1902: Clinton Dotson, bad son

Add comment April 4th, 2018 Headsman


Headline from the Salt Lake (Utah) Telegram, April 4, 1902

On this date in 1902, Montana hanged Clinton Dotson.

Dotson was already in prison for the murder-robbery of miner Eugene Cullinane* when he conceived what the Anaconda Standard (April 4, 1902) called “one of the most shocking murders that the world has ever known.” Permitting the newsman a pass for this slight exaggeration, it was indeed a real triumph in mustache-twirling villainy: the assassination of Dotson’s own father as part of a Rube Goldberg scheme to get himself out of jail.

Briefly, the scheme was that James Fleming, alias James McArthur, cellmate of Clinton Dotson, upon his release during the first part of January, 1901, should go to the cabin of Captain [Oliver] Dotson and extract from him by threat or otherwise a confession that it was he, Captain Dotson, who slew Cullinane. If Captain Dotson refused to make such a confession, McArthur was to kill the old man and arrange the body and the furniture of the house in such a way as to leave the impression that the old man had died by his own hand. A confession exonerating Dotson [and his confederates] from responsibility of Cullinane’s murder was then to be forged.

With a devil’s cunning, Fleming carried out this diabolical scheme. So cleverly was it done that, but for the prior knowledge possessed by the prison officers, the theory of suicide would probably have been accepted. Close investigation, however, showed that the suicide theory was impossible, that the deed had been done by one hidden in an adjoining room … [and Fleming] took no steps to conceal his tracks.

Fleming had already been executed in September, on the same gallows that claimed his parricidal sponsor.

* Dotson had also served time for homicide in Wyoming.

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

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1975: Pierre Galopin, hostage of Hissene Habre

Add comment April 4th, 2017 Headsman

On this date in 1975, French Major Pierre Galopin was executed by Chad rebel Hissène Habré.

Galopin (English Wikipedia entry | French) had been dispatched to the former French colony to negotiate the release of two French nationals* seized as hostages by Habre’s Command Council of the Armed Forces of the North (CCFAN).

You’ll never guess it: CCFAN also took Galopin hostage.**

CCFAN tried to leverage its new captive into an arms trade. When France dragged its feet, the Chadians terminated the negotiation by having Galopin condemned by a “revolutionary tribunal” and hanged to a roadside tree.

Habre would eventually take power as President of Chad in 1982, and was subsequently welcomed on state visits to the former mother country — much to the disgust of those who remembered the Frenchman sacrificed to his ambitions. Galopin was hardly the last man to be so distinguished: as of this writing, Habre is serving an eternal prison sentence in neighboring Senegal for crimes against humanity committed during his eight years ruling Chad.

* Archaeologist Françoise Claustre and development worker Marc Combe. (A third hostage, West German doctor Christoph Staewen, had also been taken, but had quickly been ransomed by his government.) Combe escaped in 1975. Claustre was not released until 1977.

** CCFAN was also riven by a major internal division that by 1976 would split the movement into two rival organs. It has long been murky (French-language pdf here) just whose interest within CCFAN was best served by the hostile course of events.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Borderline "Executions",Chad,Execution,France,Hanged,History,Hostages,Soldiers,Torture

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1809: Four by William Brunskill at Horsemonger Lane

Add comment April 4th, 2016 Headsman

Jackson’s Oxford Journal, April 1, 1809:

ASSIZES. — At Surry [sic] assizes, the following capital convicts received sentence of death: — J.A. Davison, J. Mason, J. Wood, and S. Hilton, for burglary; W. Leech, for highway robbery; J. Bartlet, [sic] for an unnatural offence; T. Hall, for extorting money under a threat of charging J. Clarke with an unnatural offence; H. Edwards, for shooting at W. Smith; J. Stenning, for forging a note; C. March, for cattle-stealing; S. Turner, for privately stealing; and Mary Ann Ellis, J. Hopkins, and J. Cobb, for stealing in dwelling-house. The Judges reprieved all except Bartlett, Edwards, Mason, and Wood.

Robert Skinner was indicted for attempting to ravish Mary Ann Hill, on the 16th of February last, at Wandsworth. The prosecutrix, who stated herself to be only 16 years of age, deposed that her father was a market-gardener at Wandsworth, and the prisoner worked in his service. On the 16th of February last they were at work together in a shed. He was binding coleworts, and she was trimming them.


A field of colewort. (cc) image by patchara yu.

After he had finished, he came to where she was sitting and threw her down. He was, however, interrupted by the coming of a cart, or she believed he would then have committed the offence charged. On cross-examination, she said her father had a cottage in his garden in Garret-lane, and she, her sister, and another girl slept there alone. On the 14th of January the prisoner was there in the evening; they gave him some beef-steaks for his supper, and he would not go home. She gave him the mattress to lie upon without side her chamber door. — In the night she heard a noise, and got up to see what it was; they were both naked. She did not tell her father of this. A few nights afterwards they had him to supper again, and got him some sausages; he would stay all that night, and she then let him lie in the same bed, but she did not let him lie next to her. The Learned Judge here interrupted, and observed it was ridiculous to talk of any attempt at a rape after this. The prisoner was of course acquitted.


Jackson’s Oxford Journal, April 8, 1809:

EXECUTION. — James Bartlett, for an unnatural crime; Henry Edwards, for highway robbery; and John Biggs and Samuel Wood, for burglary, were executed yesterday morning, [April 4, 1809] at the usual hour, on the top of the New Prison, Horsemonger-lane, in pursuance of their sentence. The crowd assembled on the melancholy occasion was excessive. The unfortunate men met their fate with great fortitude, and died acknowledging the justice of their punishment. Biggs sarcastically observed to the Executioneer, [sic] when he was pinioning him in the usual way — “I wish you had a better office.”* — He with the rest died extremely penitent. A hearse conveyed the body of Bartlett to Limehouse, where he is to be interred. — He is stated to have conveyed before his trial upwards of 1500l. to his daughters.

* The hangman so busted upon was William Brunskill, who already had near a quarter-century in his poor office by that time. It’s a bit hard to tell from the printed account, but since Brunskill had some notable ten-thumbed hangings to his credit — like that of Joseph Wall seven years before — the “better office” remark might have been a Monmouth-esque professional rebuke.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,England,Execution,Hanged,Homosexuals,Public Executions,Sex,Theft

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1895: William Lake

Add comment April 4th, 2015 Headsman

On this date in 1895, William Lake died in the electric chair for soiling Albion, N.Y., with a most gory crime of passion.

The farmhand Lake nursed a very one-sided crush on a servant in the household of farmer Joseph Van Camp, 18-year-old Emma Hunt. One October night in 1894, the farmer called on a neighbor, leaving the two alone in the kitchen.

He returned an hour later to find Emma Hunt slaughtered as if by a demon. Her throat was slashed ear to ear and cross-shaped slashes to her abdomen had nearly disemboweled her. Nearby lay a bloody hammer that had caved in her skull. Lake was nowhere to be found, but he only dodged the sheriff’s posses for a few days before an officer caught him hiding in a barn.

It turned out upon Lake’s ready confession that this crime of passion was also one of calculation. Emma, said Lake, “bothered me and hectored me” in disdaining his affections, and “I made up my mind I would kill her.” (New York Herald, Oct. 22, 1894)

While the family ate supper on that horrible night, William Lake wrote out a confession to the murder he was going to commit once left alone, and packed a satchel with which to flee. (He forgot the satchel when the time came.) Lake’s written confession attributed a lifelong bitterness to his illegitimate birth.

He did not attempt to mitigate the crime in any way and welcomed a death sentence that was conducted within seven weeks of his conviction.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Electrocuted,Execution,Murder,New York,USA

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1884: Henry Rose

Add comment April 4th, 2014 Headsman

Special dispatch to the St. Louis Globe-Democrat (April 5, 1884), which perhaps accounts for the outsized interest in the provenance of the rope.

MEMPHIS, TENN., April 4. — Henry Rose was hanged to-day at noon at Osceola, the county seat of Mississippi County, Ark., for the killing of Dempsey Tyler, a well-to-do negro who resided near Osceola. The preparations for the hanging were made by Sheriff W. Huskins some two weeks ago. The scaffold was newly built, as it was the first execution there for several years. The rope used was made at St. Louis of hempen material, and was 18 feet long and three-fourths of an inch in diameter. In ordering the rope Sheriff Haskins said he wished it to be good and strong, as the culprit weighed 200 pounds. A large crowd of negroes witnessed the execution. Rose, who is a negro, made a full confession of his guilt, and in a rambling speech on the scaffold told his listeners to be warned by his fate. His neck was broken by the fall.

THE CRIME.

The murder was a cold-blooded affair, as Taylor was killed while seated at his fireside one dark and stormy night, a load of buckshot being fired into the back of his head through a window only a few feet distant with fatal effect. The murderer escaped for the time being, but he left tracks which led to his discovery, arrest and conviction. He had gone to Taylor’s house in his stocking feet, and Sheriff Haskins, suspecting him of being the guilty party, inquired of a little girl at his residence for the stockings Rose wore on the night of the killing. The girl in reply to the Sheriff said, “Dey am under de bed, hid.” The tell-tale objects were found, and they led to further developments, which fixed the deed where it properly belonged. The man killed was popular with his race, but was regarded as an impudent and overbearing person by his white neighbors. It was for some slight or fancied wrong that Rose sought to revenge himself by slaying Taylor in the manner he did.

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1962: James Hanratty, the killer all along

9 comments April 4th, 2012 Headsman

Fifty years ago today, still insisting that he had “a clean conscience,” James Hanratty was hanged at Bedford Prison for the murder of Michael Gregsten and the rape-shooting of his mistress Valerie Storie.

Hanratty, a petty criminal with no history of violence — “I try to live a respectable life, except for my housebreaking” he testified* — fell into a web of questionable circumstantial evidence, plus the (also questionable**) eyewitness identification of the surviving Ms. Storie.

It was called the “A6 murder” because a stickup man had forced the lovers at gunpoint to drive him along that road, until pulling them over at the aptly-named Deadman’s Hill where he did the vicious deeds and left his victims for dead.

This was a bizarre and shocking crime, and the investigation led back to Hanratty only via a winding, almost accidental trail.

The murder weapon materialized on a bus, wiped clean of fingerprints; later, cartridges to match it materialized at a boarding house, and a confused reconstruction of whose aliases were occupying which rooms there uncertainly suggested Hanratty as a suspect.

The case, checking in at a then-record 21 trial days, featured 70 witnesses battling over inconclusive data points like the doubtful relationship between autobiographical remarks made by the killer and Hanratty’s actual biography, and Hanratty’s want of an apparent motive for an act so foreign to his previous m.o. On the other hand, some witnesses put him in incriminating places, and Hanratty damningly lied about and changed his alibi.

What to do? A jury mired in hours of inconclusive deliberation at one point sent back to the court to clarify the concept of “reasonable doubt.” In the end, it decided its doubts weren’t reasonable enough to spare James Hanratty the noose.

Meanwhile, another suspect from the same boarding-house, Peter Alphon, behaved extremely erratically in the run-up to Hanratty’s hanging, hounded Hanratty’s friend until the latter committed suicide, and then eventually (after the hanging) confessed outright. For Hanratty’s many advocates, Alphon looked an awful lot like reasonable doubt … or more.

This case was long a cause celebre for death penalty foes in the U.K. owing to its evidentiary shakiness; none of the other seven put to death in Great Britain after Hanratty were plausible innocents.


John Lennon and Yoko Ono commiserate with James Hanratty’s parents in 1969. (Photo by Express/Express/Getty Images, via here.)

In 2000, DNA tests conducted on Valerie Storie’s underwear and the handkerchief which wrapped the recovered gun finally offered the prospect of more certain forensic identification than had been available at the time of the trial. Those tests matched (pdf) James Hanratty’s DNA … and nobody else’s.

While this result has not resolved all controversy about the A6 murder case — witness this book-length forum discussion — nor ended the Hanratty family’s campaign for exoneration, it’s pretty well cut the legs from Hanratty’s actual-innocence argument. Whatever one can say about the original trial, it sure looks like Hanratty was the killer all along.

A few books about James Hanratty and the A6 case

* Feb. 8, 1962 testimony, as reported in the next day’s London Times.

** Aside from the inherent unreliability eyewitness testimony, Valerie Storie at one point picked an airman stand-in in a lineup; when she later identified Hanratty, it was not by his appearance but by his cockney accent.

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1994: Richard Beavers, hungry to die

2 comments April 4th, 2011 Headsman

On this date in 1994, Richard Beavers was executed by lethal injection in Texas.

Beavers abducted, robbed, and shot dead a young Houston couple — or so he thought; the woman survived and later testified against Beavers.

The Death Penalty Information Center’s executions database classes around 10% of all prisoners put to death in capital punishment’s modern American incarnation as “volunteers,” men and women who ultimately assent to their own execution — most famously including the very first, Gary Gilmore.

Beavers was among them. In the last weeks of his life, the legal issues surrounding his case were not the usual battery of dilatory strategems — but Beavers repelling (successfully) the attempted intervention of the Texas Resource Center’s appellate attorneys despite his objections.

Beavers may have embraced death, but that didn’t make him immune to the pleasures of the flesh.

Last meal request: Six pieces of french toast with syrup, jelly, butter, six barbecued spare ribs, six pieces of well-burned bacon, four scrambled eggs, five well-cooked sausage patties, french fries with ketchup, three slices of cheese, two pieces of yellow cake with chocolate fudge icing, and four cartons of milk.

Our day’s malefactor contributed no last statement to the annals, but was quoted as telling an Associated Press reporter that “it’s really a great day to die, to leave the body.” You’d think so too after that kind of meal.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Lethal Injection,Murder,Rape,Texas,Theft,USA,Volunteers

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1693: Anne Palles, the last witch executed in Denmark

Add comment April 4th, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1693, fortified with a half-pot of wine provided at public expense, 74-year-old Anne Palles was beheaded and then burned as a sorceress — the last “witch” put to death in Danish history.

Palles got caught up in the usual way: an aged farmer’s wife misfortunate enough to be attached to a couple of incriminating coincidences. Nine-tenths of Denmark’s 1,000 or fewer executed witches were women, two-thirds of them over 50 years old. (Danish-language source.)

Palles was accused (Danish) by a “wise woman” who was herself trying to beat a rap for attempted murder with black magic.

Once that happened, it all started to make sense (more Danish): the sudden death of a woman her husband had once danced with; the poor production of cows passing a place where Palles had pissed.

Clap her in prison and twist her arm a little, and she’ll cop to having “given herself to the Devil, life and soul”, and rolled with an infernal familiar (a black cat: how trite) by the name of “Puus”.

Though you wouldn’t call a thousand executions a drop in the bucket, Denmark never really experienced the witches’ holocaust that occurred in some other European locales. A 1576 law* providing an automatic judicial appeal for sorcery condemnations is often credited for this happy-ish circumstance; in this case, Palles recanted her confession on appeal as torture-induced, and a divided high court in Copenhagen only confirmed the death sentence by an 11-6 vote. (Antonin Scalia writing for the majority.) Even her burning-alive sentence was moderated by the crown to beheading, followed by posthumous burning.

Everyone being a little uncomfortable with the case didn’t ultimately do Anne Palles much good. Another woman, Anne Kruse, had died in prison with her, and was posthumously burned at the stake; the woman who’d made the initial accusations was flogged … and Anne Palles had her head struck from her body and her remains burned to ashes as a witch.

But an era had passed with the cooling of those embers.

Just three years later, an outbreak of witch accusations — the “possessions of Thisted” — rocked northern Jutland. This case boomeranged on its accusers (we’ve seen that elsewhere in Scandinavia), and largely put a stop to witchcraft prosecutions … though the superstition that generated them would persist for quite some time longer.

After 1650 — and thus long before the official day of reckoning for witch-belief during ‘the possession of Thisted’ in 1696-98 — a marked drop in the numbers of witch-trials took place … and the Jutland High Court judges grew more and more sceptical. One of them, the Professor of Mathematics, Villum Lange [Danish bio], wrote to Peder Schumacher (the later Griffenfeldt) in 1670: ‘During the past few days we have had a crowd of women brought before us, accused of sorcery. We have condemned a number of them to the stake; but because they are so foolish and simple-minded we have recommended to the court that the case should first be brought before His Majesty for appeal … One of them confessed to us herself that she had talked with the devil; but whether it was melancholia or some other form of fantasy, or was the honest truth, God alone knows. To me she appeared to be a person in her second childhood.’ No wonder that rumours soon began to circulte that this High Court judge ‘was siding with the sorceresses and saying that no sorceresses existed.’ Towards the close of the century the common people were complaining that the Jutland High Court judges never condemned anyone to the stake any more, and tht was the reason for there being so many sorceresses in Jutland.

But it was only among the educated upper clases [sic] that attitudes were changing. Among ordinary folk the need for witch-trials continued to be felt far into the future, and when the authorities would no longer agree to her this type of case, people several times took the law into their own hands. In 1722 some pesants at Gronning on Salling lynched a witch by burning, and in 1800 the last murder of a witch occurred at Brigsted in the neighbourhood of Vejle.

Gustav Henningsen, “Witchcraft in Denmark”, Folklore, Vol. 93, No. 2 (1982), pp. 131-137

* The first of its kind in Europe. Two other legal ordinances from earlier in the 16th century restricted the use of torture to gain confessions and barred courts from crediting the accusations of other convicted witches, and they also helped constrain outbreaks of widespread persecutions. (Anne Palles’s case looks to have skated pretty close to the line on both of those counts.)

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Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Beheaded,Burned,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Denmark,Execution,History,Milestones,Posthumous Executions,Public Executions,Torture,Witchcraft,Women,Wrongful Executions

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1761: Theodore Gardelle, artist

1 comment April 4th, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 1761, Swiss-born portrait miniaturist Theodore Gardelle was hanged for murdering his landlady.

“We have to lament,” begins our guide, “that the woman might not have met her death at his hands, had she allotted some discretion to the limits of her tongue — a weapon, we may call it, often goading a man to a frenzy of the mind, ending in horror.”

In later years, she might have wielded a midriff.

[Gardelle] was born at Geneva, a city which is famed for giving birth to great men, in both the arts and sciences. He chose the miniature style of painting, and having acquired its first rudiments, went to Paris, where he made great proficiency in the art. He then returned to his native place, and practised his profession for some years, with credit and emolument; but, being unhappy in his domestic concerns, he repaired to London, and took lodgings at Mrs. King’s, in Leicester-fields, in the year 1760.


Art by Theodore Gardelle.

Gardelle’s version of the crime — long story short — is that he got into a tiff with said landlady, who stumbled when he shoved her and thereby fatally struck her head on the bedstead.

Panicked, Gardelle hid the body and began disposing of it in pieces over the succeeding week, until the ongoing dismemberment was quite accidentally discovered by the almost terminally incurious servants.

One reflection, upon reading this dreadful narrative, will probably rise in the mind of the attentive reader; the advantages of virtue with respect to our social connections, and the interest that others take in what befalls us. It does not appear that, during all the time Mrs. King was missing, she was enquired after by one relation or friend; the murder was discovered by strangers, almost without solicitude or enquiry; the murderer was secured by strangers, and by strangers the prosecution against him was carried on.

But who is there of honest reputation, however poor, that could be missing a day, without becoming the subject of many interesting enquiries, without exciting solicitude and fears, that would have no rest till the truth was discovered, and the crime punished?

Theodore Gardelle didn’t have the luxury of being so philosophical about it — but “was executed amidst the shouts and hisses of an indignant populace, in the Haymarket, near Panton Street, to which he was led by Mrs. King’s house, where the cart made a stop, and at which he just gave a look. His body was hanged in chains upon Hounslow-heath.”

Part of the Themed Set: Selections from the Newgate Calendar.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Artists,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Gibbeted,Hanged,Murder,Public Executions

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