Posts filed under 'Sex'

1778: Bathsheba Spooner, the first woman hanged in the USA

Add comment July 2nd, 2020 Headsman

Bathsheba Spooner, the first woman executed* in the post-Declaration of Independence (i.e., post-July 4, 1776) United States.

The daughter of one of Massachusetts’s most prominent Tory loyalists — the latter fled to Nova Scotia during the events comprising this post, owing to the ongoing American Revolution — Spooner was married to a wealthy Brookfield gentleman whom she utterly despised.

From late 1777 into 1778, Bathsheba beguiled three young would-be Davids — Ezra Ross, a wounded former Continental Army soldier whom she nursed back to health; and James Buchanan and William Brooks, two redcoat deserters — into getting rid of Mr. Joshua Spooner.

Ross she sent on February 1778 business trip with her hubby and instructions to dose him with nitric acid. The youth chickened out and didn’t do it — but neither did he warn his proposed victim what was afoot.

A couple of weeks later, the Brits achieved by main force what their American opposite dared not attempt by stealth, and “on the evening of the first of March, about 9 o’clock, being returning home from his neighbors, near by his own door was feloniously assaulted by one or more ruffians, knocked down by a club, beat and bruised, and thrown into his well with water in it.” Ross, importantly, had been invited by his lover/sponsor to return and he helped to dispose of the body.

They had not a day’s liberty after this shocking crime, evidently having thought little beyond the deed; the very young Ross especially stands out for his naivete — certainly mingled with lust and cupidity as he contemplated the prospect of attaining a frolicsome, wealthy widow — when the wife went to work on him.

As She was going to Hardwick She asked me the Reason of my being so low Spirited?  I made answer It was my long absence from home.  She replyed that her Opinion was, I wanted some one to lodge with — I told her it would be agreeable.  She asked me if Such an One as her self would do?  I made answer If She was agreeable I was.  [Marginal notation: The Dialect was so.]  Upon which She said “After She came off her Journey she would See.”
 
N.B. After her Return She Gave me an Invitation to Defile her Marriage Bed; which I Expected. [accepted] And after that she proposed constantly every sheam [scheme] for her Husbands Death.  [Marginal notation: The spelling is so.]
 
Ezra Ross

The above is a written account given in jail to the preacher Ebenezer Parkman, who preached a thundering sermon three days after the executions titled “The Adultress Shall Hunt for the Precious Life””

a woman who … allows her loose imagination to range and wander after Others, nay not a few, & rove from [her husband] to pollute & defile the marriage bed [indulging] her own wanton salacious desires … How loathsome are all such, and how directly opposite the pure & holy Nature, Law, and Will of God.

So keep thee from the Evil woman, from the flattery of the tongue of a strange woman. Neither let her take thee with her eyelids. There are a thousand dangers, that poor young wretches are in by reason of the snres & traps which are everywhere laid … particularly the poor beardless youth not quite 18. (As quoted in Deborah Navas’s book about the affair, Murdered by his Wife)

Mrs. Spooner, whose Loyalist family ties did her no favors in this moment, sought a reprieve on grounds of pregnancy. Many condemned women in those days made such requests; more often than not they were temporizing devices that bought no more than the time needed for a panel of matrons to examine them and dismiss the claim. In her case, four examiners submitted a dissenting opinion to the effect “that we have reason to think that she is now quick with child.” Although overruled, they were correct: after the dramatic quadruple execution under a thunderstorm at Worcester’s Washington Square, an autopsy found that Spooner was about five months along with what would have been her fifth child.

According to an early 20th century Chicago Chronicle retrospective (retrieved here via a reprint in the Charleston News and Courier, Jan. 24, 1904) her grave can be located on a manor at Worcester that formerly belonged to the great New York City planner Andrew Haswell Green: Bathsheba Spooner’s sister was Green’s grandmother.

A full original record of the proceedings does not survive for us, but this public domain volume has a lengthy chapter about events, with an appendix preserving some of the original documents.

* We’re at the mercy of uncertain documentation in this context, of course, but there are at least none whose executions can be established that predate Spooner’s within the infant republic. Per the Espy file, a woman named Ann Wyley was hanged in Detroit in 1777, but at the time that city was under British administration as part of the province of Quebec.

For its part, Massachusetts hanged several more women in the 1780s, but has not executed any other women since the George Washington presidential administration. It’s presently a death penalty abolitionist jurisdiction.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Capital Punishment,Children,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Massachusetts,Milestones,Murder,Public Executions,Sex,Soldiers,USA,Wartime Executions,Women

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1919: John Hartfield lynched

Add comment June 26th, 2020 Headsman

John Hartfield (sometimes given as “Hartsfield”) was lynched on this date in 1919 in Ellisville, Mississippi.

“[U.S. President Woodrow Wilson] said the American negro returning from abroad would be our greatest medium in conveying bolshevism to America. For example, a friend recently related the experience of a lady friend wanting to employ a negro laundress offering to pay the usual wage in that community. The negress demands that she be given more money than was offered for the reason that ‘money is as much mine as it is yours.’ Furthermore, he called attention to the fact that the French people have placed the negro soldier in France on an equality with the white men, and ‘it has gone to their heads.'”

-Diary of Wilson’s personal doctor Cary Grayson (Source)

This summer of 1919 was fraught and violent moment in America — later christened the “Red Summer” for the quantity and ferocity of racially motivated outrages.

With the end of the Great War, domestic guardians of order bristled alike at proud and armed black soldiers returning from France’s trenches and at the post-Bolshevik Revolution prospect of subversive agitation — fears that were intimately linked for elites, as the pull quote in this post indicates. Plus, as readers in 2020 surely recollect from the news, everyone was also laboring under the Spanish flu pandemic. Large riots or pogroms with multiple casualties occurred in several U.S. cities, including a five-day street battle in Washington D.C. in July that left 15 or more dead.

Likewise, lynchings surged in 1919 — from 38 and 64 in the preceding two years, to 83, a figure which hadn’t been recorded in more than a decade and has never been approached since.

James Hartfield was one* mark upon this near-hecatomb, a mark underscoring the strength of lynch law in this moment. The mob was disciplined and organized, confident that its actions had the blessing of the state. It acted deliberately, responsive to its own authorities. Nobody got his blood up to string up the man promptly upon capture; instead, Hartfield was delivered to private custody — not jail — and given him medical attention so that he’d be fit for his murder.


The Greenwood (Miss.) Commonwealth ran this headline on the day that Hartfield was killed — one of many newspapers to report the planned lynching ahead of time.

The schedule (Hartfield to be burnt at 5 p.m.) was publicized in advance in the press; even the state’s governor, literal Klansman Theodore Bilbo, issued a sort of official denial of clemency with a public announcement that he couldn’t intervene if he wanted to and he also didn’t want to.

I am utterly powerless. The state has no troops and if the civil authorities at Ellisville are helpless, the state is equally so. Furthermore excitement is at such a high pitch thruout [sic] south Mississippi and if armed troops interfered with the mob it would prove a riot among the citizens.

The negro says he is ready to die and nobody can keep the inevitable from happening. (Huntsville (Ala.) Times, June 26, 1919, under the headline “Governor Will Not Interfere With Lynching”)

And indeed, nobody did interfere.

The below from the next day’s Montgomery (Ala.) Advertiser is one of several versions that saw wide distribution in the republic. Although these reports differ on some details — for example, whether Hartfield was or was not already mortally wounded by the gunshots he’d received from the posse — all unite in noticing the orderliness of this off-book execution.

ELLISVILLE, MISS. June 25 [sic] — Trailed for ten days through three South Mississippi counties by posses which included several hundred members of his own race, John Hartfield, negro, confessed assailant of an Ellisville young woman,** was captured desperately wounded near Collins, at daybreak this morning, rushed by automobile to the scene of his crime, hanged to a gum tree and then burned to ashes. His victim witnessed the lynching.

While negroes took no part in the actual lynching of Hartfield, posse leaders freely admitted they rendered valuable assistance during the chase knowing when they enlisted that it was intended to lynch the fugitive when he was captured. Many of them witnessed the execution.

The lynching was conducted in a manner which the authorities characterized as “orderly.” Guarded by a committee of citizens of Ellisvlle, Hartfield was taken first to the office of Dr. A.J. Carter, who after examination of gun shot wounds received when the fugitive made his fight against capture, declared the negro could not live more than twenty-four hours. In the meantime a group of silent men were piling cross ties and brush in a depression in ground near the railroad trestle. There was no shouting. Arrangements apparently had been made days ago.

The victim of Hartfield’s crime was escorted into the physicians’ office after the wounds had been examined. She positively identified him as her assailant. When she left the negro said to the committee: “You have the right man.”

Then there were quiet conferences. Members of the committee circulated in the crowd. Reports that there would be a “burning” at 5 o’clock gave way to statements that there would be a “hanging at the big gum tree.” Hartfield was told what the crowd itended [sic] doing with him, but only repeated “you have the man.” Later he said he knew he was going to die and declared he wished to “warn all men, white and colored, to think before doing wrong.”

Hartfield was not taken to jail, although earlier reports were that he had been lodged there. From the doctor’s office he was taken to the street and faced the crowd. “You have the right man,” he reiterated. Then a noose found its way around his neck and the trip to the big gum tree was started, the crowd still ominously silent.

Under the big gum tree Hartfield forcibly detained his victim all of the night of Sunday, June 15th. It was under a limb of the same tree that Hartfield was hanged as soon as the rope could be pulled up by hundreds of hands. Then occurred the first demonstration. While the body was in its death struggles pistols were produced by men in the crowd and fired point blank at the swinging form. Before the rope had been cut by bullets, burning fagots were thrown under the body and an hour later there was only a pile of ashes.

The victim with her aged mother witnessed the execution. When she reached her home two hundred yards away, she was informed that more than a thousand dollars had been subscribed for her use by persons in the crowd.

No arrests were made after the lynching and tonight the little town was quiet. Most of the visitors from the surrounding country left for their homes.

The future Vietnamese revolutionary Ho Chi Minh, who lived and worked in the U.S. intermittently in the 1910s where he was influenced by black radicals including Marcus Garvey, also made note of the Hartield outrage in his 1924 essay “Lynching” (see the numbered p. 53 of this large pdf):

When a lynching was to take place or had taken place, the press seized upon it as a good occasion to increase the number of copies printed. It related the affair with a wealth of detail. Not the slightest reproach to the criminals. Not a word of pity for the victims. Not a commentary.

The New Orleans States of June 26, 1919, published a headline running right across the front page in letters five inches high: “Today a Negro Will Be Burned by 3,000 Citizens.” And immediately underneath, in very small print: “Under a strong escort, the Kaiser has taken flight with the Crown Prince.”

The Jackson Daily News of the same date published across the first two columns of its front page in big letters: “Negro J.H. to Be Burned by the Crowd at Ellistown This Afternoon at 5 p.m.”

The newspaper only neglected to add: “The whole population is earnestly invited to attend.” But the spirit is there.

* Although lynched alone, he wasn’t quite the only victim. A white man who misunderstood or defied the commands of the vigilantes during the manhunt was also killed. And reportedly (although I haven’t verified this to my satisfaction) another black man elsewhere in Mississippi was lynched in the subsequent weeks merely for mentioning the Hartfield assassination.

** Family lore from a friend who survived by fleeing Ellisville characterizes Hartfield’s true offense as simply having a white girlfriend.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Borderline "Executions",Burned,Common Criminals,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Hanged,History,Lynching,Mature Content,Mississippi,No Formal Charge,Public Executions,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Rape,Sex,USA

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2004: Three for honor-killing a 6-year-old

Add comment May 31st, 2020 Richard Clark

(Thanks to Richard Clark of Capital Punishment U.K. for the guest post, a reprinted section from a longer article about capital punishment in Kuwait that was originally published on that site. (Executed Today has taken the liberty of adding some explanatory links.) CapitalPunishmentUK.org features a trove of research and feature articles on the death penalty in England and elsewhere, including a wider history of the juvenile death penalty in England. -ed.)

On the 31st of May 2004, three executions were carried out simultaneously at 8.15 a.m. in the courtyard of the Nayef Palace. The criminals, two Saudi nationals, Marzook Saad Suleiman Al-Saeed, aged 25, Saeed Saad Suleiman Al-Saeed, aged 28 and 24 year old Kuwaiti Hamad Mubarak Turki Al-Dihani, had been convicted of the abduction, rape and murder of a six year old girl.

It was a particularly appalling crime that had received a great deal of media coverage. Their victim, Amna Al-Khaledi, was kidnapped from her home on the 1st of May 2002 and driven to a remote desert area, where she was gang raped and stabbed five times in the chest before her throat was slit. The three men were arrested some three weeks after Amna’s body was discovered. They had murdered Amna in a so called honour killing to avenge a sexual relationship between her elder brother, Adel Al-Khaledi, and Al-Saeed’s sister. Amna’s brother was given a five-year prison term for having the illicit sexual relationship.

(Honour killings are committed to avenge a perceived affront to a family’s honour, such as an out of wedlock relationship or a female relative marrying without her parents’ consent.)

A third Saudi, Latifa Mandil Suleiman Al-Saeed, a 21-year-old female cousin of the two brothers, was sentenced to life in prison for taking part in the abduction.

Some 1,000 people, including Amna’s relatives, were at Nayef Palace to see the aftermath of the executions according to Interior Ministry spokesman Lt. Col. Adel Al-Hashshash. Incongruous photographs appeared in the press the next day showing the hanging bodies with Kuwaiti women in full Islamic dress taking photos of them with their state of the art mobile phones. The bodies were taken down some 20 minutes after the execution and covered with white sheets. The head of the Penal Execution Department, Najeeb Al-Mulla, announced that it took Hamad Al-Dehani approximately 6 minutes to die, while the two Saudi brothers were timed was 8½ minutes and 5½ minutes respectively. Saeed Al-Saeed and Marzouq Al-Saeed had asked for their remains to be buried in Saudi Arabia and the three convicted asked for the authorities to donate a charity project in their names.

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Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Capital Punishment,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Guest Writers,Hanged,Kuwait,Murder,Other Voices,Sex

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1726: Étienne-Benjamin Deschauffours

Add comment May 24th, 2020 Headsman

Etienne-Benjamin Deschauffours (or Duchauffour) was burned at Paris’s Place de Greve on this date in 1726.

Although executed on a sodomy conviction, it wasn’t mere same-sex indulgence but a monstrous, Jeffrey Epstein-like project of elite sexual depravity that cinched his fate, at least if the trial records are to be believed.

“Under a variety of pseudonyms, and in various lodgings, Deschauffours earned a living by spotting ‘likely lads’ and supplying them on payment of commission to wealthy clients, both French and foreign (perhaps some 200 in all),” quoth Who’s Who in Gay and Lesbian History: From Antiquity to World War II.

Deschaffours frequently tried out his finds (young and very young), and found his pleasure in their pain (it is difficult not to think forward to the Marquise de Sade, or backward to Gilles de Rais). He castrated a young Italian whose admirer hoped this might render him more compliant.

Reportedly, he procured these semi- or unwilling charges for overmighty magnates who were — as with the previous century’s Affair of the Poisons — far too powerful and numerous to bring to book without inviting systemic crisis. Their vices thus remain mere rumors even down to our remove of posterity, for whom shadowy and redacted documentation yet conceals god knows what monstrosities.

Jim Chevallier, in The Old Regime Police Blotter II: Sodomites, Tribads and “Crimes Against Nature”, notes a 1734 doggerel capturing the scandal-mongering that became as the popular impression of the affair.

Du Chauffour and d’Oswal
are two unparalleled buggers,

There’s the resemblance.

One burned for his crime,
The other was made cardinal,

There’s the difference.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Burned,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,France,History,Homosexuals,Murder,Organized Crime,Public Executions,Rape,Scandal,Sex

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1731: Elizabeth Needham fatally pilloried

Add comment April 30th, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1731 the English madam Elizabeth Needham stood in the pillory at Park Place, St. James’s, London. It wasn’t a death sentence de jure … but it became one de facto.

“Mother Needham” kept one of London’s most renowned brothels, far more exclusive than the dives of Covent Garden, and she made herself famous enough in the 1710s and 1720s to rate a place in the burgeoning print culture: Alexander Pope makes sly reference to her in The Dunciad, and as Hogarth seems to have modeled the titular courtesan of his Harlot’s Progress plates upon her.


Needham was famous for her recruiting talent. Here, Hogarth’s pockmarked Needham figure inveigles a pretty lass — the series’s central character, “Moll Hackabout” — freshly arriving to London from the hinterlands, while actual Needham client (and notorious sex-beast*) Francis Charteris leers from the stoop. In a subsequent panel in this same series, Hackabout as a seasoned whore encounters another Executed Today customer.

In her heyday a variety of japes, capers, and scandals unfolded in her precincts, beyond the obvious that was her stock in trade. For a number of years she carried out business unmolested by any chastisement from the law, but she suffered a couple of arrests in the 1720s and the heat on London’s brothels escalated uncomfortably with the onset of the 1730s. Thus it was that the wily old procuress earned a conviction for keeping a disorderly house on April 29, 1731.

Her punishment included a small fine and the duty to stand twice in the pillory, exposed to public obloquy. We have already noted in these pages that the horrors of such an ordeal extended beyond the reputational to an outright threat to life and limb. While it was not unheard-of for the pillorying to invert into a ritual of celebration and triumph for its sufferer were the crowd in sympathy, “it would seem that the default crowd at the pillory attended in expectation of an aggressive event.” (“Sodomites in the Pillory in Eighteenth-century London” by Peter Bartlett, Social & Legal Studies, December 1997)

This image of a crowd expecting to abuse the convict is consistent with the report in Fogg’s Weekly Journal in November 1728:

One Mitchel stood in the Pillory in Little Britain, for designing to extort Money from a Gentleman, by threatening to swear a detestable Sin against him [i.e., sodomy] — It was reported that he was to stand again in Aldersgate-street, upon which Occasion the Populace assembled, having furnish’d themselves with dead Cats, and other Ammunition used upon such Occasions, but the Person who was to make all the Sport not appearing, they diverted themselves with throwing their dead Cats at one another.

Elizabeth Needham had a wide notoriety that would have been especially charged in a mob’s eyes by her association with a villain like Charteris: we see her in Hogarth’s illustration above (not yet completed as of the time of her death) as the corrupt agent of predatory magnates. Moreover, she was apparently already weakened by illness. And although she was suffered simply to lie face down on the stage rather than standing dangerously exposed in the apparatus — and although she could afford to hire bodyguards to keep the crowd somewhat at bay — she received the aggressive version of the crowd whose abuse proved fatal to her.

Rictor Norton’s invaluable compilations of reporting on eighteenth century crime capture grub street’s coverage of the frightful end of Mother Needham (and one unfortunate spectator):

The famous Mother Needham was set before the pillory facing Park-place. She was so very ill, that she laid along under the pillory, notwithstanding which she was severely pelted, and it is thought she will die in a day or two … A boy getting upon a lamp post near the pillory, fell from the same upon iron spikes, and tore his belly in so violent a manner, that his bowels came out, and he expired in a few hours in great agonies …

Tuesday, May 4. Yesterday morning died Mother Needham … She declared in her last words, that what most affected her was the terror of standing in the pillory to-morrow in New Palace-Yard, having been so ungratefully used by the populace on Wednesday … They acted very ungratefully, considering how much she had done to oblige them.

* Charteris caught his own death sentence in 1730 for raping a servant, although he had the pull to obtain a royal pardon — with the aid of one of those familiar squid-inking campaigns of smearing his victim and casting doubt on the circumstances. “All the world agree he deserved to be hanged long ago, but they differ whether on this occasion,” one noble confided to his diary.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Arts and Literature,Borderline "Executions",Businessmen,England,History,Public Executions,Sex,Torture,Women

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1560: Giambatista Cardano, “crowning misfortune”

Add comment April 13th, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1560, the son of Renaissance polymath Gerolamo Cardano was beheaded for murdering his — the son’s — wife.

While Cardano pere was one of the great intellectuals of his era, and has been covered in these grim annals via his interest in a genius composer executed for sodomy, the fils earns notice merely for his famous relations.

The latter, Giambatista Cardano by name, committed nothing but a shabby domestic murder, dosing his wife Brandonia di Seroni — “a worthless, shameless woman” in Gerolamo’s estimation — with arsenic when he had tired of her infidelities.

Still, it is the burden of a father to love his firstborn no matter how undistinguished and homicidal. Cardano poured his sorrow into a long funerary verse, not neglecting therein to defend the prerogatives of a jealous husband’s “avenging right hand”; we obtain it from the old man’s autobiography.

A Lament on the Death of My Son

Who has snatched thee away from me —
O, my son, my sweetest son?
Who had the power to bring to my age
Sorrows more than I can count?
Wrath in whose soul or what stern fate
Willed to reap thy youth’s fair flower?
Not Calliope, not Apollo,
Served thee in thine hour of need!
Cithara, now, and all song be still;
Measures of threnodies shall renew
Mourning and sighs for my dear son.
— Strains of his singing haunt me still —
Laurels, alas, in the healing art,
Knowledge of things, and a facile gift
Of Latin tongue—what profit these
Labors long if they swiftly die?
Service rendered Spanish prince,
Duty done to the noblest of men
Help thee naught if with these for thy judge
Death with his scythe doth seek thy blood.

What, ah me, shall I do? My soul
Swoons to remember thee, gentle son;
Silent, I brood on thy destiny grim;
Tears that I dare not give to words,
Shall I not shed for my stricken son?
Lasting encomium had I reserved,
Fitting reward to thine ashes paid;
Silence — O shame — must my tongue now guard,
Death unjust nor its cause announce.
Grave are the ills thou hast borne, mild son.
Prince and Senate and ancient law
Ordered thy doom whilst thou in rash haste,
Brought an adultress the wage of her crime.
Safely adultery now in our homes
Mocks and insults when punishment swift
Stays the avenging right hand of the youth.

Son — the reflection true of the good
Strong in my father — worthy to live
Long through the years — Alas, my beloved!
Fates have forbidden and swept all that good
Far past the stars, and removed from gray earth
Every bright and illustrious thing.
Hail thee, child, for thy spirit high!
Clear is thy blood from ignoble stain;
Honor of forefather’s hast thou sought.
Far stands the king, and hope of safety,
Phoebus denies the lands his beams,
Light from Diana passes and dies,
Stars in the calm sky glance no more
Lest they look down on a palace foul,
Stained with the reeking blood of the slain.

Where lies my way? What land now claims
Body and limbs disfigured by death?
Son, is there naught but this to return?
Thee have I followed on sea and on land!
Fix me — if mercy is anywhere found —
Pierce me with weapons, O ye mad Gods!
Take with thy first blow my dreary life.
Pity me thou, oh great father of Gods,
Thrust with thy spear my hated head
Deep into Tartara; else am I bound
Hardly to burst this life’s bitter chains.
This, O my son, was not pledged to thy sire,
Love so unholy to trust with thine all —
Love that has ruined thee, son of my heart!

Wife of a memory blessed and true,
Happy thy death, nor spared for this grief!
I, through this crime, have myself brought disgrace,
O son to our name, for by envy compelled,
Homeland and Lares paternal I left.
Death had I sought for my innocent soul,
But surviving and living I vanquished my fate.

Ages to come will know, son, thy name,
Orient lands will hear of thy fame;
Dead to us thou art indeed —
Life hast thou won through all the earth!

It would be fair to say that this last vow of the grieving father was not kept. Indeed, the misery of losing his son to the executioner cast an enervating pall over the elder Cardano’s remaining years. “My supreme, my crowning misfortune,” he bewailed. “Because of this, it was neither becoming for me to be retained in my office [a professor of medicine at Pavia], nor could I justly be dismissed. I could neither continue to live in my native city with any peace, nor in security move elsewhere. I walked abroad an object of scorn; I conversed with my fellows abjectly, as one despised, and, as one of unwelcome presence, avoided my friends.”

A couple of years on and the unwelcomeness had become overwhelming; he relocated to a professorship in Bologna — nowise happy but at least clear of the omnipresent, suffocating shame associated with his name. The man’s woes were in no way alleviated by his surviving son Aldo, a thief and all-around lowlife whom Cardano ended up disinheriting. (Lone daughter Chiara was A-OK by pops apart from being unable to bear him grandchildren: “from my daughter alone have I suffered no vexations beyond the getting together of her dowry.”)

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Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Arts and Literature,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Italy,Murder,Sex,Torture

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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.

On this day..

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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.

On this day..

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.

On this day..

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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