Triskaidekaphobia: Executed Today’s 13th Annual Report

Did you ever see a hangman tie a slipknot?
I’ve seen it many a time and he winds, and he winds,
After thirteen times he’s got a slipknot.

It’s not actually the case that hangman’s knots have 13 loops as a general rule but of course we all know why it’s in the lyric. And Halloween 2020 marks the unluckiest anniversary to date for Executed Today, 13 years since we were born howling.

Although it says here that irrational avoidance of the 13th day of the calendar, and Friday the 13th in particular, costs hundreds of millions per year, I can’t but feel skepticism that anyone in our disenchanted world retains a truly heartfelt phobia about this jagged figure. Certainly the number has achieved an enduring place in the western conscience that you might be reminded of every time you step into a North American elevator.

The origin story of triskaidekaphobia seems as murky and arbitrary as you’d suppose. One oft-cited hypothesis is that it traces to a Norse legend in which Loki crashes a party as the 13th guest; the parallels to the Last Supper and its treacherous 13th attendee are obvious. That’s as may be but as usual with numerology it answers the wrong question; one could conjure ample retrospective rationale to anathemize any number you’d like and 13 is far from the only unlucky number situationally reviled here or there. (Four is unlucky in China; 17 in Italy; 39 in Afghanistan — all of these numbers holding associations with death in their respective contexts. Perhaps in the age of coronavirus we’ll find ourselves headed for superstitious avoidance of 19.) And it is probably no more than modern retconning that makes the Friday the 13th arrest of the Knights Templar in 1307 the wellspring of our Jason Voorhees slasher franchise.

But this gnarly prime surely clangs against the balanced and mystically satisfactory twelve, that essential component of the ancient sexagesimal that still smiles at us from clock faces and horoscopes. Is the dissonant remainder transgressive, even sexually subversive?

The first specific mention of the unlucky 13 which I have been able to find occurs in Montaigne:

And me seemesth I may well be excused if I rather except an odd number than an even … if I had rather make a twelfth or fourteenth at a table, than a thirteenth … All such fond conceits, now in credit about us, deserve at least to be listned unto.

The fact that the number was associated with Epiphany by the Church, and appears not to have been considered other than holy by any of the medieval number theorists leads to the inference that the unlucky 13 was a popular superstition entirely disconnected from the “science of numbers.” Petrus Bungus is the first arithmologist to recognize any evil inherent in the number. He records that the Jews murmured 13 times against God in the exodus from Egypt, that the thirteenth psalm concerns wickedness and corruption, that the circumcision of Israel occurred in the thirteenth year, thus not reaching the satisfaction of the law and the evangelists, which are figured by 10 and 4. As 11 is a number of transgression, because it goes beyond the 10 Commandments, so 13 goes beyond the 12 apostles. Therefore hic numerus Judaeorum taxat impietatem. The previous absence of any such explanation in the arithmologies gives the impression that popular belief had forced upon the priest this painful and rather unconvincing interpretation of the Commandments + the Trinity. Montaigne’s intimation that the superstition was widely in vogue would tend to push its origin back at least to the Middle Ages. To find a 13 which might popularly achieve baleful connotations is so easy that I should rather assign the superstition to a confluence of factors, rather than to a single source.

With nearly every traditional 12, a 13 is somehow associated. Earliest in time is the intercalated thirteenth month, which Böklen asserts was regarded as discordant and unlucky. Webster agrees that such was sometimes the case. There is a slender chance that a tradition, even as uncertain as this, might have been orally transmitted to the Middle Ages. There is a much better chance that the omnipresent 13 of the lunar and menstruation cycle made the number fearsome, or at least unpopular.

At the same time, the number may have become popularly associated with the diabolical arts. In Faust’s Miraculous Art and Book of Marvels, or the Black Raven, 13 are said to compose the Infernal Hierarchy. This must be the same astrological 13, since the Raven is the thirteenth symbol in the intercalary month year, as well as the effigy for the moon. Simultaneously, cabalistic lore may have introduced the 13 Conformations of the Holy Beard, also astrological in origin and magical in common belief. In Britain, 13 became associated with witchcraft. Whether for the same reason or because the inclusion of a leader with any group of 12 makes a thirteenth, as seems to have been the case in Druidic ceremony, a witches’ koven was ordinarily composed of 13, or a multiple.

It will be noted, however, that the specific superstition mentioned by Montaigne is that of 13 at table. Here the connection is indisputably with the Last Supper. One wonders how much the legend fo the Siege Perilous had to do with drawing attention to the thirteenth unlucky chair. True enough, the Siege Perilous was sanctified, but it was also Perilous and distinctly unlucky for the wrong person — “wherein never knight sat that he met not death thereby.” This is something more than a guess, because, although the thirteenth chair is ordinarily reserved for the leader — Charlemagne in the Pelerinage and the All-Father in the temple of the Gods at Gladsheim — Boron’s Joseph assigns the vacant seat to Judas, and the Modena Perceval to “Nostre Sire” in one place but to Judas in another. It is also possible that “Nostre Sire” might have been the author’s intention but that the copyist and public opinion altered it to Judas.

-Vincent Foster Hopper, Medieval Number Symbolism: Its Sources, Meaning, and Influence on Thought

While it might have its seat — ha, ha — in the table arrangements, once its stigma achieved sufficient circulation 13 got bootstrapped into all manner of ad hoc sinisterisms, which of course makes it perfect grist for the executioner: after all, when your tarot reading turns over the XIII card, you’re looking at Death. So it’s not only 13 loops in the hangman’s noose but 13 steps to the gallows that are endorsed in casual folklore, and more than likely some latter-day scaffolds have actually been outfitted intentionally with these ill omens in misbegotten tribute to the superstition. (I’m not aware of, but would be delighted to discover, this figure being insinuated into the mechanics of the death-dealing inventions of modern industry like the electric chair or gas chamber.)

In our case, the foreboding 13th anniversary marks the nice round 4,750th consecutive day of posting even if (as we have regrettably noted in other recent annual reports) the “daily” schedule increasingly demands an indulgence of the deadline on the part of readers. Now that we’ve stuffed the Siege Perilous and every other chair besides with cadavers, the portends are surely grim.

On this day..

Decimated: Executed Today’s Tenth Annual Report

Mattia Preti, The Crucifixion of St. Andrew (1651)

Halloween 2017 makes it ten damn years since Executed Today was born howling. Has it really been that long?

Our inconceivable dekalog of 3,650 posts … plus the leap days … plus the meta content … and for some reason playing cards … somehow just keeps the tumbrils rolling day upon numbing day. That’s how it goes, until it stops.

It’s been the custom on these anniversaries to bask in the year’s signal events, like our most-beloved tweet that coincidentally fell the day after Donald J. Trump implausibly joined the roster of U.S. presidents.

But I feel ever less entitled to bask as I become ever more conscious that this death has a mounting chorus of its own, and here I the mere scrivener cling by its netherworldly quills, charged to voice the wails of an endless sea of damned souls. There will never be days enough, and never hours in the day enough, to do justice. This is the curse. Write.

The other reason militating against celebration is that, as any regular reader has surely noticed, I these days often struggle to keep to my calendar, including for this very post. That’s not for any want of material or inclination but executioners too grow old; once there was a bottomless energy and a content reservoir running weeks ahead of time and now there is … the other thing.

To some extent this is the consequence of changing circumstances in life outside the blog, and to some extent it is intrinsic to the wild conceit of holding out a topical almanac like this for an entire decade. By whatever reason, a silver age holds no dishonor but one cannot help think longingly of the gold.

Morbid reader, it is you who carries us onward. Whether you have come by this site recently or have walked with us for years on end, your surprising and gratifying interest — nearing 20 million pageviews! — have made the journey worth every step.

Trick or treat! Year 11 awaits.

On this day..

Executed Today’s Third Annual Report: Third Time Lucky

Of executions, hangings, murders, and bombs people now write and speak as they used to speak about the weather. Children play at hangings. …

Yes, this executioner at first hand knows that he is an executioner, and that he does wrong, and is, therefore, hated, and he is afraid of men, and I think this consciousness and this fear before men atone for at least a part of his guilt.

His guilt? CG art (c) Eugene Fokin, used with permission.

But you all … you indirect participators in the iniquities perpetrated every day — do not seem to feel your guilt, nor the shame your participation in those horrors would evoke. It is true that, like the executioner, you fear men … You are all afraid; but, unlike that executioner, you are afraid, not because you know you are doing evil, but because you think other people do evil. …

for me the horrible work goes on of these hangmen, at first enlisted with difficulty, but now no longer so loathing their work; for me exist these gallows, with well-soaped cords, from which hang women, children, and peasants; for me exists this terrible embitterment of man against his fellow-man.


Somehow, since our Halloween 2007 launch, the grim furies have scourged this blog along for three full years of fresh ghoulish content every single one of 1,096 straight days. Talk about rigor mortis.

Like the executioner, we’re usually all business here. But Halloween is a special occasion, and even we can let our hair down on our anniversary.


The blog traffic stats go up and to the right, just like they’re supposed to, now averaging well over 5,000 pageviews daily, with more than 700 feed subscribers. (Pageviews are up more than 50% since last year’s annual report, even though advertising rates haven’t budged. What a bargain!) Residents of 187 different countries have visited Executed Today in the past year.

In all, there were nearly 1.6 million pageviews from last Nov. 1 to the present — as against 1.1 million pageviews cumulative for the first two years of this site’s existence. (For all that growth, the single-day traffic record is still held by a day in the site’s penurious first year: that one time Andrew Sullivan linked me. If Sully doesn’t come through with another link, however, traffic growth trajectory suggests he won’t hold that distinction much longer.)

The site’s Twitter feed has grown more than 150%, to 470-some followers … although given the meteoric growth of Twitter itself, I’m not sure how much weight to put on that. If you do follow me on Twitter, you’ll get about 6-12 tweets daily about executions and connected subjects of crime, violence, and history, and no tweets about how drunk I am or that the circle line is running late or the last time I moved my bowels. Like I said: proper executioners are all business.

Where Are You?

The top 20 countries in terms of traffic are basically the usual suspects; the shuffling on this list is pretty minor year to year. The U.S. was over half the pie last year, and lost some of that ground; Poland and New Zealand both had disproportionate increases in their traffic.

United States
United Kingdom
New Zealand

There was some sort of Slavic renaissance on the site in Year III; in addition to Poland, visits from Russia, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Serbia, Macedonia, Croatia, and Ukraine also surged far above the baseline traffic growth metrics.

The average for pages viewed per visit (2.1), time spent on site (2:29) and “bounce rate” (69% of visitors who leave without clicking a second page) all remained essentially level; given that one might expect the many new visitors to the site to be more casually engaged than returning regular readers, I take that as a positive.

How’d You Get Here?

The site’s historic 60-30-10 ratio of search traffic-referral links-direct lookups stayed pretty much the same, with image searches specifically accounting for over 8% of the overall traffic.

Day by day, much of the daily surge and undertow in traffic is noticeably (to me) accounted for by search hits, and these often tip me to some bit of breaking news. The most popular search remains “executed today”; “” is also in the top 10, and I’ve also filtered out a couple of site searches explicitly invoking this domain’s Ted Bundy discussion (more on that in a moment). As can be readily observed, there are a couple of searches for specific methods of execution (specifically: nasty methods of execution), but most of the leading search terms are lookups on specific individuals. (Executed individuals … except for one search on an executioner’s name, that of English hangman Albert Pierrepoint.)

thomas cromwell execution botched
samuel doe execution video
soraya manutchehri
thomas cromwell
michael x
samuel doe
albert pierrepoint
ling chi
zhang minsheng
john albert taylor
ruth snyder
botak chin
karl hermann frank
drawn and quartered
botched executions
hamida djandoubi
charles starkweather
broken on the wheel
jenny wanda barkmann
masha bruskina
maggie dela riva
lois nadean smith
du’a khalil aswad video
hannah ocuish
mohammed bijeh
karl hermann frank execution video
khristian oliver
samuel doe execution
peter stubbe

What’d You See When You Got Here?

This has become one of my favorite parts of the annual report. With nearly 1,100 daily entries now posted along with meta-content, I’m going to extend it from last year’s top 25 to the top 40 all-time posts.

1. Jan. 24, 1989: Ted Bundy, psycho killer

Now with more traffic than the next three posts combined, this 3,000-plus comment living thread on one of America’s most infamous serial killers just keeps going strong.

It’s not the #1 post every single day; news-driven search hits or traffic to the day’s anniversary posts not infrequently surpass it. But it’s almost always one of the top two or three, and it’s the default number one when nothing else is cooking.

Many thanks to author Kevin M. Sullivan and the many other posters on this thread for making it one of the site’s most captivating pages.

2. Sep. 9, 1990: Samuel K. Doe

The former Liberian dictator, famously captured and tortured to death on video, which many an Internet denizen comes a-searchin’. (I have only a truncated and relatively PG version of that video.)

3. July 21, 1944: Col. Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg

He tried to kill Hitler. More importantly for his search prominence, he was cinematically portrayed by Tom Cruise.

4. Aug. 14, 1936: Rainey Bethea, America’s last public hanging

Holding steady from fourth place last year, this post’s traffic is almost unnaturally consistent: 20 to 60 hits a day from people who mostly run searches trying to find out when America’s last public hanging took place.

(Also of note: the execution was overseen by a female sheriff, although she ended up delegating the actual execution to male hangmen while she remained off the scaffold.)

5. July 4, 1946: Eleven from the Stutthoff concentration camp

The “Jenny Wanda Barkmann” from the top search hits list above was a comely Nazi guard, publicly strangled to death on the gallows on this date.

6. July 28, 1540: Thomas Cromwell

As noted above, “thomas cromwell execution botched” is your search term winner for the year.

7. May 15, 1916: Jesse Washington lynched after conviction

Not a literal execution, though the connection between lynching and the death penalty as varietals of communal violence is uncomfortably close — especially when, as in this case, the outrages of the Negro upon the virtues of southern white women are at issue.

This post’s images of Jesse Washington’s blackened remains are among the more unpleasant illustrations on the site.

8. May 22, 1946: Karl Hermann Frank

Again, the appeal of multimedia. Frank’s hanging in Prague, by the old Austro-Hungarian “pole hanging” method, was filmed. He earned his death in part for one of the war’s most notorious atrocities, the Lidice massacre.

9. Dec. 23, 1948: Hideki Tojo and six other Japanese war criminals

The wartime Prime Minister of Imperial Japan.

10. Apr. 10, 1905: Fou Tchou-Li, by a thousand cuts

People come here looking for the ghastly photos of China’s old “slow slicing” execution method, that so exalted the likes of Bataille.

11. June 19, 1953: Julius and Ethel Rosenberg – Cold War cause celebre
12. June 6, 1997: Henry Francis Hays – White supremacist whose lynching of a random black youth cost the Klan its headquarters
13. Apr. 7, 2007: Du’a Khalil Aswad – Her “honor killing” stoning to death was filmed
14. Sep. 10, 1977: Hamida Djandoubi – The last drop for the French guillotine
15. July 8, 1999: Allen Lee “Tiny” Davis – So rotund, Florida built him a new electric chair
16. Dec. 11, 1962: Arthur Lucas and Ronald Turpin – These guys knew there was a good chance they’d be the last men hanged in Canada.
17. Nov. 28, 1950: James Corbitt, the hangman’s mate – Those search hits on “Albert Pierrepoint” find this story of the famed executioner hanging a former customer of Pierrepoint’s pub
18. Oct. 9, 1967: Ernesto “Che” Guevara – You might have heard of him.
19. Jan. 31, 1945: Private Eddie Slovik – The last U.S. soldier executed for desertion
20. Nov. 29, 1941: Zoya Kosmodemyanskaya – Famed teenage anti-Nazi partisan
21. Feb. 17, 2004: Cameron Todd Willingham – He’s the reason Texas Gov. Rick Perry will never be president.
22. July 19, 2005: Mahmoud Asgari and Ayaz Marhoni – Photographs of these two youths going fearfully to their deaths focused attention on the plight of homosexuals in Iran.
23. June 25, 1959: Charles Starkweather – This seminal heartland spree killer has his own Springsteen song.
24. Dec. 13, 1945: The Belsen war criminals – Another in the continuing “hot Nazi prison babes hanged” series
25. Sep. 13, 1946: Amon Goeth – The villainous concentration camp commandant in Schindler’s List
26. November, 1942: Partisans by the Sonderbataillon Dirlewanger – A graphic photo (with no specific known attribution date) of German units executing prisoners on the bloody eastern front
27. May 25, 1948: Witold Pilecki – Polish Home Guard agent who had once infiltrated Auschwitz, but ran afoul of the Communists after World War II
28. Jan. 12, 1928: Ruth Snyder and Judd Gray – The inspirations for Double Indemnity, doubly notable because a reporter secretly snapped a blurry picture of Ruth Snyder in the electric chair.
29. Jan. 9, 1923: Edith Thompson and Frederick Bywaters – An English love triangle; Thompson’s controversial, and botched, hanging was said to have contributed to the suicide of her executioner.
30. Aug. 8, 1944: Eight July 20 plotters – The aforementioned Stauffenberg was actually executed on the night of the coup by another German officer trying to cover his own complicity. These eight co-conspirators met a more official end: tortured by the Gestapo, abused in the People’s Court, and strangled on piano wire.
31. May 16, 1975: Michael X – Black nationalist hanged in Trinidad for burning to death a Tory M.P.’s daughter.
32. May 17, 1972: The rapists of Maggie dela Riva – Callow sons of the elite electrocuted for raping a well-known Filipina actress.
33. Oct. 26, 1941: Masha Bruskina, Kiril Trus and Voldia Shcherbatshevich – This post has graphic photos of partisans publicly executed by the Wehrmacht in Minsk
34. Feb. 1, 1968: Nguyen Van Lem – The prisoner summarily shot through the head by South Vietnamese Gen. Nguyen Ngoc Loan, in one of the Vietnam War’s most unforgettable images
35. Sep. 27, 1996: Dr. Mohammad Najibullah – The Soviet-sponsored former Afghan head of state, strung up on a traffic pylon when the Taliban took power.
36. July 15, 1977: Princess Misha’al bint Fahd al Saud – Nineteen-year-old Saudi royal adulteress
37. May 10, 1994: John Wayne Gacy – Democratic machine operative, amateur harlequin, serial killer
38. Aug. 14, 2004: Dhananjoy Chatterjee – The only person hanged in India in the past generation … though he doesn’t seem destined to be the last.
39. Apr. 28, 1945: Benito Mussolini, his mistress, and his aides – Afterwards, their bodies were strung up for public abuse in Milan
40. Mar. 28, 1757: Robert Francois Damiens – You’ll read a ghastly description of his quartering in Foucault’s Discipline and Punish. Appropriately for Foucault (though not mentioned by him) Casanova also helped his friend get busy while watching the execution.

I mention this every year, because it bears mentioning every year: there’s a striking traffic advantage for executions of a more recent vintage. I have fortuitous search placement on Tudor politician Thomas Cromwell — that fact surprises me somewhat — and since he’s recently been one of the main characters on a hit TV show, he gets plenty of search love.

After that, you need to get all the way down to #40 to find the next post about someone who was executed before the 20th century … even though just a bit over half the site’s content concerns pre-20th century executions. By my count, World War II alone accounts for 13 posts in the top 40, and 20 more of those entries are postwar executions. The same effect is also visible in the search terms.

The Stefaneschi Triptych: Christ, flanked by the executions of St. Peter and St. Paul.

Guest Content

Again, guest content to the tune of nearly a month was generously supplied by various friends of the site. Copious thanks to all of the following:

Anthony Vaver

Caitlin GD Hopkins

David Carson


Elizabeth M. Hull


Jeffrey Fisher

John Temple

Jonathan Shipley

Meaghan Good


Robert Elder

Sarah Chan

I’m also grateful for these expert interviews:

This poster of the triangular Tyburn gallows is available from Madame Talbot’s Victorian & Gothic Lowbrow.

Other Highlights

Random. This little innovation actually got introduced last year and remains one of the most popular bits on the site. Every thirtieth pageview or so is from someone just dialing up a random execution — about 53,000 for the year.

Okay, this was pretty cool.

Legibility. If the text on the site is a bit easier on the eyes lately, it’s thanks to Ramon Garcia‘s pro bono CSS work.

Milestone. There’s no shortage of material, but I’m a little surprised my constitution has held out long enough to make it to 1,000-plus consecutive days. We take it one day at a time, coach.

Killed the Radio Star. My post on Arkadi Berdichevsky, a Soviet economist purged in the 1930s who also happened to be the father of conservative intellectual Jon Utley, actually prompted Mr. Utley to get in touch with me and led to an appearance on Antiwar Radio.

Metadeath. This post to mark the odometer rolling over to 2010 actually has more clicks than any posts save Bundy and Doe. Given three years of content in the reservoir and the way list posts are catnip to clickthroughs … there may be a few more of these in the offing.

Editor’s Picks. These posts aren’t necessarily big traffic-earners or major award-winners. But — to me, at least — they stood out somewhat from the everyday, as unusually interesting.

  • Ali Resti and Sayyid Husain, to placate America Great moments in American foreign policy: “When you are dealing with a government like Persia … if you ask them to execute a Moslem for the death of a Christian … if they do it, you accomplish more for the prestige of your country than if they paid a million.”
  • Four for the oil of Chad. Natural resource politics: scary.
  • The time when America went to war to protect the P.O.W. status of foreign terrorists. Or the time when trying unlawful combatants outside the Geneva Conventions outraged Britain and the U.S.
  • The Slaves of the Zong: cold-blooded summary “executions” of slaves when they became more profitable dead than alive.
  • Robert Kett, rebelling against the landlords’ enclosures of common lands that marked the dawn of capitalism. There’s more on enclosures in the hanging of these 19th century poachers
  • Aesop, of the fables. He’s supposed to have been executed by Delphians by hurling off a rock … for stinginess.
  • Young Goethe’s family was involved in the case of Susanna Margaretha Brandt, an infanticide who might have inspired the Gretchen character in his Faust
  • Joshua Tefft, the only person drawn and quartered in (what is now) the U.S.A. … for being too friendly with the neighboring Indians.
  • Mary Carleton, a 17th century adventuress whose manipulation of identity and celebrity is downright postmodern.
  • William Williams, the last hanged in Minnesota — a story also bound up in the move from public to secretive executions late at night and behind prison walls.
  • The Amboyna Massacre, in which Dutch colonial authorities in Indonesia waterboarded English prisoners into confessing to a fantastical terrorist plot, then executed them en masse
  • Jacques de Molay, the last Templar Grand Master, historical conspiracy theory nexus
  • Mehmed Kemal, executed by defeated Ottoman Turkey for the Armenian genocide, as it tried to make enough amends for the recent First World War to survive. (It didn’t.)
  • The Tour de Nesle affair saw princesses and knights with an excessive investment in romantic love set up the Hundred Years War.
  • Caryl Chessman, death row author and lightning rod for death penalty proponents and opponents alike.
  • Italian national heroes Cesare Battisti and Fabio Filzi — lavishly photographed martyring themselves to Austria-Hungary.
  • The first major war crimes trials of World War II took place in 1943, in the USSR … and those hanged as a result of the Krasnodar trials were not German soldiers, but alleged Soviet collaborators.
  • A mass execution Ivan the Terrible carried out at the height of his oprichnina terror.
  • Valery Sablin, the misunderstood inspiration for The Hunt for Red October.
  • Maharajah Nandakumar, a nasty little judicial assassination in colonial India that helped set the scene for a more orderly Empire.
  • Elizabeth Martha Brown, a disturbingly sexy hanging witnessed by young go-getter Thomas Hardy — and arguably an inspiration for his novel Tess of the D’Urbervilles.
  • Neptune, an African in Suriname whose butchery was vividly recorded by John Gabriel Stedman.
  • Roux de Marsilly, a hook to the Man in the Iron Mask
  • Gasim, the character Peter O’Toole executes just before taking Aqaba in Lawrence of Arabia
  • Thomas Nash, controversially renditioned to the British by the Federalists in 1799
  • A montage of cultural artifacts generated by Sacco and Vanzetti
  • A notorious mass impaling by Vlad the Impaler
  • All the entries in the Executions by Effigy themed set, a truly strange old practice
  • The Babington Plot, busted by Queen Elizabeth’s spymaster Walsingham
  • Mehdi Hashemi, who exposed the Iran-Contra scandal
  • “The Rand … never again saw a significant white mineworkers’ strike” after South Africa hanged C.C. Stassen in 1922

… topical for year three, we are obliged to mention

And, because third time lucky is scarcely guaranteed — more like a guideline, or wishful thinking — we might also direct you to an older post noting Thomas Egan: 3 tries, 2 ropes, 1 innocent man.

On this day..

Executed Today’s Second Annual Report: Once Bitten, Twice Die

Here at Executed Today, we know where the bodies are buried. As of today, we’ve buried two years’ worth in daily death-blogging since our auspiciously topical launch two Halloweens ago.

As you sow … so shall you reap.

The Triumph of Death (topically detail view; click for the full canvas of wholesale grim reaping), by Pieter Brueghel the Elder, c. 1562.

Where Are You?

The 15 leading domiciles of Executed Today visitors are:

United States (just over half)
United Kingdom (1/8th)
Canada (a bit over 5%)

At this point, we’re dropping into a long slope of closely clustered countries with tiny individual footprints.

It’s always interesting to notice the differing behavior of site visitors. The overall average for visitors was to spend 2:29 on the site and visit 2.1 pages, with 70% of visitors “bouncing” or leaving after seeing just one page. But that average conceals many variations.

Loved It

  • Visitors from Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates each had about 3.3 pageviews and over 5 minutes on the site per visit, though similar numbers were not recorded elsewhere in the Middle East. Kuwaitis, remarkably, were more than 50% likely to visit a second page on the site.
  • The Dutch spent over 3 minutes on the site per visit, bounced only 65% of the time, and viewed 2.85 pages apiece.
  • New Zealand had site-average bounce rates, but Kiwis who stuck, really stuck. They spent more than 4 minutes on the site on average.
  • Relative to the averages, Estonians stuck around 20% more often, viewed 20% more pages, and spent 50% more time on the site.

Hated It

  • Only 28 visitors were recorded from Mongolia, but every single one of them left the site without clicking another link.
  • I got nearly 1,000 visits from Vietnam, but they averaged barely 30 seconds on the site and only 1.3 pages per visitors. (The Vietnamese showed similar disinterest last year, too.)
  • Iranians bounced 87.9% of the time.
  • Although in the top 10 for traffic, the Philippines had less than 1.5 pageviews per visitor and a bounce rate approaching 80%.

How’d You Get Here?

Searches accounted for nearly 60% of all traffic to Executed Today (another 30% came from referral links, and just over 10% from direct lookups, e.g., a browser bookmark).

As was the case last year, “executed today” was the most popular search lookup, and “” was also in the top 10. Let’s set those aside.

The #1 search term besides “executed today” was “colonel claus von stauffenberg” — courtesy of the movie Valkyrie. “claus schenk graf von stauffenberg” and “col. claus von stauffenberg” also both placed in the top 20 and “col stauffenberg” in the top 50, so clearly Tom Cruise wins the year’s search battle. (Interestingly, people who arrived on these searches tended to browse the site less, with only about 1.5 pageviews per visitor. Search visitors in general perform a bit less well than other visitors, but the difference was really pronounced with Valkyrie-generated visitors.)

Excluding Stauffenberg-related searches, the top 15 search terms generating traffic to Executed Today since last Halloween were:

samuel doe
samuel doe execution video
albert pierrepoint
amon goth
broken on the wheel
ling chi
ricky lee green
hamida djandoubi
charles starkweather
sidney reilly
jenny wanda barkmann
michael x
botched executions

… I noticed last year that searches on individually named executed women drove more traffic than those on individually named men. That seemed to be somewhat less true this year, even leaving Col. Stauffenberg aside; Jenny Wanda Barkmann is the only woman in the top 15. However, if we extend the table to the top 20, we would add:

rosalie gicanda
edith thompson
john spenkelink
william chaloner
princess mishaal bint fahd

Other women such as Sue Logue, Lois Nadean Smith, Ruth Snyder, Karla Faye Tucker, Hannah Ocuish and Ethel Rosenberg are also among the top 50. It’s still probably the case that women’s executions attract interest and searches disproportionate to their frequency, just as they’ve attracted our eye for a couple of thematic collections (1, 2).

What’d You See When You Got Here?

As of the end of year two, the most popular posts in Executed Today’s history are …

1. January 24, 1989: Ted Bundy, psycho killer

No contest, really.

The runaway number one, more than 25% ahead of its closest competition for pageviews. For such an infamous killer of such recent vintage, I was doubtful about finding something new to contribute on the subject.

Fortunately, author Kevin M. Sullivan, whose new book The Bundy Murders: A Comprehensive History published earlier this year, took care of it by turning the post’s discussion thread into a conversational salon for far-flung folks interested in the killer’s career. As of this writing, the Bundy comment thread is pushing 1,200 entries and still consistently among the most popular posts on the site every single day.

2. July 21, 1944: Col. Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg, for the plot to kill Hitler

Ah, the power of a multimillion-dollar Hollywood ad campaign. Thanks, Tom.

The Valkyrie traffic graph shows a spike in the winter of 2008-09 when the film released on the silver screen, and an aftershock bump in the spring when it went out on DVD.

Although I didn’t “earn” the big traffic by anything other than timeliness, this post also happens to be one of the better ones on the site.

3. September 9, 1990: Samuel K. Doe

A monument to human morbidity, the post about the deposed former President of Liberia is not particularly high-quality, was not blessed with any high-profile links, and has never been especially promoted.


Samuel K. Doe’s pre-execution torture was filmed.

People go Googling for that film.

I’m on the first page of hits, with an embed of as much film as I’ve ever been able to locate.

Voila: traffic.

If anyone out there has the Doe video in its entirety, send it to me and this post will give Ted Bundy a run for his money in no time.

4. August 14, 1936: Rainey Bethea, America’s last public hanging

A stats accumulator type rather than a Hall of Famer, this post benefits from favorable search engine placement for a variety of oft-searched phrases about America’s last public execution, and has been up for 14+ months.

I liked unearthing the local newspaper’s angry response to big-city interlopers portraying them as a mob of bloodthirsty yokels … and I definitely enjoy going back to this bit of warm fuzz from the comments section:

I have enjoyed your work, and would like to thank you for your effort. I particularly like how you avoid the easy, sensationalist macabre approach for something more sombre and cerebral, supported by generous hyperlinks.

5. July 4, 1946: Eleven from the Stutthof concentration camp

This post features images of a few of the Third Reich’s cutest concentration camp guards strangling to death. As you might imagine, there’s a steady market of search hits for that sort of thing. (One of the most popular metadata pages on the site is the tag for Jenny Wanda Barkmann, the foxiest hanged Stutthof guard of them all.)

6. June 6, 1997: Henry Francis Hays, whose crime cost the Klan

Hays was the first white person executed for murdering a black person in Alabama in 84 years — specifically, for lynching young Michael Donald.

The shocking photo of Michael Donald’s body that my post contains has much exercised contributors to the Michael Donald Wikipedia entry, and for a time the article “compromised” on the subject of including it with page versions that linked my humble post from this banner phrase:


Obviously, that generated plenty of clicks.

Alas, more sober-minded editors have not only toned down the article, but removed any link at all to Executed Today. Look for Henry Francis Hays to sink in the rankings in the year ahead if that situation isn’t rectified.

(Note: I don’t insinuate my links into Wikipedia and had nothing to do with this article in any version.)

7. December 11, 1962: Arthur Lucas and Ronald Turpin

This post dates all the way back to the blog’s second month of existence.

It’s an interview with the author of a book about these two unconnected criminals who became the last to hang in Canada, and it was for a short while early in Executed Today’s history the most popular post on the site.

It’s continued since that time to build up almost two years’ worth of unspectacular but steady daily traffic on search hits by people trying to find out … well, who the last people hanged in Canada were.

8. June 19, 1953: Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, “the first victims of American fascism”

It’s interesting to me that few of my top posts are of the household-name execution victims — the Robespierres, the Anne Boleyns, the Tsar Nicholases — which I generally attribute to the competitive search market. There are a lot of pages about Joan of Arc on the Internet, and only so much real estate on search engine results.

Though I’m only on Google’s third page when searching a phrase like (julius and ethel rosenberg), this post is one of the top results when using variants that include the word “execution” (e.g., ethel rosenberg execution) — I presume because of the blog’s name.

Between the minority of people who search this way and the minority of people who wade all the way to the third page of Google hits, this post gets a small-but-just-big-enough slice of an enormous pie.

9. May 15, 1916: Jesse Washington lynched after conviction

The dramatic photographs of the charred body (and celebratory crowd) at one of America’s most infamous lynchings have generated steady traffic with a handful of one- or two-day spikes from minor newsquakes, like this passing reference in the New York Times that quintupled the post’s traffic for a single day.

10. November 29, 1941: Zoya Kosmodemyanskaya

The teenage partisan martyred by the Nazis isn’t exactly a household name worldwide, but she’s searched more often than you might think; these searches don’t skew disproportionately to the former Soviet Union, either.

Gratifyingly, hits to this page come overwhelmingly from searches on Zoya’s name, as opposed to pervy variations on the “women hanging” theme.

This post’s traffic was at a trickle level for its first year, but bumped up to a higher level around the end of 2008 without ever having a clear single spike, giving its traffic graph an odd stair-step look. I’ve never been able to explain this; my two unsatisfying working theories are:

  1. that Executed Today crossed some ranking threshold in the likes of Google pagerank that catapulted the post onto the first page of search results, meaning I started capturing a larger share of traffic that was always there;
  2. that exiled Burmese activist Zoya Phan, who was named for Kosmodemyanskaya, crossed a threshold of public prominence sufficient to increase the frequency with which the name was searched.

… And Others

The remainder of the top 25:

11. September 10, 1977: Hamida Djandoubi – The last man guillotined, and as noted above, one of the top search hits for the site.
12. February 17, 2004: Cameron Todd Willingham – Long-neglected but suddenly popular guest post about a possible wrongful execution that’s been front-page news for the past two months.
13. August 8, 1944: Eight July 20 plotters – A second beneficiary of Valkyrie search traffic.
14. July 8, 1999: Allen Lee “Tiny” Davis – Gruesome bloody photos of the Florida electric chair’s last client.
15. April 10, 1905: Fou Tchou LiLingchi or “slow slicing” death “by a thousand cuts” that inspired Georges Bataille.
16. January 9, 1923: Edith Thompson and Frederick Bywaters – A deadly love triangle turned enduring cause celebre.
17. August 12, 1833: Captain Henry Nicholas Nicholls – The #1 post this time last year, thanks to a link from Andrew Sullivan, but scant ongoing traffic promises further sinkage in the year ahead.
18. December 13, 1945: The Belsen war criminals – Featuring Irma Grese, the “Beast of Belsen”.
19. June 25, 1959: Charles Starkweather – The spree killer who embodied the underbelly of the American dream to the likes of Stephen King and Bruce Springsteen.
20. October 9, 1967: Ernesto “Che” Guevara – One of the posts most frequently sought out by visitors viewing a second or third page. Play the mp3, and be sure to join the comment thread’s ideological pissing match!
21. November 28, 1950: James Corbitt – This post is really about prolific British hangman Albert Pierrepoint, on the occasion of his hanging a man he actually knew.
22. December 26, 1862: 38 Sioux – The largest mass execution in U.S. history.
23. January 15, 1943: Sue Logue, Geoge Logue and Clarence Bagwell – Randy young Strom Thurmond made Sue “the only person seduced on the way to the electric chair.”
24. April 7, 2007: Du’a Khalil Aswad – Features a horrificially graphic video of a Yazidi honor killing victim being stoned to death.
25. Uncertain date in 41 B.C.E.: Arsinoe IV – Cleopatra’s sister, who got search traffic earlier this year when scientists claimed to have reconstructed her appearance.

Noticing a pattern? Of the top 25 posts, 22 concern executions that occurred in the 20th or 21st century … and two of the exceptions (#17 and #25) are on the chart solely because of freak, one-time external events (an A-list blog link and an unpredictable news cycle, respectively). In fact, if you throw out those two anomalies and keep going down the list, 29 of the top 30 posts on Executed Today are about 20th or 21st-century affairs, and 26 of those are executions that took place within the past 75 years. (Slightly over half the total posts on this site overall concern pre-20th century executions.)

The list of most popular posts for only Executed Today’s second year (as opposed to all time) is very nearly the same: Arthur Lucas and Ronald Turpin no longer make the top 10, but Cameron Todd Willingham does, a bit of minor shuffling occurs in a few other places … the similarity is no surprise, since nearly 900,000 of the site’s 1.1 million pageviews occurred during its second year.

Noted in passing: the highest-ranking meta-content on the site by a country mile is Seven Generic Halloween Costumes You Can Spice Up With an Execution Story, which dates to last year but has experienced a massive traffic surge this October for obvious reasons. It’s actually pushed its way into the top 20 posts. A heavy preponderance of hits come from searches, especially image searches, for costumes (“pirate costume” being the most frequent); as a result, this post about more generalized Halloween fare is much more popular than its sister offering Nine Executed People Who Make Great Halloween Costumes.

Most Popular Posts by Month

October 2009: Masha Bruskina, Kiril Trus, and Volodia Shcherbatsevich, though only five days old, it outdraws the month’s preceding content on the discomfiting appeal of a comely girl hanged
September 2009: Dr. Mohammad Najibullah, deposed Afghan president notable for the gory photos of his body hanging from a traffic pylon
August 2009: Bronislav Kaminski, Waffen SS collaborator
July 2009: Princess Misha’al bint Fahd al Saud, a disobedient Saudi princess
June 2009: The village of Lidice, for the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich
May 2009: Karl Hermann Frank, who helped engineer the aforementioned Lidice operation
April 2009: Rwandan Queen Dowager Rosalie Gicanda, a prominent genocide victim whose killer was recently arrested
March 2009: William Chaloner, a counterfeiter captured by Isaac Newton which was guest-blogged by the author of a recent book about the case
February 2009: Nguyen Van Lem, the Viet Cong summarily executed in a famous Vietnam War photo and newsreel
January 2009: Ted Bundy, psycho killer
December 2008: The Belsen war criminals
November 2008: James Corbitt, the hangman’s mate
October 2008: Ernesto “Che” Guevara, iconic revolutionary
September 2008: Samuel K. Doe, deposed Liberian president
August 2008: Rainey Bethea, America’s last public hanging
July 2008: Col. Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg, tried to assassinate Hitler
June 2008: Henry Francis Hays, for a racial murder
May 2008: Jesse Washington lynched
April 2008: Fou Tchou-Li, by a thousand cuts
March 2008: Robert-Francois Damiens, disciplined and punished
February 2008: Cameron Todd Willingham, wrongful arson execution?
January 2008: Edith Thompson and Frederick Bywaters, adulterous lovers
December 2007: Arthur Lucas and Ronald Turpin, the last hanged in Canada
November 2007: Zoya Kosmodemyanskaya, Russian partisan
October 2007: Peter Stubbe, werewolf?

Guest Content

Once again, the site relied on the kindness of strangers to make it through another year. Thanks to the following guest posters for pulling through with a month’s worth of content (the second straight year I’ve enjoyed that kind of support) in these fantastic guest posts:

Alexandre Dumas, pere

Anthony Vaver

Caitlin GD Hopkins


Gilbert King

James Durney

Jeff Matthews

Jonathan Shipley

Kristin Houlé

Lara Eakins

Laura James

Louise Yeoman

Mark Davis

Richard Clark



Sarah Owocki

Thomas Levenson

Expert interviews also shed some light on these subjects:

Miscellaneous Indicators

Feed subscriptions. This highly volatile and undependable figure has been solidly in the high 400s for a while now, sometimes giving a prairie dog peek up above 500. Just short of half those subscribers are in the U.S.; South Africa (!) is the runaway #2, with Canada third. After those three, it’s a plateau of high-income countries who are all essentially tied. Russia and the United Arab Emirates are in that group among the top feed subscribers despite not being among the high-traffic web browsing sources; conversely, Italy and the Netherlands send plenty of web visitors but have few feed subscribers.

Twitter. I can’t say this is my favorite medium, but yes … Executed Today tweets and twats. 180-some followers get regular blurbs about ongoing death penalty news, much of it from the far-flung network of informants and search feeds that keep the site stocked with future content.

Random acts of violence. I have to credit sometime guest blogger and translator Sonechka for the idea to add one of the most popular features on the site:

I started routing that through since local stats were having trouble with it — probably hurting my bounce rate and average page counts in the process, but gaining the url shortening service’s click stats. And says the Random Execution button has been pushed 20,000 times in the past 22 weeks.

Editor’s Picks. In the daily blog business, some posts hit and some don’t, and one really never knows what to expect from any given day. Cameron Todd Willingham didn’t get any particular buzz, traffic, or link love when it went up, but it became the site’s starring content 18 months later when The New Yorker caught on to the story.

Having enumerated all the traffic-getters and guest posts above, I thought I’d spare a thought for a few of the in-house posts that aren’t on those lists and might have slipped through the cracks … but that were fun to research, or to write, or (hopefully) to read. While the most-trafficked posts tend to skew towards executions within someone’s living memory, you’ll notice that the author has had the most fun with some older fare.

Presented in no particular order:

… and, of course, our Year 2 wrap couldn’t be complete without:

On this day..

Executed Today’s First Annual Report: One Year of Dying Languorously

Somehow, it’s been a year since we launched last Halloween.

On this ghastly occasion, it’s time to do a little turn on the scaffold and review the highest points among the lowest of the dead.

Who’s #1?

The Year’s Ten Most Popular Executions

August 12, 1833: Captain Henry Nicholas Nicholls, sodomite
December 11, 1962: Arthur Lucas and Ronald Turpin
December 26, 1862: 38 Sioux
February 21, 1803: Edward Marcus Despard, a patriot without a nation
January 15, 1943: Sue Logue, George Logue and Clarence Bagwell
June 8, 1934: Three inept murderers (with a fourth to come)
January 9, 1923: Edith Thompson and Frederick Bywaters
May 15, 1916: Jesse Washington lynched after conviction
February 27, 1902: Harry “Breaker” Morant and Peter Handcock, “scapegoats for Empire”
January 24, 1992: Ricky Ray Rector, “a date which ought to live in infamy for the Democratic Party”

No shock, they skew heavily towards the earlier posts that have had the most time to accumulate views (although that’s somewhat mitigated by the fact that nobody was reading last November), topped off by the runaway #1, the post that scored an Andrew Sullivan link.

Breaking it down by month …

The Year’s Most Popular Posts by Month

January 15, 1943: Sue Logue, George Logue and Clarence Bagwell
February 21, 1803: Edward Marcus Despard, a patriot without a nation
March 22, 1796: Mastro Titta’s first execution of many
April 10, 1905: Fou Tchou-Li, by a thousand cuts
May 15, 1916: Jesse Washington lynched after conviction
June 8, 1934: Three inept murderers (with a fourth to come)
July 4, 1946: Eleven from the Stutthof concentration camp
August 12, 1833: Captain Henry Nicholas Nicholls, sodomite
September 9, 1990: Samuel K. Doe
October 31, 1589: Peter Stubbe, Sybil Stubbe and Katharina Trump
November 5, 1925: Sidney Reilly
December 11, 1962: Arthur Lucas and Ronald Turpin

Interestingly, there’s a heavy disproportion in both those lists towards executions in the past two centuries as opposed to earlier ones — even execution celebrities like Joan of Arc and Guy Fawkes get relatively short shrift.

My Creepy Visitor: You

But enough about me. Let’s talk about you for a while.

First, let’s get on the table what we all know to be true: I write a blog about death. You visit a blog about death. We’re all creeps here.

But still, geez … the stats tell no lies about what you’re looking for when you get here.

Most Popular Category Searches

Broken on the wheel
Public executions
Drawn and quartered
Gruesome Methods
Botched Executions
Mature Content

Where do your meatspace selves hang your hats? We recorded 188 countries and territories paying their respects, led by …

Most Frequent Visitors

United States
United Kingdom

The U.S.A. is the only country among those with a present-day death penalty of its own. If you aspire to become future content for this site, get out and see the world. (One word: Singapore.)

This blog is oddly compelling to Finns, whose bounce rate — the percentage of visitors who leave without clicking another link in the site — is barely over 50%, by far the lowest of any country with more than a handful of visitors. (The site average is in the mid-sixties.) On the opposite end of the spectrum, Executed Today is shallow and pedantic to the Vietnamese, who leave town without exploring 85% of the time.

No visits at all were recorded from any of the following:

Western Sahara
Congo (Kinshasa)

And, probably a number of island nations too small to appear on the Google Analytics maps overlay.

How did you find this site?

About 45% of visitors come from searches.

“Executed Today” is the most popular search term for this blog, and “” is also in the top 10. Leaving those aside, people were redirected to this chamber of horrors when ever-so-innocently pursuing information about …

broken on the wheel
sidney reilly
edith thompson
breaker morant
lois nadean smith
zoya kosmodemyanskaya
sue logue
kawakami gensai
public executions

Searches for specifically named individual executed women as opposed to individual men are noticeably disproportionate drivers of traffic.

Another 40% or so come from referral links, led by Google Images (which are really searches, and would push search up to about 50%).

The remainder come from directly looking up the site by, e.g., typing it straight into the search bar.

Guest Content

Executed Today got a full month’s worth of its posts from guest authors, who also happened to write some of the best content on the site. Hey, you get tired swinging this big, heavy axe every day. Respect for wonderful guest turns from:

Abe Bonowitz

David Elliot


Tim Goodwin

Kristin Houle

Laura James

Matthias Lehmphul




Dmitri Minaev

Sarah Owocki


Jeffrey Fisher


Mara Veraar

Similarly, several posts were improved with expert interviews, so thanks to the wisdom imparted by wiser heads than mine in these posts:

The Year’s Highlights

Prescience (Almost)

Just weeks after ranking Chadian dictator Idriss Deby among the current heads of state in most danger of eventual execution, rebels nearly seized his capital with him still in it.

I Only Did It For Attention

Caitlin at the addictive site Vast Public Indifference actually noticed and blogged about my downage. (See below for the reasons.)

(IE users having problems with the site now — I know, I know; I’m working on it. Also: use Firefox.)


For my money, Walking the Berkshires is one of the best free pleasures on the Netosphere, so I was red-cheeked to get this callout. (I still haven’t paid it forward yet.)

These are dopey things, but sincere gestures of appreciation are coin of the realm to bloggers. (That, and Google ad clicks. Lots of Google ad clicks.) Being reckoned eighth-freakiest was also a nice one, since I didn’t make any effort to push the award after an initial ask, but the votes to keep Executed Today in the top ten kept coming organically. (Can I be freakier still in the year ahead? You decide.)

There have been too, too many friends, linkers and well-wishers to hope to name them all. In addition to — but overlapping with — the fabulous passel of guest bloggers, a few among the many to whom I owe a debt (I reserve the right to extend this list as appalling omissions become obvious):

The year’s lowlights


My original, terrible host.

Regularly, randomly down for seconds or minutes or (a couple times) hours, and when I showed disinclination to quintuple my user fee, they made the downage permanent without warning on the preposterous grounds that a few hundred page views a day were monopolizing multiple web servers. Yeah, the old “CPU usage” canard, just one of many ways that LunarPages sucks.

They have yet to document my actually violating any terms of service or exceeding any usage standards — for that matter, they’ve never documented CPU usage — and naturally they’ve kept the rest of the service fee I paid in advance. Now that they dropped a daisy cutter on my site and forced me out, they’re very graciously keeping my account open for me until it expires. Nice.

The company is a scam, and not hyperbolically: it’s literally the core of their business model to perform negotiation-by-hostage-taking.

As for this site, it would likely been down for several days had not Logjamming fixed my cable. They’re a brilliant host with $5 and $10 packages and smart support. Just a couple weeks after this forced transition, an unexpected A-list link served up the site’s biggest traffic surge, several times anything LunarPages had ever seen. Logjamming didn’t bat an eye.

Really, I can’t endorse Logjamming strongly enough.

But the infernal deserts due LunarPages would confound Dante himself.

The Digital Oubliette (the phrase is not mine; see here)

I probably should have planned to archive locally more of the video embeds I’ve used — there’s been a lot of great supplementary content eaten by the Internet. Many outbound links will probably follow a slower but ultimately similar path of decay.

On this day..