Posts filed under 'Murder'

1947: Yoshio Tachibana, ravenous

Add comment September 24th, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1947, Japanese Imperial Army Lt. Gen. Yoshio Tachibana was hanged as a war criminal.

A career officer whose own star rose along with Japan’s empire, Tachibana (English Wikipedia entry | Japanese) was one of the youngest generals on the squad and had command of the garrison on Chichijima, a Pacific island that’s part of the same archipelago as Iwo Jima.

According to Timothy Maga* evidence at the subsequent war crimes trials portrayed a monstrous pattern of routine murder of POWs and even a “cannibalism craze” driven by the unchecked sadism of Tachibana and some of his fellow officers.

Tachibana had beheaded his victim before the feast. Human flesh, he had boasted to his men, toughened him up, making him ‘strong for battle’. The Tachibana trial was truly an amazing spectacle, although it never received the press attention of less disturbing cases in Tokyo. The prosecution even charged that Tachibana’s example influenced young officers in his command, creating a certain reign of horror on Chichi Jima throughout late 1944 and early 1945. Yet finding ‘smoking gun’ evidence against Tachibana was difficult, and Rear-Adm. Arthur Robinson who presided in this case demanded evidence rather than damning tales. In August 1946, a team went to Chichi Jima and scoured the island. They found the bodies of eight of Tachibana’s victims. The torture, murder and cannibalism accusations against Tachibana numbered in the hundreds, but there was little left to prove any of them. Fourteen of Tachibana’s junior officers had been similarly charged, but, in the madness that was Chichi Jima, it was also difficult to assign specific murders to specific individuals …

Capt. Hiro Kasuga, who was briefly on Chichi Jima while en route to Tokyo near the end of the war, told the commission that one of the first things he saw on the island was several American POWs tied to stakes near Tachibana’s headquarters. All were starving, and, at one point, he dared to give one of the men a rice cake and water. The confusion of an American air raid had permitted him this action, for Tachibana, Kasuga learned, tortured all POWs in his keeping … he saw only one American servicman live longer than a couple of weeks on Chichi Jima. That soldier, Kasuga testified, had a decent command of the Japanese language, and Tachibana used him to translate American radio broadcasts. The wireless operator bayoneted him after ‘he was no longer of any use’, and Tachibana commended this subordinate for his action. Kasuga claimed that Tachibana and his officers regarded ‘human life of no more value than an old post at a dusty crossroads’. He said he ‘had been to hell’, and it was Tachibana’s Chichi Jima.

Kasuga’s credibility was in some doubt but corroboration came by way of an amazing character named Fumio Tamamuro. An American of Japanese descent, Tamamuro had the ill luck to be visiting relatives in Japan when the Pearl Harbor bombing abruptly opened war between the countries, and he was drafted into the Japanese army. He’d been under Tachibana’s command on Chichijima at the end of the war.

His testimony was in flawless English. Tamamuro claimed that he had befriended an American POW wireless operator translator. He also claimed to have witnessed the man’s execution, describing in detail the leather jacket and scarf that the victim was wearing at the time. This was critical, for the prosecution had found such a jacket and scarf near a road in Chichi Jima. They also found what was left of a body there, although identification was impossible. Tamamuro described the road and grave site in detail, noting that the victim had been ordered to dig his own shallow grave before the execution. When asked why he needed to be present during this murder, Tamamuro tearfully explained that he had promised his ‘friend’ that he would b there to the end.

The naval facilities and long-range radio there made Chichijima a regular magnet for U.S. bombing raids, which in turn assured a steady supply of captives to abuse courtesy of the island’s anti-aircraft batteries. The eight exhumed bodies referenced above formed the basis of the Tachibana’s eventual hanging, and it is these killings that are known as the Chichijima Incident — even though they might simply have been the latest and best-documented among many similar horrors.

In September 1944, eight downed flyers were captured by Chichijima’s defenders.

In the mischance of war, the Fates deal out good and ill luck by their own inscrutable logic. A ninth flyer might have numbered in this same batch, for he too was downed over Chichijima on the same mission. But 20-year-old Navy Lt. George Herbert Walker Bush bailed out of an exploding bomber, and somehow defied a head injury, the force of the tides, the pursuit of Japanese boats, and the monsters of the deep for a fascinating life that culminated as the 41st U.S. president. In his book about the Chichijima Incident, Flyboys: A True Story of Courage, James Bradley sketches the sliding door to an alternate timeline.

He splashed down about four miles northeast of the island and swam to a collapsible yellow one-man life raft dropped from another plane. He inflated it and climbed in. He had no paddles, and the wind was blowing him toward Chichi Jima.

“I could see the island,” Bush told me. “I started paddling with my hands, leaning over the front of the raft, paddling as hard as I could. A Portuguese man-of-war had stung my arm and it hurt. I had swallowed a few pints of water and I was vomiting. My head was bleeding. I was wondering about my crewmen. I was crying. I was twenty years old and I was traumatized. I had just survived a burning plane crash. I was all alone and I was wondering if I’d make it.”

Chichijima’s defenders had seen him go down too, and launched boats for him. The other pilots on the mission, running low on fuel, were able to strafe them away from the chase but as their fuel dwindled they had to abandon him, radioing his situation on to friendly forces.

For what seemed like an eternity, George paddled and hoped and paddled some more. “I had seen the famous photo of the Australian pilot being beheaded,” Bush told me, “and I knew how Americans were treated at Bataan. Yes, I had a few things on my mind.”

But the radio ping fired off by his fellow aviators spared the future president from those fates and worse, summoning for a rescuer the submarine USS Finback.


George Bush being fished out of the drink on September 2, 1944.

* “‘Away from Tokyo:’ the Pacific Islands War Crimes Trials, 1945-1949”, The Journal of Pacific History, June 2001. This book develops the evidence in greater detail.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Japan,Lucky to be Alive,Murder,Not Executed,Soldiers,Torture,U.S. Military,USA,War Crimes

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1959: John Day Jr., Korean War casualty

Add comment September 23rd, 2020 Headsman

From Legal Executions in Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma Including the Indian Territory: A Comprehensive History:

Day, John E., Jr.
September 23, 1959

On December 23, 1950, twenty-two-year-old John E. Day, Jr., a black private serving in Korea, made sexual advances toward the wife of Korean civilian Lee Hak Chum, sometimes given as Lee Mak Chun, in Seoul. Chum came to her defense but Day pulled a pistol and shot Chum to death. Day was immediately arrested, and in January 1951 he faced a general court-martial. Day was found guilty of murder and on October 1, 1951, he was sentence to hang at Fort Leavenworth, the first American to receive a death sentences during the Korean conflict. He was transported to the disciplinary barracks at Fort Leavenworth while the case was under review. The verdict and sentence were approved by the general staff and then the appeals process commenced. The case was considered numerous times but finally the U.S. Supreme Court, after eight years, approved the verdict and sentence, and the matter was forwarded to President Dwight D. Eisenhower. The president carefully considered the matter before issuing an executive order to proceed with the execution and set the date for execution at September 23, 1959.

Just before midnight Commandant Colonel Weldon W. Cox appeared at the cell door and escorted Day into the power plant building and onto the gallows platform. The prisoner took his place on the trapdoor where Colonel Cox read the warrant for execution of sentence. When the reading concluded Day declined to speak to the witnesses, and, while the chaplain prayed for his soul, Colonel Cox retired and turned preparations over to three sergeants. While the chaplain continued praying the three sergeants bound the prisoner’s limbs with straps, adjusted the noose, and pulled the black cap over his head. At 12:02 a.m. the trap was sprung and Day dropped, breaking his neck in the fall. An Army physician was in attendance and he pronounced Day dead in fifteen minutes, and then the remains were lowered into the coffin provided. He was buried in the military portion of the cemetery later that day.

Sources: Daily Herald (Utah County, UT): September 23, 1959. Dallas Morning News (TX): September 25, 1959.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Hanged,Kansas,Korea,Murder,Occupation and Colonialism,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,South Korea,U.S. Federal,USA

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1829: David Evans, in Carmarthen

Add comment September 21st, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1829 in the Welsh town of Carmarthen, David Evans hanged for savagely murdering his pregnant girlfriend Hannah Davis with a billhook, in a fit of jealousy.

As Capital Punishment UK notes, the large public audience in attendance got double the spectacle:

When the preparations had been made, Evans gave the signal by dropping a handkerchief, to draw the bolt but the hook gave way and he landed on his feet. He expected to be reprieved, telling the officials that “He had been hanged once and they had no more to do with him”, but this was not the case in law and the execution had to be carried out, which it was a few minutes later, this time without a hitch. After hanging for an hour the body was taken down and sent for dissection.

The folk belief in this notional post-botch safe space was something that the coalescing state struggled to dispel as an irrational carve-out. It was here over half a century since William Blackstone‘s seminal legal Commentaries went out of its way to dismiss the idea.

it is clear, that if, upon judgment to be hanged by the neck till he is dead, the criminal be not thoroughly killed, but revives, the sheriff must hang him again. For the former hanging was no execution of the sentence; and, if a false tenderness were to be indulged in such cafes, a multitude of collusions might ensue. Nay, even while abjurations were in force, such a criminal, so reviving, was not allowed to take sanctuary and abjure the realm; but his fleeing to sanctuary was held an escape.

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

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1829: Helena Katarina Löv

Add comment September 19th, 2020 Headsman

Helena Katarina Löv was beheaded with an ax on this date in 1829 at Skanstull — now just a part of Stockholm but at the time, the city’s southerly toll gate and a traditional execution site — for murdering her master’s children.

Löv was not the last woman executed in Sweden, but she does have the distinction of being the last woman publicly executed. (Executions were moved behind prison walls in the 1870s, so we have some photos of the last public beheadings.) She was also the last Swede, man or woman, whose body was burned at the stake after decapitation.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Beheaded,Burned,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Milestones,Murder,Sweden,Women

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1927: Pascual Ramos, the last execution in Puerto Rico

Add comment September 15th, 2020 Headsman

The last hanging in Puerto Rico history took place on this date in 1927.

Like most such instances, it was more remarkable as a milestone than as a crime. Pascual Ramos, piqued that he’d been fired from a night watchman job upon his boss’s accusation of theft, revenged himself upon that man:

According to eye witness accounts, on December 23, 1926, Pascual Ramos went to the Hacienda Sabater and “[n]ervously … circled the oxcart where Rosso was working. He stalked his prey for forty minutes, waiting for the proper moment to strike the mortal blow.” Those present were unaware of [Carlos] Ramos’ “fierce intentions” and, because of this “unfortunate circumstance, Pascual [Ramos] was able to close in reepeatedly, machete in hand, where Carlos Rosso was working.” Ramos tarried, “waiting for the moment in which Rosso was more exposed so as not to miss and make the blow more effective” …

The “lethal instant came” when Rosso kneeled to unscrew the wooden slab usually placed below an oxcart to keep it horizontal, lightened the load for the oxen while the cart was at rest. As Rosso “lowered his head” Ramos, “with the agility fo a beast, with the speed of a lightning bolt, lifted the weapon and let it fall with all his strength” in the center of Rosso’s neck, “miraculously not completely severing it … The head was left dangling from a thin muscle and, as Rosso’s body fell, lifeless, it resembled a heap of human flesh”.

Twenty-seven people were executed in Puerto Rico under American auspices, after the U.S. seized the territory during the Spanish-American War — including at least five via the holdover Spanish execution method of garroting.

The Puerto Rico legislature abolished the death penalty in 1929, and that prohibition was enshrined in the island-territory’s constitution in 1952. (Article 2, Section 7: “The right to life, liberty and the enjoyment of property is recognized as a fundamental right of man. The death penalty shall not exist.”)

The death penalty remains broadly unpopular in Puerto Rico, and the fact that one of the most prominent recent wrongful conviction cases on the mainland involved a Puerto Rican man, Juan Melendez, surely does the executioner’s standing no further favors. U.S. federal death penalty prosecutions there have a tough row to hoe.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,Milestones,Murder,Occupation and Colonialism,Puerto Rico,USA

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1951: Robert Dobie Smith, suicide by Pierrepoint

1 comment September 13th, 2020 Headsman

On the 22nd of May 1951, after an argument with Joan, [Robert Dobie Smith] persuaded his brother Andrew to write a rambling letter to explain his intended actions and then make a phone call to the police. The letter stated that he would shoot the first policeman he came into contact with. Smith had earlier stolen a double barreled 12 bore shotgun and 25 cartridges from his father’s home.

From the Capital Punishment UK Facebook page … click through for the rest of the story.

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

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2020: Navid Afkari

Add comment September 12th, 2020 Headsman

Iran today hanged wrestling champion Navid Afkari.

Afkari was among thousands of Iranians to join 2018 nationwide protests against the government. These protests lasted most of the year, and spread through most of Iran’s major cities, and eventually drew a draconian response.

Clashes in Shiraz resulted in the killing of a water and sewage department security guard named Hasan Torkman, and it was this that was laid at Navid Afkari’s feet as homicide.

Afkari’s case drew international condemnation, especially from world athletes who agreed with his claims that he was targeted for his grappling fame in order to send a message, and that his confession to the murder was tortured out of him. As a further twist of the knife, Afkari’s brothers Vahid and Habib were also convicted in the same affair and received lengthy prison terms. Video that campaigners circulated of Navid’s mother is positively devastating … as is the heartbreaking audio of Navid’s last message shortly before his execution.

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Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Athletes,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Entertainers,Execution,Hanged,Iran,Murder,Power,Ripped from the Headlines,Torture,Wrongful Executions

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1833: Nils Narumseie, terror of Kanten

Add comment September 7th, 2020 Headsman

Mass murderer Nils Narumseie was beheaded on this date in 1833 for a horror murder spree earlier that same year.

Basically everything available about this guy is in Norwegian, and so are the links in this post.

Suspected (accurately) of stealing a silver pocket watch, Narumseie sought a psychopathic revenge on the guy who detected him, a fellow named Lars Østensen Rødnes. (As a repeat thief, Narumseie had reason to fear a stern sentence here, so an interest in preventing the amateur detective’s evidence coming against him would be the plausible objective for what follows beyond mere spite.)

On January 24, 1833, Narumseie celebrated his 25th birthday by taking a freezing winter’s night excursion to a farm called Kanten near Randsfjorden. Rødnes lived here, with his wife Ellen Marie, their three young children aged five years or younger, and an older couple who lodged with the family, Peder Mikkelsen and Inga Maria Madsdatter, plus their nine-year-old foster daughter Helene.

In this lonely, snow-ringed farmhouse, the denizens of Kanten had no means to summon help and most were not practically capable of fleeing. Like a homicidal Jack Torrance stalking the Overlook Hotel, Narumseie hunted and butchered them all in turn: Lars chased down in the snow, Peder trapped in the attic, Helene discovered cowering under the stairs. Not a single member of the large household escaped his blade that night.

Narumseie stole a few trifles from the farmhouse — he couldn’t find the incriminating watch — then set fire to the building.

Of course, all the things that had already made him an obvious suspect for the watch theft also made him an obvious suspect for this rampage, and he was brought in almost immediately.

This execution, and another one 12 days later, were the last performed by venerable headsman August Anton Laedel, who was 76 years old and showed his age on these occasions. Narumseie’s beheading was an appalling business requiring four clumsy strikes of the axe, and the follow-up execution of Christian Sand needed five.

Laedel was nudged into retiring — his son Guttorm took over the family business — and he died in 1837.

Wikipedia currently claims that the body count of eight, which is really a rather modest figure where infamous mass murderers are concerned, made Nils Narumseie Norway’s most prolific killer before Arnfinn Nesset in the 1980s.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Arson,Beheaded,Botched Executions,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Murder,Norway,Public Executions

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1574: Charles de Mornay, sword dance regicide

Add comment September 4th, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1574, the courtier Charles de Mornay was executed for an aborted plot against the Swedish king.

The French Huguenot had been a mainstay in the Swedish court for many years, and a favorite of King Erik XIV until that man was deposed in 1568.

From 1572, at the instigation of the French ambassador, de Mornay went to work on a plot to assassinate King John III — Erik’s half-brother and successor. This Mornay Plot would have liberated Erik XIV from prison and enthroned in John’s place either (it’s not clear) this same Erik XIV or else their other brother, Charles.

What the plan lacked in subtlety it compensated in showmanship. The idea was to use the Scottish mercenaries present in Swedish service during a scheduled ceremonial performance of their sword dance in October 1573. It turns out that while wheeling around the sovereign twirling blades, it’s a simple enough matter to just twirl one right through him.


Maybe that’s what gave Shakespeare the idea for the big duel in Hamlet.

Apparently Charles de Mornay lost his nerve at the critical moment and didn’t issue his dancing assassins the go-ahead sign — leaving John on the throne, and several folks involved in the plot in position to inform upon it. Indeed, we’ve brushed up against one such previously in these pages, for prior to de Mornay’s exposure a Scottish officer who caught wind of a rumor of the coup became accused of leading it, and was unjustly beheaded as his rewarded for reporting it.

De Mornay was exposed a few months later. King John had Erik murdered in prison in early 1577.

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Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Assassins,Attempted Murder,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Nobility,Notable for their Victims,Power,Soldiers,Sweden,Treason

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2006: James Malicoat, little Pranzini

Add comment August 31st, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 2006, James Malicoat was executed in Oklahoma for beating to death his 13-month-old daughter.

As a criminal case, the matter was open-and-shut. “Malicoat admitted hitting Leadford’s head on a dresser a few days before she died and punching her twice in the stomach the day she died, causing her to stop breathing,” the Oklahoma Attorney General’s statement noted. “Malicoat used CPR to revive her before lying down beside her to take a nap. When he awoke, Malicoat noticed Leadford was dead. He put her in her crib and covered her with a blanket before going back to sleep. When Leadford’s mother returned from work, the couple rushed the child to the emergency room, but staff there determined she had been dead for several hours.” The killer never attempted to deny what he had done; even at his clemency hearing, he didn’t request mercy.

While his case made its ponderous path through the judiciary, Malicoat came into the correspondence of a Benedictine monk from a nearby monastery.

“When I first saw the crime, I thought, ‘He needs a friend more than the others. Everyone is going to shrink back because the crime was so horrendous,'” said Brother Vianney-Marie Graham in this moving profile of the two men’s relationship, which spanned the last five years of Malicoat’s life.

In long letters and intermittent visits, Graham coaxed the already-penitent Malicoat towards a spiritual catharsis — often calling him “my little Pranzini” in reference to an inspiration for his mission, the condemned 19th century French murderer Henri Pranzini whose soul was famously won for God by the ministry of Saint Therese of Lisieux. By coincidence — or was it more? — Pranzini and Malicoat shared an August 31 execution date.

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Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Lethal Injection,Murder,Oklahoma,USA

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