1986: David Funchess, Vietnam War veteran

Add comment April 22nd, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1986, Vietnam War veteran David Livingston Funchess was electrocuted in Florida for a double stabbing committed in the course of robbing a liquor store.

A late casualty, with his victims, of America’s imperial exertions in Indochina, Funchess had returned from the Vietnam War with leg wounds that earned him the Purple Heart, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and eventually an addiction to self-medicating drug addiction.

“But for Vietnam, all indications were that he was well on his way to entering Florida’s middle class,” in the words of the late anti-death penalty attorney Michael Mello.*

In addition to the horrors of jungle combat, Funchess was exposed to the herbicide Agent Orange, which has since been linked to a wide range of serious health problems in Vietnam veterans. Among the common symptoms among many Vietnam veterans has been neuropsychological damage.

After his return from Vietnam, Funchess was a deeply disturbed and confused young man. Compounding these problems, the medication he was receiving for his painful leg wounds eventually led him onto a debilitating heroin habit.

Understanding of PTSD — within the clinical, juridical, and public realms — advanced significantly during the course of 11-plus years from Funchess’s crime in December 1974 until his execution. In one of those perverse technicalities of the U.S. death penalty system, this issue was so little understood that it was not litigated at all at the time of his initial conviction … and by the time his appeals had run his course, it could only be litigated in the court of public opinion because its irrelevance to the 1970s trial court had procedurally disbarred it.

By the end, the toll of PTSD upon Funchess was being taken up by Vietnam veteran advocacy organizations, but it cut no ice with Governor Bob Graham, whose unilateral power of executive clemency was the man’s best hope of avoiding the electric chair.

* Mello wrote the anti-death penalty book Dead Wrong: A Death Row Lawyer Speaks Out Against Capital Punishment

On this day..

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

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1984: Ryszard Sobok

Add comment March 31st, 2020 Headsman

Polish mass murderer Ryszard Sobok hanged in Wroclaw on this date in 1984.

The horror of the little village of Walim, Sobok suddenly slaughtered six intimates from February 11 to 12, 1981.

On the former date, Sobok strangled his seven-month-pregnant mistress Krystyna Nykiel along with Krystyna’s 16-year-old daughter and one-year-old son. They had a fractured relationship: Sobok drank away their little money, and he was angry that she wanted to abort her pregnancy. Still, the fury he vented on this woman seemed to well surpass the bounds of any ordinary crime of passion: Sobok hung up the bodies in his tenement’s main living room, then went calmly to sleep.

Upon waking, he called on his father and bludgeoned the man to death with a hammer, then applied the same fate to a young niece and nephew. And once again these last two he strung up, a special nightmare awaiting their mother’s discovery upon return from work that afternoon.

His chillingly calm confession gave no hint of madness and neither did the court psychiatrists. He was treated accordingly.

I killed Krystyna Nykiel because she wanted to kill my child and drive me away … her daughter Teresa because she saw me kill her mother and could tell someone … her son Marek so that he didn’t starve when orphaned … my father because he didn’t lend me money for food and because of him I didn’t have any milk or food at home … Irka and Anka because they tried to defend my father.

On this day..

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

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1987: Lawrence Anini, The Law

Add comment March 29th, 2020 Headsman

Nigerian bandit Lawrence Anini was executed on this date in 1987.

Strongman of a well-armed gang whose robberies and hijackings terrorized Benin Cty, Anini in 1986 fell out with his erstwhile police protectors, resulting in a bloody war of assassinations that claimed nine policemen’s lives and god knows how many gangsters. It also made Anini Nigeria’s public enemy number one.

He was wheelchair-bound throughout his high-profile trial, owing to having a leg amputated after it was badly shot up in the course of his December 1986 arrest. This fact earned the man once chillingly nicknamed “The Law” no sympathy at all, although he did also implicate a number of corrupt cops, drawing several convictions.

He was shot along with a number of his confederates on March 29, 1987.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Mass Executions,Murder,Nigeria,Organized Crime,Public Executions,Shot

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1985: The Dujail Massacre

Add comment March 23rd, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1985, 96 Iraqis were executed for an assassination attempt on Saddam Hussein. Though not the only or the largest atrocity of that dictator, it was the crime that would do to hang him under the U.S. occupation.

Two years deep into the horrific Iran-Iraq War, Hussein paid a ceremonial visit to theShi’ite town of Dujail north of Baghdad and was greeted by an armed ambuscade — up to a dozen gunmen springing from the cover of date palms to fire at the president’s motorcade. They missed.*

The ensuing vengeance was visited so widely as to earn the sobriquet Dujail Massacre: something like 1% of the 75,000-strong town wound up in the hands of the torturers, with 148 death sentences handed down and approved by the president — and they were none too exacting about direct complicity in the assassination, freely sweeping up regime opponents and sympathizers with the outlawed Dawa Party.

A document of March 23, 1985, certifies their mass execution although the Iraqi Special Tribunal‘s investigation found this to be a a bit of an overstatement; some had already been executed previously or died of maltreatment in custody, while a few of those still alive were not present in Abu Ghraib on that day. All told, it appears that 96 of the 148 people condemned to death for the attempt on Saddam Hussein’s life were put to death on March 23, 1985. To multiply the injury, the families of the alleged perpetrators also suffered confiscation of their homes and destruction of their orchards.

The detailed documentary trail, and specifically Hussein’s personal approval of the death sentences, recommended this case to the U.S. occupation of the early 2000s as the rope by which to hang the now-deposed dictator and his closest associates. Accordingly, the Dujail Massacre executions formed one of the central charges in the 2005-2006 trial that resulted in Saddam Hussein’s own execution.

* There were a couple of presidential bodyguards killed.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Assassins,Attempted Murder,Capital Punishment,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Hanged,History,Iraq,Mass Executions,Murder,Notable for their Victims,Power,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Terrorists,Torture,Treason,Wartime Executions,Wrongful Executions

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1981: Gheorghe Stefanescu, the Walter White of wine

Add comment December 14th, 2019 Headsman

Romanian entrepreneur Gheorghe Stefanescu was shot at Jilava Prison on this date in 1981. He was at the center of one of the largest corruption scandals of the Communist period.

A Bucharest liquor-store administrator, Stefanescu built a vast network that sold unlicensed and adulterated wine throughout the 1970s. When arrested in 1978 — after a Securitate officer noticed that the wine he’d ordered for a wedding decayed into sludge when the festivity was delayed — Stefanescu had accumulated a villa, two cars, 18 kg in gold jewelry, and millions in lei. More than 200 other people, ranging from distributors to officials corrupted by bribes, were arrested when the operation was rolled up.

The way it worked was, a vineyards administrator would fraudulently declare part of his product a loss to natural disaster, and squirrel it away illicitly. This contraband was then multiplied in volume and profitability by diluting the highest-quality wine with cheap plonk. Stefanescu and friends moved some 400,000 liters of this stuff from 1971 to 1978, costing the Romanian government several million dollars in lost revenue — a laughably pinprick injury compared to Romania’s post-Ceausescu sea of corruption but as they say, a prophet is never welcome in his own country.

Bring your Romanian proficiency to enjoy the 1984 film about the affair, Secretul lui Bachus (Secrets of Bacchus).

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Businessmen,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Drugs,Execution,History,Organized Crime,Pelf,Romania,Shot

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1989: Solomon Ngobeni, the last hanged in South Africa

Add comment November 14th, 2019 Headsman

South Africa conducted its last execution on this date in 1989: that of Solomon Ngobeni, for robbing and murdering a taxi driver.

Apartheid South Africa had long been one of the world’s most prolific users of capital punishment. According to Wikipedia it had logged nearly 3,000 executions over the 30 years previous, including a one-year count of 164 as recently as 1987.

But the policy was about to see a sudden reversal — along with the policy of apartheid itself.

Earlier that same year, the South African presidency had been assumed by F.W. de Klerk. Much to everyone’s surprise, the copper-bottomed Nationalist Party conservative set about dismantling the entire white-rule infrastructure. Once he’d secured his term de Klerk moved with alacrity, immediately permitting some anti-apartheid marches that his security services wanted to shut down and proceeding apace to more dramatic reforms that within a few years saw off apartheid altogether.

Shuttering the Pretoria Central Prison gallows was one early gesture in this same campaign, considering the many martyrs that platform had made of regime opponents down the years. In 1990, de Klerk pronounced a formal moratorium on executions and he never lifted it; in 1995, the first politically weighty ruling of the post-apartheid Constitutional Court abolished capital punishment.

However, Ngobeni has no assurance of maintaining his milestone distinction in perpetuity. In present-day South Africa, blighted by a great deal of violent crime, reinstatement of capital punishment enjoys the support of several political parties and a sizable majority of the public.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Milestones,Murder,South Africa

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1985: Joachim Knychala, the Vampire of Bytom

Add comment October 28th, 2019 Headsman

Polish serial killer Joachim Knychala, colorfully known as “The Vampire of Bytom” or “Frankenstein”, was hanged in Krakow just in time for Halloween on this date in 1985.

Knychala (English Wikipedia entry | the far more informative Polish) was a married miner of mixed German-Polish heritage — a fact which reportedly drew him considerable childhood abuse — who committed five sex-murders in Upper Silesia from 1975 to 1982.

He inherited his appellation from a different Silesian mass murderer, Zdzislaw Marchwicki, the “Vampire of Zaglebie,” with whom he eerily shared a victim: Miroslawa Sarnowska, who survived an attack by the earlier Vampire and gave crucial evidence against him, was Knychala’s third homicide.

Our guy’s m.o. was to surprise his prey with a bludgeon about the head, sometimes killing outright and other times incapacitating; despite his savagery, several women and girls survived his assaults. He did most of his evil work over the late 1970s; arrested as a suspect in such an attack in September 1979, he had a strong alibi* for the occasion at hand and then had the half-discipline to lay low for a few years after his fortuitous release.

But he could not conceal his fangs forever. In May 1982, he reported the death of his 17-year-old sister-in-law in a “fall in the woods.” Examination of the body told a more sinister tale: she’d been done in by a blunt force near the top of the skull (improbable for a mere accidental fall), and she’d had recent intercourse. Knychala was dramatically arrested at the girl’s very funeral, eventually copping to his spree and comforting himself with the hopes of a better afterlife … of pop culture notoriety. He has thus far somewhat maintained his recognizable infamy in a Poland that no longer produces death sentences.

* Seemingly strong: his work card proved his attendance at the mine at the time of the attack. Only later, during the decisive trial, was it realized that his foreman routinely registered leave time earned by Knychala’s overtime work with the state’s official youth organization by simply punching the vampire’s card as if he’d been present on such a leave day.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,Murder,Poland,Rape,Serial Killers

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1983: Waldemar Krakos, Dekalog inspiration

Add comment October 10th, 2019 Headsman

Polish murderer Waldemar Krakos was hanged on this date in 1983 in Warsaw’s Mokotow Prison.

With a partner, Wiktor Maliszewski, he’d bludgeoned and strangled a female taxi driver to death on New Year’s Eve 1982/83, yielding a few thousand zlotys to drink away before their arrest on New Year’s Day.

Both initially caught a term of years when judge (and the future President of the post-Communist Supreme Court) Lech Paprzycki found that Krakos’s traumatic childhood rendered him mentally unfit to hang; but amid public clamor the sentence against Krakos was upgraded in June by the Supreme Court. (Although his was not a political crime, Krakos’s treatment was facilitated by Poland’s early 80s martial law.)

Prior to his execution the killer met cinema director Krzysztof Kieslowski. Five years later, Kieslowski’s acclaimed Dekalog drama series explores, in Dekalog: Five, a capital punishment case very much like Krakos’s own.

That film’s portrayal of violent lumpen “Jacek Lazar” brutally murdering a taxi driver and suffering a brutal hanging in retribution has been credited with helping bring about the abolition of the death penalty in Poland. Krakos, as a result, is among the very last to suffer that punishment in Polish history.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Diminished Capacity,Execution,Hanged,History,Murder,Poland

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1985: Hezekiah Ochuka, ruler of Kenya for six hours

Add comment July 9th, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1985, Kenya air force private Hezekiah Ochuka was hanged for his August 1, 1982 coup d’etat.

By ethnicity a politically marginalized Luo, Ochuka led a putsch of junior airmen whose announcement of leadership over the radio startled Kenyans rising for their breakfast on August 1, 1982.

That leadership lasted only six hours before forces loyal to the ethnically Kikuyu president Daniel arap Moi suppressed it. Some 300 souls were killed in the course of events.

The subsequent security sweep took up not only the putschists themselves but exploited the opportunity to crack down on prominent opposition figures — men like Jaramogi Oginga Odinga and George Anyona, who were tossed into the brutal Nyayo House torture center essentially for being anti-Moi politicians — and beyond them thousands of ordinary Kenyans thought vaguely proximate to sedition by virtue of their politics, lineage, or station in life.

Ochuka himself fled to neighboring Tanzania hoping to find asylum; instead, he was extradited back to Kenya for capital trial and hanged along with two of his collaborators, Corporals Bramwel Injeni Njereman and Walter Odira Ojode, in a badly botched execution.

These men retain to this day the distinction of being the last judicially executed in Kenyan history, even though Kenya still has the death penalty on its books.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,Heads of State,History,Kenya,Milestones,Power,Soldiers,Torture,Treason

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1984: Sadiq Hamed Al-Shuwehdy, live from Benghazi

1 comment June 5th, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1984, Libyan television broadcast the live hanging of dissident engineer Sadiq Hamed Al-Shuwehdy (or Shwehdi). Needless to say, the embed following is Mature Content.

Arrested a couple of months previous protesting against the government of Muammar Qaddafi, Al-Shuwehdy was horribly exhibited bound and kneeling at the center of a Benghazi basketball stadium packed with students surprised to discover they were about to witness a public execution. There he vainly pled for mercy while Qaddafi loyalists chanted for his death — during Ramadan, no less. It remains one of the most viscerally memorable atrocities of the colonel’s 42-year reign.

As the prey strangled slowly on his noose, a monstrously opportunistic university student named Huda Ben Amer vaulted herself to instant national fame or infamy by rushing out of the crowd and pulling on Al-Shuwehdy’s legs to kill him. “Huda Al-Shannaga” — “Huda the Executioner” — earned the eye of the dictator who was himself watching the broadcast, and was quickly elevated into powerful posts in the Libyan government. She was mayor of Benghazi until the 2011 civil war.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Libya,Martyrs,Mature Content,Notable Participants,Public Executions,Treason

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