1803: Antonio Lavagnini, impiccato e squartato

Add comment February 5th, 2019 Headsman

Antonio Lavagnini, impiccato e squartato in Zagarola li 5 febbraio 1803, per aver grassato un uomo avendogli levato 27 paoli.

Antonio Lavagnini hanged and quartered in Zagarola February 5, 1803, for having robbed a man of 27 paoli.

-From the journal of prolific Italian executioner Mastro Titta.

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1800: Kyra Frosini, Ioannina socialite

Add comment January 11th, 2019 Headsman

The Greek socialite Kyra Frosini was executed in Ioannina on this date in 1800 as an adulteress.

Euphrosyne Vasileiou, to use her proper name, was the niece of the Bishop of Ioannina who made use of the frequent business absences of her wealthy Greek husband to carry on a torrid affair with the son of the Ottoman governor. This set her up to be the most famous prey in a dragnet when that legendary governor, Ali Pasha, decided that a morality crackdown was in order.

She was arrested along with 17 other women on January 10, and the very next night all save one were drowned at Ali Pasha’s order in Lake Pamvotida. It’s not known for certain why Ali Pasha did this, although it’s generally presumed that Kyra Frosini was the primary target for reasons surely ultimately tracing in some fashion to the sensitivity of her liaison.

Her death incensed the Greek community and it adhered itself in legend more than fact to that country’s growing national aspirations. She’s been the subject of various artistic products ever since, from verse to opera to screen; you’ll need Greek for the dialogue in this 1959 Grigoris Grigoriou product but the closing plummeting-into-water scenes translate visually.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Drowned,Execution,Greece,History,Mass Executions,Ottoman Empire,Sex,Women

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1807: Henry Niles

Add comment November 4th, 2018 Headsman

From the Greenfield (Massachusetts) Gazette, November 30, 1807:

NEW LONDON, (Con.) Nov. 11.

On Wednesday last, Henry Niles, an Indian, was executed in this city, for the murder of his wife, pursuant to the sentence of the Supreme Court.

The day before his execution the prisoner attempted to anticipate his sentence, and with a piece of the blade of a knife opened a vein in his thigh, from which a large quantity of blood issued before his purpose was prevented.

On the day of execution, he was taken from prison by the Sheriff and his Deputies, (the Independent Company acting as guards) and carried to the Presbyterian meeting house, where a sermon was preached by the Rev. Mr. [Abel] M’Ewen.

At the place of execution the prisoner made a short speech to the spectators, and was then launched into eternity.

It is 21 years since the execution of a criminal in this city, and the spectacle of the public death of a human being, though “a poor Indian,” drew together a large concourse of people; the number has, by many observers, been computed at 6, 8, and 10 thousand. The prisoner behaved with much calmness, and when passing from prison thro’ the crowd, his countenance bespoke the magnanimity of the American savage.

The death of his wife was occasioned by a quarrel produced by intoxication, the effects of which are known to be peculiarly mischievous among the aborigines of America.

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1806: Dominic Daley and James Halligan, hated foreigners

Add comment June 5th, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1806, immigrants Dominic Daley and James Halligan were hanged at Northampton, Massachusetts. In the words of one widely reproduced report, “They persisted in their innocence to the last moment, although there were perhaps not a single one of the numerous spectators present, which was presumed to amount to nearly 15,000, who entertained a doubt of their guilt.”

Today, nearly everyone thinks them innocent.

The case began, as many wrongful convictions do, with a particularly outrageous crime — a young farmer, Marcus Lyon, found dead in a Massachusetts creek en route to his home in Connecticut. He’d been shot through the chest and his brains battered out of his skull. The motive: robbery.

In the absence of substantive evidence, some witnesses with vague reports of strangers on the fatal turnpike furnished tissue for an entire theory of the case, and through the misapprehended focus of tunnel vision the strangers became Irishmen, and the Irishmen became Dominic Haley and James Halligan.

In the close aftermath of American independence, New England was still overwhelmingly Anglo-Saxon and Protestant. Most of the Irish people about at this moment were also Protestants: large-scale Irish Catholic immigration into the region only began in the 1820s and it panicked the normies when it came, with preachers and politicians railing against the insidious incursions of idolatrous papists.

So in 1805, when the hunt for strangers settled on two Irish-born Catholic immigrants … well, what was left to know? Just days later, a North Wilbraham Congregationalist minister thundered from the pulpit,

We see the evil attending a continued influx of vicious and polluted foreigners in this country. Many of the outrages we suffer proceed from this source. Who break open our homes in the unsuspecting hours of sleep? Who set fire to our large cities and towns for the sake of plunder? And who rob and commit murder on our highways? We are far from exculpating all of our own native citizens; we regret, indeed, that so many of them disgrace themselves and injure society by evil deeds. But these things notwithstanding, we are doubtless justified in saying, that a great proportion of the crimes above mentioned, together with many others which might be named, are committed by foreigners. And that atrocious deed which has so recently congealed all our blood with horror, in this place, is supposed to have been perpetrated by foreigners. Look at the annual reports of the overseers of the prisons and you will find them be principally occupied by foreigners

The first planters of this country were, generally speaking, men of pure lives and good morals and they were induced to come here for the sake of religion. And, for a long time, they maintained a wholesome and orderly state of society. But since the rapid increase of our commerce with other nations, and the great ingress of foreigners, many of whom are said to come here for the sake of escaping the retribution of justice in their own country; we have ripened apace in all the arts of vice and depravity. Some, who come among us from abroad, we readily acknowledge to be worthy and good men, and we cordially welcome their approach. But the number of these is comparatively small. The best and most useful citizens are cautiously retained, while the worst are readily parted with. Hence the rapid influx upon us, of late, of the most violent and abandoned of the human race. The late and present disturbances in foreign countries have greatly increased the calamity. The prisons of Europe and the West Indies are now disgorging themselves upon our shores; and this country is thus becoming the general asylum of convicts. This is a sore evil, and will furnish an increasing number of inhabitants for our prisons and victims for the halter.

The case in court would comprise 24 witnesses not one of whom had witnessed the crime; at most they could suggest that two strangers had taken the same well-trafficked public road on the same day as the victim, who was also a stranger in these parts. Even this much was not certain among the witnesses; their renderings were vague, tentative, contradictory — but witness recollections and prejudicial readings of circumstance soon shaped themselves around the shared understanding of events, and from so much smoke they wove the hemp.

The friendless immigrants’ court-appointed attorney, Francis Blake, who had been tasked with this first capital case of his life a bare 48 hours before the trial opened, made a vehement, eloquent, and futile address to the jury against “this illiberal, this inhuman prejudice” closing around the throats of his clients.

That the prisoners have, however, been tried, convicted, and condemned, in almost every bar-room, and barber’s-shop, and in every other place of public resort in the county, is a fact which will not be contested. That the sentence of the law has not been anticipated, and that they have not already suffered the penalty of death, may be ascribed rather to defect of power, than to lenity of disposition, in many of their accusers …

There is yet another species of prejudice, against the influence of which it is my duty to warn you. I allude to the inveterate hostility against the people of that wretched country, from which the Prisoners have emigrated, for which the people of New-England are peculiarly distinguished …

Pronounce then a verdict against them! Condemn them to the gibbet! Hold out an awful warning to the wretched fugitives from that oppressed and persecuted nation! Tell them that although they are driven into the ocean, by the tempest which sweeps over their land, which lays waste their dwellings, and deluges their fields with blood; — though they float on its billows upon the broken fragments, of their liberty and independence; — yet our inhospitable coast presents no Ararat upon which they can rest in safety; that although we are not cannibals, and do not feast upon human flesh, yet with all our boasted philanthropy, which embraces every circle on the habitable globe, we have yet no mercy for a wandering and expatriated fugitive from Ireland. That the name of an Irishman is, among us, but another name, for a robber and an assassin; that every man’s hand is lifted against him; that when a crime of unexampled atrocity is perpetrated among us, we look around for an Irishman; that because he is an outlaw, with him the benevolent maxim of our law is reversed, and that the moment he is accused, he is presumed to be guilty, until his innocence appears! …

The lives of the prisoners are now consigned to your disposal. Before you proceed to the performance of this awful duty, let me borrow the language of one of their countrymen, not degraded by the ignominious reproaches against his nation, but elevated to the highest rank among the orators of the elder world by the most splendid talents, the purest patriotism, and the most unsullied integrity. Let me beseech you to “remember that there is another than a human tribunal, where the best of us, will, on one day, have occasion to look back on the little good we may have done. In that solemn trial may your verdict on this day give assurance to your bones and afford you strength and consolation in the awful presence of an adjudging God!”

The words fell on deaf ears.

Daley and Halligan maintained their innocence from arrest to execution, but in the end they would require the offices of another foreign refugee, Father Jean-Louis de Cheverus, a French-born priest in Boston, who had fled the anti-clerical paroxysms of his own homeland. (Later, he would become the first Catholic Bishop of Boston.) It’s said that he stayed in jail with his charges, as no one in Northampton would suffer the papist priest to sleep under their own roof — and that his ministrations to them included the first Catholic mass said in that city.

Folklore cropped up around the 1830s to the effect that a local man had given a deathbed confession exonerating the hanged Irishmen … and that this murderer was the kinsman of one of the witnesses against Daley and Halligan. I cannot establish that this is any more than a just-so story, a fable, but even so it speaks to the continuing injury done by this execution to the now-growing Irish Catholic community. In time that demographic’s maturing numbers and political muscle flipped the story of Daley and Halligan from one of foreigners ripened in depravity to a sobering caution against bigotry and rush to judgment.

We have no real way, now, to access a definitive assessment of guilt or innocence; we can certainly say with confidence that the evidence was appallingly flimsy to hang a man even for the time. Both Daley and Halligan were posthumously exonerated by a writ of Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis in 1984. Dukakis discussed that action, and history’s view of the Daley-Halligan railroading, in a 2011 panel available in podcast form here.

For additional resources, check this Historic Northampton page (already linked several times within this post). Below, you can read the entirety of an 1806 publication reporting the trial, from which the defense lawyer’s remarks have been drawn.

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1806: Francisco Dos Santos

Add comment March 28th, 2018 Headsman


New-York Weekly Journal, April 20, 1741

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1804: Ann Hurle, forger

Add comment February 8th, 2018 Richard Clark

(Thanks to Richard Clark of Capital Punishment U.K. for the guest post, a reprint of an article originally published on that site with some explanatory links added by Executed Today. CapitalPunishmentUK.org features a trove of research and feature articles on the death penalty in England and elsewhere. -ed.)

Ann Hurle was one of twelve people to be hanged for forgery in 1804. The law took a very severe view of this offence at the time and few forgers were reprieved.

Ann was an educated young woman of twenty-two, living in London, who had devised quite an elaborate plan to defraud the Bank of England of £500, which was a very large sum in those days and would now be the equivalent of over a quarter of a million pounds. The crime was perpetrated on Saturday the 10th of December 1803 when she met Stock Broker, George Francillon, at the Bank Coffee House and persuaded him to obtain a power of attorney for her to enable her to sell some Bank of England 3% stock belonging to one Benjamin Allin, an elderly gentleman from Greenwich. Mr. Francillon had known Ann for some six months and therefore was not overly suspicious. She told him that she had lived in Mr. Allin’s house as a child, where her aunt was the housekeeper, and that he had given her this stock in return for the aunt’s service to the household and the kindnesses she had shown him. Mr. Francillon obtained the power of attorney for Ann on the Saturday, and she told him that she was then going to take it Greenwich to get it signed by Mr. Allin.

Ann returned on Monday morning with the document purportedly signed and witnessed by Thomas Noulden and Peter Verney, who both ran small businesses in Greenwich. Ann met Mr. Francillon at the Bank of England where he took the document to the Reduced Office for verification. Ann meanwhile went off to sell the stocks. Mr. Thomas Bateman, the Clerk in charge of powers of attorney, asked to see George Francillon with Ann and informed them that Benjamin Allin’s signature on the power differed from that on the specimen held by the bank. Ann told Mr. Bateman that she knew Mr. Allin and that as he was nearly ninety years old, in poor health and nowadays wrote very little, it was not surprising that his signature differed. She also offered to take out another power of attorney and obtain a new signature on it. Mr. Bateman did not feel that this was necessary but wrote a letter to one of the witnesses to the document.

During the conversation in Mr. Bateman’s office, Ann mentioned that she had recently married and asked by Mr. Bateman why she had not taken out the power in her married name, she told him that she feared her marriage to one James Innes was not a good one. She suggested that he had stolen her money and then boarded a ship at Bristol and that he was already married to another.

Ann left the bank and returned on the following Tuesday. In the meantime, Mr. Francillon had become suspicious when he checked the document. He put their main meeting off to the following day while he did some further research, including going to see Benjamin Allin. As arranged, Mr. Francillon met Ann on the Wednesday morning at the Bank of England. He had previously had a meeting with Mr. Newcomb the principal clerk in the Reduced Office and explained his suspicions. He and Mr. Newcomb had a meeting with the Governors. Ann came to the Bank with a young man and must have realised from the delays in seeing her that all was not well and left. She was arrested the following day in Bermondsey and taken to the Mansion House for questioning. The young man turned out to be James Innes, who was also questioned. She was charged with the forgery and he with being an accessory to the crime, although it seems that his case was dropped as there is no record of a trial for him. The case was obviously unusual and of some public interest as it was reported in The Times of Wednesday, the 21st of December 1803. Ann was committed for trial at the next Sessions of the Old Bailey in London.

These Sessions opened on the 11th of January 1804, before the Lord Chief Baron of the Exchequer, Sir Archibald Knight. Ann was charged with four offences. The first was “feloniously, falsely, making, forging, and counterfeiting, on the 12th of December, a certain instrument, or letter of attorney, with the name Benjamin Allin thereunto subscribed, purporting to have been signed, sealed, and delivered, by one Benjamin Allin, of Greenwich, in the county of Kent, gentleman, a proprietor of certain annuities and stock transferable at the Bank of England, called Three per Cent. Reduced Annuities, to sell, assign, transfer, and convey, the sum of five hundred pounds of the said transferable annuities, the property of the said Benjamin Allin, to her, the said Ann Hurle , with intent to defraud the Governor and Company of the Bank of England.” The second count was, “For uttering and publishing as true a like forged deed, knowing it to be forged, with the like intention.” There were two further counts on the indictment against her, being the same offences against Benjamin Allin. Mr. Garrow led for the prosecution and Mr. Knapp for the defence.

George Francillon and Benjamin Allin were the principal prosecution witnesses. Mr. Francillon related the above story to the court and Mr. Allin examined the power of attorney document and declared that the signature was not his and that he had never signed such a document. Thomas Bateman, Peter Verney and Thomas Noulden also testified against her. Ann’s aunt, Jane, told the court that Ann had not visited Mr. Allin’s house recently and neither had Messrs. Verney and Noulden, the two purported witnesses to his signature on the document.

The witnesses’ testimonies were cross examined at this time but Ann offered no actual defence, leaving this to her counsel. She was thus convicted and remanded to Tuesday, the 17th of January 1804 for sentence. Four men and three women were bought before the court to received their death sentences that Tuesday, with the Recorder of London making particular reference to the gravity of Ann’s crime and the fact that she preyed upon “an infirm and imbecile old man”. He opined that only death was sufficient punishment for such a crime. He then proceeded to pass sentence on each prisoner. When Ann’s turn came, she was asked in the normal way if their was any reason why sentence of death should not be pronounced against her and replied that she thought she was “with child” (pregnant). She did not make this claim with any apparent confidence so no further enquiry into its validity was made. Sarah Fisher, another of the condemned women, also claimed to be pregnant but did so much more forcibly, thus requiring the court to empanel a Jury of Matrons, who examined her and declared that she wasn’t. It is feasible that both women could have been in the early stages of pregnancy, although neither was “quick with child”. Only if the prisoner was obviously pregnant was her execution respited until after she had given birth. In most cases she was reprieved altogether and her punishment commuted to transportation. “Pleading the belly” as it was called was a frequently used tactic at this time by women desperate to avoid the noose.

The Recorder of London reviewed the cases of those condemned to death and made a recommendation in each one. He then presented his recommendations in person to the Privy Council, which was chaired by King George III. In Ann’s case, there could be no recommendation for a reprieve. She was therefore scheduled for execution, along with Methuselah Spalding who had been convicted of sodomy at the previous Sessions held on the 30th of November 1803. It is interesting to note that Spalding was the only one of five condemned men at that Sessions not to be reprieved and that Ann was the only one out of the six men and three women at the January 1804 Sessions not to get a reprieve. Non-murderers normally had a period of two to three weeks before execution at this time and Ann’s execution was set for Wednesday, the 8th of February.

For reasons that are unclear, the normal “New Drop” style gallows at Newgate was not to be used for these two hangings. A simple gallows was erected at the top of the Old Bailey, near to St. Sepulchre’s Church.

On the morning of execution, Ann and Spalding were brought from their cells and pinioned in the Press Room. They were then taken out into the yard and loaded into a horse drawn cart covered in a black cloth which emerged from the prison at about 8.10 a.m. for the short ride to the gallows. The cart was backed under the beam and the two prisoners were allowed to pray with Ordinary and make their last statements. Ann was dressed in a mourning gown and wore a white cap. She made no address to the multitude who had come to see her die but prayed fervently with the Ordinary for five minutes or so. William Brunskill, the hangman for London & Middlesex, placed the rope around her neck and when she had finished praying, pulled the white cap down over her face. The cart was now drawn away leaving them both suspended. It was recorded that Ann let out a scream as the cart moved and that she struggled hard for two to three minutes before becoming still, her hands were observed to move repeatedly towards her throat and her un-pinioned legs kicked and padded the air. No doubt the eyes of the crowd were riveted on her poor writhing form. After hanging for the customary hour, they were taken down and returned inside Newgate from where they could be claimed by relatives for burial.

An angry letter appeared in The Times newspaper the following week castigating the authorities for the execution on the grounds of cruelty compared with the New Drop and the difficulty in seeing the prisoners and thus taking a moral lesson from their demise. It was alleged in the letter that the reason for the change of gallows was that the Newgate staff were too lazy to assemble the New Drop gallows. Whether this was true or whether the drop mechanism had become defective we will never know, but it was returned to service for the next execution, that of Providence Hansard for the same crime on the 5th of July 1805.

It seems surprising looking back two centuries that Ann, acting alone, would have devised such an ambitious plan to obtain this large sum of money. However, no evidence was offered at her trial to show that anyone else was involved, other than perhaps James Innes on the periphery of the crime. It must have taken quite some time to think through and make the necessary contacts, such as George Francillon, who would be able to obtain the power of attorney for her. It is hard to believe she was not aware of the risk of failure and the deadly consequences that would follow it. In the period 1800 – 1829, an amazing 218 people were to die for forgery in England and Wales. Another two women were to follow Ann to the gallows outside Newgate over the next two years, Providence Hansard mentioned earlier and Mary Parnell on the 13th of November 1805. Forgery ceased to be a capital crime in 1832 and the last execution for it took place on the 31st of December 1829, when Thomas Maynard was hanged at Newgate. Over two centuries attitudes have altered; had a modern day Ann committed the crime in the 21st century, she would have got somewhere between four and five years in prison and have been released on licence half way through this sentence.

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

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1806: Cesar Herbaux, Vidocq’s path not taken

Add comment January 6th, 2018 Headsman

French criminal turned seminal criminologist Eugene Francois Vidocq on this date in 1806 witnessed the fate he might have shared when his former underworld collaborator went under the guillotine at Paris for murder.

The son of an Arras baker, the young Vidocq (English Wikipedia entry | French) presented as an incipient Villonesque picaro. He had the first of his many theft-and-arrest events at the tender age of 13 courtesy of his father who summoned the gendarmes when he stole the family silver. Nothing daunted, Vidocq robbed the house again a few months later and ran away to join troupes of itinerant entertainers, soon transitioning into the French Revolution’s new citizen-army where the rogue by turns impressed with his competence and deserted ahead of some scandal, equally prolific in affairs of honor (he was an expert fencer) and those of the heart (same).

While in prison for his latest misadventures in 1795-1796 he fell in with another inmate — our day’s principal, César Herbaux or Herbault — and forged a pardon order for one of their fellows. Vidocq, as we shall see, would always blame the others for inducing him (their story was the reverse). In either event, for their trouble they caught a sentence that was cruel even though “galleys” by this time just meant prison hulks.

The tribunal … sentences Francois Vidocq and Cesar Herbaux to the punishment of the galleys for eight years …

[And] the said Francois Vidocq and Cesar Herbaux shall be exposed for six hours on a scaffold, which whall be for that purpose erected on the public square of this commune.

The sentence Vidocq himself published in his ghost-written memoirs, where the later, respectable man would situate it in the midst of his life’s chrysalis.

Vidocq did not serve his sentence; he escaped custody and lived the first decade of the 19th century on his society’s periphery, under a succession of aliases and with a succession of lovers, the episodes punctuated by re-arrests and re-escapes. In one close escape, Vidocq was lodging in Melun as “a travelling seller of fashionable commodities” when ill rumors induced him to flee for the capital. Resuming his memoir …

I learnt … from the landlord of the inn at which I had put up, that the commissary of police had testified some regret at not having examined my papers; but what was deferred was not ended, and that at my next visit, he meant to pay me a visit. The information surprised me, for I must consequently have been in some way an object of suspicion. To go on might lead to danger, and I therefore returned to Paris, resolving not to make any other journeys, unless I could render less unfavourable the chances which combined against me.

Having started very early, I reached the faubourg Saint Marceau in good time; and at my entrance, I heard the hawkers bawling out, “that two well-known persons are to be executed to-day at the Place de Greve.” I listened, and fancied I distinguished the name of Herbaux. Herbaux, the author of the forgery which caused all my misfortunes? I listened with more attention, but with an involuntary shudder; and this time the crier, to whom I had approached, repeated the sentence with these additions:

Here is the sentence of the criminal tribunal of the department of the Seine, which condemns to death the said Armand Saint Leger, an old sailor, born at Bayonne, and Cesar Herbaux, a freed galley-slave, born at Lille, accused and convicted of murder.

I could doubt no longer; the wretch who had heaped so much misery on my head was about to suffer on the scaffold. Shall I confess that I felt a sentiment of joy, and yet I trembled? … It will not excite wonder, when I say that I ran with haste to the palace of justice to assure myself of the truth; it was not mid-day, and I had great trouble in reaching the grating, near which I fixed myself, waiting for the fatal moment.

At last four o’clock struck, and the wicket opened. A man appeared first on the stage. It was Herbaux. His face was covered with a deadly paleness, whilst he affected a firmness which the convulsive workings of his featured belied. He pretended to talk to his companion, who was already incapacitated from hearing him. At the signal of departure, Herbaux, with a countenance into which he infused all the audacity he could force, gazed round on the crow, and his eye met mine. He started, and the blood rushed to his face. The procession passed on, and I remained as motionless as the bronze railings on which I was leaning; and I should probably have remained longer, if an inspector of the palace had not desired me to come away. Twenty minutes afterwards, a car, laden with a red basket, and escorted by the gendarme, was hurried over the Pont-au-Change, going towards the burial ground allotted for felons. Then, with an oppressed feeling at my heart, I went away, and regained my lodgings, full of sorrowful reflections.

I have since learnt, that during his detention at the Bicetre, Herbaux had expressed his regret at having been instrumental in getting me condemned, when innocent. The crime which had brought this wretch to the scaffold was a murder committed, in company with Saint Leger, on a lady of the Place Dauphine. These two villains had obtained access to their victim under pretence of giving her tidings of her son, whom they said they had seen in the army.

Although, in fact Herbaux’s execution could not have any direct influence over my situation, yet it alarmed me, and I was horror-struck at feeling that I had ever been in contact with such brigands, destined to the executioner’s arm: my remembrance revealed me to myself, and I blushed, as it were, in my own face. I sought to lose the recollection, and to lay down an impassable line of demarcation between the past and the present; for I saw but too plainly, that the future was dependent on the past; and I was the more wretched, as a police, who have not always due powers of discernment, would not permit me to forget myself. I saw myself again on the point of being snared like a deer.

Forever abroad on a false passport, watching over his shoulder for the next inquisitive policeman, the next chance encounter with a bygone criminal acquaintance, Vidocq was in his early thirties now and aching to go straight lest he follow Herbaux’s path to the guillotine. At last in 1809 he was able to find the perfect port of entry for a man of his underworld expertise: policing.

Beginning first as a snitch and informer, Vidocq uncovered a genius for the still-nascent field of professional law enforcement and made himself the field’s towering presence. His last arrest was in 1809; by 1812, he had created La Surete, France’s civil investigative organ. This still-extant entity became the model for Great Britain’s Scotland Yard (1829), with Vidocq consulting for his Anglo imitators.

His subalterns were heavily lawbreakers like himself, men and also women recruited from the streets and prisons for whom the cant of outlaws was native tongue and who took readily to Vidocq’s training in disguise and subterfuge: Vidocq trafficked in information, seeking crime in its native habitat where the easy-to-spot predecessors to the beat cop could not penetrate. The payoffs in robbers ambushed red-handed and turncoats delightedly unmasking themselves made the man a sensation.

Yet alongside his swashbuckling flair, Vidocq’s prescient interest in then-novel police techniques ranging from forensic science to controlling crime scenes to logging permanent records about criminals have established him as either a or the father of criminology.

A few books about Vidocq

All along, the master himself continued to adventure in the field too, and began compounding a sizable income from deploying his investigative talents for a private clientele. His mother who had once been accustomed to shelter him as a fugitive had a requiem mass at Notre Dame on her death in 1824.

In 1833, retired from Surete, Vidocq founded perhaps the first private detective agency. But as had been the case while he was in public service he had a zest for skirting the edges of the legally or ethically permissible, which was eventually the ruin of his business and his fortune. For all his legendary charisma, his heirs at the Surete in the late 19th century all but wrote out of their institutional history the thief who literally wrote the book on their field.

Posterity was bound to reclaim him if for no other reason than that the dashing detective had always been catnip for the literary set. Victor Hugo is thought to have drawn on Vidocq for both the chief antagonists in Les Miserables, the reformed criminal Jean Valjean and his relentless pursuer Inspector Javert; Balzac liberally cribbed from the biography of his good friend Vidocq to create his Human Comedy character Vautrin, a onetime forger become chief of the Surete. American writers invoked Vidocq by name in, e.g., Moby Dick and The Murders in the Rue Morgue, and Edgar Allan Poe‘s interest in turn gestures at the man’s place in the foundational cosmology of the detective story genre. And for all that the real man’s life, however one discounts for literary flourish, was somehow more colorfully impossible than all the Sherlock Holmeses that have followed him — why, by every probability the scoundrel ought to have wound up sharing the stage with a Cesar Herbaux. Accordingly, depictions of this deeply dramatic figure in theater and cinema stretch from the man’s own time all the way to ours, as with this 2011 Gerard Depardieu offering:

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Arts and Literature,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,France,Guillotine,History,Murder,Notably Survived By,Public Executions,Theft

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1807: Richard Faulkner, scared straight

Add comment July 13th, 2017 Headsman

On this date in 1807 at Wisbech, 15-year-old Richard Faulkner hanged in a truly repentant frame of mind — as described by the Norfolk Chronicle of August 1, 1807:

At Ely assizes, held at Wisbech, there was but one prisoner for trial; viz. Richard Faulkner, convicted of the murder of George Burnham a lad about 13 years of age, at Whittlesea, on Sunday, the 15th of February last, by cruelly beating him to death, for no other cause than to revenge his (the deceased) mother’s having thrown some dirty water upon him.

The prisoner himself was not 16, but so shockingly depraved and hardened, that after condemnation he repeatedly clenched his fist, and threatened to murder the clergyman who attended the gaol, or any one who dared to approach him.

Indeed he was so ferocious that the gaoler found it necessary to chain him hands and feet to his dungeon, where he uttered the most horrid oaths and imprecations on all who came near him; and from the Friday to Saturday night refused to listen to any religious advice or admonition.

At length to prevent the termination of his existence in this depraved state, the expedient was devised of procuring a child about the size of the one murdered, and similar in feature and dress, whom two clergymen unexpectedly led between them, by the hands, into his cell, where he laid sulkily chained to the ground; but on their approach he started and seemed so completely terrified, that he trembled every limb, cold drops of sweat profusely falling from him, and was almost momentarily in such a dreadful state of agitation, that he intreated the clergymen to continue with him, and from that instant became as contrite a penitent as he had before been callous and insensible.

In this happy transition he remained till his execution on Monday morning the 13th inst. having fully confessed his crime and implored by fervent prayer the forgiveness of his sins from a merciful God!

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Children,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,History,Murder,Public Executions

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1805: Not Bartlett Ambler, possible buggerer

Add comment May 8th, 2017 Headsman

From “Buggery and the British Navy”, in History of Homosexuality in Europe and America

Unlike modern military law, which tends to distinguish in some way between homosexual acts between consenting adults and what is often the equivalent of rape of a shipmate, the navy during this period made no such distinctions. A boy who had been seduced or forced to commit buggery, therefore, was under great pressure to turn in his partner or attacker, for if they were caught and it appeared he had consented, the “victim” might well be as severely punished as the aggressor. Needless to say, there were serious problems in determining whether or not the boys called to testify were telling the truth, or simply using the buggery charge as a means of destroying a shipmate or officer they particularly disliked.

The courts were often acutely conscious of that possibility and there was even some objection to allowing young boys to testify in buggery trials. In 1772, the defense protested the testimony of John Ellis, a twelve year old boy who had accused one John Palmer of buggery. Despite the protest, however, it was decided that he could legally testify and Palmer was convicted of attempted buggery.

The problem of boys testifying against men in buggery cases are clearly revealed in the Bartlett Ambler case. Ambler was accused by four boys of sodomitic practices. Each testified that Ambler threatened to have them flogged if they told what had occurred. One of the boys, John Davy, said, “…and I had scarce buttoned up my breeches when he said be sure don’t tell no person of it. I’ll be very good to you, but if you tell any person of it I’ll get you flogged.” Ambler based his defense on the alleged wickedness of his accusers. Joseph Dorman, the ship’s corporal, was called upon to discuss the character of three of the witnesses.

Q. Do you know if the boys who have been examined in support of the charge against me are notorious liars?

A. Two of them Hopkins and Willcott have been several times punished for lying.

Court. What is the character of the boy Davy?

A. He bears a very bad character by the whole ship’s company.

Ambler also called upon Midshipman Robert Baker who told the court:

Davy is a very wicked boy indeed as ever lived everyone in the ship will say that if it was in his power he would hang his own father — I hear Hooper’s mother say that her son had denied to her all that had been said against the prisoner.

The court had to weigh the testimony of the four boys who accused Ambler of buggery against the evidence of Ambler’s witnesses, who denigrated the character of the boys and testified to his good reputation. The judges sentenced Ambler to be hanged, but as a sign of their unease, sent the following letter to the Admiralty Secretary, along with the minutes of the trial:

By desire of the members of a Court Martial assembled by me this day to try Mr. Bartlett Ambler, I have to request you will call their lordship’s consideration to the hardship the Court have labored under in being obliged to condemn a man to death, upon the evidence of four boys, the eldest not more than thirteen years of age, and therefore recommend him to mercy.

The recommendation was endorsed by His Majesty on May 8, 1805, and Ambler was pardoned.

It is clear that boys could be intimidated into testifying against innocent men. In one disturbing case, a boy was caught under the blanket of Edward Martin. Evidently, the boy did not have a bed or blanket of his own, and Martin took him in as an act of kindness. The captain of the ship had the boy flogged and threatened him with another whipping if he refused to testify. Under the threat of further punishment, the boy confessed that Martin had buggered him. The trial record reads:

Prosecutor. Did you inform me that the Prisoner had committed that unnatural crime on you twice?

James. Yes, but I was afraid that the Captain would flog me.

In this case, the prisoner was acquitted, but the case does suggest the many possible abuses in buggery trials: that the testimony of boys was suspect, that fear of punishment or promise of reward might be used to intimidate them into giving false evidence against a shipmate, that the boy could be motivated by dislike or a desire for vengeance.

Trial transcripts of the testimony offered against Bartlett Ambler — and summoned by Ambler in his defense, who averred the “wicked” and “very bad” character of the childish witnesses — are available in Gay Warriors: A Documentary History from the Ancient World to the Present.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,England,Hanged,History,Homosexuals,Not Executed,Pardons and Clemencies,Rape,Sex,Soldiers

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1801: Franz Troglauer

Add comment May 6th, 2017 Headsman

On this date in 1801, robber prince Franz Troglauer was hanged at Amberg.

A lifelong picaro, Troglauer had several brushes with the law at his back when around 1790 he formed up the Fürth Diebesbande, or Great Franconian Robbers’ Band.

This lot delivered what their name promised throughout the 1790s. Troglauer’s* gang took enterprising advantage of the emerging technologies that were driving the classical outlaw figure into myth and memory, setting up their own printing press to churn out forged papers and compassing a vast shadow economy ranging from thieves to fences to look-the-other-way inkeepers. Troglauer’s most famous caper was engineering the heist of a Bamberg bishop’s vestments. (And more significantly, his silver plate.)

Some in the latter-day Upper Palatinate aspire to make his haunts into a tourist attraction a la Troglauer’s Rhenish contemporary Schinderhannes, but his life is surprisingly ill-documented and so his fame has little spread to the wider world. (That’s why all the links here are in German.)

The gang was betrayed and broken up in 1798. Troglauer managed to escape and briefly resume his career, but his overt threats to assassinate a prominent landlord who had been involved in his previous prosecutions helped to intensify the search that brought him once more to prison and at last to the gallows.

* This is a network rather than a hierarchy; Jakob Meusel was another important leader, and it’s sometimes also called the Meusel Band after him.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Germany,Hanged,Holy Roman Empire,Outlaws,Public Executions,Theft

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