of murder, hanging, California.
Executed October 26, 1855

Though married with four children in Kentucky, Craine had an affair with eighteen-year-old Susan Newnham. Craine, who believed in spiritualism, said his relationship with Susan was “sanctioned by heaven.” This did not stop Craine from shooting Susan several times, claiming that she pleaded that they make a suicide pact to escape gossip and her family’s anger about their relationship. Craine was stopped from committing suicide the next day. At his execution, Craine read an address to the assembled crowd, calling Susan his “wife.” He was allowed to sing a song he wrote to the tune of “The Indian Hunter’s Lament,” in which he described his wish to die.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,California,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,Murder,Public Executions,Sex,USA

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1790: Joseph Mountain, Atlantic picaro

1 comment October 20th, 2018 Headsman

The remarkable-if-true criminal autobiography of Joseph Mountain, executed on this date in 1790 in New Haven, Connecticut, is transcribed here from the Dec. 14 and 21, 1790 issues of Spooners Vermont Journal, which has repurposed them from the American Mercury.

From the AMERICAN MERCURY.

Sketches of the life of JOSEPH MOUNTAIN, a Negro, who was executed at Newhaven, on the 20th day of October, 1y790, for a Rape, committed on the 26th day of May last.

I, Joseph Mountain, was born on the 7th day of July, A.D. 1758, in the house of Samuel Mifflin, Esq., of Philadelphia, father of the present Governor of Pennsylvania. My father, Fling Mountain, is a Mulatto, and now lives at Philadelphia. My mother is a Negro and was a slave until she was twenty one years of age. She now lives at Reading in Pennsylvania.

The first seventeen years of my life were spent in Mr. Mifflin’s family. As a servant in the house I acquired the reputation of unusual uprightness and activity. My master was industrious to instruct me in the Presbyterian religion which he professed, teach me to read and write, and impress my mind with sentiments of virtue. How grossly these opportunities have been neglected, the following story will too fully evince.

In the 17th year of my age, on the 17th of March 1775, with my master’s consent, I entered on board the ship Chalkley, commanded by Joseph Spain, and owned by Messirs. James and Drinker of Philadelphia, and on the 20th of May following we arrived in the Downs. I soon quitted the vessel, and in four days was strolling the streets of London in quest of amusements. In this situation, the public will easily conceive, I could not long remain an idle spectator. It will not be surprising to find me speedily initiated in practices disgraceful to human nature, and destructive of every moral virtue. Unfortunately for me, a scene began to open which will close only in the shadow of death.

One day, at an alehouse in London, I accidentally became acquainted with one Francis Hyde, originally from Middlesex, and one Thomas Wilson, of Staffordshire in England. They were travelling the country, with a hand organ and various other musical instruments, pretending to great art in numerous performances, and really professing surprising knowledge in every species of juggling. This was their employment in the day time, for the purpose of executing more effectually the principal business of their lives, viz. highway robbery. [Here a footnote in the original text clarifies that “the reader will note, that when we use the term footpad we mean him who robs on foot only; highwayman intends one who robs on horseback.” -ed.] They soon found me susceptible of almost any impression, and neither incapable of, nor averse to, becoming a companion in their iniquity. We all set out from London about 8 o’clock in the evening after I had joined them, each armed with a hanger and a brace of pistols. We had also suitable dresses and a dark lanthorn. Our landlord, who kept tavern at the sign of the Black horse, in Charingcross, furnished us with every requisite for the expedition. His name was William Humphrys. The plan this evening was to attack the mail coach, which would start at 12 o’clock at night, from the ship tavern, between Woolwich and Gravesend, about 9 miles from London.

We were on the spot at the hour agreed upon, and dignified ourselves for the adventure. Hyde and Wilson were dressed in white frocks and boots, with their faces painted yellow to resemble Mulattoes. Mountain was dressed in the same manner, with the addition of a large tail wig, white gloves, and a black mask over his face. When the stage arrived, I started, and caught the leading horses by their bridles, while Hyde and Wilson each presented a brace of pistols in at the coach window, and demanded of the passengers their money. There were four gentlemen and one lady in the coach. They denied having any money. Wilson said, “Deliver, or death.” They then gave us a bank note of 50 l. one other of 20 l. and about 60 guineas in cash. We then retired to an unfrequented place, shifted [?] our dresses, and prepared to prosecute our journey to Chathaw in the County of Kent.

In the day time, Hyde and Wilson commonly played upon their instruments, and preformed [sic] various feats of slight of hand, as though that was their sole occupation. We were also very particular in making observations upon all travellers, to learn if they might be touched (For that was our word for robbed).

In four days after the former robbery, we met a Capt. Hill, at the foot of Rochester bridge near Chatham — He was a captain of the marines, and we had seen him in the day time at Brumpton Barracks, about half a mile from the bridge. We walked directly before his horse. Wison asked him the time of night. He made no reply. Hyde then caught the bridle; I, his left hand, and Wilson presented a pistol to his breast, and said, “Deliver, or death.” He assured us that he had no money worth taking. Wilson said, “then give us your watch,” which he did. The watch was gold, and valued at 50 guineas. We then walked off about 300 rods towards Gravesend, and immediately tacked for Rochester, where we lodged at the mariner’s inn. There was a great hue and cry for us; but the pursuers, supposing from Capt. Hill’s information, we had gone for Gravesend, entirely mistook our rout. The next morning we took postchaise for London, where we arrived about 6 o’clock in the evening. Our booty was delivered to a broker whom we constantly employed. He was a Jew, and lived in St. Katherine’s Row, near Tower-hill, and his name was William Moses. There were also other brokers in different parts of England, with whom we had constant communication, and who were perfectly acquainted with our modes of acquiring property. After such a jaunt we thought it adviseable to recruit ourselves by rioting on our spoils.

In a few days, it was concluded that I should go alone, and attempt to “touch” some gentlemen who frequented the play at Covent Garden: this, considering my age and inexperience, was thought rather a bold stroke. Being villain enough to attempt any thing, I did not hesitate; but posted myself agreeably to direction. My efforts were wholly unsuccessful and I returned empty. The next night I was placed at London bridge, while Hyde stood at Blackfriars, and Wilson at Westminster. At half-past 11 o’clock I met a Captain Duffield, and asked him the time of night. He told me. I said, “You know my profession; deliver or death.” He stepped back to strike me with his cane; I cocked my pistol, and told him to deliver instantly, or death should be his portion. He then threw me his purse, which contained about 10 guineas and a silver watch, which was valued by our broker at 6 l. Hide, the same night, obtained about 40 guineas of Sir John Griffing, Wilson about 30 of a Mr. Burke; and each a watch, one gold, the other pinchbeck. The next day we saw advertisements describing the robberies, and offering rewards for the perpetrators.

The next night, with little difficulty, I robbed Hugh Lindsly of 16 guineas, and a gold ring. Hyde, on the same evening, took from Lord John Cavendish about 20 guineas, and Wilson robbed William Burke of 11 guineas.

We now concluded to remain in London for a while, gentlemen of pleasure. the repeated robberies had furnished us with cash in abundance, and we indulged in every species of debauchery. We gambled very deeply at dice, cards and billiards. Hyde and Wilson were very expert at this business, and wou’d almost invariably swindle, a stranger out of his money.

In March 1776 we went to the city of York, about 200 miles from London. Here we continued several weeks, waiting some favorable opportunities to rob at the plays; but none presented. We went from York to Newmarket, to attend the famous races which took place about the first of June. There we found Lord Gore of Richmond, and Lord Tufton of Sheffield in Yorkshire: We were much perplexed to invent the most advantageous mode of “touching” them. It was at length concluded to attack them at their lodgings, which were at an inn very large and greatly frequented by various classes of people. About 7 o’clock in the evening, while the attendants of those gentlemen were in the kitchens and stables, we entered the front door, and having bribed the porter with a few guineas, were immediately let into the room. Lords Tore and Tufton were sitting over a table at a dish of coffee, and reading newspapers. We instantly presented our pistols and demanded their money. Lord Tufton delivered us one bank note of 100 l. and three others of 50 l. each. Lord Gore delivered us about 100 guineas and two gold mourning rings. We quitted Newmarket next morning, and went in the flags to York, where Wilson presented his bills for payment. Unfortunately for us, Lord Tufton immediately after the robbery dispatched his servant to the bank, with orders to stop those bills if offered. The bills were accordingly stopped, and Wilson arrested and sent to Newmarket to be examined before a justice of the peace. Upon his examination he pressed Hyde to swear that he was riding from Newmarket to York with Wilson, and that he saw him pick up a pocket book containing those bills. The coachman, having been previously bribed, swore to the same fact. Upon this testimony, Wilson was acquitted. I was not sent for as a witness at this examination, as I understood Lord Robert Manners was then in Newmarket, and would probably attend the trial. The reason why I did not wish to meet his Lordship’s eye was, that on the night before we left London, I made a most daring attack upon him. He was walking unarmed, near Hounslow Heath, attended by his footman. I met him, presented my pistol, and he gave me 75 guineas, two gold watches, and two gold rings. Hyde and Wilson were near at hand; but they did not discover themselves, leaving me “to play the hero alone.”

In the latter end of June we again met at the old rendezvous in London and divided our plunder. The property which I then had on hand enabled me to live very freely for some months. My time was spent in that round of dissipation which was the necessary attendant upon so vicious a character, and which was tolerably well supported by the stock of cash in my own possession, and that of my broker.

I now resolved to quit this course of life which I had hitherto pursued with so much success. Accordingly I entered on board the brig Sally [?], as cook, and made two voyages in her to Lisbon. Upon my return, after exhausting my pay, I made another voyage in the Fanny, Capt. Sinclair, to Kingston in Jamaica: Which being finished in nine months, I again visited London, and concluded to relinquish the seafaring business for the present. At the old place of resort I became acquainted with one Haynes and Jones, both of Yorkshire. They were partially initiated in the science of footpads. They soon proposed that I should resume my profession, and join them. My former mode of life, though singularly vicious, yet possessed many charms in my view. I therefore complied with their request; at the same time doubting, if they were possessed of sufficient courage and skill for companions to one who had served under experienced makers, and who considered himself at the head of the profession. Our first object was to assail the Newcastle stage, which would be in Tottenham Court road at 8 o’clock in the evening. We were on the spot in season, and Mountain addressed them thus: “My lads, it is a hazardous attempt — for God’s sake make a bold stroke.” Upon the arrival of the coach at half past 7 o’clock, four miles from London, I seized the bridles of the two foremost horses. Jones and Jaynes went to the coach door, and said, “Deliver, or death.” Lord Garnick and several others were passengers: His Lordship said, “Yes, yes, I’ll deliver,” and instantly discharged a pistol at Jones, the contents of which entered his left shoulder: Upon which he and Haynes made their escape. The coachmen was then directed to drive on. He replied, “There is a man who yet holds the leading horses.” Lord Garnick then fired at me, but without damage; upon which I discharged my pistol at the coach, but without effect. Jones was so badly wounded, that Hyanes and I were obliged to carry him into London upon our shoulders. We were soon overtaken by two highwaymen, who had assaulted Lord Garnick about 15 minutes before our engagement, one of whom was badly wounded. The next day we saw an advertisement offering a reward of 60 guineas for the detection of the robbers, and informing, that it was supposing three were killed. This specimen of the enterprize of my new associates convinced me, that they were not adepts in their occupation, and induced me to quit their society.

The business which now seemed most alluring to me, was that of highwayman. Considering myself at the head of footpads, I aspired for a more honorable employment, and therefore determined to join myself to the gang of highwaymen, whose rendezvous were at Broad St. Giles’s, up Holborne, at the sing of the Hampshire hog, and kept by a William Harrison, a native of the Isle of Man. Harrison was the support, the protector and the landlord of this whole company. The horses and accoutrements were kept and furnished by him, and occasionally supplied to adventurers. He inquired my name, and finding that I was Mountain, who was confederate with Hyde and Wilson, he readily admitted me to the fratnerity. He asked if I dared to take a jaunt alone; and finding me willing for any thing, he quickly furnished me with equipments proper for the expedition. Mounted on a very fleet horse, and prepared with proper changes of dress, I set out for Coventry, about 90 miles from London. I made great dispatch in travelling, and about 10 o’clock the night after my departure, I met Richard Watts coming out of a lane about two miles from Coventry. I rode up to him, and inquired if he was afraid of highwaymen. He replied, “No, I have no property of value about me.” I then told him that I was a man of the profession, and that he must deliver or abide the consequences. Upon this he gave me his gold watch: I insisted on his money, and cocked my pistol, threatening him with instant death. He perceived that resistance and persuasion were equally unavailable, and threw me his purse, containing 13 half guineas and some pocket pieces. The gold watch was valued at 40 guinea. I then ordered him back down the lane, accompanied him thither, and fled with the greatest haste into an adjacent wood: Here I shifted my own and horse’s dress, leaving them in a bye place, rode directly to a neighboring town, and there put up for the night: Thence I took my course for Newcastle in Devonshire, about 270 miles north of London, and thence to Warrington in Lancastershire. Here about 7 o’clock in the evening I met with a gentleman who drew his watch, and told me the hour. I observed, “You have a very fine watch.” He answered, “Fine enough.” “Sir, ’tis too fine for you — you know my profession — deliver.” He drew back, I caught his bridle, with one hand, presented a pistol with the other, and said, “Deliver, or I’ll cool your porridge:” He handed me his purse of 8 guineas, and a gold watch valued at 30 l. sterling. To complete the iniquity, and exhibit the extent of my villany [sic], I then took a prayerbook from my pocket, and ordered him to swear upon this solemnity of God’s word, that he would make no discovery in twelve hours: He took the oath: I quitted him, and heard nothing of the matter until the next morning about 10 o’clock, when I saw a particular detail of the transaction in the newspapers.

Liverpool was my next stage. Here I tarried two days making observations for evening adventures. On the night of the second day I robbed Thomas Reave of 6 guineas, and a gold watch worth 30 l. sterling. To insult him in his distress, after committing the act, I pulled off my hat, made a low bow, wished him good night, and set out for Lancaster in company with the stage. It occurred to me, that riding as a guard to the stage would secure me against suspicion. Accordingly, I accompanied it to Lancaster, and there put up at the “swan and two necks.” Here I continued three days, waiting a favorable opportunity to exercise my profession. On the third evening at eight o’clock, I stopped a Col. Pritchard, took from him a gold watch valued at 44 guineas, a purse of 30 guineas, 3 gold rings, and a pair of gold kneebuckles worth 6 l. The kneebuckles appeared so tempting, I told Pritchard, I could not avoid taking them. At 11 o’clock I left Lancaster, and having rode about one mile from town, I stopped, pulled off my hat, and bid them “good bye.”

My course was now for Manchester, where I put up for about 24 hours at the “bull’s head.” The evening following I touched a Quaker. It was nearly 9 o’clock when I met him. I inquired if he was not afraid to ride alone. He answered, No. I asked him his religion; he replied, “I am a Friend.” I observed, “You are the very man I was looking for — you must deliver your money.” He seemed very unwilling, and said, “Thou art very hard with me.” I replied, “You must not thou me.” He then gave me his plain gold watch, 6 guineas, and 4 bank notes of 20 l. each. I then presented a prayer book, and demanded an oath that he would make no discovery in 3 hours: He refused an oath, alledging that it was contrary to his religion, but gave his word that my request should be complied with. I then dismissed him, returning the bank notes and took a circuitous rout for London. The guineas which I had obtained in this jaunt, I concealed and carried in the soles of my boots, which were calculated for that purpose, and effectually answered it. The mare which I rode was trained for the business. She would put her head in at a coach window with the utmost ease, and stand like a stock against any thing. She would travel also with surprising speed. Upon my arrival at Harrison’s (having been gone eleven days) I gave a faithful narrative of my transactions, and produced the plunder as undeniable proof. I never shall forget with what joy I was received. The house rung with the praises of Mountain. An elegant supper was provided, and he placed at the head of the table. Notwithstanding the darkness of his complexion, he was complimented as the first of his profession, and qualified for the most daring enterprizes.

Fatigued with such a jaunt, and fearing lest too frequent adventures might expose me, I determined on tarrying a while at home. My horse was given to another, and he directed to seek for prey.

After one month’s absence he returned with only 16 guineas, and was treated accordingly by the gang. He was inadequate to the business, and was therefore ordered to tarry at home, just to visit the playhouses and sharp it among people who might easily be [choufed?] of their property. Each took his tour of duty in course; some succeeded; others, from misfortune or want of spirit, was [sic] disgraced. One young fellow of the party was about this time detected at Guilford in Surry, tried, condemned and executed. He made no discovery, though we all trembled. A plan was now in agitation to dispatch two or three of the gang to Portsmouth, to attack some of the navy officers: It was finally adopted, and one Billy Coats, a Londoner, and Mountain were selected as the most suitable for the expedition. We mounted our horses on the next morning, and reached Portsmouth that day, a distance of more than 70 miles. We took lodgings at an inn kept by a rich old miser. We were soon convinced that he had cash in plenty, and that it “was our duty to get it;” but the difficulty was what plan should be concerted. At length, by a stratagem which was deeply laid, and faithfully executed, we plundered the old man’s hosue of 300 guineas, and 50 l. sterling in shillings and sixpences. There was a very great clamor raised the next morning. The house was surrounded with the populace. The old fellow was raving at a great rate for the loss of his money. I was a spectator of this chagrin of the old man and his wife. We remained at Portsmouth two days, and then returned to London richly laden, and received the applause of our companions. The three following months I spent in frequently ale-houses, defrauding and cheating, with false dice, and practicing every species of imposition which ingenuity could invent, or the most depraved heart execute.

In the beginning of June 1780, I joined the mob headed by Lord George Gordon. This mob was the result of a dispute between the Papists and the Protestants. It was a matter of the most sovereign indifference to me, whether the rebellion was just or unjust: I eagerly joined the sport, rejoicing that an opportunity presented whereby I might obtain considerable plunder in the general confusion. Lord Gordon represented to us in a speech of some length, the open attempts upon the Protestant religion, and the manner in which the petitions of the injured had been treated by parliament. He exhorted us all to follow him to the house of commons, and protect him while he should present, with his own hand, the parchment roll, containing the names of those who had signed the petition, to the amount of about 120,000 protestants. His speech was answered with loud huzzas, and repeated assurances of our zeal to support him and his cause. The whole body of us, in number about 50,000, left St. George’s fields, and marched directly for the parliament house: We were in four separate divisions. A most tremendous shout was heard from all quarters, upon our arrival before both houses. Lord Gordon moved that he might introduce the petition; but the house would not consent that it should be then taken up. The mob became greatly inflamed; they insulted several members of the house of lords, who narrowly escaped with their lives. Several gentlemen of parliament reprobated the conduct of Lord George in the severest terms; and Col. Gordon, a relation of his Lordship, threatened him with instant death the moment any of the rioters should enter the house. At length, when the question was put in the house of commons, in defiance of the menaces of the mob, only six out of two hundred voted for the petition. The rioters now disposed themselves into various parts of the city, destroying and burning the chapels of the Roman Catholics and their houses. The five succeeding days were employed in demolishing the houses of Sir George Saville, in burning Newgate, and relieving about 300 persons confined in it, (some under sentence of death) in setting fire to King’s Bench and Fleetprisons, and in innumerable other acts of violence and outrage towards those who wer ein the opposition. The bank was twice assailed, but was two [sic] well guarded for our attempts. On the 7th day we were overpowered by superior force, and obliged to disperse. During this confusion, I provided for myself, by plundering, at various times, about 500 l. sterling.

(To be concluded in our next.)

(The narrative continues in the Dec. 21 issue)

After leading a live of such dissipation, for five or six years, an incident occurred which caused me, for some time, to abandon my former pursuit and settle down in tolerable regularity. I became acquainted with a Miss Nancy Allingame, a white girl of about 18 years of age. She was possessed of about 500 l. in personal property, and a house at Islington. It may appear singular to many, that a woman of this description should be in the least interested in my favor; yet such was the fact, and she not only endured my society, but actually married me in about six months after our first acquaintance. Her father and friends remonstrated against this connexion; but she quitted them all, and united herself to me. My whole residence with her was about three years, during which time I exhausted all the property which came into my possession by the marriage. We then separated, and she was received by her father.

In June 1782, having joined Hyde and Wilson, we determined to quit England and see if the French gentlemen could bear “touching.” We accordingly crossed at Dover, and at Dunkirk about 7 o’clock in the evening robbed a gentlemen of about 200 French crowns. We then proceeded to Paris by way of Brest. On the second evening after our arrival in this city, we robbed Count Dillon, on his return from the plays, of a gold watch and 12 French guineas. The next day, about 1 o’clock in the afternoon, we attacked Governor Du Boyer, at his country seat, about four miles from Paris, and took from him about 200 l. in bank bills. Hyde and Wilson performed this, while I lay about 250 yards distant.

Dispatch in travelling, after such bold adventures, became very necessary. We immediately quitted Paris, and rode all night for Havre de Grace, where we arrived the evening of the next day. Here we found an advertisement, which prevented our changing the notes and induced us to burn them.

Bayonne was the next object of our pursuit. At this place Hyde robbed two gentlemen in one night, Willson one, and Mountain one — the whole of that evening’s plunder amounted to about 500 l. sterling. France now became dangerous, and therefore we pushed with all possible expedition for Spain, and arrived at Madrid, the capital, in a few days. The regulations of this city were such, that we were obliged to quit the object of our pursuit. The city was strongly walled in, and most scrupulously guarded. The gates were shut every evening at 8 o’clock, and every man compelled to be in his own habitation. After spending several months in rioting on our booty, we went to Gibraltar. We bribed the Spanish centinel, and entered the British lines. We appeared before the English commander, General Elliot, and informed him we were Englishmen, and mechanicks by profession. The fleet commanded by Lord How, arrived there on the fourth day after us. General Elliot consented that we should enter on board the fleet as seamen. Accordingly I joined myself to the Magnificent of 74 guns, commanded by Capt. John Elverston; Hyde entered the Victory, Lord Hose; and Wilson a 74 gun ship, whose name I do not recollect. This was in the fall of 1782. I never saw Hyde and Wilson again until since the peace took place between England and the United States. I tarried on board the Magnificent about three months, during which time we had an engagement with the French and Spanish fleets. We drove them out of the Straits, sunk their junk ships with hot shot, and captured the St. Michael, a Spanish ship of 74 guns. The Magnificent sailed with the fleet for Spithead, where, directly after my arrival, I made my escape from her by bribing the centinel with 5 guineas, and swimming three quarters of a mile to the Isle of Wight. From this place I went to London by way of Plymouth. The landlord at the old place of resort received me very cordially.

The business of robbing again solicited my attention, and in the fall of the year 1783, as I was walking in Wapping in quest of plunder, I accidentally fell in company with my old companions, Hyde and Wilson. They had remained in the sea service ever since we left Gibralttar. We concluded it adviseable to join ourselves to the gang at Harrison’s, and resume our occupation. Holland now appeared an object worth attention. In November 1783, we went to Ostend, and thence to Amsterdam. On the road through Holland, we knocked an old Dutchman down, and took from him 1100 guilders. The next day about 4 [o’]clock in the morning, Hyde attacked a merchant, and obtained about 100 guilders; and the evening following, we robbed four gentlemen of about 150 l. sterling, and three silver watches of small value. We continued living very freely at Amsterdam 4 weeks, without effecting any thing: During which period we were preparing to assail a bank. At length, by the help of various instruments, we entered it about 1 o’clock at night. We found an iron chest which we could not open. We brought a way two bags of gold, containing about 1100 l. sterling. We buried them about 2 miles distant, and suffered them to remain there two months. The noise, relative to the robbery having by this time subsided, we took our money, entered on board a vessel bound for England, and were safely back in London in the spring of the year 1784. To invest our cash, &c. in real property and quit a course of life attended with so much fatigue and hazard, was thought the most eligible plan. In pursuance of this idea, Hyde bought him an house and lot about four miles from London. My share was joined with Hyde’s. Wilson purchased him a situation at Cherry gardenstairs. Each kept an house for the reception of gamblers, swindlers and footpads.

The rioters who were concerned in Lord Gordon’s rebellion were now daily arrested, tried and executed. Knowing myself deeply concerned in this mob, and supposing it probable that Mountain’s turn might come next, I quitted London, went on board an European vessel, and made a voyage to Grenada. From this period until August 1789, I was employed as a sailor, during which time I made two voyages to the coast of Guinea, and brought cargoes of negroes to Jamaica; one voyage to Greenland; one to Leghorn and Venice; three to Philadelphia, and one to St. Kitts. Upon my return from voyages, I frequently went from Liverpool to London, and put up at Hyde’s or Wilson’s. In October 1786, we committed a burglary upon the house of General Arnold, who then resided in London. We entered his house about 2 o’clock at night, with a dark lantern, and, from a bureau in the room where the General and Lady were asleep, we stole about 150 l. sterling, in cash, and a pair of stone shoe buckles.

In the month of August 1789, I left Newyork in the Briton, with a cargo of bread and flour owned by Mr. John Murray, jun. of New york, and went to Bilboa in Spain. The vessel proved leaky, and was sold. Being discharged, I entered on board the brig Aunt, commanded by Captain Thomas Mosely, and owned by William Gray, of Boston, sailed from Bilboa the 7th day of March, and arrived in Boston the 2d of May last. On the 14th of the same month I quitted Boston on foot for Newyork. On my journey, at Easthartford, I stole five dollars from the cabin of a sloop lying in Connecticut river. I was immediately apprehended, carried before George Pitkin, Esq. and adjudged to be whipped ten stripes. The sentence was executed forthwith, and I dismissed. This was the first time I was ever arraigned before any court. No event in my antecedent life produced such mortification as this; that a highwayman of the first eminence, who had robbed in most of the cities in Europe, who had attacked gentlemen of the first distinction with success; who had escaped King’s bench prison and Old Bailey, that he should be punished for such a petty offence, in such an obscure part of the country, was truly humiliating. On the Saturday evening following, I arrived at Newhaven. The Wednesday following, being the 26th of May, about 2 o’clock in the afternoon, I set out for Newyork: At the distance of one mile, I met the unhappy girl whom I have so wantonly injured. She was in company with an older [friend?], going into Newhaven. I began a conversation with them, and attempted, by persuasion, to effect my purpose. They were terrified at my conduct, and endeavored to avoid me. Upon this I seized the eldest girl; she, however, struggled from me. I then caught the younger, and threw her on the ground. I have uniformly thought that the witnesses were mistaken in swearing to the commission of a Rape: That I abused her in a most brutal and savage manner; that her tender years and pitiable shrieks were unavailable; and that no exertion was wanting to ruin her, I frankly confess. However I may attempt to palliate this transaction, there can be no excuse given for me, unless intoxication may be pleaded in mitigation of an offence. It was a most cruel attack upon an innocent girl, whose years, whose intreaties must have softened an heart not callous to every tender feeling. When her cries had brought to her assistance some neighboring people, I continued my barbarity, by insulting her in her distress, boasting of the fact, and glorying in my iniquity. Upon reflection, I am often surprised that I did not attempt my escape; opportunity to effect it frequently presented before I was apprehended. Yet, by some unaccountable fatality, I loitered unconcerned, as though my conduct would bear the strictest scrutiny. The counsel of heaven determined that such a prodigy in vice should no longer infest society. At four o’clock I was brought before Mr. Justice Daggert for examination. The testimony was so pointed, that I was ordered into immediate confinement, to await the approaching session of the Superiour Court.

On the 5th of August last, I was arraigned before the Bar of the Superiour Court. My trial was far more favorable than I expected. There was every indulgence granted me which I could have wished; and the court, jurors and spectators appeared very differently from those I have seen at Old Bailey. The jury had little hesitation; indeed the most compassionate hearer of this cause could have only pronounced me Guilty. I beheld with astonishment the lenity of the court, and am sure, that in a country where such a sacred regard is had to the liberty of the subject, no man’s life can be unjustly taken from him. On the Tuesday following, the Chief Justice pronounced Sentence of Death against me. I thought myself less moved with this pathetic address than either of the court, or any spectator, and yet, I confess, I was more affected by it, than by any thing which had previously happened in my life. On the next sabbath I attended meeting. The address of the Rev. Dr. Dana on that day, and the subsequent advice and admonitions which I have received from the Clergy of this and other places, were calculated to awaken every feeling of my heart. Much gratitude is due to those gentlemen who have exhibited such a tender concern for my immortal interest.

It now remains that I die a death justly merited by my crimes, “The crimes of injured innocence have entered the ears of the Lord of Sabbath, and called for vengeance.” If the reader of this story can acquiesce in my fate, and view me “stumbling on the dark mountain of the shadow of death,” with composure, he will yet compassionate a soul stained with the [strongest?] crimes, just about to appear unembodied before a God of infinite purity.

JOSEPH MOUNTAIN.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Connecticut,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Hanged,Public Executions,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Rape,USA

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1734: John Ormesby and Matthew Cushing

Add comment October 17th, 2018 Headsman

If the attached A Few Lines upon the Awful Execution of John Ormesby & Matthew Cushing intrigues, get to know America’s “first celebrity burglar” via a profile from friend of the site Anthony Vaver (author of Bound with an Iron Chain and Early American Criminals).

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1752: William Jillet, Daniel Johnson, and David Smith

Add comment October 16th, 2018 Headsman

From the New-York Mercury, Nov. 27, 1752:

Newbern, in North-Carolina, August 28.

About a Fortnight ago, was committed to Goal in this Town, four Men, viz. Patrick Moore, a Taylor by Trade, Daniel Johnson, alias Dixon, a Chymist or Doctor, William Jillet, a Blacksmith, and Peter Matthews, for making bad Money: They were taken by the Sheriff of this County at Peter Matthews’s House, about 30 Miles from this Town, near to which, in a great Swamp, they had erected a Forge, and prepared Moulds and other Materials for making Doubloons, Pistoles, Pieces of Eight and half Pistereens: There were some of the Doubloons a Pistole, Pieces of Eight, and half Pistereens found upon them, but so badly done as not to be easily imposed upon any Body; which may be owing to the timely Discovery of the Plot, which prevented their finishing them in the Manner they intended; for the Similitude as to Size, is very exact, only they are much wanting in Colour, which perhaps was to have been the finishing Stroke.

Patrick Moore, who upon his Examination, seems to give the clearest Evidence, says, That he lived in Virginia, and work’d at this Trade, at the House of one Richard Booker, in Glocester [sic] County, where the said Daniel Johnson, alias Dillon, and William Jillet, resorted; that the said Booker gave him the said Moore, a small Boat, with Provisions sufficient, to bring the said Johnson, alias Dixon, and William Jillet, with their Bellows, Hammer, Moulds, and other Materials for making Money, into this Province; which he accordingly did about two Months since, and landed them up Neuse River, from whence they travelled to the House of the said Peter Matthews, as above, set up their Forge, and were proceeding to the good Work; and would, in all Probability, have plyed us plentifully with Doubloons, Pistoles, and Pieces of Eight, had not the Plot been timely discovered.

From the Pennsylvania Gazette, Nov. 23, 1752:

Newbern, in North-Carolina, October 6.

On Tuesday last ended the General Court here, when three Persons were capitally convicted, and received Sentence of Death, viz. William Jillet, and Daniel Johnston, alias Dixon, for Coining; and David Smith, alias Griffith, for Felony, in Robbing a Store in Johnson County, about four Years ago.

Patrick Moore, who was concerned with the Coiners, turn’d Evidence against them; and Peter Matthews, at whose House they were taken, and who was thought to have been concern’d with them, was acquitted.

October 20. On Monday last was executed at the Gallows near this Town, pursuant to their Sentence, Daniel Johnston, alias Dixon, William Jillet, and David Smith, alias Griffith. They were attended to the Gallows by the Rev. Mr. Lopierre, who also attended them while in Goal. They all appeared very penitent, and expressed much Sorrow and Contrition for their Crimes, which they confessed; and Jillet and Johnston declared Patrick Moore to have been the sole Contriver and Promoter of the wretched Scheme, for which they suffered, and which would have been so destructive to the Community had it succeeded. Johnston died a stanch Roman Catholick, and was very earnest and pathetick in his Prayers for the Friends and Followers of Lord Lovat, Kilmarnock, Balmerino, and all the Rebels that suffer’d in the late Rebellion, and heartily pray’d for a Continuance of that noble Spirit which he hop’d was yet alive in Scotland among the Well-wishers of the Pretender.

They made several Attempts, while in Goal, to escape, but were prevented by the Sheriff, who kept a Watch round the Prison every Night; and indeed it has been intirely owing to his great Vigilance and Industry, that these Pests of Society were first apprehended, and preserv’d safe in a Goal (which has hitherto been remarkable for letting Prisoners escape) till they received the Reward due to their Crimes.

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1789: Five wheelbarrow men

3 comments October 12th, 2018 Headsman

John Byrns (aka Francis Burns), John Bennet, Daniel Cronan, John Ferguson (aka John Taylor) and John Logan* hanged in Philadelphia on this date in 1789.

The offenders were “wheelbarrow men,” which in the idiolect specific to late 1780s Pennsylvania denoted prisoners who were detailed, in order “to correct and reform offenders, and to produce such strong impressions on the minds of others as to deter them from committing the like offences,” to suffer “continued hard labour publicly and disgracefully imposed.”

As its own text declares, the 1786 statute creating this class was a part of Pennsylvania’s avant-garde move towards a penitential penal philosophy, with a corresponding reduction in capital sentences for property crimes: Pennsylvania had hanged about 40 people for mere robbery or burglary in the preceding decade. As explained by Louis Masur’s Rites of Execution: Capital Punishment and the Transformation of American Culture, 1776-1865 (which is also our source for the count of hanged thieves), “in 1786, most almanacs in Philadelphia and elsewhere included the proverb that industry promoted virtue.”

It became readily apparent, however, that the “wheelbarrow law” neither reformed the prisoners nor prevented vice. Indeed, it seemed to many that the convicts became even more licentious and that unprecedented amounts of criminal activity infested the community.

Such prisoners were “subjects of great terror, even while chained” given these walking spectacles’ notorious dissolution, and still worse their propensity for fleeing their wheelbarrows to become desperate fugitives. Pennsylvania newspapers from this era have an alarming quantity of notices published by gaolers warning of escaped wheelbarrow men … and not a few reports of actual or suspected crimes committed by them. For example …


Philadelphia Mercury, Oct. 23, 1788.

New-Hampshire Spy, Dec. 2, 1788.

By the time full 30 wheelbarrow-men escaped on a single night in October 1788, elite opinion had turned solidly against this disastrous experiment, and the law would be repealed by 1790 — substituting for public shaming the penitential benefits imposed solitude. But before the wheelbarrow men had disappeared into historical curiosity, our five of them in September 1789 robbed and also murdered a man named John McFarland in his home on Philadelphia’s Market Street.


New York Daily Gazette, Sep. 25, 1789.

* Quite a few Johns about down the years.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Mass Executions,Murder,Pennsylvania,Public Executions,Theft,USA

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1685: Rebecca Fowler, Chesapeake witch

4 comments October 9th, 2018 Headsman

From The Penguin Book of Witches concerning the milestone execution of the rare Maryland “witch” Rebecca Fowler on this date in 1685; italicized text is the modern writer’s commentary.


One of the rare Chesapeake witches, Fowler was accused of being led by the Devil to injure a man named Francis Sandsbury using witchcraft and sorcery. She was hanged. Usually Chesapeake witchcraft cases were milder than their New England equivalents, often limited to bad-mouthing and rumor. Accused witches in the South were fewer in number and were usually acquitted. Fowler is thought to be the only witch executed in the Maryland colony, though a man named John Cowman was accused of witchcraft, condemned, and then begged a stay of execution.

Court Records of Rebecca Fowler

At a meeting of the provincial court on the 29th day of September, 1685, Rebecca Fowler was indicted by a grand jury.

For that she, the said Rebecca Fowler, the last day of August in the year of our Lord, 1685, and at diverse other days and times, as well before and after, having not the fear of God before her eyes, but being led by the instigation of the Devil certain evil and diabolical arts, called witchcrafts, enchantments, charms, and sorceries, then wickedly, devilishly, and feloniously, at Mount Calvert Hundred and several other places in Calvert County of her malice forethought feloniously did use, practice, and exercise, in, upon, and against one Francis Sandsbury, late of Calvert County aforesaid, laborer, and several other persons of the said county, whereby the said Francis Sandsbury and several others, as aforesaid, the last day of August, in the year aforesaid and several other days and times as well before as after, at Mount Calvert Hundred and several other places in the said county, in his and their bodies were very much the worse, consumed, pined, and lamed again the peace, et cetera, and against the form of the statute in this case made and provided.

To this indictment Rebecca pleaded not guilty. She was tried before a jury who rendered the following verdict:

We find that Rebecca Fowler is guilty of the matters of fact charge din the indictment against her and if the court finds the matters contained in the indictment make her guilty of witchcraft, charms, and sorceries, et cetera, then they find her guilty. And if the court finds those matters contained in the indictment do not make her guilty of witchcraft, charms, sorceries, et cetera, then they find her not guilty.

In view of this finding of the jury, judgment was “respited” until the court had time to further consider the case. After the court reconvened a few days later, Rebecca was again brought to the bar and the judges having “advised themselves of and upon the premises, it is considered by the court that the said Rebecca Fowler be hanged by the neck until she be dead, which was performed the ninth day of October aforesaid.”

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Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,History,Maryland,Milestones,Occupation and Colonialism,Public Executions,USA,Witchcraft,Women

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1852: Adam Wimple, his executioner’s lodger

Add comment October 8th, 2018 Headsman

This date’s story of the condemned killer of a child bride lodging with his own executioner comes from the recollections of Dallas, Oregon frontierswoman Mrs. Frank Collins, nee Martha Elizabeth Gilliam.

Frank Nichols, who married my sister Sarah, was the next sheriff. One of his first jobs was hanging Adam E. Wimple.

Wimple had stayed for a while at our house in 1845. He married a 13-year-old girl in 1850 and within a year killed her. They lived in Cooper Hollow, four or five miles from Dallas.

My brother-in-law, Alec Gage, and his wife stopped at Wimple’s house the morning he killed her. Mrs. Wimple’s face was all swollen and her eyes were red from crying. Wimple saw they noticed it, so he said ‘Mary isn’t feeling very well this morning.’

My brother-in-law and his wife had not gone over a mile and a half when they saw smoke rising from where the Wimple house was. They hurried back and found the house in flames. It was too late to save anything in the house.

When the fire had burned out they found Mrs. Wimple under the floor partially burned. Wimple had disappeared. He was more than double her age. She was 14 and he was about 35. A posse captured him and brought him to Dallas. I knew Wimple well, so I asked him why he had killed Mary? He said, ‘Well, I killed her. I don’t really know why.’

There was no jail so Frank Nichols took Wimple to his house to stay.

Frank swore in four guards, but Wimple got away and was gone four days before they found him and brought him back. They tracked him to the house where he had killed his wife.

I went over to stay with my sister, Mrs. Nichols, while he was boarding there waiting to be hung and I helped her cook for him.

Frank hung him early in October, 1852. Wimple sat on his coffin in the wagon when they drove to the gallows where he was to be hung. They passed the sheriff’s father, Uncle Ben Nichols, while they were on their way to the gallows. Wimple was afraid Uncle Ben would be late and miss the hanging, so he called out ‘Uncle Ben, ain’t you going to the hanging? Ain’t you coming down to see me hung?’ Uncle Ben said, ‘I have seen enough of you, Adam. No, I ain’t going.’ Uncle Ben was the only man in Polk county to receive a personal invitation and he was about the only one who didn’t take a day off to see the hanging.

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1930: Gordon Northcott, the Wineville Chicken Coop Murderer

2 comments October 2nd, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1930, Gordon Stewart Northcott hanged in California’s San Quentin Prison for the Wineville Chicken Coop Murders.

Canada-born, Northcott had moved to southern California in 1924 with his parents. They set up a chicken ranch there, and Northcott found this haunt a congenial headquarters for his real passion, the molestation and murder of young boys.

A monster right out of the QAnon fever swamp, Northcott abducted a large number of youths for abuse. Some were released, but at least three and possibly (per Northcott’s erratic and intermittently retracted confessions) upwards of 20 were imprisoned there in chicken coops and eventually murdered on the ranch, their bodies dissolving into quicklime. The victims we can certainly vouch for are Walter Collins and brothers Lewis and Nelson Winslow, plus a never-identified teenage Mexican boy whom Northcott shot and beheaded. All the while his mother was living there on the ranch too,* and not only she, but Northcott’s quietly terrified Canadian cousin Sanford Clark. Northcott molested him too, but he wasn’t just going to brain him with an axe … Sanford was family.

When Sanford’s older sister visited the boy confided the farm’s horrors to her, and Jessie Clark kept her composure well enough to take her fare-thee-wells without raising the monster’s suspicions, finally swearing out a complaint to the American consul in British Columbia. Once Northcott caught sight of immigration officers driving up the dusty road to investigate he fled his Wineville chicken coops for good, and even made it to Canada with his dear creepy mum.

Northcott’s arrest, extradition, trial, and preordained sentence shocked Californians and Northcott did his part to keep everyone’s blood up by reveling in shifty, ghastly confessions. (The father of the Winslow brothers led an abortive lynching attempt.) San Quentin’s warden would recall that Northcott favored him in their conversations with “a lurid account of mass murder, sodomy, oral copulation, and torture so vivid it made my flesh creep.” So great was the notoriety Northcott and his chicken coops brought it that Wineville flat-out changed its name to Mira Loma to dissociate itself weeks after its infamous denizen swung.

Some books about Gordon Stewart Northcott

Northcott’s execution features in a tense scene of the 2008 film Changeling; our killer is played by Jason Butler Harner, but it’s Angelina Jolie who stars as the mother of one of Northcott’s prey who was then afflicted by an imposter child claiming to be her lost son.

* Dad — whom you will not be surprised to learn was slated with abusing young Gordon in his own turn — went to a mental asylum.

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

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1921: Carl Wanderer, of the Ragged Stranger case

Add comment September 30th, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1921, the villain in the Case of the Ragged Stranger went to the gallows in Chicago.

Then-24-year-old World War I veteran Carl Wanderer entered the public’s cognizance when on the night of June 21, 1920, he and his pregnant young wife Ruth were accosted on the way home from cinema by a tramp — a “ragged stranger” in the piquant phrase that would identify both the case and the man. This stranger, who was never identified, held up the happy couple at gunpoint but Wanderer just so happened to be carrying his service pistol and exchanged gunfire with the mugger. After the hail of bullets was over, the ragged stranger was dead and his wife lay mortally wounded in his arms.

The obvious catnip themes — the young bride, the valiant troop, the machismo shootout — instantly made for a national news crime story.


Cleveland Plain Dealer, June 23, 1920

But it wasn’t many days that Wanderer’s self-flattering story enjoyed the public’s credulity.

Mr. Ragged’s weapon turned out to be an army-issue pistol just like Wanderer’s own … in fact, Wanderer had borrowed it from his cousin just days before the deadly fray. And this connection in turn led Wanderer to admit under intense police questioning that the tramp was a down-and-outer that Wanderer himself had hired to stage the mugging as a pretext under which Wanderer would murder his wife. Having so done, Wanderer realized that capital felonies are really best without surviving witnesses, so that was the end for the Stranger too.

Wanderer’s confessions, well, they wandered. The unifying thread was the man’s obvious desire to exit his marriage; what’s not clear is whether this reason was the object itself or further to some greater purpose. There were hints that the motive was pecuniary or even that Wanderer was homosexual; his defense would eventually raise a family history of mental illness. Wanderer himself at one point said that he wanted to return to military life;* but, investigations also turned up a scandalous flirtation with a 17-year-old customer of his butcher shop to whom he had made bold enough to send billets doux before his wife’s body was cold.

Chicago, Illinois
July 6, 1920

Sweetheart,

I am very lonesome tonight. I thought I would drop you a few lines as I am ever thinking of you.

The reason I wouldn’t meet you at your house is this. The people would talk about us.

Someday I will tell you a whole lot more. I have been double crossed by some people.

Good night little lover & happy dreams to you.

From Carl

After a jury outraged public opinion by failing to hang him for his wife’s murder, he was tried again before standing room only audiences for the stranger’s death — in effect a second bite at the apple. His young flame Julia Schmitt made a humiliating appearance on the stand which would set up a scorching summation by the state’s attorney.

He saw a vision of the future. It included the army life and Julia. But in that vision was no trace of Ruth who was soon to be a mother.

Ruth must die.

Kisses for Julia, bullets for Ruth.

The man who killed his wife and unborn babe.

That’s the kind of a man he is. See his calm face.

An actor.

But a yellow coward, and a murderer.

Send this cowardly, contemptible wretch, who deliberately and cunningly took the lives of his young, trusting wife, her unborn baby, and the poor, innocent, ragged, unidentified stranger, to the gallows. The man who had kisses for Julia Schmitt and bullets for the one he should have loved and cherished most has forfeited all claims to go on living on this earth.

There is abundant proof of this miserable creature’s guilt. You know as well as I do that he has violated every law of God or man. He deserves death. Even death is too good for him. Send him to the rope. Don’t weaken — give him the punishment he deserves.

Hang him.

And they did.


Belleville (Illinois) News Democrat, September 30, 1921

After hearing the condemned sing on the gallows, one wag present reportedly quipped that Wanderer deserved hanging for his voice alone.

This ragged old case has quite good coverage on this here World Wide Web. Some of Carl’s wanderers include:

* Perhaps not coincidentally, his unit had seen very little combat during the Great War.

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

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1956: Melvin Jackson, by calculus

1 comment September 28th, 2018 Headsman

This day’s post arrives to us via George Wallace: American Populist, and it concerns not the pugilistic Wallace but a previous Alabama governor, Big Jim Folsom.

Folsom, as we see here, was a man who had to choose his exercises of executive mercy very carefully due to the fraught racial politics of his state.

“I admit that we have got the worst penal system in the world, including Dark Africa,” Folsom said two years later* in the course of commuting the death sentence of a man whose crime was stealing $1.95.

What made Folsom most vulnerable to abandonment by even those deeply committed to his social programs was his demonstrative concern about the plight of Alabama’s blacks. He freely pardoned and paroled black convicts, believing they had been wrongly jailed or punished excessively because of their race. He harbored deep misgivings about the death penalty, especially in Alabama because use of the electric chair seemed reserved almost exclusively for blacks. In 1956, at a time of growing racial tension in the state, two black men were scheduled to die in Kilby Prison’s electric chair on the same night, one for murdering his wife and the other for raping a white woman. Folsom commuted the murderer’s sentence to life in prison, but he allowed the young rapist (who had been nineteen at the time of the crime) to die and said that he “just couldn’t” commute the sentence of a black man convicted of raping a white woman. “I’d never get anything done for the rest of my term if I did that,” he said. “Hell, things are getting so bad, they’re even trying to take Black & White Scotch off the shelves.” (It was true. The government of Alabama, which controlled the sale of liquor in the state, seriously considered barring that brand of Scotch whisky because of the name and because its label showed two Scottish terriers — one white and one black — joyfully playing together.)


The miscegenating spirit urges you to get in the holiday spirit.

* Folsom said that in 1958, the same year he let Jeremiah Reeves go to the electric chair.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Alabama,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Electrocuted,Execution,History,Political Expedience,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Rape,USA

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