In a drama of curious names, Albany, New York hanged a gentleman named Whiting Sweeting on this date in 1791. He had slain Darius Quimby in the first recorded killing of a U.S. law enforcement officer in the line of duty.
Showing that needlessly aggressive police tactics are no modern innovation, Quimby put himself in harm’s way by doing the post-colonial equivalent of a no-knock raid.
He was not a regular policeman, but was deputized as part of a small ad hoc posse who attempted to arrest Sweeting on January 3 of that year on a warrant for possessing a stolen kettle.* Because 18th century, the bunch pregamed en route to the encounter by stopping to throw back some rum with buddies; at last arriving at Sweeting’s house in the evening they discovered the man absent and so followed his snowbound footprints into a dark wood.
This Cornell library page preserves several similar versions of original 1791 pamphlets about the case, which consist heavily of Sweeting’s own erudite writings. The testimony of the other constables themselves unanimously agrees that when they found Whiting they started yelling at him to surrender but never announced themselves as officers of the law conducting a legal arrest.
So to sum up, a howling drunken gang surprised Sweeting in an unlit wood, and he for some unaccountable reason resisted them. Brandishing a knife, he vowed to kill anyone who touched him. An empty threat, he would later claim, for he could perceive that he was completely outnumbered — but they would soon be words he would have preferred to take back.
As his pursuers closed in, Sweeting leaped from or was knocked off a rock where he’d been cornered — attempting to flee towards a nearby road, he said — and careened headlong into Quimby, with whom he grappled in the snow as the remainder of the posse piled on him. By the end of it, Quimby had a mortal wound from Sweeting’s knife. Say, didn’t you just threaten to do exactly that?
One might well look askance at Sweeting’s claim that Quimby conveniently fell on the knife that he was clutching as the two tussled; it would probably stand more consistent with the rest of his story had he fought back desperately believing he was being attacked or robbed. One of the arresting party claimed to have perceived, in the moonlit melee, Sweeting making a stabbing motion, an observation that led Sweeting in the commentary remarks he published about the trial to declaim against the shoddy and provocative performance of John Law in terms that would stand up awfully well for many a present-day encounter. Noting that the other posse members who appeared against him were self-interested to vindicate their own rum-buzzed behavior, they had dubiously claimed to have clearly seen and heard events “in a dark night, at some distance, in a hurry, pursuing a man, in a deep snow.”
I think it was said in court, I flew upon Quimby, tho’ it has been said by them he was upon me. If then they saw the arm of the uppermost man move, it was not mine. If they saw either move it must be difficult, if not impossible to determine which … considering we were both buried in the depth of the snow.
Would it not have deserved a moment’s thought whether a party of men having a lawful warrant and though cloathed with the authority of law, getting drunk and committing a riot, ought not to leave a doubt on the mind whether full faith and credit ought to be placed upon their testimony in a cause of life and death … Is it the common practice of a constable to collect such a number, to execute a trifling warrant — to come in such a riotous manner, with an intention to break doors, to take a man prisoner dead or alive?
If this is law, yet it must leave a suspicion, that those persons when called as witnesses respecting their own transaction, do not feel that coolness and calmness which witnesses ever ought to feel in matters of such importance.
Maybe this apt critique got someone chewed out behind closed doors, but it didn’t acquit him with the jury.
Sweeting did earn some public sympathy via a show of conspicuous piety and forgiveness in the weeks leading up to his execution. His remarks from jail dwell mostly on Scripture; while he insisted on his innocence to the last, the printed artifacts left for us evince little bitterness. According to a correspondent’s “Letter from Niagara” that circulated in the young states’ papers, the hanging took place “in the presence of a vast concourse of people” whom Sweeting exhorted “to avoid sin, and to take warning by him whose end was a consequent thereof, and strongly recommended obedience to magistrates, a disobedience of whom was a breach of the law of God … then addressed himself to the throne of grace in an admirable well-adapted prayer, which closed with ‘Jesus receive my spirit.'” (Vermont Gazette, September 5, 1791)
* Whiting would say to the very end that the kettle was not stolen.
This morning, Iraq hanged 36 men in Nasiriyah prison for a 2014 sectarian massacre perpetrated by the emerging Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL).
After months’ gestation in the Syrian civil war, the Sunni ISIS in June 2014 burst out of its enclaves and in the course of a few jeep-racing weeks gobbled upper Mesopotamia. It publicly declared its border-straddling conquests the Caliphate on June 29, 2014.
Iraq’s army mostly melted away ahead of the onrushing threat that summer, abandoning weapons and fleeing while ISIS overran Mosul on June 10, then advanced another 200 km to snatch Saddam Hussein‘s birthplace of Tikrit the very next day.
On June 12, ISIS fighters proceeded out of Tikrit to the adjacent air academy Camp Speicher.* There they abducted only the Shia cadets, including about 400 from southern Iraq’s Shia Dhiqar province, and mass-executed an estimated 1,600 — atrocities they took pains to document in a nauseating propaganda video showing dazed and pleading youths trucked to a forlorn ditch where they are laid flat and fusilladed by the dozen, while others are shot from a gore-soaked pier into the Tigris. (The video is available here.)
“The executions of 36 convicted over the Speicher crime were carried out this morning in Nasiriyah prison. The governor of Dhiqar, Yahya al-Nasseri, and the justice minister, Haidar al-Zamili, were present to oversee the executions,” according to an Iraqi spokesman a few hours ago.
On this date in 1827, a “Carnival of Death” in Richmond saw the hanging of three Spanish pirates who had but recently perpetrated an infamous slaughter all their own.
These men had shipped aboard the brig Crawford out of Matanzas, Cuba. The Crawford was bound for New York, but these Spaniards and a French-born American with the unfortunate name Tardy had a different idea: they had brought aboard a set of Spanish papers for the vessel that would show her under their command, sailing for Hamburg.
One night on the seas, the four rose up and murdered most of the rest of the crew. A cook and a French passenger were spared, as was the mate Edmund Dobson who convinced the hijackers that he could be of service navigating their prize.
The ship’s original papers vanished into the waves, along with Captain Henry Brightman of Troy, Mass., and eight other crew and passengers whose deaths make pitiable reading. Oliver Potter scampered up a mast to escape the mutineers, but having been gashed by their blades he eventually became “exhausted by the loss of his blood, [and] fell to the deck and expired.” Two other men lept overboard and begged for their tormenters to allow them some piece of debris that would keep them afloat, “but the demons regarded [them] not.” (both quotes from the North Carolina Sentinel, June 30, 1827).
It would afterward emerge that Alexander Tardy was a veteran terror of the Atlantic lanes, and had been in the words of a Philadelphia Gazette report widely reprinted around the republic
many years on our coast, and in our cities, planning and executing his black and hellish deeds with all the coolness of a demon, and after having been suffered by the mildness of our laws to escape the gallows, and repeat his murders, when in many other Christian countries he would long since have hung in gibbets … his early execution would have saved hundreds of lives, and certainly the eight lives on board the brig Crawford.
“Hundreds” seems quite a bit on the exaggerated side, but by accounts Tardy had committed several seaborne murders and escaped from hard prison time in Virginia and South Carolina.
The Gazette gives us sneaky murders by poison, rather than slaughterous main-force ship seizures, and it appears that for all his accomplishments in the field of homicide, Tardy seems to have rarely or never actually managed to commandeer a prize: perhaps this was the margin that kept him off the gibbets all those years.
He was not destined for the gallows in this instance, either.
Since our quartet purposed to reroute the Crawford from a run up the coast to a cross-Atlantic voyage, they needed to augment her provisions. To this effect, at the suggestion of the heroic and unusually persuasive mate Dobson,* the Crawford put in at Old Point Comfort on the Virginia capes. There, Dobson was able to slip the pirates and row to shore. By the time he returned with authorities, the Spaniards had put ashore in a vain attempt to flee, while Tardy had cut his own throat.
It was the eventual understanding of the federal (not Virginia) court that tried them before a standing-room crowd that the Galician Felix Barbeto was Tardy’s equal in the plot, and that Barbeto and Tardy had hired the other two Spaniards: Couro (aka Jose Morando) and Pepe (aka Jose Hilario Casaris) both addressed their comrade as “Don Felix”.
Hanging in chains having fallen well out of favor by this date, Tardy “was buried at the low water mark near Old Point Comfort, with his face downward, and every mark of ignominy.” (Alexandria Gazette, July 24, 1827) A few hours later, someone thought to obtain his specimen for the quack science of the day and “he was disinterred, his head taken off, and dispatched to Baltimore, for the inspection of the Galls and Spurzheims of that city. They will probably find the organ of distructiveness [sic], finely developed.”
This was not the last of the Frankenstein stuff, either in medicine or in law. After the Spanish were conducted through Richmond to a public gallows before a vast throng of curious Virginians,* their three corpses were given over to the mania for galvanicexperimentation.
“I happened to be in Richmond the day on which the Pirates were hung,” an anonymous correspondent wrote to the National Intelligencer a few days later.
In an attempt to obtain their bodies for galvanic experiments, &c. a very ludicrous evidence was given of the mania prevailing about State rights. Doct. — who had prepared the galvanic battery, was unapprised that the act of Congress, relative to criminals, authorised the court in certain cases, to consign the bodies for dissection; he, of course, omitted to make the necessary application for the Pirates. But, on the day of execution, finding that the Marshall had no authority to permit the bodies to be taken from the gallows before interment, the Doctor was advised to apply to Governor Giles for permission to take them. He concluded to do so, and knowing there was some difficulty in the case, deemed it advisable to approach his Excellency delicately, and if practicable, get him mounted on his hobby. To that end the Doctor broached the subject of State Rights, and suggested a doubt whether the authority of the Federal Court extended to the right of burying. The Governor caught at the idea, and, without hesitation, told the Doctor that there was no doubt in his mind but that, without permission of the State authority, the Marshal, acting under the authority of the Union, had no right to turn an inch of the soil; he therefore saw no difficulty in the Doctor’s taking possession of the bodies the moment they were cut from the gallows. — This the Doctor felt as sufficient authority, and proceeded to the place of execution.
On this date in 1806, 63-year-old Josiah Burnham hanged for murder in New Hampshire.
Eight days before Christmas in 1805, Burnham, a noted local churl “almost constantly engaged in litigation,” was languishing as a debtor in the Haverhill jail when he got into an argument with two cellmates. Burnham being merely a debtor and not a real criminal was apparently suffered to carry his own knife in his confinement, and he used it to savage effect. According to a graphic news report, Burnham
inhumanly stabbed Freeman in the bowels, which immediately began to gush out. At the noise occasioned by this, Starkweather endeavored to come to the assistance of his friend Freeman, when, horrid to relate, Burnham made a pass at him and stabbed him in his side and then endeavored to cut his throat, and the knife entered in the his collar bone. Burnham after this made a fresh attack on Starkweather and stabbed him four times more. By this time he had grown so weak that the monster left him and flew at Freeman, who all this time was sitting holding his bowels in his hands, and stabbed him three times more.
By this time the jailers were upon them as Burnham attempted to slash his own throat. His victims lived a few more hours in agony before both expired.
The irascible bankrupt was easily convicted; his greenhorn attorney had scarcely anything to leverage in defense of a known blackguard committing such a cold-blooded crime.
“Burnham had no witnesses. He could not bring past good character to his aid, nor ould we urge the plea of insanity in his behalf,” Daniel Webster remembered in 1851, then with a lifetime in law and rhetoric behind him. “I made my first and the only solitary argument of my whole life against capital punishment, and the proper time for a lawyer to urge this defence is when he is young and has no matters of fact or law upon which he can found a better defence.” Despite the legendary talent of his tongue to acquit the damned themselves, Webster couldn’t save Josiah Burnham.
It’s available free online here, in a pamphlet which is also the source of the other quotes in this post. (It does, however, misdate the execution for August 13. Contemporary news reports both before and after the hanging are categorical that it occurred on Tuesday, August 12.) There is also a halting biography purporting to have been communicated by the doomed man himself:
STROUDSBURG, Pa., Aug. 11, 1869. — Charles Orme, one of the murderers of Theodore Brodhead, the killing of whom at the hands of Orme and a companion of his named William Brooks, near the Delaware Water Gap, on the 25th of September last, created intense excitement in this vicinity at the time, paid the penalty of his heinous crime to-day, by hanging by the neck until he was dead.
Public vengeance here is but half satiated and stern justice has only been one-half administered by the execution of Orme, for Brooks, who bore an equal part in the bloody deed, has escaped the clutches of the law, and has thus far defied pursuit.
A narrative of the murder, a sketch of the murderers, an account of the rial, the subsequent escape, and the final closing scene of the terrible tragedy is appended: —
Theodore Brodhead, the murdered man, was a gentleman universally respected and esteemed, and was a brother of Thomas Brodhead, the proprietor of the Brainerd House, where the robbery occurred. He was formerly engaged in the lumber business, and was about 45 years of age.
The history of the murderers is as follows: —
William Brooks is a Scotchman by birth, 24 years old. He had been in the country one year and a half at the time of the murder. He landed at New York, and worked there a while, and then went wandering to get employment. He worked on railroads and at anything else, and was considered a hard case. Subsequently he turned up at Scranton and worked there. He said he was never arrested before on any charge, and that he could not remember firing the shot that killed Theodore Brodhead, as he was drunk at the time, and has no knowledge of having a pistol. He appeared much dejected and anxious to know if he would be convicted of the murder. He said he had been in Philadelphia and traveled a good deal.
Charles Orme was born in Ireland. He told contradictory stories about himself; said he was in the army, and worked two or three years in New York, and then as a brakeman on the Camden and Amboy Railroad. He was in trouble once “for covering swag.” He lived at Camden, and was familiar with Philadelphia. He was greatly depressed in spirits when arrested, and feared Lynch law, being very anxious to know, when placed in the Stroudsburg jail, if one or both of the Brodheads were killed.
Orme was not as intelligent as Brooks, and did not create such a bad impression. It appears that both men left Scranton together on a freight train, but were put off at Stroudsburg during Thursday, September 24, 1868. They wandered about Stroudsburg, and took drinks at the principal hotels. During that night they robbed a hardware store at Stroudsburg, and stole a lot of tools and a coat, and placed the proceeds of the robbery in a carpet bag and proceeded towards the Water Gap.
They stopped at the Brainerd House and got in with two or three laborers on Saturday morning, about ten o’clock, and took drinks with them, when they were left in the bar-room alone. They waited until Thomas Brodhead went out, and then quietly robbed the drawer of eight dollars. They then went to Luke Brodhead’s tavern, near the Brainerd House, and took a drink, after which they walked a short distance along the road, when they were overtaken by Thomas Brodhead, followed by Theodore.
They were counting and sharing the money when the Brodheads came up. Thomas accused them of the robbery, when they threw the money down, and said “Take the money.” Thomas then told them they must go back with him, when one of them appeared willing at first, and then refused. Thomas then advanced on Orme and grabbed him.
Orme attempted to throw some money over an orchard wall, but a two-dollar note fell to the ground, and as Thomas Brodhead stooped to pick it up, Brooks leveled a pistol at his head. Theodore warned him not to fire, and he turned and shot him (Theodore) through the heart. A scuffle ensued between Thomas and the men, in which several pistol shots were fired, and the former was so badly beaten that he sank to the ground exhausted, whereupon they fled.
The Flight and Capture.
They went down in the Gap and up in the mountains, and after wandering around found they were headed off, the whole neighborhood by this time being in arms and scouring the country for them. Without knowing it they took a cut and came out near the scene of the murder, there being nobody about, the citizens being in the mountains hunting them. They were soon seen, however, crossing the road and wading through Cherry creek, when the alarm was given and the spot was soon surrounded. They hid in some underbrush, but, when summoned, came forth and surrendered. One of them pointed a pistol at the crowd just before the surrender, but did not fire, and both captives threw away their weapons before being caught. There was great trouble to prevent them being lynched by the incensed citizens; the Sheriff and his men saved their lives with great difficulty. After a period of great excitement both men were lodged in the Stroudsburg jail, and the prison was guarded day and night. This was the only murder which had occurred in that section of the country for many years.
The prisoners were arraigned for trial on the 29th of December, and several days were taken up by the cause. They were represented by able counsel, but a verdict of “guilty of murder in the first degree” was returned. An appeal was then taken to the Supreme Court, upon the ground that the Brodheads, being private citizens, and having no warrant, their death, resulting from resistance to the attempted arrest, was not murder, but manslaughter. This the Court below refused to affirm, and this formed the principal assignment of error. The point was argued at length, but was overruled by the Supreme Court, the opinion stating: —
The Prisoners Break Jail.
On Saturday morning, April 3, the citizens of Stroudsburg were startled by the ringing of the alarm bell at three A.M. It soon became known that the prisoners had escaped, and speedily there was gathered at the jail an excited multitude, armed and unarmed, on horseback and on foot, ready to scour the country.
The facts of the escape may be summed up as follows: —
It seems one of the prisoners feigned sickness, and at length tumbled down on the floor of his cell as if in a fit or spasm. The other one called to the old jailer, who was watching in the hall, and asked him if he would come in and help him to lift his companion on the bed. The old man unsuspectingly unlocked the door of the cell, leaving the keys sticking in the lock. The prisoners at once sprang to their feet, commanding the jailer to keep still at the peril of his life. Their hopples [hobbles] and handcuffs they had previously removed without keys by hammering them open, and they now sprang out, closing the cell door on the old jailer, and were soon at liberty outside the jail. They had failed to lock the jailer in, so in a few minutes after their escape the bells rang out the alarm, and at an early hour the chase began. Couriers on horseback were sent out in every direction, while those on foot took to the fields and woods. A blodhound brought from Jersey for the purpose seemed to indicate that the fellows had made for the Pocose Mountains.
An examination of the empty cell led to the discovery of an opening in the wall almost sufficiently large to have admitted their exit from thence. It was made by sawing out a piece from an oak plank, about twelve or fourteen inches wide by two inches thick, and then digging almost through the main wall of the building. The sawing seems to have been done in the usual prisoner style, with a case-knife filed for the purpose. It must have taken many hours of labor. The stones taken from the wall were hide in their bed. Why they chose to operate on the old jailer instead of this opening was a mystery.
Throughout Saturday the excitement was very great in Stroudsburg and vicinity, and business came to a halt equal to the day of the murder. The Sheriff had offered a thousand dollars reward, private individuals had added other hundreds to the offer, and the pursuit was vigorous and earnest. Up to Sunday morning nothing had been heard from the criminals. Many of the pursuers had returned, declaring the chase in vain. At length, at about three o’clock in the afternoon, it was rumored that they had been captured. Soon after, a crowd approached Stroudsburg, when it was found that the prisoner Orme, was in custody, while Brooks was still at large.
Not being accustomed to exercise, they had found it difficult to flee from their pursuers, and were found in a barn of Mr. Long, on Sunday morning, only a few miles from Stroudsburg. A boy had gone into the barn, and on getting hay for his horse, had come upon them. They asked him if he would betray them. He said no. Going to the house, he told his father, who came to the barn, and promised the same thing. He took them to the house, gave them something to eat, and while they were eating, Long set out for Stroudsburg, where he inquired if he would get the reward if he informed the authorities where the prisoners were. Being answered in the affirmative, he told the story, when a party hurried back to the scene. Arriving at Long’s it was found that not only were the fugitives gone, but Long’s horses also. The party followed hastily on, and soon came in sight of the fleeing convicts. These, seeing their pursuers, and not being accustomed to horseback riding, left the horses and the road, and took to the woods in opposite directions. Orme was soon overtaken, when he turned around, threw open his arms, and begged to be shot on the spot. But he was returned to the jail, and to-day forfeited his life for the heinous crime, which certainly created both a greater amount of indignation and excitement than any other which ever occurred in Monroe county.
A Plea for Respite Fails.
Last evening Mr. Ridgway, the Minister of the Methodist Episcopal Church here, and spiritual adviser of the condemned man, received a telegraphic despatch from Harrisburg, sent by some of the friends and sympathizers of Orme, who visited Govenror Geary to endeavor to get a respite, that there was no hope of a reprieve, and that the sentence of the law would certainly be carried into effect. Mr. Ridgway informed Orme of this, and he received the news without any particular emotino, having made up his mind for the worst.
An Attempt to Escape.
It was discovered last evening, about five o’clock, that Orme had been making secret preparations to escape for the last three weeks. Some time ago a woman who visited his cell, informed him that a well-known horse thief, who occupied the same cell, had managed to effect an escape by filing off his chains, and getting through the window on to the roof. She also said that the horse thief left some things in the cell, but the keepers had never been able to find the file.
This was a hint for Orme, and he quietly commenced hunting for the file in corners and crevices of his cell. At last he found it, stowed away in a crack of his cell window that looked into an adjoining sleeping apartment, and which room had recently been occupied nightly by two armed men, who kept watch on Orme, but who vacated the apartment during the day.
On securing the file, Orme commenced a systematic filing on the iron bars of the window mentioned, and had, by persistent efforts, succeeded in nearly severing two of the bars, and entirely cutting through the shackles that secured his feet. His plan was to free himself of his irons, pry off two bars of the window, and when the room mentioned was vacated, get by a stairway to the roof, and then effect his escape. The attempt, however, was frustrated, as follows: —
How the Plan was Foiled.
It was decided to hang the culprit in his cell, there being no jail yard to the prison, and the law provides that hanging must take place within the prison walls.
Late yesterday afternoon Sheriff Miller, accompanied by some other officials, entered Orme’s cell for the purpose of removing him prior to the erection of the gallows. The Sheriff informed him that he would be executed in his cell, and said he had prepared other quarters for him during the remaining short time of his life. When Sheriff Miller stooped down, key in hand, to unlock the chains that bound him, Orme, seeing that all was up with him, told the Sheriff that the use of the key was unnecessary, and giving his legs a shake, off dropped all the chains at once. Orme then showed the Sheriff the filed bars of the window, and related how he intended to escape, and expressed his chagrin at the unexpected interference with his plans. The prisoner was then removed to a cell directly opposite the one he had been confined in, and during the erection of the scaffold he could not only distinctly hear every nail hammered, but could see through the iron grating of his cell door the material used for the scaffold as the workmen carried it by.
The Prison Guarded.
During last night the prison was strongly guarded, both outside and inside, by armed citizens, and men with muskets and pistols were patrolling the streets all night.
Orme Contemplates Committing Suicide.
Last evening Orme was visited by a citizens of Stroudsburg, named Bell, who had shown him numerous kindnesses, and during the interview Orme asked him if, as long as he knew he was to die, it would be wrong for him to commit suicide. Mr. Bell told him it would be very sinful, when Orme, after a moment’s reflection, produced from his clothes a paper containing a considerable amount of morphin [sic], and handed it to his visitor, saying he had kept it to make away with himself, but concluded he would not commit self-destruction. It appears that from time to time morphin had been furnished Orme to make him sleep, but instead of using it he had been carefully keeping it with the intention of taking his own life.
A few days since Orme placed in the hands of Mr. Ridgway, his spiritual adviser, the following document, which has just been made public this morning: —
A Voice from the Prison Cell: or, the Evil of Intoxicating Drinks.
[This was also published under the title “The Wine Cup and the Gallows” -editor.]
STROUDSBURG JAIL, April 17, 1869. — I write this in the hope that it may be the means of arresting the attention, and saving some young man from the path that leads to death and hell — blights and ruins in this world and fixes destiny in the next, amidst the darkness of eternal night: for the sacred volume declares “no drunkard shall inherit the kingdom of God.” Oh! that I could only portray the horrors springing from the first glass, you would shun it as you would the road in which death in its most hideous form was lurking; would to God I had died before I knew the love of passion strong drink can bring to its poor deluded victims, for then I would have had kind friends to weep and think kindly of me, as in solemn silence they gazed into my tomb, but now my earnest prayer to God is that no one who ever knew me may ever hear anything about me. May God in his mercy grant that no more innocent people may suffer on my account.
Oh, young man, by all you hold dear, shun the cup, the fatal cup — if not for your own sake, in God’s name shun it, for the sake of those you hold so near and dear. You may think you are able to take a drink and leave it alone when you wish: let me entreat you, don’t try the experiment, for when it gets hold it rarely ever lets go. It not only destroys you, but friends must suffer also. It may bring a kind and loving mother to an early grave: make an old man of a kind, good father before his time — not to mention brothers and sisters, who must share the sorrow. These things are of daily occurrence; and this is not the worst, for it has incited the mother to murder her innocent babe, the husband to imbrue his hands in the blood of his wife, for whom he would have willingly laid down his own life. Pause! think well before you touch the cup! Remember, you not only venture your own prospects and happiness, but all you hold sacred are involved. Don’t say, I can take a drink and leave off: the chances are against you: and even if they are not, is it right? is it honorable to risk the happiness of others to gratify your own evil appetites? Would to God (that one year ago) I could have seen strong drink as it really is, stripped of all the ornaments thrown over it by those engaged in the traffic; could have seen it as a swift and sure road that was to lead to my present unhappy condition in a felon’s cell, with the prospect of a shameful death. Is it surprising that I would try to save others from the same fate? I know that I have neither the talent nor the education to plead the cause of temperance, but I can tell what the use of intoxicating drinks has brought me to. Can I do less, under the circumnstances, than give a word of advice to some thoughtless ones. Praying (if so great a sinner as I may pray) that God may bless it, and make its truthfulness do what hearing could not be the means of saving some from a drunkard’s end.
For one short moment let your fancy carry you to this lonely cell. You will see me write this with my hands ironed; irons are on my limbs and I am chained to the floor. Do you think what brought me here? I must say, whisy. Is it strange in me to lift a warning voice agianst that which has done me so much harm. Thank God I have not lost all feeling. There are those on the earth, separated from me by “the great waters,” who believe and trust (that whatever I am) I am honest and respected. God forbid that they should ever be undeceived. Oh! is it not hard to pray to God that your dear father and mother, brothers and sisters, your early playmates and friends may never hear about you, or you from them, when one word would be more precious than untold treasure.
A kind word from a stranger is treasured up as something precious, as God knows it is to me. To keep you from such a condition I write this, hoping you will take it in the spirit in which it is given. I write it earnestly and sincerely, trusting that God may bless it to your use. If you are ever tempted to drink think of this advice, and the circumstances under which it is given, and may heaen help you to cast the cursed cup from you. Don’t parley or you are lost. Say no! Stick to it. Once or twice will be enough. Tempers will see that you are firm, and respect you the more for it. Don’t be alarmed at being called a teetotaler. You may be greeted with a laugh or jeer. No matter, you win respect. How often have I wished I could say no, and stick to it, when asked to drink, but my “guess not,” or “think not” was always taken for yes, or if I said no, it was known that I did not always stick to it. A companion who worked by my side was never asked but once, for his “no” meant no! By the power of an emphatic no, when asked to do wrong is the advice of one who has lost all, for the want of a little firmness at first. If I only could tell you all I have lost — lost friends, character, home, all that makes life dear, through drink, by not saying “no,” when asked to do wrong. I could have said it. God gave me understanding. I knew right from wrong but I flattered myself I could go so far, and then let up: now I am lost. God in his mercy grant that this may keep some young man from trending the same path. “Taste not, touch not, handle not,” is the only safe course. Don’t believe in moderate drinking, there is too much danger in it. There is no drunkard living but thought he could leave off when he wished. As I write this I see a fond mother’s face, I hear her last words to me, low and sweet, as she bade her boy God speed, and aid — Be a good boy, shun bad company, and don’t drink.
I see a kind, good father, trying to keep bac the tears, as he gave the same advice, telling me at the same time to “be mindful of God and he would not forsake me.” Alas! all was forgotten, and the result is a felon’s cell, and soon, perhaps, a shameful death. Is it any wonder I should try and warn others? Say you, “that many drink and do not do what I have done?” All true; but none do as I did but what drink, not one. You say a man can take a drink, and not be a drunkard; for God’s sake don’t try it — that is what ruined me. All say at first — “Whisky shall not be my master — I am too much of a man for that.” God help them; how soon they find out that he who said, “Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging and that he that is deceived thereby is not wise,” knew moreabout it than they. Let a man write all his lifetime and he can utter no greater truths; it mocks all our hopes, blunts all the sensibilities and kind feelings that God has given us, and sinks us lower than the beasts that perish; whereas God made us in his own image. Is it not a mocker? It has ever done harm. The first recorded instance is that of Noah, the only man God saw fit to save with his family, when he destroyed the world. How sadly was he mocked by it, cursing his own son. There has always been a curse with it; the Bible is full of warnings against it. For God’s sake heed them, and “if sinners entice thee, consent thou not.” Would to God that I could put on this paper what I feel.
I think some one would pause before taking that which steals away the senses. But my thoughts wander not where I want them; not to scenes of drunkenness and dissipation but to home — home! Would to God I could banish it from my mind. To-night I am a boy again; I see home as plainly as ever — a kind father, a dear mother, brothers and sisters, all rise before me, not only once, they are always with me now. Even in sleep I see them; pleasant thoughts you say. Oh! God, if I could only get rid of them. I think I could dwell on any others with some degree of comfort, to what I now feel; yes, even on the shameful death I am condemned to die; anything, but what I have lost; lost through drink.
Give an ear to this advice; it is the advice of a dying man — dying in his early manhood, through the accursed cup that “biteth like a serpent.” Think of your friends now, lest the time come when the thought of them will be worse than a scorpion’s sting. Oh! if you see any one treading the downward path, that leads to death and hell, speak kindly to him; you know not the power of a kind word. I do not forget one who has spoken kindly to me since I have been here: how heartily I think of them; a kind word first led me to hope that He who hates sin might yet be merciful to the sinner. I know you all hate the crime that brought me here; but when you saw I had none to speak kindly, though hating my great sin, you pitied me, a poor, wretched sinner, and showed me that mercy, divine mercy, could even reach one so vile.
Oh! young men of Stroudsburg — most of you have seen me, most of you have spoken kindly to me, and have acted as well as spoken. The offer of a book or a paper may be little to you, but to me it was a great kindness. Oh! do me the greater kindness still — take my advice kindly; it comes from a criminal, it is true, but my whole heart goes with it. It ought to be the more effective because coming from one who has run the course and has experienced its terrible results. I might tell you more of what I have seen whisky doing to its dupes, but my article would be too long. I close, giving you the advice a good mother gave me — “Keep out of bad company, and don’t drin.” Don’t let this pass unheeded, as I did. You see what it has brought me to. God keep all that read this in the right path, is the prayer of one who, for the sake of loved ones, prefers to sign himself,
He Bears an Assumed Name.
It will appear from the following letter that Orme is an assumed name. —
PRISON CELL, Aug. 7, 1869 — Mr. Martin
My reticence in relation to my connection I may have had with any person in this country, business or otherwise, arises entirely from the fact that I have shamefully abused great privileges which they have granted me; that I do not wish their names to figure in connection with mine. Moreover, any revelations of this kind would only be the means of making known to those that are near (and God only knows how dear to me), my disgraceful end.
The Instrument of Death.
The scaffold is erected in the eastern extremity of the cell recently occupied by the prisoner, and is a rather primitive looking affair, with a drop of about four feet. It consists of two upright posts and a cross beam, to which is affixed the rope and a drop made something after the model of a panel of a dining-table.
The Last Night.
Orme passed the night quietly, and was with his spiritual adviser until about ten o’clock, when he was left alone, but a strong guard remained in the entry near the cell door. He rose at an early hour this morning and partook of a light breakfast, consisting of coffee, eggs, &c. He says he slept during a portion of the night, but complained of a severe headache.
Preparing for Death.
About nine o’clock this morning the Rev. Mr. Ridgway administered the sacrament to the dying man, during which Orme was very devout and reverential. He then proceeded to take a bath in a tub or bucket of water which was placed in his cell, after which he deliberately commenced to dress himself for the terrible ordeal which in a few minutes he was to pass through.
Visitors to the City.
Before eleven o’clock Stroudsburg, particularly in the vicinity of the jail, presented quite a holiday appearance. Many hundreds of persons surrounded the jail, and dozens of vehicles of all kinds formed the cordon around the anxiously expectant populace, many of whom came for miles to only look at the blank walls of the jail. All the taverns and saloons were closed during the day by order of the authorities.
Where the execution took place is about twenty feet square, with a ceiling fifteen feet in height, affording sufficient altitude for the erection of the gallows.
The Time of Death Approaching.
Shortly before eleven o’clock Mr. Pearce, the Presbyterian minister of the Delaware Water Gap, entered Orme’s cell and engaged in earnest prayer, both the condemned man and the clergyman kneeling. Sheriff Mervine and the Rev. Mr. Ridgway then entered the cell, and Orme again partook of the Sacrament with Mr. Ridgway. sheriff Mervine then informed Orme that his time on earth was nearly ended.
Orme expressing his readiness, he was escorted from his cell across the corridor to the place of execution without parade or ceremony. The cell was crowded to excess with jurors, deputy sheriffs and officials generally, and was uncomfortably hot, there not being the least ventilation.
Orme entered the cell at five minutes of eleven o’clock, and proceeded up the rude steps of the scaffold with the greatest firmness and self-composure. He was dressed in a black frock coat, black pants and white shirt, and wore no vest. His thick black hair was well combed, and he made a very presentable appearance. The sheriff and the two ministers both ascended the scaffold after Orme, and after the latter was seated the sheriff read the death warrant, prefacing the same with a few remarks intended to cheer the dying man.
The Prisoner’s Speech.
Orme was then asked if he had anything to say, when he addressed those present in a perfectly cool and collected manner, as follows: —
I hardly know what to say, or rather, how to say anything as I would like. I protest in the first place, against my trial. I know that I was convicted on false evidence, and I am entirely innocent of murder, and God forbid that I should lie at a time like this. I trust in Christ, and am sorry for all crimes I have done, but I did no murder. The evidence was false. I don’t like to say anything against the people of Monroe county, for some of them have been very kind to me. I came here a stranger, and was told to hope in Christ, but was falsely convicted.
Thomas Brodhead made a statement on the night of the murder, and he is considered a gentleman of truth, and he made the same statement three times. After my arrest I was taken to the Water Gap to be identified by him, and he made a different statement. I think the District Attorney should have put both statements in evidence. Before the trial I had no friends; all were against me. I was put here and chained and never got a hearing. I got no change of clothing, not even a shirt, and I had to burn the vermin out with a candle.
At this time Sheriff Mervine interrupted Orme by saying, “Was not that before the trial, Charles?” Orme replied that it was, and continued —
I would like to direct attention to Thomas Broadhead’s evidence. He said I had to go back with him, and said Brooks was willing, and I told him not to go. He said he saw Brooks throw some money over the wall, and while stooping down he heard his brother say “Don’t shoot,” and on looking up saw Brooks pointing a pistol at his brother, and on wheeling around Brooks shot Theodore. After that he said he stooped down to pick up something rolled up like a little bill, and says he saw it was a two dollar bill, and swore to the number. Yet he never saw the bill, for I had not stolen it.
The prisoner the proceeded, in a sort of rambling manner, to say he knew nothing of the murder, and threw his pistol away while Thomas and himself were struggling, for fear he might shoot him. He said that Thomas struck him with a stick. Judge Barnard said that Thomas Brodhead’s evidence was not disputed, but after the trial he might have erred, and if he had said this to the jury, the verdict might have been different. He said he did not like to complain of the jury, but he thought he was very badly treated. He praised his counsel highly, and said he could die knowing that no man could say that he shot Theodore Brodhead.
At that part of Orme’s speech, in which he reflected on his treatment in jail before his trial, ex-Sheriff Henry, who had charge of him at that time, with exceeding bad taste and want of delicacy, advanced from the crowd to the foot of the scaffold, and, addressing the prisoner familiarly as “Charley,” asked him some question about his treatment and his case. Orme answered the question, when ex-Sheriff Henry asked others, and the two got into quite a controversy, which lasted until Mr. Henry was asked to stop. This matter was singularly inappropriate to the solemnity of the occasion. Such a scene has seldom if ever occurred at an execution before this, and should not have been permitted by Sheriff Mervine.
A Last Hope.
Immediate preparations for the execution were then made, when the Rev. Mr. Ridgway stated that Judge Barnard had notified him that he thought it would be proper to hold off the execution until the arrival of the one o’clock train, as it might possibly bring a reprieve from Governor Geary. The Sheriff, at first, did not seem to favor the idea, but Mr. Ridgway pressed it, and Orme, himself, turned to him and said, “Do grant me this short respite, Sheriff? It is the last favor I shall have to ask of you.”
A Short Respite.
The Sheriff, after some hesitation, consented, and the prisoner, who was just about being launched into eternity, was conveyed from the gallows back to his cell, while the spectators all retired from the building. Orme spent the time allotted him in praying and writing notes of thanks to his spiritual advisers and others, and the train arriving, with no reprieve, he was again taken from his cell.
On the Drop Again.
At twenty-five minutes past one o’clock Orme again ascended the scaffold.
The Execution — Orme Twice Hanged.
The Rev. Messrs. Ridgway and Pierce prayed with him until quarter of two o’clock, when the white cap was pulled over his head, and his arms and legs were pinioned with strips of muslin.
Orme stood firm, and moved his lips in prayer with half audible voice, while the Sheriff and ministers retired from the scaffold, and everything being in readiness, the drop fell, and to the intense horror of those huddled together in the cell, the rope broke, and Orme fell to the ground. He was picked up quickly in his half-strangled condition and helped upon the scaffold, when another rope was adjusted, amid a scene of sickening excitement, and again the drop fell and the body of the condemned man was dangling in the air.
The breaking of the rope caused a nervous feeling, which resulted in the noose being badly adjusted, and when the body fell the neck was not broken, and the poor wretch writhed and struggled fearfully. His contortions were heart-rending, and he died a slow death of strangulation. The whole scene was a most revolting one, and will never be forgotten by those who were present. This is the first execution that ever took place in Monroe country, which may be partially the reason for the bungling manner in which it was done.
From the Leeds Northern Star and Leeds General Advertiser, Aug. 10, 1844;
NOTTINGHAM, AUGUST 7. — This morning (Wednesday) being the day fixed for the execution of Wm. Saville for the murder of his wife and three children, the town was thrown into an unusyal [sic] state of excitement.
At an early hour, crowds were assembled in front of the County Hall; and at a few minutes to eight o’clock there could be not less than twenty thousand people present, anxiously waiting to behold the inhuman spectacle.
At eight o’clock Saville made his appearance on the platform, accompanied by the sheriff, chaplain, and the executioner. He seemd to display great firmness., and looked around him quite cool and unconcerned. He nodded to a few friends whom he distinguished in the crowd, and not more than two minutes could elapse from the time of his arriving on the scaffold to the fatal bolt being drawn.
He was much convulsed; but in a few minutes, all his troubles in this world were at an end.
Proceedings of a more painful nature have to be narrated as the result of the brutalising scene of “hanging.”
At the time the drop fell, the rush was so terrific, some anxious to get a sight of the wretched man, whilst others wished to be released from the pressure of the crowd, that a great number of persons of all ages and both sexes, were precipitated down a flight of steps leading from the High Pavement, down to Garner’s Hill; and notwithstanding every caution of the Mayor and other inhabitants, great numbers were forced down upon those already lying in a mangled state.
Seven persons were taken up quite lifeless, and a great number more much injured.
The dead and those that had sustained the most serious injuries, were conveyed to the Mayor’s Yard, whilst others were conveyed directly to the General Hospital. Sedans, chairs, and various suitable vehicles being put in requisition for the purpose.
The Mayor’s Yard presented a spectacle the most appalling. Never did human eye behold a more heard-rending [sic] sight than there presented itself. The wailings and mournings of parents for the loss of their children, husbands lamenting the fate of their wives, wives the fate of their husbands, together with the crimes and moans of the injured and dying, were truly horrifying.
Every countenance seemed agitated; whilst parents and relatives were running in all directions to discover those most dear to them.
Every facility was afforded (as soon as suitable arrangements could be made) to allow parties to visit the mangled bodies, for the purpose of recognizing their friends and relatives. Great praise is due to the mayor and town police for the kind manner in which they conducted themselves towards the afflicted friends of the unfortunate dead and injured, whilst I am sorry to say the “rurals” did not evince a like spirit.
Vietnam on this date in 2013 made its first-ever use of lethal injection for the execution of Nguyen Anh Tuan. Anh Tuan robbed and murdered a woman in 2009.
The new execution method was scheduled to take effect July 1, 2011, fully replacing the firing squad, but had a delayed rollout.
As in its country of birth, America, the needle-and-gurney contraption was afflicted by by shortages of the killing drugs. The European Union’s unwillingness to permit import for use in capital punishment eventually led Vietnam to arrange for local production instead.
“Truth is stranger than fiction.” In how many ways is this aphorism verified! Nowhere is it more strangely true than in the dark and mysterious records of crime. That a perilous sea, only occasionally visited by the ships of commerce and civilization, should witness the development of bands of pirates whose bold and cruel deeds have terrified the voyagers, and furnished themes with which the romancer could charm the morbid tastes of the lovers of the gruesome, is a thing to be expected. That a wild and sparsely settled region, abounding in fastnesses and hiding places, yet crossed by trains bearing rich treasures, should be the field in which a drove of dehumanized desperadoes carried on their nefarious trade, is in no way surprising. Storm-tossed, wreck-strewn seas and hurricane-swept prairies, nurture, or at least harbor, such characters as their appropriate children. There is nothing strange in the fact that wild regions should be the home of wilder men. The romancer can make his story as wild and improbable as he chooses; there is no one who will rise to contradict him.
It is strange, however, that such men should spring up amid peaceful surroundings. It is stranger still that a penchant for crime, carried out into deeds of more reckless daring than those of the wild and unrestrained West, should be nurtured in the quiet rural districts of Northwestern Ohio. Yet, strange to say, in this almost Arcadian corner of a great civilized state, a corner whose agrarian peacefulness was never broken by harsher sounds than the melody of church bells, or the cheerful call of the locomotive, there have been conceived and carried into execution crimes that would stand out boldly even on the pages of the wildest fiction. This corner of the state was the home of the now famous “Jack Page” band of arsonists, who terrorized the country a quarter of a century ago. Here, also, lived the man who furnished the occasion of this sketch, Frank Van Loon. Of his dare-devil deed let the reader judge.
The Supremacy of Nerve
On the seventh day of August, 1891, the village of Columbus Grove, Putnam County, Ohio, was startled out of its quiet, humdrum routine by a daring daylight robbery and murder. A young man, unknown to the few chance stragglers about the streets of the quiet village, entered a hardware store. By sheer force he compelled the person in charge to give him two loaded .38-caliber revolvers. With the dash of a true desperado, he rushed across the street to the bank. He entered the bank, broke the glass in front of the cashier’s desk, reached through and secured $1,365. The bank officials, terrified by the suddenness of the attack, dropped through a trap-door into the cellar. One of them, by venturing to look out of his hiding place, was shot by the nervy robber. The ball took effect in the shoulder, producing a painful, though not fatal wound. While the desperado was holding the bank employees at bay, an old man by the name of William Vandemark entered the bank to transact some business. Vandemark was ignorant of the fact that a desperate robbery was at that moment being committed. The robber, hearing some one enter, turned quickly and fired at the innocent intruder. The shot was fatal and Vandemark was instantly killed. As the desperate man rushed out of the bank, he shot at a man who was peacefully driving along the street. The daring young man made his escape across the fields without being recognized.
A Mother-in-Law’s Vengeance
Who this daring robber and murderer was might have remained an undiscovered fact, had it not been that a certain young farmer by the name of Frank Van Loon had, by his innate meanness, incurred the implacable hatred of his wife’s mother. Ever suspicious of her son-in-law, the woman entered his room on the morning of the day following his crime, noted that his boots were muddy, and found in his pockets the guns and the stolen money. This woman, having heard in the intervening time of the crime committed in Columbus Grove, reported her findings to the officers. The officers, knowing of the unhappy condition of things in the Van Loon home, for a time paid no heed to the advices which they received, thinking it was only a mother-in-law’s spite [at] work. But when the information had been several times repeated they concluded to investigate, and found things as the mother-in-law had reported. Van Loon was arrested. He was given a speedy trial, convicted of murder in the first degree, and sentenced to be hanged.
In the Palace of Death
Frank Van Loon, serial number 23,313, on the twelfth day of May, 1892, entered the Annex of the Ohio Penitentiary. It was his final leave-taking of God’s beautiful world of sunshine and fragrance. Never again was he to see the earth and sky meet. When he left that Place of Doom it would be as a lifeless body.
Through the law’s delay Van Loon was permitted to drag on a miserable existence between hope and despair for fifteen months. In these months of waiting he employed a part of the time in writing a history of his life. In this composition the natural selfishness and brutality of his nature were plainly manifest. It was evident from the underlying tone of his autobiography that he did not recognize that his fellow-man had any rights which he was bound to respect, especially if those rights stood in the way of his wishes being attained. His towering egotism was undoubtedly the soil which nurtured and brought to maturity the disposition which made possible his cruel crime. [editor’s note: my researches have failed to locate this interesting artifact for the modern reader’s edification.]
This egotism was constantly being made evident by his actions during his stay in the Annex. Much of the time during his waking hours was passed in quarreling with his keeper. These contentions one day led to a desperate struggle between Van Loon and Guard Bowman for the possession of an ice pick. When Van Loon had been let out of the cage for some purpose, he endeavored to get possession of an ice pick, as the only available weapon with which to kill the Guard. Both men being well developed and powerful, a desperate struggle ensued, in which the superior skill and greater endurance attained by careful training gave the victory to Guard Bowman.
The Deepening Shadows
Frank Van Loon’s long stay in the Annex was drawing to a close. The brief day of his earthly career was rapidly nearing the end. The shadows were growing deeper. Soon his sun would set in utter darkness. Van Loon had lived but twenty-three years of mortal life. They had, however, been years fruitful of enormous results in crime and meanness.
August 4, 1895, was his last day on earth. It was a dark and stormy night which preceded that day, but not more dark or more stormy than had been the young life that was that night to be taken as a forfeit to the State. Frank Van Loon’s life had been a rebellion against the laws of God and man. While the officers of human law were preparing to take satisfaction for the outrage that had been committed against it, the artillery of heaven was flashing defiance and thundering menaces and pouring down torrents of rain, as if to make it known to the universe that the sin-scorched soul which the laws of man had decreed should no longer dwell among the habitations of earth, should not rise into that world where “no wicked thing cometh,” but must turn away from heaven and wander forever in the “outer darkness.”
When the midnight hour had come, the march from the Guard Room began. Noiselessly the guards moved over the sawdust covered corridors to the Annex. The Warden, Hon. C.C. James, read the warrant to the condemned man. The same nerve that characterized the attack on the bank was manifest in this last and closing ordeal of his life. Unassisted and unfalteringly he mounted the steps to the gallows and and took his place on the trap.
While standing on the trap Van Loon sang in a strong, clear voice, “Nearer My God to Thee.”
There was no tremor in his voice, nor quaking in his limbs. Apparently without fear he gave voice to the familiar hymn. Strangely the music floated out on the midnight air, while the terrific electrical storm, raging without, seemed playing the accompaniment. The deep diapason of Nature’s orchestra, blending with the stentorian voice of the singer, echoed and reverberated through the adjoining corridors of the prison until many of the prisoners were startled from their slumbers. On hearing the hymn and its wild accompaniment, and remembering that it was the night of Van Loon’s execution, they listened with bated breath, scarcely knowing whether to attribute the unwonted disturbance to earth, heaven or hell; wondering whether the voice was that of man, angel or demon.
At the close of this strange oratorio, the trap was sprung; the body shot downward. The execution was a success. Frank Van Loon was no more.
On this date in 1943, the French executioner Jules-Henri Desfourneaux guillotined Marie-Louise Giraud as an abortionist.
Born in defeat, the Vichy regime had a program of renewing an enervated nation by restoring its values — families and proper sexual mores foremost among them. Marshal Petain famously diagnosed the reasons for France’s quick collapse under German guns: “Too few children, too few arms, too few allies.”
Interest in the fertility rate was not a Vichy innovation; worries about depopulation had become acute following the bloodbath of the First World War, and birth rates in the interwar years fell conspicuously too low for regenerating the cannon fodder. France’s scolds saw her as decadent, and eventually as deserving prey to the neighboring power that had regenerated both hearth and national purpose through fascism.
Petain placed a similar regeneration at the center of his broken nation’s agenda, and designed policy around cultivating traditional families with fecund and obedient wives.
One remarkable plank in that platform was to ramp abortion up to the stature of capital crime. Even though abortion was technically illegal before Vichy, it had long been winked at in practice.
During the war years, the Vichy state plucked our principal Giraud from the seaside Norman village of Barneville-Cateret to prove they were serious about never again letting France get caught out with too few children.
Giraud had performed 27 illegal home abortions for hire, under hygienic conditions perfectly compatible with death by septicemia, which one of her patients suffered in January of 1942. Since the legitimate part of her economic life was as a hosteler to prostitutes, she was way out of strikes with the morals police.
On this date in 1925, Cornelius “Con” O’Leary* was hanged in Ireland for the murder of his brother, Patrick. He, his mother and his two sisters had all been charged in the crime, but in the end, Con was the only one to swing for it. The story of his brother’s slaying and his execution is told in Tim Carey’s book Hanged For Murder: Irish State Executions.
In early 1924, five adults occupied the O’Leary farm in the village of Kilkerran in Cork: the elderly mother of the family, the oldest son Patrick, his younger brother Con, and their sisters, Hannah and Maryanne. All of the children were unmarried. (There had originally been eight of them, but one had died and three others had moved away.) Their father had died a few years before and left the farm to his wife, with the stipulation that Patrick would inherit after her death.
Forty-six-year-old Patrick and 40-year-old Con didn’t get along and everyone knew it. Con, contrary to tradition, didn’t work the family farm but had a job as a laborer at a farm nearby, leaving his older brother, a large man with a “quarrelsome” nature, to manage the O’Leary farm alone.
Patrick thought his brother should either start working the family’s land or else pack up and move elsewhere, but Con refused to budge.
The two men hadn’t spoken to each other in years and went to great lengths to avoid each other: Patrick spent his nights in a loft in the barn and got up early, and Con wouldn’t go to the barn until after his brother had left and wouldn’t go to the house until after his brother had gone to bed. Maryanne also spent her nights away from home, at an elderly female neighbor’s house.
On March 7, 1924, a child tending cows in a field near the O’Leary farm noticed a potato sack under some bushes, opened it up and discovered a horrifying sight: a severed head, badly decomposed and beaten to a pulp.
The gardai were summoned and launched a search of the area. They found a severed right arm and a torso. Although the authorities recognized the dead man, they summoned Con O’Leary to make an official identification.
By the time Con O’Leary was brought to the field it was dark. When they shook the head out of the sack the guards shone torches to help him see. Con looked at the head for some time before saying, “Yes, that is my brother Pat.”
“Con, are you sure now?” the sergeant asked.
“Yes, that’s my brother Pat all right.”
At this point a garda inspector arrived. However, when he asked Con if he could identify the head he said he couldn’t. When the sergeant asked, “How is it you identified it for me and you cannot identify it now?” Con said nothing.
Patrick’s head, arm and torso were then brought to the back room of a pub in the nearby village of Milltown. Lit by candles and a bicycle lamp, the head was rested on a bit of hay on a table.
Hannah was brought in, and claimed she did not recognize the remains. Maryanne, however, immediately identified her brother. Con kept insisting that he wasn’t sure, then started rubbing his hands together repeating, “I am innocent, my hands clean.”
When the gardai checked the loft where Patrick slept, it was obvious they’d found the crime scene. The rafters were clearly bloodstained in spite of an apparent attempt to wash them, and although the bedclothes were clean, there was blood on the floor under the bed. He had probably been beaten to death in his sleep; there were no indications of a struggle.
The next day, the O’Leary family held a traditional Irish wake in their home — including the requisite open casket, with the body parts carefully arranged inside. The neighbors attended and openly discussed their suspicions that Con had committed the murder. He only repeated that he was innocent and his hands were clean. That night, of the three remaining O’Learys, only Maryanne stayed up to keep a vigil by the coffin.
Further searches commenced and in the end eight body parts turned up, all within 650 yards of the farmhouse. The final discovery was Patrick’s other arm, which the family sheepdog was seen carrying around; it had already eaten most of it.
On March 14, a week after the discovery of Patrick’s head, his mother, brother and sisters were all charged with his murder. The gardai decided he had probably been killed on February 26, which is the last day he was seen alive. Curiously, the family hadn’t raised the alarm after he disappeared. They later said they thought he’d simply dropped out of sight of his own accord and would return soon enough.
While awaiting trial, Maryanne died of cancer in prison. She claimed, probably truthfully, that she had been away on the night Patrick died and had no knowledge of what happened to him.
Because Mrs. O’Leary was elderly and in poor health, the charges against her were dropped and she was released from prison. She returned to the family home and lived there alone until her death in 1928.
Con and Hannah went to trial on June 23, 1925, and both pleaded not guilty. The jury deadlocked on reaching a verdict for either of them, however, and a second trial began a week later. It lasted two days.
There was virtually no evidence to implicate Hannah, but that didn’t stop the judge from suggesting in his summingup about how she might have been involved: he said changing Patrick’s goresoaked bedsheets for clean ones might “might be a woman’s job” but chopping him into bits and pieces was probably “a man’s job.”
In less than an hour, the jury convicted both of them, but with a recommendation for mercy in Hannah’s case.
Con, who maintained his innocence to the end, went to his death a month after his conviction. He was executed by Thomas Pierrepoint and buried in an unmarked grave. Hannah was sent to Mountjoy Women’s Prison. She was released in 1942, at age 56, and went to live in a Magdalen laundry.