1965: Eighteen prison rioters from Pulau Senang

Add comment October 29th, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1964, newly-independent Singapore hanged 18 former inmates of the Pulau Senang penal settlement for a deadly 1963 riot.


Pulau Senang. (cc) image by Jnzl.

“Island of Ease” the name means in Malay — but inmates at the experimental prison colony established there in 1960 found it anything but. Singapore’s 1959 elections, its first under self-rule within the British Empire, brought in the People’s Action Party. The PAP still rules Singapore to this day, famously tough on crime.

Ever thus. One of PAP’s objectives in 1959 was to root out a plague of gangsterism in the city, and to that end it instituted the Pulau Senang settlement on the virtually uninhabited 81-hectare coral island. It had a classic penitential vision: hard-core underworld gangsters sweating away their appetite for crime, learning hard work and practical trade skills, emerging reformed — “every violent lawless man could find their own way back to decent society given a proper chance and hard work,” in the words of its superintendent, Irishman Daniel Stanley Dutton.

And it had its moment in the sun: during the colony’s short life, several hundred of its inmates were found sufficiently rehabilitated for release.

But obviously not every resident was a success story, for on July 12, 1963, a confrontation over laboring conditions on the Isle of Ease spiraled into a mutiny that saw the inmates hack Dutton himself to death with the tools he’d given them to save their own souls. Two of Dutton’s assistants were also slain in the rising, and before gendarmes arrived to restore order the inmates had torched and sacked most of the colony infrastructure that they and their predecessors had painstakingly constructed over the preceding three years.

The ensuing mass trials saw a shocking 18 men capitally convicted and eventually hanged on a single date: October 29, 1965. (Twenty-nine others received lesser prison sentences for mere rioting convictions.)

Dutton’s untimely end also meant the end of his project, which was retired from the Singapore penal system in 1964. Today, it’s a military testing grounds and live-fire range.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Mass Executions,Murder,Organized Crime,Rioting,Singapore

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1967: The Asaba Massacre

Add comment October 7th, 2018 Headsman

The Asaba Massacre during Nigeria’s Biafran War culminated on this date in 1967 with a horrific mass execution.

Nigeria had attained independence in 1960 but still carried the legacy of its many decades under British control. Notably, the borders bequeathed to Nigeria amalgamate a coastal, Christian population in the south to an inland, Muslim population in the north — a fissure that continues to shape Nigeria down to the present day.

The ethnicity of interest for this post is the Igbo, one of those southern and Christian populations, and also a people who had been ethnically cleansed from the north in 1966 after an exchange of Christian and Mulim coups brought Nigeria to the brink of disintegration. Their homeland in southeast Nigeria — historically known as Igboland, and called Eastern Region within Nigeria — would become from May 30, 1967 the breakaway state of Biafra.

Biafra’s bid for independence triggered a devastating war with the Nigerian federal government. By the time that it ended in early 1970, perhaps as many as two million Biafrans were dead from mass starvation.

Asaba, where our massacre takes place, is a predominantly Igbo city on the western (non-Biafran) shore of the Niger River, opposite the Biafran eastern shore city Onitsha.

In the war’s opening weeks, Biafran forces actually struck out from their homeland and into Nigeria proper, crossing the Niger River. They would re-cross it in the opposite direction days before this massacre, taking bridges from Asaba to Onitsha and then cutting those bridges to frustrate the federal troops pursuing them.

Federal soldiers reaching Asaba in the first days of October took out that frustration on the city’s Igbo population, whom they robbed and abused as rebel sympathizers. Murders/summary executions for several days together comprise the Asaba Massacre of Massacres … but the single most emblematic and traumatic event took place on Saturday the 7th.

On October 4-6, soldiers occupied the town, and some began killing boys and men, accusing them of being Biafran sympathizers. On October 7, Asaba leaders met, and then summoned everyone to gather, dancing and singing to welcome the troops, and offering a pledge to One Nigeria. People were encouraged to wear akwa ocha, the ceremonial white, embroidered clothing that signifies peace, hoping that this strategy would end the violence. Although there was much trepidation, and some refused to participate, hundreds of men, women, and children assembled for the march, walking to the village square of Ogbeosewa, one of the five quarters of Asaba. Ify Uraih, then 13 years old, describes what happened when he joined the parade with his father and three older brothers, Paul, Emmanuel (Emma), and Gabriel:

There, they separated the men from the women … I looked around and saw machine-guns being mounted all around us … Some people broke loose and tried to run away. My brother was holding me by the hand; he released me and pushed me further into the crowd … They shot my brother in the back, he fell down, and I saw blood coming out of his body. And then the rest of us … just fell down on top of each other. And they continued shooting, and shooting, and shooting … I lost count of time, I don’t know how long it took … After some time there was silence. I stood up … my body was covered in blood, but I knew that I was safe. My father was lying not far away; his eyes were open but he was dead.

Exactly how many died is not clear; between 500 and 800 seems likely, in addition to many who died in the previous days. Most victims were buried in several mass graves, without observing requisite ceremonial practices. Along with his father, Uraih lost Emma and Paul; Gabriel was shot repeatedly, but recovered. The long-term impacts were profound; many extended families lost multiple breadwinners, and the town’s leadership was decimated. ()Source)

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Borderline "Executions",Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Executions Survived,History,Innocent Bystanders,Mass Executions,Nigeria,No Formal Charge,Public Executions,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Shot,Summary Executions,Wartime Executions

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1961: Henryk Niemasz, the last hanged at Wandsworth

Add comment September 8th, 2018 Headsman

Wandsworth Prison hosted its 135th and final hanging on this date in 1961.

The star of the show was Henryk Niemasz, who became infatuated with a married woman and shot her dead when she refused to break up her marriage for him. Niemasz was also married himself, to a wife who surely deserved better given that Grypa Niemasz was willing to give her husband a fake alibi for the time he was off shotgunning his paramour.

The death penalty departed English shores in the 1960s, but the Wandsworth gallows was kept in working order until 1993, just in case. (It would have been in case of treason, which was the only remaining capital statute by then.)

The prison itself, which dates to 1851, remains in operation to this day. According to friend of the blog Another Nickel in the Machine, Wandsworth’s former condemned cell “is now used as a television room for prison officers.”

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

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1961: Rokotov and Faibishenko, black marketeers

Add comment July 26th, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1961,* two 22-year-old Soviet men were — very much to their surprise — shot as black market currency speculators.

Ian Timofeyevich Rokotov and Vladik Petrovich Faibishenko were leaders of a small ring of illicit currency traders who made their bones swapping Soviet rubles with foreign visitors at a handsome markup, earning “wealth” on the scale of moderate personal ease that seems laughable compared to their homeland’s present-day oligarchy. Among this nine-person ring, authorities recovered 344,000 Russian rubles plus about $19,000 in gold coins and a few thousands each of various western European currencies.

These deeds augmented the inherently parasitic act of profiteering by the inherently subversive act of making unchaperoned contact with foreign visitors, at a moment when the Soviet state was particularly sensitive to both infractions. This was nearly the exact apex of the Cold War, in the tense months between the U-2 Crisis and the Cuban Missile Crisis.** “Peaceful coexistence,” Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev said in a 1961 address, means “intense economic, political, and ideological struggle between the proletariat and the aggressive forces of imperialism in the world arena.”

In a 13-day trial concluding on June 15, Rokotov and Faibishenko were sentenced along with another of their circle, Nadia Edlis, to 15 years in prison. You might think that’s a stern message sent, but the excitable Khrushchev took an almost personal offense to their behavior and on viewing the intentionally nettlesome exhibition of the black marketeers’ banknote heaps, exclaimed, “They need to be shot for this!”

The minor matter of having no capital statute on the books for the occasion was resolved on July 1 by the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet, which introduced the death penalty for major economic crimes; the statute was then immediately deployed to retroactive effect in a new trial before the Russian Republic Supreme Court.

Many people more would face capital punishment for economic crimes under that 1961 law.

* The official execution date is elusive but press reports indicate that the Soviet news agency TASS announced it on July 26. Given that their final condemnation had occurred only five days previous, we fall at worst within a narrow margin of error.

** Also of note: the USSR had just revalued the ruble as of January 1, 1961.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Businessmen,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Pelf,Russia,Shot,USSR,Wrongful Executions

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1968: Karol Kot, the Vampire of Krakow

Add comment May 16th, 2018 Meaghan

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

On this date in 1968, Polish serial killer Karol Kot, called the Vampire of Kraków, was hanged in the city of Mysłowice. He was only twenty-one years old.

Kot was born in Kraków in 1946, the son of an engineer and a housewife. His abnormal, violent behavior began early. He was jealous of his baby sister, who was born when he was eight, and thought their parents loved her more. While their parents were away, he beat her and even tortured and killed her pets.

He was fascinated by death and hung around slaughterhouses in his free time, helping the employees there kill calves and drinking the animals’ blood.

Most of the sources about Karol Kot, such as this Warsaw Post article, and this article from Polish Newsweek, are in Polish. He was, however, the subject of an episode in the 2014 English-language documentary series Killers: Behind the Myth.

This Kraków Post article describes Kot’s origins. He did well enough in his studies at school, but his classmates knew him as a shy, withdrawn loner and a weirdo. Between that and his enormous knife collection, it’s no wonder there was a running joke at Kot’s school that he must be the Vampire of Kraków.

One of the few things he truly excelled at was shooting; he was the star of the local rifle club. At one point he was ranked tenth in the entire country in the youth division. Kot’s coach mentored him, invited him to his home and even told his own son, “Be like Karol.” Kot found this hilarious: he had been planning to murder the boy.

He committed his first knife attack in September 1964, at the age of seventeen, stabbing a 48-year-old woman repeatedly inside a church as she knelt to pray. She survived. In fact, she didn’t even realize she was hurt until she went home, removed her coat, saw that she was bleeding and went to the hospital.

Kot went after his second victim, a 73-year-old woman, a few days later. Kot saw her exit a tram, followed her home, and stabbed her in the back as she walked up her front steps. She survived, but remained paralyzed for the rest of her life.

Six days later he stabbed a third woman, 77 years old, again inside a church; this was his first fatality. When the nuns found her, with her dying breaths the victim whispered that her attacker had been a schoolboy.

All three of Kot’s first victims were older females. He committed no more stabbings for a year and a half, but became interested in poison instead. Kot laced open bottles of beer and soda with arsenic and left them lying around, hoping someone would drink from them, but no one was tempted. He tried giving a poisoned drink to a classmate, but his intended victim poured it out because it smelled funny.

In 1966, Kot gave up on the poisoning idea and returned to his old weapon, the knife. He changed his target demographic from elderly women to young children.

In February, he stabbed and killed an eleven-year-old boy named Leszek at Kościuszko Mound. It was a horrific attack, with far more wounds inflicted than were necessary to kill Leszek. In April, Kot attacked a little girl named Małgorzata as she was checking the mail outside her home. He stabbed her a total of eleven times in the chest, back and abdomen. She suffered from severe internal injuries, but survived.

After knifing Małgorzata, Kot went to the militia to get his gun permit renewed, then went home.

In Communist Poland, crime was rarely reported in the newspapers. In the case of Kot’s murders, however, the vexed police took the rare step of issuing press releases about his crimes, appealing to possible witnesses to come forward with information.

The citizens of Kraków were terrified. People began going out with boards and cast-iron pot lids stuffed under their clothes to protect themselves from the Vampire’s blade.

Kot was caught after he bragged about his crimes to fellow member of the rifle club. She didn’t believe him until she read in the newspaper about the attempted murder of Małgorzata. Then she went to the police.

He was arrested, but was permitted to take his final school-leaving examinations, in hopes of forestalling an anticipated insanity plea. Police used the fact that he passed his exams as evidence that he was rational and sane.

After being taken into custody, the baby-faced killer denied everything. But after his surviving victims all identified him as their attacker, he cheerfully confessed to everything. He said he committed the murders because it gave him a sense of pleasure, and he enjoyed drinking his victims’ blood as they lay dying. He even studied books of human anatomy to figure out where to place his knife.

The murders thrilled him and gave some spark to his “heavy, dull and colorless” life, he said. He felt no remorse at all.

Kot’s rifle coach was outraged at first when he heard that such a fine young athlete had been arrested. Surely this was a miscarriage of justice. After Kot confessed, however, his devastated coach wrote to him in prison, asking him to return his rifle medals because he was unworthy of them.

In his final interview, Kot said, “Soon, where I’m going, I’ll meet with my victims, and we can speak. Here on Earth, I have no one to talk to.”

Kot was sentenced to death, but his sentence was reduced to life imprisonment on appeal due to his youth. However, after the General Prosecutor intervened, the death sentence was reinstated and Kot was hanged.

On autopsy, a large tumor was found in his brain. It had gone undiagnosed in life. Whether this was the reason for Kot’s sadism is anyone’s guess.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Guest Writers,Hanged,Murder,Other Voices,Poland

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1969: Equatorial Guinea’s Christmas Eve executions

3 comments December 24th, 2017 Headsman

A story from the 1970s Equatorial Guinea dictatorship of eventual Executed Today client Francisco Macias Nguema, via Suzanne Cronjé’s out-of-print 1976 volume Equatorial Guinea, the forgotten dictatorship: forced labour and political murder in central Africa.

a first batch of murderers were unskilfully hanged at Bata on the mainland early in December while another group met their end in Fernando Po [the island also known as Bioko, home to Equatorial Guinea’s capital city Malabo -ed.] on Christmas Eve. After a kind of public trial before most of the Cabinet in which assembled population was asked to endorse the verdict, they were shot or hanged to the strains of Mary Hopkin singing ‘Those were the days’ over the loudspeaker system.

The Headsman must admit to being flummoxed at the slipperiness of dependable primary sourcing for this extraordinarily picturesque event: as Cronje’s source notes, “the government probably only gets away with them because so little ever gets out about its doings.”

Many sites around this Internet situate the event on Christmas Eve of 1975. This appears to me unambiguously mistaken; Cronje’s narrative quotes its information from a February 1970 Financial Times report, and the Mary Hopkin detail also better fits the earlier date. (Her song was a hit in 1968.) However, it’s possible that distinct seasonal events were conflated between the years, for the 1970s were years of terrifying purges in Equatorial Guinea that claimed tens of thousands of lives.

Christmas Eve 1969 is also the date reported by Randall Fegley in Equatorial Guinea: An African Tragedy (1989) although in Fegley’s telling the nostalgic soundtrack accompanied that ugly early December execution, not the one on Christmas eve. Wikipedia’s entry for Macias Nguema asserts as of this writing that the shootings were carried out by executioners dressed as Santa Claus; the only hint of textual authority I have located for this outlandish detail points to a 1981 Human Rights Quarterly article by Fegley which I cannot access. (Update: In fact, Fegley’s article makes no claim about Saint Nick getup. Thanks to cz for the comment.)

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1963: Four CIA saboteurs in Cuba

Add comment November 12th, 2017 Headsman

Cuba executed thirteen people in the course of this week in 1963 as CIA agents. This date marked the middle group, as detailed in the Nov. 13, 1963 New York Times:

HAVANA, Nov. 12 (UPI) — Four more Cubans were executed by firing squads today as “agents” of the United States Central Intelligence Agency.

Five other Cuban [sic] accused as “CIA agents” were executed last Friday.

The victims today were identified as Antonio Cobelas Rodriguez, Orlando Sanchez Saraza, Juan M. Milian Rodriguez and Jose S. Bolanos Morales.

An official announcement said that they had been captured while trying to sneak ashore from an armed boat that sailed from Marathon, in the Florida Keys, on an undisclosed date.

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1960: Tony Zarba, anti-Castro raider

Add comment October 13th, 2017 Headsman

On this date in 1960, American adventurer Anthony “Tony” Zarba was shot after his capture in an ill-fated raid on Fidel Castro’s Cuba.

The Somerville, Mass. native had been shaken like many U.S. citizens by the recent Cuban Revolution; antagonism toward Castro featured prominently in the tight Kennedy-Nixon presidential campaign that was nearing its climax during the events of this post, the backdrop for the world’s coming brush with nuclear apocalypse. Confrontation of some kind seemed a foregone conclusion, and in a tradition as old as filibustering, a private clique formed in the U.S. with the intention of hastening the day.

“Today I leave for the Cuban hills. I am going to fight against communism that has come so close to our American shores,” Zarba wrote a friend before launching in a PT boat from Miami with three other Americans, 22 Cuban exiles, and a stockpile of black market weapons that September of 1960.

All this could have been prevented by our government. Now the time has come when all this can be fixed only one way — fighting.

When my country is daily insulted and abused by the Commies of Cuba, I think that this is the opportunity I missed when I could not qualify physically as a U. S. soldier because of my asthma.

But where my generation is falling for its lack of political maturity and comprehension, I am going to do my duty regardless of any foolish considerations about legality, neutrality and other technicalities of which the diabolic Communist takes so much advantage …

I have confidence that God would give me the necessary strength and courage to die with honor and pride if this were necessary in the hills or in front of a Red firing squad.

I am sure many others will follow in my steps.

The intent of this operation was to rally anti-Castro disaffection believed to be burgeoning in Cuba and escape to the Sierra Maestra to build a guerrilla movement like Castro and Che had done in their own day.

But they were surprised by government soldiers shortly after their landing at Nibujon and shattered the foray right there on the beach, a preview of the more (in)famous Washington-backed Bay of Pigs disaster six months hence. Zabra was captured on the beach with a number of Cubans, still wet with sea salt from wading their ammunition ashore. Two other Americans, Allen Dale Thompson and Robert Fuller, escaped for the moment but would also be captured within days; they followed Zabra to the firing posts on Oct. 15. (Some others, including the fourth American, were aboard a fishing launch when the Cubans arrived and fled to open seas.)

Boats and guns don’t quite grow on trees even in Florida, so fiascos like this require moneymen to orchestrate the junction of enthusiasts and their Red firing squads. This particular operation was underwritten by former Communist turned Batista henchman Rolando Masferrer, a prominent mafioso whose 1960s pastime was extorting fellow Cuban exiles and plotting Castro’s assassination. (Castro put a price on Masferrer’s head in return.)

An associate of Santo Trafficante, Masferrer enjoys bit roles in some John F. Kennedy assassination theories. His underworld murder in 1975 has done nothing to abate them.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Cuba,Death Penalty,Execution,Guerrillas,History,Power,Shot,Soldiers,Terrorists,USA

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1960: George Scott

Add comment September 7th, 2017 Headsman

On this date in 1960, a goon went to the San Quentin gas chamber for his violent retort.

On the evening of December 30, 1958, George Albert Scott was exiting a Melrose cafe with his partner in crime Curtis Lichtenwalter, having profitably held up the joint with a sawed-off shotgun.

A Samuel Goldwyn Studio executive with very poor timing named Kenneth Savoy just happened to be walking in the door as the robbers were walking out, and Scott decided to augment their takings en passant.

“Just a minute, mister,” Scott hailed Savoy (according to this Los Angeles Times blog retrospective). “Give your wallet.”

Savoy upped the ante with a bravado that he might have regretted seconds later when Scott’s shotgun blasted him in the stomach: “I’m single and have no responsibilities — no one will miss me. If you want my wallet, you will have to shoot me first.”

This was the first casualty in the course of several Los Angeles stickups the pair had perpetrated that December. Lichtenwalter, who had no previous criminal record, bailed out of the duo’s Jesse James act after this but the parolee Scott went on to knock over a couple more places before he was cornered in a hotel with a woman named Barbara White, picturesquely described via a lax Eisenhower-era Times copyeditor as “a former woman wrestler.”

Scott made multiple suicide attempts during his death row stint, ranging from a gory throat-slashing at his sanity hearing to (according to the Associated Press wire dispatch*) three tries on the more desperate end of the spectrum on the literal eve of his execution:

First he smashed a light globe and stuffed glass in his mouth. A doctor said he was not harmed seriously.

Two hours later, guards reported, he stood on his cot and dived against the wall with his head.

Restrained, he eluded guards and began ramming his head against the cell wall.

He went to his death calmly, and with a skull-splitting headache.

* Quoted here from the Augusta (Ga.) Chronicle of September 9, 1960.

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

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1964: James Coburn, George Wallace’s first death warrant

1 comment September 4th, 2017 Headsman

James Coburn was electrocuted on this date in 1964 in Alabama’s “Yellow Mama”.

He’d been condemned for a Dallas County robbery … and only for that. He has the distinction of being the very last human being executed in the United States for any non-homicide crime; at a stretch one could perhaps reckon him the most distant echo of the Anglosphere’s long-ago “Bloody Code” days, when the sturdy Tyburn tree strained with mere burglars and pickpockets.

Such draconian laws were not enforced in England any more, not for a very long time. (Great Britain abolished the death penalty for purely property crimes in the 1830s.) In fact, the last British executions for any kind of crime at all had occurred weeks before Yellow Mama destroyed James Coburn for robbery.

Presiding over this anachronistic penal event was a knight of the nascent American reaction: Alabama Governor George Wallace. He’d been sworn in just the previous year with the infamous vow, “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever!”

Coburn’s was the first death warrant to bear Governor Wallace’s signature, but it’s a small surprise that it was the first of just four — considering that Wallace served 16 total years in three separate stints as a conservative executive in a southern state.

One reason was simply because, like his contemporary Ronald Reagan, Wallace’s political star reached its height during the the death penalty’s late sixties to early eighties lull.

But another is that, despite musing inclusively about “a lot of bad white folks and a lot of bad black folks who ought to be electrocuted,” Wallace nurtured gnawing doubts about capital punishment that seem to have grown throughout his strange career.

As a young law student, Wallace had assisted a capital defense for a man who had murdered his wife by dynamiting the house — the charge “blew her through the roof, and she fell down a mass of meat,” in Wallace’s words. The defense seemed hopeless, but Wallace conjured a strategy to keep this particular bad white folk out of the electric chair.

One morning before court opened, just as Beale and Wallace thought all was lost, a relative brought the defendant’s son to see his father. “He was about ten or eleven,” Wallace remembered, “but he looked younger than that. He was a sallow-looking boy, like he had hookworms, and he ran over to his daddy when he came into the courthouse and hugged him and kissed him.” Wallace, who witnessed the scene, told Beale they could use the boy to try to whip up some sympathy among the jurors. Beale agreed; the two took the boy into a room, and Wallace asked him if he understood what was going on. “Do you understand that people in that courtroom are asking that your daddy be electrocuted? That they want to do away with him? Do you understand that?” And Wallace said that every time he would mention it, the boy would break down and cry. So Wallace sat the boy right behind the defendant’s table. “Every time Attorney Beale was asking questions of a witness,” Wallace said, “I would lean over and whisper to this young boy, ‘Son, they’re trying to kill your daddy.’ He would immediately break down in sobs, and the judge would have to recess the court.”

After the testimony concluded, Beale addressed the jury on the circumstantial nature of the state’s evidence; then he asked Wallace to make a final statement for the defense. “I pinned it all on the boy,” Wallace recalled. “I put my arms around him and I said, ‘Now listen, this fellow here has nobody left in the world but his father. His father is no good, he’s no account — but his son still loves him; you saw that in the courtroom. So I am pleading with you for this boy. Save his daddy’s life so he’ll have somebody in the world who loves him, even though he’s in prison.'” The prosecutor had asked for the death penalty, Wallace told the jury. “He said, ‘If anybody deserves the electric chair, this man deserves it.’ If we were trying this man on whether he is a sorry, no-good individual, I would agree: he’s no good; he’s no account; he’s killed his wife for no good reason. But I ask you to let this man live so the son will still have a father.” Wallace then brought the boy to the jury box and said: “Gentlemen, think of this child when you are making that decision. He comes from a poor family. He has not had many good things in life. But he still loves his daddy, whether or not he has committed this horrible crime. I plead with you for this little boy.” After the judge’s charge, Wallace and Beale went to a cafe, but they had barely finished a cup of coffee when the bailiff rushed over and told them the jury was coming back in. “We find the defendant guilty,” the foreman said, “and we fix his punishment at life in prison.” Wallace was elated — so much so that he refused the hundred-dollar fee that Beale offered him. “I would have given you a hundred dollars for the experience this gave me,” he told Beale.

George Wallace: American Populist

Cynical, sure. (Even Wallace’s ultra-segregationist persona was cynical, adopted after he lost an earlier election as the moderate running against a Klan-endorsed opponent.) But whatever his other faults, he genuinely didn’t seem to delight in the executioner, and by the end of his life his acquaintance with this character had put him in fear for his soul.

Governor Wallace signed one other death warrant in 1965, and — after an interim of three presidential bids on the white ressentiment ticket plus a near-assassination that left him wheelchair-bound — found himself governor again in the 1980s. The first death cases under the “modern” Alabama law that Wallace himself had signed in 1975 were just then beginning to reach the end of the line.

And we find, via this post channeling Evan Mandery’s A Wild Justice: The Death and Resurrection of Capital Punishment in America, that Wallace was agonized before doing what he was always going to do.

George Wallace was beginning his final term as Alabama’s governor when he was asked to sign [John Louis] Evans’s death warrant. Wallace’s notoriety, of course, rests primarily on the day in 1963 that he stood in a doorway at the University of Alabama to keep black students out. But it is also worth noting that his 1968 third-party presidential campaign perfected the “tough-on-crime” sloganeering that would dominate much of American electoral politics into the 1990s.

Privately, George Wallace had long harbored doubts about capital punishment. In 1964, he told his law clerk that he thought it should be ruled unconstitutional. By 1983, Wallace had survived a shooting, converted to born-again Christianity, and recanted his segregationism. In Mandery’s words, his “reservations about the constitutionality of capital punishment had evolved into full-blown opposition.” The night before Evans was due to be executed, Wallace telephoned his lieutenant governor “in tears,” Mandery recounts. Wallace said that “he had been up all night ‘praying the Bible,’ and couldn’t bring himself to sign the warrant.” That lieutenant governor was the former law clerk, Bill Baxley,* with whom Wallace had shared his reservations 20 years before. Baxley was a liberal Democrat — as Alabama’s attorney general, he had earned the wrath of the Ku Klux Klan for his investigation and prosecution of civil rights cases — who supported the death penalty. He convinced George Wallace that there was no political choice but to sign the warrant … Evans was strapped into an electric chair and, after two botched jolts that left him burned but alive, was shocked to death on the state of Alabama’s third attempt.

* Baxley is famous for investigating a notorious 1963 church bombing, and relatedly for deploying Alabama state letterhead in one of its very best uses ever.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Alabama,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Electrocuted,Execution,History,Milestones,Theft,USA

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