Posts filed under 'New Jersey'

1781: Mutinous ringleaders of the New Jersey line

2 comments January 27th, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 1781, George Washington quelled a dangerous mutiny in his starving Continental Army with a couple of salutary summary executions.

Weeks before, the Pennsylvania Line had mutinied for better pay — successfully. (When approached by British agents offering hard currency should they turn coat, the mutinous troops patriotically arrested the agents.)

General Washington had cause to fear widespread discontent in his chronically undersupplied army, however. He circulated to Congress and to several state governors an urgent appeal (.pdf) for more aid to hold up morale.

The aggravated calamities and distresses that have resulted from the total want of pay for nearly twelve months, the want of clothing at a severe season, and not unfrequently the want of provisions, are beyond description … it is vain to think an army can be kept together much longer under such a variety of sufferings as ours has experienced … unless some immediate and spirited measures are adopted to furnish at least three months’ pay to the troops in money, which will be of some value to them, and at the same time ways and means are devised to clothe and feed them better … the worst that can befall us may be expected.

Washington vowed in the meantime to “continue to exert every means I am possessed of to prevent an extension of the mischief.”

The mischief, however, extended.

The New Jersey line at Pompton imitated — and the imitation was reportedly explicit — the Pennsylvania line. They had legitimate grievances, like nearly everyone in the Continental Army, and that was precisely the problem: if mutiny became the means to resolve grievances, Washington wouldn’t have a Continental Army much longer.

Washington detailed Gen. Robert Howe to make an example.

Sir: You are to take the command of the detachment, which has been ordered to march from this post against the mutineers of the Jersey line. You will rendezvous the whole of your command at Ringwood or Pompton as you find best from circumstances. The object of your detachment is to compel the mutineers to unconditional submission, and I am to desire you will grant no terms while they are with arms in their hands in a state of resistance. The manner of executing this I leave to your discretion according to circumstances. If you succeed in compelling the revolted troops to a surrender you will instantly execute a few of the most active and most incendiary leaders.

And as Washington reported this afternoon to New Jersey Governor William Livingstonsuccess.

Dr. Sir: I have the pleasure to inform your Excellency, that the measures concerted for quelling the mutiny in the Jersey line were this morning carried into full execution. The mutineers were unexpectedly surrounded and awed into an unconditional surrender with little hesitation and no resistance. Two of the principal actors were executed on the spot, the rest pardonned. The spirit of mutiny seems now to have completely subsided and to have given place to a genuine repentance. This was very far from being the case previous to this step, notwithstanding the apparent submission which the assurances of redress had produced; they still continued insolent and refractory and disobedient to the commands of their officers.

A general pardon was promised by Colonel Dayton, on condition of an immediate and full return to duty. This condition was not performed on the part of the mutineers and of course they were not entitled to the benefit of the promise; besides which the existence of the Army called for an example. I have the honor etc.

That second paragraph of the letter hints at a bit of ass-covering from Washington. The officer on the scene, Elias Dayton, had, according to Charles Patrick Neimeyer, already smoothed the disturbance by promising that a state commission would adjudicate discharge claims.

The placated “mutineers” were therefore surprised to be roused from their beds at Ringwood, N.J., by Howe’s forces and forced to form a firing squad to execute their own sergeants. (Neimeyer also claims that the first six-man squad intentionally missed.)

This in-the-field execution to enforce military discipline was a precedent later cited by Alexander Mackenzie to justify hanging Philip Spencer, Samuel Cromwell and Elisha Small at sea for mutiny.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,England,Execution,History,Known But To God,Military Crimes,New Jersey,No Formal Charge,Notable Participants,Occupation and Colonialism,Power,Revolutionaries,Separatists,Shot,Soldiers,Summary Executions,USA,Wartime Executions

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1936: Bruno Richard Hauptmann, The Most Hated Man in the World

17 comments April 3rd, 2008 Headsman

On this date in 1936, a German immigrant went to New Jersey’s electric chair for kidnapping and murdering the infant son of famed aviator Charles Lindbergh.


The kidnapping of the Lindbergh boy in 1932 had touched off an outpouring of public compassion matched only by the clumsiness of the investigation. The circus that formed around a father desperate to retrieve his boy — and prone to rash decision-making thereto — pulled in underworld figures, military intelligence officers (including the founder of the CIA’s forerunner and the father of Gulf War General Norman Schwartzkopf), a meddlesome schoolteacher, and queer characters like “Cemetery John,” who somehow managed two meetings with Lindbergh’s intermediaries, making off with a box full of ransom cash without anyone so much as tailing him, much less having to fork over the hostage.

The boy, in fact, was dead, and would be discovered weeks later, a few miles from the Lindbergh house, in such a state of decomposition as to suggest that, by accident or intention, he had suffered a fatal head injury almost at the moment of his abduction.

Two years’ fruitless investigation ensued, with leads that frustratingly faded away and at least two suspects who committed suicide. The police job had been a hash from the start, between amateurish cock-ups like failing to measure footprints found on the scene and security breaches in the chaotic weeks following the kidnapping. Most damagingly, a newspaper laid hands on an early ransom note and printed it, making it impossible subsequently to positively discern the kidnapper’s real notes from hoaxes.

But John Law had done one thing right: paid the ransom in soon-to-be-obsolete gold certificate. As they’d hoped, someone was finally caught spending this distinctive currency: Bruno Hauptmann.

Hauptmann actually went by “Richard”, but with its unerring sense of the Zeitgeist, the press played up his menacing alien moniker. After two and a half years, the public was ready to hate someone, and an illegal immigrant with a criminal record* from the late war’s great enemy was pretty much made to order.

Trial of the Century

The one thing Hauptmann didn’t do was confess — and that necessitated the “Trial of the Century,” or in Mencken’s coinage, “the greatest story since the Resurrection.”

It was O.J. before 24-hour cable. Journalists packed the small-town courtroom of Flemington, N.J.; for six weeks early in 1935, an aggressive prosecutor vied with a flamboyant (but cripplingly dissolute) defense attorney hired for the penurious defendant by the Hearst newspaper empire in exchange for inside information.

This newsreel footage of the trial consists mostly of Hauptmann’s own testimony, and even at seventy-plus years’ distance it crackles with drama — and with the persecutorial atmosphere that sealed Hauptmann’s fate, guilty or not. (The defendant often sounds uncertain and evasive in these clips — it cannot have helped his standing with the jury, but it is worth recalling that English was not his native language.)

History’s Verdict

The case was circumstantial, the most powerful circumstance, of course, being Hauptmann’s possession of ransom money — thousands of dollars worth, as it turned out, stashed in his garage. Hauptmann said a friend had left it when returning to Germany; the alibi didn’t convince many, but Hauptmann stuck to it to the end, even refusing to accept a commutation in exchange for a confession. This audio of a convicted Hauptmann still maintaining his innocence comes from the New Jersey Star-Ledger blog.


Much other evidence against him — shaky eyewitness testimony, doubtful courtroom forensics — seems less damning, especially from the perspective of time. Unexplored problems — why would a professional carpenter build such a shoddy ladder? How could he have known the (rare) night the Lindberghs would actually be home? — gesture emptily towards other suspects never pursued, though they are very far from authoritatively exonerating Hauptmann. Ultimately, it’s a case with many unclear data points, whose importance and configuration invite dispute. (Here‘s a site dedicated to Hauptmann’s innocence, including this article (.pdf) outlining the main arguments his partisans make.)

Even the verdict’s defenders, and there are many, concede that portions at trial were exaggerated or outright perjured in an atmosphere hardly conducive to dispassionate review. Whether that makes Hauptmann “guilty but framed” or plausibly innocent (of the kidnapping, if not of opportunistic extortion) has been the subject of far more rumination than this blog can hope to assay.

A few of the many books about the Lindbergh case

An enigmatic criminal tied to an enigmatic icon in a painfully public four-year drama that transfixed the nation and still inspires debate: that “Trial of the Century” marquee holds up pretty well.

* In Germany; Hauptmann’s record was clean stateside — apart, that is, from Charles Lindbergh, Jr.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Electrocuted,Execution,History,Infamous,Murder,New Jersey,Notable for their Victims,Notable Participants,Notable Sleuthing,Popular Culture,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Ripped from the Headlines,USA,Wrongful Executions

1963: Ralph Hudson, the last man executed in New Jersey

2 comments January 22nd, 2008 Headsman

On this date in 1963, Ralph Hudson was electrocuted in New Jersey for stabbing to death his estranged wife.

It was to be the last execution in New Jersey.

No prisoner has been put to death in the Garden State these past 45 years. And last month, New Jersey became the first state to abolish the death penalty legislatively since Iowa and West Virginia did so in 1965.

Whether the move will be a sign of things to come remains to be seen.

In 2005 — the death penalty’s future has been debated in New Jersey for some time — the former governor’s stepson remembered the toll this day’s event exacted from its participants.

In 1963, the year in which New Jersey last employed the death penalty, I was an adolescent. My late stepfather, Governor Richard J. Hughes, found himself in the position of Chief Executive with the power to end or continue the life of a fellow human being. Years later he told me how tortuous it was to be thrust into that role.

The last execution in New Jersey, of Ralph Hudson in 1963 for the murder of his wife Myrtle, was carried out during my father’s administration. The painful decision to allow Hudson’s execution to go forward profoundly impacted him.

Time has shed light on the impact of the Hudson execution that cold January day in 1963. Hudson’s attorney never accepted another death penalty case. Seeing his client go to the execution chamber had exacted too great an emotional toll. Many years later Hudson’s executioner, Dow P. Hover, borrowed from New York, was discovered dead in his Plymouth, the engine running and the window open – in a closed garage.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Common Criminals,Electrocuted,Milestones,Murder,New Jersey,Ripped from the Headlines,USA

2006: Angel Diaz

9 comments December 13th, 2007 Headsman

On this date one year ago, Angel Diaz suffered lethal injection for the 1979 murder of a topless bar manager.

And “suffered” was the word. The procedure was botched, and Diaz took 34 minutes — and a second dose of the lethal three-drug cocktail — before dying, with chemical burns left on both arms.

The incident provoked an immediate media storm and a moratorium on executions in Florida pending the perversity of public servants molding killing procedure by committee. As a result, Diaz remains the last person executed in Florida, and 2007 will be the first year since 1982 that the Sunshine State puts nobody to death.

The debacle in Florida has been a microcosm for the nation. Lethal injection as an execution protocol was by this time last year already facing growing scrutiny. It was immediately apparent that Diaz’s execution could spell serious trouble for the American death penalty’s legal machinery.

And indeed that machinery has now ground to a halt, if only a temporary one. Facing judicial confusion, the Supreme Court is weighing a potential landmark case on the constitutionality of lethal injection, with actual executions — at least involuntary ones — under a de facto moratorium for months yet to come.

That same disquiet is setting down legislative as well as judicial milestones: New Jersey is poised to has this very day become the first American state to abolish the death penalty since 1965.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Botched Executions,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Florida,Lethal Injection,Murder,New Jersey,Notable Jurisprudence,Ripped from the Headlines,USA

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