January 1st, 2015
In contemporary America, it would be next to unthinkable to schedule an execution for New Year’s Day — and asking the associated team of wardens, guards, executioners, witnesses, lawyers, and journalists to ditch New Year’s Rockin’ Eve and do a ball drop to a lethal chemical injection would be a complete nonstarter.
But the First of January, especially prior to the age of widespread telecommunication, was not always so sentimentally held. The Espy File of historical American executions records none whatsoever for Christmas Day, but several have occurred on New Year’s. We’ve previously profiled some of them in these grim annals, like Sylvester Henry Bell and Archilla Smith.
January 1 of 1926, “just 15 minutes after the arrival of the New Year” in the words of the Associated Press report, was the occasion in Huntsville, Texas for electrocuting African-American Melton Carr for raping a white woman in Walker County.
I have found hardly any information pertaining to this case online, but the detail that Carr was reprieved from an earlier execution date “on a petition from officials and citizens of Walker county” — implicitly, white citizens — might be a suggestive indicator for a crime so incendiary under other circumstances. We have seen that detail before in the case of Tom Joyner’s ancestors, who had broad clemency support because the racial politics of the time made an open judicial exploration of their actual innocence impossible.
Hours later, the first-ever radio broadcast of the Rose Bowl introduced another New Year’s Day tradition to the national consciousness — and just by the by, changed the South forever.
After that game, there would be only more January 1 execution date in American history: the 1943 double gassing of Rosanna and Daniel Phillips.
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Tags: 1920s, 1926, football, january 1, melton carr, rose bowl
September 28th, 2013
On this date in 1926, serial killer Sataro Fukiage (English Wikipedia entry | Japanese) was hanged at Ichigaya prison for rape-murder.
Most of what’s out there about Sataro Fukiage is in Japanese (like this book). Born in 1889, his hardscrabble upbringing saw him enter the workforce at age nine. He was not a model apprentice, alternating escape attempts with evictions for bad conduct; stealing from his master to procure a prostitute landed him in Kyoto prison at the tender age of 12, and it was in his periodic incarcerations that, Oliver Twist-like, he learned the finer points of pickpocketing from yakuza. He would need those finer points to do the breadwinning for his penniless mother in between his stints behind bars.
His somewhat sympathetic childhood also included a voracious and deviant sexual appetite which was to blossom in time into a carnivorous pattern of abuse.
Fukiage committed his first murder in 1906, when he took an 11-year-old acquaintance to a remote location, then raped and strangled her, only avoiding the death sentence because he himself was still underage at that time.
Released in 1922, he immediately brought himself to widespread public notoriety for a 1922-23 rape spree with at least 27 victims — most of them, again, underage girls. He mixed at least six murders into the one-man crime wave.
He completed an autobiography in prison, but it was banned shortly after its publication.
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Tags: 1920s, 1926, sataro fukiage, september 28
April 26th, 2013
On this date in 1928, Chinese journalist and social activist Shao Piaoping was shot at Beijing’s Tianqiao execution grounds — fulfillment of his lifelong motto, “To die as a journalist.”
The intrepid Shao blazed a trail for print media in his native country, bucking a prejudice that mere journalism was a bit on the declasse side.
He co-founded and edited Hanmin Daily in 1911, just in time to get his support for the Xinhai Revolution into newsprint.
But Shao was no propagandist, and, post-revolution, was repeatedly arrested for his scathing critiques of Yuan Shikai and the various other illiberal strongmen taking roost. He had to duck out to Japan twice during the 1910s; there, he kept cranking copy, now as a foreign correspondent for Shanghai’s top newspapers. As the decade unfolded, he also became a theoretician of journalism without abating his prodigious ongoing output.
“I saw my role as that of helpful critic and believed it wrong to praise petty people simply to avoid trouble,” this pdf biography quotes Shao saying of himself. “I was determined not to dispense with my responsibility.”
By the late 1910s, he was publishing his own capital-city newspaper, Jingbao (literally “The Capital”) and developing his academic thought as a teacher at Peking University. He was perhaps China’s premier journalist; even so, he still had to slip into exile in Japan in 1919 after openly supporting the May Fourth student movement.
Shao left an impressive mark on his students, perhaps none more so than a penniless young leftist working in the university library, Mao Zedong.
As a guerrilla, Mao — still at that time an obscurity to most of the outside world — remembered Shao fondly to journalist Edgar Snow. In contrast to many other Peking University scholars who gave the provincial twentysomething short shrift, Shao “helped me very much. He was a lecturer in the Journalism Society, a liberal, and a man of fervent idealism and fine character.” Word is that Shao even loaned Mao money.
Shao’s acid pen and unabashed sympathy for agitators led to his arrest in 1926 by the warlord Zhang Zuolin — whose wrath Shao incited by denouncing bitterly a horrific March 18 massacre of students.
But the martyr journalist’s heroic career — not to mention his accidental link with the future Great Helmsman — insured his elevation into the pantheon, even though Shao’s underground membership in the Communist party was not known for decades after his death. Mao personally declared him a hero of the revolution, and intervened to see that his widow and children were cared for. China has any number of public monuments in Shao’s honor.
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Tags: 1920s, 1926, april 26, beijing, journalism, journalists, mao zedong, shao piaoping
December 23rd, 2012
(Thanks to Meaghan Good of the Charley Project for the guest post. -ed.)
At 7:00 a.m. on this date in 1926, alcoholic and all-around loser Petrus Hauptfleisch was hanged in South Africa for the murder of his elderly mother nearly two years earlier. The case is detailed in Rob Marsh’s book Famous South African Crimes, available to read for free here.
Hauptfleisch had lived with his mother well into adulthood. When World War I started, he joined the army and served in Europe for four years.
After his return to South Africa in 1919, he demonstrated signs of having grown up a bit: he got a job as a butcher, married and had a young child. He and his wife fought constantly, however. He had a violent temper and drank heavily, to the extent that eventually none of the local businesses would sell him liquor anymore.
Finally his wife left him and he moved back in with Mom, but he was abusive to her as well and over Christmas 1924 she had him arrested after he threatened to kill her.
But once he sobered up and was released from custody, Mom let him move back in. Perhaps she felt she had to, since Petrus was haupt-fleisch und blut. Whatever her reason, the sins of the son were soon visited upon the mother.
Hauptfleisch claimed his mother accidentally set the kitchen on fire on January 13, 1925 and burned to death. The autopsy, however, didn’t support his story: all indications were that Mrs. Hauptfleisch had been suffocated or strangled to death and then burned afterward. There was no sign of soot or ashes in her bronchial tube or lungs, strong evidence that she hadn’t been breathing when the fire started, and there were other indications of asphyxiation. The postmortem lividity indicated she’d been lying flat on her back at the time of death, not face-down as Hauptfleisch said he’d found her.
Authorities believed Hauptfleisch was driven to homicide partly because of greed (he was the sole heir to his mother’s £600 estate) and partly out of personal rancor over that whole arrest thing.
After he was convicted and the sentence of death was passed upon him, Hauptfleisch issued a statement acknowledging that he had not been a good son, but protesting his innocence of this “most dastardly” crime. He would maintain his innocence until he died.
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Tags: 1920s, 1926, december 23, family, names, parricide, petrus hauptfleisch
October 1st, 2012
(Thanks to Meaghan Good of the Charley Project for the guest post. -ed.)
On this day in 1926, triple murderer Tony Vettere was executed on the “Galloping Gallows” in Butte, Montana. He would be the last person judicially hanged in that city.
The previous year on November 22, the Italian-born Vettere had encountered John Deranja about a mile outside of the town of Meaderville, a suburb of Butte in Silver Bow County. For no apparent reason, Vettere shot Deranja in the left side and killed him instantly.
That was at 9:15 p.m.
By 10:00 p.m., Vettere was on North Main Street in Meaderville and saw Joseph Cicarelli standing in front of a house talking to another man, Antone Favero. Vettere called out Cicarelli’s name, raised his shotgun, and fired on both men. Cicarelli was hit in the shoulder; he died within minutes. Favero got it in the abdomen and lived long enough to get to the hospital and make a statement implicating Vettere. Then he, too, succumbed at midnight.
By this time, Vettere had already attempted a fourth murder: he shot at still another Meaderville man, Angelino Gucciono, but missed. Gucciono hit the ground when he heard shots and the woman he was walking with legged it for the nearest house, where the occupants let her inside. Vettere chased after her and broke several of the house’s windows, but didn’t go in; instead, he fled the scene.
The next day the police found him hiding, unarmed, in a gully eight miles outside of town. His murder spree seems to have been motiveless: he had had some problems with Gucciono, but that had been years ago, and he didn’t seem to have had anything against the other men.
Vettere, according to witnesses, was drunk during the late afternoon hours on the day of the murder, but by 10:30 he appeared to be sober.
The victims left behind eighteen children between them.
Some people, even before his shooting spree, thought Vettere was crazy. He behaved erratically in jail and claimed he didn’t remember the murders. His lawyer claimed he “spoke incoherently on many different subjects” and didn’t seem to know why he was locked up. The court decided he was legally sane, however.
The portable (horse-hauled; hence the name) gallows were set up in the foyer of the old jail, which is today the Butte police department. According to the Billings Gazette, hundreds crowded in to witness it.
“A hanging was a pretty big social event,” Butte Archives volunteer Jim McCarthy told the paper. “The sheriff would send out invitations in those days.”
After his inevitable conviction and death sentence, Vettere became one of the few condemned men who actually put up a physical resistance en route to the gallows. Amateur historian R. Michael Wilson describes it:
During his final days Vettere was visited by Father J.M. Gilmore but his reaction to the priest was so violent he was not permitted to be with the prisoner alone. On September 30 the prisoner asked to see Judge Lynch [yes, that was the judge’s real name], but he refused to visit the man in his cell. Vettere would not rest that final evening and paced his cell, tensed as if ready to spring, and when the deputies entered the corridor Vettere yelled out, “Where are all these men come from.”
Undersheriff Robinson entered his cell at midnight to take him into the corridor for the reading of the death warrant but Vettere pulled a three foot piece of pipe from his bed clothes and attacked the undersheriff. Robinson backed out of the cell with Vettere close behind, and in the corridor of the jail Vettere pulled out a makeshift knife made from a spoon and, flailing about with the pipe in one hand, tried to cut the officers. He yelled, “You can shoot me but you won’t hang me,” and said, “I kill every man who come here. Get Judge Lynch. I want to kill him,” and then, “Viva Mussolini!” Sheriff Larry “Jack” Duggan demanded the pipe, but Vettere refused saying he would kill everyone. Two canisters of tear gas were brought in and he was sprayed from two sides, and the officers finally managed to herd him back into his cell, where he was gassed for fifteen minutes.
He was finally overcome by choking, dropped his weapons, and retreated onto his cots. The deputies then rushed in, overpowered him, and his wrist and arms, knees and ankles were bound with straps. He was carried onto the gallows and as he stood on the trapdoor he recovered his senses and began cursing everyone.
After death, Vettere’s brain was removed and examined by two doctors, who found no visible anomalies.
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Tags: 1920s, 1926, butte, meaderville, october 1, tony vettere
August 13th, 2012
On this date in 1926, Richard Whittemore — the chieftain of a notorious armed-robbery syndicate in Prohibition New York and Maryland — was hanged at Baltimore’s Maryland Penitentiary for murdering a prison guard during an escape the year before.
Whittemore, known as the “Candy Kid” — it’s not clear to me whether this throwback nickname alludes to his gang’s prodigious heroin addiction — was national news for a brief twelvemonth during Prohibition.
In 1925, he busted out of prison in Maryland, killing a guard. It was for this crime that he ultimately hanged, but it was for his months on the lam that he made his blackened name.
Whittemore recruited a coterie of cold-blooded toughs and commenced a series of brazenly public violent robberies. (He also wifed up someone called Tiger Girl.)
After heisting a few payrolls — back when such things were delivered in armored cars instead of by digital funds transfer — the Candy Kid’s gang made for New York, where they proceeded to stick up several jewelry stores and eventually (in Buffalo) to hijack a Federal Reserve truck.
For all their momentary success, their candle burned at every possible end. Stickups followed each other with just a few weeks in between to squander the proceeds and, as alluded, the gang indulged a judgment-impairing drug habit.
The end, when it came, was swift.
In March 1926, barely a year after blasting his way out of prison, Whittemore was caught. Within the next five months, he beat charges in New York (pdf), was extradited to Maryland, found himself convicted of murder there, and expeditiously hanged.
Years later, the death of this professional blackguard is probably most noteworthy to posterity for the attendance among the select circle of witnesses of professional crank (and son of Baltimore) H.L. Mencken.
That irascible pundit was no foe of the death penalty (although the nature of his support veered idiosyncratic). He scarcely felt the hanging’s participants to have been degraded or brutalized by the ritual of hanging Whittemore, and held forth on the subject in a subsequent essay later reprinted in A Mencken Chrestomathy:
It is unpleasant, I grant you, to see a man put to death, but the brutality of it is immensely overestimated by those who have never enjoyed that honor. They forget this technical skill that can make even killing painless and humane. And they forget that the victim himself is almost always a brute with little more sensitiveness than an ox. I witnessed recently. He went to his death with a swagger, and obviously full of an imbecile delight in the attention he was attracting. His occupations in his last days were those of a happy half-wit, and his final message, delivered through the tabloid newspaper, the Baltimore Post, was precisely the sort of defiant rubbish that such a moron would be expected to formulate and delight in. The whole thing, to him, was a gaudy show, and it was quite impossible for any rational man, observing him at the end, to have any very active sympathy for him.
A new State law has got rid of the obscene crowds that used to flock to hangings, and of the bungling that once made them revolting. The gallows at the Penitentiary is admirably designed. Whittemore dropped at least ten feet, and he was unconscious instantly. Save for one brief drawing up of the legs as he died he didn’t move an inch. The old-time jail yard gallows was a wooden structure with a high step, and the condemned had to climb up that step. It was a dreadful ordeal. He could see the noose a long way off. But Whittemore, stepping out of a second-story door on to a high platform, was on the trap before he saw the rope at all. If he had not delayed the proceedings to bawl a nonsensical farewell he would have been dead in less than a minute after he emerged. As it was, he dropped in less than two minutes. Was the thing horrible as a spectacle? No more than the most trivial surgery. One does not see a man hanged. One sees a black bag.
I have spoken of Whittemore as a moron. The term is probably flattering. His farewell message in the Post and his philosophical autobiography in the same instructive paper, published a few months ago, showed the mentality of a somrwhat backward boy of ten. Such professional killers, I believe, are nearly all on the same level: a Gerald Chapman is very rare among them, as a man of honor is rare in Congress. The sentimentalists, observing the fact, employ it as an argument against capital punishment. It is immoral, they contend, for the State to take the life of a creature so palpably stupid, and hence so little capable of sound judgment and decent behavior. But all this, it seems to me, is full of bad logic. The State of Maryland did not kill Whittemore because he was a moron: it killed him because he had demonstrated conclusively that his continued existence was incompatible with the reasonable safety of the rest of us. What difference did it make whether his criminality was due to lack of intelligence, or, as in the case of Chapman, to intelligence gone rancid? The only important thing was that he was engaged habitually, and apparently incorrigibly, in gross and intolerable attacks upon the public security. What was to be done about it? He had been sent to prison without effect. He had actually committed a murder in prison. There remained only the device of taking his life, and so getting rid of a dangerous and demoralizing nuisance.
To argue that society, confronted by such a rogue, has no right to take his life is to argue that it has no rights at all — that it cannot even levy a tax or command a service without committing a crime. There are, to be sure, men who so argue, and some of their arguments are very ingenious. But they have not converted any considerable body of reflective men and women. The overwhelming majority of people believe that, when a man adopts murder as his trade, society is justified in putting him to death. They have believed it in all ages and under all forms of government, and I am convinced that they still believe it today. The execution of Whittemore was almost unanimously approved in Maryland. If he had escaped the gallows there would have been an uproar, and it would have been justified.
The opponents of capital punishment have firmer ground under them when they object to the infliction of the death penalty upon criminals other than professional murderers. The public opinion of Christendom long ago revolted against its employment to put down minor crimes: for example, theft. There has been of late a revolt against its use even in certain varieties of murder, and that revolt, I believe, is largely responsible for the increasing difficulty of getting convictions in capital cases, and the increasing tendency of the courts to upset convictions by legal quackery. The truth is that our criminal codes need a thorough overhauling. The old categories of crime are only too often archaic and irrational. It is absurd to hang an aggrieved husband for killing his wife and her lover, and let a professional murderer live because, in a given case, the State is unable to prove premeditation. The test should be, not he instant intention, but the antecedent circumstances. Every one of us, under easily imaginable conditions, may commit a premeditated murder. But that possibility does not make us professional criminals, and it does not necessarily justify the death penalty in case we succumb. Juries obviously have felt that way, for many a murderer has escaped under the so-called unwritten law.
Judge Frederick Bausman, of the State of Washington, a very intelligent jurist, once suggested a way out. All crimes, he said, should be divided into two new categories; those which a reasonable and otherwise reputable man, under the circumstances confronting the accused, might be imagined as committing, and those showing only deliberate and gratuitous criminality. Under the first heading would fall many crimes of passion and many ordinary thefts. Under the second would fall the doings of the Chapmans and Whittemores. The man who commits the former is now often used too harshly; the man who commits the latter is almost always used too softly. What sense is there in the old rule of evidence that the record of an accused, save he go on the stand himself, may not be brought against him on his trial? It is hypocritical and vain, for juries consider it notwithstanding. It is unjust, for the record often contributes to a sound judgment, as it did in the Whittemore case. The important thing is not to play a game according to a set of tight and stupid rules but to punish and put down crime. The way to do that is to proceed swiftly and harshly against professional criminals. I believe that every gunman should be hanged after his first shot, whether it kills or not. To stop short of that is to put the rights that he has deliberately forfeited above the public security. In other words, it is to convert the judicial process into a scheme for protecting and fostering crime.
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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Maryland,Murder,Organized Crime,Theft,USA
Tags: 1920s, 1926, august 13, baltimore, candy kid, gerald chapman, h.l. mencken, richard whittemore, tiger girl
July 14th, 2010
On this date in 1926, 15 people who had been sentenced to death only the day before for attempting to assassinate Turkish statesman Atatürk were hanged in Constantinople.
Ziya Hursit (English Wikipedia entry | Turkish), a former National Assembly delegate who didn’t see eye to eye with Atatürk, generally goes down as the ringleader in this affair.
Their object? To gun down the President during a visit to Izmir a few weeks previous. When interrogated, Hursit “admitted at the outset his intention to kill the President of the Republic.” (London Times, June 29, 1926)
Frictions with said President had been growing over the preceding months, as Atatürk broke the eggs to make the Turkish Republic’s omelet.
In early 1926, Mustafa Kemal also sought to bring the manner in which Turkish society was regulated into line with European countries. On 17 February 1926, the Turkish parliament approved a new civil code which was translated almost verbatim from the civil code in the Swiss canton of Neuchatel. The changes it introduced included: granting Turkish citizens the right to choose their own religion, thus abolishing the previous prohibition on apostasy from Islam; officially recognizing only civil marriage ceremonies conducted by representatives of the civil authorities … outlawing polygamy; making divorce dependent on a decision of the courts; lifting the ban on Muslim women marrying non-Muslims; and granting men and women equal inheritance rights.
The new Civil Code was followed by a battery of further legal reforms to try to bring Turkey into line with contemporary Europe. On 1 March 1926, parliament approved a new Penal Code, which was translated from the Italian Penal Code of 1889. A Code of Obligations was introduced on 22 April 1926, again based on the one in Swiss canton of Neuchatel. On 9 May 1926, parliament approved a new Commercial Code, which was largely based on German law.
This first of the Turkish Republic’s political assassination attempts and arguably its last serious bid to reverse secularism licensed an efficient purge and further consolidation of power by Atatürk, who over the weeks ahead shattered the remnants of the Unionists and Progressive Republicans and settled in for essentially secure autocratic governance for the balance of his life.
The alleged conspirators in the hit — not all of them as eager as Hursit to avow responsibility over the two-plus weeks’ trial — were hanged at a couple different locations in the former capital this date, bearing placards damning them for “attempting to assassinate our President, Mustapha Kemal Pasha, who is the saviour of Turkey’s honour.” One of them had a botched execution with a broken rope and a do-over.
(The quote is from the London Times dispatch about the executions, printed July 15, 1926. This story gives the figure of 15 hanged; it appears to me that the correct number that date was either 13 or 14, with two additional death sentences handed down in absentia. It was, in any event, more death sentences than the public prosecutor himself had demanded (11) in the case.)
* The city wasn’t renamed Istanbul until 1930.
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Tags: 1920s, 1926, ataturk, constantinople, istanbul, july 14, kemal ataturk, mustafa kemal, smyrna, zia hurshid, ziya hursit