1852: Ann Hoag and Jonas Williams

Add comment July 30th, 2012 Headsman

On this date in 1852, a white woman and a black man — no connection between them — were hanged on an upward-jerking gallows in Poughkeepsie, New York.

31-year-old (though she looked 22, said smitten newsmen) Ann Hoag was a foundling who’d been raised by an adoptive family, then married a local farmer in a union that featured at least five children, financial loss, and a good deal of unhappiness. The sequence of causation among those mutually convivial characteristics is left for the reader’s imagination. Eventually — the New York Times (July 31, 1852) is most piquant on this — succumbing to the thrall of a younger lover, “the ill-starred woman plunged into misery and degradation, renounced virtue, reputation, husband, and children, until at last she murdered her husband” with arsenic and eloped with her paramour to Bridgeport.

Luckily for Ann, her brief summer of carnal liberty sufficed to quicken her belly, with the result that her delicate condition bought her a few extra months of life. On April 18, 1852, she gave birth to a baby daughter, and sealed her own fate.

A most interesting scene occurred in the separation of the child from the unhappy mother, which none but a mother’s heart can conceive. It appeared as if the last prop of life, the very cords of the heart were being severed, when, with the most endearing caresses, amid tears and sobs, the mother looked for the last time on that innocent babe, which since its birth had unconsciously shared her solitude and been her solace. As it passed forever from her sight, she exclaimed — “Now let them execute me — I have nothing to live for — one by one they have dragged my children from me.” (Albany Journal, Aug. 5, 1852)

Although the faithless wife left a 70-page statement implicating her lover William Somers, that gentleman was acquitted in October of 1852 on a charge of accessory to murder.

Jonas Williams, Ann Hoag’s partner upon the gallows, was much less the sighed-over. Williams committed a “fiendish outrage” upon his 11-year-old stepdaughter, killing her.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Hanged,History,Murder,New York,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Sex,USA,Women

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1936: Mary Frances Creighton and Everett Applegate

2 comments July 16th, 2012 Meaghan

(Thanks to Meaghan Good of the Charley Project for the guest post. -ed.)

On this date in 1936, onetime lovers Everett C. Applegate (referred to in some accounts as “Edward” or “Earl”) and Mary Frances Creighton, who went by her middle name, were electrocuted in Sing Sing Prison for the murder of Ada Applegate, Everett’s wife.


Mary Frances Creighton (top) and Everett Applegate.

Newspapers of the time referred to Frances as the Long Island Borgia. The murder came about as a result of, depending on your point of view, a Jerry Springer-type sensation or horrific child sexual abuse or both: In 1934, Frances and her husband and their two children were living with the Applegates and their daughter in Nassau County, New York.

By January 1935, Everett Applegate was having an affair with Frances. He was also interested in the Creightons’ blooming teenage daughter, Ruth. By June of that year the thirty-something man was sleeping with her also, with the knowledge of — and in at least one case, in sight of — Ada, whose obesity kept her mostly confined to bed.

Ruth was delighted with her new boyfriend, who drove her anyplace she wanted to go, gave her money and and bought her clothes and other gifts. But when Frances found out about the relationship in July, she was furious and humiliated.

Not only was Everett in the arms of another, but he was making her, Frances, look like a bad mother. Ruth was going to school dressed like a harlot, even wearing lipstick. Suppose she became pregnant? This would bring terrible shame upon the family.

In mid-September, Ada Applegate became violently sick, with diarrhea and bilious vomit. She spent a few days in the hospital and was discharged, without a diagnosis but feeling much better.

Immediately after she got home, however, her symptoms returned, and she died two days later, on September 27. The cause of death was listed as “coronary occlusion” — in other words, a heart attack.

Frances was a bit of a hard case and no stranger to murder. She and her husband John were living with his parents, as well as her teenage brother, Raymond Avery, in New Jersey in 1920 when Anna and Walter Creighton suddenly sickened and died, one after the other.

In 1923, Raymond too became ill with the same symptoms and rapidly expired, and his sister and brother-in-law collected his $1,000 life insurance policy. Frances and John were charged with his murder after the autopsy, held in spite of their objections, found arsenic in young Raymond’s body.

After the autopsy, deeply suspicious investigators exhumed the elder Creightons’ bodies while their son and daughter-in-law were in jail. No arsenic could be found in Walter’s system, but Anna’s contained a lethal dose, and Frances (but not John this time) was charged with murder even before she came to trial for her brother’s death. She’d never gotten along with her in-laws or they with her, and just before Anna became ill, Frances had made ominous statements that the old woman would shortly “destroy herself.”

The Creightons’ four-day trial for Raymond’s murder resulted in acquittal for both defendants. John went home and Frances remained in custody for another two weeks until she faced her next trial, for the death of Anna Creighton. The prosecution was unable to prove she had personally purchased any poison, and the 24-year-old defendant, an attractive nursing mother who was keeping her infant son in her cell with her, presented a sympathetic picture. Once again, she heard a jury announce a murder acquittal.

But she didn’t take warning from her two near escapes.

Twelve years later, Ada Applegate became the third person close to Frances Creighton who died of arsenic poisoning. Goodness knows how many more she might have ventured.

The police knew about Frances’s relatives’ proclivities for mysterious deaths, and were deeply suspicious. An autopsy revealed three times the lethal dose of arsenic in Ada’s corpse, and it didn’t take long for Frances to crack under questioning.

She admitted to poisoning Ada, but also implicated Everett, saying he’d known about the crime all along and had helped her. She also claimed he used his knowledge of her past to blackmail her into having sex with him.

Frances killed Ada, Frances said, so Everett would have a chance to make an honest woman out of Ruth, and because Ada had been gossiping in the neighborhood about her husband’s affair with the girl.

Frances Creighton and Everett Applegate found themselves arrested. Only then did a bewildered John find out about the sexual improprieties that had been going on for months right under his nose. Remarkably, he stood by Frances and said he believed her to be innocent of murder.

He was the only one.

A look into Frances’s past revealed some very additional suspicious incidents apart from the deaths in her family. Relatives of a neighbor she quarreled with got extremely ill after having tea with Frances, and although they pulled through, later on, the neighbor’s house burned down.

The fire was arson and Frances had been the prime suspect, but there was insufficient evidence to arrest her.

As for Everett Applegate, the case against him was far less persuasive.

Frances made three statements: in the first, as told above, she implicated her erstwhile lover. In the second, she said she’d done the murder all on her own and Everett was not involved. The third time she went back to blaming him: he had mixed the poison, and she had given it to his wife.

To this shaky accusation add the ill feeling engendered by Everett’s caddish mores, and it was enough for an indictment. (Everett was also charged with criminally assaulting Ruth. At his arraignment he attempted to plead guilty to this, saying, “I want to marry this girl.” The judge refused to accept the plea.)

By the time of the trial, Frances had gone all-in on blaming Everett. She claimed the lothario had “made” her poison Ada. Her defense portrayed her as a weak woman who had been lead astray by an evil, domineering male. But Everett’s lawyer made sure the jury heard about the deaths of her brother and parents-in-law in New Jersey, and her conviction was a foregone conclusion.

The main evidence against Everett was Frances’s testimony, the fact that he was known to have purchased the rat poison that wound up in Ada’s eggnog, and his despoiling the teenage daughter of his paramour. Everett’s defense attorney agreed their client was a scumbag and a pervert, but denied that he was a murderer.

In his concluding arguments, the attorney asked the jury to acquit Everett of killing his wife and convict him instead of the rape of Ruth. It didn’t work: the jury convicted him on both counts.

While the two condemned awaited their fate, Ruth, who had been sent to a girls’ reform school, would later write a letter to the authorities. She said her mother was innocent and she had heard Everett say he wanted to do away with Ada so he could marry her. No one believed her story.

On the day of their executions, Frances was given the first slot in hopes that she might make a final statement exonerating Everett. Alas, she was in no condition to give any statement at all; suffering from hysterical paralysis, she had to be taken to the chamber on a wheelchair, and some reports state that she was completely unconscious when they strapped her into it. She was the first executee at Sing Sing in 45 years who was unable to walk on their own to their death.

Everett, still protesting his innocence, followed her ten minutes later.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Electrocuted,Execution,History,Murder,New York,Sex,USA,Women

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1912: Frederick Seddon, for love of money

2 comments April 18th, 2012 Headsman

A century ago today, a jittery Frederick Seddon hanged at Pentonville Prison for murder.

This was a sensational and utterly circumstantial case … although the laudatory London Times editorial of March 15, 1912 noted, “as Shakespeare has it, there are ‘strong circumstances which lead directly to the door of truth.'”

(This earnestly presented line might have been inserted by a subversive copywriter, since the Shakespeare character who spoke those words was the duplicitous Iago … in the scene where he misleads Othello into believing his wife unfaithful and sets in motion the play’s tragic outcome.)

Seddon, the district superintendent of the London and Manchester Insurance Company, wouldn’t have been the type to appreciate the irony. He was a prosperous little man who knew the value of a pound and not enough else.

A couple of years before, Seddon’s family had taken on as a boarder an eccentric, cheapskate spinster answering to the name of Eliza Barrow. Everyone got on famously and Barrow came to trust the discreet bourgeois’s financial advice — trusted it even enough to transfer to him thousands of pounds of assets in exchange for a three-quid-a-week lifetime annuity plus rent-free lodgings.*

Annuity Gratuity

Now, Jane Austen would have us believe that “people always live for ever when there is an annuity to be paid them,” but this was not at all the case with Miss Barrow: just a few months after emptying her coffers into Seddon’s, she took ill with stomach pain, refused to pony up for a hospital visit and made Mrs. Seddon nurse her,** and after two weeks’ misery finally died in her bed on September 14, 1911.

The doctor who had called on her a couple of times ruled her, sight-unseen, a casualty of a going diarrhea epidemic, and handed to Seddon a death certificate which conveniently enabled him to arrange her immediate funeral, on the cheap.

And that was that.

Only when Barrow’s relatives caught wind of her fate and came calling, there to get short shrift from the landlord along with news that all their prospective inheritance was now his, did the strange dead woman get on her way to becoming a household name. When the corpse was exhumed fully two months after burial, there was still enough arsenic in it to kill a person.

Odorless, colorless, and tasteless, with symptoms mimicking gastrointestinal disease in a time when cholera was frequent and autopsies were rare, arsenic got its reputation as “inheritance powder” from its supposed-but-difficult-to-prove widespread use in the 19th century to hasten inconvenient rivals and relations off this mortal coil.

The stuff was also pretty easily available, in products like flypaper. The Seddons had purchased some arsenical flypaper a few days before their lodger fell ill, and the inference is that they soaked it† (which you’re supposed to do) and then laced the resulting poison-laced water into Barrow’s victuals (which you’re not).


It’s her own fault she didn’t insist on Acme brand arsenic-free water. (cc) image from Carlton Browne.

Pomp & Circumstance

All this admittedly incriminating stuff hung together as a case on so much supposition: that Barrow died from arsenic, and that the otherwise un-homicidal Seddons had means, motive, and opportunity to kill her, did not quite add up to proof positive.

Of course, one of the many murderous virtues of arsenic was the ease with which one could administer it, suspicion-free. Very rarely did anyone glimpse the villain, eyebrows peaked and mustache a-twirl, theatrically tapping out drops from a skull-labeled vial: even with the forensic methods coming online, arsenic allegations were circumstantial as to who and how and why practically by definition.

Progress of the case that winter made headlines all over, the biggest thing to hit the bar since Dr. Crippen.

It also became a permanent entry in the lawyers’ primer on why not to let your client testify.

Both Frederick Seddon and his wife Margaret stood trial together, and the evidence against each was pretty much the same. But Margaret was a slam-dunk acquittal, and in fact the judge’s charge to the jury all but directed that result.

However, Frederick’s insistence on testifying to rebut some of the aspersions cast on him would backfire catastrophically. (At least, that was Seddon’s lawyer’s take.)

Seddon insisted on his innocence to the very last, and to read with that idea in mind the testimony he gave for himself, it rarely looks substantively damning. But Seddon’s carriage reputedly pulled together for the jury all the trial’s circumstantial bits, into a believable story of a mean and stone-hearted fellow fully capable of killing for lucre. His demeanor was calm to the point of coldness, his command of the finances in his life meanly obsessive, and he showed unnerving insensibility to human fellow-feeling with his late tenant (he started selling her jewelry the day after she died) or her bereaved (he made only a perfunctory effort to notify her family, and gave them little help when they did show up on the grounds that none was the legal next of kin).

“I am not so ready to think evil of people,” Frederick Seddon said ingenuously at one point when the topic was other people who might have been robbing Miss Barrows. It’s like it didn’t occur to him even while on trial for his life that anyone might think evil of him.

Take, for example, this response to the suggestion that he had stolen a couple hundred pounds sterling from the trunk in Eliza Barrow’s room immediately upon her death.

Your suggestion infers [sic! sort of!] that I am a greedy, inhuman monster, committing a vile crime, such as the prosecution suggests, and then bringing the dead woman’s money down and counting it in the presence of my assistants. The suggestion is scandalous. I would have had all day to count the money.

It has a sort of autistic genius, an absolute tone-deafness that would be impossible to place in a literary character’s mouth lest the scene collapse into slapstick. Jurors must have taken the bloodless insurance adjustor for an insect, and accordingly had not the least compunction about squashing him.

Here’s more Seddon testimony under cross-examination. Again, it’s not exactly self-incriminating, but sufficiently calculating and blase to give you the willies when juxtaposed with late events of his life.

The ATTORNEY-GENERAL proceeded to question Seddon on the subject of the annuity which he said he granted to Miss Barrow in consideration of the transfer to him of her leasehold property and India stock.

Had you ever done an annuity transaction before?

“Never in my life.”

This has turned out a remarkably lucky investment from a money point of view?

“Only from that point of view.”

According to what has happened, you paid out altogether £91 and the whole of the property fell to you — you had no longer any money to pay out? You had got the property on the condition that you were to pay out an annuity?

“Exactly, which I did.”

What I am putting to you is that when she died you no longer had to pay out money to her?

“Certainly not — that is the basis on which an annuity is granted.”

You were dealing with this woman, who was living in your house and who had no other advice, certainly as regards this matter?

“That is her fault. She was advised to have a solicitor. I bound myself by legal documents to pay her an annuity, and I carried out my obligations.”

Until September 14?

“During the whole course — as long as she lived.”

In reply to further questions, the prisoner said he only benefited to the extent of 28s. per week by not having to pay the annuity. Asked whether there would be any one else who would benefit by Miss Barrow’s death, he said he had never given that question any consideration. Asked whether he thought Miss Barrow was a person of ordinary mental capacity, he replied “Yes,” adding that he considered she was a very deep woman. As an insurance agent he from his observations considered that she was an indifferent life.

Did you form that opinion when you were negotiating with her for the annuity?

“I might have done. Her average expectation of life was only 21 years.”

Your view was that she would not live over that term, and according to your view she would live less?

“I did not expect her to live the average expectation of life — a woman in her indifferent state of health. She would not be a life that I would recommend any insurance company to accept.”

The jury only needed an hour to shorten Frederick Seddon’s life expectancy to the next few weeks.


Frederick Seddon receives his death sentence on March 15, 1912.

Yet even with the black cap on his head, the judge — a Freemason to whom fellow-initiate Seddon nakedly appealed in open court, “before the Great Architect of the Universe,” for remission of the penalty — couldn’t really articulate exactly what Seddon had been convicted for.

[E]ven if what you say is strictly correct, that there is no evidence that you were ever left at the material time alone in the room of the deceased person, there is still, in my opinion, ample evidence to show that you had the opportunity of putting poison into her food or into her medicine. You had a motive for this crime. That motive was the greed of gold. Whether it was that you wanted to put an end to the annuities or not, I know not — you only can know. Whether it was to get gold that was or was not, or that you thought was, in the cash-box, I do not know. But I think I do know this — that you wanted to make a great pecuniary profit by felonious means.

That’s been the verdict on Frederick Seddon ever since.

* As much as this reads like a transparent con, the modern reader probably won’t have to stretch very far to suppose why Eliza Barrow might have set more stock by a trusted neighbor with a bookkeeper’s heart than she would by dubious machinations of distant and unaccountable economic institutions. Heck, there’d only just been a bank run.

** Reported regimen: barley water and milk, beef juice, and soda water. Mmm-mmm.

† Trial testimony recounted at least one case where the landlords laid four pieces of flypaper into the soaking water. Since one was all that was needed, the presumptive purpose would be to strengthen the liquid’s concentration of poison.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,History,Murder,Pelf

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1906: Johann Otto Hoch, bluebeard

6 comments February 23rd, 2012 Headsman

On this date in 1906, still implausibly claiming his innocence, “Johann Otto Hoch” was hanged for the murder of his wife.

Though Hoch died “merely” for that one homicide, he was suspected of numerous others in a prolific career of avaricious bigamy.

Born as Jacob Schmidt in Germany a half-century or so before he hanged, Hoch immigrated to the U.S. in the 1880s and started wife-hopping for fun and profit, recycling names almost as frequently. (Hoch just happens to be the alias he was using when arrested: actually, it was the name of one of his victims, “a warped keepsake stored in an evil mind.”)

It’s a classic scam, really: woo, wed, and walk out — taking the spurned spouse’s assets with. Rinse and repeat. In 1905, Charlotte Smith of the Women’s Rescue League estimated that “no less than 50,000 women who have been married, robbed and deserted by professional bigamists.” (Chicago Tribune, Sept. 5, 1905)

“Marriage was purely a business proposition to me,” Hoch eventually admitted.

Sometimes Hoch was content to vanish with the cash (with nice twists, like a hat left by a riverbank to suggest drowning). Other times, he went above and beyond the standard in the professional-bigamy industry and availed the expedient of loosing the matrimonial bonds (and the purses of life insurers) by graduating himself to widowhood.

Precisely how many women he poisoned off with arsenic isn’t known exactly, but it’s thought to range into the double digits. And when he was on his game, he was known to churn through the ladies at breakneck speed. His last murder victim, and the one he hanged for, was Marie Walcker of Chicago … but as Marie lay dying of her husband’s expert ministrations, Johann, bold as brass, proposed to Marie’s sister Amelia. Those two “lovebirds” married a week later and within hours, the groom had disappeared, pocking $1,250.

Call Amelia doltish if you will, but she went straight to the police. It turned out it was Hoch who recklessly set himself up for capture with this whirlwind double-dip courtship, and the very freshly buried evidence of his recent malignity was easily retrieved from his late ex’s stomach. When arrested in New York, Hoch had a hollow pen full of arsenic.

Naturally, the marriage proposals poured in as Hoch awaited trial early in 1905.

Hoch was actually within moments of hanging in July 1905 when his defense team finally managed to raise the last $500 necessary to lodge an appeal. That’s right: justice with a co-pay. The legislature had considered, but had not passed, a law giving every death-sentenced person the right to appeal to the Illinois Supreme Court, and in lieu of such a measure, an appellant had to pony up for the privilege.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Illinois,Murder,Pelf,Serial Killers,Sex,USA

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1755: Mark and Phillis, a landmark

1 comment September 18th, 2011 Headsman

“I set off upon a very good Horse; it was then about 11 o’Clock, and very pleasant. After I had passed Charlestown Neck, and got nearly opposite where Mark was hung in chains, I saw two men on Horse back, under a Tree. When I got near them, I discovered they were British officers.”

Paul Revere‘s account of his midnight ride

This useful Cambridge landmark* so nearly catastrophic for the cause of American liberty had been supplied this date in 1755 by the fruit of American liberty’s original sin: slavery.

“Mark” was a Massachusetts slave who, for the crime of offing his master Captain John Codman — “willfully felloniously and Traiterously put a Deadly Poison called Arsenick into a Vial of Water” because Captain John had separated Mark from his family — was entombed in colonial cartography by means of hanging, tarring, and gibbeting in an iron cage.

This exceptional sentence was mirrored by the rare-for-North-America fate of burning alive meted out to Mark’s fellow-slave and co-conspirator, Phillis.

They were adjudged to have committed not merely murder, but that archaic offense of petty treason — betraying not their sovereign but their natural superior.

Besides Mark’s becoming a literal landmark, theirs was a landmark case: Mark and Phillis were the only people ever convicted (pdf) for petit treason in Massachusetts.

The records of this trial are preserved in a public domain volume available from Google books; we’re particularly drawn to a tangential mention in this tome of a British governor‘s defense of capital punishment as a specifically oligarchical strategy: “Whilst the people of this country lived from hand to mouth, and had very little wealth … capital punishment might in a great measure be avoided; but when by the acquisition, diffusion, and general intercourse of wealth, the temptations to fraud are abundantly increased, the terrors of it must be also proportionably enlarged; otherwise if, through a false tenderness for wicked men, the laws should not be sufficient to protect the property of the honest and industrious …”

borne on the night-wind of the Past,
Through all our history, to the last,
In the hour of darkness and peril and need,
The people will waken and listen to hear
The hurrying hoof-beats of that steed,
And the midnight message of Paul Revere.

Longfellow, who doesn’t mention Mark

* A nicely tarred corpse will really keep for you: one colonial doctor observing this gibbet in years past had noted that Mark’s “skin was but little broken altho’ he had been hanging there near three or four years.” This is the kind of Founding Fathers’ wisdom that latter-day America has so sadly turned its back on.

Part of the Themed Set: Americana.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Burned,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,England,Execution,Gibbeted,Hanged,History,Massachusetts,Milestones,Murder,Occupation and Colonialism,Popular Culture,Public Executions,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Slaves,USA

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1953: Miss Earle Dennison, the first white woman electrocuted in Alabama

2 comments September 4th, 2011 Headsman

On this date in 1953, Earle Dennison became the first white woman electrocuted in Alabama history.*

The 55-year-old widow had a sort of Arsenic and Old Lace and Orange Drink thing going on: that sugary refreshment administered by kindly old Auntie Earle on a visit to her niece Shirley Weldon was the delivery vehicle for that venerable poison.

Puking her guts out, little Shirley was raced to the hospital where Earle Dennison had her day job as a nurse. But while the child lay dying, the aunt slipped away so that she could make a payment on a $5,500 life insurance policy she had taken out on the kid — a policy that would have expired the very next day.

This whole affair could hardly fail to cast an incriminating light on the death two years prior of Shirley’s older sister … whose body, upon exhumation, also showed traces of arsenic.

Dennison was indicted but never tried for that previous possible murder; Shirley Weldon’s case would more than suffice to secure the landmark visit to Yellow Mama. The main question was really whether Dennison had been, juridically speaking, plum off her rocker.

Not far enough off it to help her.

Shirley’s parents subsequently won a $75,000 judgment against the insurance company for issuing the policy to an in-law with no insurable interest in the young victim, thereby “plac[ing] the insured child in a zone of danger, with unreasonable harm to her and … the defendants in issuing the alleged illegal contracts.”

But that was a different era. As of today, vast tranches of collateralized policies among suspicious parties with no insurable interest, issued by bankers as rich as Croesus and implicitly guaranteed too big to fail, might well constitute a forward-thinking investment opportunity for troubled economic times.

* There had been only one woman of any racial category electrocuted in Alabama full stop, according to the Espy file of historical U.S. executions: African-American Silena Gilmore in 1930. Prior to that, Alabama had not executed a woman at all since the Civil War.

Part of the Themed Set: Americana.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Alabama,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Diminished Capacity,Electrocuted,Execution,Milestones,Murder,Pelf,USA,Women

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1872: Yoarashi Okinu, geisha

Add comment March 28th, 2011 Headsman

On this date in 1872, geisha Yoarashi (“Night Storm”) Okinu was beheaded at Tokyo’s Kozukappara execution grounds after killing her lover to run away with a kabuki actor.


Via

A notorious dokufu, so-called “poison-women” that captivated that country in the late 19th century, Night Storm (English Wikipedia entry | Japanese) was of humble origins but became a sought-after geisha in Edo.

Her celebrity affairs are treated here (reliability: unknown), but the reason she’s in this here blog is poisoning off the second-last of them with arsenic in order to get free to run off with kabuki actor Arashi Rikaku.

Rikaku himself was up to his eyeballs in this same plot, and was arrested — our source says, during a kabuki performance! — and initially condemned to death. Since Okinu was pregnant, however, her execution was put off pending childbirth; eventually, Rikaku’s sentence was moderated from capital punishment altogether.

Okinu’s head was cut off, and displayed in public for several days. Her lover served three years in prison, then rebuilt his kabuki career as Ichikawa Gonjuro.

* The date was the “20th day of the 2nd month of the fifth year of Meiji”, using Japan’s system of dating years from the start of the current emperor’s reign. Helpful in nailing down the date: Tokyo’s first daily newspaper published its first issue on the very next day.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Entertainers,Execution,Gibbeted,History,Japan,Murder,Notably Survived By,Scandal,Sex,Women

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1957: Walter James Bolton, the last hanged in New Zealand

11 comments February 18th, 2011 Headsman

New Zealand got itself permanently out of the execution business after hanging Walter Bolton this date in 1957 for the murder of his wife.

The 68-year-old farmer was condemned after his wife finally succumbed to a year-long bout with some mysterious recurring ailment — and the post-mortem revealed long-term arsenic poisoning. Since Bolton turned out to have been having an affair with his wife’s sister, the pieces just fell right into place.

Jurors found these circumstances credible enough to stretch Bolton’s neck, but there’s the small problem that Walter Bolton himself also tested for arsenic poisoning.

The defense argued that the farm’s wells must have soaked up the poison from sheep dip.

But if you like your wrongful executions more sinister than dunderheaded, you might turn a wary eye to that adulterous sister-in-law, Florence Doherty, who committed suicide a year after Bolton hanged. This 2001 Investigate magazine argues (beginning on p. 24 of the pdf) that Doherty may have been a serial arsenic poisoner.

(Bolton’s hanging was also botched, to complete the official dog’s breakfast.)

Whether or not Bolton was rightly accused, nothing along the lines of a public scandal over the case triggered death penalty abolition in New Zealand.

It was rather the First World’s collctive mid-20th century move away from capital punishment. Various abolition efforts building in the 1950’s finally led to a 1961 free vote on the matter, in which ten members of the conservative National Party broke party ranks to eliminate the death penalty for all ordinary crimes. (Decades later, a Labour government also eliminated the death penalty for treason; New Zealand has only ever hanged one person for that crime.)

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Botched Executions,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Milestones,Murder,New Zealand,Sex,Wrongful Executions

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