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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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Activists,Capital Punishment,Czechoslovakia,Death Penalty,Execution,God,Hanged,History,Martyrs,Power,Religious Figures,Treason,Wrongful Executions

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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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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Milestones,Netherlands,Occupation and Colonialism,Shot,Soldiers,War Crimes

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1952: Alfred Moore

Add comment February 6th, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1952, poultry farmer and burglar Alfred Moore hanged at Leeds (Armley) Prison for shooting two Huddersfield policemen dead. Many believe he was wrongly convicted.

Suspected (accurately) of robbing several rural domiciles around Kirkheaton in West Yorkshire, Moore’s farmhouse had been staked out late one night in 1951 by ten plainclothes cops hoping to catch the guy coming or going.

Near midnight, two of their number challenged someone approaching. Was this the master criminal?

Several shots rang out in the gloom, and the midnight rambler fled into the night. By the time their comrades reached them, Duncan Fraser lay dead while Gordon Jagger was mortally wounded.

The latter man would live on several more hours, enough to provide a deathbed identification of Moore as the shooter. That was damning enough to hang Moore at the time.

But years later, Moore’s claims of innocence in the shootings have returned to headlines: we’re far more conscious now of the unreliability of eyewitness identifications — of a stranger seen in the dark — made amid medical duress. And there was never any other evidence implicating Moore save the circumstantial inference following from the fact that it was Moore’s house that was being surveilled. But no ballistics evidence, no blood (the shooting occurred at near point blank range), and no other witness. Investigators even have the name of an alternate suspect. (It’s Clifford Mead, who committed several armed robberies in the area, was known to receive Moore’s stolen goods, and allegedly boasted of shooting two policemen.)

These innocence claims, latterly supported by some Yorkshire police officers, have been welcome news to Moore’s descendants; however, as of this writing, the official reviews of the Criminal Cases Review Commission which could potentially queue Moore up for formal posthumous exoneration have failed to persuade authorities.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,Murder,Ripped from the Headlines,Wrongful Executions

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1952: Mustafa Khamis and Muhammad al-Baqri, Egyptian labor activists

3 comments September 7th, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1952, Egypt’s revolutionary military government sent a gallows warning to the labor movement.

The towering political figure of the whole Arab world until his death in 1970, Gamal Abdel Nasser led a coup that toppled Egypt’s monarchy just weeks prior to the execution we mark here. (On July 23, 1952; it’s known for that reason as the July 23 Revolution.)

They had bold plans for their countrymen, these young officers: egalitarian land reform, pan-Arabism, release from the hated grip of colonialism.

But don’t mistake that for an invitation to present just any grievance.

the Free Officers were not willing to tolerate a militant, independent trade union movement. The armed forces and workers clashed in Kafr al-Dawwar, 15 miles south of Alexandria. On August 12 and 13, 1952, the 9,000 workers at the Misr Fine Spinning and Weaving Company conducted a strike and demonstration seeking a freely elected union (a pro-company, yellow union had been established in 1943), removal of several managers considered particularly abusive, and the satisfaction of economic demands. Despite the workers’ proclaimed support for the new regime, the army quickly intervened to crush them. A rapidly convened military tribunal convicted 13 workers. Eleven received prison sentences; Mustafa Khamis and Muhammad al-Baqri were sentenced to death and executed on September 7. (Source)

Nasserite Egypt quashed independent labor organizing in these early years, eventually banning all union activity outside of the state-controlled Egyptian Trade Union Federation.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Activists,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Egypt,Execution,Hanged,History,Power,Treason

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1952: Wallace Ford, horrible in-law

2 comments October 30th, 2017 Headsman

Wallace P. Ford, Jr., a former Buffalo steelworker, was electrocuted by New York on this date in 1952.

His crime, “a senseless, meaningless affair, without motive or purpose,”* in the words of his own court-appointed attorney, was the sad culmination of family woes.

The man had been left by his wife, Frances, who returned to her mother’s house with the couple’s infant daughter in tow. Not long after, in June of 1951, Ford accosted Frances’s kid sister, Nancy, age 15, when the latter was picking up some groceries.

Nancy told him to get lost or something — Ford would later say that it was the girl’s insisting that their family would keep his little son that made him snap — and the extranged brother-in-law bashed her with a rock. Here the horror really begins. Blood racing, Ford must have careened from panic to despair to resolution as he contemplated the crumpled but still-living girl, his already-poor judgment scrambled by stress. The assailant packed Nancy Bridges’s stunned and bloodied form into his vehicle and sped out of Buffalo looking for some way to dispose of his mistake. In that moment, for a disordered mind, that meant to finish her off.

Ford said he thought about drowning the girl in Lake Erie, or pitching her off an elevated railroad. Every possible means would carry its own special horror, to be sure, but Ford settled on a truly vile expedient: he dumped her in a deserted stretch of rural Townline Road and pitilessly drove over her limp form … then popped into reverse and backed over her, too, crushing her chest and driving rib splinters into her liver and lungs.

Nancy Ford’s mangled body was discovered in the adjacent woods by a teenage hunter the next afternoon. Wallace Ford must have been the first name on the lips of the family when investigators asked if they had any enemies, and he didn’t bother to evade responsibility when the police came for him. But he would have served himself better and the Fords too had he reached his epiphany of resignation a little earlier in this process.

* New York Times, Aug. 26, 1952.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Diminished Capacity,Disfavored Minorities,Electrocuted,Execution,History,Murder,New York,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,USA

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1952: Johann Burianek, East German saboteur

Add comment August 2nd, 2017 Headsman

On this date in 1952, Johann Burianek became the first person executed by East Germany.

A machinist and a World War II Wehrmacht soldier, Burianek (English Wikipedia entry | German) caught a one-year sentence in the postwar Communist East Germany for having the misbegotten initiative in the dying days of the war to go out of his way to arrest a deserter who was nearly executed as a result.

From about 1950 he became affiliated with the western-backed anti-communist resistance network Kampfgruppe gegen Unmenschlichkeit (KgU) — Strike Force Against Inhumanity. Crossing liberally between East and West Berlin, which easy movement East German authorities were fretting, Burianek had a two-year stint irritating the German Democratic Republic with graffiti, subversive posters, and eventually, sabotage.

He was arrested in March 1952 shortly ahead of what would have been his derringest do, the bombing of a rail bridge; a judge named Hilde Benjamin, who in the course of 1950s show trials made her name synonymous with politically motivated severity,* hammered him with a demonstrative sentence** — the very first judicial execution meted out by the DDR, in fact. It was administered in Dresden by beheading with a fallbeil.

* Benjamin, who died on the eve of the Berlin Wall‘s fall, enjoys a poor reputation in the post-Cold War state with a variety of uncomplimentary sobriquets to prove it — such as the “Red Guillotine” and “Red Freisler“.

** She would also impose the death sentence against a fellow KgU operative, Wolfgang Kaiser, who went under the fallbeil five weeks after Burianek.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,East Germany,Execution,Germany,Guillotine,History,Martyrs,Milestones,Terrorists,Treason

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1952: Wolfgang Kaiser

Add comment September 6th, 2016 Headsman

On this date in 1952, chemistry student Wolfgang Kaiser was guillotined at Dresden as a saboteur.

Back in the years before the Berlin Wall closed East Berlin the Communist half-city’s accessibility to its NATO-aligned western half constantly nettled the security state.

Our man Wolfgang Kaiser (English Wikipedia entry | German) lived in West Berlin but studied in East Berlin — or he did until he lost the spot when trying and failing to transfer to a West Berlin university.

That left Kaiser plenty of time on his hand to vent his political disaffection by working for the anti-communist resistance organization Kampfgruppe gegen Unmenschlichkeit — the “Combat Group Against Inhumanity”. When all was said and done, inhumanity got the best of its combat with Kaiser.

His chemistry background was a welcome skill set for the KgU activists, who put Kaiser to work building fuses for balloons that rained anti-Soviet propaganda leaflets in the east, as well as putting together incendiaries and the like with which to perpetrate nuisance-level harassment. The Stasi had him under surveillance immediately, although his old college buddy was such an amateurish snoop that he flat-out told Kaiser that he was watching him for the East Germans.

Eventually, however, that buddy persuaded Kaiser to turn himself in and become a collaborator himself — with a chance to resume his university career as one of the plums. Instead Kaiser found himself charged up as a saboteur “endangering the peace of the world.” The young man’s fighting spirit was also sabotaged by some sort of misleading representations made to him in his detention, because he entered the show trial believing it to be exactly that: just a show. So mistakenly confident was he that his death sentence was strictly ceremonial that he reportedly bragged about his penthouse accommodations behind bars.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,East Germany,Execution,Germany,Guillotine,History,Terrorists

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1952: Lloyd Edison Sampsell, the Yacht Bandit

Add comment April 25th, 2016 Robert Elder

(Thanks to Robert Elder of Last Words of the Executed — the blog, and the book — for the guest post. This post originally appeared on the Last Words blog. Fans of this here site are highly likely to enjoy following Elder’s own pithy, almanac-style collection of last words on the scaffold. -ed.)

Thanks for a million things. Thanks for a million things. I’ve got a son, six foot three inches, one hundred and seventy pounds. He’s married, got two kids. He’s in the service overseas right now. … So I’ve left something good — one decent thing out of a dirty life …

— Lloyd Edison Sampsell (aka “the Yacht Bandit”), convicted of robbery and murder, gas chamber, California.
Executed April 25, 1952

Sampsell and an accomplice plundered Pacific Coast banks before stealing away in his yacht. He pilfered a total of $200,000 in his career but died with only $5.27 to his name. Sampsell, age fifty-two, was convicted of killing Arthur W. Smith in a San Diego finance company robbery.

Before the gas took its effect, he turned to the nearly one hundred witnesses gathered and winked.

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

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1952: Chester Gregg

3 comments July 11th, 2012 Headsman

On this date in 1952, 58-year-old Chester Gregg nonchalantly died in Ohio’s electric chair for killing his wife the previous year.

Gregg shotgunned Alma Colliday Gregg, his estranged spouse and the head of the “lonely hearts” club through which the pair oiginally met, in her Kenton apartment after she filed for divorce.

As that killing made him a two-timer — he’d been paroled from a 1927 murder rap in Kentucky; the daughter of that victim petitioned unsuccessfully to attend Gregg’s execution — his clemency prospects were remote.

Although he’s of no known relationship to the namesake of the landmark Gregg decision returning death penalty to the U.S. in 1976, Chester has managed to find his way into the news of late.

Apparently, he was acquainted with an Ohio child named Jay Chapman (newspaper reports have termed Gregg Chapman’s “childhood friend”, but Chapman would only have been about 13 at this time: we intend no derogation to intergenerational friendship in saying that this is not the connotation of “childhood friend”). And Chapman would go on, as Oklahoma’s medical examiner in the 1970s, to play a subtle but important role in the modern death penalty: he invented the “traditional” lethal injection three-drug cocktail.

Dr. Chapman, who at least has the comfort of not having the lethal needle named after him a la Joseph Guillotin, knocked out the standard sodium thiopental-pancuronium bromide-potassium chloride sequence at the request of legislators looking for a less unpleasant alternative to that ubiquitous 20th century contraption, the electric chair. (That’s also how Gregg was put to death.)

But apparently, Chapman assumed that trained medical personnel who knew how to administer IVs and measure drugs would be conducting the procedure.

In fact, as executions “medicalized”, professional medical associations like the AMA barred members from participating as a breach of professional ethics. More recently, supply interruptions for lethal drugs have made a mess of the entire process. The upshot has been some high-profile botches — including Ohio itself outright failing in a recent lethal injection attempt — necessitating a 20072008 U.S. execution moratorium to sort out legal challenges to the needle.

It’s a far cry from Chapman’s vision of a litigation-proof method: “We felt that by going with this type of regimen, no one could suggest that it was cruel and unusual because people undergo this very protocol every day for anesthetic for surgery world-round,” he said in 2009.

The doctor’s own interest in the subject was merely instrumental: fewer appeals avenues mean more executions. “I’m an eye for an eye person,” Chapman told the London Guardian.* “The lethal injection is too easy for some of them.”

For that reason, Chapman is quite alright with the switch his home state an others have recently made to conducting lethal injections with only a single massive overdose of a single drug, either sodium thiopental or pentobarbital. Whatever gets the case out of courts, and onto the gurney.

As for the ghost of Chester Gregg, he really doesn’t enter the picture either way.

“It’s a totally separate thing,” Chapman said of his executed former neighbor. “It’s just an experience I had along the way.”

* There are some May 2010 photos of Chapman in the Guardian magazine archive.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Murder,Notably Survived By,Oklahoma,Ripped from the Headlines,USA

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1952: Hard Luck Billy Cook

2 comments December 12th, 2011 Headsman

On this date in 1952, the short and brutal life of William Cook ended in the San Quentin gas chamber.

A quintessential “terrible upbringing” criminal, young Billy was ditched with his siblings by their alcoholic widower father in an abandoned mine when he was a small child.

Though brothers and sisters found foster parents, Billy — afflicted by physical deformity and an ungovernable temper — had to make his way as a ward of the state. Constantly delinquent through his adolescence, he was institutionally handed off to the state penitentiary at age 17.

He got out at 22, with a grudge against the world and a knuckle tattoo reading “H-A-R-D L-U-C-K”, resolved — so he told his derelict father — to “live by the gun and roam.”

In a 22-day spree looping from California to Texas and Oklahoma and then back again, Cook slew six people: an entire vacationing family in Oklahoma, and then another kidnapped motorist in California. Taking drivers hostage was how he navigated America’s growing intercity road network, making the Cook story readily adaptable to titillate cinema-goers who knew the loneliness of the open road, in 1953’s The Hitch-Hiker. (Teaser line: “Who’ll be his next victim … YOU?”)

Cook took little care for his own secrecy and had to flee to Mexico to avoid a dragnet. Surprisingly, even the police chief of Santa Rosaria in Baja California recognized the wanted man, and he was captured there unawares and extradited back to the Golden State.

“I hate everybody’s guts,” he reportedly explained upon his capture. “And everybody hates mine.”

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,California,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Execution,Gassed,History,Murder,USA

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