1900: Guzeppi Micallef, Maltese felon

Add comment June 6th, 2018 Headsman

This tale of a dreadful Maltese wife-murder arrives via the Times of Malta’s roundup of sensational hanging crimes on that Mediterranean island. Now independent, Malta was still British-controlled at the time of the events in this excerpt.

A marker outside Corradino Prison records the people hanged on its gallows, including Guzeppi Micallef

The murder of 19-year-old Roza Micallef is undoubtedly the most sensational uxoricide of the 19th century. Roza was precious for her husband, Guzeppi, but he was fearful of losing her. This fear was the result of jealousy.

The couple, who had been married only for a few months, lived in a farmhouse at Maghtab. Roza’s parents objected to the marriage as Guzeppi’s brother was married to Roza’s sister and their marriage was not a happy one. However, Roza did not take heed her parents’ warnings and married Guzeppi.

Roza and her husband used to work in the fields with her parents. She was a lively woman and enjoyed talking to relatives and friends. Her husband objected to this behaviour and warned her to be less talkative. Two days prior to the murder, she was seen waving to her uncle, Alessandro. This affectionate gesture triggered off the quarrel Guzeppi had with his wife on the night of the murder.

After sunset on October 8, 1899, Roza’s brother, Teofilio, heard his brother-in-law crying for help as his wife had been hit by a shot accidentally fired by his shotgun. According to Guzeppi, the shotgun was resting against the wall when he accidentally hit it with his foot. The firearm slid to the ground and was discharged accidentally, hitting Roza in her breast.

When the police were called, Teofilio told them that some time before he heard the shot he called on his brother-in-law, Guzeppi, to give him some money. Teofilio said that when he was at his sister’s house he was sure that something wrong was afoot; however, he chose not to interfere.

Regarding the shot, Teofilio said that when he heard the firing of a shotgun he thought that Guzeppi had shot his neighbour’s dog which was barking at that time.

The post-mortem examination revealed that the shotgun had been discharged from a high position and not from the floor as Guzeppi had affirmed in his statement. Moreover, court experts appointed to investigate the case further confirmed that Roza did not die as a result of an accident.

Guzeppi was charged with his wife’s murder and his trial opened on May 28, 1900. The prosecution produced witnesses who testified that the accused was very jealous of his wife. However, Dr Etienne Micallef, the defence counsel, maintained that the accused was jealous because he feared he might lose his wife’s love and had no intention of killing her.

As the accused was found guilty with a unanimous vote, he was sentenced to death.

Representatives of the Chamber of Advocates, the president of the Chamber of Commerce and the Council of Government petitioned the [Lord] Grenfell [Governor of Malta] to commute the sentence but he refused the appeal.

Micallef was hanged on June 6, 1900. He was only 20 years old and the only man in Malta since 1800 to have been hanged for uxoricide.

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1902: Clinton Dotson, bad son

Add comment April 4th, 2018 Headsman


Headline from the Salt Lake (Utah) Telegram, April 4, 1902

On this date in 1902, Montana hanged Clinton Dotson.

Dotson was already in prison for the murder-robbery of miner Eugene Cullinane* when he conceived what the Anaconda Standard (April 4, 1902) called “one of the most shocking murders that the world has ever known.” Permitting the newsman a pass for this slight exaggeration, it was indeed a real triumph in mustache-twirling villainy: the assassination of Dotson’s own father as part of a Rube Goldberg scheme to get himself out of jail.

Briefly, the scheme was that James Fleming, alias James McArthur, cellmate of Clinton Dotson, upon his release during the first part of January, 1901, should go to the cabin of Captain [Oliver] Dotson and extract from him by threat or otherwise a confession that it was he, Captain Dotson, who slew Cullinane. If Captain Dotson refused to make such a confession, McArthur was to kill the old man and arrange the body and the furniture of the house in such a way as to leave the impression that the old man had died by his own hand. A confession exonerating Dotson [and his confederates] from responsibility of Cullinane’s murder was then to be forged.

With a devil’s cunning, Fleming carried out this diabolical scheme. So cleverly was it done that, but for the prior knowledge possessed by the prison officers, the theory of suicide would probably have been accepted. Close investigation, however, showed that the suicide theory was impossible, that the deed had been done by one hidden in an adjoining room … [and Fleming] took no steps to conceal his tracks.

Fleming had already been executed in September, on the same gallows that claimed his parricidal sponsor.

* Dotson had also served time for homicide in Wyoming.

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1900: Joseph Hurst

Add comment March 30th, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1900, Joseph Hurst hanged in Glendive, Montana for murdering Sheriff Dominick Cavanaugh — whom Hurst had run against in the most recent election. A literal life-and-death ballot!

Did he assassinate a political opponent to gain his office? (Hurst was briefly appointed to the sheriff’s post after Cavanaugh’s murder, before the investigation turned against him.) Or, was he railroaded by a prejudiced town? “If the evidence upon which this man has been convicted and twice sentenced to death, had been laid before me as the prosecuting officer of this county,” wrote another Montana district attorney in a widely circulated missive, “I should be ashamed to think I had compelled Hurst to employ a lawyer and submit to a prosecution before a magistrate.”

The question generated a furious controversy in its time, inundating Gov. Robert Burns Smith with a record deluge of mercy appeals from around the American West. Newspapers drew up column-inches for vigorous briefs as to Hurst’s innocence or guilt.

As is frequently the case, partisan political fissures reached all the way to bedrock disagreement about reality itself, for although Hurst expressed his innocence on the scaffold the respective sides circulated opposing contentions about whether he did or did not privately confess the crime in the end.

A representative bit of the original newspaper coverage. More can be found in Officer Down, by Jim Jones.


Anaconda Standard, February 28, 1900


Anaconda Standard, March 4, 1900


Anaconda Standard, March 13, 1900


Helena Independent, March 30, 1900.


Butte Weekly Miner, April 5, 1900


A different story from the very same Butte Weekly Miner, April 5, 1900

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1901: George Parker, drunk marine

Add comment March 19th, 2018 Headsman

From John Sadden’s Portsmouth Book of Days (via):

Elizabeth Rowland, of Prince Albert Street, Eastney, Portsmouth, received this letter [on January 19, 1901] from 22-year-old George Hill [George Parker], whom she had been seeing while her soldier husband was serving in India.

Hill was a marine at Eastney Barracks until he was convicted of stealing there.

He was later arrested for murdering a man on a train during an armed robbery.

Dearest Lizzie,

It makes my heart bleed, as I am writing these few lines, to think I shall never see you again, and that you will be alone and miserable now … I always loved you dearly … I am truly sorry and penitent for having, in an evil moment, allowed myself to be carried away into committing murder.

I went and purchased a revolver so that when I came down to Portsmouth I could end both our lives if I had not been successful in obtaining money from my father.

I know you were not happy at home, nor I either, for I have been very unhappy of late, mostly on account of the false charges brought against me at the barracks.

I shall get hung now. I believe I was mad; I know I was drunk.

God help me!

My days are numbered, but I will bear it unflinchingly.

Your broken-hearted sweetheart,

Geo H Hill

Hill was hanged at Wandsworth Prison on March 19, 1901

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1901: Massacre of Barrio la Nog

Add comment December 27th, 2017 Headsman

Corporal Richard O’Brien gave the following account of the summary execution (or simple mass murder) of Filipino villagers during the furious American backlash after Filipino insurgents’ Balangiga Massacre of American infantrymen.

It was on the 27th day of December, the anniversary of my birth, and I shall never forget the scenes I witnessed on that day. As we approached the town the word passed along the line that there would be no prisoners taken. It meant that we were to shoot every living thing in sight — man, woman, and child. The first shot was fired by the then first sergeant of our company. His target was a mere boy, who was coming down the mountain path into the town astride of a caribou. The boy was not struck by the bullet, but that was not the sergeant’s fault. The little Filipino boy slid from the back of his caribou and fled in terror up the mountain side. Half a dozen shots were fired after him. The shooting now had attracted the villagers, who came out of their homes in alarm, wondering what it all meant. They offered no offense, did not display a weapon, made no hostile movement whatsoever, but they were ruthlessly shot down in cold blood — men, women, and children. The poor natives huddled together or fled in terror. Many were pursued and killed on the spot.

Two old men, bearing between them a white flag and clasping hands like two brothers, approached the lines. Their hair was white. They fairly tottered, they were so feeble under the weight of years. To my horror and that of the other men in the command, the order was given to fire, and the two old men were shot down in their tracks. We entered the village. A man who had been on a sick-bed appeared at the doorway of his home. He received a bullet in the abdomen and fell dead in the doorway. Dum-dum bullets were used in that massacre, but we were not told the name of the bullets. We didn’t have to be told. We knew that they were.

In another part of the village a mother with a babe at her breast and two young children at her side pleaded for mercy. She feared to leave her home, which had just been fired — accidentally, I believe. She faced the flames with her children, and not a hand was raised to save her or the little ones. They perished miserably. It was sure death if she left the house — it was sure death if she remained. She feared the American soldiers, however, worse than the devouring flames.

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1905: Mary Rogers, chloroformer

Add comment December 8th, 2017 Headsman

From the Wilkes-Barre (Penn.) Times, Dec. 8, 1905.

Mary Rogers Died on the Scaffold

Paid the Last Penalty of the Law After a Legal Fight of Two Years — Was Guilty of a Cruel and Diabolical Murder — Lured a Loving Husband to Destruction for the Sake of His Insurance and for the Love of Another.

WINDSOR, Vt., Dec. 8. — Mary Mabel Rogers* was hanged by the neck until she was dead in the Windsor prison this afternoon for the murder of her husband, Marcus Rogers, in 1902. The woman was pronounced dead at 1:28 o’clock, just fourteen minutes after the trap was sprung.

Without a trace of fear or a show of any emotion, Mrs. Rogers went to her death quietly and calmly, as she had told Mrs. Durkee she would last night. She made no statement or confession, when given an opportunity before the signal of death. She merely nodded her head, indicating that she was quite ready.

She Spent a Sleeples[s] Night.

Racked by her own contending emotions, Mary Rogers arose from her sleepless cot this morning to live [through the few wretched hours of her life and meet her death before the day is near done on the gallows in Windsor prison. Pallid from fear, which clutches at her heart at last, she left her cot and half reeled to the cell door, where she watched the first gray tints of morn creep through the barred window at the end of the corridor, and as the shadows fell more lightly on the whitened walls and the corridor began**] to fill with light the woman knew the final day had come. A half sob, a catch of breath that might have escaped from her and she turned and placed her hands in those of Matron Durkee, who had come to the cell early to be with her when roused from a troubled sleep.

South Consolation in Prayer.

No tears filled her eyes. She had wept early in the night, but the truth of her hopeless end had come to her at last and burnt itself deep into her soul, leaving her but a poor miserable thing for the execution of the law. Long into the night she had prayed with Father Delaney, who had gone to her when she called. Then physical exhaustion, from the silent struggle in her being came and she fell into an uncertain sleep robbing her mercifully of the horrible thoughts of the violent end by the noose.

Her First Emotion.

The sun had fallen below the gray [†] and cheerless hills to the west last night and the departing shadows within the prison walls had fled to inky darkness when Mary Rogers, standing at the grated cell door watching the fading light die out for the last time in her life, turned to Mrs. Loukes, the guard, and began to sob.

It was the first emotion she had shown since she bade her mother farewell last Saturday. Father Delaney was sent for, as Supt. Lovell feared there might be a sudden collapse. The priest came and went to the woman’s cell. Mary Rogers brushed the tears from her eyes and spoke a quiet greeting to Father Delaney. The good priest spoke kind words of comfort to her and she made a reply, but her words could not be heard as the woman had retired to a far corner of the cell. The priest and the woman sank to their knees and prayed. The usual night sounds in the prison corridors were hushed for the convicts knew it was Mary Rogers’ last night on earth.

Feared Physical Pain.

Mrs. Rogers grew calmer and Father Delaney left the cell and went to the guard room, where he was within call. The woman spoke to Mrs. Durkee, the prison matron of the coming day and told her that she was ready to meet her death.

“I know it must be and I am prepared to die,” she said, and added plaintively: “You don’t think they will hurt me?”

“No, Mary, they will not hurt and it will not be long,” replied Mrs. Durkee. “I will go with you as far as the guard room door.”

The Procession to the Scaffold.

Shortly before 1 o’clock the guards went to Mrs. Rogers’ cell and dressed her for the execution. The woman wore the customary black dress and shirtwaist that was made for her first execution. She wore no corset or collar.

With the six deputy sheriffs leading the death procession, she left her cell with Matron Durkee, who accompanied her down the three flights of stairs to the guard room. As Mrs. Rogers left the guard roo to walk down the short flight of steps leading to the enclosed court, she saw for the first time the instrument of her death. It was a walk of forty feet to the gallows’ steps. When the woman reached the gallows’ floor, a deputy tied her hands, the black cap and sack were drawn about her and the drop fell.

The Final Scenes.

The march from the death cell began at six minutes past one o’clock. Mrs. Rogers had just concluded a short religious service with Father Delaney and when the tall forms of three deputy sheriffs appeared at the cell door, she turned to Mrs. Durkee and said simply: “I am ready to go, Mrs. Durkee, and I thank you for what you have done.”

Showed No Fear.

Mrs. Durkee had dressed the woman in a combination black skirt and waist, which had been made for the execution last June. In the face of death, the vanity of the woman asserted itself and she called for a gold chain and locket, which she carefully put about her neck which was bare, the matron having previously removed the collar. She wore no corsets. The cell door creaked and Mrs. Rogers stepped out in the corridor and took her place between the deputy sheriffs. Mrs. Durkee walked by her side. Down the three long flights of steps the woman walked without a sign of fear or collapse.

She reached the guard room and stepped across the ro[o]m and down into the enclosed court. Inside in one corner was the instrument of death, while ranged around the court were the prison officials and the State’s witnesses. Mrs. Rogers looked at the scaffold as she walked to the steps, but turned away and looked dully at the spectators. A deputy sheriff preceded her up the steps of the gallows and another walked by her side in case she should g[i]ve way. The courage of the woman was magnificent. She reached the scaffold floor without a falter, though the face showed the prison pallor usual in prisoners of long confinement.

Sat While Being Pinioned.

Deputy Sheriff Kiniry motioned Mrs. Rogers to a seat on the scaffold and the woman sat down and gazed about as if she was a spectator to an event in which she had no part. Deputy Sheriffs Thomas and McDermott quickly pinioned the woman’s arms behind her and then stepped aside. Deputy Sheriff Kiniry leaned down and asked Mrs. Rogers if she wished to make a statement.

“No,” she said almost inaudibly, and accompanied her answer with a shake of the head.

Stood Up Calmly.

Deputy Sheriff Spofford ordered Mrs. Rogers to stand up and she walked over and stood on the trap. Then a large black sack was drawn over her body and tied at the neck, while Deputy Sheriff Spofford, after the black cap had been adjusted, slipped the noose around her neck. The deputy sheriffs stood back and Spofford gave the signal to Deputy Sheriff McCauley. There was an intense silence in the execution chamber.

Neck Was Broken.

All of the spectators nearly fainted from the sight. No sound came from the black bag other than a half smothered gasp. Dr. Dean Richmond, the prison physician, stepped forward and placing his hand on the woman’s wrist felt for the pulse. The woman’s neck had not been broken by the fall for the pulse beat was still perceptable [sic]. The spectators stodd [sic] still and waited. It seemed an age to them, the fourteen minutes that the black thing hung there on the end of the rope. The doctor pronounced the woman dead at exactly 1:28 o’clock. The witnesses filed slowly back to the guard room and Mary Rogers had paid the penalty of her crime to the State with her life.

Body Taken to Hoosic Falls.

The body was cut down and prepared for bural [sic] by two undertakers from Hoosick Falls, N.Y., where her body will be buried in the family plot. The casket reached the prison an hour before the execution. She told the prison matron that she wanted to be buried in the clothes in which she had been hanged.

History of Mrs. Rogers’ Crime.

Every ingenious device known in law, was used to save Mary Rogers from the gibbet, and it was not until the case was disposed of by the Supreme court of the United States late last month that all hopes was given up [sic] of saving the woman’s life. Had there been one mitigating circumstance; had there been one spark of womanliness in Mary Rogers, had she shown slight possibilities of regeneration, Gov. C.J. Bell, of Vermont, might have interfered. The murder was as brutal as that of Mrs. Martha Place, who hacked her step-daughter to pieces because of jealousy, in Brooklyn. Gov. Roosevelt declined to interfere and save her from electrocution in March, 1899.

Mrs. Rogers killed her husband, Marcus Rogers, in order that she might possess herself of $600, his life insurance, and marry another man. The murder was committed in Bennington, on Aug. 12, 1902, by the administration of chloroform. The circumstances leading up to the murder breathe of foul deceit, cunning and a viciousness inconceivable in a woman.

Mary Rogers was deeply loved by her husband. Tiring of her life with this quiet, unpretentious man, she left him. In her unfortunate life that followed in Bennington she met a youth, barely 17 years old, by the name of Leon Perham, a half breed Indian, who became enamored of her. Perham wanted to marry her. Mrs. Rogers had no mind for that, but kept Perham dangling by her side.

Mrs. Rogers fell in love with a well known citizen of Bennington, who, however, was not aware of her passion for him. As a woman of the street she knew she could not win him, and in her simple way bethought that once in possession of her husband’s $600 life insurance money she would become an object of devotion and attention. With the thought came the plan to do away with Rogers, whom she had left. Rogers, in spite of her life of shame, had oftentimes sent word to his wife to come to him and he would forgive and forget the past. His strong love for her and his willingness to forgive were his undoing. She entered into a conspiracy with Perham, who was her willing tool, being led to believe that she would marry him.

Rogers was a powerful man and his end had to be accomplished by cunning and deceit. She wrote that she was ready to come back; wanted to come back and would he forgive her. Leon Perham turned State’s evidence and on the stand he gave testimony, a recital such as has rarely been heard in the courts of law.

According to Perham, Mrs. Rogers had written to her husband, from whom she was estranged, asking him to meet her at 9:30 at night.

After the meeting and pretended reconciliation Leon led the way into Morgan’s grove, and by a winding path to the river. A great stone wall separated the grove from the river bank. The distance from the wall to the bank was less than half a dozen feet.

“May and I walked along with Rogers until we came to a break in the wall,” said Leon. “She went through and we followed. It was cold and I had on a big overcoat. I spread this out on the ground and all three of us sat down. We were only a few feet from the edge of the river.

“May said she had a new trick with a rope.

“He laughed. May laughed, too, and dew out a piece of clothes-line. Then she said she’d bet she could tie me so that I couldn’t get loose.

“‘I’ll bet you can’t,’ I said.

“She tied my hands loosely and I broke away. She tried it again and I broke away again.

“‘Try it on him,’ I said.

“‘I’ll bet you can’t tie me,’ said Rogers.

“He was as strong as an ox. May tied him and tried to tie him tight, but he just gave a heave and broke away. She tried it a second time, and he broke loose without any trouble. She was getting worried. She tried it a third time, and when he broke loose again I saw that she couldn’t tie him.

“‘Let me do it,’ I told her.

“I took the rope — a piece of clothes line. I said to Rogers:

“‘Kneel down and put your hands behind you.’

“He thought it was fun and knelt down. I tied his hands behind him and he struggled, but could not get loose. His back was towards May.

“I gave her a signal and she drew the vial of chloroform and the handkerchief from her bosom. She poured a few drops on her handkerchief — not very much — and put her arms around his neck. Suddenly she drew his head back in her lap. The move threw him on his hands, which were behind him, so he was doubly helpless. Then she put the handkerchief to his nose. He sputtered. Suddenly she emptied the vial on the handkerchief, completely saturating it. He began to struggle.

“‘May, what does this mean!’ he asked, heaving his body. ‘What does it mean!’

“‘Jump on his legs,’ she said.

“I jumped on his legs to hold him. May had him gripped around the neck and pressed the handkerchief against his nose. His struggles were terrible. He threw me off as if I had been a kitten. He got one hand free and used it to help himself.

“But May clung to him and never once did the handkerchief get away from his nose. She had the grip of a tiger. He struggled and flung himself and her on the ground, and every time I came near him a heave of his legs or his free arm would throw me off.

“While he struggled, his breath was deeper. Suddenly he became more quiet, and in a moment he was limp. May clung to him, even after he was quiet, pressing the chloroform-soaked handkerchief down over his face. When all was over she got up.”

The body was rolled into the river. A note was left, purporting to have been written by Rogers, that he had drowned himself. Mrs. Rogers’ unseemly haste in her efforts to collect the life insurance and other damning circumstances led to her arrest and indictment. Perham confessed and was sent to Windsor prison for life. Mrs. Rogers was found guilty on Dec. 22, 1903, and she was sentenced to be hanged on the first Friday in last February. She was thrice reprieved by Governor Bell, the second reprieve expiring last June, when counsel for the woman made an appeal to the United States Federal court to have certain legal questions reviewed by the Supreme court at Washington. The third reprieve expired to-day.

Mary Rogers was 22 years old and little more than 19 when she killed her husband.

* She’s not even the most famous Mary Rogers of homicide: that distinction goes to a murder victim of that name from earlier in the 19th century … whose never-solved death inspired the Edgar Allan Poe short story “The Mystery of Marie Roget”.

** In the original version of this article, the bracketed text appears via an apparent layout error out of order, at the spot denoted by the [†]

† Errant placement position in the published article of the bracketed text as noted in the footnote above.

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1901: Willie Louw, Boer commando

Add comment November 23rd, 2017 Headsman

Field-Cornet Willie Louw, a guerrilla in the Second Boer War, was shot by the British on this date in 1901.

A nephew to the Scots-descended Dutch reform minister Andrew Murray, William Hofmeyer Louw was a Colesberg farmer when that area — part of the British Cape Colony — was invaded by guerrillas from the neighboring independent Boer states.

Questions of the right allegiance out on the frontiers of empire were the very heart of the conflict. Louw sought advice from a judge, who advised him that as the Boer Republics claimed his district, he could join them on commando with a clear conscience.

British law did not see it the same way; Louw pleaded guilty to the consequent treason charge, putting himself on the mercy of a tribunal which was more keen on setting examples. The socialist politician (and future Prime Minister) Ramsay MacDonald, who visited South Africa in 1902, complained that “Willie Louw has been shot upon the verdict of a court which did not understand the first elements of justice and had not the faintest idea when a statement was proved.”

A letter from Willie’s sister to her parents the following morning, published that Christmas in the Manchester Guardian, detailed the commando’s peacable frame of mind as he faced in his last hours his “short journey to the long home.” (via To Love One’s Enemies: The work and life of Emily Hobhouse compiled from letters and writings, newspaper cuttings and official documents)

When we got home we heard that a sentence was to be promulgated on the market square at 11.30. All were eager to know who the prisoner was and we watched to see the procession pass. Bravely like a man he walked, erect with firm and steady step, his face ruddy and beautiful. It took a very few minutes to read the sentence and when he walked back the colour had not left his face nor the vigor his form — he was unchanged.

At about 2 o’clock we were there (at the goal) and found him quietly putting a few little things he had used together to be borne home on a tray by Boezak. The tray away, I put my arms around the strong neck while he bent over me and with his head on my shoulder I said, ‘Als ging ik ook dal der schaduz des doods ik sal geen kwaad vreezen, want Zyt met my, U stock en U staf die vertroosten my.’ (When I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil, for thou art with me, thy rod and thy staff comfort me.) We then sat down, my husband at his right side and I at his left. All that was spoken by him bore unspeakably sure evidence of his trust in Jesus’ merit, of his preparedness to meet his God, of his hope of glory. He told us how thankful he was that he had twenty-nine days to prepare for this — how he had not been alone — how he had been strengthened, wonderfully strengthened … he was so sorry for you Dear Father and Mother and for George and then for us all — but we were to try and be brave and bear this. He had prayed to God to strengthen us and poor cousin Hanni as well.

Willie’s own last letter to his mother struck a similarly pious note (this via Innocent Blood: Executions During the Anglo-Boer War)

Saturday 23/11/1901

My dearest Mother,

I am returning your last letter to you because I am departing to a better world where there is no grief and sorrow. It is stipulated that I will depart this afternoon. It is God’s sacred will. He cannot make mistakes. May He always be close to you and dearest Daddy and all our loved ones. May He strengthen you all. Yes, God has promised me that he will strengthen you all, now there is nothing, virtually nothing, that worries me or will hold me back. Oh, I wish I could have done more work for Him. What value there is in a single soul. God, our Father, has allowed it all for the glory and honour of His name. Adieu! Until we meet again my own, dearest Mother.

Willie

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Guerrillas,History,Martyrs,Murder,Occupation and Colonialism,Shot,Soldiers,South Africa,Treason,Wartime Executions

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1909: Richard Justin, child batterer

1 comment August 19th, 2017 Meaghan

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

At eight in the morning on this date in 1909, Richard Justin was hanged at Crumlin Road Prison in Belfast, Ireland (now Northern Ireland) for the murder of his four-year-old daughter. Little Annie Thompson — she was born illegitimate, but her parents married a few months before her death — had died at their home at 84 Lepper Street in Belfast on March 12, supposedly from falling out of bed.

A myriad of witnesses, however, reported that Justin abused the child horribly. Her longtime nanny had noticed bruises, a swollen chin, a black eye and one tooth knocked out, but in February, before she could take any action, Annie was removed from her care. Others reported seeing marks and bruises on the child.

When concerned adults asked Annie how she had been hurt, she complained her father had hit and kicked her. People had also heard heartrending cries coming from 84 Lepper Street. One neighbor, for instance, testified she’d heard Annie’s mother wail, “Hit me, and let the child alone.”

The locals were reluctant to intervene in the family’s domestic problems, but after a Mrs. McWilliams saw that Annie’s “wee elbow” was swollen, her wrist was burned and “the skin was off her back,” she told Annie’s mother she was going to complain to the child abuse authorities. She decided not to, though, after Annie’s mother gave her word of honor that the abuse would stop.

It didn’t stop.

The very day of Annie Thompson’s demise, someone had written a letter to the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Children, saying they’d been concerned about her for months and would someone please go to her house and check on her welfare? The anonymous writer added that he or she had meant “to drop you a note last week.”

Too little, too late.

From a forensic standpoint there was the autopsy, which revealed

a litany of injuries. These included some thirty bruises to the chest, arms, thighs and head, though most were several days old. Professor Symmers, who conducted the medical investigation, even went as far as to say they were the worst injuries to a child he had ever seen.

He actually compared her tortured remains to a case he’d seen where a man had been whipped 100 strokes with a cat o’ nine tails. The primary cause of death, however, was a brain hemorrhage

At Richard’s trial in July, ample evidence of child abuse was presented and the prosecution argued that Annie had died of injuries accumulated from the effects of months of beatings. The defense denied that the accused man had ever mistreated his daughter and argued that her death was an accident. Their star witness was Richard Justin’s oldest son, Richard Jr.

According to Richard Jr., he, his younger brother, and Annie were sharing a bed, the girl being closest to the wall. She woke up at 7:00 a.m. and started climbing over the boys to get out of bed, but tripped on the hem of her nightdress, fell off the bed and struck her head on the metal strut of her parents’ bed, an arms’ length away. Annie moaned and wouldn’t move after that. Richard Jr. picked her up and put her back in bed without waking their brother. Richard Sr. then found her lying dead two hours later.

When asked about this in court, Professor Symmers reluctantly allowed the boy’s story about Annie’s fall, if accurate, could explain the brain hemorrhage that had caused her death.

Nevertheless, the jury returned a guilty verdict.

“The defence,” writes Steven Moore in his book Hanged at Crumlin Road Gaol: The Story of Capital Punishment in Belfast,

with some justification, considered that Richard Justin hadn’t been given the benefit of what appeared to be reasonable doubt. There was a possibility, it was felt, the jury had believed him guilty of scheming to kill the child, and that the plot had not succeeded only because of an unfortunate accident. In other words, even if he hadn’t actually murdered Annie, there was no reason to consider him innocent when he had evil intent to the girl. A petition sent to the Lord Lieutenant asking for a reprieve was turned down.

A large crowd gathered outside the prison as Richard Justin was hanged, but there was nothing to see: his execution took place within the prison walls, and even the custom of raising the black flag at the moment of death had been abandoned. He reportedly “walked firmly to the scaffold and had shown great remorse for his crime.”

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Guest Writers,Hanged,Ireland,Other Voices

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1906: Four Egyptians for the Denshawai Incident

Add comment June 28th, 2017 Headsman

If her [England’s] empire means ruling the world as Denshawai has been ruled in 1906 — and that, I am afraid, is what the Empire does mean to the main body of our aristocratic-military caste and to our Jingo plutocrats — then there can be no more sacred and urgent political duty on earth than the disruption, defeat, and suppression of the Empire, and, incidentally, the humanization of its supporters.

-George Bernard Shaw

On this date in 1906, four Egyptian villagers were hanged by the British after a UK soldier died in riot begun by a pigeon hunt.

The Denshawai Incident — which is still to this day commemorated by its own museum — as an isolated event was one of those little local indignities that comprise a foreign military occupation. By the intersection of highhandedness on the one side and accumulated anger on the other it would become what George Bernard Shaw dubbed “the Denshawai Horror.”

On June 13, a mere 15 days before the executions in this post, a gaggle of bored Tommies* set out hunting pigeons in the Nile Delta. This was for the locals an irksome pastime inasmuch as the villagers raised these tame birds in brick towers for agrarian use — as Shaw noted:

Try to imagine the feelings of an English village if a party of Chinese officers suddenly appeared and began shooting the ducks, the geese, the hens and the turkeys, and carried them off, asserting that they were wild birds, as everybody in China knew, and that the pretended indignation of the farmers was a cloak for the hatred of the Chinese, and perhaps for a plot to overthrow the religion of Confucius and establish the Church of England in its place!

On this occasion, protesting villagers dared a little more resistance than was usual and before long a gun had discharged in the struggle, injuring several and felling a local woman (she survived, though onlookers took her wound for a mortal one in the moment). As if by metaphor, somewhere in the mayhem, somebody’s wheat caught fire.

Having clumsily escalated the disturbance that their presence had provoked, the Brits at length had to flee a small riot: one of their number died in the flight, the cause never clearly ascertained but attributed by a doctor to “heat apoplexy caused or aggravated by concussion of the brain.”** Several others were collared by the villagers, who abused them but did not kill them.

As Shaw notes, in a domestic English context it might have been the gendarmes who were punished for mismanaging the situation to the detriment of the public peace.

But the English occupation of Egypt disdained the hearts-and-minds approach, preferring bile and spleen. Fifty-two(!) villagers came up on charges of murder(!!) for the heatstroked officer, and the punishments meted out by a British-controlled court† seemingly aimed to maximize rancor with the understanding that cruelty was the only language the native could comprehend.

The husband of the woman shot by the hunting party, Shaw fulminated in an incandescent essay against imperialism,

in consideration of the injury to his wife, was only sentenced to penalty servitude for life … No such sentimentality was shewn to Hassan Mahfouz. An Egyptian pigeon farmer who objects to British sport; threatens British officers and gentlemen when they shoot his pigeons; and actually hits those officers with a substantial stick, is clearly a ruffian to be made an example of.

Penal servitude was not enough for a man of 60 who looked 70, and might not have lived to suffer five years of it. So Hassan was hanged; but as a special mark of consideration for his family, he was hanged in full view of his own house, with his wives and children and grandchildren enjoying the spectacle from the roof. And lest this privilege should excite jealousy in other households, three other Denshavians were hanged with him … ages of the four hanged men respectively, 60, 50, 22 and 20.

Hanging, however, is the least sensational form of public execution: it lacks those elements of blood and torture for which the military and bureaucratic imagination lusts. So, as they had room for only one man on the gallows, and had to leave him hanging half an hour to make sure work and give his family plenty of time to watch him swinging (“slowly turning round and round on himself,” as the local papers described it), thus having two hours to kill as well as four men, they kept the entertainment going by flogging eight men with fifty lashes each: eleven more than the utmost permitted by the law of Moses in times which our Army of Occupation no doubt considers barbarous. But they Moses conceived his law as being what he called the law of God, and not simply an instrument for the gratification of his own cruelty and terror.

It is unspeakably reassuring to learn from the British official reports laid before parliament that “due dignity was observed in carrying out the executions,” that “all possible humanity was shewn in carrying them out,” and that “the arrangements were admirable, and reflect great credit on all concerned.” As this last testimonial apparently does not refer to the victims, they are evidently officially considered not to have been concerned in the proceedings at all. Finally, Lord Cromer certifies that the Englishman in charge of the proceedings is “a singularly humane man, and is very popular amongst the natives of Egypt by reason of the great sympathy he has always shewn for them.” It will be seen that Parliamentary Papers, Nos. 3 and 4., Egypt, 1906, are not lacking in unconscious humor. The official walrus pledges himself in every case for the kindliness of the official carpenter.


Edinburgh Evening News, June 29, 1906

Shaw’s determination to humanize the “natives” by analogy to English country squires unsurprisingly stands in stark contrast to the dominant thrust of domestic reportage — which consistently describes the affair as an unprovoked attack or (still better) an outrage. Shaw, however, was far from alone in his sentiment: many British elites were discomfited by the harsh and arbitrary treatment meted out in the imperial hinterlands. Another writer, Wilfrid Scawen Blunt, bemoaned the “abominable case” and took up an editorial pen in the Egyptians’ defense — albeit more in hope than expectation, for as he confided to his diary, “English feeling on these matters has become absolutely callous, and I believe if Cromer ordered a dozen of the villagers to be crucified or impaled, no serious objection would be made to it here.” And he was right to despair.

Still, gentlemen of a liberal conscience have the luxury down the decades of forgetting the individual atrocities of empire.‡

Few in the West recognized the allusion when, following 2005 bombings in London by Islamic terrorists, Ayman al-Zawahiri “announced that Britain was one of Islam’s worst enemies; it had been responsible for the deaths of thousands of Muslims across the ages, from Palestine to Afghanistan, Delhi to Denshawai.” (Source)

But it had by that time been long since that the chickens of Denshawai had come home to roost. In his autobiography, Egyptian nationalist president Anwar Sadat mused on the formative influence worked upon his childhood by the sacrifice of one of the Denshawai martyrs.

[T]he ballad which affected me most deeply was probably that of Zahran, the hero of Denshway. I recall my mother reciting it to me as I lay stretched out on top of our huge rustic oven, half-asleep while my younger brothers (and our rabbits) had all fallen asleep. It appealed to me afresh every time I listened to it. Denshway was only three miles away and the ballad dealt with a real incident … Zahran was the hero of the battle against the British and the first to be hanged. The ballad dwells on Zahran’s courage and doggedness in the battle, how he walked with his head held high to the scaffold, feeling proud that he had stood up to the aggressors and killed one of them.

I listened to that ballad night after night, half-awake, half-asleep, which perhaps made the story sink into my subconscious. My imagination roamed free. I often saw Zahran and lived his heroism in dream and reverie — I wished I were Zahran.

His wish would come as near to fruition as wishes do. Sadat had the honor of announcing to the world the Egyptian Revolution of 1952 that would expel the British occupation … and thirty years later, of also giving his life for Egypt.

* Not Dickens nor Kubrick could not have bested the names of shooting party participants Captain Bull (the eventual fatality) or Brevet-Major Pine-Coffin.

** That is, running away from a bombardment of stones. It appears to be permanently obscure (and subject to partisan slanting) precisely how these factors weighed together at the moment of Bull’s death. The diagnosis is quoted in the London Times, June 25, 1906.

† The tribunal featured mixed Egyptian and British personnel, notably including Boutros Ghali, future Egyptian Prime Minister and grandfather of the eventual United Nations head Boutros Boutros-Ghali.

‡ At least, of their own empire. According to Aliens — Uneingeburgerte: German and Austrian Writers in Exile, the Third Reich produced a German-language play about the Denshawai incident by adapting Shaw’s account.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Egypt,England,Execution,Hanged,History,Martyrs,Murder,Occupation and Colonialism,Popular Culture,Power,Public Executions,Torture

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1900: James Nettles

Add comment May 7th, 2017 Headsman

From the St. Louis Republic, July 9, 1898

James Nettle has Partly Confessed.

Suspect in the Mann Murder Case Admits All but the Shooting.
Caused the Arrest of His Double in Order to Confuse the Several Witnesses.

James Nettle, the negro who is accused of the murder of Conductor Edward Mann of the Suburban Railway, on the night of July 4, after emphatically declaring his innocence and even going so far as to bring about the arrest of his “double,” Esbree Manley, a negro ventriloquist, as a suspect in the case, yesterday began to show signs of weakening, and at a late hour last night had confessed everything but the firing of the three shots which proved fatal to Mann.

The arrest of Manley on Nettle’s statement that he had overheard a conversation in the calaboose that a ventriloquist had a hand in the shooting, proved to be Nettle’s undoing. When confronted by Manley, Nettle was unable to carry out his well-laid plans. The striking similarity in the physique of the two negroes would have rendered it almost impossible to pick out the real culprit, but Manley met Nettle and the police with such a straight story of his whereabouts at the time of the tragedy that the former burst into tears and admitted after a little coaxing that he was in the street car fight in which Conductor Mann was slain.

He told his story between sobs, for he broke down completely under the strain. He declared that Mann had ordered him off the car and had returned his fare, in order to hasten his departure, when the fight started. He did not recall how they began fighting, but he said the conductor and motorman tackled him and forced him off the platform, threatening to do him violence.

Even after he had left the car, he said, the conductor followed him several steps. At this point the shooting was done, but all efforts to make the negro Nettle relate these further details have proven futile. In order to avoid the cross-fire of questions from Chief Desmond, the negro complained of being ill and had to be given medicine by the Dispensary physicians. Afterward he said he would not talk further on the murder until to-day.

The negro Manley was released last night after he had established an alibi.


From the St. Louis Republic, Dec. 16, 1898

Testimony Finished.

James Nettles’ Fate Will Be Decided To-Day.

To-day the fate of James Nettles, colored, charged with murder in the first degree, probably will be decided in Judge Tally’s court, after 10 hours’ argument by the attorneys for the State and the prosecution. At 11 a.m. yesterday the State rested and the defense was through at 6 p.m., having tried to establish an alibi.

Thomas L. Brown, the motorman of the car on which Conductor Samuel W. Mann was mortally wounded on the night of July 4 last, was the first witness for the State. He told how the negro boarded the St. Louis and Suburban car at Jefferson avenue, quarreled over car fare, and at Garrison avenue shot the conductor as he retreated from the car. He identified Nettles. Others testified that they were sure Nettles was the assassin.

For the defense, Michael White, a negro, with whom Nettles lived at No. 1321 Linden street, was the main witness. His testimony was that he and the defendant were together all day on July 4, and that Nettles was not at any time near the scene of the murder. He testified that they went to Kirkwood in the morning, returning to their home about 7 p.m., where there was an entertainment, at which both Nettles and White were present until 11:30 p.m. In corroboration of this testimony many witnesses were introduced.

In rebuttal, the State introduced Frederick Brunesman of No. 2641 East Prairie avenue, the motorman of the car which immediately preceded Conductor Mann’s car on the night of the killing. Brunesman identified Nettles as the negro who tried to board his car that night at Jefferson avenue, but was so drunk he fell off. Detective John Gallagher and Policeman Thomas Mahon told of an interview they had with Nettles on the day following his arrest. On that occasion, they testified, Nettles said he assaulted Conductor Mann because Mann rebuked him for misconduct.


From the St. Louis Republic, Dec. 17, 1898

Nettles Found Guilty

Jury Decides That the Negro Murderer Must Hang.

Had James Nettles, a negro, been informed that his dinner was ready, he could not have displayed less concern than when told the jury had found him guilty of murder in the first degree and that he must be hanged. Death seems to have no terrors for him and he smiled at his fate in the same indifferent manner with which he greeted the onslaught of the State’s witnesses. Never through the long trial has he ever manifested even a moderate interest in the proceedings. If he is guilty of the foul murder of Conductor Mann before his wife and children on July 4, he did not show it yesterday.

The cases on both sides were rested on Thursday evening and for four hours yesterday the attorneys for the State and the defense fought an oratorical battle before the jury. Finally, a few minutes before 2 o’clock, the case was given to the jury.

Then, for three hours the jurors debated the case, finally coming to a decision at 5 o’clock. Several of the jurors, it was learned, stood for a life sentence, but were converted to capital punishment on the ground that executive clemency might intervene to cut short the term.

The State had many witnesses who were on the car and identified Nettles as the assassin; while, on the other hand, the defense had nearly a score of negroes to establish an alibi. The State’s attorneys held that it was an alibi for the occasion and made efforts to break it down. One of the defense’s witnesses, who said he was with Nettles at a dance on the night of July 4, testified that there was a roaring fire in the parlor. Other similar statements served to weaken the alibi.

When the verdict had been rendered, Attorneys Van Patten and Morroll, for the defense, declared they would ask for a new trial, and in case it were refused, would appeal.


From the St. Louis Republic, April 5, 1900

Respite for Nettles

Governor Grants the Condemned Man Another Thirty Days

Governor Stephens last night granted a thirty day’s respite to James Nettles, the negro who has been condemned to be hanged for the murder of Conductor Samuel W. Mann on a St. Louis and Suburban car, near Leffingwell avenue, on the night of July 4, 1898. He was to have been hanged a month ago, but a reprieve of thirty days was granted in order to give the Governor time to examine into the merits of the appeals for clemency.

The death watch was placed on Nettles yesterday morning at 6 o’clock and has not yet been removed, as Sheriff Pohlmann has not received official notification of the respite. He expects a letter from the Governor to-day.

Nettles was not in the least perturbed yesterday. When the Reverend Mr. Hurzburger of the German Evangelical Church called at the jail last night with Sheriff Pohlmann and notified the condemned man that the Governor had granted a respite of thirty days, the negro, without any apparent emotion, thanked him for what he had done in the matter and reiterated his assertion of innocence.


From the St. Louis Republic, April 26, 1900

A QUESTION OF WHISKERS — Another attempt is being made to get Governor Stephens to commute the death sentence of James Nettles, the negro who was convicted of the murder of Conductor Sam W. Mann on the night of July 4, 1898. Governor Stephens has granted two stays of execution to allow himself time to investigate the application and petitions. At the trial some of the witnesses testified that Mann’s assailant wore side whiskers. Attorney Maurer had several barbers examine Nettles’s face, and he says that they will make affidavit that he could not raise side whiskers.


From the St. Louis Republic, May 6, 1900

To Be Hanged To-Morrow

Death Watch Placed on the Negro James nettles.

Chief Deputy Sheriff Pohlman yesterday for the third time placed the death watch on James Nettles, the negro who is under sentence of death for the murder of Conductor Samuel W. Mann. Nettles will be hanged at 6 o’clock to-morrow morning unless Governor Stephens stays the execution. Twice Nettles has been within the shadow of the gallows, with the death watch set, when each time the Governor granted reprieves that he might look further into the applications for clemency.

Nettles has all but lost hope. When Deputy Sheriffs Parcel and Hoefer escorted him from his cell on the second tier to cell No. 46 on the round floor, he said he guessed this was the last time. The cell to which he was transferred is the one occupied by all St Louis murderers during the last hours before their execution. Nettles was restless Friday night, alternately reading the Scriptures, praying and singing. When the deputies came in he seemed somewhat relieved. He walked between them up and down the exercise yard until 7 o’clock, when he went into his new cell, where he ate a hearty breakfast. At dinner and supper it was the same way; he seemed to take a last pleasure in ordering what he wanted to eat. He still protests his innocence.

He was convicted of the murder of Conductor Sam W. Mann on the night of July 4, 1898. Nettles got on Mann’s car at Jefferson and Franklin avenues. He refused to pay his fare and Mann ordered him from the car. A scuffle followed and Nettles fired a shot which struck Mann in the abdomen, causing his death a few hours afterwards. Mrs. Mann and two little daughters of the conductor were on the car at the time and witnessed the killing.


From the St. Louis Republic, May 8, 1900

James Nettles, the negro convicted of the murder of Conductor Samuel W. Mann of the Suburban Street railway, was hanged yesterday morning. The drop fell at 6:07 o’clock, and nineteen minutes afterwards the doctors pronounced him dead. Nettles met his death bravely and declared his innocence with almost his last breath.

The execution was conducted with precision and dispatch, but without unnecessary haste. About 250 spectators were present, but they were more orderly than those present at previous hangings.

Nettles was restless throughout the night preceding his execution, and did not sleep any. A number of friends called to bid him good-by early in the night. The Reverend Mr. Sachs, Nettles’s spiritual adviser, the Deputy Sheriffs on the “death watch,” and a few newspaper men remained with him throughout the night. At 3 o’clock in the morning the Century Quartet called at the jail and sang several favorite hymns.

Early in the morning Nettles retired to his cell with the Reverend Mr. Sachs, where they read the Scriptures and prayed until the arrival of Sheriff Pohlman.

At 6 o’clock Sheriff Pohlman read the death warrant to Nettles. The prisoner’s arms were then bound and he was led to the scaffold. Nettles did not falter, although he was a trifle nervous. After his legs and arms had been securely bound Sheriff Pohlman asked him if he had anything to say before he died. In a clear, resonant voice he said,

I am about to die for another man’s crime. The Lord knows I am innocent, and I go to meet him with a clear conscience. I love you and I hope to meet you above. I am innocent!

Then the black cap was pulled down over his head, the noose adjusted and Chief Deputy Sheriff Pohlman sprung the lever. Nettles’s body, after the drop, hung perfectly still. Nineteen minutes later the physicians pronounced him dead and his body was cut down and taken into the morgue. An examination revealed that his neck was broken.

Nettles shot and killed Conductor Mann on his car in Franklin avenue near Leffingwell avenue on the night of July 4, 1898. The negro got on the car and refused to pay his fare. While Mann was ejecting him he pulled a revolver and fired. Mrs. Mann and two little children were on the car and witnessed the murder.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Hanged,Missouri,Murder,Pelf,Public Executions,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,USA

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