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1923: Bernard Pomroy

Add comment April 5th, 2020 Headsman

The Dundee Courier of Feb. 7, 1923, brings us the dramatic entrance into the criminal justice system’s toils of Bernard Pom(e)roy, who murdered his sweetheart Alice Cheshire after two-timing her with Alice’s own sister Mabel — getting the latter pregnant.

Girls’ Fatal Taxi Drive

Lover Who Surrendered Charged With Murder

“It Is All Right Cabby, Drive To Police Station”

“There are blood stains on my hands. The woman is in the taxi.”

With that blunt announcement a well-dressed young man dashed into Vine Street Police Office, Piccadilly, London, early yesterday morning.

To the taxi to which he had referred the police rushed, and there they found a girl with a wealth of golden hair lying unconscious on the floor with an ugly wound in her throat. Without regaining consciousness she died shortly after being admitted to Charing Cross Hospital.

Man Charged.

The victim of the tragedy is Alice Cheshire (22), whose home is at Boxmoor, near Memel Hempstead, Herts, and who was in service in North London.

The man who gave himself up, and who is said to have been her lover, was Bernard Pomeroy (25), also of Hemel Hempstead. He was charged with the murder of the woman at Vine Street Police Station last night, and will appear at Great Marlborough Street Police Station this morning.

“Cabby, It’s All Right”

The couple had evidently been travelling in the taxicab for a long time, for more than £2 was marked on the cab’s clock, representing the equivalent of a 40-miles run.

Pomeroy, it is stated, admitted to the police that he had cut the girl’s throat with a clasp-knife, and with this knife was found in the taxi covered with blood.

When the taxicab was crossing Leicester Square the river heard the woman screaming. Looking through the window, he is alleged to have seen a struggle taking place. He pulled the taxicab up, and when he got to the door the man is alleged to have said, “Cabby, it’s all right, drive me to Vine Street Police Station.” The driver did so and on arrival the man made a statement to the police and was detained.

A ‘Phone Call.

Inquiries made at Hampstead show that the dead girl had been employed at West Hampstead for only a few weeks, and very little was known about her. She was a very quiet spoken girl, and always neatly dressed, said a maid at an adjoining house.

“She said very little to me about her affairs,” a fellow-servant said, “but I had an idea that he was very friendly with a man. Whether he was her fiancee [sic] or not I cannot say, but I know they met occasionally. I thought she had been rather worried lately.”

Some light is thrown on the mystery by a telephone call to the house of the dead girl’s employers yesterday.

The telephone was answered by another servant, and the caller — evidently a man — asked for Miss Cheshire. Miss Cheshire was not available at the moment, so the man rang again ten minutes later.

Miss Cheshire then answered, and it is said she agreed to meet the man, it being her night off. She left after dinner, and was due back at 10 p.m., but nothing was heard until the news of her death.

Pomeroy’s parents are an elderly couple, who have lived in Hemel Hempstead with their son and daughter for some years. “I cannot at all understand or explain anything,” the father said when interviewed. “The news came to us just as we were sitting down to breakfast. All I know is that my son went away last night just about as usual. He has been very strange at times since he came home wounded. He was knocked out in the shoulder and has done nothing since. He has been in a number of hospitals.”

“Worshipped Each Other.”

“Alice,” said Mrs Cheshire, the mother of the dead girl, “was 22, and was the third of four daughters. She went into service at Hampstead about three weeks ago, before which she was in a temporary situation.

“As far as we know she had been acquainted with Pomeroy for about four years. We regarded them at first as very great friends, and latterly as sweethearts. They worshipped each other.

“Bernard used to come here very frequently, and even when she was not here he used to come up and spend the evening with us.

“On Monday he came here and said he was going to see the girl’s father. After an interview with him he came back and said he was going to London to see Alice.

“I begged him not to go. I said we would do everything we could for him if he would act straight to Mabel (an elder daughter). I thought I could see Alice and explain the situation to her, and get her to see the matter in the right light and break it off with Bernard.

“We have begged Alice times out of number, but she always said, ‘Mother, I cannot. It has gone too far.’

“Bernard promised me he would not go to London yesterday, but apparently he sent a wire to Alice and met her. Alice informed me that she intended to meet Bernard.

“Alice kept very much to herself, and when she went out it was always with Bernard. Until Sunday she had no idea that Bernard had formed an intimacy with Mabel. Alice was a tall, pretty girl with a wealth of golden hair.”


Further detail is supplied by the same journal’s February 9 edition, covering the resulting coroner’s inquest.

Driver’s Story of Taxi Tragedy.

Murder Verdict Against Girl’s Lover.

A verdict of wilful murder was returned against Bernard Pomeroy, the girl’s lover, at the inquest at Westminster yesterday on Alice Chester [sic], who died from the effects of a wound alleged to have been inflicted in a taxi by Pomeroy.

Pomeroy, who stands remanded on the capital charge, was present in Court, seated between two policemen. He will be tried at the Old Bailey.

Esau Cheshire, of Bourne End, Hemel Hempstead, father of the dead girl, said that she had been keeping company with Pomeroy for about three years. Witness had another daughter, Mabel, with whom Pomeroy had been on terms of intimacy, and on Sunday evening she told witness she was in a certain condition. Pomeroy owned up to it.

On Monday Pomeroy called with his father and said that he was going west. He also said that he was going to see Alice, but witness tried to persuade him to stop.

He suggested that he should wait till Tuesday, as Alice was coming home that day.

“Say Goodbye Properly.”

Gladys Carrie Payne, cook at Hampstead House, where the girl was employed, said that on Monday evening Alice Cheshire twice had conversations on the telephone. Pomeroy came to the house at 6.30, and had tea with the maids. Pomeroy and the girl left after seven, Alice stating she was probably going to the theatre. As they were going out of the door, added witness, Pomeroy said, “Why not say goodbye properly, in case she does not come back again.” I simply that he was joking, said witness, who added that she thought he seemed a bit agitated and impatien[t] to get off.

Herbert Richard Golding, taxi driver, said Pomeroy hired his taxi at 11.10 on Monday night. Witness drove the couple to Kilburn and then on to Watford. At the latter place Pomeroy said — “It is rather late now. Go straight back to town.” Witness said he took them back to Leicester Square, and then Pomeroy asked him to drive to Templewood Avenue, Hampstead. Approaching Swiss Cottage, witness said he heard a slight scream and what he took to be somebody laughing. When they got to Hampstead Pomeroy asked the time, and said the house was in darkness and they drove back to Leicester Square. It was after 1.30.

Coroner — Weren’t you getting uneasy about your fare? — Yes, sir, but I knew it was in a vicinity where I could get protection. Both appeared fairly well dressed, and in a position to pay.

At Leicester Square Pomeroy told him to drive to the nearest police station. At Vine Street witness noticed accused’s hands were red, but he thought it was red ink.

The girl was afterwards found on her back on the floor of the cab, with the knees drawn up. There was a large box of chocolates on the seat and chocolates were scattered about. The clock of the cab registered 45s 6d.

“Did She Suffer Much, Doctor?”

Dr Gordon Hussey Roberts, of Charing Cross Hospital, said that when the girl was admitted she was gasping through a wound in the neck. She died twenty minutes after admission. Death, added the doctor, was due to hemorrhage. The throat was cut deeply from side to side, completely severing the larynx.

Pomeroy — Did she suffer much, doctor? — No, not after I saw her.

Inspector Rice said Pomeroy told him he had known Alice Cheshire for four years. Asked as to the woman’s injury, he said, “Yes, I did it.” He added that he did it with a knife.

A police official gave evidence that when told he would be charged with the wilful murder of a girl, Pomeroy said, “I have nothing to tell you.” Later, when charged, the accused made no reply.

Inspector Vanner said there were some affectionate letters between the dead girl and Pomeroy. One was handed to the Coroner, who, however, did not read any extracts.

Pomeroy declined to give any evidence.


On April 6, the Courier summed up the Pomeroy would go on to plead guilty to the capital charge, making no effort to oppose his own execution which was carried out on April 5, 1923.

Pomroy Hanged.

Smiled When Sentenced to Death.

Bernard Pomroy, shop assistant, of Hemel Hempstead, was executed at Pentonville yesterday morning for the murder of Alice May Cheshire (21).

The circumstances of the crime were peculiar. Pomroy on the night of the murder took the girl, with whom he had been keeping company, to the Coliseum, and after the performance they travelled in a taxi from Holborn to Watford and back, and thence to hampstead.

Pomroy then told the driver to proceed to Leicester Square, and when the cab arrived there directed him to drive to the nearest police station, where he gave himself up. The girl was lying on the floor of the taxi with a wound in her throat. She died shortly after her admission to hospital.

When put on trial for his life Pomroy pleaded guilty, and refused to withdraw that plea in spite of the Judge’s advice. He also declined legal aid, refused to give evidence, and would not address the jury. He smiled when sentenced to death. An appeal to the Court of Criminal Appeal was dismissed.

At the inquest which followed the execution the Governor of the prison said that only nine seconds elapsed between Pomroy leaving the condemned cell and death taking place. There was no hitch of any kind.

Harold Pomroy, of Hemel Hempstead, said that the deceased was his brother. After serving in the war he was a physical wreck, but the family had the consolation and joy to know that he was innocent of the crime for which he had paid the death penalty.

The usual verdict was returned.

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

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1908: Chester Gillette, A Place in the Sun inspiration

Add comment March 30th, 2020 Headsman

Theodore Dreiser‘s classic novel An American Tragedy was inspired by an infamous 1906 murder whose author, Chester Gillette, was electrocuted at Auburn Prison on this date in 1908.

It was a crime tailor-made for the burgeoning mass media, popular and pretty 20-year-old Grace Brown gone to work at the Cortland, N.Y. Gillette Skirt Factory where the owner’s nephew seduced and impregnated her.

That, of course, is our man Chester Gillette, who further distressed his lover by tomcatting around town, especially charging the love triangle with class rivalry with his rumored interest in a socialite while he stalled for time with Ms. Brown. Dreiser’s novel — which is freely available from the public domain — spins on this axis, although the real-life heiress in question put out an arch press release averring that “I have never been engaged to Chester E. Gillette … Our acquaintance was of … a limited duration.”

That was also true of Gillette’s acquaintance with Grace Brown. At length he induced the future mother of his child to elope to the Adirondacks upon the apparent prospect of finally regularizing their situation. Instead, after making a couple of stops in upstate New York, they paused on July 11 at Big Moose Lake for a nice canoe outing. While out on the water, Gillette bashed his lover’s head with his tennis racket and forced her into the water to drown.

Letters the two had exchanged would establish that Gillette knew Brown could not swim … and the fact that he’d brought his whole suitcase with him for this supposed day trip would establish his premeditated intent. Gillette schlepped his stuff along with his guilty conscience through the woods to another lake and checked into a hotel under his real name(!). He was as careless with his coverup, alibi, and escape as he had been with his heart; Brown’s body was recovered the very next day and the trail led directly back to Gillette, who was not difficult to find and couldn’t stick to a story — alternately claiming that the drowning was an accident, a suicide, or something that happened when he wasn’t there at all.

The snake was public enemy number one by the time he came to his trial, making the case a national sensation. Dreiser improved it to literature in 1925, and it was such a hit that he was immediately called upon to adapt it for the stage. A version hit the silver screen as soon as 1931, but its best-known rendering is the 1951 classic A Place in the Sun, which earned Academy Award nominations for both Shelley Winters and Montgomery Clift, who portrayed the young lovers.

It’s had an enduring appeal for the century since; rumors of Grace Brown’s ghost haunting Big Moose Lake brought the case to the Unsolved Mysteries television program in the 1990s, and an award-winning 2003 novel A Northern Light centers around a fictional friend of Grace Brown’s. There’s even an A Place in the Sun opera.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Electrocuted,Execution,History,Murder,New York,Sex,The Supernatural,USA

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1921: George Bailey, the first Englishman hanged by female jurors

Add comment March 2nd, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1921, George Bailey was hanged at Oxford Gaol for murder.

The milkman was grooming a young woman named Lillian Marks as a potential mistress which all came horribly to public light when Marks reported to police Bailey’s attempt to rape her. The ensuing investigation revealed that the creeper had gone so far as to poison to death his 22-year-old wife to disencumber himself in anticipation of trading up to his prospective paramour. When arrested at a train station he had more doses of prussic acid as well as a suicide letter/confession.

This open-and-shut homicide tried at Aylesbury in January 1921 was distinguished as the first capital trial with women in the jury pool. Maud Stevenson, Annie White and Matilda Tack were the subject of intense — often cringe — attention by Fleet Street for their novelty: only on July 28, 1920 did the UK swear in its first female juror. In Bailey’s case, there was at least one instance of a barrister attempting to bowdlerize some sordid detail on account of the tender sentiments of the lady-jurors, only to be reprimanded by the judge. When free to speak after the case, the women made a point of insisting that nothing about the ordeal of the jurybox taxed the capacities of women, even in a death case.

This march into the courtrooms was part of a broad social advance by women in the train of the Great War, highlighted by suffrage (1918) and opening professional jobs regardless of gender and marital status (1919).

Other advances in the courtroom would follow, albeit glacially. According to friend of the site (and guest blogger) Robert Walsh,

Not until 1950 did a woman appear as lead counsel. That was Rose Heilbron whose client George Kelly was executed in 1950 only to be exonerated decades later. It wasn’t until 1962 that the first female judge appeared, Elizabeth Lane joining the County Court. It took until 1972 for a female judge to preside at the Old Bailey in London, Rose Heilbron again blazing the trail. Bailey and his case are scarcely remembered today, but are legal landmarks nonetheless.

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

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1930: Dr. James Snook, Ohio State University professor

Add comment February 28th, 2020 Headsman

Ohio State University professor Dr. James Howard Snook was electrocuted on this date in 1930.

The eggheaded veterinary lecturer, Snook was an Olympic gold medalist in pistol shooting.* On a site like Executed Today one would presume that sidearms appear with a Chekhovian purpose, but it will transpire that different instruments cause his downfall.

Beginning, as so often occurs, with the instrument the good Lord gave him, which in 1926 was diverted from his wife in favor of comely undergraduate Theora Hix.

Dr. Snook soon installed his paramour in an apartment from which they carried on a torrid three-year love affair whilst Hix progressed to medical school. “We didn’t love each other,” Snook testified. “We satisfied each other’s needs.”

Hix’s needs, by Snook’s interested account, grew shockingly ravenous: she used cocaine, liked to hit and threaten him, and took on other lovers — including another university professor, agronomist Marion T. Meyers. The doctor’s explication of their relationship scandalized the university and the nation for the sordid particulars of their stormy affair. “Almost every letter trailed off into obsceneities [sic],” notes one report (Louisville Courier-Journal, Aug. 9, 1929.) “For the most part their content is unpublishable.” His own counsel was seen to chortle as some were read out to a stunned court, before rising in a vain attempt to claim they proved his client’s insanity.


Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) Daily News, July 1, 1929.

According to Snook’s testimony, matters fell apart on a motor outing on June 13, 1929, when he attempted to decline a weekend’s canoodle citing his domestic obligations: “She replied, ‘Damn Mrs. Snook. I am going to kill her and get her out of the way.'” And as Hix began raining blows on Dr. Snook, he grabbed a ball-peen hammer from the car toolkit and struck her … and then kept striking.

“I was sure she was going to shoot me,” Snook said through tears, claiming that he feared she carried a weapon in her purse. “My only thought was to stop her. I sprang after her and struck her again.” (Quotes per the Pittsburgh Post-Gaztte, Aug. 9, 1929.)

After bashing her about four times, she was a crumpled but still-breathing heap outside his vehicle. According to a confession that Snook attempted to repudiate, he then clinically finished her off with a pocket knife to her jugular, as a mercy.

* In the 30-meter team military pistol and 50-meter team military pistol competitions at the 1920 Antwerp games. This also happened to be the last year these disciplines were contested at the Olympics.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Athletes,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Electrocuted,Entertainers,Execution,History,Intellectuals,Murder,Ohio,Sex,USA

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1998: Three Afghan men under a toppled wall

Add comment February 25th, 2020 Headsman

This jaw-dropping story, reported here via an Amnesty International report, made the rounds of international press and appears to be well-founded — and indeed not the only instance of execution by wall toppling in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.*

Three Afghan men, Fazalur Rehman, Ahmad Shah and Abdul Qahir were convicted earlier this year [1998] by a Taleban Shari’a court of committing sodomy with young boys. On 25 February 1998, a stone wall was felled on them by a battle tank before thousands of spectators at Kotal Morcha north of city of Kandahar. They were seriously injured but did not die immediately. The Taleban leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar who had reportedly gone to witness the execution ordered that they remain buried for half an hour saying their lives would be spared if they survived. As the men were still alive at the end of their ordeal, he ordered that they should be taken to the city’s hospital. Two of them died the next day. The third survived but it is not known if he is still in hospital. Agence France Presse quotes the Taleban’s daily newspaper, Anis, as reporting that the three men from the Sangin area in Helmand province, some 100 kilometres northwest of Kandahar, “who had committed the obscene act of buggery were publicly put under a wall after a verdict of the Shari’a court and the Shari’a punishment was thus applied to them. His eminence the Amirol Momenin [Mollah Mohammad Omar] attended the function to give Shari’a punishment to the three buggerers in Dasht-e Sufi area of Kandahar.”

* The same Amnesty report describes a like punishment visited on March 22, 1998, on Abdul Sami, 18, and Bismillah, 22 — again, for sodomy.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Afghanistan,Botched Executions,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Executions Survived,History,Homosexuals,Public Executions,Sex,Stoned,Toppled Wall

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1927: Ada Bonner LeBoeuf and Dr. Thomas E. Dreher

Add comment February 1st, 2020 Headsman

A call back to the sadly demobilized crime blog CLEWS for the double execution on this date in 1927 of Louisiana adulterous lovers Ada Bonner LeBoeuf and Dr. Thomas E. Dreher, for the murder (via hireling) of Mrs. LeBoeuf’ husband …

The first-degree murder trial that followed a month after the murder of Mr. LeBoeuf was billed in the press as one of the Southland’s most sensational legal battles, since, it was reported, the South hadn’t convicted and hanged a white woman for murder since Reconstruction days, and Louisiana had never hanged a white woman for murder, not even in the days of French and Spanish rule.

The trial was a cross-country sensation. The state produced nearly a dozen witnesses who testified to the details of the scandal. Per these many witnesses, the light-o’-loves carried on their small-town affair in the “negro shacks” on the outskirts of the village. The evidence included love letters that were read aloud.

Read the whole jam here.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Doctors,Execution,Hanged,Louisiana,Murder,Sex,USA,Women

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1872: George “Charcoal” Botts

Add comment January 27th, 2020 Headsman

It’s the old, old story: conniving war profiteer helps client get divorce, conniving war profiteer installs divorced client as mistress, rival lover also awaiting divorced client’s divorce shoots conniving war profiteer, rival lover winds up on Executed Today.

It’s the story of George Botts (hanged January 27, 1872) and D.C. Civil War gadabout Oliver “Pet” Halsted. Friends of the site Murder By Gaslight has the details.

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

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2014: Li Hao

Add comment January 21st, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 2014, China executed a man named Li Hao “for keeping six women in a dungeon as sex slaves and killing two of them,” per CNN’s gloss on Xinhua reports.

A Luoyang government clerk, this Gary Heidnik-like monster turned his basement into a cramped prison where he held six women lured into his clutches from nightclubs and karaoke bars. All were subjected to rape and forced prostitution; two he eventually forced their fellow-inmates to murder.* His spree ended only when one of his captives managed to escape and take the report to police — whose failure to have detected the predator earlier became a public scandal.

“The victims ranged from about 16 to 23 in age, and one who was 20 at the time of kidnap became pregnant,” according to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Their lengths of captivity in Li Hao’s personal hell ranged from two months to nearly two years.

* Three of the women Li kidnapped were also convicted of murder. In view of their coercion, they received light sentences (three years for one of them; probation for two others). While this is certainly preferable to execution, there was also understandable protest about victims in such a desperate and traumatic circumstance being prosecuted at all.

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Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Capital Punishment,China,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Lethal Injection,Murder,Rape,Sex

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1661: Jacques Chausson, “Great Gods, where is your justice?”

Add comment December 29th, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1661, the French customs officer and writer Jacques Chausson (English Wikipedia entry | French) was burned at Paris’s Place de Greve for sodomy.

Chausson with another man, Jacques Paulmier, forced themselves upon a handsome 17-year-old aristocratic youth, “and [Chausson] while embracing him [the victim] undid the button of his pants at the same time, and then Paulmier began knowing him carnally, and committing with him the crime of sodomy. Having felt this, he began to shout and struggle, and then an old woman, working that day at the home of Mr. Petit, merchant and head of the house, came running.”

As we’ve noted before in these pages, Chausson entered French letters as the subject of verse by Claude le Petit, himself later executed, disdaining the hypocrisy of executing for a diversion widely practiced among the elites.

If we burned all those
Who do like them
In a very short time alas
Several lords of France
Great prelates of importance
Would suffer death.
Do you know the storm that rises
Against all good people?
If Chausson loses his case,
The arse (“le cu“) will not serve any more.
If Chausson loses his case,
The cunt (“le con”) will prevail.
I am this poor boy
Named Chausson
If I was roasted
At the flower of my age
It’s for the sake of a page
Of the Prince of Conde. [a bisexual lord -ed.]
If the bastard D’Assouci. [a raunchy poet who was possibly the lover of Cyrano de Bergerac -ed.]
Had been taken
He would have been roasted
In the flames
Like these infamous two
Chausson and Fabri.

That was written in the weeks between Chausson’s condemnation and his execution. Le Petit returned to the subject in evident disgust once the deed was done.

Friends, we burned the unfortunate Chausson,
That rascal so famous, with a curly head;
His death immortalized his virtue:
Never will we expire in a more noble way.
He sang cheerfully the lugubrious song
And bore without blanching the starched shirt,
And the hot fagots at the fiery stake,
He looked at death without fear or shudder.
In vain his confessor exhorted him in the flame,
The crucifix in hand, to think of his soul;
Then lying under the stake, when the fire had conquered him,
The infamous one towards the sky turned his foul rump,
And, to die finally as he had lived,
He showed his naughty ass to everyone.

Nor was this the only poet incensed by events. Taking note that yet another sexually flexible nobleman Guillaume de Guitaut was to be elevated on the subsequent New Year’s Day to the Order of the Holy Spirit, the poet Charles de Saint-Gilles Lenfant mused,

Grands Dieux! Quelle est vôtre justice?
Chausson va périr par le feu;
Et Guitaut par le même vice
A mérité le Cordon bleu.

Meaning …

Great Gods! Where is your justice?
Chausson is about to die in the fire;
And Guitaut for the same vice
Has deserved the Cordon bleu.

This quatrain can be heard in vocal recital in a brief Soundcloud clip here.

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Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Artists,Arts and Literature,Burned,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,France,History,Homosexuals,Public Executions,Sex

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1615: Anne Turner

2 comments November 15th, 2019 Headsman

For Sommersett must love Essex faire wife
by wich his deerest servant lost his life.
losse upon losse, all things grow cleane contrary
and thus our sinfull times themselves doe vary.

From a 17th century libel

On this date in 1615, Anne Turner hanged at Tyburn for a shocking society murder remembered as the Overbury Affair.

Turner was quite a character herself, but her journey to the pages of Executed Today begins in the bedsheets of the nobility. In fact, events revolve around a marriage alliance between two families of notable beheadings, in the persons of Frances Howard — the grandsondaughter of Queen Elizabeth’s enemy Thomas Howard (beheaded 1572) — and Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex — son of Queen Elizabeth’s lover also named Robert Devereux (beheaded 1601).

‘Twas often that noble pairings were cynical, loveless expediencies but this union exceeded most in its deficiencies.

They married so young — 13 to 14 years old as they tied the knot — that they were initially kept apart to prevent them sleeping together but this failure to consummate developed into firm policy. Devereux was impotent with her — even though, per Francis Bacon’s investigation, “before and after the marriage, he hath found an ability of body to know any other woman, and hath oftentimes felt motions and provocations of the Flesh, rending to carnal copullation” — and Howard seemingly systematically refused him. (Devereux was elsewhere heard to note that his virility failed because his wife “reviled him, and miscalled him, terming him a cow, and coward, and beast.”)

By that time — we’re into 1613 here — the missus was also intentionally trying to force an annulment of the marriage, so that she could pursue love and power with the king’s young favorite, Robert Carr. Both spouses agreed that their union had never been consummated, a fact “verified” by a panel of matrons who inspected the wife’s bits to confirm the presence of the hymen. Frances was veiled during this humiliating spectacle to preserve her modesty and/or identity, as widely believed rumor held that she’d swapped in a ringer to pass the exam.

This maide inspected;
But fraud interjected
A Maid of more perfection:
The midwives did her handle,
While the Kn[igh]t held the candle
O there was a clear inspection!

While Frances was orchestrating all this, her lover’s close friend Sir Thomas Overbury was energetically counseling that youth against the match, going so far as to write one of the classics of Jacobean poetry, “A Wife”, expounding on the preferred virtues of such a partner in an apparent attempt to underscore to his chum Frances Howard’s conspicuous want of them, e.g.

Where goodnesse failes, ’twixt ill and ill that stands:
Whence ’tis, that women though they weaker be,
And their desire more strong, yet on their hands
The chastity of men doth often lye:
Lust would more common be then any one,
Could it, as other sins, be done alone.

Long story short, the mistress won the struggle over the valuable Robert Carr and her powerful family arranged to sideline Overbury by means of a royal appointment to Russia. When Overbury refused the post, the outraged King James had him locked up in the Tower of London for his impertinence; Overbury soon died there, and Frances Howard and Robert Carr tied the match before 1613 was out.

Carr should have listened to that poem.

It was no more than months ere that gentleman was being eclipsed in King James’s favor by George Villiers, and his eroding status licensed the interest of court enemies in the surprise death of Carr’s friend.

Suspicions of foul play soon appeared vindicated, and we come at last at this point to our gallows-fruit Anne Turner, a wealthy woman in the train of Frances Howard, for the evidence developed by Bacon indicated that Turner acted as Howard’s agent in arranging for Overbury’s guards to poison him off.

The affair was the ruin of her patron, who was convicted along with her prized new husband.* Both of these blueblooded types were spared, but no such mercy obtained for the four commoners who had been the Lady’s instruments.

Turner, who did a brisk business in saffron supplying the royal court its fashionable yellow accoutrements, arranged for “tarts and jellies” procured from a sinister chemist to be delivered to the men at the Tower for ministration to the imprisoned poet. Really it was just as Overbury had tried to warn Carr:

A passive understanding to conceive,
And judgement to discerne, I wish to finde:
Beyond that, all as hazardous I leave;
Learning and pregnant wit in woman-kinde,
What it findes malleable, makes fraile,
And doth not adde more ballast, but more saile.

She, the chemist, and both Overbury’s jailer and the governor of the Tower of London would all four suffer execution on distinct occasions for doing the Lady Howard’s bidding in this matter. Turner’s hanging at Tyburn had a classic dash of showmanship: both the victim and the executioner were pointedly dressed in the yellow saffron ruffles whose lucrative traffic had empowered Anne Turner with the werewithal to corrupt the king’s dungeon. The design fell speedily out of fashion.

Our intrepid assassin, however, had the consolation of a vigorous literary afterlife as her character became a fixture of the 17th century theater. (So did Overbury’s.)

The Overbury Affair’s rich text touching power, gender, commerce, revenge, social climbing, print culture, and murderous intrigue has continued to fascinate new audiences ever since then, intermittently refreshed by many new volumes both fiction and non-.

* Frances Howard confessed the plot — accurately, as it is generally understood. Robert Carr never did, and he’s often been read as a plausible naif, blind to his pretty new wife’s vengeful treatment of his former bosom friend.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: Assassins,Businessmen,Capital Punishment,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,History,Murder,Sex

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