Posts filed under 'Theft'

1727: Three at Tyburn

Add comment September 18th, 2017 Headsman

Daniel Defoe* once summarized early 18th century England’s class strata as

  1. The great, who live profusely
  2. The rich, who live plentifully
  3. The middle sort, who live well
  4. The working trades, who labour hard, but feel no want
  5. The country people, farmers, etc. who fare indifferently
  6. The poor, who fare hard
  7. The miserable, that really pinch and suffer want.

These ranks of “poor” and “miserably poor” were quite enormous in the 18th century, with something like a tenth of the population subsisting below the “breadline” even when the harvests were good.

It is arguably the struggle to control this lot that brings us that era’s notoriously aggressive “Bloody Code” of hanging laws; certainly the law flaunts its class character openly in many particular capital statutes such as the Black Acts to enforce rural enclosure and harsh laws against labor organizing.

The heaving of these great swells could not but drown a great many already struggling to keep their heads above the waves. And our visit this week to the Ordinary of Newgate brings a sad quartet of Tyburn hangings culled from that fringe of disposable young men “that really pinch and suffer want.”

Thomas Johnson, alias “Handy”

Handy’s nickname tells us something about the progress of his life, for (according to the Ordinary) in his infancy “his Right Arm and Hand had been bruis’d, so that being distorted, they decay’d and were only of the bigness of a Child’s Arm and Hand, neither had he the Use of them, having no strength and scarce any Motion in them.”

Abandoned to be succored by the Stepney parish poor relief around the age of three, Handy was considered able-bodied enough to be dropped from the rolls once he hit adolescence — and maybe the gentlemen of Stepney had a point, for Handy once set to shift for himself “turn[ed] Thief and Housebreaker … [and] made considerable proficiency, and turn’d dexterous in his Profession.” But he had a near-impossible task of finding honest work: city and country were everywhere awash in working poor ready to hire who had two good hands.

Eventually one of Handy’s misadventures caught him a sentence to convict transportation — which was yet another juridical innovation of the Hanoverian age for managing the mother country’s vast underclass. But transportation, a sort of mercantile slavery in the colonies, depended for its part on a market for the human cargo and our man’s crippled arm again militated against him. Handy would lament this again at the very gallows, where he

exclaim’d against one who Transported Felons, saying that after he had caused them to Work for him in these foreign Countries; he brought them Home to England in the same Ship which he had carried them off; and that the Reason of his returning was, because No body would Buy him, and that he must have starv’d there and that when at Home he had no way to get his Bread because he wanted his Right Hand to enable him for Work.

This act — returning from convict transportation — itself constituted a capital crime. And when arrested again, Handy confessed it, almost whimsically. He would tell the Ordinary that he was wearying of life and anticipated additional indictments, but the record of the trial suggests that he sent himself to the gallows to revenge himself on the informers who would have made evidence against him in hopes of pocketing a reward: “the Prosecutors thought to hang him for the sake of the 40 Pounds allowed by the Government, but he would baulk their Expectations, for he would be hanged for returning from Transportation according to Law.”

Samuel Hammond

In comparison to Handy, Samuel Hammond had it made.

Apprenticed to a man named Thomas Barker, Hammond had a path to Defoe’s “working trades” class (“who labour hard, but feel no want”), undone by a youth’s impulsiveness. One day when Barker chastised him — “You Blockhead you’ll break the Drill, why don’t you use the Pliers” — Barker grabbed a sword and stabbed him through the ribcage. Barker’s son arrived to find the apprentice brandishing the weapon over his fallen father, “saying to the Decesed [sic], D – n your B – d you Son of a B – h I’ll kill you; upon which then Deceased said, you have done it already.”

The Ordinary reported that Hammond was tearfully repentant and insisted even before his conviction on joining chapel services for the condemned. The only grievance he could point to against his master besides that “blockhead” burn was that he was sweet on a maid in the house whom Barker had also “corrected … for a Fault” months before. We hear this frightened young man through the Ordinary here, so one can only guess whether our surviving account elides a longer litany of domestic cruelty for the boy or the maid.

“Luckily” Samuel Hammond did not suffer the ignominy of hanging for all that: he fell grievously ill in the pestilential Newgate cells, and “after that Sentence of Death was pronounc’d upon him, he was never able to rise and go to Chappel, but lay in a high Fever, to Thursday, the 7th of September, when about 11 o’Clock at Night he expir’d.”

Henry Chaplin and Peter Boother

These housebreakers each blamed the other as well as several other confederates (one of them still at large, plus two others who had given evidence against them) as the principal authors of the robbery that did them in. Oh, sure, they were there, invading Daniel Lyver’s house — where the gang “in a violent Manner broke the Windows, burst open the Window-Shutters and the Door, took the Goods mentioned in the Indictment, and beat him [Lyver] at the same Time with much Barbarity” — but (each said) he’d been there urging all his accomplices to come away and not steal all the pewter. Each carried that eye-rolling story from trial to gallows.

Chaplin was about 27; his father had tried to teach him his trade of “Ribband-weaving” which suggests (as does his surname) that his family might have been among the Huguenot weavers who escaped France’s religious crackdown decades before. He must have been a restless sort, for instead of sweltering over a loom he joined the army around age 15, perhaps about the right timing to put down the Jacobites, and afterwards basically went adrift in London’s criminal substratum. There he led “a very vicious Life … much addicted to Drinking, Swearing, and Whoring.”

His companion in the Lyver home and at the triple tree was Peter Boother, “about 21 Years of Age, descended of honest but very poor Parents, about 14 Miles from this Town his Father having been a mean Labourer in the Country.” The Ordinary does not give us a clear picture of Boother’s path into the felonious way of life, merely that he was young, penniless, and completely uneducated; combined with Boother’s tearful susceptibility to the Ordinary’s preaching, it suggests an impressionable youth, malleable to the forces around him which happened to be those of vicious want. (Chaplin, the Ordinary noticed, “appear’d to be a Man of more Resolution than his Companion, being more compos’d and settled in his Behaviour.”)

* Defoe had a few thoughts on the death penalty, too.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,History,Murder,Not Executed,Public Executions,Theft

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1960: George Scott

Add comment September 7th, 2017 Headsman

On this date in 1960, a goon went to the San Quentin gas chamber for his violent retort.

On the evening of December 30, 1958, George Albert Scott was exiting a Melrose cafe with his partner in crime Curtis Lichtenwalter, having profitably held up the joint with a sawed-off shotgun.

A Samuel Goldwyn Studio executive with very poor timing named Kenneth Savoy just happened to be walking in the door as the robbers were walking out, and Scott decided to augment their takings en passant.

“Just a minute, mister,” Scott hailed Savoy (according to this Los Angeles Times blog retrospective). “Give your wallet.”

Savoy upped the ante with a bravado that he might have regretted seconds later when Scott’s shotgun blasted him in the stomach: “I’m single and have no responsibilities — no one will miss me. If you want my wallet, you will have to shoot me first.”

This was the first casualty in the course of several Los Angeles stickups the pair had perpetrated that December. Lichtenwalter, who had no previous criminal record, bailed out of the duo’s Jesse James act after this but the parolee Scott went on to knock over a couple more places before he was cornered in a hotel with a woman named Barbara White, picturesquely described via a lax Eisenhower-era Times copyeditor as “a former woman wrestler.”

Scott made multiple suicide attempts during his death row stint, ranging from a gory throat-slashing at his sanity hearing to (according to the Associated Press wire dispatch*) three tries on the more desperate end of the spectrum on the literal eve of his execution:

First he smashed a light globe and stuffed glass in his mouth. A doctor said he was not harmed seriously.

Two hours later, guards reported, he stood on his cot and dived against the wall with his head.

Restrained, he eluded guards and began ramming his head against the cell wall.

He went to his death calmly, and with a skull-splitting headache.

* Quoted here from the Augusta (Ga.) Chronicle of September 9, 1960.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,California,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Gassed,Murder,Pelf,Theft,USA

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1594: Thomas Merry and Rachel Merry, lamentable tragedie

Add comment September 6th, 2017 Headsman

On this date in 1594, Thomas Merry (Merrey, Merrye) and his sister Rachel were executed at Smithfield — Thomas for the robbery-motivated bludgeon murder of their neighbor Master Beech, and (too-)loyal* Rachel as an accessory to it.

No original record of this case survives, but we have its date from a registry record of one of the numerous now-lost ballads about the case, The pitifull lamentation of Rachell Merrye, whoe suffred in Smithfield with her brother Thoms Merrye the vj of September 1594.

The one remaining artifact available for specifics, be they ever so embroidered, is a play from 1601; the date alone underscores the hold of the by-then-seven-year-old crime on public imagination.** And small wonder it was the talk of London, considering the cracking action seen in Robert Yarington’s Two lamentable tragedies:† The one, of the murther of Maister Beech a chaundler in Thames-streete, and his boye, done by Thomas Merry. The other of a young childe murthered in a wood by two ruffins, with the consent of his unckle — like this scene where brother and sister figure out how to carve up the victim. (Slightly tidied for readability.)

Enter Merry and Rachel with a bag.

Merry
What hast thou sped? have you bought the bag?

Rachel
I brother, here it is, what is’t to do?

Merry
To beate hence Beeches body in the night.

Rachel
You cannot beare so great a waight your selfe,
And ’tis no trusting of another man.

Merry
Yes well enough, as I will order it,
Ile cut him peece-meale, first his head and legs
Will be one burthen, then the mangled rest,
Will be another, which I will transport,
Beyond the water in a Ferry boate,
And throw it into Paris-garden ditch.
Fetch me the chopping-knife, and in the meane
Ile move the Fagots that do cover him.

Rachel
Oh can you finde in hart to cut and carve,
His stone colde flesh, and rob the greedy grave,
Of his disseuered blood besprinckled lims?

Merry
I mary can I fetch the chopping knife.

Rachel
This deed is worse, then when you tooke his life.

Merry
But worse, or better, now it must be so,
Better do thus, then feele a greater woe.

Rachel
Here is the knife, I cannot stay to see,
This barbarous deed of inhumanitie.

Exit Rachel

Merry begins to cut the body, and bindes the armes behinde his backe with Beeches garters, leaves out the body, covers the head and legs againe.

If we credit the play — and it’s the only source in town — poor Master Beech ended up hacked into many pieces that were secreted in various places around London as a ploy to avoid detection.

Amazingly, this gruesome and obscure drama has been staged in the 21st century, using not only the Sheakespeare-era script but the rehearsal and performance methods common at the time. There’s a site all about it, including a Tedx Talk by director Emma Whipday and her collaborator Freyja Cox Jensen. (Readers interested in the play production challenges might enjoy this pdf paper by Whipday and Jensen.)

We would be remiss on a site such as this not to spare a peep for the actual execution scene. We pick it up with Thomas Merry already standing upon the ladder with the hemp about his throat, exhorting his sister to firmness.

Merry
God strengthen me with patience to endure,
This chastisement, which I confesse too small
A punishment for this my hainous sinne:
Oh be couragious sister, fight it well,
We shall be crown’d with immortallitie.

Rachel
I will not faint, but combat manfully,
Christ is of power to helpe and strengthen me.

Officer.
I pray make hast, the hower is almost past.

Merry
I am prepar’d, oh God receive my soule,
Forgive my sinnes, for they are numberlesse,
Receive me God, for now I come to thee.

Turne of the Lather: Rachel shrinketh.

Officer
Nay shrinke not woman, have a cheerefull hart.

Rachel
I, so I do, and yet this sinfull flesh,
Will be rebellious gainst my willing spirit.
Come let me clime these steps that lead to heaven,
Although they seeme the staires of infamie!
Let me be merror to ensuing times,
And teach all sisters how they do conceale,
The wicked deeds, of brethren, or of friends,
I not repent me of my love to him,
But that thereby I have provoked God,
To heavie wrath and indignation,
Which turne away great God, for Christes sake.
Ah Harry Williams, thou wert chiefest cause,
That I do drinke of this most bitter cup,
For hadst thou opened Beeches death at first,
The boy had liv’d, and thou hadst sav’d my life:
But thou art bronded with a marke of shame,
And I forgive thee from my very soule,
Let him and me, learne all that heare of this,
To utter brothers or their maisters misse,
Conceale no murther, least it do beget,
More bloody deeds of like deformitie.
Thus God forgive my sinnes, receive my soule,
And though my dinner be of bitter death,
I hope my soule shall sup with Iesus Christ,
And see his presence everlastingly.

Dyeth.

Officer
The Lord of heaven have mercy on her soule,
And teach all other by this spectacle,
To shunne such dangers as she ran into,
By her misguided taciturnitie:
Cut downe their bodies, give hers funerall,
But let his body be conveyed hence,
To Mile-end greene, and there be hang’d in chaines.

Exeunt omnes.

* At one point in the play described in this text, Rachel Merry muses on the enormity of the crime and the likelihood of its detection — “such cruell deedes can never long be hid / Although we practice nere so cunningly.” Neveretheless, she stands by her kin: “Lo he is my brother, I will cover it, / And rather dye than have it spoken rife, / Lo where she goes, betrai’d her brothers life.

** There’s yet another known play about the case from 1599, also lost.

† This play strangely cuts back and forth between the action in the titular two tragedies, which are the Merry crime and a fictitious murder set in Padua — the whole thing scaffolded by a chorus of narrator-allegories comprising Homicide, Avarice, and Truth. The Italian story also ends in a pair of executions.

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Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,History,Murder,Pelf,Public Executions,Theft,Women

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1964: James Coburn, George Wallace’s first death warrant

Add comment September 4th, 2017 Headsman

James Coburn was electrocuted on this date in 1964 in Alabama’s “Yellow Mama”.

He’d been condemned for a Dallas County robbery … and only for that. He has the distinction of being the very last human being executed in the United States for any non-homicide crime; at a stretch one could perhaps reckon him the most distant echo of the Anglosphere’s long-ago “Bloody Code” days, when the sturdy Tyburn tree strained with mere burglars and pickpockets.

Such draconian laws were not enforced in England any more, not for a very long time. (Great Britain abolished the death penalty for purely property crimes in the 1830s.) In fact, the last British executions for any kind of crime at all had occurred weeks before Yellow Mama destroyed James Coburn for robbery.

Presiding over this anachronistic penal event was a knight of the nascent American reaction: Alabama Governor George Wallace. He’d been sworn in just the previous year with the infamous vow, “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever!”

Coburn’s was the first death warrant to bear Governor Wallace’s signature, but it’s a small surprise that it was the first of just four — considering that Wallace served 16 total years in three separate stints as a conservative executive in a southern state.

One reason was simply because, like his contemporary Ronald Reagan, Wallace’s political star reached its height during the the death penalty’s late sixties to early eighties lull.

But another is that, despite musing inclusively about “a lot of bad white folks and a lot of bad black folks who ought to be electrocuted,” Wallace nurtured gnawing doubts about capital punishment that seem to have grown throughout his strange career.

As a young law student, Wallace had assisted a capital defense for a man who had murdered his wife by dynamiting the house — the charge “blew her through the roof, and she fell down a mass of meat,” in Wallace’s words. The defense seemed hopeless, but Wallace conjured a strategy to keep this particular bad white folk out of the electric chair.

One morning before court opened, just as Beale and Wallace thought all was lost, a relative brought the defendant’s son to see his father. “He was about ten or eleven,” Wallace remembered, “but he looked younger than that. He was a sallow-looking boy, like he had hookworms, and he ran over to his daddy when he came into the courthouse and hugged him and kissed him.” Wallace, who witnessed the scene, told Beale they could use the boy to try to whip up some sympathy among the jurors. Beale agreed; the two took the boy into a room, and Wallace asked him if he understood what was going on. “Do you understand that people in that courtroom are asking that your daddy be electrocuted? That they want to do away with him? Do you understand that?” And Wallace said that every time he would mention it, the boy would break down and cry. So Wallace sat the boy right behind the defendant’s table. “Every time Attorney Beale was asking questions of a witness,” Wallace said, “I would lean over and whisper to this young boy, ‘Son, they’re trying to kill your daddy.’ He would immediately break down in sobs, and the judge would have to recess the court.”

After the testimony concluded, Beale addressed the jury on the circumstantial nature of the state’s evidence; then he asked Wallace to make a final statement for the defense. “I pinned it all on the boy,” Wallace recalled. “I put my arms around him and I said, ‘Now listen, this fellow here has nobody left in the world but his father. His father is no good, he’s no account — but his son still loves him; you saw that in the courtroom. So I am pleading with you for this boy. Save his daddy’s life so he’ll have somebody in the world who loves him, even though he’s in prison.'” The prosecutor had asked for the death penalty, Wallace told the jury. “He said, ‘If anybody deserves the electric chair, this man deserves it.’ If we were trying this man on whether he is a sorry, no-good individual, I would agree: he’s no good; he’s no account; he’s killed his wife for no good reason. But I ask you to let this man live so the son will still have a father.” Wallace then brought the boy to the jury box and said: “Gentlemen, think of this child when you are making that decision. He comes from a poor family. He has not had many good things in life. But he still loves his daddy, whether or not he has committed this horrible crime. I plead with you for this little boy.” After the judge’s charge, Wallace and Beale went to a cafe, but they had barely finished a cup of coffee when the bailiff rushed over and told them the jury was coming back in. “We find the defendant guilty,” the foreman said, “and we fix his punishment at life in prison.” Wallace was elated — so much so that he refused the hundred-dollar fee that Beale offered him. “I would have given you a hundred dollars for the experience this gave me,” he told Beale.

-George Wallace: American Populist

Cynical, sure. (Even Wallace’s ultra-segregationist persona was cynical, adopted after he lost an earlier election as the moderate running against a Klan-endorsed opponent.) But whatever his other faults, he genuinely didn’t seem to delight in the executioner, and by the end of his life his acquaintance with this character had put him in fear for his soul.

Governor Wallace signed one other death warrant in 1965, and — after an interim of three presidential bids on the white ressentiment ticket plus a near-assassination that left him wheelchair-bound — found himself governor again in the 1980s. The first death cases under the “modern” Alabama law that Wallace himself had signed in 1975 were just then beginning to reach the end of the line.

And we find, via this post channeling Evan Mandery’s A Wild Justice: The Death and Resurrection of Capital Punishment in America, that Wallace was agonized before doing what he was always going to do.

George Wallace was beginning his final term as Alabama’s governor when he was asked to sign [John Louis] Evans’s death warrant. Wallace’s notoriety, of course, rests primarily on the day in 1963 that he stood in a doorway at the University of Alabama to keep black students out. But it is also worth noting that his 1968 third-party presidential campaign perfected the “tough-on-crime” sloganeering that would dominate much of American electoral politics into the 1990s.

Privately, George Wallace had long harbored doubts about capital punishment. In 1964, he told his law clerk that he thought it should be ruled unconstitutional. By 1983, Wallace had survived a shooting, converted to born-again Christianity, and recanted his segregationism. In Mandery’s words, his “reservations about the constitutionality of capital punishment had evolved into full-blown opposition.” The night before Evans was due to be executed, Wallace telephoned his lieutenant governor “in tears,” Mandery recounts. Wallace said that “he had been up all night ‘praying the Bible,’ and couldn’t bring himself to sign the warrant.” That lieutenant governor was the former law clerk, Bill Baxley,* with whom Wallace had shared his reservations 20 years before. Baxley was a liberal Democrat — as Alabama’s attorney general, he had earned the wrath of the Ku Klux Klan for his investigation and prosecution of civil rights cases — who supported the death penalty. He convinced George Wallace that there was no political choice but to sign the warrant … Evans was strapped into an electric chair and, after two botched jolts that left him burned but alive, was shocked to death on the state of Alabama’s third attempt.

* Baxley is famous for investigating a notorious 1963 church bombing, and relatedly for deploying Alabama state letterhead in one of its very best uses ever.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Alabama,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Electrocuted,Execution,History,Milestones,Theft,USA

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2000: Gary Lee Roll, pained

Add comment August 30th, 2017 Headsman

On this date in 2000, Missouri put Gary Lee Roll out of his suffering.

A war veteran with no criminal record prior to the triple homicide that landed him in these pages, Gary Lee Roll came from — and, according to his remorseful last statement, failed — a stable and secure family.

He could trace his own tragedy back in 1973 when a botched operation by a U.S. Army oral surgeon left him with a life-altering pain in his jaw that would never go away. It eventually pulled him into a spiral of self-medication..

“It hurts to talk about it,” Roll said of the continual debilitating pain that afflicted most of his adulthood. “It affected my life so much. It changed me.”

One night in August 1992 Roll, his pain abated but his mind clouded by pot, LSD, and alcohol, persuaded two buddies to join him on a spur-of-moment robbery of a drug dealer. Our man barged into the place posing as a cop, and then reflected that he was liable to be identified by his victims. Before the trio fled richer by $215 and 12 ounces of pot, they’d left Sherry Scheper bludgeoned to death, her son Curtis, 22, knifed to death, and her other son Randy, 17, shot to death. (Randy was the one in the drug trade.)

As ill-planned as this sounds, and was, the killers were not detected for weeks afterwards, when one of Roll’s accomplices grew nervous about his situation and secretly taped our man admitting to the murder. Those tapes found their way into the hands of police.

The pain-wracked Roll entered guilty pleas and though not technically a volunteer for his own execution also showed little zeal to oppose it. “If I thought there was something I could say, I would say anything. But I don’t think there is,” he reportedly mused. His accomplices both received life sentences.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Drugs,Execution,Lethal Injection,Missouri,Murder,Theft,USA

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1811: Five at Shrewsbury, “but a ten minutes job”

Add comment August 24th, 2017 William Allen

(Thanks to Quaker humanitarian William Allen for the guest post, originally published in Allen’s early 19th century periodical The Philanthropist — a journal intended “to stimlate to virtue and active benevolence, by pointing out to those who have the disposition and the power the means of gratifying the best feelings of the heart.” We dated the quintuple hanging referred to via CapitalPunishmentUK.org. -ed.)

Remarks on a late Execution at Shrewsbury

As one object of THE PHILANTHROPIST is to diffuse knowledge respecting capital punishment, it may, perhaps, afford a place for the following particulars.

At the last Shrewsbury assizes, George Taylor, aged 43, William Turner, aged 53, Abraham Whitehouse, aged 23, James Baker, aged 19, and Isaac Hickman, aged 19, were, convicted of burglariously breaking into a dwelling-house, and stealing some bank notes and other articles of value. They were all left for death. The three first were considered as old offenders. The two others, however, were understood to have borne a good character; their parents were said to be respectable; the offence, as far as appeared, was the first they had committed; and they were only nineteen.

A general persuasion therefore prevailed, that these unfortunate youths would be permitted to live. Under this impression, it seems, some kind-hearted person, a stranger to them, climbed to the top of the wall overlooking the press yard behind the Shire-hall, where the prisoners were waiting on the day of their condemnation, and cried out, “You are all condemned, but only three of you will suffer.”

The poor young fellows eagerly embraced the assurance. They knew how often mercy was extended to persons under sentence of death, and could not suppose they should be selected as fit objects of peculiar severity.

While they were comforting themselves in confinement with the daily hope of a reprieve, the time appointed for the execution drew near. Two days before that time, one of them received a message from his mother, intended to console him under the expectation of a miserable death, that she would send to fetch away his body! Not till then, had they given themselves up for lost. But from that moment all hope was over. From that moment they had but two days — two days of consternation and despair, to fit themselves for death and eternity. Those two days, the shortest they had ever known, were but too soon gone. The morning of execution came. On that day, the five prisoners, even the two lads of nineteen, were all hanged! The two poor fellows who were executed together, immediately as the drop fell from under them, caught hold of each other’s hands, and expired in a mutual embrace! What a feeling has pervaded the county, among all who could feel, hardly need be described.

The extraordinary circumstance of five men being executed at once, for one offence, attracted vast multitudes of people, of the lower order, from all parts of the country. To see five of their fellow creatures hanged, was as good as a horse-race, a boxing-match, or a bull-baiting. If nothing was intended but to amuse the rabble, at a great loss of their time and a considerable expense, the design was undoubtedly effected. If a public entertainment was not the object, it may be asked, What benefit has a single individual derived from beholding the destruction of these miserable victims? Perhaps that question may be answered by stating, that many of the spectators immediately afterwards got intoxicated, and some cried out to their companions, with a significant gesture in allusion to the mode of punishment, “It is but a ten minutes job!” If such is the sentiment excited on the very spot, it cannot be supposed to be more salutary at a distance; and notwithstanding the sacrifice of these five men, the people of Shropshire must still fasten their doors.

But if, on the other hand, in time to come, a compassionate Shropshire jury should rather acquit some unhappy young culprit, when charged with a capital felony, and suffer hm to go unpunished, rather than consign him to the executioner, — if house-breakers should learn to think lightly of human life, and adopt the precaution of committing a murder the next time they commit a robbery, since the danger of detection would be less, and the punishment no greater, — what will the inhabitants of the county have to thank for it, but this very spectacle! — a spectacle which cannot soften one heart, but may harden many; which confounds moral distinctions, and draws away public indignation from the guilt of the offender, to turn it against the severity of the law.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Guest Writers,Hanged,Mass Executions,Other Voices,Public Executions,Theft

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1720: Matthew Tompkins, Daniel Lazenby, and Maurice Fitzgerald

Add comment August 15th, 2017 Headsman

THE Ordinary of NEWGATE

HIS ACCOUNT OF The Behaviours, Confessions, and Last Dying Words of the Malefactors that were Executed at Tyburn on Monday the 15th of August, 1720.

The Sunday preceeding the Execution of the Prisoners, I preached to them from the following Words.

Bloody and Deceitful Men shall not live out half their Days. (Psalm 55th, part of the 23d Verse.)

We first observed that the Psalmist every where speaks of Murder with conscious Sense of Shame; The Prophet Nathan’s Parable had pierced his Bosom, and cut deep into his Heart. Well knew he, that Uriah was the poor Man with an only Lamb, that was tender to him, and lay every Night in his Bosom: His Conscience started at his Guilt; and the prospect of Love that was pleasing late, is shocking now: The Beautiful Bathsheba, and the Blood-stain’d Uriah rise up at once to his View; and in the bitterness of Soul he cries out, Deliver Me from Bloodguiltiness O God, Thou God of my Salvation! (ver. 14.)

But deep and hearty was David’s Repentance; and for every Pleasure he paid a thousand Tears. Therefore, notwithstanding his Guilt, he hopes God will save him from his Enemies. That Confidence as he often expresses, so particularly in my Text, Thou, O God, shalt bring them down into the Pit of Destruction; Bloody and Deceitful Men shall not live out half their Days.

From the Words we observed the following Things.

First, We consider’d the Nature of Bloodguiltiness: According to, 1st, the Natural; 2d, the Jewish; 3d, the Christian Law.

Secondly, We consider’d Who were meant by Deceitful Men.

Thirdly, Very briefly advis’d all to a serious Reflection on the Doctrine; because, Bloody and Deceitful Men do not live out half their Days.

First, We consider’d Bloodguiltiness according to the Law of Nature.

This is a tacit Law, engraven on the Heart, that plainly exclaims against Murder. For ’tis not agreeable to Natural Reason to suppose that I and another Rational Creature, being both of Us the Right and Property of some Superiour Being that caused us to be, can have a Right to rob that superior Being of that his other Creature by Murder. That other Creature also has a Natural Right lodg’d in him, by the Creator, to enjoy the Light of the Sun; to sleep, and feed, and whatever else the Creator has thought fit to make him capable of enjoying. As therefore, I did not give him this Capacity of Enjoyment, ’tis plain, I can have no Right to take it from him; Unless indeed where I have a particular Commission from God to do it; which is the Case of the Brutes we devour.

This is according to the Light of Nature: And even the Heathens of Popayan and Paraguay, Tho’ they used to fat up their Captive Foes, to feast upon their Flesh, yet had so much Glimmering of the Dictates of Reason, as to detest, and severely Punish the Murder of their own People; Looking upon no Crimes as Capital but Incest and Murder; But to show their Abhorrence of Them, The Prince with a Dart pursued the Offender and with his own Hands destroyed him.

2d, We consider’d Bloodguiltiness according to the Mosaic Law.

This Law, agreeable to that of Nature, is very express against Murder. Whosoe sheddeth Man’s Blood, by Man shall his Blood be shed.

Under this Head, I took Notice of what I have sometimes thought remarkable, viz. That the very Giver of this Law, Moses, should slay a Man, without any Accusation laid against him. This a Hebrew, who had heard of it, thought a Crime; and accusingly said, Intendest thou to kill Me as thou didst the Egyptian Yesterday? It also made a great Noise in the Land, so that Pharoah was acquainted with it: But Moses fled from the Face of Pharoah, and dwelt in the Land of Midian. (Exod. 2. 15.) The Manner of his Slaying Him, was thus; And he spy’d an Egyptian smiting an Hebrew, one of his Brethren. And he looked this way and that way, and when he saw that there was no Man, he slew the Egyptian, and hid him in the Sand. (Exod. 2. 11, 12.)

The usual way of Answering this Difficulty, is, either by supposing it a wicked Action, tho’ not noted as such in Scripture; Or else, by saying, that Moses had a particular Commission from God to perform this Murder. But certainly that would be an Omission in the Sacred Writ (which far be it from any one to conceive) to leave out such a material Information; because the Murder is committed by a Person who is represented to Us as the Reverse of such a Doer. All Evil-Actions mention’d in Scripture, are mention’d for a Good End; and serve either to deter Us from the same Sins, by the Punishment annex’d to them; Or, to prevent our Despair, by the Sight of God’s Forgiveness: But it can serve to neither, of these Ends, to show Us a Virtuous Man Sinning, without noting him as disagreeing from himself.

This Answer therefore, seems to Me not to come up to the Difficulty. I would rather, with Submission, answer it thus. We must suppose it to be a Lawful Action; and who can assert the Contrary; unless he knew the Nature of the Skirmish between the Egyptian and the Hebrew? For it might be a justifiable Murder, if we suppose the Egyptian to be so beating the Hebrew, as resolving to have his Life; and to be so violent and furious therein, as that the Interposer Moses could not save the Life of the Servant of God, but by taking away That of the Barbarian; I think, with Submission, in that Case, it might be lawful for Moses to do it. The Egyptian was in the nature of an Assaulter, or Robber; and Grotius with the other Ethick Writers, determine, that I and my Friend may defend my own Life at the Expence of a Robber’s Blood. And this especially before the Christian Dispensation.

To this it may be objected, that Moses need not have looked this Way and that Way, to see if any was near, had he had this Cause for slaying the Egyptian. To this I answer, that tho’ this justified the Action in the sight of God, yet Moses knew it would not in the Eyes of Pharoah; who, we may suppose, had rather ten Hebrews should dye, than one Egyptian; As appears from his ordering all the Male Hebrew Children to be slain, only lest the Hebrews should grow too strong.

To confirm this Explication, we may observe, that the rescued Hebrew would not, in all probability, have discover’d his Brother and Deliverer, unless he had conceiv’d an Opinion (without thinking so far as Pharoah’s Partiality towards the Hebrews) that it was not a Criminal Action, on Account of the Murderous Intent of the Egyptian: And He must be the Discoverer, because we read, There was no one present. (ver. 12.)

3dly, The Christian-Law is much more express against Bloodguiltiness, than either the Natural or the Jewish; insomuch, that, Whosoe hateth his Brother is a Murderer. And agen, Whosoe sayeth to his Brother, Thou Fool, is in Danger of Hell-Fire. So far must Christians be from Murder, that Christ says, Resist not Evil; but whosoever smiteth thee on one Cheek, turn to him the Other also. (Mat. 5. 39.) Contrary to the Jewish Law, which said, An Eye for an Eye, and a Tooth for a Tooth.

Secondly, Under the Second general Head we consider’d, who are meant by Deceitful Men, – Bloody, and Deceitful Men.

  • 1st.) By Deceitful Men, may be meant False-Friends. This certainly is very sinful. ‘Tis also imprudent, We should well consider before we take a Friend to our Bosom; and better consider before we throw him thence agen.
  • 2dly.) By Deceitful Men, may be meant Thieves. As the Psalmist says, He sitteth lurking in the thievish Corners of the Streets. Psal. 10. 8.

    It is become usual for Us to see Robbings in the publick Streets; How different are you from the Example of our Saviour; He went about Doing Good, But you Doing Ill: He preach’d Peace thro’ the Streets, But you denounce Slaughter and Rapine. Little then would one think, ye had renounced the World at your Baptism, and profest your selves Followers, Pupils, Imitators of Christ.

    Some in your Conditions have seem’d to value themselves upon their bearing their Misfortunes as becomes Men: But can ye take a sort of Pride in dying Couragiously like a Man, and not be ashamed of having liv’d like Brutes? Was their not something Mean and Base (for that ye will most regard) in inhabiting the Night, and flying the Face of Day, which Man was form’d with an Aspect erect to gaze at? The Apostle says, We are not of the Night, but of the Day; and let us who are of the Day be Sober; putting on the Breast-plate of Faith and Love, and for an Helmet, the Hope of Salvation. 1 Thess. 5. 8.

  • 3dly.) By Deceitful Men may be meant Defamers and Backbiters. This is a Deceit, perhaps as pernicious as the Thief’s, tho’ not equally liable to Punishment: The Robber despoils Us of our Goods, the Defamer, of our Reputations; One injures Us Clandestinely, The other to our Face. But Christ said, Let him who is without Sin among you, first throw a Stone at Her.

Thirdly. The Third General Head was, to perswade All to the Consideration of the Doctrine, for the Reason in the Text, Bloody and Deceitful Men shall not live out half their Days.
Under this Head we consider’d the Misery of being cut off in the Pride and Prime of Youth, while the Face of Nature was delightful, and joyous the Light of the Sun: And that this Misery was but the Natural Consequence of Sin, especially of Bloodguiltiness, agreeable to the Text.

I lastly conjured them, to compensate for their former evil Lives, by the uncommon Earnestness of their Repentance; Never to leave Assaulting the Throne of Grace, till they had some dawning Assurances of Salvation; But so to expend their few remaining Hours, that they might launch forth from Sorrow to Joy; from Pain to Satisfaction; and from a World of Care into Realms of never fading Pleasures.

1. Matthew Tomkins, was Convicted of robbing John Wickers, on the High-way, of 4 Guineas and 16 s. 6 d.

The Account he gave me of himself was as follows.

He said he was 22 Years of Age; a single Man; born at Tunbridge, where he has now a Father and Mother residing in good Credit and Reputation. He said, they brought him up with the utmost Tenderness, and gave him a considerable share of Learning. He never was Apprentice to any Trade; but was in Quality of a Book-keeper for some time, at a great China Shop in London, where nothing was objected against his Behaviour.

He said, he was lately Master of about 400 l. That he then gave himself up too much to Pleasure: He was often advis’d by his Friends to purchase a Place for Life, but never was so happy as to follow their good Counsel; He added, that he liv’d in a very jovial Manner, upon the principal Money, pursuing his Pleasures, and denying himself nothing that might tend to the Gratifying his Inclinations.

Upon a Day (as he told me) he took a Ride to Ware in Hartfordshire, alone by himself; but he there got into some Company, they proposed a Game at Cards, which they said they did not well Understand, ’twas a new Game, but they were told ’twas very Diverting. Mr. Tompkins soon undertook to play with them. When he had lost all his Money, he call’d for his Horse, in order to return to London.

Upon the Road, he said, he met a Man, of a sober Aspect; whose Occupation he should little have suspected from his Appearance. With this Person he fell into Discourse, and was complaining of the Tricks and Deceits of Cards, and related how he had been served at Ware, where he had been bubbled out of all his Money. The Stranger told him, he need not be necessitated for Money, so long as he was upon an open Road; and in short, gave him a Pistol. The next Gentleman they met, they rob’d of four Guineas and some Silver, half of which he had; and parting with his Instructor at London, never saw him after.

This is the Account he gave me of his committing this wicked Action. He also told me, That he had let his Parents know his Misfortunes he was under, but had, at the same time requested of them, not to come to London on that Account, for it was not in their Power to be any way Serviceable to him in that Condition; but that the Sight of them, who had always used him with so great Tenderness and Affection, would greatly aggravate and encrease his Sorrow.

He shou’d me a Book, which a Clergyman sent him, which he said had been the occasion of his passing the sad and Melancholly Hours of Confinement, not only with Patience but with some Satisfaction and Delight.

The Saturday before his Execution, He told me he had then entirely laid aside all Thoughts of the World, and that the Sight of his Acquaintance was become Painful to him; for he had in some measure habituated Himself to think of Heaven, till it was become Grateful to him in the Consideration.

2. David Lazenby, was Convicted of breaking open the Chambers of Charles Wood, Esq; in the Night-time, and stealing thence, some Holland Shirts, Cravats, a Beaver Hat, Sheets, a Cloath Coat and Wast-coat, Worsted Stockings, &c. The Account he gave me of himself was as follows.

He said, He was 26 Years of Age; Born at Market-Weston in Suffolk, of honest and reputable Parents. He was put Prentice to a Weaver; to which Trade he served his 7 Years out. But this Employment not being sufficient to maintain him, he said, he went into the Country; Being there at a loss how to employ his time, and procure a comfortable Subsistance, he at last determin’d to set up a Publick House, which he accordingly did; but soon growing weary of that noisy and quarrelsome Life, he returned again to London, where he met with tolerable Encouragement in his own Trade.

He said, that at the Time he was Apprehended on Suspicion, he liv’d at Hoxton, where he Employ’d 5 Journeymen under him at the Weaving Business .

He told me, that during my Sickness, a Great Distiller in Fore-street had desired to speak with me concerning him; that I would put the Question to him, whether he was not concern’d in robbing his Dining-Room, of several peices of Plate, some marked with his Coat of Arms, and some Plain. When the Prisoner had told me this, I accordingly taxed him, as he was a Dying Man, and had I hoped a value for his Soul, whether he knew any thing of the aforesaid Robbery? But he solemnly protested that he was entirely ignorant of it.

Another Gentleman also in Hoxton-Square, apply’d to me, to desire I would put the Question to him, whither he was not concern’d in the Breaking open his House; he having suspected him on Account of some Tickets for an Entertainment, dropt near his House, with David Lazenby’s Name thereto. But the Prisoner said, the Tickets were accidentally dropt by that House, and were for him and some Friends to make merry innocently together. I hope he was sincere in his Declarations.

3. Maurice Fitzgerald, was condemned for the Murder of a Watchman in the Strand.

He was about 20 Years of Age; born in Ireland; his Education was Liberal and Genteel. As to his Behaviour during his Confinement, after the Sentence pass’d upon him, it was Sober and Grave; he constantly frequented the publick Service in the Chappel, where he appear’d not without Devotion and a sense of Religion, making the Responces very duely, and reading the Psalms alternately after me. Notwithstanding this, It has been thought that he did not dye in the Communion of the Church of England; But this I think he would not have dissembled, had it been so; for I put the Question to him, and he told me that he dyed a Member of the English Church. I frequently talk’d with him about the Nature of his former Course of Life, and his Stabbing a Man sometime ago with a Penknife; he seem’d to acknowledge that among all Courses of Life, the Sober and Serene Man bids the fairest for Happiness even here; and that no Satisfaction really consists in having the Spirits always in a Hurry and a Flutter, and in flying about from one House of Obscenity to another.

The Account of them at the Place of Execution.

Maurice Fitzgerald. At the Tree he spoke to the People present; signifying that he had reason to accuse some Persons as to his being Executed, whom he Named. He then declared, that he dyed in Charity towards all Men; and desired the Spectators Prayers for his departing Soul; adding, that he was pleas’d and easy at his leaving Care and Anxiety. He then gave me a Letter for his Brother; and ask’d me if I had retain’d the Paper he gave me at the Sacrament. He had been Scandaliz’d for Living with a Lady in a vicious Manner, to wit, Mrs. Witworth; That Paper relates to this, and is as follows.

SIR,

I Beg you will satisfy the World, that I was lawfully Married to Mrs. Witfield, according to the Rights and Ceremonies of the Church of England, as I shall answer before the Great and Good God one Day, and to her. Witness my Hand, this 14th of August, 1720. M. Fitzgerald.

David Lazenby. At the Tree, he deliver’d me a Paper, which he desired I would by all means Publish; and was as follows.

WHEN under Sentence of Death, one Mrs. Flowers came to me, concerning a Robbery, which one John Young swore her into: Now, I David Lazenby do solemnly declare upon the Holy Sacrament, which I take this 15th day of August, that the said Robbery (at the Quaker’s next Door to the Nagg’s Head in Islington) was committed by two other Persons, whose Names are John Brush, and Joseph Smith. Neither was Mrs. Flowers any way concern’d in purchasing the Goods.

THO. PURNEY, Ordinary and Chaplain.

LONDON: Printed and Sold by JOHN APPLEBEE, a little below Bridewel-Bridge, Black-Fryers.

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A day in the executions of Franz Schmidt

Add comment August 4th, 2017 Headsman

The free imperial city of Nuremberg has been a regular feature on this site thanks to the detailed journal of executions kept by its legendary executioner Franz Schmidt.

We have profiled many of the more remarkable cases individually. Today, we’ll pause for a few of central Europe’s lesser criminals whose deaths at Schmidt’s hand on various August Fourths were more representative of the everyday malefactors who paid the last penalty on early modern scaffolds. All block text records Schmidt’s own words.


August 4, 1586: Hans Weber and Lienhardt Hagen

Hans Weber, of the New Town, a potter and thief, whom I whipped out of Neunkirchen ten years ago; Lienhardt Hagen, of Teusslen, a bath-keeper, alias der Kaltbader, a thief and robber, who with his companion helped to attack people by night, tortured them, burnt them with fire, poured hot grease on them and wounded them grievously; also tortured pregnant women, so that one died at Schwertzenbach; stole all manner of things everywhere. The potter was hanged, the bath-keeper executed on the wheel. The bath-keeper had broken into the church at Lohndorff and stolen the chalice, also helped once to steal 500 florins. (a list of many other small sums follows.)


August 4, 1607: Margaret Marranti

Margaret Marranti, a country girl from the knackers’ sheds, who was in service with the innkeeper there, had intercourse with a carrier whom she did not know, and became pregnant. Took service with the farmer at Dorrenhof at Candlemas, concealing her pregnancy. When she was haymaking in the meadows, was seized with pains and contortions, and when the farmer’s wife said she would send for the midwife, the girl made an excuse, and remaining behind at night, gave birth to a child near a shed by the river Pegnitz. She immediately threw the child into the water and drowned it, though it stirred and struggled. Beheaded with the sword here on this account.


August 4, 1613: Matthew Werdtfritzn

Matthew Werdtfritzn of Furth, a Landzknecht, alias ‘Eightfingers,’ a robber. With the help of a companion he attacked the carrier from Regensburg in the Neuenwald, wounded him and his son mortally, and took about 800 florins’ worth of money and goods. Took 84 florins from the baker woman of Lauff, and wounded her lad in the same way, so that he was thought likely to die. Took 40 florins from a carter and 18 florins from the fisherman of Fach; in all twelve highway roberies. For these crimes he was executed on the wheel as a robber.

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Entry Filed under: 16th Century,17th Century,Abortion and Infanticide,Beheaded,Broken on the Wheel,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Germany,Gruesome Methods,Hanged,History,Murder,Public Executions,Soldiers,Theft,Women

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1829: John Stacey, in Portsmouth town

Add comment August 3rd, 2017 Headsman

A barbarous, foul, & horrid deed
I shortly will recite,
Which did occur in Portsmouth town
Upon a Sunday night;
An aged man of eighty years,
His housekeeper likewise,
Were there most basely murdered,
By a monster in disguise.

All in the night, so dark and drear,
He entrance did obtain,
And with a deadly hammer he
Beat out the old man’s brains,
His throat he cut from ear to ear,
Most horrible to view,
And streams of crimson blood did flow
The bed-room through and through.

The aged housekeeper likewise,
Lay butcher’d on the floor,
Her face and hands most cruelly
Were cut, and stabb’d full sore.
Her head it was nearly severed
From off her body quite.
Those who beheld it shivered,
So dreadful was the sight.

When at the bar the murderer stood,
He could not deny his guilt,
‘Twas clearly proved that he
The aged couples blood had spilt;
The Jury found him guilty,
And the Judge to him did say,
You must prepare to end your days,
Upon the gallows high.

-Broadside ballad about double murderer John Stacey, hanged adjacent to the house of his victim on August 3, 1829

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1766: James Annin and James M’Kinzy

Add comment August 1st, 2017 Headsman

From the Pennsylvania Gazette, Aug. 7, 1766:

BURLINGTON (New-Jersey) August 4

At a Court of Oyer and Terminer, held at Burlington, on Wednesday, the Thirtieth Day of July last, came on the Trial of James Annin, aged 54 Years, and James M’Kinzy, aged 19 Years, on an Indictment for the Murder of two Indian Women, named Hannah and Catherine, who had long resided in the Neighbourhood of the Place where the Murder was committed.

It appeared by their own Examinations, and by the Testimony of credible Witnesses, that they had been on the Western Frontiers of Pennsylvania and Virginia, but that their first Acquaintance began in Philadelphia; that they came to Moore’s Town, in the County of Burlington, on Thursday, the 26th of June last, about Noon, and begged for Charity, and obtained Relief: That while they were eating their Dinners, the two Indians who were murdered, came to the Place where they were, and that the youngest of the Men gave them abusive Language: That the Indians went off, and rested in a Wood, near the Side of the Road: That the one of them was possessed of a clean Shift, and the other of a Piece of new Linen, which they had that Day got: That about 2 o’Clock on the same Day, James Annin sold the Shift, and James M’Kinzy the Piece of new Linen, and a Blanket, about two Miles from Moore’s Town.

That they were parted by Accident, and that many People had seen the Indians lying in View of the Road, and supposed them to be asleep, till Sunday, the 29th of June, when two Persons perceived a Stench, and on going near the Bodies, found they were dead; whereupon the Coroner was called, whose Inquest found them to be murdered by Persons unknown.

On this Alarm the two Criminals were suspected, and pursued.

James Annin was apprehended, and committed to the Goal at Burlington, and the other advertised from the Description given by Annin, and in a few Days taken up by Order of the Mayor of the City of Philadelphia, and sent to Burlington.

The Examinations of the Prisoners, taken before they had an Opportunity of seeing each other, were read, and by each Examination it appeared, that they went to the Indians with Intent to ravish them, if they should refuse their Offers; each acknowledged that he was present at the Murder, but charged the giving the Stroke on the other, and acknowledged also the taking the Goods; in this they persisted at the Bar. The Jury soon found them guilty, and they received Sentence of Death.

On Friday Noon they were hanged at the Gallows; they continued in denying the Fact, and charging it on each other. The Elder declared, he thought it a Duty to extirpate the Heathen, and just before they were turned off, M’Kinzy, the younger of the Men, acknowledged, that one of the Indians, on receiving the Blow from Annin, struggled violently, and that he, to put her out of Pain, sunk the Hatchet in her Head, but that they were both knocked down by Annin.

The youngest of the Squaws was near the Time of Delivery, and had Marks of shocking Treatment, which the most savage Nations on Earth could not have surpassed.

A few of the principal Indians of Jersey, were desired to attend the Trial and Execution, which they did, and behaved with remarkable Sobriety.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,Murder,New Jersey,Pelf,Public Executions,Theft,USA

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