Posts filed under 'Common Criminals'

1875: A day in the death penalty on opposite sides of Pennsylvania

Add comment January 20th, 2018 Headsman

Pennsylvania, that state once described as Philadelphia in the east and Pittsburgh in the west with Alabama in between, had dueling hangings in its two metropolises on this date in 1875.

Philadelphia: Frederick Heidenblut

German immigrant Fritz Heidenblut, who weighed in at a reported 52 kg, strangled to death on a too-short drop. Boarding with the Kuhnle family, Heidenblut had unexpectedly attacked them on Dec. 31, 1873, with the base objective of stealing cash and valuables.

The mother (barely) survived the ordeal, and would later describe how she

was suddenly awakened by a heavy weight pressing upon my breast; and, looking up, I found Fritz kneeling on me, and his hands grasping my throat. He did not speak, and I was unable to do so. In the struggle I scratched his face, and he bit off a piece of my ear and the end of one of my fingers. He then left me for dead, as I suppose, and went to the bureau-drawer, from which he took $55.

When Mrs. Kuhnle came to, she was able to crawl downstairs where she found her husband murdered in the family bakehouse. Heidenblut was arrested that evening, blowing through the $55 at a nearby tavern.

After execution, Heidenblut’s body was turned over to physicians for galvanic experimentation.

Pittsburgh: Samuel Beightley, Jr.

While Heidenblut’s spirit faltered visibly as his hanging-day approached, Pittsburgh’s Samuel Beightley maintained his obnoxious joviality — even pranking his counsel with a fool’s errand to find his “hidden treasure” on the eve of execution.

Beightley, a few days after being discharged from his seasonal farmhand gig by Murrayville farmer Joseph Kerr in autumn 1873, had returned and slaughtered Mr. Kerr, again with the motive of robbery. Like his Philadelphian brother in homicide, Beightley earned low marks for concealment, leaving his own bloodied coat at the murder scene as he retired home where he popped into bed and pretended to be asleep when the posse came.

“To see Beightley was to hate him,” observed the Chicago Daily Tribune, whose Jan. 21, 1875 issue is our source for both crimes in this post.

He was of that peculiarly brutal cast of countenance which shows murder in the very cut of the jaws, and the bull-neck was but the mere accompaniment to an evidently-merciless disposition. He was about 22 years old, and rather short, but stoutly built. His conduct since his condemnation showed the nature of the man. He evidenced no sorrow or remorse for the killing of the old man, who to him had proved a good and true friend. Beightly was fond of rowing, and led a lazy, vagabond life, scarcely ever working. He lived mostly by petty thefts.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,Murder,Pennsylvania,Theft,USA

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1767: John Williamson, cruel husband

Add comment January 19th, 2018 Headsman

From the London Gazetteer and New Daily Advertiser, Feb. 2, 1767.

An Account of the CRUELTIES, exercised by JOHN WILLIAMSON on his wife, whereby she left her life, and for which he was lately executed in Moorfields.

JOHN WILLIAMSON, Journeyman Shoemaker, a widower with three children, who all starved together in a garret in an alley in Little Moorfields, found a woman who had upwards of 60l. weak enough in understanding to marry him; but she did not bed with him above two or three times; yet they continued sociable for two or three weeks. But the poor woman soon after finding herself ill-used, and denied common food, made complaints to some neighbours; which he resenting, debarred her from going abroad.

The wife being subject to fits, used to turn up the whites of her eyes, at which a neighbour, and Williamson’s daughter, of fifteen, pretending to be frightened, he thought proper, when he went out, to tie a rope around her waist, and fastened it to a post near the bedstead: but afterwards he procured some hand-cuffs, which were put on in the daytime, and she permitted to sit on a trunk.

Besides having fits, and turning up her eyes, she once drank a dish of tea left in the pot for the little boy, and filled the pot with water; she slapped the boy’s face when he had done a fault; the husband once missing a pair of soles, he supposed she must have made away with them; she struck a light with one of his working knives; she often begged of him for victuals; and he as constantly beat her for it, and once when her husband had been out with other company, and returning about nine at night, her usual time of going to bed, she was found asleep, which was reported to be drunkenness.

These things were thought sufficient reasons by her husband to hand-cuff her, with her hands behind, and tie her up in a closet; he tied a rope to a staple, put it through the hand-cuffs, and drew it up to a nail over her head, so as to cause her to stand on tip-toe, and left her in that condition and posture for near a month together, without being set down or going to bed — not even when she was in fits.

Her husband gave her every day a bit of bread and butter, laying it on a shelf she could easily reach with her mouth, when she could not, sometimes they would put it close; they used to hold water to her mouth while she drank. When she asked for more bread and butter, the husband would not let her have it.

She was also beaten, bruised, and wounded, and frequently sluiced in the face and all over with cold water.

Want of every necessary, and the repetition of the above cruelties, were too much for a woman, and she sunk under them. The day before she died, she was let out of the closet, and offered meat when she could not swallow; she was also then allowed to warm herself, but in ten minutes she was told she was warm enough, and should sit there no longer, but must get into her kennel; she staggered to the closet, and the door was shut; she fell into a delirium, and died in strong convulsions in the evening.

Casualties of Williamson’s abuse outlived the man and his poor wife: Williamson’s children landed in the workhouse of St. Giles’s Cripplegate, whereas elsewhere …


Item from the May 18, 1767 Boston Evening Post.

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

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1884: Maggie and Michael Cuddigan lynched in Ouray

Add comment January 18th, 2018 Meaghan

(Thanks to Meaghan Good of the Charley Project for the guest post. -ed.)

Shortly after midnight on this date in 1884, a mob of masked men dragged Michael and Maggie Cuddigan out of the Delmonico Hotel in the Rocky Mountain mining town of Ouray, Colorado, marched them to the town limits, and lynched them. Michael was hanged from a tree and his wife, who was visibly pregnant, was hanged from the ridgepole of a cabin on the opposite side of the road. It was later said that the whole business “was quietly and neatly done.”

The Cuddigans had adopted Mary Rose Matthews from St. Vincent’s Orphan Asylum in 1883. She was about ten years old at the time; she had been sent to the orphanage after her mother died and her father found himself unable to care for her. On January 13, 1884, only a few months after her arrival at the Cuddigans’ ranch ten miles outside Ouray, the child died.

That day a hunter found Mary Rose crouched beside a haystack near the Cuddigans’ home. It was freezing cold and she was underdressed for the weather. Michael and Maggie were notified and took her home, but she died a few hours later. The next day they buried her themselves, quickly and with some secrecy, in a distant part of the ranch. Anyone who asked was told she had accidentally fallen down the cellar steps and been killed.

Mary Rose’s sudden and mysterious death gave rise to suspicion of foul play. The neighbors who had seen her in the days and weeks prior to her death noted that she’d been visibly bruised and barefoot in spite of the frigid January temperatures. They approached the coroner and asked him to investigate.

When the body was exhumed and a postmortem performed, there were clear signs that the little girl had been cruelly abused and overworked. Her remains showed numerous scars, bruises, broken bones and knife wounds, as well as severe frostbite to both feet and one hand. There was also evidence of sexual abuse. The cause of death was blunt force trauma to the head.

The Cuddigans were arrested, as was Maggie’s brother, John Carroll, and charged with murder. They were held in temporary custody at the Delmonico Hotel between Fourth and Fifth Avenues. That’s when the lynch mob intervened, overpowered the sheriff and his deputies, and took the suspects away.

Carroll was questioned separately from his sister and brother-in-law, roughed up, and threatened with death. There are reports that the mob actually did string him up, but changed their mind and lowered him to the ground before he actually died. At any rate, he claimed he wasn’t at the Cuddigans’ ranch when Mary Rose died and he was able to convince his captors to release him. Michael and Maggie were not as fortunate, and both died a slow death from strangulation.

Until January 21 their bodies were displayed in public view in town; hundreds of people saw them. The community remained incensed about Mary Rose’s murder. The so-called bed she’d slept in at the Cuddigans’ ranch during the final months of her life was also on public display: it consisted of four gunnysacks stitched together, nothing more.

Before Mary Rose’s death, Michael Cuddigan had not had a bad reputation in the community, but after the lynching, the locals in Ouray mostly believed he and his wife got what they deserved.

Officials at Cedar Hill Cemetery refused to allow the Cuddigans to be buried there, and the local Catholic priest, although he harshly condemned the lynching, refused to officiate at their funerals. Michael Cuddigan’s own two brothers (who had been present and heavily armed when he and Maggie were taken from the hotel, but had done nothing to intervene) wanted nothing to do with it either. Finally the coroner had them buried on their own ranch, expenses covered by the $240 that had been in Michael’s pocket at the time of his death. No mourners attended.

The body of Mary Rose Mathews taken back to her hometown of Denver after the lynching and presented before the public, so they might see how she had suffered. Approximately 12,000 men, women and children viewed the corpse before it was buried in a Denver cemetery, but reports of her ghost haunting the former Cuddigan ranch have persisted ever since.

Maggie Cuddigan was the first woman known to have been lynched in Colorado history, and it should be noted that that state has never judicially executed a woman.

An editorial in the Leadville Daily Herald opined that

The citizens of Ouray have distinguished themselves by a most outrageous and barbarous act of lawlessness … It is the boast of Americans that a woman’s weakness will shield her from violence at the hands of a true American … The men of Ouray can find no apology for their brutal conduct by the plea that the woman was guilty. All the world knows that a woman may be coerced by the power of her husband and compelled to do a thing at which she herself would naturally revolt.

Michael and Maggie Cuddigan left a sizable estate, valued at $4,500 once their debts were paid. The inheritance was placed in trust for their baby son, who was raised by relatives.

No one was ever arrested for the lynching.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Borderline "Executions",Capital Punishment,Colorado,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Guest Writers,Hanged,History,Lynching,Murder,Other Voices,Public Executions,The Supernatural,USA,Women

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1890: Three hangings in Louisiana

Add comment January 17th, 2018 Headsman

From the New Orleans Times-Picayune, Jan. 18, 1890:

CLINTON, La., Jan. 17. — [Special.] — At 1:15 this afternoon the witnesses summoned by the sheriff proceeded to the jailyard where the scaffold had been erected. A few minutes later Charles and Isaiah Dent were led from their cells and up the steps to the platform, which overlooked a space where quite a large crowd had gathered outside the inclosure around the jail.

Both men walked firmly, Isaiah showing throughout wonderful nerve, and Charles, though a little shaky, apparently ready to meet his fate without quailing.

When they first reached the platform they seemed to be praying half audibly. While Sheriff Woodward read the death warrant both men looked about them, seemingly not more concerned than if they were only disinterested spectators of the scene. Charles Dent nodded his head assentingly each time the officer paused in his reading.

At the end of a sentence Sheriff Woodward asked them if they wished to say anything. Isaiah said, “I want to speak to them people,” indicating the crowd on the outside. “Friends and foes,” he said in a clear voice, “let this be a warning to all; don’t do like Isaiah.” After a pause he continued, “My home will be in heaven.”

When he had ceased Charles said, “Charles Dent, the same. If I hadn’t went down the road this wouldn’t have happened, but I didn’t do no shooting.”

The black caps were drawn over the heads of the doomed men. The rope that supported the trap was cut and the two fell together a distance of about 8 feet. Their necks were both broken and their agony was soon over, the pulse of Isaiah ceasing to beat within 3 minutes and all signs of life being extinct in Charles in 12 minutes.

Everything connected with the execution was skillfully arranged and quickly and smoothly carried out by the sheriff and his efficient deputies.

THE CIRCUMSTANCES OF THE CRIME

for which Isaiah and Charles Dent were executed were as follows:

Herman Praetorius, a German merchant and farmer living at Ethel, on the Louisville, New Orleans and Texas Railroad, had been furnishing supplies to the Dent brothers. Along in the summer some cause of disagreement arose and ill-feeling between the merchant and his customers became intense and the relationship between them, as such, came to an end.

Late in the afternoon on Monday, July 1, of last year, while Praetorius was returning from a visit to a plantation several miles from home, he had occasion to pass near where the Dent brothers live. Evidence on the trial showed that as he came into the public road by a bypath Charles and Isaiah Dent, two brothers, and a brother-in-law of theirs were standing a short distance up the road, in an opposite direction from that in which he was going, and that they called to him and he turned and rode back to where they were standing. Some loud words were heard and Praetorius was seen to turn to ride away from the party of negroes, who were armed and making angry demonstrations. Just as he was riding away Charles and Isaiah Dent were seen to raise their shotguns, the reports of which were heard, and Praetorius fell from his horse, shot to death. His murderers fled, Charles and Isaiah escaping to Pointe Coupee parish, the other three participants, David and Clark Dent and Frank Cooper, being subsequently arrested and placed in jail in Clinton.

After some time Charles and Isaiah Dent were

APPREHENDED IN POINTE COUPEE

and likewise lodged in jail in Clinton. Public indignation was at a fever heat and an ineffectual effort was made to hang the two principal murderers by the processes of Judge Lynch’s court. For greater security the two prisoners were taken to New Orleans and confined in the parish prison until the next term of court, which met in September.

The grand jury promptly indicted the five men for murder.

The attorneys for the Dents, Messrs. E.T. Merrick, Jr., of New Orleans, and Judge J.G. Kilbourne of Clinton, filed a motion for a change of venue, which was overruled by the court.

THE TRIAL

excited a great deal of interest and occupied several days. The result was a verdict of guilty, without qualification, as to Charles and Isaiah Dent, which consigned them to the gallows.

Frank Cooper went to the penitentiary for life and Clark and David Dent for lesser terms.

The condemned men have since their arrest steadfastly maintained that the killing of Praetorius was done in self-defense, though the testimony of eye-witnesses to the contrary was irrefutable. Isaiah has taken his fate philosophically, and seemed resigned from the time he learned the decision of the district court had been affirmed by the supreme court, to which an appeal had been taken, but his brother Charles has taken the matter much harder.

James Holcombe’s Crime.

BONNET CARRE P.O., St. John the Baptist Parish, La., Jan. 17. — [Special.] — At dusk of day, Nov. 12, 1888, as James Holcombe and Emile Ambroise were returning from Waguespack’s plantation, where they were employed, they met Madeleine Will, a pretty colored girl, on the railroad track back of Angelina plantation in this parish. Holcombe on seeing her whispered a few words to Ambroise and advancing toward Madeleine began a conversation with her. A few minutes after Ambroise, who was a short distance away, heard a shot fired, and thinking it was intended for him ran off. In his flight he was met by young Brignac, to whom he related the story, and as Brignac came to the spot he found Madeleine Will gasping her life away, whilst Holcombe was reclining over her body.

Brignac ran to the neighbors and related what he had seen, but when they came to the spot Madeleine Will was dead and James Holcombe had disappeared.

The next day the coroner held an inquest over the body and the jury found that

MADELEINE WILL CAME TO HER DEATH

from a gunshot wound inflicted by James Holcombe and Emile Ambroise.

On the 14th of November, 1888, the accused were arrested and committed to jail without the benefit of bail.

Seven months after, on the 5th of June 1889, the grand jury then in session found a true bill of murder against both Holcombe and Ambroise. On motion of District Attorney Leche their case was then fixed for June 14, 1889.

In the meanwhile the dastardly deed had created so much excitement that two of our most prominent citizens took steps towards raising a fund to aid in the prosecution of the case.

On the day fixed for the trial the case was continued to the 15th of June, 1889, when it was regularly taken up and proceeded with.

THE STATE

was represented by Judge Gervais Leche of St. John and Chas. A. Baquie of St. Charles. Ambroise was represented by H.N. Gantier of Jefferson, and James Holcombe having no means to employ counsel, the court appointed P.E. Edrington to take charge of his case.

After a little trouble the following jury, composed of four white and eight colored men, were impaneled: Paul Webre, Jefferson Coleman, Valery Barre, Felicien Landeche, Firmin Clement, Theo. Haydel, Felix Martin, Joseph Sandez, Francois Mathieu, Alfred Vicksnair, Gustave Delonde and Bernard Orbien.

After the state had heard from four of its witnesses it was evident that it would fail in its case, as the evidence was circumstantial and not of a nature to convict, so District Attorney Leche abandoned the state’s case against Emile Ambroise and placed him on the witness stand.

THE GUILT OF JAMES HOLCOMBE

was then clearly proven.

The case was submitted without argument, and after hearing the judge’s charge the jury retired to their room, when in fifteen minutes they returned a verdict of guilty against James Holcombe as charged and not guilty as to Emile Ambroise.

On the 20th of June, 1889, counsel for Holcombe made a motion for a new trial, which was heard on the day following and the motion denied by the court. On the same day a suspensive appeal to the supreme court was granted, and that ribunal on the 13th of December, 1889, affirmed the judgment of the lower court.

On Jan. 6, 1890, the governor fixed the day of execution to be on Friday, Jan. 17, 1890.

James Holcombe was a thick set negro of the true African type, 5 feet 4 inches tall, weight 155 pounds, and 21 years old. He had taken everything philosophically so far, and it was only to-day that he evinced some uneasiness. Charitably disposed persons frequently sent him delicacies, such as champagne, fruits and cakes, all of which he seemed to relish, but his favorite dish was ham and rice, cooked together.

THE EXECUTION

took place yesterday at the courthouse. James Holcombe spent his last night on earth in an apparently comfortable manner, although he would accept of no nourishment, on this, the last day of his existence.

To questions propounded by your correspondent, his answers were that he was reconciled to his God, and willing to meet his fate.

When dressed for the scaffold the greatest coolness was shown, helping his minister to dress him. His march on the scaffold was firm and in his farewell address to the fifteen witnesses present he reiterated his innocence, saying that the God who was to receive his soul this day would in the close hereafter receive the soul of the party who committed the crime.

At 12:17 p.m. the black cap was adjusted and after prayers offered by the Rev. Baily Lee the trap was sprung, his neck was broken and death was instantaneous.

The rope was cut down at 12:49 p.m. and his body delivered into the hands of the parents of the condemned at his own request.

Credit is due to our efficient sheriff and his able deputies for the manner in which the execution was performed.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Hanged,Louisiana,Murder,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,USA

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1772: Bryan Sheehen, cuck

Add comment January 16th, 2018 Headsman

Colonial Massachusetts sailor Bryan Sheehen culminated a life of warped relations with the opposite sex at his hanging on this date in 1772.

According to the pamphlet An Account of the Life of Bryan Sheehen, as a child in Ireland, Sheehen‘s family split up by gender with the Catholic father taking the boys and the Anglican mother taking the girls. While the legacy of this childhood trauma can only be guessed at, it looks suggestive in hindsight

Sheehen migrated to Newfoundland and then to Massachusetts where he eventually indentured himself as a household servant to colonial shipwright Benjamin Hallowell, a “father” from whom the young adult Sheehen again fled, this time to fight in the Seven Years’ War.

Unfortunately upon his return from only six years away he found that his wife had impatiently [re]married herself to a Frenchman, a humiliating risk and fear of the seagoing set. Sheehen forced the woman to choose between the rivals but when she chose Sheehen, the latter found that he was still so disgusted with her that he preferred to abandon the wife, and the child she had borne him, and the child she had borne the Frenchman. Psychologists have a lot to unpack here already.

Relocating to Marblehead, Mass. our reborn swinging single now developed “the character of a wicked, profligate person” and eventually began stalking a woman named Abial Hollowell … her surname eerily echoing that of Sheehen’s own former master. In fact, Abial’s husband was also named Benjamin Hollowell. His advances rebuffed, Sheehen

went up, in the middle of the night, to the room where Mrs. Hollowell lay, found her asleep, awaked her, and swore, if she made the least noise, he would kill her; and then stopping her mouth, perpetrated the atrocious crime. After which (to prevent, it seems, a pregnancy) he abused her with his hand, in an unheard-of, cruel and shocking manner: Insomuch that her life was for some time almost despaired of; and she was not able for ten days after to get off her bed without help.

That’s as per a case summary appended to “A Sermon Preached at Salem, January 16, 1772″ by the Salem Rev. James Diman. The good preacher was so chagrined that Sheehen’s persistent denials had led some citizens to murmur against Mrs. Hollowell that for “justice to the woman’s character” he devotes about a page and a half to traducing Sheehen’s. Sheehen, Diman charged, was just the sort of vicious wretch who would imperil his soul by going to the gallows with a lie upon his lips, perhaps because, as a Catholic, “he might swear falsely, he might doubtless speak falsely to Hereticks, as they call all whose religious principles differ from theirs.”

Last and most important, Diman claimed to have it on good authority from “two credible persons”

that there was a young woman, daughter of one Williams, of Goldsborough, in the Eastern part of this province, abased in the same manner Mrs. Hollowell was. That she was way-layed in the the evening, between her father’s house and a neighbour’s; was seized, forced, and wounded to such a degree, that her friends were obliged to carry her home, she being unable to walk, and that the next morning early she died. That the villain, who perpetrated this crime, returned after he had done it, to his companions, who, it seems, were before, or then, made acquainted with his enterprize; for such wretches declare their sin as Sodom: And that one of them told him he would probably have a child to maintain: He answered so, that he had taken care to prevent that, and that she would never have a child by him, nor by any other man.

This guy, his informants said, was an Irishman named something like Bryan Sheehen — and he had escaped town after the incident.

* The Hallowells were notable British loyalists during the American Revolution, and returned to England when their estates were sacked by Patriots. The grandson of Bryan Sheehen’s employer, Admiral Sir Benjamin Hallowell Carew, was one of Lord Nelson‘s Band of Brothers. During the Battle of the Nile, Admiral Hallowell’s supplied the literal fireworks by defeating the French battleship Orient — whose spectacularly exploding magazines highlighted all the artistic commemorations of that victory. He later presented to Nelson as a gift a coffin fashioned from the Orient‘s mast, “that when you have finished your military career in this world you may be buried in one of your trophies.” Nelson was indeed laid to rest in Hallowell’s trophy in 1805.


The flaming Orient illuminates Thomas Luny’s Battle of the Nile, August 1st 1798 at 10 pm.

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

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1792: John Philips, a wretch robbed of life for so trivial a robbery

Add comment January 14th, 2018 Meaghan

(Thanks to Meaghan Good of the Charley Project for the guest post. -ed.)

On this date in 1792, sailor John Philips was hanged in Dublin, Ireland after being convicted of robbing a man of his hat and coat.

Philips, a 50-year-old sailor with a wife and five children back home, was based in London and knew no one in Dublin. He was unable to retain counsel for lack of funds, and the government was not required to provide him with one.

The jury who convicted him recommended mercy “in consideration of the apparent severity of robbing a wretch of life for so trivial a robbery,” but the Recorder of the Dublin, Denis George, sentenced him to death.

While awaiting his execution, Philips had a petition drawn up and sent to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, John Fane, 10th Earl of Westmorland, asking for a commutation on the grounds that he was drunk at the time of the robbery.

As Brian Henry says, in his book Dublin Hanged: Crime, Law Enforcement and Punishment in Late Eighteenth-Century Dublin,

The Lord Lieutenant would in all probability have respited his hanging if he had received it in time. On the back of the petition was written, “has anything been done in this?” A stark answer followed: “was executed the 14th — Received 31st Jan 1792.” Philips was hanged at the front of Newgate on Saturday 14 January 1792.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Guest Writers,Hanged,Ireland,Other Voices,Public Executions,Theft

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1949: Margaret “Bill” Allen, transgender

Add comment January 12th, 2018 Meaghan

(Thanks to Meaghan Good of the Charley Project for the guest post. -ed.)

On January 12, 1949, Margaret Allen was executed by Albert Pierrepoint at Strangeways Gaol. She was the first woman hanged there since Charlotte Bryant in 1936.

41-year-old Margaret had beaten to death an elderly neighbor, Nancy Ellen Chadwick, on August 21, 1948, after Nancy stopped by Margaret’s cottage at 137 Bacup Road, Rawtenstall, Lancashire. Several hours later, she dragged the body outside and left it in the road, almost literally right on her doorstep.

The following facts can be gleaned about Margaret Allen’s life:

  1. Since her early twenties, she had habitually worn men’s clothing and said she wanted to be a man.
  2. She wanted everyone to call her “Bill.”
  3. She wore her hair in a short, slicked-back cut, a common style for men at the time.
  4. She once went on holiday to Blackpool with her best (and perhaps only) friend, Annie Cook, and they checked into a boarding house under the names “Mr. Allen” and “Mrs. Allen.”
  5. In 1935, after a stay in St. Mary’s Hospital, Manchester, Margaret told people she’d had a sex change operation and was now a man.*

All of it adds up to this: although few even knew it was a thing in the 1940s, it seems highly likely that if Margaret was alive today, she would have identified as a transgender man and pursued treatment, such as hormonal therapy, to change her sex.

But in 1948, such options weren’t available to Margaret. She felt like a man, dressed like one and cut her hair like one, and even adopted a man’s name. But in spite of all her efforts she didn’t really look like a man, and the local townspeople didn’t think of her as one. “Bill” Allen must have been the subject of curiosity and gossip in the small town of Rawtenstall.

As with most transgender individuals even today, Margaret’s life was difficult. She had an elementary education, had never married, and worked grueling jobs her entire life, such as in the mills and in the postal service.

Alan Hayhurst, in his book More Lancashire Murders, suggests that the four years she was a bus conductor may have been the happiest period in her life, since female employees wore slacks as part of their uniform. She was ultimately dismissed from that job for being “rude and aggressive” towards passengers.

By 1948, Margaret’s parents were dead, and she was estranged from all twenty-one of her siblings. It’s likely they were put off by her inclination to be a man.

Due to ill health, Margaret hadn’t worked since January 1948. She was living on 11 shillings a week in welfare and 26 shillings a week in National Health sick pay.

She was behind in her rent to the tune of £15, and her landlord had been threatening eviction. She hadn’t paid the electricity or coal bills in almost two years, and she had several court judgments pending against her besides. All told, she was £46 in debt and had no realistic hope of ever paying it off.

On top of everything else, Margaret was going through menopause — often a difficult time in any woman’s life, never mind a transgender one’s — and suffered frequent headaches, dizzy spells and depression as a result. Her friend Annie Cook was worried about her; she smoked too much and didn’t eat properly. She begged Margaret to pull herself together.

Enter Nancy Ellen Chadwick.

Nancy was housekeeper to a Mr. Whitaker, and lived on Hardman Avenue, about half a mile from Margaret’s home. She and Margaret first met at a mutual acquaintance’s house, then a week later on the street in the center of town. Nancy mentioned that she was out of sugar, and Margaret offered to lend her a cupful. This was generous: Britain was still laboring under postwar rationing, and sugar was rare and precious.

Margaret visited Nancy’s home a few times after that, although she did not bring the sugar. She visited her again at 8:30 a.m. on Saturday, August 21, and said she would have sugar on Monday.

“Nancy Chadwick,” Hayhurst says in his book, “was getting more and more curious about the little woman in men’s clothing.”

At about 9:30 that same morning, by accident or design, Nancy appeared on Bacup Road, saw Margaret and asked to be invited inside her home. Hayhurst describes their fatal encounter:

‘I’m afraid I haven’t got time, Nancy,’ she said, ‘you can see inside another time.’ But she found herself being pushed back into the scullery as Nancy Chadwick made a determined effort to gain entrance. Margaret still protested, but Nancy now had the bit between her teeth and was shutting the front door behind her and making for the living room.

At around 4:00 a.m. the next day, a bus driver traveling along Bacup Road stopped when he saw, illuminated in his headlights, what looked like a bundle of rags lying in the road. When he got out to take a closer look he realized it was a woman’s body.

When the doctor arrived, he determined the woman had been dead at least ten hours. There was a deep gash in her head and blood on her arms and hands, but her injuries were not consistent with a hit-and-run accident.

Two witnesses who had been walking home later told the police they’d walked past that spot at 3:45 a.m. and there was nothing there, indicating the body had been dumped sometime between 3:45 and 4:00.

Nancy Chadwick’s nephew identified the body. At the postmortem, Hayhurst records,

Dr. Bailey found that the vault of the skull was fractured in several directions over almost the whole of the skull, and there were seven incised wounds to the head, each just over 1 inch long. The cause of death was shock, produced by multiple fractures to the skull and hemorrhaging of the scalp wounds. It was apparent that Nancy Chadwick had suffered a frenzied attack with a heavy implement.

An obvious motive for the murder was robbery, for “it was common gossip in the town that Mrs. Chadwick had lots of money and was suspected of carrying it round with her.”

The police searched the nearby River Irwell for evidence. They didn’t find the murder weapon, but did find Nancy Chadwick’s handbag. Inside were some sewing materials, scissors, and a pack of playing cards, but no money at all.

Authorities also began a house-to-house search of Bacup Road, interviewing all the residents. Because there was a large drag mark leading from No. 137 to where the body lay, they paid particular attention to Margaret Allen. A look into her background would have revealed her financial problems.

At first they could find nothing suspicious inside No. 137. Margaret was taken to the police station and gave a statement, admitting she knew Nancy. Nancy had been to see her on the day she died, Margaret said, but she had refused to let her in. The old woman had left, and this was the last time Margaret had seen her alive.

The police smelled a rat. They reappeared the next day and took Margaret back to the station, where she issued a second statement, which did not differ significantly from her first. A second search of Margaret’s home, however, turned up large bloodstains in the coalhouse.

In the living room she said quietly, “I’ll tell you all about it. The other statements I gave you were wrong.” Back at the police station she made her confession:

As I was saying, I was coming out of the house on Saturday last about twenty past nine in the morning, when Mrs. Chadwick came around the corner. She asked if this was where I lived and could she come in. I told her I was going out. I was in a funny mood and she seemed to get on my nerves, although she hadn’t said anything. I said I would have to go, as I was going out and could she see me sometime else, but she seemed somehow to insist on coming in.

I just looked round and saw a hammer in the kitchen. This time we were talking just inside the kitchen with the front door closed. On the spur of the moment, I hit her with the hammer. She gave a shout that seemed to start me off more. I hit her a few times but I don’t know how many. I then pulled the body into my coalhouse. I’ve told you where I was all day, that part is true and true that I went to bed at ten to eleven. When I awoke, the thought of what was downstairs made me keep awake. I went downstairs but couldn’t tell the time as all the clocks are broke. There were no lights in the road and I couldn’t hear any footsteps. My intention was to pull her into the river and dispose of the body but she was too heavy and I just put the body in the road. Later, I heard the noise outside and knew they had found her. I looked out of the window and saw the bus. Then I went back to sleep. Just before I put the body out, I went round the corner and threw the bag into the river. The bag I sort of dropped in, the hammer head I hit her with I threw some distance up the river and the handle I used for the fire. I looked in the bag but there was no money in it. I didn’t actually kill her for that. I had one of my funny turns … I had no reason to do it at all. It seemed to come over me. The noise after the first hit seemed to set me off.

She made her first court appearance on September 2, her forty-second birthday. The Bacup Times website notes she was wearing her preferred masculine outfit of navy blue pants, a checkered shirt, a grayish-blue pullover sweater and a fawn overcoat.

At Margaret’s trial, the defense didn’t bother to pretend she was innocent. How could they, when the evidence was so overwhelming? Her legal aid attorney merely pointed out that she had not committed the murder for financial gain and asked for a verdict of “guilty but insane.”

You can’t just go around beating old ladies in the head with a hammer, of course. But given the stress Margaret was dealing with, and her considerable need for privacy, it would be perhaps understandable if she had panicked and lashed out violently when a near-stranger tried to push her way into her home.

Had the murder happened today, Margaret might have chosen the partial defense of diminished responsibility, which would have given the jury the option of convicting her of manslaughter rather than murder. This defense would have fit the case much better than an insanity plea, but it was not available to her in the 1940s.

Annie Cook, Margaret’s friend (lover?), testified as to Margaret’s “funny turns” and headaches, as well as one prior suicide attempt, but the prison medical officer said he could find no signs of physical or mental disease.

In his summing-up the judge said there was no medical evidence to support an insanity verdict. The outcome was clear, and the jury deliberated only fifteen minutes before convicting her.

Annie visited her until the end, and sent around a petition for a reprieve, but it got a hostile reception and only 112 people signed.

In spite of everything, Margaret remained calm and cheerful. The prison chaplain would later write,

She was a woman with plenty of grit and she faced it as a man would and I felt the whole thing was bestial and brutal. She was well prepared and behaved like a man. In fact she had more guts then most men I have seen.

Margaret wanted to dress in men’s clothing at her hanging, but the prison authorities said no and gave her a blue smock and a frock to wear instead.

Annie inherited her ring and cigarette lighter, as per her wishes.

* Whatever procedure Margaret may have had, it seems unlikely that it was a sex-change operation. That type of surgery was in its infancy in the 1930s, and female-to-male sex reassignment surgery is rare and difficult to perform even today.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,England,Execution,Guest Writers,Hanged,History,Murder,Other Voices,Women

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1769: John Martin Andrew, John Fielding prey

Add comment January 11th, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1769, a prolific Swedish burglar named John Martin Andrew went to Tyburn for burgling a Foster Lane jeweler to the tune of

  • seven pair of snam-garnet gold buttons, value 6 l. 6 s.
  • six pair of garnet ear-rings, set in gold, value 3 l.
  • one other pair ditto, value 8 s.
  • one pair of Moco buttons, set in gold, value 1 l. 15 s.
  • two pair of ditto, value 2 l.
  • two pair of clutter ditto, with garnets, value 3 l.
  • one pair of crystal ditto, value 18 s.
  • two pair of small ditto, value 1 l. 8 s.
  • one three stone topaz gold ring, with a diamond, value 1 l. 14 s.
  • one ditto amethyst with diamonds, value 1 l. 13 s.
  • one ditto, value 1 l. 3 s.
  • one ditto, value 1 l. 4 s.
  • one ditto, garnet with diamonds, value 1 l. 5 s.
  • one ditto, value 1 l. 3 s.
  • one stone ditto with garnets and diamonds, value 6 l.
  • one single garnet stone ditto, value 1 l.
  • one single crystal stone ditto, value 17 s.
  • one sapphire ditto, value 1 l.
  • one Moco ditto, value 18 s.
  • four Moco ditto, set round with garnets, value 4 l. 4 s.
  • one cluster garnet with hair in it, value 1 l. 3 s.
  • one case for rings, value 2 s.
  • one pair of three drop cluster garnet ear-rings, set in gold, value 8 l.
  • a pair of single drop ear-rings, with knots in silver, value 1 l. 1 s.
  • six pair of fancy ear-rings, and cases in silver, value 5 l.
  • a girdle buckle in silver, value 10 s.
  • a pair of crystal buckles, set in silver, value 15 s.
  • a pair of topazes ditto, set in silver, value 2 l. 12 s. 6 d.
  • a pair of children’s stone buckles, in silver, value 10 s.
  • a pair of knee stone ditto, in silver, value 8 s.
  • a stone shoe buckle, in silver, value 12 s.
  • one child’s silver buckle, value 2 s.
  • a pair of garnet shoe buckles, in silver, gilt, value 2 l.
  • a pair of crystal ditto, in silver, value 18 s.
  • a pair of cluster garnet buttons, in gold, value 1 l. 15 s.
  • six pair of buttons and wires
  • three silver and twelve gold ear-rings, value 1 l. 1 s.
  • thirteen stone buttons, set in silver, value 18 s. 6 d.
  • one pair of cluster studs, value 2 s.
  • three gold diamond rings, value 6 l.
  • one ditto false stone, value 5 s.
  • three pair of stone buttons, set in silver, value 1 l. 2 s.
  • one pair of garnet buttons, set in gold, value 18 s.
  • one pair of cluster Moco, set in gold, value 1 l. 10 s.
  • one pair of crystal ear-rings, set in silver, value 6 s.
  • one pair of cluster paste, set in silver, value 7 s.
  • one heart trinket, set in gold, value 7 s.
  • one gold seal, value 1 l. 3 s.
  • one pair of stone knee buckles, set in silver, value 8 s.
  • a purple paste hoop-ring, set in gold, value 12 s.
  • two paste crosses in silver, value 12 s.
  • one pair of large garnet buttons, set in gold, value 3 l.
  • four pair of Moco ditto, set in gold, value 4 l.
  • four pair of garnet ditto, set in gold, value 4 l.
  • three pair of Moco studs, set in gold, value 2 l. 5 s.
  • one pair of garnet ditto, set in gold, 1 l.
  • six pair of single drop ear-rings, set in gold, value 3 l. 12 s.
  • two pair of three drop ear-rings, set in ditto, value 3 l. 3 s.
  • five pair of garnet and topazes, set in ditto, value 1 l. 17 s. 6 d.
  • one pair of night ear-rings, value 11 s.
  • thirty hoop rings in gold, some paste, some garnets, value 14 l. 16 s. 6 d.
  • five gold seals, value 8 l. 8 s.
  • four diamond rings, value 8 l. 8 s.
  • about thirty rings, value 12 l. 13 s.
  • nine garnet buckles, set in gold, value 5 l.
  • about fourteen gold lockets, some sapphires, some garnets, value 2 l. 10 s.
  • two pair of sham garnet buckles, set in gold, value 1 l. 16 s.
  • five stock buckles, value 2 l. 10 s.
  • five shirt buckles, set in silver, 2 l. 5 s.
  • about three pair of fancy ear-rings, value 2 l. 12 s. 6 d.
  • about twenty-four pair of stone shoe buckles, value 19 l. 4 s.
  • about twenty-eight stone knee buckles, value 11 l. 10 s.
  • a large garnet unset, value 3 l.
  • a mettle watch-case, value 12 s.
  • about six pair of gold wires, and one gold ring, value 1 l. 1 s.
  • one cluster locket, value 1 l.
  • about twelve pair of silver shoe buckles, value 7 l.
  • two heart trinkers, value 14 s.
  • one garnet cross, set in silver, value 4 s.
  • twelve large waistcoat buttons, silver, value 12 s.
  • four breast buckles, value 1 l. 8 s.
  • three girdle buckles, value 1 l. 4 s.
  • one solitair, value 1 l. 4 s.
  • one king William and queen Mary’s half-crown
  • one pocket piece, larger
  • and sundry pieces of small money, in a chip box, value 10 s. 6 d.

As the charge sheet’s thorough inventory suggests the jeweler knew his business — or rather, it was known by his wife Mary Knight, who with the man of the house laid up with illness very coolly delivered the court the testimony that would hang their thief. It seems the Knights had the diligence to inscribe a business sigil on most of their pieces, and even on their business papers. It was this that enabled their property’s recovery.

Mary Knight also knew precisely where to turn to make that recovery, and when the sun came up she “immediately had warnings dispersed about, from Goldsmiths hall, and went to Sir John Fielding.”

The “Blind Beak of Bow Street” — “beak” was just slang for someone in charge — John Fielding had followed his half-brother Henry as London’s chief magistrate. Together the Fieldings fathered policing in England, Henry as the pioneer before his sudden death in 1754, and the energetic and innovative John for the quarter-century following.

Incredibly from the standpoint of posterity, London at around 700,000 souls mid-century had no professional police; indeed the populace was bitterly suspicious at the idea as tending to despotism. Despite favorably describing autocratic France’s far more developed marechaussee, the English observer William Mildmay remarked that “such an establishment is not to be imitated in our land of liberty, where the injured and oppressed are to seek for no other protection than that which the law ought only to afford, without flying to the aid of a military power” as the latter would be “either dangerous to our liberties or unconstitutional to our form of government.” The French critic Le Blanc, abroad in England in the 1730s, was perplexed by his hosts’ preference for the taxation of highwaymen to that of any state organ that might secure the roads.

Those institutions of public security that existed in the Great Wen* were a wormeaten quiltwork of minutely local and almost determinedly ineffective entities, and “there was a rivalry and jealousy rather than co-operation and mutual help between the Watch, King’s Messengers, Press Messengers, city marshals and sheriffs, and the other ad hoc bodies.” (Frank McLynn, Crime and Punishment in Eighteenth-Century England) Meanwhile, the responsibility to investigate and prosecute crimes after the fact fell to victims themselves, and these prospective vendettas were so prohibitive that neighbors were known to form “prosecution associations” to insure one another against the expense. The acme of the perversity had been attained in the 1710s-1720s business empire of Jonathan Wild, the “thief-taker” who was simultaneously the criminal kingpin, ingeniously skimming the margins on the city’s entire economy of robbing, fencing, and private rewards.

This was the world that the Fieldings set themselves to remake.

When he attained the magistracy in 1748, Henry set up his home in Bow Street as the headquarters of a protozoan police force. Six constables of his recruit would be the founding coterie of what was soon known as the Bow Street Runners.

His kinsman and assistant John would inherit leadership of this enterprise in 1754 and make it his life’s work. With a state stipend that grew over the years with his successes, John Fielding made the long-dubious racket of thief-taking into a respectable office, his tireless pen relentlessly advertising (exaggerating, McLynn claims) the honesty and effectiveness of his enterprise and forever “dragg[ing] the unwilling authorities in the direction of the creation of a national police force.” (McLynn again) Fielding kept his offices open for long and reliable hours; in the case we have at hand, the first search warrant for John Andrew Martin’s lodgings was granted not by he but by a subaltern while Fielding was out at dinner. He also widened his constables’ investigative scope beyond the narrow parishes which they had historically been attached, and counseled Parliament on policy. He was particularly busy here in the 1760s, as a crime wave following the post-Seven Years’ War demobilization was engulfing London.

Cataloguing and disseminating information about criminals was a particular interest and the Blind Beak had a reputation for being able to recognize thousands of rogues by the sound of their voice alone. So it was in our case, for “when the prisoner was taken before Sir John Fielding, Sir John knew him very well; and asked him how long he had been come back from transportation?” There were, the Old Bailey transcript dryly notes, “fourteen other indictments against him for burglaries.”

At Tyburn, Martin’s “behaviour was manly and decent … He was about five feet ten inches high, forty years of age, genteely dressed, with his own hair tyed behind.”

* The term “Great Wen” as a slur for London wasn’t coined until the 1820s, by radical journalist William Cobbett, a great advocate of rural England.

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

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1864: Luke Charles, ex-policeman

Add comment January 9th, 2018 Headsman

From the Birmingham Daily Post of January 11, 1864:

On Saturday, at noon, the ex-policeman, Luke Charles, who was sentenced to death at the recent Liverpool Assizes, for the murder of his wife, suffered the extreme penalty of the law at Kirkdale Gaol, in the presence of a very large concourse of spectators, numbering, it is stated, some 6,000. An unsuccessful effort had been made to get a mitigation of Charles’s sentence, and on Thursday the result of the application to the Home Secretary was made known to him by the Rev. Mr. Gibson, his spiritual adviser. Charles manifested neither disappointment nor depression of spirits, but merely remarked that he never expected the exertions of his friends would be successful. He seemed quite resigned to his fate, and had, to all appearances, been earnest in his preparations for eternity. His brother, whom he had not seen for fourteen years, and who saw the account of his trial in the news-papers, visited him on Sunday last, and the meeting is said to have been one of a most affecting nature. The wretched man slept well on Friday night, and partook heartily of the prison breakfast the next morning. He seemed perfectly self-possessed, and received the holy Sacrament at the hands of his spiritual adviser. He made no open confession, and if he did make any it was in the Confessional, the secrets of which are but rarely disclosed. At noon, the hour fixed for the execution, he walked firmly on to the scaffold, but his face was very pale, and his eyes were closed He died almost immediately the bolt was withdrawn by the executioner (Calcraft). The crowd maintained great quietude.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,Murder

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1999: Dobie Gillis Williams

Add comment January 8th, 2018 Headsman

Dobie Gillis Williams was executed by Louisiana on this date in 1999.

Sister Helen Prejean, the Louisiana nun of Dead Man Walking fame, ministered to Williams on death row and became convinced of his innocence — a perspective she argues forcefully in another book, The Death of Innocents: An Eyewitness Account of Wrongful Executions.*

Sister Helen has been accused of overstating her argument here; certainly the state was able to develop a number of incriminating circumstances, like Williams’s observed absence from his home just a half-mile from the murder and abrasions that speculatively could have been incurred shimmying out the small bathroom window. The best forensic evidence was blood at the scene matched by type to Dobie Williams, although blood was oddly absent from the purported murder weapon dropped outside of Sonja Knippers’s Sabine Parish home one summer night in 1984.

Home on a prison furlough, Williams profiled as a central casting suspect and his un-recorded confession late that night would cinch the case. Williams’s attorneys throughout his 14-plus-year legal odyssey suggested that the borderline developmentally disabled Williams might have been manipulated into a false confession, a factor that today is today increasingly understood as a frequent contributor to wrongful convictions. What Helen Prejean wrote about back in 2005 of the possible dynamic could certainly be read as special pleading but her understanding of the interrogation as an event of collaborative storytelling full of subtle back-and-forth cues ran well ahead of the general public’s.

Dobie’s defense attorney, Michael Bonnette, in his cross-examination of the officers, pressed them on the way the confession had been obtained, taking Dobie in the middle of the night and questioning him over and over, feeding him information. Bonnette did get the officers to acknowledge two crucial pieces of information about the crime they had relayed to Dobie — that the victim had been stabbed and that the crime had taken place in the bathroom. Perhaps they had also pieced things together for him: If there was a stabbing, there had to be a knife — so where was the knife? And how did he enter and leave the apartment? Didn’t he leave through the bathroom window? Didn’t it have to be the bathroom window, since that was what Mr. Knippers reported his dying wife had said?

Coming up on two decades gone, Dobie Gillis Williams’s case isn’t widely remembered these days; the Death Penalty Information Center doesn’t even name him on its “Executed but Possibly Innocent” page.

The likely reason is that Williams had a November 1998 execution date stayed so that DNA tests could be attempted on the bathroom curtains, the ones that had yielded the blood type match at the time of the trial — and the tested sample reportedly matched Williams. Helen Prejean is sticking to her guns; she explains why she doubts the lab’s conclusions here.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Lethal Injection,Louisiana,Murder,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,USA

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