1976: Michiah Shobek

Add comment October 19th, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1976, American killer Michiah Shobek was hanged in the Bahamas.

Born James Michael Shoffner, Shobek was a Milwaukee handyman who murdered* three other Americans abroad in Nassau during a two-month period — people Shobek called “angels of Lucifer.”

* Two by stabbing, one by strangulation.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Bahamas,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Hanged,Murder,Racial and Ethnic Minorities

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1976: Masacre de Los Surgentes, during the Dirty War

Add comment October 17th, 2017 Headsman

On this date in 1976, seven young leftist Montonero militants were extrajudicially executed by the Argentine junta in Los Surgentes.*

Just months into Argentina’s seven-year military dictatorship and the dread nomenclature of “the disappeared” was already entering the lexicon for activists snatched by paramilitaries to a fate of God knows what.** They vanished by the thousands during Argentina’s “Dirty War” leaving no paper trails to explain their fates, no gravesites to mourn over nor legal cases to mobilize around — no way for their loved ones to get a handle on them, but only the barest veneer of deniability for the junta as its torturers did their monstrous work. In 1978, Argentina dictator Jorge Rafael Videla infamously answered an inquiry at a press conference with the chilling words, “They are neither dead nor alive, they are disappeared.”

But, seriously, the disappeared were mostly dead. Everyone knew.

The Masacre de Los Surgentes was an uncomplicated version of the grim fate awaiting these abductees. Seven young leftist radicals, all in their early twenties and all thought to be in simpatico with the Montonero guerrilla movement, had been kidnapped in the days prior around the city of Rosario. They’d been interrogated and tortured alongside other captives, a few of whom would survive with stories about their compatriots’ last hours.


The secret prison where this day’s victims and hundreds of others were detained in Rosario is today managed as a memorial site. (cc) image by Rosario resident Pablo D. Flores.

Around dawn on the 17th of October, all seven — María Cristina Márquez, Cristina Costanzo, Analía Murgiondo, Sergio Abdo Jalil, Eduardo Felipe Laus, Daniel Oscar Barjacoba, and José Antonio Oyarzábal — were blindfolded, handcuffed, and driven a few kilometers out of town, to the village which gives the massacre its name, and gunned down.

Sergio Jalil’s courageous mother Nelma Jalil became a prominent champion for Argentina’s bereaved families of the “disappeared” as a co-founder of the Madres de la Plaza 25 de Mayo, or “Rosario Mothers”.

* Though a small town of 4,200, Los Surgentes has had an ample allotment of wartime mass executions: it’s is also known as the site where Argentine hero Santiago de Liniers was shot with his associates in 1810.

** Indeed, Argentina’s armed forces and allied paramilitaries had been fighting this dirty war against the left-wing guerrillas for several years prior to the 1976 coup.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Activists,Argentina,Borderline "Executions",Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Martyrs,Mass Executions,No Formal Charge,Shot,Torture,Wartime Executions

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1976: Christian Ranucci, never yet rehabilitated

Add comment July 28th, 2013 Headsman

On this date in 1976, Christian Ranucci, 22, was guillotined in Marseilles … with the last words addressed to his attorneys, “Réhabilitez-moi”.

If that has not yet occurred, it has not been for want of trying.

Many people think Ranucci was the last person executed by France; in fact, this is not correct. But the confusion is understandable: Ranucci has persisted in the headlines and the public imagination owing to a running controversy over whether he was wrongly convicted. It’s a vexing case rife with ambiguous circumstantial evidence, and observers are usually able to see in it what they want to see.

On June 3, 1974, two incidents — a minor traffic accident, and the request by a young man of a local mushroomer to help his car out of a muddy gallery where it was stuck — placed a gray Peugeot 304 at La Pomme, outside Marseilles. This also happened to be the date that 8-year-old Maria-Dolores Rambla was abducted from St. Agnes by an unknown man in a red sweater reportedly driving a gray Simca 1100, a vehicle that would be possible to mix up with the Peugeot 304.

When news of the abduction broke on the radio the morning of June 4, the people who saw the Peugeot(s) later called it in as a tip.

Police got to the bespectacled young Ranucci (English Wikipedia entry | French; most of the links from here on out are French) via the accident. His car didn’t stop for the other motorist, but limped on down the road another kilometer. The other driver’s vehicle was inoperable, but that driver sent a passerby to follow the hit-and-run Peugeot’s path to see if he could track down a license plate number. Indeed he did do that.

And when that good citizen called police, he said he had seen the driver running into the nearby woods with either a sizable package or a small child. (The story has … evolved.) You can see where this is going: when the area was searched after the tip came in, poor Maria’s dead body was steps away from the spot the car stopped. She’d been knifed to death.

The mushroom-gallery, for its part, yielded up a red pullover sweater like the one the abductor wore, and a bloody knife.

After 17 hours’ grilling by the police, Ranucci broke down and confessed. He would later retract the confession, blaming police pressure. (Here in 2013, everybody does know — right? — that false confessions happen with alarming frequency, and that they’re widely associated with exonerations.)

As open-and-shut as this sounds, Ranucci’s many defenders have found a great deal wanting in the case

Journalist Gilles Perrault has been on about this case for decades. His L’ombre de Christian Ranucci drew a 50,000 euro judgment for defaming the Marseilles police.

Among the sticking-points for skeptics:

  • There’s the inconsistency in the reported make and model of the vehicle vis-a-vis what Ranucci was driving.
  • None of the eyewitnesses to the abduction could identify Ranucci in a lineup … until the lineup was pared down to make it a gimme. Sloppy lineup work has been a significant factor in wrongful convictions; on the other hand, eyewitnesses are extremely unreliable in general.
  • The recovered red pullover was much too small for Ranucci, possibly suggesting that this apparent link to the observed abductor did not reach all the way to the accused.
  • Mr. Red Pullover Simca 1100 was allegedly seen attempting other abductions at times and places that made it certain that he was not Christian Ranucci.
  • Questionable handling of physical evidence by investigators.

That’s basically just to scratch the surface. Here (pdf) is a much lengthier exegesis of the potentially exculpatory evidence, in French. Here’s an English summary covering the same stuff on a site whose resources are mostly also in French. (“We do not assert Christian Ranucci is innocent.”) Countless additional search hits en francais await the interested researcher.

Ranucci himself insisted against advice on pursuing an actual-innocence defense, rather than mounting a mitigation case focusing on avoiding the guillotine while conceding guilt. He was convicted on just a 9-3 jury vote.

But neither in his own time nor latterly has that case gained much purchase on the conscience of his prosecutors. The President who denied Ranucci’s clemency petition, Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, has recently given his 1976 decision a vote of confidence; the father of the victim feels likewise.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,France,Guillotine,History,Kidnapping,Murder,Ripped from the Headlines,Wrongful Executions

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1976: Lt. Col. Bukar Dimka and six coup confederates

2 comments May 15th, 2011 Headsman

On this date in 1976, Nigeria executed the leading spirit of an abortive Nigerian coup was shot for the “abortive” part of that coup.

That February 13, Bukar Dimka had taken to the airwaves to announce the assassination of Nigeria’s incumbent military strongman, Murtala Mohammed.*

Good morning fellow Nigerians.

This is Lt. Colonel B. Dimka of the Nigerian Army calling. I bring you good tidings. Murtala Muhammed’s deficiency has been detected. His government is now overthrown by the young revolutionaries. All the 19 military governors have no powers over the states they now govern. The states affairs will be run by military brigade commanders until further notice.

Any acts of looting or raids will be death. Everyone should be calm. Please stay by your radio for further announcements. All borders, air and sea ports are closed until futher notice. Curfew is imposed from 6am to 6pm. Thank you. We are all together.

-From Romancing the Gun: The Press as Promoter of Military Rule

They were not all together.

Mohammed’s second-in-command, Olusegun Obasanjo, instantly quashed the putsch and served notice that assassinating the head of state would not be welcome on his watch.**

A large body of coup conspirators were publicly executed within a month; the Nigerian Defense Minister was among them.

Dimka himself managed to remain at large for most of that month, so he wasn’t among that crop. Instead, Obasanjo had the pleasure of announcing Dimka’s execution separately, along with that of

a former state governor, Joseph Gomwalk … “two of the principal actors” in the coup.

New York Times, May 16, 1976

The coup was thought to have aimed at restoring the guy Mohammed deposed, Yakubu Gowon, who was luckily in exile in England and therefore escaped a similarly grim fate.

Years later, he received an official pardon; Gowon is still alive, one of Nigeria’s elder political statesmen.

* When next in Lagos to transfer several million in oil wealth from a secret bank account, be sure to visit Mohammed’s bullet-ridden Mercedes.

** Obasanjo handed power to a democratic government in 1979; that government was itself later toppled by the military, but Obasanjo eventually served as Nigeria’s elected president from 1999 to 2007.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Mass Executions,Murder,Nigeria,Notable for their Victims,Power,Revolutionaries,Shot,Soldiers

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1976: Valery Sablin, Hunt for Red October inspiration

4 comments August 3rd, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1976, the real-life Soviet political officer whose naval mutiny inspired Tom Clancy’s Cold War thriller The Hunt for Red October was shot in Moscow for treason.

No, unlike his fictional counterpart Marko Ramius (Sean Connery, in the 1990 cinema adaptation excerpted above), Valery Sablin didn’t make it to the West.

But the real Valery Sablin wasn’t trying to make it.

Sablin was the political officer aboard the submarine-killer Storozhevoy. He was also a dedicated Leninist incensed at the notoriously corrupt gerontocracy of the Leonid Brezhnev era.

When he led his mutiny in Riga, his plan was to take the Storozhevoy to St. Petersburg and, Aurora-like, sound the tocsin for a Soviet Tea Party to restore the ideals of the Revolution.

Basically, Sablin had the exact opposite intent of his literary offspring.

This being the 1970s, when figuring out what the devil was happening in the black box of the USSR constituted its own academic discipline, the incident was misinterpreted in the western media — but understandably so.


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The sea route from Riga to St. Petersburg begins in a westerly direction, towards Sweden, and the spectacle of Soviet fighters turning back a vessel steaming for Gotland (combined, of course, with the natural susceptibility of the western audience to the notion) suggested that the mutineers had aimed not at revolution, but at defection.

Under the headline “Newspaper Reports Soviet Ship Mutiny” sourced to Agence France-Presse and datelined Stockholm, Jan. 22, the Jan. 23, 1976 Washington Post reported:

Crewmen on board a Soviet coast guard vessel in the Baltic mutinied and tried to sail the ship into Swedish territorial waters in November, the evening newspaper Expressen said today.

Citing foreign visitors recently returned from Riga, the paper said the mutiny took place Nov. 7 after celebrations in Riga marking the Soviet revolution.

The paper said a Soviet submarine and a number of helicopters forced the ship to return to Riga.

This was the version of the story that aspiring spy novelist Tom Clancy encountered. In his reworking, it became the bold (and successful) defection of a state-of-the-art Soviet submarine and its deft commander … effected, of course, with a little help from the derring-do of the spooks at Langley.

Moscow was pleased to let this be the version that people heard, to the extent they heard anything at all of the incident. Though not exactly flattering, it was much less threatening than the potential storyline of “Soviet officers are so fed up with party corruption that they’re trying to revolt”.

Not until 1990 did the real story get out.

It’s pretty safe to say that the Valery Sablin who died this day would not have had a lot of sympathy for Marko Ramius,* and still less for the Reaganite writer who turned Sablin’s deed inside-out and made it the cornerstone of his own personal mint.

Trust the fact that history will judge events honestly and you will never have to be embarrassed for what your father did. On no account ever be one of those people who criticise but do not follow through their actions. Such people are hypocrites — weak, worthless people who do not have the power to reconcile their beliefs with their actions. I wish you courage, my dear. Be strong in the belief that life is wonderful. Be positive and believe that the Revolution will always win.

-Sablin’s last letter to his son

Russian speakers may enjoy this documentary about the Sablin mutiny.

* Another inversion: in order to make his break for the Free World, the fictional (and, significantly, ethnically Lithuanian) Ramius murders the ethnically Russian political officer, Ivan Putin, assigned to his ship; the real Sablin was himself that zealous political officer, and imprisoned the ship’s captain in the course of the mutiny.

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Entry Filed under: Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Lithuania,Military Crimes,Mutiny,Revolutionaries,Russia,Shot,Soldiers,Treason,USSR

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1976: Costas Georgiou and three other mercenaries in Angola

22 comments July 10th, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1976, three Britons and one American were shot in Angola by a military police squad for murders committed as mercenaries earlier during the year.

Costas Georgiou.

They were among 13 foreigners sentenced at the Luanda Trial, which occurred on the pivot of Angola’s transition from generation-long anti-colonial insurrection on towards generation(s)-long civil war. Between them, more than half a million Angolans died, but this date belonged to a couple of unrepresentative Anglos.

Long story short, the immediate aftermath of Angolan independence in late 1975 was a scramble for control among the several factions who had been fighting the Portuguese … along with a scramble among interested outside states to line up their allies in this resource-rich Cold War prize.

Small wonder that foreign soldiers of fortune soon found their way into the chaotic scene.

Over the course of the first few months of independence, the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) more or less consolidated state power, and it proceeded to prosecute supporters of a rival guerrilla movement for their part in the conflict immediately after independence.

Thirteen foreign mercenaries who were captured by MPLA-supporting Cuban troops — the other nine drew long prison sentences — were charged in a show trial with war crimes for their conduct in the field in a case that made the western gun-for-hire an emblem of colonial depravity.

The most notorious of the bunch was Costas Georgiou. A Greek Cypriot emigre to Britain, he had gone to Angola as “Colonel Callan” and was wanted by Scotland Yard for there ordering a mass execution of other British mercenaries — an act he admitted at trial. Even the inevitable London Times editorial against the trial (June 29, 1976) agreed “the proceedings against Callan, if not the rigours of the sentence may be conceded.”

The others looked much less culpable, almost arbitrarily selected for death from among the ranks of unprepossessing, sometimes barely-there mercs. American Daniel Gearhart, a Vietnam veteran drowning in debt, had apparently been in the field for a mere three days and never so much as fired a shot; that he had advertised in Soldier of Fortune magazine was held to aggravate the charges against him, and in vain did the father of four insist that being tried for his life was enough to scare him straight out of the business.

Angolan defense attorneys, while also appealing against the legality of the trial on grounds of both international and domestic law, spoke that revolutionary language of decolonization in defending their charges. Georgiou, according to Maria Teresinha Lopes, was

“a colonized man … [treated in England as] a sub-human, just a Greek, just a ‘boy’.”

Another Angolan defense attorney argued against the death penalty because

“To condemn them to death while ignoring their social origin in terms of revolutionary justice would deny the theory which guided our revolution. My clients are an integral part of the exploited class.” (Both comments from London Times, June 19, 1976)

The era of decolonization was a time for idealism, but not the sort that would shrink from bloodshed.

In denying the doomed men clemency, Angola’s first independent president Agostinho Neto denounced

Mercenarism, instrument of the aggressive designs of imperialism … a scourge of the African continent and a grave threat to the peace, freedom and independence of the peoples …

It is imperative that the practice of mercenarism be banished once and for all from our planet. It is urgent that all states and peace-loving forces fight it most energetically.

We are applying justice in Angola not only in the name of our martyred people but also for the good of the brother peoples of Namibia, Zimbabwe and all the peoples of the world against whom imperialism is already getting ready to prepare new mercenary aggressions.

(Text dated July 9, and reprinted in the July 10 London Times)

You could just about substitute the word “terrorism” for “mercenarism” and read it on today’s campaign trail.

Juridically, Angola pursued these warriors as peoples who had fought unlawfully and could therefore be placed outside the protections conferred on soldiers by the Geneva Conventions — and subjected to the liberating power of revolutionary violence.

That this ad hoc concept of “mercenarism” could be exploited to license an outrage upon humanity was a notion relentlessly denounced by British and American officials,* who had not yet fully explored the utility of the “unlawful combatant” construct in extending the reach of their own security states.

As for all that peace-loving, brother-peoples stuff in the execution order?

What actually happened after the mercenaries were shot was that the two biggest former anti-colonial guerrilla movements in Angola morphed into Cold War proxies — the MPLA of the Warsaw Pact, supported by its control of the country’s oil; UNITA of NATO, supported by its control of the country’s diamonds — and bled the country dry in a horrific civil war.

* Henry Kissinger, then President Gerald Ford’s Secretary of State, complained that Angola’s decision

to ignore both the law and the facts … cannot help but affect adversely the development of relations between the United States and Angola.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Angola,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Guerrillas,History,Mercenaries,Murder,Occupation and Colonialism,Power,Shot,Soldiers,USA,War Crimes,Wartime Executions

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1976: Lt. Col. Abu Taher

4 comments July 21st, 2009 Headsman

At 4 a.m. this date in Dhaka Central Prison, Lt. Col. Abu Taher was hanged for treason.

A series of coups in the mirrored-sunglasses era of military governance shook the young state of Bangladesh:

  • The autocratic Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was toppled by a revolt of junior officers on August 15, 1975;
  • Senior brass in turn felled the ruling junta on November 3, 1975, jailing powerful officer Ziaur Rahman;
  • A quick counter-coup of junior officers — also remembered as the “sepoy mutiny”* — mounted by leftist war hero Abu Taher on November 7 put Ziaur Rahman’s hand back on the helm of state.

While November 7 is still marked in Bangladesh as National Revolution and Solidarity Day, its author got short shrift from its beneficiary.**

Abu Taher, a retired officer and a hero of the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War that had detached the former East Pakistan from Islamabad, had visions of social revolution. But three coups in as many months is the sort of thing to rattle the new big man, and Zia consolidated his own power by eliminating threats to both left and right political flanks.

A mere 17 days after doing that National Revolution and Solidarity thing, the guy with the mass movement (pdf) of armed men was arrested for treason. He faced a military tribunal the following year.

Taher scorned the charges against him, but of course the fix was in.

* An allusion to colonial history.

** However, Taher’s own date of martyrdom is also still marked by his posthumous partisans.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Activists,Bangladesh,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous,Hanged,History,Martyrs,Power,Revolutionaries,Soldiers,Treason,Wrongful Executions

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1976: Three terrorists in Syria

2 comments September 27th, 2008 Headsman

On this date in 1976, three Abu Nidal terrorists were hanged before the Hotel Semiramis in Damascus, barely 24 hours after they had entered it and taken 90 hostages in a bid to win release of Palestinian prisoners.

Palestinians Muhammad al-Barqawi and Mouatassem Jayyoushi and Iraqi Jabbar Darwish suffered Syria’s first public execution since an accused Israeli spy more than a decade before — and as the late Syrian strongman Hafez al-Assad had pledged, justice was swift and ruthless.

The security of the citizen is sacred. We shall not be soft in this matter. We shall hit back very hard and we denounce this criminal action committed by the gang, which acted as if it was in Israel.

They were the surviving 75% of a quartet of gunmen who early the previous morning had seized the hotel, barricaded themselves on the fifth floor, and attempted to make their trade. Plainly, it didn’t quite work out; the attempt precipitated a battle with Syrian troops which saw the fourth terrorist killed, along with four of the hostages. The Supreme State Security Court condemned the captured men to death overnight; the sentence was carried out between 6:00 and 6:30 the next morning.

New York Times coverage of the raid and the execution is unfortunately behind the paper’s paid-login firewall, but a photo of the execution shows onlookers ringing a single wooden frame for what must have been a short-drop hanging. An unused fourth noose, possibly symbolically present for the killed fourth terrorist (or possibly not; there’s no explicit comment on it), hangs beside the dead men.

So why the grievance? That June — “Black June,” to the Palestinians — Syria had bailed on hard-line Palestinians and entered the Lebanese Civil War on the side of Phalangist Christians,* just as they were on the verge of being overrun. It was the second time in six years that a neighboring Arab power had turned its guns on Palestinians. (In 1970, Jordan had expelled the Palestine Liberation Organization in “Black September.” Lots of black in the Palestinian annals.)

And why the Iraqi, among the hanged?

Palestinian terrormeister Abu Nidal had hung out his shingle in Iraq, then under the control of a rising young dictator destined for the gallows himself, but who grasped the opportunist potential of backing the Palestinian cause while states like Jordan and Syria visibly sold it out. Television crews had a few words in edgewise with the doomed men the evening before their hanging, and they claimed to have trained for their abortive mission in Iraq.

* This put Damascus on the same side as Israel.

Part of the Themed Set: Semiramis.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Iraq,Murder,Occupation and Colonialism,Palestine,Public Executions,Summary Executions,Syria,Terrorists

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