Posts filed under 'Organized Crime'

1945: Harold Pringle, the last Canadian military execution

Add comment July 5th, 2020 Headsman

The only Canadian soldier to be executed during (… actually well after!) World War II, Harold Pringle, caught a fusillade in Italy on this date in 1945.

A 16-year-old — he fibbed about his age — enlistee from small-town Ontario, Pringle joined the Hastings and Prince Edward Regiment.

Pringle and a mate in the Hasty P’s name of “Lucky” MacGillivray linked up with some British deserters to form a black market outfit in conquered Rome. The “Sailor Gang”* enjoyed several weeks of picaresque living in the lawless city. Unsurprisingly, as Allied military authorities got control of the place they were eager to make examples of these minor gangsters. (Major gangsters were a different matter.)

The shooting death of that mate MacGillivray gave military prosecutors the means to sink the Sailors. One of their number was induced by a sweetheart deal to finger Pringle as for murdering him. Pringle and his comrades all contended that “Lucky” had been shot by mischance during one of the outlaws’ frequent drunken bouts, and having died en route to the hospital, Pringle shot him up posthumously in hopes of making the body look like it had been prey to a gang hit.

Despite all the trouble taken to secure a very dubious conviction, the execution itself was carried out in great secrecy by a tiny rump contingent of Canadians — all their fellows had already been withdrawn from Italy — who were not to speak of it afterwards.

According to Andrew Clark, the author whose research revealed the event to the wider public in A Keen Soldier: The Execution of Second World War Private Harold Pringle, it all came down a political balancing act. Canadian Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King faced a June 1945 election (followed by formation of a coalition government) that a controversial execution might complicate.

However, the British had executed two of their guys in the Sailor Gang case, and reciprocity was expected on a diplomatic level. So the solution was to do it as quietly as possible, and cover it with an official secret designation. Even Pringle himself didn’t find out his sentence was confirmed until the morning of the execution.

Book CoverBook Cover
Left: The classic antiwar novel inspired by the Pringle case, which was the only novel published by Colin McDougall. Right: The 2002 nonfiction treatment that brought the affair to the public eye. Below: A 1955 episode of Four Star Playhouse also seems to be based on the Pringle case, and Colin McDougall is credited with the story.**

There’s a riveting audio interview here with a member of the Hastings and Prince Edward Regiment who had guard duty on the condemned youth on the last night of his life. “Just as brave as could be,” Orville Marshall reports.

* There’s another infamous troupe of deserter-gangsters operating in Rome in this same period, the Lane Gang. The said “Lane” — whose real name was Werner Schmiedel — was hanged by American authorities in June 1945.

** McDougall served in Italy up to the end of Canada’s involvement there, and that is surely how he came to know about the secret execution in a general sense; any more specific vector of information appears to be unknown. However discovered, Pringle clearly haunted McDougall: he took several years to write his magnum opus, and also published a short story in McLean’s in the early 1950s called “The Firing Squad”.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Canada,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Italy,Milestones,Murder,Occupation and Colonialism,Organized Crime,Shot,Soldiers,Wartime Executions,Wrongful Executions

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1726: Étienne-Benjamin Deschauffours

Add comment May 24th, 2020 Headsman

Etienne-Benjamin Deschauffours (or Duchauffour) was burned at Paris’s Place de Greve on this date in 1726.

Although executed on a sodomy conviction, it wasn’t mere same-sex indulgence but a monstrous, Jeffrey Epstein-like project of elite sexual depravity that cinched his fate, at least if the trial records are to be believed.

“Under a variety of pseudonyms, and in various lodgings, Deschauffours earned a living by spotting ‘likely lads’ and supplying them on payment of commission to wealthy clients, both French and foreign (perhaps some 200 in all),” quoth Who’s Who in Gay and Lesbian History: From Antiquity to World War II.

Deschaffours frequently tried out his finds (young and very young), and found his pleasure in their pain (it is difficult not to think forward to the Marquise de Sade, or backward to Gilles de Rais). He castrated a young Italian whose admirer hoped this might render him more compliant.

Reportedly, he procured these semi- or unwilling charges for overmighty magnates who were — as with the previous century’s Affair of the Poisons — far too powerful and numerous to bring to book without inviting systemic crisis. Their vices thus remain mere rumors even down to our remove of posterity, for whom shadowy and redacted documentation yet conceals god knows what monstrosities.

Jim Chevallier, in The Old Regime Police Blotter II: Sodomites, Tribads and “Crimes Against Nature”, notes a 1734 doggerel capturing the scandal-mongering that became as the popular impression of the affair.

Du Chauffour and d’Oswal
are two unparalleled buggers,

There’s the resemblance.

One burned for his crime,
The other was made cardinal,

There’s the difference.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Burned,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,France,History,Homosexuals,Murder,Organized Crime,Public Executions,Rape,Scandal,Sex

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1987: Lawrence Anini, The Law

Add comment March 29th, 2020 Headsman

Nigerian bandit Lawrence Anini was executed on this date in 1987.

Strongman of a well-armed gang whose robberies and hijackings terrorized Benin Cty, Anini in 1986 fell out with his erstwhile police protectors, resulting in a bloody war of assassinations that claimed nine policemen’s lives and god knows how many gangsters. It also made Anini Nigeria’s public enemy number one.

He was wheelchair-bound throughout his high-profile trial, owing to having a leg amputated after it was badly shot up in the course of his December 1986 arrest. This fact earned the man once chillingly nicknamed “The Law” no sympathy at all, although he did also implicate a number of corrupt cops, drawing several convictions.

He was shot along with a number of his confederates on March 29, 1987.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Mass Executions,Murder,Nigeria,Organized Crime,Public Executions,Shot

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1981: Gheorghe Stefanescu, the Walter White of wine

Add comment December 14th, 2019 Headsman

Romanian entrepreneur Gheorghe Stefanescu was shot at Jilava Prison on this date in 1981. He was at the center of one of the largest corruption scandals of the Communist period.

A Bucharest liquor-store administrator, Stefanescu built a vast network that sold unlicensed and adulterated wine throughout the 1970s. When arrested in 1978 — after a Securitate officer noticed that the wine he’d ordered for a wedding decayed into sludge when the festivity was delayed — Stefanescu had accumulated a villa, two cars, 18 kg in gold jewelry, and millions in lei. More than 200 other people, ranging from distributors to officials corrupted by bribes, were arrested when the operation was rolled up.

The way it worked was, a vineyards administrator would fraudulently declare part of his product a loss to natural disaster, and squirrel it away illicitly. This contraband was then multiplied in volume and profitability by diluting the highest-quality wine with cheap plonk. Stefanescu and friends moved some 400,000 liters of this stuff from 1971 to 1978, costing the Romanian government several million dollars in lost revenue — a laughably pinprick injury compared to Romania’s post-Ceausescu sea of corruption but as they say, a prophet is never welcome in his own country.

Bring your Romanian proficiency to enjoy the 1984 film about the affair, Secretul lui Bachus (Secrets of Bacchus).

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Businessmen,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Drugs,Execution,History,Organized Crime,Pelf,Romania,Shot

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1953: Abel Danos, le mammouth

Add comment March 14th, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1953, the French gangster and Nazi collaborator Abel Danos was shot as a traitor.

Once a small-time crook for the milieu criminal syndicate, Danos upon his arrest went way beyond turning state’s evidence and offered his goon talents to the German police. From 1941 to 1944 he murdered people — he’s believed to have personally executed over 100 French Resistance members during the war — for salary as a member of the French Gestapo. Though arrested at the end of the war, he made a sensational escape and got into the robbery outfit Gang des Tractions Avant; he fatally shot both Italian and French police in that vocation. Career-wise you have to credit the man for focusing on his core value-adds while remaining flexible to embrace new opportunities.

“Le mammouth” — so nicknamed for his heavy build — went extinct courtesy of a firing squad at Fort Monte-Valerien, refusing a blindfold after a last swig of rum.

There’s a 2006 French-language biography of Abel Danos, by Eric Guillon.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,France,History,Occupation and Colonialism,Organized Crime,Shot,Treason

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1820: John and Lavinia Fisher

Add comment February 18th, 2019 Headsman

February 18, 1820 was the execution date of South Carolina crime Hall of Famers John and Lavinia Fisher.

By legendary repute the first serial killer in America, Fisher and her husband John were said to lure travelers to their Six Mile Wayfarer House near Ashley Ferry outside Charleston where they’d be poisoned, stabbed, and robbed.

Alas, the Fishers were actually a more conventional sort of brigand.


National Advocate for the Country (New York, N.Y.), January 28, 1820.

Quite incredible legends have been embroidered for this purported Bates Motel of the early Republic: for instance, that their cover was blown by a man named John Peoples/Peeples who grew suspicious enough to avoid drinking the poisoned tea and then sat up all night like young Felix Platter until he caught wind of the imminent attack, sprang out a window, and fled to safety. If so, it was a woeful failure of the period’s journalists merely to report that he had been savagely beaten and robbed.

A few books about the Lavinia Fisher case

Instead, these two seemed to be part of a gang of bandits who occupied not only their Six Mile House but also the Five Mile House, and Lavinia wasn’t the only woman in the lot: one Jane Howard was among the half-dozen arrested when the Six Mile lair was raided by a vigilante posse in February 1819, along with William Heyward, James M’Elwray, and Seth Young, along with others uncaptured. (Names via National Advocate, March 3, 1819) Papers of the time slate them with offenses like stealing livestock and highway robbery, and it’s the latter crime — not murder — that brought the Fishers to their gallows.

Either way, Charleston tour guides will tell you that she haunts the old city jail to this day. She’s also famous for her purported last words, “If you have a message you want to send to Hell, give it to me; I’ll carry it,” which might even be a real quote.


Alexandria [Va.] Gazette & Daily Advertiser, Feb. 26, 1820

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous Last Words,Hanged,History,Organized Crime,Public Executions,South Carolina,The Supernatural,Theft,USA,Women

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1723: Charles Weaver, John Levee, Richard Oakey and Matthew Flood

Add comment February 8th, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1723, Tyburn was graced by a quadruple hanging.

Charles Weaver hanged on the occasion for stabbing a creditor to death as they argued about money crossing the Thames; his tragedy, we find from the Ordinary’s Account, compounded since “his Wife with Child, being kill’d about a Fortnight ago, by a Dray, or Cart that ran over her, in — as she was going to her Husband in Newgate.” He left a seven-year-old orphan.

The other three at the fatal tree — John Levee, Richard Oakey and Matthew Flood — were all part of the same circle of thieves, outlaws in a secondary orbit of the legendary crime lord Jonathan Wild.

Wild has already been profiled here, and in many other places besides; in fine, his racket was as London’s preeminent thief-taker to batten on that city’s vast traffic in stolen goods by acting as a sort of legitimate fence who would use the guise of policing to pretend to “find” the loot boosted by his own affiliates and return it to its owners in exchange for a cut. A great many of the city’s thieves in effect worked for Wild, an arrangement that Wild in his law enforcement guise could enforce by arresting criminals at his convenience and pocketing a handsome reward from the public purse into the bargain; over the years, his testimony sent something like 60 criminals to the gallows.

Here in the first weeks of 1723 the nature of Wild’s empire was not yet widely known, but the executions of Levee, Oakey and Flood were a little milepost en route to its discovery.

All three crooks had been members of a 30-strong gang centered around Irish highwayman James “Valentine” Carrick, a group that Wild had profitably busted up months before. One of their number, and a partner on the same highway robbery that hanged them, was one of Wild’s longtime cronies, a thief named Joseph Blake who was known as “Blueskin”. According to Aaron Skirball’s readable history of Wild’s rise and downfall, The Thief-Taker Hangings,

As a boy, Blueskin went to school for nearly six years, but he showed little propensity for education. Nevertheless, it was at school that he met William Blewit. Through Blewit, Blake was introduced to Jonathan Wild and entered the thief-taker’s junior league.

Young Blake picked pockets on London’s streets, focusing on pedestrians around Lincoln’s Inn Fields. By age fifteen, Blake knew the interiors of the city’s array of prisons and workhouses. But he was never more than an ordinary thief. For him, it was a matter of quantity. He sto.e plenty.

Blake grew into a ma of disheveled brawn. He was never a gentleman of the road, but rather a coarse, rugged, unkempt highwayman. On one occasion, after he stopped a coach from Hampstead and met with obstinacy from a woman in the carriage, who declared that Blueskin was sure to hang for the deed, he flew off the handle.

“You double Pox’d Salivated Bitch,” he said. “Come, no dallying, deliver your Money, or else your life must be a Sacrifice to my Fury.” Then he ordered the woman, a bawdy house operator named Mother Wybourn, to strip naked.

As the years passed, Blake robbed with Richard Oakey and John Levee and drifted into the Carrick gang. He amassed a pretty penny from his multitude of robberies, but apparently lost a great deal at the gaming tables with Carrick. Through it all, Blueskin remained interlinked with Jonathan Wild. In 1723, Wi9ld arrested Blake after a fierce struggle that left Blake with a saber gash. Yet, in prison Blake received from Wild an allowance of three shillings and sixpence a week, and the thief-taker picked up the bill to have him stitched up as well.

This allowance was a small price to pay in comparison to the hundreds of quid in rewards that Wild realized for having his accomplices hanged. Blake obligingly gave the evidence at their trial that doomed them all.

It’s difficult to trace Blueskin’s exact loyalties and motivations moment by moment here, but it’s clear that Wild’s pennies had not fully sewn up the injuries done to him: perhaps the further year-plus that Blake was obliged to cool his heels in prison before arranging his release in mid-1724 hardened him against the old boss. Once Blueskin got out, he joined forces with anti-Wild celebrity burglar Jack Sheppard in a caper that would see both those men to the gallows … but also bring down Jonathan Wild into the bargain.

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

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2018: The Sultan of Coins

Add comment November 14th, 2018 Headsman

Iran today hanged two men for financial crimes.

Vahid Mazloumin, dubbed “the Sultan of Coins”, was arrested in July with two tons of gold coins in his possession. He was condemned with accomplice Mohammad-Esmaeil Qassemi of comprising a “smuggling gang”.

Iran’s currency has collapsed in recent months ahead of the bad-faith U.S. nuclear sanctions, leading Iranians to rush for precious metals.

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Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Businessmen,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,Iran,Organized Crime,Pelf,Ripped from the Headlines

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2009: Xu Wei, Jilin gangster

Add comment November 5th, 2018 Headsman

China’s state-run Xinhua News Agency reported thusly:

CHANGCHUN, Nov. 5 (Xinhua) — A Mafia ring leader, who is also son of a former high-ranking city official, was executed Thursday by lethal injection in Changchun, capital of northeast China’s Jilin Province, according to a court statement.

Convicted of murder, kidnapping, intentional injury, extortion and other crimes, Xu Wei, 42, was sentenced to death by the Changchun Intermediate People’s Court on Sept. 20, 2007. The Higher People’s Court of Jilin Province ruled against Xu’s appeal and upheld the first-instance verdict on July 10, 2008. The Supreme People’s Court approved the death sentence after reviewing the case.

Xu, deputy manager of Yushu City Thermal Power Co. and son of Xu Fengshan, former deputy mayor of Yushu city, was found to have provided guns to two gangsters who shot dead Xu’s business rival in 1997. Xu even pulled strings through his police complice and bailed out one of the killers, the court was told.

Believing a township head didn’t pay him enough respect, Xu ordered his men to beat him to death in 1998. In the end, the man was struck into coma and died in hospital in 2000 at the age of 49, court verdict said.

In a separate case, the father Xu Fengshan was sentenced to death with a reprieve of two years for taking more than 20 million yuan (2.93 million U.S. dollars) in bribery and harboring criminal organizations.

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Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Capital Punishment,China,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Lethal Injection,Murder,Organized Crime,Pelf

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1965: Eighteen prison rioters from Pulau Senang

Add comment October 29th, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1964, newly-independent Singapore hanged 18 former inmates of the Pulau Senang penal settlement for a deadly 1963 riot.


Pulau Senang. (cc) image by Jnzl.

“Island of Ease” the name means in Malay — but inmates at the experimental prison colony established there in 1960 found it anything but. Singapore’s 1959 elections, its first under self-rule within the British Empire, brought in the People’s Action Party. The PAP still rules Singapore to this day, famously tough on crime.

Ever thus. One of PAP’s objectives in 1959 was to root out a plague of gangsterism in the city, and to that end it instituted the Pulau Senang settlement on the virtually uninhabited 81-hectare coral island. It had a classic penitential vision: hard-core underworld gangsters sweating away their appetite for crime, learning hard work and practical trade skills, emerging reformed — “every violent lawless man could find their own way back to decent society given a proper chance and hard work,” in the words of its superintendent, Irishman Daniel Stanley Dutton.

And it had its moment in the sun: during the colony’s short life, several hundred of its inmates were found sufficiently rehabilitated for release.

But obviously not every resident was a success story, for on July 12, 1963, a confrontation over laboring conditions on the Isle of Ease spiraled into a mutiny that saw the inmates hack Dutton himself to death with the tools he’d given them to save their own souls. Two of Dutton’s assistants were also slain in the rising, and before gendarmes arrived to restore order the inmates had torched and sacked most of the colony infrastructure that they and their predecessors had painstakingly constructed over the preceding three years.

The ensuing mass trials saw a shocking 18 men capitally convicted and eventually hanged on a single date: October 29, 1965. (Twenty-nine others received lesser prison sentences for mere rioting convictions.)

Dutton’s untimely end also meant the end of his project, which was retired from the Singapore penal system in 1964. Today, it’s a military testing grounds and live-fire range.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Mass Executions,Murder,Organized Crime,Rioting,Singapore

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