1859: Ratu Mara Kapaiwai, Fiji warrior

Add comment August 6th, 2017 Headsman

On this date in 1859,* the Ratu (chief or prince) Seru Epenisa Cakobau hanged a major obstacle to his control the Fiji archipelago.

Fiji comprises over 300 distinct islands in the South Pacific of which the principal and namesake is Viti Levu. Our man Cakobau ascended as the Ratu of a two-mile islet, Bau, which hugs the east coast of Viti Levu and to a 19th century European visitor “may with propriety be called the capital of Feejee.”

Not all of “Feejee” was quite so eager as Mary Davis Wallis to champion the suzerainty of the Ratu of Bau, and so Cakobau spent much of the mid-19th century maneuvering to consolidate and extend his authority. He would in the end succeed well enough to establish the first unified Kingdom of Fiji in 1871, and it was his signature on the 1874 Deed of Cession that gave said kingdom to the British.**

But before he could be the father of the nation he had to put his foot on the neck of rivals like his cousin Ratu Mara Kapaiwai.

“The ubiquitous stormy petrel of mid nineteenth century Fiji” (source), Mara’s bold adventures blew a turbulent wind through the Fijian political scene in the 1840s and 1850s. A renowned seaman and aggressive warrior, he called no one place home but shuttled incessantly among Fijian and Tongan islands, and among shifting alliances thereof. If there was one constant in the life of Mara Kapaiwai it was rejecting the overlordship of Cakobau.

He suffered what would prove to be a decisive defeat in 1855 at the Battle of Kaba, although the convert Cakobau in a paroxysm of Christian charity forgave the defeated right there on the battlefield instead of insisting the traditional right to kill and cannibalize them.

His pique for his kinsman only stoked by the defeat, the stormy petrel returned soon enough to his schemes and by 1858 had raised another rebellion.

Cakobau put an end to this resistance by putting an end to Mara himself: luring Mara to Bau with promise of forgiveness, Cakobau instead had him seized and sent to the gallows the very next day.

“He said his punishment was quite just — that he had been a very bad man and had caused the death of very many people, but that he sincerely repented of his sins and looked for mercy believing that in God his sins were being pardoned,” according to a Wesleyan missionary who attended to Mara.

* There are a few cites to be found for June 8, rather than August 6, which I cannot credit to any better cause than an inverted reading of the date 6/8 or 8/6 because people are rubbish about dates. The scholarly consensus around 6 August, and the allusion in sources like this book chapter to western missionaries’ diaries and letters, carries the argument for me — even though I have not been able to lay my own eyes on those primary documents. (As best I can determine, many of these firsthand accounts are held, un-digitized, by the Methodist Church of Australasia Department of Overseas Missions.)

** Fiji attained independence within the Commonwealth in 1970. Queen Elizabeth II’s picturesque honorific as Tui Viti (paramount chief) of Fiji — the title that Cokabau ceded to Queen Victoria along with the archipelago — has slipped into official disuse in recent years but many Fijians still embrace Elizabeth as queen. Here’s a newsreel of her 1953 visit to Fiji:

Topical here: Ratu Mara’s grandson Lala Sakuna became one of the leading statesmen of Fijian independence in the 20th century, although he predeceased its realization … fulfilling Mara’s plea to his executioner “for the safety of his 10-day-old son Joni, promising Cakobau that one day the child’s descendants would ‘bear Fiji up’.” (Source)

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1852: Louis Lullier, wife in a cask

2 comments July 14th, 2017 Headsman

On this date in 1852, Louis Lullier lost his head for an Edgar Allan Poe-esque murder that was very nearly the perfect crime. He would be the the last person guillotined in Pontoise.*

The stonemason Lullier was caught out by an eagle-eyed bank manager passing a forged bill of exchange. A search of his effects revealed several other such bills under different signatures being readied for circulation … but it turned out that Lullier was laboring under much heavier sins.

“When questioned by the examining magistrate, he appeared labouring under great anxiety, and incoherent words escaped from him,” ran a report published across the channel. (here quoted in The Huddersfield Chronicle and West Yorkshire Advertiser, June 12, 1852)

At length he said he had a horrible revelation to make; and he proceeded to state that nearly a year before he had strangled his wife, had thrust the dead body into a cask, and had deposited it in a cellar, which he indicated. The magistrate was for a moment thunderstruck at this statement, but the prisoner seemed greatly relieved at having made it, and he gave full details of his crime with the greatest sang-froid.

The couple had grown quarrelsome, and when his wife/victim threatened to leave him, Lullier

seized her by the throat and strangled her. He kept the body in his room for two days, and then, having stripped it, he forced it into a cask, and conveyed the cask in a wheelbarrow to a cellar in which he was accustomed to place his tools. The cellar was at some distance from his lodgings, but he wheeled the cask along the streets with the greatest confidence in open day.

No sooner, however, was the murder perpetrated than he became seized with remorse; he neglected his work, and at times stood gloomily before it with his arms folded; he broke off from his friends, abandoned his aged mother, to whom he had been very good, and treated his little child with great brutality, though he had always before shown him great attention. He also took to drinking, and spent a good deal of his time in public-houses with girls of bad character. It was observed that he was almost constantly hanging about the cellar, though no one could tell why, and he was dreadfully agitated when any one approached it.

Jump ahead a year as his last appeals are refused and the Versailles prison chaplain shakes him awake to deliver the news that his imminent beheading will decorate the country’s Bastille Day festivities and a pensive Lullier muses, “I did not think the news could have affected me so much.” (The Lincoln, Rutland and Stamford Mercury, July 23, 1852)

* Birthplace — just his luck — of Francois Villon.

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1859: Oscar Jackson lynched, precipitating the Wright County War

1 comment April 25th, 2017 Meaghan

(Thanks to Meaghan Good of the Charley Project for the guest post. -ed.)

The story of what would become known as the Wright County War began on September 21, 1858, when Henry A. Wallace was found lying dead in a clump of willows on his own farm, his head bashed in. He had last been seen alive on August 27, twenty-five days earlier.

Wallace’s employee, Oscar F. Jackson, was the prime suspect in his murder. Jackson had agreed to help Wallace reap his hay crop in exchange for a portion of the harvest, and on August 27 the two men had been seen working together in the fields near where Wallace’s body was later found.

Jackson showed a curious lack of concern about his boss’s disappearance. He never even bothered to tell the authorities he was missing, and when neighbors noted that Wallace hadn’t been seen in weeks and decided to launch a search, Jackson declined to join in. An impoverished sharecropper, Jackson also seemed to have become suddenly flush with cash — an oddity because like most of the residents of Wright County, Jackson was poor, still struggling to recover from the Panic of 1857. Wallace was comparatively well-off.

A grand jury indicted Jackson for his employer’s murder, but the case against him was incredibly feeble. At the trial, Jackson’s attorneys pointed out that no one had seen the murder or could even determine the day it took place, and suggested any number of people could have visited Wallace and killed him at any time during that three-and-a-half-week period that he was missing.

The jury quite rightly gave Jackson the benefit of doubt and acquitted him on April 3, 1859, after eighteen hours of deliberation.

That night, a lynch party of fifteen men chased him into the woods. Fearing for his life, Jackson fled to St. Paul.

The local citizenry — among them Henry Wallace’s brother, Hiram — were not prepared to let the matter rest. And, horrifyingly, neither was the Wright County Sheriff, George M. Bertram,* or the justice of the peace, Cyrus Chase Jenks.

Five days after Jackson’s acquittal, the three men went to find the presumed murderer in Hennepin County. There, Hiram Wallace swore out a complaint against Jackson accusing him of theft, and Jenks issued a warrant for his arrest. Never mind that Jenks did not have jurisdiction outside of Wright County: Sheriff Bertram delivered the warrant to Alfred Brackett, the deputy sheriff of Hennepin County, and asked him to serve it.

Walter N. Trenery wrote in his 1962 book, Murder in Minnesota,

Brackett found Jackson in St. Paul’s Apollo Saloon the next day. Handcuffing his prisoner, the deputy set out with him for St. Anthony by buggy. Jackson pleaded for time to call his attorney, but at first Brackett would not allow it. On the ride Jackson insisted that his arrest was based on a false charge, the purpose of which was to get him back to Rockford [in Wright County] where he would be murdered… Brackett reconsidered. When the two men reached St. Anthony, he sent word to Jackson’s counsel and persuaded the Wright County sheriff to spend the night in town before starting back to Rockford.

The implacable Sheriff Bertram

Jackson’s lawyer hastily drew up a writ of habeas corpus and before the day was out he’d served it to Sheriff Bertram. The Hon. Isaac Atwater, a Minnesota Supreme Court justice, ordered Jackson’s release on April 11. He was immediately re-arrested, however, as by then Jenks and Bertram had realized their error, gone back to Wright County and drawn up a second warrant. Jackson’s attorney responded with a second writ of habeas corpus, and on April 13, the man was ordered released again.

His friends had pooled their money and come up with enough for him to leave Minnesota forever, but for some reason Jackson returned to Rockford instead of skipping town. The residents of Wright County still wanted to lynch him, and to that end a neighbor swore out yet another phony complaint against him and yet another justice of the peace issued yet another warrant for his arrest.

A mob virtually tore Jackson’s cabin and its contents to pieces and set several fires. They surrounded the home of Jackson’s father-in-law, George Holdship, where the fugitive was reported to be hiding, and set more fires.

On April 24, Sheriff Bertram arrived at Holdship’s residence, and after he swore Jackson would not be harmed, arrested Jackson and took him away.

According to John D. Bessler’s book Legacy Of Violence: Lynch Mobs And Executions In Minnesota,

Less than half a mile from the house an armed mob overtook Sheriff Bertram’s procession. The sheriff relinquished power without resistance and rode off with the deputies, failing to even report the incident. After taunting Jackson throughout the night, the mob strung him up, even as his wife arrived to plead for mercy. Her pleas ignored, she was sent away distraught and empty-handed. The bloodthirsty mob hauled Jackson up and down times, failing to get Jackson to confess but successfully mangling his neck. Only when Jackson was hoisted up for a third time, at 2:00 P.M. on April 25, did his neck break. Jackson’s body was left dangling from a beam that protruded from Wallace’s cabin.

A coroner’s jury was called on the same day Jackson died and decided he had met with his death at the hands of some person or persons unknown. “The jury was not likely,” Trenery noted dryly, “to accuse its own members.”

But the story didn’t end there.

At the time of Oscar Jackson’s lynching, Minnesota had been a state for less than a year; it was admitted to the Union on May 11, 1858. Their first state governor, Henry Hastings Sibley, was anxious to maintain the rule of law, which had been besmirched by the Jackson outrage. One newspaper said, a tad melodramatically, “Wright County will be painted black upon the map of Minnesota — a patch of loathsome leprosy upon the fair surface of the land.”

Sibley offered a $500 reward for the arrest and conviction of anyone concerned with the lynching. It went unclaimed and the lynching started to slip away into obscurity, until July, when Oscar Jackson’s wife spotted Emery W. Moore (called “Emory” or “Aymer” in some accounts) at a gathering in Minnehaha Falls. Moore had been a member of the lynch mob, and it was his warrant that lead to Jackson’s arrest at his father-in-law’s house.

Mrs. Jackson alerted St. Paul’s chief of police, who arrested Moore for murder, and he was sent to Rockford to stand trial.

What followed, as Trenery describes it, was something of a solemn farce:

To prevent further collusion among local officials, the governor directed Charles H. Berry, the state’s attorney general, to conduct the prosecution in person. Berry opened the preliminary examination in Monticello on July 31, 1859, with an angry mob swarming about the building, shouting and threatening the agents of law enforcement. Mrs. Jackson, testifying for the prosecution, clearly and unequivocally named the leaders of the lynch mob and described the circumstances under which her husband had died. When the Wright County sheriff took the stand to explain how the mob had overwhelmed him and took Jackson from his custody, the attorney general found the sheriff’s explanation so unsatisfactory that he ordered Bertram arrested and held as an accomplice in the lynching. Berry then discovered that certain prosecution witnesses had mysteriously disappeared before they could testify, and he was forced to adjourn the hearing before it had been in session a full day.

To add insult to injury, that evening the vigilantes descended on the place where Emery Moore was confined, set him free, and melted into the darkness.

Berry returned to St. Paul and reported all this to the governor.

Fed up, Sibley declared Wright County to be “in a state of insurrection” and sent in the state militia to put a stop to mob justice and force the county officials to do their damn jobs. Three units — the Pioneer Guards, the St. Paul City Guards and the Stillwater Guards — marched in, aided by 35 special policemen.

The results were mixed. At first the militia was unable to find any members of the lynch mob, the locals just shrugged their shoulders when asked where they had gone, and the sheriff and other officials refused outright to cooperate. Only when they found out Governor Sibley was on his way over to personally take charge did the county officials “find” and arrest three suspected lynchers: Emery Moore, Hiram S. Angell, and J.E. Jenks.**

Satisfied, the governor sent the state militia home. The three-day occupation was later facetiously dubbed the Wright County War. It was a bloodless war.

The arrested men were almost immediately set free on a $500 bail, and in October, a grand jury refused to indict them. In the end, no one at all was punished for Oscar Jackson’s death, and Henry Wallace’s murder was never officially solved.

Charles Bryant groused in his History of the Upper Mississippi Valley,

And so the drama ended; the curtain fell; and the so-called “Wright county war” was a thing of the past. Its effects, however, long remained in the enormous expense incurred, which, with other criminal cases of less magnitude, created an indebtedness almost resulting in bankruptcy, and depreciating county orders to less than thirty-five cents on the dollar.

Of the principals involved in this story:

  • Sheriff Bertram left office in 1860 and was succeeded by W. Smith Brookins.
  • Cyrus Jenks died in Meeker City, Minnesota in 1897. He was almost 90 years old.
  • Governor Sibley stayed in office until 1860, and did not seek reelection. In 1862, he was appointed colonel of the Minnesota Militia and led them against the Native Americans in the Dakota War.
  • Charles Berry was later appointed as a judge in the Idaho Territory. He died in 1900.
  • Alfred Brackett fought in the Civil War, leading what would become Brackett’s Battallion, which served longer than any other Minnesota unit. The unit fought against the Confederates between 1861 and 1864, then became part of the Northwestern Indian Expedition in the Dakota Territory.
  • Hiram Angell also fought in the Civil War, with the Third Minnesota Volunteer Infantry Regiment. He died in St. Louis, Kentucky on April 5, 1862.
  • J.E. Jenks got elected to Minnesota’s House of Representatives in the 1870s and served for a year.

Nearly twenty years after Henry Wallace’s death, first his gold watch and then his rifle were found near the former site of Oscar Jackson’s cabin.

* Wright County boasts a Bertram Chain of Lakes, named for Sheriff Bertram.

** J.E. Jenks was probably Cyrus Jenks’s son; records note that Cyrus had a son named John Edwin Jenks who would have been about 22 years old in 1859, which matches J.E.’s first name and age.

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1852: Nathaniel Bowman, William Ide inspiration

Add comment April 24th, 2017 Headsman

This date’s anecdote, from a public domain local history, concerns the April 24, 1852 hanging of Nathaniel Bowman. Bowman has the minor distinction of being the first person executed in California’s Colusa County.

Bowman would not escape his execution but his attempt to do so summoned the offices of William B. Ide, a pioneer who had led a revolt in Mexico’s Alta California and thereafter headed the very short-lived California Republic — an affair sometimes remembered as the “Bear Flag Revolt” for the sigil still used today by the state.


The present-day California flag.

The service Ide would render his countrymen in this post was among the last of his life: he died of smallpox later in 1852.

The first legal execution in Colusa County occurred in the spring of 1852. Nathaniel Bowman was convicted of murder in the first degree for killing Levi Seigler by beating him over the head with a bottle.*

There was no jail then, and during the trial Bowman was placed under guard at Monroeville. After his conviction he nearly made good his escape. In some manner he eluded the vigilance of his guard and, still shackled, hobbled to the home of Jesse Sheppard, where he begged piteously to have his irons filed off. Sheppard, however, took him back and turned him over to the authorities at Monroeville, where he was executed soon afterwards.

This episode clearly showed the necessity of having some safe place of detention for prisoners.

With his characteristic resourcefulness in emergencies, William B. Ide met this situation also. He obtained some bar iron and bolts from San Francisco and fashioned a cage. This he placed in the shade of a great oak in front of the hotel in Monroeville, which did duty at that time as the county courthouse also. This simple expedient solved the problem until the seat of government was transferred to Colusa in 1854, whereupon Ide’s cage was removed also, to continue duty as a cell in the county jail in Colusa.

* The Sacramento News (April 27, 1852) advises that Bowman “addressed the assembled crowd, from the scaffold, and stated that it was not his intention to kill Seigler, but to beat him badly.”

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1857: The mutineer Jemadar Issuree Pandy

Add comment April 21st, 2017 Headsman

From the Annals of the Indian Rebellion, 1857-58:

THE MUTINEER JEMADAR ISSUREE PANDY.

This Jemadar of the 34th Regiment N.I. was brought to trial on the following charges: —

1st. For having at Barrackpore on the 29th March 1857, he being then in command of the quarter-guard of his regiment, not used his utmost or any endeavours to suppress a mutiny begun by Mungul Pandy, the said sepoy having on the afternoon of the day above mentioned, gone out into the parade ground in front of and near to the quarter-guard of the regiment armed with a sword and musket; and then and there used words to excite the men of the reigment to come forth and join him in resistance to lawful authority; and having then and there on the parade ground, and near to the quarter-guard of the regiment, discharged his loaded musket at Serjeant Major James Thornton Hewson, and Lieutenant Bempole Henry Baugh, of the 34th Regiment N.I., and then and there with a sword struck, and severely wounded, the said Lieutenant Baugh and Serjeant Major Hewson, and the said Jemadar not having taken any measures to arrest and confine the said sepoy throughout the aforesaid occurrences, nor to assist the said Lieutenant Baugh and Serjenat Major Hewson, and he [sic] the said Jemadar having, moreover, then and there discouraged and interfered to prevent any sepoys of his guard from going to their assistance.

2nd. For disobedience to the lawful command of his superior officers in not having advanced with his guard to rescue the Serjeant and capture the aforesaid sepoy, Mungul Pandy, when shortly after the occurrences, set forth in the first charge, he was ordered to do so by Brevet Colonel S.G. Wheler, commanding the 34th Regiment N.I.

The Court found the prisoner, Jemadar Issurree Pandy, guilty of both charges preferred against him, and sentenced him to suffer death. On the 21st April 1857 Major General Hearsey reported as follows: —

Jemadar Issuree Pandy was duly hanged by the neck this afternoon at 6 o’clock in presence of all the troops at the station; the crimes, finding, and sentence of the General Court Martial before which he was arraigned, approved and confirmed by His Excellency the Commander-in-Chief, having been first carefully explained to all the native corps.

It may be perhaps satisfactory to the Government to know that when on the scaffold the Jemadar made a voluntary confession of his guilt, and admitted the justice of the sentence which had been passed on him, at the same time imploring all his fellow soldiers who were present to take warning by his untimely fate.

They didn’t.

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1852: Samuel Treadway

1 comment March 1st, 2017 Headsman

Hartford Courant, Nov. 20, 1852


Newark Daily Advertiser, Jan. 4, 1853


Baltimore Sun, Jan. 12, 1853


Philadelphia Inquirer, Jan. 21, 1853

Philadelphia Inquirer, March 4, 1853

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1857: James Copeland, repentant gangster

Add comment October 30th, 2016 Headsman

On this date in 1857, “the great southern land pirate” James Copeland went to the gallows in the now-abandoned Mississippi town of Augusta.

Copeland‘s criminal career is the subject of a wonderfully old-timey reader by the Perry County sheriff who noosed him. (As it says right there on the title plate. Sheriff J.R.S. Pitts does not shrink from injecting his own story into the narrative, and to get to the action the reader must first wade through tedious digressions into the hangman’s biography, his civic-minded rationales for a prurient interest in outlaws — “such a life and history cannot fail, even at this late date … of materially interesting and benefiting the public at large” — and some whinging about the libel suits that dogged his attempts to materially benefit the public at large.)

After an “introduction”, a “preface”, and an “explanatory”, our volume comes at last to an illustrated 100-page autobiographical narrative which Pitts says that Copeland dictated to him while cooling his heels in jail.

Hardened and violent in life, Copeland under the eaves of death seems to made that familiar return to God and repentfully confessed his path into depravity beginning with youthful delinquencies the condign punishment of which was consistently deflected by his mother, “who always upheld me in my rascality.”

Having fallen into a legal scrape for pig-thieving, Copeland left behind charming rascality for Godfather territory when he made contact with an outlaw named Gale Wages and concocted a plan to vacate the charges by destroying the documentation … by torching the courthouse in which they rested.

“Such a sight I never had before beheld,” Copeland remembered of the blaze. “The flames seemed to ascend as high, if not higher than the tops of the tallest pine trees; they made everything perfectly light for over two hundred yards around.” After that bonfire, Copeland gave himself over to the guidance of a man who turned out to be halfway between Jabba the Hutt and a Masonic lodge chief.

Wages, Copeland found, had “a great many persons concerned with him, in different parts of the country, some of them men of wealth and in good standing in the community in which they lived.”

They had an organized Band that would stand up to each other at all hazard; they had a Wigwam in the city of Mobile, where they held occasional meetings … they had many confederates there whom the public little suspected …

I was there introduced by Wages, (who was their president,) as a candidate for membership, I should have been rejected, had Wages not interceded for me. I was finally passed and admitted to membership. Wages then administered to me the oath, which every member had to take. I was then instructed and given the signs and pass-words of the Clan.

Maybe the gang was right to doubt him, for Copeland broke this oath by divulging to his hangman-biographer numerous names of members as well as the Encyclopedia Brown-esque cipher this gang used to send coded messages.

Over the course of the next decade and more, Copeland’s narration has the gang and he romping through Dixie in misadventures that range from the charmingly picaresque — finagling a guest role at a Methodist pulpit by posing as wandering preachers upon which they netted several hundred dollars from the inevitable passed hat — to the much less charming:

A legend of $30,000 in gold that the squad claimed to have buried in Catahoula Swamp still circulates in Mississippi — spur to thus-far frustrated treasure hunters down to the present day.

We can’t know to what degree the voice that we read is Copeland’s own or that of Pitts interposing but the narrator we have affects at times a stagey horror at his sins.

With the gang determined to be rid of an Irish boatman on the Mississippi, Copeland draws the short straw to bludgen him to death in his sleep: “Oh, God! when I look back, it makes me shudder. Even now it chills the blood in my veins.” Copeland bashed his brains in with a hatched and as day broke they slipped the weighted corpse into the river.

Copeland had moved up the ranks enough to share the marquee in the “Wages-Copeland gang” by the time things got real dark. In early 1844, a summit of the gang’s leadership determined spies were afoot and four of the suspected “butted their heads against a slung-shot hung to a man’s arm, and they went floating from Mobile wharf down the channel of the river.” Others they left “in a situation where he told no more tales” and “fed … the contents of two double-barrel shot-guns, about forty-eight buck-shot, and put him in a swamp near Eslaya’s old mill” and “put a rope around his neck, and we very soon squeezed the breath out of him.”

The end of the line could really have been any one of these incidents or the numerous others this post elides — enough blood feuds and hand-to-hand murders and the odds are sure to turn against you in the long run.

In 1849, now a wanted man, Copeland started drinking at a grocery near Mobile

and became intoxicated, and in that situation I imagined every man I saw was trying to arrest me. I fell in with a man by the name of Smith, an Irishman, and a difficulty occurred between us; I concluded that he intended to arrest me. I drew my double-barrel shot gun upon him and intended to kill him. He was too quick for me; he threw up my gun, drew his dirk and stabbed me just above the collar bone.

Having made himself both conspicuous and immobile, Copeland was tracked down by a posse and now he was really in the soup: “one indictment against me in Alabama for larceny, and another against me in Mississippi for murder.” Copeland pleaded guilty in Alabama and served a jail sentence there, hoping that the passage of years would buy him some opening to escape the hanging sentence that would surely await in neighboring Mississippi. But the Magnolia State was on its game and had a timely extradition request ready to receive James Copeland the moment his term in the Alabama pen expired.

The day arose clear and beautiful on which the sentence of the law and of outraged humanity was to be executed on the man who had so often violated their most sacred behests. The sky was blue and serene; the atmosphere genial; all nature was calm and peaceful; man alone was agitated by the various strong emotions which the execution of the fatal sentence of retributive justice on a fellow-man could not but create.

The place of execution was distant from the city of Augusta one-quarter of a mile. The gallows was erected on a beautiful elevation that was surrounded by the verdure of shrubby oak and the tall, long-leaf pine. The ground was everywhere occupied by thousands of spectators, gathered from Perry and the surrounding counties, to witness the solemn scene. It was indeed one that they will long remember.

About the hour of noon, the prisoner, after being neatly clad, was led from the jail by the officers of the law, placed in the ranks of the guard formed for the occasion, and the procession moved slowly toward the fatal spot.

Soon the doomed man appeared on the gallows. The death warrant was then read to him, and he was informed that he had but a short time to live.

He proceeded to address the awe-struck and silent multitude. He especially urged the young men present to take warning from his career and fate, and to avoid bad company. His misfortune he attributed principally to having been mislead while young.

When he had concluded, a number of questions were asked by the immediate spectators, in relation to crimes which had transpired within their knowledge; but he would give no direct answer — shrewdly eluding the inquiries.

The Sheriff then asked him, in hearing of many lookers on, if the details of his confession, previously made to that officer, were true. He replied that they were.

His hands were then tied and the cap pulled over his face, and he was told that he had but a few moments to live. He exclaimed, “Lord, have mercy on me!” and he was praying when the drop fell, and a brief struggle ended his blood-stained career.

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1853: Three for the McIvor Gold Escort attack

Add comment October 3rd, 2016 Headsman

On this date in 1853, three bushrangers hanged in Melbourne Gaol for the sensational (and very nearly successful) McIvor Gold Escort attack.

Our hanged trio’s crime traces to the mad 1850s gold rush to Victoria, mainland Australia’s southwesternmost province* and more specifically to the McIvor Creek diggings near Heathcote. Gold was struck there late in 1853; by the next year, the place was heavy with prospectors. And gold, why, we know what gold does to men’s souls.

The notes are eternal but gold sings her siren song in every major and minor key; where she calls men, haggard and desperate, bearing pickaxes and gilded dreams, she also beckons in another register to their counterparts bearing ready sidearms and black hearts. Miners after a different name.

On July 20, 1853, some 2,300 ounces of gold extracted from the McIvor diggings were dispatched with an armed guard from the Private Escort Cmpany on its regular run to Kyneton. Here was a mother lode for characters who could stake it.

The July 20 gold escort encountered a blocked road and six desperadoes waiting in a well-orchestrated ambush: without bothering to demand the escort stand and deliver, the robbers opened fire on their prey, wounding four of the troopers — non-fatally, but enough to compel submission — and killing the coach driver, William Flookes, ere they looted the dray of treasure worth near £10,000.


19th century illustration of the attak on the McIvor gold escort.

When news of the incident reached McIvor, 400 outraged miners formed up in posses and set off in pursuit — but the robbers had planned their strike cunningly and were well ahead of the chase. Racing away through wilderness, they paused to divide their spoils near Kilmore and proceeded to Melbourne, where they scattered themselves and were able to duck a sweeping but essentially blind manhunt for several weeks.

Joseph Grey, George and Joseph Francis, William Atkins, George Wilson, and George Melville were perhaps on the verge of completing the caper by August 13 when George Francis got cold feet and turned himself into the police — shopping all of his confederates into the bargain.

Joseph Grey, the wiliest of the bunch, was cautiously changing his address every single night — and so George Francis’s information did not nab him. Grey managed to stay ahead of the search and make good an escape with his share of the booty: he was never caught.

The remaining four — including Joseph Francis, George Francis’s own brother — were all speedily snapped up.

A twist in the plot occurred when star witness George Francis slashed his own throat, leaving the crown with a virtually empty case until brother Joseph fulfilled the informer’s place, piously declaiming against the shootings as more crime than either Francis had bargained for. This self-serving pap came in for uproarious pillory by the defense barristers when the surviving Francis took the witness stand — “with your own person in danger, you would sacrifice your mother and tell any lie you rpoor intelligence could invent!” — but the stool pigeon’s evidence stuck, corroborated by accounts from the troopers who survived the ambush.

Atkins, Wilson, and Melville hanged together at Melbourne Gaol sixteen days after their judge donned the black cap. Melville’s wife availed her right to claim her husband’s body and scandalized Melbourne’s authorities by cheekily garlanding the corpse in flowers and putting it on display in her oyster shop on Little Bourke Street, charging half a crown per gawk. Melbourne Gaol’s hanged thereafter were exclusively buried within the prison yards itself, and Parliament soon legislated this as a nationwide requirement.

* While the gold rush brought many boom towns that expired with their associated mineral veins, it boomed the frontier town of Melbourne right into the gigantic metropolis it remains today.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Australia,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Murder,Pelf,Theft

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1858: Preston Turley, drunkard preacher

Add comment September 17th, 2016 Headsman

The city of Charleston, Virginia — soon to become Charleston, West Virginia — hosted the unctuously ceremonious public hanging of a killer preacher on this date in 1858.

Perhaps your correspondent is merely cynical having seen in these pages a thousand small-minded murderers lay their misdeeds to liquor and claim their redemptive shortcut to heaven. After all, hypocrisies great and small light each one of us through our days; Preston Turley no less than any man is surely entitled to his.

But we do incline with the fellow in the posse who arrested Turley after his missing wife Mary Susan was discovered at the bottom of a river, a rope fixing her neck to a stone and bludgeon bruises visible about her head, who had this exchange with Mr. Turley:

Turley: Whisky has brought me to this.

Mr. Webb: Don’t lay it all to whisky, as a man might have a deed in his breast, but not the courage to perform it, until he drank whisky.

Turley: That is about the fact.

Betweentimes Turley had posted a phony reward for his “missing” wife, slated her for unfaithfulness by way of palliating his crime, and briefly escaped his cell a few weeks before the execution. All of this is no more than any murderer might do to avoid the terrors of execution, but also does seem a bit difficult to square with the lamblike sacrificial Turley who presented on the scaffold September 17, preaching his last sermon to a throng five thousand strong or larger. Turley on this occasion was able to report that he had but a few days prior undergone a third and this time definitive conversion and that now, now, he had conquered death in Christ and become entitled to harangue the crowd and lead it in hymns. (And also that whisky was still the culprit.) He even got the murdered woman’s brothers to come out of the crowd and give him a tearful parting; “the whole scene was more that of an excited protracted [revival] meeting, than that of an execution.” If nothing else we have a compelling instance of the continuation of that ancient spirit of public execution reconciling the criminal to his community through his sacrifice.

We’ve been quoting from one of those books someone churned out to monetize all that pathos, suitably entitled “The trial, conviction, sentence, confession, and execution of Preston S. Turley: for the murder of his wife, Mary Susan Turley, in Kanawha County, Virginia.” We present it here for whomever might judge Turley’s character:

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Murder,Public Executions,Religious Figures,USA,Virginia,West Virginia

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1853: Reese Evans, youthful murderer

Add comment September 9th, 2016 Headsman

From the New York Times, September 17, 1853:

Last Hours of Reese Evans.

Correspondence of the New-York Daily Times.

WILKESBARRE. Tuesday, Sept. 13, 1853
On Friday last, at 1 o’clock, P.M., the youthful murderer, of whose trial and conviction I gave brief sketches, for the benefit of the readers of the TIMES, a few months since, suffered the extreme penalty of the law.

Soon after his conviction, he made a full confession of his guilt, and professed, to his spiritual adviser, contrition for the enormous crime. He also had prepared a history of his life, disclosing many other brutal adventures in wickedness, to be published after his death.

During the greater portion of the time subsequent to the arrival of the warrant for his execution, he gave himself but partially and unsteadily to the work of preparation for death. Small events diverted his attention, and interrupted his progress.

He was a perfect stoic, and his heart seemed frozen. He would talk of his numerous sins with no apparent emotion. He seldom wept or sighed. He seemed to have the most perfect control of his feelings.

The last few days of his life were spent in solemn preparations for his end. He spent much time in prayer, and seemed desirous to do his utmost to wipe the stain of blood from his soul.

He had an interview with the widow of the murdered man, which was truly affecting.

“Evans,” said she, “did Reese say anything when you shot him?”

He answered, simply, “No.”

“Did he not say anything about the child?”

“No,” was the answer.

“Had you any spite against him?”

“Not any.”

“O, I would give you my two stores if you had only spared my husband.”

Evans covered his face with his hand, and seemed to struggle against his feelings.

He then said, “Mrs. Reese, I am very sorry I did it; if you can, I hope you will forgive me.”

After a little hesitation, and a look at him which seemed a mingled expression of resentment and compassion, she answered, in her somewhat imperfect English, “If I not forgive you, it don’t bring back my husband — Reese was a young man, and you are a young man, you both now be gone — O, you ought not to do it — but I forgive you.”

Her sad black eye swam in tears, and she gazed upon him for half a minute — he looking down, only glancing at her for a moment at a time. She then gave him her hand, and bad him “good bye.”

This scene transpired on Thursday, before noon, just after he had received holy baptism.

He had the company of several ministers alternately throughout the night. On Friday morning he received the holy communion — his father, sister and brother being present.

It was a deeply affecting season, and yet he merely moistened his eyes with a tear or two.

He took leave of his counsel, and of his friends, with a little increased evidence of feeling. He was disturbed with the prospect of more spectators than he desired; but was directed to loo to God, before whom he would soon appear, and pay no attention to surrounding circumstances.

He chose not to be dressed in his shroud, but to die in his ordinary dress. He walked out of his cell into the yard, and ascended the scaffold without faltering. He was seated upon a stool, which he occupied during the religious service.

Rev. Dr. Peck, his spiritual adviser, announced the order of the exercises. Two short prayers were offered; the clergy took their leave of him with a brief exhortation; the Sheriff then adjusted the rope, and upon taking him by the hand, said “Farewell, Evans.”

He responded, “Farewell, Sheriff Palmer — I thank you and your family for all your kindness to me.”

The Sheriff descended, and with a firm nerve gave note of the time, during which Evans stood erect, praying in a low tone, but so as to be heard.

At length the drop fell, and he was launched into eternity.

Evans was a few weeks past eighteen when he murdered the Jew, Louis Reese, in open day, for the purpose of plunder.

How a mere beardless boy should attain such a desperate daring has been to many a profound mystery. His own disclosures show that he did not become a murderer by a sudden impulse, but that it was by commencing early and taking terrible strides in vicious conduct, that he, so early in life, became a giant in wickedness.

His penitence, although unattended by the usual signs of mental anguish, seemed deep and sincere. He had to struggle against habits of thought and feeling which had become imbued in his nature; and made great efforts to resuscitate a conscience which he had well-nigh succeeded in annihilating. This was hard work; and the process was slow, and attended with results but too dubious, down nearly to the day of his execution.

The story of this young man is briefly this: His father was a drunkard when he was a child; he forsook his family, and his mother became insane.

He was partially cared for by strangers, from the age of seven to that of eleven.

After this he wandered about, having no home or steady employment.

He early commenced a system of thieving, to meet his necessities, and proceeded, from step to step, until he reached the climax of wickedness in cold-blooded murder; and ended his career upon the gallows.

The history and fate of this young offender furnish a terrible warning to intemperate and negligent parents, as well as to idle and reckless young men. Small beginnings in crime may soon reach a fearful magnitude. The boy who steals a pen-knife may die by the halter before he is twenty!

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,Murder,Pelf,Pennsylvania,USA

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