1930: Dr. James Snook, Ohio State University professor

Add comment February 28th, 2020 Headsman

Ohio State University professor Dr. James Howard Snook was electrocuted on this date in 1930.

The eggheaded veterinary lecturer, Snook was an Olympic gold medalist in pistol shooting.* On a site like Executed Today one would presume that sidearms appear with a Chekhovian purpose, but it will transpire that different instruments cause his downfall.

Beginning, as so often occurs, with the instrument the good Lord gave him, which in 1926 was diverted from his wife in favor of comely undergraduate Theora Hix.

Dr. Snook soon installed his paramour in an apartment from which they carried on a torrid three-year love affair whilst Hix progressed to medical school. “We didn’t love each other,” Snook testified. “We satisfied each other’s needs.”

Hix’s needs, by Snook’s interested account, grew shockingly ravenous: she used cocaine, liked to hit and threaten him, and took on other lovers — including another university professor, agronomist Marion T. Meyers. The doctor’s explication of their relationship scandalized the university and the nation for the sordid particulars of their stormy affair. “Almost every letter trailed off into obsceneities [sic],” notes one report (Louisville Courier-Journal, Aug. 9, 1929.) “For the most part their content is unpublishable.” His own counsel was seen to chortle as some were read out to a stunned court, before rising in a vain attempt to claim they proved his client’s insanity.


Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) Daily News, July 1, 1929.

According to Snook’s testimony, matters fell apart on a motor outing on June 13, 1929, when he attempted to decline a weekend’s canoodle citing his domestic obligations: “She replied, ‘Damn Mrs. Snook. I am going to kill her and get her out of the way.'” And as Hix began raining blows on Dr. Snook, he grabbed a ball-peen hammer from the car toolkit and struck her … and then kept striking.

“I was sure she was going to shoot me,” Snook said through tears, claiming that he feared she carried a weapon in her purse. “My only thought was to stop her. I sprang after her and struck her again.” (Quotes per the Pittsburgh Post-Gaztte, Aug. 9, 1929.)

After bashing her about four times, she was a crumpled but still-breathing heap outside his vehicle. According to a confession that Snook attempted to repudiate, he then clinically finished her off with a pocket knife to her jugular, as a mercy.

* In the 30-meter team military pistol and 50-meter team military pistol competitions at the 1920 Antwerp games. This also happened to be the last year these disciplines were contested at the Olympics.

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1935: Benita von Falkenhayn and Renate von Natzmer, Germany’s last beheadings by axe

Add comment February 18th, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1935, Germany conducted its last axe-beheadings.

The axees were impecunious noblewomen Benita von Falkenhayn (English Wikipedia entry | German) and Renate von Natzmer (English | German), spies for Poland recruited via society love affairs with Polish envoy Jerzy Sosnowski.*


Benita von Falkenhayn (left) and Renate von Natzmer.

At 6:00 a.m. on February 18th, Benita von Falkenhayn was brought in a state of near-collapse to a courtyard of Berlin’s Plötzensee Prison. There a red-clad prosecutor read out her condemnation espionage and treason and gave her over to longtime Prussian headsman Carl Gröpler.** The old Scharfrichter bent van Falkenhayn over a rude block and crashed his heavy blade cleanly through her neck, dropping her head into a basket. After a hurried clean-up, they repeated the same ritual for Renate von Natzmer.

The Reich had within living memory to folks of Herr Gröpler’s age still remained a quiltwork confederation of small states; one artifact of its unification was penal codes that used beheading for executions yet no further specificity on the manner of beheading. The most usual means was the fallbeil, a small guillotine, but it was ultimately a matter for the jurisdiction where the sentencing took place — and antiquated manual cleavers were still sometimes deployed by the state of Prussia, which included Berlin.

In October 1936, Nazi Justice Minister Franz Gürtner successfully prevailed upon Adolf Hitler to codify the fallbeil as the explicit means of beheading throughout the Reich, putting an end to the archaic reliance on Gröpler’s brawn and aim.

* Sosnowski was released back to Poland in a prisoner exchange and there tried for treason on grounds of getting too friendly with Germany. After the 1939 invasion of Poland by the Third Reich and the USSR, he appears to have come into Soviet custody and pressed into cooperation; various reports have him thereafter dying in custody, being executed by the NKVD, or returning to the field and dying in action or after capture by the Polish Home Army.

** Four days shy of his 67th birthday at this moment, Gröpler was coming into a pension windfall courtesy of the Third Reich’s liberal expansion of capital punishment. He retired in 1937 with 144 documented executions to his name; he died in Soviet custody in January 1946.

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1938: Herman Hurmevaara, Finnish Social Democrat

Add comment February 16th, 2020 Headsman

Finnish parliamentarian Herman Hurmevaara was shot during Stalin’s purges on this date in 1938.

Hurmevaara (English Wikipedia entry | the more detailed Finnish) sat in parliament for the Social Democrats from 1917 to 1919, which was also the period when long-restive Finland broke away from Russia’s grasp while the latter was preoccupied with deposing its tsar.

This rupture brought Finland into a nasty Whites-versus-Reds civil war. The Whites won, and Hurmevaara ended up knocking about in exile in Sweden and (after expulsion in 1930) the USSR. There, he worked in publishing.

Shot as a spy in the capital of Russia’s Finland-adjacent Karelian Republic, he was among numerous emigre Finns destroyed during the late 1930s nadir of Stalinism. Hurmevaara was posthumously rehabilitated in the Khrushchev era.

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1935: David Maskill Blake, wedding’s eve murderer

Add comment February 7th, 2020 Headsman

Blake was a 29 year old unemployed steel erector who married Jenny Whitehead on the 17th of October 1934 at a Leeds Registry Office.

On that same day, the body of 23 year old Emily Yeomans was discovered in Middleton Woods in West Yorkshire …

-From the February 7, 2020 Facebook post of the Capital Punishment UK Facebook page. Click through to the comments for a link to the Leeds Mercury extravaganza report of his trial and conviction.

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1932: Jose Feliciano Ama, Izalco indigenous peasant

Add comment January 28th, 2020 Headsman

El Salvador campesino Jose Feliciano Ama was hanged in the town square of Izalco on this date in 1932 during a ferocious repression of the peasantry.

In an environment of desperate economic immiseration for nearly all Salvadorans below the landed oligarchy, the heavily indigenous western peasantry rebelled on January 22, 1932 — aided or led by the Communist Party.*

This fate of this rebellion might be inferred by its historiographical sobriquet, the Salvadoran peasant massacre — or simply la Matanza, the slaughter.

In numerical terms, it ran to well into the tens of thousands, maybe up to 40,000 — indiscriminately visited on peasants of originario complexion in the zone of rebellion, batches of them summarily shot into mass graves they’d been forced to dig for themselves.

In the Pipil town of Izalco, where coffee latifundias dominated the best agricultural land,* up to a quarter of the population was butchered. None of those put to la Matanza were more recognizable nor more vividly recalled than the local rebel leader Feliciano Ama English Wikipedia entry | Spanish), extrajudicially noosed in front of the Izalco church. Today a small plaque in this square honors him as a popular martyr.

* See States and Social Evolution: Coffee and the Rise of National Governments in Central America. An heiress of coffee magnate and former president Tomas Regalado allegedly forced our Feliciano Ama off his lands by dint of brute force.

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1935: Kemal Syed, assassin

Add comment January 14th, 2020 Headsman

A 28-year-old Afghan nationalist was executed in Berlin’s Ploetzensee Prison on this date in 1935.

“During a heated argument” with Sardar Mohammed Aziz Khan* on June 6, 1933, Kemal (or Kamal) Syed on June 6, 1933 “accused the minister of treason and of selling out his country to the British. He then pulled a revolver and shot him fatally.” (UP wire report via the redoubtable pages of the Oshkosh (Wisc.) Northwestern, Jan. 14, 1935)

His punishment was delayed by diplomatic wrangling between Germany and Afghanistan over possible extradition. In the end, Berlin handled matters directly.

* This man also happened to be the brother to the late (and likewise assassinated) King of Afghanistan. In time, the assassinated diplomat’s son would overthrow the assassinated king’s son and rule from 1973 to 1978 as Afghanistan’s first president. (Although if you like, you could also consider him the last of the Musahiban dynasty.) That diplomat’s son in turn was deposed in a palace coup by the ham-handed Communist who would set off the catastrophic Soviet-Afghan War.

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1939: Manuel Molina, Valencia socialist

Add comment November 25th, 2019 Headsman

Spanish trade unionist Manuel Molina Conejero was shot in Paterna on this date in 1939. Expect Spanish-language links throughout this post.

A longtime labor activist and (in 1910) co-founder of the mechanical sawmills union, Molina won election as a deputy of the Spanish Socialist Workers Party (PSOE) in 1936 — the left-wing electoral victory that triggered General Francisco Franco’s rebellion and the start of the Spanish Civil War.

Molina was part of PSOE’s moderate faction, led by Indalecio Prieto, and was appointed civil governor of Valencia when Prieto’s rival Francisco Largo Caballero was forced to resign the presidency during the chaotic Barcelona May Days.

He was arrested by the Francoists upon their victory in the civil war.

There’s a street named for him in his home city.

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1938: Vladimir Varankin, Esperantist

Add comment October 3rd, 2019 Headsman

Russian writer Vladimir Varankin was executed on this date in 1938, during Stalin’s purges.

Varankin got interested in the international Esperanto language movement as a secondary school student in Nizhny Novgorod during the ecstatic months following the Bolshevik Revolution, and he founded an Esperantist club there that soon reached throughout the province.* This was the high-water moment for the Esperanto movement, now 30 years mature since its founding: World War I had shattered the international system and spawned small states and revolutionary governments shaping a new world on the fly. Esperanto would have been adopted by the League of Nations for official use but for the furious resistance of jealous France.

For the same reason that it interested visionaries and radicals, the language attracted the suspicion of authoritarians; in Mein Kampf Hitler denounced Esperanto as an insidious Semitic project.

the language spoken at the time by the Jew … is never a means of expressing his thoughts, but for hiding them. When he speaks French, he thinks Jewish, and when he turns out German poetry, he only gives an outlet to the nature of his people.

As long as the Jew has not become the master of the other peoples, he must, whether he likes it or not, speak their languages, and only if they would be his slaves then they might all speak a universal language so that their domination will be made easier (Esperanto!).

Esperantists became targets for political persecution in the Third Reich as a result.

In Soviet Russia, the utopian 1920s offered a far more congenial scene. These were the years Varankin came into himself and as he advanced in life, so did his enthusiasm for the artificial tongue. The late 1920s find him living in Moscow, teaching at the pedagogical institute and churning out a corpus of Esperanto books (Theory of Esperanto, the ideologically calibrated Esperanto for Workers) as well as study curricula. His magnum opus, the 1933 novel Metropoliteno, was also composed in Esperanto.

But Stalin’s purge years soon cast a pall over Esperanto and much else besides — even though Stalin actually studied a little Esperanto himself in his youth, according to Trotsky. (Pray, good reader, for Koba’s Esperanto instructors.) In about 1937 he abruptly reversed the Soviet Union’s formerly benign view of Esperanto; now, the movement’s internationalism would be held to affiliate it with the purported foreign cabals whose subversions furnished the pretext for demolishing so many lives. In Varankin’s case, and facilitated by an unauthorized visit he had made to an Esperanto conference in Germany many years before, the charge — unanswerable in those terrible days — was that his Esperantist circles comprised a network of fascist spies and saboteurs overseen by enemies abroad.

The verdict against him was posthumously reversed in 1957.

* The regional environs of present-day Nizhny Novgorod Oblast, of which the city Nizhny Novgorod is the capital; in Varankin’s youth, this was a gubernia, a regional unit held over from the deposed imperial administration. Russia’s “states” were greatly redrawn and redefined during the first decade of the Soviet experiment, and gubernias were abolished in 1929.

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1937: The Parsley Massacre begins

Add comment October 2nd, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1937, Dominican Republic soldiers commenced the dayslong “Parsley Massacre” of Haitians.

Cooperstown-worthy evil dictator Rafael Trujillo hailed on his mother’s side from Haiti’s privileged French caste and espoused a virulent form of DR’s rife anti-Haitian racism. “As if personifying the antiblack myth of Dominicans,” Robert Lawless noted, “‘Trujillo used cosmetics to disguise the phenotypical features that he inherited from his [black] Haitian grandmother.'” (Source)

Taking power in a military coup in 1930, Trujillo had spent those early years building up a cult of personality, as was the style at the time — and he put it to use conjuring a bloodbath that some shamefaced soldiers confessed they could only conduct with the numbing aid of alcohol. The hypothesized underlying reasons range from El Jefe‘s particular virulent bigotry to prerogatives of statecraft for a zone that had tended towards sympathy for Trujillo’s opponents.

The massacre followed an extensive tour of the frontier region by Trujillo that commenced in August 1937. Trujillo traveled by horse and mule through the entire northern half of the country, both the rich central Cibao region and the northern frontier areas. Touring these provinces, traditionally the most resistant to political centralization, reflected Trujillo’s concerns with shoring up control in the region at the time. The Cibao was the locus of elite rivalry with Trujillo in those years. And because the northern frontier had been a traditional area of autonomy and refuge for local caudillos, the U.S. legation in Santo Domingo assumed that the August 1937 tour was intended to “cowe [sic] opposition.” Much like earlier frontier tours and his travels in other rural areas, Trujillo shook hands and distributed food and money; attended dances and parties in his honor; and made concerted efforts to secure political loyalty in many heretofore intractable lands. Yet the conclusion of this tour was entirely unexpected. During a dance in Trujillo’s honor on Saturday, October 2, 1937, in Dajabon, Trujillo proclaimed:

For some months, I have traveled and traversed the frontier in every sense of the word. I have seen, investigated, and inquired about the needs of the population. To the Dominicans who were complaining of the depredations by Haitians living among them, thefts of cattle, provisions, fruits, etc., and were thus prevented from enjoying in peace the products of their labor, I have responded, “I will fix this.” And we have already begun to remedy the situation. Three hundred Haitians are now dead in Banica. This remedy will continue.

Drawing on the regime’s prevailing antivagrancy discourse and support for peasant production, Trujillo explained his ordering of the massacre as a response to alleged cattle rustling and crop raiding by Haitians living in the Dominican Republic. This was the first of a series of shifting rationalizations that misrepresented the massacre as stemming from local conflicts between Dominicans and Haitians in the frontier.

Some Haitians heard Trujillo’s words and decided to flee. Others had already left following news of the first killings, which occurred at the end of September. A few recalled clues that something ominous was brewing. Most were incredulous, however, and had too much at stake to abandon their homes, communities, and crops — established over decades or even generations — for what sounded, however horrible, like preposterous rumors …

A few Dominicans from the northern frontier recalled that at first Haitians were given twenty-four hours to leave, and that in some cases Haitian corpses were hung in prominent locations, such as at the entrance of towns, as a warning to others. And during the first days of the massacre, Haitians who reached the border were permitted to cross to Haiti over the bridge at the official checkpoint [at the border city of Dajabon]. But the border was closed on October 5. After that, those fleeing had to wade across the Massacre [River]* while trying to avoid areas where the military was systematically slaughtering Haitians on the river’s eastern bank.

In the towns, victims were generally led away before being assassinated. In the countryside, they were killed in plain view. Few Haitians were shot, except some of those killed while trying to escape. Instead, machetes, bayonets, and clubs were used. This suggests again that Trujillo sought to simulate a popular conflict, or at least to maintain some measure of plausible deniability of the state’s perpetration of this genocide. (From Foundations of Despotism: Peasants, the Trujillo Regime, and Modernity in Dominican History)

“Haitian” in this context meant a question of ethnicity rather than simply one of citizenship, for like many border regions the world over that of the Massacre River was (and is) locally permeable. Some Haitians lived in Haiti but crossed into the Dominican Republic routinely for school, work, life; others had border-straddling families and DR birth certificates and citizenship. But even the firmest of bureaucratic documentation meant nothing to the death squads, who bequeathed the distinctive sobriquet “Parsley Massacre” by demanding potential victims buy their lives by pronouncing the word for that garnish, perejil … as an infelicity with the trilled Spanish “r” denoted a Francophone.** (It’s also sometimes known simply as the Haitian Massacre.)

The slaughter raged on until about October 8, give or take; estimates of the number of victims run from 12,000 to north of 30,000. The affair remains a source of tension to this day.

The massacre has literary treatment in the 1998 Edwidge Danticat historical novel The Farming of Bones.

* The river’s shocking name was not obtained from this slaughter, but from a Spanish-on-French bloodbath in colonial times.

** The term “shibboleth”, originally a Hebrew word for grain, was borrowed to English thanks to a similar test imposed in the Book of Judges (12:5-6):

And the Gileadites took the passages of Jordan before the Ephraimites: and it was so, that when those Ephraimites which were escaped said, Let me go over; that the men of Gilead said unto him, Art thou an Ephraimite? If he said, Nay; Then said they unto him, Say now Shibboleth: and he said Sibboleth: for he could not frame to pronounce it right. Then they took him, and slew him at the passages of Jordan: and there fell at that time of the Ephraimites forty and two thousand.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Borderline "Executions",Disfavored Minorities,Dominican Republic,Execution,History,Innocent Bystanders,Known But To God,Mass Executions,No Formal Charge,Put to the Sword,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Summary Executions

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1939: Javier Bueno, Asturian socialist newsman

Add comment September 26th, 2019 Headsman

Socialist journalist Javier Bueno was garotted by the fascists on this date in 1939.

Bueno (Spanish Wikipedia entry | Asturian), “instigator of the revolution,” was a newsman who became the editor of the newspaper Avance in the Asturian city of Gijon.

Through “the professional zeal and personal militancy of its director” (quoth historian David Ruiz) this paper emerged as an essential organ of the rising Asturian working class in the fraught years running up to the Spanish Civil War. Repeated bannings (of the newspaper) and imprisonments (of Bueno) only enhanced his stature; “you attract the pyrotechnic rays of our enemies,” Indalecio Prieto wrote him admiringly.

The revolutionaries freed him in 1936, two years deep in a life sentence, and Bueno went back to agitation in the pages of Avance before taking to the front lines himself. Franco’s victory in 1939 found him in Madrid, working at another radical paper, Claridad. Bueno faced a snap military tribunal with no more than a pro forma pretense of defense.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Garrote,History,Martyrs,Revolutionaries,Shot,Spain,Torture,Treason

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