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.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,History,Italy,Russia,Shot,Torture,USSR

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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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1930: Gordon Northcott, the Wineville Chicken Coop Murderer

2 comments October 2nd, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1930, Gordon Stewart Northcott hanged in California’s San Quentin Prison for the Wineville Chicken Coop Murders.

Canada-born, Northcott had moved to southern California in 1924 with his parents. They set up a chicken ranch there, and Northcott found this haunt a congenial headquarters for his real passion, the molestation and of young boys.

A monster right out of the QAnon fever swamp, Northcott abducted a large number of youths for abuse. Some were released, but at least three and possibly (per Northcott’s erratic and intermittently retracted confessions) upwards of 20 were imprisoned there in chicken coops and eventually murdered on the ranch, their bodies dissolving into quicklime. The victims we can certainly vouch for are Walter Collins and brothers Lewis and Nelson Winslow, plus a never-identified teenage Mexican boy whom Northcott shot and beheaded. All the while his mother was living there on the ranch too,* and not only she, but Northcott’s quietly terrified Canadian cousin Sanford Clark. Northcott molested him too, but he wasn’t just going to brain him with an axe … Sanford was family.

When Sanford’s older sister visited the boy confided the farm’s horrors to her, and Jessie Clark kept her composure well enough to take her fare-thee-wells without raising the monster’s suspicions, finally swearing out a complaint to the American consul in British Columbia. Once Northcott caught sight of immigration officers driving up the dusty road to investigate he fled his Wineville chicken coops for good, and even made it to Canada with his dear creepy mum.

Northcott’s arrest, extradition, trial, and preordained sentence shocked Californians and Northcott did his part to keep everyone’s blood up by reveling in shifty, ghastly confessions. (The father of the Winslow brothers led an abortive lynching attempt.) San Quentin’s warden would recall that Northcott favored him in their conversations with “a lurid account of mass murder, sodomy, oral copulation, and torture so vivid it made my flesh creep.” So great was the notoriety Northcott and his chicken coops brought it that Wineville flat-out changed its name to Mira Loma to dissociate itself weeks after its infamous denizen swung.

Some books about Gordon Stewart Northcott

Northcott’s execution features in a tense scene of the 2008 film Changeling; our killer is played by Jason Butler Harner, but it’s Angelina Jolie who stars as the mother of one of Northcott’s prey who was then afflicted by an imposter child claiming to be her lost son.

* Dad — whom you will not be surprised to learn was slated with abusing young Gordon in his own turn — went to a mental asylum.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,California,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,Kidnapping,Murder,Rape,Serial Killers,USA

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1937: Alexander Shlyapnikov, Workers’ Opposition leader

Add comment September 2nd, 2018 Headsman

September 2 was the execution date during the purge year of 1937 for Old Bolshevik trade unionist Alexander Shlyapnikov.

The metalworker Shlyapnikov was a man who came by his revolutionary politics right from the shop floor. At the age of 10 he left school to work in a foundry, “having learnt to read and write. School was no mother to me, and it was not the teachers who educated me … the teachers were young and very rude, and they often meted out justice to their young charges with their fists. Even during these years, life taught me that there is no justice in this world.” (Source) Born to an Old Believer family, his fervor for justice had an initial religious bent, but after moving from provincial Murom to St. Petersburg/Petrograd* he discarded godliness and became a labor militant of sufficient stature to start turning up on blacklists before he was out of his teens.

During the political chill following Russia’s failed 1905 revolution, the oft-arrested Shliapikov worked abroad in western Europe — by now both a master of his difficult craft, and a Bolshevik who had led an armed rising in his hometown of Murom. Here he became socially and politically close with Lenin and all the brand-name Communist exiles, as well as with European labor unions and left parties.

He also shuttled to and from Russia coordinating the movement’s internal and external actors; he’s left us a memoir of the political maneuvers and adventurous border-crossings of these years. Thanks to this role, Shliapnikov was the most senior Bolshevik on the scene in Petrograd when the February Revolution broke out; he was immediately a key figure in the Petrograd Soviet, and was the Bolshevik state’s first Commissar for Labor.

As the newborn USSR solidified in form and function, Shlyapnikov nursed growing concerns about its distance from — and tendency to run roughshod over — actual workers. He soon became a leading voice for the Workers’ Opposition** around 1919 to 1921. Where the Bolsheviks held that theirs was an ascendant workers’ polity that had subsumed mere guilds, Shlyapnikov insisted on the trade unions as distinct from the Soviet state and the Communist party — “a syndicalist deviation” in Lenin’s charge. The Workers’ Opposition was prescient in its critique of the once-utopian project’s creeping bureaucratizm, with real workers’ material interests, dissenting perspectives, and local idiosyncracies giving way everywhere to the center’s policy orthodoxy dictated through “apparatuses of power … located practically in hands alien to the interests of the working class.” (Source)

Although prominent in its day, the Workers’ Opposition viewpoint was not destined to carry forward into Soviet theory or practice. After bread shortages drove workers and sailors at Kronstadt into a rebellion that the Bolsheviks crushed in 1921, the Workers’ Opposition tendency was quashed within the party. Shlyapnikov thereafter held second-rate posts, and was several times investigated by the Communist Party for “factionalism,” finally being expelled under Stalin in 1933.†

He was favored with a 2016 biography by Barbara C. Allen, Alexander Shlyapnikov, 1885-1937: Life of an Old Bolshevik (review). Allen discussed Shlyapnikov in an interview with the indispensable Sean’s Russia Blog podcast, here. We yield to Allen’s description of Shlyapnikov’s demise among the purging of Old Bolsheviks following the Kirov affair — tragic, banal, and heroic in his plain refusal to gratify his persecutors with any manner of confession or groveling.

In April 1937 he was accused according to article 58-8 and 58-11 of the RSFSR law code of having led a counterrevolutionary group called the Workers’ Opposition, of having linked up with the ‘counterrevolutionary Trotskyist-Zinovievist terrorist bloc’ and of having ‘tried to conclude a bloc with Ruth Fischer for joint struggle against the policy and measures of the Comintern.’ It alleged that he advocated ‘individual terror’ and that groups he directed in Omsk, Rostov-on-Don, Kiev, Odessa, Baku, Kharkov and Moscow had ‘prepared and tried to realise the murder of comrade Stalin.’ Acknowledging that Shlyapnikov did not confess his guilt, the accusation established it through the testimony of Zinoviev, Safarov, Vardin and others. It recommended that the Military Collegium of the USSR Supreme Court should try him and apply the 1 December 1934 law. Applying to cases of terrorist acts, this law ordered the immediate execution of capital-punishment sentences, with no appeals.

The USSR Supreme Court Military Collegium met on 2 September 1937 in closed session to sentence Shlyapnikov, who appeared before the court in a two-hour long session. Refusing to admit his guilt, he also detailed his objections to others’ testimony against him. Given the last word, Shlyapnikov declared that he was ‘not hostile towards soviet power.’ Perhaps as a last ironic remark, he confessed guilt only to ‘a liberal attitude towards those around him.’ Nevertheless, the court on the same day found him guilty under article 58, paragraphs 8 and 11, of having led ‘an anti-Soviet terrorist organisation, the so-called “Workers’ Opposition,”‘ which carried out ‘counterrevolutionary activity directed towards the topping of soviet power.’ He was convicted of having been in contact with ‘leaders of Trotskyist-Zinovievist and Right-Bukharinist terrorist organisations’ and of having ordered members of his ‘anti-Soviet organisation’ to carry out ‘terrorist acts’ against party and government leaders. Then the Military Collegium sentenced him to ‘the highest measure of punishment — execution by shooting with confiscation of all personal property.’ Below this was pencilled: ‘the sentence was carried out on that day in Moscow.’ Despite ‘eyewitness’ tales that he survived for years longer, either abroad or under a false name in the Gulag, documents attest to the fact that shortly after his 1937 execution, Alexander Shlyapnikov’s body was cremated and buried in Donskoy cemetery in a common grave.

* Peter the Great‘s jewel was still St. Petersburg when Shlyapnikov arrived there in the last years of the 19th century; it was renamed Petrograd in 1914 and carried that name during the events of the 1917 revolutions and thereafter. It became Leningrad in 1926, a name that stuck for the remainder of the Soviet era.

** Alexandra Kollontai was also a noteworthy Workers’ Opposition exponent; her apologia makes for sad reading considering the Soviet state’s coming vector towards sclerotic authoritarianism.

† Stalin’s ideological mediocrity is commonplace observation but perhaps its signal instance occurred upon his arrival to revolutionary Petrograd before Lenin: where Shlyapnikov was refusing to entangle the Bolsheviks with the Provisional Government (post-February revolution, pre-October revolution), Stalin insisted on a more moderate and cooperative attitude. When Lenin arrived shortly thereafter, his April Theses famously re-set Bolshevik policy in Shlyapnikov’s more intransigent direction — a defeat to which Stalin owed the Bolshevik conquest of power and his own eventual opportunity to execute men like Shlyapnikov.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Politicians,Power,Revolutionaries,Russia,Shot,Treason,USSR

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1936: Melquiades Alvarez, a liberal in a revolutionary time

1 comment August 22nd, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1936, the Spanish politician Melquíades Álvarez was shot by the Republicans.

A centrist who disdained “two equally despicable fanaticisms … red fanaticism and black bigotry,” Alvarez (English Wikipedia entry | the more comprehensive Spanish) fell into the chasm torn by the Spanish Civil War.

The Gijon-born former barrister noted for his oratory had been in public life as a liberal back to the last years of the 19th century and in 1912 co-founded the Reform or Reformist Party. Although sympathetic to the democratic aspirations of the Republican movement, the Reform Party was cool to forcing a confrontation with Spain’s monarchy. He was briefly president of the Congress of Deputies before the military coup of Primo de Rivera. Alvarez opposed Primo, judiciously.

I recalled many years ago going to see another vacillating Liberal, the unfortunate Melquiades Alvarez, after he had ventured to criticise Primo at a public dinner. He was shivering in a travelling rug waiting to be arrested while he told with pride that he had made his speech in such guarded, euphemistic and even allegorical terms that no one would have been quite sure what he meant. He vacillated to the end and now the militia have shot him in the Carcel Modelo.

V.S. Pritchett

By the onset of the Republic in the 1930s, Alvarez’s institutionalism and anti-Marxism had his political tendency drifting rightwards in a revolutionary era, to the extent of actually joining the conservative coalition known as CEDA. Alvarez would surely have said that the Republic left him; a liberal to a fault, he even in these years defended the son of Primo de Rivera when this founder of the fascist Falange was arrested for conspiring to overthrow the Republic.

So the start of General Francisco Franco’s rebellion in 1936 found Alvarez in Madrid as a center-right parliamentarian — right in the path of a sharp political repression immediately leveled by the Republicans against perceived internal enemies. Alvarez and other right-leaning politicians were arrested in early August. Many, like Alvarez, were eventually shot by Republican militias after the barest of legal proceedings.

“You kill a man who only did you good,” Alvarez spat at his executioners before they opened up on him. “You slaughter in the worst way any idea of freedom and democracy, you pack of cowards and scoundrels!” (Quote translated from this Spanish-language pdf account of Alvarez’s last days.)


In this 1917 cartoon, Alvarez, a key political player during Spain’s crisis and near-revolution that year, swaps the caps of monarchism and republicanism in an “illusion” … for “everything remains the same”

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Lawyers,Politicians,Power,Shot,Spain,Wartime Executions

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1939: Las Trece Rosas

Add comment August 5th, 2018 Headsman

The Spanish Civil War’s victorious fascists shot Las Trece Rosas — “the thirteen roses” — on this date in 1939.


Plaque at the Cementerio de la Almudena in Madrid in honor of 13 young women shot there by Francoist troops on August 5, 1939. (cc) image by Alvaro Ibanez.

Earlier that 1939, Franco had clinched victory by finally capturing the capital city after a siege of 29 months. A punishing suppression of the Spain’s leftist elements ensued, running to hundreds of thousands imprisoned, executed, or chased into exile.

Our 13 Roses were members of a communist/socialist youth group, JSU, and they had been arrested in rolling-up of that organization. They were crowded into the overflowing dungeons of the notorious women’s prison Las Ventas.

A few Spanish-language books about Las Trece Rosas

And there they resided on July 29, 1939, when their JSU comrades struck back against the dictatorship by assassinating Isaac Gabaldón, the commander of Madrid’s fascist police.* The 13 Roses were immediately court-martialed and executed in revenge. Their names follow; there’s a bit more detail about them in Spanish here:

  • Carmen Barrero Aguado (age 24)
  • Martina Barroso García (age 22)
  • Blanca Brissac Vázquez (age 29)
  • Pilar Bueno Ibáñez (age 27)
  • Julia Conesa Conesa (age 19)
  • Adelina García Casillas (age 19)
  • Elena Gil Olaya (age 20)
  • Virtudes González García (age 18)
  • Ana López Gallego (age 21)
  • Joaquina López Laffite (age 23)
  • Dionisia Manzanero Salas (age 20)
  • Victoria Muñoz García (age 19)
  • Luisa Rodríguez de la Fuente (age 18)

The affair is the subject of a 2007 Spanish film.

* Gabaldon’s predecessor, the police commander under the Spanish Republic, Jose Aranguren, had been removed from his post and executed in April.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Hostages,Innocent Bystanders,Martyrs,Mass Executions,Power,Revolutionaries,Shot,Spain,Torture,Wartime Executions,Women

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1938: Mikhail Viktorov, Soviet naval commander

1 comment August 1st, 2018 Headsman

Soviet admiral* Mikhail Viktorov fell in the purges on this date in 1938.

A young officer fresh from the Naval Academy when World War I broke out, Viktorov (English Wikipedia entry | Russian) made a timely switch to the Bolshevik side during the Civil War and scaled the heights of the Soviet navy.

He commanded the Baltic Fleet in the latter 1920s, and the Pacific Fleet in the 1930s, and finally — fleetingly — became chief of the Soviet navy in 1937, filling dead man’s boots when his predecessor was arrested and executed.**

The same fate awaited Viktorov, a perilous occupational hazard in those days.

He was rehabilitated posthumously in 1956.

* Viktorov’s rank was “Fleet’s Flag Officer, First Rank”; in 1938, this was the equivalent of admiral, and after a 1940 reorganization it was replaced full stop with admiral.

** It appears to me that fully seven consecutive heads of the Soviet Navy eventually ended up executed in the 1930s and 1940s (not all of them directly deposed from running the navy). Pantserzhanskiy, Zof, Muklevich, Orlov, our man Viktorov, and also his successors Smirnov and Frinovsky.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Posthumous Exonerations,Power,Russia,Shot,Soldiers,Treason,USSR

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1934: William Bayly, bad neighbor

Add comment July 20th, 2018 Headsman

New Zealand farmer William Bayly or Bayley hanged at Auckland’s Mount Eden Prison on this date in 1934 as the world’s worst neighbor.

They never did find the body of his victim, Sam Lakey, but the two sheep farmers “hated each other. ‘You won’t see the next season out, Lakey!’ yelled Bayly, which was just one of the dozens of dire threats they exchanged.” (This according to a True Crime Library profile.)

Lots of folks make tall talk when their blood is up but Bayly had the courage of his ill-considered machismo and not only offed Sam but Sam’s wife Christobel as well — staging a wife-murder + suicide hypothesis by dumping Mrs. Lakey and the murder weapon into a swamp, while incinerating Sam Lakey in a benzine drum. Unfortunately for him, the killer was such an obvious suspect* that his property became an immediate target for search, and human remains were found before all could be disposed of. Bayly would argue his innocence all the way to the gallows, but at trial he had no defense to present.

The Lakeys had no relatives to claim their remains; they were only properly reburied in 2015.

* There were also suspicions that Bayly might have killed his cousin years earlier.

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

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1931: Xiang Zhongfa, General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party

Add comment June 24th, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1931, Chiang Kai-shek had the former General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party executed.

Xiang Zhongfa was a dock worker unionist from Hanchuan who came to the fore of the workers’ movement within the CCP during the 1920s.

The Party at that time was united in a common front with the nationalist Kuomintang — an alliance that was destroyed suddenly in April 1927 when the KMT leader Chiang suddenly purged the Communists. This split precipitated the generation-long Chinese Civil War through which the Communists would eventually come to master China.

Soviet sponsorship had been essential to the CCP’s early growth. In the months after the KMT arrangement went by the boards, Chinese Communist leaders were summoned by the Comintern to Moscow where Xiang made a good impression on a hodgepodge Sixth Congress held “in the absence of key Party figures, such as Mao, Peng Pai and Li Weihan; and packed with Chinese students from Soviet universities to make up the delegate count.” (Phillip Short) Though he wound up the titular General Secretary, party leadership at the top level remained in the hands of other men, like Zhou Enlai and Qu Qiubai … while effective leadership in the field was largely in the hands of unit commanders themselves, like Mao.

A rocky early trail along the party’s long march to leadership of China and beyond … but Xiang was not made to enjoy it. During the war, he was arrested in Shanghai by the nationalists, interrogated, and delivered to the KMT’s executioners in the early hours of June 24. Orthodox party historiography holds him in disgrace for allegedly betraying the cause to his captors, speedily and cravenly (his Wikipedia entry reflects this); there are historians who dispute this belief, however.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,China,Death Penalty,Execution,History,No Formal Charge,Politicians,Power,Revolutionaries,Shot,Torture,Wartime Executions

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