1945: Seven German POWs

Add comment August 25th, 2017 Headsman

On this date in 1945, the U.S. Army hanged seven German submariners for their “traitor slaying” of a Werner Dreschler at the Arizona POW camp they all inhabited.

Their victim Werner Drechsler had been captured when his U-Boat was sunk of the Azores. Having no great love for the Nazi government which had tossed his father in a concentration camp, Drechsler willingly went to work for the Americans as a mole in the POW camps, scavenging his captive countrymen for whatever particles of actionable intelligence they might be willing to blab to a fellow prisoner.

Parked in Fort Meade, Maryland, Dreschler’s war figured to be long over. However, a careless (or worse?) March 1944 transfer to a different POW camp at Papago Park, Arizona put the turncoat into a prisoner pool that included his former U-Boat mates, and these men knew that Dreschler was “a dog who had broken his oath.”

Mere hours after his arrival to Papago Park, a drumhead court had convened to “try” Drechsler in absentia and when his fellow Kriegsmariners doomed him a traitor, he was attacked, beaten senseless, and then hanged in a prison shower.

Helmut Carl Fischer, Fritz Franke, Gunther Kulsen, Heinrich Ludwig, Bernhard Reyak, Otto Stengel, and Rolf Wizuy, were sentenced on March 15, 1944 for carrying out this murder, and all owned the deed upon their honor as Germans and soldiers.*

Still, they outlived the war — cynically dangled, Richard Whittingham argues in Martial Justice: The Last Mass Execution in the United States, as bargaining chips to protect American POWs in Berlin’s hands, and then cynically released to the executioner when the Third Reich’s disappearance dissipated their value as prisoner swap currency. (Seven different German POWs had been executed earlier that same summer.) It was the least the U.S. military could do after having more or less tossed poor Drechsler into a pit of crocodiles.

“The trap was sprung on the first man at 12:10, and the last man went to his death at 2:48 a.m.,” read the bulletin in the Fort Leavenworth News, army paper at the Kansas penitentiary where our day’s principals paid their forfeit. (Via) “A new system for mass hangings has been devised at the institution which saved more than an hour in the procedure.”

But mass hangings too were going out of fashion faster than Hitlerism, and this great leap forward in the executioner’s efficiency has never since been required again at Fort Leavenworth.

* It wasn’t necessarily a given that duty to German martial orders would cut no ice with the western Allies.

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1743: James Hunt and Thomas Collins, Pepper-Alley sodomists

Add comment August 25th, 2016 Headsman

This date’s post arrives via Rictor Norton‘s rich Homosexuality in Eighteenth-Century England sourcebook. We have cited this page before, notably in connection with London’s “molly houses”, a subject upon which Norton literally wrote the book.

His online “Sourcebook” compiles a vast trove of primary records capturing the prevailing views of early modern England’s sexual dissidents. Many of these records are legal proceedings, though most of those do not end at the gallows. Whatever their various fates, the misfortune to come under the court’s scrutiny preserves for us a snapshot of their circumstances.

Hunt and Collins were caught in a liaison at a house on Pepper-Alley, which once gave access to one of London’s innumerable little stairways into the Thames from which watermen would ferry passengers across and along the river.

To the frustration of the Ordinary they persistently denied it. Indeed, Hunt, a 37-year-old barge builder and “one of the most unaccountable Men that was ever under the like Misfortune” insisted quite violently that he had been stitched up by perjuring witnesses. As an Anabaptist, the threats to his soul that the C-of-E prelate delivered did not much bother him.

“He was one of the most morose, il-natur’d, surly Creatures that could breathe, and was never at Peace one hour, but continually railing against his Prosecutors,” we find. And even when an Anabaptist pastor was brought in to persuade him, “he answered, ‘Say no more to me about it; I’ll forgive no Body, for I’ll die harden’d.’ — This was a most shocking Speech for a Man who had but a few Hours to live; but he continued to the last Moment in the same Manner.”

A bit more polite about it was Thomas Collins, who had returned to England after spending a career as a soldier in the army of Emperor Charles VI. Still, Collins would not own any actual rendezvous with Hunt, saying only that the two had met by accident on Pepper-Alley and gone to the “Necessary House” (an outdoor toilet) where they “had not been there much above a Minute before two Men came and said they were Sodomites, and pull’d him off the Seat, and turned his Pockets inside out” but finding no money stomped off, complaining “here is no Feathers to pluck.”

The Ordinary was highly dissatisfied with their behavior.

Where two Men who were convicted of such an attrocious [sic] Crime, upon the fullest Evidence that was ever given in any Court of Justice, should prevaricate so much, and behave in so indecent a Manner as they (especially Hunt) have done ever since their Condemnation; the World must be left to judge, whether they were Innocent or Guilty.

Held in Southwark Gaol, they were executed at Kennington Common alongside three other men and a woman (crimes: housebreaking, returning from transportation, murder, murder) where both “continued quite obstinate” with Hunt even refusing to kneel for prayers. While Hunt had friends or money enough to have a coach ready to carry his corpse away from the surgeons who haunted hang-days in search of prey for their anatomy theaters, one final posthumous indignity still awaited Mr. Collins — described by the Ipswich Journal in its September 3 edition:

LONDON, August 27.
The Body of Thomas Collins, executed on Kennington-Common for Sodomy, that was carried off by the Surgeons, being, on Examination, found to be infected with the Venereal Disease, was carried back to the Gallows and there left naked.

Read the full account at Rictor Norton’s site here, or peruse the rest of the Sourcebook including his Grub Street resources on all manner of commoner life and literature (LGBT-related and not) for the 18th century British.

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1792: Barnabé Farmian Durosoy, royalist journalist

Add comment August 25th, 2015 Headsman

Litterateur Barnabé Farmian Durosoy was guillotined in Paris on this date in 1792.

Playwright, poet, and (most problematically) journalist, Durosoy‘s newspaper Gazette de Paris took issue with the French Revolution’s radical and anti-clerical turn — incurring the dangerous denunciation of Marat.

Durosoy had the boldness to denounce in print the 10 August coup whereby Georges Danton and the Paris Commune* toppled the monarchy.

“If these rebels dare to degrade the king then they dare to judge, and if they judge then their verdict is death!” Durosoy thundered.

He would not even live long enough to see his prophecy fulfilled: the Gazette was immediately suppressed and Durosoy brought to trial as “cashier of all the Anti-revolutionists of the interior.” (Carlyle)

He was the first journalist guillotined in revolutionary France — noting that he died as a royalist ought on the feast day of St. Louis.

* No, not that Paris Commune.

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1944: Durga Malla

Add comment August 25th, 2014 Headsman

Seventy years ago today, the British in Delhi hanged Gurkha soldier Durga Malla for spying against them — and on behalf of the army of the Japanese-backed nationalist provisional government, the Azad Hind.

World War II catalyzed India’s long-running national movement and helped lead directly to postwar independence. But during the war itself, it was a delicate relationship with the British Empire that still ruled the Raj.

Activists at the time took different views of how to proceed in wartime. For Gandhi, and this was also the predominant position of his Congress Party, India’s national rights overrode the mother country’s wartime exigencies: India must be free to choose her own part in the affair, as a coequal nation.

Unsurprisingly, London saw it differently. (The Raj sent over two million soldiers into the British ranks in these years.)

This led in August of 1942 to the Quit India movement, an attempted civil disobedience campaign against continued British rule. It was suppressed with difficulty — and with mass detentions, including of Gandhi himself. But hours before the arrest that would land him in British custody for the balance of the war, he delivered his Quit India speech, which warned in part against

hatred towards the British among the people. The people say they are disgusted with their behaviour. The people make no distinction between British imperialism and the British people. To them, the two are one. This hatred would even make them welcome the Japanese. It is most dangerous. It means that they will exchange one slavery for another.

Which brings us to Durga Malla.

For Gandhi himself, there was no question of going so far as to collaborate with Britain’s wartime enemies to force the issue. But not everyone eschewed the “enemy of my enemy” line, and behavior at once treasonable and intensely patriotic has excited controversy from the moment the guns stilled down to the present day. Azad Hind established itself as a government-in-exile in Japanese-occupied Singapore, making plans to invade British India. The fervidly patriotic Durga Malla joined that exile government’s army, and was eventually caught reconnoitering British deployments, then given a military tribunal and hanged. His last words on the gallows affirmed his purpose, and would be vindicated with the passage of just a few years.

“I am sacrificing my life for the freedom of my motherland … The Sacrifice I am offering shall not go in vain. India shall be free. I am confident, this is only a matter of time.”

There are public monuments in present-day India to Durga Malla.

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1916: Benjamin De Fehr, fragging driver

Add comment August 25th, 2013 Headsman

On this date in 1916, Canadian World War I enlistee Benjamin De Fehr was shot for murder.

De Fehr was one of 25 Canadians to go to the stake for military offenses during the Great War. Twenty-two of those were condemned as deserters; another for cowardice when he refused to advance.

De Fehr, by contrast, picked up his rifle inexplicably on August 19, 1916, and shot his Regimental Sergeant-Major James R. Scott in the back. He was tried three days later, and executed three days after that. His best defense was a disputed claim that he was drunk, probably not a winner under the circumstances even if true.

“Shot at dawn” soldiers have earned a good deal of latter-day sympathy, but suffering from shellshock and fragging your RSM are two different things. De Fehr wasn’t even a front-line soldier himself; he was a driver behind the lines. He was excluded from the 2006 posthumous pardon of 306 British Commonwealth soldiers executed during World War I.

He’s buried in Nord-Pas-de-Calais, France, just three plots away from his victim.

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1936: Grigory Zinoviev and Lev Kamenev, Old Bolsheviks

4 comments August 25th, 2011 Headsman

During the purges of the 1930s, Josef Stalin showed a particular relish for eliminating the Old Bolsheviks whose red credentials predated the revolution. (And potentially, outshone his own.)

Zinoviev

On this date in 1936, one of the oldest of them, Grigory Zinoviev, was shot with his longtime ally Lev Kamenev.

These guys had been major movers and shakers among the early Bolsheviki, adherents of Lenin during the first decade of the century when the aspiration for a Communist Russia seemed hopelessly far-fetched. Zinoviev rode with Lenin from Switzerland to Petrograd in the famous sealed train after the February Revolution toppled the tsar. (Not so Kamenev: he was serving time in Siberia, but was freed by the revolution.)

In the years that followed, both played leading roles in the Soviet government despite their impolitic opposition to the Bolshevik coup in October.

Kamenev was briefly head of state in 1917, and he married Leon Trotsky’s sister. Zinoviev was the longtime head of the Communist International, in which capacity he showed Moscow’s public face for communist movements in other countries. Bela Kun was another ally of Zinoviev’s.)

In this capacity, he’s known in British history for the “Zinoviev letter”, a purported summons to Anglo agitation that was actually a dirty trick dropped before an election to help the Tories sweep to power.*

Those were the good old days — when Lenin was fading away and Zinoviev, Kamenev, and Stalin were the “troika” running things. They should have checked with the Romans how triumvirates work out.

Because of their alliance, Zinoviev and Kamenev provided the decisive support that enabled Stalin to remain General Secretary of the party after the public airing of Lenin’s Testament warning against him. Without Zinoviev and Kamenev at this crucial moment, Stalin probably could not have survived politically; the name Koba might have gone into history books as little more than a terror to the paperwork of some forgotten bureau. (And the pre-revolutionary Caucasus!)

Talk about hoisted by your own petard.

Having been helpfully maintained in his position against Lenin’s dying wish, Stalin soon marginalized these formerly useful creatures. Their last decade was doomed to a spiral of failing power struggles, sinking rank, furtive dissension, and craven submission to party discipline.

Stalin at length destroyed them at the first great Moscow show trial, the Trial of the Sixteen — which hyped a “Trotskyite-Zinovievite” plot in a nicely Orwellian twist. (Despite Kamenev’s marital connection, Trotsky was actually a political rival.) The charge sheet must have reminded the defendants on every one of their dwindling days of the alliance with Trotsky they could have made back when they mattered.

The Trial of the 16 defendants would help to write the script for succeeding acts of this awful theater: after fighting the allegations, Zinoviev and Kamenev agreed to plead guilty on private assurances that their lives would be spared.

But once he had their “admissions” on the record, Stalin altered the deal.

Not only Zinoviev and Kamenev, but all 16 from the trial of the 16 were shot shortly after midnight this date.

From exile, their “conspirator” Trotsky called it the “end of an epoch”.

His obituary for Zinoviev and Kamenev minces no words about the men’s personal shortcomings (“they lacked sufficient character”), but still achieves a certain elegaic sympathy for these former fellow-travelers and their shared movement, now swallowed by Stalinism.

I have had the occasion to hear tranquil petty bourgeois tell me in the days between the beginnings of the trial and my internment: “It’s impossible to understand Zinoviev … He is so lacking in character!” And I would reply: “Have you yourselves experienced the full weight of the pressure to which he has been subjected for a number of years?” Unintelligent in the extreme are the comparisons, so widespread in intellectual circles, of the conduct in court of Danton, Robespierre and others. These were the instances of revolutionary tribunes who found the knife of justice suspended over them, directly in the midst of the arena of struggle; at a time when they were in the full flower of their strength, with their nervous system almost untouched and, at the same time, when they despaired of all hope of salvation.

[By contrast] For ten years they [Zinoviev and Kamenev] had been enveloped by clouds of slander paid for in heavy gold. For ten years they had swayed between life and death, first in a political sense, then in a moral sense, and lastly in a physical sense. Can one find in all past history examples of such systematic, refined and fiendish destruction of spines, nerves and all the fibers of the soul? Zinoviev or Kamenev would have had more than ample character for a tranquil period. But the epoch of grandiose social and political convulsions demanded an extraordinary firmness of these men, whose abilities secured them a leading place in the revolution. The disproportion between their abilities and their wills led to tragic results.

* There are numerous theories of the Zinoviev Letter’s origin; one has it that spy Sidney Reilly had a hand in it.

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1972: Vassilis Lymberis, the last executed in Greece

2 comments August 25th, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1972, 27-year-old Cretan electrician Vassilis Lymberis was shot for murdering his mother-in-law, his wife, and his two children by burning down the family house that January. It would be the last execution in Greece.

Lymberis didn’t so much deny torching the place as he did go for the insanity-esque defense of being off his rocker from the mother-in-law. (As seen on TV.)

He also insisted that he didn’t know his children were in the house when he set it ablaze. “If you don’t believe me,” he insisted, “execute me this very moment!”

That Lymberis would obtain his milestone status was hardly predictable at the time; the country was still under the military junta; two years later, the regime collapsed and its former principals were themselves sentenced to death. (Those sentences were later commuted.)

Greece abolished the death penalty in stages (initially retaining it for serious wartime crimes) in the 1990s and early 2000s.

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1876: James Murphy, gibbeted

2 comments August 25th, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 1876, a 19-year-old murderer was twice hanged in Dayton.

Lafcadio Hearn.

Attending John Murphy’s death was a young writer working the crime beat for the Cincinnati Commercial: Lafcadio Hearn.

This rootless Greek emigre, years and miles away yet from his best-remembered station as the Japanese folklorist better known as Koizumi Yakumo, produced for the next day’s edition a startling and evocative slice of Americana from an otherwise obscure hanging.

It also records the physical intrusion — not merely the psychological postulating — of the author himself, wandering the prison corridors in the dark, laying his hand (so it would seem) upon the condemned boy’s ebbing pulse.

“Gibbeted” ran in the August 26 Cincinnati Commercial:


GIBBETED.

EXECUTION OF A YOUTHFUL MURDERER.

SHOCKING TRAGEDY AT DAYTON.

A Broken Rope and a Double Hanging.

Sickening Scenes Behind the Scaffold-Screen.

The execution of James Murphy, yesterday afternoon, at Dayton, for the murder of Colonel William Dawson, in that city, on the night of August 31,1875, was an event, it must be said, which the people of Montgomery County had long looked forward to with no small degree of satisfaction. The murder was of itself peculiarly atrocious, from the fact that it was actually committed without a shadow of provocation. The victim was a worthy and popular citizen, and the feeling of the public in regard to the crime was sufficiently evinced in the fact that the city authorities, subsequent to the arrest of Murphy, were obliged to call out the militia that the claim of legal justice to deal with the criminal might be protected. Colonel Dawson, it may be remembered, was murdered apparently for no other reason than that he refused a drunken party permission to intrude upon the quiet enjoyments of a private wedding party. The Colonel was Superintendent of the Champion Plow Works, at Dayton, and the bridegroom being an employe of the company, the Colonel had, by request, assumed the management of the wedding ball. When Murphy was refused admittance, he induced one of his companions, Lewis Meyers, to entice the Colonel out of doors on the pretext of getting a drink; and soon after the invitation had been accepted. Murphy struck Dawson, and during the subsequent scuffle, suddenly plunged a long knife up to the halt in the Colonel’s left side. The victim of this cowardly assault lived but a few moments afterward, and died without being able to positively identify his assassin.

Circumstantial evidence, notwithstanding, clearly pointed to Murphy as the criminal, and to Meyers as his accomplice; the former being sentenced to death, and the latter, being convicted of manslaughter, to a term of two years in the State Penitentiary. Sentence was passed on the 28th of April, the jury having disagreed upon the first trial, in February, which necessitated a second.

The youth of the prisoner—he was only nineteen years of age—did not, strange as it may seem, excite any marked degree of sympathy for his miserable fate. He was a fair skinned, brown haired, beardless lad, with rather large features, a firm, vicious mouth; sullen, steady gray eyes, shadowed by a habitual frown; a rather bold forehead, half concealed by a mass of curly locks, brushed down, — a face, in short, that, notwithstanding its viciousness, was not devoid of a certain coarse regularity. His parents were hard-working Irish people, but his own features showed little evidence of Celtic blood.

Perhaps the dogged obstinacy of the prisoner in denying, almost to the last, his evident crime, had no little to do with the state of public feeling in regard to him. Moreover, he had long been notorious in the city as a worthless loafer and precocious ruffian, perpetually figuring in some street fight, drunken brawl or brutal act of violence. For a considerable period of time, previous to the murder of Colonel Dawson, he had been the boasted leader of a band of young roughs, from nineteen to twenty years of age, who were known in Dayton as the “chain-gang.”

The boy’s mother had died while he was yet young; but he did not lack a home, and the affection of an old father, and of brothers and sisters—the latter of whom he is said to have cruelly abused in fits of drunken passion. In this connection it of course be in order, religiously, to discourse upon the results of neglecting early admonitions; and, philosophically, upon the evidence that the unfortunate lad had inherited an evil disposition, whereof the tendencies were not to be counteracted by any number of admonitions. But the facts in the case, as they appeared to the writer, were simply that a poor, ignorant, passionate boy, with a fair, coarse face, had in the heat of drunken anger taken away the life of a fellow-being, and paid the penalty of his brief crime, by a hundred days of mental torture, and a hideous death.

Perhaps there are many readers of this article, who may have perused and shuddered at the famous tale of the “Iron Shroud.” You may remember that the victim, immured in the walls of a dungeon, lighted by seven windows, finds that each successive day of his imprisonment, one of the windows disappears forever. There are first seven, then six, then five, then four, then three, then two, then but one—dim and shadowy;—and then the night-black darkness that prefigures the formless gloom of the Shadow of Death. And through the thick darkness booms, hour after hour, the abysmal tones of a giant bell, announcing to the victim the incessant approach of the fearful midnight when the walls shall crush his bones to shapelessness. No one ever read that tale of the Castle of Tolfi without experiencing such horrors as make the flesh creep. Yet the agony therein depicted by a cunning writer is, after all, but a very slight exaggeration of the torture to which condemned criminals are periodically subjected in our prisons—not for seven days, forsooth, but for one hundred. This is the mercy of the law! – to compel the wretched victim to await the slow but inevitable approach of the grimmest and most ignominious of deaths for one hundred days. Fancy the ghastly mental computation of time which he must make to his own heart— “ninety-nine—ninety-eight—ninety-seven—ninety-six—ninety-five,” until at last the allotment of life is reduced to a miserable seven days, as frightfully speedy as those of the Man in the Iron Shroud. And then the black scaffold with the blacker mystery below the drop, the sea of curious and unsympathetic faces, the moment of supreme suspense after his eyes are veiled from the light of the world by the sable hood. But this pyramid of agony is not absolutely complete until apexed by the vision of a fragile rope, the sudden hush of horror, and the bitterest period of agony twice endured. It is cruel folly to assert that because the criminal be ignorant, uneducated, phlegmatic, unimaginative, he is incapable of acutely feeling the torture of hideous suspense. That was asserted, nevertheless, and frequently asserted yesterday, by spectators of the execution. We did not think so. The victim was young and strong, a warm-blooded, passionate boy, with just that coarse animal vitality which makes men cling most strongly to life, as a thing to be enjoyed in the mere fact of possession—he mere ability to hear, see, feel.

The incidents of the prisoner’s jail life during the last week—how he ate, drank, smoked, talked—might be very fully dwelt on as matters of strictly local interest, but may be briefly dismissed in these columns. There is, however, one story connected with that jail-life too strange and peculiar to be omitted. It seems that young Murphy learned to entertain a special affection for Tom Hellriggle, a Deputy Sheriff of Montgomery County, who had attended him kindly since his removal from the jail-room to a cell on the third floor, which opened in the rear of the scaffold. One night recently. Murphy said to Hellriggle, confidentially: “I knew I was going to be hanged, long ago. Do you know that I knew it before I was sentenced?”

“Why, how did you know that?” curiously asked the deputy.

Then the lad told him that during the intervals of the trials, one night between 12 and 1 o’clock, he heard the voice of a woman crying weirdly and wildly in the darkness, and so loudly that the sound filled all the jail-room, and that many of the men awoke and shuddered.

“You remember that, don’t you?” asked the lad.

“I do,” said the deputy; “and I also remember that there was no living woman in the jail-room that night.’

“So,” continued the boy, “they asked me if I heard it, and I said yes; but I pretended I did not know what it was. I believe I said no human being could cry so fearfully as that. But I did know what it was, Tom—I saw the woman.”

“Who was it?” asked Tom, earnestly.

“It was my mother. And I knew why she cried so strangely. She was crying for me.”

There are few men who enter the condemned cell and leave it for the gallows without having entertained during the interval a strong desire to take their own lives, and are for the most part deterred from so doing rather by the religious dread of a dim and vague Something after death, than by any physical fear. So it appears to have been with Murphy. When all hope, except the hope of pardon from the All-forgiving Father, was dead within him, and the Governor of Ohio had refused to grant a reprieve or commutation of sentence, then the prisoner listened much more calmly to the admonitions of Father Murphy, a fat, kindly, red-cheeked Irish priest, who took a heartfelt interest in the “spiritual welfare” of his namesake. He soon expressed repentance for his crime, and even agreed to confess all publically—an act, all the circumstances properly considered, which really evinced more manhood than the act of “dying game” with the secret.

Shortly afterward he handed to Deputy Sheriff Hellriggle a small, keen knife, which he had managed to conceal, despite all the vigilance of his guards “I would not take my own life, now,” he said, “though I were to be hung twice over.” Yet at the time the poor fellow probably had little idea that he would actually suffer the penalty of the law twice. It was evident, however, that he had frequently premeditated suicide, as in a further conversation with his guard he pointed out certain ingenious and novel modes of self-destruction which he had planned. That the criminal possessed no ordinary amount of nerve and self-control under the most trying circumstances, can not for a moment be questioned; nor can it be truthfully averred that his courage was merely the result of stolid phlegm and natural insensibility. None of the family, indeed, appear to inherit over-sensitive organizations, as a glance at the faces of the visitors to the condemned cell sufficiently satisfied us. When James’ oldest brother, a ruddily-featured young man of twenty, visited the prisoner day before yesterday, he mounted the black scaffold erected outside the cell-door, and, after a few humorous remarks, actually executed a double-shuffle dance upon the trap-door, until Sheriff Patton, hearing the noise, at once turned him out of the corridor. But James’ actions in jail, his last farewell to his relations, his sensitiveness in regard to certain reports afloat concerning his past career, and lastly, the very fact that his nerve did finally yield under a fearful and wholly unexpected pressure, all tend to show that his nature was by no means so brutally unfeeling as had been alleged.

The scaffold had been erected at the rear end of the central corridor of the jail hospital ward in the third story of the building, immediately without the cell-room in which the prisoner had been confined subsequent to his removal from the gloomier jail-room below, where he had heard the loud knocking of the carpenters’ hammers, and the hum of saws—sounds of which the grim significance was fully recognized by him without verbal interpretation. “Ah, they are putting up the gallows!” he said: “The noise don’t frighten me much, though.” To the reporter who visited the long, white corridors by lamp-light, with the tall, black-draped and ebon-armed apparition at its further end, these preparations for an execution under roof, instead of beneath the clear sky, and in the pure air, seemed somewhat strange and mysteriously horrible. It is scarcely necessary to describe the mechanism of the scaffold, further than to observe that the trap-door was closed by curved bolts, the outer ends of which were inserted into or withdrawn from shallow sockets in the framework at either side of the door, by foot-pressure upon a lever, which connected with the inner ends of the bolts, and worked them like the handles of huge pincers. The rope did, however, attract considerable attention from all who examined it previous to the execution. It seemed no thicker than a strong clothes-line, though actually three eighths of an inch, and appeared wholly unequal to the task for which it had been expressly manufactured from unbleached hemp. Yet Sheriff Gerard, of Putnam County, who had officiated at five executions, and was considered an authority upon such matters, had had it well tested with a keg of nails and other heavy weights, and believed it sufficiently strong. A bucket of water was suspended to it for some twenty-four hours, in order to remove its slight elasticity. But the bucket turned slowly around at intervals, and, under the constant pressure and motion, it seems that the rope became worn and weakened at the point of its insertion into the cross-beam. The drop-length was regulated to three feet and a half.

The unfortunate boy’ s mental impressions, yesterday morning, must assuredly have consisted of a strange and confused vision of solemn images and mysterious events. From the opening door of his cell he could plainly perceive every mechanical detail of the black gibbet, with its dismal hangings of sable muslin. Sisters of Charity, in dark robes; solemn-faced priests, with snowy Roman collars; Sheriffs and Deputy Sheriffs of austere countenance, which appeared momentarily to become yet more severe; policemen in full dress whispering in knots along the white corridor, a score of newspaper correspondents and reporters scattered through the crowd, writing and questioning and occasionally stealing peeps at the prisoner through the open door; calm-visaged physicians consulting together over open watches, as though eager to feel the last pulsations of the dying heart; undertakers, professional, cool and sad, gathered about a long, handsome black walnut coffin, adorned with silver crosses, which stood in the comer of one hospital room—these and other figures thronged the scene of death and disgrace while without a bright sun and a clear sky appeared for the last time to the wandering eyes of the condemned. He had early in the morning gone through the necessary formal preparations of being shaved, bathing, and putting on the neat suit of black cloth for which he had been measured a few days before. He had slept soundly all night; after having listened to the merry music of the city band, playing before the columned Court-house, but his sleep was probably consequent upon physical and mental exhaustion from haunting fear, rather than a natural and healthy slumber. He had risen at 7 o’clock, made a full confession in presence of the Sheriff, heard mass, listened to Father Murphy’s admonitions, ate a light breakfast, and smoked several cigars. Father Murphy’s admonitions, delivered in simple language, and a strong old-country brogue, seemed to us passive listeners somewhat peculiar, especially when he stated that the “flesh and blood of Jesus Christ, which not even the angels were worthy to eat,” would give strength to the poor lad “to meet his God at half-past 1 o’clock.” But if ever religious faith comforted the last moments of a young criminal, it did in this instance; and it was owing to the kindly but powerful efforts of the little priest that the youth made a full public confession of his crime. This is the confession:

MONTGOMERY COUNTY JAIL,

DAYTON, 0., August 24,1876.

To Warren Munger and Elihu Thompson, my Attorneys:

I will now say to you, and the public in general, that ever since you became my attorneys, at all times until to-day, I have denied that I struck and killed William Dawson, for which crime I am now under sentence of death. This statement I have made you in the mistaken hope and belief that it might do me some good, and I therefore put the blame on another person—Charles Tredtin. Now that all hope is gone, I have to say that you have done all you could for me as my attorneys, and that I feel satisfied with your efforts in my behalf. I am willing now to make public all I know about the murder of Colonel William Dawson. and I desire to make the statement, for I am now about to die, and do not want to die with a lie upon my lips. I do not wish Tredtin to be pointed out as long as he lives as the person who stabbed Colonel Dawson; and I desire also that justice may be done Meyers, who is entirely innocent, and was not connected in any way with the killing of Dawson. The following are the facts:

On the evening of the murder, Jim Alien, John Petty, George Petty, Charles Hooven and myself were at a dance on McClure street. From there I and Hooven and George Petty went down the street to Barlow’s Hall, where there was a dance going on, but of which we did not know until we arrived there. We went in and went up to the bar, and had a drink of beer. About fifteen minutes after this, Gerdes and I started up to get into the ball-room, but before we started Kline, Petty and Tredtin had gone up. When we got within two or three steps of the top of the first stairway I met Brunner there on duty as door-keeper, and he asked me if I had a pass. I told him no, and then he said, “You’ll have to go down stairs.” I said, “All right.” Then Dawson grabbed hold of me and said, “Get down, or I’ll throw you down.” I jerked away from him, laughed at him, and went down stairs. Then Gerdes and I went and saw the man who got married, and asked him if he couldn’t let me up stairs. He said, “Yes, of course I can;” and then I went up with Gerdes and the man who got married, and he told Brunner to let me in. We went into the ball-room, where Kline, Tredtin and Petty were standing. Then Kline said, “Where’s that big son of a bitch that was going to throw you down stairs?” and I said, “What do you want to know for?” He then said, “I want to know.” Then I said, “There he is; whatever you want to say to him, say it.” Then Kline said, “Oh, you big son of a bitch!” After about half an hour Petty and I went down stairs to the bar-room. Gerdes, Tredtin and Kline came down there, where I saw them, but whether they came together or not I don’t know. Kline, Petty and I drank beer together. We all five then went back up stairs. Dawson and Meyers went down stairs, into the bar-room; then we five followed on down, and went out at the side door on the street. We then began talking about the occurrence on the stairway between Dawson and myself, and some one said, but I don’t recollect who it was, “Damn him, we’ll get him before morning.” I don’t recollect that there was anything more said. Meyers was not with us then on the street, or at all in any way connected with us or our party that evening. All five of us then went back together up stairs, where we saw Meyers and Dawson. We staid there some five or ten minutes, when we saw Meyers and Dawson go down stairs and then we five followed after them, and saw them go out of the side door on to the street, and we followed them out. Kline said to me and Petty, near the comer of the side street and Fifth street, “You go down this side of the street and we’ll go down the other.” Petty and I followed after Meyers and Dawson, some distance behind them, while Kline. Gerdes and Tredtin went across to the north side of the street, and went down west on that side of Fifth street. We saw Meyers and Dawson try to get in at the big gate at Weidner’s, and Pearl street. When we came together Dawson sort of turned around, and I struck him with both fists in the breast; Petty struck Meyers, and Meyers caught hold of a post and prevented himself from falling into the gutter, and then straightened himself up and ran away eastward, and Petty started across the street as soon as Meyers ran. My strokes in Dawson’s breast staggered him, and he didn’t recover himself until after Meyers and Petty had left. About the time Dawson recovered himself, Kline and Tredtin run in and struck Dawson too. My passions were now aroused. I drew my knife out of my inside breast coat pocket and stabbed Colonel Dawson. I did it on the instant, and took no second thought about it. I do not remember of hearing Dawson say anything before or after I cut him. He may have said something, but I did not hear him. The purpose of our party of five in following Meyers and Dawson out was to lick them both. I saw Gerdes about the middle of the street coming towards us, but he didn’t get up to us. Which way Kline and Tredtin went I do not know. Dawson started east on Fifth street on a run. I was facing the east when I cut Dawson. After Dawson run I was alone on the sidewalk, when Frank came up and struck at me with his club. I dodged him and struck at him with my knife, but don’t know whether I cut his clothes or not. I then wheeled and started to run west, As I run he threw his club at me, and as I started to run across the street, I fell over the hitching-post in front of Weidner’s, and there I dropped my cap and knife. Frank fired at me with a pistol, and shot at me just as I fell. I got up and started to run across the street, and Frank fired a second time at me as I was about to enter the alley on the north side of Fifth street. I stood in the alley awhile, and then I went home to my father’s house, where I was afterward arrested by the police. Whisky and bad company have been the ruination of me, and the cause of all my bad luck. I had drank a good deal that night of beer and whisky.

This is a true and correct statement about the murder, and is all I wish to say about the matter.

JAMES MURPHY.

He also dictated a letter of thanks to Sheriff Patton. his deputies, and all who had been kind to him during his confinement. Sheriff Patton himself paid for the prisoner’s coffin, a very neat one.

At half-past one o’clock. Deputy Sheriff Freeman appeared at the door of the cell-room, which opened directly upon the ladder leading to the scaffold, and observed in a low, steady voice: “Time’s up, Jim; the Sheriff wants you.” The prisoner immediately responded, “All right; I am ready;” and walked steadily up the steps of the ladder, accompanied by Fathers Murphy and Carey. His arms had been pinioned at the elbows by a strong bandage of black calico. Probably he looked at that moment younger and handsomer than he had ever appeared before; and a hum of audible surprise at his appearance passed through the spectators. Accompanied by his confessor and Father Carey he walked steadily to the front of the platform; and after looking quietly and calmly upon the faces below, spoke in a deep, clear, bold voice, pausing between each sentence to receive some suggestion from the priest at his side.

“Gentlemen, I told a lie in the Court-house by saying Tredtin was guilty.”

“I think I am guilty”—with a determined nod of the head.

“I return thanks to Sheriff Patton, his deputies and all my friends.

“I forgive all my enemies and ask their forgiveness.

“If there is any one here who has any hard feelings toward me, I ask their forgiveness.

“This is my last request.

“Gentlemen, I want all young men to take warning by me. Drink and bad company brought me here to-day.

“And I ask the forgiveness of Mrs. Dawson and her children, whom I injured in passion, when I did not know what I was doing.

“I believe Jesus Christ will save me.”

Sheriff Patton then read in a quiet, steady voice, the death-warrant. It was heavily bordered in black, and bore a great sable seal. “It is my solemn duty,” said the Sheriff, “to execute the sentence passed upon you by the Court:

“State of Ohio, Montgomery County—To William Patton, Sheriff: Whereas, at the January Term, 1876, of the Court of Common Pleas, within and for the County of Montgomery and State of Ohio, to-wit, on the 28th day of April, 1876, upon a full and impartial trial, one James Murphy, now in your custody, was found guilty of deliberate and premeditated murder of one William Dawson, in manner and form as found in a true bill of indictment by the grand jury on the 30th day of October, 1875; and whereas the Court aforesaid, at the term aforesaid, to-wit: on the 12th day of May, 1876, upon the conviction aforesaid, ordered, adjudged and sentenced the said James Murphy to be imprisoned in the County jail until the 25th day of August, 1876, and that on that day, between the hours of 10

A.M. and 4 P.M., he be taken from said jail, and hanged by the neck until he be dead, this is therefore to command that you keep the said James Murphy in safe and secure custody until said day, August 25,1876; and that on said day, between said hours, you take said James Murphy, and in the place and manner provided by law, hang him by the neck until he be dead. Of this warrant, and all your proceedings thereon, you shall make due return forthwith thereafter.

“Witness: JOHN S. ROBERTSON, Clerk of said Court.

“And the seal thereof of the city of Dayton, in said county, this 20th day of June, 1876.

“[Seal Court of Common Pleas]”

“JOHN S. ROBERTSON, Clerk.”

In the meantime Deputy Sheriff Freeman adjusted the thin noose about the prisoner’s neck, and pinioned his lower limbs. “James Murphy, good-bye, and may God bless you!” observed Patton in a whisper, handing the black cap to a deputy. At this moment the representative of the Commercial succeeded in obtaining admittance to the little audience of physicians in rear of the scaffold; and took up his position immediately to the left of the trap-door. The next instant the Sheriff pressed the lever with his foot, the drop opened as though in electric response, the thin rope gave way at the crossbeam above, and the body of the prisoner fell downward and backward on the floor of the corridor, behind the scaffold screen. “My God. My God!” cried Freeman, with a subdued scream; “give me that other rope, quick.” It had been laid away for use “in case the first rope should break,” we were told.

The poor young criminal had fallen on his back, apparently unconscious, with the broken rope around his neck, and the black cap vailing his eyes. The reporter knelt beside him and felt his pulse. It was beating slowly and regularly. Probably the miserable boy thought then, if he could think at all, that he was really dead—dead in darkness, for his eyes were vailed—dead and blind to this world, but about to open his eyes upon another. The awful hush immediately following his fall might have strengthened this dim idea. But then came gasps, and choked sobs from the spectators; the hurrying of feet, and the horrified voice of Deputy Freeman calling, “For God’s sake, get me that other rope, quick!” Then a pitiful groan came from beneath the black cap.

“My God! Oh, my God!”

“Why, I ain’t dead—I ain’t dead!”

“Are you hurt, my child?” inquired Father Murphy.

“No, father, I’m not dead; I’m not hurt. What are they going to do with me?”

No one had the heart to tell him, lying there blind and helpless and ignorant even of what had occurred. The reporter, who still kept his hand on the boy’s wrist, suddenly felt the pulsation quicken horribly, the rapid beating of intense fear; the youth’s whole body trembled violently.

“His pulse is one hundred and twenty,” whispered a physician.

“What’s the good of leaving me here in this misery?” cried the lad. “Take me out of this, I tell you.”

In the meantime they had procured the other rope—a double thin rope with two nooses—and fastened it strongly over the crossbeam. The prisoner had fallen through the drop precisely at 1:44 1/2 P.M.; the second noose was ready within four minutes later. Then the deputies descended from the platform and lifted the prostrate body up.

“Don’t carry me,” groaned the poor fellow, “I can walk—let me walk.”

But they carried him up again. Father Murphy supporting his head The unfortunate wanted to see the light once more, to get one little glimpse at the sun the narrow world within the corridor, and the faces before the scaffold. They took off his ghastly mask while the noose was being readjusted. His face was livid his limbs shook with terror, and he suddenly seized Deputy Freeman desperately by the coat, saying in a husky whisper, “What are you going to do with me?” They tried to unfasten his hand, but it was the clutch of death-fear. Then the little Irish priest whispered firmly in his ear, “Let go, my son; let go, like a man – be a man – die like a man.” And he let go. But they had to support him at arm’s length while the Sheriff pressed the trap-lever—six and one-half minutes after the first fall It was humanely rapid work then.

The body fell heavily, with a jerk, turned about once, rocked backward and forward, and became almost still. From the corridor only the head was visible—turned from the audience. Father Murphy sprinkled holy water upon the victim. The jugular veins became enlarged, and the neck visibly swelled below the black cap. At this time the pulse was beating steadily at 100; the wrist felt hot and moist, and we noticed the hand below it tightly clutched a little brass crucifix placed there by the priest at the last moment. Gradually the pulse became fainter’ Five minutes later, Dr. Crum, the jail physician, holding the right wrist announced it at eighty-four. In ten minutes from the moment of the drop it sunk to sixty. In sixteen minutes the heart only fluttered, and the pulse became imperceptible. In seventeen minutes Dr. Crum, after a stethoscopic examination, made the official announcement of death.

The body was at once cut down by Sheriff Patton, and deposited in the handsome coffin designed for it. Half an hour later we returned to the jail, and examined the dead face. It was perfectly still, as the face of a sleeper, calm and undisfigured. It was perhaps slightly swollen, but quite natural, and betrayed no evidence of pain. The rope had cut deeply into the flesh of the neck, and the very texture of the hemp was redly imprinted on the skin. A medical examination showed the neck to have been broken.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,Murder,Ohio,USA

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1945: John Birch, Society man

8 comments August 25th, 2008 Headsman

On this date in 1945, according to a fringe faction of American conservatism, the first victim of the Cold War was shot by Chinese Communists at Suchow, China, near Xi’an.

John Birch, a military chaplain proselytizing in China and an agent of the CIA’s precursor entity Office of Strategic Services, had the kind of portfolio sure to rub Mao’s boys the wrong way.

Apparently it was his personality that got him into trouble.

On recon duty days after the end of World War II, he bumped into a patrol of Red Chinese. According to Time, he failed his diplomacy check.

As the scene has been reconstructed, Birch argued violently with the Communist officer who wanted to disarm him. Birch was seized and shot after his hands had been tied. The Communists then bayoneted him at least 15 times and tossed his body on a heap of junk and garbage.

“In the confusing situation,” said [Birch’s commanding officer Major Gustav] Krause last week, “my instructions were to act with diplomacy. Birch made the Communist lieutenant lose face before his own men. Militarily, John Birch brought about his own death.”

Days after World War II — how does that square with your international Communist conspiracy? The incident was not especially notable at the time, but some elements later conceived John Birch the first American casualty of Communism during the Cold War, and in this guise he became the namesake of the John Birch Society (Wikipedia entry | homepage — evidently forward-thinking enough to have grabbed their own three-letter acronym)

Here’s candy magnate and founder Robert Welch, Jr., explaining:

Despite the young lieutenant’s credentials as a martyr of evangelical anti-Communism, the oft-loopy Society’s relationship to the mainstream conservative movement and the Republican Party it took over was never completely comfortable and eventually came to a definite sundering.

The Society soldiers on, its “Get US out of the United Nations” billboards a minor fixture of Americana from Port Angeles, Washington to this one in Ypsilanti, Michigan.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Borderline "Executions",Capital Punishment,China,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Martyrs,No Formal Charge,Occupation and Colonialism,Popular Culture,Religious Figures,Shot,Soldiers,Spies,Summary Executions,USA

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