1944: Seisaku Nakamura, Hamamatsu Deaf Killer

Add comment June 19th, 2018 Meaghan

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

On this date in 1944, nineteen-year-old serial killer Seisaku Nakamura was hanged for a series of horrific murders in wartime Japan. He killed at least nine people, perhaps as many as eleven, many of them while he was still a minor.

Nakamura, born deaf, was ostracized by both his family and society at large for his disability. Robert Keller, in his Asian Monsters: 28 Terrifying Serial Killers from Asia and the Far East,* notes:

It has been noted that many serial killers who suffer such ostracism retreat into a fantasy world, fueled most often by revenge fantasies. This was certainly the case with Seisaku Nakamura. He developed a near obsession with the Samurai culture and enjoyed watching movies where Samurai slaughtered their victims with lethal Katana swords.


The 47 Ronin (1941).

Yet on the surface all appeared normal. Seisaku was a bright boy who excelled at school. He was polite and deferential. He endured his condition without complaint. He’d grown, too, into a tall and strapping youth.

All was not normal, however.

According to Nakamura’s later confession, he committed his first two murders on August 22, 1938, when he was only fourteen. He tried to rape two women, he said, and murdered them after they resisted. This account has never been confirmed; perhaps he was boasting, or perhaps the murders did occur and the Japanese military government kept them out of the news.

Nearly three years passed before he committed another homicide: on August 18, 1941, Nakamura stabbed a woman to death and nearly killed another. Two days later, he stabbed and hacked another three victims to death. The police had a suspect description, but hushed up the information about the crimes for fear of causing a panic.

On September 27, Nakamura got into an argument with his brother at their parents’ home. The result was a bloodbath: he stabbed his brother in the chest, turned the knife on the rest of the family, stabbing and slashing his father, sister, niece and sister-in-law. Amazingly, only Nakamura’s brother died. Questioned by the police, the survivors refused to cooperate, saying they were afraid of retribution if they named their attacker.

Nearly a year passed with no bloodshed, but on August 30, 1942, Nakamura targeted another family. He saw a young woman on the street, followed her home, where her husband and three children were. Nakamura began his attack on the mother, and when her husband tried to defend her, he stabbed them both to death. He then slaughtered their two youngest children and turned his attention to the oldest, a girl. He started to rape her, then inexplicably broke off his assault and ran away, leaving her alive.

The survivor provided a good witness description to the police, who had their eye on Nakamura already; they had come to believe the reason his family wouldn’t say who attacked them the year before was because their attacker was one of their own.

The “Hamamatsu Deaf Killer” was arrested and quickly tried, found guilty, and sentenced to death in spite of his youth and the parade of witnesses ready to say he was insane.

Little is known about him and his crimes, as Japanese government suppressed most of the information.

* As we’ve previously noted, we cite the titles, we don’t write the titles.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Guest Writers,Hanged,Japan,Murder,Other Voices,Serial Killers,Wartime Executions

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1944: Raymond Burgard, lycee Buffon inspiration

Add comment June 15th, 2018 Headsman

Anti-fascist teacher Raymond Burgard was beheaded on the fallbeil on this date in 1944, in Cologne.

A literature instructor at Paris’s lycée Buffon, Burgard (English Wikipedia entry | French) was dangerously forthright about his resistance to the Nazi occupation. He wrote and published resistance newspapers and on one occasion publicly sang La Marseillaise at a march celebrating Joan of Arc.

Evidently he was an inspiring teacher, too.

Burgard was arrested over the Easter 1942 break, and as soon as school re-convened the pupils

organized a demonstration, involving children from other schools. Around a hundred school students took part, chanting Burgard’s name and throwing leaflets in the air. (Source)

Alas, Executed Today has already encountered these brave schoolchildren: the five youths who organized this protest were themselves executed in early 1943.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,France,Germany,Guillotine,History,Martyrs,Occupation and Colonialism,Power,Wartime Executions

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1941: Pittsburgh Phil

Add comment June 12th, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1941, Brooklyn gangster Pittsburgh Phil went to the Sing Sing electric chair.

The smart-dressed Pittsburgh Phil* — “Harry Strauss” to his parents or just plain “Pep” to his friends — was the most notorious contract killer of the Springsteen-worthy crime syndicate Murder, Inc.. He racked up an alleged body count well north of 100 — possibly several multiples of that figure — popping whomever some organized crime figure needed to be rid of. (Like this guy.)

Pep eschewed any single m.o., murdering with blades and bullets and garrotes and lungs full of water, and he rarely even carried a weapon lest it incriminate him on a chance arrest. Well did he know this tradecraft, for he beat no fewer than 17 prosecutions in New York. The man also took hit assignments all around the country, for other crime lords in cities whose patrolmen did not recognize him by name and reputation.

And fittingly, it took another assassin to kill him.

Fellow Murder, Inc. killer Abe “Kid Twist” Reles — a childhood buddy with whom he’d come up in the Prohibition crime world via Meyer Lansky‘s organization — got caught in the government’s sights and realized that his only probable purchase on life involved giving evidence against his mates.

We’ve seen that his testimony did in Frank Abbandando and Harry Maione, even though Reles had “fallen out of a window” before those goons sat in the mercy seat. Reles likewise gave up Pittsburgh Phil, who in Raymond Chandler’s was “electrocuted with a sneer on his face” on this date along with his fellow Murder, Inc. plugger Buggsy Goldstein.

* Why did they call him “Pittsburgh Phil”? Who knows! He is at any rate not to be confused with groundbreaking horse bettor George “Pittsburgh Phil” Smith.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Electrocuted,Execution,History,Murder,New York,Organized Crime,USA

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1944: The Massacre of Tulle

Add comment June 9th, 2018 Headsman

On June 9, 1944, the 2nd SS Panzer Division hanged 99 habitants of the French town Tulle as revenge upon the French Resistance.

On June 7, the Communist Francs-Tireurs et Partisans (FTP) guerrillas launched a pre-planned attack on German and milice positions in Tulle. By the 8th, the FTP had liberated the town* … temporarily.

Come the evening of the 8th, the 2nd SS Panzer Division — which had been stationed in southern France but was rumbling north to fortify the German position in the wake of the Allied landing at Normandy — arrived at Tulle and re-occupied the city.

On the morning of the 9th, the Germans went door to door and detained nearly all the men in Tulle over the age of 16, an estimated three to five thousand potential hostages. By the afternoon these had been efficiently culled to 120 semi-random targets for exemplary revenge to cow the populace, people who looked too scruffy to the Germans and didn’t have an alert contact with sufficient pull to exclude them from the pool. The count was determined, as a poster announcing the executions explained, as the multiple of 40 German soldiers estimated lost* during the FTP action.

Throughout the afternoon, that threat was enacted with nooses dangled along lampposts and balconies on the Avenue de la Gare — although not to the full 120 but rather to the odd number of 99. It remains unclear why the hangings stopped early; certainly it was no excess of sentiment on the part of the Panzer division, which had been redeployed to France after giving and getting terrible casualties on the far bloodier eastern front.

“In Russia we got used to hanging. We hanged more than 1,000 at Kharkov and Kiev, this is nothing for us here,” a Sturmbannführer Kowatch remarked to a local official.

And so in batches ten by ten, before an audience of other prisoners and frightened townspeople peeping through shuttered windows and mirthful SS men, the hostages were marched to their makeshift gallows, forced up ladders with rifle-butt blows, and swung off to publicly strangle to death. The avenue’s unwilling gibbets were not suffered to discharge their prey until the evening, when the 99 were hurriedly buried in a mass grave. Afterwards, another 149 were deported en masse to Dachau, most of whom would never return.

The never-repentant commander who ordered the mass execution, Heinz Lammerding, was condemned to death in absentia by a French court; however, West Germany refused extradition demands,** and Lammerding died in 1971 without serving a day in prison.

This event remains a vivid civic memory in Tulle, as well as the namesake of the Rue du 9-Juin-1944; travelers might peruse a guide to the numerous memorials in the vicinity available here (pdf).

The 2nd SS Panzer Division proceeded the next day on its northerly route to Oradour-sur-Glane, and there participated in the mass murder of its inhabitants, an atrocity that is much better remembered today than that of Tulle. The journey and operations of this division are the subject of a World War II microhistory titled after the unit’s nickname, Das Reich: The March of the 2nd SS Panzer Division Through France, June 1944.

* The 40-to-50 German dead in Tulle include some summarily executed. For example, nine officers of the SD were shot in a graveyard after capture.

** Lammerding’s comfortable liberty became headline news in the 1960s, which was not long after Israeli commandos had kidnapped the fugitive Nazi Adolf Eichmann. France allegedly mulled such an operation to bring Lammerding to justice.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Execution,France,Germany,Hanged,History,Hostages,Innocent Bystanders,Martyrs,Mass Executions,No Formal Charge,Occupation and Colonialism,Power,Public Executions,Wartime Executions

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1946: Chen Gongbo, puppet president

Add comment June 3rd, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1946, Chen Gongbo, president of China under the Japanese occupation, was shot for treason.

Briefly a Communist in his youth, Chen was Kuomintang state minister, then was pulled into the Japanese puppet government.

He served from 1940 as Mayor of Shanghai and speaker of the legislature, and late in 1944 became Acting President and soon actual President when ailing President Wang Jingwei traveled to Japan for medical treatment and died.

It was not long before Chen too had to relocate to Japan — in his case, as a fugitive. He was arrested and extradited back to China, where he defended himself from charges of collaboration arguing that he had acted only out of personal loyalty to his friend Wang. “Soon I will be reunited with Wang Jingwei in the next world,” was his tragic and filial sentiment upon learning his fate.

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1942: Georges Politzer and Jacques Solomon, academics in resistance

Add comment May 23rd, 2018 Headsman

Left-wing intellectuals Georges Politzer and Jacques Solomon were shot at Fort Mont-Valerien on this date in 1942 for their exertions in the French Resistance.

Both numbered among interwar France’s great radical intellectuals: Politzer, a Hungarian Jew nicknamed the “red-headed philosopher” and and Solomon, a Parisian physicist, both numbered among interwar France’s great radical scholars.

The red-headed philosopher hung with the likes of Sartre, taught Marxism at the Workers University of Paris, and critiqued psychology. (A few of his works can be perused here.) Solomon, son-in-law of physicist Paul Langevin, made early contributions to the emerging field of quantum mechanics.

Politically both were Communists and supporters of the anti-fascist Popular Front; with the onset of German occupation, they carried their activism into the French Resistance.

They were arrested (separately) in March 1942 and executed (together) with other Resistance hostages on the outskirts of Paris.

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1943: Thirteen Red Orchestra members

Add comment May 13th, 2018 Headsman

Thirteen anti-fascist resistance members of the “Red Orchestra” ring(s) were efficiently beheaded by the Plötzensee Prison fallbeil on this date in 1943.


Let no one say that I wept and trembled and clung to life. I want to end my life laughing, laughing the way I loved and still love life.

-Erika von Brockdorff

They were:

German Wikipedia’s list of executions in the Reich has only the above 11 listed for this day; via … @KrasnojKapelle on Twitter and this Bundesarchiv page, the other

* A psychoanalyst, Rittmeister contributed through his correspondence the whimsical/ominous title of a volume about the history of his field — “Here Life Goes on in a Most Peculiar Way”: Psychoanalysis before and after 1933.

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1941: Harry Gleeson, posthumously exonerated

Add comment April 23rd, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1941, Harry Gleeson hanged for murder in Ireland — wrongly, the government admitted in 2015.

Gleeson was the nephew and farmhand of a man called John Caesar, whose County Tipperary property abutted a cottage inhabited by a local prostitute called Moll McCarthy. On November 21, 1940, Gleeson found Moll McCarthy dead on a farm field. Her face had been destroyed by a gunshot; her murder orphaned seven children, many of them the illegitimate progeny of local married men.

Nine days later, Irish police arrested a surprised Gleeson for the murder. He hotly denied their theory that he had availed himself of the victim’s services, and then slain her to prevent his uncle finding out about it.

It was, the Irish Times says in a review of one of the several books about the case, “a definitively Irish murder case: the prosecution claimed that ‘Gleeson was meeting Moll at the field pump, away from prying eyes, and arranging to give her potatoes in exchange for sex.'”

As a criminal case, it involved that brew of tunnel vision preoccupation with the wrong guy and outright cheating to nail him that frequently characterizes errant convictions. But there may have been a political undercurrent besides.

Gleeson was defended by former Irish Republican Army chief of staff Sean MacBride,* and it’s been hypothesized that the barrister’s political affiliations critically unbalanced the case for at least a couple of important reasons:

  • A prejudicial court and jury perhaps gave their verdict as much against MacBride as against Gleeson. (The jury issued its conviction alongside an unsuccessful application for clemency.)
  • MacBride himself might have pulled some punches from the defense bar in view of the possibility — as charged by Kieran Fagan in The Framing of Harry Gleeson — that McCarthy was actually murdered for informing on IRA men.
A few books about Mary MacCarthy and Harry Gleeson

* MacBride’s father John “Foxy Jack” MacBride hanged in 1916 for his role in the Easter Rising.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,Innocent Bystanders,Ireland,Murder,Notable Participants,Ripped from the Headlines,Sex,Wrongful Executions

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1943: Leen Kullman, Soviet hero

Add comment March 6th, 2018 Headsman

Soviet spy Helene (“Leen”) Kullman was shot by the Germans on this date in 1943 … or was she?

Kullman (English Wikipedia entry | the much more detailed Estonian) was just out of teaching school when the Germans occupied Estonia. She joined the Red Army and was eventually trained as an intelligence agent, infiltrated by parachute behind German lines in September 1942, and arrested by the Gestapo in January 1943.

This is where things get interesting.

According to the Soviet hagiography that resulted in her decoration as a Hero of the Soviet Union in 1965, Kullman defied her torturers and was shot by them on March 6, 1943: a standard Great Patriotic War martyr.

However, stories in post-Soviet, and heavily anti-Soviet, Estonia have circulated to the effect that Leen Kullman wasn’t killed in 1943 at all — that she cooperated with her captors and ended up dying peacefully in West Germany in 1978. One family member allegedly received a cryptic message in the 1960s, “Leen lives with the man who saved her life, and has two children. I’m not allowed to say more.”

Almost everything about her available online is in Estonian; readers with that particular proficiency might also enjoy this 1965 radio interview with her sister.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Borderline "Executions",Espionage,Estonia,Execution,Germany,History,Martyrs,No Formal Charge,Not Executed,Occupation and Colonialism,Russia,Shot,Spies,Summary Executions,USSR,Wartime Executions,Women

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1948: Thomas Henry McGonigle, murder without a body

1 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..

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

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