1923: Bernard Pomroy

Add comment April 5th, 2020 Headsman

The Dundee Courier of Feb. 7, 1923, brings us the dramatic entrance into the criminal justice system’s toils of Bernard Pom(e)roy, who murdered his sweetheart Alice Cheshire after two-timing her with Alice’s own sister Mabel — getting the latter pregnant.

Girls’ Fatal Taxi Drive

Lover Who Surrendered Charged With Murder

“It Is All Right Cabby, Drive To Police Station”

“There are blood stains on my hands. The woman is in the taxi.”

With that blunt announcement a well-dressed young man dashed into Vine Street Police Office, Piccadilly, London, early yesterday morning.

To the taxi to which he had referred the police rushed, and there they found a girl with a wealth of golden hair lying unconscious on the floor with an ugly wound in her throat. Without regaining consciousness she died shortly after being admitted to Charing Cross Hospital.

Man Charged.

The victim of the tragedy is Alice Cheshire (22), whose home is at Boxmoor, near Memel Hempstead, Herts, and who was in service in North London.

The man who gave himself up, and who is said to have been her lover, was Bernard Pomeroy (25), also of Hemel Hempstead. He was charged with the murder of the woman at Vine Street Police Station last night, and will appear at Great Marlborough Street Police Station this morning.

“Cabby, It’s All Right”

The couple had evidently been travelling in the taxicab for a long time, for more than £2 was marked on the cab’s clock, representing the equivalent of a 40-miles run.

Pomeroy, it is stated, admitted to the police that he had cut the girl’s throat with a clasp-knife, and with this knife was found in the taxi covered with blood.

When the taxicab was crossing Leicester Square the river heard the woman screaming. Looking through the window, he is alleged to have seen a struggle taking place. He pulled the taxicab up, and when he got to the door the man is alleged to have said, “Cabby, it’s all right, drive me to Vine Street Police Station.” The driver did so and on arrival the man made a statement to the police and was detained.

A ‘Phone Call.

Inquiries made at Hampstead show that the dead girl had been employed at West Hampstead for only a few weeks, and very little was known about her. She was a very quiet spoken girl, and always neatly dressed, said a maid at an adjoining house.

“She said very little to me about her affairs,” a fellow-servant said, “but I had an idea that he was very friendly with a man. Whether he was her fiancee [sic] or not I cannot say, but I know they met occasionally. I thought she had been rather worried lately.”

Some light is thrown on the mystery by a telephone call to the house of the dead girl’s employers yesterday.

The telephone was answered by another servant, and the caller — evidently a man — asked for Miss Cheshire. Miss Cheshire was not available at the moment, so the man rang again ten minutes later.

Miss Cheshire then answered, and it is said she agreed to meet the man, it being her night off. She left after dinner, and was due back at 10 p.m., but nothing was heard until the news of her death.

Pomeroy’s parents are an elderly couple, who have lived in Hemel Hempstead with their son and daughter for some years. “I cannot at all understand or explain anything,” the father said when interviewed. “The news came to us just as we were sitting down to breakfast. All I know is that my son went away last night just about as usual. He has been very strange at times since he came home wounded. He was knocked out in the shoulder and has done nothing since. He has been in a number of hospitals.”

“Worshipped Each Other.”

“Alice,” said Mrs Cheshire, the mother of the dead girl, “was 22, and was the third of four daughters. She went into service at Hampstead about three weeks ago, before which she was in a temporary situation.

“As far as we know she had been acquainted with Pomeroy for about four years. We regarded them at first as very great friends, and latterly as sweethearts. They worshipped each other.

“Bernard used to come here very frequently, and even when she was not here he used to come up and spend the evening with us.

“On Monday he came here and said he was going to see the girl’s father. After an interview with him he came back and said he was going to London to see Alice.

“I begged him not to go. I said we would do everything we could for him if he would act straight to Mabel (an elder daughter). I thought I could see Alice and explain the situation to her, and get her to see the matter in the right light and break it off with Bernard.

“We have begged Alice times out of number, but she always said, ‘Mother, I cannot. It has gone too far.’

“Bernard promised me he would not go to London yesterday, but apparently he sent a wire to Alice and met her. Alice informed me that she intended to meet Bernard.

“Alice kept very much to herself, and when she went out it was always with Bernard. Until Sunday she had no idea that Bernard had formed an intimacy with Mabel. Alice was a tall, pretty girl with a wealth of golden hair.”


Further detail is supplied by the same journal’s February 9 edition, covering the resulting coroner’s inquest.

Driver’s Story of Taxi Tragedy.

Murder Verdict Against Girl’s Lover.

A verdict of wilful murder was returned against Bernard Pomeroy, the girl’s lover, at the inquest at Westminster yesterday on Alice Chester [sic], who died from the effects of a wound alleged to have been inflicted in a taxi by Pomeroy.

Pomeroy, who stands remanded on the capital charge, was present in Court, seated between two policemen. He will be tried at the Old Bailey.

Esau Cheshire, of Bourne End, Hemel Hempstead, father of the dead girl, said that she had been keeping company with Pomeroy for about three years. Witness had another daughter, Mabel, with whom Pomeroy had been on terms of intimacy, and on Sunday evening she told witness she was in a certain condition. Pomeroy owned up to it.

On Monday Pomeroy called with his father and said that he was going west. He also said that he was going to see Alice, but witness tried to persuade him to stop.

He suggested that he should wait till Tuesday, as Alice was coming home that day.

“Say Goodbye Properly.”

Gladys Carrie Payne, cook at Hampstead House, where the girl was employed, said that on Monday evening Alice Cheshire twice had conversations on the telephone. Pomeroy came to the house at 6.30, and had tea with the maids. Pomeroy and the girl left after seven, Alice stating she was probably going to the theatre. As they were going out of the door, added witness, Pomeroy said, “Why not say goodbye properly, in case she does not come back again.” I simply that he was joking, said witness, who added that she thought he seemed a bit agitated and impatien[t] to get off.

Herbert Richard Golding, taxi driver, said Pomeroy hired his taxi at 11.10 on Monday night. Witness drove the couple to Kilburn and then on to Watford. At the latter place Pomeroy said — “It is rather late now. Go straight back to town.” Witness said he took them back to Leicester Square, and then Pomeroy asked him to drive to Templewood Avenue, Hampstead. Approaching Swiss Cottage, witness said he heard a slight scream and what he took to be somebody laughing. When they got to Hampstead Pomeroy asked the time, and said the house was in darkness and they drove back to Leicester Square. It was after 1.30.

Coroner — Weren’t you getting uneasy about your fare? — Yes, sir, but I knew it was in a vicinity where I could get protection. Both appeared fairly well dressed, and in a position to pay.

At Leicester Square Pomeroy told him to drive to the nearest police station. At Vine Street witness noticed accused’s hands were red, but he thought it was red ink.

The girl was afterwards found on her back on the floor of the cab, with the knees drawn up. There was a large box of chocolates on the seat and chocolates were scattered about. The clock of the cab registered 45s 6d.

“Did She Suffer Much, Doctor?”

Dr Gordon Hussey Roberts, of Charing Cross Hospital, said that when the girl was admitted she was gasping through a wound in the neck. She died twenty minutes after admission. Death, added the doctor, was due to hemorrhage. The throat was cut deeply from side to side, completely severing the larynx.

Pomeroy — Did she suffer much, doctor? — No, not after I saw her.

Inspector Rice said Pomeroy told him he had known Alice Cheshire for four years. Asked as to the woman’s injury, he said, “Yes, I did it.” He added that he did it with a knife.

A police official gave evidence that when told he would be charged with the wilful murder of a girl, Pomeroy said, “I have nothing to tell you.” Later, when charged, the accused made no reply.

Inspector Vanner said there were some affectionate letters between the dead girl and Pomeroy. One was handed to the Coroner, who, however, did not read any extracts.

Pomeroy declined to give any evidence.


On April 6, the Courier summed up the Pomeroy would go on to plead guilty to the capital charge, making no effort to oppose his own execution which was carried out on April 5, 1923.

Pomroy Hanged.

Smiled When Sentenced to Death.

Bernard Pomroy, shop assistant, of Hemel Hempstead, was executed at Pentonville yesterday morning for the murder of Alice May Cheshire (21).

The circumstances of the crime were peculiar. Pomroy on the night of the murder took the girl, with whom he had been keeping company, to the Coliseum, and after the performance they travelled in a taxi from Holborn to Watford and back, and thence to hampstead.

Pomroy then told the driver to proceed to Leicester Square, and when the cab arrived there directed him to drive to the nearest police station, where he gave himself up. The girl was lying on the floor of the taxi with a wound in her throat. She died shortly after her admission to hospital.

When put on trial for his life Pomroy pleaded guilty, and refused to withdraw that plea in spite of the Judge’s advice. He also declined legal aid, refused to give evidence, and would not address the jury. He smiled when sentenced to death. An appeal to the Court of Criminal Appeal was dismissed.

At the inquest which followed the execution the Governor of the prison said that only nine seconds elapsed between Pomroy leaving the condemned cell and death taking place. There was no hitch of any kind.

Harold Pomroy, of Hemel Hempstead, said that the deceased was his brother. After serving in the war he was a physical wreck, but the family had the consolation and joy to know that he was innocent of the crime for which he had paid the death penalty.

The usual verdict was returned.

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2005: Six surprised Somalis

Add comment April 4th, 2020 Headsman

Six Somali migrant workers were publicly beheaded in Jeddah on this date in 2005 for robbing taxi drivers. The muggings, though violent, were not fatal to the drivers, so the punishment was quite harsh even by the harsh standards of KSA.

According to an Amnesty International researcher, the doomed men had not been “informed in advance that their five-year prison sentences, which they had served — and also been lashed — by May 2004, had apparently been changed later to death sentences by a secret procedure.” They were unaware until the morning of their execution that they had even been condemned to death.

Their names were Ali Sheikh Yusuf, Abdel-Fatar Ali Hassan, Abdullah Adam Abdullah, Hussein Haroon Mohamed, Abdul-Nur Mohamed Wali and Abdullah Hassan Abdu.

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1919: The Pinsk Massacre

Add comment April 5th, 2019 Headsman

A century ago today, a Polish army major had 35 Jews executed in Pinsk.

After the devastation of World War I, Poland and now-Soviet Russia fell into war in early 1919 over the oft-trod lands between them.

In late March of that year — still the opening weeks of the conflict — the Polish 34th Infantry Regiment commanded by Major Aleksander Narbut-Luczynski captured the town of Pinsk which today lies just on the Belarus side of the Belarus-Ukraine border. This town had seen occupying armies cross it to and fro during the recent bloody years: Germany captured it from Russia in 1915; the Soviets recaptured it shortly after World War I; now, the Poles expelled the Red Army.

They weren’t exactly greeted as liberators. Town and occupiers alike were on edge when Major Narbut-Luczynski caught word of about 75 Jews holding a meeting. Believing them to be Bolshevik agitators, he had the lot arrested and — according to a subsequent report on events by former U.S. ambassador Henry Morgenthau, Sr.

conducted to the market place and lined up against the wall of the cathedral. With no lights except the lamps of a military automobile, the six women in the crowd and about twenty-five men were separated from the mass, and the remainder, thirty-five in number, were shot with scant deliberation and no trial whatever. Early the next morning three wounded victims were shot in cold blood as soon as life revealed itself in them.

The women and other reprieved prisoners were confined in the city jail until the following Thursday. The women were stripped and beaten by the prison guards so severely that several of them were bedridden for weeks after, and the men were subjected to similar maltreatment.

Morgenthau’s and history’s verdict on the Pinsk Massacre was that the town’s Jews were meeting legally to discuss distribution of relief packages received from the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. “Incredibly brutal,” Morgenthau wrote of Major Narbut-Luczynski in his memoirs. “And even more incredibly stupid.”

The still-extant kibbutz Gvat in northern Israel was founded by settlers from Pinsk — and dedicated to the victims of this massacre.

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1525: Jakob Wehe, rebel priest

Add comment April 5th, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1525 the radical priest Hans Jakob Wehe was beheaded.

Wehe led a muster of 3,000 Bavarian peasants which briefly seized the town of Lepheim, during Germany’s bloody Peasants War, ere it was routed by the Swabian League.

On the 5th of April towards evening, they [Wehe and some other captives] were taken to a flowery meadow lying between Leipheim and Budesheim to be executed. As Master Jakob was led forward to the block, Truchsess turned to him with the words: “Sir paster, it had been well for thee and us hadst thou preached God’s word, as it beseemeth, and not rebellion.” “Noble sir,” answered the preacher, “ye do me wrong. I have not preached rebellion, but God’s word.” “I am otherwise informed,” observed Truchsess, as his chaplain stepped forward to receive the confession of the condemned man. Wehe turned to those around, stating that he had already confessed to his Maker and commended his soul to Him. To his fellow-sufferers he observed: “Be of good cheer, brethren, we shall yet meet each other to-day in Paradise, for when our eyes seem to close, they are really first opening.” After having prayed aloud, concluding with the words: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,” he laid himself on the block, and in another moment his head fell in the long grass.

The preacher of Günzburg, who had also taken part in the movement, and an old soldier of fortune, who had joined the rebels, were brought forward in their turn to submit to the same fate, when the old soldier, turning to Truchsess, observed: “Doth it not seem to thee a little late in the day, noble lord, for one to lose one’s head?” This humorous observation saved the lives of himself and the preacher. The latter was carried about with the troops in a cage, until he had bought his freedom with eighty gulden. He lost, however, the right of preaching and of riding on horseback!

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1864: Jose Maria Chavez Alonso, governor of Aguascalientes

1 comment April 5th, 2017 Headsman

On this date in 1864, the French executed the governor of Aguascalientes.

Elected to the post during early months of the unfolding French intervention in Mexico, Jose Maria Chavez Alonso (English Wikipedia entry | Spanish) was deposed by the invaders in December 1863 — to be succeeded by a different Chavez who met an equally violent fate.

Alonso formed a popular militia and continued a short-lived resistance against the French but was captured early in 1864, and although this was still some months before the dirty war’s notorious “Black Decree” the French determined to make an example of him.

Alonso aside, the Mexican adventure proved a right catastrophe for France and its adherents.

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1356: Four friends of Charles the Bad

Add comment April 5th, 2016 Headsman

On this date in 1356, the French King John II — John the Good, to history — avenged himself on his cousin and rival, Charles the Bad.

This affair embroils us in the French dynastic turmoil that spawned the Hundred Years’ War: five months after the nastiness in this post, King John was an English prisoner following the catastrophic Battle of Poitiers. It’s a good job he got his revenge in when he had the chance.

The fight — in its largest sense — was all about the throne of France, the poisonous fruit of the dynasty-wrecking Tour de Nesle affair of royal adultery decades before. That affair destroyed two princesses who could have become queens, and with it the potential of legitimate heirs for their husbands. With the family tree’s next generation barren, succession passed from brother to brother until the last brother died.

So now who’s big man in France?

Awkwardly, the last king’s nearest male relative also happened to be the king of France’s rival — his nephew, Edward III of England.

France barred Edward with a quickness, on the grounds that Edward was related via a female line. That put the patrimony in the hands of John the Good’s father, a previously un-royal cousin known as Philip the Fortunate. Less fortunately, this succession also conferred upon the new Valois line Edward’s rival claim and the associated interminable violent conflict.

Besides these two, there was yet another cousin who aspired to the French scepter: our guy Charles the Bad, King of the Pyrenees-hugging realm of Navarre. This guy’s mother had her legitimacy cast in doubt by the whole Tour de Nesle adultery thing years ago, and her woman bits had ruled her out of ruling France — but not Navarre. (No Salic Law in Navarre: a digression beyond this post.)

So Charles, her son and heir in Navarre, was at least as close to the Capetian dynasty as were his cousins — and maybe closer. He was also “one of the most complex characters of the 14th century,” in the judgment of Barbara Tuchman (A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century). “A small, slight youth with glistening eyes and a voluble flow of words, he was volatile, intelligent, charming, violent, cunning as a fox, ambitious as Lucifer, and more truly than Byron ‘mad, bad and dangerous to know.’

“His only constant was hate.”

And Charles sure hated King John. Was it the political rivalry? The daughter John had foisted on him as a bride? The territory John nicked from Navarre to confer on John’s favorite as Constable of France?* Yes.

Charles had subtlety in his bag of clubs, and brutal directness too. In 1354, he revenged at least one slight by having his brother murder the aforementioned Constable — also a favorite and childhood friend** of King John — in a tavern ambush.

(There’s an audio introduction to Charles the Bad complete with hammy re-enactment of the homicide in episode 110 of the History of England podcast. What follows below leads off episode 111.)

Too weak politically at that moment to repay Charles in his own coin, John had to sullenly consent to a putative reconciliation … but he was only biding his time. Charles compounded the enmity by his scheming on-again, off-again negotiations with the English, hoping to leverage the war between those powers to his own advantage.

He was a constant thorn in King John’s side, and the latter had problem enough with the English invasions and the struggle he had to gin up tax revenue to oppose them. The apparent last straw: Charles buddied up to John’s son the Dauphin and tried to engineer a coup d’etat against John. John settled on a vengeful stroke to put both the King of Navarre and the crown prince in their places, a party-fouling scene to beggar Game of Thrones in Froissart’s description:

The king of France, on Tuesday the 5th of April, which was the Tuesday after midlent Sunday, set out early, completely armed, from Mainville, attended by about one hundred lances. There were with him his son the earl of Anjou, his brother the duke of Orleans, the lord John d’Artois, earl of Eu, the lord Charles his brother, cousins-german to the king, the earl of Tancarville, sir Arnold d’Andreghen, marshal of France, and many other barons and knights. They rode straight for the castle of Rouen, by a back way, without passing through the town, and on entering found, in the hall of the castle, Charles, duke of Normandy, Charles king of Navarre, John earl of Harcourt, the lords de Preaux, de Clerc, de Graville, and some others seated at dinner. The king immediately ordered them all, except the dauphin, to be arrested, as also sir William and sir Louis de Harcourt, brothers to the earl, the lord Fricquet de Friquart, the lord de Tournebeu, the lord Maubué de Mamesnars, two squires called Oliver Doublet and John de Vaubatu, and many others. He had them shut up in different rooms in the castle; and his reason for so doing was, that, since the reconciliation made on occasion of the death of the constable of France, the king of Navarre had conspired and done many things contrary to the honour of the king, and the good of his realm: the earl of Harcourt had also used many injurious expressions in the castle of Vaudreuil, when an assembly was holden there to grant a subsidy to the king of France against the said king, in order to prevent, as much as lay in his power, the subsidy from being agreed to. The king, after this, sat down to dinner, and afterwards, mounting his horse, rode, attended by all his company, to a field behind the castle, called the Field of Pardon.

The king then ordered the earl of Harcourt, the lord of Graville, the lord Maubué and Oliver Doublet to be brought thither in two carts: their heads were cut off,† and their bodies dragged to the gibbet at Rouen, where they were hung, and their heads placed upon the gibbet. In the course of that day and the morrow, the king set at liberty all the other prisoners, except three: Charles king of Navarre, who was conducted to prison in the Louvre at Paris, and afterwards to the Châtelet: some of the king’s council were appointed as a guard over him. Fricquet and Vaubatu were also confined in the Châtelet. Philip of Navarre, however, kept possession of several castles which the king his brother had in Normandy, and, when the king of France sent him orders to surrender them, refused to obey, but in conjunction with the lord Godfrey de Harcourt and other enemies of France, raised forces in the country of Coutantin, which they defended against the king’s troops.

* The post was vacant because the previous Constable had been executed.

** And distant kin, but who isn’t?

† By a convenient prisoner dragooned into the duty, who required many more hacks at the bone than there were heads to sever.

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1766: William Whittle

1 comment April 5th, 2015 Headsman

William Whittle, a Catholic, was executed at Lancaster on this date in 1766 for murdering his Protestant wife and their children in a religious frenzy.

For whatever reason, several years into his union, Whittle took deeply to heart a priestly warning that he was liable to damnation for marrying a heretic. He accordingly ended the marriage by “cleaving his Wife’s Head with an Axe, and ripping her Belly open, and afterwards cutting off the Heads of the two Children, one of whom he also ripped open and took out its Heart.” (St. James’s Chronicle, April 5, 1766)

(The children, Whittle said, had been imperiled in soul by their mother’s taking them to an Episcopal church; in murdering them their loving father had sent them to purgatory en route to heaven, saving them from eternal hellfire.)

Whittle was condemned to be hung in chains for the shocking crime, a demonstration that Catholics understood as aimed pointedly at them. At least of their number replied with like menace in an anonymous letter to the Rev. Mr. Oliver of Preston, the magistrate who committed Whittle to prison.

Sir, I make bold to acquaint you, that your house and every clergyman’s that is in the town, or any black son of a bitch like you, for you are nothing but hereticks and damned fouls. If William Whittle, that worthy man, hangs up ten days, you may fully expect to be blown to damnation. I have nothing more material, but I desire that you will make interest for him to be cut down, or else you may fully expect it at ten days end. My name is S.M. and W.G.

(Letter as quoted in the Leeds Intelligencer, April 22, 1766 — also the source of the newspaper screenshot above)

Mainstream suspicion of Catholics at this time — which was within living memory of the last great Jacobite restoration attempt — was quite deeply ingrained; as one can see from the riposte above, the sentiment was mutual. After all, these were matters of eternal salvation even if Whittle himself “appeared to be a stupid, bigotted, ignorant fellow.”

The shocking family butchery evoked a minor wave of fretting over insidious Catholic-Protestant intermarriages. I think the present-day reader will not have much difficulty recognizing contemporary analogues to this thrust of resulting commentary:

I am likewise persuaded that there are many lay-papists in the kingdom who abhor this fact of Whittle as much as any protestant can do. But if their religion does not give countenance to such doctrines as this alledged by this miserable man, why do they not by some public act disavow their approbation of them? why do they leave suspicions upon themselves and their religion by their silence, when such occasions call upon them so pressingly to explain themselves, and particularly when they are complaining of the severity of the penal laws[?]

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2005: Glen James Ocha, poorly endowed

Add comment April 5th, 2013 Headsman

On this date in 2005, Glen James Ocha took a lethal injection on account of his tiny penis.

It’s true. Ocha on Ocober 5, 1999 picked up a Kissimmee, Fla., barmaid named Carol Skjerva and got her (consensually) into bed.

But Skjerva sent his manhood meter to half mast by busting on Ocha’s unimpressive junk and threatening to tell her boyfriend, who was probably the kind of guy who wouldn’t stand for another man rogering his girl with a mere gherkin.

It’s sad but true that we can’t all wear magnums, and probably most on the hung-like-a-mouse side of the spectrum would prefer not to broadcast the fact to the wide world. But here’s a tip it might have done Glen Ocha well to reflect upon: one good way of keeping strangers in the dark about the paltry dimensions of your John Thomas is not to get yourself arrested for strangling and beheading a woman who makes fun of the paltry dimensions of your John Thomas.

Adolescent chortling aside, this was obviously quite a horrible tragedy for Carol Skjerva, as well as the boyfriend (actually her fiance). Nor was genitalia the only compromised characteristic of the murderer, who was high on ecstasy at the time this all happened and had a history of psychiatric problems and suicidal ideation, all circumstances that comport well with Ocha’s decision to sit his victim’s decapitated head in his lap for a little post-mortem conversation.

This gentleman went right onto suicide watch in the prison, but they needn’t have worried: Ocha was more than ready to work within the system. He confessed to the murder, pled guilty at trial, and dropped all appeals past the minimum required by law, hastening his trip to Florida’s gurney. (Along the way he legally changed his name to Raven Raven.)

His final statement:

I would like to say I apologize to Carol Skjerva, the girl that I murdered, her family and her friends. This is the punishment that I deserve. I’m taking responsibility for my actions. I want everybody to know I’m not a volunteer but this is my responsibility I have to take.

(Meanwhile, he released a last written statement, reading “I unjustly took the life of Carol Skjerva. I have made my peace with my God and go now to face His judgment.”)

Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, a Catholic just as Ocha was, said he was actually prepared to delay the execution out of respect to the April 2 passing of Pope John Paul II. Ocha, the determined volunteer, had no interest in any delay.

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1916: Joseph Hani, abandoned

Add comment April 5th, 2012 Headsman

“Mr Joseph Hani was hanged for treason in the Burj at 5 a.m. At 8 a.m. 40 families deported.

-Diary of Mrs. Harry Dorman, April 5, 1916*

The unfortunate Joseph Hani — Yusuf al-Hani — was among the worthies of Beirut’s Maronite Christian community to petition the French consulate for western aid in detaching Lebanon from the Ottoman Empire.

With the development of World War I, the French ambassador Francois Georges-Picot abandoned the embassy … without removing or destroying this sort of incriminating correspondence. As a result, the Turks ransacked the embassy and identified several dozen of reproachable loyalty to the Porte to put to death.

May 6 — Martyrs’ Day — honors these victims, but Hani was among the very first of them.

While most of the other Maronite signers were able to fly, Hani stuck around to face the music. A British agent was able to contact the implicated characters in Aley Prison, and received the plaintive answer,

‘Where are the English? Where are the French? Why are we left like this?’

* I believe an ancestor of the current president of the American University of Beirut, Peter Dorman. The source of the diary citation is Nicholas Z. Ajay Jr.’s “Political Intrigue and Suppression in Lebanon during World War I” in International Journal of Middle East Studies, Apr., 1974.

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1918: Robert Prager lynched during war hysteria

4 comments April 5th, 2011 Headsman

On this date in 1918, German coalminer Robert Prager was lynched near Collinsville, Ill., for making disloyal utterances against the United States as his adoptive country entered World War I.

Basically the most visible and famed victim of patriotic anti-German bellicosity, Prager ironically is rather difficult to reconstruct as an unambiguous anti-war activist. After his mob execution, a baker would even come forward to say that he had been thrown in the clink when Prager accused him … of badmouthing a patriotic display. Prager himself had tried to enlist in the Navy and been rejected for medical reasons.

“Prager was, in fact, as loyal to the United States as any native-born citizen, and his innocence was attested to by many who knew him,” according to Donald Hickey in the summer 1969 Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society. “Two of the men with whom he boarded attested to Prager’s loyalty. One said that although Prager was a radical socialist, he had said he was ‘all for the United States’ when this country entered the war.”

But he was a socialist, and a German, and seems like the sort whom others might have found personally unpleasant. It is in the midst of a tiresome local dispute with a union leader (the union also rejected him) that Prager came to the unwelcome attention of the rabble: the union leadership accused him of being a spy, which led Prager to post handbills around town denouncing this lot for their scurrilous accusation. This obviously did him more harm than good and as the public conviction that Prager was disloyal took hold, it overran the halfhearted efforts of the town’s putative authorities to keep a semblance of order.

A mob on April 4 captured Prager at his home, paraded him, made him kiss the flag — momentarily rescued and hustled off to jail by police and a mayor who tried to talk the mob out of its design — then shanghaied from his “protective” custody cell and taken to the outskirts of Collinsville for hanging on a tree.

Eleven men stood trial for the affair over three weeks. Once the matter was finally rested with the jury, they were instantly acquitted.

There was wild applauding and cheers from ‘most everyone present. Relatives, friends and acquaintances rushed toward the bar to shake hands with the defendants. …

There was a peculiar coincidence at the trial Saturday. The Jackie Band was in Edwardsville for a patriotic demonstration.

When a shower of rain came up the musicians were sent to the court house where it had been arranged to give a program. At 2:40 o’clock judge Bernreuter ordered a recess after the completion of arguments and before reading the instructions.

Then word was sent that the band might play until court re-convened. The first number of all concerts is the Star Spangled Banner and it was played Saturday.

The strains from the Jackie Band caused tears to flow down the cheeks of Riegel. He was still crying when he returned to the court room.

As the jury came in with its verdict the band was at the head of a procession of draft boys and in passing the court house played “Over There.”

While Prager’s murder stands as the most emblematic event of anti-German intimidation during America’s months in the Great War, it was far from the only one: many others nearly as ugly stopped just this side of homicide. Papers were rife with reports of German immigrants being made to kiss the flag; clapped in jail for suspect utterances; of being menaced by mobs.

Outrageously, Germany made propagandistic use of these events, which the virtuous Entente powers would certainly never do.


Washington Post, April 11, 1918.

A number of federal lawmakers, as well as former presidents William Howard Taft and Theodore Roosevelt, condemned the lynching, mostly in the familiar coded terms with which lynchings were opposed in those days: one would rather let justice take its course. Mob rule is itself disloyal. Etc. (See Hickey)

But the right-thinking potentates of the war party were also finding themselves relieved that a polity which had re-seated the current president on the slogan “he kept us out of war” would so pliably turn towards bellicosity. This charade so mechanically familiar in our time was still an arcane and uncertain art in America’s imperial adolescence.

“The recent lynching of a German in Illinois and violent outbreaks of the same character in other parts of the country,” intoned the Washington Post, “have awakened the Department of Justice to the need of a law which will enable government officers to prosecute pro-Germans rather than leave them to be dealt with by mob law.”

Oh. Danke very much.

An unsigned editorialist in the paper’s April 12 edition opined so nauseatingly brutal and specious that in another age it would have earned its author an immediate contract with Fox News:

Stamping Out Treason

The question whether or not the laxity of the laws against treasonable utterances has been responsible for the people’s acts in taking the law into their own hands has been much debated of late.

While sedition may have been encouraged to some extent because of the comparatively mild risks involved, it is quite probable that the pro-German intrigues would have been carried on if the risk had been greater. This suggests the thought that other reasons must be looked for to account for the general revulsion of public sentiment against the treason spreaders and the prompt punishment meted out to them in so many instances.

A plausible explanation is found in the fact that the open and ingenuous American mind had been fed up on German lies to the point where it broke out in fierce revolt. At the beginning of the war, and even after the entrance of America into it, there remained debatable points in many minds. Though of a minor nature and scarcely affecting the larger issue, these points were emphasized by enemy agencies which had been at work from the beginning. But as the truth has been laid bare the indignation of the people has grown stronger. The fact that the rounding-up process has been most vigorously conducted in the middle West tells its own story in this respect. It was that section which was slowest to wake up. There the enemy propaganda apparently worked with most success. So it is there that the people have arisen unitedly in their righteous wrath against the treason talkers.

The comparative absence of outbreaks of this character in the East is explainable on the same theory. In the East the public mind toward the war was much earlier divested of errors. Consequently the enemy agents were more wary in their utterances, not because of any greater stringency of the law, but because of their appreciation of the temper of the people.

In spite of excesses such as lynchings, it is a healthful and wholesome awakening in the interior part of the country. Enemy propaganda must be stopped, even if a few lynchings may occur. The people know what they want. They are not seeking to subvert law and order.

Other powerful institutions were not quite so sanguine as the Post: the lynching was discussed hours after it occurred in the U.S. cabinet, no doubt mindful that it was also being denounced in the German Reichstag. And indeed all concerned marshaled these animal spirits of the populace towards killing men by the thousands under the auspices of the state rather than singly by drunken small-town mobs.

Fears of German reprisals against American prisoners never seem to have materialized; neither is there any other documented lynching in the short course of America’s World War I involvement that was conducted on unambiguously “patriotic” grounds.

* Any number of other papers joined the Post in this campaign, including the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and the Chicago Tribune. A few weeks later, they got their wish — the Sedition Act, under which the Socialist Eugene Debs was arrested for speaking against the war.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Activists,Borderline "Executions",Disfavored Minorities,Espionage,Execution,Hanged,History,Illinois,Lynching,No Formal Charge,Public Executions,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Treason,USA,Wartime Executions

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