Posts filed under 'Wrongful Executions'

1889: Louisa Collins, the last woman hanged in New South Wales

Add comment January 8th, 2020 Headsman

The last woman hanged in New South Wales, Australia was the “Botany Murderess” Louisa Collins, on this date in 1889.

A transport convict’s daughter from near Merriwa, Collins was accused in the courts and the common run of opinion of murdering both her husbands with arsenic — first Charles Andrews, 13 years her senior and father to nine of her 10 children* — and then Michael Collins, the lover with whom she scandalously fell into bed while husband’s body was still warm, and indeed before: desperate to relieve the financial pressure of their large family, Charles and Louisa had taken in boarders, of whom Michael Collins was one — at least until Charles threw him out for getting too familiar with the lady of the house.

The fact that this adulterous couple immediately shacked up (and, as our principal’s surname will have signaled, shortly thereafter wed) after a stomach ailment felled the husband set tongues a-wag and eyebrows a-cock. The subsequent death of Michael and Louisa’s only child together,** and then of Michael himself, could not but appear confirmation of the very worst.

Although accused, she was only convicted once over the course of four trials.

Where murder is concerned, any one will do for the law no matter the conviction ratio. But the chain obviously smacks of an unseemly jury-shopping, facilitated by the first three panels’ failure to reach any verdict rather than acquit outright and cinched by the Crown’s convincing the court to admit at her last trial previously-barred testimony.

The hard evidence remained stubbornly circumstantial as usual with arsenic cases: her paramour and an insurance policy on her husband supplied a motive that was positive but far from dispositive, and the alleged means was nothing more than a commercial pest controller called Rough On Rats whose presence in the house would have incriminated half of Australia.† (Arsenic was also used in the sheepskin tanning industry where both of Louisa’s late men sweated their daily bread.) Neighbors fleshed out these bare bones with eye-of-the-beholder judgments against Louisa’s comportment, such as the insufficient-mourning canard that’s still a staple of wrongful convictions.

Moreover, Louisa Collins’s case became enmeshed in the era’s web of gender politics: the campaign soliciting clemency on grounds of femininity overlapped but also contradicted the simultaneous campaign for women’s suffrage, goring oxes left and right.

That gore still spatters latter-day observers of this still-fascinating affair, who in recent years have enjoyed two different volumes illuminating the respective silhouette-halves that Louisa Collins presents posterity: a woman railroaded (Last Woman Hanged, by Caroline Overington (author interview)); and, cold-blooded murderess (Black Widow: The true story of Australia’s first female serial killer, by Carol Baxter (author interview)). There’s also a recent historical novel, The Killing Of Louisa, by Janet Lee (author interiew).

Two things that all parties can agree on: first, that her quadruple prosecution makes for a troubling legal spectacle — “a collusion between the prosecution and the state and the judiciary to keep her going to trial until the desired result,” as Baxter put it; and second, that Collins’s eventual hanging at Darlinghurst was a ghastly botch. The next day’s Sydney Morning Herald reported how

The executioner signalled to his assistant to pull the lever, but the handle refused to move. It could be seen that pressure was applied, and also that the pin which held the handle in its place was fast in its slot. The assistant endeavoured to remove the pin, but failed, and in a few seconds a mallet was used. Four or five blows were applied Mrs Collins meanwhile standing perfectly upright and motionless-before the pin gave way.

The delay caused could not have been short of one minute, when the lever moved and the body fell through in a slightly curved position. After one swing to the side and in a moment it was suspended perpendicularly, with the face towards the yard. There was a slight spurt of blood, followed by a thin stream which ran down the dress and spotted the floor beneath. Nearer examination showed that the strain of the drop had so far opened the neck as to completely sever the windpipe, and that the body was hanging by the vertebra. Slowly the body turned round on the rope until the front part faced the doorway, and there it remained stationary until lowered by the executioner on to a wicker bier. Death was instantaneous. After hanging for 20 minutes the corpse was conveyed to the inquest room, and again given over to the female warders.


Poor service: hangman Robert Rice Howard, aka “Nosey Bob” after a distinctive disfigurement of that appendage courtesy of a horse’s backheel.

* Seven of these nine children by Charles Andrews survived infancy. At the time of the alleged murders, five of these children still shared the house with their parents.

** The possible murder of the infant Collins child wasn’t on Louisa’s charge sheet but remains an understandable suspicion.

† As a brand name for arsenic, Rough On Rats became a ready resource for numerous aspiring suicides and homicides.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Australia,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Milestones,Murder,Women,Wrongful Executions

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2016: Nimr al-Nimr, Shiite cleric

Add comment January 2nd, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 2016, Saudi Arabia beheaded Shiite Muslim cleric Nimr al-Nimr (familiarly known as Sheikh Nimr) — one of 47 executions carried out in 12 cities throughout the kingdom that included at least four political prisoners (one of them al-Nimr) as well as two foreign nationals.

A prominent dissident who became an emblem of resistance in his predominantly Shiite province of Al-Awamiyah*, al-Nimr had been arrested several times before without blunting his sharp tongue. “People must rejoice at his death,” he offered in June 2012, about the death of militant Wahhabist crown prince Nayef bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud. “He will be eaten by worms and will suffer the torments of Hell in his grave.”

But here in the terrestrial sphere, Nayef’s death made Salman the crown prince … and queued up Salman’s son, Mohammad bin Salman to become the de facto ruler of the kingdom.

Al-Nimr was seized in July 2012, during crackdowns** on the 2011-2012 “Arab Spring” protests — shot in the leg during the course of his arrest and beaten bloody by his captors. This arrest itself brought thousands into the streets, at least two of whom were shot dead in their own turn as al-Nimr went on hunger strike. By the time al-Nimr was put up on charges in 2014, the aforementioned Mohammad bin Salman — “MbS” of dread popular parlance, infamous for his bonesaws — was well along his rise to power in Saudi Arabia as the hand and the heir who transacted the business of a dementia-addled prince.

Al-Nimr’s October 2014 death sentence for “seeking ‘foreign meddling’ in the kingdom, ‘disobeying’ its rulers and taking up arms against the security forces” drew worldwide condemnation and protests over the ensuing year, a year coinciding with MbS’s overt conquest of political power in Saudi Arabia.

The execution sparked global outrage of varying hues, most sharply from Shiite Iran, where angry protesters attacked the Saudi embassy: not the decisive event but emblematic of Saudi Arabia’s growing enmity with Iran that shapes regional conflicts from Yemen to Iraq to Syria.

* Adjacent to the similarly restive Sunni-ruled, Shiite-majority Gulf monarchy of Bahrain.

** Al-Nimr’s nephew, Ali Mohammed Baqir al-Nimr, is still under a death sentence today that could be ratified by the sovereign at any time. He was arrested in February 2012 for anti-regime protests, when he was only 17 years old.

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Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Activists,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Famous,History,Martyrs,Mass Executions,Power,Public Executions,Religious Figures,Ripped from the Headlines,Saudi Arabia,Torture,Treason,Wrongful Executions

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1810: Metta Fock, embroiderer

Add comment November 7th, 2019 Headsman

Metta Fock was beheaded in Sweden on this date in 1810.

Fock (English Wikipedia entry | Swedish), daughter to the just-hanging-on lesser nobility, got her surname from an impecunious dullard of a sergeant with whom she shared a small farm in Västergötland. At least, she did until Johan Fock and two of her four children suddenly got violently ill and died within days of one another in 1802.

Well might one imagine the rumors that swirled around the widow Fock in these days; she was already suspected of having a lover, so the inference of a libidinous deployment of arsenic was nigh irresistible. She said her family had been stricken by a measles outbreak.

Her contemporaries were as uncertain of the conclusion as is posterity; she was thrown in Carlsten Fortress but spared a death verdict absent a confession — an unusual legal artifact at the time that might have permitted her to live out decades in a dungeon with sufficient obstinacy.

Although she finally buckled and made that confession — under who knows what extremes of misery and resignation; she vainly attempted to retract it later — the most evocative judgment has always been the manifesto of innocence that she embroidered onto 27 strips of linen in 1805, complaining of her unfair treatment. (More conventional writing instruments were being withheld from her.) It’s given Metta Fock a permanent purchase on later sympathies.

There’s a recent historical novel by Ann Rosman, Mercurium, which also casts Fock as a railroaded innocent.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Arts and Literature,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Murder,Sex,Sweden,Women,Wrongful Executions

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1890: Tom Woolfolk, “Bloody Wolfolk”

Add comment October 29th, 2019 Headsman

Try to resist this riveting true crime hook from Murder By Gaslight, who’s been seen guest-blogging in these parts from time to time as well:

In the early hours of August 6, 1887, nine members of the Woolfolk family of Bibb County, Georgia — ranging in age from 18 months to 84 years — were hacked to death in their home. The only surviving member of the household was 27-year-old Tom Woolfolk who quickly became the prime suspect. The press called him “Bloody Woolfolk” and it was all the sheriff could do to keep him out of the hands of a lynch mob. But when the trap sprung on Tom Woolfolk’s legal hanging, had the State of Georgia finished the work of the real killer?

Read the rest here.

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

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1578: Jacob Hessels, “to the gallows, to the gallows!”

Add comment October 4th, 2019 Headsman

Flanders magistrate Jacob Hessels (Dutch link, as are most that follow) was hanged on this date in 1578.

He was a feared hanging judge — the story about him is that he would drift to sleep at the bench and awake with a start exclaiming, “to the gallows, to the gallows!” — who by profession and disposition was ideally suited for the so-called “Council of Blood” that would be seated in 1567 to help the Spanish Duke of Alba suppress the emerging revolt of the Low Countries against Habsburg sovereignty.


In this 1616 engraving by Simon Frisius, the cadaverous Duke of Alba presides over his Council of Troubles or Council of Blood.

He’s credited in particular with drafting the infamous sentence against Counts Egmont and Hoorn, but these were only highlights among a prolific career that earned him the hatred of the parties that chafed under imperial domination.

This was bad news for Hessels when one of those parties, Calvinists, mounted a coup d’etat that took control of Ghent in late 1577. We have in these pages previously encountered this period, in the form of the Calvinists’ persecution of Catholic monks; they also in the course of things imprisoned a number of secular officials associated with Habsburg/Catholic rule. Most of these would in time be ransomed unharmed; however, one of the principal leaders of the short-lived Calvinist Republic was Francois van Ryhove, who considered Hessels and another captive state’s attorney named Visch to be personal enemies and resolved upon their destruction.

Without color of any law or juridical proceeding, according to this Dutch-language history,

On October 4, 1578, he took the two prisoners out of their dungeon and had them carried outside of the gate in an armed carriage. Not far from town, the carriage stopped at Ryhove’s order, the prisoners were made to climb down, and Ryhove announced that they would be hung on a nearby tree immediately. He then mocked the old Hessels in a shameful way, and he went so far as to mistreat him viciously by grabbing his beard and pulling out a fistful of gray hair, which he put on his hat like a feather as an insignia of his revenge! His companions followed the mocking example of their unworthy leader; then the two unfortunates were hung to the tree.

Hessels and Visch, but especially the former, undoubtedly deserved death, and if that punishment had been imposed on them as a result of a legal judgment, few would have complained. But now they fell as the victims of a shameful, personal vengeance. Ryhove, the head of the Ghent party of revolution, the friend of Orange, had killed them without trial and his crime remained unpunished, for the prince had not power enough to make him feel his displeasure. Was it a miracle that the malcontents were crying out for revenge, that they were using the horrific crime committed by that one man as a pretext to also justify on their part to such atrocities against the Protestants, and that the angry Gentenaars in their turn again took revenge by assaulting the Catholic priests and looting the monasteries?

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Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Borderline "Executions",Capital Punishment,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Execution,Habsburg Realm,Hanged,History,Judges,Lawyers,Netherlands,No Formal Charge,Spain,Summary Executions,Wartime Executions,Wrongful Executions

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1948: Shafiq Ades

Add comment September 23rd, 2019 Headsman

Iraq’s June 1948 elections hard in the wake of the humiliating defeat of Iraq’s expeditionary by the infant state of Israel ushered in a ferociously anti-Zionist, anti-Jewish government.

A frightening persecution unfolded that summer.

In mid-July, both houses of the Iraqi parliament ratified a bill amending Law No. 51 of the 1938 Criminal Code. Under the 1938 law, communist or anarchist activity was defined as a criminal offence for which the punishment ranged from seven years’ imprisonment, to death. The new amendment included Zionist activity in the category of criminal activity. It stipulated that the sworn testimony of two Moslem witnesses would suffice to incriminate any Jew, whatever his standing. Under the amended law, numerous Jews, and particularly the prosperous, were arrested. The detention of rich Jews in particular and others as well, was now an everyday occurrence, initiated by government officials, judges and the police, with the aim of extorting money from them.

On 10 August 1948, the Iraqi government announced that all Jews who had left the country for Palestine since 1939 and had not returned, would henceforth be considered criminals who had defected to the enemy and would be tried in absentia by a military tribunal … the government issued a stringent edict dismissing all Jewish employees of government offices on the grounds that official secrecy must be protected … Young Jews who had completed their university studies encountered difficulties in finding employment. Jewish physicians were no longer accepted into government service nor were they granted licences for private practice. Various restrictions were imposed on entry of Jewish students into high schools and universities. (The Jewish Exodus from Iraq, 1948-1951, by Moshe Gat)

Driven by such incentives, no small portion of Iraq’s Jewry began to contemplate flight abroad — an inclination that an Israel hungry for settlers keenly supported. And the piece de resistance in those terrible months was the September 23 hanging of the businessman Shafiq Ades.

Wealthy and well-connected, Ades could have done for the poster child of Jewish assimilation in Iraq — a fact that made him exceptionally well-suited to become the unwilling star of a show trial. (Ades realized it too late, spurning advice to flee the country in the mistaken belief that he had too much pull for the fate that befell him.)

Ades had his fortune by virtue of an arrangement to act as the Ford Motor Company agent in Iraq, but his prosecution was based on a different business deal he’d done for remaindered British army equipment after World War II. Some of this stuff he had sold onward to Italy; he’d be charged with having used the pretense of export to clandestinely supply it to the Israeli Zionists who had in turn deployed it against Ades’s own countrymen in the late war.

Since it was a military court that delivered this verdict it would have been unthinkably dangerous for Iraq’s regent, ‘Abd al-Ilah, to exercise his theoretical prerogative of mercy.

And so Shafiq Ades hanged in front of his own Basra mansion on September 23, 1948, before a jubilant mob, the body gibbeted for hours thereafter.

Despite the atmosphere of genera persecution, Ades appears to be the only Iraq Jew actually executed during this dangerous moment; directly post-Ades, the official heat on this community was dialed back noticeably, albeit not entirely. The on-brand site IraqJews.org provides us a comment of the judge asserting a perspective of what one might call utilitarian philanthropy in his unjust sentence upon Ades: “I have ruled for the death sentence, since I was aware that the Iraqi people were seeking a sacrifice. If Ades were not hanged, pogroms would have taken place against the Jews, and who knows how many people would have been killed. By hanging Ades, I have saved the Jews from a massacre”

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Businessmen,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Hanged,History,Iraq,Jews,Public Executions,Treason,Wrongful Executions

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1630: Guglielmo Piazza and Giangiacomo Mora, colonna d’infamia

Add comment August 1st, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1630, a ludicrous disease panic sent two innocent men to the scaffold in Milan.

Terrified as their family and neighbors dropped dead around them of a raging bubonic plague outbreak, the surviving Milanese sprouted buboes on their brains.


1630 illustration of the plague-wracked Milanese doing the bring-out-your-dead thing.

Just days before the executions marked in this post, a city official named Guglielmo Piazza was noticed by some busybodies “strolling down the street writing from an ink-horn at his belt and wiping his ink-stained fingers on the walls of a house.” They promptly reported him not for misdemeanor property damage but for spreading plague poison, whatever that would be.

Investigators to their shame gave this accusation enough credence to interrogate Piazza under torture, a decision which obviously was tantamount to the execution itself. He broke he sealed his own fate when he broke and confessed, and sealed same for a misfortunate barber named Giangiacomo Mora whom Piazza was made to accuse.

Milan was proud enough of this obvious injustice to stand up an colonna d’infamia (“column of infamy”) denouncing both “poisoners” until a storm finally knocked the lying marble down in 1788. It read,

Here, where this plot of ground extends, formerly stood the shop of the barber Giangiacomo Mora, who had conspired with Guglielmo Piazza, Commissary of the Public Health, and with others, while a frightful plague exercised its ravages, by means of deadly ointments spread on all sides, to hurl many citizens to a cruel death. For this, the Senate, having declared them both to be enemies of their country, decreed that, placed on an elevated car, their flesh should be torn with red-hot pincers, their right hands be cut off, and their bones be broken; that they should be extended on the wheel, and at the end of six hours be put to death, and burnt. Then, and that there might remain no trace of these guilty men, their possessions should be sold at public sale, their ashes thrown into the river, and to perpetuate the memory of their deed the Senate wills that the house in which the crime was projected shall be razed to the ground, shall never be rebuilt, and that in its place a column shall be erected which shall be called Infamous. Keep afar off, then, afar off, good citizens, lest this accursed ground should pollute you with its infamy.

August, 1630.

Prior to the column’s overturning, the Milanese Enlightenment intellectual Pietro Verri wrote a meditation upon it titled Sulla tortura e singolarmente sugli effetti che produsse all’occasione delle unzioni malefiche, alle quale si attribui la pestilenza che devasto Milano l’anno 1630. Italian speakers can enjoy it here.

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Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Broken on the Wheel,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Gruesome Methods,History,Innocent Bystanders,Italy,Milan,Murder,Public Executions,Terrorists,Torture,Wrongful Executions

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1567: Captain William Blackadder, Darnley patsy

Add comment June 24th, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1567, the Scottish soldier Captain William Blackadder (or “Blacketer”) died a scapegoat at Edinburgh.

Being dragged on a hurdle to Mercat Cross where he was hanged and quartered, and his remains nailed up in Scotland’s principal cities, was undoubtedly the worst thing that ever happened to Captain Blackadder but posterity finds his severed tendons and ruined viscera only a lesser subplot in the psychodrama of that august future Executed Today fixture Mary, Queen of Scots.

Mary’s famously terrible marriage to the monstrous Lord Darnley produced the eventual King James VI and I, at the cost of utterly ruining Mary’s reign. Please reference the great many more learned and erudite sources that will dwell on the innumerable faults of this grasping English lord who immediately upon achieving wedlock began maneuvering against his wife for power in Scotland. He’s notorious as a drunk, a lech, a murderer, and in general an obnoxious and arrogant shit.

Until, 18 months and change into the marriage, a huge explosion rocked Kirk o’ Field, Edinburgh … and when the debris cleared, there lay the bodies of the obnoxious consort and his servant. Strangely they were dead in a nearby orchard, suspiciously unsinged by the Gunpowder Plot-like pyrotechnics.


Drawing of the crime scene made for the English Secretary of State William Cecil

The particulars of Darnley’s murder have puzzled posterity for the ensuing 450 years, precipitating as it did Mary’s own fall from her throne — a moment manifested by Mary’s humiliating surrender when her dwindling and dispirited supporters melted away instead of fighting at the “Battle” of Carberry Hill. Mary had the humiliation in that June of 1567 of being led through Edinburgh by rebel lords to imprisonment, under the jeers of a hostile crowd.

But since these rebels were rising against Mary’s post-Darnley fling, putatively in the name of Mary herself, they also proceeded to conduct a disingenuous search for Darnley’s assassins in these days, landing on this luckless son of a declining house who had presented himself under Mary’s colors at Carberry Hill. Nobody since and probably nobody then really thought he had “art and part” in Darnley’s death; nevertheless, the diarist Birrel noted, “the 24 day of Junij Captane Villiam Blacketer was drawn backward, in ane cairte, from ie Tolbuith to the Crosse, and ther wes hangit and quartred, for being on the King’s Murther.”

We could not in good conscience miss the opportunity afforded by this distinctive name to cite topical-to-us content from the BBC sitcom Blackadder.

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Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Drawn and Quartered,Execution,Gruesome Methods,History,Murder,Nobility,Public Executions,Scotland,Soldiers,Wartime Executions,Wrongful Executions

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1884: Seven anarchists of La Mano Negra

Add comment June 14th, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1884, seven alleged terrorists of the Black Hand* were garroted in Jerez (Xeres), Spain.

This frightening organization was announced to the public via Spanish police discovery of documents purporting to outline their murderous perfidy and conveniently justifying a crackdown on restive Andalusia, then plagued (so the crown saw it) with a burgeoning labor movement.

Whether La Mano Negra (English Wikipedia entry | Spanish) truly existed as an organization has been subject to debate from that day to this, but anarchist worker militants had undoubtedly moved in 1881-82 towards overtly violent confrontation with landowners — bread riots during an agricultural crisis paired with robbery and arson. It was by no means merely adventurism. A Madrid newspaper reporting the sack of a bakery saw for the starving looters only three options: “O la limosna, o el robo, o la muerte” … alms, theft, or death.

Three thousand or more of protesting workers would be arrested in those months, and bound over to be used at the discretion of torturers; in the main, they affiliated to the labor union FTRE rather than anything so exotic as a Black Hand. But several murders that took place during or at least proximate to the Andalusian labor disturbances would be attributed to that sinister appendage and bring seven men controversially to execution in Jerez’s market squae on June 14, 1884.

As for others made to prefer alms or theft, hundreds were burdened with judicial penalties of various sorts and deported to Spanish colonies. A successful clemency campaign in the early 1900s reversed a number of those sentences, finally permitting these anarchists or “anarchists” to return to Spanish soil.

* This fell moniker refers to a number of distinct movements with a violent cast of mind sufficient to expose them to the predations of this very blog — notably, the Serbian terrorists who assassinated Archduke Ferdinand

The successors of the Jerez Black Hand that is the subject of this post also paid their own subsequent notable visit to the scaffold in the 1890s.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Garrote,History,Martyrs,Mass Executions,Murder,Power,Public Executions,Revolutionaries,Spain,Strangled,Terrorists,Torture,Wrongful Executions

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1952: Jan Bula, Czechoslovakian priest

Add comment May 20th, 2019 Headsman

Catholic priest Jan Bula was hanged on this date in 1952 at Jihlava

A Rokytnice pastor, Bula (English Wikipedia entry | the more detailed Czech and German) put himself in the gunsights of the postwar Communist state by defying its strictures on proselytization and commenting publicly against them.

Although perhaps a gadfly from the state’s perspective he was by no means a dissident consequential enough to have merited his eventual treatment; however, he was cruelly rolled into a notorious 1951 show trial called the Babice Case. Occasioned by a fatal raid launched by anti-Communist terrorists, the Babice trials targeted a huge number of ideological enemies and eventually resulted in 107 convictions and 11 death sentences.* Bula was among them, speciously condemned a traitor for complicity in the attack — a move that also opportunistically accelerated a case that state agents had for some time been attempting with little success to construct by means of entrapment.

“We human beings do not love God enough,” he wrote in a letter to his parents before his hanging. “That is the only thing for which we must ask forgiveness.”

The Catholic Church is currently considering this modern martyr for beatification.

* After the Cold War these sentences were retrospectively overturned or reduced, and a judge in the Babice case, Pavel Vitek, was prosecuted for his role in it.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Activists,Capital Punishment,Czechoslovakia,Death Penalty,Execution,God,Hanged,History,Martyrs,Power,Religious Figures,Treason,Wrongful Executions

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