1953: Mat Indera, for the Bukit Kepong incident

Add comment January 30th, 2020 Headsman

Muhammad Indera — popularly known as Mat Indera — was executed on this date in 1953 in British-controlled Malaysia.

The imam turned Communist insurgent directed one of the signal bloodbaths of the Malayan Emergency — the tumultuous decade of political and guerrilla struggle against the British Empire for sovereignty.

Mat Indera’s contribution was the 1950 Bukit Kepong incident — an armed attack on a police station in that town that killed 19 policemen.


The 1981 movie Bukit Kepong dramatizes the events in question.

The British put a handsome price on the man’s head, and in 1952 someone took it.

His name and his deed are still controversial enough in Malaysia that a politician in 2011 found himself upon a sticky wicket for suggesting that Mat Indera was an anti-imperial hero.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,England,Execution,History,Malaysia,Murder,Occupation and Colonialism,Wartime Executions

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1952: Võ Thị Sáu

Add comment January 23rd, 2020 Headsman

Eighteen- or nineteen-year-old student and revolutionary Võ Thị Sáu was shot by the French on this date in 1952.

(cc) image from Michal Manas.

A Viet Minh activist from childhood, Sáu (English Wikipedia entry | the more extensive Vietnamese) got her start in revolutionary praxis chucking a grenade at a group of French soldiers when she was 14.

She did three different turns in French custody over the very few years remaining her, the last of which was at Côn Đảo Prison* awaiting execution for murdering a French officer and a number of Vietnamese collaborators — “crimes” committed before she had attained majority. She poured invective upon the court that condemned her, correctly prophesying that Vietnamese resistance would defeat it.

Today Sáu is well-represented in monuments around Vietnam where she is of course honored as a patriotic hero; her tomb in Côn Đảo receives a steady tribute of offerings from admirers. She’s valorized in the 1994 film Daughter of the Red Earth:

* Later infamous as the location where the next imperial power kept its political prisoners in tiny “tiger cages”.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Children,Death Penalty,Execution,France,History,Martyrs,Murder,Occupation and Colonialism,Power,Revolutionaries,Separatists,Shot,Terrorists,Vietnam,Wartime Executions,Women

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1957: József Dudás, Hungarian Revolution wild card

Add comment January 19th, 2020 Headsman

Hungarian politician József Dudás was hanged on this date in 1957, for participation in the previous year’s abortive Hungarian Revolution.

Although he’d been a Communist in his prewar youth, Dudás won election to the postwar government on the Independent Smallholders line. This agrarian opposition party was gradually pushed out of power and eventually suppressed over the course of the late 1940s; Dudás himself ended up getting arrested and detailed for a long visit to the feared Romanian Securitate.

He’d long since been repatriated as a non-political engineer when the Hungarian Revolution briefly cracked open the horizon of possibilities in the autumn of 1956.

Dudás immediately proved himself not so non-political — and a distinct thorn in the side of the Imre Nagy government. He advocated not only for Hungarian Independence (which was also the title of his newspaper) but also for a multiparty reformulation of the Hungarian state, which was a bit much for Nagy to process during the revolution’s two-week lease on life. Dudás’s penchant for off-script revolutionary improvisations, such as putting out feelers to Soviet commanders and also having his militia lynch agents of the temporarily disempowered secret police, made him an unwelcome wild card and Nagy had him arrested shortly before Soviet tanks re-established control.

The Soviets, of course, also had no use themselves for the peasants’ party deputy who’d been trying to subvert Nagy from the right.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Hungary,Occupation and Colonialism,Politicians,Power,Revolutionaries,Russia,Treason,USSR

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1959: Col. Cornelio Rojas

Add comment January 7th, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1959, in the city of Santa Clara lately captured by Cuban revolutionaries, Col. Cornelio Rojas Fernández, commander of the city’s defeated government garrison, was shot without trial by the order of Che Guevara.

It was just one among hundreds of vengeful executions being visited in those weeks upon authorities of the deposed Batista regime.

Viewers of the televised public shooting saw the stocky commander — the grandson of a hero of the 19th century Cuban War of Independence — walk unafraid to his death in an armed escort, where he exhorted his onlookers until the firing detail sent his fedora flying.

Rojas’s granddaughter Barbara Rangel remains an energetic advocate of her father’s innocence, from Florida. A kinsman named Pedro Rojas Mir was among those killed in the 1961 Bay of Pigs debacle when anti-Castro exiles mounted a failed invasion of Cuba.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Cuba,Death Penalty,Execution,History,No Formal Charge,Power,Public Executions,Shot,Soldiers,Summary Executions

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1953: Carl Hall and Bonnie Brown Heady

Add comment December 18th, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1953 — six months after the execution of a more notorious couple, the Rosenbergs — two Missouri kidnappers were gassed together for the abduction-murder of a millionaire car dealer’s son.

Robert Greenlease owed his millions to a string of midwestern GM dealerships planted at the very flowering of America’s interstate system and suburbanization.

Carl Hall and Bonnie Brown Heady reckoned he’d owe some of those millions to them, too.

On September 28 of 1953, those two snatched little Bobby Greenlease Jr from the grounds of a Catholic school in Kansas City via the all-too-easy expedient of Heady presenting herself as Bobby’s aunt.

Then they extorted Sr. to the tune of $600,000, and after several days’ negotiations, Greenlease paid it through an intermediary — a record US ransom sum that would not be surpassed until 1971.

But the motor magnate never saw his son again. Even by the time they’d sent their first ransom note, the kidnappers had shot little Bobby dead at a deserted farm just over the state line in Kansas.

Although this audacious attack on a minor oligarch made national headlines — it couldn’t help but remind of the Lindbergh baby case — the crooks basically had an opportunity to get away scot-free with all their ill-gotten gains. Bobby Greenlease’s body wasn’t discovered until a couple of days after the ransom was paid, and nobody knew who the abductors were at that point.

Hall and Heady absconded to St. Louis but the wealth, like the crime itself, was just too much for these small-time shoulders to bear. Instead of lying low, Hall — after ditching Heady and taking most of the ransom with him, a reckless provocation of his co-conspirator that might itself have blown up his cover in short order — took up residence in an expensive hotel and started throwing money around. A cabbie reported the shabby character’s suspicious spending, and in no time at all the two were in custody.

A further mystery, never solved, entered the case on the night of Hall’s arrest: half the ransom money disappeared. The mob-connected lieutenant who collared Hall and brought him to the station less $300,000 of the score eventually resigned from the force in disgrace and faced federal prosecution for misappropriation and perjury; the cop indicted with him earned a presidential pardon by turning on his comrade. Other ideas were that the criminals had buried half the money (they claimed this, for a while) and that better-connected figures higher up the food chain had taken in. All the bills’ serial numbers had been recorded but only a few were ever known to have surfaced again in later years, in Michigan and Mexico; where these trace remains of a family tragedy might rest today is anybody’s guess.

As for Hall and Heady, they emerged into the glare of national infamy and — because they had crossed the Kansas-Missouri state line — a federal prosecution. Heady remains to this day the last woman executed under U.S. federal auspices.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch has a detailed photographic retrospective here.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Gassed,History,Kidnapping,Milestones,Missouri,Murder,Pelf,U.S. Federal,USA,Women

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1958: Sass Kalman and Istvan Hollos

Add comment December 2nd, 2019 Headsman

Ethnic Hungarians Sass Kálmán and Istvan Hollos were shot in Romania on this date in 1958. Links in this post are in Hungarian.

Both were condemned — along with a third man, Vilmos Balasko, his sentence subsequently commuted — as the result of a mass trial earlier that year of alleged traitors and saboteurs.

The trial targeted the large ethnic Hungarian population in Transylvania, bordering Hungary, in the aftermath of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution. There the feared Romanian secret police rolled up culprits for offenses ranging from subversive leaflets in simpatico with failed revolution, to a general penumbra of perceived unreliable loyalty.

Istvan Hollos, a lawyer and teacher, had fought in the German-allied Hungarian army during World War II and unsuccessfully attempted to flee to Switzerland afterwards. Sass Kálmán was a Calvinist pastor once close to anticommunist peasant party leader Ferenc Nagy; a previous brush with political scrutiny had been shielded by towering general Pal Maleter, but Maleter’s participation in (and execution for) the 1956 revolution played against Kálmán too. (A third man, pastor Vilmos Balasko, was condemned to death in the same mass trial but he received clemency and was released a few years later in a general amnesty. He lived until 2004 and published a memoir after the fall of the Iron Curtain.)

Kálmán’s Reformed Church, whose adherents are predominantly ethnic Hungarians in Transylvania, treat Kálmán as a martyr and have pressed hard for his official rehabilitation — thus far, to no avail.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,History,Hungary,Lawyers,Power,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Religious Figures,Romania,Shot

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1954: Jonas Žemaitis, Lithuanian Forest Brother

Add comment November 26th, 2019 Headsman

Lithuanian anti-Soviet partisan Jonas Žemaitis was shot in Moscow’s Butyrka prison on this date in 1954. He’s one of the big names in the Forest Brothers movement that kept up a hopeless fight against Moscow from 1944 into the 1950s.

An artillerist of Polish ancestry who deserted the retreating Red Army and surrendered himself the Wehrmacht arriving in the summer 1941, Žemaitis is breezily credited in state histories (and as of this writing, both English and Lithuanian Wikipedia pages) of essentially taking the war years off because “he did not want to serve the Nazis.” That was sure considerate of the Nazis! Instead the fellow just mined peat since he preferred not to get involved.

Now, peat production was and is an important economic sector in Lithuania; indeed, even this seemingly innocuous activity hints at exploitation of Jewish slave labor. But there is circumstantial and even eyewitness evidence that Žemaitis’s participation in one of the Reich’s most thorough exterminations was quite a bit more nefarious than vegetation management.

One could turn here to Joseph Melamed, a survivor of the Kovno Ghetto who collected witness testimonies and published thousands of names of alleged Lithuanian “Jew-Shooters” (zydsaudys). Melamed has charged that Žemaitis put his Polish fluency to use facilitating genocide and “having proved his efficiency and diligence in murdering Jews, was rewarded by the SS and promoted to the rank of Colonel” in the Police Battalions, Lithuanian paramilitaries that worked hand in glove with Nazi executioners.*

Or alternatively, one could rely on the plain fact that Žemaitis was a trained, early-30s officer in a desperate war zone where everyone was being pressed into action, and that anti-Soviet fighters afterwards treated him as a General. That’s not the profile of a figure who simply kept his head down while the Great War raged past him.

The post-USSR independent state of Lithuania, which has not been shy about whitewashing Holocaust collaborators, absolutely rejects such inferences and has retroactively elevated Žemaitis to its officially recognized head of state during his postwar resistance; there’s a Vilnius military academy that’s named for him.

* Melamed is now deceased but during his latter years Vilnius accused him of slander. Modern Lithuania is ferociously determined about apotheosizing the Forest Brothers; officially, the Venn diagram between wartime genocidaires and the postwar anti-Soviet resistance consists of two different shapes on two different planets.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Guerrillas,Heads of State,History,Lithuania,Occupation and Colonialism,Power,Russia,Shot,Soldiers,Torture,USSR

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1951: Marcel Ythier, Andre Obrecht’s first

Add comment November 13th, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1951, Marcel Ythier lost his head as France gained a headsman.

Ythier escaped a life sentence at hard labor and fled to Aix-en-Provence to build a burglary career, which improved to a murder career when he shot dead the constable who surprised him in the act in May 1950.

Ythier’s was the first execution conducted by Andre Obrecht, nephew to the great head-chopper Anatole Deibler and the latter’s heir as France’s chief executioner. Indeed, Obrecht would be the last chief executioner in every sense but literally, carrying the title from 1951 to 1976, when he beheaded Christian Ranucci, the third-last fall of the guillotine. (Francophone specialists might go for Obrecht’s memoirs.)

Obrecht resigned the post a few weeks after Ranucci’s controversial death, leaving his own nephew (and longtime assistant executioner) Marcel Chevalier to write the illustrious profession‘s Gallic finale with the two last executions in French history.

Not to worry: the classic bourreau lives on as one of the jokers in Executed Today’s pack of custom playing cards.

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

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1959: Frank Wojculewicz, paraplegic electrocution

Add comment October 26th, 2019 Headsman


October 27, 1959 headline of the Palm Springs, Calif., Desert Sun.

Connecticut reluctantly electrocuted paraplegic murderer Frank Wojculewicz on this date in 1959.

A lifetime crook, Wojculewicz was surprised by two patrolmen in the course of robbing the AYO Meat Packing Company of New Britain, way back in 1951. In the gun battle that ensued, Wojculewicz shot dead Sgt. William Grabeck, as well as a bystander named William Otipka — but Wojculewicz was also struck in the spine by a police bullet.

That left the robber alive — and it left Connecticut a very uncomfortable case.

His guilt was in no question whatever and the death sentence for his two murder convictions was mandated by law. But the prospect of putting a permanently paralyzed man into the state’s electric chair was so aesthetically discomfiting that his legal odyssey dragged on for nearly 8 years at a time when the median death penalty case resulted in execution in 15 months. He had to be tried in a prison hospital bed.

As this retrospective from the New York Daily News observes, slow-walking Connecticut officials were likely hoping that the killer’s injuries would take his life “naturally” before it came to that. But the tough bastard kept hanging on, and not only that, but fighting for his own life both in the courts (where State v. Wojculewicz cases reached the Connecticut Supreme Court in both 1953 and 1956) and the court of public opinion. Wojculewicz passed his time “feeding pigeons through barred windows. He lobbied for life, arguing in letters to supporters that his paralysis was ‘a greater punishment than death’ and calling state execution ‘the evil of evils.'”

In the end, though, Wojculewicz was a fully competent, fully guilty criminal asking an exemption from the law based on an injury that he’d suffered in the course of committing the crime. Nobody really wanted to put an invalid in the electric chair but neither did anybody have a proper reason not to do so.

Time ran out for Frank Wojculewicz on the frosty night of October 26, 1959. Death row guards found him lying face-down as usual. They gently lifted the helpless man from his mattress and placed him in a wheelchair. Then began a slow procession. One by one the other condemned men called their farewells to Wojculewicz as he was wheeled past their cells. The scene was extremely affecting. When the procession entered the execution chamber it was greeted by the warden. He then asked Wojculewicz if he had a last request. Bitter to the end, the doomed man asked that the prison chaplain not be allowed near him. He said that he neither wanted nor needed any pious prepping for what he was about to face. The warden was displeased but he granted the request. Guards then wheeled Wojculewicz to the middle of the chamber. There they carefully lifted him from the wheelchair and put him in the electric chair. A wooden box was used as a stool to support his paralyzed legs. When the guards completed the task of affixing the electrodes and adjusting the straps they signaled that all was ready. Then the executioner turned on the current and Frank Wojculewicz was no more.

Legal Executions in New England: A Comprehensive Reference, 1623-1960

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

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1955: Frederick Arthur Cross, “not a bit sorry for myself”

Add comment July 26th, 2019 Headsman

“I made up my mind to do away with myself and bought a tin of rat poison, but hadn’t the courage to do it. When I saw the man in the public house I got the idea that if I killed him I would be hanged. I’m not a bit sorry for myself, but I am sorry for him and I wish I’d known before this that he was married.”

Frederick Arthur Cross, depressed after his wife left him, insisting to his judge on pleading guilty to the capital murder of a stranger in a ‘suicide by executioner’ case. Cross was hanged on July 26, 1955.

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

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