1948: Thomas Henry McGonigle, murder without a body

Add comment February 20th, 2018 Meaghan

(Thanks to Meaghan Good of the Charley Project for the guest post. -ed.)

The Latin legal term corpus delicti literally translates to “the body of the crime,” and many people are under the impression that it means the actual corpse of a murdered person and that no one may be convicted of murder without the victim’s body.

This is erroneous. Although it is true that no person can be convicted of murder without the corpus delicti, the term doesn’t mean the murdered person’s body but rather the body of evidence that proves a crime has been committed. Every criminal case must have the corpus delicti and, in most murder cases, that includes the victim’s body … but it doesn’t have to.

In the United States, murder-without-a-body prosecutions are not unheard of and happen with increasing frequency due to the advancement of forensic technologies like DNA analysis. Tad DiBiase, a former federal prosecutor, even wrote a book about them, titled No-Body Homicide Cases: A Practical Guide to Investigating, Prosecuting, and Winning Cases When the Victim Is Missing, which includes an appendix of over 400 cases.

On this day in 1948, Thomas Henry McGonigle was executed in California’s gas chamber in what was one of the earliest, perhaps THE earliest no-body homicide prosecution in the state. His victim was a fourteen-year-old high school sophomore named Thora Afton Chamberlain, and her body was never found and is believed to have been washed out to sea.

The prosecution would later call the case “one of the best organized and most intense investigations in the annals of the crime of kidnapping and murder.”

McGonigle, a married construction laborer with an arrest record for a variety of crimes including assault with intent to commit rape, was waiting in his car outside Campbell High School when classes ended for the day on November 2, 1945. Thora’s classmates saw her talking to him, and he offered her a job: he needed someone to babysit his sister’s children. It would only be for half an hour, he said.

For whatever reason, Thora trusted the stranger. Perhaps it was because he was dressed respectably in a Navy uniform with medals, including a Purple Heart. She didn’t know they weren’t his, that he’d never been in any branch of the military. He’d stolen the clothes and medals six weeks earlier.

Thora Chamberlain was never seen again after she got into the strange man’s car. McGonigle was an immediate suspect because of his record, and several witnesses identified him from a photo lineup, but in the immediate aftermath of Thora’s disappearance he skipped town.


Murderer and victim.

McGonigle told his wife he was taking a bus to Los Angeles, but in fact he hitchhiked to Illinois where his father lived. The FBI kept on his trail as he drifted across the country, registering in hotels under alias names. Finally he took an overdose of sleeping pills while on a bus bound for San Francisco, and was semiconscious on arrival. The Feds were waiting for him, but instead of jail they had to take him to the hospital for treatment. He was arrested upon discharge.

In custody, McGonigle gave a series of statements admitting culpability but providing wildly differing details as to what happened. He’d stabbed Thora. He’d shot her. He’d strangled her. She’d jumped from his car and was fatally injured. Her death was an accident. He hadn’t killed her at all; she was alive and well and working as a prostitute.

Although the entire truth about what happened is only known to Thora and her killer, the shooting story has the most evidence to support it.

McGonigle said he had shot Thora in his car and the bullet passed through her and got stuck in his car door. He said he’d removed the bullet and buried it under a certain tree in his yard, and also ripped out the vehicle’s bloodstained padding and upholstery and buried it near the construction site where he worked. There was a bullet hole in the door of McGonigle’s car, police recovered the bullet from under the tree where he said it would be, and ballistics later proved it had been fired from a .32 caliber revolver he owned. The police also found the ripped car upholstery at the indicated spot, and it was stained with human blood.

McGonigle lead the authorities to a coastal cliff in San Mateo County known as the Devil’s Slide. He said he’d thrown Thora’s body off the cliff, 350 feet down into the ocean. An extensive search revealed important, chilling evidence that may well have been the clincher: on the day of her abduction, Thora was dressed in her school colors of red and blue, including one pair of red socks and one pair of blue socks, one on top of the other. Searchers found both pairs wedged in separate crevices on the cliff face, and Thora’s parents identified them.

At the trial, prosecutor John McCarthy told the jury how it might have happened, painting a word picture of McGonigle killing Thora in a rape or attempted rape, then lifting her from his car by her armpits and dragging her along the ground to the edge of the Devil’s Slide. In the process her loafers come off and her socks are pulled down her feet. As she falls, they come off entirely and get stuck in the crevices of the cliff.

“In finding the socks,” McCarthy concluded, “the crime was solved.”

Given McGonigle’s string of confessions — which continued even at his trial — and the eyewitnesses who identified him, and the physical evidence that backed it all up, it’s no wonder the jury only deliberated half an hour. He was convicted on March 1, 1946.

While his conviction was under appeal he retracted his previous statements and denied everything. It was a frame-up, he said, all of it: he’d never confessed to anything and the FBI had planted all the evidence and the witnesses had lied. The police, meanwhile, stated he’d also confessed (over and over again…) to the murder of an unnamed “Negro waitress” from San Francisco and the only reason they weren’t going to charge him was because he was already under sentence of death.

The day he was executed, McGonigle wrote down a statement in longhand and left it with the warden:

I, Thomas Henry McGonigle, in this last testimony to the people declares [sic] that I did not shoot Thora Chamberlain and did not throw her body over a cliff and I have never made any such confession that I shot Thora Chamberlain in Santa Cruz County.

Santa Cruz County Sheriff Wallace P. “Bud” Hendrick didn’t agree. He witnessed the execution and later told reporters, “He threw his head back and gasped three times. Every time he gasped with that look of pain and death about him, I smiled. He was the most despicable … that ever walked the face of the earth. I only wish it could have taken longer.”

(Robert E. Cornish, a mad scientist and former child prodigy who made various Frankensteinian attempts to raise dead animals, wanted to try reviving a death row inmate after an execution. McGonigle volunteered himself for the experiment, but permission was denied.)

As for Thora, her body is presumed to have washed out to sea. She remains listed in missing persons databases, however, in the unlikely event that it turns up.

On this day..

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1949: Margaret “Bill” Allen, transgender

Add comment January 12th, 2018 Meaghan

(Thanks to Meaghan Good of the Charley Project for the guest post. -ed.)

On January 12, 1949, Margaret Allen was executed by Albert Pierrepoint at Strangeways Gaol. She was the first woman hanged there since Charlotte Bryant in 1936.

41-year-old Margaret had beaten to death an elderly neighbor, Nancy Ellen Chadwick, on August 21, 1948, after Nancy stopped by Margaret’s cottage at 137 Bacup Road, Rawtenstall, Lancashire. Several hours later, she dragged the body outside and left it in the road, almost literally right on her doorstep.

The following facts can be gleaned about Margaret Allen’s life:

  1. Since her early twenties, she had habitually worn men’s clothing and said she wanted to be a man.
  2. She wanted everyone to call her “Bill.”
  3. She wore her hair in a short, slicked-back cut, a common style for men at the time.
  4. She once went on holiday to Blackpool with her best (and perhaps only) friend, Annie Cook, and they checked into a boarding house under the names “Mr. Allen” and “Mrs. Allen.”
  5. In 1935, after a stay in St. Mary’s Hospital, Manchester, Margaret told people she’d had a sex change operation and was now a man.*

All of it adds up to this: although few even knew it was a thing in the 1940s, it seems highly likely that if Margaret was alive today, she would have identified as a transgender man and pursued treatment, such as hormonal therapy, to change her sex.

But in 1948, such options weren’t available to Margaret. She felt like a man, dressed like one and cut her hair like one, and even adopted a man’s name. But in spite of all her efforts she didn’t really look like a man, and the local townspeople didn’t think of her as one. “Bill” Allen must have been the subject of curiosity and gossip in the small town of Rawtenstall.

As with most transgender individuals even today, Margaret’s life was difficult. She had an elementary education, had never married, and worked grueling jobs her entire life, such as in the mills and in the postal service.

Alan Hayhurst, in his book More Lancashire Murders, suggests that the four years she was a bus conductor may have been the happiest period in her life, since female employees wore slacks as part of their uniform. She was ultimately dismissed from that job for being “rude and aggressive” towards passengers.

By 1948, Margaret’s parents were dead, and she was estranged from all twenty-one of her siblings. It’s likely they were put off by her inclination to be a man.

Due to ill health, Margaret hadn’t worked since January 1948. She was living on 11 shillings a week in welfare and 26 shillings a week in National Health sick pay.

She was behind in her rent to the tune of £15, and her landlord had been threatening eviction. She hadn’t paid the electricity or coal bills in almost two years, and she had several court judgments pending against her besides. All told, she was £46 in debt and had no realistic hope of ever paying it off.

On top of everything else, Margaret was going through menopause — often a difficult time in any woman’s life, never mind a transgender one’s — and suffered frequent headaches, dizzy spells and depression as a result. Her friend Annie Cook was worried about her; she smoked too much and didn’t eat properly. She begged Margaret to pull herself together.

Enter Nancy Ellen Chadwick.

Nancy was housekeeper to a Mr. Whitaker, and lived on Hardman Avenue, about half a mile from Margaret’s home. She and Margaret first met at a mutual acquaintance’s house, then a week later on the street in the center of town. Nancy mentioned that she was out of sugar, and Margaret offered to lend her a cupful. This was generous: Britain was still laboring under postwar rationing, and sugar was rare and precious.

Margaret visited Nancy’s home a few times after that, although she did not bring the sugar. She visited her again at 8:30 a.m. on Saturday, August 21, and said she would have sugar on Monday.

“Nancy Chadwick,” Hayhurst says in his book, “was getting more and more curious about the little woman in men’s clothing.”

At about 9:30 that same morning, by accident or design, Nancy appeared on Bacup Road, saw Margaret and asked to be invited inside her home. Hayhurst describes their fatal encounter:

‘I’m afraid I haven’t got time, Nancy,’ she said, ‘you can see inside another time.’ But she found herself being pushed back into the scullery as Nancy Chadwick made a determined effort to gain entrance. Margaret still protested, but Nancy now had the bit between her teeth and was shutting the front door behind her and making for the living room.

At around 4:00 a.m. the next day, a bus driver traveling along Bacup Road stopped when he saw, illuminated in his headlights, what looked like a bundle of rags lying in the road. When he got out to take a closer look he realized it was a woman’s body.

When the doctor arrived, he determined the woman had been dead at least ten hours. There was a deep gash in her head and blood on her arms and hands, but her injuries were not consistent with a hit-and-run accident.

Two witnesses who had been walking home later told the police they’d walked past that spot at 3:45 a.m. and there was nothing there, indicating the body had been dumped sometime between 3:45 and 4:00.

Nancy Chadwick’s nephew identified the body. At the postmortem, Hayhurst records,

Dr. Bailey found that the vault of the skull was fractured in several directions over almost the whole of the skull, and there were seven incised wounds to the head, each just over 1 inch long. The cause of death was shock, produced by multiple fractures to the skull and hemorrhaging of the scalp wounds. It was apparent that Nancy Chadwick had suffered a frenzied attack with a heavy implement.

An obvious motive for the murder was robbery, for “it was common gossip in the town that Mrs. Chadwick had lots of money and was suspected of carrying it round with her.”

The police searched the nearby River Irwell for evidence. They didn’t find the murder weapon, but did find Nancy Chadwick’s handbag. Inside were some sewing materials, scissors, and a pack of playing cards, but no money at all.

Authorities also began a house-to-house search of Bacup Road, interviewing all the residents. Because there was a large drag mark leading from No. 137 to where the body lay, they paid particular attention to Margaret Allen. A look into her background would have revealed her financial problems.

At first they could find nothing suspicious inside No. 137. Margaret was taken to the police station and gave a statement, admitting she knew Nancy. Nancy had been to see her on the day she died, Margaret said, but she had refused to let her in. The old woman had left, and this was the last time Margaret had seen her alive.

The police smelled a rat. They reappeared the next day and took Margaret back to the station, where she issued a second statement, which did not differ significantly from her first. A second search of Margaret’s home, however, turned up large bloodstains in the coalhouse.

In the living room she said quietly, “I’ll tell you all about it. The other statements I gave you were wrong.” Back at the police station she made her confession:

As I was saying, I was coming out of the house on Saturday last about twenty past nine in the morning, when Mrs. Chadwick came around the corner. She asked if this was where I lived and could she come in. I told her I was going out. I was in a funny mood and she seemed to get on my nerves, although she hadn’t said anything. I said I would have to go, as I was going out and could she see me sometime else, but she seemed somehow to insist on coming in.

I just looked round and saw a hammer in the kitchen. This time we were talking just inside the kitchen with the front door closed. On the spur of the moment, I hit her with the hammer. She gave a shout that seemed to start me off more. I hit her a few times but I don’t know how many. I then pulled the body into my coalhouse. I’ve told you where I was all day, that part is true and true that I went to bed at ten to eleven. When I awoke, the thought of what was downstairs made me keep awake. I went downstairs but couldn’t tell the time as all the clocks are broke. There were no lights in the road and I couldn’t hear any footsteps. My intention was to pull her into the river and dispose of the body but she was too heavy and I just put the body in the road. Later, I heard the noise outside and knew they had found her. I looked out of the window and saw the bus. Then I went back to sleep. Just before I put the body out, I went round the corner and threw the bag into the river. The bag I sort of dropped in, the hammer head I hit her with I threw some distance up the river and the handle I used for the fire. I looked in the bag but there was no money in it. I didn’t actually kill her for that. I had one of my funny turns … I had no reason to do it at all. It seemed to come over me. The noise after the first hit seemed to set me off.

She made her first court appearance on September 2, her forty-second birthday. The Bacup Times website notes she was wearing her preferred masculine outfit of navy blue pants, a checkered shirt, a grayish-blue pullover sweater and a fawn overcoat.

At Margaret’s trial, the defense didn’t bother to pretend she was innocent. How could they, when the evidence was so overwhelming? Her legal aid attorney merely pointed out that she had not committed the murder for financial gain and asked for a verdict of “guilty but insane.”

You can’t just go around beating old ladies in the head with a hammer, of course. But given the stress Margaret was dealing with, and her considerable need for privacy, it would be perhaps understandable if she had panicked and lashed out violently when a near-stranger tried to push her way into her home.

Had the murder happened today, Margaret might have chosen the partial defense of diminished responsibility, which would have given the jury the option of convicting her of manslaughter rather than murder. This defense would have fit the case much better than an insanity plea, but it was not available to her in the 1940s.

Annie Cook, Margaret’s friend (lover?), testified as to Margaret’s “funny turns” and headaches, as well as one prior suicide attempt, but the prison medical officer said he could find no signs of physical or mental disease.

In his summing-up the judge said there was no medical evidence to support an insanity verdict. The outcome was clear, and the jury deliberated only fifteen minutes before convicting her.

Annie visited her until the end, and sent around a petition for a reprieve, but it got a hostile reception and only 112 people signed.

In spite of everything, Margaret remained calm and cheerful. The prison chaplain would later write,

She was a woman with plenty of grit and she faced it as a man would and I felt the whole thing was bestial and brutal. She was well prepared and behaved like a man. In fact she had more guts then most men I have seen.

Margaret wanted to dress in men’s clothing at her hanging, but the prison authorities said no and gave her a blue smock and a frock to wear instead.

Annie inherited her ring and cigarette lighter, as per her wishes.

* Whatever procedure Margaret may have had, it seems unlikely that it was a sex-change operation. That type of surgery was in its infancy in the 1930s, and female-to-male sex reassignment surgery is rare and difficult to perform even today.

On this day..

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1947: Rawagede Massacre

Add comment December 9th, 2017 Headsman

On this date in 1947, Dutch troops fighting (vainly) to keep Indonesia under colonial sway perpetrated one of the most notorious massacres of the Indonesian War of Independence.

During a Dutch offensive, Royal Netherlands Army forces fell on the West Java town of Rawagede (today, Balongsari) on December 9, 1947 and demanded to know the whereabouts of an Indonesian rebel they were hunting.

The villagers didn’t know, but the Dutch were convinced that they did — and so they began marching men and boys as young as 13 years old to nearby fields. Squatting and kneeling row upon row, the men were shot one by one. The Rawagede Massacre claimed 431 victims, according to the villagers.

In 2011, the victim’s survivors — and there’s a stunning picture of a 93-year-old Javanese widow of the massacre in this NPR story — won a legal judgment against the Netherlands. In the ensuing settlement, the Dutch paid €20,000 apiece to plaintiffs and issued a formal apology.

“Today, Dec. 9,” the Dutch ambassador said in a ceremony at the village six years ago today, “we remember the members of your families and those of your fellow villagers who died 64 years ago through the actions of the Dutch military.

“On behalf of the Dutch government, I apologize for the tragedy that took place.”

On this day..

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1942: Ernst Schrämli, Swiss traitor

1 comment November 11th, 2017 Headsman

On this date in 1942, the Swiss artillerist Ernst Schrämli was shot for treason.

The dogged independence of Switzerland during World War II presented an going irritant to a Third Reich that had swallowed the rest of Europe, enabling von Trapps to escape and idealistic students to cogitate potshots at the Führer. Switzerland had to maintain her place delicately, here with a pragmatic concession to the fascist powers and there with a deterring mountain fortification. The American jouranlist Walter Lippmann celebrated that doughty Alpine confederation’s pluck in a 1943 New York Herald Tribune article (via):

The Swiss nation which is entirely surrounded by the Axis armies, beyond reach of any help from the democracies, that Switzerland which cannot live without trading with the surrounding Axis countries, still is an independent democracy. The “engulfing sea of 125,000,000 hostile neighbors” has not yet engulfed the Swiss.

That is the remarkable thing about Switzerland. The real news is not that her factories make munitions for Germany but that the Swiss have an army which stands guard against invasion, that their frontiers are defended, that their free institutions continue to exist and that there has been no Swiss Quisling, and no Swiss Laval. The Swiss remained true to themselves even in the darkest days of 1940 and 1941, when it seemed that nothing but the valor of the British and the blind faith of free men elsewhere stood between Hitler and the creation of a totalitarian new order in Europe. Surely, if ever the honor of a people was put to the test, the honor of the Swiss was tested and proved then and there … no ordinary worldly material calculation can account for the behavior of the Swiss.

Compared to neighboring countries, Switzerland’s domestic fascist movement was pretty minor, but that ferocious independence could not brook fifth columnists be they ever so minor. Schrämli, a somewhat disordered soldier, delivered a few grenades and some inaccurate sketches of some Swiss bunkers to a German agent. Though ineffectual, it was treason.

He’s the subject of a notable 1976 documentary The Shooting of the Traitor Ernst S., which finds that the man’s motivation was psychological weakness rather than ideological commitment and confers the epitaph De Chliner hanget ehnder als der Grösser (“The small hang instead of the great”). German speakers can take in the entire film:

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1946: Kurt Daluege, Nazi cop

Add comment October 24th, 2017 Headsman

On this date in 1946, former Nazi chief cop Kurt Daluege hanged at Prague’s Pankrac Prison.


Daluege’s postwar detention card.

Daluege, who returned from World War I bearing an Iron Cross and an early affinity for the far-right Freikorps militias, was head of the uniformed police for most of the Third Reich’s evil run. That terminated in 1943 when heart problems saw him pensioned off to Pomerania,* but not before he’d consciously Nazified the entire police force around the perspective of destroying “the consciously asocial enemies of the people.” He wrote a book called National-sozialistischer Kampf gegen das Verbrechertum (National Socialists’ War on Criminality).

With Hitler’s downfall, Daluege was called out of retirement to answer for the villainies that you’d assume a guy in his position would have authored — like mass shootings of Jews on the eastern front and a reprisal order to decorate a Polish town with “the hanging of Polish franc-tireurs from light poles as a visible symbol for the entire population.”

His most notable atrocity, and the reason that his hanging occurred in Czechoslovakia, came via his turn as the de facto successor to that territory’s Reichsprotektor Reinhard Heydrich after the latter’s assassination in 1942.

In this capacity it was Daluege who with Karl Frank ordered the destruction of the village Lidice to retaliate for Heydrich’s murder — one of the standout horrors in a generation thick with them.

Daluege rejected the charges against him to the end, his position a blend of the “superior orders” non-defense and a feigned irrecollection: nothing but the classics. “I am beloved by three million policemen!” he complained.

There’s a bit more information about him in this Axis History Forum thread, wherein appears the author of a hard-to-find German biography, Kurt Daluege — Der Prototyp des loyalen Nationalsozialisten.

* He did retain his seat in the Reichstag all the way to the end, a seat he first won in the November 1932 election.

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1943: Piotr Jarzyna, Polish Resistance

3 comments October 22nd, 2017 Meaghan

(Thanks to Meaghan Good of the Charley Project for the guest post. -ed.)

On this date in 1943, Piotr Jarzyna was shot at Auschwitz for his activities in the Polish resistance. He was fifty years old.

Jarzyna, a wheelwright, was born to a peasant family in the village of Polanka Wielka near Oswiecim, the town that would become known as the site of the Auschwitz Camp. He moved to Krakow, the nearest big city, in 1938.

Under the German occupation of Poland he joined the peasant resistance movement using the pseudonym “Jacek”, working as a courier and a soldier in the Peasant Battalions in the vicinity of Auschwitz. One of his tasks was providing covert aid to the prisoners in the camp.

As the Auschwitz Museum website notes,

Aid to Auschwitz prisoners took various forms. It consisted above all in furnishing them with food, but also with medicine and bandages. In the winter, people attempted to get warm clothing and underwear to the prisoners. However, the help was not confined to the material sphere. It was equally important to make it easier for the prisoners to stay in touch with their families, usually by helping to deliver illicit correspondence, but there were also cases in which arrangements were made for prisoners to have face-to-face meetings with their loved once. People helped prisoners who had escaped from the camp, and even played a role in organizing the escapes. Local residents’ organisations also received documents from the prisoners that revealed the crimes being committed by the SS, and forwarded this evidence to the headquarters of the Polish underground movement.

In 2009, the Auschwitz Museum published People of Good Will, which provides information about more than 1,200 Polish people from the vicinity of Auschwitz who helped the prisoners. Piotr Jarzyna is one of those.

While continuing to live in Crakow, he frequently sneaked into the vicinity of the camp, carrying various items including copies of the underground press, but most of all medicine for the prisoners, including valuable, highly specific preparations. Reaching the area of the camp involved the great risk of crossing the border between the General Government and the Third Reich, since Germany had annexed the Land of Oswiecim.

Jarzyna was often accompanied on these expeditions by his young daughter Helena. Fortunately he was alone when he was caught by border guards in the autumn of 1942, carrying precious doses of medicine. He was able to dump some of his stash before his arrest, but when they searched him they found several vials of anti-typhus serum meant for Auschwitz inmates.

The Nazis sentenced Jarzyna to serve a term in Monowitz, one of Auschwitz’s three main sub-camps, where inmates did slave labor for I.G. Farben. After three weeks, he was able to escape and made it back home to Krakow.

Amazingly, this experience did not deter Jarzyna from his resistance activities: he went right back to smuggling stuff over the border into Auschwitz. In January 1943, doing another medicine run, he was caught a second time, and this time Helena, then just fourteen, was with him.

People of Good Will states,

The Germans took them both to Wadowice, and then transported them to Gestapo headquarters in Bielsko. They underwent brutal interrogations there, before being taken to the prison in Mylowice. The Germans then committed Helena to the Gestapo jail in Bielsko, while sending her father to Auschwitz. The Gestapo summary court in the camp sentenced him to death, and he was shot on October 22, 1943.

Helena survived. After the war, her father was posthumously decorated with the Order of the Cross of Grunwald, Third Class, due to his heroics during the Nazi occupation.

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1942: The Jews of Trunovskoye

Add comment October 18th, 2017 Meaghan

(Thanks to Meaghan Good of the Charley Project for the guest post. -ed.)

On this day in 1942, one year and four months after the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union, almost all of the Jews in the village of Trunovskoye in rural Russia were murdered and buried in a mass grave a few kilometers outside the town limits.

Several months later, after the Red Army had liberated the area, they had the locals disinter and re-bury the bodies.

This mass execution is somewhat unusual in that it didn’t happen via bullets, as at Babi Yar and many other places in the occupied Soviet Union, but via a mobile gassing chamber or gas van. These relatively primitive machines were actually invented by the Soviets and used by them as a form of execution before being adopted by the Nazis after the psychological impact of mass shootings was deemed too stressful on the perpetrators.

The gas vans had airtight compartments which could hold between 30 and 100 victims each. People were shoved inside and gassed with carbon monoxide until they died of suffocation. Gas vans were initially used by the Nazis’ mobile killing squads and at Chelmno, the first of the extermination camps. But they were slow and inefficient, and the screams of the dying disturbed and distressed those driving the vehicles. In time they were replaced by gas chambers, which could kill people more quickly and cleanly.

What we know about the mass murder in Trunovskoye comes from a letter written by sixteen-year-old Anna “Nyura” Rabinovits in 1943. She was one of the only Jewish survivors from the area; she lost most of her family. Originally from Kishinev (Chisinau), she was evacuated with her family to Trunovskoye in the summer of 1942.

After liberation, in January 1943, she wrote to Moshe “Misha” Shapira, a relative by marriage, to tell him of what had happened. Her letter, translated from the Russian, eventually found its way into the Yad Vashem archives and was published in the anthology After So Much Pain and Anguish: First Letters After Liberation, edited by Robert Rozett and Iael Nidam-Orvieto.

The letter is worth quoting in full, with paragraphs added for clarity. Note that Nyura twice erroneously cites the date “October 18, 1943″; the murders occurred on October 18, 1942. She also refers to the village of Trunovskoye as “Trunkova”.

Book CoverDear Aunt Liza and Uncle Misha,

Yesterday I received Misha’s postcard and today I received yours. As you can see, I’m rushing to respond. I am going to tell you about the end that befell our dear ones. I cannot understand how some of our people are till alive.

We were still living in Trunovka when the Nazis came. We were all evacuated along with the Grinberg family. Yevochka had a child, a boy who was one year old. What an end befell him! The Nazis caught us and made us return, but we did not return to the place where we had lived but stopped here, where I live now, 20 km from Trunovka. We lived here for two months under the Nazis and all of us worked on the kolkhoz. We lived in separate apartments but I went to work every day together with Yevochka and Adochka. Boris Isayevich was sick but when he recovered, he too went to work on the pig farm. Our only grandmother and Maria Naumovna remained at home. Yevochka’s grandmother had died back in Trunovka, after several days of a severe illness.

When we had been here for over a month, an order was issued for all the Jews to be registered. Then, several days later, a murder squad arrived and we were all ordered to appear at the commandant’s office with our belongings. We took our stuff and went. Two cars had arrived from Voroshilovsk [a short-lived Bolshevik name for the city that was reverted to Stavropol in 1943 -ed.] with six Germans. We were called into a room, each family separately, to be registered. Afterwards, they said, “Take your things and go home. When we need you, we will find you.” We were all very happy. We returned home and continued to work on the kolkhoz. The kolkhoz had sent me to work at the kolkhoz office.

On October 18, 1943, the murder squad returned. Our landlady said,

I myself did not see it. A cart with policemen arrived and ordered them to put all their things on the cart. Grandmother and Adochka were at home. They took everything and went to the Grinbergs, where they took Yevochka and her child and Marya Naumovna and all their things as well, and got onto the cart. They were taken to the police station, where there already 55 people. Dad and Boris Isayevich were out in the steppe, but they were brought in from there. [?] ordered them to take off their clothes and brought a truck to the door of the barn and told them to get in the truck, but they resisted. They cried and shouted, so the Germans started beating them with whips and pushed them into the truck. They left six men to have someone to bury them. The truck was made of iron and closed in. At first, when they got in, they shouted, but when the doors were closed, all the voices gradually became silent. They were taken two km from the village and then thrown like dogs into a pit, where they lay one on top of the other. People told me all this, but I didn’t believe it at the time. I hope that they might be alive and that I would yet hear something about them. But a long time passed and I heard nothing from them.


A section of Nyura’s original letter (click for larger image).

The Nazis retreated and the Red Army came and liberated us from those monsters. And on April 2, 1943, it was my lot to see a scene that I will not forget as long as I live. I suffered much after this. An order was given to take people from every kolkhoz to dig a mass grave. I was at the administration office and only heard about it on the morning of the second day when I went to look for the grave of my dear ones. I didn’t know exactly where they were buried and I didn’t know that we would be digging a grave. It was like someone said to me: “Just go ahead down that road.”

On the road I met many people from whom I found out that they were going to bury the Jews who had been murdered by the Nazis. When I heard this, I began crying, but then the superiors, including a head of the district executive, started chasing me away and wouldn’t let me come to the grave, but at this point I did not pay attention but kept going. People showed me exactly where the place of the grave was; it could be seen. When I arrived, I could see [parts of bodies] covered with earth: [?] hands, legs and heads. I cried a lot and when people came to move them, I had already calmed down and was able to do this. A huge grave was dug for them not far from there and they were placed in a line close to each other, and then they were covered with earth. When we started taking them out, on the top were lying [the bodies of] the men who had probably covered them with earth and then, themselves, had been shot with machine guns. Can you picture Dad having covered [the body of] his daughter Adochka knowing the end that was awaiting him?

Their faces had all decomposed. Only the bodies and the hair remained. For that reason I couldn’t be sure about identifying them, but I believe I recognized Yevochka and the child in Maria Naumovna’s arms. I also found Dad, Grandma and Adochka. I carried them myself on a stretcher to the new grave. People said that the Germans had killed them with gas, that those trucks had a special apparatus for poison gas to kill people … The best possessions had been taken while the rest had been divided among the kolkhoz members.

Now I will tell you how I survived. That should be of interest to you. Nevertheless, I cursed my fate many times for having survived under those circumstances. It was so hard for me to survive all alone among strangers. When they [our family members] were taken, I was at the kolkhoz office. I arrived on Saturday and we had the day off. I entered the [family’s] room. It was empty. There was no one there. The landlady told me they had been taken away.

I ran straight to the police and said to them, “Whatever you did to my people, do it to me too. I have nothing to live for.” They put me in jail, where I remained for about two hours until a German [?] truck came and they took me out of the jail. The German started swearing and forced me with a strap to get into the truck. There were two other girls my age in the truck. They [the Germans] said that they were going to take us a few kilometers from there and shoot us on the way and throw out [our bodies]. There were many things in the truck, including some of our belongings I recognized. However, the truck took us to a nearby village 12 kilometers away. There they asked for my documents, but Dad had my passport [i.e. identity card where ethnicity was indicated]. I had no documents at all, so I said that my mother was Russian and my father — Jewish.

They let us go and wrote to the local authorities not to bother us, me and the other two girls, anymore. But a month later, when the Jews were taken from this nearby village, they took us too. I could see them being taken and pushed into a truck but they let us go and gave us German documents stating we were not Jewish. I remained alone in an unfamiliar place, where I didn’t know anyone, with absolutely nothing, with no bread for the winter, and I had to go barefoot in the snow. I worked at [?], ate boiled wheat, I didn’t see any bread … Can you imagine, Aunt Liza, what I went through? I wept for my dear ones. I regretted that I was alive.

Now I work as an accountant at a transportation office. The food is not bad. There is as much bread as I want. The kolkhoz allotted me a hundred kilograms of wheat and I got myself some clothes. I bought myself a skirt, a blouse and a sheet, from which I am going to make four blouses for myself. In the course of the whole year, I amassed 450 “working days” but they give [?] bread. My brother Lyova sent me 800 rubles, but I have not yet bought anything with them. This winter, I think life will be easy for me.

I have written everything in detail, as you asked me to do. With this letter, I am responding to your postcard and to [Uncle] Misha’s letter. I am grateful to you for having written to me and for your having found out that some of our relatives are still alive. I get letters frequently from Lyova. He’s at the front now. Write me how you are, where your Lyova is and what Sarochka does for a living. Write me whether you have heard anything from Grisha or Fima. Write everything in detail.

The letter you sent took 20 days to reach me, while I expect you will receive mine by the anniversary of the murder of the members of our family, which took place on October 18, 1943, at 11 o’clock in the morning. What a tragic fate our family has had! I will visit their grave on that anniversary. By now, at the time that I am writing to you, I have been accustomed to the idea that they are gone. I don’t shed as many tears as I used to. Before, wherever I went, whatever I did, I saw them, lying there dead, and the tears in my eyes never ceased. I have now finished writing.

Goodbye. Kisses to you and warm embraces to Misha and Sara.

Write a lot, please!
Nyura

Little is known about Nyura; the Shapira family lost touch with her after the war. She ultimately married a man named Goncharov and returned to Kishinev. She was still living there as of 2009, when she submitted pages of testimony for her murdered sister, father and grandmother to Yad Vashem’s Central Database of Shoah Victims’ Names.

As far as is known, there is no memorial at Trunovskoye for the Jews who died there.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Borderline "Executions",Children,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Gassed,Germany,Guest Writers,History,Jews,Mass Executions,Mature Content,No Formal Charge,Occupation and Colonialism,Other Voices,Russia,Shot,USSR,Wartime Executions,Women

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1946: Damian Kratzenberg, Luxembourg Nazi

Add comment October 11th, 2017 Headsman

Luxembourg Nazi Damian Kratzenberg was shot as a World War II collaborator on this date in 1946.

Kratzenberg (English Wikipedia entry | German | Luxembourgish), an ethnic German and unabashed Germanophile, was a schoolteacher who became in the 1930s a prominent public advocate for Luxembourg’s adherence to the Third Reich. He would eventually found a domestic Nazi collaborator organ, Volksdeutsche Bewegung and though it soon saw its desired German occupation its efforts to propagandize for a voluntary Luxembourgish embrace of Berlin were unavailing.

Kratzenberg fled for Germany when Luxembourg was liberated in September 1944, but he gave away his hiding-place in a letter to his daughter, resulting in his capture.

He was the brother of sculptor Albert Kratzenberg

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Luxembourg,Shot,Treason

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1946: Hong Sa-ik, a Korean general in the Japanese army

1 comment September 26th, 2017 Headsman

Hong Sa-ik, an ethnic Korean officer of the Imperial Japanese Army, was hanged in Manila on this date in 1946 for war crimes against captured prisoners in the Philippines.

Korea surrendered her diplomatic sovereignty to Japan in 1905 when our man Hong was just 16; five years later, Japan annexed Korea outright. These were events that would move many years of violent hostility on the peninsula and shape the progress of Hong’s life and death.

However many and well-remembered are martyrs in resistance, there are always many who would sooner go along with events. Hong was in this agreeable latter camp; when Japan shuttered the Korean military academy he was attending, he simply transferred to the Japanese one. When Japan took over his homeland, he declined his Korean classmates’ entreaties to put his combat training at the service of an underground resistance.

Instead, Hong rose through Japan’s ranks to the position (late in World War II) of lieutenant general and supervisor of all the POW camps in the Philippines — whose conduct rated a sore Allied grievance as the war came to a close.

Hong was prosecuted by the United States as a Class B war criminal, and was the highest-ranking Korean officer to be executed for war crimes in the postwar period.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Hanged,History,Japan,Korea,Occupation and Colonialism,Philippines,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Soldiers,U.S. Military,USA,War Crimes

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1942: Tom Williams, IRA martyr

Add comment September 2nd, 2017 Headsman

Irish revolutionary Tom Williams was hanged at Belfast’s Crumlin Road Gaol on this date in 1942.

A plaque at 46 Bombay Street in Belfast marks the home Tom Williams shared with his grandmother.

The 19-year-old Belfast Catholic had been the chief of a six-man Irish Republican Army team that mounted an Easter Sunday attack intended to divert Northern Ireland’s Royal Ulster Constabulary from preventing Republican marches to commemorate the Easter Rising. The attack killed an RUC officer, and all six IRA men were arrested and sentenced to death.

As the acknowledged leader, Williams alone paid that forfeit; the five others all had their sentences commuted. (Notably, their number included 21-year-old Joe Cahill, who was destined for an illustrious career in the movement; he would go on to co-found the Provisional IRA in 1969, and to become a prominent exponent of the peace process in the 1990s.)

“Tom Williams walked to that scaffold without a tremor in his body. The only people who were shaking were us and the hangman,” his priest said later that day. “I’ve one other thing to say to you. Don’t pray for Tom Williams, pray to him, for at this moment Tom is a saint in heaven.”

That’s about the size of Williams’s place in the Republican memory. After the prison was closed, Williams was reburied with honors (Gerry Adams attended) in 2000. He’s commemorated in a ballad.

Tom Williams (Irish republican) from REBELS OF IRELAND on Vimeo.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Guerrillas,Hanged,History,Ireland,Martyrs,Murder,Occupation and Colonialism,Separatists,Soldiers,Terrorists

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