1895: John Eisenminger, forgiven

1 comment June 6th, 2019 Headsman

From the Harrisburg (Pa.) Patriot of June 7, 1895.

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

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1895: Lafayette Prince

Add comment May 29th, 2019 Headsman

From the Cleveland Plain Dealer, May 29, 1895. The hot swap from “Chaplain Winget” to “Chaplin Wingate” is all [sic].

Columbus, May 28. — (Special.) — Lafayette Prince partook heartily at 6 o’clock of his last meal, at which he was given porterhouse steak, fried eggs and coffee, finishing the meal with strawberry short cake and cream. The other seven inmates at the annex were present at the meal. All appeared to relish the dainty dishes with the exception of Molnar, who was very nervous and excited.

Chaplain Winget conducted general religious services in the annex, in which all took part. At 8:35 Capt. John Langenberger entered the annex and informed Prince that the time had arrived for him to enter the death cage. It was expected that the murderer would weaken when the time came for the final separation from the others, but Prince surprised all by promptly replying to the request of Langenberger, “All right.” He then bade the other inmates farewell and with a light step ascended the stairway to a little narrow cell which he was to leave only to go to his death. At 10 o’clock a report reached the front office that the man so soon to enter eternity was at that time whistling “Irish Moll.”

Prince has always expressed great affection for his little boy and has often wished to see him before his death. When Chaplin Wingate visited the murderer at 10:30 Prince gave him a box of letters and a few small trinkets and requested that they be given to the boy. The letters were those received by the murderer since he was received at the penitentiary.

Prince was still holding out well at 11:30, and when asked how he felt responded “tip top.” He regretted very much that his brother at Cleveland had failed to be present, and said his brother had written him a few days ago that he would be here. “But that makes no difference,” said Prince. “I have made my peace with God and man and am prepared to go.”

Warden James read the death warrant to Prince at 11:30. The condemned man was unmoved during the reading of the instrument, and at the conclusion remarked that he was ready to go and anxious for the execution to be over.

Prince was hanged shortly after midnight. The drop fell at 12:11, and in fourteen and one-half minutes life was pronounced extinct. Prince’s nerve did not desert him to the last, and he died without a show or emotion or a struggle.

While the fastenings of death were being adjusted by two guards the condemned man gazed intently before him and appeared to be the least concerned of all present. Prince was asked if he desired to make a statement and replied: “No; I have nothing to say.” The black cap was then adjusted, the rope placed about his neck and the lever sprung. The body shot through the drop with lightning like rapidity, rebounded, turned half around and then hung limp until life was pronounced extinct. The neck was broken by the fall. The dead house gang entered, removed the body and the final act in the tragedy was completed.


The crime for which Lafayette Prince was hanged was the murder of his wife in Nottingham on the morning of Sept. 17, 1894. Prince had difficulty with his wife for several months. They did not live happily together. She insisted that she would go and assist her brother in gathering his grape crop. Prince remonstrated and insisted that she and the only son, Freddy Prince, should devote their time to gathering the crop on the Prince farm. Mrs. Prince argued that the grapes on the Prince farm were not in a condition to gather. The breach widened and on the afternoon of Sept. 16 Mrs. Prince and her son returned from her brother’s farm, which was two miles distant, and gathering a few personal effects went to her brother’s house and remained all night.

Prince returned home that night and discovered the absence of his wife. He prepared his own supper, ate it and walked over to the house of his brother. The twilight had settled and he hid behind a hay stack to ascertain as to whether his wife would leave the house.

Her brother had loaded a wagon with grapes the night before and was to take them into town early in the morning. He appeared before dawn and hitching the horse drove toward the city on the Nottingham road. Prince could not discover in the darkness whether his wife was on the wagon or not. He ran home, mounted a horse, and, taking a short cut, hid under the shadow of the Nottingham bridge. When the wagon appeared he discovered that his wife was not with the brother. He returned to his house, coolly cooked his breakfast and went back to his brother-in-law’s house, arriving there about 7 o’clock. His sister-in-law was in the kitchen preparing breakfast. The women were alone, the only man in the house having taken the grapes to the city.

Prince knocked at the door and said:

“I want to see my wife, Caroline.”

“I don’t know whether it would be best to do it or not,” replied his sister-in-law.

Prince then shoved her aside, walked through the sitting room and went up stairs.

“For God’s sake, Lafe, don’t go up there; you’ll murder her,” screamed his sister-in-law.

He went up stairs and into a back room, where Mrs. Prince and the boy were in bed.

“Caroline,” said Prince, “I want you to come home with me.”

“I can’t do it, Lafe,” she said, “you’ve promised to treat me right so many times that I’ve no faith in you.”

Prince kneeled on the floor and crying bitterly asked her to come. Freddy was also crying.

“Freddie,” said Prince, turning to his son, “won’t you come home? Come home to your father. I’ll treat you right, my boy. I’ll treat you right.”

The boy cried bitterly and said he wouldn’t do it. Prince arose hurriedly and went down stairs. His sister-in-law followed him out. Prince went out of the house and went to the woodhouse. He was watched carefully by his sister-in-law. He appeared from the woodhouse with an ax in his hand. His sister-in-law screamed and bolted the door. Prince knocked the door in with the ax and rushed up into his wife’s chamber. She was apprised of his approach and leaped from the bed. She ran down stairs, followed by her husband and the boy. He caught her in the yard and was about to strike her with the ax when the boy interfered. He threw the boy roughly aside. He again caught his wife in the road and struck her twice in the head with an ax. She sank to the ground and the boy again interfered. He was thrown roughly aside. Prince struck his wife several times in the head and twice on the body. She was clad in her night clothes and had no protection. One blow nearly cut her body in two. Prince went home and attempted to commit suicide by cutting his throat with a razor. He was unsuccessful.

During last term of court he was tried. Counsel attempted to work the insanity dodge without success. The jury was out forty-five minutes and the case was carried no higher.

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

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1893: Ai Yone

Add comment May 19th, 2019 Headsman

For today’s post we refer you to the fine and regrettably retired blog Made In Thailand, which describes in detail the May 19, 1893 beheading of a man named Ai Yone. Although the post admits to a bit of novelization in service of dramatization, this was absolutely a real execution in Siam.

At 7:15 a.m., the procession arrived at Wat Matkasan, where preparations for the execution got underway. Ai Yone remained bound and shackled on board the boat, smoking and engaging in animated conversation with those around him. Meanwhile, the executioners — seven in number — began the lengthy ritual, first making offerings of boar’s head, fowls, rice and betels at the temporary altar, erected for the occasion. The swords to be used for the execution were placed on the altar and duly consecrated and anointed. Looking on from the boat, Ai Yone seemed disinterested and detached as he received the last ministrations of the Buddhist monks. He held his head high, and showed no signs of fear.

Promptly, he was brought onto land and placed on the grass. The executioners were arrayed in red, and had wrapped red sashes around their foreheads. They knelt in front of Ai Yone and asked his pardon for what they were about to do. Some of the executioners took Ai Yone a little distance away, where they removed his neck-chain and handcuffs, then tied his elbows to a bamboo post, securely planted in the ground. He sat cross-legged on freshly-cut plantain leaves, neck exposed to receive the fatal blow, murmuring prayers and holding lighted tapers between his pressed palms. Next, his ears were closed with wet clay, so that he would not hear the deadly approach of the executioner. A line was drawn across his neck, to guide the descending sword; a white cloth wrapped around his body. All was ready.

Ready for what? Read on.

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1899: Claude Branton, gallows photograph

Add comment May 12th, 2019 Headsman

Claude Henry Branton was noosed in Eugene, Oregon on this date in 1899, with the last words, “I haven’t much to say. I hope for God’s sake no one will try to run my folks down on account of this. They are innocent. I hope people will learn a lesson from this and tread on the right path. I hope to meet you all in the other world. I ask this for Jesus’s sake. Amen.”

Branton with another young farmhand named Courtland Green murdered rancher John Linn when the three were in the wilderness driving horses to Oregon’s McKenzie River Valley for sale. The motive was the thousand dollars or so that they thought that Linn was carrying; instead, the two killers found only $65 to split: he’d wisely given his ready cash to a friend for safekeeping before setting out.

And now they had to explain why they were arriving as a duo when they had set out as a trio.

A retrospective (May 20, 2018) from the Redmond (Ore.) Spokesman compares their subsequent situation to Melmoth the Wanderer, vainly sounding the valley for someone to give them an alibi.

The two of them decided what they needed was to find some rustic sucker willing to perjure himself by swearing that he had seen the three of them together, bringing the horses down.

And so commenced Branton and Green’s Melmoth-like wanderings through the McKenzie valley, horses in tow, looking for friends old and new who would be willing to perjure themselves in exchange for the pick of the herd.

Branton even made a fake beard so that he could pretend to be Linn at one spot. This didn’t work, though, because the rancher he was trying to fool recognized his voice.

The two of them tried several times to sell the horses, too, but no one would take them because Linn wasn’t there to sign the bill of sale.

Eventually the two murderers split up, Branton fleeing out of the state and Green into the bottle. But neither man found his refuge secure. Conscience and drink overcame Green’s composure and he revealed the crime (he ended up with a life sentence). Branton unwisely returned to Eugene without realizing that the murder had been exposed, and was instantly arrested.

There were about 50 official witnesses to the hanging, which took place within a stockade outside the Lane County courthouse while a large crowd milled outside or sought elevated vantage points in order to steal a glimpse. A few years later, a similarly raucous scene outside a similar “private” hanging in Portland, the Beaver State moved all executions indoors to the state penitentiary at Salem.

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1897: The Nineteen Martyrs of Aklan

Add comment March 23rd, 2019 Headsman

In the wee early hours on this date in 1897, the Spanish occupation shot 19 Philippines revolutionaries — the Martyrs of Aklan.

Aklan is a province in the Western Visayas, and our 19 there were surrendered to a purported Spanish amnesty following the assassination of the local independence leader General Francisco del Castillo.

The amnesty was not honored. Known or suspected as active Katipunan subversives, these 19 were shot and (when necessary) bayoneted in a cell in a Kalibo dungeon situated on what’s now known as Nineteen Martyrs Road.

Aklan observes a holiday every March 23 in honor of these men.

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1892: A day in the death penalty around the U.S. South

Add comment January 22nd, 2019 Headsman

All five of the people executed on January 22, 1892, and all four of the victims associated with their various homicides, were African-Americans.


From the Macon (Ga.) Telegraph, Jan. 23, 1982.

Robert Carter, hanged in the Camden, Alabama, jail on January 22 for murdering his wife, a crime he admitted.

“The murder was most brutal,” wrote the newsman under the headline pictured above, indulging a touch of anatomical hyperbole. “He followed his wife into the woods from the field where both were working and beat her to death, crushing almost all the bones in her body.”


Less certain was the case of the adulterous lovers Jim Lyles and Margaret Lashley hanged in Danville, Virginia, that same January 22 for slaying Lashley’s husband George.

Lashley asserted her innocence from arrest to execution, and her trial jury had recommended her for mercy. The day before execution, Lyles made a full confession in which he claimed sole responsibility for the crime, exonerating his paramour; Lashley’s bid for an eleventh-hour clemency on the basis of was nevertheless denied.

They died together, “displaying not a semblance of weakness” after “the prayer and song service, which lasted thirty minutes, both principals rendering, in strong harmonious voices, the hymns selected for the occasion.” (Columbia, S.C. State, Jan. 23, 1892)


Lucius Dotson hanged in Savannah, Georgia, on the same morning, for the murder of Jeff Goates.

Even at the late date of 1892, Dotson’s brother, “fearing that medical students had captured Lucius’s carcass, had the coffin opened at the depot … and was surprised to find his broken-neck brother in it.” (Charleston, S.C., News and Courier, Jan. 24, 1892)


The last woman ever hanged in North Carolina, Caroline Shipp died on a Dallas, North Carolina gallows before a crowd of some 3,000 souls.

A woman of “barely 20 years old”, condemned for poisoning her infant child. Under the noose, she “displayed great coolness” and “talked eight minutes, re-affirming her innocence, and declared a man [her lover -ed.] named Mack Farrar committed the crime.” The drop of the rope hit her with what a local paper called “a soul-sickening jerk”; it took her 20 minutes to strangle to death.

The event has proven to have a durable hold on Gaston County’s memory, and Shipp’s claim of innocence continues to interest latter-day researchers.

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1890: Elmer Sharkey, wretched matricide

Add comment December 19th, 2018 H.M. Fogle

From the out-of-print The palace of death, or, the Ohio Penitentiary Annex: A human-interest story of incarceration and execution of Ohio’s murderers, with a detailed review of the incidents connected with each case by H.M. Fogle (1908):


The Terrible End of Elmer Sharkey

Exit Elmer Sharkey and Henry Popp. The night of December 18, 1890, [i.e., after midnight on the 19th. People are just egregious with dates. -ed.] witnessed the double execution of Elmer Sharkey and Henry Popp.

Elmer Sharkey, serial number 20,517, was the picture of physical manhood, young, handsome and accomplished; but his crime was the most diabolical one that ever disgraced the fair pages of Ohio’s history.

About nine o’clock on the fatal night of December 18, Father Logan appeared at the Annex and baptized Sharkey in the Catholic faith. Shortly after this the two murderers were taken out into the reception room of the Annex, where they remained until after the reading of their death warrants. It was just a few minutes after eleven o’clock when Father Logan came into the Annex to comfort the condemned men. He informed them that there was no earthly hope; that the Governor absolutely refused to interfere, and that they should prepare for the worst. Sharkey and his doomed companion were then taken back into the Annex proper, where they bade good-bye to those who were left behind. A little later Warden Dyer came down the corridor and entered the reception room, to which the condemned men were again taken. Facing them the Warden said: “Boys, I have a painful duty to perform; but the law requires it. Henry,” to Popp “this is your death warrant.” Popp shook as with the ague, and stammered, “Yes sir.” He then arose to his feet and listened attentively to the reading of the warrant. The reading of Popp’s warrant finished, the Warden turned to Sharkey who was leaning against the steam heater and read his warrant. Sharkey stood with his hands in his pockets, seemingly indifferent. This over, Chaplain Sutton and Father Logan each offered up a fervent prayer, and then the Warden left the Annex to make further preparations for the executions that followed a few minutes later.

Promptly at midnight Warden Dyer, Deputy Porter and Assistant Brady at his side, stepped into the guard room. A mad rush was made for the gate. But a careful separation of the sheep from the goats was made by the Captain of the guard room, who carefully scrutinized each passport. Noiselessly the procession passed down the long, dimly-lighted corridor to the Annex. Once inside the enclosure Warden Dyer promptly mounted the scaffold, and placed everything in readiness. But a moment thus, and the approach of the doomed man was heralded by appearance of Father Logan who stepped from the cage onto the scaffold, and took his stand on the right of the trap door. A hush fell as the pale and bloodless countenance of Elmer Sharkey appeared. He moved with a nervous, gliding motion toward the fatal trap, hesitated for a moment, and then stepped squarely upon it; and with downcast eyes and drooping head, stood there in waiting, a picture of silent despair and hopeless agony. Once, twice, three times he raised his eyes and cast a quick, sweeping glance over the throng of spectators, then resumed his downward look of misery, murmuring in a low tone: “My God, make quick work of it!” When asked if he asked [sic] anything to say, he raised his head slightly and said: “I ask God’s forgiveness, and all I have wronged; and I forgive everything.” The Father pressed the cross to his passive, bloodless lips and he kissed it fervently. The hood was then made ready and he was asked for his last words. “That is all I can think of now.”

As the hood was being adjusted he faltered and would have fallen backward in a faint, but was sustained by ready hands. Just as the noose was being drawn around his neck, he again lost control of himself, and started to fall; but the noose was slipped with a quick movement; the trap sprung, and down he went. As a result of his fainting he fell in a partially horizontal attitude, and the tightening of the rope produced a swinging motion of the body, thus breaking the force of the fall. The result was that the neck was not broken, and the poor, wretched matricide was left to die by strangulation. The sounds that floated out over the awe-hushed group as the dying man struggled for breath, is [sic] beyond description. The sickening sight and horrible sounds drove many of the spectators from the execution room.

The drop fell at 12:05, and for several minutes the terrible struggle lasted, then the sounds from the throat, and convulsions of the body grew less frequent. At 12:34 the quivering heart ceased to beat, just twenty-nine minutes after the drop fell. All within that narrow enclosure breathed a sigh of relief when the attending physician finally pronounced him dead.

His execution was one of the longest on record, and the longest in the history of Ohio.

Elmer Sharkey suffered death on the scaffold for the cold-blooded murder of the woman who gave him birth, a widow of Preble County. No wonder his death was such an ignominous and horrible one. Mrs. Sharkey had violently opposed his marriage to the woman of his choice, and threatened to disinherit him if the marriage was consummated. The unnatural son, in a spirit of revenge, butchered his poor old mother with a meat axe, mangling her almost beyond recognition. He confessed his guilt, and “died in the hope of a glorious immortality.”

[Popp, not dwelt upon by Fogle, was a Bavarian immigrant who fatally stabbed the barkeep who attempted to eject him while rowdy in his cups. -ed.]

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1896: Patrick Coughlin, shot in the mountains

Add comment December 15th, 2018 Headsman

From the San Francisco (Calif.) Call, Dec. 16, 1896.

UTAH MURDERER EXECUTED

Patrick Coughlin, the Slayer of Two Officers, Shot to Death in Rich County.

SALT LAKE, Utah, Dec. 15. — Patrick Coughlin was executed in Rich County, this State, this morning, for the murder of Deputy Sheriff Dawes and Constable Stagg, in July, 1895. Coughlin chose shooting as the method of his taking off. [He could have opted for hanging -ed.] He was pinioned, blindfolded and seated on a stationary chair, and six deputy sheriffs fired simultaneously, aiming at the heart, over which a piece of white paper was fastened. Every shot pierced the mark and death was instantaneous.


Photo of the arrangement of Coughlin’s execution. Via the University of Utah, whose watermark appears in the center.

Coughlin was about 23 years of age, a native of Pennsylvania, and came to this State when quite young. For some years he was considered a hard character. In July, 1895, he and another young man, Fred George, stole a band of horses and were pursued by officers. For over a week they eluded capture, and several times when brought to bay fired upon their pursuers, escaping further into the mountains. They were surrounded in a little cabin, and when called upon to surrender fired repeatedly, killing the two officers named and wounding others before the posse retired.

Several days later they were captured, 150 miles from the scene of the killing. Both were tried on the capital charge and Coughlin was sentenced to be shot and George to a life term in the penitentiary.

Coughlin’s execution took place near the spot where the murders were committed, up in the mountains.

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1894: Abbe Albert Bruneau

Add comment August 30th, 2018 Headsman

French priest Albert Bruneau was guillotined on this date in 1894 for murder. (Most of the available information about this case is in French, as are most of the links in this post.)

The Abbe‘s protests of innocence fell on deaf ears considering his history of degeneracy — thefts, seductions, even firing his own parsonage for the insurance money — stretching back to his seminarian days.

He’d been condemned for killing that January at Entrammes another priest, Abbe Fricot — whose body had wound up plundered of valuables and dropped down a well. This epidemic of priest-on-priest violence made for a tremendous public sensation that certainly was not conducive to Bruneau’s efforts to defend himself. Once he became suspected of Fricot’s murder, he was also baselessly implicated in (though never charged with) the unsolved killing of a Laval florist from the previous year.

A thread on guillotine.cultureforum.net draws our attention not only to some wonderful original reportage but to the riveting first-person account of Henri Massonneau in his Devant l’Echafaud (In Front of the Scaffold, available free online from Google Books or Gallica). Massonneau recounts the fury in Laval, where crowds expecting the execution a couple of days previously pelted the prison with taunts for the condemned man.

Bruneau’s cell, very tall in the tower of the Vieux Château, was illuminated. The mobs were screaming:

“Bruneau! It’s for this night! You will dance!”

In the night spots around the city, Massonneau even heard patrons grumbling for the head of Bruneau’s barrister, for having dared to defend the monster.

The magistrate and energetic proto-true crime scribbler Pierre Bouchardon* took up l’Affaire de l’Abbe Bruneau in 1942 and thought the legal proceedings inexcusably slipshod owing to the prejudicial atmosphere. (Unfortunately his Le Puits du Presbytere d’Entrammes (The Well of the Presbytery of Entrammes) falls under the pall of copyright and must be hunted among sellers of antique francophone titles.) Many other retrospectives have reached a similar conclusion.

We return to Massonneau, who has caught wind on the evening of August 29 that the beheading will take place early the next day, and even secured for himself entry into the prison to observe Bruneau’s last hours:

At half-past two in the morning, the van carrying the guillotine arrives, escorted by six gendarmes, at the Place de la Justice. This square is planted with tall trees and surrounded by stone terminals connected by chains. To allow the van to enter the square, the chains at the extreme angles had to be sawed. The square has been evacuated, but the windows of the neighboring houses are full of curiosity, and the square of the Cathedral which opens directly on the place du Palais de Justice, following it, is black with people.

We will attend the spectacle. But there will not be gladiators fighting wild beasts, nor bullfights, nor athletes measuring themselves: it will be the law that will kill an unarmed man. There are men, women, children, bourgeois, farmers, workers, many priests. Kids have climbed into the trees. We can not dislodge them. There are six thousand people around the guillotine. It’s a grand success. The weather is superb, the night is even hot.

From a distance, the crowd follows the assembly of the guillotine. When the sinister machine stands up, erect in the night, joy breaks out. We are finally quiet: Bruneau will be executed. The hour passes. My colleagues and I are entering the prison, but we are numerous and the Prosecutor of the Republic informs us that we will not be able to enter the cell of the convict. We will have to wait for him in the chapel where he will come to hear his last mass. From that moment, we will not leave him.

The magistrates entered his cell at 4 o’clock. Bruneau did not sleep. The Public Prosecutor said to him:

“Bruneau, courage. The time has arrived.”

Bruneau looked around, haggard. Then he said:

“Can I get up?”

“Yes, dress up.”

He put on his pants. The prosecutor asked him if he had a confession to make.

“No,” he replied, “I am innocent, not only of the crimes for which I was acquitted, but also of the one for which I was condemned. I only committed indecent assaults. I am innocent.” He delivered a letter to the Prosecutor.

“You will read it,” he said, “at the same time as my advocate, and you will deliver it to the public.”

In this letter, Bruneau again protests his innocence and says he forgives those who have hurt him. The letter was not published. Despite claiming to forgive them, Bruneau leveled slanderous accusations against some witnesses of the trial.

I go down to the chapel. It is located in a basement. From the chandeliers, a dozen candles flicker a dim light. Soon the chapel is full of people … I have never seen a scene more moving than the appearance of Bruneau in the chapel. He has come down at a brisk pace the twenty steps that lead to it. He wears his beard, very black, which gives him a remarkably energetic appearance. His foot scarcely leaving the last step, the condemned stiffens, and with a sudden movement turns towards the holy water font. His arms are shackled and he must make an incredible effort to take holy water. He looks like an automaton. He crosses himself, not without difficulty, then with a sure step approaches the high altar. There, he drops to his knees. A thump sounds. Bruneau seems lost in a chasm of prayer.

The chaplain approaches him and speaks to him in a low voice; Bruneau resumes his prayer; the chaplain comes to ask the prosecutor for permission to isolate himself with the condemned man to hear his confession. The prosecutor hesitates, but consents in the end. The chaplain returns near Bruneau, helps him get up, and they both head for a corner of the chapel hidden by a curtain. They disappear behind it. Two guards come to stand near the curtain.

The confession lasts ten endless minutes. Finally, Bruneau comes to take his place, on his knees, in front of the maître-hôtel. And the mass begins. Another twenty minutes pass. The assistants suffer visibly for the convict throughout; Bruneau communes. Finally the ceremony is over. Bruneau, before going out, again takes holy water, and he has the same difficulties as before. He is very calm. He climbs the stairs without weakness. It feels like a man walking in a dream. From the chapel, one goes into the courtyard to go to the registry where the last toilette is to be made. It is a small room on the ground floor. Through the door, left open, I attend these funereal preparations. Quietly, without affectation, he says he is hungry. It’s a new delay. Priests usually eat immediately after communion. It is habit that he is hungry.

He leaves the registry. I run forward and I come near the scaffold. The police commissioner who is there says to me: “It’s not him already?”

“Yes, yes, here he is.”

“But it’s impossible! It is not legal time. I cannot yet permit the execution.”

Then all that I thought during the Mass about the mental state of the condemned returns to me, and I say to the commissioner:

“Well! Have a chair brought there, near the guillotine, and sit down until it is legal time. I’m sure he will not protest … ”

“No, no, it’s not possible,” he said. “We have to wait for the hour.”

And he makes as if to go to the prison, just as the procession emerges. I stop him:

“Do not worry for so little. In Paris, we always guillotine before the hour.”

“You think?”

“I’m sure.”

“Ah! so …”

Bruneau is near the scaffold. It is exactly 4:47. Legally, indeed, it is at 5:15 that the execution should have taken place. We are half an hour ahead. Bruneau has crossed without faltering the two hundred meters that separate the prison from the scaffold. Contrary to all the condemned, he does not want to see the guillotine. Two meters from the bascule he turns his head with affectation so as not to behold it. The chaplain presents him a crucifix. Bruneau kisses it twice, then he drops into the arms of the chaplain and kisses it for a long time.

The executioner’s assistants seize him but he tears free with a sudden movement and turns to the chaplain begging again to kiss the cross. He can not take his lips off the crucifix. The chaplain speaks to him, exhorts him to courage, and with a movement of exquisite gentleness pushes him towards the assistants who seize him and precipitate him onto the bascule.

When Bruneau entered the Palace Square, a huge “Ah!” came out of the crowd. But once he is here, we hear no sound; no word is uttered; nobody budges. Bruneau’s struggle against death at the foot of the scaffold lasted two minutes, two centuries.

The knife falls. Society is avenged. Its representatives on the Cathedral Square record this victory by frantic applause. It is interminable, already, the head is thrown in the basket with the body, the basket in the van, and the van rolls towards the cemetery. The crowd is still clapping. By the Place du Pilier-Vert, the Place des Arts, the Rue Neuve, the Pont-Neuf, the Rue de la Paix, in ten minutes the convoy arrives at the cemetery, between two curious hedges. Since three before days the pit was dug and the coffin was waiting.

Bruneau is buried at the end of an alley on the right, in the section of mass graves. The following year, passing Laval, I went to the cemetery. I found in front of the tomb two kneeling nuns who were praying. Many people, indeed, in the religious world, did not believe the culpability of Bruneau. But it is incorrect, as has been said, as I myself reported then, that the bishop of Laval made every effort to obtain pardon for the condemned. The bishop of Laval was stricken with immense sadness when Bruneau’s crimes were discovered. He cried, remained silent, and died of sorrow.

Wikipedia claims that the scandal of the murderer-priest inspired the French journalist Paul Bourde‘s 1902 play Nos deux consciences (Our Two Consciences), a piece adapted to cinema by Alfred Hitchcock in 1953 as I Confess. (review)

* Most famously, Bouchardon prosecuted Mata Hari.

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

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1894: William Whaley, “the horror of the situation”

Add comment June 22nd, 2018 H.M. Fogle

This ghastly description of a botched hanging comes courtesy of the out-of-print The palace of death, or, the Ohio Penitentiary Annex: A human-interest story of incarceration and execution of Ohio’s murderers, with a detailed review of the incidents connected with each case by H.M. Fogle (1908):


Chapter 19

William Whaley
June 22, 1894

A negro robber who beat out the brains of Allen Wilson, near Yellow Springs, Ohio, with a dray pin. Hanged June 22, 1894

A Brutal Robber Meets a Just Fate


William Whaley, serial number 25,257, was executed in the Ohio Penitentiary Annex twelve minutes after the birth of a new day, June 22, 1894, for the brutal murder of Allen Wilson, a thrifty and hard working colored man.

The crime was committed near Yellow Springs, Greene County, Ohio, on the night of June 6, 1893. Robbery was the motive for the crime, and a dray pin the instrument of destruction. He sneaked upon his victim in the dark, and literally beat his brains out.

Whaley was a young man not over twenty-five years of age, and with perhaps one exception, was the most profane man that was ever incarcerated in the Ohio Penitentiary Annex. He refused all spiritual consolation, and cursed his executioners almost with his dying breath. He was a cowardly cur, and betrayed his cowardice while on the scaffold. Three times he sank to his knees as the noose was being adjusted. The attending Guards were compelled each time to assist him to his feet, and finally to hold him up by main strength until the rattle of the lever shot his body through the open trap. Being almost in a total state of collapse, the body instead of plunging straight through the opening, pitched forward, striking the side of the door, thus breaking the force of the fall. For this reason the neck was not broken, and death was produced by the slow and harrowing process of strangulation.

Reader, if you have never seen a sight of this kind you cannot understand or comprehend the horror of the situation. Time after time the limbs were drawn up with a convulsive motion, and then straightened out with a jerk. The whole body quivered and shook like one might with the ague; while the most hideous and sickening sounds came from the throat. This continued for eighteen minutes; but to one looking on it seemed an age. After eighteen minutes the sounds ceased; the body became perfectly still; the limbs began to stiffen; the heart-beats to weaken. In just twenty-six minutes after the drop fell the last pulsation was felt, and the doctor solemnly said: “Warden, I pronounce the man dead.”

The outraged law had been avenged, and a soul unprepared had been ushered into Eternity.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Botched Executions,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Guest Writers,Hanged,Murder,Ohio,Other Voices,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Theft,USA

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