1865: Henry Wilson, shy subject

Add comment December 22nd, 2018 Robert Elder

(Thanks to Robert Elder of Last Words of the Executed — the blog, and the book — for the guest post. This post originally appeared on the Last Words blog. Fans of this here site are highly likely to enjoy following Elder’s own pithy, almanac-style collection of last words on the scaffold. -ed.)

“I had made a request not to have my photograph taken, for fear my friends would recognize me. Somebody else made a request that it should be taken, and Chase [the sheriff] paid more attention to them than to me, and let them try to take it as I came out. You can see what kind of man this Chase is, and if I had a chance I would take his photograph d—-d quick. I don’t think they got a good one. So my friends will not know it. Perhaps my photograph will be the means of finding out who I am, but I doubt it d—-dly. I have nothing more to say, and you may go on as soon as you please, for it is no consolation to me to be kept standing here in the cold.”

— Henry Wilson, convicted of murder, hanging, New York.

Executed December 22, 1865 A career burglar, Wilson was executed for slaying of Henry DeVoe, whose home he had been robbing. Wilson admitted to killing two other New Yorkers — Burr Burton in Syracuse and Mrs. Lewis in Lancaster — and told police he was the man wanted for a host of unsolved crimes. He went to the gallows three days before Christmas. A reporter for the Rochester Democrat censored Wilson’s profanities, which appear to be derivations of damn.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Guest Writers,Hanged,Murder,New York,Other Voices,Theft,USA

Tags: , , ,

1865: Francis Johnson (Francis Harper), lynch survivor

Add comment December 22nd, 2017 Headsman

From the Chicago Republican, Dec. 23, 1865:

Special Despatch to the Chicago Republican.

WATSEKA, Iroquois Co., Ill. Dec. 22.

Francis Johnson, alias Francis Harper, was executed at Watseka, Iroquois county, Ill., on Dec. 22, for the murder of Dr. W. Nelson, of Muncie.

THE MURDER.

The murder was committed on the night of Nov. 2, about half a mile south of Gilman station, on the Illinois Central railroad. Harper and Nelson got off the passenger train at Gilman, and started on foot for Onarga. When about half a mile south of the station Harper drew a pistol and shot Nelson through the head but not so as to cause instant death. When he saw the pistol-shot did not kill Nelson, Harper sprang upon him and choked him to death; then robbed the boy of a few dollars in postal currency, and took the murdered man’s clothes, with the marks of blood upon them; also his valise, watch, and ring — all of which were marked with the owner’s name. Harper went to Onarga; had a tailor mend the torn and bloody coat, took the cars for Chicago, and was arrested on the train, through the agency of a telegraphic message to the conductor, who found the property in his possession. Harper was taken back to Gilman, and hung three times by a mob, but was cut down by Sheriff Martin before quite dead. At last the Sheriff got him away, and he was taken to Kankakee. He was brought from there and tried at the last term of the Circuit Court, convicted, and sentenced to be hanged on the 22d inst.

HIS TRIAL AND CONVICTION.

The evidence upon which Harper was convicted of the murder of Nelson was purely circumstantial, but conclusive. It was proven that he had hired a revolver in Kankakee, and furthermore that he had accompanied the murdered man on the cars of the Illinois Central railroad to Gilman, at which station they left the train together. It was also substantiated on the trial that he had been boarding with him at the Murray House at Kankakee, nearly a week prior to the time; and when Nelson expressed the determination to go to Gilman, Harper immediately announced his intention of accompanying him. After getting off from the train there, Harper asked Nelson to accompany him to the house of a friend, which invitation was accepted, and the two proceeded down the track together. This invitation on the part of Harper was merely a ruse to decoy his victim into some lonely spot; and, when they had proceeded about one hundred rods, Harper, stepping behind Wilson, drew his revolver, and shot him, as detailed above.

All these details were fully substantiated upon the trial; but in addition to them, Harper, when he was arrested, had upon his person Nelson’s coat, torn and covered with blood; the knife, watch, clothing, satchel and box of the deceased; and upon the latter were Nelson’s initials. After the case was given to the jury, they were out but a short time, when they returned a verdict of “guilty.”

EFFORTS AT COMMUTATION.

Harper was not without relatives, and, upon the announcement to them that he had been sentenced to death, they addressed themselves assiduously to the work of endeavoring to secure for him a reprieve, or commutation of the sentence to imprisonment for life. Gov. Oglesby, however, refused to grant their request; and since neither Judge Starr, who presided at the trial, nor the District Attorney, could be induced to add their signatures to a petition in his behalf, it became evident that the murderer must pay the full penalty of his crime.

WANT OF SYMPATHY.

To say that not a particle of sympathy was manifested by the people of Iroquois county in behalf of Harper, would be no more than speaking the honest truth. We have already stated that so outraged were the people against him at the time he was held in custody at Gilman that he was taken from the officers and hanged by the summary process of Lynch law, but after a desperate effort by the sheriff and his officers, was rescued from the hands of the mob and lodged in jail at Kankakee. Throughout his confinement, during his trial, and after his sentence, there was scarce an individual to be found who expressed a regret at the terrible fate which awaited him, or who entertained a doubt of his guilt.

DENIES HIS GUILT.

The prisoner, throughout the time that intervened between his sentence and Friday of last week, strenuously denied his guilt. No persuasion or entreaty could move him, and no assertion on the part of those who visited him in his cell, that they believed him to be the murderer of Nelson, seemed to move him in the least. To every interrogatory he gave the stereotyped response that he was innocent and knew nothing about the murder, though at times he seemed very humble, and shed tears when conversing with visitors upon the subject of the murder and his approaching doom. To those who were familiar with him he seemed to be borne up by some hope of reprieve, faint though it was, and an escape from the death to which the law had condemned him.

HIS CONFESSION.

One week ago today, Harper confessed his guilt. It was not, however, until assured that all hope of escape from death upon the gallows was out of the question and that all, including his own counsel, believed him to be guilty, that he unburdened his soul of the great secret it bore and escaped the additional sin of going before his Maker with a lie upon his lips. He had been visited in the morning by Dr. Thayer, who earnestly urged him to reflect upon the perilous position he occupied and besought him to make a full confession of his guilt. Bursting into tears, he confessed that he did shoot Nelson on the night of Nov. 2, between Gilman and Onarga. He also confessed that he hired a revolver in Kankakee for that purpose, and that he intended to kill him when they left that place together. He said that the shot did not kill Nelson; that he had a hand-to-hand struggle with him, and that he was not dead when he left him. He further said that he got his own coat bloody, and that he would have given his own life if he could have called Nelson back to life after he had done the fatal deed. He further confessed that he changed his name from Harper to Johnson, and he deserted from the army. The prisoner also said that he had felt for some time a desire to unburden his heart and acknowledge his guilt to his fellow-men, before his God, and seek his pardon. He said that he did not commit the murder for money and reward, but because he was in an unhappy state of mind, which drove him to desperation.

NOT GUILTY OF OTHER CRIMES.

The prisoner denied having participated in or committed other crimes. When asked if he knew anything about the mysterious disappearance of De Los Carrier, he replied that as God was his witness he knew nothing about him; that Nelson was the only man he ever murdered. In this statement the prisoner evinced much candor and honesty, and many believed he was speaking the truth.

THE EXECUTION.

The sentence of the law was carried into effect today, and Harper was executed. Since his sentence he has been confined in the jail at Kankakee, from whence he was brought to this place last evening. During the past few days he has exhibited signs of sincere penitence, and expressed the hope that God had pardoned his terrible sin. In the transit from Kankakee to this place he was far more cheerful than it was expected he would be, and conversed freely with those in attendance upon him.

PREPARATION FOR THE EXECUTION.

Sheriff Martin had made all possible preparation for the execution of the condemned, and, notwithstanding the oft-repeated threats on the part of the people in this locality that the execution should be a public one, it was conducted in a strictly private manner. He called to his assistance a guard of fifteen veteran soldiers, who were stationed around the enclosure in which the execution took place, and effectually guarded the execution from any interruption. The arrangements of this officer were made in a most judicious manner, and the result proved them to be every way successful.

THE GALLOWS.

The arrangement of the instrument of death was different from that ordinarily used, in that the culprit was suddenly jerked up instead of being dropped through a trap, as is ordinarily the custom. A heavy weight attached to a rope passing over a pully, was held by a cord in such a manner that, when this cord was cut, the weight dropped six feet, jerking the unfortunate man suddenly from his standing place into the air. The drop was frequently tested, and found to work smoothly prior to the execution.

HIS LAST NIGHT ON EARTH.

Harper passed his last evening upon earth in devotional exercises. He manifested little nervousness, but read his Bible and said his prayers calmly and quietly, and with hardly the air of one who knew he was to die upon the morrow. He also conversed freely with his spiritual advisers, and sometimes alluded to his approaching end calmly and seemingly without fear. At a late hour prayer was offered in his behalf by those in attendance, in which he joined, and soon after he retired to rest, and during the greater portion apparently slept soundly and quietly.

THIS MORNING

He arose very early, and when asked how he had passed the night, replied that he had rested well. Breakfast was brought him, of which he partook with a good relish, and afterward engaged in conversation with Dr. Thayer, who had so often visited him during his confinement. In this interview he talked freely and again expressed the hope that his sins had been forgiven. The sacrament was administered to him by clergymen who were in attendance at ten minutes before eleven o’clock, and at its conclusion he was directed to prepare himself to proceed to the place of execution. He signified his readiness to accompany the officers, and with them walked forth to die.

AT THE GALLOWS.

Arriving within the enclosure, within which the scaffold had been erected, he was permitted to warm himself for the day was bitter cold, and upon being asked if he had anything to say, replied in the affirmative. In a few words, earnestly spoken, he urged the spectators to take warning by his fate, and entreated them to beware of bad company, which he said had taught him habits which led him to the commission of the terrible crime for which he was about to die. He again acknowledged his guilt and the justice of his punishment, and at the conclusion of his remarks was conducted to the scaffold.

Harper stepped upon the gallows at 11:05 , and was immediately dressed in the shroud prepared for him. He then sang one verse of a hymn in a clear voice, the noose was adjusted around his neck, and the cap was drawn over his face and fastened. At 11:15 the drop fell, and Francis Harper had paid the penalty of his earthly crimes.

He was jerked up six feet, but fell back two feet. The neck was not broken. A few contortions, and he was pronounced dead at 11:19 by the attending physicians. At 11:30 the body was taken down, and will be forwarded to his father at Effingham, Ill. Everything passed off quietly; and thus died one who acknowledged his guilt and admitted the justice of his punishment.

HIS EARLY LIFE.

Harper was twenty-two years of age, and was born in Morgan county, Ind. He had no Christian education, except the good counsels of his mother, which were disregarded. In 1864 he joined the 70th Indiana regiment, but soon after deserted. Since that time he has led a career of crime in this State, which yesterday terminated upon the gallows.

On this day..

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

Tags: , , , , ,

1651: Arnold Johan Messenius and his son

2 comments December 22nd, 2016 Headsman

On this date in 1651, Sweden’s Queen Christina revenged a libel on the head of Arnold Johan Messenius and his 17-year-old son.

The educated and determinedly unmarried Christina ranks among history’s most remarkable monarchs; her disinterest in marriage, her masculine dress, and her intimate friendship with Countess Ebba Spare have led her to be speculatively identified as lesbian, hermaphroditic, or otherwise subversive of gender — as in the recent film The Girl King.

However, for the matter at hand the relevant fact about Christina was her lineage: she was the daughter of the great Lutheran king Gustavus Adolphus, whose father had expelled the Catholic king, Sigismund Vasa. The Vasas still ruled Poland and gazed rivalrously across the Baltic dreaming of a return of their Nordic estates — and became a natural focal point for schemers in Sweden.

One such schemer was a brilliant and cantankerous historian, Johannes Messenius, who was father and grandfather of the men whose eventual execution occasions this post. After serving Sigismund Vasa’s Polish court some years, this most senior Messenius returned in 1608 to Sweden for career reasons, pretending an expedient Lutheran conversion into the bargain. But the quarrelsome intellectual “could hardly breathe except in an atmosphere of strife” (per this public domain volume) and after making himself unwelcome at a university continued picking fights at the Stockholm archives until

he was accused of carrying on a traitorous correspondence with the Polish Vasas, in which he urged them to attack Sweden. It does not appear that the proofs of this treason are now in existence, but its probability has been shown by a letter from Messenius, in which he owned his undiminished attachment to the Roman Church, and said that he only conformed to the Lutheran rites outwardly and by compulsion.

Gustavus Adolphus had him clapped the dungeons of an Arctic fortress which is where his son Arnold Johan Messenius (English Wikipedia entry | Swedish) grew up — understandably absorbing the grudges of his frostbitten hereditary imprisonment, until he was ripped away to a Lutheran education against which he sturdily rebelled by killing a classmate and fleeing into exile. By the time he was all of 17 he had been re-taken and locked away as a Polish agent in his own right. He’d be 33 before he regained liberty.

The liberal Christina and Count Per Brahe the Younger attempted in the 1640s to atone for Arnold Johan’s mistreatment by detailing him for a (successful) mission to Poland to retrieve his father’s magnum opus, a history of Sweden all the way back to Noah’s flood that the late father had written in prison and taken pleasure in denying to his jailers.

But Arnold Johan’s subsequent reintroduction into polite society as a nobleman with a state pension to continue the father’s histories just didn’t come with a happy ending. The boy had his father’s knack for playing both sides of the Baltic, but less so his craft with a quill: Arnold’s Swedish commission to write some histories of his own foundered on the prospective scribe’s authorial torpor. Meanwhile,

Messenius was neither softened by adversity nor improved by prosperity. He was harsh to his inferiors, insolent to his equals, and ungrateful to his benefactress. The peasants on his estate complained of his injustice and cruelty, and he was on bad terms with all his neighbours. He resisted some just claims of his own sister’s, and … a judgment given against him, Christina obliged him to make restitution to his sister. From that time he became an agitator against the government.

Now “the elder Messenius invented the most absurd and contradictory accusations against the Queen and her Ministers, which were exaggerated by the heated imagination of his son,” Arnold Messenius, our source avers, and the boy bursting with the family bile proceed to circulate “a virulent squib against the queen and the nobility, and, in the frankest language invited the heir to the throne to place himself at the head of a rebellion.” This is the so-called “Messenian conspiracy,” after the surname of father and son who both soon found themselves under Christina’s personal interrogation for this incitement, the father first denying any part in the affair and subsequently claiming the letter as his own inspiration in an apparent effort to shield the boy.

Humane Christina was rigorous with this third-generation treason, and had both beheaded without delay — although she also confined the punishment to these two rather than others they accused of collaborating on a general rising.

For her part, Christina by this time had grown weary of rule and interested in Roman Catholicism to which she perceived she could not convert without splinterizing her kingdom. She had already set in motion her own abdication, which she effected in 1654. Christina would play out the string in Rome, as the guest of the papacy and the friend of intellectuals, artists and eccentrics — while that heir the Messenians had sought to incite peacably ascended to her place as Charles X Gustav.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Children,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Nobility,Sweden,Treason

Tags: , , , , , , ,

1690: John Bennet, the original Golden Farmer

Add comment December 22nd, 2015 Headsman

As we have seen in the past two posts, the character exalted in the Newgate Calendar as William Davis, the Golden Farmer bears scant resemblance to the real-life man named William Davis who went to the Tyburn tree.

But there was a robber with the nickname “Golden Farmer” — it just wasn’t William Davis.

John Bennet, alias John Freeman, was hanged one year and one day after Davis, on December 22, 1690, part of a huge batch consisting of no less than 14 men and women.

John Bennet, far from the winning outlaw of the Newgate Calendar, led a gang responsible for numerous violent home invasion robberies, sometimes working with another criminal famous enough for his own nickname (and his own fabricated adventures), Old Mobb. One victim of the “Golden Farmer” described how he harvested his crop:

the Prisoner, with others, to the number of nine came on the 16th of October 1689 to her House at Grays in Essex, and entring forcibly, pretended, with horrid Oaths and Excerations, That they had the King’s Broad Seal to seize all the Mony, &c. having Vizard Marks on and Pistols in their Hands, and that they drove her Husband and Servants into the Celler, and there set a Guard over them, threathing Death to those that Stirred; and then forc’d this Deponent, with many Threats of Death, and often clapping Pistols to her Breast, to go with them from Room to Room to shew them where the Plate; Money, and Goods of value were; and perceiving a Soldier belonging to the Block-house coming by whilst they were rifling, they fetched him in, under pretence of drinking with some good Fellows, and put him into the Gutter; and so carryed off to the value of 5 or 600 l. in Money, Plate and Jewels.

Though his identity was known, his habit of constantly relocating his residence made him difficult to track. At last, one victim had his wife and sister stake out Bennet’s own wife until they could get a bead on him. At that point, they raised a hue and cry for the watch. Bennet killed a gendarme named Charles Taylor in his flight (this is the crime he hanged for, though many of his thefts would have secured the sentence just as well); with a furious mob now in pursuit, Bennet was finally subdued by a hail of brickbats, but only after shooting someone else, too.

To judge by the length of his entry, the Newgate Ordinary harrowed Bennet ceaselessly, and though the robber “shed many Tears” and “did acknowledg this Crime” he refused to make any more than a generic breast of his outlawry — perhaps to protect those of his confederates who were still at large. Despite the standard threats of hellfire “I could not prevail with him to give any Testimony of his syncere turning to the Lord, to whose all-discerning Eye and determination of his Soul’s State I must leave him,” concluded the exasperated Ordinary.

Bennet was hanged at “Salisbury-court end in Fleetstreet, near the Place where he had committed the Murther” and hanged “without making any Speech or Exhortation.” The other 13 doomed souls were then taken to Tyburn for a more conventional mass execution.

It appears that Bennet’s nickname became carelessly attached to William Davis through a 1714 bestseller with the voluminous title The History of the Lives of the most noted Highwaymen, Footpads, Housebreakers, Shoplifts and Cheats of both Sexes in and about London and other places of Great Britain, for above 50 years last past; wherein their most secret and barbarous Murders and unparalleled Robberies, notorious Thefts and unheard of Cheats are exposed to the Public, by Captain Alexander Smith. Smith, writes Lincoln Faller in Turned to Account: The Forms and Functions of Criminal Biography in Late Seventeenth- and Early Eighteenth-Century England, probably had to have known that Davis was not the Golden Farmer but “cared not at all for historical accuracy and sought (when he felt the need of it) only after its appearance. Happening to have a name and a date at hand, he attached it to some appropriate adventures.” Then, “later writers follow Smith’s version of the Golden Farmer’s life even more slavishly, repeating the same errors, telling (with occasional embroideries) the same fanciful anecdotes about him.” Hence, our Newgate Calendar figure — the distant echo of a real criminal distorted by a succession of fabulists.

* Dick Turpin had a similar criminal profile that ended up being subsumed by his knight-of-the-road reputation to posterity.

Part of the Themed Set: The Creation of a Newgate Calendar legend.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,History,Murder,Public Executions,Theft

Tags: , , ,

1960: Anthony Miller, the last hanged at Barlinnie

7 comments December 22nd, 2014 Headsman

On this date in 1960, 19-year-old Anthony Miller became the 10th and last person executed at Scotland’s Barlinnie Prison.*

Miller worked in a team with a 16-year-old accomplice in a “queer-rolling” racket: the younger James Denovan would lure a mark with the promise of an assignation, then Miller would jump him and turn a 2-against-1 robbery. Artless, but effective.

With such a crude m.o., it’s no wonder Miller and Denovan beat a man all the way to death in the course of one of their shake-downs. Since he was a minor, Denovan drew a prison term. Miller … not so lucky. His plaintive last words, “Please, Mister …” form the title of a play about his life written by Patrick Harkins.

Tour Barlinnie’s capital punishment environs with one of its old death-watch officers in this David Graham Scott short film, “Hanging With Frank”:

David Graham Scott was good enough to share some firsthand recollections of the film’s title character Frank McKue, and the process of producing “Hanging With Frank”.

Frank McKue was an extremely likeable chap with a very dark sense of humour. Definitely my type of guy. Used to have a drink with him at his local pub in Edinburgh called ‘The Diggers Arms’ (called as such because local gravediggers would drink there) . The sound of the trapdoor swinging open that you hear in the film is actually the door to the beer cellar crashing open in the pub which I recorded as a foley. Frank said it was almost the exact sound! Since the trapdoor in the execution chamber at Barlinnie Prison was shored up and unable to open when we visited it seemed a logical idea to use this nice little soundbite.

Incidentally, the prison that we were filming was still (and still is) very much in operation. There are some shots where you can see prisoners moving about in the upper galleries. It’s Barlinnie Prison in Glasgow, Scotland and dates from the Victorian era. Frank worked there in the 50s as a prison officer who occasionally did deathwatch details. That involved sitting with the condemned man on his last nights and drinking tea, engaging him in conversation and playing draughts [checkers in the U.S.].

Frank showed how the prison officer’s escorting the condemned man would walk a few paces across the gallery and through the doors into the execution chamber.

They’d stand on planks placed over the trapdoors …

… and hold onto safety ropes dangling from the ceiling to stop them from falling down with the prisoner. There had been various instances in the past of prison guards and assistant executioners falling through the trapdoors with the condemned man.

The deathwatch officers would sit with the condemned prisoner at all times after sentence was pronounced. Cups of tea, mingled with small-talk and endless games of draughts and they just chatted away about everything ‘except the obvious’! Their job on the morning of the execution was to escort the condemned man out of his cell (which was actually two normal sized cells knocked into one) and into the execution chamber just a few paces across the gallery in D-Hall of the prison. They steadied the man as the executioner led the way onto the scaffold and the assistant helped buckle his wrists and feet with leather straps when they reached the correct position on the trapdoors. A signal from the assistant to the executioner sent the man on his downward journey to the basement below where the mortuary slab awaited.

The positioning of the noose was crucial for a clean break between the 2nd and 3rd vertebrae The rope always did a quarter turn to throw back the head and cleanly sever the spinal column at those points and the hangman treated the affair with diligence and extreme reverence. Frank would then often sit with the executioner and assistants as they had their breakfast and left the executed man dangling for a full hour. The prisoner was then pulled back up, the noose removed and then he was lowered back down with other ropes to the basement room again where he was stripped and laid on the mortuary slab. The body ‘belonged to the state so it was buried within the prison grounds’ and no relative was allowed to visit the grave site or send flowers.

I storyboarded much of the film due to the restrictions of time, the nature of the equipment we were using and, of course, the mood I was trying to evoke. I also used black and white, grainy, light-sensitive film stock to try and get the feel of the execution facility in its heyday of the 1950s. If I had more money and time I would have made this film about 10 minutes longer but alas it was not to be. There was always the odd event that we shot spur-of-the-moment. Like when I noticed a butterfly trying to escape from the window of the execution chamber. In this space it took on quite a metaphorical aspect as it struggled desperately and futilely against the glass. Strangely, there was a large group of them roosting on the ceiling. I’ve never seen such a thing in my life and have no idea why they were acting like this. There were also mounds of pigeon droppings too which we tried to avoid as best we could (it can be quite toxic when breathed in). There’s a very brief shot in the film of two pigeon chicks which were nested snugly within a cavity of the execution beam … another bizarre metaphor about death and resurrection, I guess.

When we visited there were major renovations taking place within D-Hall and, as we see in the film, the condemned cell and execution chamber were torn apart. Even the grave sites were not spared. Drainage for the new toilets being built (this was the end of the notorious slop-out era) actually passed through the graves of the executed men. Indignity upon indignity heaped upon these pathetic corpses with each flush of the toilet. The graves had been marked with initials to denote where each of the murderers lay but these had been removed at some point as if to completely erase any trace of them. Frank knew exactly where each lay though and reeled them off one by one. He told me about the way the coffins were designed with a hinged flap over the face of the dead man. Once sealed in the coffin with quicklime scattered over him, Frank would open the flap and add water over the face of the executed prisoner to hasten the destruction of the body. The grave was then filled back in. One of the graves was forever sinking and had to be refilled with ashes from the boiler house on a regular basis. It was the grave of James Robertson, a former policeman who had run over and killed his lover in 1950. He was duly executed for the cold-blooded murder but it was as if his body was restless in the grave the way the tarmac kept on sinking down. In refilling the grave Frank told me that the body seemed to be miraculously well preserved and that somehow the quicklime designed to dissolve it had had the very opposite effect! The prisoners on that grave-filling detail were often terrified and were offered extra perks like cigarettes to make it a bit easier for them. To this very day that same grave is still sinking for some odd reason … the depression in the tarmac can be clearly seen in the film.

There were many stories that Frank related to me about his good friend Albert Pierrepoint, who he befriended during his time at Barlinnie Prison. Pierrepoint was the famous British state executioner at that time and conducted various executions throughout the entire United Kingdom. Frank kept up his friendship with Albert way after capital punishment was abolished and used to visit his pub in Manchester called ‘Help the Poor Struggler’. At his home in the west side of Edinburgh, Frank proudly showed me his various bits of execution related paraphernalia.

One of the prize exhibits was an engraved glass from the Albert’s pub. There was also an amazingly detailed scaled down model of the Delaware gallows which his retired carpenter friend and fellow execution enthusiast, Sudsy, had made for him. Frank showed me with great relish how this unique hanging apparatus would operate. It was obvious that he wanted more than mere models to play with and his real ambition was to be the British state executioner. He had contacted the British Home Office to put his name down as one of the persons willing to train as a state executioner should capital punishment come back. There was no way he’d be getting that job at the time I met him though as he’d already undergone a major operation and had a pig’s heart valve sewn into him. I felt guilty asking Frank to climb the rungs of the ladder into the beam room for a third take, I recall. He was happy to do it but breathless by the end! I thought how awful it would have been, and ironic, if he’d died within this space he loved so much.

But it seems that within the film Frank does fulfill the dual role of hangman and condemned man. The two aspects merged into one at the crowning moment as he puts the bag over his own head — a touch that I thought might be ridiculous at first but somehow does work quite well in the finished film.

Alas for Frank the calling to be a state executioner never came to happen and he died in 2008 from heart complications. Hanging with Frank will remain his legacy, however. A film as much a character study as it is a piece of history. [See more movie stills here -ed.]

I made this film with very little funding indeed and despite its receiving various accolades over the years the government funded film agency in Scotland at the time, The Scottish Film Council, refused to send it to film festivals as it was deemed distasteful. My work has frequently led me to being despised by the powers that be in the largely straight-laced documentary scene … I must be doing something right I suppose!

* Not to be confused with the last executed in Scotland full stop. Miller was the second-last in Scotland.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Guest Writers,Hanged,History,Milestones,Murder,Other Voices,Scotland,Theft

Tags: , , , , , ,

1711: Phebe Ward, Thomas Pritchet and John Matthews

2 comments December 22nd, 2012 Headsman

“Of these twelve Persons, 9 having obtain’d the Mercy of the QUEEN’s most gracious Reprieve (which I hope they will take care to improve) only 3 are now order’d for Execution.”

Ordinary of Newgate

The three unlucky ones order’d for Execution on December 22, 1711, were these:

Phebe Ward was a young woman who had lately moved to London from Yorkshire … but not alone, as it turned out. She was pregnant by a Yorkshire lad whose marriage proposal she nonetheless spurned.

Ward got a maidservant gig in a London home, but vigorously denied her condition. Pregnant servants were liable to firing, though the Ordinary of Newgate says that Ward’s tried to offer hers good treatment and care for the little bastard. Ward stuck to her “I’m not pregnant” story, delivered the child, suffocated it, and threw it down a well.

Thomas Pritchet was a mere 16 years old but already had seven years service in the royal navy. A native son of the London proletariat, Pritchet had robbed two men (one upon the highway, another by burgling his house) not five weeks before his execution; at the gallows he insisted that these were his first forays into crime.

John Matthews was “born of good Parents” and “formerly liv’d like a Gentleman” in Wales, but having no profession the exhaustion of his revenues caused him to become a professional thief … specializing in the increasingly valuable 18th century status symbol, the wig.

He’d been pardoned for his crimes twice before, so this indictment for stealing 24 ounces of hair and two perukes sealed his fate.

We noticed yesterday the voice of the Newgate Ordinary. A generation on here, the former Ordinary Samuel Smith was long in the ground. His successor, Paul Lorrain had really figured out Smith’s profitable racket.

Lorrain banked a healthy £200 annually selling his Ordinary’s Accounts, which he standardized and padded out from Smith’s versions into six-page pamphlets — not to mention spinoff publications (pdf) capitalizing on his gallows brand.

The celebrated sincerity of every culprit’s dying conversion led a later wag to call the hanged “Lorrain’s Saints.” In Moll Flanders, published two years after Lorrain’s 1719 death, Defoe has an unnamed character of his office who seems clearly based on the late divine. Moll, like Defoe himself,* finds the Ordinary repulsive.

THE Ordinary of Newgate came to me, and talk’d a little in his way, but all his Divinity run upon Confessing my Crime, as he call’d it, (tho’ he knew not what I was in for) making a full Discovery, and the like, without which he told me God would never forgive me; and he said so little to the purpose, that I had no manner of Consolati|on from him; and then to observe the poor Creature preaching Confession and Repentance to me in the Morning, and find him drunk with Brandy and Spirits by Noon; this had something in it so shocking, that I began to Nauseate the Man more, than his Work, and his Work too by degrees for the sake of the Man; so that I desir’d him to trouble me no more.

It’s less certain that Lorrain’s ministrations were unwelcome to all of Newgate’s denizens, or that they were hypocritical or cynical on their own terms.

He preached a theology (surely requisite for one in his position) of a saving grace capable of overcoming the most dissolute life and appears every ounce in earnest in exerting himself for what he took to be the redemption of his charges. He reports preaching to this date’s trio that they ought “to implore it of that good and merciful God, who is always more ready to give, than Men can be to ask; and who (as he has declar’d) desires not the Death of Sinners, but that they should turn from their wicked ways, and live: i.e. that they would return to God by sincere Repentance, and Amendment of Life here, and so obtain (thro’ a lively Faith in Christ) an Eternal Life of Bliss and Glory hereafter.”

In the last prior hanging date before this one, Lorrain had found one seasoned burglar “obstinate” and plainly irritated by his ministrations.

“But I told him,” Lorrain related, “that I must not flatter him to the destruction of his Soul, and thereby bring Guilt upon my own. And therefore, I would not give over pressing him to make such a sincere Acknowledgment of his Faults, and give such Proof of his Repentance, as might rejoyce my Heart from the Satisfaction I should have, that this would procure Peace to his Conscience.

“Though you exclaim never so much against what I offer you, I am fully resolv’d to endeavour the Salvation of your Soul.”

Lorrain got his man. He did more times than not.

He plied even ready confessors for “Particulars” to ferret out their crimes — and sometimes, their accomplices. (Recall that London had no police force at this time.) Those who bent themselves to Lorrain’s appeals would expunge all their wrongdoing, embrace the ceremony of their own mortal expiation, purging themselves of their sins, supplicating heaven, announcing the justice of their fate and warning the onlookers against it. They would, so the Ordinary thought, be fit for divine salvation no matter how bloody their former deeds.

One other point on which we can’t help but feel some kinship to this industrious priest: in the best tradition of death-bloggers everywhere, this content so piously wrung from wicked hearts Lorrain did not scruple to monetize:

ADVERTISEMENTS.

ROBERT WHITLEDGE, who formerly lived at the Bible in Creed-Lane, is removed to the Bible and Ball in Ave-Mary-Lane near Ludgate, where all Booksellers and others may be furnisht with Bibles and Common-Prayers of all Sorts, with Cuts or without, Ruled or Unruled, Bound in Turky Leather or Plain. Mr. Sturt’s Cuts Curiously Engrav’d; also other fine Cuts fitted for all Sizes and Common-Prayers. The Welsh Bible, Welsh Common-Prayer, and Welsh Almanack. The Duty of Man’s Works of all Sizes. The Duty of Man in Latin. Latin and French Common-Prayers. Tate and Brady’s New Version of Psalms, with the New Supplement. Dr. Gibson on the Sacrament. The Statutes at large, in Three Volumes. Washington and Wingate’s Abridgment of them. The Lord Clarendon’s History of the Rebellion, in Folio and Octavo. The New Translation of Æsops Fables. Also Bp. Beveridge’s Works, in 5 vol. And Dean Stanhope on the Epistles and Gospels, in 4 vol. All which Books and Cuts are likewise sold by J. Baker in Mercers-Chapel

Lately publish’d for the Use of Schools,

Vocabularium Latiale; or, a Latin Vocabulary in two parts. The First being a Collection of the most usual and easie Latin words, whether primitive or derivative; with their signification in English, after the order of the Eight parts of Speech, giving a Specimen of each, and most naturally shewing the gender, increase, declension and motion of Nouns and Pronouns, with the Conjugation-Preterperfect Tense and Supine of Verbs both Simple and Compound. The Second, shewing the variation and declining of all the declinable parts, both regular an irregular. By Tho. Dyche, School-Master in London, Author of a new Spelling-book, entitul’d, A Guide to the English Tongue. Printed for S. Butler, at Bernard’s-Inn-Gate, in Holbourn, J. Holland, near St. Paul’s Church-yard, and A. Collins, at the Black-Boy in Fleet-street. Price 1 s.

London printed, and are to be Sold by J. Morphew, near Stationers Hall.

* For more about Paul Lorrain (and Defoe’s loathing of him), see:

Robert Singleton, “Defoe, Moll Flanders, and the Ordinary of Newgate,” Harvard Library Bulletin, Oct. 1976.

Lincoln Faller, “In Contrast to Defoe: The Rev. Paul Lorrain, Historian of Crime,” Huntington Library Quarterly, Nov. 1976.

On this day..

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

Tags: , , , , , , ,

1793: 213 or so Lyonnaise

Add comment December 22nd, 2011 Headsman

Upon learning of the recent Republican capture of Toulon from the British and anti-revolutionary allies — a military achievement authored by a 24-year-old artillerist by the name of Napoleon Bonaparte — Joseph Fouche dispatched the following missive from the city where he his iron-fisted occupation was earning the epithet “Executioner of Lyon(s)”

Despite showing himself a ferocious Jacobin during the Terror, the Machiavellian Fouche helped author Robespierre‘s downfall and later became ennobled as the Duke of Otranto under Bonaparte. Needled by the Corsican about having voted for Louis XVI’s execution, Otranto aptly riposted, “Yes, sire; and that is the first service I had the honour of rendering your majesty!”

Joseph Fouche to Collot d’Herbois
22nd December 1793

And we likewise, my friend, have contributed to the surrender of Toulon, by spreading terror amongst the traitors who had entered the town, and by exposing to their view the dead bodies of thousands of their accomplices.

The war will be at an end if we know how to profit by this memorable victory; let us show ourselves terrible, that we may not fear becoming weak or cruel; let us annihilate in our anger, and at one single blow, every conspirator, every traitor, that we may not feel the pain, the long torture of punishing them as Kings would do.

Let us follow the example of nature in the exercise of justice. Let us be avenged as a nation, let us strike as quick as lightning, and let even the ashes of our enemies disappear from the land of liberty.

Let the perfidious and ferocious English be assailed from every quarter; let the whole republic turn into a volcano, and pour forth the devouring lava upon them: may the infamous island that produced those monsters, who no longer belong to the human species, be hurled for ever in the waves.

Farewell, my friend: tears of joy gush from my eyes, and overflow my heart. The courier is setting off. I shall write to you by the post.

FOUCHE

P.S. We have but one means of celebrating our victory. We shall this evening send 213 rebels to the place of execution: our loaded cannons are ready to salute them.

(Translation primarily as rendered in the London Times, July 18, 1815)

Whether this horrifying last bit of revolutionary braggadocio was in fact effected does not seem to be quite clear. This book claims that Fouche had 192 executed that day for the amusement of a party of Jacobins and prostitutes, which has the suspicious whiff of propaganda about it.

Hubert Cole, in Fouche: The Unprincipled Patriot reckons it “only” 67, with Fouche routinely inflating his atrocity figures a la military body counts for the benefit of ardent revolutionaries in Paris.

The use of cannon loaded with anti-personnel grapeshot — condemned tied together in pairs and then indiscriminately blasted; troops on hand to finish off survivors with bayonets — was an innovation in death-dealing technology that the National Convention did not appreciate, and Fouche was obliged to return to the more decorous methods of regular firing squads and that newfangled beheading machine.

* Not to be confused with Nazi torturer Klaus Barbie, the Butcher of Lyon. We hope the good people of Lyon will not require too many more synonymous sobriquets.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Blown from Cannon,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,France,Gruesome Methods,History,Known But To God,Mass Executions,Occupation and Colonialism,Power,Public Executions,Summary Executions,Treason,Wartime Executions

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

1815: José María Morelos, Mexican revolutionary

2 comments December 22nd, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1815, the Catholic priest turned revolutionary leader Jose Maria Morelos was shot for rebellion.

Morelos was born in New Spain — the town of his nativity was posthumously named in his honor — and entered adulthood a humble agricultural laborer* before engaging the career in letters necessary to undertake Holy Orders.

Designated to save his countrymen’s souls, he proposed instead to save their liberties and ungratefully joined up with fellow-priest Miguel Hidalgo when the latter sounded the tocsin for the Mexican War of Independence.

Morelos distinguished himself rapidly in the revolutionary army, and upon Hidalgo’s capture attained its leadership, complete with Generalissimo status.

Upon capture, he was handled first — and rather meticulously — by the Inquisition, which defrocked him in an auto de fe before relaxing him to the secular authority for the inevitable punishment.

Without a dissentient voice it [was] agreed that … [Morelos] be declared guilty of malicious and pertinacious imperfect confession, a formal heretic who denied his guilt, a disturber and persecutor of the hierarchy and a profaner of the sacraments; that he was guilty of high treason, divine and human, pontifical and royal … his property should be confiscated to the king … His three children were declared subject to infamy and the legal disabilities of descendants of heretics.

Source

Nobody said being a national hero was easy.

* “His morals were those of his class,” remarks our source on the Inquisition. “He admitted to having three children, born of different mothers during his priesthood, but he added that his habits, though not edifying, had not been scandalous, and the tribunal seemed to think so, for little attention was paid to this during his trial.”

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Auto de Fe,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous,History,Martyrs,Mexico,Occupation and Colonialism,Power,Public Executions,Religious Figures,Revolutionaries,Separatists,Shot,Soldiers,Spain,Treason,Wartime Executions

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

2003: Liu Yong, for corruption

2 comments December 22nd, 2008 Headsman

On this date in 2003, Liu Yong’s situation took a very abrupt turn for the worse.

The wealthy Communist Party member and Shenyang city legislator had been sentenced to death 20 months before in a corruption case for ordering the murder of a tobacco vendor as part of a mafioso racket of graft, extortion, black marketeering, and kindred mayhem.

When that sentence was reduced on retrial on a showing that Liu’s confession was extracted by torture, public outcry at the appearance of a well-connected insider getting off scot-free led the Supreme Court to take the unprecedented step of yet again re-trying a criminal case itself.

“According to China’s legal system, a criminal case can usually be tried only twice,” as China Daily lightly put it.

Amnesty International is less measured, and alleges that the irregular Supreme Court hearing was ordered by political insiders to buttress the credibility of the country’s anti-corruption drive — and to avoid setting any precedent that evidence of torture should mitigate criminal sentencing. (China certainly found defenders for the trial (the link is to an ugly layout of raw HTML).)

The high court handed down its sentence this very day, after which Liu was immediately hailed to one of China’s mobile execution vans, given a lethal injection, and cremated.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Capital Punishment,China,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Infamous,Lethal Injection,Milestones,Murder,Notable Jurisprudence,Organized Crime,Political Expedience,Politicians,Scandal,Torture,Wrongful Executions

Tags: , , , , ,

1849: Not Fyodor Dostoyevsky

16 comments December 22nd, 2007 Ksenia Zanon

“Brother, I am not dejected or crestfallen. Life, life is everywhere, life is in us ourselves, not outside. Near me will be people, and to be a person among persons and stay him forever, to not be cast down or despondent no matter what the misfortunes are – therein lies life, therein lies its purpose. I realized that. This idea entered my flesh and blood. Yes! It’s true! The head that created and got accustomed to the higher demands of the spirit, that head is cut off from my shoulders. What’s left are the memories and images created and not reified by me. They will ulcerate me, indeed! What I have left is my heart and the same flesh and blood, which can love, suffer, pity, and remember, and this is life, after all …” (quote — in Russian; the translation is mine)

The square — now named Pionerskaya Ploschad’ — where Dostoyevsky faced a mock execution. Image used with permission.

This slightly rambling epistle is authored by a titan of the world literature, a schizophrenic, a gambler, a true believer, a sufferer, a humanitarian, an epileptic, a Russian, a philosopher, a St. Petersburger, the Writer. Let us forgive him a certain incongruity of thought, since that letter was his first salute to a newly acquired chance to live.

On this date in 1849, Dostoevsky, along with some 20 other condemned, was brought out to St. Petersburg’s Semyonovsky platz. They were meant to be shot for affiliation with the Petrashevsky circle, a group of idealistic young intellectuals, apologists of Fourier and fervent advocates of socialism. Just like the generation of aristocrats (alas, some of them will be featured on this macabre blog) before them and generations of intelligentsia (whose destiny is equally unenviable) after them, Petrashevtsy gathered at Petersburg’s flats, read articles and concerned themselves with the fate of the permanently-rising-from-the-knees Motherland.

The formal charges brought upon Dostoevsky were quite bizarre: he listened to a story that criticized the army; had in his possession an illegal printing press; read an open letter to the circle from Belinsky to Gogol which excoriated the church and government; and participated in a regicide plot. The latter accusation Fyodor Mikhailovich vehemently denied, for indeed he was not a bloodthirsty revolutionary, but a proponent of the peaceful Christ’s teaching (this affliction with Christian philosophy was incidentally somewhat of a mauvais ton among the predominantly atheistic circle).

It always seemed to me that Dostoevsky’s participation in the Petrashevky circle was a tribute to the epoch’s fad. It was the imperfections of human nature, not the peculiarities of a hypothetical social structure, that concerned him greatly. The world’s wrongdoings result from something rotten in a man’s soul, and once those internal blemishes are erased, the external harmony emerges. “Beauty will save the world”, a cliché instilled in every Russian by a literature teacher in 10th grade, a phrase attributed to Christ-like kniaz’ Myshkin, and one of Dostoevsky’s most important statements: inner beauty is vital, the rest is a consequence.

The military court condemned Dostoevsky to death. The general-auditor amended this decision and recommended a lighter punishment: “… deprive of all fortune and send to hard labor in fortresses for eight years”. The final resolution of Nicholas I reduced the sentence to four years, “and then [relegate] to [the rank of] private … declare clemency only at the moment when everything is ready for execution”.

“Life is a gift, life is happiness, every minute could be a century of happiness …” continued Dostoevsky his letter. In three days, he received a prisoner’s dress, a fur coat, and valenki. He was put in shackles and dispatched to Siberia …

Novels and Short Stories by Dostoyevsky

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Activists,Artists,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous,Guest Writers,History,Intellectuals,Last Minute Reprieve,Mass Executions,Mock Executions,Not Executed,Other Voices,Pardons and Clemencies,Public Executions,Revolutionaries,Russia,Shot,Treason

Tags: , , , , , , , ,


Calendar

November 2019
M T W T F S S
« Oct    
 123
45678910
11121314151617
18192021222324
252627282930  

Archives

Categories

Execution Playing Cards

Exclusively available on this site: our one-of-a-kind custom playing card deck.

Every card features a historical execution from England, France, Germany, or Russia!