Posts filed under 'Pelf'

1697: Three at Tyburn, multiply sinning

Add comment September 15th, 2018 Headsman

An account by the Ordinary of Newgate Samuel Smith … in fact,

A True Account of the Behaviour, Confessions, and last Dying Speeches of the Condemned Criminals, that were Executed at Tyburn on Wednesday the 15th of this Instant Sep. 1697.
On the Lords-Day, after the Condemnation of the Condemned Criminals, a Sermon was Preached on this Text, Reve. 2. 21. I gave her a Space for Repentance; yet she Repented not.

In these Words are three Observations

  1. THE Lord gives the worst of Sinners a suffficient Time for Repentance. I gave her, even Jesabel who seduced others to commit Spiritual Fornication, in grose Idoaitry.
  2. The Lord doth not only afford a sufficient Time for Repentance, but adds many advantageous Opportunities, and the assistance of his Spirit to compleat it.
  3. To Sin against all the advantageous Encouragements, which might promote Repentance, by persisting in Impenitency, deeply aggrevates the Sinners Condemnation.

The necessary Ingredients which constitute and compleat the nature of Repentance; without which it cannot be available to Salvation, in.

1st. A strict search into the frame of the Heart; to find out the mistery of Iniquity in our most secret and indulged Lusts. There must be a deep Humiliation for the universal Corruption of the Sinners nature, and the peculiar Sins of every Age of his Life.

2ly. An universal hatred of the least Sin, because it offends God, as contrary to his Holy Nature; and for Ingratitude against all the endearing Obligations of divine Mercies, which should soften the Sinners Heart; yet usually these extinguish all good resolutions of Amendment, and the flood of Afflictions more inflame and irritate Men’s Lusts.

3ly. Sincere Repentance includes not only an universal forsaking every evil Way, but also a watchful Circumspection and fixt Resolution to avoid all the occasions of Sinning.

4ly. A turning to God with the whole Heart, in the constant practice of all those Christian Duties which the Lord requires of us.

The second Query.

What are the fittest and most advantageous Opportunities, wherein to promote the work of Repentance?

1st. Whilst clear and strong Convictions are imprest upon the Conscience, before these be stifled or made ineffectual by the Sinners Corrupting or bribing the sentiments of right Reason; yet many Sinners strive to wear out the Convictions of their Consciences, so that they do no execution on their Lusts.

2ly. When the fond Love of the World is imbittered by sharp Afflictions, now turn the Stream of this Worldly sorrow into the Channel of Sincere Repentance: I affirm that a gracious Person prefers the sharpest and longest Afflictions Sanctify’d, in impressing the divine nature deeper on the Heart, than if the Lord should heap the confluence of worldly injoyments, which usually are abused to Pride, Wantonness, or Slothfulness in his Duty.

3ly. When by an Eye of Faith we behold our Redeemer Crucify’d a fresh in the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, as a memorial of his dying Love, to make Sin more bitter to us; now let thine Heart be contrite with Godly sorrow, and pour out the blood of every Lust at the foot of the Altar, as an acceptable Sacrifice to the mortifying Spirit of Christ.

4ly. Comply with the Lord’s design, when he sets out other Sinners as the Monuments and Examples of his severity: The Lord will take this very ill when he writes our Duty in the blood and Destruction of other Sinners Less peccant. and yet such who are spared, have no Impression of an Holy Ingenuity to learn Righteousness in the amendment of their Lives.

5ly. When the Lord makes deep Wounds in thine own Conscience, do not presume to heal them by a few slight Formalities in Relenting, neither let the fountanel of Godly sorrow dry up, which should drain out the malignant Humors of thy defiled Heart.

6ly. When thou undertakest any great Service for God, attended with difficulties and discouragements, now is a Time to renew Godly Sorrow, for offending a gracious Lord who puts an eminent Honour on thee, in that he will employ thee in his Service.
Also when thou desirest success in entring upon any new state of Life, thou can’st not expect any blessing from God unless thou cleanse thy self from all filthiness of Flesh and Spirit, contracted before in any part of thy Conversation.

7ly. When thou observest the wickedness of other Men, mourn by a sad Reflection on thine own corrupt Nature: This is alike if the Lord had not renewed it by his Regenerating Spirit: Mourn that you have not been faithful in reproving Sinners; because hereby you have Adopted their Sins to become your own.

8ly. When good Resolutions are formed up within us in any Duty of Religion, let us step presently into the Pool of Repentance, for our former not Compliance with the blessed motions of God’s Spirit.

Here a Case may offer it self to be stated. It is thus.

Considering that God gives a fit space of time to the worst of Sinners, to accommodate their Repentance; What Time is requisit for the Magistrate to afford Condemned Criminals to prepare them for their Death?

This cannot be stated Absolutely, so as to limit the Power of the Magistrate in this Case. Neither ought any Minister to repine or grudg at the length of Time, as being sparing of his utmost endeavours to save Souls: Yet some think that a compleat Weeks time at least is fit to be granted, if Criminals do not abuse it by being ungovernable, in attempting to break Prison. But much longer Time may make Condemned Persons more secure in presuming that they shall be Pardoned: Hereupon the means of Grace work not so effectually upon them: For when they have no hopes of Respiting their Death, their Convictions are usually the more strengthned, their Prayers more fervent, and their Resolutions to Repent the more settled and confirmed. It is an honourable remark of Piety, and Clemency in the Magistrates of England, that they allow a convenient Time for Reconciling the Souls of Condemned Persons unto God. Yet how strange and deplorable is this, that tho’ a sufficient respiting the execution of the Sentence be indulged; Criminals draw on themselves deeper security in Sinning; a stroke far worse than Death, because not felt.

Hopes of Life, Dead praying, and Men’s promises of Improving the Space for Repentance, are blown away, when the fears of Death are abated. Impenitent Sinners abuse God’s sparing Mercy; and as I have observed, are not so fit to dye upon a long Reprieve: They are more Solicitous in employing their Friends to make intercession for their Pardon, than themselves are careful to set forward their Repentance thereby, to be Reconciled to God, by whose Smiles or Frownes Men’s Souls are disposed of in Happiness or Misery, throw all the Ages of Eternity.

The conclusion was thus Directed to the Condemned.

You have heard discrib’d unto you the fittest and most advantageous Opportunities to set Repentance on Work, that it may be compleated unto Salvation; also the dreadful pernicious Effects of willful Impenitency. Yet you have Presumptuously adventured to multiply Sinning, tho’ this hath sharpned stinging reflections in your guilty Consciences. Your Ears have been very attentive to the Councils of ungodly Associates: But you have out done the deaf Adder, in stoping your Ears against all God’s counter-charmings of your sensual Lusts, by the instructions of Heavenly Wisdom. Do not dare any longer to elude or frustrate the main design of God, in exhibiting the offers of Salvation. How durst any of you cast your Repentance into your last Accounts, which ought to have been the first and choicest Work of your whole Life.

Oh! That you would duly consider that all Supernatural Probationary Acts of Grace, such as Repentance, and the severity of mortifying your corrupt Nature, ought to be swiftest toward the end of your Lives, because it is not possible, and cannot be Available to renew them after Death in the rectifying, of any mistake. Consider that there is great difference ‘twixt a Conscience legally wounded for the dreadful Shameful Punishments of Sinning, and a Conscience Evangelically contrite, out of an Holy ingenuity for offending a gracious God, who hath long waited to overcome the Sinners Stubornness with his Clemency. Fear, least after some short Anguish in your Consciences, you should perish in your delay to compleat Repentance.

Consider the Spiritual benefits which sweeten the difficulties, and austerities of sincere Repentance: Tho’ sensual Sinners despise a contrite Heart, as effeminacy and baseness of Spirit; yet it is the best Demonstration of love to God, and a genuine fear of his long suffering; not to Sin against it by vile ingratitude. It doth not dispirit Men’s Courage in dying, but contemn Life when it cannot be prolonged with the safety of the the Souls integrity and loyalty to Christ’s Laws; it casts forth the oppressing load of sensual Surfeits, which defiled the Souls heavenly Purity. In the midst of National amazing Confusions, penitential Converts to God shall be as safe as Salvation it self can make them: Yet consider how difficult it will be to unravel the Web of Sinning, when Men never Communed with their own Hearts, to search out those Iniquities which are confirmed by a long Custom in Sinning. Familiarize therefore to your selves the severities of sincere Repentance: Justify God in his sharpest Corrections of you, to reduce you from wandring in the Bewildring devices of Sinning, and condemn your selves for the minutest Errors of your Lives. Be not slow and slight in so solemn a work; your whole Life ought to have been a continual exercise of Repentance, and of mortifying your Lusts, as a meet disposition for Eternal Life.

Take heed of dying in an obstinate contempt of God and Godliness, least the Lord harden his Heart against you, so that when you cry for Mercy, under the anguish of your Consciences, the least glance of it should be denied you.

I proceed to give an Account of the Behaviour and Confessions of the Condemned Criminals.

I. John Dewin, Condemned for Counterfeiting the Coin of this Kingdom: Aged thirty four Years. He was born in Norfolk: Was Prentice to a Shoemaker in the Northern parts. He kept Shop four or five Years; but left that Employment to deal in Cheese and Bacon at Waltham-Abby. He confest that tho’ he had not wronged any Man in his Trading; yet, that he had not led a Religious Life towards God: For he neglected the Duty of Praying to him; kept the Sabbath very slightly; that he was guilty of Swearing; but seldom Drunk in excess. He wept and said, That it now grieves him that he hath in many things sinned against the Holy Trinity: And yet that he doth not Repent as he ought, for his being so negligent of his Duty to God. But he begs of him earnestly to change his Heart, and not only to pardon his Sins; and hopes that if he might be spared he should never return to any Customary provoking his most holy Creator, but become a reformed Man.

II. Isaac Blount, Condemned for Stealing a Gelding: Aged twenty three Years. He was born in Gray’s-Inn-lane. He was an Hackny Coach-man , and drove as a Journy-man for some time, till he wrought for himself. He confest that he had many ways offended God, in prophaning the Lord’s Day; in omitting often the Duty of praying that he might be kept from bad Company; that he had kept Company with bad Women, but not lately; that he was not addicted to Swearing nor Drunkenness, yet had at times committed these Sins. He said, that he now is sensible of his evil Courses, and mourns for offending God by them, and hopes that he will so soften his Heart, that the Convictions which are in his Conscience may work to a thorough Repentance.

III. John Chamberlain, Condemned for Felony and Robbery: Aged twenty six Years: Born in Herefordshire. He was Journyman to a Butcher. He left that Employment about three Weeks since; but was joyned to bad Company before. He denied not the Crime. He confest that he did not performe the Duties of the Lord’s Sabbath, but walkt in the Fields with idle and vain Persons; that he was no much given to Swearing, and had somtimes been overcome with excessive drinking; yet he hopes that being now penitent for all his Sins, that God will pardon them. I stated for several days the nature of true and false sorrow for Sinning, also the nature of true saving Faith; wherein it differs from a presumptuous reliance on God’s Mercy and Christ’s Merits, and the danger of Sinning in hopes of future Repentance; so that they desired me to pray for them, that they might not deceive themselves with false hopes of Heaven.

IV. Mary Taylor, Condemned for a Burglary. She was born in Chancery-Lane. Was a Servant for eight Years to several Persons of Quality. She said, That altho’ she knew her Duty to God, yet she had Sinned against the Convictions of her Conscience; whereby she had much wounded it. She confest that she had not taken former warning, altho’ she had been punished for an evil practice, and that therefore God had justly inflicted this dreadful Scourge upon her, to bring her as she hoped to Repentance. She said, That now the chief trouble of her mind is for offending God her Creator and great Redeemer. She said, That she heartily desires that she may be cleansed with the Blood of Christ. O how merciful said she, is God! that he thus Corrects me, and moderates his Justice toward me, in this, that I am Respited from dying, for the space of six Months, till I am delivered of the Child I am quick with; hereby I have time to Repent of my Sins of Presumption, for I knew God’s Will, but obeyed it not; such deserve a more terrible Condemnation.

The other Women Condemned, were also found with Child, as the Jury of Women affirmed; therefore they are reserved for a longer time before they suffer. I am sorry that they make so ill an use of it, that they grow secure; yea, obstinate, in refusing to come on the last Lord’s Day, and at other times to receive Instruction, in order to bring them to a sensibleness of their evil Courses. Callow especially was obstinate, who is Condemned on two Indictments, for picking of Pockets.

On Wednesday the 15th of September, 1697. John Dewin, John Chamberlain, and Isaac Blunt, were convey’d to Tyburn; the first on a Sledge, and the other two in a Cart. But Flora alias Flower, he died in Prison the 12th of September. The Prisoners being brought to the Tree, were tied up. Dewin would not own his Crime, but desired all good People to take warning by him, how they led their Lives, least by their sinful Courses they should come to such untimely ends. Isaac Blunt would not own his Crime, but said, he had been guilty of divers such Crimes; he did not shew any outward appearance of Repentance. John Chamberlain said, That he was a great Sinner, and had been drawn in by evil Company to do the Fact for which he now suffers; he desired all good Christian People to pray for him, and to take warning by him, and eschew evil Company, and have regard to the Sabbath; he said, That he was bred a labouring Man, and one that did use to work hard for his living; but forgetting God and following Idleness brought him to this untimely end. The Ordinary prayed with them for some considerable Time, and sung a Penitential Psalme. And afterwards they were turned off.

This is all the Account that I can give of this Sessions.

Dated Sept. 15.

Sam. Smith, Ordinary .

LONDON, Printed for E. Mallet, in Nevil’s-Court in Fetter-lane, 1697

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Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Counterfeiting,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,Pelf,Public Executions,Theft

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1293: Capocchio, Inferno-bound

Add comment August 15th, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1293, the heretic and alchemist Capocchio was burned at the stake in Siena.

Little is known about about this man’s life, but thanks to his contemporary Dante we know a great deal about his afterlife. Capocchio appears among the “Falsifiers” or “Imposters” haunting the eighth circle of hell in Cantos XXIX and XXX of the Inferno.

We meet Capocchio butting into a conversation Dante is having with a different (also executed) shade — Capocchio crying out to support their mutual disdain for the “flighty” Sienese.

“But should you want to know who seconds you
Against the Sienese, direct your eyes to me
So that my face can give you a clear answer:
 
“See, I am the shade of Capocchio
Who falsified base metals through alchemy
And, if I read you rightly, you recall
 
“How fine an ape of nature I have been.”

This remark implies that Dante might have known Capocchio in life. Dante had a vivid destiny in mind for his maybe-acquaintance a few passages later, when

two shadows I saw, stripped and pallid,
Biting and running in the selfsame way
A hog behaves when let out of the sty.
 
One came straight at Capocchio and sank
His tusks into his scruff and, dragging him,
Scraped his stomach against the stony floor.
 
And the one left behind, the Aretine,
Shivering said, “That ghoul is Gianni Schicchi,
And he goes rabid, like that, mauling others.”

The attacker was another notorious imposter, with an artistic legacy of his own in the form of Puccini’s opera Gianni Schicchi … or both together on canvas via William-Adolphe Bouguereau.


Dante e Virgilio by William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1850) has the two named characters contemplating from the background as Gianni Schicchi takes a bite out of Capocchio.

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Entry Filed under: 13th Century,Arts and Literature,Burned,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Counterfeiting,Death Penalty,Execution,Heresy,Italy,Pelf,Public Executions

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1765: Andrew Oliver lynched in effigy to the Liberty Tree

Add comment August 14th, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1765, Boston patriots lynched the merchant designated as the imperial taxman. They only did so in effigy, but the “execution” scared him permanently off the job while also making a gallows-tree into one of the earliest symbols of American independence.

One of the key pre-revolution irritants for the future United States, the 1765 Stamp Act imposed taxes in the form of stamp duties on a variety of printed products, for the purpose of funding the British army deployed to North America. It was a levy long familiar to London lawmakers but it sent the colonies right around the bend, and since the colonies sat no Member of Parliament who could flip an official wig it also popularized the classic revolutionary slogan about “taxation without representation.”*

Enacted in the spring of 1765 and due to take effect in November, the Stamp Act drew immediate outrage in the colonies and especially in that hotbed of subversion, Boston.

There, Andrew Oliver, scion of a shipping magnate clan, was tapped to collect the levy. It figured to be just the latest in a series of lucrative state appointments. How was he to know in advance that this particular legislation would unleash the crazies? Perhaps he should have given more heed to the publication of ominous warnings over the roster of tax collector names.


Boston Post-Boy, August 5, 1765

On the morning of Wednesday, August 14, a crowd of irate Bostonians mobbed the corner of Essex Street and Orange Street (present-day Washington Street) and upon a large elm tree strung up an effigy of Oliver alongside a boot — the footwear comprising a second, punny, effigy of the Stamp Act’s sponsor the Earl of Bute.

“What greater Joy can NEW-ENGLAND see,” ran the menacing note pinned to the mannequin, “Than STAMPMEN hanging on a Tree!” As is clear from the following newspaper account, versions of which circulated widely in New England, these were no mere theatrics but a very proximate physical threat; even the elm’s property owner dared not take down the provocative display for fear that the crowd would pull down his house. Likewise taking the better part of valor, Oliver pledged to anti-tax colonists that he would not take the office, and he kept his word.**


Providence Gazette, August 24, 1765

After this triumphant debut, the elm in question became a common rallying-point for the hotheaded set, a frequent stage for speechifying, rabble-rousing, and fresh instances of popular justice all further to the patriot cause until, as Nathaniel Hawthorne put it, “after a while, it seemed as if the liberty of the country was connected with Liberty Tree.” Of course, it’s all a question of whose liberty; a Tory gloss on this deciduous republican made it “an Idol for the Mob to Worship; it was properly the Tree ordeal, where those, whom the Rioters pitched upon as State delinquents, were carried to for Trial, or brought to as the Test of political Orthodoxy.” When besieged in Boston in 1775-1776, British Tories cut the damned thing down, so for subsequent generations it was only the Liberty Stump.


“The Colonists Under Liberty Tree,” illustration from Cassell’s Illustrated History of England, Volume 5, page 109 (1865)

The Liberty Tree is commemorated today at its former site, and forever in verse by revolutionary firebrand Thomas Paine.

In a chariot of light from the regions of day,
The Goddess of Liberty came;
Ten thousand celestials directed the way,
And hither conducted the dame.

A fair budding branch from the gardens above,
Where millions with millions agree,
She brought in her hand as a pledge of her love,
And the plant she named Liberty Tree.

The celestial exotic struck deep in the ground,
Like a native it flourished and bore;
The fame of its fruit drew the nations around,
To seek out this peaceable shore.

Unmindful of names or distinctions they came,
For freemen like brothers agree;
With one spirit endued, they one friendship pursued,
And their temple was Liberty Tree.

Beneath this fair tree, like the patriarchs of old,
Their bread in contentment they ate
Unvexed with the troubles of silver and gold,
The cares of the grand and the great.

With timber and tar they Old England supplied,
And supported her power on the sea;
Her battles they fought, without getting a groat,
For the honor of Liberty Tree.

But hear, O ye swains, ’tis a tale most profane,
How all the tyrannical powers,
Kings, Commons and Lords, are uniting amain,
To cut down this guardian of ours;

From the east to the west blow the trumpet to arms,
Through the land let the sound of it flee,
Let the far and the near, all unite with a cheer,
In defence of our Liberty Tree.

* Visitors to the U.S. capital of Washington D.C., whose 700,000 residents cast no votes in the Congress they live cheek by jowl with, can find this familiar grievance right on the city’s license plates.

** How far this surly bunch was prepared to go on August 14, 1765, one can only guess at; however, in later years, there would be several instances of Bostonians tarring and feathering various tax collectors. These guys did not do civility politics.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Arts and Literature,Borderline "Executions",Businessmen,England,Executed in Effigy,Execution,Hanged,History,Lynching,Massachusetts,No Formal Charge,Not Executed,Occupation and Colonialism,Pelf,Politicians,Popular Culture,Power,Public Executions,Summary Executions,USA

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1872: Christopher Marlow, brewer

Add comment August 2nd, 2018 Headsman

Immigrant brewmeister Charles Marlow was hanged in Mayville, New York on this date in 1872 for

Deeply in debt, Marlow improved his asset balance when he lured the more solvent William Bachmann to his place (he also lived at his brewery), then took him to the cellar where he poisoned his guest’s drink and finished him off with an iron bar.

You could take our word for it, but better still is friends of the site Murder By Gaslight. Those archives have the full details on this momentary crime sensation — including the Clue-like charge sheet catching 11 different possible means of the mysterious murder, the hung jury, the hanging’s-eve confession, and the “Polander” boarder who overheard the murder and blew the whistle on the whole thing.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Businessmen,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,Murder,New York,Pelf,USA

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1913: August Sternickel, terror

Add comment July 30th, 2018 Headsman

Arsonist-murderer August Sternickel was executed by Prussia on this date in 1913.

Sternickel was a miller by training and a thief by inclination, having launched his career in malefaction by stealing from dormitories and swindling on the marriage market.

In 1905, now a released convict nearing 40, Sternickel found work at a Silesian mill and crossed the criminal Rubicon by murdering the owner in order to rob him. He burned down the mill in an (unsuccessful) attempt to conceal the crime and fled Silesia in a (successful) attempt to evade the authorities.

These were still formative years for the bureaucratic state’s capacity to fix and monitor the identities of its subjects, and Sternickel was able — despite the evidence given against him by his confederates — to vanish into the shapeless agricultural workforce, where farmers starved for manpower were little inclined to question a capable hand. From this fluid obscurity, he inflicted during free hours here and there what one contemporary described as his “Sternickel-Schrecken” (“Sternickel-Terror”) on isolated farms. There he could rob and assault with impunity; in 1909, he murdered a hay dealer in the course of a scam, again torching the scene; in 1912, he killed an employer who got too nosy about his missing identification papers, and his wife as well, and even strangled the estate’s luckless 16-year-old milkmaid when she happened upon the murder scene.

It was this last affair that finally resulted in his capture and prosecution, with a sure verdict that Sternickel declined to appeal. The Royal Prussian executioner Lorenz Schwietz cut his head off in Frankfurt an der Oder on July 30, 1913.

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1961: Rokotov and Faibishenko, black marketeers

Add comment July 26th, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1961,* two 22-year-old Soviet men were — very much to their surprise — shot as black market currency speculators.

Ian Timofeyevich Rokotov and Vladik Petrovich Faibishenko were leaders of a small ring of illicit currency traders who made their bones swapping Soviet rubles with foreign visitors at a handsome markup, earning “wealth” on the scale of moderate personal ease that seems laughable compared to their homeland’s present-day oligarchy. Among this nine-person ring, authorities recovered 344,000 Russian rubles plus about $19,000 in gold coins and a few thousands each of various western European currencies.

These deeds augmented the inherently parasitic act of profiteering by the inherently subversive act of making unchaperoned contact with foreign visitors, at a moment when the Soviet state was particularly sensitive to both infractions. This was nearly the exact apex of the Cold War, in the tense months between the U-2 Crisis and the Cuban Missile Crisis.** “Peaceful coexistence,” Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev said in a 1961 address, means “intense economic, political, and ideological struggle between the proletariat and the aggressive forces of imperialism in the world arena.”

In a 13-day trial concluding on June 15, Rokotov and Faibishenko were sentenced along with another of their circle, Nadia Edlis, to 15 years in prison. You might think that’s a stern message sent, but the excitable Khrushchev took an almost personal offense to their behavior and on viewing the intentionally nettlesome exhibition of the black marketeers’ banknote heaps, exclaimed, “They need to be shot for this!”

The minor matter of having no capital statute on the books for the occasion was resolved on July 1 by the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet, which introduced the death penalty for major economic crimes; the statute was then immediately deployed to retroactive effect in a new trial before the Russian Republic Supreme Court.

Many people more would face capital punishment for economic crimes under that 1961 law.

* The official execution date is elusive but press reports indicate that the Soviet news agency TASS announced it on July 26. Given that their final condemnation had occurred only five days previous, we fall at worst within a narrow margin of error.

** Also of note: the USSR had just revalued the ruble as of January 1, 1961.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Businessmen,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Pelf,Russia,Shot,USSR,Wrongful Executions

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1828: William Rice but not John Montgomery, who cheated the hangman with prussic acid

Add comment July 4th, 2018 Meaghan

(Thanks to Meaghan Good of the Charley Project for the guest post. -ed.)

Just before 6:00 a.m. on July 4, 1828, prison officers arrived at the cell of disgraced ensign John Burgh Montgomery in Newgate Prison‘s condemned hold.

They were there to escort Montgomery to his hanging. The 33­-year-­old would have been one of the last in England executed for for the crime of uttering forged notes — except that his wardens instead found him lying stone dead. With the aid of prussic acid, the counterfeiter had cheated the hangman of half his day’s prey, leaving his prospective gallows partner, thief William Rice, to face the hemp alone.

Although his guards had confiscated his razor and penknife as a routine precaution against suicide, no one had expected Montgomery to take his own life. He had pleaded guilty before the court and seemed resigned to his fate. In custody he was a model prisoner, spent his last days writing to his loved ones, and “addressed himself with great anxiety to his religious offices.”

Nobody was able to figure out how the condemned man came by enough poison to kill thirty people and how he kept it hidden, given that he and his cell were regularly searched.

The Irish-­born Montgomery, Nicola Sly records in her book Goodbye, Cruel World… A Compendium of Suicide,

was said to be a very respectable, well­-educated man, who had once held a commission in the Army. However, after inheriting a considerable fortune, he frittered it away and resorted to passing phony banknotes to support his rather dissipated lifestyle. Given his pleasing looks, gentlemanly appearance and good manners, he was very successful, since nobody thought him capable of any wrongdoing. However, he was caught after becoming careless and making the mistake of committing frequent repeated offense in a small geographical area of London.

Montgomery left behind several letters, marked by expansive tragic romanticism but no hint of suicidal intent. One letter was for the prison surgeon, asking that his body be used for dissection. He said that by this he wanted to provide some positive contribution to the public to make up for his crimes. He asked that his heart be preserved in spirits and given to his girlfriend.

To the girlfriend he wrote,

My dear idolized L.,

One more last farewell, one more last adieu to a being so much attached to the unhappy Montgomery. Oh, my dearest girl. If it had been in the power of anyone to avert my dreadful doom, your kind exertions would have been attended with such success. Oh, God, so poor Montgomery is to die on the scaffold. Oh, how dreadful have been my hours of reflection, whilst in this dreary cell.

Oh, how tottering were all my hopes; the bitterness of my reflection is bitter in the extreme. This will be forwarded to you by my kind friend Mrs. D. I should wish you to possess my writing portmanteau. Oh, I wished to have disappointed the horrid multitude who will be assembled to witness my ignominious exit. Farewell forever,

P.S. Here I kiss fervently.

The jury on the inquest into Montgomery’s death recorded a verdict of felo de se, meaning that Montgomery had willfully and knowingly taken his own life whilst of sound mind. As such, his body was buried in the graveyard of St. Sepulchre­-without-Newgate at night, and without any memorial service.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Cheated the Hangman,Common Criminals,Counterfeiting,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Guest Writers,Hanged,Not Executed,Other Voices,Pelf,Public Executions

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1890: Elizabeth and Josiah Potts, wife and husband

Add comment June 20th, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1890, an affectionate married couple hanged together in Elko, Nevada, for a murder they insisted they had not authored.

We obtain this headline and the associated (nationally circulated) story from the San Diego Union of June 26, 1890.

[Associated Press Dispatches.]

ELKO, Nev., June 20. — Elko is in a ferment of excitement, many parties pouring in to witness the execution of the Potts family for the murder of Miles Fawcett in January, 1888. Over sixteen women have already applied for permits to witness the execution, which were refused.

The conduct of Mrs. Potts during the past five days has been an alternation of hysterical crying, screaming and swearing at her husband, who mopes the time away in solitude. Yesterday morning at 5 o’clock she attempted to commit suicide, gashing her wrists and trying to smother herself. The vigilance of the death watch prevented further injury but she fainted from loss of blood. Both the Potts retired early last night in a nervous condition.

At 10:30 o’clock the Sheriff read the death-warrants to Josiah and Elizabeth Potts. The reading of the warrant took place in the doorway of the latticed cell, which Josiah has occupied for so long a period.

He stood in a despondent attitude, with his head bowed down against the iron bars, and not once during the reading of the warrant did he lift his head. His wife stood erect, clad in a neat muslin suit draped in black, with a red rose in her bodice. She was pale, but with a most determined aspect in every feature. During the reading of her own warrant only once did she show any emotion whatever, and she convulsively clutched her throat when her husband’s was being read, and when the words “hanged by the neck till you are dead” were reached, she gave a hysterical gasp and seemed to exhibit much feeling.

The reading of the warrants was finished at 10:30, and both the condemned people emerged from the jail, where they had been confined for eighteen months, and proceeded outside the door to the yard between the Courthouse and jail, in which the scaffold had been erected. The sunshine relieved in a measure the gruesome surroundings. During the readings of the warrants, and evidently owing to the intense nervous strain on every one, a Deputy Sheriff was so overcome that he had to call for a glass of water.

At the conclusion of the reading Mrs. Potts earnestly ejaculated:

I AM INNOCENT AND GOD KNOWS IT,

and Josiah Potts reiterated, “God knows we are innocent.” The gloomy procession led the way through a side door and with a bravery unexpected by the sixty-odd spectators, the condemned couple seated themselves on stools provided on the scaffold, while the deputies speedily proceeded to bind them with leather straps, Mrs. Potts helping to adjust them herself while Potts sat through it all in stolidity.

When everything had been properly adjusted, they were directed to rise and all of the attendants shook hands with the condemned unfortunates. The attendants held the strap attached to Mrs. Potts’ manacled wrists and Potts made several most earnest endeavors to clasp the hands of his wife but without accomplishing it. Finally a touch on her wrist caused her to turn her eyes toward his and a mute appeal of love caused their lips to meet. As the rope was stretched around Mrs. Potts’ neck she clasped her hands together, and lifting her eyes towards the sky, exclaimed “God help me; I am innocent.”

Her husband reiterated in a hollow tone, “God knows we are innocent,” as the black caps were drawn over their heads.

The words of the clergyman who had remained with them to the last broke the silence by saying: “Put your trust in God and He will see you righted,” and then the drop fell. Instantaneously,

MRS. POTTS WAS A CORPSE,

owing to her heavy weight. Her flacid [sic] flesh caused a rupture of the carotid artery and a stream of blood burst forth from under the chin of the dead woman, staining her white raiment. To the great surprise of all who had seen Potts’ emaciated condition his vitality was great, it being a fraction over fourteen minutes, as counted by the Associated Press reporter, before life was pronounced extinct by Drs. Meiggs and Petty.

At 11:08 the body of Mrs. Potts was cut down when it was seen that her excessive weight on the five foot and a half drop had almost dissevered her head from the trunk, the muscles in the back of her neck alone supporting the connection.

About nine minutes later Josiah Potts’ body was cut down and the body of himself and wife, in the absence of any claiming friends, were deposited in the potter’s field of the Elko grave yard half an hour later.

After the interment of the bodies of Mr. and Mrs. Potts, District Attorney Love, accompanied by an Associated Press reporter, placed in the potter’s field all the remains of the murdered Fawcett known to exist above the earth. The box of bones had been in the District Attorney’s office at the Courthouse from the time when he first started to search for the criminals.

THE CRIME

for which the couple was executed was the murder of Miles Fawcett, 70 years of age, at Carlin, January 1st, 1888, because he insisted on being paid some money due from Potts. He visited Potts and this was the last seen of him until his dead body was discovered some months after by a person who rented the house formerly occupied by Potts.


That’s the end of the Union article.

Despite the incriminating circumstances of Mr. Fawcett’s disappearance, many people found the Potts’s insistence upon their innocence persuasive … especially after a last message from Elizabeth Potts reached public ears.


Laramie (Wyoming) Daily Boomerang, June 24, 1624.

Innocent or guilty, Elizabeth Potts remains the first, last, and only woman ever legally executed in Nevada. As of this writing (mid-2018) the Silver State has not had any woman on death row since Priscilla Joyce Ford died in 2005.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Botched Executions,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,Milestones,Murder,Nevada,Pelf,USA,Wrongful Executions

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1748: Arthur Gray and William Rowland, Hawkhurst Gang smugglers

Add comment May 11th, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1748, Arthur Gray and William Rowland — two desperadoes of the Hawkhurst Gang smuggling syndicate — were hanged at Tyburn.

We have in these pages formerly detailed the muscle of this fearsome gang, which having established a lucrative commercial enterprise evading tea duties and distributing its discount leaf did not shrink from brutalizing and murdering the king’s own agents to preserve it.*

Britain by the late 1740s was pressing hard to suppress the shocking violence of the smuggling trade. To that end, she had armed herself with legislation permitting the capital prosecution of people for carrying smuggled goods while armed — the attainble bar which was cleared for both of the prosecutions at issue in today’s post.

However, as the Newgate Ordinary described, there were much more shocking atrocities to be attributed:

There are numerous Instances might be given of the Barbarity of Smugglers, but I shall confine myself to one or two very remarkable, in which Gray was principally concerned, in Decem. 1744. The Commissioners of the Customs being informed that two noted Smugglers, Chiefs of a Gang who infested the Coast, were skulking at a House in Shoreham in Sussex, they granted a Warrant to Messieurs Quaff, Bolton, Jones, and James, four of his Majesty’s Officers of the Customs, to go in Search of them. The Officers found them according to the Information, seized them, and committed them to Goal. But the rest of the Gang, of which Gray was one, being informed of the Disaster of their Friends, convened in a Body the Monday following, and in open Day Light entered the Town with Hangers drawn, arm’d with Pistols and Blunderbusses; they fired several Shot to intimidate the Neighbourhood, and went to a House where the Officers were Drinking; dragg’d them out, tied three of them Neck and Heels (the fourth, named Quaff, making his Escape as they got out of the House) and carried them off in Triumph to Hawkhurst in Kent, treating them all the Way with the utmost Scurrility, and promising to broil them alive. However, upon a Council held among them, they let Mr. Jones go, after they had carried him about five Miles from Shoreham, telling him, they had nothing to object to him, but advised him not to be over busy in troubling them or their Brethren, left he might one Day meet the Fate reserved for his two Companions. They carried the unfortunate Mr. Bolton and James, to a Wood near Hawkhurst, stripped them naked, tyed them to two different Trees near one another, and whipped them in the most barbarous Manner, till the unhappy Men begg’d they would knock them on the Head to put them out of their Miseries; but these barbarous Wretches told them, it was time enough to think of Death when they had gone through all their Exercise that they had for them to suffer before they would permit them to go to the D – l. They then kindled a Fire between the two Trees, which almost scorch’d them to Death, and continued them in this Agony for some Hours, till the Wretches were wearied with torturing them; they then releas’d them from the Trees, and carried them quite speechless and almost dead, on Board one of their Ships, from whence they never return’d.

That’s all about Arthur Gray, a butcher by training who had advanced to a leadership role in the Hawkhurst Gang. Juridically, this entire story is nothing but the Ordinary’s gossip; the whole of Gray’s trial consists not of torturing and disappearing lawmen but an anodyne description of Gray’s having formed a convoy of about eight men, armed with blunderbusses and carbines, to carry uncustomed tea and brandy. It’s the get Capone on tax evasion school of using whatever tool is available; in fact, the very crime here for Gray is “tax offences”.

It’s the same for William Rowland, who was a person of much less consequence in the gang; the Ordinary has no scandal of interest to share with the reader, and by his telling Rowland awaiting the gallows seems preoccupied mostly with annoyance at his naivete in surrendering himself upon hearing of the warrant, thinking his involvement in the racket too trivial to have possibly come to hemp.

The Hawkhurst Gang would be broken up by 1749.

* On the lighter side of moral panics, we find philanthropist-noodge Jonas Hanway (who thought a proper Briton ought to fortify himself with robust beer instead of strained leaf-water) amusingly fretting in the 1750s that thanks to the 18th century’s tea craze

men were losing their stature, women their beauty, and the very chambermaids their bloom … Will the sons and daughters of this happy isle for ever submit to the bondage of so tyrannical a custom as drinking tea? … Were they the sons of tea-sippers who won the fields of Crécy and Agincourt or dyed the Danube’s shores with Gallic blood?

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

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1708: William Gregg, spy of slob

Add comment April 28th, 2018 Headsman

William Gregg was hanged and quartered on this date in 1708 as a French spy.

Given a recent near-miss prosecution for counterfeiting — his pregnant wife saved Gregg’s bacon by taking the blame, and had her hand branded for the trouble — Gregg wasn’t the type who would get a security waiver in the diplomatic corps nowadays.

But the job market is all about who you know, and Gregg’s father knew the previous Home Secretary.* The young man therefore pulled an impecunious appointment to an underclerkship for that same office under the management of Robert Harley.

Harley was a powerful minister who among other things consummated the tricky union of England and Scotland. He was also — according to the writer Daniel Defoe, whose able quill Harley had obtained by relieving the writer’s debts when they were so heavy as to land him in prison — an inveterate slob. Defoe claims that he reprimanded his boss for the “most complete disorder” in his office, in which strewn everywhere “papers of the gravest import were open to the inspection of every clerk, doorkeeper, or laundress in the establishment.”

Gregg was the man who would succumb to the temptation.

Getting by on Bob Cratchit wages, Gregg realized that he was essentially working in a gold mine … and he started selling the bullion to France, by copying interesting documents and sending them abroad.

The treason was detected by a Brussels postmaster late in 1707: evidently Gregg sent his copies to the French ministry with a helpful cover letter identifying himself by name.

This crime had deep political ramifications; Whigs who had within living memory suffered the indignity of seeing their greatest leaders sent to the block by the Tories after the Monmouth rebellion entertained some vivid plans for the Tory Harley once Gregg was arrested.

But the man who would sell his country for gold would not sell his boss for his life. Condemned to die a traitor’s death on January 9, Gregg languished more than three months while Whig lords inveigled him with promises of mercy if he should condescend to expose a wider Tory plot. Gregg staunchly stuck to his story: that it was he alone who committed espionage, and the means was nothing but Harley’s untidiness. The scandal was sufficient to force Harley’s resignation, but Gregg’s failure to cooperate denied Harley’s enemies a wider and bloodier purge.

Gregg was convicted on the statute of Edward III, which declares it high treason ‘to adhere to the king’s enemies, or to give them aid either within or without the realm.’

Immediately after his conviction, both houses of Parliament petitioned the queen that he might be executed; and he accordingly hanged at Tyburn, with Morgridge, on the 28th April, 1708.

Gregg, at the place of execution, delivered a paper to the sheriff of London and Middlesex, in which he acknowledged the justice of his sentence, declared his sincere repentance of all his sins, particularly that lately committed against the queen, whose forgiveness he devoutly implored.

He likewise expressed his wish to make all possible reparation for the injuries he had done; begged pardon in a particular manner of Mr Secretary Harley, and testified the perfect innocence of that gentleman, declaring that he was no way privy, directly or indirectly, to his writing to France. He professed that he died an unworthy member of the Protestant church, and that the want of money to supply his extravagances had tempted him to commit the fatal crime which cost him his life.

-Newgate Calendar

* The Home Office technically only dates to 1782. Its predecessor post as it existed in the first years of the eighteenth century was actually Secretary of State for the Northern Department.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,England,Espionage,Execution,History,Pelf,Public Executions,Spies

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