The hanging of Richard Burleson as interpreted by oe’s Crab Shack.
The image was adorned by a dreadful word bubble in which the doomed man exclaims, “All I said was, ‘I don’t like the gumbo!'” perhaps suggesting that uninspired dishes are best not returned at this establishment.
Here’s now the New Orleans Daily Picayune of April 13, 1895 described the actual, gumbo-less event.
For the Murder of J.G. McKinnon.
Groesbeck, Tex., April 12. — (Special.) — Richard Burleson slept all night, arose this morning, ate a hearty breakfast and was quite cheerful. At 10:30 Sheriff Gresham read the death warrant to him and told him to prepare for death. His spiritual advisers, J.H. Linn, of Mexia, and J. Beckham and J.M. Jackson, of Groesbeck, were with him several hours, but he refused to accept Christ or acknowledge his guilt. At 11:50 a.m. he ate a light dinner and prepared to arrange his toilet. At 2 o’clock he bade his brother good-by, who was in an adjoining cell, charged with aggravated assault. He walked up the steps leading to the gallows as though the end was not so near. The trap did not work at first and necessitated some three minutes’ delay. He became impatient, and told the officers that he could hang three or four niggers in that length of time himself. He never shed a tear or seemed to dread death in the least. At 2:05 he shot through the trap. His neck was broken; he never quivered nor moved a muscle. At 2:20 he was pronounced dead. When his body was sent down such a crowd had gathered on the platform to see him that the platform fell with a crash, but, fortunately, no one was hurt. He sold his body to Dr. W. M. Brown for $5. He was 21 years old at the time of his death, and lived in Limestone county, at Tehuacana, where his mother and wife, whom he married three months before hw as arrested for this crime, reside. He spoke in high terms of the officers. The crowd was estimated at 4000, and everything passed off very quietly.
The crime for which Burleson was sentenced to be hanged was a most horrible one, and one which stirred the community as it had not been stirred in many years.
The evidence was circumstantial, but no evidence could be found more closely linked together than was that on which he was convicted.
May 2, 1894, the murderer followed the venerable Mr. J.G. McKinnon out of Mexia and asked permission to ride in his wagon, which was readily granted him; he assaulted the helpless old man shortly after he had gotten into the wagon and with some heavy object tied up in a jacket beat him over the head until life had been crushed out of his victim. He then robbed the dead body and leaving the scene of the crime fled to Tehuacana, where he was living.
A few hours later he was arrested at his home. In order to give him a legal trial the sheriff slipped across country and put him in jail at Corsicana, where he has been kept ever since, with the exception of the time when he was on trial at this place.
This was the first legal hanging in Limestone county in seventeen years.
After news of the Crab Shack’s tasteless appropriation of this picture got all over the Internet and triggered public protests, the restaurant found a less risible inanity upon which to plate crustaceans.
Louise Peete died in the Caliornia gas chamber on this date in 1947.
Stock of “cultured, educated people” — her words — she turned teenage delinquent, got kicked out of her private school, and commenced a colorful career as an itinerant prostitute and scam artist. Her gallantries — and larcenies — are supposed to have driven two early husbands to suicide, though given her subsequent career one can’t help but wonder.
Lofie Louise Preslar (as she was born) or Louise Gould (as she came to style herself) got the surname by which she is best known from a Denver salesman named Richard Peete. Though this pair fought wantonly and soon separated, Louise still bore his name when her wealthy lover Jacob Denton mysteriously went missing, days after Louise moved into his Los Angeles mansion. Eventually, he turned up … under the floorboards. Louise had been signing checks in his name, and when her bad forgeries were noticed concocted a cockamamie alibi about a “Spanish woman” who had got the man’s arm amputated.
This wasn’t even the murder that Ms. Peete was executed for, but it made her a national celebrity: a black widow who had preyed on a magnate from the shadow of yellow journalism’s newbuilt Xanadu.
American Newspapers (Hearst and otherwise) from sea to sea ran breathless updates from the trial of the “Tiger Woman”, and local interest in Tinseltown — well, it was intense.
Olympia (Wash.) Daily Recorder, Jan. 19, 1921.
In a 2½-week trial, Peete was convicted of Denton’s murder, but the all-male jury declined to hang her and ordered a life sentenced instead. While she served it, a despondent Richard Peete — who continued to profess his absconded wife’s innocence — shot himself. She just had some way with men.
Paroled for good behavior in 1939, Louise proved that prison had not sapped her gift for attracting convenient deaths to her proximity.
The notorious Tiger Woman, now nearing 60, was a sensation of the past but Peete still had advocates who believed in her innocence, worked for her release, and took her in when she was paroled. Peete went to work for one of those advocates as her housekeeper (until the advocate died), and then got the same gig for her parole officer (until the officer died), and then moved in as the live-in caregiver for two more of her jailyears advocates, Arthur and Margaret Logan.
This couple had actually taken in Peete’s daughter for a time during her prison sentence, and in gratitude, Peete reprised for them all her greatest hits.
In June 1944, Margaret Logan disappeared (just like Mr. Denton had); then, posing as his sister, Peete had the dementia-addled Arthur committed.
Living now in the victims’ house (as with Denton’s), Peete began plundering their assets (as with Denton’s). Eventually (as with Denton) someone noticed the forged signature, and when that happened the inquiry brought Tiger Woman into the light yet again: Margaret Logan’s corpse was mouldering away in the back yard.
First as tragedy, then as farce. Even her new lover when all this stuff broke proceeded to commit suicide.
She still claimed innocence — sans “Spanish woman” this time — but the evidence at hand coupled with the suspicious pall of violent death that had always seemed to shadow her career made that an impossible sell. A jury of mostly women sent her to death row.
She was the second (of four) women gassed in California.
A (lengthy) gallows broadsheet via James Kelly’s Gallows Speeches From Eighteenth-Century Ireland. Almost all the [bracketed] content is exactly as Kelly has rendered it, interpolating wherever possible damage to the document that obscures small bits of text.
The Last Speech, Confession and Dying Words of Mr. J. Dunbar
who was Try’d and Condemn’d, for High Treason against his Majesty King George; at the Assizes, of Oyer, Terminer, or Goal Delivery, holden, at Carrickfergus, for and in the County of Antrim, the 17th Day of Ma. 1725. And was Executed Saturday, April 10th for the same together with his last Advice to his Children prov’d by Scripture Texts, &c. As it was taken from his own Mouth in the Goal, and desir’d to be Printed.
Into whose Hands those my Dying Words shall come; they may not be look’d upon as a Form, because it is Customary, for unfortunate Persons under my Fate so to do; No, but with a sincere Heart to clear my Conscience, as I am a Dying Man. First to my Creator & Redeemer, by whom and thro’ his great Mercy I hope to merit Salvation.
I JAMES DUNBAR, was born in the Town land of Grogan, in the Parish of Drummal, near Ronaldstown, in the County of Antrim of honest Parents; My Father was a Farmer, Liv’d in the fear of God, attended the Meetings constantly with his Family, doing to the best of his Knowledge as became a Man in his Station; brought up all under his care in the fear and service of God. To this Day I well remember when I was about Eleven years of Age, I had amongst others learned a great Word to swear by my Conscience, and in his hearing, he finding it became practice took an opportunity to Chastize me for it, but with that pleasant Fatherly Correction, that he perfectly sham’d me out of it, the same was so imprinted in my mind, be in what Company soever, I never was any way addicted to that Sin of Swearing to this Day. He taught me the Catechism and Psalm Book; brought me up to the Age of Sixteen, then I stray’d away from him and Listed in the Service, where in Flanders and Ireland I served seven years under King William, in which time I receiv’d three Wounds, during my whole Travels my mind was always bent upon the Genuine part, casting Molds of several sorts, each exceeding the other.
Upon my return I settled, Marry’d a Wife, and got things necessary about me: But in process of time, hearing such a Character of New England, what great Advantage was to be made by those that could carry some Money with them, I resolv’d for that place: In order thereunto I made Sale of all I had, & proceeding forward at Newtown-Stuart chang’d my Mind, which I now dearly repent. Settles again there about three Years. At Leisure times to recreate my self with an Innocent Pleasure I took delight in Fishing; but once too often, for by an unhappy fall, there was a Knife with the point Towards me, stuck into and gave me a Wound six Inches deep, the same I lay by sixteen Weeks. Even upon my Recovery, came three Idle Fellows, knowing me to be an Ingenious Artist, desired me to make them a Crown Molud in Steel for the use of Coyning, I told them in Horn, Brass, Pewter, Silver or Gold I could; but because I had never try’d in Steel I should spoil it, they not fearing told me that I should have twelve pence per Day if I did, not being of Steel as I said, I did notwithstanding they paid me twelve Shillings. Sometime after they came to me again to do the same the which I dextrously Perform’d to a truith, and [for] the same receiv’d forty Shillings; Some of the same 3 [men] have been Executed on that Head since: As for In[stance] David Denniston at Omey the last Assizes. For my [own] part my Genious so far exceeded other Men that I have [no] occasion for help but for Company sake; I ca[n make] Molds and could Perform all that Art requir’d; [but because] the Laws of the Land are so strict I must own an[d confess] myself Guilty of what is laid to my Charge, a[nd I am] willing to resign my Vital Breath and Soul to hi[m, my God,] for the same, in whom I trust thro his great Me[rcy, with] sincere Repentance I have made my Peace, and s[eek out] the ingdom of Heaven, forsaking this Life for [that of the etern]nal. I Die in Charity with all People, freely fo[rgiving] those that was the cause of this my untimely Dea[th and any] others that ever wrong’d me in Thought Word [or Deed] and for all those that I have wrong’d Directly or [Indirectly] I ask Pardon and Forgiveness. First of my Grea[t and Glo]rious GOD, the which I hope to obtain for all [my off]ences; next of them, hoping they will do the s[ame, I] do expect to be forgiven at the latter Day.
My dear Friends and Countrey-Men, and all [people that] hears of my Unhappy Fall to take Warning in t[his; let it] be an Example to all; especially Young People, w[hatever walk] of Life it is the[y] go on in, and to their utmost En[deavour] shun all lewd Company. Besure [sic] first choose the [compa]ny, than their Liquor, and then not to Debauch […] with it, so as to be bereft of Sense; it is the f[irst step to] Destruction. Next to shun all lewd Women, […] Total Overthrow, and nothing but the Works [of the Devil] proceeds from them. Thirdly be not Covetous of […]stance. And fourthly, If the LORD is pleased to [endow us] with a Talent to be more Ingenious than any other [to put] it to that Use that the great Giver of all Design[s ordains.] I leave behind me one Son and three Daughters [; Grant] them Grace to lead their Life and Conversation u[ntroubled be]fore God and Man. I hope there is no Person w[ill put] either upon my Wife or them after my Decease. T[o] all that knew me in my Settlement in the County of Derry; and all others, that knew me else where, what a Value and Esteem all People had for me, for my Ingenuous Performances in that Trade of Horning. How I lived in my Family is well known for many years together, performing the Duty as becometh a Professor or Christian to do, I could inlarge: But let no Man boast in his own Strength least he Fall, they are well kept whom the LORD keeps.
I have laid down some Scripture Proofs to shew the Error of Man, and the Scourage [sic] that attend it, which I hope may prove of some Use after my Decease, as follows
V. 17. Be not a terrour unto me thou art my hope in the Day of evil. V. 18. Let them be confounded that presecute [sic] me, but let not me be confounded. Let them be dismayed bring upon them the day of evil and destroy them with double Destruction.
I will look unto thee O Lord for Deliverance from all my Troubles: For there is no Power like unto thy Power, who delivered thy People from all the Power of Egypt, and with a strong Hand brought them through the Red Sea.
Mat 9.10[-13]. And it came to pass as Jesus sat at Meat in the house behold many Publicans and Sinners came and Sat down with him and his Disciples; And when the Pharisees saw it they said unto his Disciples, Why eateth your Master with Publicans and Sinners. But when Jesus heard that he said unto them, They that be well need not a Physician, but they that are sick. Now go ye and learn what that meanet, I will have Mercy and not Sacrifice; for I am not come to call the righteous, but Sinners to Repentance.
[Some] Advice from a Father to his Children, when he was near to his Death.
[My] Son James Dunbar, I Charge thee in the Name of [the L]ord thy God, that thou keep thy self from the Unlaw[ful, Lewd] Women strong Drink, and Sabbath breaking for [they d]raw away thy Heart from the Lord thy God, & [follow the w]ay of his Commandments.
[Proverbs 5:]3. For the Lips of a strange Woman drop as a Hon[eycomb an]d her Mouth is smoother than Oil. V. 4. But her [end is bitter] as Wormwood, sharp as a two edged sword. V. 5. [Her feet go] down to Death, her steps take hold on Hell. V. 6. [Lest thou sh]ouldest ponder the path of Life, her ways are move[able th]ou canst not know them. V. 7. Hear me therefore, [o sons], and depart not from the Words of my Mouth re[move thy way] far from her, and come not nigh the door of her house.
[Keep thy]self from all Woman kind, except thy own [wife (if] you live to have one) for that Unlawful Use of [them an]d strong Drink hath been the Ruin of me, and [others], and so it will be of thee and thine, if ever thou [follow that pr]actice.
[Hear m]e my dear Children, hear the Instruction of your [dying Fa]ther, from the Word of God, receive them and [take them dee]p in your Hears [sic], for they will be an Ornament […] to your Hands, and Chains of Gold about your [wais]t as They will render you Beautiful and Accept[able to Go]d and good Men. When you are in Trouble, God [hears y]our Cries when ye pray unto him, and will deliv[er you ou]t of all your Distresses, if you be not in the wrong; [These a]re the Troubles that Afflict the Just but the [good be]ereth them out of them all. My dear children, [let your e]yes be fixed on the Lord your God in all your [actions;] if you offend in one you are guilty of all; there[fore keep e]qual Regard and Respect to them all, and when [you have d]one all that you can, say you are Unprofitable […].
[But] be not Lifted up, nor High in your own Eyes, but fear least ye be Tempted to Sin and God be provoked to cast you down again, as he has justly done to me. Therefore I beseech you for your Saviour’s sake, beware of vain Glory and high Mindedness but Contrarywise of be Humble and Meek and Lowly, and God will lift you up, but if he do not be Content he is well worth the trusting for he is not Unrighteous to forget your Work and Labour of Love for when he seeth you Diligent and Sincere in your Christian Course he will help you with his Blessing in the Work of your Hands and he will encourage you and strengthen your Hearts with the gracious of his Spirit, but if it be his Will to keep you Low and Mean in the World be Content and do not fret nor repine at the Dispensations of God, for that is the way to keep you Low and Mean still, but contrarywise be thankfull, and say with Paul I have learned in whatsoever State or Condition I am therewith to be content. [Philippians 4:11 -ed] For if you be content and have but a Morsel of dry Bread or Herbs you have a good Feast. For Contentment is great gain, Likewise I beseech you my dear children set your Hearts to seek the Lord with all your might.
Thess. 5:16,17. Rejoice evermore Pray without ceasing. V. 18. in every thing give thanks, for this is the Will of God in Christ Jesu,concerning you. V. 19 Quench not the Spirit. V. 20. Dispise not Prophesying. V. 21. Prove all things hold fast that which is good V. 22. Abstain from all appearance of evil, V. 23. And the very God of Peace sanctifie you wholly, and I pray God your whole Soul and Body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ &c.
Consider my Chidlren, these words, Pray without Ceasing. It is not that you should always be upon your Knees at Prayer, but that you shall be always in a Praying Flame of Spirit. But more particularly, dear Children see that ye neglect not to Pray in secret every Morning, and at Night, for that is the Duty of all others. That you may pour foth [sic] your Hearts to God, in the most familiar way without Bashfulness or Confusion, and expect most of the Presence of the Holy Ghost.
Eph. 6 16, [sic: he means Ephesians 6:18] Praying always with all prayer and Supplication in the Spirit and watching thereunto with all Perseverance and Supplication for all Saints.
And now my dear Children, I might have Recommended you to many more Places of Scripture, but I rather Recommend you to the search of the whole Old and New Testment, [sic] which is able to make you Wise unto Salvation.
I humbly beg leave of thee, O Father, of Heaven and Earth, to return thee my hearty thanks, for inspiring an Spirit of Remorse & Pity, into the Hearts and Minds of those Learned Gentlemen the Clergy of the Presbytery of the Town of Belfast &c. Who was pleas’d to remember me in their publick Service, joyn’d with their Congregations, on Sunday last. Humbly rendering their Prayers to thee O GOD to have Mercy on me, a poor lost Soul, without thy help; hoping thou was pleas’d to hear the same, and that I may find the Sweetness, Joy and Comfort of it, at this my Sudden Departure; altho’ I was no ways deserving of such a Compassionate Christian Favour, being a fallen Member and Transgressor of the same; That they will be pleased to receive this as in obedience of thanks Paid to them as true Professors obedient to God’s Holy Word, and Teachers of the same; and all those that joyn’d with them in that Charitable Act.
Also those Worthy Gentlemen of the Church of England, who hath since offered up their Prayers for me.
My time is spent my Glass is run, sweet Saviour open thy Arms of Mercy, for unto thee I come. O Lord, shut not thy Gate against me stretch forth thy Almighty Hand, and take me to thy self and let not SATAN have Power over me; now I launch into Eternity in full Hopes of Assurance to be with thee in thy Heavenly Kingdom, there to remain with thee and thy holy Angels, World without end.
I Die in the Presbyterian Communion, and upwards of Fifty Years of Age.
Have Mercy on me O LORD sweet JESUS I COME. I COME, Mercy I crave at this my last Minute, Grant it for thy dear Son’s sake Amen.
This date in 1859 saw the first hanging in Denver — then a nascent mining town known as Denver City.
Denver in 1859 was clinging to end of a long western extrusion of the Kansas Territory, but had John Stoefel managed to refrain from murder just two years longer he might have had the privilege to be the first to hang in Colorado Territory instead.
Massachusetts Spy (Worcester, Mass.), April 6, 1859
On a New York to San Francisco overland odyssey, newsman Horace “Go West Young Man” Greeley arrived in Denver in June, missing our milestone hanging by weeks; his annals (being dispatched east for publication) describe a hardscrabble* place that “can boast of no antiquity beyond September or October last.”
Prone to deep drinking, soured in temper, always armed, bristling at a word, ready with the rifle, revolver, or bowie-knife, they give law and set fashions which, in a country where the regular administration of justice is yet a matter of prophecy, it seems difficult to overrule or disregard. I apprehend that there have been, during my two weeks sojourn, more brawls, more pistol shots with criminal intent in this log city of 150 dwellings, not three-fourths of them completed, nor two-thirds of them inhabited, nor one-third fit to be, than in any community of equal numbers on earth.
No surprise, the first outright murder case to blot the infant city implicated two prospectors: our villain John Stoefel, one of a party of German emigres, shot his brother-in-law Thomas Biencroff on April 7 for his gold dust. From that point, Stoefel had 48 hours to live; standing on only the barest pretense of legal nicety, a “people’s court” convened to try and condemn Stoefel on the basis of his own confession, then immediately hanged him to an obliging tree.
The affair was reported in the very first issue of the Rocky Mountain News, a newspaper that debuted two weeks after Stoefel’s execution/lynching and was destined to survive until 2009.
* Greeley: “It is likely to be some time yet before our fashionable American spas, and summer resorts for idlers will be located among the Rocky Mountains.” You’ve come a long way, Colorado.
Maria del Rosario Villa had abandoned her husband Domingo Felix (or Feliz) back in 1834 to take up with a vaquero named Gervasio Alipas (or Alipaz). The honor-stricken husband spent two years fruitlessly trying to reconcile until in 1836 at his behest the alcalde successfully pressured Maria into returning to her husband.
But on the couple’s return trip to their ranch, the lover Alipas intercepted them and did the husband Felix to death. Narciso Botello’s* annals describe that Alipas “took hold of his [Felix’s] horse and threw himself on Felix, grabbed him by his neckerchief, and pulled him off, dragging him along downhill and twisting the neckerchief, strangling him” — then pitched the choking victim into a gully where he finished him off with a machete. “Later it was proven by the tracks that the wife had been present.” (Source) She helped him dump the body near San Gabriel Mission, too.
Outraged both by the dastardly murder and by the wanton violation of matrimony that precipitated it, a gang of 55 organized themselves as a Junta of the Defenders of the Public Safety, led by Victor Prudon, a recent arrival to the area from the Hijar-Padres colony.** As no militia could be mustered inclined to oppose its will, on April 7 the junta forced open the jail where Alipas was interred, stood him up behind a church, and shot him to death. Villa — being held in an apartment at a private residence — was likewise forced out and marched to a nearby stable where she got the same treatment.
The vigilantes deposited the bodies back at the jail with the communique,
Junta of the Defendres of the Public Safety —
To the First constitutional Alcalde:
The dead bodies of Gervacio Alispaz and Maria del Rosario Villa are at your disposal. We also forward you the jail keys that you may deliver them to whomsoever is on guard. In case you are inned of men to serve as guards we are at your disposal.
God and Liberty. Angeles, April 7, 1836.
Victor Prudon, President
Manuel Arzaga, Secretary
And that was the end of the Defenders of the Public Safety, who disbanded a few days later, never to reconstitute. Indeed, while vigilance committees became regular features on the Californian landscape in later years, this is the sole such incident ever known to have occurred there under Spanish or Mexican rule.
* A Mexican who would serve two terms in the state assembly of California after it became a U.S. state in 1850.
** Mexico at this point was still in its first generation of independence; its hold on sparsely-populated California was not strong — and the missions set down there to convert natives to Christianity and project a Spanish presence had Russian competition.
The Hijar-Padres colony (Padres was the name of the colony’s organizer, Hijar its financier) was a nucleus of 200-odd souls dispatched to settle in California by one of the liberal intra-Santa Anna governments. The leaders soon became embroiled in a complex political rivalry with California’s governor and the colony itself failed to take root, its emissaries settling and taking work wherever they could. Many set down roots in California’s “Southlands” where Los Angeles, then just a small town but still the regional capital, would one day splay out its sunlit superhighways. While colonists were involved in the vigilance committee proceedings, no member of the love triangle was a colonist. (See C. Alan Hutchinson, “An Official List of the Members of the Híjar-Padrés Colony for Mexican California, 1834,” Pacific Historical Review, Aug. 1973.)
ASSIZES. — At Surry [sic] assizes, the following capital convicts received sentence of death: — J.A. Davison, J. Mason, J. Wood, and S. Hilton, for burglary; W. Leech, for highway robbery; J. Bartlet, [sic] for an unnatural offence; T. Hall, for extorting money under a threat of charging J. Clarke with an unnatural offence; H. Edwards, for shooting at W. Smith; J. Stenning, for forging a note; C. March, for cattle-stealing; S. Turner, for privately stealing; and Mary Ann Ellis, J. Hopkins, and J. Cobb, for stealing in dwelling-house. The Judges reprieved all except Bartlett, Edwards, Mason, and Wood.
Robert Skinner was indicted for attempting to ravish Mary Ann Hill, on the 16th of February last, at Wandsworth. The prosecutrix, who stated herself to be only 16 years of age, deposed that her father was a market-gardener at Wandsworth, and the prisoner worked in his service. On the 16th of February last they were at work together in a shed. He was binding coleworts, and she was trimming them.
After he had finished, he came to where she was sitting and threw her down. He was, however, interrupted by the coming of a cart, or she believed he would then have committed the offence charged. On cross-examination, she said her father had a cottage in his garden in Garret-lane, and she, her sister, and another girl slept there alone. On the 14th of January the prisoner was there in the evening; they gave him some beef-steaks for his supper, and he would not go home. She gave him the mattress to lie upon without side her chamber door. — In the night she heard a noise, and got up to see what it was; they were both naked. She did not tell her father of this. A few nights afterwards they had him to supper again, and got him some sausages; he would stay all that night, and she then let him lie in the same bed, but she did not let him lie next to her. The Learned Judge here interrupted, and observed it was ridiculous to talk of any attempt at a rape after this. The prisoner was of course acquitted.
Jackson’s Oxford Journal, April 8, 1809:
EXECUTION. — James Bartlett, for an unnatural crime; Henry Edwards, for highway robbery; and John Biggs and Samuel Wood, for burglary, were executed yesterday morning, [April 4, 1809] at the usual hour, on the top of the New Prison, Horsemonger-lane, in pursuance of their sentence. The crowd assembled on the melancholy occasion was excessive. The unfortunate men met their fate with great fortitude, and died acknowledging the justice of their punishment. Biggs sarcastically observed to the Executioneer, [sic] when he was pinioning him in the usual way — “I wish you had a better office.”* — He with the rest died extremely penitent. A hearse conveyed the body of Bartlett to Limehouse, where he is to be interred. — He is stated to have conveyed before his trial upwards of 1500l. to his daughters.
* The hangman so busted upon was William Brunskill, who already had near a quarter-century in his poor office by that time. It’s a bit hard to tell from the printed account, but since Brunskill had some notable ten-thumbed hangings to his credit — like that of Joseph Wall seven years before — the “better office” remark might have been a Monmouth-esque professional rebuke.
On this date in 1721, six men hanged at Tyburn. One, John Cobige, was condemned for highway robbery. The other five were all sent to the gallows for returning from convict transportation.
Although forms of penal transportation dated back as much as a century before this time, 1721 was early years for the regime of systematically shipping convicted criminals to the New World.* The enabling legislation had been implemented only three years before.
Convict transportation allowed condemned prisoners’ death sentences to be remitted for labor service in the British colonies, typically 14 years. One could argue that this second chance at life was a mercy, even if the convicts themselves didn’t always see it that way.
But there was a distinct second category of transported convicts, besides the death-sentenced ones: petty crooks, whose crimes were not capital, who now could be directly sentenced to transportation for a term of 7 years. This was an essential innovation of the Transportation Act, one begged after by London magistrates who perceived a crime wave in the 1710s and wanted tougher measures to purge even minor criminals from the city.
In effect it was an interval of civic death, enforced by the threat of bodily death; its design bears some resemblance to the condition of prisoners in Thomas More‘s Utopia. Returning to England before the full term meant the noose — for both classes of transported convicts, including those whose initial crime was so petty that it didn’t merit execution even in Bloody Code England. This circumstance describes four of the Tyburn hangings on the third of April, 1721:
Of our date’s group, only John Filewood, who had posed as a porter to steal a valuable portmanteau, slashing its owner’s hand in the process, had received an initial death sentence commuted to transportation.
The prospect that a body could be shipped to the New World’s frontier for indentured labor over a handkerchief and executed for the “crime” of returning to hearth and home naturally chafed at the sense of justice. In 1721, the whole convict transportation arrangement was still so new that nobody had become inured to the horror of it. It’s plain from the sermon the Ordinary preached at them that the prisoners in question took their fates quite hard.
I took Occasion to mention to the Malefactors, the Returning from Transportation, which not one of them could be made to believe was sinful. I endeavour’d, to the best of my Capacity, to convince them that they were not faultless and unblameable in the following Manner: If the disobeying the higher Powers, even every Ordinance of Man, be sinful, as forbidden, (1 Pet. 2. 13, 14, and 17, &c.) Then their particular Offence, which is disobeying the Orninence of Man, must be forbidden in Scripture and be sinful.
Another way, that it may be shown is thus. Not only Robbing and Stealing, but whatsoever else is detrimental to the Society we are Members of, is a Sin: Now this particular Action is detrimental to the Nation, (both in the Practice, and also in the Example); and therefore is sinful.
I told them, if they could not be convinc’d that they had sinned, because they were possest of the Notion that the Legislative Power was in this particular too severe; they might read, 1 Pet. 2. 18. Be subject to your Masters, not only to the Gentle, but also to the Froward: But that this was not their Case.
Struggling to supercharge their repentance, the Ordinary arranged to have his resentful charges “carry’d constantly to the Chapel” — twice a day. But
they could not be convinc’d they had done any Harm in Returning from Transportation, [and] scarce any one of them could believe he should dye for it. Henry Woodford in particular undertook (as he had declared in Chapel he would) to demonstrate to me, That the returning to his Wife and young Children, in order to keep them from Starving in his Absence, was so far from being a Crime, that it was his Duty so to act; and that no Law could disingage him, or any thing but Death, from the great Duty of providing for his Family.
Out of all the doomed, Henry “seem’d most to resent his Dying” and complained that they ought better to have been overtly sold as slaves if this was their condition.
Still other terrors stalked these men. The highwayman Cobige, who at age 50 was the only one among them not in the spring of youth, “was in very great Passions of Grief some Days before his Death, because his second Wife, as he told me, was gone away from his Children.” His hanging would thus orphan a 14-year-old daughter and her three siblings all under 10 years of age. John Filewood, an admitted career criminal, regretted “having brought so much Disgrace to his good Mother and Sister, and not taking Warning at the untimely Death of his Brother, who was taken off much earlier in his Sins.”** And Martin Gray, a 22-year-old illiterate fisherman,
was greatly frighted, least his Body should be cut, and torn, and mangled after Death, and had sent his Wife to his Uncle to obtain some Money to prevent it. I cannot mention much of his good Behaviour; but before he died, he seem’d very much concerned; and told me, he had taken all Opportunities to hear his Fellow Prisoners read, and to pray with them; and that he hoped God would take Pity on him, a poor ignorant and foolish Fellow, and not throw him into Hell.
On this date in 1954, 52-year-old Henry Frank Decaillet met his death in the gas chamber at San Quentin in California.
Teenage girls seem to have been his type; when he married at 23 years old, his bride was just 14. They had five children, four of whom survived to adulthood. By the time of Decaillet’s crime, though, he and his wife had been estranged for years and had separated.
Decaillet, a farmhand, had joined his local Pentecostal Church and there he met Phoebe Ann Bair described as “a pretty brunette large for her age.” Her family was also part of the church. She was thirteen. He fell in love with her, he said, and they entered into a sexual relationship for about a year.
The affair had become the subject of local gossip by mid-1953 and the local police had a chat with Decaillet about the risks associated with having sex with minors. Phoebe herself had cooled towards him. He heard she had been “messing around with some boys” her own age and he became frantic.
On the evening of June 11, Decaillet accosted Phoebe at a Pentecostal Church meeting. She refused to speak to him and he drove to her house and took a .22 caliber rifle out of his car. He’d been carrying it around in his vehicle for some time, debating over what to do. Now he had made up his mind. He went into the Bair home, where three of Phoebe’s siblings and two other children were present. When they saw the gun, they went running out the door for the police.
Decaillet hid in a closet in the house. Phoebe and her parents arrived home at 9:45 p.m. Mr. and Mrs. Bair realized they’d left one of their other children behind at the church and left to pick her up, telling Phoebe to stay home and get ready for bed. After her parents left, as Phoebe was standing in the kitchen, Decaillet shot her through a crack in the door. She ran and tried to reach the front door, but he chased after her, grabbed her and shot her three more times in the head.
When the police arrived at the Bair residence, Decaillet was sitting on the sofa with rifle in hand and Phoebe’s head cradled in his lap. He admitted to his crime, saying he’d been planning it for weeks.
He said Phoebe had been leading an immoral life and he had killed her “to stop her from becoming a prostitute.”
Decaillet had little to say for himself after that. Although he was a heavy drinker who’d been treated at the state hospital for alcoholism — in fact he became a Pentecostal as part of his effort to turn over a new leaf — he was sober at the time of the murder. He said he knew what he’d done was illegal and wrong and agreed that he should die for it. He pleaded guilty to murder, without requesting leniency.
Less than a year passed between murder and execution.
On this date in 1781, the Spanish social bandit Diego Corrientes Mateos was hanged and quartered in Seville.
A robber who plied the roads from Portugal to his native Seville, Corrientes (English Wikpedia entry | Spanish) was said to be of farmworker stock himself. His consequent good treatment of the rural common folk enabled him to operate with great freedom and situated him as a Robin Hood character; folklore has consequently inflated the valor of his exploits and the bile of Sheriff of Nottinghamesque pursuers like the lieutenant governor of Seville. For example, surprising his adversary on one occasion, Corrientes is supposed to have remarked, “I have learned that you boast you will be able to capture me.”
“Yes, and hang you,” shot back Francisco de Bruna.
“Then I must spare your life so you can fulfill your promise,” the sporting Corrietes allowed. (The reader will discern that Francisco de Bruna soon made good his threat.)
On this date in 1894, Walter Smith was hanged at the Nottingham Gaol by executioner James Billington, for the murder of Liverpool nurse Catherine Cross.
Smith invited Cross to the lace factory where he worked so he could show her a piece of equipment he had designed. He was anxious to impress her and, while they were looking at the lace-making machine, he pulled out a gun, waved it around and shouted, seemingly in jest, “Your money or your life!” The gun went off; Catherine was hit. Smith shot her two more times, then fled the scene.
She survived for another few days, and told the police what had occurred.
Tough Sell: from the Derby Mercury, March 14, 1894
The shooter’s best defense angle was to claim an accident, citing an absence of motive, an argument that is more easily made when one has not pulled the trigger repeatedly … of the gun that one has only just bought the day before. Trial testimony indicated that Smith might have had a romantic interest in Cross and it was inferred that he killed her out of jealousy because she was already engaged to marry someone else, but the victim herself seemed perplexed as to what had occurred, and why.
Smith’s trial lasted for three days; his defence that the gun had gone off accidentally was accepted for the first shot but unsurprisingly rejected for the following two.
Billington performed the execution without an assistant and death was instantaneous.
It had been twenty-six years since England’s last public execution, but interest in even the refraction of death’s spectacle was still sufficient at this point to jam the roads near Bagthorpe Jail (today, Nottingham Prison) with a reported 6,000 spectators whose only reward was to see the gaol hoist its black flag signifying completion of the deed.
From the Nottingham Evening Post‘s same-day coverage of the hanging:
The morning mists had not yet risen when the first portions of the crowd that assembled outside the gaol to witness the raising of the black flag took up their position near the entrance gates, but the sun was shining brightly, shining over as beautiful bit of landscape as is ot be found in the immediate neighbourhood of Nottingham. By slow degrees those mists lifted, and the scene without was fresh and cheerful, the songs of the birds adding to the charm … As time wore on the thoroughfares leading to the place became lively with people hurrying to the scene. At half-past seven crowds began to roll up in larger numbers. Some thousands had now arrived, and their general behaviour was not such as to call for very unfavourable comment. It is not too much to say that had the execution been a public one their numbers would have been multiplied a hundred or a thousand fold. It was a holiday morning. If they could not actually see the hanging they could at least witness te sign which assured them that he had paid the penalty of his crime. The elevated embankments at the four crossroads were thickly lined with sight-seers. From these coigns of vantage they could command a good view of the front of the gaol, on the top of which rested the flag-pole. Away in the distance knots of people foregathered, and hundreds climbed the stone wall in the road near the building in spite of the fact that the top had been freshly tarred to prevent mischief to quick hedges above … It was exactly at a quarter to eight when the prison bell first knelled the doom of the unhappy man, and there was an evident increase of excitement. As the last knell sounded the black flag was hoisted, signifying that the exxecution had taken place, and the crowd quickly dispersed.