1971: Sean Flynn and Dana Stone, Vietnam War photojournalists

1 comment June 6th, 2016 Headsman

On an unknown date thought to be approximately June of 1971, American photojournalists Sean Flynn and Dana Stone were executed by Communist captors in Southeast Asia.

Flynn is the big name of the pair,* literally: a former actor, he wasn’t in like his superstar father Errol Flynn. After trading on his prestigious name for a few silver screen credits, Sean grew bored of Hollywood and pivoted into a career in wanderlust — trying his hand as a safari guide and a singer before washing up in Vietnam where the action was in January 1966.

He made his name there as a man who would find a way to snatch an indelible image out of war’s hurricane, even at the risk of his own life.


One of Flynn’s photos: A captured Viet Cong being tortured. (1966)

On April 6, 1970, Flynn and fellow risk-seeking photojournalist Dana Stone hopped on rented motorbikes bound for the front lines in Cambodia. It was a last mission born of their characteristic bravado — all but bursting out of the frame astride their crotch rockets in the last photo that would become their epitaph. They were never seen again; having apparently been detained at a Viet Cong checkpoint, it’s thought that they ended up in the hands of Cambodian Khmer Rouge guerrillas and were held for over a year before they were slain by their jailers.


Flynn (left) and Stone mount the bikes for their lethal assignment. This is the last picture ever taken of them.

Sean’s mother, actress Lili Damita, spent years seeking definitive information about his fate, without success. Dana’s brother, John Thomas Stone, joined the army in 1971 reportedly with a similar end in mind; he was killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan in 2006. The prevailing conclusion about their fate arrives via the investigation of their colleague and friend, Australian journalist Tim Page — a man for whom memorializing the journalists who lost their lives during the Vietnam War has been a lifelong mission.

Though Flynn’s and Stone’s guts are undeniable, not everyone appreciated their methods. “Dana Stone and Sean Flynn [son of the Hollywood actor, Errol Flynn] were straight out of Easy Rider, riding around on motorcycles carrying pearl-handled pistols. Cowboys, really,” said fellow photog Don McCullin. “I think they did more harm than good to our profession.”

* He’s not to be confused with present-day actor Sean Flynn — that’s our Sean Flynn’s nephew. (Sean the nephew was named for Sean the uncle.)

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Borderline "Executions",Execution,History,No Formal Charge,Uncertain Dates,USA,Vietnam,Wartime Executions

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1971: Victor Apaza Quispe, Arequipa folk saint

Add comment September 17th, 2014 Headsman

From Frank Graziano’s Cultures of Devotion: Folk Saints of Spanish America:


In Arequipa, there is active devotion to Victor Apaza Quispe, who was born in the Miraflores district in 1932. Apaza led a vagrant life supported by odd jobs after fleeing his abusive father. In a variant version that he related to inmates, he was sold by his father into farm labor. Apaza married in 1953, continued a life of transient jobs and petty crime, drank heavily, and physically abused his wife and daughter until he finally abandoned the home. When he returned ten years later, the marriage was beyond repair. In January 1969, Apaza dreamed that his wife was unfaithful to him. He went to the location revealed in the dream and saw the shadowy figure of a man escaping. His wife, also there, was not as fortunate. Apaza beat her to death with a rock.

It was later revealed that the crime was premeditated and carefully planned. Apaza originally denied responsibility but confessed his guilt once the evidence mounted against him. Later, during appeals for clemency, he again declared his innocence. He was convicted partially on the evidence of his two daughters, who wittingly or unwittingly offered testimony that supported the death penalty. Apaza did not understand the sentence until his lawyer translated it for him into Quechua. He hugged his lawyer, the two of them crying, and then collapsed into his chair.

People in the courtroom were shocked by the death sentence. The rarity of the event — this would be the first execution in Arequipa — resulted in extensive press coverage. Apaza suddenly gained a celebrity derived less from his crime than from the punishment. The press represented him as a poor, simple man and a good Christian. According to Apaza’s defense attorney, “the very foundation of society was shaken” when the public learned that Apaza had been sentenced to death. Horror and indignation were aroused because the imminent execution was “an unjust action of human justice.” Divine justice would make amends.

Apaza faced the firing squad in prison on September 17, 1971. (The drama is intensified in some folkloric versions by locating the execution in Arequipa’s main plaza.) Arequipa’s residents were outraged, even traumatized, and some fifteen hundred attended Apaza’s funeral. They organized themselves into squads, taking turns to carry the coffin.

Apaza had been in prison for two years before he was executed. Like Ubilberto Vasquez Bautista in Cajamarca, he became a model prisoner and something of a populist. Fellow inmates described Apaza as a good, hardworking, honest man. In 1971, the 531 men incracerated with him sent a letter to the court petitioning clemency, in part because Apaza had proven himself to be “an honorable man and dedicated to his work.” The prison chaplain, a Jesuit, found Apaza to be pious and God-fearing, and the warden thought he was a “completely good” man. Later, retrospective press accounts described Apaza and Ubilberto together as “innocent men crushed by the Kafkaesque and labyrinthine cruelties of the administration of justice in Peru.”

Book CoverThe devotees with whom I spoke in Arequipa knew little about Apaza. Even the official rezador, a man who prays for tips at the shrine, did not have the story clear. Many devotees had a vague idea that Apaza had been executed under circumstances that suggested injustice, however, and the key word offered by all was “innocent.” Some believed that the true killer confessed the crime after Apaza was executed.

When I asked devotees how they knew that Apaza was innocent, one woman astonished me with her answer: “because a sinner cannot work miracles.” I later encountered this same response in other devotions. Once a folk saint’s fame for miracles is accepted as true, then this truth — this evidence — revises backward to create the conditions necessary for the production of miracles. Miracles make Apaza’s apparent guilt impossible, so the verdict is reversed. Innocence causes miracles, and miracles cause innocence. Miracles occur within the circularity defined by these parameters.

Apaza is miraculous, like all folk saints of this prototype, because “he died innocent and is beside Our Lord.” “You were shot, you suffered,” people said when they requested the first miracles, because these misfortunes qualified Apaza for sainthood.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Famous,History,Murder,Peru,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Religious Figures,Sex,Shot,Wrongful Executions

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1971: Ishola Oyenusi, smiling to his death

54 comments September 8th, 2014 Headsman

On this date in 1971, the Nigerian robber Ishola Oyenusi — “smil[ing] to his death,” in the words of the next day’s paper — was publicly shot with his gang at Lagos Bar Beach.

Dubbed “the most dangerous criminal of this decade” even though the Seventies were barely underway, “Doctor” Oyenusi — as he liked to style himself — sprang out of the wreckage of the 1967-1970 Nigerian Civil War, a charismatic, cocksure gangster whose lordly disdain for the law cast the terrifying portent of social breakdown.

Beyond Oyenusi loomed a systematic collapse of order that long outlived him. In years to come, other celebrity crime lords would follow; eventually, armed robbery proliferated into a frightfully ubiquitous feature of life in Lagos. Maybe the Doctor smiled at the stake because he foresaw his legacy.

Disturbingly unable to combat the plague systematically, authorities would resort to occasional high-profile executions instead, provided, of course, that the culprit’s misappropriations were of the retail street-crime variety, rather than the fruits of wholesale corruption.

Oyenusi was never in the same universe with such exalted impunity as enjoyed by the masters of the state. He got into the robbery business back in 1959, boosting a car (and murdering its owner into the bargain) to make it rain for his broke girlfriend. While he eventually expanded his operations into a brutal syndicate, he was still just a hoodlum; the infamy that packed the Bar Beach with 30,000 fellow humans who booed and jeered Oyenusi to the stake was merely enough to make him worth the quashing. (He was condemned to death specifically for a raid on the WAHUM factory in March 1971 that also claimed the life of a police constable.)

Six members of Oyenusi’s crime ring went with him to the stake on the same occasion. An eighth man was also shot in the batch for an unrelated armed carjacking.

There is a 1977 film by Nigerian director Eddie Ugbomah based on this flamboyant gangster’s life, The Rise and Fall of Dr. Oyenusi.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Mass Executions,Mature Content,Murder,Nigeria,Pelf,Public Executions,Shot,Theft

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1971: Ousmane Balde, Barry III, Magassouba Moriba, Loffo Camara, Keita Kara Soufiana, and many others in Conakry

Add comment January 25th, 2012 Headsman

On this date in 1971, at least four former members of Guinea’s government were publicly hanged for supposed complicity in the previous year’s Portuguese invasion from neighboring Guinea-Bissau.*

The coup-threatened government of Sekou Toure was trying to send a message:

It did not scruple to make examples of men and women in very high places. Ousmane Balde (or Baldet) was Guinea’s former Finance Minister, Magassouba Moriba an Interior Minister, Barry III (also known as Ibrahima Barry; the link is French) the former Secretary of State. Keita Kara Soufiana had been Chief of Police. Loffo Camara was a National Assembly member.

Besides the quality of its reprisal victims, Conakry went in for quantity, too. Somewhere close to 100 death sentences were handed down with the barest of legal pretense, and the majority of them actually carried out on and around this date.

Personally arranging the grisly tableau for our hanged ex-ministers was a captain, Diarra Traore, who would one day help to overthrow the Guinean government, become Prime Minister … and wind up executed himself for his trouble.

* Guinea-Bissau was at that time still a Portuguese possession, known as Portuguese Guinea.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Guinea,Hanged,History,Mass Executions,Mature Content,Notable Participants,Politicians,Power,Public Executions,Torture,Treason,Women,Wrongful Executions

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1971: Martyred Intellectuals’ Day in Bangladesh

3 comments December 14th, 2009 Headsman

This date’s observance marks the systematic execution by (West) Pakistani forces of the intellectual class of East Pakistan at the end of the civil war which would detach the east as the independent nation Bangladesh — an unavenged war crime as cynical as it was brutal.


Executed intellectuals in the Dhaka Rayerbazar, 1971.

This was not a single discrete massacre, but a continuing policy during the March-December 1971 war. December 14, just two days before the Pakistani army surrendered, was the peak date of a dreadful endgame paroxysm that saw hundreds of scholars, teachers, lawyers, doctors, artists, writers, engineers, and the like rounded up and summarily executed in a bid to decapitate the new Bengali state’s intelligentsia.

Though the martyrs were subsequently venerated in Bangladesh, the higher-stakes regional geopolitics have always made effective redress a nonstarter.

Gorgeous pictures of another memorial.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Artists,Bangladesh,Borderline "Executions",Death Penalty,Doctors,Execution,Famous,History,Innocent Bystanders,Intellectuals,Lawyers,Martyrs,Mass Executions,Mature Content,No Formal Charge,Occupation and Colonialism,Pakistan,Popular Culture,Power,Shot,Summary Executions,Wartime Executions

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1971: Ion Rimaru, the Vampire of Bucharest

1 comment October 23rd, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 1971, Romania’s most notorious serial killer was dragged to the stake at Jilava Prison — fighting all the way, and shrieking “Call my father, so he can see what’s happening to me! Make him come! He’s the only guilty one!” — and shot to death for a rape-murder spree that had terrorized Bucharest for more than a year.

Ion Rîmaru (or Ion Râmaru), an emotionally stunted, sexually perverted veterinary school dropout, began in 1970 preying on lone women perambulating the Romanian capital late at night.

Though a number of Rimaru’s targets escaped with their lives,* his attacks were noted for their bestial ferocity: biting into, perhaps cannibalizing, his victims’ sex organs; necrophiliac rapes; blood-drinking (hence the nickname). Authorities loathe to cop to a serial killer were initially tight-lipped about the monster in their midst, only heightening public terror, until a very visible May 1971 dragnet finally caught the Vampire.

Though he surely met someone’s definition of nuts, his attempt to claim insanity at trial was a predictable nonstarter, leading to this day’s scene on the execution grounds. Rimaru actually got himself turned all the way round, and took the firing squad’s barrage in his back. Unseemly, all in all.

But all that carrying on about his father? Evidently it was more than just unresolved Oedipal stuff.

The next year, his father fatally “fell” (read: was pushed by police) from a train. Forensic evidence taken from the body of Florea Rîmaru (Romanian link) implicated the Vampire’s dad in four unsolved 1944 murders in wartime Bucharest.

* His infamous spree’s official tally was four killed, plus six attempted murders, five rapes, one attempted rape, one robbery and three thefts. (Romanian source)

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Infamous,Murder,Popular Culture,Rape,Romania,Serial Killers,Shot

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1971: Ten failed putschists in Morocco

1 comment July 13th, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 1971, four generals, five colonels and a major who had attempted a coup d’etat in Morocco less than three days before were shot without trial at the military barracks in Rabat.

The senior officers* had taken military cadets and stormed the palace where birthday celebrations for King Hassan II were taking place. They captured the monarch himself before the cadets themselves wavered, and loyal troops successfully counterattacked. Ninety-two people, including the Belgian ambassador, were killed in the affair; the king was at their state funeral on this date at the time the putschists were being shot.

This selection of the coup’s leadership gunned down this day in Rabat did not make an end to the reverberations; other trials followed later in the year, and some others who were implicated were simply “disappeared”.

Although we lack the testimony of any of the coup leaders themselves for their motivations, it occurred in the context of political and social upheaval in post-colonial Morocco. Frank H. Braun (“Morocco: Anatomy of a Palace Revolution That Failed”, International Journal of Middle East Studies, Vol. 9, No. 1 (Jan., 1978)) argues that it was rooted in an eclipse of the traditional prerogatives of the military — and especially of the Berber nobility, who can be said to be the authors of the attempt.

So too can its failure be ascribed to the scant support this parochial and backward-looking cause commanded; non-Berber officers didn’t join the plot. Even so, with one of his government’s traditional pillars of support so heavily compromised (and decimated by this day’s executions and other reprisals), the coup led Hassan II to somewhat liberalize Morocco’s constitution the following year.

Which did not exactly still the tumultuous power politics scene in Rabat.

Mohamed Oufkir, the general who had coolly suppressed the 1971 coup** to become the preeminent military officer in the country, mounted his own bid for power in 1972 and suffered the same fate as this date’s doomed rebels.

* Notably, Mohamed Medbouh (French link), “one of my closest collaborators” in the estimation of the king himself (but also of “the mentality of a jackal”). His surname actually meant “cutthroat,” and was earned by his father’s literally having his throat cut — and surviving — in the 1920’s.

** A Berber himself, Oufkir may have been aware of the earlier coup — and cunning enough not to commit himself until he saw which way the wind was blowing.

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

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