Posts filed under 'Common Criminals'

1752: Helen Torrence and Jean Waldie

1 comment March 18th, 2016 Headsman

Helen Torrance and Jean Waldie were executed this day, for stealing a child, eight or nine years of age, and selling its body to the surgeons for dissection. Alive on Tuesday, when carried off, and dead on Friday, with an incision in the belly, but sewn up again.

-Tolbooth’s log for March 18, 1751/2*

This date in 1752 marks a milestone in the mutation of the Enlightenment’s piercing medical gaze into the beginnings of a macabre and sordid niche industry that kept doctors well-supplied with cadavers into which to gaze.

The March 18 hanging in Edinburgh of Helen Torrence and Jean Waldie appears to be the first known execution for an anatomy murder.

In the bad old days when dissection subjects were so hard to come by that medical students were known to snatch fresh bodies from the grave like Dr. Frankenstein, the Scots Magazine reported that the two women “frequently promised two or three surgeon-apprentices to procure them a subject” in exchange for a small fee. That fee really was quite small: two shillings, and a few extra pence they haggled for, not at all a favorable rate to sell one’s soul and maybe little more than enough to cover their costs.

Torrence and Waldie were supposed to obtain the subject while sitting on a ceremonial death watch with a dead child, but having no such deceased moppet to hand and really needing a couple of shillings, the ladies went the far more perilous route of snatching a real live eight-year-old while his parents were away. They plied little John Dallas with ale and suffocated his breath away, and Torrence even schlepped the cadaver to the apprentice surgeons in her own apron for an added tip.

The prisoners’ hair-splitting defense, a masterpiece of legal black comedy, was that they could only be shown guilty of kidnapping a living child and then selling a dead child — and neither of these acts constituted a capital crime. Considering the deep-rooted public loathing of resurrectionists’ grave-raiding, the court readily made free to infer from the juxtaposition of these circumstances the hated women’s culpability for John Dallas’s demise.

* 1752 was the last year that England maintained the old Julian calendar, and with it, the recognition of New Year’s Day on Lady Day (March 25) rather than January 1, so the documents of the time make this execution March 18, 1751. The change to the Gregorian calendar took place that summer.

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

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1808: Thomas Simmons

Add comment March 14th, 2016 Headsman

(From contemporary newspaper accounts, principally The Bury and Norwich Post, Wednesday, March 09, 1808)

Thomas Simmons was indicted, for that he, at Broxbourn, on the 20th of October last, did make an assault on Sarah Hummerstonne, and wilfully gave her a mortal wound in the neck with a knife, of which she instantly died. [This is the case of the inhuman wretch who murdered the two unfortunate women at Hoddesdon, and the Court was crowded at an early hour in the morning to hear the trial. It did not last long, as the facts lay in a very narrow compass.]

Mr. Pooley, as Counsel for the prosecution, intreated the jury to dismiss from their minds all that they had heard elsewhere, and attend only to the evidence which would be laid before them. He then stated the facts as below detailed, and called the following witnesses:

Samuel James, a surgeon at Hoddesdon, deposed, that on the 20th of October, he went to the house of Mr. Boreham, at Hoddesdon. On going to the house, he saw Mrs. Hummerstone leaning against the paling near the door; she was then alive, but died in three minutes after, of a wound in the neck, near the spine.

Sarah Harris, servant of Mr. Boreham, said she had lived four years with him: Simmons, the prisoner, had lived there three years, and quitted at last Michaelmas: the prisoner wished to marry her, but her mistress disapproved of it; they had quarreled before he quitted the service, on which occasion he beat her; and when he had done he said he did not care if he had killed her. He had often said he would make away with her, because she would not marry him. About half past eight in the evening of the 20th of October, he came to the house; she was in the kitchen, and heard him coming along the yard; he was swearing violently. He came up to the window, and struck at her through the lattice, and swore he would do for them all. She desired him not to make a noise, as they had company: he said he did not care for the company, he would do for them all. Mrs. Hummerstone, hearing the noise, opened the room-door, and came to the yard. She told him to go away. He gave her a blow on the head, which knocked off her bonnet; she ran into the house, and he immediately followed her. The witness immediately heard the shrieks of murder, but did not know from whom. All the family were in the room, viz. the three young ladies; Mr. Boreham’s daughter, Mrs. Warner, the married daughter; Mr. Boreham and his wife, and Mrs. Hummerstone. In a very short time, the prisoner came to the wash-house to her: she shut the door, and cried out murder. The witness ran into the sitting-room. She there saw some one lying under the window — she ran from thence down a passage — the prisoner followed her. She there met her master with the poker in his hand; in running hastily, her master, who is a very old and feeble man, was knocked down. The prisoner caught her, and threw her down, and drew a knife on her. He threw her across Mrs. Warner, who was lying dead, as she believed. He drew a knife across her throat, but she guarded it with her hand, which was cut. He made a second blow, when she wrested the knife out of his hand. He immediately ran away, and she saw no more of him.

Sarah Cakebury said, she lived near Mr. Boreham, and heard the cry of murder. She passed Mrs. Hummerstone, and went into the house; she saw Mrs. Warner lying dead under the window.

Thomas Copperwheat went in search of the murderer. He discovered Simmons concealed under some straw in a crib in the farm-yard; he had on him a smock frock, very bloody; the place where he was found was about 100 yards from the house.

Benjamin Rook, Coroner, said, when the evidence of Harris was read to the prisoner, he said it ws very true, he had murdered them, and no one else. He added, that he did not intend to have murdered Mrs. Hummerstone, but he went with the intention of murdering Mrs. Boreham, Mrs. Warner, and Harris, the maid-servant.

The Constable who carried him to prison, deposed to the same effect. The prisoner also told him, that when he had got Betsy down, he heard something fluttering over his shoulders, which made him get up and run away.

The prisoner being called upon to know if he had any thing to say, answered in a careless tone — No!

Mr. Justice Heath told the Jury, the case was so very clear, that it must be unnecessary for him to address any observations to them; the prisoner, as they had heard, had more than once voluntarily confessed his guilt.

The Jury found him Guilty; and the learned Judge immediately pronounced the sentence of the law — that he should be hanged on Monday next, and his body anatomized.

This unhappy wretch has a very young look, and a good countenance, being rather a well-looking young man than otherwise. He heard the sentence of death with great indifference, and walked very coolly from the bar. The young girl, whom he attempted to murder, was in great agitation, and was obliged to be supported while she ws in Court.

Simmons ws convicted through the exertions of Mr. W. White, Mr. B. Fairfax, of the Bull Inn, Hoddesdon, and Mr. J. Brown, the church warden of that place, the Quakers refusing to come forward as prosecutors.

Execution — Simmons was executed on Mondy, pursuant to his sentence, at half past eleven o’clock in the forenoon, between Hertford and Ware. He behaved with that air of indifference which marked his conduct during his trial. He shook hands with three persons who accompanied him to the scaffold, and whispered a few words to the gaoler beffore he was turned off.

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

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1858: William Williams, guano-freighter cook

Add comment March 12th, 2016 Headsman

From the Daily Alta California, April 20, 1858:

Thomas P. Lewis, master of the ship Adelaide, loading guano at Elide Island, off the coast of Lower California, was killed there on the 12th ult. by Wm. Williams, colored cook off that vessel. Three other vessels happened to be there at the time, and the officers united to hold a court, taking six sailors as part of the jury, and tried Williams, convicted him of murder, and then hanged him on the island.

Elide Island is a “naked rock, one mile in circumference” off the coast of Mexico’s Baja California which for a few years in the mid-19th century was heavily exploited for its guano supplies. 28,000 tons of bird crap later, the supply was tapped out.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Borderline "Executions",Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Hanged,Mexico,Murder,Public Executions,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Uncertain Dates

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1992: Robyn Leroy Parks, botched lethal injection

1 comment March 10th, 2016 Headsman

On this date in 1992, Robyn Leroy Parks was executed by lethal injection for stabbing an Edmond, Okla. gas station minder to death 15 years before. Parks was afraid that Abdullah Ibrahim would call police to report the stolen credit card he was using to gas up, but he left behind at the murder scene a scratch pad on which Ibrahim had noted his license plate number.

Parks’s execution by lethal injection was very badly botched in a scene that anticipated the better-publicized tribulations this supposedly antiseptic execution process has inflicted in recent years.

Parks appeared to suffer a violent reaction, possibly allergic, to the execution drugs. “I’m still awake,” he said after the drugs were dispensed — said that “lightheartedly,” according to the New York Times.

Parks then endured what looked like a waking strangulation: “the muscles in his jaw, neck, and abdomen began to react spasmodically … [he] continued to grasp and violently gag until death came, some eleven minutes after the drugs were first administered,” in the words of Michael Radelet’s compendium of botched executions.

Tulsa World reporter Wayne Green, an official witness to the debacle, recounted events in the next day’s edition under the discomfiting headline “11-Minute Execution Seemingly Took Forever.”

It was overwhelming, stunning, disturbing — an intrusion into a moment so personal that reporters, taught for years that intrusion is their business, had trouble looking each other in the eyes after it was over.

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Entry Filed under: Botched Executions,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Lethal Injection,Murder,Oklahoma,USA

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1734: Judith Defour, in the Gin Craze

Add comment March 8th, 2016 Headsman

In every civilized society, in every society where the distinction of ranks has once been completely established, there have been always two different schemes or systems of morality current at the same time; of which the one may be called the strict or austere; the other the liberal, or, if you will, the loose system. … The vices of levity are always ruinous to the common people, and a single week’s thoughtlessness and dissipation is often sufficient to undo a poor workman for ever, and to drive him, through despair, upon committing the most enormous crimes. … The disorder and extravagance of several years, on the contrary, will not always ruin a man of fashion; and people of that rank are very apt to consider the power of indulging in some degree of excess, as one of the advantages of their fortune; and the liberty of doing so without censure or reproach, as one of the privileges which belong to their station.

-Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations

On this date in 1734, Judith Defour (or Dufour; she was also known as Judith Leeford) was hanged at Tyburn, and afterwards anatomized.

Defour’s four companions in death were (male) robbers, highwaymen and housebreakers, feared but commonplace scourges of London’s propertied. Defour was a different type of terror to panic the moral sense of a metropolis that daily outgrew its denizens’ comprehensions: she throttled her two-year-old daughter “and sold the Coat and Stay for a Shilling, and the Petticoat and Stockings for a Groat. We parted the Money, and join’d for a Quartern of Gin.”

Maternal care has gone by the wayside in this detail view (click for the full image) of William Hogarth‘s 1751 print “Gin Lane”, a shocking figure who might allude to Judith Defour. This is not Hogarth’s only comment on the gin craze; in his “The Idle Prentice Executed at Tyburn” there appears to be commerce in Madame Geneva taking place in the cart to the right hand side of the frame.

Gin — short for Geneva, a corruption of the Dutch word jenever which denoted not a city in Switzerland but the potent elixir’s juniper flavoring — boomed in popularity as production advances sank its price in the early 1700s. “Cheap, widely available, and several times stronger than the traditional alcoholic beverages of the English working classes, gin was the first modern drug,” writes Jessica Warner in Craze: Gin and Debauchery in an Age of Reason.* And per-capita consumption of it increased nearly eightfold over the first half of the 18th century.

The specter of rampant alcoholism within the financial means of the working-class terrified the respectable.

“There is that predominant bewitching of naughtiness in these fiery liquors, as strongly and impetuously carries men on to their certain destruction … To recover him from this condition, he must be, as it were, forced into his liberty and rescued in some measure from his own depraved desires: he must be dealt with like a madman and be bound down to keep him from destroying himself,” wrote the Anglican clergyman and scientist Stephen Hales around the same time as Defour suffered. His earnest leap from moral shock to questionable social science inference — and even a proto-eugenics appeal — could have sprung word by word from the pen of a present-day drug warrior.

How many does it reduce to suffer the hardships of the extremest poverty, not only by wasting their substance by the continual drain to satisfy a false, vitiated appetite, but also by so enfeebling and disabling them that they have neither will nor power to labor for an honest livelihood; which is a principal reason of the great increase of the poor in this nation, as also of the much greater number of robberies that are committed of late years than were in former ages …

It is evident that in proportion as the contagion spreads farther and farther among mankind, so must the breed of human species be proportionably more and more depraved, and will accordingly degenerate more and more from the more manly and robust constitution of preceding generations. (Source)

Gin projected existential threats more imminent than the potential mongrelization of the species.

From the standpoint of Great Britain’s national output, gin’s production devoured a growing share of the grain harvest, with the perverse result that distillers keen to reassure lawmakers that their product posed no threat to the bread supply made pains to insist that they brewed their potion using only the lowest-quality crap not fit for consumption. On a more microeconomic level, gin was slated with sapping its adherent’s aptitude for the strictures of gainful employment while siphoning his revenues from more reputable tradesmen of whom, addled by alcoholic thirst, the drukard no longer cared to purchase even the barest essentials.** And the gin-houses, “some thousands of such, more than was ever known before” that popped up all over London came to be viewed as scofflaw cesspools — where the iniquitous planned their next larcenies or disposed of the proceeds from the last.

Cause and effect make a jumble, but as the Gin Craze unfolded every form of disorder, criminality, and social breakdown seemed but a link or two distant from the influence of Geneva.

We don’t know when this dark moon first threw a shadow over Judith Defour — only that she would transform her into a beast.

The daughter of poor and honest French-descended Spitalfields weavers, she was about 30 years old when she hanged. To reconstruct a timetable of her life from the scanty biographical details available us, she went to work by the time she was 10 or 12 years old as the silk winder for another weaver; she worked 11 years for that weaver, a woman, and then four more for a male weaver at which point the Newgate Ordinary says that “she fell into bad Company, and had a Bastard-Child, which died; and then she had another, the unfortunate Child lately murder’d by her.” Reading between the lines, she we might infer that her out-of-wedlock pregnancy was the cause of her dismissal. She had no education, and was not among the weaving industry’s skilled artisans. Hers was a perilous situation.

Did she fall into life’s waiting snares because of gin, or the other way around? The record gives us no indication — only that as she approaches Tyburn’s pall three or four years after her dismissal she is far along in dissipation and her employment prospects appear fleeting and piecemeal. Maybe she was already begging, thieving, or whoring, ills commonly imputed to Gin Lane. Judith’s mother would tell the court that “she never was in her right Mind, but was always roving,” although she was trying to save her daughter’s life when she said this.

In any event, Judith was shuttling her young daughter in and out of a workhouse at this point. On January 29, barely five weeks before her execution, Judith picked up little Mary from the workhouse as was her wont (forging a release order from the church), and brought her along as she went out boozing with a friend named Sukey† — “one of the most vilest of Creatures in or about the Town.”

The girl had been new-clothed at the workhouse, and as day wore on to evening and the gin ran dry, Sukey convinced Judity “to sell the Child’s Clothes, and carry it into the Fields and leave it there.” Maybe the kid would be taken in by some passing stranger, or returned to the workhouse; maybe Judith could retrieve her from the field later that night. Nasty, brutish, and short was this life and the only thing that mattered at that moment was the next drink. But in the attempt to silence the whimpering toddler they “ty’d a linen Rag very hard about the Child’s Neck, to prevent its crying out, which strangled her.” Then they walked away and sold those clothes for drink.

[S]he said, she was very sorry for what was done, that she never was at Peace since it happened, that she scarce desired to live; and therefore she made a voluntary Confession she had been always of a very surly Disposition, and untractable Creature, a Despiser of Religion, negligent in her Duty to God and Man, and would take no good Advice of her Friends, nor of any good or sober People. She drank and swore much, and was averse to Virtue and Sobriety, delighting in the vilest Companies, and ready to Practice the worst of Actions. She acknowledged the Justice of her Sentence, and died in Peace with all Mankind.

-The Ordinary of Newgate

* We have previously featured Jessica Warner in connection with another of her books, about hanged American Revolution terrorist John the Painter.

** “Those that keep large numbers of cows near the town will tell you, that they have not had near the demand for their milk, and have been forced to sell off some part of their stock; which they attribute to mothers and nurses giving their children gin.” -Reformer Thomas Wilson, quoted in Patrick Dillon’s Gin: The Much-Lamented Death of Madame Geneva.

† Short for Susanna. This period also gives us the Beggar’s Opera and the most famous literary character of that name, Sukey Tawdry.

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

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1748: William Whurrier, War of Austrian Succession veteran

Add comment March 7th, 2016 Headsman

From the Newgate Calendar:

Executed at Tyburn for murder, March 7, 1748, and his body hung in chains on Finchley common. (A Hard Case.)

We cannot so clearly see by the report of this trial, as the jury might have done by the evidence adduced, the malice propense necessary to constitute the conviction of murder. But, though we are by no means disposed to question a verdict of the country, yet we cannot avoid saying, that the case added to the services which the unfortunate man had rendered the king, should have proved a strong recommendation to royal mercy.

This soldier was a native of Morpeth, in Northumberland, and brought up as a husbandman; but having inlisted in General Cope‘s regiment, he served five years and a half in Flanders; when, some horses being wanted for the use of the army, he and another man were sent to England to purchase them.

General Cope is most famous today as the subject of a Scottish folk song commemorating a rout the Jacobites inflicted at the Battle of Prestonpans.

On the 11th of February, 1748, as Whurrier and his companion were walking over Finchley Common towards Barnet, the latter, being wearied, agreed with a post-boy, who went by with a led horse, to permit him to ride to Barnet, leaving Whurrier at an alehouse on the road. Whurrier having drank freely, met with a woman who appeared to be his country-woman, and with her he continued drinking till both of them were intoxicated, when they proceeded together towards Barnet; but they were followed by some sailors, one of whom insulted Whurrier, telling him that he had no business with the woman.

Whurrier suspecting there was a design to injure him, asked the woman if she had any connection with those men. She said she had not: but in the meantime the other Sailors coming up, said they came to rescue the woman; on which Whurrier drew his sword; but returned it into the scabbard without annoying any one.

A soldier riding by at this instant, Whurrier told him that the sailors had ill-treated him, and begged his assistance, on which the soldier getting off his horse, the sailors ran away, and Whurrier pursuing them, overtook the first that had assaulted him, and drawing his sword, cut him in such a manner that he was carried in a hopeless condition to a house in the neighbourhood, where he languished till the Sunday following, and then died.

the skull … was divided, as if a butcher had taken a chopper and divided the skull, so that the brains lay open.

… I judged the wound to be mortal; and upon his head being shaved, there appeared six other wounds upon the head, which went through the skin, but not into the skull; but the bone was bare, and I dressed them all. Then I made an inspection into the arm, and I found as many wounds there, from the wrist to the scapula, as I did upon the head. Upon the back part, what we call the scapula or shoulder bone, there were two wounds more … the bone of the arm was fractured by the incision, as if it had been done by a sword.

… I believe there were fifteen [wounds], and they were all at that distance from one another, that they must all have been made by separate strokes, and from these wounds the man must be in a very weak and languishing condition, and I found him so.

-Surgeon’s testimony at Whurrier’s trial

It appeared by the testimony of a surgeon that the deceased had received a cut across the skull, as if done with a butcher’s chopper; so that the brains lay open; besides a variety of other wounds.

Whurrier being taken into custody for the commission of this murder, was brought to trial at the next sessions at the Old Bailey and being capitally convicted on the clearest, evidence, was sentenced to die.

After conviction he said he thought there was a combination between the woman he had met with and the sailors; and a day or two before he suffered, he procured the following paper to be published, which he called, “Whurrier’s Declaration.”

This is to let the world know that I have lived in good credit, and have served his Majesty eight years and two months. In the time of my service, I have stood six campaigns, and always obeyed all lawful commands: I have been in three battles, and at Bergen-op-zoom, during the time it was besieged. The first battle was at Dettingen, June, 1743, when his Majesty headed his army: the second was in the year 1745, April 30, at Fontenoy; the third was at Luckland, by siege; besides several skirmishes, and other great dangers.

The Battle of Fontenoy, by the Flanders painter Louis-Nicolas van Blarenberghe.

I had rather it had been my fate to have died in the field of battle, where I have seen many thousand wallowing in their blood, than to come to such disgrace: but, alas! I have escaped all these dangers to come to this unhappy fate, to suffer at Tyburn, and afterwards to hang in chains on a gibbet, which last is the nearest concern to me; and I cannot help expressing, that it would be more beneficial to the public to employ blacksmiths to make breast-plates for the soldiers, than irons to inclose their bodies to be exposed to the fowls of the air.

I have been a true subject and faithful servant, as is well known to the officers of the regiment to which I belonged. If I had been a pick-pocket, or a thief, I should have suffered much more deservedly, in my own opinion, than I now do; for what I did was in my own defence: I was upon the king’s duty, and was assaulted by the men in sailors’ habits, who gave me so many hard blows, as well as so much bad language, that I could no longer bear it, and was obliged to draw my sword in my own defence; and being in too great a passion, as well as too much in liquor, I own I struck without mercy; as thinking my life in danger, surrounded by four men, who I thought designed to murder me; who, or what they were the Lord knows; it is plain they had a false pass, as it was proved: and that they had travelled but seven miles in nine days; but I forgive them, as I hope forgiveness: and the Lord have mercy on My soul, and the poor man’s whom I killed.


Whurrier was executed at Tyburn in a group comprising six souls all told: the others were Robert Scott and Samuel Chilvers, smugglers; William Stevens and Francis Hill, housebreakers; and John Parkes, forger. Stevens was only 17 years old: “young, and entirely unacquainted with the Nature of the World,” in the words of the Newgate Ordinary who prepared the boy’s soul for its ordeal.

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

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1858: Lucy, vengeful slave

Add comment March 5th, 2016 Headsman

On this date in 1858, a slave named Lucy was hanged in Galveston for killing her mistress.

The innkeeper Maria Dougherty was chagrined in 1857 when her slave voiced disgruntlement by torching her Columbia Hotel. (The fire was detected in time and put out.) So, she stacked additional punishments on the dissatisfied Lucy, who in her turn escalated her revenge. In the first days of the new year, Mrs. Dougherty disappeared — next seen several days onward afloat in a cistern, skull mangled by a furious bludgeon.

“Yes, I killed her, and I would do it again!” Lucy allegedly exulted.

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

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1864: Three Idaho robbers, choked on gold

Add comment March 4th, 2016 Headsman

On this date in 1864, Doc Howard, Christopher Lowery and James Romaine hanged at Lewiston for “the strangest and darkest chapter in north Idaho’s criminal annals.”

Lured west by prospecting’s siren song, explorers struck gold in Idaho in the 1860s and poured in, dragging in their wake the lawlessness characteristic of boom towns.

Idaho and eastern Washington, a correspondent wrote to the Baltimore Sun by way of summing-up the bonanza year of 1863,* “is exceedingly rich in deposits of gold” to the delight of “thousands of sturdy miners from California and Oregon.”

“It is estimated that the mines situated in Washington and Idaho Territories yielded for the year 1863 some $20,000,000, and it is thought that next year this amount will be doubled … coin is almost unknown in the various mining towns, and even the ost trivial transaction of business has to be paid for in gold dust.”

As usual in these cases precious few of the miners hit the mother lode; it was the contractors who supplied them best positioned to make out. In August 1863 Lloyd Magruder, a prosperous and respected pack train operator who had once sat in the California legislature, embarked one of his mule convoys heavy with mining goods from Lewiston, over the imposing Bitterroot Range, and bound for the burgeoning mining colony of Virginia City.**

The Bitterroot Mountains. (cc) image by Eric Gross.

But the hills held other treasures than merely retail markups.

A day after Magruder’s slow pack train set out, three rough frontiersman — our three men, Howard, Low(e)ry and Romaine — left Lewiston, too. Overtaking Magruder on the road, they joined his traveling party on an amiable basis; by the time they reached Virginia City, Magruder trusted them to help sell off his mining supplies. Business complete, Magruder was ready to return to Lewiston, he had $25,000 in gold revenue in his pockets and not an inkling that the boon companions he now hired as his guards meant to take it from him. That’s the gold … that’s what it makes us.

Deep in the mountains one night, the wicked trio — joined by a trapper, Billy Page, who was inducted into the plot (so he said) by means of the sure understanding that to refuse was death — murdered Magruder and four other men traveling in the party.

A night was chosen when they were encamped on a ridge which broke off on one side almost perpendicular for several hundred feet into a canyon or mountain gorge. Near the summit was a spring which furnished men and animals water. From a confession made by Page, the trapper, it appears that on the night selected for the massacre, Page was put on guard and told what was going to happen, and ordered to keep still under penalty of death. Magruder and Lowry were also on guard away from the camp in an opposite direction, while Phillips, Allan and the other men were fast asleep in their blankets near the fire. During the first watch of the night, Lowry, who was on guard with Magruder, approached within striking distance, and dealing him a powerful blow with an axe which he had concealed under his coat, awaiting the fatal moment, knocked him senseless to the ground, where he was speedily dispatched. The killing of the sleeping men in camp was then quickly accomplished. Page, the trapper, who was watching the mules near by, claimed that he saw the murders committed. As soon as daylight arrived, the mules were brought up and five of the best were selected, four for saddle mules for the men to ride and one to pack their plunder. The other animals were then driven into a deep canyon and they, too, were murdered. They tied the murdered men in blankets and dropped them over the bluff near camp, into the bottom of the canyon, several hundred feet below, after which, having secured the gold dust, they made a bonfire and burned all the camp equipage, including the aparejos and other paraphernalia of a pack train. (Early History of Idaho)

The murderers made for the coast, slipping quietly back into Lewiston and grabbing the first stagecoach out in the morning, en route to Portland, Ore. But a friend of Magruder’s, sensing in their furtive and ill-favored manner — buying tickets in disguise; heedlessly abandoning valuable mules and camp supplies — something of their villainous design, set a Javert-like pursuit upon their booted heels.

He would pursue them at his own expense, leaving behind the inn he operated in Lewiston, all the way to San Francisco whence they journeyed to have their gold shavings coined by the mint. Page earned his freedom for giving evidence against the others; the remaining three attained the distinction of suffering the first legal executions in the history of the Idaho Territory.

* Letter dated Jan. 1, 1864; it was published Mar. 24.

** Today a hamlet (Wikipedia pegs its population under 200) in the state of Montana; at the time, a Wild West boom town in the Idaho Territory whose tenuous order was maintained by a vigilance committee.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Idaho,Milestones,Murder,Pelf,Public Executions,Theft,USA

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1903: Edgar Edwards, sash weight killer

Add comment March 3rd, 2016 Headsman

On this date in 1903, Edgar Edwards was hanged in Wandsworth Prison for a minor-league* triple murder.

Of course, the killing was anything but trivial to its victims, a Camberwell grocer and his wife along with their infant daughter. The couple put their business up for sale: Edwards answered the ad but had a different transaction in mind. Contriving to separate man and wife in the course of the interview, he bashed Beatrice Darby to death and strangled the infant child. Evidently he had some proficiency wielding a five-pound sash weight. The reader may perceive that this weapon, albeit improvised, is a crueler device than its accessorizing name might suggest.

Sash weights.
(cc) image from With Associates.

Having done with the wife, he lured unwitting husband John to his makeshift abattoir and murdered him in the same horrid fashion.

That occurred way back in November, but it wasn’t until Edwards tried the same ploy using the same type of bludgeon** against a London businessman a month later that the earlier homicide unraveled. As the investigation led back to Leyton (thanks in part to Edwards’s foolish possession off John Darby’s business cards) the neighbors all started remembering that he’d been awfully keen about burying something in the garden a few weeks back. Rear Window this ain’t.

The motive for all this was just to take possession of the stock and sell it quietly for ready cash. Edwards had little recourse when captured but to try to draw out a family history of insanity, a ploy could not have impressed jurors much in view off the crime’s calculated ferocity.

* A century and God knows how many murders onward, this crime may be an imperceptible drop in the sea; in its day, however, it earned Edwards wax statuary at Madame Tussaud’s.

** The humble sash weight has its niche in the crime annals; it was also the weapon used by Double Indemnity inspirations Ruth Snyder and Judd Gray.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,Murder,Pelf

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1962: Kelly Moss, restless of spirit

1 comment March 2nd, 2016 Headsman

On this date in 1962, J. Kelly Moss went to the Kentucky electric chair in Kentucky for murder.

A lifelong criminal whose offenses ran more to the impulsive than the diabolical, Moss was arrested 10 or more times from 1950 to 1953, according to an Evansville (Ind.) Courier and Press profile. “Kelly Moss, when he was sober, was a real gentle person,” the former police chief of Henderson, Ky. told reporters decades later. “My recollection is that he was a real good man. But when he got drunk, he was a holy terror. When (Moss) was coming at you, he looked like a raging bull. When you got a call to Kelly’s house, you sent every car you had.”

His stepfather Charles Abbitt unfortunately didn’t have all those cars.

When Moss, fresh out of his latest prison stint on a robbery charge, showed up at Abbitt’s Henderson home blind drunk and in need of fare for the cab that had just delivered him. The cab driver gave up and left while Moss wailed on the door; what happened in the next 90 minutes or so must be guessed at, but Moss’s mother returned from church to find her husband’s mangled remains. “His face was pulverized by blows, and many of his ribs had been broken,” according to the Henderson Gleaner.

Moss apparently hadn’t realized just how much damage he’d done in his raging-bull mode; when arrested later, he was shocked to discover himself a murderer. “We had a little fight but I certainly didn’t intend to kill him. This is the worst thing I have ever had happen to me. This means a long term for me.”

Actually, the term was not so long — although Moss did his level best to extend it.

Leveling himself up into a skilled jailhouse lawyer, he papered Kentucky courts with relentless self-prepared writs that protracted the short lease on life his murder conviction offered. (He helped other prisoners file their appeals, too.) Outliving his victim by four-plus years was making good time by his era’s standards.

“The restless spirit of Kelly Moss was stilled just after midnight this morning,” the Gleaner reported on March 2, 1962. He wasn’t reconciled to the electric chair, and the device almost choked on him: Moss was the last person executed in Kentucky prior to the death penalty’s long 1960s-1970s lull in America. Kentucky’s next, and last, electrocution would not take place until 1997.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Electrocuted,Execution,Kentucky,Murder,USA

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