1877: Leon Vitalis, inamorato

2 comments August 17th, 2014 Harry Brodribb Irving

(Thanks to Harry Brodribb Irving for the guest post, originally published in his Book of Remarkable Criminals. Some formatting has been adjusted for readability. -ed.)

In the May of 1874, in the town of Montpellier, M. Boyer, a retired merchant, some forty-six years of age, lay dying. For some months previous to his death he had been confined to his bed, crippled by rheumatic gout. As the hour of his death drew near, M. Boyer was filled with a great longing to see his daughter, Marie, a girl of fifteen, and embrace her for the last time. The girl was being educated in a convent at Marseilles. One of M. Boyer’s friends offered to go there to fetch her. On arriving at the convent, he was told that Marie had become greatly attracted by the prospect of a religious life. “You are happy,” the Mother Superior had written to her mother, “very happy never to have allowed the impure breath of the world to have soiled this little flower. She loves you and her father more than one can say.”

Her father’s friend found the girl dressed in the costume of a novice, and was told that she had expressed her desire to take, one day, her final vows. He informed Marie of her father’s dying state, of his earnest wish to see her for the last time, and told her that he had come to take her to his bedside. “Take me away from here?” she exclaimed. The Mother Superior, surprised at her apparent reluctance to go, impressed on her the duty of acceding to her father’s wish. To the astonishment of both, Marie refused to leave the convent. If she could save her father’s life, she said, she would go, but, as that was impossible and she dreaded going out into the world again, she would stay and pray for her father in the chapel of the convent, where her prayers would be quite as effective as by his bedside. In vain the friend and the Mother Superior tried to bend her resolution.

Happily M. Boyer died before he could learn of his daughter’s singular refusal. But it had made an unfavourable impression on the friend’s mind. He looked on Marie as a girl without real feeling, an egoist, her religion purely superficial, hiding a cold and selfish disposition; he felt some doubt as to the future development of her character.

M. Boyer left a widow, a dark handsome woman, forty years of age.

Some twenty years before his death, Marie Salat had come to live with M. Boyer as a domestic servant. He fell in love with her, she became his mistress, and a few months before the birth of Marie, M. Boyer made her his wife. Madame Boyer was at heart a woman of ardent and voluptuous passions that only wanted opportunity to become careless in their gratification. Her husband’s long illness gave her such an opportunity. At the time of his death she was carrying on an intrigue with a bookseller’s assistant, Leon Vitalis, a young man of twenty-one. Her bed-ridden husband, ignorant of her infidelity, accepted gratefully the help of Vitalis, whom his wife described as a relative, in the regulation of his affairs. At length the unsuspecting Boyer died. The night of his death Madame Boyer spent with her lover.

The mother had never felt any great affection for her only child.

During her husband’s lifetime she was glad to have Marie out of the way at the convent. But the death of M. Boyer changed the situation. He had left almost the whole of his fortune, about 100,000 francs, to his daughter, appointing her mother her legal guardian with a right to the enjoyment of the income on the capital until Marie should come of age. Madame Boyer had not hitherto taken her daughter’s religious devotion very seriously. But now that the greater part of her husband’s fortune was left to Marie, she realised that, should her daughter persist in her intention of taking the veil, that fortune would in a very few years pass into the hands of the sisterhood. Without delay Madame Boyer exercised her authority, and withdrew Marie from the convent. The girl quitted it with every demonstration of genuine regret.

Marie Boyer when she left the convent was growing into a tall and attractive woman, her figure slight and elegant, her hair and eyes dark, dainty and charming in her manner. Removed from the influences of convent life, her religious devotion became a thing of the past. In her new surroundings she gave herself up to the enjoyments of music and the theatre. She realised that she was a pretty girl, whose beauty well repaid the hours she now spent in the adornment of her person.

The charms of Marie were not lost on Leon Vitalis.

Mean and significant in appearance, Vitalis would seem to have been one of those men who, without any great physical recommendation, have the knack of making themselves attractive to women. After her husband’s death Madame Boyer had yielded herself completely to his influence and her own undoubted passion for him. She had given him the money with which to purchase a business of his own as a second-hand bookseller. This trade the enterprising and greedy young man combined with money-lending and he clandestine sale of improper books and photographs.

To such a man the coming of Marie Boyer was a significant event. She was younger, more attractive than her mother; in a very few years the whole of her father’s fortune would be hers. Slowly Vitalis set himself to win the girl’s affections. The mother’s suspicions were aroused; her jealousy was excited. She sent Marie to complete her education at a convent school in Lyons. This was in the April of 1875. By this time Marie and Vitalis had become friendly enough to arrange to correspond clandestinely during the girl’s absence from home. Marie was so far ignorant of the relations of Vitalis with her mother.

Her daughter sent away, Madame Boyer surrendered herself with complete abandonment to her passion for her lover. At Castelnau, close to Montpellier, she bought a small country house. There she could give full rein to her desire.

To the scandal of the occasional passer-by she and her lover would bathe in a stream that passed through the property, and sport together on the grass. Indoors there were always books from Vitalis’ collection to stimulate their lascivious appetites. This life of pastoral impropriety lasted until the middle of August, when Marie Boyer came home from Lyons.

Vitalis would have concealed from the young girl as long as he could the nature of his relations with Madame Boyer, but his mistress by her own deliberate conduct made all concealment impossible. Whether from the utter recklessness of her passion for Vitalis, or a desire to kill in her daughter’s heart any attachment which she may have felt towards her lover, the mother paraded openly before her daughter the intimacy of her relations with Vitalis, and with the help of the literature with which the young bookseller supplied her, set about corrupting her child’s mind to her own depraved level.

The effect of her extraordinary conduct was, however, the opposite to what she had intended. The mind of the young girl was corrupted; she was familiarised with vice. But in her heart she did not blame Vitalis for what she saw and suffered; she pitied, she excused him. It was her mother whom she grew to hate, with a hate all the more determined for the cold passionless exterior beneath which it was concealed.

Madame Boyer’s deliberate display of her passion for Vitalis served only to aggravate and intensify in Marie Boyer an unnatural jealousy that was fast growing up between mother and daughter.

Marie did not return to the school at Lyons. In the winter of 1875, Madame Boyer gave up the country house and, with her daughter, settled in one of the suburbs of Montpellier. In the January of 1876 a theft occurred in her household which obliged Madame Boyer to communicate with the police. Spendthrift and incompetent in the management of her affairs, she was hoarding and suspicious about money itself. Cash and bonds she would hide away in unexpected places, such as books, dresses, even a soup tureen.

One of her most ingenious hiding places was a portrait of her late husband, behind which she concealed some bearer bonds in landed security, amounting to about 11,000 francs. One day in January these bonds disappeared. She suspected a theft, and informed the police. Three days later she withdrew her complaint, and no more was heard of the matter. As Marie and Vitalis were the only persons who could have known her secret, the inference is obvious.

When, later in the year, Vitalis announced his intention of going to Paris on business, his mistress expressed to him the hope that he would “have a good time” with her bonds. Vitalis left for Paris. But there was now a distinct understanding between Marie and himself. Vitalis had declared himself her lover and asked her to marry him. The following letter, written to him by Marie Boyer in the October of 1876, shows her attitude toward his proposal:

I thank you very sincerely for your letter, which has given me very great-pleasure, because it tells me that you are well. It sets my mind at rest, for my feelings towards you are the same as ever. I don’t say they are those of love, for I don’t know myself; I don’t know what such feelings are. But I feel a real affection for you which may well turn to love. How should I not hold in affectionate remembrance one who has done everything for me? But love does not come to order. So I can’t and don’t wish to give any positive answer about our marriage — all depends on circumstances. I don’t want any promise from you, I want you to be as free as I am. I am not fickle, you know me well enough for that. So don’t ask me to give you any promise. You may find my letter a little cold. But I know too much of life to pledge myself lightly. I assure you I think on it often. Sometimes I blush when I think what marriage means.

Madame Boyer, displeased at the theft, had let her lover go without any great reluctance. No sooner had he gone than she began to miss him. Life seemed dull without him. Mother and daughter were united at least in their common regret at the absence of the young bookseller.

To vary the monotony of existence, to find if possible a husband for her daughter, Madame Boyer decided to leave Montpellier for Marseilles, and there start some kind of business. The daughter, who foresaw greater amusement and pleasure in the life of a large city, assented willingly. On October 6, 1876, they arrived at Marseilles, and soon after Madame bought at a price considerably higher than their value, two shops adjoining one another in the Rue de la Republique. One was a cheese shop, the other a milliner’s.

The mother arranged that she should look after the cheese shop, while her daughter presided over the milliner’s. The two shops were next door to one another. Behind the milliner’s was a drawing-room, behind the cheese shop a kitchen; these two rooms communicated with each other by a large dark room at the back of the building. In the kitchen was a trap-door leading to a cellar. The two women shared a bedroom in an adjoining house.

Vitalis had opposed the scheme of his mistress to start shop-keeping in Marseilles. He knew how unfitted she was to undertake a business of any kind. But neither mother nor daughter would relinquish the plan. It remained therefore to make the best of it.

Vitalis saw that he must get the business into his own hands; and to do that, to obtain full control of Madame Boyer’s affairs, he must continue to play the lover to her. To the satisfaction of the two women, he announced his intention of coming to Marseilles in the New Year of 1877. It was arranged that he should pass as a nephew of Madame Boyer, the cousin of Marie. He arrived at Marseilles on January 1, and received a cordial welcome.

Of the domestic arrangements that ensued, it is sufficient to say that they were calculated to whet the jealousy and inflame the hatred that Marie felt towards her mother, who now persisted as before in parading before her daughter the intimacy of her relations with Vitalis.

In these circumstances Vitalis succeeded in extracting from his mistress a power of attorney, giving him authority to deal with her affairs and sell the two businesses, which were turning out unprofitable. This done, he told Marie, whose growing attachment to him, strange as it may seem, had turned to love, that now at last they could be free. He would sell the two shops, and with the money released by the sale they could go away together.

Suddenly Madame Boyer fell ill, and was confined to her bed. Left to themselves, the growing passion of Marie Boyer for Vitalis culminated in her surrender. But for the sick mother the happiness of the lovers was complete. If only her illness were more serious, more likely to be fatal in its result! “If only God would take her!” said Vitalis. “Yes,” replied her daughter, “she has caused us so much suffering!”

To Madame Boyer her illness had brought hours of torment, and at last remorse.

She realised the duplicity of her lover, she knew that he meant to desert her for her daughter, she saw what wrong she had done that daughter, she suspected even that Marie and Vitalis were poisoning her. Irreligious till now, her thoughts turned to religion. As soon as she could leave her bed she would go to Mass and make atonement for her sin; she would recover her power of attorney, get rid of Vitalis for good and all, and send her daughter back to a convent.

But it was too late. Nemesis was swift to overtake the hapless woman. Try as he might, Vitalis had found it impossible to sell the shops at anything but a worthless figure. He had no money of his own, with which to take Marie away. He knew that her mother had resolved on his instant dismissal.

As soon as Madame Boyer was recovered sufficiently to leave her bed, she turned on her former lover, denounced his treachery, accused him of robbing and swindling her, and bade him go without delay.

To Vitalis dismissal meant ruin, to Marie it meant the loss of her lover. During her illness the two young people had wished Madame Boyer dead, but she had recovered. Providence or Nature having refused to assist Vitalis, he resolved to fall back on art. He gave up a whole night’s rest to the consideration of the question.

As a result of his deliberations he suggested to the girl of seventeen the murder of her mother. “This must end,” said Vitalis. “Yes, it must,” replied Marie. Vitalis asked her if she had any objection to such a crime. Marie hesitated, the victim was her mother. Vitalis reminded her what sort of a mother she had been to her. The girl said that she was terrified at the sight of blood; Vitalis promised that her mother should be strangled. At length Marie consented. That night on some slight pretext Madame Boyer broke out into violent reproaches against her daughter. She little knew that every reproach she uttered served only to harden in her daughter’s heart her unnatural resolve.

On the morning of March 19 Madame Boyer rose early to go to Mass.

Before she went out, she reminded Vitalis that this was his last day in her service, that when she returned she would expect to find him gone.

It was after seven when she left the house. The lovers had no time to lose; the deed must be done immediately on the mother’s return. They arranged that Vitalis should get rid of the shop-boy, and that, as soon as he had gone, Marie should shut and lock the front doors of the two shops.

At one o’clock Madame Boyer came back. She expressed her astonishment and disgust that Vitalis still lingered, and threatened to send for the police to turn him out. Vitalis told the shop-boy that he could go away for a few hours; they had some family affairs to settle. The boy departed. Madame Boyer, tired after her long morning in the town, was resting on a sofa in the sitting-room, at the back of the milliner’s shop. Vitalis entered the room, and after a few heated words, struck her a violent blow in the chest. She fell back on the sofa, calling to her daughter to come to her assistance. The daughter sought to drown her mother’s cries by banging the doors, and opening and shutting drawers. Vitalis, who was now trying to throttle his victim, called to Marie to shut the front doors of the two shops.

To do so Marie had to pass through the sitting-room, and was a witness to the unsuccessful efforts of Vitalis to strangle her mother. Having closed the doors, she retired into the milliner’s shop to await the issue. After a few moments her lover called to her for the large cheese knife; he had caught up a kitchen knife, but in his struggles it had slipped from his grasp. Quickly Marie fetched the knife and returned to the sitting-room.

There a desperate struggle was taking place between the man and woman. At one moment it seemed as if Madame Boyer would get the better of Vitalis, whom nature had not endowed greatly for work of this kind. Marie came to his aid. She kicked and beat her mother, until at last the wretched creature released her hold and sank back exhausted. With the cheese knife, which her daughter had fetched, Vitalis killed Madame Boyer.

They were murderers now, the young lovers. What to do with the body? The boy would be coming back soon. The cellar under the kitchen seemed the obvious place of concealment. With the help of a cord the body was lowered into the cellar, and Marie washed the floor of the sitting-room. The boy came back. He asked where Madame Boyer was. Vitalis told him that she was getting ready to return to Montpellier the same evening, and that he had arranged to go with her, but that he had no intention of doing so; he would accompany her to the station, he said, and then at the last moment, just as the train was starting, slip away and let her go on her journey alone. To the boy, who knew enough of the inner history of the household to enjoy the piquancy of the situation, such a trick seemed quite amusing. He went away picturing in his mind the scene at the railway station and its humorous possibilities.

At seven o’clock Vitalis and Marie Boyer were alone once more with the murdered woman. They had the whole night before them.

Vitalis had already considered the matter of the disposal of the body. He had bought a pick and spade. He intended to bury his former mistress in the soil under the cellar. After that had been done, he and Marie would sell the business for what it would fetch, and go to Brussels — an admirable plan, which two unforeseen circumstances defeated. The Rue de la Republique was built on a rock, blasted out for the purpose. The shop-boy had gone to the station that evening to enjoy the joke which, he believed, was to be played on his mistress.

When Vitalis tried to dig a grave into the ground beneath the cellar he realised the full horror of the disappointment. What was to be done? They must throw the body into the sea. But how to get it there?

The crime of Billoir, an old soldier, who the year before in Paris had killed his mistress in a fit of anger and cut up her body, was fresh in the recollection of Vitalis. The guilty couple decided to dismember the body of Madame Boyer and so disfigure her face as to render it unrecognisable. In the presence of Marie, Vitalis did this, and the two lovers set out at midnight to discover some place convenient for the reception of the remains. They found the harbour too busy for their purpose, and decided to wait until the morrow, when they would go farther afield. They returned home and retired for the night, occupying the bed in which Madame Boyer had slept the night before.

On the morning of the 20th the lovers rose early, and a curious neighbour, looking through the keyhole, saw them counting joyously money and valuables, as they took them from Madame Boyer’s cash-box. When the shop-boy arrived, he asked Vitalis for news of Madame Boyer. Vitalis told him that he had gone with her to the station, that she had taken the train to Montpellier, and that, in accordance with his plan, he had given her the slip just as the train was starting. This the boy knew to be false: he had been to the station himself to enjoy the fun, and had seen neither Vitalis nor Madame Boyer. He began to suspect some mystery.

In the evening, when the shops had been closed, and he had been sent about his business, he waited and watched. In a short time he saw Vitalis and Marie Boyer leave the house, the former dragging a hand-cart containing two large parcels, while Marie walked by his side. They travelled some distance with their burden, leaving the city behind them, hoping to find some deserted spot along the coast where they could conceal the evidence of their crime. Their nerves were shaken by meeting with a custom-house officer, who asked them what it was they had in the cart. Vitalis answered that it was a traveller’s luggage, and the officer let them pass on. But soon after, afraid to risk another such experience, the guilty couple turned out the parcels into a ditch, covered them with stones and sand, and hurried home.

The next day, the shop-boy and the inquisitive neighbour having consulted together, went to the Commissary of Police and told him of the mysterious disappearance of Madame Boyer. The Commissary promised to investigate the matter, and had just dismissed his informants when word was brought to him of the discovery, in a ditch outside Marseilles, of two parcels containing human remains. He called back the boy and took him to view the body at the Morgue. The boy was able, by the clothes, to identify the body as that of his late mistress.

The Commissary went straight to the shops in the Rue de la Republique, where he found the young lovers preparing for flight. At first they denied all knowledge of the crime, and said that Madame Boyer had gone to Montpellier. They were arrested, and it was not long before they both confessed their guilt to the examining magistrate.

Vitalis and Marie Boyer were tried before the Assize Court at Aix on July 2, 1877. Vitalis is described as mean and insignificant in appearance, thin, round-backed, of a bilious complexion; Marie Boyer as a pretty, dark girl, her features cold in expression, dainty and elegant. At her trial she seemed to be still so greatly under the influence of Vitalis that during her interrogatory the President sent him out of court. To the examining magistrate Marie Boyer, in describing her mother’s murder, had written, “I cannot think how I came to take part in it. I, who wouldn’t have stayed in the presence of a corpse for all the money in the world.”

Vitalis was condemned to death, and was executed on August 17. He died fearful and penitent, acknowledging his miserable career to be a warning to misguided youth. Extenuating circumstances were accorded to Marie Boyer, and she was sentenced to penal servitude for life. Her conduct in prison was so repentant and exemplary that she was released in 1892.

M. [Louis] Proal, a distinguished French judge, and the author of some important works on crime, acted as the examining magistrate in the case of Vitalis and Marie Boyer. He thus sums up his impression of the two criminals:

Here is an instance of how greed and baseness on the one side, lust and jealousy on the other, bring about by degrees a change in the characters of criminals, and, after some hesitation, the suggestion and accomplishment of parricide, Is it necessary to seek an explanation of the crime in any psychic abnormality which is negatived to all appearances by the antecedents of the guilty pair? Is it necessary to ask it of anatomy or physiology? Is not the crime the result of moral degradation gradually asserting itself in two individuals, whose moral and intellectual faculties are the same as those of other men, but who fall, step by step, into vice and crime? It is by a succession of wrongful acts that a man first reaches the frontier of crime and then at length crosses it.

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1892: Four anarchists in Jerez

Add comment February 10th, 2013 Headsman

On this date in 1892, four anarchists named Burique, Lamela, Lebrijano and Zarzuela were publicly garroted on a large stage in front of the prison at the Andalusian city of Jerez (or Xeres).


Via

Spain, like many other European states, grappled with anarchists in the late years of the 19th century.

Revolutionary peasants made the rich agricultural lands of Andalusia among the anarchist strongholds: the shadowy La Mano Negra, the “Black Hand”, had been smashed up with a number of executions in the early 1880s. This was not the end of agitation, however: its successor movement, Los Desheredades, “the Disinherited,” continued to grow.

On the night of January 9, 1892, a band of several hundred agricultural workers boldly raided Jerez in an attempt to free some anarchist prisoners. They were driven off after a night’s fearful fighting — a prototype “anarchist outrage” for headlines the world over. It was, for Federico Urales, “an act of dreams. Sticks and sickles to beat the well-fed lords of Jerez, from the men who starved to keep to keep their lands.” (Source, in Spanish)


From the Melbourne, Australia Argus, Jan. 11, 1892

“We know what the workers are: wicked people! With them, one has the bread in one hand, and the garrote in the other.” -from Vicente Blasco Ibanez’s La Bodega, in which the Jerez mutiny is a central theme. It’s available in the public domain in the original Spanish

Dozens of “outragers” were captured in hot pursuit that next morning. The investigation quickly honed in on the four ringleaders, who were put to death this date. One allegedly left a written statement conveniently renouncing anarchy. Another spoke from the platform, and “declared that he died in the cause of the working classes, and he appealed to the crowd not to respond by expressing sympathy.”*

But many others would suffer lengthy, non-capital sentences on evidence perhaps more expedient than rigorous. The poet Fermin Salvochea spent most of his fifties in prison on a spurious accusation of having conspired in the Jerez attack.

And these executions scarcely quelled Spain’s unrest. Angry cadres demonstrated (or rioted) against the executions throughout Iberia, provoking the familiar cycle of more police raids, more outrages, more martyrs … for years to come, and culminating in the indiscriminate arrests and mass torture of Barcelona anarchists in that city’s Montjuic Castle in in 1896-97

* From the Feb. 11, 1892 New York Times, which proceeds to describe the distinctive execution method thus:

[The garrote] is a brass collar, which is contracted by means of a screw in the back. As the screw is turned the collar shuts upon the neck of the condemned, and at the same time the sharpened steel point of the screw enters the spinal marrow where it joins with the brain, causing instantaneous death.

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1892: Frederick Bailey Deeming, Bluebeard

6 comments May 23rd, 2012 Meaghan

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

On this day in 1892, Frederick Bailey Deeming was hanged in Melbourne, Australia for the murder of his second wife, Emily Mather. She was not his only victim; he’d also murdered his first wife, son and three daughters.

Deeming was born and raised in Ashby-de-la-Zouch in the UK. One of seven children, he was reportedly a “difficult” child. He later claimed he’d spent years in mental hospitals as a youth, something his brother disputed.

Deeming ran away to sea at sixteen and began committing crimes, mostly thefts. Wherever he went, he swindled and stole from people.

Deeming married Marie James in 1881 (his brother married Marie’s sister) and they moved to Australia. They went on to have four children.

In 1888, Deeming and his family moved to South Africa. His movements around that time are unclear, but he was definitely back in England by November 1889, and separated from his wife and children, who lived in another city.

Deeming bigamously married Helen Matheson in 1890, and deserted her shortly after the honeymoon. He visited his wife, gave her some money and told he was going to South America and would send for her and the children once he’d settled. Before he left he conned some jewelers in Hull; as a result, he was arrested upon his arrival in Montevideo, Uruguay and sent back to England to serve nine months in the clink.

In 1891, after his release from prison, Deeming took the name “Albert Williams” and leased a house in the village of Rainhill. A woman and several children were seen visiting him; he claimed they were his sister and her children.

The woman and children disappeared — off to an extended holiday, Deeming said. A short time later, complaining that the drains were defective, Deeming had the floor of his house re-concreted.

In fact, the “sister” was his first wife Marie and the “nieces” and “nephews” his own children — Bertha, 9, Marie, 7, Sidney, 5, and Leala, 18 months. And in fact, they were “vacationing” permanently, under the concrete floor. Authorities believe he killed them on or about July 26, 1891.

By that time, Deeming was already courting Emily Lydia Mather. They married on September 22 and by December 1891 had up and moved to Melbourne.

Emily didn’t make it past Christmas before Deeming had her entombed under the fireplace.

In January 1892, Deeming moved to Sydney. On the way he met a delightful young lady named Kate Rousenfell. He gave her several expensive gifts, including jewelry he’d stolen while he was in Melbourne, and proposed marriage. She agreed and said she would join him in Western Australia when he moved there.

But the course of true love never did run smooth, and Miss Rousenfell was cheated of her bridegroom by Deeming’s March 11 arrest for Emily’s murder.

Emily’s body had been discovered on March 3, after the house’s owner, investigating his new tenant’s complaints of a strange smell, raised the hearthstone. Her throat had been cut and her skull was fractured. When Deeming was taken into custody, he had some of her things with him, including her prayer book.

The murder case received extensive publicity and when those back in England heard of it, they decided to have a look at Deeming’s former home in Rainhill. There they dug up the bodies of Marie and the four children.

At his trial, Deeming claimed insanity and brain damage from epilepsy and tertiary syphilis, and said his dead mother’s spirit had ordered him to commit the murders.

He told the jury that Marie wasn’t dead and had, in fact, left him for another man. In the three weeks between the verdict and the hanging he penned his biography and some bad poetry. English publishers offered him £1,000 for the rights to his writings, but the Australian government had them all destroyed.

There have been suggestions, in Deeming’s time and ours, that he was the serial killer Jack the Ripper, who slaughtered and mutilated a handful of London prostitutes in 1888. The fact that evidence indicates Deeming was in South Africa at the time of the Jack the Ripper murders hasn’t stopped the speculation. He allegedly told his cellmates he was the Ripper, but when asked directly by the authorities, he refused to answer yes or no.

Deeming’s skull and death mask are still on display in the Old Melbourne Gaol Museum.

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1892: Patrick Boyle, bindle bandit

Add comment January 23rd, 2012 Headsman

On this date in 1892, Patrick Boyle was hanged in Edwardsville, Illinois.

Boyle was a hobo who, whilst off a-tramping with a fellow-vagrant outside Nameoki, Ill., robbed said vagrant by shooting him in the back.

The victim was in good enough shape after this attack to comply with Boyle’s directive to turn out his pockets (yielding 95 cents) and cough up his bindle (yielding a couple of shirts) … and still doing well enough after transacting the business end of the stickup to hike back to Nameoki as Boyle made his getaway.

Sadly for him, the wound (however non-debilitating) was discovered to be mortal, and he passed away. But of course, he was around long enough to incriminate Boyle.

It didn’t take long for the law to catch up with Boyle, although he escaped once and made it 35 miles in handcuffs before recapture.

(A body can get around in manacles when he’s properly motivated.)

Once firmly in custody, legal matters advanced with the dispatch customary to the poor: according to the St. Louis Republic, the case was called in the morning; “a jury was selected by noon”; “The case was given to them at 6 o’clock, and at 10 they brought in a verdict.”)

Boyle was considered somewhat feebleminded and some clemency petitions led Gov. Joseph Fifer* to grant a dramatic last-second stay prior to Boyle’s planned hanging Jan. 16. But the stay was only good for one week, to give his supporters enough time to make a then-unusual appeal to the Supreme Court. It didn’t work.

* Fifer is a bit (in)famous for having just the previous year pardoned killer Thomas Neill Cream, who used this unexpected liberty after his first murder to strike out across the pond and become one of England’s more notorious serial killers. On the other hand, Fifer couldn’t find any mercy for the surviving Haymarket men.

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1892: Two Georgian bandits, witnessed by Stalin

6 comments February 13th, 2011 Headsman

On this date in 1892, two outlaws were hanged (and a third spared at the last moment) in Gori, Georgia — part of the tsarist Russian Empire.

Josef Djughashvili, the future Stalin, was a teenager when he saw an 1892 public hanging in Gori.

The most noteworthy executioner present on this occasion was not on the scaffold, but in the audience: a 14-year-old student at an orthodox church school named Joseph Djugashvili. You know him by his later, steely revolutionist alias: Stalin.

This precocious, ferocious youth attended the public hanging with school mates to whom he was already a natural leader.

He and his friends sympathized with the doomed Caucasians, so insouciant at being strung up by the tsarist oppressor: conversing after the gruesome spectacle, Djugashvili would maintain that the men had not been consigned to hell, for they had suffered enough in the present.

But this boy was not made for theologizing; though he proceeded to seminary school in Tiflis — the best education prospect for an impoverished family — he disappeared thence into the life of professional revolutionary outlawry.

The recent (and well-received) biography Young Stalin recaptures this scene from Joseph Djugashvili’s youth.

The condemned men had stolen a cow and, in the ensuing pursuit, had killed a policeman. But the boys learned that the criminals were actually just three “peasants who had been so oppressed by landowners that they escaped into the forest,” petty Robin Hoods, attacking only local squires and helping other peasants …

The boys were fascinated. “Soso Djugashvili, me and four other schoolboys climbed a tree and watched the terrifying show from there,” remembers one of the group, Grigory Razmadze … Another spectator whom Stalin would later befriend and promote was Maxim Gorky, then a journalist, soon to be Russia’s most celebrated writer.

The Gorelis sympathized with these brave Caucasian bandits … The crowd became menacing; double ranks of Russian soldiers encircled the square. The drums began to beat. “The authorities in uniforms lingered around the scaffold,” wrote Gorky in his article. “Their dreary and severe faces looked strange and hostile.” They had reason to be nervous.

The three bandits in leg irons were marched onto the scaffold. One was separated from the others — he had been reprieved. The priest offered the two condemned men his blessings; one accepted and one refused. Both asked for a smoke and a sip of water. Sandro Khubuluri was silent, but the handsome and strong “ringleader,” Tato Jioshvili, smiled and joked valiantly before the admiring crowd. He leaned on the railings of the gallows and, noticed Gorky, “chatted to people who had come to see hi die.” The crowd threw stones at the hangman, who was masked and clad completely in scarlet. He placed the condemned on stools and tightened the nooses around their necks. Sandro just twirled his moustache and readjusted the noose. The time had come.

The hangman kicked away the stools. As so often with Tsarist repression, it was inept: Sandro’s rope broke. The crowd gasped. The scarlet hangman replaced him on the stool, placed a new noose round his neck and hanged him again. Tato also took a while to die.


Even Joseph Stalin was a child once.

One would have to really like the difficult-to-prove notion that executions have a brutalizing effect encouraging violence in others in order to see in this hanging the germ of the incomprehensible suffering young master Djugashvili would eventually unleash.

It’s not like this was Stalin’s only childhood exposure to brutality, and not too many of those buddies who watched this date’s hanging grew up to kill 20 million people.

Gori was one of the last towns to practise the ‘picturesque and savage custom’ of free-for-all town brawls with special rules but no-holds-barred violence. The boozing, praying and fighting were all interconnected, with drunken priests acting as referees… [At festivals during Stalin’s youth] the males in each family, from children upwards, also paraded, drinking wine and singing until night fell, when the real fun began. This ‘assault of free boxing’—the sport of krivi—was a ‘mass duel with rules'; boys of three wrestled other three-year-olds, then children fought together, then teenagers and finally the men threw themselves into ‘an incredible battle,’ by which time the town was completely out of control, a state that lasted into the following day—even at school, where classes fought classes.


This is Russia, not Georgia: festive Maslenitsa fisticuffs.

The small Georgian town that spawned the first name in Soviet terror actually maintained a public statue to its most famous son until 2010 — when it was finally removed in an apparent anti-Russian gesture in the wake of the South Ossetia war.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Botched Executions,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Georgia,Hanged,History,Murder,Outlaws,Public Executions,Russia,Theft

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1892: Ruggles brothers lynched

July 24th, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1892, highway robbers John and Charles Ruggles were shanghaied from a Redding, Calif. jail and lynched.


John and Charles Ruggles, lynched in Redding, Calif.

These two charmers knocked over the Redding & Weaverville stage on May 14, 1892, killing the coach’s guard when he fired back.

Charles Ruggles was wounded in the exchange and soon captured, but John Ruggles got away with the lockbox.

With a price on his head, John secreted the stolen loot somewhere and was not arrested until June 19.

Reunited in jail, the handsome outlaws were evidently a big hit with the ladies. As the Los Angeles Times reported on July 25, 1892,

The recent sentimental attitude of a number of women toward the prisoners as well as the line of defense adopted by their counsel, who has been evidently endeavoring to implicate Messenger [Amos “Buck”] Montgomery [the dead victim] as a party to the crime, had been denounced by a number of persons in the county and it is believed the lynching was due to those causes.

When the vigilantes came for him, John tried to buy the boys’ way out of trouble — or at least, buy Charley’s way out — by offering to reveal the location of his treasure.

The mob wasn’t interested, and the cache has never been found since. On the other hand …

The lynching of a brace of stage-robbers at Redding a few nights ago was not at all in accordance with law and order; but that it will have a discouraging effect on the “hold-up” industry, there is little question. It will be perfectly safe to indulge in stage rides in Shasta county, no doubt, for some time to come.

-Los Angeles Times, July 27, 1892

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Borderline "Executions",California,Common Criminals,Crime,Hanged,History,Lynching,Mature Content,Murder,No Formal Charge,Pelf,Public Executions,Summary Executions,Theft,USA

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1892: Ravachol, anarchist terrorist

3 comments July 11th, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1892, French anarchist François Claudius Koenigstein — better known as Ravachol — was guillotined at Montbrison for a series of bomb attacks on right-wing judges.

He took the name “Ravachol”, his mother’s, after his Dutch father ditched his mom, leaving the family in poverty.

Young Ravachol supported himself as best he could in proletarian labor and crime, as he attempted to observe* at his trial.

Ravachol, as painted by Charles Maurin.

There are many people who will feel sorry for the victims, but who’ll tell you they can’t do anything about it. Let everyone scrape by as he can! What can he who lacks the necessities when he’s working do when he loses his job? He has only to let himself die of hunger. Then they’ll throw a few pious words on his corpse. This is what I wanted to leave to others. I preferred to make of myself a trafficker in contraband, a counterfeiter, a murderer and assassin. I could have begged, but it’s degrading and cowardly and even punished by your laws, which make poverty a crime. If all those in need, instead of waiting took, wherever and by whatever means, the self-satisfied would understand perhaps a bit more quickly that it’s dangerous to want to consecrate the existing social state, where worry is permanent and life threatened at every moment.

Personal want segued into political conviction for Ravachol, whose crimes were justified by the principle of reprise individuelle.

And the political led him to reprisals of a less individual nature, when French state violence against radicals caused him to dynamite several magistrates’ homes.

He was caught in a restaurant,** brought to trial, and let off with penal servitude for life. Then another jury, intimidated by public outcry, reversed the decision and sent him to the guillotine.

-The Banquet Years: The Origins of the Avant-Garde in France 1885 to World War I, which argues that anarchists “unsettle[d] the political smugness of the Third Republic … [and] challenge[d] any formulated aesthetic. The dynamism of prewar artistic activity ran a close parallel to anarchism; postwar Dada and surrealism look like its artistic parodies†.”

Anarchism, that revolutionary specter stalking fin-de-siecle Europe, burnt its fuse at both ends, but Ravachol’s falling head‡ left a legacy for his fellow-travelers. The next year, Auguste Vaillant tossed a bomb into the French Chamber of Deputies to avenge Ravachol. (Vaillant was himself guillotined, and himself avenged by Emile Henry and Sante Geronimo Caserio.)

Ravachol was also honored in a song, La Ravachole — set to the jauntily menacing tune of La Carmagnole, it cheers, “Long live the sound of the explosion!”

* This incendiary speech was cut off by the court.

** The table where the terrorist was nabbed got its own inscription: “Here ate Ravachol the day of his arrest.”

† e.g., Dadaist Marcel Janco‘s recollection:

We had lost confidence in our culture. Everything had to be demolished. We would begin again after the ‘tabula rasa’. At the Cabaret Voltaire we began by shocking common sense, public opinion, education, institutions, museums, good taste, in short, the whole prevailing order.

‡ Ravachol was guillotined midway through a parting exclamation, “Vive la Re-“. Initial newspaper reports implausibly rendered this as the patriotic classic “Vive la Republique!” rather than a much more in-character word like, oh, “Revolution”.

Weeks of controversy ensued over some witnesses’ claims that the head post-severing had actually completed the word “-publique”, a notion of a piece with the idea that the severed head survives decapitation by a few seconds. Scienticians countered that obviously excited witnesses were maybe hearing air escaping from the headless trunk and filling in the rest of the scene in their heads.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous,France,Guillotine,History,Infamous,Martyrs,Murder,Notable for their Victims,Popular Culture,Power,Public Executions,Revolutionaries,Terrorists

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1892: Sylvester Henry Bell

1 comment January 1st, 2009 Headsman

The state of Vermont has long since dispensed with the death penalty; it hasn’t had a death penalty law on the books since 1964, and its last execution was a decade before that. (Source)

But back when the traps were dropping on Green Mountain State scaffolds, no consideration of sentiment (or holiday pay) barred hanging a man on New Year’s Day, as occurred in 1892.

You could call Sylvester Bell a ladykiller.

According to family genealogists familiar with the case, the Canadian-born farmer used two of his wife’s relatives as character witnesses in his naturalization proceedings … and eight months later, shot said wife, the mother of his five children. Not only did Sylvester win acquittal for this non-fatal attack, Marcia Farnsworth Bell actually had to fight to get a divorce on the grounds of “intolerable severity”.

Marcia and her unmarried children moved to Randolph, Vt., where the kids opened a major department store.

Nothing daunted, a then-54-year-old Sylvester remarried the decades-younger Emma Lock (or Locke) in 1887.


‘Til death do us part: Sylvester and Emma’s marriage certificate.

We may imagine an ensuing union not altogether free of discord,* as we rejoin the public record of their lives with the Jan. 2, 1890 Burlington Clipper.

It appears that Mrs. Bell had left her husband and applied for a divorce. Thursday she, in company with Deputy Sheriff Hall, went to the house to remove her things. Bell met them very pleasantly and permitted her to pick up her goods. As she was about ready to leave she went up stairs and he followed her. Soon afterward a pistol shot was heard and Officer Hall rushed up, and Bell met him at the door of the room into which Mrs. Bell had gone and handed him the pistol, saying, “Take this. I have done the deed.” The ball entered the head of the unfortunate woman, just back of the ear, and she lived about thirty minutes, unconscious.

Bell was put under arrest and for a time the excitement, and sympathy was so strong for the murdered woman that it looked as if Bell would be lynched, but the law will now be allowed to take its course.

The article understatedly observed, “Bell’s reputation with his wives is bad.”

The course of the law will not hold much suspense for readers of this blog.

The novelty of the eventual New Year’s execution attracted the New York Times which (botching the hanged man’s name and the date of his crime) reported the scene from the scaffold, where “Stephen” Bell bought himself an extra 34 minutes in this vale of tears with the verbosity of his last statement.

WINDSOR, Vt., Jan. 1. — Stephen H. Bell was hanged here this afternoon for the murder of his wife, in the town of Fairfax, Dec. 26, 1880. At 1:40 the door of the west wing of the prison was closed and at 1:44 the prisoner was taken from his cell, where he was holding an earnest conversation with Chaplain Wassall.

The prisoner was somewhat pale from long confinement. He boldly ascended the steps and, although assisted, appeared to be nerved up for the occasion. Chaplain Wassall offered a fervent prayer, during which Bell bowed and covered his face with his hand. Sheriff Lovell, as soon as the Chaplain had finished, stepped forward and said: “Stephen H. Bell, have you anything to say why the penalty of the law should not be executed on you?”

Bell, rather pale and tremulous, stood erect, and after addressing the Sheriff and officers in charge, asking for all the time he wanted in which to speak, began a talk which lasted thirty-four minutes. It was a rambling statement, in which he declared his innocence. When he had finished, Bell stepped back to his chair.

Sheriff Lovell took him by the arm, and the condemned man stood up bravely. When Deputies How and Randall had pinioned his wrists, arms, and legs Bell stepped on the drop and said: “Gentlemen, I am a dying man; good-bye.” Instantly the Sheriff touched the spring and the drop fell. In fourteen minutes he was pronounced dead. The body was buried in Windsor Cemetery.

Interestingly, Bell was the only person executed in his state during a 22-year period from 1883 to 1905. That span is bookended in Vermont’s death penalty annals by the first woman hanged in Vermont and the last woman hanged in Vermont.

Bell’s descendants continue to seek information on Sylvester; anyone who may know more can get in contact via this author.

* Another report of the murder describes Emma fleeing to live with her parents on account of Sylvester’s repeatedly menacing her with a butcher knife and a gun, until the “overseer of the poor, after a time succeeded in getting them together again, he giving up his pistol and agreeing to behave himself.” Clearly, it was a different time for domestic violence victims.

On this day..

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

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1892: Jens Nielsen, the last in Denmark

2 comments November 8th, 2008 Headsman

On this date in 1892, serial arsonist Jens Nielsen was beheaded with an axe in the courtyard of Horsens prison — the last civil execution ever conducted in Denmark.

According to this Danish biography, Nielsen had incurred a long prison sentence for burning several farms in July 1883.

(He’d just returned from a fruitless stint in the New World, torching a warehouse in England on the return voyage.)

Apprehended immediately and sentenced to a long prison term, Jens confronted an age-old dilemma which was evidently noticeably acute among melancholy Danes: effecting state-assisted suicide on the scaffold.

These cases must have once been fairly frequent because Denmark, by an ordinance of December 18, 1767, deliberately abandoned the death penalty in cases where “melancholy and other dismal persons [committed murder] for the exclusive purpose of losing their lives.” The background for the provision was, in the words of Orste, “the thinking that was then current among the unenlightened that by murdering another person and thereby being sentenced to death, one might still attain salvation, whereas if one were to take one’s own life, one would be plunged into eternal damnation.”

The ordinance was ineffective in one case, at least, that of Jens Nielsen, who was born in 1862 and spent a most unhappy and unfortunate childhood. In 1884 he was sentenced to 16 years of hard labor for theft and arson. The following year he tried to kill a prison guard. He was tried, sentenced to death and received a commutation to life. He was then placed in solitary confinement. A year later he tried again to kill a guard, “realizing that he could not stand solitary confinement, did not have the nerve to commit suicide and wanted to force his execution.” He was again tried, sentenced to death and the sentence commuted. In 1892, having remained in solitary confinement all that time, he tried again to kill a guard. This time he got his wish, was sentenced to death and executed. (Source.)

He even managed to crack wise, “Thank you!” to the mayor who wished him God’s help on the way to the scaffold — envoy of the powers both temporal and ethereal that would finally loose his shackles.

Denmark’s death penalty law lingered into the 1930’s, but even the occasional death sentences were no longer carried out. Apart from a brief revival after World War II to punish war crimes committed the Nazi occupation, nobody has been put to death in Denmark in — as of today — 116 years.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Arson,Attempted Murder,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Denmark,Execution,Gallows Humor,Milestones,Notable Jurisprudence,Pardons and Clemencies

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