1900: A day in the death penalty around the world

Add comment December 7th, 2019 Headsman

… courtesy of the Foreign News dispatch in the pages of the Boston (U.S.) Daily Advertiser, Dec. 8, 1900:

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Beheaded,Canada,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Germany,Hanged,Murder

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1903: Phil Davis, Walter Carter and Clint Thomas, multiracial lynching

1 comment November 30th, 2019 Headsman

From the Dec. 1, 1903 Augusta (Ga.) Chronicle:

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Borderline "Executions",Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Georgia,Hanged,Lynching,Murder,Public Executions,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,USA

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1908: Joe James, in the crucible of the Springfield Race Riot

1 comment October 23rd, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1908, the “negro boy scarcely of legal age”* Joe James hanged at Sangamon County jail in Illinois. His alleged crimes helped spark that year’s Springfield Race Riot, one of the deadliest such rampages in U.S. history.

He was a southern youth who’d been pulled north up the Mississippi, living by the sweat of his brow. As a newcomer to the Land of (in fact the very town of) Lincoln, he’d been tossed in prison for vagrancy when he couldn’t speedily demonstrate a place of employment, but he’d proven a good-natured inmate whom his jailers trusted with errands outside the walls.

On Independence Day of 1908, which was just three days before he was due to be released, James finally abused his parole and decided to take in the celebrations in Springfield’s majority-black working-class neighboroods, where he proceeded to drink himself into oblivion at one of the town’s many saloons, or so he said. (Many other witnesses did see him boozing and banging away on the piano.) He’d be awoken at dawn the next morning passed out at Reservoir Park — awoken by white men who proceeded to beat him up.


Joe James’s mughot (right) shows the effects of the thrashing.

Reservoir Park, you see, stood but half a mile from the home of a beloved North End white resident, Clergy Ballard. (Clergy was his name, not his profession: this Clergy mined.) That same Fourth of July night, an unknown black intruder had burgled the house late at night and upon being caught out had scuffled with Clergy in a running bout/flight that crossed several neighboring yards before the patriarch caught a mortal wound from the assailant’s blade.

By morning’s light, rumors of the home invasion were afoot in the neighborhood, and the discovery of an unrecognized black kid passed out in the vicinity led everyone to draw the obvious conclusion — a conclusion that subsequently became self-confirming especially given the moral panic licensed by the fact that Ballard’s daughter had first encountered the intruder in her own bedroom. “One conclusion that finds most supporters is that James was a degenerate negro, inflamed by strong opiates with a crazed brain that sought satisfaction only in human blood.” (Decatur (Ill.) Herald, July 6, 1908)

From a century’s distance the evidence, while not impossible to square with James’s guilt, is feeble and circumstantial. James had been arrested within a day of his arrival to town, so he barely knew Springfield at all; he had no motivation to select Ballard’s house, possessed no valuables taken from it, and was armed neither when he was given his day pass from jail, nor when he was taken into custody the next morning. And as his attorney* pled to James’s eventual jury in vain, “No guilty man in his right senses would go six blocks away from where the fatal blow was struck and lie down to pleasant dreams.”

Against this stood eyewitness identifications by the surviving Ballards, who had glimpsed the unfamiliar assailant fleetingly by moonlight or streetlamp and who by the time they were making their official attestations had knowledge of James as the suspect, his every particular now a mold into which liquid recollection could pour.

While it was the Ballard outrage that set Springfield on edge, a second black-on-white crime a few weeks later really set match to tinder: another North End white woman, Mabel Hallam, alleged that she’d been raped in her home by an unknown black intruder. Out of a lineup she picked George Richardson, a respected middle-class streetcar conductor, grandson to Abe Lincoln’s barber. Even while admitting that “colored men [all] looked alike,” she fingered Richardson with the insightful words, “I believe that you are the man, and you will have to prove that you are not.”

Rape across the color line even moreso than murder was a frequent incitement to mob violence, and with Richardson jailed alongside the presumed rape-aspirant Joe James, a crowd of 3,000 or more gathered in downtown Springfield on August 14 with lynch law on its mind. The sheriff thwarted its aim by spiriting both of his endangered prisoners out of town, and announced as much to the multitude, hoping it would disperse.

Instead, balked of its strange fruit, the mob rampaged through the black districts of Springfield and for that night and deep into the following day — when a 5,000-strong state militia quelled the disturbance with some difficulty — put black homes to the torch. At least nine black Springfielders died, but accounts of people forced back into their own burning homes or buried secretly by night to avoid any further incitement hint at uncounted casualties besides. Seven whites were also slain.

Horrific photos show burned-out homes and businesses, and rioters posing smugly at the scenes where they’d lynched two men — one an octogenarian who literally used to be Abe Lincoln’s friend — for no better cause than showing defiance to the mob.


Photos from the Chicago Tribune, Aug. 17, 1908.

This particular atrocity stood out even at the nadir of American race relations for its location: the hometown and burial place of former U.S. President Abraham Lincoln, the Great Emancipator. Indeed, some caught on the lips of the crowd that awful night slogans explicitly drawing the connection — “Curse the day that Lincoln freed the niggers!” and “Lincoln freed you, now we’ll show you where you belong!” The Springfield events catalyzed the formation early in 1909 of the NAACP. Today, several markers in Springfield commemorate the riot of August 14-15, 1908 — but it still remains a delicate subject in the town that it violently reshaped.

A few books about the 1908 Springfield Race Riot

As for the accused men whose supposed crimes lurked behind this explosion, they proceeded to vastly different fates. Mabel Hallam’s rape charge fell apart and she recanted when it was discovered that she had a sexually transmitted disease, while George Richardson did not. Instead she charged “Ralph Burton”, the son of one of the men lynched during the riots — but this charge also failed to stick on account of there being no such son. George Richardson lived out the balance of his 76 years in Springfield and died peacefully in hospital.

Joe James, however, had no such benediction from his own unreliable accusers. Springfield still smoldered, its bloodlust alongside its ruined buildings; letters delivered to the courthouse threatened a renewed bloodbath should he be acquitted, and black families packed go-bags in the event they should make a sudden departure.

The requisite conviction ensued. James testified on his own behalf, sticking to his claim to have passed out drunk, innocent of the Ballard situation. He would have little to say to anyone beyond that time, referring the many press inquiries to his existing statements.

* There was dispute about James’s age throughout the proceedings; his mother — not an unbiased source, of course — fixed his birthday at November 28, 1890, which would have made him just 17; James estimated it at “19 or 20”. Even the largest of these figures would have made him too young to execute by the statutes of the day. The state, by contrast, officially estimated James at 23 years old.

** A man named Octavius Royall, a “former prosecutor and successful middle-class black attorney representing the local bank” who out of an uncommon measure of courage and decency “decided to represent the most dangerous of all clients.” (Source)

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Children,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Hanged,History,Illinois,Murder,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,USA

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1902: Jim Buchanan, escaping lynching

Add comment October 17th, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1902, Jim Buchanan was tried, convicted, sentence, and immediately executed in Nagocdoches, Texas … with his full assent.

Barely a week earlier, a word had been received of a “prosperous farmer”, Duncan Hicks, found murdered with his wife and his daughter near the village of Attoyac.

Although Buchanan was swiftly arrested by a Sheriff Spradley, the fury of multiple mobs hunting him made the lawman and the murderer temporary collaborators on the run, trying to reach the safe haven of a secure jail cell to frustrate the vigilantes.


Daily People (N.Y.), Oct. 15, 1902.

Law and lynch law for years collaborated as good cop and bad cop. In this case, the work of their respective pressures on a desperate prisoner becomes unusually visible.

Buchanan was tried on the morning of October 17 in Nacogdoches. Reportedly the town teemed with vengeful white men readying for any opportunity to seize their prey from the legitimate authorities and have their own way. It was expected that if taken by the frighteningly determined mob, Buchanan would be horrifically burned to death.

Buchanan did what he could do to avoid that fate.

After he was sentenced to hang on November 17, the prisoner aggressively insisted on waiving the month-long wait and signed away all his appeals in the interest of dying on the gallows right now. And so before noon, that’s exactly what happened. His whole legal journey from the first gavel to the drop of the trap took a mere two hours, but at least it didn’t end at the stake.


Dallas Morning News, Oct. 18, 1902.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Hanged,History,Murder,Public Executions,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Rape,Texas,Theft,USA

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1909: Mir Hashim, Persian monarchist

Add comment August 9th, 2019 Headsman


Photo from here, with the caption “Execution of Mir Hashim (Tabrizi). Mir Hashim and his forces had joined the pro-Mohammad Ali Shah forces in laying siege to Tabriz, fighting against the forces of Sattar Khan and Bagher Khan. Mir Hashim and his brother were executed on 9 August, 1909.” The Persian constitutional revolution that this execution putatively advanced in revolutionary Tabriz also ended with gallows.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Iran,Persia,Power,Public Executions,Wartime Executions

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1909: William Hampton, Cornwall ghost

Add comment July 20th, 2019 Headsman

The last man executed in Cornwall, William Hampton, hanged in Bodmin on this date in 1909.

Hampton was in the awkward position of making time with a 16-year-old girl whose mother he was boarding with, and then having the girl break things off with him.

Probably a change of lodgings would have suited all best, but Hampton moved to Bodmin Jail by throttling poor Emily Tredea to death one night that May. The exact trigger for the murder was never clear, as the eventual murderer had been living amicably in the house for a spell even after Tredea’s breakup. The jury recommended mercy for Hampton on account of his youth, his lack of previous criminal record, and a crime that appeared to be at least somewhat heat-of-the-moment. The judge made the contrary recommendation on account of Hampton’s having spent several minutes to choke out his ex-girlfriend, then fled from the law, showing some degree of intent and mens rea. The judge’s recommendation carried the day with the Home Office.

Apparently his revenant spirit has been captured on camera haunting Bodmin Jail.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,Murder,Sex,The Supernatural

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1907: Joseph Jones, no workhouse

Add comment March 26th, 2019 Headsman

Another great hang-day post today from the Facebook page of our friends at Capital Punishment UK, in which we discover one Joseph Jones, teetering on the edge of destitution,

hanged at Stafford on the morning of Tuesday the 26th of March 1907. Henry Pierrepoint and William Willis carried out the execution. Jones is reported to have told Pierrepoint “This is a damned sight better than the workhouse.”

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Gallows Humor,Hanged,Murder

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1901: Sampson Silas Salmon

Add comment February 19th, 2019 Headsman

“I did it and I will swing for it.”

Said by Samson/Sampson Silas Salmon to the police who found him at the scene with the body of his landlady, her throat slashed nearly to the point of decapitation. Salmon had lost his job, fallen to drinking, and eventually been evicted.

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1903: A day in the death penalty around the U.S. (and Canada)

Add comment December 11th, 2018 Headsman

The U.S. states of Illinois, Georgia and California, and the Canadian province of British Columbia, all distinguished December 11, 1903 with hangings.


Duluth (Minn.) News-Tribune, Dec. 12, 1903:


Augusta (Ga.) Chronicle, Dec. 12, 1903:


Santa Cruz (Calif.) Evening Sentinel, Dec. 12, 1903:


Anaconda (Mont.) Standard, Dec. 12, 1903:

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,California,Canada,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Georgia,Hanged,Montana,Murder,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,USA

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1907: Afanasi Matushenko

Add comment November 2nd, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1907,* revolutionary sailor Afanasi Mat(y)ushenko was executed for his part in tsarist Russia’s Potemkin mutiny.

The son of a liberated serf, the Ukrainian Matushenko (English Wikipedia entry | the more detailed Russian) absconded in his childhood to enter imperial Russia’s industrial economy. After spending the late 1890s — his mid teens to early twenties — on the railroads and the docks he was conscripted into the navy.

The revolutionary year of 1905 finds Matushenko a quartermaster aboard the soon-to-be-famous battleship Potemkin stationed at Sevastopol, already politically radicalized enough to have participated in a revolutionary barracks riot the previous November.

Eisenstein is mandatory where the Potemkin is concerned but the fact is that the mutiny was not spontaneously generated: it had been planned, and Matushenko was a part of the planning.

On the day of the rising, it was he who led brother-sailors in a protest against worm-ridden rations, and he who eventually crossed the rubicon into mutiny by calling them to arms. He personally killed several of the ship’s officers, and with the mutiny’s success he was elected the chair of the ship’s executive committee.

The Potemkin sailed for Odessa where her aspirations to catalyze a wider rebellion ran (metaphorically) aground, and eventually sailed for Romania. Matushenko lived abroad for two years as a political refugee, crossing paths with kindred souls but indistinct in his political outlook, nearly terroristic. The leftist writer Vladimir Posse met Matushenko in Geneva and found him

Matyushenko … did not go into theory. And his practice was to destroy — precisely the destruction, not the elimination, of all the chiefs, all the masters, and above all the officers. For him, the people were divided into masters and subordinates … the lower ranks can free themselves only when the officers are “simply” destroyed. He himself killed two or three of his superiors during a riot on the Potemkin. And it seemed to him that the essence of the revolution lay in such murders. In this spirit, he wrote bloodthirsty proclamations to sailors and soldiers, urging them to kill officers. He thought that with such a program it was easy to attract all the sailors and most of the soldiers to the side of the revolution …

He considered himself to be doomed to die in battle or on the scaffold … He considered living in an emigrant position to be dishonorable, something of a betrayal. In his view, a true revolutionary is one who not only kills, but also dies himself.

In June 1907 he acted on the latter beliefs and returned to Russia — where he was promptly arrested and condemned by a military court to fulfill his prophesied destiny.

Several cities in the Soviet Union, including Sevastopol itself, had streets named for Sailor Matyushenko, and a Black Sea minesweeper received that name in 1969.

* November 2, 1907 per the Gregorian calendar. Tsarist Russia was still hanging on to the Julian calendar at this time.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Military Crimes,Murder,Mutiny,Revolutionaries,Russia,Treason

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