1866: John Roberson

Add comment December 28th, 2018 Headsman

From the Richmond (Va.) Whig, Dec. 28, 1866 …

… and the same source on Jan. 1, 1867:

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

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1866: Barthelemy Cellier, true sangfroid

Add comment June 16th, 2018 Headsman

Dying graciously is a — in that blessed space of unfeigned equanimity, in between fright and bluster — is a difficult art. On this date in 1866, the central France town of Riom guillotined an otherwise forgettable criminal who attained that Stoical condition.

By the account of La Petit Journal (French, obviously), double murderer Barthelemy Cellier was awoken at 3 a.m. on the morning of his beheading, with news of the rejection of his appeals. “Ah, ah,” said Cellier calmly, “it’s today!” Well, it’s as good today as it is tomorrow!”

Cellier listened to the curé “avec beaucoup de calme”, called for a glass of Bourdeaux wine and a cigarette, and then,

bare-headed, dressed in the prison outfit: gray trousers, white clogs, a gray jacket thrown over his shoulders, smoking his cigarette, walked with a firm step between the two ecclesiastics … Behind came the executioners and mounted gendarmes.

The course was about two hundred meters. Throughout this journey, Cellier’s face was marked by the most perfect serenity; a gracious smile wandering in his eyes and on his lips gave him rather the countenance of a man walking towards his deliverance than of a criminal going to execution.

The scaffold was surrounded by a large number of people from Riom and the surrounding area; but, thanks to excellent preparation, the dismal machine was separated from the crowd by fifty yards at least. Detachments of soldiers rigorously maintained this perimeter.

Arriving at the foot of the scaffold, Cellier raised his head and looked, without pallor, the fatal cleaver.

He threw out his cigarette and crushed it with his foot.

Then, turning to the honorable priests, he spoke for a few seconds with them, kissed both effusively and climbed alone with a sure stride the steps separating him from the platform.

There, with a sudden movement, he dropped the jacket which hid his shoulders, and having with a glance examined the crowd, without bravado, without affectation, always with the same calm and the same smile, he twice graciously greeted the apparatus. Not a single word was spoken. The hour had just tolled. A sudden noise, immediately accompanied by a few women’s comments and a shriek from the crowd, announced that the supreme act had been accomplished. Cellier’s spirit had not been broken for a moment. He died demonstrating true sangfroid. The crowd slowly went away, deeply moved by the dreadful drama which had just been broken up in a few seconds.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Death Penalty,Execution,France,Guillotine,Murder,Public Executions

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1866: Dr. John Hughes, Cleveland bigamist

Add comment February 9th, 2018 Headsman

From America’s State Trials, vol. II, whose “Narrative” excerpted here continues in the form of trial transcripts explicating the particulars of this sad and banal stalker-murder situation. (As a juridical matter, Hughes’s fate hinged on finely measuring his degree of premeditation and intent — and drunkenness — at the moment that he shot his 17-year-old other wife; however, once the decision was in, even Hughes called “the verdict of the jury, just; the sentence of the law, inevitable … I know that I deserve death.”)

THE TRIAL OF DR. JOHN W. HUGHES FOR THE MURDER OF TAMZEN PARSONS, CLEVELAND, OHIO, 1865

THE NARRATIVE.

Dr. Hughes To His Friends
(one of several poems Hughes wrote as he awaited hanging -ed.)

Of trifles the world is composed,
Like minutes that grow into years;
So friendship, in pity reposed,
Allays our most troublesome fears.

Away from all comforts at home,
From all the desires of my heart,
Not building on pleasures to come,
With feelings of hope I must part.

A moment of phrenzy, unthought,
A second of madness defined —
What change in the creature is wrought.
The soul in such horror entwined!

To review the dear scenes of the past,
Is but a renewal of strife
To a mind so constant o’ercast
In weighing the issues of life.

Grateful thanks is all I can give
For mercies which others deny.
Oh! that I were destined to live
To recompense you bye and bye.

Your efforts are sadly in vain;
The plea was a day or two late.
Remonstrance its malice to rain
Had hopelessly finished my fate.

Yet your prayers shall be to my death
Like the hidden treasure of leaven,
My spirit to raise by their breath
To waft it to Jesus in heaven.

I pray, and I never forget
To ask of my best friend above,
For blessings on those in whose debt
I am bound by their pitying love.

On the ninth of August, 1865, John W. Hughes, physician and surgeon, of Cleveland, Ohio, committed a murder in the small neighboring village of Bedford, which, from the nature of the case, the character of the parties to the tragedy, and the antecedents of the deed, forced him upon the attention of the people of Cleveland and of the whole of the State of Ohio. The public was shocked on the following morning by the publication in the newspapers that Miss Tamzen Parsons, a young lady of seventeen years of age, had been shot down in the streets of Bedford by this man, who had been her lover, and who, under cover of a forged decree of divorce from his wife, had married her in Pittsburgh, in December, 1864, and suffered in the Pennsylvania penitentiary, the penalty attaching to the crime of bigamy.

Dr. Hughes was born in the Isle of Man, educated at a Scotch University, and emigrated with his wife to the United States in 1862. After practicing his profession of a physician for a few months in Chicago and Cleveland, he enlisted in an Ohio regiment as a private, but was very soon promoted to the position of Assistant Surgeon of the 48th United States Infantry. After serving for about a year he resigned on account of the illness of a son in November, 1864. He now began the practice of medicine in Cleveland, but making the acquaintance of Tamzen Parsons, he induced her to go with him to Pittsburgh, after showing her a paper which he persuaded her was a decree of divorce from his wife. For this he was convicted and sentenced to one year’s imprisonment in a Pennsylvania penitentiary, but was pardoned after serving five months. Returning to Cleveland, he resumed the practice of medicine and after having sent his wife and child back to the Isle of Man on a visit, he endeavored to win again the affections of Tamzen, who refused to have anything more to do with him. One night in July after drinking deeply, he went to the house of her father in the village of Bedford at night and, by his noise, aroused the old gentlemen, who tried to eject him. Hughes refused to leave the house, and objected with sufficient force to give ground for a charge of assault and battery, which was brought on the following day, Tamzen herself appearing and making the affidavit against him, an act which enraged him. Personal differences, however, were at length adjusted and legal proceedings stayed, the Doctor solemnly promising that he would thenceforth have nothing to do with the Parsons family.

But, alas! a drunken revel with a companion, Oscar Russell, on the night of the eighth of August, ended in their driving to Bedford and drinking at all the road houses on the way. Hughes, Russell and their driver, Carr, issued from a hotel in Bedford, and drove to the house of Mr. Parsons. Dr. Hughes entered the house and learned that Tamzen and her mother had gone blackberrying. They drove on, but soon met the women, and the Doctor sought a private conference with Tamzen. A neighbor, however, came along in a wagon and took her home, while the men drove to the grocery, where they held a drunken revel for two hours. Hughes learning that all the Parsons family had gone to Bedford for safety and to arrest him, started to the village and, seeing Tamzen coming out of the house, he ran after her, calling on her to stop. She flew up the walk, saying, “No, I will not stop,” and rushed through the gate, endeavoring to reach the front door. But before that asylum was reached, the pursuer laid hands on her, and shouting, “You won’t stop, will you?” fired his revolver. The ball glanced off her head, she screamed, but the piteous cry was instantly hushed by a second and fatal discharge of the deadly weapon.

The noise attracted a number of persons, who pursued Hughes, who jumped into the carriage with Russell and Carr, and, menacing the crowd with his revolver, succeeded in getting a good start of his pursuers. But he was captured in a few hours and landed in jail.

Indicted by the Grand Jury for murder, after a trial lasting eighteen days, he was convicted, though his counsel tried very hard to prove that he was insane at the time he committed the act. On February 9th, 1866, he was hanged in the yard of the Cleveland jail.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Doctors,Execution,Hanged,Murder,Ohio,Sex,USA

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1866: Charles Carrington

Add comment January 5th, 2018 Headsman

This from the Albany Journal of January 8, 1866, whose subject should not be confused with the prolific Victorian erotica publisher of the same name.

The sheriff in this Buffalo hanging was Oliver J. Eggert, not future president Grover Cleveland who attained that office — and its associated responsibility for hanging convicts — only in 1871.

Charles H. Davis, better known as Carrington, was executed at Buffalo Friday. The Commercial brings the particulars of the execution, which we condense, giving the essential points.

The prisoner was 20 years of age, born in Os[h]kosh, Wis., and his mother lived in Buffalo with one Theodore Carrington (formerly of this city,) and her reputation was bad. Davis had bad associates, and led a hard life for one so young. On the night of the 10th of January last, he with two other fellows was engaged in a burglary, plundering the house of a woman in Buffalo. The woman gave the alarm, and two policemen ran to the spot and gave chase to the thieves. Davis was behind a fence, and as Policeman Dell came up he shot him dead, then fled, and concealed himself, but was soon after arrested. He was tried in February, and the jury failed to agree. He was again tried in June and convicted. The case was carried up, but the higher courts confirmed the proceedings, and the prisoner was executed under the sentence. He escaped from jail and was recaptured sixteen miles from the city. His conduct in jail was good, and up to a few days since he expected a commutation of sentence. No effort was spared to induce Gov. Fenton to interfere, but he stood up manfully for the execution of the law, and for this is entitled to the respect of the people. Shooting a policeman in the discharge of his duty, seeking to arrest the midnight marauder, was a crime that richly merited death, and the Governor would not interfere.

The culprit gave himself up to spiritual advice and made preparation to die, but he protested his innocence to the last.

THE SCAFFOLD.

He mounted the scaffold with a firm step, accompanied by the officiating clergyman, the sexton and his assistant, and Officer Lester.

The clergyman made a short prayer, after which Carrington was told that if he wished to say anything to those present he could do so.

HIS SPEECH.

He rose, holding the Bible in his hand, and spoke, in effect, as follows: —

It was hard to see a young man, not twenty years old, standing there. He had always worked for a living and had never been arrested before. Had lived in Buffalo for some years and thought it was a hard place. On the night in question he had been led away. He said: “I stand with a clear heart, with the Bible in my hand, expecting to meet my Maker in a few minutes.” There was no object in denying his guilt, if he was guilty. He could look all present in the face, with a clear conscience, and declare that he never took the life of any man.

He never felt so easy and contented in his life as now. He had been waiting for his doom for two weeks; he had been so excited that he could not rest, but he was now easy in his mind — being prepared to die. He would rather be in his place than that of the man who cut the rope, though not meaning anything against him (the Sheriff,) or any other person. When he went down (pointing to the trap upon which he stood,) his soul, he trusted, would go up to another and better place.

He had lain in jail almost a year. The jailor, as well as his family and assistants, had always used him well — nobody could have been used better. He would like to talk all day. Those present could stand it, if the weather was cold. He here repeated the assertion of his innocence, and reiterated his former avowal that he bore no malice toward any person. He never took the life of Dill, he declared; there was another man who ought to be standing where he was, though he did not know “for certain,” who committed the crime. He spoke of the evidence adduced against him, and did not think it sufficient for his conviction.

Women of ill-fame, he said, would ruin any man. There were many men now in prison who would not be there had it not been for them. He declared that he had confessed all his sins to the clergyman who had attended him. He had not confessed the guilt of the crime for which he was about to suffer, as he was innocent, and could not confess that. He said, as he had but three minutes to live he could not explain things as he wished and as he would like to. He was here told that five minutes would be given him. He replied that he could not do it in five minutes, and that he might as well go in three. He was sorry to stand where he did, and die as he was about to die. [Here he repeated his former assertion about another person who should stand in his place.]

He was, he continued, about to leave this world, but nobody could say anything against his character. He had been to church and Sunday school, and had never done anything wrong. [Of course we do not pretend to follow him, verbatim, in his remarks, and to give the repetitions in which he indulged. We only seek to give a rough outline of what he said.]

The clergyman here spoke a few words to him in a low tone — which those standing below did not hear — and concluded by shaking hands and bidding him good-bye. He threw to the ground the handkerchief which he held in his hand, meaning it, as we understood him, as a present to Captain Bennett, of police station No. 3, who stood near, and who was instrumental in effecting his arrest.

THE LAST MOMENTS.

The rope, the noose of which had previously been placed about his neck, was now adjusted to the beam above by Officer Kester, and Carrington, looking up to the gallows frame and the staple to which the rope had been attached, said, “It is hard.”

After his arms were pinioned and the black cap drawn over his face, he said, “I expect to die easy, and hope to meet all in a better place than this.” He hoped none would think he was guilty. He was ready to go.

He continued to speak until ten minutes to twelve, when the sexton dropped the handkerchief — the signal was repeated to the sheriff by the jailor — the rope was severed by a blow, and Charles Carrington was no longer of this world.

THE END.

The neck was instantly broken — he dying with very little struggling or apparent pain. Drs. Green, Lathrop, Richards and Hauenstein were present, and it was announced that the pulse had ceased to beat at the end of seven minutes, though the pulsations of the heart continued faintly for about eighteen minutes.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,Murder,New York,Theft,USA

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1866: Robert Dodge, haunter

Add comment November 8th, 2016 Robert Elder

(Thanks to Robert Elder of Last Words of the Executed — the blog, and the book — for the guest post. Fans of this here site are highly likely to enjoy following Elder’s own pithy, almanac-style collection of last words on the scaffold. -ed.)

“The time will come when my innocence will be proven, and then Bob Dodge will haunt you for his murder.”

— Robert S. Dodge, convicted of murder, hanging, California.
Executed November 8, 1866

Borrowing a double-barrel shotgun, ostensibly to hunt quail, Dodge could not account for his whereabouts when a man who was quarreling with his brother was shot. Dodge went through two trials and during the second was found guilty of first-degree murder. In prison, he attempted suicide by taking opium.


To Elder’s hanging-day sketch (and since blog column-inches are free) we add the report of the San Francisco Evening Bulletin, Nov. 10, 1866 — itself channeling the Nevada Transcript. (Meaning Nevada City, Calif., not the state of Nevada.)

[Dodge] was twice tried and convicted of the murder of Mark P. Hammock, and after both trials the case was taken to the Supreme Court, whence the case was once sent back.

The verdict after the second conviction was sustained and the District Court ordered to fix a day for the execution.

The testimony against Dodge was entirely circumstantial.

Sheriff Gentry read the death-warrant, after which Dodge stepped to the rail in front and addressed those in the yard in a speech of ten minutes. He said he had once more the privilege of addressing them in this dark and gloomy world. He alluded to his home, his mother and friends, speaking of them in affectionate terms, and picturing the grief they would feel on hearing that their youngest son had died upon the gallows.

He spoke of the anxiety manifested to witness his death, and warned those present that the time would come when they would repent having seen it, and that when they discovered, as they surely would, that he was innocent, remorse would forever follow them.

He declared that he suffered on account of false testimony offered against him. He alluded to the future, saying that in “eternity Bob Dodge would be seen coming in glory.”

At the conclusion of the speech he turned to Sheriff Gentry and requested him to finish the work quickly. When asked if he had anything further to say by the Sheriff, he replied only “I am innocent.”

He then bid those on the platform good-bye, shaking hands with them, and then stepped upon the trap. His limbs were lashed with cords and the black cap placed over his head.

He then said, in a loud voice, “Boys, I want you all to hear, I am innocent.”

A prayer was read by Mr. Anderson, and at 18 minutes past 1 o’clock the trap fell, and the soul of Dodge was sent to a higher court for judgment.

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

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1866: Frank Ferris, a Portuguese ax murderer in New York

4 comments October 19th, 2015 Headsman

New York Times, Oct. 19, 1866:

FRANK FERRIS, the unfortunate man who is condemned to be executed to-day for the murder of his wife, has been positively refused a further respite by GOV. FENTON. No efforts have been spared by the Portuguese Minister, or Mr. Kintzing, his counsel, to secure a commutation of sentence to imprisonment for life. Both these gentlemen have personally importuned the Governor, but without avail, as he yesterday declared, for the last time, that he could see no reason for clemency in this case.

The murder of which FERRIS was convicted was committed on the night of the 9th of September, 1964, and seems to have been as deliberate as it was horrible. After having announced his purpose, he went to the room occupied by his wife, and after breaking in the door with an ax, beat her brains out with the same instrument. He was arrested by the side of his victim, with the murderous weapon in his hand.

He was formally indicted, tried, and, on conviction, sentenced to be hanged in April last. The case was appealed, and after a review of the proceedings he was resentenced. A respite was granted form the 17th of August until to-day, when the execution will take place.

FERRIS has been a very troublesome prisoner during his incarceration, his querulous and jealous disposition occasioning the keepers much trouble. He found fault with everybody and everything that came near him — the physicians, the keepers, his counsel, his friends, his food and his accommodation, and even so late as yesterday, repeated to our reporter the long list of fictitious grievances which have troubled his mind so much. His nature seemed to be devoid of gratitude, and for all the favors gratuitously heaped upon him by the representatives of his country, his counsel and the prison officials, he has had no word of thanks, but rather of censure.

Although he has been carefully examined by experts in reference to his sanity, and pronounced a responsible person, there are certain points upon which his perverseness would seem to amount to insanity. He says that he has forgiven all his enemies and is prepared to die, yet speaks with great bitterness regarding some of the witnesses who testified against him, and persons who have been of service to him since his arrest.

Twice since his sentence was pronounced he has been deprived of the means of self-destruction. Once he made a great fuss because he had no looking glass. One was furnished him, and shortly afterward a quantity of strychnine was found concealed between the glass and the frame. Subsequently an apple was found in his cell stuck full of matches. Matches had been furnished him for lighting his pipe, and he had stuck the ends of these, which contained the phosphorous and brimstone, into an apple, doubtless intending, when a sufficient supply of the poison was obtained, to eat the apple.

FERRIS had been attended constantly of late by Fathers DURANQUET and MCKENNA, who have endeavored to prepare him for his fate. While he talks fairly upon religious subjects, it is evident from the manner in which he converses upon other subjects, that his thoughts are “of the world worldly.” He appears in good health, is strong and vigorous, and says he will walk manfully to his death. He did contemplate making a speech under the scaffold, but at the instance of his spiritual advisers has relinquished the idea.

All the preparations for the execution are completed. The gallows — on which GONZALES and PELLICIER were hung last Friday — was erected yesterday, and the usual preliminaries arranged. During the erection of the gallows, FERRIS was removed from the condemned end of the first floor of the prison to one in the second corridor, where the sound of the carpenter’s hammer could not reach his ears. The execution will take place around 10 o’clock to-day.


New York Times, Oct. 20, 1866:

FRANK FERRIS, alias FRANCISCO FERREIRA, was executed yesterday morning at the Tombs for the murder of his wife, MARY FERRIS, on the night of Sept. 9, 1864. The murderer was a Portuguese, 36 years of age, and was a sea-faring man. His victim was an Irish woman, the mother of three children, two of them by a former husband. FERRIS was an intemperate man, of violent temper, and often had severe quarrels with his wife. Instead of contributing to the support of his wife and children, FERRIS squandered in drink the money earned by his wife by washing and ironing. He enlisted as a private soldier in a Massachusetts regiment early in 186, but after a few months’ service was discharged for disability. He returned to New York, resuming his old habits, and his wife refused to live with him. He became jealous, and in his drunken frenzy frequently threatened to take her life. Unfortunately those threats were not heeded, and the brutal murder was committed.

THE MURDER.

MARY FERRIS, the wife of FRANK FERRIS, occupied the top floor of the tenement-house, No. 31 James-street. She was living with her children apart from her husband. She is spoken of by some as a hard-working, industrious, patient woman. Others alleged, and her husband among their number, that she was a prostitute and a disorderly character. No evidence of this kind, however, was adduced at the trial, but a good character was given her.

Her husband had been striving to insinuate himself into her lodgings for weeks, and on her refusal to live with him, had beaten her repeatedly. But a short time before the murder he had assaulted her with an ax, and inflicted such wounds upon her that her life was despaired of. At the instance of her friends she procured the arrest of her husband, and on her complaint he was sentenced to the Penitentiary.

Upon the expiration of his sentence, FERRIS returned to New-York and commenced a search for his wife, but for two or three days he was unable to find her. He finally traced her to her lodgings, and on the 9th of September he called there. MRS. FERRIS was not in and he went away. He had been drinking freely, and while in the house where his wife lived he made terrible threats against her. At one place where he called on that afternoon to inquire for her, he knelt in the middle of the room and said: “I swear by the Virgin Mary and Jesus Christ that I will kill her before 9 o’clock to-night …”

He also swore that he would kill himself.

When asked what would become of his children, he replied that they could go on the island. He was observed during the day sharpening a knife on the curbstone in front of the house in which his wife lived. When MRS. FERRIS returned from her work she was informed of the threats made by her husband, and, yielding to the entreaties of her friends, she removed her children and some of her things to the room of a neighbor on a lower floor of the building, where she gave the children supper and put them to bed, intending to remain there with them.

About 8 o’clock in the evening, FERRIS, armed with a heavy, dull ax, went to his wife’s room, and finding the door fastened broke it in with the ax. Disappointed at not finding his wife within, he commenced destroying the furniture. MRS. FERRIS hearing the noise, and hoping to save her furniture, rushed up to her room despite the warnings of her friends. She found the door shut, and a few words were exchanged by her on one side of the door and him on the other. The door then opened, and the woman passed into the room. A moment later she appeared at the window, screaming “Murder, watch!”

UNDER THE GALLOWS.

Yesterday morning about 200 persons gathered within the walls of the prison to witness the execution. Capt. JOURDAN, of the Sixth precinct, was in attendance with a force of 150 policemen, for the purpose of preserving order within and without the prison. The clergymen were saying the last prayers in company with the prisoner in his cell as the spectators were assembling. Sheriff KELLY was with him also most of the morning, and superintended his dressing for the scaffold. The fatal cord was adjusted about his neck, and the black cap was fitted to his head by Mr. GEORGE ISAACS, upon whom the duty of executioner devolves.

FERRIS then bade good bye to all present, and everything being in readiness the solemn procession moved toward the gallows, FERRIS walking between Sheriff KELLY and Mr. ISAACS, preceded by the clergymen. As they emerged from the cell the condemned man began singing, in a clear and distinct voice, a Portuguese hymn, usually sung by his countrymen when the holy sacrament is being given to a dying man. He continued singing as he walked through the line of spectators, concluding the hymn as he took his place beneath the gallows.

In his hand he carried an ebony crucifix, and as he ceased singing he kissed this several times. He then knelt down between the priests, the Sheriff and his assistants kneeling also, and the last prayers were said. He then rose to his feet, and on being asked if he wished to say anything, he replied that he did. In a clear voice, but in scarcely intelligible English, he spoke as follows:

HIS LAST WORDS.

My Dear Gentlemen: I am going to die, and I am innocent of the crime for which I suffer. I do not mean I did not do it, but, though my hand is guilty, my heart is innocent. But for Father DURANQUET and the good Sisters of Mercy, I would have had more to say, and give an account of some people. Good bye, my dear brothers — Amen.

He then thanked Sheriff KELLY for his kindness to him, and resumed his position under the rope. Mr. ISAACS then pulled the black cap over his face, adjusted the rope which was around his neck to that dangling from the beam and all was ready. The Sheriff, with his handkerchief, gave the signal, and with the fall of the heavy weights behind the screen, the body of FRANK FERRIS was drawn into the air. There were a few spasmodic twitchings of the limbs, a convulsive clutching of the hands, and then all was quiet. It was just 9 o’clock and 50 minutes when the weights fell, and in fifteen minutes pulsation had ceased. The body was partially lowered and examined by several physicians, and a few minutes later was taken down and deposited in a plain coffin.

BURIAL.

The body of FERRIS is to be buried in Calvary Cemetery, the Portuguese Consul having made arrangements to that effect, and defraying the expenses of burial.

THE CHILDREN.

The orphan children of FRANK FERRIS and his murdered wife have been cared for by the Catholic charitable institutions of the City. The Sisters of Mercy have taken the two girls, and the Brothers of Mercy the little crippled boy. The injury to this child was received after the incarceration of the father, and while in the care of Mrs. FERRIS’ sister. The father manifested much affection for the boy, and not till recently, if ever, forgave his sister-in-law for her carelessness in permitting the child to fall out of a window.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Hanged,History,Murder,New York,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,USA

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1866: Mokomoko and the Maori killers of Carl Volkner

1 comment May 17th, 2014 Headsman

On this date in 1866, five Maori men hanged for the murder of a German proselytizer.

Hesse-born Carl Sylvius Völkner* arrived in New Zealand as a Lutheran missionary in 1849; by 1861, he was directing an Anglican-run mission at Opotiki, the center of Maori Te Whakatohea territory.

Unfortunately for Volkner, his mission to win souls overlapped with the British mission to win land.

This same early 1860s period saw a sharpening of the European-Maori conflict on the North Island where Volkner kept his mission — the bloodshed in turn fostering the militant Pai Marire or Hau Hau faith in place of the settlers’. Though the Te Whakatohea weren’t directly involved in this war, they had felt its effects: refugees, food shortages, disease outbreaks.

Volkner, who was seen by Maori as a pro-government character and a British spy,** was warned that under the fraught circumstances he might be wise to extend his most recent trip to Auckland indefinitely and wait for things to simmer down.

He did not heed that warning.

On March 2, 1865, the day after Volkner’s return to Opotiki, a group of Pai Marire hanged the missionary to a willow tree outside his Church of St. Stephen, then butchered the dead body.

The Pai Marire leader Kereopa Te Rau then preached from the church’s pulpit with Volkner’s severed head at his side, in the course of which he tore the eyeballs from his grisly prop and, calling one “the Queen” and the other “Parliament”, theatrically devoured them. (Kereopa Te Rau is nicknamed “Kai whatu”, “the eyeball eater”.)

Old eyeball eater would eventually hang for this display as well, but he avoided capture until the 1870s — so this narrative takes its leave of him here.

The slaughter of the European evangelist at the very steps of the protomartyr’s church in turn fired the fury of white New Zealand.

The most immediate response was the government’s landing 500 soldiers in Opotiki in September 1865. From there they raided throughout Te Whakatohea territory (confiscating some 240,000 hectares that would feed white settlers’ surging demand for real estate) and put crops to the torch until the tribe surrendered up some 20 chiefs for punishment of the Volkner affair.

Five of those eventually hanged for their participation: Heremita Kahupaea, Hakaraia Te Rahui, Horomona Propiti and Mikaere Kirimangu … and a man named Mokomoko who was then and remains now the most controversial execution of the bunch.

Mokomoko’s guilt was sharply disputed by eyewitnesses who gave conflicting accounts of whether he was even present at the church on March 2. It was Mokomoko’s rope that strangled Carl Volkner, but the man himself insisted that he was not present. (The three witnesses who placed him on the scene said he carried the rope, suggesting participation far exceeding a bystander.)

Maori tradition preserved Mokomoko as an emblem of wrongful persecution, along with his song Tangohia mai te taura i taku kaki kia waiata au i taku waiata (Take the rope from my neck that I may sing my song):

Violent shaking will not rouse me from my sleep
They treat me like a common thief
It is true that I embrace eternal sleep
For that is the lot of a man condemned to die.

Shielded from the harsh light
With narrow eyes I reflect on the retribution taken at Hamukete
Remember how I was taken on board ship (chained)
The memory of it burns me with shame.

Bring me justice from distant lands to break my shackles
Where the sun sets is a government in Europe
It is for them to say that I must hang
Then shut me in my coffin box.

Under pressure from Mokomoko’s descendants, latter-day New Zealand has made a number of gestures of apology for Mokomoko’s hanging over the past 20-odd years, culminating in a posthumous pardon.

* A copse of rocks sprouting out of New Zealand’s Bay of Plenty is named for our man — the Volkner Rocks, also known as Te Paepae o Aotea.

** He sent reports to the government about subversive activity.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Hanged,History,Martyrs,Mass Executions,Murder,New Zealand,Occupation and Colonialism,Posthumous Exonerations,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Wrongful Executions

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1866: Anton Probst, “I only wanted the money”

3 comments June 8th, 2013 Meaghan

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

On this date in 1866, mass murderer Anton Probst (sometimes called “Antoine”) was hanged in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He made national headlines in its time, but today he is forgotten except among serious students of violent crime.

Probst was a native of Germany, the son of a carpenter. He later claimed he had a normal childhood and “never did anything wrong” until after he had left his home country.

He moved to the United States in 1863, in the middle of the Civil War, and became a professional “bounty jumper”: he would join up with a Union Army regiment, collect the $300 enlistment bonus, desert as soon as he could, then enlist with another regiment and start the cycle over again. He made a tidy living for himself this way until 1865, when he accidentally shot his thumb off and was discharged from the military for good.

Probst squandered his enlistment bounties on liquor and and rapidly fell into post-discharge penury. This was why, in the fall of 1865, he hired himself out as a farmhand to Christopher Deering, an Irish immigrant who lived in a rural part of Philadelphia with his wife and five children.

Deering offered Probst a salary of $15 a month plus room and board. Probst quit after only a few weeks, though, not being accustomed to honest labor.

He soon fell ill and, without a source of income, wound up in the workhouse. In dire straits, he returned to the Deering farm on February 2, 1866 and begged for his job back. And, although Probst’s behavior from before had given Christopher’s wife the creeps, the farmer took pity on him and re-hired old Thumbless.

Things went well for the next two months. But unbeknownst to his employer, Probst had thought of another way to get money.

Christopher’s nearest neighbor, Abraham Everett, lived a quarter of a mile away. Everett subscribed to several local weekly newspapers and, every weekend, Christopher would send his son to borrow the previous week’s editions.

One Saturday, the boy never showed up.

Nor did he arrive on Sunday.

Or for the next several days after.

By Wednesday, Everett was getting worried and decided to go to the Deering place and see if they were all right. He found the farm deserted and the horses inside the barn, nearly dead of thirst and starvation. After giving food and water to the distressed animals, he went and looked through the window into the Deering family’s house and saw it had been ransacked.

Seriously alarmed now, Everett forced the window open and climbed inside, and found every room in the house in a state of disarray. In the bedrooms, the beds had been torn and flipped upside down, dresser drawers had been rifled through and clothes were scattered everywhere. There was not a soul to be seen.

At this point, Abraham Everett went off to get help, summoning another neighbor and then the police. Inside the barn they found something Everett had missed while he was helping the horses: Christopher Deering’s body, partially covered in hay, alongside the body of a cousin visiting from New Jersey.

“His head,” crime historian Harold Schechter reports in his book Psycho USA: Famous American Killers You Never Heard Of, “was crushed to pieces, almost to powdered bone, and his throat was cut … from ear to ear.” Christopher’s cousin had similar injuries. A search of the barn turned up the bodies of Christopher’s wife, Julia, and four of the couple’s five children, stacked in the corncrib.

All of them had their throats cut and their skulls bashed in.

The only survivor in the family was the oldest child, ten-year-old William Deering, who had been staying with his grandparents at the time of the murders. And so the family line did not die out: according to this Philadelphia Inquirer article, William has 60 descendants.

The murder weapons were lying around bloodstained and in plain sight on the property: a hammer, a small hatchet and a full-sized ax. Hours later, the police found the last body hidden in a haystack a few hundred yards from the barn: seventeen-year-old Cornelius Carey, one of the Deerings’ farmhands.

The other farmhand was missing and, under the circumstances, had to be viewed as the prime suspect in this massacre. Nobody knew much about him, but the neighbors recalled that missing right thumb, spoke poor English with an accent, and was called something like “Anthony.”

Fortunately, he would not prove hard to find. “It might be supposed,” Harold Schechter says,

that a man who had methodically slaughtered eight people, including three prepubescent children and a fourteen-month-old infant, would lose no time in putting as much distance between himself and the crime scene as possible. For all his low cunning, however, Anton Probst was incapable of prudent calculation. Indeed, from all available evidence, he thought of nothing beyond the gratification of his immediate physical needs.

Hours after the murders, Probst was no further away than a house of ill repute on Front Street in Philadelphia, where he spent the night with a $3 prostitute. For the next few days he hung around his favorite bars drinking, making occasional excursions to pawn items he’d stolen from the Deering farm. He was in no hurry to leave.

Only the day after Probst’s grisly crimes were discovered, a police officer named James Dorsey spotted him strolling around near Market Street. Something about his bearing, and the way his hat was pulled low over his eyes, made the lawman suspicious. He walked up to him and noticed the stranger’s right thumb was missing.

Dorsey pulled Probst’s hat off to have a look at his face and said, “Good evening.” Probst mumbled a reply and Dorsey, noting the accent, said, “You’re a Dutchman?”

“No,” Probst answered. “Me a Frenchman.”

“You are, are you? Take a walk with me.” Dorsey grabbed the murderer’s arm and hauled him off to the nearest station house. There the police searched him and determined he was wearing Christopher Deering’s clothes, and carrying the farmer’s snuffbox and pistol. Probst had left Elizabeth Dolan’s carpetbag at a tavern earlier that day; it contained a number of small items, including cheap children’s toys, all of which were from the Deering farm.

The police had to transfer Probst from the Philadelphia City Jail to Moyamensing State Prison for his own safety, after a would-be lynch mob stormed the jail. Probst claimed he had only killed Cornelius Carey and tried to blame the other murders on an imaginary accomplice; at his trial (which began on April 25, less than three weeks after the murders) his lawyers argued that the case against him was strictly circumstantial and not proved beyond a reasonable doubt. But the trial’s outcome was clear from the beginning. The jury deliberated for only twenty minutes before convicting.

Death row agreed with Probst; he seemed at ease and actually gained twelve pounds in the five weeks between his trial and execution. On the morning of May 7, exactly one month after the murders, he finally confessed that his accomplice didn’t exist and he’d acted alone. He was “quiet, undemonstrative, cool and unembarrassed” as he told his story, “without the least trace of shame or remorse.”

You can read it all here in his very own words, or below, in mine. At first his intention had just been to rob the family of everything they had, then flee. But he found himself unable to accomplish this because there were always too many people around.

About a week before the murders, it occurred to Probst that perhaps murder might be necessary to facilitate the robbery. At first he thought he could just kill Christopher Deering, but as he mulled the matter over he decided the rest of the household would have to die as well.

First to go was Cornelius Carey as they were working together in the field. Then Probst went into the barn and lured the others in one by one, killing them as they each came inside: eight-year-old John Deering, then the mother, Julia, then the rest of the children: six-year-old Thomas, then four-year-old Annie, and finally the baby, Emma. Probst estimated that it all took about half an hour.

Christopher Deering was off picking up that visiting cousin from the ferry, and they didn’t arrive back at the farm until the afternoon. Probst was waiting for them. While the guest Elizabeth Dolan went into the house, Probst told Christopher one of the animals was sick and he had to go inside the barn. There he killed him like the others, then called Miss Dolan to the stable. She was the last one to die.

If we are to believe the killer’s account, the victims all died quickly and quietly, and did not suffer. None of them, he said, so much as cried out after the first blow.

Once finished, Probst tore the house upside down looking for things to steal, washed, shaved, changed out of his bloody clothes and put on some of Christopher’s, and had himself a snack of bread and butter. At sunset he headed off to town.

Schechter records:

When asked by Chief Franklin why on earth he had perpetrated such an atrocity, Probst gave a little shrug. “I only wanted the money,” he said. “I killed the boy Cornelius first so that he could not tell on me. I killed the two oldest children so they would not afterwards identify me. I killed the two youngest as I did not wish to leave them in the house alone without someone to care for them. I had no ill feeling to anyone in the family. They always treated me well.”

Probst submitted meekly to his execution, which went off without a hitch. The public understandably rejoiced at his death and the New York Times, in its report of how Probst “shuffled off his mortal and disreputable coil,” called him “the greatest criminal of the nineteenth century.”

Probst was permitted to write to his family in Germany. He told them of “the terrible fate which has befallen me,” admitted to the eight slayings, and blamed his bad behavior on his experiences in the Union Army, where he “heard nothing but cursing and swearing, and soon became a sharer in every wickedness.”

Whatever, Anton.

After his death, Probst’s body was handed over to the physicians at Jefferson Medical College, who subjected it to a series of bizarre experiments with electricity. When they finished with their fun they performed an autopsy. Probst’s brain turned out to be unusually small, almost a full pound lighter than average. What, if anything, this has to do with his apparent psychopathy is anyone’s guess. His head and arm were later displayed in the Jefferson Medical College museum.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Guest Writers,Hanged,History,Murder,Other Voices,Pelf,Pennsylvania,Public Executions,Theft,USA

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1866: John Dunn, teenage bushranger

4 comments March 19th, 2013 Headsman

On this date in 1866, 19-year-old Australian bushranger John Dunn was hanged at Darlinghurst Gaol.

Young master Dunn, deft hand with a horse and a firearm, in 1864 joined a notorious outlaw gang then under the leadership of Ben Hall and John Gilbert.

This gang very quickly came to grief as both Hall and Gilbert were shot dead by police in May 1865. They’d been outlawed under new anti-bushranger legislation (pdf) enacted in 1865 by a parliament impatient with “the constant outrages on person and property of which the interior has for years been the scene.”

This new Felons Apprehension Act — despite its name — empowered people to kill alleged bushrangers without attempting to detain them. It did this by setting up a fast-track process to legally outlaw (pdf) individuals by name.

Dunn done did his own part to stir up this legal hornet’s nest by killing a constable named Samuel Nelson (father of eight children!) during a hotel stickup at the New South Wales hamlet of Collector.


(cc) image from AYArktos.

But the kid had better elusiveness than his bosses.

Dunn managed to escape the shootout that killed Gilbert and disappear for the best part of a year. Only in December of 1865 was he finally recognized and captured. (Then he escaped from detention, and had to be re-captured.)

Once they could keep him long enough to try him, Dunn was done for. It took a jury ten minutes to order him to hang.

Dunn’s godmother buried him at Sydney’s Devonshire Street Cemetery under a headstone reading, “He has gone to his grave but we must not deplore him though sorrow and darkness encompass his tomb — the Saviour has passed through its portals before him and the light of his love was the lamp through his doom.”

On this day..

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

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1866: Dmitry Karakozov

1 comment September 15th, 2012 Headsman

On this date in 1866 (September 3 O.S.; September 15 N.S.), Russian revolutionary Dmitry Karakozov was hanged in Peter and Paul Fortress for attempting to assassinate Tsar Alexander II.

Karakozov was a son of noble stock — the self-hating variety, obviously, and suicidally disturbed into the bargain. He supposedly hailed from a terrorism cell branding itself “Hell”, although this was bandied about by the police afterwards and conveniently supported a hunt for radicals.

Karakozov, at least, considered the state of tsarist Russia positively infernal, and on April 4, 1866, he went to scourge it — firing a shot at the monarch at St. Petersburg’s Summer Garden. He missed.

The tsar’s guards tackled him as he fled, and the unharmed Alexander walked up to the gunman and asked him, “What do you want?” He may have been genuinely bewildered: Alexander was the guy trying to liberalize Russia. Just a few years before, he had freed the serfs.

“Nothing,” Karakazov replied. “Nothing.”

A statement of implacability: no progress would be bargained with even the most progressive despot. The despotism itself must go. A manifesto addressed to “Friends-Workers” was found in his pocket underscoring the point; it read in part (translated from p. 21 of this Russian pdf):

I have decided to destroy the wicked Tsar, and to die for my beloved people…

If I accomplish this deed, I will die with the thought that in death I did something good for my dear friend, the Russian peasant.

If I do not accomplish it, then others will follow my path. Where I fail, they will succeed, and my death will be their example and inspiration.

Others would follow him, and in time successfully murder Alexander II after all.

Karakozov himself, the first Russian revolutionary to attempt regicide, didn’t seem to have revolutionary satisfaction on his mind at the end. He converted to Orthodox Christianity in prison, sought “as a Christian, of a Christian” his prospective victim’s clemency … and multiple newspaper accounts report him kneeling to kiss a cross presented to him on the scaffold by the priest. (All via Odd Man Karakozov, which argues that all this need not imply such a reversal of conscience as it might appear.)

What certainly did happen — more immediately than those copycat assassinations — was a reactionary wave of national chauvinism, whose more wretched manifestations will not be unfamiliar to the present day. The patriotic Glinka opera Ivan Susanin was staged a few days later at the Bolshoi in Moscow. According to an eyewitness account of Tchaikovsky quoted in Romanov Riches: Russian Writers and Artists Under the Tsars, this salute to a Russian peasant’s sacrifice for the Romanov dynasty went a little bit off-script.

I think the Moscow audience went beyond the bounds of sense in their outburst of enthusiasm. The opera was not really performed, for as soon as the Poles appeared onstage, the whole theater shouted, “Down with the Poles!” and so on. In the last scene of Act 4, when the Poles are supposed to kill Susanin …

… the actor playing him started fighting the chorus members who played Poles, and being very strong, knocked down several of them, while the rest of the extras, seeing that the audience approved this mockery of art, truth, and decency, fell down, and the triumphant Susanin left unharmed, brandishing his arms, to the deafening applause of the Muscovites.

If true, that is little short of fantastic.

The apparatus of state went so far as to build up a new Susanin for the occasion at hand, hyping a questionable story that a young peasant named Osip Komissarov — who was from Susanin’s own province of Kostroma — had jostled Karakozov just as he took the shot, causing it to go awry. The good-natured bumpkin was rewarded with summary ennoblement as “Komissarov-Kostromskoy” and eye-rollingly terrible poetic tributes from the likes of Vyazemsky and Nekrasov. However, Komissarov’s embarrassing stupidity and want of manners would eventually necessitate Komissarov-Kostromskoy’s being packed out of polite society to country estates on a generous pension to bankroll his ample appetite for liquor.

So Dmitry Karakozov did do something for the Russian peasant after all.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Assassins,Attempted Murder,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Notable for their Victims,Public Executions,Revolutionaries,Russia,Terrorists

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