1937: Leslie George Stone, hanged by a fiber

Add comment August 13th, 2019 Headsman

Leslie George Stone hanged at Pentonville Prison on this date in 1937 for a murder that was revealed by the fabric of his trousers.

The naked body of Stone’s ex-flame Ruby Keen had turned up in the Bedfordshire town of Leighton Buzzard — strangled with a scarf after what looked a desperate struggle.

Now, Stone would already be a suspect here because of his relationship, and the fact that they’d been seen drinking together in public the preceding night. But what cinched the noose was Scotland Yard taking a variety of cast impressions of the apparent marks left in the earth by the killer.


Casts of the killer’s footprints taken by Scotland Yard from the murder scene of Ruby Keen. From the collection of Scotland Yard’s “Black Museum”.

Sample pairs of trousers were taken from all the possible suspects in the case. When Spilsbury examined Stone’s brand-new suit trousers he found that the knees had been brushed so hard that the nap had been worn away. Microscopic examination of the trousers showed up particles of sandy soil that matched that from the scene of the crime. There was also found, in the lining of Stone’s jacket, a silk fibre that matched with those taken from the dead girl’s underskirt. (Source)

If we’re being honest, “matches” of fiber even now are basically junk forensics that continue to go routinely, maddeningly overclaimed in courtrooms. But the same quality of incriminatory flimflam that enrolls fiber matches in so many wrongful conviction cases seems here to have been spotlighted the right guy. By the time of his trial Stone had to come off his demonstrable falsehoods about his and Keen’s movements on the night of her death, and submitted unpersuasive testimony that he’d strangled her as an accidental exuberance in a fight, and left her still alive.

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

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1931: Charles Simpson, “make it snappy”

Add comment July 17th, 2019 Robert Elder

(Thanks to Robert Elder of Last Words of the Executed — the blog, and the book — for the guest post. This post originally appeared on the Last Words blog. Fans of this here site are highly likely to enjoy following Elder’s own pithy, almanac-style collection of last words on the scaffold. -ed.)

Make it snappy.

— Charles H. Simpson, convicted of murder, hanging, California. Executed July 17, 1931

Known as “the Torch Slayer,” Simpson was already a convicted car thief and burglar when he entered Albina Voorhies’s grocery store. Simpson had known Voorhies because she rented the building from his father. Recognizing him, Voorhies turned her back to get him some cookies. That’s when Simpson struck her in the back of the head with a police club. Simpson eventually tied her to a chair, hit her again, and poured coal oil on her clothes, which he then set on fire. Simpson’s nerve faltered — he tried to take Voorhies to the bathroom to put the fire out — but by then the fire had spread. Panicking, Simpson left her in the store to bury the club and burn the clothes he wore.

Simpson could give no reason for his actions other than robbery. He had taken three dollars from the cash register.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,California,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Gallows Humor,Guest Writers,Hanged,Murder,Other Voices,USA

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1936: Adolf Seefeldt, Uncle Tick-Tock

1 comment May 23rd, 2019 Headsman

German serial killer Adolf Seefeldt was beheaded on this date in 1936 by the Third Reich.

The tramp timepiece-fixer with twenty-plus years of child molestation prison time in his 66 years of life, “Uncle Tick Tock” killed at least a dozen boys in the early 1930s whose creepy uniting feature was sailor suit garb. Their bodies — peacefully posed and innocent of any visible sign of violence — would be discovered in protected forest preserves; the nature of the killings makes it possible that he had other prey who have never been recognized as murder victims, but simply taken for natural deaths. Given that he’d dodged a previous murder charge as far back as 1908 one can’t help but wonder.

It’s been debated whether Seefeldt (English Wikipedia entry | German) poisoned his victims, as he confessed, or suffocated them, or even — fanciful hypothesis — dropped them into a hypnotic sleep only to abandon them outdoors to death by exposure.

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1939: Jose Aranguren, Civil Guard general

Add comment April 22nd, 2019 Headsman

Spanish general Jose Aranguren was shot on this date in 1939 by Franco’s Spain.

A brigadier general of the Civil Guard — an internal-to-Spain paramilitary/law enforcement force that remained predominantly loyal to the Republic during the Spanish Civil War — Aranguren (the very cursory English Wikipedia entry | the more detailed Spanish) at the outset of hostilities efficaciously suppressed the Nationalist rebels in Barcelona and even gave evidence that contributed to the execution of his mutinous opposite numbers.

From 1937, he served as the Republican military governor of Valencia.

He eschewed the opportunity to flee Spain at the end of the war, counting on his faithful adherence to his plain duty to vindicate himself against the fascists.

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1939: Aleksei Gastev, Soviet scientific manager

Add comment April 15th, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1939, the Old Bolshevik Aleksei Gastev, a theorist of scientific management for the Soviet state, was shot in Stalin’s purges.

Expelled in his youth from tsarist teaching ranks due to his radicalism, Gastev (English Wikipedia entry | Russian) traced his revolutionary bona fides back to the 1905 Revolution (he fought in it) and even before (as an ally and correspondent of Lenin).

With the advent of the latter’s revolution, Gastev founded the Central Institute of Labor (CIT), and CIT’s training firm Ustanovka (“setup” or “installation”) — organs dedicated, respectively, to the study of work, and to the promulgation of the new science of the workplace throughout the Soviet economy.

It was a socialist perspective on Taylorism, that practice of scientific management that was also transforming capitalist production; like Taylor, Gastev aimed to systematize the routine operations on the factory floor, to learn the most efficient way to wield a hammer or a shovel and expel from the labor force the indulgence of artisanal idiosyncracy and rule-of-thumb work; more broadly, Gastev aimed to revolutionize the way work was conceptualized by Soviet people, bending the mental and behavioral orientation of workers to optimize them for the demands of industrial production.

“Even when we exit the gates of the factory, still we carry the factory,” he wrote, positing a question that demanded “a cultural ustanovka.”

Fear of this very thing haunted Europe in this moment and has never left her nightmares in the century since. The CIT juxtaposed curiously with the almost simultaneous publication of some of the seminal dystopian mechanization literature — like Yevgeny Zamyatin‘s We (1921), in which the rational ordering of society annihilates freedom, and Karel Capek‘s R.U.R. (1920), the play that borrowed a Czech term for unfree work to give the world’s lexicon that wonderful word “robot”. Unsettling to many, this twining of man and machine was understood by Gastev as an emancipatory vista.

Gastev’s ideal worker is neither the oxen brute of Taylor’s dreams, nor the lifeless robot of Capek’s nightmare. He is rather an active, sentient, and creative part of the productive process who behaves like a seasoned, conscious, and well-trained warrior. Armed with sharpness of vision, acute hearing, attentiveness to environment and detail, precision and even grace of movement, and “scoutlike” inquisitiveness about the relationship and locations of things and peoples, he enters the factory as though it were a battle-field with commander-like briskness, regimental routine, and a martial strut. For him, no romance, no heroic individual deeds — only a relentless battle waged scientifically for production.

But the robot is present in Gastev’s vision nonetheless: it is the machine itself, not the man. For Gastev, the machine also takes on a life that gives it not only the power to produce and enrich, but also to train, to inspire, to organize. His wildest visions of 1918-19 are previsions of Capek and Zamyatin and celebrations of a coming event often warned about in science fiction: the takeover by machines. Gastev could never quite decide whether the machine was to be the master or the servant of man. Since he continued to use the machine metaphor, he eventually opened himself to attack by those who opposed his policies on other grounds. But Gastevism differed from administrative utopia — the heavy-handed martialing and mobilization of raw labor in a palpably unequal hierarchy. Gastev’s man-machine meant a symbiosis of the two, interacting in a way never wholly understood even by himself. It clearly contained fearful elements. But Gastev himself, by all accounts, was not a cold-hearted machine-like fanatic but a warm and engaging person. He did not fear the power of the machine. He feared backwardness, passivity, and sloth. (Source)


Dziga Vertov‘s 1929 classic Man with a Movie Camera captures the excitement of industrialization and industrial workers.

On the side — to stave off the sloth — Gastev kept up an artistic output of his own as a poet of the Proletarian Culture movement; this exemplar (Order No. 2 from a work called “Ten Orders”) comes to us via Wonderlands of the Avant-Garde: Technology and the Arts in Russia of the 1920s, which notes that “what is produced is never specified; the emphasis rather is on the establishment of a certain pace of work, as if machines manufacture a new time — the rhythm of the new life.”

Chronometer, report to duty.
To the machines.
Rise.
Pause.
A charge of attention.
Supply.
Switch on.
Self-propulsion.
Stop.

The chronometer stopped for Gastev with his fall in late 1938, and he proceeded thence to the familiar fate of Stalin’s prey amongst the intelligentsia. As he associates with the positive, modernizing, and utopian strain of the Soviet experiment but not its failures or horrors his name is not blackened to posterity and the present-day Russian Federation’s Ministry of Economic Development sponsors an “A.K. Gastev Cup” award to honor advances in production.

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1934: Surya Sen

Add comment January 12th, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1934 the great Bengal revolutionary Surya Sen was hanged by the British.

A schoolteacher affectionately known as “Master Da”, Sen put his name in the annals by leading the April 18, 1930 raid on the Chittagong police armory,* which yielded benefits more symbolic than practical: it was hoped that the raid would also surprise and massacre the local British officer corps and trigger a whole rising, but the prospective targets were absent, and then became forewarned, on account of the raid taking place on Good Friday.

Afterwards, the rebels melted away and the wanted Sen stayed underground for years. It’s no wonder he was hard to catch: the guy who finally betrayed him was beheaded in revenge. “Death is knocking at my door,” ran the man’s letter before he went to the Chittagong Central Jail along with another revolutionary named Tarakeswar Dastidar.

My mind is flying away towards eternity … At such a pleasant, at such a grave, at such a solemn moment, what shall I leave behind you? Only one thing, that is my dream, a golden dream-the dream of Free India … Never forget the 18th of April,1930, the day of the eastern Rebellion in Chittagong … Write in red letters in the core of your hearts the names of the patriots who have sacrificed their lives at the altar of India’s freedom.

* Armories, actually: two separate facilities, one for the police and one for the auxliaries, plus the European Club where they intended to seize hostages.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Bangladesh,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Famous,Hanged,History,Martyrs,Occupation and Colonialism,Power,Revolutionaries,Separatists,Terrorists

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1931: Fatma Demir, the first woman hanged in Turkey

Add comment December 14th, 2018 Headsman

The modern republic of Turkey executed a woman for the first time in 1931.

Fatma Demir (German Wikipedia page: there’s none on Turkish Wikipedia) broke the Ramadan fast with a friend whom she bludgeoned with an ax handle during a prayer. It seems that it was at the instigation of others, like the victim’s husband and that husband’s mistress, both of whom helped Demir sink the body in a river.

Her hanging took place in public.

There’s a 2013 Turkish-language documentary about her case, titled Dar Agacina Takilan Düsler (Dreams Hanged from the Gallows).

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1937: Vincenzo Baccala

Add comment November 29th, 2018 Headsman

Italian Communist Vincenzo Baccala was executed on this date in 1937 … but not by the fascists.

The blackshirted turn of his country in the 1920s had driven Vincenzo into emigre exile, pursued by an in absentia prison sentence for “subversive propaganda tending to insurrection and incitement of class hatred.” He went first in Paris and then in 1931 to the USSR.

Although present in the fortress of Communism at the Party’s direction, and eventually an outright Soviet citizen, Baccala came into trouble after criticizing Stalin in 1933 and had to leave his family in Odessa as he struggled to find work. Come the height of the purges in the later 1930s, he was predictably denounced.

Baccala’s wife Pia Piccioni swallowed a bitter draught of her own; unable to see her husband or find support amid Stalin’s purges, she returned to her native country, finding little comfort either in Mussolini‘s Italy (for obvious reasons) or in postwar Italy (where red comrades shied from traducing the USSR). She wrote a book about her own and Baccala’s experiences, Compagno Silenzio: Una vedova italiana del gulag racconta.

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1936: The Seven Martyrs of Madrid

Add comment November 18th, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1936, the Seven Martyrs of Madrid became martyrs.*

These sisters of Catholicism’s Visitandine or Visitation Order were the last remaining to watch over their convent, which had been mostly evacuated for fear of anti-clerical violence in the unfolding Spanish Civil War.

Indeed, even these seven felt it wiser to stay in a nearby apartment where they secreted the convent’s treasures and kept their holy orders as quiet as possible.

Their precautions were justified — but insufficient. On the night of November 17, weeks after the Spanish capital was besieged by the Francoists an anarchist militia tossed the place, interrogated them, and then returned the next day to have them summarily executed on the outskirts of town.

“I beg God that the marvelous example of these women who shed their blood for Christ, pardoning from their hearts their executioners,” Pope John Paul II said when beatifying these sisters in 1998, “may succeed in softening the hearts of those who today use terror and violence to impose their will upon others.”

* Technically, only Sisters Gabriela de Hinojosa, Teresa Cavestany, Josefa Barrera, Ines Zudaire, Engracia Lecuona, and Angela Olaizola were shot on the 18th. Sister Cecilia Cendoya escaped her captors but later turned herself in and obtained the crown of martyrdom a few days afterwards.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Martyrs,Mass Executions,Religious Figures,Shot,Spain,Summary Executions,Wartime Executions,Women

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1938: Kasym Tynystanov, Kyrgyz intellectual

Add comment November 6th, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1938, Kyrgyz intellectual and statesman Kasym Tynystanov was executed during Stalin’s Great Purge.


Kasym Tynystanov, on modern Kyrgyzstan’s 10-som bill.

Born in tsarist Russia’s mountainous frontier with Qing China, Tynystanov (English Wikipedia entry | Russian | Kyrgyz) was blessed by the exertions of his father and a local mullah with literacy — a gift shared by only about one in 40 of his countrymen.

He graduated from the Kazakh-Kyrgyz Institute of Education in Tashkent in 1924 and went on to a career in letters — literal letters, as he’s credited with being the first to regularize the Kyrgyz tongue in Latin characters. He would publish several works on the Kyrgyz language; he also compiled the oral folklore of his people, and wrote verse of his own.

Tynystanov served as People’s Commissariat of Education and chaired the language and literature organ of the Kyrgyz Research Institute of Culture.

In 1938 he received Stalinism’s customary reward for the conscientious public servant and was accused as a counterrevolutionary nationalist and shot. The Soviet Union officially rehabilitated him in the post-Stalin era.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous,History,Intellectuals,Kyrgyzstan,Popular Culture,Russia,Shot,USSR

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