Posts filed under 'Murder'

1941: Ivan Sullivan

Add comment November 12th, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1941, Ivan Sullivan was hanged at Fort Madison, Iowa — in a prison yard near where he’d committed his crime.

Sullivan was lumbered with a 30-year sentence for robbery and kidnapping when he and a buddy, Lowell Haenze, cut their way through an electrified fence while they were working on a prison baseball park ahead of a Fourth of July game in 1940. “In a news report about the escape and the following crime spree, they were likened to John Dillinger and his gang in the Midwest.” And like the Dillinger gang they were loyal enough to orchestrate prison breaks for their chums still in the stir.

Returning to the jail, they attempted to spring another pal, William Cunningham. The attempt failed: Cunningham was wounded in the fray and apparently committed suicide as it all went awry. Meanwhile, a prison guard named Bob Hart was shot dead.

The fugitives weren’t recaptured in this moment but their celebrity lam was short-lived. In late July, after the botched robbery of a Diller, Nebraska bank, both men were hunted to ground and captured — Haenze after playing the hare in a dramatic chase/shootout in tiny Marysville, Kansas, wherein “some 150 or more persons assisted officers in chasing down Haenze … [and] about a dozen shots were exchanged in the main intersections of the city.” (Marshall County News (Marysville, Kansas), July 25, 1940) Sullivan surrendered shortly thereafter to officers in Atchison, Missouri.

Although he pleaded guilty to the hanging crime, Sullivan wheedled for consideration — seeking legal remedies up to the Supreme Court, suggesting continually that Hart had actually been killed by friendly fire rather than Sullivan’s own never-recovered gun,* and at the end asking that his execution be postponed through the 1941 holiday season in consideration of his aged parents. “My Dad and Mother are getting old and won’t have many more Thanksgivings and Christmas[es],” he wrote to Iowa governor George A. Wilson. (Des Moines Register, Nov. 11, 1941) He got no traction at all.

“I do not for one minute mean to insinuate that I am any other than a bank robber who kept his word to a friend. I know I’m not fit for honest people to associate with,” he told newsmen when all hope was gone. (Des Moines Register, Nov. 12, 1941) “I know I have no more chance now to escape the rope than a snowball in hell but I will pray not only for myself but also for the ones who are afraid to be a man for the fear of losing a vote.”

This interesting blog post shares the personal recollections of the hanging’s impact by one of Sullivan’s family members, who was a small child at the time of the execution.

* His charge that “the state crime laboratory [is] for the state only and against the defendants” — because this laboratory wouldn’t or couldn’t produce the bullet that killed Bob Hart for forensic examination — has a prescient feel about it.

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

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1738: George Whalley and Dean Briant, wife-murderers

Add comment November 8th, 2020 Headsman

At a hanging-day at Tyburn on this date in 1738, 11 men (no women) were executed en masse.

Nine committed different varieties of malappropriation: burglaries, highway robberies, horse-thefts, even a charge of coining, all of whom can be read about in thumbnail at that date’s account by the Newgate Ordinary.

The other two were men who murdered their wives. While the prelate here does single them out for committing the elevated crime of homicide, he does not especially dwell on the domestic and gendered nature of these men’s attacks upon their wives. The excerpts below from the mouths of neighbors who were privy to the relationships in question open a terrifyingly intimate window on a pair of violent relationships.

These of course are far from the only domestic murders in the voluminous archives of the Old Bailey. However, most violence by husbands against wives obviously fell short of the criminal annals, and the nature and extent of that violence is difficult to reckon. From the perspective of decades and centuries, historians perceive a long-term — too long-term — decline in “everyday” wife-battering.

“It has been noted that even by the mid-eighteenth century the physical violence alleged in marriage separation suits was not necessarily life threatening, and tended to be less serious than that described in the seventeenth century,” notes the topical volume Marital Violence: An English Family History, 1660-1857. (Review.) Yet “while all historians of violence agreed with Stone* that there was a decline in the number of recorded [conjugal] homicides, and that this was particularly marked for the period between the Restoration and the start of the nineteenth century, it took further research for historians to conclude that there was little change over time in the proportion of homicides that were domestic.” So that suggests less a special abhorrence of violence in the home, and more a wider social evolution making masculine personal violence ever less routine — the same trend that, for instance, gradually saw off the formerly ubiquitous practice of dueling.

All this falls into the active space of historians far wiser than any mere headsman. And all, of course, was cold comfort to Hannah Harding and Mary Briant.


George Whalley, a 60-year-old carpenter, knifed his wife Hannah Harding in the head on June 10th. She languished with the wound for nearly a month before succumbing on July 6. It was his second marriage, and while he had seemingly lived amicably with his late first spouse, George had furious rows with Hannah over money. Testimony from his trial:

Eliz. Dur. The Yard that belongs to the Prisoner’s House and our Yard join together, they are parted by a thin Wainscoat Partition, and there is a loose Board that lifts up between the 2 Yards. On the 10th of June I was in our own Yard, and heard the Deceased say, she would not be lock’d into the Kitchen. I listened, and heard the Prisoner curse and swear at her in a violent Manner, then he shut her and himself into the Yard, and told her she had robb’d him of all he had, and that he had not a Farthing to help himself with. She told him she had not, and the Quarrel encreasing, I lifted up the loose Board, and saw him take Hold of her Shoulder, and pull off a Handkerchief which she had upon her Neck; then she cry’d out Murder, and I observed a large Clasp Knife in his Hand upon her Shoulder. This is the Knife, and the Blood is still upon it. I was not above a Yard from him, and saw him plainly cut her across the Shoulder; then he moved his Hand higher, and cut her in the Neck; and then he moved it again, and cut her nearer her Ear. After he had cut her in this Manner, he open’d the Kitchen Door, and push’d her into the Kitchen. Our Sink likewise is parted from theirs by some slight Boards, and when I ran to alarm our Family, I saw her leaning over the Sink, and bleeding into it in a very violent Manner. When the Neighbours came in, he open’d the Door and ran away. I have often heard him abuse and curse her, and never heard her give him any Provocation. This was the 10th of June between 5 and 6 in the Afternoon.

Nathaniel Harris. On the 10th of June, when I came Home to Dinner, (I live in the same House) the Prisoner was cursing and swearing at his Wife, because a Gentleman that had got his Money, would not let him have it again, but had told him he would make him knuckle down to his Taw. The Prisoner told her, the Gentleman wanted him to go into the Country, away from his Wife, but he said he would not go, for they shou’d not live together long, and she would die first. He very frequently cursed and abused her, – the House was never at Peace for him. He has been in the Counter before, for abusing her. I told him I would hang myself if I was he, no, (he said) he wou’d not; so I went from Dinner between 1 and 2, and saw no more of it.

Prisoner. I was overcome by her aggravating me.

Mary Hignal. I liv’d on the same Floor with the Deceased, (Mrs. Harding) she chose that Name, and did not care to be called by the Prisoner’s. The Morning this happen’d, I went into the Kitchen, and heard him call the Deceased a great many Bitches. I reprov’d him, and he call’d me Bitch, and told me, if I did not be gone, he would murder me. Upon this, I went to the Door of my own Room, and heard him continue to abuse her; after some Time, she went up two or three Stairs, toward another Apartment; he got hold of her to pull her down, and she clung to the Bannisters of the Stairs; but he kick’d her under the Arm, tore her down Stairs, and kick’d her again on the Breast. While she stood in the Passage, he went into the Kitchen, and bid her come in; she refused, and said he had got a Knife, and had some ill Design against her. He said he had none, but I heard a Knife clasp. Then he went down Stairs, and was in and out all Day. But about six in the Evening, he came into the Kitchen again, and spit in my Face, and I spit in his Face, and went out. Immediately the Prisoner shut himself in, with his Wife, and I run up to Harris’s Room, and said, I believ’d the Man was going to kill his Wife. Upon this, Mrs. Harris and I, came down, and heard the Deceased cry

Murder

in the Yard but I could neither get to them, nor see them; and being in a very great Fright, I ran down, and went into a Chandler’s Shop, and told the People, the Prisoner had murder’d his Wife. They said, perhaps I might be mistaken; I ran up Stairs again, to see if I could get into the Kitchen, and I met the Prisoner coming down Stairs into the Alley, with one Hand bloody, and the other in his Pocket. When I got into the Kitchen, I found Mrs. Harding (the Deceased) leaning upon her Hand, and bleeding very much. I believe I saw a Gallon of Blood which she had lost.


Dean Briant or Bryant stabbed his wife Mary in the back with a clasp knife, killing her. Testimony from his trial:

Lydia Cole. On the 7th of July in the Night, I was very ill with the Tooth-Ach, and an Ague in my Head, and not being able to sleep, I walked about my Chamber, which is a Ground Room, and joins to the Prisoner’s. About half an Hour after One, I heard somebody knock at his Door once or twice, and cry softly in a Man’s Voice,

Molly! Molly! Molly!

three Times. The Door was immediately open’d, and he was let into the Room that joins with mine. No sooner was he got in, but Words arose; then I heard a Blow given. Then Words, — then a Blow. At last I heard a Woman in a soft Voice cry,

don’t! don’t! don’t hurt me!

And the Man’s Voice answer’d,

then d-mn your Blood you Bitch, don’t follow me.

After this there were many Words pass’d; and the Woman talk’d to him in a very moving Manner. When the Watchman came Two o’Clock, I heard no Noise, so I lay’d myself down on my Bed; but I had not lain long, before I heard the Woman either crying or squeeling. I jump’d from the Bed again, and heard her groan, for a Quarter of an Hour, and every groan, grew fainter and fainter, ’till I could not hear it at all. From this Time, I heard no Noise, but only a dragging of something along the Floor, and then I imagin’d the Man went out of the House again.

Margaret Carter. I know nothing of the Murder; but I can speak to the Prisoner’s Behaviour to his Wife at other Times. The Prisoner, the Deceased, and I, have been acquainted many Years. He always has been very vile in his Behaviour to her: beating and abusing her frequently, though she always behav’d very mildly to him. The worst Words I ever heard her use to him, were,

why do you use me so? ’tis worse usage than I deserve.

I have seen her fall on her Knees and entreat him not to abuse her, and instead of being mov’d with Compassion, he has beat her ’till she has bled. On the first of February last, she sent for me; I found her darning, or running the Heels of his Stockings. As soon as she saw me, she burst out a crying, and said, she was now at a Distance from every Friend, and had no one to ease her Mind to. Her Husband (she said) was gone abroad in a great Passion; and had told her, that he would neither bed with her, nor ever eat or drink with her more, and that if he met her in the Street, he would certainly kill her; nor would he ever be Friends with her, unless she would own, she took a Guinea and a Half out of his Pocket, which she profess’d she had never touch’d. I was concern’d at her Tale, and went down to the Waterside to see for him, but not finding him, I returned again to the Deceased. While I was with her, the Prisoner came in, and to get him into a good Humour, I invited him to come a House-warming to my House, but he refuss’d: The poor Woman burst out a crying again, and told him she had made him some Broth, and beg’d him to eat some; he reply’d,

no, d-mn you for a Bitch, I won’t touch it, nor ever eat any Thing with you, ’till you have acknowledged you took the Money.

She fell on her Knees, and hung about his Knees, declaring with a great many Tears, that she was Innocent; but he up with his Fist, and dash’d her away from him with such Violence, as to set her a bleeding.

* “Interpersonal Violence in English Society 1300-1980,” Past and Present 101 (1983).

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

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1888: Pedro, the pirate Ñancúpel

Add comment November 7th, 2020 Headsman

Pedro María Ñancúpel Alarcón, famiiarly nicknamed “the pirate Ñancúpel”, was shot on this date in 1888 for his long campaign of banditry in Chile’s Guaitecas Islands.

He had once been pulled in more legitimate fashion to these islands, and the adjacent Chiloe archipelago, both floating off the edge of southern Chile’s Patagonia region — as a part of the late 19th century pull of virginal resources in want of capitalization. Ñancúpel and his wife, as well as a brother of his, followed this call and for some years he worked as a cypress tree cutter, then a trader of the rich sea lion furs to be hunted there.

For unknown reasons he abandoned this frontier hustle to join the robber gang of yet another relative, José Domingo Nahuelhuén. They specialized in seaborne piracy, attacking ships by piercing their hulls and then boarding aggressively while the crew struggled to keep their ship from sinking — whereupon the boat could be looted for its freight and the crew slaughtered to eliminate witnesses. This was obviously a dangerous way to make a living, and the pirate Ñancúpel seems to have risen to leadership after his kinsman Nahuelhuen was captured and executed along with several mates.

Ñancúpel himself had been imprisoned on a few different occasions, always managing to wriggle out of the jam. His arrest in August 1886 whilst in his cups toasting his latest outrage would be the last one: although five other relatives taken with him all(!) managed to avoid punishment — three were minors released for that reason, and his brother and his nephew managed to escape — our man Pedro was sentenced at the island town of Castro, Chile for several of his piratical murders and shot in a prison courtyard there. Picturesquely, the execution was delayed for several hours because there was a woman in labor on a nearby street, and it was thought that conducting an execution in such circumstances would put the evil eye upon the newborn.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Chile,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Murder,Piracy,Pirates,Shot

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1959: Guenther Podola

Add comment November 5th, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1959, Guenther Podola became the last man hanged in Great Britain for killing a police officer.

A German emigre, Podola had been deported from Canada for committing a series of thefts and burglaries.

He’d just moved to London in May of 1959, not six months before his execution, when he tried to ransom stolen jewelry and furs to an American model he’d stolen them from. The model notified police and when they tracked him down, Podola shot Detective Sergeant Raymond Purdy straight through the heart.

Grasping for straws at his trial, he offered the soap opera-esque claim that he (now) labored under amnesia from a knock on the head suffered during his arrest. “I do not remember the crime for which I stand accused,” he told the court. “I am unable to answer the charges.” A Crown psychiatrist, the jury, and anyone’s common sense figured that he was shamming, which Podola himself also admitted after conviction.

Podola’s was the last British hanging of the 1950s. Five years and nineteen executions later, Britain binned capital punishment.

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1912: Alexander Kompovic, “nurderer”

Add comment November 4th, 2020 Headsman

From the Central New Jersey Home News (New Brunswick, N.J.), Nov. 5, 1912:

Two hours after he had eaten a hearty supper and sat in his cell waiting for the end to come, Alexander Kompovic, the oldest man to be executed in this State, was put to death last night in the New Jersey State prison, Trenton. Kompovic was 62 years old and paid the penalty for killing a ten-year-old girl.

The aged slayer calmly awaited death and told the deputies that he wished it was all over. He was in good spirits yesterday and appeared to enjoy all of his meals. Shortly after 6 o’clock last night he sat on a chair in his cell and finished a good meal. Then he talked with two Polish priests and said he would rather die in the chair than serve a life sentence.

The aged murderer bore up remarkably well when walking to the fatal chair. Father Griffin, the prison chaplain, walked in front of him. Kompovic looked at the jurymen and reporters and kept on repeating the prayers from the lips of the three priests. He was given two shocks of 1,900 volts and 11 ampheres. He entered the death chamber at 8.23 o’clock and five minutes later was pronounced dead. Relatives will take charge of the body.

Heavy curtains were drawn over the front of the cells of the other three murderers awaiting death, but they did not appear to be affected when the child slayer began his march through the death chamber.

Kompovic was the twenty-sixth man to be electrocuted in prison here.

The crime for which he paid the penalty in the chair was one of the most brutal in the annals of New Jersey. The aged slayer boarded with the father of Mary Halliday, a ten-year-old school girl at Perth Amboy.

Kompovic lived at Perth Amboy for nearly twenty-five years and was employed at the Lehigh Valley coal docks. July 1 he enticed the girl from her home by giving her pennies. While walking along the coal docks with the child he assaulted her and then grabbed her by the throat and strangled her. He afterwards threw her body into a tunnel and then went to sleep in a field.

After a search had been made the body was found, but the slayer was missing. The police soon located him. Kompovic was a heavy drinker and had been mixed up in several fights. He stood six feet two inches in height.

The day of his arrest for murder scratches were found on his face, showing that the child had fought to try and save herself from the fiend. The foreigner at first denied that he had seen or been with the child, but it was learned that he had been in the habit of walking with her and boy saw him take her towards the coal docks.

Kompovic was found guilty on September 24, and was sentenced to die in the electric chair by Justice Bergen.

For a time there seemed a possibility that a most unusual defect in the indictment would give the man a new lease of life by furnishing grounds for an appeal. The indicement [sic] read “nurder” instead of “murder”, “n” having replaced “m” by a typographical error. But this technicality was not sufficient to warrant an appeal.

Kompovic was unaffected when he heard the jury’s verdict and the judge’s sentence, but as the days passed he grew more appreciative of the shortness of the time he was to remain on earth, and lost his stolid sulleness [sic], regaining it, however, when time came for him to die.

The capture of Kompovic and his speedy conviction was due to the painstaking work of Prosecutor Silzer and Assistant Prosecutor Stricker.* The accused’s defense was a complete denial, but Kompovic was unable on the stand to account for his actions at the time of the crime. He declared he was intoxicated and “couldn’t remember.”

A most unusual feature of the case was the testimony given by Dr. F.M. Hoffman, of this city, for the State. Dr. Hoffman, who had examined under the microscope scrapings taken from the defendant’s finger nails a few hours after his arrest, testified to having found portions of the opidermis, or upper skin of a human being, in these scrapings. Other witnesses told of scratches on the child’s face when the body was found.

* The Middlesex County prosecutor George Sebastian Silzer later became governor of New Jersey. His deputy in this instance, Joseph Stricker, would go on to become the county’s lead prosecutor; he’s noted as a figure in the sensational 1920s Hall-Mills murder case which (sad for this here morbid site) resulted only in acquittals. -ed.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Electrocuted,Execution,Murder,New Jersey,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Rape,USA

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1904: Wang Weiqin, by lingchi

Add comment October 31st, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1904, Wang Weiqin, an official who killed two families, was put to death in Beijing by lingchi (slow slicing, or death by a thousand cuts).

This execution is distinguished by its late date and, consequently, the photographs taken of it; needless to say, it is Mature Content below.

Several equally ghastly photographs of this event can be browsed here.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,China,Death Penalty,Execution,Gruesome Methods,History,Lingchi,Mature Content,Murder,Public Executions

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1790: Samuel Hadlock, Mount Desert Island murderer

Add comment October 28th, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1790, Samuel Hadlock hanged for a drunken murder committed on Mount Desert Island off the coast of Maine.

This fantastic story was thoroughly excavated in 1998 by some enthusiasts at the Mount Desert Island Historical Society; their resulting study, “Hadlock Executed This Day” can be perused in pdf form.

His journey to the gallows begins a year an two days before his hanging when the 43-year-old miller drinking vigorously as was the style at the time “made some drink with water, rum and molasses, and drank once or twice. I felt dizzy in my head, and a good deal disordered in my mind.” (That’s according to his Last Words and Dying Speech, which we’ll quote repeatedly.)

Sufficiently buzzed, Hadlock headed out on a mean-drunk walkabout, beat up a female neighbor, Comfort Manchester, for arguing with him until another fellow intervened. He then transferred his rage to “the unfortunate Eliab Littlefield Gott, and one Daniel Tarr, crossing the river in a canoe.”

Hadlock hailed the two and then went to work on Gott, repeatedly plunging the younger man’s head into the water in a vain attempt to drown him, before assailing him with a club. Only the meddling of that same Samaritan who intervened for Mrs. Manchester, one James Richardson, abated this attack, eventually subduing the maniac with Gott’s help.

In Mr. Manchester’s telling, Hadlock then decoyed his combatants to get free — “Hadlock said he wante dto git up … Richardson let … Hadlock git up but Hadlock having his hand in the hare of … Eliab … [he] took a stake from the fence … then followed Richardson with said stake, who escaped … [then] turned and ran after … Eliab, whose clothe were wet and boots filled with water.”

The erstwhile canoeist groaned away his life that night in the Manchesters’ bed, his skull fractured in several places.


The still-extant 18th century Pownalborough Courthouse, where Samuel Hadlock was tried before a panel including Declaration of Independence signer Robert Treat Paine. (cc) image by Jimmy Emerson.

Condemned to hang, Hadlock — who we can see is nothing if not determined — tunneled out of the jail and laid low under assumed names for a couple of months — albeit unwisely not getting far from his old stomping-grounds, “being sensible in my own mind that I never was in my heart guilty of the murder charged upon me, and God having delivered me from the goal, I still hoped that he would protect and preserve me.”

Hope not being a plan, he was eventually spotted and chased to ground aboard a schooner by a pursuing posse, but had concealed himself so well that they were aboard to abandon the ship as a false lead when one of the pursuers went belowdecks and

heard a gunlock snap and turning round saw Hadlock in the cabin with a gun presented towards the men on deck who were to the number of 10 or 11, and all in a cluster. Had the gun discharged at the time Hadlock pulled the trigger, it is probable he would have killed and wounded as many as five or six, as the gun proved to be loaded with two balls and 18 buckshot.

According to newspaper reports cited in “Hadlock Executed This Day”, the man fell through the noose on the first try at hanging him at Pownalborough (present-day Dresden, Maine).

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1949: Luka Javorina, trainwrecker

Add comment October 24th, 2020 Headsman

A 27-year-old railway worker named Luka Javorina was shot on this date in 1949 for workplace negligence resulting in a fatal train accident in Plavno, Yugoslavia (present-day Croatia).

According to this extensive profile (in Croatian), Javorina and some coworkers at the Plavno train station slaughtered a lamb for spit-roasting and tucked into about 12 liters of wine.

Javorina was the station chief there, although not a particularly happy one; he’d been transferred to the village station against his will a few months before, forcing him into an inconvenient commute. His discontent in Plavno might have been one oblique cause in what ensued, and perhaps a much more direct factor in his zeal to suddenly binge-drink on the job when he hadn’t drunk at all since 1945.

The rail schedule went to pot that night, not because he and a couple of on-duty switchmen were getting drunk but due to the everyday logistical knock-ons in a complex transport network. The upshot of those knock-ons were that a passenger train southbound from Zagreb, and a freight train northbound from Knin, became slated to cross one another at Plavno that night. (Ordinarily, they would have crossed elsewhere.)

Informed by phone of his new and critical responsibility to manage the passage of these opposite-heading trains, the wine-addled Javorina acknowledged it and apparently promptly forgot it — failing to inform the (equally drunk) switchmen and ultimately leaving the signals on at both ends of his station. The result was a horrifying head-on collision in the dark pre-dawn hours, two kilometers south of Plavno. Twenty-one people were killed; Javorina pathetically fled to a nearby corn field and hid himself in shame or (as he said) fear of lynching while survivors were being rescued. Far more than a “mere” deadly workplace accident, this negligence was tantamount to a state-level crime considering the urgency of economic development and ideological credibility in these postwar years. You just cannot have people entrusted with critical infrastructure who feel free to get shitfaced on the job.

“The accused Javorina came to a state of not only severe fatigue but also almost complete oblivion due to alcohol consumption,” the court found in sentencing him to death. The switchmen got prison terms for complicity, they also being drunk at their posts even though it was Javorina’s failure to tell them what was happening that prevented them averting the disaster.

An hour before the execution, on October 24, a door opened in Javorina’s cell. An investigator stood in the doorway. He briefly asked the convict, “Do you know that your request for pardon was denied?”

Javorina just nodded. Then he put on his coat and left the cell. He said nothing. He knew where they were taking him. He got into a closed police car in the prison yard. Along with them were two other armed guards. They said nothing. Javorina only asked them for a cigarette at one point.

They drove for less than an hour — at 4.45 pm they stopped on a hill. Javorina did not know the area. Getting out of the car, the former head of the railway station in Plavno still had a cigarette in his mouth.

They took him to a freshly dug mound and drove him away. Ten armed militiamen stood ten meters in front of him. They waited for the convict to smoke a cigarette. At 5 pm, a short man, clad in an overcoat, approached Javorina. Four minutes later, the afternoon silence of Korešnica was interrupted by a barrage of military rifles. Then the doctor’s voice was heard: “Luka Javorina is dead. Death occurred at 17.04, ascertained at 17.05.”

The file on the catastrophe of the passenger train number 1012, which was traveling on the Zagreb-Split route, was thus closed.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Croatia,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Murder,Shot,Yugoslavia

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1979: Jesse Bishop

Add comment October 22nd, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1979, Jesse Bishop was gassed in Nevada.

The third person executed under the “modern” U.S. death penalty regime — after Gary Gilmore in 1976 and John Spenkelink earlier in 1979 — Bishop was a career felon with a years-long rap sheet of armed robberies and drug crimes.

In 1977, he was engaged in his customary business of knocking over the (now defunct) El Morocco Casino when a newlywed groom left his nearby wedding reception to stage a heroic intervention. Bishop gunned down David Ballard, “like a dog.”

Like Gary Gilmore in neighboring Utah, Bishop was a resolute volunteer for taking his punishment. In his last hours he had a telephone provided him, so that resuming his abandoned appeals would be within arm’s reach at any moment he desired. Bishop never touched it.

Breezily calling the death penalty an “occupational hazard” in his line of work, he was the calmest guy in the place when they sat him down for his hydrogen cyanide sauna. Time magazine cast the scene thus:

Dressed in a crisp white shirt and pressed Levis, he strode purposefully into the freshly whitewashed chamber at Nevada State Prison, near Carson City. “He looked as if he were ready to go to a disco,” recalls TIME’s Guy Shipler, one of 14 official witnesses.

Bishop was the last person to die in Nevada’s venerable gas chamber; all subsequent executions there have been by lethal injection.

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1526: Bianca Maria Gaspardone, the Insatiate Countess

Add comment October 20th, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1526, Bianca Maria Gaspardone was beheaded at Milan’s Castello di Porta Giova, the present-day Castello Sforzesco.

She was only about 26 years old, but onto her second* dynastic marriage — this to Renato di Challant.

As the story was later recorded in Matteo Bandello‘s Novelle,** the young woman had wealth and options, and with her husband off fighting in Milan’s war against France, she indulged a series of boudoir intrigues — critically for our purposes, one Ardizzino Valperga, Count of Masino.

Per Bandello, the Lady of Challant grew annoyed by him and tried to dispose of him by provoking a quarrel between he and another of her lovers, the Count of Gaiazzo — but the two men compared notes and simply arrived at a mutual contempt for her.

The count made the sign of the cross, and all full of wonder said: Fie, shameless slut that she is. If it weren’t a dishonor for a knight to imbrue his hands in the blood of a woman, I would gouge out her tongue through the back of her neck; but first I would like her to confess how many times she begged me with her arms on the cross, that I have you killed! And so they repeated in public and private the crimes of this dishonest woman until they were on every person’s lips. She, hearing what these gentlemen said about her, even if she pretended no concern for it, was angry with indignation and thought of nothing else but to be highly avenged.

It was in those days in Milan there was one Don Pietro di Cardona, a Sicilian, who governed the company of his legitimate brother Don Artale. This Don Pietro was a young man of twenty-two, dark-faced but proportionate in body and melancholy appearance, who one day seeing Mrs. Bianca Maria fell wildly in love with her. She judging him to be a pigeon of first feather and instrument capable of doing what she so longed for, lured him to better ensnare and dazzle him. He, who had never before loved a woman of account, considering her to be one of the first in Milan, pined miserably for her sake. In the end she made it one night to go and sleep with him, and took such loving pleasure together that he believed himself to be the happiest lover in the world, and not long after asked the young man to kill the Count of Gaiazzo and Signor Ardizzino.

Don Pietro obligingly ambushed Signor Ardizzino and did him to death. Arrested thereafter, he was equally obliging in giving up his paramour as the moving spirit, and she foolishly admitted as much by trying to bribe her way out of trouble.

Don Pietro was permitted to flee from prison. But the unfortunate young woman, having confirmed her lover’s confession with her own mouth, was condemned to have her head cut off. She, having heard this sentence, and not knowing that Don Pietro had run away, could not be prepared to die. At the end, being led onto the ravelin of the castle facing the square and seeing the block, she began to cry in despair and beg for the grace that, if they wanted her to die happy, they would let her see her Don Pietro; but she sang to the deaf. So the poor woman was beheaded. And whoever longs to see her face portrayed in life, should go to the Chiesa del Monastero Maggiore, and there he will see her painted.


Bandello’s closing remark about her painting has commonly been understood to claim her as the model for this fresco of Saint Catherine of Alexandria by Leonardo da Vinci follower Bernardino Luini (1530). More recent research has cast doubt on that notion: scholars now prefer to reckon her image as that of a kneeling patron (along with her first husband) in a different image.

This tale made its way from Bandello’s pen into subsequent literature, notably a Jacobean English sex-romp tragedy called The Insatiate Countess, and a 19th century Italian play, La Signora di Challant; the whole thing appears overall to have unrealized potential for digital-age revival as sultry costume drama for prestige television.

* First hubby Ermes Visconti was beheaded in 1519.

** Bandello’s Novelle stories, which mix history and folklore, also include a version of the pre-Shakespeare Italian Romeo and Juliet drama.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Arts and Literature,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Italy,Milan,Murder,Nobility,Public Executions,Scandal,Sex,Women

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