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..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,England,Execution,Guest Writers,Hanged,History,Murder,Other Voices,Women

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

1949: Arthur Bruce Perkins, “I knew I could never face her again”

Add comment November 4th, 2015 Headsman

Minutes after midnight on this date in 1949, Washington state hanged Arthur Bruce Perkins for stabbing and bludgeoning to death an Olympia couple during the course of a robbery two years prior.

An alcoholic delinquent from his teen years, Perkins moved to Olympia after being paroled from a stretch in the state reformatory on November 11, 1947. One of the victims living there, Geneva Jessup, “had practically been a foster mother to” Perkins, according to court records. “‘I called Mrs. Jessup Aunt Neenie.'”

Perkins and a friend were peacably repairing a broken-down vehicle near the Jessup home when Perkins got a phone call at that house. Precisely how events escalated so dramatically from this everyday neighborly scene into a bloodbath is not very well-developed, and Perkins did not seem inclined to elaborate on the point beyond what was necessary to expedite his conviction. (He had no last words on the gallows. “Some time perhaps, the truth of this whole affair will be known,” he had mused enigmatically in the hours before.) The best one can present by way of conflict is that Mrs. Jessup attempted to dissuade her “nephew” from an ill-considered marriage. The confession that he gave police suggests that a moment of heartbreak that became a mad and horrible crime.

[Mrs. Jessup] kept talking about [the woman Perkins intended to marry] and I slapped her first. I then realized what I had done and knew I could never face her again. The rock I used was in a flower pot or was used as a door jam. I remember the old man coming into the room and I knew right then I would have to kill him as he saw the whole thing. I think the knife was on the kitchen table or drain board. I don’t know how many times I stabbed them. I think I choked Mr. Jessup until he was unconcious and I think I hit him once or twice with my fist and then I remember stabbing him. She was standing up when I hit her and when it was all over I picked her up and put her on the davenport.

He fled towards Centralia, and was picked up within days. By then, he preferred to throw away his own life rather than confront in court the enormity of his deed. While driving Perkins to jail, the sheriff said,

he was in the back seat and he spoke up rather loud and asked me what my suggestion or what my advice would be to getting this thing over with as quick as possible, get it straightened around and he didn’t want to spend any long time in jail; said he wanted to be executed … I told him the best thing for him to do to simplify it would be to sign a confession, a short statement of the facts and then hire the poorest lawyer he could find.

On this day..

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

Tags: , , , ,

1949: Antoun Saadeh

1 comment July 8th, 2015 Headsman

On this date in 1949, Lebanese writer and political leader Antoun Saadeh was shot following a failed coup by his Syrian Social Nationalist Party.

Born to a globetrotting journalist, the young polyglot Saadeh was living abroad in Brazil when his native Lebanon fell from the collapsing Ottoman Empire into French hands.

He returned in 1930 to Lebanon an irredentist on the make and churned out a prodigious literary output: fiction, newspaper stories, political pamphlets.

It was his vision for a “Greater Syria” that would define the man’s legacy, and cause his death. In 1932 he secretly founded the Syrian Social Nationalist Party to advocate for a vast Syrian state encompassing what now comprise Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and Israel/Palestine. At its most ambitious this prospective state dreamt itself inscribed upon the whole Fertile Crescent from the Tauras Mountains to the Persian Gulf.

The SSNP still exists in Syria and Lebanon to this day, but it was a big cheese in the French Mandate by the late 1930s — when the imminent end of colonialism put the future shape of the entire region into question. Saadeh, harried by French authorities who had clapped him in prison a couple of times, emigrated to Argentina and carried on the struggle through exile publications.

In 1947, Saadeh returned to a rapturous reception in now-independent Lebanon:

But his pan-Syria idea was distinctly at odds with what had happened on the ground. Whatever the colonial roots of the borders that had been set down, they defined not only zones on a map but elites with an interest in their maintenance. Lebanon’s founding “National Pact” arrangement among Christians and Muslims also committed all involved to Lebanon as an independent state not to merge with Syria.

So despite (or rather because of) Saadeh’s popularity, the SSNP faced renewed crackdowns in 1948. Revolutionaries, reformers, and pan-Arabist types were surging throughout the region thanks to the distressingly shabby performance of Arab armies in their 1948 war to strangle Israel in its crib. (Lebanon fielded only a tiny force in this fight which also won no laurels; instead, Israel began its long tradition of occupying southern Lebanon.) Saadeh was certainly alarmed by the birth of a Zionist state so inimical to his own programme; “Our struggle with the enemy is not a struggle for borders but for existence,” he declared in 1948.

On July 4, 1949, the SSNP put its muscle to the test by attempting to seize state power in Lebanon — and disastrously failed. Saadeh had traveled to Damascus hoping to gain the support of the Syrian military dictator Husni al-Za’im;* instead, al-Za’im simply handed Saadeh right back to Lebanese authorities who had him tried in secret and swiftly executed.

* A gentleman who would himself be overthrown and executed just a few weeks hence.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Activists,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous,History,Intellectuals,Lebanon,Martyrs,Politicians,Power,Revolutionaries,Shot,Syria,Treason

Tags: , , , , , , ,

1949: Hiroshi Iwanami

Add comment January 17th, 2015 Headsman

On this date in 1949, Dr. Hiroshi Iwanami was hanged on Guam for murdering ten American POWs during World War II.

The commanding officer of the naval hospital on Japan’s South Pacific stronghold of Truk, Iwanami was condemned by the postwar U.S. Navy war crimes tribunal for overseeing — and rather reveling in — the sadistic murders of ten American POWs that fell into his hands in 1944.

As described in Timothy Maga’s Judgment at Tokyo: The Japanese War Crimes Trials:

From the Newcastle (NSW, Australia) Morning Herald & Miners’ Advocate, July 16, 1947

In addition to murder, Iwanami was charged with “preventing the honorable burial” of bodies and with “dissection” and “mutilation” of them. Iwanami had used all ten of his victims for so-called medical experiments. Four of his January 1944 victims had tourniquets placed on their arms and legs by Iwanami for long periods. Two of the POWs had their tourniquets removed in two hours, and the other two at the end of seven hours. The latter two died immediately of shock, but the former survived. On the same day, four others were injected with streptococcus bacteria to cause blood poisoning. All four developed high fevers and soon died.

On February 1, 1944, the two survivors from the tourniquet experiment were marched to a hill in back of the hospital. Naked, with their legs stretched out as far as possible, the men were tied to stakes. Iwanami’s staff then placed a small explosive charge three feet in front of each foot of each victim. The resulting explosion blew off the feet of the men, but both victims survived. Their amazing endurance was short-lived, because Iwanami ordered the men strangled; an aide accomplished the task with his bare hands. Their bodies were returned to the hospital, where they were dissected, and all vital organs were placed in specimen jars. Only some of the organs from the blood poisoning victims were kept, and their bodies were tossed off a nearby cliff.

During an evening meal near the end of July 1944, Iwanami asked his staff if they would assist him in experiments on two more POWs. Instead of answering quickly in the affirmative, the men asked about the value of such experiments. Refusing to discuss the issue, Iwanami ordered his men, instead, to participate in the execution of the two POWs. This time there was no opposition to the order. The two Americans were suspended from a bar placed between two trees. With the order to “stab with spirit,” the hospital staff then began their bayonet practice. There was little left of the bodies after the practice was over, and those bodies, one of them headless, were buried near the scene of the execution. Shortly before his capture, Iwanami had the bodies exhumed and thrown into the sea.

… the trial was as bizarre as the defendants. Three of Iwanami’s old hospital staff members committed suicide, leaving word that they would rather die than testify against their commanding officer. Another, Lt. Shinji Sakagami, took great pride in the fact that he had strangled two POWs. A staunch advocate of the Japanese war effort and, like so many of his colleagues, convinced that death was better than surrender, he hoped his actions in Truk would serve as a warning to the future enemies of Japan. Iwanami was sentenced to death, although he attempted to cheat the hangman. Smuggling a small, sharpened pencil into his holding cell, Iwanami stood at one end of the tight quarters, shouted “Banzai,” and vaulted against the opposite wall. The pencil was held close to his heart, but it did little damage. Both witnesses on the scene and the commission wondered why a surgeon would have failed to aim the pencil properly. Iwanami’s hanging proceeded as planned, and the most generous verdict for a member of his staff was ten years in prison.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Doctors,Execution,Guam,Hanged,History,Japan,Micronesia (FSM),Occupation and Colonialism,Soldiers,U.S. Military,USA,War Crimes

Tags: , , , , ,

1949: John Wilson and Benjamin Roberts, Syd Dernley’s first(s)

3 comments December 13th, 2014 Headsman

On this date in 1949, two young miners from northern England were hanged together at Durham prison for unrelated crimes of passion: one had ravaged and strangled another man’s wife when his attempts to seduce her were met with a demand for money; the other had murdered a local girl (and then botched his suicide) when he found himself on the third point of a love triangle.

Both crimes happened on the same weekend, just a few miles apart — so they were tried at the same assizes and advanced through the process from murder to hanging-date together. Double executions were already quite rare at this point: this date’s affair was among the last such events in UK history.*

However, it was the very first execution in which Syd Dernley participated.

Dernley was an assistant executioner for 20-odd hangings, and while he’s far from the most noteworthy man to tread the scaffold, his 1989-90 The Hangman’s Tale: Memoirs of a Public Executioner might interest the person who takes up the pen for a labor history of the modern death penalty.

Dernley, a Nottinghamshire pit welder by day, gives an inside look at the recruitment process and on-the-job operations for a minor-league hangman. Bored with his job, he wrote the Prison Commission cold in January 1947 offering his services (“I feel sure that I could do the job”), got a generic polite dismissal, and then was one of several rookie volunteers summoned in October 1948 for a training course — a rationalization of the qualification process to go with the rationalization of hangings themselves.

Dernley had to wait a full year and then some to actually get into the act.** The basic hanging protocol featured a lead executioner and an assistant who would together escort their man to the gallows platform and perform the hanging; since this was a double execution, there are two such pairs involved. Dernley here is the assistant of veteran hangman Steve Wade. The other pair has Henry Kirk as the lead hangman, assisted by Harry Allen.†

Britain didn’t have the volume of executions for anyone to be a full-time hangman, although some hangmen, like Kirk, were also prison officers.

Jobs were farmed out by the Prison Commission among its small roster of active executioners, and would begin for the hangman with the receipt of a package from the Commission with two copies of a Memorandum of Conditions for executioners’ employment — one for the executioner’s records, and one to return to the Commission when formally accepting the assignment.

The day before the hanging, the executioners traveled to the prison where the sentence was to be carried out. The hanging team would not leave the prison’s walls until the execution was complete: after their prep work on execution’s eve, they slept in the jail.

Although prisoners rarely realized this until the last moment, the gallows platform stood just steps outside the condemned cells, the better for the instant performance of the actual hanging. They waited until Wilson and Roberts were safely out of earshot at chapel or in the exercise yard to set up the ropes.

The lead executioner Wade “controlled and double-checked everything from the moment he opened the execution boxes and took out the three ropes. He examined each of them minutely before rejecting one of them which was immediately coiled up and returned to the box. He measured the drop along the rope and marked it with chalk. I was allowed to shackle the rope to one of the chains hanging down from the beam and I had to go up the steps to adjust the chain as we got the chalk mark to the height of the man’s head, but [Wade] went up the steps to check both the shackling and the chain when I had finished.”

Once both ropes had been prepped, they noosed two sandbags approximating the respective weights of the prisoners, summoned the prison governor, and performed an actual test hanging. Everything went off without a hitch.

They dined that night, and breakfasted the next morning, on prison mash — it was invariably eggs and bacon for breakfast, Dernley remembered later in his career. After stealing silently back into the execution chamber, practically in the shadow of the last devotions of their unwitting prey, they repositioned the ropes which had been (intentionally) stretched out by half an inch from being left dangling their sandbags overnight. The ropes, and their supporting chains, needed to be positioned such that the noose dangled at convenient head height — again, the efficiency of the actual hanging was paramount — and so that, when the trap was released, the rope provided a drop of the precise length necessary to break the neck.

The next forty-five minutes as we waited in our quarters for the call were about the worst of my life. Everything that needed to be said had been said and it was clearly no time for social chit-chat, so we sat there and waited. There was fear afoot in the prison; you could almost smell it. The whole place was silent, waiting.

The butterflies in my stomach, which had disappeared when we went to the execution chamber and had something to do, were back with a vengeance. A jumble of thoughts flitted through my mind. Questions: Would we do a good job? Would I put up a good showing? Would we be quick? There were fears too: Will he fight? How will I handle it if he does?

The door opened and a warder took a step into the room. Wade got to his feet. “It’s time,” he said simply. “Are you ready?” I nodded. I don’t think I could have said anything. Kirky looked across at me and smiled. “Make it a good job, young ‘un,” he said quietly.

In those last few moments I was most conscious of faces, faces turned towards us … screws standing quite still at strategic points, all staring at us … the people standing near the doors of the condemned cells watching us approach … the faces of the official party as they glanced over their shoulders … but above all the face of the clock hanging on the wall at the end of the wing. It was a gigantic thing, about three feet across, and the minute hand was now just a fraction away from nine o’clock.

We were halfway to the condemned cells when the silence was broken and my blood froze. The sound was faint to begin with but it rapidly swelled — singing!

I could not believe my ears. “Jesu … lover … of my soul,” croaked the quavering voice.

Another stronger voice joined in: “Let me to thy bosom fly.”

“Who the hell is that?” I asked one of the screws who was walking along beside me.

He looked shattered but he was not going to admit it. “It’s one of them you’re going to top in a minute,” he replied, trying to sound cool.

With that eerie sound ringing round the wing, we arrived outside the condemned cells. The singing was coming from number two cell, and for the next thirty seconds we stood listening to the doomed man and his priest singing in harmony. In other circumstances it might have been lovely. Here, now, it was weird and unreal.

Everyone was in position as the hands of the huge clock moved the last fraction of an inch to nine o’clock: Wade and I outside the number one cell; Harry and Kirky a few steps away across the landing outside the number two cell …

From the instant the cell door cracked open, the prisoner should have just a few seconds left to live — although the prisoner wouldn’t realize that fact since his guards were under strict orders to brush off the doomed fellow’s inevitable questions about procedure. The two executioners would walk to the center of the cell, stand the prisoner up, and each taking an arm, efficiently pinion them behind his back. Then they whisked him out a secondary door which opened directly to the execution chamber, where they’d glide right into the waiting head-height noose. The name of the game for the hangmen was calm and firmness: don’t scare the man unnecessarily, just enter with professional inevitability and have the man on his noose in less time than it would take him to find the wit for panic or swoon or fight.

The double job complicated matters, but only slightly. The plan was for Wade and Dernley to enter cell number one only moments before Kirky and Allen entered cell number two. That way, both Wilson and Roberts would enter the scaffold singly and the respective hanging teams wouldn’t be in one another’s way — but it would only entail an extra second or two on the traps for the dead men as they were positioned in rapid sequence. It didn’t quite work out that way.

Wade moved straight through the door and I followed him into the cell. It seemed quite crowded with the two warders backing clear and the white-faced priest sitting on the other side of the table looking up at us. The condemned man was positioned as per the book, sitting at the table with his back to the door.

By the time I got to him, he was on his feet and Wade was bringing his left arm behind his back. There was no resistance as I caught hold of his right arm. He just let me bring it behind his back and Wade was waiting for it.

Things were moving incredibly quickly, there was hardly time to take anything in. Wade was walking through the yellow doors. Our man had turned to watch him but had not moved so I just put my hand on his shoulder and, with only the gentlest of pressure, he started to follow. A warder either side of him, we walked through and on to the trap. Wade stopped him and I slipped the legstrap out of my pocket, bobbed down and fastened it round his ankles.‡ I doubt I had ever done it so quickly but by the time I stood up and took a pace off the trap, Wade had finished and the man was standing with his head hidden under the bag and the noose round his neck.

Just the way they drew it up … except the Kirky-Allen team was nowhere to be found.

They should have been on the trap by now and there was no sign of them!

They were having some sort of trouble, but what? As the seconds ticked away, I strained to hear what was going on, but there was not a sound coming from the other side of the landing. That at least was reassuring because whatever was going wrong it was not some massive fight. We would have heard that.

I looked around the cell. Wade was staring through the open door, brow creased in a frown, with wide, worried eyes. By God, he looked worried. The governor and the under-sheriff looked as white as a pair of sheets.

In the centre of all this, the hooded and noosed figure of our man — who should have been dead by now — stood waiting patiently without a sound.

I looked back through the door. Still nothing. I felt so helpless; I wanted to run through and help or do something, but I knew I had to stand just where I was.

A double hanging should take around fifteen seconds from start to finish; we had now been standing with our man ready to go for at least forty-five seconds, although it felt like hours.

A sound to my right brought my eyes back from the door into the execution chamber. One of the screws seemed about to take a pace towards our man, a look almost of horror on his face. The hooded figure was starting to sway. He was going to faint!

At that moment Kirky rushed through the door followed by the lover and Harry. Kirky, looking red-faced and flustered, immediately peeled off to the left and Wade in a blur of motion was stopping the man on the chalk T. In what seemed almost one motion, he whipped the white hood over the man’s head and flicked the noose on. I didn’t even see Harry get the legstrap on before Wade was hurling himself off the trap. The lever went over and away the whole lot went with that massive boom.

Allen later told Dernley that their man, the singing one, “just wasn’t ready” and while he didn’t fight the executioners he also didn’t comply with them as they tried to get his arms into their straps. “In the end we just had to force him.”

His nerves none the worse for the off-script debut, Dernley would remain an assistant executioner — he was never the head man — until another one of his hobbies came embarrassingly to light.


From the April 28, 1954 London Times.

Dernley published his book in 1989, by which time the British hangman was almost as archaic as the smut bust. (The poor lech died in 1994, just short of the Internet revolution.) But Dernley, unlike Pierrepoint, never evinced any second thoughts about his career on the gallows and had an unabashed pro-capital punishment position.§

“I have no regrets about what I did and I sleep pretty soundly in my bed,” he sums up. “I do not believe that my career as a hangman has had any ill-effect on me. Not that you ever get away from it so far as people are concerned — once a hangman always a hangman, it seems. Even after all these years I am still pointed out to people and I have a little chuckle to myself when I find somebody in a pub staring at me in that familiar way and I wonder who has been talking to them.” The inference from his lines, and the photos of Dernley jovially showing off his private model gallows, is that the old hangman made it a point to keep the talk going.

* Per the extremely useful Capital Punishment UK page, there was a double execution in 1950, another in 1951, another in 1952, and the last in 1954.

** Dernley did avail himself of an opportunity to witness personally the March 29, 1949, hanging of James Farrell.

† A man named Harry Allen, from Manchester, would one day be dignified Britain’s Last Executioner. In the 1960s, Allen literally did conduct one of the two simultaneous last hangings in England, as well as the last in Scotland and the last in Northern Ireland. However, Dernley’s counterpart in this execution is a different Harry Allen, from Birmingham.

‡ “As assistant your job will be to strap [the prisoner’s] ankles and get yourself off the trap; the number one will do everything else,” Dernley had been told at his training the year before. “If you’re still mucking about when he’s ready, the number one will tap you on the shoulder and then you don’t bugger about … you get off or go down — and it’s a nasty drop even if you haven’t got a rope round your neck.”

§ Dernley was Pierrepoint’s assistant for the hanging of Timothy Evans, for a murder that, three years later, would be imputed to a serial killer living in his building. Dernley’s autobiography credulously backs the government’s whitewash conclusion that Evans was probably guilty too, citing the weak grounds that Evans failed to declare his innocence at his hanging.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,History,Murder,Sex

Tags: , , , , , ,

1949: Dr. Chisato Ueno, because life protracted is protracted woe

Add comment March 31st, 2014 Headsman

The Truk Atoll, in Micronesia, is more commonly known today as Chuuk. It’s a hot diving location notable for the many sunken World War II Japanese hulks to be explored there — the legacy of its once-pivotal position in the Pacific War.

Japan used Truk as forward naval base in the South Pacific, and armored up its little islands like an armadillo.

Rather than capture it outright, the U.S. Navy bombed Truk right out of the war in February 1944, leaving that enormous warship graveyard and a stranded stronghold of starving soldiers who were left to wither on the vine. At war’s end, it was just a matter of circling back to collect 50,000 surrenders.

Unfortunately, the castaway Truk garrison did not pass the last months of the war with sufficient care for its foreseeable postwar situation.

According to testimony given the postwar Guam war crimes tribunal, 10 American prisoners were murdered on Truk in 1944 “through injections, dynamiting, tourniquet applications, strangling and spearing.” (Source) Hiroshi Iwanami was executed for these gruesome experiments/murders in January of 1949.

Ueno, a lieutenant surgical commander, hanged for two other killings that read quite a bit murkier.

Five American POWs were being held in a temporary stockade that was hit by an American bombing raid in June 1944 — killing three of those prisoners.

The surviving two were severely injured, eventually leading Dr. Ueno on June 20, 1944, to perform what he characterized as a legitimate exploratory surgery on one of those men. His prosecutors framed it instead as a fiendishly gratuitous vivisection.

During that procedure, an order arrived for the execution of both the prisoners. The other guy, the one Dr. Ueno wasn’t operating upon, he never had in his care at all; that unfortunate fellow ended up being bayoneted to death. The man on the table (both men’s names were unknown to the prosecuting court) Dr. Ueno stitched back together well enough that subalterns could stretcher him out to a swamp and chop off his head.

Here’s the difficult part: Ueno actually gave the immediate order to execute his ex-patient.

As described in the National Archives’ Navy JAG Case Files of Pacific Area War Crimes Trials, 1944-1949, the physician’s barrister mounted a quixotic philosophical defense of this deeply indefensible order, noting the principled acceptability of euthanasia in Japanese hospitals (so he said), the inevitability of the prisoner’s approaching execution via superior orders, and the agony the man was already in from his wounds.

[Dr. Ueno] had expected that some other person would dispose of this prisoner. But he could not find anyone who looked like the person to carry this out … the thought dominated his mind that all hope is lost to save this prisoner. His fater has been determined. Yet the prisoner is in pain …

He was faced with the predicament of killing by his order the prisoner which he had treated as hiw [sic] own patient. What sarcastic fate was this that he had to face? As the Napoleon, described by George Bernard SHAW, and as McBeth [sic] described by William SHAKESPEARE, the accused, UENO was also “a man of destiny.”

A certain English poet wrote, “Life protracted is protracted woe.” If the life of the prisoner in the present case was protracted one second, he would have so much more suffering to endure. Should it be condemed [sic] so severely to shorten one’s life under such circumstances and shorten his last woe in this world?

There were in all either 10 or 13 official executions of Japanese war criminals on Guam from 1947 to 1949. It’s devilishly difficult to find those 13 enumerated by name and date, but it appears to me that Ueno and his boss Admiral Shimpei Asano were the very last to achieve that distinction.**

The readable little history on Truk island and the U.S. Navy operations against it, Ghost fleet of the Truk Lagoon, Japanese mandated islands”, captures the scene.

Shortly after eight o’clock on the humid, tropical evening of March 31, 1949, according to War Department Pamphlet #27-4 Procedure For Military Executions, the 5’6″ Japanese surgeon with extremely strong neck muscles was escorted up the nine steps to the gallows. The handcuffs were removed by a Marine guard and a strap placed to secure his arms to his side and another placed around his legs. A black hood was placed over his head and at 8:26 p.m. the floor panel on which he was standing fell from under his feet and Ueno dropped 94 inches to eternity. He was the last to die, as Rear Admiral Shimpei Asano* had preceded him only moments before. Under the dubious honor that rank has its privileges — the Admiral went first.

* Executed for these same two murders on Truk, as well as two other POWs killed at Kwajalein, in the nearby Marshall Islands.

** Angered by Naval administration of the island, Guam’s Congress had staged a walkout earlier in March 1949. This action did successfully force an end to Naval government.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Doctors,Execution,Guam,Hanged,History,Japan,Micronesia (FSM),Milestones,Murder,Occupation and Colonialism,Soldiers,U.S. Military,USA,War Crimes

Tags: , , , , , ,

1949: John George Haigh, the Acid Bath Murderer

6 comments August 10th, 2013 Headsman

On this date in 1949, Britain’s “Acid Bath Murderer”* was hanged by Albert Pierrepoint at Wandsworth Prison.

The name really tells you all you need to know about this enduringly infamous serial killer.

John George Haigh drained puddles of deathly sludge into the pipes at 79 Gloucester Road in London and 2 Leopold Road, Crawley, West Sussex.

He wasn’t a criminal mastermind, but he had that one good idea, and the doggedness to keep going with what worked through the latter half of the 1940s. Serving a previous sentence for fraud, Haigh impressed himself with a jailhouse experiment revealing the efficacy of sulfuric acid for completely dissolving the body of an unfortunate mouse. Perhaps he had been motivated to the test by the memory of a notorious trial in France featuring the same disposal-of-remains expedient. Perhaps he thought it up all by himself.

Shortly after obtaining his parole, Haigh put the insight to foul use by whacking his wealthy former employer over the head and stuffing him into a 40-gallon drum in his Gloucester Road basement. William McSwan’s body dissolved over two days in a sulfuric acid bath. Haigh poured the remnant ooze down a manhole and moved into McSwan’s house, telling the victim’s parents that their son had ducked out to avoid World War II conscription. Once the war ended and the questions came, Haigh made slurry of mom and dad, too.

Undoubtedly a sociopath, Haigh didn’t murder out of compulsive love of taking life. He had a cold, pecuniary motive. “I discovered there were easier ways of making a living than to work long hours in an office,” he wrote of the earlier, non-homicidal frauds and thefts that had started his criminal career. “I did not ask myself whether I was doing right or wrong. That seemed to me to be irrelevant. I merely said, ‘That is what I wish to do.’ And as the means lay within my power, that was what I decided.”

Now the means lay within his power to appropriate a fellow’s pension and estate by disappearing him into a vat of chemicals. Why should he ask himself whether that was right or wrong?

Haigh had blown through the McSwan’s fortune by 1948, and started dissolving hand to mouth. In February of that year, the killer lured a doctor and his wife to his new acid bath station in Crawley. These he shot dead, and rendered as per usual into vitriol compote. But he got sloppy the following year by targeting a wealthy widow who actually shared his same apartment block; when she was reported missing, the neighbor with the criminal record went right into the suspect filter. A search of Haigh’s workshops turned up papers tying him to all three sets of murders … as well as a nearby dump whose “yellowish white greyish matter” yielded “28 lb. of melted body fat, part of the left foot eroded by acid, three gallstones, and 18 fragments of human bone eroded by acid.” (London Times, April 2, 1949) Preserved dentures proved a match for the late Olive Durand-Deacon.

Haigh was a pragmatist, as always.

“Tell me, frankly, what are the chances of anybody being released from Broadmoor?” he chattily asked one guard, referring to the high-security psychiatric facility he intended to inhabit. But his problem would be getting into it. Haigh’s jury needed only minutes to dismiss his longshot insanity defense, and condemn the Acid Bath murderer to die.**

Haigh hanged a mere three weeks after sentence, not even six full months from his last murder.

* Not to be confused with the “Brides in the Bath” murderer. Best just to stick to showers.

** Legal oddity: the Daily Mirror described Haigh as a “murderer” during his trial — that is, before his lawful conviction. Haigh was able to land the editor of this paper in the clink himself for this accurate, prejudicial epithet.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,History,Murder,Pelf,Serial Killers

Tags: , , , , ,

1949: Jacob Bokai, the first Israeli spy executed

Add comment August 3rd, 2013 Headsman

On this day in 1949, Jordan hanged Jacob Bokai. The Syrian Jew was the first Israeli intelligence agent put to death in service of the infant state. (At least, the first that’s been publicly acknowledged.)

The flight of Palestinians displaced by the Arab-Israeli War gave Israel a convenient means to insert its agents into its neighboring countries: just disguise them as refugees.

Posing as a Palestinian named Najib Ibrahim Hamuda, Bokai’s mission to infiltrate Jordan started at a Palestinian refugee camp in Jaffa, where he was abused by the guards to establish his credentials. Those beatings went for naught, however, as Bokai never made it past the checkpoint: he was arrested immediately upon passing the Mandelbaum Gate into Jordan on 4 May 1949. Since he refused to cop to his mission or his Jewish identity, he was given a Muslim burial after hanging for espionage.

That charge was indeed well-founded: Bokai is now openly honored at a memorial to Israeli agents opened in 1985.

According to the story related by a former Mossad chief who gave a tour of this place to Tom Friedman back when the latter was the Times‘ Middle East scribe and not its leading nutter columnist — just mind the source is what I’m saying here — the doomed “Mr. Hamuda” still managed to get a message back to his Israeli handlers reassuring them that the enhanced interrogation he enjoyed in Jordan prior to execution had not compromised whatever operations he was privy to: “I did not commit treason.”

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Espionage,Execution,Hanged,History,Israel,Jews,Jordan,Milestones,Spies

Tags: , , , ,

1949: Jake Bird

1 comment July 14th, 2012 Meaghan

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

Contrary to what all the slasher films would have you believe, an ax does not make a very good murder weapon. Axes are big. They are heavy. They are difficult to conceal. When used they create a big mess. And if you are caught with one, it’s hard to come up with a suitably innocuous explanation for it.

Nevertheless, this was Jake Bird’s weapon of choice on October 30, 1947, when he broke into Bertha Kludt’s home and killed her and her seventeen-year-old daughter, Beverly June.

Perhaps if he had used a different weapon, things would have turned out differently. As it was, the two women’s screams — and that’s another problem with the ax: unless you can wield it like Gimli, the victim is going to survive the first blow and start hollering — attracted two police officers, who apprehended Bird after a foot chase.

This excellent History Link article provides a thorough account of Bird’s life and crimes. 45 years old at the time of his arrest, he was a drifter and a ne’er-do-well with an extensive criminal record. He’d spent a third of his life in prison for various offenses. Bird openly confessed to the Kludt killings, saying the murders were the result of a botched burglary.

One of the police officers who testified at the trial admitted he beat the daylights out of Bird after his arrest. Naturally, the defense moved to throw out the murder confession on the grounds that it was obtained under force, but the judge ruled that the police brutality and Bird’s statements were “unrelated” and so the confession was admitted into evidence.

This was the attorney’s only attempt to defend his client; he called no witnesses and presented no evidence at the trial.

In all fairness, it must be said that Bird was spattered with gore when he was arrested, they found his fingerprints in blood at the crime scene and on the ax, and he’d left his shoes at the Kludt house. So the confession didn’t figure to be exactly decisive.

This would be a fairly unremarkable murder case, but shortly after his arrival on Death Row, Bird suddenly discovered he had an excellent singing voice. For the next several months he detailed 44 murders from all across the country which he claimed he’d committed during his wanderings. Most of his victims were women.

Bird’s claims, if true, would make him one of America’s most deadly serial killers, right up there with the much more famous Ted Bundy and the Green River Killer, Gary Leon Ridgway. One inevitably wonders if all of his statements were genuine. Henry Lee Lucas, another violent drifter much like Bird, admitted to hundreds of homicides and captivated police from all over the nation before it was discovered that many of his confessions were lies.

Police in several states did find Bird credible, though. Bird was calm and ready for his hanging, which went off without a hitch. He willed his estate, valued at $6.15, to his appeals attorney.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Guest Writers,Hanged,History,Murder,Other Voices,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Serial Killers,Theft,Torture,USA,Washington

Tags: , , ,

1949: Traycho Kostov, Bulgarian purgee

Add comment December 16th, 2011 Headsman

On this date in 1949, leading Bulgarian communist Traycho (Traitcho, Traicho) Kostov was hanged in Sofia.

A journalist and agitator from way back, Kostov was a casualty of the postwar political chasm between east and west.

He’d been the number three man in Bulgaria’s communist hierarchy at the time of his fall in January of 1949, but had also been considered close to Yugoslavia’s independent socialist leader Josip Broz Tito. Like Tito, Kostov was a little too into his own country’s national economic sovereignty as against the purported greater good of a Soviet-dominated eastern bloc.

Stalin had overtly split with Tito in 1948. Over the next few years, Soviet satellites in eastern Europe would systematically eliminate perceived Titoist elements — and submit to economic integration on Moscow’s terms.

So a propagandist could write, comparing Kostov to the Hungarian minister who had swung for Titoism just weeks before, that

[i]f Laszlo Rajk could be regarded as the right arm of Tito’s plans for Eastern Europe, Traicho Kostov, member of the Bulgarian Politburo and Deputy Premier, was certainly his left arm. I sat in a crowded court in Sofia in December, 1949, heard and watched Traicho Kostov and ten other accused and dozens of witnesses testify to a Yugoslav plan for Bulgaria every whit as diabolical and bloodthirsty as that for Hungary. In reality there was only one overall strategic plan with “Operation Rajk” and “Operation Kostov” as tactical moves.

Specifically, “Operation Kostov” entailed spying for western (plus Yugoslavian) powers and plotting to overthrow the People’s Republic.

Although his enemies had browbeaten Kostov into political self-denunciation at party summits, the man stoutly repudiated guilt at trial — which was not necessarily the norm in the show trial genre.

Kostov’s ten fellow defendants received prison terms rather than the rope, and some of them were alive to enjoy the official rehabilitation that followed Stalin’s death.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Bulgaria,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Espionage,Execution,Hanged,History,Politicians,Posthumous Exonerations,Power,Russia,Torture,Treason,USSR,Wrongful Executions

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Previous Posts


Calendar

July 2018
M T W T F S S
« Jun    
 1
2345678
9101112131415
16171819202122
23242526272829
3031  

Archives

Categories

Execution Playing Cards

Exclusively available on this site: our one-of-a-kind custom playing card deck.

Every card features a historical execution from England, France, Germany, or Russia!


Recent Comments

  • Bob: What I find so hard to comprehend is the fact that the fighting stopped 100 HUNDRED YEARS AGO!. I was born in...
  • Bob: Good Evening, My Fellow Bundy Enthusiasts, Today is Sunday, July 17, 2018. (as a sidebar, for the military...
  • Becky: Sorry, but your comment mark you as both ignorant AND a racist. You arent the one that gets to make the...
  • Larry G: That’s awesome Kevin. Look forward to seeing you!
  • Kevin Sullivan: Hey Cory… Again, I’m just now seeing this! Yes, he absolutely had been hunting that...