Posts filed under 'USA'

1941: Ivan Sullivan

Add comment November 12th, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1941, Ivan Sullivan was hanged at Fort Madison, Iowa — in a prison yard near where he’d committed his crime.

Sullivan was lumbered with a 30-year sentence for robbery and kidnapping when he and a buddy, Lowell Haenze, cut their way through an electrified fence while they were working on a prison baseball park ahead of a Fourth of July game in 1940. “In a news report about the escape and the following crime spree, they were likened to John Dillinger and his gang in the Midwest.” And like the Dillinger gang they were loyal enough to orchestrate prison breaks for their chums still in the stir.

Returning to the jail, they attempted to spring another pal, William Cunningham. The attempt failed: Cunningham was wounded in the fray and apparently committed suicide as it all went awry. Meanwhile, a prison guard named Bob Hart was shot dead.

The fugitives weren’t recaptured in this moment but their celebrity lam was short-lived. In late July, after the botched robbery of a Diller, Nebraska bank, both men were hunted to ground and captured — Haenze after playing the hare in a dramatic chase/shootout in tiny Marysville, Kansas, wherein “some 150 or more persons assisted officers in chasing down Haenze … [and] about a dozen shots were exchanged in the main intersections of the city.” (Marshall County News (Marysville, Kansas), July 25, 1940) Sullivan surrendered shortly thereafter to officers in Atchison, Missouri.

Although he pleaded guilty to the hanging crime, Sullivan wheedled for consideration — seeking legal remedies up to the Supreme Court, suggesting continually that Hart had actually been killed by friendly fire rather than Sullivan’s own never-recovered gun,* and at the end asking that his execution be postponed through the 1941 holiday season in consideration of his aged parents. “My Dad and Mother are getting old and won’t have many more Thanksgivings and Christmas[es],” he wrote to Iowa governor George A. Wilson. (Des Moines Register, Nov. 11, 1941) He got no traction at all.

“I do not for one minute mean to insinuate that I am any other than a bank robber who kept his word to a friend. I know I’m not fit for honest people to associate with,” he told newsmen when all hope was gone. (Des Moines Register, Nov. 12, 1941) “I know I have no more chance now to escape the rope than a snowball in hell but I will pray not only for myself but also for the ones who are afraid to be a man for the fear of losing a vote.”

This interesting blog post shares the personal recollections of the hanging’s impact by one of Sullivan’s family members, who was a small child at the time of the execution.

* His charge that “the state crime laboratory [is] for the state only and against the defendants” — because this laboratory wouldn’t or couldn’t produce the bullet that killed Bob Hart for forensic examination — has a prescient feel about it.

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

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1912: Alexander Kompovic, “nurderer”

Add comment November 4th, 2020 Headsman

From the Central New Jersey Home News (New Brunswick, N.J.), Nov. 5, 1912:

Two hours after he had eaten a hearty supper and sat in his cell waiting for the end to come, Alexander Kompovic, the oldest man to be executed in this State, was put to death last night in the New Jersey State prison, Trenton. Kompovic was 62 years old and paid the penalty for killing a ten-year-old girl.

The aged slayer calmly awaited death and told the deputies that he wished it was all over. He was in good spirits yesterday and appeared to enjoy all of his meals. Shortly after 6 o’clock last night he sat on a chair in his cell and finished a good meal. Then he talked with two Polish priests and said he would rather die in the chair than serve a life sentence.

The aged murderer bore up remarkably well when walking to the fatal chair. Father Griffin, the prison chaplain, walked in front of him. Kompovic looked at the jurymen and reporters and kept on repeating the prayers from the lips of the three priests. He was given two shocks of 1,900 volts and 11 ampheres. He entered the death chamber at 8.23 o’clock and five minutes later was pronounced dead. Relatives will take charge of the body.

Heavy curtains were drawn over the front of the cells of the other three murderers awaiting death, but they did not appear to be affected when the child slayer began his march through the death chamber.

Kompovic was the twenty-sixth man to be electrocuted in prison here.

The crime for which he paid the penalty in the chair was one of the most brutal in the annals of New Jersey. The aged slayer boarded with the father of Mary Halliday, a ten-year-old school girl at Perth Amboy.

Kompovic lived at Perth Amboy for nearly twenty-five years and was employed at the Lehigh Valley coal docks. July 1 he enticed the girl from her home by giving her pennies. While walking along the coal docks with the child he assaulted her and then grabbed her by the throat and strangled her. He afterwards threw her body into a tunnel and then went to sleep in a field.

After a search had been made the body was found, but the slayer was missing. The police soon located him. Kompovic was a heavy drinker and had been mixed up in several fights. He stood six feet two inches in height.

The day of his arrest for murder scratches were found on his face, showing that the child had fought to try and save herself from the fiend. The foreigner at first denied that he had seen or been with the child, but it was learned that he had been in the habit of walking with her and boy saw him take her towards the coal docks.

Kompovic was found guilty on September 24, and was sentenced to die in the electric chair by Justice Bergen.

For a time there seemed a possibility that a most unusual defect in the indictment would give the man a new lease of life by furnishing grounds for an appeal. The indicement [sic] read “nurder” instead of “murder”, “n” having replaced “m” by a typographical error. But this technicality was not sufficient to warrant an appeal.

Kompovic was unaffected when he heard the jury’s verdict and the judge’s sentence, but as the days passed he grew more appreciative of the shortness of the time he was to remain on earth, and lost his stolid sulleness [sic], regaining it, however, when time came for him to die.

The capture of Kompovic and his speedy conviction was due to the painstaking work of Prosecutor Silzer and Assistant Prosecutor Stricker.* The accused’s defense was a complete denial, but Kompovic was unable on the stand to account for his actions at the time of the crime. He declared he was intoxicated and “couldn’t remember.”

A most unusual feature of the case was the testimony given by Dr. F.M. Hoffman, of this city, for the State. Dr. Hoffman, who had examined under the microscope scrapings taken from the defendant’s finger nails a few hours after his arrest, testified to having found portions of the opidermis, or upper skin of a human being, in these scrapings. Other witnesses told of scratches on the child’s face when the body was found.

* The Middlesex County prosecutor George Sebastian Silzer later became governor of New Jersey. His deputy in this instance, Joseph Stricker, would go on to become the county’s lead prosecutor; he’s noted as a figure in the sensational 1920s Hall-Mills murder case which (sad for this here morbid site) resulted only in acquittals. -ed.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Electrocuted,Execution,Murder,New Jersey,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Rape,USA

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1790: Samuel Hadlock, Mount Desert Island murderer

Add comment October 28th, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1790, Samuel Hadlock hanged for a drunken murder committed on Mount Desert Island off the coast of Maine.

This fantastic story was thoroughly excavated in 1998 by some enthusiasts at the Mount Desert Island Historical Society; their resulting study, “Hadlock Executed This Day” can be perused in pdf form.

His journey to the gallows begins a year an two days before his hanging when the 43-year-old miller drinking vigorously as was the style at the time “made some drink with water, rum and molasses, and drank once or twice. I felt dizzy in my head, and a good deal disordered in my mind.” (That’s according to his Last Words and Dying Speech, which we’ll quote repeatedly.)

Sufficiently buzzed, Hadlock headed out on a mean-drunk walkabout, beat up a female neighbor, Comfort Manchester, for arguing with him until another fellow intervened. He then transferred his rage to “the unfortunate Eliab Littlefield Gott, and one Daniel Tarr, crossing the river in a canoe.”

Hadlock hailed the two and then went to work on Gott, repeatedly plunging the younger man’s head into the water in a vain attempt to drown him, before assailing him with a club. Only the meddling of that same Samaritan who intervened for Mrs. Manchester, one James Richardson, abated this attack, eventually subduing the maniac with Gott’s help.

In Mr. Manchester’s telling, Hadlock then decoyed his combatants to get free — “Hadlock said he wante dto git up … Richardson let … Hadlock git up but Hadlock having his hand in the hare of … Eliab … [he] took a stake from the fence … then followed Richardson with said stake, who escaped … [then] turned and ran after … Eliab, whose clothe were wet and boots filled with water.”

The erstwhile canoeist groaned away his life that night in the Manchesters’ bed, his skull fractured in several places.


The still-extant 18th century Pownalborough Courthouse, where Samuel Hadlock was tried before a panel including Declaration of Independence signer Robert Treat Paine. (cc) image by Jimmy Emerson.

Condemned to hang, Hadlock — who we can see is nothing if not determined — tunneled out of the jail and laid low under assumed names for a couple of months — albeit unwisely not getting far from his old stomping-grounds, “being sensible in my own mind that I never was in my heart guilty of the murder charged upon me, and God having delivered me from the goal, I still hoped that he would protect and preserve me.”

Hope not being a plan, he was eventually spotted and chased to ground aboard a schooner by a pursuing posse, but had concealed himself so well that they were aboard to abandon the ship as a false lead when one of the pursuers went belowdecks and

heard a gunlock snap and turning round saw Hadlock in the cabin with a gun presented towards the men on deck who were to the number of 10 or 11, and all in a cluster. Had the gun discharged at the time Hadlock pulled the trigger, it is probable he would have killed and wounded as many as five or six, as the gun proved to be loaded with two balls and 18 buckshot.

According to newspaper reports cited in “Hadlock Executed This Day”, the man fell through the noose on the first try at hanging him at Pownalborough (present-day Dresden, Maine).

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Botched Executions,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,Maine,Murder,Public Executions,USA

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1979: Jesse Bishop

Add comment October 22nd, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1979, Jesse Bishop was gassed in Nevada.

The third person executed under the “modern” U.S. death penalty regime — after Gary Gilmore in 1976 and John Spenkelink earlier in 1979 — Bishop was a career felon with a years-long rap sheet of armed robberies and drug crimes.

In 1977, he was engaged in his customary business of knocking over the (now defunct) El Morocco Casino when a newlywed groom left his nearby wedding reception to stage a heroic intervention. Bishop gunned down David Ballard, “like a dog.”

Like Gary Gilmore in neighboring Utah, Bishop was a resolute volunteer for taking his punishment. In his last hours he had a telephone provided him, so that resuming his abandoned appeals would be within arm’s reach at any moment he desired. Bishop never touched it.

Breezily calling the death penalty an “occupational hazard” in his line of work, he was the calmest guy in the place when they sat him down for his hydrogen cyanide sauna. Time magazine cast the scene thus:

Dressed in a crisp white shirt and pressed Levis, he strode purposefully into the freshly whitewashed chamber at Nevada State Prison, near Carson City. “He looked as if he were ready to go to a disco,” recalls TIME’s Guy Shipler, one of 14 official witnesses.

Bishop was the last person to die in Nevada’s venerable gas chamber; all subsequent executions there have been by lethal injection.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Gassed,Murder,Nevada,Theft,USA,Volunteers

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1928: Frank Sharp, palm printed

Add comment October 19th, 2020 Headsman

From the Scottsbluff (Nebraska) Star Herald, October 19, 1928:


Sharp Dies in Chair, Protesting Innocence

Executed for Murder of Wife in 1926; Mother’s Plea to Governor Fails.

Tells All “Goodby”

Lincoln, Neb., Oct. 19 (AP) — Maintaining his innocence to the last, Frank Sharp, 52, twice convicted and twice sentenced to death for the murder of his wife, Harriett, near here in March, 1926, was electrocuted in the Nebraska penitentiary at 6:29 a.m. today.

A current of 2,400 volts was allowed to course through his body.

Sharp was apparently the calmest man in the room as the attendants strapped his arms and legs to the chair. He was breathing a little heavily and he moved his finger nervously, but otherwise displayed no emotion.

“Good-by and God bless you,” he said to reporters, witnesses and physicians in the room.

Sharp listened attentively while prayers were said by Father Ford and by Chaplain Maxwell.

Visited by Relatives.

Sharp repeated a prayer with the priest while holding a small crucifix in his left hand.

When the chaplain extended his hand toward Sharp, the prisoner said “you’ll have to come over to me. I can’t move my hand.”

“I am not afraid to die, gentlemen,” Sharp said while guards ripped his trousers to clamp part of the death harness on his leg. “There’s no reason for me to be afraid.”

“All right, sir,” he told the executioner after a request that he close his eyes. “Fix things to suit yourself. Whatever you do is all right with me.”

Even after the head piece was placed on him and the heavy strap over his face, Sharp continued to talk.

“You’re smashing my nose,” he said twice before the executioner adjusted it.

The doomed man had cheerful good-bys for the warden, chaplain, priest and his friends and in each case ended by saying “God bless you.”

The current was turned on at 6:29 and after 45 seconds was turned off. The doctors examined the body and pronounce Sharp dead at 6:32.

His body was claimed by his family and will be buried at the local cemetery.

The condemned man’s brother and his wife, Mr. and Mrs. Charley Sharp, visited the death cell yesterday evening.

Wife Slain in 1926.

Among those who were present at the execution were the murdered woman’s brother, Homer Wilis, and her son by a former marriage, Art Ostbloom.

Mrs. Sharp was killed on the night of March 16, 1926. Her body, its skull mutilated by blows of a hammer, was found in the family [obscure], two miles northeast of Havelock, the next morning, after an all-night search by local police.

Blood stains on his clothes directed suspicion toward Sharp. Foot prints near the murder scene that were found to coincide with the shoes Sharp was wearing that night. Other circumstancial evidence also was found, the most important of which was a palm print of the hammer, used to kill Mrs. Sharp.

Convicted on Palm Print.

This print was declared by experts to be similar to Sharp’s and had a large part in his conviction. It is believed Sharp was the first man to be executed largely on palm print evidence.

His first conviction was reversed by the supreme court on technical errors, but his second conviction was affirmed.

Sharp always contended he was held up by robbers who bound and blindfolded him and abducted his wife. This was the story he told when he aroused a farm home on the night of the murder and to which he staunchly clung during his trials and his appeal to the state pardon board in a final attempt to escape the death penalty.

Without retracting this story, Sharp remained composed and apparently confident. He declared he was ready to die and forgave everyone concerned with his conviction.

“Innocent as a Child.”

After Warren W.T. Fenton had read the death warrant, the condemned man asserted that he was as innocent as a child. “If it will help things any to kill me,” he said, “it is all right with me.” He then handed his statement to the warden and asked the newspapers to print it. The statement, written in long hand with a pencil, follows:

Frank Sharp’s final statement to the newspapers:

I have always contended the facts would come to light before I would go to the electricity chair.

I hold no imminity to anybody.

I want to thank everybody that tryed to help me in my last hour.

The state onley claims circumstanced evidents in my case and I believe the evidents proves my innocents far beyond a doubt. I wish to forgive everybody that hold an evial thought against me and may God bless them.

And all I have to ask for is a chance to prove my innocents.

FRANK E. SHARP.

Members of the Sharp family called at the capitol last evening to make a last presentation to Governor McMullen. Mrs. A.G. Sharp, 75, mother of Sharp, was leaning on the arm of one of her sons. The group comprised two brothers of Sharp, a son, two sisters and the mother. They were received in the governor’s private office and remained half an hour. Governor McMullen explained the manner in which the board of pardons had considered Sharp’s allegation of newly discovered evidence and its decision that the facts presented had no bearing on the case and told them of the powers and duties of the governor and of his inability to take further action. Upon taking their leave members of the party said they had no fault to find with the governor’s decision of his duty in the case.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Electrocuted,Execution,Murder,Nebraska,USA

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1948: Arthur Eggers, by Earl Warren

1 comment October 15th, 2020 Headsman

Arthur Eggers was gassed in California on this date in 1948.

He had murdered his wife in December 1945, using his carpenter’s tools to saw off her head and hands to complicate identification. Although this gambit didn’t work, there was no clear motive or physical evidence to tie Eggers to the crime and he might have skated had he not put his used car up for sale a week later. It was bought by a sheriff’s deputy, who promptly found Dorothy Eggers’s blood in the boot. As it emerged, it seems to have been a crime borne from sexual rage, as the vivacious Dorothy apparently slept around and/or ridiculed Arthur’s impotence.

Eggers’s death warrant carried the signature of California Gov. Earl Warren, who at this moment was just a couple of weeks out from coasting to the White House as the Vice Presidential nominee on the Republican ticket. The ticket-topper Thomas Dewey was comfortably outpolling unpopular incumbent Harry S Truman, and merely running out the clock to a comfortable win universally anticipated by pundits.


lol.

Well actually, it turned out that Earl Warren would be cooling his heels in Sacramento for five more years.

Warren is an intriguing figure for our site‘s interests, for a couple of reasons.

Most obvious to U.S. readers is his 16-year stint as the U.S. Supreme Court’s Chief Justice. He was a liberal Republican, a once-numerous species subsequently hunted to extinction, and his tenure atop the “Warren Court” is synonymous with postwar liberal jurisprudence that has been anathema to his former party ever since. Warren retired in 1969 prior to the decision, but the landmark 1972 Furman v. Georgia rulng invalidating then-existing death penalty statutes is a legacy of that same epoch; even before Warren’s own departure from the court a nationwide death penalty moratorium had settled in, in anticipation of the federal bench sorting out whether the death penalty could continue to exist at all. (Warren died in 1974, so he never saw the triumphant return of capital punishment.) Beyond the specific issue of the death penalty, Warren’s court greatly strengthened the due process rights of accused criminals with consequences for every criminal prosecution down to the preseent day: it is this period that gives us the Miranda warning (“you have the right to remain silent …”), the right to an attorney for indigent defendants, and prohibitions on using evidence obtained by dodgy searches.

But we can also view Warren the Vice Presidential candidate as an oddity.

While we’ve dwelt here upon the rich death penalty history of U.S. Presidents, our future liberal legal lion appears to be the most recent Vice-Presidential nominee for either of the two major parties to have sent men to an executioner, at least a judicial one. For whatever reason, the VP bids subsequently have tended towards products of Congress rather than the governors’ mansions where the life-and-death calls get made; there’s an exception in 1968, when both Spiro Agnew (Republican) and Edmund Muskie (Democrat) had been governors … but Agnew was the brand-new governor of Maryland during the Warren Court’s aforementioned death penalty moratorium, and Muskie the previous governor of Maine, which abolished capital punishment in the 19th century. The sitting Vice President as of this writing, Mike Pence, would kill a human as easily as a fly, but no death cases reached his desk during his 2013-2017 spin as Governor of Indiana: ongoing wrangling over the availability and constitutionality of various lethal injection drugs has sidelined the Hoosier headsman for the best part of a decade.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,California,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Gassed,History,Murder,Sex,USA

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1780: The Biggerstaff Hanging Tree earns its name

Add comment October 14th, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1780, American Revolution patriots hanged nine captive loyalist prisoners in North Carolina, in the wake of the Battle of King’s Mountain.

Although the colonials would ultimately accomplish their break with the British Empire, the British and their local loyalists had a strong run in a southern campaign from about 1778.

But even at their acme, the redcoats could not extend their writ westward past the Appalachian Mountains, into the frontiers where hunger to swallow up Indian land made for ferocious adherence to the pro-independence cause, since the Crown was trying to limit settler expansion in those zones. The ones who turned their muskets against their king would become known as the “Overmountain Men” — and the Battle of King’s Mountain was their glory.

Feeling their oats after thrashing Horatio Gates‘s rebel army at the Battle of Camden — seen here in the Mel Gibson/Heath Ledger movie The Patriot

— the Brits sent the capable Scottish Major Patrick Ferguson into the mountains to roust out the irregulars. After some weeks of maneuver, Ferguson faced off with the Overmountain Men on October 7 at a wooded crag just south of the border between the Carolinas: barely a “mountain”, and definitely not the king’s. In an hourlong fight, the Overmountain militia overwhelmed Ferguson’s command, killing Ferguson himself.

Historical novel about the events surrounding King’s Mountain. (Review)

It was a stunning blow to the British, and checked that rampant southern campaign; as British prospects slipped away in subsequent years, King’s Mountain would loom as a mighty portent. The British commander Sir Henry Clinton considered King’s Mountain “the first link in a chain of events that followed each other in regular succession until they at last ended in the total loss of America.” In a more buoyant mood, Thomas Jefferson judged this battle “the joyful annunciation of the turn of the tide of success which terminated the Revolutionary War, with the Seal of our independence.”

Not so joyful were nearly 700 Tory prisoners whom the colonial militia hurriedly marched west to Gilbert Town (present-day Rutherfordton) in the western reaches of North Carolina. The militia’s blood was up already from British atrocities; at King’s Mountain, the British had difficulty surrendering to baying guerrillas who killed the first man to offer the white flag, baying for revenge upon previous massacres of patriots.

While holding their prisoners at the farm of Aaron Biggerstaff — a Tory who had been killed at King’s Mountain, even as his Patriot brother languished in British custody — word reached the Overmountain Men that yet more revolutionists had been executed in British custody.

Vowing to put a stop to this this, they put 36 of their prisoners to a drumhead trial on October 14 and sentenced them all to death. Nine of them were actually hanged that evening, three by three: Ambrose Mills, Robert Wilson, James Chitwood, Arthur Grimes, Thomas Lafferty, Walter Gilkey, John McFall, John Bibby, and Augustine Hobbs. Mills, a colonel and the leader of the loyalist forces in this western county, was the most prominent of the bunch.

Intercession by Patriot officers and the Biggerstaff women put a stop to the proceedings; the other 27 “condemned” were simply suffered to return to the horde of POWs, and marched out the next morning.

A sign noting the place of the Biggerstaff Hanging Tree is one of the markers on the National Parks Service’s Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,History,Mass Executions,North Carolina,Occupation and Colonialism,Public Executions,Soldiers,Summary Executions,USA,Wartime Executions

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1998: Jeremy Vargas Sagastegui

Add comment October 13th, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1998, Jeremy Vargas Sagastegui completed his suicide-by-executioner.

Babysitting on November 19, 1995, for a friend in the small town of Finley, just east of the Tri-Cities, Sagastegui raped and drowned his three-year-old charge Kievan Sarbacher, then awaited the return of Kievan’s mother to shoot her dead too, along with her friend.

As a capper, he stole Melissa Sarbacher’s truck, too — but he wasn’t trying to flee. The next morning when detectives showed up at Sagastegui’s Kennewick apartment, he had his bloody clothes, his rifle, and the stolen vehicle waiting to turn over to them. From that time until he was stretched on a gurney at the Walla Walla penitentiary, he had one steadfast refrain: he wanted the death penalty, as soon as possible.

Sagastegui acted as his own attorney, and put on no defense save to encourage his jurors to end his life. “I killed the kid, I killed the mother and I killed her friend,” he advised them. “And if their friends had come over, I would’ve killed them, too.” He pursued no appeals, and fought off attempts by his mother to make legal interventions on his behalf — her arguments were that he was severely mentally ill, and had been abused as a child — and used the legal capital punishment apparatus to do himself in. There was no final statement.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Diminished Capacity,Execution,Lethal Injection,Murder,USA,Volunteers,Washington

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1843: Jacob West, Ridge-Watie faction assassin

Add comment October 11th, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1843, the Cherokee nation in Oklahoma hanged Jacob West for an election-related murder.

The affair was part of the bloody factional conflict among Cherokee following the Trail of Tears expulsion from ancestral homelands in the American southeast. We’ve touched previously on this conflict in our post on Archilla Smith, the first man executed in the new Cherokee lands. Indeed, West’s victim was the man who prosecuted Archilla Smith, a fellow by the name of Isaac Bushyhead.*

Both that previous hanged man Smith and this date’s principal, Jacob West, were affiliated to the RidgeWatie faction — Cherokee who had signed the controversial treaty acceding to removal. It’s a fair supposition that the growing U.S. would have ethnically cleansed the Cherokee in the east no matter what, but in the event, it was this treaty that supplied the legal basis for doing so. For obvious reasons, the faction aligned with it was not universally popular.

That’s especially so given their opposition by the Cherokee principal chief, John Ross — the nation’s great statesman in the mid-19th century who refused to sign off on removal. For several years in the early 1840s, recriminations between the Ridge-Watie and Ross factions boiled frequently over into violence.

No surprise, then, that we find in R. Michael Wilson’s Legal Executions in Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma Including the Indian Territory: A Comprehensive History a deadly attack in the co

On August 8, 1843, following the biennial elections, Jacob West led a party of six men, including sons George and John West, in an attack on three election judges counting ballots in the Saline District. During the melee that followed George West stabbed Isaac Bushyhead, who had been the prosecutor of [Archilla] Smith, killing him, and all the men beat David Vann, treasurer, and Elijah Hicks, associate Judge of the Cherokee Supreme Court, but Vann and Hicks survived and recovered. A large crowd finally surged forward and captured Jacob and John West, but George and the other three men escaped.

West, a born U.S. citizen who had married into and long lived among the Cherokee, in his own turn appealed to the federal government for a writ of habeas corpus to escape his neighbors’ jurisdiction. It was a case potentially implicating many of the thorny questions of citizenship and sovereignty that have haunted federal-tribal relationships for generations.

Future U.S. president Zachary Taylor, then the commander of the frontier military district surrounding the Cherokee lands, forwarded West’s petitions sympathetically to the U.S. Supreme Court. The courts preferred the reply of the Cherokee official who wrote,

Jacob West has resided in the Cherokee nation, as a citizen thereof, between thirty and forty years, enjoying the benefits of the laws of the nation in every respect during the above period, and has raised a tolerable numerous family of Cherokee children since his residence among us; and although his wife is dead, he is still a citizen of our country, by virtue of our laws and customs … If Jacob West were nothing more than a transient citizen among us, the case would be different; but his expatriating himself from his own country, marrying among the Cherokees, raising a family, remaining among us, participating in our funds, enjoying the benefits of treaties, make it appear he is a citizen of the country.

Jacob West was hanged at Tahlequah on October 11. Four days later, his son John West was publicly flogged for the same crime. In between those two days, John Ross enacted packages of new legislation meant to control the destabilizing political violence abroad, authorizing new policing bodies and harsher penalties for hiding fugitives.

* There’s a recent biography about Bushyhead’s brother, minister Jesse Bushyhead.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Murder,Occupation and Colonialism,Oklahoma,Power,Public Executions,USA

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1938: Adam “Eddie” Richetti, Pretty Boy Floyd sidekick

Add comment October 7th, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1938, Adam “Eddie” Richetti was gassed for a notorious gangland bloodbath, the Kansas City Massacre. Whether he was actually involved in said massacre is a different question.

Richetti was a sidekick of the much better-known outlaw Charles “Pretty Boy” Floyd, a guy who earned his cred in social banditry by taking time during his many Depression-era bank robberies to set fire to the mortgage liens.*

J. Edgar Hoover promoted this looker to Public Enemy Number One after the slot was vacated by the late John Dillinger — and that spotlight was much due to a railroad station shootout in 1933 known as the Kansas City Massacre. There, three gangsters led by Vernon Miller ambushed lawmen escorting Miller’s arrested associate Frank “Jelly” Nash. It was an attempt to free the latter, but he was shot dead in the fusillade — along with FBI agent Raymond Caffrey, two Kansas City detectives, and the McAlester, Oklahoma police chief who had helped arrest Nash only the night before. Several other John Law types were injured in the shootout.

While Miller’s role is known, the identities of his two confederates have never been established to the satisfaction of a historical consensus. The FBI tabbed Floyd and Richetti as the other gunmen involved, and the bureau’s page on the event still asserts this positively. Floyd and Richetti always denied it — while still a fugitive, Floyd even sent Kansas City police a postcard disavowing the attack — and there has long been a suspicion that the FBI’s conclusion was born of expediency instead of investigative rigor. Robert Unger’s 1997 book on the case is subtitled “The Original Sin of J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI.

It would do for both Floyd and Richetti, however.

In 1934, the two had a one-car accident while driving in the fog. A suspicious passing motorist alerted police and in no time Floyd had been gunned down in an Ohio cornfield; his subsequent funeral in Oklahoma would draw a crowd tens of thousands strong.

Less mourned, Eddie Richetti was taken into custody and executed in the judicial way for the Kansas City Massacre, his trial a parade of eyewitnesses of questionable veracity. He was just the fifth person executed in Missouri’s brand-new gas chamber, which had just come online that same blessed year: any less time on the run, and he would have been bound for the hangman instead.

Eddie Richetti lives on in the culture as a supporting role in any film about Pretty Boy Floyd.

* Possibly an urban legend, but Floyd’s public popularity was real.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Gassed,History,Missouri,Murder,Outlaws,USA,Wrongful Executions

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