1900: Coleman Gillespie

Add comment October 5th, 2012 Meaghan

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

The story behind Coleman Gillespie’s execution on this day in 1900 actually begins on February 21, 1856: on that winter’s day, a small group of hostile Rogue River Indians murdered more than half of Christina Edson’s family at their home in what would become the state of Oregon.

The victims included John Geisel, Christina’s husband of 13 years, and their sons Andrew, 5, Henry, 7, and John, 9.

Christina, her three-week old infant Annie and her thirteen-year-old daughter Mary were spared and force-marched into captivity at an Indian camp twelve miles away. Along the way they had to pass the burning houses and dead bodies of their neighbors. 24 people were killed and 60 homes burned in all.

The pioneers wanted vengeance and they got it: the rebellious Indians were defeated in May 1856 and mobs lynched more than a dozen of them, including the man who betrayed the Geisel family. In July of that year, more than 700 Indians were forced to relocate to two different reservations.

All in all, it was a terrible tragedy.

And four decades later, indirectly, it claimed its last victim.

Long-suffering: Christina Edson

Christina, somehow, put her life back together after surviving two weeks in captivity with her daughters. She never had any more children, but she remarried three times (divorcing twice, and being left a widow with her final husband’s death in 1883).

In 1887, Christina filed a claim with the federal government seeking compensation for the loss of her first husband and sons and their farm, which the Indians had burned down. It took twelve years to get through all the red tape. In the end her application was successful and she was granted a monthly pension.

Christina turned 77 years old in 1899. Although her grown-up daughters wanted her to move in with them, she cherished her independence and lived alone in a cabin in Gold Beach, Oregon. Her very first pension check, for $75, arrived Monday, September 18, 1899.

On September 19, her cabin burned to the ground.

The postman found her charred corpse lying sprawled on her bed in the ruins. She’d been tortured and strangled. The fire was arson, and authorities presumed Christina had been killed for her money; her pension check was missing.

The brutal murder of this elderly pioneer horrified the community. As Diane Goeres-Gardner explains in her book Necktie Parties: Legal Executions in Oregon 1851-1905,

Christina Edson had seen her husband and sons tortured and burned by the Indians. The savages could be excused because they were fighting for their rights to the land they once owned. [Christina’s murder] was even more horrifying because it was done in cold blood for a few dollars.

The police got a lead when the check was cashed in Roseburg by one C.O. White, who was brought in for questioning. He said he’d bought the check at a discount from Coleman Gillespie, a known criminal with two prior convictions for theft.

Arrested a few days later, Gillespie quickly broke down and confessed in writing to Christina Edson’s murder. He named his co-conspirator as Charles Strahan, a commercial salmon fisherman who had mysteriously disappeared. There were rumors that he’d tried to flee the area but had drowned in the Rogue River, and other reports that he’d drowned in an ordinary fishing accident: whatever the case, he was never seen again, neither alive nor dead.

Authorities thought the fisherman a red herring — that Gillespie had acted alone and, having heard of Strahan’s disappearance, tried to share the blame with the convenient phantom. Gillespie’s statements about Christina Edson’s murder over time evolved to shift ever more responsibility onto the missing “accomplice”, until Gillespie was all but denying his own presence at the murder scene. He didn’t really seem to realize that, at the end of the day, he was legally just as guilty whether or not he himself had done the killing.

He found out on August 23, 1900, when he was condemned to die for robbery and murder.

When Coleman Gillespie was hanged six weeks later — the first and last legal execution in Curry County — his neck didn’t break. He expiated every penny of the discounted $75 pension check slowly strangling at the end of the rope.

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1900: Louisa Josephine Jemima Masset

5 comments January 9th, 2012 Meaghan

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

On this day in 1900, 36-year-old Louisa Josephine Jemima Masset (also called “Louise” in some accounts) was hung for the murder of her young son the previous year. She was the first woman, indeed the first person, to be executed in London in the brand spanking new 1900s.

Her crime, even by today’s standards, was shocking and there is little doubt that had it occurred today, Louisa would be featured on blogs with names like People You’ll See In Hell. (Actually, she got a TV miniseries in the early 1990s.)

The story of the murder and Louisa’s trial and death were recorded in detail in John J. Eddleston’s A Century of London Murders and Executions. Capital Punishment U.K. provides additional details, and the trial records can be seen here.

Our story begins a little after six on Friday, October 27, 1899, when a lady at the Dalston Junction train station in London found the body of a small boy shoved behind the door to the women’s lavatory. The child was naked, bloody and partially covered with a black shawl, and a bloodstained brick lay nearby.


Dalston Junction: Mind the gap. (cc) image from Matt From London

The post-mortem determined that the child had been beaten “with much violence” on the head and face, but the actual cause of death was suffocation. He probably died only about an hour or two before his body was found. There was no indication of his identity, so his description was published in the newspapers with hopes that someone would recognize him.

Someone did: the following Monday, a children’s nurse named Helen Eliza Gentle came forward and identified the murdered boy as Manfred Louis Masset, age three and a half, who had been in her charge until the previous Friday.

Manfred was illegitimate and had been in Helen Gentle’s care since shortly after birth. Louisa, his mother, doesn’t seem to have been the maternal type. She paid 37 shillings a month for his care and would visit him once every two weeks and take him to the park. The money supposedly came from Manfred’s father in France; Louisa herself earned a living as a day governess and gave piano lessons.

The arrangement with Helen Gentle ended when Louisa told Helen that she was sending Manfred to France to be with his father. Helen handed the child over to her at 12:45 p.m. on October 27, only hours before his death.


The day before giving him up, Helen Gentle took this picture of the tot to remember him by.

When she was tracked down at her brother-in-law’s house, Louisa denied having harmed her son and stated she didn’t even know he was dead until she read about it in the newspaper. She admitted the story about taking Manfred to France a lie and said she only wanted to transfer him to another carer, as she thought Nurse Gentle wasn’t educating him properly. Louisa claimed she had met two women, one of them a schoolmistress, in the park a few weeks earlier. She arranged to enroll Manfred for the price of £18 per annum, and handed the little boy over on October 27.

When pressed, however, Louisa couldn’t remember much about these women or their school. The police smelled a rat and took her into custody for murder.

At Louisa’s trial in December, she stuck to her story about giving Manfred to a schoolmistress. She said she’d handed him over at the train station at 4:00 p.m., along with a £12 deposit towards his school tuition, then took the 4:07 train to Brighton. No one at the station saw the two women Louisa described. However, three witnesses at the train station remembered seeing Louisa and Manfred, who was crying, hanging about the station for over an hour on the afternoon of Manfred’s death: one of those same witnesses saw and spoke to Louisa at the station at 6:50 p.m., nearly two hours after Louisa claimed to have left, and said her little boy wasn’t with her anymore.

The icing on the cake was when the brick used to batter Manfred was shown to be same kind as those in Louisa’s garden.

Louisa’s story was partially true; she did go to Brighton that day, hours later than she said, and Manfred’s clothes turned up in the waiting room of the train station there. Eudor Lucas, Louisa’s next-door neighbor, said they had spent the weekend together in Brighton, sleeping in the same bed, and he had “had connection” with her.

The jury must have been outraged by their blatantly immoral behavior, and in any case the evidence against Louisa was overwhelming. The jury got the case on December 18 and took thirty minutes to convict her. She was hung just three weeks later.

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1900: William Black, nearly lynched

1 comment August 31st, 2011 Headsman

“Not only the citizens of Aberdeen,” began the Feb. 23, 1900 Baltimore Sun, “but practically those of the whole of Harford county are wrought up to a high degree by the assault which was committed here upon Miss Jessie Bradford, the 15-year-old daughter of Mr. Edward Bradford, a well-to-do and respected farmer.”

A posse of mounted men was even then abroad hunting the suspect, a black shantytown dweller said to have assaulted the “prepossessing, well developed” girl with the “clear, wax-like complexion” as the latter returned on the train tracks to her uncle’s home. A conductor on a passing train had seen them struggling in the ditch and left a note (“Negro raping a white woman”) at the next stop; Miss Bradford, too, survived the trauma and gave an eyewitness description of her assailant that pointed at William Black.*

“The inhabitants of the county will spare no pains nor sacrifices to run down the miscreant,” the Sun concluded.

And we think we have a pretty good idea just what this running down would be liable to entail, since it was only days after Black’s capture that residents of a Harford county town went and lynched another African-American accused of attacking a white woman.

Black had managed to keep on the run for a week and get himself out of Harford County to Baltimore before he was arrested. He certainly owed his lease on the last few months of his life to eluding the outraged citizens.

Indeed, three months after the rape, the state’s attorney filed to handle the case in Baltimore rather than in Harford county on account of the continuing “probability of the negro being lynched had he been brought [to Harford county] for trial … it would only be the work of a few short minutes if he landed here.” (Sun, May 24, 1900) Passions had not cooled: to the contrary, it had since become known that Black had already been released from a previous prison term for a similar crime in neighboring Cecil County, and the law-and-order set was up in arms with the hempen fin de siecle version of a three strikes law.

Baltimore Sun, March 6, 1900

Black’s professed relief at evading the rigors of lynch law was to be short-lived.

A steady drumbeat of coverage for the “Aberdeen Outrage,” the “Miss Bradford Assault”, or whatever other salacious description could be conjured, kept him in papers as public enemy number one; Jessie Bradford, so very young and so very white, tearfully testified against Black in a scene that cannot have failed to stir the three-judge tribunal. (Black sensibly opted against a jury trial.)

He would remain lodged in Baltimore right up until his hanging in Bel Air back in Harford county, as a precaution against the mob. He was there long enough to see another of his race precede him: one Amos Smith, who hanged in Baltimore City Jail on August 3, fraternally comforting his fellow-sufferer that “I am only going ahead of you a few days and will be in the other world to meet you when you come.”** (Sun, Aug. 3, 1900)

Actually getting Black across that Styx in the legally prescribed fashion would require some craft on the part of the lawmen.

Even though the sentence was sure, the good folk of Harford County were feared violently inclined to prefer personally administering the judgment. Harford Sheriff Andrew Kinhart, said the Sun (Sep. 1, 1900), “stole a march on the watchful public” anticipating its potential victim arriving on a 9:30 train by racing his “exceedingly nervous” prisoner from Baltimore to Bel Air under cover of darkness, arriving at 5:40 a.m. in time for Black’s hearty if secretive last breakfast in the company of his wife, and then proceeding swiftly to the scaffold before the rabble could get wind of what was going on. It was a high-risk ploy as it entailed leaving behind in Baltimore Black’s armed escort in the interests of stealth — but it did work, our scribe judging the unhappy business to have been conducted “creditably”.

* Black persisted in his innocence at trial, and up to his execution. Though condemned prisoners’ assertions of virtue are hardly the most reliable gauge, neither are eyewitness statements … although in this case, Black reportedly admitted to the crime in the last hours before his death.

** Both Smith and Black also shared (Sun, July 11, 1900) the same spiritual advisor whilst awaiting execution: Methodist Episcopal preacher Ernest Lyon, later the U.S. ambassador to Liberia.

Part of the Themed Set: Americana.

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1900: Three Algerians in Setif

Add comment May 10th, 2011 Headsman

On this date in 1900, three Algerian criminals called (in the next day’s dispatch in Le Petit Parisien) Bou-Mechada-Saïd-ben-Mohamed, Chabli-Lakdar-ben-Abdallah and Boulakras-Tahad-ben-Saad were guillotined for a murder committed just 11 days before in Setif, Algeria.

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1900: Ada Chard Williams, the last woman hanged at Newgate

Add comment March 6th, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1900, Ada Chard Williams was hanged for murdering an infant girl.

A baby farmer, Williams took in unwanted children for money … money that went a lot further when the child died. The milestone nature of her hanging in the yard of Newgate Gaol, which would be closed two years later,* was entirely unforeseen at the time.

Justice moved fast in the Williams case, as evidenced by the London Times blurbs covering the case.**

Monday, December 11, 1899

POLICE COURTS. — At the South-Western, William Chard Williams, 41, and Ada Chard Williams, 24, his wife, were remanded, charged with the wilful murder of a child entrusted to their care, and whose body was found in the Thames at Battersea with the skull battered in. The female prisoner said they were perfectly innocent of the charge. The child was delivered by her to another woman and was then quite well.

Saturday, December 30, 1899

POLICE-COURTS. — At the South-Western the charge against William Chard Williams, 41, and his wife, Ada Williams, 24, of the murder of a child named Selina Jones, 21 months old, which had been entrusted to their care, was further investigated. Mr. Bodkin, who prosecuted for the Treasury, stated the facts of the case as already published, and added that the bodies of two other children tied up in the same way as that of the child Jones had been found in the Thames in July last, and the suggestion of the prosecution was that they had been put in the river by the prisoners. After some evidence had been given the prisoners were again remanded.

Saturday, January 20, 1900

POLICE-COURTS. — At the South-Western, William and Ada Chard Williams, man and wife, were finally examined and committed for trial charged with the murder of Selina Jones, an illegitimate child, 21 months old, which had been entrusted to their care.

Monday, February 19, 1900

CENTRAL CRIMINAL COURT. — Before Mr. Justice Ridley, the trial was concluded of William Chard Williams, 41, clerk, and Ada Chard Williams, 24, his wife, charged with the murder of an illegitimate child named Selina Ellen Jones, 21 months old, which had been entrusted to the care of the female prisoner in August last. On September 27 its body was found in the Thames in a condition which indicated that it had been stunned and strangled before being put into the river. The jury found the female prisoner guilty, and she was sentenced to death. The male prisoner was acquitted.

Wednesday, March 7, 1900

EXECUTION AT NEWGATE. — Ada Chard Williams, 24 years of age, who was convicted at the Central Criminal Court of the wilful murder of Selina Ellen Jones, a child which had been placed in her care, was executed at Newgate yesterday morning. There were present at the execution Lieutenant-Colonel Milman, Governor of Newgate and Holloway Prisons, Mr. Under-Sheriff Metcalfe, representing the High Sheriff of the county of London, Dr. Scott, medical officer of Newgate and Holloway, and other officials. Billington was the executioner. An inquest was subsequently held in the Sessions-house, Old Bailey, before Mr. Langham, Coroner for the City. Lieutenant-Colonel Milman gave evidence, stating that the execution was carried out satisfactorily. Death was instantaneous. The prisoner made no confession. The jury returned the usual verdict.

* Male executions were transferred to Pentonville Prison and female executions to Holloway Prison thereafter.

** With the exception of the last, these items are all from the Times index summarizing its news articles, and not the articles themselves.

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1900: En Hai, the murderer of von Ketteler

9 comments December 31st, 2008 Headsman

On the last day of the 19th century, a Chinese officer was beheaded on the public street where he had precipitated western* military intervention in the Boxer Rebellion by killing a German diplomat.

Foreign commercial penetration — and domination — was generating domestic turmoil in China. As liberal reforms foundered in the late 1890’s, a more radical anti-foreigner movement blending spiritualism and martial arts launched the Boxer Rebellion (or Yihetuan Qiyi, in the local coinage).

In addition to massacring hated missionaries, the Boxers besieged foreign diplomatic missions in Peking … and veteran German ambassador Klemens von Ketteler was killed in a firefight on a crowded street. (The particular circumstances of the killing seem highly confused, and were immediately colored by the various interested parties’ axe-grinding; it’s sometimes called an “assassination,” but there’s no proof von Ketteler was specifically targeted, and the ambassador himself managed to get a shot off in the fray.)

Given the financial interests at stake, it would be far too much to say that von Ketteler’s death caused the military intervention that ensued, but it certainly catalyzed the conflict. The next day, China’s Dowager Empress declared war against the Eight-Nation Alliance. Within two months, Peking (Beijing) was under foreign occupation.

The man detained as von Ketteler’s murderer — En Hai, or Enhai, or Su-Hai — was proud to claim the act himself, and intimations of the Chinese government’s official blessing for anti-foreigner activities were carefully massaged since the Eight-Nation powers would have need of the Qing dynasty to keep order locally.


On the afternoon of this day in 1900, En Hai was brought out from German custody to the street where von Ketteler had met his end and handed over to the Chinese for beheading. Notice the substantial foreign attendance in both the photograph and the drawing. A German officer’s diary entry cited in The Origins of the Boxer War: A Multinational Study recounted the scene.

Ketteler’s murderer was executed at last — for months past the unfortunate wretch has been begging for his execution. It took place in one of the busiest thoroughfares but there were only a few curious onlookers. Scarcely fifty yards away the usual business was being quietly transacted in the streets, people who were eating did not suffer themselves to be interrupted, and a teller of fairy-tales who was recounting his absurd stories had interested his numerous audience much more than the execution.

And to see that the lesson would not be lost on future generations of Chinese, the humiliating peace imposed upon China that December (and formally signed the following year) required China to expiate its guilt by

erect[ing] on the spot of the assassination of his Excellency the late Baron von Ketteler, commemorative monument worthy of the rank of the deceased, and bearing an inscription in the Latin, German, and Chinese languages which shall express the regrets of His Majesty the Emperor of China for the murder committed

Having been made an offer it couldn’t refuse, China honored the intersection (German link) where both the victim and his killer had died in their turns with a massive pailou archway, inscribed

This monument has been erected by order of His Majesty the Emperor of China for the Imperial German Minister Baron von Ketteler, who fell on this spot by heinous murder on the 20th of June, 1900, in everlasting commemoration of his name, as an eternal token of the Emperor’s wrath about this crime, as a warning to all.


A historical postcard of Ketteler monument.

“Everlasting commemoration,” in this case, lasted 15 years.

The national aspirations that had fired the Boxers reared up again in 1911-12 to topple the Qing. Days after Germany’s surrender in World War I, the Chinese Republic began removing the von Ketteler monument.

Visitors will need to look sharp to catch it now, in Zhongshan Park (aka Sun Yat-Sen Park or Central Park), where it has been rededicated to abstractions that age a little better than our German civil servant.

But this was still not quite the last the name von Ketteler was heard in the consular world. A relative (German link) of the man slain in Peking was a conservative diplomat of the Weimar and early Nazi period who opposed the national socialist government. Wilhelm Emmanuel von Ketteler was abducted by the Gestapo in 1938 and murdered thereafter in unclear circumstances, possibly for involvement in a very early plot to kill Hitler.

* “Western” in this case includes Japan, the regional industrial power that also flanked the Russian Empire to the east — very much a player on the European balance-of-power chessboard. Germany (obviously), France, Italy, Russia, the U.K., and the U.S.A. were the other nations involved in the intervention, along with the Austro-Hungarian Empire, whose naval deployment to China included future Sound of Music character Georg Ritter von Trapp.

A fair amount of detail on China’s foreign relations during this period is available free in the (dry, and sometimes dated) public-domain 1918 work The International Relations of the Chinese Empire.

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