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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1958: Nuri al-Said

Add comment July 15th, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1958, Nuri al-Said, the Prime Minister of Iraq’s deposed Hashemite monarchy, was captured trying to flee Iraq in disguise, and immediately slaughtered

A onetime Ottoman officer turned veteran of the Arab Revolt under the eventual King Faisal I, Nuri al-Said (or as-Said) was a preeminent politician for much of the Kingdom of Iraq era and practically the personification of Baghdad’s pro-British posture.

A figure of wide popular loathing — crowds chanted for his death at the funeral of King Ghazi in 1939, attributing the young ruler’s untimely death to Nuri’s hand — he had managed to escape the 14 July Revolution‘s initial hours and had one last night on the lam to contemplate the terrible fate of the royal family that he served.

He was not destined to avoid it.

Captured in disguise the next day and put to summary death, after which the mob vented its fury upon him.

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1958: King Faisal II of Iraq and his family

1 comment July 14th, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1958, Iraq’s Hashemite dynasty got the Romanov treatment from coup-making nationalist officers.

Having already overstayed their welcome as agents of British-American control in the oil-rich Gulf State, the Hashemites were doubly burdened to be led by the inexperienced King Faisal II, who was all of 23 years old.

For much of the recent past, while this underaged grandson of the Arab Revolt hero matriculated at an English boarding school, his sovereignty had been exercised by his uncle and regent ‘Abd al-Ilah — a practitioner, like all of Iraq’s leadership, of a staunchly pro-British and -American policy that increasingly rankled Iraqis.

On July 14, 1958, a swift coup d’etat led by Abd al-Karim Qasim — and explicitly modeled on the Free Officers Movement that had raised the Arab nationalist Gamal Abdel Nasser to power in Egypt — overturned the Hashemites, and made sure that it was for good.

Captured royal family members — including not only King Faisal but the aforementioned ‘Abd al-Ilah and al-Ilah’s wife and mother, plus a number of royal servants — were all summarily machine-gunned in the palace courtyard, after which the royal corpse was given over to public abuse.

“His legs and arms were decapitated, stomach disemboweled with his intestine gushing outside” recalled one of the king’s helpless royal guards of the late king. “His corpse was later suspended from a building until one came with a dagger in his hand to try to divide it into two pieces. The corpse was burned, cut many times until it was thrown in the Tigris river when night came.”

Today there’s an honorable tomb in Baghdad where Faisal reposes, and considering the many terrors that have befallen Iraq in the intervening decades, one can even find pockets of nostalgia for the monarchy.

Cold comfort that Faisal II lives immortally in the classic Belgian comic series The Adventures of Tintin as the inspiration for the puckish and spoiled Prince Abdullah of Khemed.

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Daily Double: Iraq’s 14 July Revolution

Add comment July 14th, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1958, the aptly named 14 July Revolution deposed the ruling Hashemite dynasty of Iraq — with the summary execution of the royal family and its chief ministers.

Iraq emerged from the World War I Ottoman breakup as a kingdom ruled by Faisal I.*

Independent in name, this kingdom in reality was a British client and its statecraft congenial to Anglo objectives in the Gulf grew increasingly obnoxious to its subjects. The reliably pro-British premier Nuri al-Said dominated Iraqi politics from the late 1940s, while Faisal’s teenaged grandson Faisal II “reigned” from a London boarding school.**

For an average Iraqi moved by the era’s stirring spirit of nationalism, the situation compounded grievance upon grievance: the suspicious “car crash” death of nationalist-minded inter-Faisal King Ghazi in 1939; the 1941 British invasion to block a nationalist coup, and the continuous British occupation that continued thereafter until 1947; and Iraq’s headline enrollment in the western-sponsored regional alliance meant to counter Soviet influence. Official Baghdad stood foursquare against the tide of Arab nationalism embodied by Nasser‘s Egypt, and very much many Iraqis’ similar aspirations.

Major protests rocked Iraq in 1948, in 1952, and especially when Britain, France, and Israel tried to seize the Suez Canal from Egypt in 1956; each time Iraq’s pro-British elites managed to suppress the immediate threat, but also proved constitutionally incapable of adapting the Iraqi state to the shifting world.

So, on the 14th of July in 1958, the shifting world adapted the state.


The bodies of ‘Abd al-Ilah (left) and Nuri al-Said (right) publicly mutilated after the revolution.

* The Alec Guinness character in Lawrence of Arabia.

** Faisal II schooled with Jordan’s King Hussein, his cousin; the two dreamed of combining their countries into an enlarged Hashemite state and had just begun such a project when Iraq’s revolution aborted the plan. Hussein was much the more fortunate ruler, dying in bed in 1999 after a 47-year reign; his son remains the king of Jordan to this day.

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1958: Peter Manuel, the Beast of Birkenshaw

1 comment July 11th, 2019 Headsman

Serial killer Peter Manuel hanged at Glasgow on this date in 1958.

U.S.-born to Scottish parents, “the Beast of Birkenshaw” was convicted of seven murders around Lanarkshire between 1956 and 1958 but suspected of more than twice that many.

He had previous convictions for sexual violence and rape was a factor in some murders, such as 17-year-old Anne Kneilands in 1956 (for which he was never convicted due to insufficient evidence) and 17-year-old Isabelle Cooke in 1957 (whose body he located for police with the chilling words, “I’m standing on her now”). Others were more cold and almost gratuitous, like Peter and Doris Smart and their ten-year-old son Michael whom he all shot dead on New Year’s Day 1958, after which he simply relaxed in their Uddingston house for a week and took care of the cat.

Manuel defended himself at trial, with the usual results; however, latter-day investigations have argued that police in building this extremely high-profile case buried evidence of Manuels’ severe mental illness that might have saved him from the gallows.

“I am now more convinced than ever that the authorities played down Manuel’s psychopathic personality in the days ahead of his execution, because they had come to the conclusion that he should not receive a reprieve,” Aberdeen University legal scholar Richard Goldberg told the BBC in 2009. (The BBC broadcast, which no longer appears to be available online, aired Manuel’s voice for the first time.)

Manuel was the third-last person hanged in Scotland; only Anthony Miller in 1960 and Henry John Burnett in 1963 succeeded him before the UK’s death penalty abolition.

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1951: Sandor Szucs, Hungarian footballer

Add comment June 4th, 2019 Headsman

Twenty-nine-year-old footballer Sandor Szucs was hanged on this date in 1951 for attempting to defect from communist Hungary.

The defender for Ujpest FC, who had also featured internationally for the emerging national team juggernaut destined for legend as the Golden Team, Szucs embarked a politically dangerous extramarital affair with singer Erzsi Kovacs.

When the two attempted to flee the country together, they were arrested just this side of the Yugoslavian border. Kovacs spent four years in prison — she would go on to a successful international career — while Szucs was harshly sentenced to death as a traitor on the strength of a murky military law that had been invoked in no other case. His comrades from the pitch found that their pull did not extend to any effectual aid for him.

It’s presumed that Szucs’s execution was at least in part meant as a warning to these very same mates not to exploit the international team’s travels for any embarrassing defections.

If so, they were right to worry: when the Hungarian Revolution erupted in 1956 while the Golden Team’s primary club mirror was playing an away match in Belgium, several players refused to return to their Soviet-occupied homeland, including superstars Ferenc Puskas, Sandor Kocsis and Zoltan Czibor.

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1952: Jan Bula, Czechoslovakian priest

Add comment May 20th, 2019 Headsman

Catholic priest Jan Bula was hanged on this date in 1952 at Jihlava

A Rokytnice pastor, Bula (English Wikipedia entry | the more detailed Czech and German) put himself in the gunsights of the postwar Communist state by defying its strictures on proselytization and commenting publicly against them.

Although perhaps a gadfly from the state’s perspective he was by no means a dissident consequential enough to have merited his eventual treatment; however, he was cruelly rolled into a notorious 1951 show trial called the Babice Case. Occasioned by a fatal raid launched by anti-Communist terrorists, the Babice trials targeted a huge number of ideological enemies and eventually resulted in 107 convictions and 11 death sentences.* Bula was among them, speciously condemned a traitor for complicity in the attack — a move that also opportunistically accelerated a case that state agents had for some time been attempting with little success to construct by means of entrapment.

“We human beings do not love God enough,” he wrote in a letter to his parents before his hanging. “That is the only thing for which we must ask forgiveness.”

The Catholic Church is currently considering this modern martyr for beatification.

* After the Cold War these sentences were retrospectively overturned or reduced, and a judge in the Babice case, Pavel Vitek, was prosecuted for his role in it.

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1952: The last executions in the Netherlands

Add comment March 21st, 2019 Headsman

The last executions in the Netherlands took place on this date in 1952: Dutch SS volunteer Andries Jan Pieters and German SS man Artur Albrecht, both condemned for war crimes committed during the Nazi occupation. Each was implicated in numerous incidents of torturing and executing prisoners.

Both men were shot at Waalsdorpervlakte, outside The Hague. They were the tail end of a 1940s era that brought numerous capital prosecutions for World War II offenses.

Pieters (left) and Albrecht (right).

Capital punishment had been abolished in the Netherlands for ordinary crimes since 1870. Although execution remained theoretically available for military crimes until 1993, nobody after Pieters and Albrecht came close to facing an executioner. Today, the death penalty is completely forbidden in Dutch law.

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1953: Abel Danos, le mammouth

Add comment March 14th, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1953, the French gangster and Nazi collaborator Abel Danos was shot as a traitor.

Once a small-time crook for the milieu criminal syndicate, Danos upon his arrest went way beyond turning state’s evidence and offered his goon talents to the German police. From 1941 to 1944 he murdered people — he’s believed to have personally executed over 100 French Resistance members during the war — for salary as a member of the French Gestapo. Though arrested at the end of the war, he made a sensational escape and got into the robbery outfit Gang des Tractions Avant; he fatally shot both Italian and French police in that vocation. Career-wise you have to credit the man for focusing on his core value-adds while remaining flexible to embrace new opportunities.

“Le mammouth” — so nicknamed for his heavy build — went extinct courtesy of a firing squad at Fort Monte-Valerien, refusing a blindfold after a last swig of rum.

There’s a 2006 French-language biography of Abel Danos, by Eric Guillon.

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1950: Rosli Dhobi, Sarawak patriot

Add comment March 2nd, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1950, Rosli Dhobi or Dhoby was hanged by the British for assassinating the governor of Sarawak.

The scene of events lies in the present-day state of Malaysia, which gained independence in 1957. As a glance at the atlas will show, Malaysia oddly comprises two principal chunks of territory lying hundreds of kilometers apart across the southern reaches of the South China Sea: the end of the Malay Peninsula, reaching south from Thailand and the Eurasian landmass — and the northern third of the island of Borneo, which Malaysia shares with Indonesia and Brunei.

Dhobi’s passion is a story of the Borneo side — from what is today the largest of Malaysia’s 13 constituent states, Sarawak.

The British presence at Sarawak dated to the mid-19th century when the Kingdom of Sarawak began as a series of personal concessions extracted from the Sultan of Brunei by an ex-Raj officer turned adventurer named James Brooke. Casting about for a vocation in the mother country back in the 1830s after resigning his commission, Brooke had plunked his £30,000 inheritance down on a schooner, sailed it to southeast Asia, and made such a timely and effective intervention against pirates plaguing Borneo that the Sultan put him in charge of parts of Sarawak.*

The man proved to have a deft hand for diplomacy and governance and steadily grew his fiefdom, eventually establishing his own dynastic monarchy, the White Rajahs.

In 1946, the third and last of Brooke’s dynasty, Vyner Brooke,** ceded his family’s interest in Sarawak to the British Colonial Office — changing it from a crown protectorate to a crown colony and setting Sarawak on the path to transit the era of decolonization tied to the British colony of Malaysia instead of, say, independent statehood. No surprise, this backroom arrangement among Anglo suits played to many in Sarawak as a wanton abnegation of self-determination, spurring a widespread anti-cession movement.

Thus aggrieved, our man Rosli Dhobi (English Wikipedia page | Malaysian) became deeply involved with an anti-cession group called the Sibu Malay Youth Movement.

Out of this body, 13 particularly radical members eventually formed a secret terrorist cell called Rukun 13 (“13 Pillars”). Balked of their plan to murder the British governor Charles Arden-Clarke by the latter’s timely transfer to Ghana, they instead greeted his successor Duncan Stewart just days after arrival — with Dhobi fatally daggering the new guy when he appeared at a photo op at the town of Sibu. Dhobi was only 17 years old at the time.

In time the British successfully suppressed the anti-cession movement, but Dhobi’s execution was so politically sensitive when it occurred that he was buried in an unmarked grave within the walls of Kuching Central Prison. The judgment of posterity in Sarawak has been quite a bit more generous: on March 2, 1996, the forty-sixth anniversary of his hanging, he was reburied in the Sarawak Heroes’ Mausoleum in Sibu. A school in that town is also named for him.

* Another noteworthy example of an intrepid private individual redrawing the colonial map for his mother country occurred decades later with Germany’s presence in Tanzania.

** Vyner Brooke’s nephew and his heir apparent as the prospective next White Rajah, Anthony Brooke, bitterly opposed the cession, so much so that British intelligence initially considered him a possible suspect in Duncan’s murder. Anthony Brooke formally ceded all his own potential claims to the rule of Sarawak in 1951.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Assassins,Capital Punishment,Children,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,History,Malaysia,Murder,Notable for their Victims,Occupation and Colonialism,Power,Separatists,Terrorists

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