1928: William Charles Benson

Add comment November 20th, 2018 Headsman

William Charles Benson hanged at Wandsworth prison on this date in 1928, the murderer of his ice cream factory co-worker’s wife.

Benson in 1925 had moved in with his mate Sidney Harbor in Kentish Town where the quarters were so close that everybody shared the same bedroom.

The savings in rent were drawn from the heart’s account, once Sidney’s wife Charlotte — the couple had two children together — took a shine to the boarder in the other bed. Benson in 1927 lost job and side piece alike when he was fired from Wall’s and also kicked out of the house by the suspicious Sidney; Charlotte, however, continued the affair and eventually even took an apartment nearby Benson’s new place to facilitate assignations.

Early on the morning of September 6, 1928, Benson hailed a constable with the words, “I want an ambulance, I have just killed my girl.” Apparently, she had proposed putting the adultery to an end and returning to Sidney.

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

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1926: Anteo Zamboni, Mussolini near-assassin, lynched

Add comment October 31st, 2018 Headsman

Halloween of 1926 was a festival of triumph for the Italian fascists … and they crowned it in a festival of blood.

The occasion marked (not exactly to the day) the fourth anniversary of Benito Mussolini‘s bloodless coup via the October 1922 March on Rome. And as a gift for himself and his populace, Benito Mussolini on that date inaugurated Bologna’s Stadio Littoriale by riding a charger into the arena and delivering a harangue.


Fascist-built and still in service, it’s now known as the Stadio Renato Dall’Ara and it’s home to Bologna F.C. 1909. (cc) image by Udb.

After another address to a medical conference later that afternoon, Mussolini was motorcading down via Rizzoli in an Alfa Romeo when a gunshot whizzed through his collar.*

It had been fired by a 15-year-old anarchist named Anteo Zamboni, vainly and sacrificially hoping to turn history’s tide with a well-placed bullet.

Instead, his act would offer Il Duce a Reichstag Fire-like pretext — there was always bound to be one, sooner or later — for a raft of repressive legislation including the creation of a nasty secret police, the dissolution of political opposition, and (of interest to this here site) reintroduction of the death penalty.**

But Anteo Zamboni would see his penalty delivered summarily after the crowd seized him.†

Zamboni was done to death with blows and blades by Mussolini’s fascist admirers right on the spot. In a turn of heart, Bologna — by tradition a leftist stronghold — now has a street named for the young would-be assassin. (Here is the source for the ghastly Mature Content images below of Zamboni’s brutalized corpse.)

The incident is the subject of the 1978 film Gli Ultimi Tre Giorni.

* Zamboni’s was only one of three assassination attempts on Mussolini in 1926 alone.

** Just days afterwards during the post-Zamboni repressive pall, the great Marxist intellectual Antonio Gramsci was tossed into prison, never to emerge. Gramsci’s Prison Notebooks issued out of his dungeon, before his health succumbed in 1937 to the intentional neglect of his captors.

† It’s reportedly cavalry officer Carlo Alberto Pasolini who first detained the youth: the father of postwar film director Pier Paolo Pasolini.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Arts and Literature,Assassins,Attempted Murder,Bludgeoned,Borderline "Executions",Children,History,Italy,Lynching,Martyrs,Mature Content,No Formal Charge,Notable for their Victims,Public Executions,Put to the Sword,Revolutionaries,Summary Executions,Torture

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1921: Carl Wanderer, of the Ragged Stranger case

Add comment September 30th, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1921, the villain in the Case of the Ragged Stranger went to the gallows in Chicago.

Then-24-year-old World War I veteran Carl Wanderer entered the public’s cognizance when on the night of June 21, 1920, he and his pregnant young wife Ruth were accosted on the way home from cinema by a tramp — a “ragged stranger” in the piquant phrase that would identify both the case and the man. This stranger, who was never identified, held up the happy couple at gunpoint but Wanderer just so happened to be carrying his service pistol and exchanged gunfire with the mugger. After the hail of bullets was over, the ragged stranger was dead and his wife lay mortally wounded in his arms.

The obvious catnip themes — the young bride, the valiant troop, the machismo shootout — instantly made for a national news crime story.


Cleveland Plain Dealer, June 23, 1920

But it wasn’t many days that Wanderer’s self-flattering story enjoyed the public’s credulity.

Mr. Ragged’s weapon turned out to be an army-issue pistol just like Wanderer’s own … in fact, Wanderer had borrowed it from his cousin just days before the deadly fray. And this connection in turn led Wanderer to admit under intense police questioning that the tramp was a down-and-outer that Wanderer himself had hired to stage the mugging as a pretext under which Wanderer would murder his wife. Having so done, Wanderer realized that capital felonies are really best without surviving witnesses, so that was the end for the Stranger too.

Wanderer’s confessions, well, they wandered. The unifying thread was the man’s obvious desire to exit his marriage; what’s not clear is whether this reason was the object itself or further to some greater purpose. There were hints that the motive was pecuniary or even that Wanderer was homosexual; his defense would eventually raise a family history of mental illness. Wanderer himself at one point said that he wanted to return to military life;* but, investigations also turned up a scandalous flirtation with a 17-year-old customer of his butcher shop to whom he had made bold enough to send billets doux before his wife’s body was cold.

Chicago, Illinois
July 6, 1920

Sweetheart,

I am very lonesome tonight. I thought I would drop you a few lines as I am ever thinking of you.

The reason I wouldn’t meet you at your house is this. The people would talk about us.

Someday I will tell you a whole lot more. I have been double crossed by some people.

Good night little lover & happy dreams to you.

From Carl

After a jury outraged public opinion by failing to hang him for his wife’s murder, he was tried again before standing room only audiences for the stranger’s death — in effect a second bite at the apple. His young flame Julia Schmitt made a humiliating appearance on the stand which would set up a scorching summation by the state’s attorney.

He saw a vision of the future. It included the army life and Julia. But in that vision was no trace of Ruth who was soon to be a mother.

Ruth must die.

Kisses for Julia, bullets for Ruth.

The man who killed his wife and unborn babe.

That’s the kind of a man he is. See his calm face.

An actor.

But a yellow coward, and a murderer.

Send this cowardly, contemptible wretch, who deliberately and cunningly took the lives of his young, trusting wife, her unborn baby, and the poor, innocent, ragged, unidentified stranger, to the gallows. The man who had kisses for Julia Schmitt and bullets for the one he should have loved and cherished most has forfeited all claims to go on living on this earth.

There is abundant proof of this miserable creature’s guilt. You know as well as I do that he has violated every law of God or man. He deserves death. Even death is too good for him. Send him to the rope. Don’t weaken — give him the punishment he deserves.

Hang him.

And they did.


Belleville (Illinois) News Democrat, September 30, 1921

After hearing the condemned sing on the gallows, one wag present reportedly quipped that Wanderer deserved hanging for his voice alone.

This ragged old case has quite good coverage on this here World Wide Web. Some of Carl’s wanderers include:

* Perhaps not coincidentally, his unit had seen very little combat during the Great War.

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1927: Madame Klepikoff, wife of the spy

Add comment August 23rd, 2018 Headsman

From the London Times, Aug. 25, 1927. (See also reports from public newspaper archives such as California’s.)

I could not find any source that directly provided the full names of the Klepikoffs. Based on the brief description of events in this Russian book, the husband approached by a foreign agent to spy for Great Britain was one “E. Klepikoff”; this chance genealogy page might relate that name to Efram and Nadezhda Klepikoff.

SOVIET EXECUTIONS.

OFFICER’S WIFE SHOT.

(From our correspondent.)

RIGA, AUG. 24.

The Soviet authorities of Leningrad yesterday, following the rejection of her appeal by the Soviet Government, shot Mme. Klepikoff, who, after a second trial, was condemned to death by a Soviet Court for not betraying to the authorities her husband’s alleged “espionage in favour of England.” The husband, a former captain in the Russian Navy, was shot a few weeks ago.

Yesterday, also, the Soviet authorities shot three Customs officials, Zykoff, Peterleiter, and Borisovsky, and a trader, Kivman, who were condemned last week for defrauding the Customs. They appealed against the sentence, but the Government refused to stay the executioner’s hand.

Meanwhile, officially arranged meetings throughout the U.S.S.R. continue to pass violent resolutions, almost all of which proclaim that August 23 will remain marked in their calendars until they have taken full vengeance for Sacco and Vanzetti.

MOSCOW, Aug. 23. — The Central Executive Committee of the U.S.S.R. has suspended the execution of the sentence on General Annenkov and General Denisov, who, at the sitting of the Military Collegium of the Supreme Court at Semipalatinsk, were condemned to be shot.

The two generals, it was alleged, were implicated in the shooting down of the entire population of villages during the civil war that followed the Russian Revolution. –Reuter.

* On June 16 the tribunal sentenced Klepikoff to death and his wife to three years’ imprisonment. The Soviet authorities, dissatisfied with the sentence on the wife, ordered her re-trial “under conditions involving the death penalty.” The Court assembled on July 12 and passed sentence of death on her.

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1928: Xiang Jingyu, Communist

Add comment May 1st, 2018 Headsman

The Chinese Communist Xiang Jingyu was martyred on May Day of 1928.

The preeminent female cadre of her time, Xiang was the 16-year-old daughter of a merchant when imperial China fell in 1911. She came of age, and radicalized, in the tumultuous aftermath, becoming an early advocate for women’s liberation as an essential objective of the revolution. She also became the wife of Mao crony Cai Hesen.

Xiang made her mark with a seminal 1920 essay, published while studying in France, “A discussion of women’s emancipation and remoulding.” In it, “Xiang called upon women who had realized consciousness to form four organizations: a study and propaganda society, a free choice in marriage league, a student loan society, and public nurseries.” (Andrea McElderry, “Woman Revolutionary: Xiang Jingyu,” The China Quarterly, March 1986)

Returning to China the following year, she became one of the Communist Party‘s leading voices in the women’s section, where she dunked on bourgeois feminism (“The result of their efforts will be that the whole bunch of them will enter the pigsties of the capital and the provinces where together with the male pigs, they can preside over the nation’s calamities and the people’s misforturtunes”) and gained only halting traction campaigning for girls’ education and mobilizing female factory workers. Her dour and driven demeanor earned her the nickname “Old Grandma”.

Arrested by French soldiers in Hankou‘s French Concession, Old Grandma had no time for the captors who would betray her to the Kuomintang, and her own death. “I am Xiang Jingyu, a member of the Chinese Communist Party. You can kill me and cut me to pieces. I myself have no hope, but tens of thousands of Xiang Jingyus will rise up in my place.”

The present-day Communist Party esteems her a hero.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,China,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Intellectuals,Martyrs,No Formal Charge,Power,Shot,Wartime Executions,Women

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1922: Cemal Azmi, the butcher of Trabzon

Add comment April 17th, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1922, a Turkish official implicated in the Armenian genocide had a death sentence enforced upon him … by an assassin’s bullet.

Cemal Azmi, wartime governor of the Black Sea littoral of Trabzon,* was the point person in his region for the murder of some 50,000 Armenians. One distinctive twist in Trabzon (though by no means confined to that locality) was the prevalent use of drowning for cost-effective wholesale murder.

The Italian consul in Trabzon, Giacomo Gorrini — a veteran diplomat who hereafter would become consumed by the Armenian community’s travails until his death in 1940 — gave a heartbreaking account. His accounts of systematic mass drownings were corroborated by many other witnesses, including Turkey’s wartime German allies.

The passing of the gangs of Armenian exiles beneath the windows and before the door of the Consulate; their prayers for help, when neither I nor any other could do anything to answer them; the city in a state of siege, guarded at every point by 15,000 troops in complete war equipment, by thousands of police agents, by bands of volunteers and by the members of the “Committee of Union and Progress”; the lamentations, the tears, the abandonments, the imprecations, the many suicides, the instantaneous deaths from sheer terror, the sudden unhingeing of men’s reason, the conflagrations, the shooting of victims in the city, the ruthless searches through the houses and in the countryside; the hundreds of corpses found every day along the exile road; the young women converted by force to Islam or exiled like the rest; the children torn away from their families or from the Christian schools, and handed over by force to Moslem families, or else placed by hundreds on board ship in nothing but their shirts, and then capsized and drowned in the Black Sea and the River Deyirmen Dere — these are my last ineffaceable memories of Trebizond, memories which still, at a month’s distance, torment my soul and almost drive me frantic.

According to the tribunal that tried him in absentia in 1919, Governor Azmi personally ordered many such mass drownings. He also used the Red Crescent hospital to lodge young Armenian girls for his use as sex slaves, only to have them killed late in the war to tie up loose ends. To complete his cycle of deadly sins, Azmi also took liberal advantage of the looting opportunity afforded by the speedy vanishing of Armenian subjects.

Azmi absconded rather than face postwar prosecution but his symbolic death sentence gained bodily force via Armenian revolutionaries’ Operation Nemesis: a campaign to assassinate the chief authors of the genocide.

Nemesis’s most famous targets were the “Three Pashas” who ruled the Ottoman Empire during World War I. (They successfully murdered two of the three.) But Azmi was on the list as well, and on April 17, 1922, a pair of Armenian hit men gunned him down on the Berlin’s Uhlandstrasse along with another genocidaire, Behaeddin Shakir. The assassins weren’t even arrested.

* Centuries before, Trabzon’s Byzantine precursor, Trebizond, had been the last redoubt of the vanishing Roman Empire.

** Vahakn Dadrian, “Children as Victims of Genocide: The Armenian Case,” Journal of Genocide Research, 2003, 5(3). The same author has written widely on the Armenian genocide, including but not limited to Azmi’s conduct in Trabzon; also see his “The Turkish Military Tribunal’s Prosecution of the Authors of the Armenian Genocide: Four Major Court-Martial Series” (Holocaust & Genocide Studies, 1997 11(28) and “The Armenian Genocide as a Dual Problem of National and International Law” (University of St. Thomas Journal of Law and Public Policy, 2010, 4(2)).

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Armenia,Borderline "Executions",Death Penalty,Germany,History,Murder,Ottoman Empire,Politicians,Public Executions,Shot,Summary Executions,Turkey,War Crimes

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1927: Three Saragossa robbers

Add comment November 27th, 2017 Headsman

From the London Times, Nov. 28, 1927:

(From our own correspondent.)

MADRID, Nov. 28.

At Saragossa this morning three men convicted of murder and robbery were executed by the garrotte.

On July 23 last the three criminals and another, who is still at large, ambushed an employee of a liquorice factory, whom they knew was carrying money. They attacked him from behind, and after killing him secured 4,000 pesetas.

Passers-by witnessed the crime and raised an alarm, but the murderers fired upon their pursuers and escaped. One of the shots killed a child.

Later, three of the men were arrested. After their trial the Government refused to recommend them for the Royal clemency.

The Government has issued an official statement in connexion with the execution exhorting all classes of society to meditate on the sad extremes to which vice leads. All teachers are likewise invited to draw the attention of school children to the case, and explain why the Government was obliged to let the law take its course.

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1922: Francisco Murguia

Add comment November 1st, 2017 Headsman

On this date in 1922, Mexican General Francisco Murguia was shot at the Tepehuanes cemetery in Durango.

A photographer who found martial glory in the Mexican Revolution, Murguia (FindAGrave.com entry | Spanish Wikpiedia entry) was ally to revolutionary president Venustiano Carranza against rivals like Pancho Villa. He spent the late 1910s as Carranza’s military governor of Durango and Chihuahua where Jamie Bisher in The Intelligence War in Latin America, 1914-1922 denounces him “a brute” distinguished by “ruthlessness that stood out even in the Mexican Revolution … Murguila’s Chihuahua would be remembered for the corpses strung up in silent ranks along the roads.”

His loyalty to the Carranza cause after its namesake was deposed and assassinated in 1920 caused Murguia to flee to Texas for a time. He found his way into these dark pages by returning to lead a planned constitutionalist revolt against dictator Alvaro Obregon; anticipating the support of a coordinated rising, he was supported in the moment only by scanty fractions of the anticipated forces, leaving him nothing but the doomed bravado of a man before the muzzles.

“I have been granted the honor of directing my own execution, and I have sufficient fortitude to command it, but I shall not do it because I do not wish to commit suicide. For — and hear me well — they are not executing me; they are assassinating me. Viva Carranza!”

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1920: Rickey Harrison, Hudson Duster

Add comment May 13th, 2017 Headsman

On this date in 1920, Rickey Harrison of the Greenwich Village “Hudson Dusters” went to the electric chair for a murder committed in the course of an armed robbery.

As befits a gaggle of old time New York hoodlums this crowd was rife with colorful nicknames — Goo Goo Knox, Circular Jack, Ding Dong — and hired out its thrashings in service of Tammany Hall‘s rude electoral manipulations. Their signal achievement was earning a popular doggerel tribute that rang in the streets in its day, by beating senseless a beat cop who’d had the temerity to arrest some of their number.

Says Dinny [patrolman Dennis Sullivan], “Here’s me only chance
To gain meself a name;
I’ll clean up the Hudson Dusters,
And reach the hall of fame.”*
He lost his stick and cannon,
and his shield they took away.
It was then he remembered,
Every dog had his day.

At their peak the Hudson Dusters could rank as one of the brighter stars in the dizzying constellation of Big Apple crooks. Herbert Asbury’s classic The Gangs of New York notes that “perhaps fifty small groups … operated south of Forty-second street [and] owed allegiance to the Gophers, Eastmans, Five Pointers, Gas Housers, and Hudson Dusters … Each of these small gangs was supreme in its own territory, which other gangs under the same sovereighty might not invade, but its leader was always responsible to the chieftain of the larger gang, just as a prince is responsible to his king.” Allegedly future Catholic social justice activist Dorothy Day, then a teenage radical journalist just moved to New York City, enjoyed carousing with the Dusters in the 1910s.

Despite political pull through Tammany (and heavenly pull through Dorothy) arrests and gang wars dusted the Dusters over the first two decades of the 20th century.

Our man Rickey Harrison, a pipsqueak Irishman with a substandard nickname (“Greenwich Village Terror” … lame), led a gangland raid on a high-stakes poker game at the Knickerbocker Waiters Club on September 7, 1918, and shot dead a Canadian soldier who refused to give up his boodle. Harrison would go to his grave insisting that it was not he who fired the fatal shot, although he was markedly less scrupulous about accounting the undetected and unprosecuted crimes of his career.

As a last indignity, Harrison and another murderer named Chester Cantine — who preceded the gangster to the electric chair — had to brace themselves for eternity within earshot of a raucous Sing Sing vandeville show where prisoners and 800 visitors were “applauding and roaring with laughter in an improvised theatre a few feet away … comic sketches [and] jazz music resounded throughout the prison.” (New York Times, May 14, 1920)

Harrison’s last sentiment — “Let us hope and pray they will never do this thing to another man, innocent or guilty” — still awaits fulfillment a century later.

* The apparent allusion is to the Hall of Fame for Great Americas, a civic pantheon opened in 1900 that is now part of Bronx Community College. This outdoor colonnade, still extant but largely forgotten, imported its busts-of-great-men concept from Bavaria; the Hall’s popularity in its time makes it the ancestor of the innumerable Halls of Fame that have since come to litter the North American civic landscape.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Electrocuted,Execution,History,Murder,New York,Organized Crime,Pelf,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Theft,USA

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1929: Luther Baker, moonshine bootlegger

Add comment March 29th, 2017 Headsman

On this date in 1929, Washington state hanged bootlegger Luther Baker for murdering Clark County Sheriff Lester Wood during a Prohibition moonshine raid.

The rare Democrat office-holder in heavily Republican Clark County — which faces Portland, Ore., across the Columbia River — Sheriff Wood favored his dry constituents with “a ruthless war on liquor violators.” (Oregonian, May 23, 1927)

On May 22, 1927, Wood and two deputies found and destroyed an illegal 125-gallon still operated by Baker and his brothers “in the roughest and wildest part of Clark County,” Dole Valley — when the Bakers, alert to the lawmen’s presence, ambushed them. Wood was the only fatality of the wilderness shootout. Well, Wood and Luther Baker.

Luther, aged around 59, was arrested for this along with his brother Ellis and Ellis’s 21-year-old son Ted. Young Ted’s life sentence would be overturned on appeal, but Ellis spent 30 years locked up at Walla Walla and for 28 of those years he had to bear the memory of his older brother’s walk to the gallows* — for, according to the Seattle Daily Times same-day report of the morning hanging, Ellis “was awake in his cell” just “a few yards from the gallows” during the execution and seemed “more shaken than the man who climbed the thirteen steps.”**

* And the fact that Ted, despite his exoneration, succumbed to tuberculosis a few months after Luther Baker hanged. I haven’t been able to establish whether the condition related to his stint in prison.

** Luther and Ellis were allowed a half-hour together during Luther’s last night on earth.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Drugs,Execution,Hanged,Murder,USA,Washington

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