Posts filed under 'Organized Crime'

1748: Arthur Gray and William Rowland, Hawkhurst Gang smugglers

Add comment May 11th, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1748, Arthur Gray and William Rowland — two desperadoes of the Hawkhurst Gang smuggling syndicate — were hanged at Tyburn.

We have in these pages formerly detailed the muscle of this fearsome gang, which having established a lucrative commercial enterprise evading tea duties and distributing its discount leaf did not shrink from brutalizing and murdering the king’s own agents to preserve it.*

Britain by the late 1740s was pressing hard to suppress the shocking violence of the smuggling trade. To that end, she had armed herself with legislation permitting the capital prosecution of people for carrying smuggled goods while armed — the attainble bar which was cleared for both of the prosecutions at issue in today’s post.

However, as the Newgate Ordinary described, there were much more shocking atrocities to be attributed:

There are numerous Instances might be given of the Barbarity of Smugglers, but I shall confine myself to one or two very remarkable, in which Gray was principally concerned, in Decem. 1744. The Commissioners of the Customs being informed that two noted Smugglers, Chiefs of a Gang who infested the Coast, were skulking at a House in Shoreham in Sussex, they granted a Warrant to Messieurs Quaff, Bolton, Jones, and James, four of his Majesty’s Officers of the Customs, to go in Search of them. The Officers found them according to the Information, seized them, and committed them to Goal. But the rest of the Gang, of which Gray was one, being informed of the Disaster of their Friends, convened in a Body the Monday following, and in open Day Light entered the Town with Hangers drawn, arm’d with Pistols and Blunderbusses; they fired several Shot to intimidate the Neighbourhood, and went to a House where the Officers were Drinking; dragg’d them out, tied three of them Neck and Heels (the fourth, named Quaff, making his Escape as they got out of the House) and carried them off in Triumph to Hawkhurst in Kent, treating them all the Way with the utmost Scurrility, and promising to broil them alive. However, upon a Council held among them, they let Mr. Jones go, after they had carried him about five Miles from Shoreham, telling him, they had nothing to object to him, but advised him not to be over busy in troubling them or their Brethren, left he might one Day meet the Fate reserved for his two Companions. They carried the unfortunate Mr. Bolton and James, to a Wood near Hawkhurst, stripped them naked, tyed them to two different Trees near one another, and whipped them in the most barbarous Manner, till the unhappy Men begg’d they would knock them on the Head to put them out of their Miseries; but these barbarous Wretches told them, it was time enough to think of Death when they had gone through all their Exercise that they had for them to suffer before they would permit them to go to the D – l. They then kindled a Fire between the two Trees, which almost scorch’d them to Death, and continued them in this Agony for some Hours, till the Wretches were wearied with torturing them; they then releas’d them from the Trees, and carried them quite speechless and almost dead, on Board one of their Ships, from whence they never return’d.

That’s all about Arthur Gray, a butcher by training who had advanced to a leadership role in the Hawkhurst Gang. Juridically, this entire story is nothing but the Ordinary’s gossip; the whole of Gray’s trial consists not of torturing and disappearing lawmen but an anodyne description of Gray’s having formed a convoy of about eight men, armed with blunderbusses and carbines, to carry uncustomed tea and brandy. It’s the get Capone on tax evasion school of using whatever tool is available; in fact, the very crime here for Gray is “tax offences”.

It’s the same for William Rowland, who was a person of much less consequence in the gang; the Ordinary has no scandal of interest to share with the reader, and by his telling Rowland awaiting the gallows seems preoccupied mostly with annoyance at his naivete in surrendering himself upon hearing of the warrant, thinking his involvement in the racket too trivial to have possibly come to hemp.

The Hawkhurst Gang would be broken up by 1749.

* On the lighter side of moral panics, we find philanthropist-noodge Jonas Hanway (who thought a proper Briton ought to fortify himself with robust beer instead of strained leaf-water) amusingly fretting in the 1750s that thanks to the 18th century’s tea craze

men were losing their stature, women their beauty, and the very chambermaids their bloom … Will the sons and daughters of this happy isle for ever submit to the bondage of so tyrannical a custom as drinking tea? … Were they the sons of tea-sippers who won the fields of Crécy and Agincourt or dyed the Danube’s shores with Gallic blood?

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

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1964: Jack Ruby condemned

Add comment March 14th, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1964, Dallas nightclub owner Jacob Rubenstein — notorious to history as Jack Ruby — was condemned to the electric chair for the dramatic live-televised murder of accused John F. Kennedy assassin Lee Harvey Oswald, captured by snapping shutters in one of the 20th century’s indelible images.

Ruby would never sit on that mercy seat.

For one thing, his punishment arrived as the American death penalty lulled into hibernation. Had he lived his sentence eventually would have been vacated by the 1972 Furman v. Georgia ruling. But instead of seeing that juridical landmark, the enigmatic Ruby died in prison inside of three years, awaiting retrial after an appeal.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Assassins,Businessmen,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Electrocuted,Execution,History,Infamous,Jews,Murder,Not Executed,Notable for their Victims,Organized Crime,Popular Culture,Texas,USA

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1868: The Reno brothers and Charles Anderson lynched in New Albany

Add comment December 12th, 2017 Headsman

On this date in 1868, 60-plus masked and armed vigilantes took control of the New Albany, Indiana jail and executed four members (three of them kin) of a notorious train-robbing gang.

From the Daily Inter Ocean (Chicago Republican), December 13, 1868:

INDIANAPOLIS, Dec. 12.

The Seymour vigilance committee visited the New Albany jail this morning, about 3 o’clock, and hung the Reno brothers and Charles Anderson inside the jail, and left town before any alarm was given.

CINCINNATI, Dec. 12.

The following particulars of the hanging of the Renos at New Albany, has been received by the Cincinnati Times:

NEW ALBANY, Dec. 12.

Between 3 and 4 o’clock this morning, from 60 to 70 Seymour Regulators, masked and heavily armed arrived here via Jeffersonville Railroad, and immediately upon their arrival they proceeded by a direct route to the county jail, placing guards at every street to guard against surprise. Arriving at the jail one of the guards stationed outside took alarm and attempted to raise an alarm but was quickly taken in charge of and placed under guard.

They then entered the office of the jail, and after twelve or fifteen of them entered, Sheriff Fullclove, awakened by the disturbance, came to the door, and when they demanded the keys attempted to get away by dodging down a cellar way and coming out on the outside of the building, but here he was commanded to surrender, and by some means was shot through the arm. They had now complete possession of the jail and found the keys in the Sheriff’s bedroom, when they immediately proceeded to the cells and forced one of the guards to unlock the cells.

They then took Frank Reno, Simon Reno, Bill Reno, and Charles Anderson, the express robbers, out, and hung them to the iron railing or posts supporting the walk around the outside of the cells. The victims were placed in chairs, the ropes adjusted and the chairs kicked from under them, Frank and Simon were hanging to one post, Simon in front and Frank behind him; the other brother was hanging at a corner post, and Anderson in the backway in the rear of the jail.

After being satisfied that their victims were dead the bold murderers quietly locking the jail and all its occupants, taking the keys with them, and taking one of the county commissioners to the depot, then after all being ready they started away, giving the commissioner the keys as soon as possible. The alarm was sounded, but too late; no one could be found, and all that remained to show their presence was the dead bodies of the express robbers.

The most intense excitement prevails here, and is getting much higher every moment. The news spread like wild fire.

Mrs. Frank Reno and Mrs. Anderson are in the city.

Frank Reno fought the regulators, and knocked three of them down, but was overpowered and knocked senseless — his head being badly bruised, and blood running down his face. The victims presented a ghastly and horrible spectacle.

INDIANAPOLIS, Dec. 12. — All the telegraph wires on the line of the Jeffersonville railroad were found connected together and thrown to the ground about half a mile north of Seymour, Ind., this morning, supposed to have been done by the Seymour regulators before going to New Albany to hang the four express robbers.

LOUISVILLE, Dec. 12 — Additional particulars of the tragedy at New Albany, have been received. About 3 o’clock this morning, Mr. Luther Whitten, one of the outside guards of the jail, was met at the entrance, by a party of men, who presented pistols to him, demanding silence or death. Whitten shouted however, but was seized, knocked down, and informed if another shout was uttered he should die. By this time the jail office was filled with men searching for the keys. Sheriff Fullenlove, understanding the situation, came down from his sleeping apartment, and gained the door leading to the grounds on the west side of the jail. Here he met an armed force with pistols directed at him, and exclaimed, “Gentlemen, don’t shoot me, I am Sheriff.” One of them, however, fired the shot taking effect in the right arm, inflicting a serious and painful wound. The keys were demanded, but he positively refused to surrender them. About a dozen of them then entered Mr. Fullenlove’s room, where his wife laid in bed, and demanded the jail keys of her, which she refused; but they succeeded in finding them concealed in a drawer. Thos. Mathews, one of the inside guards, was compelled to open the cells of the men the mob had determined to hang. Frank and William Reno were the first victims dragged out, and they were hung alongside of each other on the same pillar. Simeon Reno was then brought out, but he fought the mob with great desperation, knocking one or two down before he was overpowered, and left suspended between the ceiling and floor. Charles Anderson, the last victim, was heard to beg for the privilege of praying; but this request was refused, and he was hung at the southwest corner of the jail cell. After further threats of killing the Sheriff, the mob proceeded to the train, carrying with them the jail keys. From the jail to the train, armed men stood guard to prevent any alarm being given. At 4 o’clock, the train, with the entire party, consisting of from seventy-five to one hundred men, started off. They came well armed and equipped for the work.

They intended to hang a man named Clark, the murderer of Geo. Tille, but they concluded not to do so, fearing to remain longer. The vigilants came from Seymour, Ind., in a car by themselves, attached to the regular train.

Charles Anderson and Frank Reno were surrendered by the Canadian authorities upon the solemn pledge by the United States Government that they should have a fair trial, and, if found innocent, be returned to Canda.


ANTECEDENTS OF THE ROBBERS.

The telegraphic reports published above convey the intelligence that yesterday morning a number of men forced an entrance into the New Albany, Ind., jail, and there forcibly took from their cells, Frank Reno, Charles Anderson, Simeon Reno and William Reno, and executed them by hanging them to posts or bars of iron in the jail.

CRIME IN INDIANA.

In regarding the fearful occurrence, and the rapidity with which it follows two other dreadful scenes of a similar character, one cannot but think in the first place of the condition of criminal affairs in Indiana. In a great measure these terrible scenes of popular vengeance can be traced to the condition of the laws of the State, which are apparently framed more for the defense of the criminal than with a fair view to his conviction.

THE RENO FAMILY

have been well known in the annals of crime for years past. Their home has been about half a mile from

ROCKFORD,

which a few years ago was a beautiful and thriving village in Johnson county, Ind. It would have been the crossing point of the Ohio and Mississippi railroad with the Jeffersonville, Madison and Indianapolis railroad had it not been on account of the lawlessness of the people that were settled in that vicinity. The village of Rockford is now almost dilapidated; the beautiful blocks of buildings and stores which once graced its streets are in ruins; the torch of the incendiary has done its work. Having become the center of villainy, it soon became the hiding-place of villains; the house of the Reno family was the rendezvous of scoundrels, and the one or two saloons or groggeries left standing became their ordinary abiding place.

SEYMOUR

is located on the line of the Jeffersonville, Madison and Indianapolis railroad, and is also the crossing point of the Ohio and Mississippi railroad, two miles south of Rockford. It has grown to be a large town. Owing to the proximity of the Renos and their gang to this place, it had become also unsafe for the peace of law-abiding residents.

ACCUMULATIONS OF VILLAINIES

For several years robberies and murders have been frequent in the vicinity — in fact to such an extent that the people have long contemplated taking the law in their own hands on account of the defect in the State law which prevented the conviction of parties arrested, and charged with crime. Continuance after continuance of the trial of prisoners has followed with general rapidity until it was found that the law could not be enforced. In addition to the ordinary murders and robberies which have taken place in the vicinity of Seymour large and extraordinary robberies frequently took place; the express companies were often robbed — trains have been stopped in open daylight and the passengers pillaged and plundered of their property.

WHOLESALE RASCALITY.

It will be recollected that in February last a raid was made upon all the county treasurers’ safes of Northern Iowa, taking the whole counties through, from the Mississippi to the Missouri. All those robberies were either planned or executed by the Renos and their confederates. For a robbery committed in Missouri

JOHN RENO

is now in the Missouri Penitentiary, under a sentence of twenty five years’ imprisonment.

THE MILLS AND HARRISON COUNTY ROBBERIES

For the robbery of the Mills and Harrison county safes, in Iowa, shortly afterward, Frank Reno, Mike Rogers, Charles Anderson, William Deering and Albert Perking were arrested and confined in the Mills county jail. Shortly thereafter they managed to break jail and made their

ESCAPE

Traveling the whole way from there to Chicago on foot, fording the streams in the dead of winter, and crossing the Mississippi upon ice, they then made their way from Chicago to Windsor, Canada, by rail.

THE FIRST EXPRESS ROBBERY.

After recruiting themselves there, another raid was proposed and agreed upon. Upon the 22d of May last, the cars of the Jeffersonville, Madison and Indianapolis railroad, while stopping at Marshville station, — an isolated station, or rather watering place, — were forcibly seized, the engineer, fireman and express messenger were thrown from the engine and cars, and the engine and express car having been disconnected, were run at a rapid rate of speed within a half mile of Seymour. Here they were left, the express safes having been robbed of all their treasure, amounting to nearly $100,000. The express messenger was thrown from the cars by the robbers when the train was running at the rate of thirty miles an hour.

DETECTION AND CAPTURES OF THE THIEVES.

This case was placed in the hands of Allan Pinkerton, the world-renowned detective, with a view to the detection of the criminals. It is needless to recount the course which was pursued by the detectives; suffice it to say, that sufficient evidence was discovered to warrant the finding of bills of indictment against Frank Reno, Charles Anderson, Wm. Deering, Simeon Reno, Wm. Reno, Albert Perkins and Jack Nelson, alias California Nelse, Frank Reno and Charles Anderson made their escape to Windsor; the other parties remained in the States. Simeon and Wm. Reno were arrested and confined in jail at New Albany in July last. In the same month Deering was arrested and held at Seymour for identification, having disposed of some of the stolen bonds to a man named Baum, at Indianapolis. Baum fled, and also made his escape to Canada.

While held under guard at Seymour, Deering managed to make his escape. Nelson was afterward arrested, and also taken to Seymour and held to bail. In the meantime

THE CELEBRATED EXTRADITION CASE

commenced in Canada, Pinkerton having gone there to prefer complaint against Frank Reno and Charles Anderson. After a long, tedious and hotly contested legal strife the prisoners were surrendered by order of Chief Justice Draper, of Canada, to the United States authorities.

A NARROW ESCAPE

Our reader will probably recollect that on Saturday night when the prisoners were extradited, or rather delivered over to the United States authorities, the tug on which they were placed in an hour afterward was sunk by the propellor Phil. Sheridan running into it in the Detroit river. By desperate exertion on the part of Mr. Pinkerton, who had the prisoners in custody, they were rescued from a watery grave, and by a circuitous route were forwarded from Detroit to Cincinnati and from thence up the river to New Albany, where they were confined in the jail of Floyd county, where they remained in durance until the hour of their fearful end.

THE RENO FAMILY

consisted of old man Reno, who has been all his life a desperado; old Mrs. Reno, who died last summer, and who supplied the brains for the crowd; John Reno, now in the Missouri penitentiary as above mentioned, Frank Reno, Clinton Reno, Simeon Reno, Wm. Reno, Laura Reno and one younger son, who is known as “Trick Reno.”

OLD MAN RENO

was of Swiss origin, but lived for many years in Pennsylvania, where he and his wife were married.

A SECOND DESPERATE ATTEMPT.

We now recur to the attempted robbery of the Adams Express Company at Brownstown, twelve miles west of Seymour, on the line of the Ohio and Mississippi railroad, on the night of the 9th of July last. On this occasion the car of the Adams Express Company was again detached from the train, an engineer got on board, and the express car and locomotive were rapidly run off. The

BAFFLED

express company, however, had guards who were then in the express car. Shortly after leaving Brownstown the train came to a full stop, when the thieves entered the express car with a view of robbing it. They were then promptly fired upon by the guards, and the engineer, who was running the entine, and who proved to be one Vol. Ellits, was severely wounded and captured.

THE THIEVES

The robbers made their escape, but were afterward discovered to be Ellits, Frank Sparks, John Moore, Charles Roseberry, Warren Clifton and Henry Jerill; they were all pupils of the Reno school, having been their intimate associates and friends. Vol. Ellits had formerly been a brakeman upon the Ohio and Mississippi railroad. Frank Sparks had worked upon a farm of Reno’s. John Reno was at one time brakeman on the railroad, and probably one of the most expert men in springing on or off trains that could be found; he had been arrested for robbery prior to this offense.

Charles Roseberry was a painter, and resided in Seymour; he had several times been arrested, and was one of the parties who burned down the police station at Seymour, shortly before the commission of this robbery. Warren Clifton had formerly been in the employ of the Adams Express Company at Seymour, but had been led into evil practices by his association with the Reno family. Henry Jerill was the son of the drayman who was in the habit of carrying the express goods through Seymour. The father was respectable, but he (the son) had been led into evil habits from his association with these people.

POPULAR VENGEANCE

All the above named robbers made their escape, with the exception of Ellits. A reward was however offered for them and they were speedily captured. On the night of the 20th of July last, the train on which Clifton[,] Roseberry and Ellits were being conveyed as prisoners to Brownstown was stopped by an obstruction placed on the track, about two miles from Seymour. The prisoners were forcibly taken from the cars and hung upon a beech tree in the vicinity.

THE SECOND LYNCHING.

On the 26th of July, Sparks, Moore and Jerill, who had been captured in Illinois, while working in the neighborhood of Mattoon, while en route for Brownstown, shared the same fate upon the same beech tree.

A RATHER COMICAL COINCIDENCE,

despite its terrible associations, occurred at this point, and is an illustrative of the quiet and premeditated manner in which these scenes of death transpired. It is said that there were about one or two hundred men present at this execution. A quiet, inoffensive Dutchman, who lives in a house about two hundred feet from the spot where the beech tree stands, upon looking out and seeing the first three were hanging there, was very much shocked; he had gone out to get up his cows for milking, and our readers may judge of his surprise and terror when he observed the three dead bodies suspended from the tree. In about one week afterward the honest German, going out again to get up his cattle for milking, observed three more bodies suspended from the same branches. Rushing to his house he exclaimed, “Mein Gott, if those three dead men have not come back again upon the tree,” and for hours was insensible with fright.

The German, who was merely a tenant, immediately concluded that if he was going to have, instead of beechnuts, corpses suspended from his tree, it was time to sell out. He accordingly disposed of the lease of his farm and left for parts unknown.

THE END.

The telegraph now brings us the sad intelligence that the people have risen once more, and have summarily executed the almost sole remnants of one of the most daring and murderous bands in the country.

A FATAL REMINISCENCE.

In this connection, it may be proper to say that the telegraph but three days ago conveyed the painful news that George Flanders, one of the guards who was upon the express car at the time of the robbery of the 9th July last, has died from his wounds, having suffered during that long period of time, the most intense agony. These numerous robberies have culminated, apparently, in the fearful scenes which have been enacted at New Albany — the law having apparently failed to protect the people, the people have desperately determined to protect and avenge themselves.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Borderline "Executions",Common Criminals,Crime,Execution,Hanged,History,Indiana,Lynching,Organized Crime,Public Executions,Theft,USA

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1755: Louis Mandrin

Add comment May 26th, 2017 Headsman

On this date in 1755, the French outlaw Louis Mandrin was broken on the wheel.

In common with the whole French populace, Mandrin had a beef with the Ferme general — the country’s tax-farming concern — but Mandrin was the one who did something about it.

Specifically, he built a vast smuggling network in the 1750s that all along a vast north-south corridor from Burgundy to Savoy moved tobacco, cotton, and everything else the farm wanted to harvest — scoring political points along the way by thrashing the tax collectors whenever possible. It’s said that he took pains to have his merry contrabanders stay out of the violence business, unless they had the opportunity to direct it at the revenue men.

In the end, the Farmers General — a wealthy consortium that would one day soon commission a chunk of Paris’s city walls — provoked an international incident by illegally raiding Savoy to capture him, then having him tried and executed with speed to forestall any possibility of his return being negotiated.

But the popular bandit entered the popular culture where he has long outlived the rapacious Farmers; he’s been the subject of multiple film treatments, most recently in 2011, and the pensive folk song “La complainte de Mandrin” still today maintains its currency.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Arts and Literature,Broken on the Wheel,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous,France,Gruesome Methods,History,Organized Crime,Pelf,Public Executions,Theft

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1920: Rickey Harrison, Hudson Duster

Add comment May 13th, 2017 Headsman

On this date in 1920, Rickey Harrison of the Greenwich Village “Hudson Dusters” went to the electric chair for a murder committed in the course of an armed robbery.

As befits a gaggle of old time New York hoodlums this crowd was rife with colorful nicknames — Goo Goo Knox, Circular Jack, Ding Dong — and hired out its thrashings in service of Tammany Hall‘s rude electoral manipulations. Their signal achievement was earning a popular doggerel tribute that rang in the streets in its day, by beating senseless a beat cop who’d had the temerity to arrest some of their number.

Says Dinny [patrolman Dennis Sullivan], “Here’s me only chance
To gain meself a name;
I’ll clean up the Hudson Dusters,
And reach the hall of fame.”*
He lost his stick and cannon,
and his shield they took away.
It was then he remembered,
Every dog had his day.

At their peak the Hudson Dusters could rank as one of the brighter stars in the dizzying constellation of Big Apple crooks. Herbert Asbury’s classic The Gangs of New York notes that “perhaps fifty small groups … operated south of Forty-second street [and] owed allegiance to the Gophers, Eastmans, Five Pointers, Gas Housers, and Hudson Dusters … Each of these small gangs was supreme in its own territory, which other gangs under the same sovereighty might not invade, but its leader was always responsible to the chieftain of the larger gang, just as a prince is responsible to his king.” Allegedly future Catholic social justice activist Dorothy Day, then a teenage radical journalist just moved to New York City, enjoyed carousing with the Dusters in the 1910s.

Despite political pull through Tammany (and heavenly pull through Dorothy) arrests and gang wars dusted the Dusters over the first two decades of the 20th century.

Our man Rickey Harrison, a pipsqueak Irishman with a substandard nickname (“Greenwich Village Terror” … lame), led a gangland raid on a high-stakes poker game at the Knickerbocker Waiters Club on September 7, 1918, and shot dead a Canadian soldier who refused to give up his boodle. Harrison would go to his grave insisting that it was not he who fired the fatal shot, although he was markedly less scrupulous about accounting the undetected and unprosecuted crimes of his career.

As a last indignity, Harrison and another murderer named Chester Cantine — who preceded the gangster to the electric chair — had to brace themselves for eternity within earshot of a raucous Sing Sing vandeville show where prisoners and 800 visitors were “applauding and roaring with laughter in an improvised theatre a few feet away … comic sketches [and] jazz music resounded throughout the prison.” (New York Times, May 14, 1920)

Harrison’s last sentiment — “Let us hope and pray they will never do this thing to another man, innocent or guilty” — still awaits fulfillment a century later.

* The apparent allusion is to the Hall of Fame for Great Americas, a civic pantheon opened in 1900 that is now part of Bronx Community College. This outdoor colonnade, still extant but largely forgotten, imported its busts-of-great-men concept from Bavaria; the Hall’s popularity in its time makes it the ancestor of the innumerable Halls of Fame that have since come to litter the North American civic landscape.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Electrocuted,Execution,History,Murder,New York,Organized Crime,Pelf,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Theft,USA

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1744: The Black Boy Alley Gang hanged at Tyburn

Add comment December 24th, 2016 Headsman

Old Blighty celebrated Christmas Eve of 1744 by weighing the Tyburn’s triple tree with no fewer than 18 thieves — 16 men, one woman, and one 14-year-old boy. Half of them were fellows in a “pestiferous Crew,” as the Newgate Ordinary colorfully describes it, the Black-Boy-Alley Gang.

Such a profligate Sett of audacious Bloodthirsty, desperate, and harden’d Villains, have of late started up to infest this great City, as make it quite unsafe to walk even in the most public Streets … Whether we consider the Number of the Malefactors, the Nature of their Crimes, the Age of some of the Offenders, (one particularly, which was a perfect Child) or the Apprehensions into which the Inhabitants of this great City were for some Time thrown, by their Excessive Boldness in committing their Robberies, all wears the Face of Horror and Confusion.

As one might suppose, these rascals based in the environs of Black Boy Alley, a no-longer-extant passageway onto the Thames in Holborn. Rictor Norton, whose work on crime in 18th century England and especially the proto-gay “molly” culture, has often been referenced in these pages, has a fascinating exploration of the Black Boy Alley gang here.

As usual one can read the entire tract at at the Old Bailey Onine; we’ve also embedded it below in pdf form.

While the Ordinary — a man named James Guthrie — expands considerably on the activities of this lot, he is outraged enough to begin his narrative instead with a group of soldiers reprieved from enlarging the Christmas Day caravan to Tyburn — “a Sett of Malefactors, who not content with the Crime of Robbery, have thought add thereto the most heinous Offence of Sodomy, which brought down Fire from Heaven; and, as if this had not been enough, they made that very monstrous Crime a Handle and Snare to draw Gentlemen in, who were inclined to that unnatural Sin.” (That is, they robbed by seducing their targets with the promise of a homosexual assignation.)

Guthrie is unabashedly furious that these guys have all managed to skate, and revenges himself by appending them to his narrative even if they cannot be depended from the gallows — so consumes the best part of ten pages reciting all that he knows or has heard about them, that “though they have hitherto escaped corporal Punishment, at least, in this World, we will do out Endeavour they shall not go wholly Scot-free, but expose both them and their vile Practices to the Public.” Considering that the nub of their operation was robbery, often violent, which of its own would cost the lives of many others on this date and throughout the era of the Bloody Code, no emerging enlightenment on human sexuality need be sought to explain their reprieve. Rather,

Of this abominable Sett, the better Sort, (if indeed any better can be of such a Crew) have found the way to escape both Shame and Chasment, very probably, by commuting with their Purses for the safety of their Persons; and as for the latter, who were all Soldiers, they escaped what was due to their Deserts, by being concerned with their Superiors; so true this our righteous Age, that Wickedness in high Places is sure to go unpunished.

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

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1747: Thomas Fuller, Hawkhurst Gang smuggler

Add comment November 16th, 2016 Headsman

On this date in 1747, a Tyburn hanging dispatched (along with three other, unconnected criminals) Thomas Fuller, member of one of 18th century England’s most notorious gangs.

Named for their home village, the Hawkhurst Gang dominated the trade in contraband in England’s south from Doset to Kent in the 1730s and 1740s, with the arms and ill-temper to trade blow for blow with crown agents who rightly learned to fear the syndicate. In the process that gang contributed several members to Blighty’s gibbets for various deeds of spectacular violence — gentlemen whom this site will revisit in future posts.

Our Mr. Fuller, however, was by the evidence laid at his trial a mere grunt, and his prosecution targeted the gang’s more routine forms of outlawry.

Despite the smuggler’s romantic knight-errant literary profile — Rhett Butler, Han Solo — it was for 18th century England a vast economic sector organized on a nearly industrial scale. Excise duties imposed on in-demand imports, notably tea but also spirits, tobacco, sugar, and other indulgences, made these articles so profitable to move illegally that it’s a fair bet that they were predominantly consumed as contraband. We have seen in these pages, from a post laid 30 years to the future, that tea smuggling was so commonplace that respectable country parsons made no pretense about securing their refreshments on the black market.

It was enterprises like the Hawkhurst Gang that delivered the leaf to its market.

Exploiting the long coastline, from which skiffs could scuttle to rendezvous with channel shipping, the gang built a storage infrastructure, supply chains, distribution networks. We have a taste of how this worked from the words of the attorney general at Fuller’s trial:

About the Beginning of August last the Prisoner at the Bar, with a great Number of other Persons, all of them on Horseback, arm’d with Fire-Arms, the Prisoner particularly, among the rest, with a Carbine or a Blunderbuss, together with the rest, was on Horseback; and they were then accompanied with several drove Horses, and upon the Horses they rode, as upon those they drove, they carried great Quantities of Tea in Oil-skin Bags, and Half-Anchors, peculiar to those Sort of People; a Peculiarity it is which no Goods besides is carried, in order to elude Justice.

Multiple witnesses in this case described how widespread the practice is; they were needed because the crown case had an evidentiary weakness: everyone knew that posses toting oilskin bags were tea smugglers, but the witnesses had not literally seen the defendant reveal the contents of his oilskin bags. Here is a customs agent named Walker explaining the situation:

Sollicitor-General. What is the Practice of Smugglers in carrying off their Goods?

Walker. Such time as I have been an Officer, which has been ten Years, I never took no Tea in my Life upon Horses, but what was in Oil-skin Bags. Wherever I had a Suspicion, and found Oil-skin Bags, I always found Tea.

Q. How many may you have found?

Walker. Thousands of Bags; when they are in a Hurry, and taken from the Sea, they are in Oil-skin Bags; but when they carry them up into the Country, they carry them in Sacks; there is never a Gang that comes from the Sea-side, but rides with something upon their Horses.

Later, a different officer made an equally important observation about the well-known Hawkhurst Gang: “we never attack’d them, because we were over-power’d.” The Hawkhurst Gang was hardly alone in this. As readily as Britons embraced their untaxed smuggled tea and brandy, the underworld firms that delivered them were growing frighteningly in size and propensity to violence during the 1740s.

Accordingly, they were met by a concerted crackdown by authorities. (And, perhaps more helpfully, a reduction in the tea tax.) In 1745, Parliament had stacked upon the century’s vast allotment of property crimes fresh capital offenses for armed smuggling — no matter whether those arms were actually used. For the case at hand, there was no need to link Fuller to a homicide or the like: only to show that he participated in the normal activities of the Hawkhurst Gang.

As was often the case, it was left to the likes of the Ordinary of Newgate to express in words the ideological message of smugglers’ execution. He did so with great vehemence (but less persuasive effect) when Fuller went to hang:

The common People of England in general, fancy there is nothing in the Crime of Smuggling, but cheating the King of a small Part of his Revenue; and that there is no Harm done to the Community in general, or to the Properties of particular Persons: They think they have a Right to shun, as much as possible, paying any Duty for their Goods, and what they get by their Dexterity in that Manner is honest Gain, to be enjoyed as the Fruits of their Industry and Labour; but a little Consideration will teach them to think otherways, and convince them, that Smuggling is in itself a Crime of worse Consequence to Society, and more hurtful to particular Persons, than many other Crimes which Custom has taught them to look upon with great Abhorrence.

The Prejudice done the Society, and the Damage received by Individuals, next to the express Declaration of the divine Will, are the best Marks by which we can judge of the Degree of Immorality in any Action whatever; and if we judge of their Crime of Smuggling by this Criterion, we shall find it a Sin of deep Dye, and to deserve the Resentment of every Man, who pretends to any Share of moral Honesty.

In the first Place, the fair Trader is injured in his Property by their kind of illicit Trade: He pays honestly the Duties and Taxes charged upon his Commodity at his Entry, which in some Cases amounts to near as much as the prime Cost of his Goods at the first Market; this he must charge upon the Consumer, with a living Profit for his Riske, Trouble and Out-lay of his Money; but the Smuggler, who buys his Goods at the same Market, and perhaps at a lower Price, as he chuses the worst Sort upon running them, is able to undersell the fair Dealer at least one Third, and for that Reason is, by the greedy Retailer, preferred, though the Commodity he deals in is worse in Quality. Is not this robbing the honest Merchant of his real Profit, and forcing him either to sell below what his Goods cost, or leave off a Branch of Trade, to which perhaps, he has served an Apprenticeship, and built extraordinary Hopes upon, of being a Support to him or his Family? I appeal to every thinking Man, if there is any material Difference betwixt ruining a Man by robbing him on the Highway, and this Method of beggaring him and his Family by Smuggling? If there is any Difference in Point of Immorality, it must lie on the Side of Smuggling, as the Evil attending it is more universal, and reaches farther. Few Men carry their All in their Pocket; and not one Man in a Thousand is ruined, by what is taken from him by the Highwayman: But there is not a Ship of Goods run upon our Coast but injures Hundreds; perhaps not immediately, but in Process of Time it certainly has that Effect. Not only the Parts adjacent, and the Dealers near the Smuggling Port suffer by this Means, but the most distant Corners of the Kingdom are affected by it in a few Weeks, in Proportion as it lowers the Price of the Commodity, and diminishes the publick Revenue. But it is this lowering the Price which is the great Temptation; the Cheapness of the Smugglers Goods tempts the Retailer to prefer him to the fair Trader, from a mistaken Notion that it is his peculiar Interest to buy as cheap as he can, and consequently he encourages, conceals, and connives at all the Villainies of this Set of People. But if such a Retailer should give himself Time to think, I believe he might easily persuade himself, that he is robbing Peter to pay Paul; that what he gets upon one Article, he loses on another.

It is evident, Taxes must be paid to support the Expences of the Government; and that every Subject, as he enjoys the Benefit of Government, is obliged to contribute his Proportion to that Expence. It is likewise evident, that if the Duties laid upon one Commodity does not answer the Sum charged upon it, that the Deficiency must be charged upon some other. Thus: Suppose the Duties charged upon Teas, Brandy, &c. falls short 100,000 l. of the Sum allotted to be raised upon these Commodities, is it not evident that this 100,000 l. must be charged upon Soap, Candles, Leather, Sand, or some other Branch? Suppose then a Dealer, by dealing with the Smuggler, saves about half the Duty payable to the King, or, which is the same thing, buys it so much cheaper from him than he would from the fair Trader, and that his Gains upon this Article amounts to ten or twenty Pounds a Year, I mean his illicit Gains, or the Difference between the trading Price and smuggling Price; now, as it is evident, that every twenty Pounds gained this Way lessens the Revenue forty Pounds, he or somebody else must re-place this Sum in the Treasury, by a Tax upon another Commodity; from whence it is as clear as the Sum; that instead of gaining twenty Pounds by his smuggling Dealer, he really loses twenty Pounds upon the Ballance. I own, he may not chuse to deal so largely in these other Articles, as to bring it to this Ballance, but some of his Neighbours may. And as much Money as they pay towards making up this Deficiency, occasioned by the Smuggler; just so much does the Person, who deals with such People, rob out of the Pocket of his Neighbour.

If I was to charge several People, who make no scruple for the Lucre of Profit, to buy Goods which they know to be run, with as foul a Crime as Robbery, or even that of cheating their Neighbour, they would be apt to treat me with some Severity, and think I much injured their Reputation: Yet, upon serious considering the Circumstance attending this Practice, they must at last own, they deserve no better Character than that of a Highwayman and Cheat.

Thus it is plain that Smuggling is a Crime of the most dangerous Nature, both against the Community and private Persons, and as such subject to the Divine Displeasure, as much as any other Felony. It is not only a Sin destructive to Society, and contrary to human Laws enacted for the Peace, Protection, and Subsistence of the State, but is a Sin against the literal Precepts, as well as the Meaning and Intent of Christianity: We are commanded Obedience to Government for Conscience sake; we are commanded to pay Tribute to whom Tribute is due. Our Saviour gave that Answer to the Jews, though that People had as much Reason as any People on Earth, to look upon the Romans as Tyrants, and having no Right to that Tribute, but what they founded upon the superior Force of their Arms; but how much stronger is the Christian Obligation, to pay towards the Support of a Government established? Not by Force or Fraud, butby the Consent of a free People, and conducted by all the Arts of prudent Policy conducing to their Happiness, both in their Religious and Civil Capacities.

If we consider ourselves as several Members united in one Society for our mutual Peace and Protection, we must conclude it the highest Piece of Injustice in us to refuse or evade by Force or Fraud to pay our Contingent of the Expence incurred for such valuable Purposes, as the securing our Religion and Liberties.

If the Government was to make any Infringement upon the Properties of Individuals, or aim at lessening the Freedom of the Constitution, how would the Smuggler and his Friends rail and exaggerate the mighty Grievance? Yet at the same Time grudge to pay their Quota, and take all Means in their Power by Deceit or Violence to cheat the Government of what enables them to preserve Order and Peace in the Community.

These Considerations alone are sufficient to awaken the Conscience of the Guilty in this Way, and to hinder us from affording them an unseasonable Compassion; but there yet remains some other Circumstances to blacken the Blackness of their Crime. These are the Manner in which they go about to execute their Smuggling Purposes.

They go in Companies together, armed with all Manner of offensive Weapons, and escorted by the most profligate Wretches they can pick up: They employ none in their Service but Fellows who have given Instances that their Consciences are Proof against all Checks of Morality, Religion or Law, and whose Courage is equal to the most daring Attempts upon the Peace of the Society. By these Men Perjury amongst others, is looked upon as a venial Transgression, beneath the Conscience of a Gentleman Smuggler to be troubled with. Murder, Rapes, and Robberies are with them but as frequent, as they conduce to their Interest. Their Character, their Cruelty, and Numbers has given them another Source of Encouragement, and a new set of Allies. For Numbers of the Country People who perhaps abhor their Practice, from the Dread they have justly conceived of their Power, find themselves obliged, tho’ against their Wills, to connive at or conceal, and even to assist them, and when they are not willing, they are compelled to lend their Aid. For when a Smuggling Vessel touches on the Coast, those concerned or their Associates meet at a Place of Rendezvous, and press all the Horses they meet with for their Service, which they sometimes return, and sometimes not, just as their Business requires, and the Owners dare not complain for fear of having their Throats cut, or their Houses set on Fire: Not only single Houses, but whole Villages and trading Boroughs are kept in this slavish Dependence upon them, out of real Apprehension of Danger, without any Regard to Profit in dealing with them.

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1767: Obadiah Greenage, colonial gangster

Add comment July 31st, 2016 Headsman

From the Newport (R.I.) Mercury, September 7-14, 1767:

CHARLESTOWN, South-Carolina,

August 3. The gang of villains from Virginia and North-Carolina, who have for some years past, in small parties, under particular leaders, infested the black parts of the southern provinces, stealing horses from one, and selling them in the next, notwithstanding the late public examples made of several of them, we hear, are more formidable than ever as to numbers, and more audacious and cruel in their thefts and outrages.

‘Tis reported, that they consist of more than 200, form a chain of communication with each other, and have places of general meeting, where (in imitation of councils of war) they form plans of operation and defence, and (alluding to their secrecy and fidelity to each other) call those places Free-Masons Lodges.

Instances of their cruelty to the people in the black settlements, whom they rob or otherwise abuse, are so numerous and shocking, that a narrative of them would fill a whole gazette, and every reader with horror.

They at present range in the Forks between Broad, Saludy, and Savannah rivers. Two of the gang were hanged last week at Savannah, viz. Lundy Hust, [sic] and Obadiah Greenage: Two others, James Ferguson and Jeffe Hambersam, were killed when those were taken.

The Georgia Gazette of August 5, 1767 confirms the date of the execution for Obadiah Greenage at Savannah, but noted that Lundy Hurst was in fact not hanged, but reprieved by the governor.

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1995: Boris Dekanidze, the last in Lithuania

Add comment July 12th, 2016 Headsman

Lithuania conducted its last execution on this date in 1995, distinguishing Vilnius crimelord Boris Dekanidze with the milestone.

Dekanidze was born in Georgia, but had no citizenship anywhere. His father Georgy cashed in on the collapse of Soviet rule with businesses that, to survive and thrive in the 1990s, would be mobbed-up practically by definition. “When you have a collapse of government and total incompetence, people appear who can organize themselves and influence the lives of others,” Georgy said in this Newsweek report. “I can’t say if this is good or bad.” Georgy ran the Hotel Vilnius, an apt metaphor for the era.

The dapper son was convicted of ordering the murder of investigative reporter Vitas Lingys, founder of the still-extant Lithuanian newspaper Respublia* — a conviction sustained on the evidence given by the admitted gunman, Igor Akhremov.

“The collapse of government and total incompetence” was a much more nettlesome foe than this or that murderer, however. The single bullet fired into Dekanidze’s head on the morning of July 12, 1995 crippled his own criminal syndicate, the “Vilnius Brigade” — but it was not long before new gangs emerged to replace it.

Lithuania abolished the death penalty in 1998.

* Despite the punishment meted out in this one case, a wave of 1990s journalist assassinations around the former Soviet Union during the 1990s went mostly unsolved.

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1770: King David Hartley, Yorkshire coiner

Add comment April 28th, 2016 Headsman

On this date in 1770, the King of Yorkshire counterfeiters hanged (along with one of his subjects) at York’s Tyburn gallows.

Hartley was the chief of a band of currency manipulators who achieved surprising success and longevity operating from the haunting moors of England’s north.* Known (in order of least to greatest geographical specificity) as the Yokrshire, or West Riding, or Cragg Vale coiners, their operation was a straightforward shaving precious metal from coins but found its edge — so to speak — in their lair’s remoteness from the capital.


Illustration of the coining tools for Portuguese money seized from King David’s band, from The Yorkshire Coiners, 1767-1783. (Portuguese coins, a Cragg Vale specialty, were in active and legal circulation in England at this time, along with other continental coinage.)

According to this public domain volume about the criminals, the first recognition of their activities by law enforcement occurred in 1767, when a coin-clipper named Greenwood “confessed who learnt him the art of clipping in your neighbourhood” — which makes it sound like those artists were already both numerous and practiced. The next year, a man named Joseph Stell hanged for the crime, but the Leeds Intelligencer editorialized in 1769 against “the number of Sweaters and Filers of Gold coin [who] still continue to infest the Western part of this County with impunity” because “if they are suffered to go on a few years in this public and daring manner, it is supposed the current gold coin of the nation in general will be reduced a fifth part.” (A parliamentary inquiry in 1773 found that the overall weight of the country’s coinage came up a full 9% short of its face value: certainly not entirely the work of Cragg Vale, but an alarming state of affairs.)

The business had an undeniable appeal despite the occupational hazard of the gallows. With England awash in the whole world’s specie as the dominant mercantile power, the West Riding became a veritable Silicon Valley for currency entrepreneurs. It’s thought their number might have ranged into the hundreds.

Gold Coin, which has heretofore been so scarce among us as to command a large Premium against Bills of Exchange, flows in upon us with great Rapidity from all parts of the Island; and by the Hocus Pocus Touch of a Number of experimental Philosophers and Chymists (not by an addition to its weight, but by an ingenious Multiplication of its Numbers) is so greatly increased, that all Payments in Paper will soon be at an end … [they] are in a fair Way of drawing Half the Gold in the two Kingdoms into this happy Country … If you wish to be rich, and can sacrifice a few nonsensical Scruples to that Deity, make haste hither, and you may soon be instructed in these Mysteries, which, (with great Ease and Pleasure) will enable you to convert a thousand of your old-fashioned Guineas into Twelve Hundred, and, with a moderate Industry, to repeat the Process every Week.

-Letter from Halifax, July 14, 1769

This letter reflects an alarming situation: not merely the extent of the operation but the degree to which it had become normalized, winked-at, and even integrated into Yorkshire’s economic circuits. “It had become a common practice of the moneyed people — the merchant and manufacturers of the Parish of Halifax — and of those by which that Parish was surrounded, comprising a large portion of the West Riding of the County of York, to carry on a somewhat lucrative business with the Coiners,” one observer wrote. “The central body, if such it may be called, with, for a time, ‘King David’ at its head, was constituted into a kind of Banking Company, with whom certain capitalists deposited large amounts in the shape of guineas.” After all, this bank could offer steady guarantees of investment return.

But bubbles are blown for the bursting, and however many Yorkshiremen had been looking the other way while chymists multiplied guineas, it was about this time that officers of the law started putting the screws to the Yorkshire coiners. (Needless to say, the illicit bank’s merchant customers weren’t handled quite the same way.)

Confrontation came into the open with the 1769 arrests of our man David Hartley (nicknamed “King” for self-evident reasons) and at least a half-dozen others. York Castle’s bowels began to fill up with coiners and collaborators, courtesy of a crown excise officer named William Dighton (or Deighton). Dighton bgan rolling up the gang in a very modern way: starting with bribes to obtain informants and then using their information to smash through the cells.

But so vaunting were the Yorkshire coiners that David Hartley’s brother Isaac put up a £100 reward for the murder of William Dighton — and two guys duly ambushed him in a dark lane in Halifax in November 1769 and shot Dighton dead. This gambit by Isaac was much more loyal than it was wise, for the effrontery to murder an agent of the state invited a ferocious counterattack. (It also didn’t help David Hartley in the least: there was no plan to break him out, only vindictiveness against his persecutor.) the Marquess of Rockingham — the once (1765-66) and future (1782) Prime Minister — was dispatched to the scene to avenge the murdered Dighton, and had 30 coiners in custody by Christmas.

The coiners were done shooting back by this point, and the remaining tales form a tissue of outlaw desperation — flight from manhunts, maneuvering to mitigate death sentences, informing on one another. (Its particulars, and the evidence marshaled against various coiners, can be read in detail at the public domain history already cited.) David Hartley was brought up on capital charges at the next assizes;** his former comrades, including the assassins of Dighton, were hunted to ground. Soon, such counterfeiters as might still be found were reduced to their customary posture, in hidey-holes leaching a few dank groats from the neglected plumbing under the economy, rather than as retail concerns with banking ledgers and armed toughs.

But they left countless others besides — passive co-conspirators, whose wealth their shaving and filing had enlarged and who like King Charles‘s regicides could never fully be brought to book. And they’re not done to this very day: a coiners’ museum is reportedly in the works to capture a few tourist dollars, too.

* Wuthering Heights takes place in Yorkshire, and the Cragg Vale outside of Halifax is within a tormented moonlight ramble of the real locations that inspired its settings.

** Death sentences came down liberally at the assizes, but were (almost) as liberally reprieved — including, for the instance at hand, all of the following: “Thomas Harrison and Benjamin Smith, for Burglary; Benjamin Parkinson, for returning from Transportation; Richard Whitfield, for stealing Linen Cloth from a Bleaching Field; William Dalby, and Robert Moor, alias William Moor, for Horse-stealing; William Owen, George Carr, and John Tunningly, for Cow-stealing; and Robert Allerton, for Sheep-stealing.” (London Public Advertiser, April 13, 1770.)

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