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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1983: Wang Zhong, small-time grifter

Add comment January 17th, 2016 Headsman

On this date in 1983, Wang Zhong, once the Communist Party Secretary and district head of Haifeng county, Guangdong, was executed for corruption.

The first official of his rank to be so punished, Wang did business on a truly paltry scale relative to the titanic graft compassed by China’s latter-day oligarchs: his first booty was a 17″ black-and-white TV in 1979. In the end, between payola extorted and contraband expropriated, Wang sold his life for 69,000 yuan — a little over US $10,000.

The Associated Press translated a Canton newspaper report of Wang’s execution thus:

His crimes were read out and his sentence before more than 17,300 people at a rally at Swatow, 200 miles east of Canton.

Wang then was driven in a truck to an execution ground about 25 minutes away.

Between 600 and 700 bicycles were parked near the execution ground, and some people ran on foot to watch after the truck and its escorts passed by thousands of spectators along the route.

A cold wind blew and a light rain fell as the convoy arrived and a policeman asked Wang if he had any last words. It [was?] said he asked police to tell his children not to follow his examples.

At 2:45, Wang Zhong knelt facing south. The policeman carrying out the execution once again confirmed his identity. Then he picked up an automatic rifle and, ‘peng,’ a bullet pierced Wang Zhong’s heart.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,China,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Pelf,Politicians,Public Executions,Shot

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1983: Aleksandr Kravchenko, in Chikatilo’s place

1 comment July 5th, 2011 Headsman

On this date in 1983, Aleksandr Kravchenko was executed in the Soviet Union.

Kravchenko attempted to rape and then brutally strangled to death nine-year-old Lena Zakotnova in December 1978, dumping her body in a nearby river.

Oh … wait, no. That turned out to have been done by later-infamous serial killer Andrei Chikatilo: actually, Zakotnova was Chikatilo’s very first victim.

Sorry about beating that confession out of you, Sasha.

As for Russia’s present-day criminal justice system, there’s no more death penalty. But, “if a person ends up in a police cell as a suspect, he will find himself in court no matter what, and the court will find him guilty, guaranteed. And everyone knows it … you’ll end up in court, then straight to jail. The machine works automatically. It happens all the time.”

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Murder,Rape,Russia,Shot,Ukraine,USSR,Wrongful Executions

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1983: Maurice Bishop, Prime Minister of Grenada

Add comment October 19th, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1983, Grenadian Prime Minister Maurice Bishop was shot with seven supporters during the chaotic struggle of power that precipitated a U.S. invasion.

The charismatic Bishop grew up on the small British Commonwealth island in the south Caribbean, attended the London School of Economics, and became the leader of the Marxist New Jewel Movement.

In 1979, Bishop and the NJM overthrew the paranormal government of Eric Gairy (he’s famous for his controversial judging in the wild 1970 Miss World pageant).

Leftist governments in the hemisphere were just the sort of thing to irk the Yankee hegemon. Collaboration with Cuba and Nicaragua to build an airstrip on Grenada … could that open the door for Soviet air support when the Sandinistas invaded Harlingen, Texas?

Ironically, it would be an intra-party Communist coup against the fellow-Communist Bishop that provided the pretext for said hegemon to stanch this existential threat.

A deputy, one Bernard Coard, ousted Bishop in October 1983, apparently a factional dispute in the NJM along ideological lines. Bishop broke out of house arrest and led a march on Coard’s position on this date, contesting his control of the government; the march was broken up and its leadership collared — and, later that day, disposed of.

The Reagan administration didn’t care two figs about Maurice Bishop, but a scene of general chaos offered it all the pretext necessary* to invade on Oct. 25. To save from the red menace, oh, let’s say, a few American med students, plus a little thing called the free world.

Whew!

Years later, that provocative airstrip bears Maurice Bishop’s name.

Audio of several Bishop speeches can be had here; others can be found on YouTube.

* Another possible precipitating factor: a U.S. Marines barracks in Lebanon was spectacularly bombed by terrorists on Oct. 23, 1983, forcing (eventually) American withdrawal. The New Jewel Movement turned out to be an opponent more in Washington’s wheelhouse.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Borderline "Executions",Execution,Famous,Grenada,Heads of State,History,Mass Executions,No Formal Charge,Occupation and Colonialism,Politicians,Power,Revolutionaries,Shot,Summary Executions

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1983: Jimmy Lee Gray, drunk-gassed

11 comments September 2nd, 2010 Headsman

Just after midnight on this date in 1983, Jimmy Lee Gray gruesomely paid with his life in the Mississippi gas chamber for raping and murdering a three-year-old.

Mississippi’s gas chamber had had a checkered history since its first usage in 1955, and with America just emerging from a long lull in executions, Jimmy Lee Gray was its first client in 19 years.

“Sumbitch took a little three-year-old girl out into the bush and he raped her,” executioner T. Barry Bruce would later explain of the man’s crime. “Then he tried to shove her panties down her throat with a stick, then he pushed her head into a little crick full of running shit and then he broke her neck. So yeah, I feel real sorry for Jimmy Lee.”

Gray was on parole at the time for the 1968 murder of his teenage sweetheart, so no — nobody felt all that sorry for Jimmy Lee, not even his mom.

But the reason that questions about the affair were being directed at the executioner (usually a party as silent in these matters as he is implacable) was that Jimmy Lee Gray’s had been drunk on the job — and the execution was a notorious horrorshow.

“Gasping” or “moaning” a recorded eleven times, Gray convulsed wildly in the Parchman death chair, slamming his unrestrained head “with enough force to shake the chamber” against a metal pole that some user interface genius had positioned right behind the death chair. The witness room was cleared eight minutes into the affair, with Gray still thrashing about.

Though the Magnolia State contended that Gray was clinically dead within two minutes, that head-smashing act disturbed everyone.

As a result, for the third time in a half-century, Mississippi switched to a newer and supposedly more humane method for killing people — adopting lethal injection for anyone sentenced to death after July 1, 1984. (Three more prisoners already condemned under the old sentencing guidelines would die in the gas chamber in the late eighties, however.)

Actual executions in the U.S. were still novel enough in the early 1980s that Gray’s made national news — albeit distinctly second fiddle to the tense Cold War escalation occasioned by the September 1 Soviet downing of Korean Air Lines flight 007.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Botched Executions,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Gassed,Kidnapping,Mississippi,Murder,Rape,USA

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1983: Phillipa Mdluli, enterprising businesswoman

Add comment July 2nd, 2010 Headsman

It was this date in 1983 that the last hanging (so far) in Swaziland took place — that of 48-year-old Phillipa Mdluli, for ritually killing the daughter of one of her restaurant’s employees.

The True Crime Library’s archive of worldwide hangings reports that

after the girl, Thuli Mabaso, was slaughtered, her body parts were removed and served up in Mdluli’s restaurant, where the bodies of small girls were considered by the customers to be a great delicacy.

It may be no coincidence that this last hanging occurred during the run-up to parliamentary elections later that year, and while executive power in this absolute monarchy had devolved to a fractious regency following the death of the previous king.

When the heir to Swazi throne came of age as Mswati III in 1986, he became known both for clemency and for centralizing power in his own person. Between those two phenomena, there’s not much room for politicians to productively demagogue the issue. And with a population barely north of one million, there are only so many cannibal restauranteurs.

Despite the death penalty’s long abeyance in the small kingdom, Swaziland has been obstinate about not repealing the statute; in 2008, it voted against a UN death penalty moratorium resolution despite the fact that it functionally had a quarter-century moratorium of its own at that point.

But Swaziland does still have prisoners on death row. In an apparent show of empty juridical saber-rattling, Swaziland made a very public international search in the late 1990s for a new “hangperson” (“Women are welcome … I therefore advise them to try their luck”).

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Businessmen,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,Infamous,Milestones,Murder,Swaziland,Women

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1983: John Eldon Smith, mafioso Willy Loman

3 comments December 15th, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 1983, Georgia’s electric chair* got its first use in 19 years.

The Headsman is not a theologian, but does believe John Eldon Smith’s quotable last words

Well, the Lord is going to get another one.

— would be conditioned on the Lord’s policy on crimes like this:

Joseph [Ronald] Akins’ former wife, appellant Rebecca Akins Smith Machetti, together with her husband, appellant John Eldon Smith, a/k/a Anthony Isalldo Machetti, a/k/a Tony Machetti** … plotted the death of Joseph Akins with the intent of redeeming the proceeds of Akins’ insurance policies, and other benefits, the beneficiaries of which were Mrs. Machetti and her three daughters by her marriage to Akins … appellant Tony Machetti drove to Macon, Georgia … contacted Ronald Akins and lured him into the area of the crime, ostensibly to install a television antenna … when he and his wife arrived at the appointed time the appellant Tony Machetti killed both of them with a shotgun.

Trial testimony against Smith said that the insurance salesman was hoping with his shotgun-slaying prowess to become a made man.

And the supposed last words, it should be noted, are not apparent on the secret audio recording of the execution, available here, although the religious theme presents itself in the form of a Catholic benediction. The rest is all clinical efficiency, a far cry from the next year’s dreadful botch.

The Dec. 16, 1983 New York Times report — executions were still oddities that drew national coverage at this time — quoted a witness remarking on the “antiseptic and sterile” process, which the Times writer described thus:

A square of material was draped over Mr. Smith’s face and a leather-strapped cap containing an electrode was placed over his head.

So tightly was he strapped to the chair, witnesses said, it was difficult to tell when the three unidentified executioners pressed three small buttons, one of which sent 2,000 volts of electricity through the condemned man’s body for two minutes. According to prison tradition, none of the executioners knew if his was the lethal button.

Far more noteworthy than either the day’s procedure or its subject was the context of a noticeably accelerating execution pace.

From resumption of executions in 1977 through 1982, there had been only six people put to death in the U.S.; Smith capped a year with five more, including back-to-back days (Robert Wayne Williams had been electrocuted in Louisiana on December 14).

Anti-death penalty lawyer and activist Henry Schwarzschild was quoted in the article bemoaning “a new period where executions are utterly likely” and prophesying 30 to 50 in the year ahead thanks to prisoners’ appeals expiring.

There were, in the event, 21 American executions during the ensuing twelvemonth, almost tripling the country’s total up to that time; the annual total has never since 1983 returned to single digits.

* One of several electric chairs named “Old Sparky”

** The non-wiseguy name’s similarity to a John McCain alias is presumably pure coincidence.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Electrocuted,Execution,Gallows Humor,Georgia,Milestones,Murder,Pelf,USA

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1983: Simon Thelle Mogoerane, Jerry Mosololi and Marcus Motaung, anti-apartheid soldiers

31 comments June 9th, 2008 Headsman

This date at dawn in 1983, three African National Congress cadres were hanged — together with two unrelated common criminals — for attacks on apartheid-era South African police stations.

“Terrorists” in the eyes of the white government and “freedom fighters” in the eyes of many blacks, the “Moroka Three” — Simon Thelle Mogoerane, Jerry Mosololi and Marcus Motaung — bore arms against as part of the ANC’s military wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK).

Their attacks in 1979 and 1981 had claimed the lives of four (black) policemen.

South African law until 1990 mandated hanging for a murder conviction without any extenuating circumstances — a “fact associated with the crime which serves in the mind of reasonable men to diminish morally, albeit not legally, the degree of the prisoner’s guilt.” The courtroom adjunct to MK’s guerrilla operations was establishing its position that its soldiers were prisoners of war under international law, and that that classification constituted an extenuating circumstance under South African law.

1977 protocols had extended the Geneva Conventions governing treatment of prisoners of war to explicitly cover anti-colonial and anti-racist insurgents. South Africa, unsurprisingly, did not ratify this amendment. The judge dismissed the argument that these protocols had acquired the binding force of customary international law — “we do not need to waste time.”

A decade or so later, in the waning years of apartheid, this sort of argument would find a toehold. But not in a defiantly “anti-terrorist” Pretoria of the early eighties.

The three were hanged in the face of worldwide appeals for clemency — such as this one from U.S. Congressmen and -women, and the pamphlet below by the British Anti-Apartheid Movement:

The entirety of this 24-page pamphlet is available free (at least for the remainder of this month) at the Aluka collection of digital Africa-related documents.

The executions likewise met outcry both domestic (South Africa banned public demonstrations) and international (like this U.N. resolution).

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Guerrillas,Hanged,History,Martyrs,Mass Executions,Murder,Occupation and Colonialism,Revolutionaries,Soldiers,South Africa,Torture,Treason

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