1868: Georg Ratkay, the last public hanging in Vienna

Add comment May 30th, 2019 Headsman

Vienna’s last public execution was the raucous May 30, 1868 hanging of Georg Ratkay.

The 23-year-old Hungarian proletarian had migrated to the bustling capital where he found accommodation as a “bedwalker”, literally renting hours in a bed shared by shifts with others. In January of 1868, he bludgeoned a carpenter’s wife to death in the course of robbing her.

For a few months that year it was the outrage on the lips of every Viennese and when the day came lips and limbs and leering eyes thronged as one into the square surrounding the Spinnerin am Kreuz tower, where the execution was to take place. By report of the Neue Freie Presse, the plaza was already bustling with early campers by 2 in the morning although the hanging wouldn’t go off until the evening. Roofs of adjacent taverns and factories made their owners a tidy profit charging gawkers for the vantage point, as did custodians of improvised grandstands hastily thrown up on the scene.

There were many reports of the indecencies of this bawdy and bloodthirsty gaggle, making merry for the “unusually pleasurable spectacle” and lubricated on beer served by vendors who also plied their trade here. Essayist Friedrich Schlögl gave voice to the disdain of respectable Vienna, in a piece quoted from Unruly Masses: The Other Side of Fin-de-siecle Vienna:

These were the habitues of the gallows, of both sexes — pinched faces, regular customers of the noisiest bars, inmates of the dirtiest cellars of poverty and squalor, a composite mixture of the many-headed company of knaves … All who had not been detained in prisons, asylums, and other Imperial establishments for improvement had come out for crude pleasure. Right through until dawn, the mob made the most appalling nuisance; then when day eventually broke and the food sellers came around hawking their “criminal sausages,” “poor sinner pretzels,” “gallows sandwiches,” etc., all hell broke loose and thousands upon thousands became as frenzied as was the fashion at the Brigittenauer Kirtag in days long past.

Only with difficulty (and rifle butts) could the hussars escorting the death party actually force their way through the mob to bring the star attraction to the post for his Austrian-style “pole hanging”.*

Then the “poor sinner” arrived and the official procedure took its undisturbed course. Was the crowd enraged? Was it shocked by the frightful sin? A jubilant cheer echoed through the air when, at the moment the executioner adjusted the candidate’s head, a pole broke and hundreds of curious spectators pressed forward. The joyous cries of at least a thousand throats went on to reward the clever trick of a man who knocked a coachman’s hat off because he “thoughtlessly” kept it on when the priest began his prayer.

The Emperor Franz Joseph I, who was already commuting most of the empire’s death sentences as a matter of policy** and had lost his own brother to a firing squad the year before, was so disgusted by the commotion that he never again permitted such a scene in Vienna. Ratkay’s hanging is commonly described as the last public execution in all of Austria, although according to the Austrian State Archive there were actually six more, all lower-key affairs away from the imperial center, before 1873 legislation formally moved all executions behind prison walls.

* For images of this distinctive execution method, see photos of Italian nationalist Cesare Battisti or video of World War II war criminal Karl Hermann Frank undergoing the punishment.

** The Austrian State Archive page linked above claims that of 559 death sentences from 1868 to 1876, only 14 came to actual execution.

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1868: Heli Freymond, the last beheaded by sword in Switzerland

Add comment January 10th, 2019 Headsman

Heli Freymond lost his head on this date in 1868 to an executioner’s sword — the last time that ever happened in Swiss history. (His is also the last death sentence enforced in the canton of Vaud.)

Freymond and his cousin and lover Louise Freymond conspired to murder the man’s pregnant* wife with arsenic.

They might have gotten away with this but avarice for the portion of the wife’s inheritance that had redounded to the wife’s sister led them to make a bid at murdering that sister’s beau. This man survived it, and accurately discerned the hand behind his brush with death; his lawsuit led to the literal and metaphorical exhumation of the late wife’s corpse, too.

Louise Freymond caught a 20-year prison sentence for this, but Freymond was doomed to lose his head. Switzerland had introduced the guillotine as an alternative beheading method some years before, but the old-school two-handed richtschwert blade still remained available for the hands-on touch you only get with hired goons. Twenty thousand souls turned out in Moudon for the occasion.

Heli Freymond was in fact the last person executed at all in Switzerland, for an era: he was still the last when the 1874 constitution abolished capital punishment full stop. However, a crime wave brought the death penalty back in 1879. The last Swiss execution for ordinary crimes occurred in 1940; according to CapitalPunishmentUK’s index of Swiss executions, there were 17 Swiss men (no women) shot during World War II for treason.

* Technically, an initial unsuccessful attempt to poison the pregnant mother Elise Olivier caused a miscarriage; subsequently, another poisoning brought off Elise, too.

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1868: Melvin Baughn, Pony Express rider turned horse thief

Add comment September 18th, 2018 Headsman

We cadge today’s entry from the August 1950 Kansas Historical Quarterly; the article “Legal Hangings in Kansas” by Louise Barry can be perused in pdf form here.

A footnote in the original notes that “During the time in 1860 and 1861, when the Pony Express was in operation, one of the well-known riders on the route between St. Joseph, Mo., and Seneca, was Melvin Baughn. It is said he turned to a life of crime by joining a gang of horse thieves, soon after the Pony Express ended. Mooney is said to have been lynched sometime later.”


The Hanging of Melvin E. Baughn

Three Doniphan county men arrived in Seneca on November 19, 1866, with warrants for four horse thieves known to be in the vicinity. Sheriff William Boulton and a posse of Nemaha county men joined in the hunt. Jackson and Strange, two of the wanted men, were captured a little east of town. Three posse members (Charles W. Ingram, Henry H. Hillix and Jesse S. Dennis) overtook the other two criminals on the road to Capioma. When they rode up to arrest the men — Melvin E. Baughn and Zach Mooney — they were fired upon. Hillix was wounded severely and Dennis was fatally shot in the back, dying a few minutes later. The horse thieves escaped.

Baughn was arrested in Leavenworth on January 6, 1867, on a robbery charge. When recognized as Dennis’ murderer, he was turned over to Nemaha county officers who placed him in the Seneca jail. Four days later an unsuccessful attempt was made to lynch him. On February 6 he and another prisoner escaped.

More than 15 months later Baughn was captured near Sedalia, Mo., after being wounded by officers attempting to arrest him for a robbery. Upon being identified, he was returned to Kansas and to the Seneca jail. He was tried during the next term of the district court, early in August, Judge R. St. Clair Graham presiding. The jury found him guilty of murder in the first degree and on August 7 he was sentenced to be hanged on September 18, 1868.

A gallows was erected on the south side of the Nemaha county jail, and an area of the jail yard was enclosed by a “fence” of canvas. And, on the appointed day, at 3:18 in the afternoon, Baughn was hanged.

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1868: Gujarat’s “Tribal Martyrs”

1 comment April 16th, 2018 Headsman

When current India Prime Minister Narendra Modi was Chief Minister of Gujarat, he implemented a “Tribal Martyrs’ Day” celebration for April 16 — in honor of a hanging on that date in 1868 of five Nayak.

Joriya Parmeshwar, Rupsingh Nayak, Golaliya Nayak, Ravjida Nayak and Babariya Galama Nayal all hanged in the city of Jambughoda, against the British Raj. Their authenticity as patriots rather than brigands has been disputed, but certainly Britain’s ready resort to summary justice in the course of her authority on the subcontinent earns no presumption of good faith for any designation.

“The stories of rebellion and martyrdom by Gujarat’s tribal leaders against tyranny of foreign rulers had remained buried in history and I have unfolded the chapter about the valour of these five forgotten leaders from tribal-dominated town of Jmbughod,” Modi declared. In a seeming dig at the governing Congress Party that he would soon expel from power, Modi added that “sacrifices of a large number of martyrs, who laid their lives for freedom of our nation, have been deliberately erased by some elements so that people could no longer remember their martyrdom.”

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1868: Charles Martin and Charles Morgan lynched in Cheyenne, Dakota Territory

Add comment March 21st, 2018 Meaghan

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

On this date in 1868, Charles Martin and Charles Morgan were both lynched for unrelated crimes in the nine-month-old city of Cheyenne. Cheyenne was still part of the Dakota Territory at the time; later that year, it became part of the new Wyoming Territory, which was created from bits of the Dakota, Idaho and Utah territories.

Martin was originally from Missouri and, like many of the local residents, a new arrival, who had come to Cheyenne with the railroad in 1867. Historian R. Michael Wilson, in his book Crime & Punishment in Early Wyoming, detailed the start of his fall from grace:

He partnered with William A. James, who was known by everyone as Andy Harris, another member of the rowdy element. The two men bought and jointly managed a dance house and it was rumored their purchase was financed with stolen money, but there was never enough evidence to prosecute them. Eventually they had a falling-out and dissolved their partnership.

On the evening of February 13, 1868, Martin and James were at Thomas and Beauvais’s Hall on 16th Street, both up at the bar, and James came at him saying, “You are a dirty little bastard. I ought to kill you. You are no friend of mine; if I did you justice I’d shoot you now.”

He pointed a Derringer at Martin, who stuck his hand in his pocket and taunted, “Shoot, what do I care?”

James told Martin to get out or he would shoot him, and Martin started backing towards the door, with his erstwhile friend following him every step of the way. Five feet separated the men and when James reached the end of the bar, he started to lower his gun. At this point Martin pulled a five-shooter from his pocket.

James fired one shot from his Derringer and missed. Martin emptied his gun and hit every time, “the five wounds forming a neat line from James’s chin to his navel.” Mortally wounded, James collapsed and died late the following morning.

Martin was arrested. Justice was swift: the trial began on the 17th of February and concluded two days later. Four eyewitnesses to the shooting testified, as did the doctor who tended to James in his last hours. Martin argued self-defense. The jury acquitted him.

Even prior to James’s killing, Martin’s reputation, as noted in T. A. Larson’s book History of Wyoming: Second Edition Revised, was “appalling.” Wilson describes him as “a desperate character who womanized and drank liquor to excess.” His abandoned wife back in Missouri wrote to him, pleading in vain that he should give up his wild ways and return to her and their children. Consequently, Wilson says,

[t]he acquittal of Martin created a great deal of dissatisfaction within the community. Martin, had he used common sense, would have left until the indignation cooled but instead he became more insolent and defiant than ever and began making rounds of his usual haunts celebrating his liberty, and made threats of “furnishing another man for breakfast.”

It probably didn’t help that he had threatened to kill the distinguished attorney W. W. Corlett, who’d assisted with the prosecution.

On the evening of March 21, a masked mob of about fifteen vigilantes abducted Martin from the Keystone dance house where he’d been partying with “females of the lowest type.” Pistol-whipped into semi-consciousness, he was dragged to a crude tripod gallows on the east end of Cheyenne and strung up. His body was found the next morning, his feet brushing the ground, sporting horrific head injuries.

A coroner’s inquest convened that same afternoon and rendered the following verdict:

We, the undersigned, summoned as jurors to investigate the cause of Chas. Martin’s death, find that he came to his death by strangulation, he having been found hanging by his neck on a rude gallows, at the extreme end of 10th Street, in the suburbs of Cheyenne. Perpetrators unknown.

A few hours later, stock thief Charles J. Morgan was also hanged on the east side of Cheyenne.

Earlier that month, a large number of mules had gone missing from the prairie surrounding Cheyenne, including a four-mule team owned by W.G. Smith. Smith and others, determined to recover the stolen animals, seized a man named “Wild Horse” Smith and threatened to lynch him if he didn’t reveal what he knew of their whereabouts. They put a rope around his neck and three times yanked him into the air, but he maintained his silence. When he was told that the fourth time would be his last, Smith cracked and told them where the hidden stock was.

As R. Michael Wilson explains, the searchers found fifteen stolen mules at the location “Wild Horse” specified, but W.G. Smith’s team was not among them.

Smith made further inquiries and learned that Charles J. Morgan had purchased the four-mule team and some other stock for about half their value. He and a man named Kelly were driving the stock south on the road to Denver and were then only a short distance out of town in the mountains. Smith formed a posse of vigilantes and overtook Kelly at Guy Hill. Kelly was arrested and the party started for Cheyenne. On the way back to they met Morgan, a known member of the gang of thieves, who claimed that he and Kelly had bought the mules and were going to Sweetwater. Morgan was also arrested and the two prisoners were taken into Cheyenne at an early hour on March 21st.

The jail in Cheyenne was little more than a tent over a wooden frame with a wooden door and a guard at the flap. So, with escape a certainty and the vigilantes ready for action they decided to settle the matter themselves.

At daybreak, Morgan’s body was found hanging at Elephant Corral on a tripod-shaped gallows very similar to the one where Martin met his end. His remains “had blue and swollen features, tongue and eyes protruding, fists clenched, with feet now brushing the ground.” There was a sign pinned to his back: This man was hung by the Vigilance committee for being one of a gang of horse-thieves.

The coroner’s jury returned the following verdict:

We the undersigned, summoned by the Coroner to inquire into the cause of death of Chas. or J. Morgan, find the evidence that his death was occasioned by strangulation, he having been found hanging by the neck on three poles in the rear of the Elephant Corral, in Cheyenne, D.T. Perpetrators unknown.

At first there was speculation that Kelly, too, had been lynched: shortly after his partner in crime was hanged, he was taken some distance away and shots were heard in the darkness. Searches were made for his body, but it turned out that Kelly had merely been banished from Cheyenne and the shots were fired to speed him on his way.

T. A. Larson notes that this disreputable pair were the first and nearly the last known to have been lynched in Cheyenne; the Cheyenne Vigilance Committee killed only one more man there, for failure to pay a debt he owed a saloon keeper. (They are also known to have lynched three men at Dale City thirty miles away.) “It seems fair to say,” he notes, “that the record of popular justice in Cheyenne was neither very extensive nor very creditable. But it may well be that vigilantes in Cheyenne and elsewhere had a positive deterrent value which is hard to measure.”

Martin and Morgan were buried out on the prairie. No one was ever charged in their deaths.

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1868: The Reno brothers and Charles Anderson lynched in New Albany

Add comment December 12th, 2017 Headsman

On this date in 1868, 60-plus masked and armed vigilantes took control of the New Albany, Indiana jail and executed four members (three of them kin) of a notorious train-robbing gang.

From the Daily Inter Ocean (Chicago Republican), December 13, 1868:

INDIANAPOLIS, Dec. 12.

The Seymour vigilance committee visited the New Albany jail this morning, about 3 o’clock, and hung the Reno brothers and Charles Anderson inside the jail, and left town before any alarm was given.

CINCINNATI, Dec. 12.

The following particulars of the hanging of the Renos at New Albany, has been received by the Cincinnati Times:

NEW ALBANY, Dec. 12.

Between 3 and 4 o’clock this morning, from 60 to 70 Seymour Regulators, masked and heavily armed arrived here via Jeffersonville Railroad, and immediately upon their arrival they proceeded by a direct route to the county jail, placing guards at every street to guard against surprise. Arriving at the jail one of the guards stationed outside took alarm and attempted to raise an alarm but was quickly taken in charge of and placed under guard.

They then entered the office of the jail, and after twelve or fifteen of them entered, Sheriff Fullclove, awakened by the disturbance, came to the door, and when they demanded the keys attempted to get away by dodging down a cellar way and coming out on the outside of the building, but here he was commanded to surrender, and by some means was shot through the arm. They had now complete possession of the jail and found the keys in the Sheriff’s bedroom, when they immediately proceeded to the cells and forced one of the guards to unlock the cells.

They then took Frank Reno, Simon Reno, Bill Reno, and Charles Anderson, the express robbers, out, and hung them to the iron railing or posts supporting the walk around the outside of the cells. The victims were placed in chairs, the ropes adjusted and the chairs kicked from under them, Frank and Simon were hanging to one post, Simon in front and Frank behind him; the other brother was hanging at a corner post, and Anderson in the backway in the rear of the jail.

After being satisfied that their victims were dead the bold murderers quietly locking the jail and all its occupants, taking the keys with them, and taking one of the county commissioners to the depot, then after all being ready they started away, giving the commissioner the keys as soon as possible. The alarm was sounded, but too late; no one could be found, and all that remained to show their presence was the dead bodies of the express robbers.

The most intense excitement prevails here, and is getting much higher every moment. The news spread like wild fire.

Mrs. Frank Reno and Mrs. Anderson are in the city.

Frank Reno fought the regulators, and knocked three of them down, but was overpowered and knocked senseless — his head being badly bruised, and blood running down his face. The victims presented a ghastly and horrible spectacle.

INDIANAPOLIS, Dec. 12. — All the telegraph wires on the line of the Jeffersonville railroad were found connected together and thrown to the ground about half a mile north of Seymour, Ind., this morning, supposed to have been done by the Seymour regulators before going to New Albany to hang the four express robbers.

LOUISVILLE, Dec. 12 — Additional particulars of the tragedy at New Albany, have been received. About 3 o’clock this morning, Mr. Luther Whitten, one of the outside guards of the jail, was met at the entrance, by a party of men, who presented pistols to him, demanding silence or death. Whitten shouted however, but was seized, knocked down, and informed if another shout was uttered he should die. By this time the jail office was filled with men searching for the keys. Sheriff Fullenlove, understanding the situation, came down from his sleeping apartment, and gained the door leading to the grounds on the west side of the jail. Here he met an armed force with pistols directed at him, and exclaimed, “Gentlemen, don’t shoot me, I am Sheriff.” One of them, however, fired the shot taking effect in the right arm, inflicting a serious and painful wound. The keys were demanded, but he positively refused to surrender them. About a dozen of them then entered Mr. Fullenlove’s room, where his wife laid in bed, and demanded the jail keys of her, which she refused; but they succeeded in finding them concealed in a drawer. Thos. Mathews, one of the inside guards, was compelled to open the cells of the men the mob had determined to hang. Frank and William Reno were the first victims dragged out, and they were hung alongside of each other on the same pillar. Simeon Reno was then brought out, but he fought the mob with great desperation, knocking one or two down before he was overpowered, and left suspended between the ceiling and floor. Charles Anderson, the last victim, was heard to beg for the privilege of praying; but this request was refused, and he was hung at the southwest corner of the jail cell. After further threats of killing the Sheriff, the mob proceeded to the train, carrying with them the jail keys. From the jail to the train, armed men stood guard to prevent any alarm being given. At 4 o’clock, the train, with the entire party, consisting of from seventy-five to one hundred men, started off. They came well armed and equipped for the work.

They intended to hang a man named Clark, the murderer of Geo. Tille, but they concluded not to do so, fearing to remain longer. The vigilants came from Seymour, Ind., in a car by themselves, attached to the regular train.

Charles Anderson and Frank Reno were surrendered by the Canadian authorities upon the solemn pledge by the United States Government that they should have a fair trial, and, if found innocent, be returned to Canda.


ANTECEDENTS OF THE ROBBERS.

The telegraphic reports published above convey the intelligence that yesterday morning a number of men forced an entrance into the New Albany, Ind., jail, and there forcibly took from their cells, Frank Reno, Charles Anderson, Simeon Reno and William Reno, and executed them by hanging them to posts or bars of iron in the jail.

CRIME IN INDIANA.

In regarding the fearful occurrence, and the rapidity with which it follows two other dreadful scenes of a similar character, one cannot but think in the first place of the condition of criminal affairs in Indiana. In a great measure these terrible scenes of popular vengeance can be traced to the condition of the laws of the State, which are apparently framed more for the defense of the criminal than with a fair view to his conviction.

THE RENO FAMILY

have been well known in the annals of crime for years past. Their home has been about half a mile from

ROCKFORD,

which a few years ago was a beautiful and thriving village in Johnson county, Ind. It would have been the crossing point of the Ohio and Mississippi railroad with the Jeffersonville, Madison and Indianapolis railroad had it not been on account of the lawlessness of the people that were settled in that vicinity. The village of Rockford is now almost dilapidated; the beautiful blocks of buildings and stores which once graced its streets are in ruins; the torch of the incendiary has done its work. Having become the center of villainy, it soon became the hiding-place of villains; the house of the Reno family was the rendezvous of scoundrels, and the one or two saloons or groggeries left standing became their ordinary abiding place.

SEYMOUR

is located on the line of the Jeffersonville, Madison and Indianapolis railroad, and is also the crossing point of the Ohio and Mississippi railroad, two miles south of Rockford. It has grown to be a large town. Owing to the proximity of the Renos and their gang to this place, it had become also unsafe for the peace of law-abiding residents.

ACCUMULATIONS OF VILLAINIES

For several years robberies and murders have been frequent in the vicinity — in fact to such an extent that the people have long contemplated taking the law in their own hands on account of the defect in the State law which prevented the conviction of parties arrested, and charged with crime. Continuance after continuance of the trial of prisoners has followed with general rapidity until it was found that the law could not be enforced. In addition to the ordinary murders and robberies which have taken place in the vicinity of Seymour large and extraordinary robberies frequently took place; the express companies were often robbed — trains have been stopped in open daylight and the passengers pillaged and plundered of their property.

WHOLESALE RASCALITY.

It will be recollected that in February last a raid was made upon all the county treasurers’ safes of Northern Iowa, taking the whole counties through, from the Mississippi to the Missouri. All those robberies were either planned or executed by the Renos and their confederates. For a robbery committed in Missouri

JOHN RENO

is now in the Missouri Penitentiary, under a sentence of twenty five years’ imprisonment.

THE MILLS AND HARRISON COUNTY ROBBERIES

For the robbery of the Mills and Harrison county safes, in Iowa, shortly afterward, Frank Reno, Mike Rogers, Charles Anderson, William Deering and Albert Perking were arrested and confined in the Mills county jail. Shortly thereafter they managed to break jail and made their

ESCAPE

Traveling the whole way from there to Chicago on foot, fording the streams in the dead of winter, and crossing the Mississippi upon ice, they then made their way from Chicago to Windsor, Canada, by rail.

THE FIRST EXPRESS ROBBERY.

After recruiting themselves there, another raid was proposed and agreed upon. Upon the 22d of May last, the cars of the Jeffersonville, Madison and Indianapolis railroad, while stopping at Marshville station, — an isolated station, or rather watering place, — were forcibly seized, the engineer, fireman and express messenger were thrown from the engine and cars, and the engine and express car having been disconnected, were run at a rapid rate of speed within a half mile of Seymour. Here they were left, the express safes having been robbed of all their treasure, amounting to nearly $100,000. The express messenger was thrown from the cars by the robbers when the train was running at the rate of thirty miles an hour.

DETECTION AND CAPTURES OF THE THIEVES.

This case was placed in the hands of Allan Pinkerton, the world-renowned detective, with a view to the detection of the criminals. It is needless to recount the course which was pursued by the detectives; suffice it to say, that sufficient evidence was discovered to warrant the finding of bills of indictment against Frank Reno, Charles Anderson, Wm. Deering, Simeon Reno, Wm. Reno, Albert Perkins and Jack Nelson, alias California Nelse, Frank Reno and Charles Anderson made their escape to Windsor; the other parties remained in the States. Simeon and Wm. Reno were arrested and confined in jail at New Albany in July last. In the same month Deering was arrested and held at Seymour for identification, having disposed of some of the stolen bonds to a man named Baum, at Indianapolis. Baum fled, and also made his escape to Canada.

While held under guard at Seymour, Deering managed to make his escape. Nelson was afterward arrested, and also taken to Seymour and held to bail. In the meantime

THE CELEBRATED EXTRADITION CASE

commenced in Canada, Pinkerton having gone there to prefer complaint against Frank Reno and Charles Anderson. After a long, tedious and hotly contested legal strife the prisoners were surrendered by order of Chief Justice Draper, of Canada, to the United States authorities.

A NARROW ESCAPE

Our reader will probably recollect that on Saturday night when the prisoners were extradited, or rather delivered over to the United States authorities, the tug on which they were placed in an hour afterward was sunk by the propellor Phil. Sheridan running into it in the Detroit river. By desperate exertion on the part of Mr. Pinkerton, who had the prisoners in custody, they were rescued from a watery grave, and by a circuitous route were forwarded from Detroit to Cincinnati and from thence up the river to New Albany, where they were confined in the jail of Floyd county, where they remained in durance until the hour of their fearful end.

THE RENO FAMILY

consisted of old man Reno, who has been all his life a desperado; old Mrs. Reno, who died last summer, and who supplied the brains for the crowd; John Reno, now in the Missouri penitentiary as above mentioned, Frank Reno, Clinton Reno, Simeon Reno, Wm. Reno, Laura Reno and one younger son, who is known as “Trick Reno.”

OLD MAN RENO

was of Swiss origin, but lived for many years in Pennsylvania, where he and his wife were married.

A SECOND DESPERATE ATTEMPT.

We now recur to the attempted robbery of the Adams Express Company at Brownstown, twelve miles west of Seymour, on the line of the Ohio and Mississippi railroad, on the night of the 9th of July last. On this occasion the car of the Adams Express Company was again detached from the train, an engineer got on board, and the express car and locomotive were rapidly run off. The

BAFFLED

express company, however, had guards who were then in the express car. Shortly after leaving Brownstown the train came to a full stop, when the thieves entered the express car with a view of robbing it. They were then promptly fired upon by the guards, and the engineer, who was running the entine, and who proved to be one Vol. Ellits, was severely wounded and captured.

THE THIEVES

The robbers made their escape, but were afterward discovered to be Ellits, Frank Sparks, John Moore, Charles Roseberry, Warren Clifton and Henry Jerill; they were all pupils of the Reno school, having been their intimate associates and friends. Vol. Ellits had formerly been a brakeman upon the Ohio and Mississippi railroad. Frank Sparks had worked upon a farm of Reno’s. John Reno was at one time brakeman on the railroad, and probably one of the most expert men in springing on or off trains that could be found; he had been arrested for robbery prior to this offense.

Charles Roseberry was a painter, and resided in Seymour; he had several times been arrested, and was one of the parties who burned down the police station at Seymour, shortly before the commission of this robbery. Warren Clifton had formerly been in the employ of the Adams Express Company at Seymour, but had been led into evil practices by his association with the Reno family. Henry Jerill was the son of the drayman who was in the habit of carrying the express goods through Seymour. The father was respectable, but he (the son) had been led into evil habits from his association with these people.

POPULAR VENGEANCE

All the above named robbers made their escape, with the exception of Ellits. A reward was however offered for them and they were speedily captured. On the night of the 20th of July last, the train on which Clifton[,] Roseberry and Ellits were being conveyed as prisoners to Brownstown was stopped by an obstruction placed on the track, about two miles from Seymour. The prisoners were forcibly taken from the cars and hung upon a beech tree in the vicinity.

THE SECOND LYNCHING.

On the 26th of July, Sparks, Moore and Jerill, who had been captured in Illinois, while working in the neighborhood of Mattoon, while en route for Brownstown, shared the same fate upon the same beech tree.

A RATHER COMICAL COINCIDENCE,

despite its terrible associations, occurred at this point, and is an illustrative of the quiet and premeditated manner in which these scenes of death transpired. It is said that there were about one or two hundred men present at this execution. A quiet, inoffensive Dutchman, who lives in a house about two hundred feet from the spot where the beech tree stands, upon looking out and seeing the first three were hanging there, was very much shocked; he had gone out to get up his cows for milking, and our readers may judge of his surprise and terror when he observed the three dead bodies suspended from the tree. In about one week afterward the honest German, going out again to get up his cattle for milking, observed three more bodies suspended from the same branches. Rushing to his house he exclaimed, “Mein Gott, if those three dead men have not come back again upon the tree,” and for hours was insensible with fright.

The German, who was merely a tenant, immediately concluded that if he was going to have, instead of beechnuts, corpses suspended from his tree, it was time to sell out. He accordingly disposed of the lease of his farm and left for parts unknown.

THE END.

The telegraph now brings us the sad intelligence that the people have risen once more, and have summarily executed the almost sole remnants of one of the most daring and murderous bands in the country.

A FATAL REMINISCENCE.

In this connection, it may be proper to say that the telegraph but three days ago conveyed the painful news that George Flanders, one of the guards who was upon the express car at the time of the robbery of the 9th July last, has died from his wounds, having suffered during that long period of time, the most intense agony. These numerous robberies have culminated, apparently, in the fearful scenes which have been enacted at New Albany — the law having apparently failed to protect the people, the people have desperately determined to protect and avenge themselves.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Borderline "Executions",Common Criminals,Crime,Execution,Hanged,History,Indiana,Lynching,Organized Crime,Public Executions,Theft,USA

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1868: Robert Smith, the last publicly hanged in Scotland

1 comment May 12th, 2016 Headsman

Robert Smith hanged in Dumfries on this date in 1868 — the last man publicly executed in Scotland* before the advent of private hangings later that same month of May.

Though inclement Scottish weather kept the crowds at bay on the occasion, Robert Smith was a notorious villain for his season in the public eye, as the ensuing newspaper reports will attest.

His death mask is still kept at the Dumfries Museum and Camera Obscura.

The Sheffield & Rotherham Independent, Feb. 8, 1868:

FRIGHTFUL CRIMES IN DUMFRIES-SHIRE

On Sunday, the Scotch police apprehended in Carlisle, Robert Smith, whitewasher, aged 20, for an awful crime. On Saturday evening, near Cummertrees, Dumfries-shire, he took a girl, aged 14, into a wood, where he robbed her of 7s. 6d., hung her to a tree, and when dead cut her body down. Afterwards he entered a cottage at Longford, and stabbed a woman named Jane Paterson so fearfully about the neck that death is expected.

The following are additional particulars of this shocking crime: — A murder bearing a horrible resemblance to that lately committed at Alton has just startled the county of Dumfries. It appears that on Saturday afternoon, between 3 and 4 o’clock, a young man, named Smith, who earns a living by jobbing and labouring about the country, was observed by a woman, named Patterson, to take into a wood near to Cummertrees, a village between Annan and Dumfies, a girl, about fourteen years of age.

The woman, as it turned out, had been observed by the ruffian, for some time afterwards he entered her house at Longford-cottages and felled her to the ground. While down he attacked her with his knife and inflicted five stabs about her neck. Her cries alarmed three young men who were passing, and who rushed in to her assistance. The ruffian had meanwhile escaped.

On the poor woman recovering, she related what she had seen near the wood. Information was given at the nearest police-station, and on the party going to the wood they saw a horrible sight. The girl with whom the villain had been seen was found to have been robbed and murdered, after another atrocious crime had been committed. The murderer had hanged her up to a tree & then cut down her body.

Pursuit was at once commenced, and Smith was apprehended on Sunday. He had gone to a farm-house, where blood was observed on his clothes, and in his pocket was found a leather shoelace tied in a noose. There is little doubt that he is the murderer.

The atrocious affair has created the utmost horror. Another account states that the poor little girl is the daughter of a shoemaker at Cummertrees, named Scott, and that she was going to Annan to purchase groceries; that she stopped for shelter at a cottae on the road, and the supposed murderer, Robert Smith, a farm labourer, aged 20, known in the neighbourhood, arranged to accompany her. The man and girl left the cottage together at noon, and the latter was never seen alive again. It was 3 in the afternoon before Smith returned to the cottage and made the murderous attack upon the woman, with the design, as it is supposed, of preventing her from giving evidence against him.

Some additional facts have come to light.

It appears that the prisoner had, after murdering the little girl, gone on to Annan, and there purchased a pistol, with the necessary ammunition, such as powder, shot, and caps. The pistol has since been found in Longford Cottage, and the woman, who can tell a short story, states that after being struc she heard a pistol fired off, though she was stunned at the time.

Robert Smith, or Colvan, the perpetrator of the shocking outrage, is a native of Eaglesfield, near Kirtlebridge, in the county of Dumfiresshire. His mother died when he was about eight years of age. He was then taken charge of by an uncle, named Michael Smith, whose name he has since borne, though Colvan is his right name.

At the age of nine he was cast on the world to fight for himself. He commenced to work about some limekilns in the neighbourhood, and subsequently as a farm servant. During last harvest he found work on Longford Farm, where also the husband of the woman he so brutally mangled was employed.

Mrs. Creighton is progressing more favourably than was at first anticipated, and hopes are now entertained of her recovery.

Nottinghamshire Guardian, Apr. 24, 1868:

THE DUMFRIESSHIRE MURDER.

At the Dumfries Spring Court of Justiciary on Tuesday, Robert Smith, alias Colwin, was charged with the murder, on the 1st of February last, of Thomasina Scott.

The deceased, a girl of tne, was the daughter of a small shopkeeper at Cummertrees. On the morning in question she left home to go to Annan, a neighbouring town, and on her way thither she called at the house of an acquaintance, Mrs. Creighton.

The prisoner, who was a farm labourer, was in the house at the time, and when the deceased departed he too left the house. Some distance from that place the two were seen together.

Two hours later the prisoner returned alone, made a desperate attempt on the life of Mrs. Creighton, and then fled.

Subsequently the deceased was missed and a search in a plantation in the locality discovered her violated and murdered body. Death had been caused by strangulation.

The prisoner pleaded guilty to having committed a criminal assault. — His counsel contended that he was at the time in the state of mind called “moral mania.” — The Jury returned a verdict of guilty; and the prisoner was sentenced to be hanged on the 12th May.

Cheshire Observer and Chester, Birkenhead, Crewe and North Wales Times, May 16, 1868:

EXECUTION AT DUMFRIES.

On Tuesday morning, at eight minutes past eight o’clock, Robert Smith, or Colvin, was hanged at Dumfries Goal [sic], for the murder and rape of Thomasina Scott, a girl, on the first of February last.

Since his conviction the culprit seemed thoroughly resigned to his fate, and recognised the fact that the atrocity of his crime placed the commutation of his sentence beyond the reach of hope.

He expressed contrition for what he had done, and had written to th emother of his victim, asking her pardon.

His demeanour was, however, firm, and even stolid; and though he listened with attention to the ministrations of the chaplain (the Rev. Mr. Cowans), their effect upon him was not very visible. On Monday night he took supper at seven, and the chaplain remained with him till eight; when asked, he declined to receive any other minister.

The culprit rose about six on Tuesday morning. He stated that he had slept well — never better in his life; and, while taking breakfast, he conversed about his impending death with the utmost equanimity. The county authorities assembled in the prison about half-past seven, shortly after which the executioner, Thos. Asern, of York (Calcraft being retained to hang Barrett), was introduced to the condemned man.

He submitted to the process of pinioning, and in the procession to the scaffold he walked with firmness. On the platform he never once faltered, but stood with patience while the hangman rectified an error which he had made, and through which the noose had to be taken off and readjusted.

The drop fell at eight minutes past eight; the culprit struggled and swung a little, but in two minutes the body ceased to quiver.

The weather was raw and wet, and, in consequence, the assembled crowd was small. Some women shrieked when the unfortunate youth was led up the ladder, but otherwise all was orderly.

* By coincidence, Dumfries also hosted Scotland’s last public hanging of a woman.

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

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1868: Eleven samurai, for the Sakai Incident

1 comment March 16th, 2016 Headsman

On this date in 1868,* eleven samurai committed seppuku before the French consul in Japan spared their nine comrades.

The affair was stunning punishment for what’s known as the Sakai Incident — an offense eight days prior that occurred during Japan’s Boshin War, a last rearguard battle of loyalists to the (now officially ended) Tokugawa Shogunate against the rising imperial party of the Meiji Restoration.

What’s noteworthy for our purposes in this period is that the Meiji espoused an anti-foreigner policy — one that was not the less intently felt by the Meiji base for being entirely insincere on the part of elites.

It was in this tense context that a boat full of French sailors from the corvette Dupleix called on March 8 at Sakai — a port city whose shogunate forces had routed. It had been recently occupied by imperial troops.

Japan had only been opened to the west 15 years before, and access was still quite restricted; there might have been a misunderstanding between the French sailors and Sakai’s Tosa clan occupiers over whether this city was open at all. There was definitely a misunderstanding once the tourists ran into samurai on shore, and before you know it high words and suspicious glares turned into a street skirmish that left eleven Frenchmen dead.


Illustration from Le Monde Diplomatique (1868)

This Sakai Incident (English Wikipedia entry | French) incensed western powers, and not only the French: the British, Dutch, Prussians, Italians, and Americans all pulled down their embassy colors in solidarity pending adequate satisfaction for the French. Japan at this moment was not at all in a position to take a stand against foreign gunships over this dust-up, and it met the conditions — which consisted of some personal groveling by a state minister, the payment of a 150,000-piastres indemnity, and the execution of the officers and soldiers involed. The punishment would be self-administered by seppuku at a Sakai shrine. This set the scene for a powerful climax, in which the soldiers one by one tore out their own guts in a ceremony that must have played as defiance no less than submission.

Quoting the Moniteur, the London Morning Post of May 19, 1868 (news was slow in those days) describes the operatic punishment.

On the 15th [a Japanese] high functionary brought a written reply from his Government conceding all the satisfaction required. On the following day Captain du Petit-Thouars, commander of the Dupleix, landed at Sakai to witness the execution of two officers, a subaltern, and 17 Japanese soldiers, condemned to death as the principal authors of the aggression. The two chiefs were the first put to death, after which nine others perished successively. Captain du Petit-Thouars then seeing that the Japanese Government was decided on carrying out its engagements to the end, and ceding to a feeling of humanity, stayed the execution, declaring that he considered the reparation sufficient, and that he proposed to ask the Minister of France to intercede for a commutation of punishment in favour of the other condemned.

The last nine beneficiaries of the captain’s clemency were sent into internal exile instead.

The Japanese writer Mori Ogai wrote a short story about this affair, Sakai Jiken. (See Suicidal Honor: General Nogi and the Writings of Mori Ogai and Natsume Soseki.)

* There are some citations that give the date as the 23rd. The original reporting I have located unambiguously asserts that the execution occurred on the 16th.

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1868: Michael Barrett, the last public hanging in England

4 comments May 26th, 2015 Headsman

England held its last-ever public execution on this date in 1868, and made it big game indeed: Fenian Michael Barrett, whose Clerkenwell Prison bombing long remained one of the most infamous atrocities of the Irish nationalist cause.

The bill certifying the end of that distinctive institution, the public hanging, would be finalized three days hence, so the occasion’s milestone was anticipated in advance. Elites increasingly disdained the boorish carnivals that unfolded under the gallows, like Dickens who complained that “no sorrow, no salutary terror, no abhorrence, no seriousness; nothing but ribaldry, debauchery, levity, drunkenness, and flaunting vice in fifty other shapes” redeemed the 1840 hanging of Courvoisier.


“The Great Moral Lesson at Horsemonger Lane Gaol”, Punch magazine’s view of the notoriously rowdy mob at Frederick and Marie Manning execution.

“The crowd was most unusually orderly,” ran the Times‘ report of Barrett’s death — a sort of dual eulogy — “but it was not a crowd in which one would like to trust.”

It is said that one sees on the road to the Derby such animals as are never seen elsewhere; so on an execution morning one see faces that are never seen save round the gallows or near a great fire. Some laughed, some fought, some preached, some gave tracts, and some sang hymns; but what may be called the general good-humoured disorder of the crowd remained the same, and there was laughter at the preacher or silence when an open robbery was going on. None could look on the scene, with all its exceptional quietness, without a thankful feeling that this was to be the last public execution in England. Towards 7 o’clock the mass of people was immense. A very wide open space was kept round the gallows by the police, but beyond this the concourse was dense, stretching up beyond St. Sepulchre’s Church, and far back almost, into Smithfield — a great surging mass of people which, in spite of the barriers, kept swaying to and from like waving corn. Now and then there was a great laughter as a girl fainted, and was passed out hand over hand above the heads of the mob, and then there came a scuffle and a fight, and then a hymn, and then a sermon, and then a comic song, and so on from hour to hour, the crowd thickening as the day brightened, and the sun shone out with such a glare as to extinguish the very feeble light which showed itself faintly through the glass roof above where the culprit lay. It was a wild, rough crowd, not so numerous nor nearly so violent as that which thronged to see Muller or the pirates die. In one way they showed their feeling by loudly hooting a magnificently-attired woman, who, accompanied by two gentlemen, swept down the avenue kept open by the police, and occupied a window afterwards right in front of the gallows. This temporary exhibition of feeling was, however, soon allayed by coppers being thrown from the window for the roughs to scramble for. It is not right, perhaps, that a murderer’s death should be surrounded by all the pious and tender accessories which accompany the departure of a good man to a better world, but most assuredly the sight of public executions to those who have to witness them is as disgusting as it must be demoralizing even to all the hordes of thieves and prostitutes it draws together. Yesterday the assembly was of its kind an orderly one, yet it was such as we feel grateful to think will under the new law never be drawn together again in England.

Michael Barrett’s ticket to this last assembly was punched by a different execution six months previous — the hanging of the Manchester Martyrs. This trio of Irish patriots were part of a mob who liberated some comrades from a police van, shooting a policeman in the process — though it was far from certain that any of these three actually fired shots.

Of importance for our purposes today was the crackdown on other Fenians occasioned by the Manchester affair. In November of 1867, a Fenian agent named Richard O’Sullivan Burke was arrested with his companion Joseph Casey in London purchasing weapons for the movement. They were clapped in Clerkenwell Prison pending trial.

The bombing that brought Michael Barrett to the gallows was a bid to liberate these men … and it did not pause for subtlety. The conspirators simply wheeled a barrel of gunpowder up to the wall of the facility when they expected the inmates to be at exercise in the adjacent yard. The explosion blasted a 60-foot gap in the wall; the inward-collapsing rubble might easily have been the death rather than the salvation of the prospective beneficiaries, except that they weren’t actually in the yard at all — nobody was there, and nobody escaped Clerkenwell.

But numerous working-class families lived in little tenements opposite the prison and were there, and in fact Clerkenwell had a reputation for political radicalism and Fenian sympathy. This monstrous new “infernal machine” tore through Clerkenwell homes, leaving 12 people dead and numerous buildings near to collapse, while windows and chimneys shivered to pieces all up and down the block.


Improvised struts shore up damaged buildings opposite the wall of Clerkenwell Prison reduced to rubble by the December 13, 1867 Fenian bombing.

Karl Marx, a strong supporter of the Irish cause, despaired this counterproductive turn towards terrorism: “The London masses, who have shown great sympathy towards Ireland, will be made wild and driven into the arms of a reactionary government. One cannot expect the London proletarians to allow themselves to be blown up in honour of Fenian emissaries.”

English reformer Charles Bradlaugh agreed. “The worst enemy of the Irish people could not have devised a scheme better calculated to destroy all sympathy,” he wrote.


Punch magazine depicts the Clerkenwell bomber(s) as the “Fenian Guy Fawkes“.

Considering the magnitude of the crime, someone would have to pay for it. That Barrett was that someone did not sit well for many.

Five men and a woman stood trial at the Old Bailey in April for the Clerkenwell outrage, but Barrett was the only one of them convicted, a terribly inadequate investigation/prosecution outcome given the infamy of the crime.

That conviction stood on the basis of disputed eyewitness identifications: Barrett produced witnesses who said he was in Glasgow when the bomb went off, while the crown found others who would swear he was actually in London. (The length of Barrett’s whiskers on specific dates in late November and early December forms a running subplot of the dueling testimonies.)

The reliability and even the good faith of all such winesses might well be impugned. A highly questionable stool pigeon named Patrick Mullany who ducked prosecution by turning crown’s evidence, charged that Barrett personally set off the ordnance.

Despite his certain doom, Barrett eloquently vindicated himself at his sentencing

To give me credit for such an undertaking is utterly absurd; being, as I am, a total stranger to acts of daring, and without any experience which would in any way fit me for engaging in such an enterprise. Is it not ridiculous to suppose that in the City of London, where … there are ten thousand armed Fenians, they would have sent to Glasgow for a party to do this work, and then select a person of no higher standing and no greater abilities than the humble individual who now stands convicted before you? To suppose such a thing is a stretch of imagination that the disordered minds of the frightened officials of this country could alone be capable of entertaining.

If it is murder to love Ireland more dearly than life, then indeed I am a murderer. If I could in any way remove the miseries or redress the grievances of that land by the sacrifice of my own life I would willingly, nay, gladly, do so. if it should please the God of Justice to turn to some account, for the benefit of my suffering country, the sacrifice of my poor, worthless life, I could, by the grace of God, ascend the scaffold with firmness, strengthened by the consoling reflection that the stain of murder did not rest upon me, and mingling my prayers for the salvation of my immortal soul with those for the regeneration of my native land.

Benjamin Disraeli’s government could not in the end realistically entertain the agitation from liberal and radical circles for sparing Barrett, because that would mean that nobody would hang for Clerkenwell. But as the next day’s edition of Reynold’s News noted, “Millions will continue to doubt that a guilty man has been hanged at all; and the future historian of the Fenian panic may declare that Michael Barrett was sacrificed to the exigencies of the police, and the vindication of the good Tory principle, that there is nothing like blood.”

Three months after Barrett made that expiation, England officially began its era of fully private hangings behind prison walls.

* James Joyce hung out with a (much-older) Joseph Casey in Paris in the early 20th century. Yes, that’s in Ulysses too: “He prowled with Colonel Richard Burk, tanist of his sept, under the walls of Clerkenwell and crouching saw a flame of vengeance hurl them upward in the fog. Shattered glass and toppling masonry. In gay Paree he hides, Egan of Paris, unsought by any save by me.”

Part of the Themed Set: Terrorism.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,England,Execution,Hanged,History,Innocent Bystanders,Ireland,Milestones,Murder,Occupation and Colonialism,Public Executions,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Revolutionaries,Separatists,Terrorists,Wrongful Executions

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1868: Thomas Jones, bad uncle

Add comment December 29th, 2014 Meaghan

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

Four days after Christmas in 1868, Thomas Jones was executed in London, Ontario for one of the most sensational murders perpetrated in the region at the time. He had brutally slaughtered his twelve-year-old niece in the town of Delaware.

Early that year, according to this article on the case, Jones had tried to rob his own brother’s house while wearing a false beard to disguise his identity. Unfortunately for him, young Mary Jones recognized her uncle and subsequently testified against him in the ensuing trial. Thomas Jones held this against her, as did Thomas’s daughter Elizabeth, who was thirteen.

On June 11, 1868, Mary’s mother sent her to Uncle Thomas’s house to fetch a cup of flour. (One wonders why she did so, given the history of bad blood between uncle and niece.) Mary never returned.

Suspicion inevitably fell on Thomas, who insisted she’d come and gotten the flour and left his home alive and well. Forty-eight hours after Mary’s disappearance, the search party got fed up, grabbed Thomas’s ten-year-old son and threatened to kill him if he didn’t tell what happened to his cousin.

The boy led them to her body, hidden in the woods under a fallen tree. Her skull had been fractured.

According to the child, both his father and his sister Elizabeth had participated in Mary’s murder. Public feeling ran high against the accused and the entire family had to be taken into custody and transported from Delaware to London to avoid a possible lynching. Only Thomas and Elizabeth faced murder charges, but according to this account, Thomas’s wife and younger son were kept in jail for four months and his two older sons, both in their teens, remained there until well after their father’s death.

The prosecution’s theory was that either Thomas had murdered his niece after Elizabeth lured her into the woods at his direction, or Thomas talked Elizabeth into committing the murder.

At trial, Elizabeth tried to take the rap for her father, claiming she’d beaten Mary to death entirely on her own and Thomas had only helped her hide the body. Thomas’s youngest son testified in support of this, saying he’d witnessed his sister striking Mary with a club.

Thomas used his underaged daughter’s statements like a shield — he would maintain his innocence to his dying breath — but in the end the jury convicted him of murder. What may have tipped the balance was the medical evidence, which indicated Mary had been dealt some powerful blows, stronger than a child could have inflicted.

Elizabeth was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to ten years for her role in the crime, in spite of her youth. The older two of Thomas’s three sons, ages seventeen and fifteen, were finally released without charge in the spring of 1869. Elizabeth served seven years before she was freed.

In spite of the bitter cold many residents of Delaware came to watch Thomas hang at the Middlesex County Gaol. Around six thousand people were in the crowd — approximately half the population of London. This would be the last hanging in Middlesex county.

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

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