1910: Johan Alfred Ander, the last executed in Sweden

Add comment November 23rd, 2016 Headsman

On this date in 1910, Sweden made its first and only use of the guillotine — in the very last execution of that country’s history.

The milestone subject’s name was Johan Alfred Ander, a failed hotelier and petty thief who, on January 5 of 1910, robbed a currency exchange outfit and in the process beat the clerk to death with a steelyard balance. As Ander had been casing his target from a nearby hotel whose own staff had grown suspicious of him, it didn’t take long to connect criminal to crime. An ample supply of incriminating booty in Ander’s possession (e.g., the beaten clerk’s wallet) confirmed the link.

Executions were already disappearing in Sweden at this point; by 1910, it had been a decade since the most recent one, ferry spree killer John Filip Nordlund. On the other hand, Sweden clearly anticipated repeat performances in the future because in the meantime it had ordered a guillotine. (Nordlund’s beheading was done by hand, by Albert Gustaf Dahlman, who also executed our man Ander.)

Ander never copped to the murder and refused to appeal for royal clemency.* Whether it was the savagery of the crime or the pride of its author, he was found a worthy candidate to interrupt the hiatus.

The death penalty was formally abolished in Sweden in 1921.

* Ander’s father did make an appeal on his behalf. It was (obviously) refused.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Guillotine,History,Milestones,Murder,Pelf,Sweden,Theft

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1910: Mathias Muff, reproached by 15 orphans

Add comment May 2nd, 2015 Headsman

Thanks to the outstanding Trove digitized records of Australian newspapers, we have this item from the Advertiser (Adelaide) published May 4, 1910, concerning an affair from two days previous on the other side of the globe.

The death penalty was barely in use in Switzerland at this point; Muff’s execution would be the fifth-last for common crimes in Swiss history.


LONDON, May 3.

Mathias Muff, who some time ago murdered four persons in the canton of Lucerne, was executed in Lucerne, the capital, yesterday, the guillotine being used.

This is the first execution which has taken place for many years in Switzerland, Lucerne being one of the cantons which have re-enacted the death penalty after its abolition. Muff, when urged to sign a petition to the President for the commutation of the death sentenced, refused, saying, “I cannot live to hear the voices of fifteen orphans reproaching me.”

There was some difficulty in obtaining a guillotine, there being none in existence in Switzerland, and the authorities were compelled to secure the loan of one from the French Government. In France there are but two official guillotines, and both are kept in Paris, but one is specially reserved for executions in the provinces. Neither of these could be spared, but one was obtained from the French colonies, which between them have nine.

The cost of the guillotines is said to be £250 each, but they are well made, for the two now in use in France were made in 1870 in the place of those burnt during the Commune and by all accounts they still work as well as when first tested on a bundle of straw.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Guillotine,Murder,Switzerland,Volunteers

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1910: Ahn Jung-geun, Korean nationalist

3 comments March 26th, 2010 Headsman

A century go today, Korean independence martyr Ahn Jung-geun (or An Jung-geun) hanged at Port Arthur for assassinating Japanese statesman Ito Hirobumi.

Ahn Jung-geun, who was also a skilled calligrapher (his epigram, “Unless reading everyday, thorns grow in the mouth” is well-known in Korea), actually had a more visionary pan-Asianist agenda than his nationalist byline might initially suggest.

But he militantly opposed Japan’s annexation of the peninsula, and won his hero stature for gunning down Ito in Manchuria.

Ito, for his part, is a national hero in Japan for establishing that country’s parliamentary government and serving as its first Prime Minister.

So, yeah. Still a spot of tension over this incident.

Because the Japanese worried that “if Ahn Jung-geun’s body is handed over to the surviving family or impudent Koreans … it will not be good in the future,” its ultimate deposition has become an enduring historical mystery, with China the current likely suspect. Koreans’ intensified hunt for records pointing to Ahn’s grave has been much in the news during the centennial run-up.

Wherever his bones rest, the Korean patriot (as the saying has it) lives on. He’s even been posthumously promoted by the South Korean army to the rank of “General”.

The recent Korean film 2009 Lost Memories is premised on an radically different alternate timeline starting when Ahn is prevented from killing Ito. Here’s its aesthetically appealing climax, when history is righted.

Scrabbel put the Ahn Jung-geun story to music.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Activists,Arts and Literature,Assassins,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous,Hanged,History,Japan,Korea,Martyrs,Murder,Notable for their Victims,Occupation and Colonialism,Popular Culture,Separatists,Treason

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1910: George Reynolds and John Williams

Add comment February 8th, 2010 Headsman

At 6:30 this morning a century ago, two black men were hanged in Kansas City, Mo., for raping a white violinist less than seven weeks before.

There was really only one way this case was going to end.

The assault was of such a nature that intense feeling was aroused. Threats of lynching frequently were heard …

Prisoners in the County Jail raised bedlam when the verdict became known. They had previously threatened to lynch the negroes in the exercise room of the jail.

That’s from the Los Angeles Times blog’s roundup of its A.P. coverage from the Show-Me state a century ago — which further reveals George Reynolds and John Williams enjoyed a five-minute jury deliberation, and this vituperative sentence from the judge:

“They don’t even deserve to be classed with the murderer who must pay the penalty for his crime with his life,” continued Judge Latshaw.* “It would be an insult to these men, who had at least a spark of manhood in their hardened souls, to have such brutes as these put in their class. I don’t care to desecrate the day by ordering these two brutes hanged on the legal hanging day.”

(The regular hanging day — Friday — was safely un-desecrated; Reynolds and Williams hanged on a Tuesday.)

Reynolds fainted at the gallows. “Cowardly Brute,” the LA Times headlined it, also mentioning that he’d been starving himself for a week in a desperate bid to cheat the hangman. He maintained his innocence at the last.

* Judge Latshaw presided over a number of high-profile Missouri trials … often acquittals.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Hanged,Missouri,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Rape,Sex,USA

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1910: Hawley Harvey Crippen

7 comments November 23rd, 2007 Headsman

On this date in 1910, the notorious wife-murdering doctor Hawley Harvey Crippen was hanged at London’s Pentonville Prison.

The sensational trial, which saw the American-born homeopath convicted for dismembering his shrewish and unfaithful wife Cora in an attempt to take up with his young mistress, fitted Crippen for both a noose and a likeness at Madame Tussaud’s. (More trial background here.) It has also made his case twice a landmark in the history of crime and technology: once at the time of his arrest, and again just last month as of this writing.

The core of a case a jury found so open-and-shut as to require just 27 minutes to convict was the poorly explained disappearance of Crippen’s wife, followed by the discovery of a considerably mutilated female corpse under the Crippens’ home.

Although much of the crown’s evidence was speculative and circumstantial — to say nothing of the bodice-ripping gossip of nymphomania and infidelity — a corpse under the floorboards tends to be a compelling circumstance to a jury.

Presumably that anticipation prompted Crippen to flee the Scotland Yard investigation with his mistress Ethel le Neve under assumed names on an ocean liner bound for Canada. The case made criminological history as the first use of wireless communication to apprehend a suspect when the ship’s alert captain telegraphed Crippen’s presence to land as the ship steamed away — enabling a policeman to board a faster boat and arrest the pair as they docked in Quebec.

In the century since Crippen went to the gallows still maintaining his innocence, the case has endured in popular notoriety. The killer’s life has been novelized, meditated upon and borrowed for fiction, offering a draught of inspiration to Alfred Hitchcock along the way.

Books inspired by the Crippen case …

Given his suspicious behavior, scant had been the credence given Crippen’s protestation of innocence.

Until now.

In a meeting of Edwardian crime and cutting-edge technology, two scientists from Crippen’s home state of Michigan stunningly announced in October that DNA testing proves the body was not Cora Crippen after all.

If true, it would appear to void Crippen’s conviction in its particulars without quite exonerating the hanged man from the natural question: whose was the corpse? The manufacture of clothes on the body dated it to the Crippens’ occupancy of the house.

One of Crippen’s modern sleuths, in a wholly speculative vein, thinks it might harken to an altogether different sort of crime: a botched back-alley abortion, just the sort of thing a financially struggling physician might have been involved in.

Maybe.

But if the test invites a modern investigator to look 97 years backwards, it also suggests a posture of epistemological humility. It’s just possible that the light this test casts on our own time is as searching as that it shines on 1910.

The Prejudice of Science

The Crippen case was a classic 19th century-style detective job — the inspector who made the arrest cut his teeth as a younger man on a Jack the Ripper murder — but it took place on the brink of a revolution in forensic science.

Just a few years before, fingerprinting had been embraced by British and American law enforcement and begun its march towards total institutionalization. On the heels of fingerprinting came a multiplicity of biometric approaches to crime scenes — hair and fiber analysis, blood typology, and most recently and dramatically, DNA.

And they, in turn, have brought a rising faith in science to adjudicate the law.

While the “CSI Effect” — jurors’ expectation of case-breaking scientific evidence — conventionally plays as a hindrance for prosecutors who usually have no such thing, the excess deference given to less-than-conclusive forensic evidence can likewise cut against the defense. Evidence mishandled at crime labs, even cooked outright, factors into numerous recent post-conviction exonerations. The once ironclad credibility of fingerprint evidence has itself been undermined by subsequent forensic advances.

In short, for all its undoubted contributions to criminal justice, forensic science packs along its own set of pitfalls, caveats and blinders reflexively privileging evidence of the laboratory.

This is not a reflex to indulge uncritically. History grants the benefit of hindsight, but rarely the luxury of certitude.

A waxwork Dr. Crippen at Madame Tussaud’s. Image used with permission.

So if the prospect of Crippen’s innocence intrigues, that unexplained body — that sudden flight for Canada — that (permanent) failure of Cora Crippen to resurface — nevertheless remain. They might lead us to question our implicit faith in the finality of DNA’s verdict on history rather than the other way around.

Are we certain that an unbroken line of blood relations really connects Cora Crippen to the modern DNA donors of her “family”?

Are we certain that a reliable chain of custody has preserved the original tissue samples unsullied across a century?

And if we are certain, what do we make of that body after all?

It is humans who must ultimately interpret and contextualize even the firmest forensic science. Whatever we might believe of Dr. Crippen we retain the burden of that belief, with all its intrinsic potential for grievous wrong.

The tales Hawley Crippen has yet to unfold from the grave might or might not shed still another different light on our understanding of what happened at 39 Hilldrop Crescent a century ago.

The gentleman’s place as a continuing attraction at Madame Tussaud’s, however, seems assured.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Common Criminals,Doctors,England,Hanged,Infamous,Milestones,Murder,Notable Sleuthing,Popular Culture,Ripped from the Headlines,Sex,Wrongful Executions

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