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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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Borderline "Executions",Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,El Salvador,Execution,Hanged,History,Mature Content,No Formal Charge,Power,Public Executions,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Revolutionaries,Summary Executions,Torture

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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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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Afghanistan,Assassins,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Germany,Guillotine,History,Murder,Notable for their Victims,Racial and Ethnic Minorities

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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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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Activists,Artists,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Espionage,Execution,History,Posthumous Exonerations,Russia,Shot,Torture,Treason,USSR

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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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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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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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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Germany,Guillotine,Murder,Serial Killers

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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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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Shot,Soldiers,Spain,Treason,Wartime Executions

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