1784: Anton Joseph Suter, Appenzell politician

Add comment March 9th, 2012 Headsman

On this date in 1784, 64-year-old former Landammann of Appenzell,** was beheaded in a nasty bout of local politics.

The amiable and fair-minded Suter (wee German bio), a tavernkeeper, won election to his position at the head of a popular party — in the process defeating a local aristocrat who expected the gig as his birthright and nursed a terrible grudge against Suter for the defeat.


The cantonal form of direct democracy by which Suter was elected, the Landsgemeinde, is still practiced in Appenzell. This (cc) image from Götz A. Primke shows the 2009 assembly in Appenzell, at which crotchety, longsword-bearing residents voted a ban on nude hiking.

This aggrieved aristocrat, Geiger by name, had to bide his time all through the 1760s and into the 1770s, until the political stars aligned against Suter.

It seems a neighboring town had been able to take possession of a lush alpine slope in Appenzell’s environs by dint of an unpaid mortgage, a terrible wound to Appenzell’s pride and no small inconvenience to its residents.

Suter pushed an attempt to force repurchase of this land in a suit at the Swiss Diet, a sort of United Nations of otherwise-autonomous Swiss cantons. But he lost the suit, and the Diet demanded that Appenzell cough up the court costs as well.

Accustomed as we are today to the suits and countersuits that constitute the very cogs of late capitalism, it’s a little hard to understand how the trifling matter of a court fee could suffice to topple a government — but it did. Geiger’s people prevailed upon the canton’s executive council to drop the suit (Suter pursued it on his own), and now persuaded it to drop Suter.

Well, persuaded. It’s more like, it did several days frantic retail politicking from the pulpits and in the streets, then showed up when the council met to shout down Suter and drag him out by force, not neglecting to disenfranchise Suter’s many supporters who fought them on the point. As Suter fled into exile, Appenzell pronounced him a rebel on the strength of some super-secret documents.

That really could have been that, but Suter’s foes were so intent on his head that they contrived a ruse to lure him back into the canton’s territory on the pretext of a secret meeting with his daughter — then arrested him, tortured him with thumbscrews and the rack, and finally sentenced him to death.

On the day appointed the scaffold was closely surrounded by troops. Suter, maimed and pale, was assisted to his place. Standing there a moment he addressed the people, declaring himself robbed and murdered by his country. He then knelt down and in clear tones thrice pronounced the Ave Maria. With the last word of the last repetition of the prayer the sword descended and his head fell …

The sight of the blood of the ex-Landamman filled the people with rage. They had looked for a reprieve to the very last; and now that all hope was gone, they fell upon such of the victim’s enemies as were to be found lingering in the streets and fought and struggled with them in their desperation … The enemies of Suter were found to form no exception to the rule that retribution pursues the murderer. No sooner was the ex-Landamman in his grave than the Furies took up their task … Geiger, who formerly had gone about demanding Suter’s life, now — a pitiable victim to remorse — went about acknowledging that for seven long years he had pursued him without a cause. It is related concerning the member of the Blood Court that they all ever afterwards were harassed by terrors of conscience, one to such an extent that he even became insane. The guilt of Suter’s murder settled upon Inner-Rhoden irretrievably … like the very brand of Cain. Time went by and changes occurred, but that remained. Finally in 1829, forty-five years after the execution, the Great Council met and, with a solemnity befitting he occasion, unanimously revrsed the findings of the court by which Suer had been banished, as also of that by which he had been sent to the block.

Another summary of Suter’s career and sad end can be found here.

* Thanks to the same public-domain source, we’ve visited Appenzell before.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Politicians,Posthumous Exonerations,Power,Public Executions,Switzerland,Torture,Wrongful Executions

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1849: Anna Koch of Appenzell

1 comment December 3rd, 2010 Headsman

This date’s pastoral story of adolescent avarice — and impressive disobedience at the scaffold — comes to us from the tiniest of Swiss cantons,* as related in this public-domain text


Anna Maria Koch and Magdalene Fessler were girls — each about seventeen years of age — living in Gonten in the year 1849. On June 12 of that year the dead body of the latter was found lying in a ditch in one of the village pastures. There were upon it no marks of violence, and a coroner’s jury was led to conclude that the girl had come to her death by falling into the ditch in the dark. A little later, the discovery was made that on June 10 Anna Koch had sold to a silversmith in Gonten a chain, a locket, and a rosary. These articles on examination were proved to have belonged to Magdalene Fessler. Anna Koch was placed under arrest and asked to make explanation. The story related by her is as follows: –On the Sunday following Frohnleichnamsfest she met Jean-Baptiste Matezenauer, a young man of the village, and he gave her the articles of jewellery, saying that he had found them. He told her that she must sell the things and put the money in a bag which she was to hide in a field. She must then take with her a friend, stroll through the field and, as though by chance, spy the bag, pick it up and say, “Oh! I have found something!” With the money she was to buy a wedding dress, Matzenauer promising in a short time to marry her. Matzenauer was arrested and confronted with his accuser. He protested innocence, but the girl adhered to her story. She did even more, she enlarged upon it. She said that on the morning of Frohnleichnamsfest she had been in Matzenauer’s company; that he had then told her he meant to kill Magdalene Fessler in the afternoon, and had asked her to station herself in the field where the ditch was. This, she said, she had done, and that while there she saw Matzenauer drag thither the body of his victim. Despite the inherent improbability of her whole account, the girl vehemently reiterated it, each time challenging Matzenauer to a denial. At last the bewildered inquisitorial fathers before whom the examination was being conducted — perhaps with some recollection of the efficacy of torture in eliciting actionable testimony in the case of Landamman Suter — ordered Matzenauer to be brought under the lash. This was done, but without the hoped-for result. Matzenauer remained obdurate.

The case dragged on till November 13. It was then suddenly terminated by the confession of Anna Koch that she alone had planned and committed the murder. The details of the confession were substantially these: –She, a poor girl, had for a long time felt hurt in pride that she had not the money with which to provide herself the chains and trinkets commonly worn by the girls of her acquaintance. So keen was this feeling that finally she resolved to purchase a chain from one of the silversmiths of Gonten and trust to fortune to enable her to pay for it. She obtained the chain, but failing to pay for it by the time agreed on with the silversmith, was asked to return it. The necessity of doing so was fully impending when, on Frohnleichnamsfest, she met Magdalena Fessler in the churchyard, at the beginning of afternoon service. The latter had about her neck a beautiful chain, and Anna Koch, seeing it, was prompted to kill her, take the ornament, sell it, and with the money realised meet her own debt to the silversmith. She told her friend that she had lost her rosary, and asked her to go with her to find it. The two girls walked on together, soon passing into the field containing the ditch. As they were crossing the latter on a plank Anna Koch pushed Magdalene Fessler, causing her to lose her footing and fall into the water. She then jumped into the ditch herself, seized the head of her victim and, holding the mouth open with her fingers, kept the head under water until death ensued from strangulation. Having made her confession, Anna Koch asked that she might suffer the extreme penalty for her crime. Young people of her acquaintance petitioned the Great Council for a pardon. This was refused, the vote standing only six for pardon and ninety-six for punishment. Decree was then entered that the guilty one be beheaded on the block.

The day before that fixed for the execution (the latter being December 3) the condemned girl spent quietly in prayer and in communion with her confessor. She expressed herself as being entirely reconciled to her fate and, in fact, as anxious to meet it. But when led forth on the day of execution, her manner changed. The wild instincts of her Appenzell nature reasserted themselves. She declared that she could not and would not die, and with fierce cries drowned the voice of the officer who read her death-warrant before the people. The reading finished, four strong men seized the girl and bound her on a sled. Thus secured she was dragged to the headsman’s block in the market-place. But here a fresh difficulty was encountered. On being released from the sled her struggles were so frantic and determined that the executioner could not perform his task. After several vain attempts he sent the Reichsvogt (the same mediaeval official personage that had figured at the execution of Dr. Anton Leu and Landamman Suter) to report the situation of affairs to the Great Council and ask advice. The reply returned was that the headsman must do his duty. After an hour and a half of cries and resistance on the part of the condemned, her head was firmly secured to the block by the braids of her hair, and the fatal stroke given.


Gonten (it’s the long collection of buildings along the valley road, at the base of the slope) and environs. (cc) image from Michael Beat.

* Appenzell Innerrhoden is the smallest canton by population, and is larger by area only than the urban canton of Basel-City.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Children,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Murder,Pelf,Public Executions,Switzerland,Women

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