Posts filed under 'USA'

1969: Fred Hampton, “good and dead now”

Add comment December 4th, 2019 Headsman

Today is the 50th anniversary of the December 4, 1969 extrajudicial execution of American revolutionary Fred Hampton.

This charismatic — nearly every bio uses this word — 21-year-old star of the Illinois Black Panther Party had in his brief life shown himself a visionary exponent of radicalism; he would end as one of the signal martyrs to his movement’s violent suppression.

Well did he know it.

“If you’re asked to make a commitment at the age of 20 and you say, I don’t want to make a commitment only because of the simple reason that I’m too young to die, I want to live a little bit longer. What you did is, you’re dead already,” Hampton once mused. “You have to understand that people have to pay the price for peace. If you dare to struggle, you dare to win. If you dare not struggle then damnit, you don’t deserve to win … And I think that struggle’s going to come. Why don’t you live for the people? Why don’t you struggle for the people? Why don’t you die for the people?”

Emerging late in 1966 out of Oakland, Calif., the Black Panthers were a revolutionary and pointedly armed movement that fused black power demands with critique of the entire edifice — war, imperialism, capitalism and the rest of it. Although the organization was dissolved in 1982, the Panthers’ actions and legacy are still quite controversial and their mere specter remains a potent bogeyman for much of contemporary white America.

One thing is for sure: in their moment, they scared the shit out of the powers that be. Within months of its founding, the Federal Bureau of Investigation turned upon the Panthers its COINTELPRO program of domestic surveillance, suppression, and assassination. One particularly notorious FBI memo drew a bead on “Black Nationalist-Hate Groups” with an avowed intention to “prevent the rise of a ‘messiah’ who could unify, and electrify, the militant black nationalist movement” — and to “pinpoint potential troublemakers and neutralize them”.

Fred Hampton isn’t mentioned by name in this memo from early 1968; he was just then beginning to emerge onto the FBI’s index of rabble-rousers. (Literally, they had a list called the “Rabble Rouser Index”.) He was fresh out of high school in 1966, and subsequently a wildly successful NAACP chapter leader, but gravitated to the new Illinois Panthers organ by 1968 where he quickly became its most outstanding organizer and spokesman, the prospective future face of a stirring cross-racial, class-conscious justice movement that Hampton perceived with a wisdom well beyond his years. Under his leadership the BPP spun out health care programs, legal aid programs, and free breakfast programs; he forged the original Rainbow Coalition* that brought rival street gangs and activist groups from different racial communities into a shared political ambition.

“We’re going to fight racism not with racism, but we’re going to fight with solidarity,” Hampton said. “We’re not going to fight capitalism with black capitalism, but we’re going to fight it with socialism.”

Just as energetically did the FBI work — and succeed, in the end — to break up such alliances, using informers and agents provocateur and false flags to encourage schisms and discredit leaders. Chicago’s police department was a ready collaborator in these operations; its relationship was the Panthers was hostile and often violent. Just three weeks before Hampton’s murder, two Chicago cops and a 19-year-old Black Panther were killed in a shootout. (Hampton was in California at the time.)

We don’t have the full documentary paper trail with deliberations and countersigned orders, but the known facts (and the smug grins of the cops) admit no reasonable dispute this side of performative naivete that Hampton was assassinated by a state death squad — “executed”, if you like, to fit an admittedly expansive read of this here site‘s mandate.

A compromised Hampton bodyguard named William O’Neal gave his FBI handler — who also happened to be running the Chicago COINTELPRO operation targeting the Panthers — a detailed floor plan of Hampton’s apartment, which the FBI shared with the Chicago police for a raid putatively hunting illegal weaponry. On the night of December 3, O’Neal slipped Hampton a barbituate to dull his reactions for what was to come; surviving comrades would describe Hampton being roused amid the early-morning fusillade only with difficulty, responding barely and in “slow motion” even as Chicago police stormed front and rear entrances and poured nearly 100 rounds into the place. Another Hampton aide named Mark Clark, sitting watch, was blasted dead in the initial barrage, convulsively discharging his shotgun once into the ceiling as he fell. It was the only shot fired that night by any of the Black Panthers.

By the account of Hampton’s eight-months pregnant partner Deborah Johnson, corroborated by other Panthers in the apartment, Fred Hampton was injured by the volley, but alive — and cold-bloodedly finished off with a coup de grace.

First thing that I remember after Fred and I had went to sleep was being awakened by somebody shaking Fred while we were laying in the bed. Saying, “Chairman, Chairman, wake up, the pigs are vamping, the pigs are vamping!” And, um, this person who was in the room with me, kept shouting out “we have a pregnant sister in here, stop shooting”. Eventually the shooting stopped and they said we could come out. I remember crossing over Fred, and telling myself over and over, “be real careful, don’t stumble, they’ll try to shoot you, just be real calm, watch how you walk, keep your hands up, don’t reach for anything, don’t even try to close your robe”. I’m walking out of the bedroom, there are two lines of policemen that I have to walk through on my right and my left. I remember focusing on their badge numbers and their faces. Saying them over and over on my head, so I wouldn’t forget. Um, as I walked through these two lines of policemen, one of them grabbed my robe and opened it and said, “Well, what do you know, we have a broad here.” Another policeman grabbed me by the hair and pretty much just shoved me — I had more hair then — pretty much just shoved me into the kitchen area. It was very cold that night. I guess that it snowed. And, ah, the back door was open. Some people were on the floor in the kitchen area. I think it was Harold Bell was standing next to me in the kitchen area. They, ah, it was a police, ah, plainclothes policeman there, and I asked him for a pin, so I could pin my robe, because it was just open. And he said, “Ask the other guy.” And, ah, then somebody came back and handcuffed me, and Harold Bell behind the back. I heard a voice come from the area, I guess from the dining room area, which was, the kitchen was off from that area. And someone said, “He’s barely alive, he’ll barely make it.” The shooting, I heard some shooting start again. Not much. Just a little shooting, and, um, and someone said, “He’s good and dead now.” I’m standing at the, um, kitchen wall, and I’m trying to remember details of these policemen’s face, say it over and over in my head, and, and badge numbers, so, you gotta remember, gotta remember. And then when I felt like I was just going to really just pass out, I started saying the ten-point program over and over in my head. Um, at one point I turned around, the shooting had continued again, and I saw the police drag Verlina Brewer and throw her into the refrigerator. And it looked like blood was all over her. And she fell to the floor and they picked her up and threw her again. I saw Ronald Satchel bleeding. I kept trying to focus on the ten-point program platform, because I, again, I wanted to take myself out of that place. And I knew I just couldn’t break down there. Because I didn’t know if I would be killed, or what would happen.

Incidentally, Hampton’s killing was also a key catalyst for the terroristic turn of the Weather Underground — whose decisive “war council” meeting occurred later that same month of December 1969, with Hampton’s blood heavy in the air (and his picture prominently displayed on the wall) as an emblem of the futility of pacific resistance within the belly of the beast. “It was the murder of Fred Hampton more than any other factor that compelled us to feel we had to take up armed sturggle,” said David Gilbert, who’s now serving a prison sentence for a deadly bank robbery. “We wanted to create some pressure, to overextend the police so they couldn’t concentrate all their forces on the Panthers. We wanted to create a political cost for what they were doing. And we also felt that to build a movement among whites that was a revolutionary movement, a radical movement … it had to respond when our government in our name was destroying the most promising, exciting, and charismatic leadership to come out of the Black movement in a long time.” (Source) It was a paradoxical inspiration, since Hampton himself had criticized the emerging Weathermen after their “Days of Rage” riot in Chicago as “anarchistic, opportunistic, individualistic,” and even “Custeristic” — as in Indian Wars cavalryman George Armstrong Custer, famous for his defeat — “in that its leaders take the people into situations where they can be massacred. And they call that revolution.”

* The name and concept of the Rainbow Coalition were later revived by Jesse Jackson in his left-wing presidential challenges in 1984 and 1988, but there is not a continuous institutional thread from Hampton’s coalition to Jackson’s. Jackson did, however, deliver a eulogy at Hampton’s funeral on December 6, 1969.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Activists,Borderline "Executions",Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Famous,History,Illinois,Martyrs,No Formal Charge,Power,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Revolutionaries,Shot,Summary Executions,U.S. Federal,USA

Tags: , , , , , ,

1903: Phil Davis, Walter Carter and Clint Thomas, multiracial lynching

1 comment November 30th, 2019 Headsman

From the Dec. 1, 1903 Augusta (Ga.) Chronicle:

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Borderline "Executions",Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Georgia,Hanged,Lynching,Murder,Public Executions,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,USA

Tags: , ,

1919: Wesley Everest lynched during the Centralia Massacre

1 comment November 11th, 2019 Headsman

A century ago today, an Armistice Day parade turned the Pacific Northwest logging town of Centralia, Washington into a battlefield. By the time night fell on the Centralia Massacre* four American Legionnaires had been shot dead … and then the cover of darkness was used to revenge them with the lynching that evening of Wobbly labor agitator Wesley Everest.

Before Amazon and Starbucks and Microsoft and even before Boeing, the economic engine of early Washington state consisted of cutting down its mighty ancient trees.

The spruce and fir trees were torn from the verdant Northwest by rough men working dangerous jobs in brutally exploitive conditions. “Loggers dealt with adulterated food, fleas and other vermin in their overcrowded housing, straw for bedding, the smell of disgusting wet socks drying near the bunkhouse’s one heater, latrines located directly next to the dining hall so that they could smell feces when they sat down to eat, etc.,” writes labor historian Erik Loomis. “They were paid next to nothing for their work and frequently ripped off by a collusion of timber operators and employment agencies.”

Small wonder that this part of the world yielded ready soil for radical labor organizers. The syndicalist labor union Industrial Workers of the World (IWW, familiarly nicknamed “Wobblies”) made notable inroads there.


Section of the map of the Northern Pacific rail network (rail lines in red), circa 1900.

In the town of Centralia, inland and convenient to the continent-straddling Northern Pacific Railway which whisked away the produce of her logging camps, Wobblies’ presence dated back at least as far as 1914.

They’d been the locus of violence previous to the events in this post: in 1918, a Red Cross parade addled on wartime jingoism turned into the sack of the IWW’s union hall. Vowing that they’d not suffer invasion again the Wobblies armed themselves, and they were on guard for the large parade Centralia had scheduled for the first anniversary of the Great War’s end — suspiciously routed to pass right in front of the new IWW hall.

Every history of the Centralia Massacre says at this point that the facts are in dispute as to who started what on that day, but it can be fairly said that a deliberate provocation deliberately provoked and before you knew it war veterans of the then-newformed American Legion were storming the Wobblies, under gunfire.

Ere the hive of radicalism was overrun, three Legionnaires had been shot dead.

Meanwhile, fleeing via an adjacent alley as he reloaded his .44 pistol went one of the hall’s armed defenders, Wesley Everest. The enraged mob pursued him, and as the IWW’s (obviously partisan) official site observes, this fact likely saved other Wobblies in the hall from summary execution. Instead they were bundled into jail where they’d soon be joined by Mr. Everest.

Running pell-mell down the alley the mob gave a shout of exaltation as Everest slowed his pace and turned to face them. They stopped cold, however, as a number of quick shots rang out and bullets whistled and zipped around them. Everest turned in his tracks and was off again like a flash, reloading his pistol as he ran. The mob again resumed the pursuit. The logger ran through an open gateway, paused to turn and again fire at his pursuers; then he ran between two frame dwellings to the open street. When the mob again caught the trail they were evidently under the impression that the logger’s ammunition was exhausted. At all events they took up the chase with redoubled energy. Some men in the mob had rifles and now and then a pot-shot would be taken at the fleeing figure. The marksmanship of both sides seems to have been poor for no one appears to have been injured.

DALE HUBBARD

This kind of running fight was kept up until Everest reached the river. Having kept off his pursuers thus far the boy started boldly for the comparative security of the opposite shore, splashing the water violently as he waded out into the stream. The mob was getting closer all the time. Suddenly Everest seemed to change his mind and began to retrace his steps to the shore. Here he stood dripping wet in the tangled grasses to await the arrival of the mob bent on his destruction. Everest had lost his hat and his wet hair stuck to his forehead. His gun was now so hot he could hardly hold it and the last of his ammunition was in the magazine. Eye witnesses declare his face still wore a quizzical, half bantering smile when the mob overtook him. With the pistol held loosely in his rough hand Everest stood at bay, ready to make a last stand for his life. Seeing him thus, and no doubt thinking his last bullet had been expended, the mob made a rush for its quarry.

“Stand back!” he shouted. “If there are ‘bulls’ in the crowd, I’ll submit to arrest; otherwise lay off of me.”

No attention was paid to his words. Everest shot from the hip four times, — then his gun stalled. A group of soldiers started to run in his direction. Everest was tugging at the gun with both hands. Raising it suddenly he took careful aim and fired. All the soldiers but one wavered and stopped. Everest fired twice, both bullets taking effect. Two more shots were fired almost point blank before the logger dropped his assailant at his feet. Then he tossed away the empty gun and the mob surged upon him.

The legionaire who had been shot was Dale Hubbard, a nephew of F.B. Hubbard, the lumber baron. He was a strong, brave and misguided young man — worthy of a nobler death.

“LET’S FINISH THE JOB!”

Everest attempted a fight with his fists but was overpowered and severely beaten. A number of men clamoured for immediate lynching, but saner council prevailed for the time and he was dragged through the streets towards the city jail. When the mob was half a block from this place the “hot heads” made another attempt to cheat the state executioner. A wave of fury seemed here to sweep the crowd. Men fought with one another for a chance to strike, kick or spit in the face of their victim. It was an orgy of hatred and blood-lust. Everest’s arms were pinioned, blows, kicks and curses rained upon him from every side. One business man clawed strips of bleeding flesh from his face. A woman slapped his battered cheek with a well groomed hand. A soldier tried to lunge a hunting rifle at the helpless logger; the crowd was too thick. He bumped them aside with the butt of the gun to get room. Then he crashed the muzzle with full force into Everest’s mouth. Teeth were broken and blood flowed profusely.

A rope appeared from somewhere. “Let’s finish the job!” cried a voice. The rope was placed about the neck of the logger. “You haven’t got guts enough to lynch a man in the daytime,” was all he said.

At this juncture a woman brushed through the crowd and took the rope from Everest’s neck. Looking into the distorted faces of the mob she cried indignantly, “You are curs and cowards to treat a man like that!”

There may be human beings in Centralia after all.

Wesley Everest was taken to the city jail and thrown without ceremony upon the cement floor of the “bull pen.” In the surrounding cells were his comrades who had been arrested in the union hall. Here he lay in a wet heap, twitching with agony. A tiny bright stream of blood gathered at his side and trailed slowly along the floor. Only an occasional quivering moan escaped his torn lips as the hours slowly passed by.

Dead in the fray outside the union hall were three World War I soldiers: Arthur McElfresh, Ben Cassagranda, and Warren Grimm, the last of whom had the distinction of participating in the unsuccessful American invasion of Bolshevik Russia — plus Dale Hubbard, the man shot dead while attempting to apprehend Everest. All four were Legionnaires who have been honored as martyrs by that organ ever since.**

The IWW, conversely, says the same for Everest, for once night fell he was hauled from his cell and lynched to Mellen Street Bridge: “Hangman’s Bridge” as it was later known — although the present-day bridge dates only to 1958, replacing Everest’s gallows.

And even though anyone involved is long dead by now the affair has remained a charged topic for the hundred years from that day to this; a local newspaper marked the centennial by noting that memorial events by the respective factions’ descendants brought “confrontation even now, even about how to memorialize the dead and imprisoned.” (Although Everest was the only Wobbly lynched, a number of his comrades tossed into prison for years on trumped-up charges, prey to the Red Scare run amok in those years; even the union’s lawyer was prosecuted, albeit unsuccessfully. It goes without saying that nobody ever answered for the lynching.)

There has been for many decades a memorial in Centralia’s George Washington Park commemorating the dead Legionnaires; more recently, Centralia’s cityscape was also enhanced by a rival mural celebrating Everest.


“The Resurrection of Wesley Everest” by activist muralist Mike Alewitz (1997). (cc) image by Richard Colt.

* Also sometimes called the “Centralia Tragedy”. It’s not to be confused with the U.S. Civil War’s Centralia Massacre — which occurred in 1864 in a town of the same name in the bloody border state of Missouri. North America has numerous settlements called Centralia including several with no massacre at all, yet.

** Four Legionnaires plus Wesley Everest make five victims for Armistice Day. There’s a sixth man whose death can be attributed to the affair: a sheriff’s deputy who was mistakenly shot dead a couple of days later when he was unable to give the countersign to a paranoid posse.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Activists,Arts and Literature,Borderline "Executions",Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Gibbeted,Hanged,History,Lynching,Martyrs,Murder,No Formal Charge,Power,Public Executions,USA,Washington

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

1842: William Caffee, Mineral Point spook

Add comment November 1st, 2019 Headsman

Mineral Point, Wisconsin’s historic Walker House inn and tavern hosted a public execution on this date in 1842 … and rumor has it that the hanged man hasn’t stopped hanging around ever since.

The Mystery Of The Pointing Dog is tween historical fiction set in Mineral Point on the day of the hanging.

William Caffee’s journey to the gallows began earlier that year at a different publick-house, which also still stands today: Berry Tavern of Shullsburg, where Caffee picked a fight at a dance and ended up shooting another man dead, straight through the heart.

Evidence at his trial indicated that he’d boasted earlier that evening that he would kill a man that night, which led to his conviction for first-degree murder. Unchastened by his situation, the hardened ruffian passed the weeks until his death muttering threats to his guards and to the judge who noosed him.

Five thousand people assembled in the peaceful and quiet village of Mineral Point to witness what! The agony and dying throes of a fellow man. Good God! What a curiosity.

The crowd was not made up of any particular class, but was composed indiscriminately of both high and low, rich and poor, men white with the frosts of age, and tottering upon the verge of eternity were here, young men in throngs were here. The pious and the good were here. The aged and discreet matron was here. The virgin, “chaste as the icicle that hangs on Dian’s temple,” were here. Infants, muling and puking in their nurse’s arms, were here by the acre. In a word, every age, sex, color and condition was fully represented here to-day.

The Execution took place upon the low ground below the town, surrounded by an amphitheatre of hills, which were literally covered by the eager multitude. The scaffold was constructed upon the old plan, and consisted of a square frame work, placed upon the ground, into which was inserted two upright posts about twelve feet high and four feet apart; across the top of these posts went a beam, with a large iron hook inserted, to which was attached the rope. Between the upright posts, and about six feet from the ground was fixed a platform or trap door, about four feet square, hung with hinges upon one side and kept in a horizontal position by a pin passing through one of the upright posts and under the edge of the platform. To this pin was attached a lever for the purpose of drawing it out and letting fall the trap. The ascent to the scaffold was by means of a flight of stairs.

Agreeable to the requisition of George Messersmith, Esq. Sheriff, Capt. Shaw attended from the South part of the county, with a company of thirty men, in uniform, armed with muskets, a company of Dragoons armed with pistols and sabres, was organized at Mineral Point, under Major Gray, a strong guard of citizens was also organized and stationed round the Jail during the fore part of the day, and were afterwards incorporated into Capt. Shaw’s company.

At 2 o’clock, P.M. the procession formed in front of the Jail in the following order:

Dragoons under Maj. Gray;
Infantry;
Waggon containing coffin;
Infantry;
Dragoons under Col. Sublett;

Prisoner was then led forth from the jail in a long white robe, with a white cap upon his head, and a rope round his neck, leaning upon the arm of the Sheriff; he walked to the wagon and stepped into it with little or no assistance, and seated himself upon the coffin; the Sheriff and his deputies took seats in the wagon; a dead march was struck up, and the procession moved forward to the place of execution. Here the military were stationed round the gallows at the distance of some thirty feet, to keep off the crowd. Prisoner was then assisted from the wagon, and with a firm step ascended with the Sheriff to the scaffold. The Rev. Mr. Wilcox, who was in frequent attendance upon the prisoner during his last hours, now ascended the scaffold and prayed with him for the last time; thePrisoner, in the meantime, leaning upon one of the posts of the gallows, and manifesting no emotion. Upon being asked by the Sheriff if he had any thing to say, he answered no, and requested that the rope might be adjusted “with a good long slack,” and his doom forthwith sealed. The Sheriff then adjusted the rope, drew the cap down over the prisoner’s face, and descended from the scaffold, putting his hand to lever, the fatal pin was drawn out, and prisoner launched into eternity.

From the time of prisoner’s arrest, down to the last moment of his existence, he maintained the utmost coolness; and manifested such a contempt of death, as to invest him with a sort of terrible grandeur; making good upon the scaffold his previous boast, that he could stare the grim messenger out of countenance.

North Western Gazette & Galena Advertiser, November 4, 1842

Present-day Mineral Point has not been above exploiting the famous hanging as a tourist attraction, but this is only fair considering that Caffee’s ghost has been reported to haunt the Walker House ever since. (Perhaps only one of several supernatural terrors menacing Mineral Point.)

On this day..

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

Tags: , , , ,

1890: Tom Woolfolk, “Bloody Wolfolk”

Add comment October 29th, 2019 Headsman

Try to resist this riveting true crime hook from Murder By Gaslight, who’s been seen guest-blogging in these parts from time to time as well:

In the early hours of August 6, 1887, nine members of the Woolfolk family of Bibb County, Georgia — ranging in age from 18 months to 84 years — were hacked to death in their home. The only surviving member of the household was 27-year-old Tom Woolfolk who quickly became the prime suspect. The press called him “Bloody Woolfolk” and it was all the sheriff could do to keep him out of the hands of a lynch mob. But when the trap sprung on Tom Woolfolk’s legal hanging, had the State of Georgia finished the work of the real killer?

Read the rest here.

On this day..

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

Tags: , , , ,

1959: Frank Wojculewicz, paraplegic electrocution

Add comment October 26th, 2019 Headsman


October 27, 1959 headline of the Palm Springs, Calif., Desert Sun.

Connecticut reluctantly electrocuted paraplegic murderer Frank Wojculewicz on this date in 1959.

A lifetime crook, Wojculewicz was surprised by two patrolmen in the course of robbing the AYO Meat Packing Company of New Britain, way back in 1951. In the gun battle that ensued, Wojculewicz shot dead Sgt. William Grabeck, as well as a bystander named William Otipka — but Wojculewicz was also struck in the spine by a police bullet.

That left the robber alive — and it left Connecticut a very uncomfortable case.

His guilt was in no question whatever and the death sentence for his two murder convictions was mandated by law. But the prospect of putting a permanently paralyzed man into the state’s electric chair was so aesthetically discomfiting that his legal odyssey dragged on for nearly 8 years at a time when the median death penalty case resulted in execution in 15 months. He had to be tried in a prison hospital bed.

As this retrospective from the New York Daily News observes, slow-walking Connecticut officials were likely hoping that the killer’s injuries would take his life “naturally” before it came to that. But the tough bastard kept hanging on, and not only that, but fighting for his own life both in the courts (where State v. Wojculewicz cases reached the Connecticut Supreme Court in both 1953 and 1956) and the court of public opinion. Wojculewicz passed his time “feeding pigeons through barred windows. He lobbied for life, arguing in letters to supporters that his paralysis was ‘a greater punishment than death’ and calling state execution ‘the evil of evils.'”

In the end, though, Wojculewicz was a fully competent, fully guilty criminal asking an exemption from the law based on an injury that he’d suffered in the course of committing the crime. Nobody really wanted to put an invalid in the electric chair but neither did anybody have a proper reason not to do so.

Time ran out for Frank Wojculewicz on the frosty night of October 26, 1959. Death row guards found him lying face-down as usual. They gently lifted the helpless man from his mattress and placed him in a wheelchair. Then began a slow procession. One by one the other condemned men called their farewells to Wojculewicz as he was wheeled past their cells. The scene was extremely affecting. When the procession entered the execution chamber it was greeted by the warden. He then asked Wojculewicz if he had a last request. Bitter to the end, the doomed man asked that the prison chaplain not be allowed near him. He said that he neither wanted nor needed any pious prepping for what he was about to face. The warden was displeased but he granted the request. Guards then wheeled Wojculewicz to the middle of the chamber. There they carefully lifted him from the wheelchair and put him in the electric chair. A wooden box was used as a stool to support his paralyzed legs. When the guards completed the task of affixing the electrodes and adjusting the straps they signaled that all was ready. Then the executioner turned on the current and Frank Wojculewicz was no more.

Legal Executions in New England: A Comprehensive Reference, 1623-1960

On this day..

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

Tags: , , , ,

2006: Jeffrey Lundgren, cult killer

Add comment October 24th, 2019 Headsman

U.S. cult leader Jeffrey Lundgren answered on this date in 2006 for the murders of his disobedient followers.

Lundgren cleaved off a small sect of devotees cultivated while working as a tour guide at Kirtland Temple, a historically important church of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.*

Though they numbered fewer than 20, Lundgren’s followers bought into his prophetic-revelation act well enough to fork over thousands of dollars to him. Lundgren reciprocated by keeping them under his sway, eventually moving most of them into his own house the better to control them.

Except the family of Dennis Avery.

Avery, his wife Cheryl, and daughters aged 15, 13, and 6 attracted Lundgren’s ire for their reticence about the move-in, although to judge by their liberal contributions the family’s confidence in Lundgren was in no way shaken. Eventually the prophet out of whatever combination of pique, power-tripping, and religious fervor decided to “prune the vineyard” — his phrase — by having the whole quintet slaughtered by his live-in apostles at a camping retreat in April 1989.

This murder kept under wraps long enough for Lundgren to move his little cult to West Virginia, and a few months later to ditch his fellow cultists and move himself to California, before an informant tipped John Law to the shallow grave in early 1990. Besides the prophetic mastermind, Lundgren’s wife Alice and several of his followers caught long prison sentences in payment of the butcher’s bill.

* Rebranded (since 2001) as the “Community of Christ”, this is the more moderate or Protestant mainline-adjacent cousin of the better-known Latter-Day Saints movement, a.k.a. Mormonism — recognizing leadership succession through Joseph Smith‘s son Joseph Smith III instead of through the militant desert pioneer Brigham Young.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Lethal Injection,Murder,Ohio,Religious Figures,USA

1908: Joe James, in the crucible of the Springfield Race Riot

1 comment October 23rd, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1908, the “negro boy scarcely of legal age”* Joe James hanged at Sangamon County jail in Illinois. His alleged crimes helped spark that year’s Springfield Race Riot, one of the deadliest such rampages in U.S. history.

He was a southern youth who’d been pulled north up the Mississippi, living by the sweat of his brow. As a newcomer to the Land of (in fact the very town of) Lincoln, he’d been tossed in prison for vagrancy when he couldn’t speedily demonstrate a place of employment, but he’d proven a good-natured inmate whom his jailers trusted with errands outside the walls.

On Independence Day of 1908, which was just three days before he was due to be released, James finally abused his parole and decided to take in the celebrations in Springfield’s majority-black working-class neighboroods, where he proceeded to drink himself into oblivion at one of the town’s many saloons, or so he said. (Many other witnesses did see him boozing and banging away on the piano.) He’d be awoken at dawn the next morning passed out at Reservoir Park — awoken by white men who proceeded to beat him up.


Joe James’s mughot (right) shows the effects of the thrashing.

Reservoir Park, you see, stood but half a mile from the home of a beloved North End white resident, Clergy Ballard. (Clergy was his name, not his profession: this Clergy mined.) That same Fourth of July night, an unknown black intruder had burgled the house late at night and upon being caught out had scuffled with Clergy in a running bout/flight that crossed several neighboring yards before the patriarch caught a mortal wound from the assailant’s blade.

By morning’s light, rumors of the home invasion were afoot in the neighborhood, and the discovery of an unrecognized black kid passed out in the vicinity led everyone to draw the obvious conclusion — a conclusion that subsequently became self-confirming especially given the moral panic licensed by the fact that Ballard’s daughter had first encountered the intruder in her own bedroom. “One conclusion that finds most supporters is that James was a degenerate negro, inflamed by strong opiates with a crazed brain that sought satisfaction only in human blood.” (Decatur (Ill.) Herald, July 6, 1908)

From a century’s distance the evidence, while not impossible to square with James’s guilt, is feeble and circumstantial. James had been arrested within a day of his arrival to town, so he barely knew Springfield at all; he had no motivation to select Ballard’s house, possessed no valuables taken from it, and was armed neither when he was given his day pass from jail, nor when he was taken into custody the next morning. And as his attorney* pled to James’s eventual jury in vain, “No guilty man in his right senses would go six blocks away from where the fatal blow was struck and lie down to pleasant dreams.”

Against this stood eyewitness identifications by the surviving Ballards, who had glimpsed the unfamiliar assailant fleetingly by moonlight or streetlamp and who by the time they were making their official attestations had knowledge of James as the suspect, his every particular now a mold into which liquid recollection could pour.

While it was the Ballard outrage that set Springfield on edge, a second black-on-white crime a few weeks later really set match to tinder: another North End white woman, Mabel Hallam, alleged that she’d been raped in her home by an unknown black intruder. Out of a lineup she picked George Richardson, a respected middle-class streetcar conductor, grandson to Abe Lincoln’s barber. Even while admitting that “colored men [all] looked alike,” she fingered Richardson with the insightful words, “I believe that you are the man, and you will have to prove that you are not.”

Rape across the color line even moreso than murder was a frequent incitement to mob violence, and with Richardson jailed alongside the presumed rape-aspirant Joe James, a crowd of 3,000 or more gathered in downtown Springfield on August 14 with lynch law on its mind. The sheriff thwarted its aim by spiriting both of his endangered prisoners out of town, and announced as much to the multitude, hoping it would disperse.

Instead, balked of its strange fruit, the mob rampaged through the black districts of Springfield and for that night and deep into the following day — when a 5,000-strong state militia quelled the disturbance with some difficulty — put black homes to the torch. At least nine black Springfielders died, but accounts of people forced back into their own burning homes or buried secretly by night to avoid any further incitement hint at uncounted casualties besides. Seven whites were also slain.

Horrific photos show burned-out homes and businesses, and rioters posing smugly at the scenes where they’d lynched two men — one an octogenarian who literally used to be Abe Lincoln’s friend — for no better cause than showing defiance to the mob.


Photos from the Chicago Tribune, Aug. 17, 1908.

This particular atrocity stood out even at the nadir of American race relations for its location: the hometown and burial place of former U.S. President Abraham Lincoln, the Great Emancipator. Indeed, some caught on the lips of the crowd that awful night slogans explicitly drawing the connection — “Curse the day that Lincoln freed the niggers!” and “Lincoln freed you, now we’ll show you where you belong!” The Springfield events catalyzed the formation early in 1909 of the NAACP. Today, several markers in Springfield commemorate the riot of August 14-15, 1908 — but it still remains a delicate subject in the town that it violently reshaped.

A few books about the 1908 Springfield Race Riot

As for the accused men whose supposed crimes lurked behind this explosion, they proceeded to vastly different fates. Mabel Hallam’s rape charge fell apart and she recanted when it was discovered that she had a sexually transmitted disease, while George Richardson did not. Instead she charged “Ralph Burton”, the son of one of the men lynched during the riots — but this charge also failed to stick on account of there being no such son. George Richardson lived out the balance of his 76 years in Springfield and died peacefully in hospital.

Joe James, however, had no such benediction from his own unreliable accusers. Springfield still smoldered, its bloodlust alongside its ruined buildings; letters delivered to the courthouse threatened a renewed bloodbath should he be acquitted, and black families packed go-bags in the event they should make a sudden departure.

The requisite conviction ensued. James testified on his own behalf, sticking to his claim to have passed out drunk, innocent of the Ballard situation. He would have little to say to anyone beyond that time, referring the many press inquiries to his existing statements.

* There was dispute about James’s age throughout the proceedings; his mother — not an unbiased source, of course — fixed his birthday at November 28, 1890, which would have made him just 17; James estimated it at “19 or 20”. Even the largest of these figures would have made him too young to execute by the statutes of the day. The state, by contrast, officially estimated James at 23 years old.

** A man named Octavius Royall, a “former prosecutor and successful middle-class black attorney representing the local bank” who out of an uncommon measure of courage and decency “decided to represent the most dangerous of all clients.” (Source)

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Children,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Hanged,History,Illinois,Murder,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,USA

Tags: , , , , , ,

1773: Levi Ames, Boston burglar

Add comment October 21st, 2019 Headsman

Must Thieves who take men’s goods away
Be put to death? While fierce blood hounds,
Who do their fellow creatures slay,
Are sav’d from death? This cruel sounds.

But, ah! Alas it seems to me,
That Murder now is passed by
While Priests and Rulers all agree
That this poor Criminal must die.

What can they no compassion have?
Upon the poor distressed Thief,
Will none appear his life to save
Or pray that he may have relief?

Oh no! The Ministers they say,
For him there can be no reprieve;
He must be hang’d upon the day,
And his just punishment receive.

-“Theft and Murder! A Poem on the Execution of Levi Ames” (1773 broadside)

On this date in 1773, burglar Levi Ames was hanged in colonial Boston for burglary.


Illustration from a 1773 broadside announcing Levi Ames’s controversial execution (click for an image of the entire document).

This young thief’s death — and his surprising purchase on public sympathy in view of the recent politically charged gallows escape by crown loyalist Ebenezer Richardson for killing patriot protester Christopher Seider — are extensively excavated by Anthony Vaver (author of the books Bound with an Iron Chain and Early American Criminals) at his site Early American Crime. I can’t begin to improve upon this series.

On this day..

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

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

1902: Jim Buchanan, escaping lynching

Add comment October 17th, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1902, Jim Buchanan was tried, convicted, sentence, and immediately executed in Nagocdoches, Texas … with his full assent.

Barely a week earlier, a word had been received of a “prosperous farmer”, Duncan Hicks, found murdered with his wife and his daughter near the village of Attoyac.

Although Buchanan was swiftly arrested by a Sheriff Spradley, the fury of multiple mobs hunting him made the lawman and the murderer temporary collaborators on the run, trying to reach the safe haven of a secure jail cell to frustrate the vigilantes.


Daily People (N.Y.), Oct. 15, 1902.

Law and lynch law for years collaborated as good cop and bad cop. In this case, the work of their respective pressures on a desperate prisoner becomes unusually visible.

Buchanan was tried on the morning of October 17 in Nacogdoches. Reportedly the town teemed with vengeful white men readying for any opportunity to seize their prey from the legitimate authorities and have their own way. It was expected that if taken by the frighteningly determined mob, Buchanan would be horrifically burned to death.

Buchanan did what he could do to avoid that fate.

After he was sentenced to hang on November 17, the prisoner aggressively insisted on waiving the month-long wait and signed away all his appeals in the interest of dying on the gallows right now. And so before noon, that’s exactly what happened. His whole legal journey from the first gavel to the drop of the trap took a mere two hours, but at least it didn’t end at the stake.


Dallas Morning News, Oct. 18, 1902.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Hanged,History,Murder,Public Executions,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Rape,Texas,Theft,USA

Tags: , , , ,

Previous Posts


Calendar

December 2019
M T W T F S S
« Nov    
 1
2345678
9101112131415
16171819202122
23242526272829
3031  

Archives

Categories

Execution Playing Cards

Exclusively available on this site: our one-of-a-kind custom playing card deck.

Every card features a historical execution from England, France, Germany, or Russia!