Posts filed under 'Outlaws'

1866: The Richard Burgess gang, for the Maungatapu Murders

Add comment October 5th, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1866, Nelson, New Zealand was marred for the first time by a gallows — which revenged in triplicate one of the most notorious crimes in New Zealand’s European settlement era.

The gang of toughs led by London-born transport convict Richard Burgess formed itself at the fringes of the early 1860s *gold rush in the South Island’s Central Orago wilderness. The gold strike was nicely timed to attract veterans of the California (USA) gold rush and the Victoria (Australia) gold rush, both of which were ten-plus years old and into their petering-out stages; in those places and many others where gold stirred men’s feet sticking up lucky prospectors was just a lucrative tertiary sector supported by all those the pickaxes, like boom town saloons and cathouses.

And Burgess was an old pro at rendering his peculiar “service”. He’d made his own way for some time robbing miners in Victoria, before he followed his market to Otago and attracted to his train fellow-desperadoes Thomas Kelly (aka Thomas Noon), Joseph Sullivan, and (an old associate from Aussie days) Philip Levy.

Along a stretch known as the Maungatapu track — at a spot now remembered as Murderers’ Rock — the quartet set up an ambush for a group of businessmen whom they learned were moving their money to a bank in Nelson. On June 12, a luckless passing laborer named James Battle passed their way and wound up strangled to death for his mischance. The next day, four businessmen appeared as expected and were all shot and strangled to death, yielding a total haul north of £300.

To their grief, the previously impecunious men were quite indiscreet about throwing their earnings around back in Nelson, and when a friend reported the victims’ party missing the Burgess group became suspect almost immediately. All were in custody within a week of the crime, even before the bodies were located — which only occurred on the 29th when Joseph Sullivan, seeing where the wind was blowing, made a full confession in exchange for clemency.* His statement was the death warrant for his former confederates.

In the account of the next day’s Nelson Examiner, Burgess died boldly and Levy, after favoring the audience in Nelson Gaol with an extended vindication of his innocence, did likewise. But Kelly was entirely unmanned by mounting the scaffold where

ensued a scene of the most painful nature, one which almost baffles description, but which, nevertheless, it is hardly possible to regard otherwise than as a consistent and appropriate finale to this most extraordinary tragedy … [Kelly] for some time resolutely refused to obey the directions of the officials, literally screaming and ejaculating in the most piteous tones, “Don’t do it yet, let me speak. I am forced, I am not hanged, but murdered.” And then, with an almost idiotic expression on his features, “God bless me, where am I? I ought to be allowed to speak.” … During this time the various ministers were engaged in whispering consolation to their respective charges, and the scene of confusion which Kelly’s violent conduct produced may be more easily imagined than described. The ropes were then placed round their necks and the white caps drawn over their faces, but during the whole time Kelly never ceased talking, or rather whining out, in a half broken voice, saying, “I did not write that name on the gun, Burgess did it. I hope I may go to God, and every one here.” …

Our readers may picture to themselves the distressing nature of this scene, which visibly affected every spectator present, and which seemed to increase in intensity every moment it was prolonged. Kelly’s shrill and discordant voice was still heard continually shrieking forth, in the most heartrending accents … Once Kelly attempted to move himself aside from the drop, but was immediately replaced by the officials in attendance.

Kelly kept on babbling as a minister began reading the Anglican Burial Service, and he was still at it when the trap was dropped. Perhaps due to his agitation on the scaffold, Kelly died hard the hard, requiring the help of the executioner’s rough grab on his legs to enhance the pressure of the noose. “The dead silence which followed on the consummation of the tragedy seemed almost a welcome relief,” the Examiner remarked.

After hanging, science and pseudoscience had their way with the bodies: doctors dissected the necks, it being “a matter of dispute amongst medical authorities whether death in such cases is caused by strangulation or by dislocation of the spinal column … it was satisfactorily proved that death has resulted in each case from strangulation, the spinal column being found to be perfect in each instance; thus setting this much vexed question at rest.” Meanwhile, the heads were removed altogether so that phrenologists could cast them.

Those casts are still in the possession of the Nelson Provincial Museum. An obelisk in memory of the five men they slew stands at Nelson’s Wakapuaka Cemetery.


(cc) image.

* Sullivan served seven years in prison, then was pardoned on condition that he remove himself permanently from both New Zealand and Australia, although he later violated that condition. His ultimate fate is uncertain but he’s known to have outlived the rest of his party by many decades.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Murder,New Zealand,Outlaws,Pelf,Theft

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1915: Cerkez Ahmed, disposable fanatic

Add comment September 30th, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1915, Ottoman major Cerkez Ahmed (often Ahmet) hanged in Damascus.

The officer had been an important figure months earlier in the opening campaigns of Armenian genocide in the eastern province of Van where he operated as a paramilitary chief that verged so close to a brigand that he was eventually treated as one. Most egregiously, when two reformist Armenian parliamentarians named Vartkes Seringulian and Krikor Zohrab were arrested and deported to Syria, it was Ahmed who ambushed and murdered them.* (He was also the assassin in the prewar years of opposition journalist Ahmed Samim, but he’d long since been amnestied for that horror.)

Although in this he was enacting the state’s own policy, his proclivity for gorging himself on the valuables of his victims provided an impetus — a pretext, really — to eliminate him. The official communiques between officials determining his fate (and that of an associate) paint a grim and cynical picture. The following quotes can be found piecemeal in a number of sources, but they’re marshaled comprehensively in the open source volume Documentation of the Armenian Genocide in Turkish Sources under the heading “The Case of a Special Organization Major”.

The brigands Halil and Ahmed visited me today. They stated that having completed the massacres in the Diyarbekir area, they came to Syria to do the same for which purpose they said they are ready to receive the orders. I have them arrested. Awaiting your excellency’s orders.

-Telegram from the governor of Aleppo to Cemal Pasha, one of the “Three Pashas” who ran Turkey as a triumvirate


I feel dishonored. I served my country. I desolated Van and environs. Today, you car’t find a single Armenian there … I killed off the Armenian Deputies Zohrab and Vartkes. I grabbed Zohrab, threw him down, took him under my feet and with a big rock crushed his head — crushed and crushed until I killed him off.

-Ahmed, complaining to the intelligence officer Ahmed Refik (according to the latter’s postwar account)


In as much as I am convinced that Cerkez Ahmed committed these crimes by the order of Diyarbekir governor Reshid,** do you still find the liquidation of Ahmed absolutely necessary? Or, should I be merely content with Halil? Kindly respond by tomorrow evening.

-Cemal to fellow triumvir Talaat Pasha


His liquidation in any case is necessary. Otherwise he will prove very harmful at a later date. Talat.

-Talat’s reply to Cemal (on September 15/28, 1915)


The verdict against Cerkez Ahmed is execution. The requisite step will be taken in Damascus tomorrow morning.

-Cemal’s order (on September 16/29)

And he was.

“Undoubtedly Cerkez Ahmed was a scoundrel who deserved to be hanged not once but nine times,” mused the historian Ziya Sakir — who published these ciphered messages in 1943. “With three words uttered by administrative chief Talaat, the life of this creature, who was exploited for the sake of fanatic partisanship, was snuffed out.”

Many years later, Cemal Pasha’s chief of staff Gen. Ali Fuad Erden would reflect on this affair in his memoirs,

Indebtedness to given executioners and murderers is bound to be heavy … those who are used for dirty jobs are needed in times of necessity [in order to shift] responsibility. It is likewise necessary, however, not to exalt but to dispose of them like toilet paper, once they have done their job.

* Reshid Akif Reshid, an Ottoman senator and briefly a state councilor during World War I, provided noteworthy testimony to the postwar Ottoman parliament about the Armenian genocide, detailing the systematic use of extralegal “brigand” paramilitaries in conducting the slaughter: official orders from Istanbul to a provincial official ordered various Armenian communities “deported”; simultaneously, the ruling Committee of Union and Progress “undertook to send an ominous circular order to all points [in the provinces], urging the expediting of the execution of the accursed mission of the brigands. Thereupon, the brigands proceeded to act and the atrocious massacres were the result.”

** The governor referred to here is Mehmed Reshid, one of the genocide’s most enthusiastic agents and “the butcher of Diyarbakir” in Armenian memory. He was arrested after the war and might have been a candidate for this very blog but escaped the prospect of hanging by breaking out of prison and committing suicide when on the verge of recapture.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Assassins,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Guerrillas,Hanged,History,Murder,Ottoman Empire,Outlaws,Soldiers,Syria,Theft,Turkey,Wartime Executions

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1217: Eustace the Monk, turncoat outlaw

Add comment August 24th, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1217, the pirate Eustace the Monk was defeated in battle and summarily beheaded, scuppering an ongoing invasion that nearly seated a French dauphin on the English throne.

This colorful outlaw commenced life as the younger son of a Boulogne lord, but his conventional path into the Abbey Saint-Wulms was aborted by the murder of his father — leading Eustace to abandon his cowl for a vain attempt at vengeance.

“From a black monk becoming demoniac” — in the words of one chronicle — the man’s career thence proceeded, first rejoining the secular economy as a seneschal and then pivoting to outlawry when his former master turned against him.

His exploits in banditry are greatly embellished and romanticized in the medieval French verse titled Eustache the Monk (peruse in full here; helpful introduction here), including a number of charming and imaginary vignettes that double as moral parables and medieval slices-of-life.

Eustache spotted the Abbot of Jumièges as he was coming down the road. “Sir Abbot,” he said, “stop where you are! What are you carrying? Come now, don’t hide it.” The Abbot answered: “What’s it to you?” At this, Eustache was ready to hit him, but instead replied: “What’s it to me, fat-ass? Upon my word, I’ll make it my business. Get down, fast, and not another word out of you, or I’ll let you have it. You’ll be beaten up so badly you won’t be worth a hundred pounds.” The Abbot thought the man was drunk, and said, more politely this time: “Go away. You won’t find what you are looking for here.” Eustache responded: “Cut the bullshit and get off your horse fast, or you’ll be in for a lot of trouble.” The Abbot got down, frightened now. Eustache asked how much money he had with him. “Four marks,” said the Abbot, “in truth I only have four marks silver.” Eustache searched him immediately and found thirty marks or more. He gave back to the Abbot the four marks he claimed to have. The Abbot became duly furious; for, had he told the truth, he would have got back all his money. The Abbot lost his money only because he told a lie.

Around this time Eustace set up as a freelance English Channel pirate and was regularly employed by the English King John from about 1205 until 1212, when he switched his allegiance back to Philip II of France. Eustace tormented his former English patrons during the civil war in that country that led to the Magna Carta; the rebel barons in this war offered the English throne to the French heir Louis, and Louis invaded and held London and about half the realm, merrily aided by Eustace’s channel buccaneers.

Things went sideways for Louis and for Eustace in 1217; the former suffered a devastating reversal at the Battle of Lincoln.* Our man Eustace, attempting to reinforce Louis’s camp, was intercepted at sea and trounced at the Battle of Sandwich.**

Run-of-the-mill French knights were captured for ransom as per usual;

With Eustance, however, the case was different. When the ship was captured, the English instituted a search for him, and he was at length discovered down in the hold (Matthew Paris says in the bilge-water) by ‘Richard Sorale and Wudecoc’. Then Eustace offered a large sum of money for a ransom, ten thousand marks, as the writer of the Guillaume le Marechal puts it; ‘but it could not be.’ His addition offer (so Wendover) to serve the king of the English faithfully thereafter, if actually made, would have been only a reminder of his previous injuries. It was Stephen Trabe (or Crave) [or Crabbe -ed.], one of the mariners, ‘who had long been with him,’ that executed him, so the Histoire des Ducs de Normandie tells us; or as the poem of Guillaume le Marechal narrates it: ‘There was one there named Stephen of Winchelsea, who recalled to him the hardships which he had caused them both upon land and sea and who gave him the choice of having his head cut off either upon the trebuchet or upon the rail of the ship. Then he cut off his head.’ The head was subsequently fixed upon a lance and borne to Canterbury and about the country for a spectacle. The Romance concludes with the sentiment: ‘Nor can one live long who is intent always upon doing evil.’ (Henry Lewis Cannon


13th century illustration: Eustace gets the chop over the side of the boat.

Eustace’s defeat completely undermined Louis’s position, and the chancer was obliged to retreat to his homeland — where he’d become king in 1223. He’s known as Louis the Lion, which is pretty good, but he was rather convincingly surpassed by his son Saint Louis.

* Known to history as the “Lincoln Fair” for all the looting that occurred afterwards.

** The English maneuver on this occasion was to use an advantageous wind to hurl lime onto the French ships, blinding the enemy crews.

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Entry Filed under: 13th Century,Arts and Literature,At Sea,Beheaded,Borderline "Executions",Cycle of Violence,England,Execution,France,History,No Formal Charge,Outlaws,Pirates,Power,Soldiers,Summary Executions,The Worm Turns,Wartime Executions

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1848: Puran Appu, Kandy rebel

Add comment August 8th, 2019 Headsman

Weera Sanadhdhana Weera Balasooriya Kuru Uthumpala Arthadewa Gunaratne Nanayakkara Lakshapathi Maha Widanelage Fransisco Fernando — who is thankfully better known simply as Veera Puran Appu — was executed on this date in 1848 as one of the principals in a Ceylon rebellion against the British.

For several years he had been a famed and colorful bandit in the central highlands around Kandy, and his name bore the romance of the road and the weight of a £10 price. He was “light, well looking, well made, stout, marks of punishment on the back and 4 vaccination marks” in the words of the Brits’ wanted-man bulletin. They forgot to add: political.

In July of 1848, Puran Appu emerged at the head of a popular uprising sparked by land seizures and taxes upon an irate peasantry that every day became more inextricably entangled in the empire’s economic circuitry. It’s known as the Matale rebellion after the central city which Puran Appu briefly held, ransacking government buildings before the disciplined British army was able to rally and put down the rising and stood the rebel in front of a firing squad.

“He died exclaiming, if the king [meaning the self-proclaimed rebel king, in whose name Puran Appu acted] had three men about him as bold and determined as myself he would have been master of Kandy,” the British Governor Torrington* recorded.

He’s honored in Sri Lanka (and Kandy in particular) every year on this anniversary of his death, but fine for any occasion is a 1978 Sri Lankan biopic about, and titled, Veera Puran Appu.

* George Byng was his name, the 7th Viscount Torrington. He’s in the same family tree as the 18th century British admiral infamously executed pour encourager les autres, John Byng: Admiral John was a younger son of the 1st Viscount Torrington.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Famous,History,Martyrs,Occupation and Colonialism,Outlaws,Power,Revolutionaries,Shot,Soldiers,Sri Lanka

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1729: Philippe Nivet, “Fanfaron”

Add comment May 31st, 2019 Headsman

On the last day of May in 1729, the French outlaw Philippe Nivet was put to death in Paris.

Although some at the time considered that the legendary bandit Cartouche (executed in 1721) was “nothing as compared to Nivet,” it is Cartouche only whom time has remembered.

Nivet — “Fanfaron” by his pseudonym — was nothing to his predecessor when it came to the romance of the road, a consideration understandably overlooked by contemporaries who had their own pocketbooks to consider. To such men, Nivet loomed very large indeed.

Commanding a sophisticated Paris-based network of highwaymen, fences, and safe houses, Nivet was slated with 38 armed robberies from 1723 to 1728, six of them resulting in fatalities — including his last.

Nivet’s final highway robbery victimized Louis David and his wife, dry-goods merchants of Amiens. In August 1728 the couple were returning home, mounted on fine horses, from the Guibray fair where they had done a large volume of business. Nivet and two accomplices joined the Davids and, posing as merchants themselves, accompanied them to a forest near Rouen. Once in the forest, these bandits slit the Davids’ throats, stole their considerable money and jewelry, and rode immediately to the home of a receiver where they broke down the couple’s jewelry to render it unrecognizable. Then, to frustrate pursuers, Nivet and his men secured new mounts from an accomplice who ran a livery stable and rode to Vernon, where they again changed transport by boarding the postal coach for Paris. (Source)

Despite his precautions, Nivet was captured by chance in Paris: bad luck for him on this specific occasion but a mischance asymptotically approaching certainty over the extent of his prolific career. Fanfaron had several months in prison informing on his band — the arrests ran to 68 — before being broken on the wheel. As with Cartouche eight years before, every window opening on the Place de Greve, and every stone of the square itself, was crowded with gawkers.

There’s a short French-language biography from that period that can be purchased online. (There’s a wee summary here.)

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Broken on the Wheel,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,France,Gruesome Methods,Murder,Outlaws,Public Executions,Theft

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1540: Hans Kohlhase, horse wild

Add comment March 22nd, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1540, the legendary outlaw Hans Kohlhase — a crime victim turned revengeful crime lord — executed* in Berlin. It’s a classic case of stubborn cusses escalating a minor property dispute.

En route to the Leipzig fair in 1532, Kohlhase (English Wikipedia entry | German) was stopped by a Saxon nobleman who confiscated some of his horses. In dueling publications years later, Kohlhase would charge that Guenther von Zaschwitz accused him of stealing the horses; von Zaschwitz countered that Kohlhase looked suspicious and got uppity with his retainers when questioned.

Proceeding to Leipzig in a huff, Kohlhase obtained the commendations necessary to confirm his identity and then demanded his property back from von Zaschwitz. The lord agreed … if Kohlhase would pay for the horses’ days of upkeep in his stables. Just a little crap sandwich from the neighborhood bully. Kohlhase didn’t feel like having a bite of it.

Fast forward a couple of years. Suits in the courts bogging down, Kohlhase at his wit’s end resorted to an older form of redress, one consecrated by centuries of tradition but now forbidden by a landmark 1495 legal reform: he declared a feud. Kohlhase really vented his spleen in this one, not bothering as a plausibly wronged party to play for hearts and minds but rather pronouncing his vendetta against the whole Electorate of Saxony.

Thus “justified,” he turned out-and-out bandit, gathering a crew of desperados to his banner and robbing with opportunistic promiscuity while staying a step ahead of a bounty issued against him by Elector Johann Frederick I. To repeat: this is all over a question of who foots the bill for a feedbag. Even Martin Luther tried to talk this vengeful fury off his grudge.

What is just, you will do justly, says Moses; wrong is not justified by other injustice … What you rightly do, you do well; if you can not obtain justice, there is no other advice than that you suffer injustice … Therefore, if you desire my council (as you write), I advise, accept peace.

Kohlhase accepted only the peace of the grave.

The German romanticist Heinrich von Kleist immortalized (and renamed) this uncompromising litigant in the novella Michael Kohlhaas; the same story has been re-adapted for cinema several times more.

* No surviving document specifies whether the execution was by breaking wheel or beheading.

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Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Arts and Literature,Beheaded,Broken on the Wheel,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Germany,Gruesome Methods,History,Holy Roman Empire,Outlaws,Public Executions,Theft

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1695: Highwayman Biss

1 comment March 12th, 2019 Headsman

This ballad transmits to posterity via the Pepys collection of late 17th century ephemera stashed by that famed diarist Samuel Pepys. (In these pages, we’ve already met Mr. Pepys lurking about various executions.)

The Penitent Highway-man: Or, The Last Farewel of Mr. Biss, Who was Born at Shaftsbury, in Wiltshire, and was arrain’d and found guilty, and accordingly received Sentence of Death, and was Executed at Salisbury, on the 12th of March, 1695.

To the Tune of, Russel’s Farewel, &c.

Good People all I pray attend,
and listen now to me,
A sad Relation here I send
of Biss in Shaftsbury:
A noted Highway-man he was
who on the Road did ride,
And at the length it came to pass,
he was condemn’d and dy’d.

When he was to his Tryal brought,
and at the Bar did stand,
He for no kind of favour sought,
but there held up his Hand,
Declaring to the pantient Judge,
who was to try him then,
He should not bear him any grudge,
he wan’t the worst of Men.

He said, The Scriptures I fulfill’d,
though I this Life did lead,
For when the Naked I beheld,
I clothed them with speed:
Sometimes in Cloth and Winter-frize,
sometimes in Russet-gray;
The Poor I fed, the Rich likewise
I empty sent away.

What say you now my honour’d Lord,
what harm was there in this?
Rich wealthy Misers was abhorr’d
by brave free-hearted Biss.
I never robb’d nor wrong’d the Poor,
as well it doth appear;
Be pleas’d to favour me therefore,
and be not too severe.

Upon the Road a Man I met,
was posting to a Jayl,
Because he could not pay his Debt,
nor give sufficient Bayl:
A kind and loving Friend he found,
that very day of me,
Who paid the Miser forty Pound,
and set the Prisoner free.

Tho’ he had got the Guinneys bright,
and put them in his Purse,
I follow’d him that very night,
I could not leave him thus;
Mounting my prancing Steed again,
I crost a point of land,
Meeting the Miser in a lane,
where soon I bid him stand:

You borrow’d forty Pounds, you know,
of me this very day,
I cannot trust, before you go
I must have present pay:
With that I seiz’d & search’d him round,
and rifl’d all his store,
Where straight I got my forty Pound,
with twenty Guinneys more.

The Judge he made him this reply,
Your Joaks are all in vain,
By Law you are condemn’d to Dye,
you will no Pardon gain,
Therefore, Repent, repent with speed,
for what is gone and past,
Tho’ you the Poor did clothe and feed,
you suffer must at last.

That word was like a fatal sword,
it pierc’d him to the heart;
The Lord for Mercy he implor’d,
as knowing he must part
With all his Friends and Pleasures too,
to be as I have said,
At Salsbury to Peoples view,
a sad Example made.

His melting Eyes did over-flow
with penitential Tears,
To see his dismal Overthrow,
just in his strength of Years.
O kind and loving Friends, he cry’d,
take warning now by me,
Who must the pains of Death abide,
this day in Salsbury.

In grief and sorrow now I pass
out of the World this day,
The latter minute’s in the glass,
therefore good People pray,
That as this painful Life I leave,
the Lord may pity take,
And in his arms my Soul receive,
even for his Mercies sake.

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Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,Outlaws,Public Executions,Theft

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1796: Jerzy Procpak

Add comment January 26th, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1796 the Polish outlaw Jerzy Procpak was executed. Anticipate Polish in all links to follow.

It takes a stretch to reckon this avaricious cutthroat as a social bandit; nevertheless, he’s chanced to a fair measure of historical renown as an exemplar from the dying age of highwayman. He supposedly turned to crime after being punitively thrown in prison for shooting a grazing heifer he had mistaken for a deer. Thereafter he gathered around him a crowd of army deserters and other rough men who prowled the southern borderlands of Silesia, Moravia, and Slovakia.

The “forest Adonis” was celebrated in folk song, and in folk legend which became practically indistinguishable from his biography.

Captured in November 1795, the brigand admitted without recourse to torture to a charge sheet more than ample to take his life: some 60 highway robberies and 13 murders. We have a description of his costume preserved from those same records: “hat with band sewn on, blue caftan lined red, trousers of the same blue paint, sewn with twine, brown leather moccasins, a thin white tunic and sleeves with beautiful cuffs, a brass pin at his throat …”

Throughout January of 1796, ad hoc courts tried upwards of 200 of his alleged associates in ad hoc tribunals in the Silesian towns of Wieprz, Zywiec, and Milowka. Overall, twenty-one were condemned to death and apart from one man, Blazej Solczenski, saved by intercession of a parish priest, all these death sentences were carried into immediate execution.* Several others from the deserter demographic were returned to the hands of the Austrian army for punishment up to and including death by musketry.

* I assume that this reprieve is the source of the confusion among different texts reporting that Procpak was one of twenty robbers executed, or that those executed numbered Procpak plus twenty other robbers. The former is correct, although the executions were scattered across different days and sites; this source (Polish, like everything else) has the breakdowns with names and dates.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Germany,Hanged,Mass Executions,Murder,Outlaws,Poland,Prussia,Public Executions,Theft

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1863: Antonio Locaso

Add comment January 17th, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1863, the famed Italian bandit Antonio Locaso was shot in Castellaneta at the tender age of 22.

A former goatherd, Locaso supposedly embarked his career in brigandage in the classic style of the social bandit, impetuously intervening to fight off an agent of the law who was bent on ill-treating some penniless neighbors.

He thereafter was compelled to conceal himself in the wildernesses near Castellaneta,* down at the hinge of the Italic boot’s heel.

No mere highwayman, he fell in as a lieutenant of the ex-Bourbon officer turned outlaw/rebel Sergente Romano. This brought a violent crackdown by the Kingdom of Italy.

In a Christlike turn, he was betrayed by a comrade for the price on his head — and found slumbering amid his repast where “bread, cheese and salami there was also a bottle of narcotized wine.”

* Although it’s hardly a city on the front rank of the world’s conscience, it’s on the credit scroll of every episode of The Simpsons as it confers the municipal ancestry and the surname on Homer Simpson voice actor Dan Castellaneta.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Italy,Outlaws,Revolutionaries,Shot,Treason,Wartime Executions

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1788: Levi and Abraham Doan, attainted Tories

Add comment September 24th, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1788, Pennsylvania highwaymen-cousins Levi and Abraham Doan(e) were hanged on Windmill Island, Philadelphia.*

A whole clan of outlaws turned Revolutionary War Tories, the Doans — brothers Moses, Aaron, Mahlon, Joseph and the aforementioned Levi plus their cousin Abraham — “were all of the Quaker faith and did not believe in war,”** according to a descendant, but “The new government levied a tax upon Joseph, Sr., the father of the Tory Doan boys, confiscated his farm, threw his wife, 3 daughters and youngest son off of the land, jailed Joseph Sr. for non payment of taxes and branded him on his hand as a criminal. This was the given reason for the start of the notorious group known as the Tory Doans.” During the Revolutionary War they served their pecuniary interest by pillage, and their political interest by informing for the British army, in an exciting sequence of adventures. (A public domain history of the Doans amid the revolution can be enjoyed here.)

None of these activities being well calibrated to earn sympathy in the independent United States that emerged and Pennsylvania hit the lot with a judicial attainder issued by the Supreme Court and ratified by the General Assembly.

In a few years’ time the newborn country’s constitution would prohibit acts of attainder but for a few short years this heritage from the mother country — enabling some organ of the state to levy legal penalties on some outlaw party by decree, absent any sort of trial — incongruously continued in that land of the free. In these very pages we have previously noticed an attainder controversially invoked by brand-name founding fathers of Virginia, also against bandits with a pronounced Tory lean.

Likewise in Pennsylvania the Doan attainder “provoked a constitutional test.” (Source) When gang leader Aaron Doan was arrested, he faced the prospect of immediate execution; however, he was able to produce an alibi relative to the specific incident charged — the robbery of a county treasurer in 1781 — and “to the disappointment of many, he was reprieved under the gallows.” (Maryland Journal, Aug. 19, 1788) He later emigrated to Canada. (His brother Joseph did likewise.)

The kinsmen were not so lucky, this time coming out on the short end of the constitutional test case — as described by patriot statesman Charles Biddle, who made an unsuccessful intervention on their behalf in the Supreme Executive Council that wielded executive power in the commonwealth until 1790.†

The Legislature were inclined to pass a bill in their favor, and appointed a committee, consisting of Mr. Lewis, Mr. Fitzsimons and Mr. Rittenhouse, to confer with the Supreme Executive Council on the subject of their pardon. This I believe was what proved fatal to these young men. Several of the members of the Council thought the Legislature had no business to interfere, as the power of pardoning, by the Constitution, was given to the Council. They refused to pardon or extend the time fixed for their execution. It was in vain the members of the Legislature and the minority in the Council urged the peculiar situation of these unfortunate men; the majority were jealous of the interference of the Legislature, and it was carried by a very small majority, that they should suffer. Going to the Council the day afterwards, I met them going in a cart to the gallows, followed by their relations and friends. It was a very affecting sight. They died with great firmness.

* An island in the Delaware River which was later bisected by a ferry channel, dividing it into Smith’s Island and Windmill Island. Both islands were removed by civil engineers in the late 19th century as an aid to the Philadelphia port.

** To revolutionary patriots, Quakers looked a rather suspiciously British-friendly bunch.

† The body’s president at the time of the Doan hangings was no less than the $100 bill guy himself, Benjamin Franklin. Surprisingly, Benjamin’s son William Franklin had during the war years been the Tory governor of New Jersey in which capacity he had signed off on some political executions of his own.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Hanged,History,Notable Jurisprudence,Outlaws,Pennsylvania,Public Executions,Spies,Theft,USA

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