1866: John Roberson

Add comment December 28th, 2018 Headsman

From the Richmond (Va.) Whig, Dec. 28, 1866 …

… and the same source on Jan. 1, 1867:

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1763: John Brannon, Joseph Jervis, Charles Riley, and Mary Robinson

Add comment December 28th, 2017 Headsman

On this date in 1763, four thieves hanged at Tyburn to great public indifference.

They were of such scanty account that one is hard-pressed to find a newspaper report of the executions; even the Ordinary of Newgate didn’t bother to publish on them until weeks later, when he could combine them with a pair of February hangings. (Perhaps because, as he notes in his account, three of the four were Catholic and so gave the Anglican minister short shrift on the confessional front.)

Two of the men — and also one prosecutor, the victim Peter Manchester, who was robbed of his prize money — appear to have been recently from royal service in the just-concluded Seven Years’ War: early avatars of the crime wave that would engulf London as demobilized soldiers and seamen swamped its labor market.

six persons were capitally convicted and received sentence of death, for the several crimes in their indictments set forth, viz.

John Brannon, John Edinburgh, Joseph Jervis, Charles Reiley [Riley -ed.], Mary Robinson, and Mary Williams.

And on or about Friday the 16th of December the report of the said malefactors being made to his Majesty, by Mr. Recorder, two of them were respited, namely, John Edinburgh, for horse-stealing; and Mary Williams, for being concerned with Charles Reily and Mary Robinson in the robbery of Peter Manchester; and the remaining four ordered for execution on Wednesday December the 28th, and were accordingly executed.

1. John Brannon was indicted, for that he, on the King’s highway, on Thomas Worley did make an assault, putting him in corporal fear and danger of his life, and stealing from his person one pair of silver shoe-buckles, value 10s. his property; and Jane Blake, otherwise Buckley, spinster, for receiving the same, well knowing them to have been stolen, October 17.

The prisoner Brannon was one of five in a desperate gang, who attacked the prosecutor Worley, and another, John Paget, in Church-lane, White-chapel, about 12 at night. Having searched them and found no money on them, they took a pair of silver buckles from each, and a handkerchief from Paget: Mean time Esq. Gore’s chariot passing by, they fired two pistols at it, because the coachman would not stop. Brannon was positively sworn to, as one of the two first that came up to the prosecutor, and held a pistol to him while he was robbed. He was detected and taken the next day by means of Jane Blake offering the buckles to a pawn-broker, Mr. Samuel Spencer, who stopped them, secured her, and sent constables to search her lodgings, where they took Brannon, found the other pair of buckles and the handkerchief before mentioned, and also a pair of horse pistols loaded.

His behaviour after sentence was in general such as became his unhappy condition; but being under the influence and direction of the church of Rome, he gave no account to me of his accomplices, or any other fact: Nor did he pretend to deny this, either at his trial or afterwards, as indeed there was no room for it. He appeared to be about thirty years of age, was born in Dublin, was by trade a Carver, and had served six years in the Royal Navy.

2. Joseph Jervis was indicted, for that he, on the 14th day of November, about the hour of two in the night, on the same day, the dwelling house of Joseph Hill did break and enter, and steal one silver spoon, value 1s. the property of the said Joseph in his dwelling.

This convict lived in King-street, Spitalfields; but how he supported himself there, whether by any honest labour, doth not appear either by his own confession, or the evidence of several witnesses for him, who gave only a negative character, that they never heard any ill of him. And supposing he had practised this wicked scheme of breaking into houses, and plundering them in the hour of deep sleep undiscovered for a time, ’tis hard to imagine how they could hear any ill of him, however criminal. As to the present fact, he had prowled away as far as Kingsland, a mile or two, at midnight, to perpetrate it. But here, luckily for the publick safety, he was mistaken in his mark, and fell upon a house well inhabited by a master Carpenter and his workmen: The former, awakened by the noise of wrenching open the frame of a cellar window, alarmed two or three of his men, who came upon him, and with some difficulty seized and secured him; in effecting of which, by means of his resisting and endeavouring to escape in the dark, he had received two unlucky strokes, one with a pistol and another with a hanger, both on the head; by which he was wounded, and made more deaf and stupid than he was before, for he laboured under both those defects during the time between sentence and execution. After he was apprehended, he was found to be furnished with a tinder-box, a dark-lantern, a candle, and an iron bar flatted at one end. A silver spoon was also found upon him, the property of Mr. Hill, the prosecutor.

He had the artifice to plead on his trial, that he was non compos, out of his mind, and knew not what he did. But being reminded by the Court that his situation was very serious, and no proof of this assertion being offered, it was urged no farther. After conviction and sentence passed, he still appeared to be very hard of hearing and dull of apprehension; so that it was a difficult task to instruct and prepare him, whether this was real or partly affected. He said he was born at Hertford, where he learned to read and write, and then was brought up to the trade of dressing flour, which he afterwards followed for several years in London, in or near Houndsditch; he was now about forty-five years of age.

After he had been daily visited, assisted with prayers, and the plainest instructions, he was now and then questioned what progress he had made in his preparation for an awful change; but could give very little satisfaction in that matter, only said, he would trust to Providence; meaning, that he would give no farther account of his past life, nor confess any other facts; tho’ he did not pretend to deny he was guilty of any other.

When he found himself included in the Death-warrant, it did not much affect him, as he seemed to expect it. Endeavours were renewed to prepare him for the holy communion; but with no better success; he pleaded he had lost his memory, as well as his apprehension; and that what he read or heard made little impression, and was quickly gone from him; so that he seemed incapable of celebrating that sacred act of remembrance. However, there seemed to be a greater want of disposition than capacity. To arouse and quicken him, therefore, to a sense of his duty in this respect, he was permitted to be present, and very near, at the administration of the communion in the chapel, the day before he suffered; so as that he could hear and see all that was spoken, or done, without admitting him to partake of it. Several intelligent good neighbours were present now, and on other occasions, who took opportunities to speak familiarly to him before and after service, in order to bring him to a better disposition. But neither did these means kindle in him that desire, which we hoped. He still continued in a languid indifference. As he could still read, and as his last evening was now come, a brief but excellent little tract on spiritual communion was put into his hands, to assist and raise his thoughts this last night of his life. He returned it to me the next morning, and said he had read it. Being asked whether he understood it, and applied it to himself? he replied, he did, as well as God gave him leave; his usual answer to such questions.

3, 4. Charles Reiley, labourer, and Mary Robinson, and Mary Williams, spinsters, were indicted for that they, in the dwelling house of Francis Talbot, near the King’s high-way, on the body of Peter Manchester did make an assault, putting him in corporal fear and danger of his life, and stealing from his person four guineas and one half-guinea, his property, against his will, October 18.

The prosecutor, Peter Manchester, was a sailor, come to town about a week, and had received five guineas prize money the very day of this robbery. Passing along Salt-petre Bank, he was forced into this house by Williams and Robinson, shut in, and his purse violently taken from him by these two women, assisted by Charles Reiley. He was also beaten by the women, while Reily threatened to cut off his hand, if he did not let go the purse to him; by which means Reily got it, containing four guineas and a half, and he and Robinson ran off with it. The prosecutor pursued, but missed them; he then applied to two of his shipmates and a constable to assist him. By help of these, and others, the two women were found out, and apprehended the same night. Robinson being searched, had two guineas and a quarter found concealed upon her. The two guineas she confessed before the Justice next day to be the property of the prosecutor, and that they were given to her by Charles Reily, one for herself, and one for Mary Williams, to reward them for their trouble; and that he kept two guineas and a half, the remainder of the money. But luckily for Williams she had not fingered the guinea; which circumstance, together with her not being able to follow Reily, to get her share from him, seem to be the distinguishing considerations, which might turn the scale for a respite to one of these three, rather in her favour. As for Reily he was caught in the very trap for such creatures of prey. The prosecutor being at Hicks’s-hall next day, to prefer a bill of indictment against them, had intelligence that Reily was then drinking at Newgate, only as a voluntary visiter, went directly and found him there; and tho’ he fled, and had a long run for it, from thence to St. Dunstan’s church, he was there taken, detained in the cage at St. John’s, Wapping, examined, and committed, having confessed the fact, but said it was the first.

Being all three convicted the 10th of December, they came up to chapel the 11th, being Sunday morning, tho’ they professed all to be of the church of Rome. Yet Reily, to my surprize, joined in the service, made his responses, read his part in the Psalms and the Liturgy very distinct and intelligible, as if well acquainted with it. On questioning him, after divine service, he let me know, that he was brought up in an hospital for children on a Protestant foundation in a great city, where he received a common share of good learning and the principles of Christianity, but was now determined to die in the faith of the church of Rome; for which he could give no better reason, than that his father died in that persuasion. Endeavours were used to reason him out of this very groundless and weak resolution, and proper books put into his hands for that purpose, particularly a Protestant Catechism and a New Testament, both which he soon after returned, without suffering them to make any good impression upon him. As to the fact for which he was convicted, he said, he was not in the house when the fray began but, having his lodging there, came in, in the midst of it, and so was drawn in.

He was bred up to the sea from a lad, served his time in the Merchants service, in the New York trade; and between six and seven years since, entered into the King’s service, a volunteer, at Cork, in which he has continued ever since, till discharged about six months before from the Orford of 70 guns, in which he had been at the taking of the Havanna, from whence he came home in her; and had also a share in two Spanish prizes, the St. Jago and St. Charles, taken by the Orford in company with the Temeraire and the Alarm, a little before the peace extended thither. After he was a prisoner in Newgate, he was told that a dividend of 3l. 17s. a man was paid the 26th of October, which he did not receive, and believed he had much more due to him. In the same ship, he said, he was at the taking of Cape Breton and Quebeck, for both which he received some prize money. — He was about 30 years of age.

4. Mary Robinson was much about the same age of thirty, and had passed thro’ various scenes, in her way, which was none of the best. She had been at the cities of Bath and Bristol for five years, to which she came from Dublin, where she was born. She had left her husband there, having sold his goods and quitted him, because, as she said, he had used her ill. While she was under sentence, she owned she had been a wicked sinner in all respects, except the crime of Murder.

The Morning of EXECUTION, Dec. 28.

OF the four convicts, there being only Jervis who adhered to the church of England, he went up and attended to the duties of the chapel, as well as his imperfect state of sensibility and attention would permit. He was sincere and sensible enough to acknowledge the justice of his sentence; and also owned expressly that this was not his first offence of this nature; but would give no particulars of time, place, or persons. For, either he could not be convinced it was his duty, or else he could not be persuaded to comply with it; still persisting to say, that his memory was so bad he could not recollect any fact, or he did not see what use or satisfaction it could give the world, or any injured person, to confess it. To set this in a strong light before him, a plain case was put; Suppose you had been robbed, would it not give you satisfaction to know who did it? And what is become of him? Whether living or dead? Whether hardened and going on still in his wickedness, or penitent and reformed, at least past the power of offending any more. Would it not be a great ease and benefit to you to put an end to your doubts and suspicions? Would it not be the same to innocent persons, who might be suspected, to be cleared of those doubts and suspicions? Surely it might, to the saving of their character, their liberty, and their livelihood. Reason and justice, no less than our rational religion and our excellent church, join in requiring this mark of sincere repentance from dying criminals: And let those who teach, or think, or act otherwise, see to it.

There is the more reason to speak thus freely, because this duty is too often made a stumbling-block to several unhappy persons under sentence, whose preparation is obstructed, and rendered more difficult, by the contrary poisonous principles sown in the prison by some disguised enemy; tho’ it must be owned there is no need of this, while the native pride and corruption of the human heart, unmortified, are sufficient to harden it against this duty, and every act of self-abasement.

In a word, I could form no apology in my own mind for this criminal not complying with this duty, but his defect of apprehension and memory before-mentioned.

We used the Litany, and other proper acts of devotion in the chapel, in which he joined tolerably well for the most part. After which he was directed to meditate on proper subjects, or read in the way to the place. When he went down from the chapel, which was about twenty minutes before nine, he was asked, Are you resigned? He answered in the affirmative. Do you find peace and hope in your breast, on a sure foundation? He replied faintly in the same manner.

The other three convicts of the church of Rome, were kept ready in their cells, not in the Press-Yard, or Little hall, as usual, for what reason, as I did not enquire, so I did not learn. But all were detained about an hour later than usual, till after ten, on account, as it was said, of some necessary part of the apparatus not being provided in time.

After the Sheriff was set off in his chariot, preceded by proper officers on horseback, then followed the first cart with Charles Reily and Mary Robinson; and in the second were John Brannon and Joseph Jervis. In a little more than an hour they arrived at the place, where they read and repeated their prayers very earnestly, with an audible voice; the last offices of prayer were performed for Jervis, while the others were exercised in their own devotions. They were all greatly affected, the woman wept and bewailed herself much, till the cart being driven away, they all resigned their lives.

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1888: Leong Sing

Add comment December 28th, 2016 Headsman

From the San Francisco Bulletin, Dec. 28 1888:

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2006: Qiu Xinghua, temple fury

Add comment December 28th, 2015 Headsman

On this date in 2006, the People’s Republic of China executed a gentleman by the name of Qiu Xinghua.

Qiu’s offense, at bottom, was one of anger management: believing the abbot at a mountain temple in the interior province of Shaanxi was making time with his wife, Qiu went on a homicidal rampage at said temple where he

cut out the abbot’s eyes, heart and lungs and fried them in a wok. He had used the victims’ blood to write “Deserved to die” on the temple wall.

“The victims” comprised nine other people besides the abbot, plus another one killed while on the run from the law for five weeks after his temple frenzy. (He also torched the temple.)

The enormity of the crime, and the attempts by Qiu’s team to raise doubts about his sanity, attracted wide public attention in China.

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1905: A.I. Volioshnikov, police spy

Add comment December 28th, 2014 Headsman

On this date in 1905,* the druzhinniki (militia) of Moscow’s insurrectionary Red Presnia district barged into the apartment of 37-year-old police detective A.I. Volioshnikov.

In front of his shrieking children, “they read the verdict of the Revolutionary Committee, according to which Volioshnikov had to be shot” — as a police spy surveilling rebels, according to Trotsky — then taken outside and executed directly at the Prokhorovka textile factory.**

The tsar’s artillery began barraging Red Presnia the very next day, and had overrun it — complete with summary executions of their own — before the calendar turned over to 1906.

* December 28 per the Gregorian calendar; it was December 15 per the Julian calendar still in use at the time in Russia.

** There’s a “Druzhinniki Street” in Moscow near the Krasnopresnenskaya metro station — and the Prokhorovka factory (dating to 1799) still stands nearby.

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1022: Medieval Europe’s first heresy executions

Add comment December 28th, 2013 Headsman

The first documented executions of heretics in medieval Europe occurred on this date in 1022 in Orleans, when 13 or so were burned at Orleans.

The French king at this time was Robert II, known to history as “Robert the Pious” because he was so violent with the sub-orthodox.* In addition to this date’s burnings, he’s noted for inciting anti-Jewish persecutions that in some places drove local Jewry to drown themselves fleeing pogroms.

For those within Christianity, starting now, Robert’s Piety meant much tighter scrutiny of potentially deviant doctrines.

Now, these were not the first-ever Christian-on-Christian heresy executions in the West. But so far as is known they marked a revival of the practice after some six centuries of disuse — dating back to the Roman Empire when rival strains of early Christianity fought things out. That was ancient history, and not only literally; by this point in the Middle Ages, “heresy” was not nearly so dangerous a charge among Christian disputants as it would come to be after 1022.

The period’s chronicles paint the early eleventh century as a time of rising heresies, or rather rising fear of heresies. It’s an idea that would have a blazingly bright future.

What’s remarkable is that this tradition was resuscitated not for the exemplary punishment an itinerant band of outsiders or some marginal, radical sect, but for canons of the Orleans Cathedral — “certain clerks, raised from childhood in holy religion and educated as deeply in sacred as in profane letters … Some were priests, some deacons, some sub-deacons. The chief among them were Stephen and Lisois.” Their positions situate them as elite, establishment characters.

The “heresy” in question has in the past been speculatively associated with the gnostic Bogomils on the strength of one account that describes them as “Manicheans”. It hints at a tantalizing underground history of fugitive Bulgarian mystics. Unfortunately the author of that account was an epic swindler, and was not a firsthand witness to the trial. Besides, thanks to St. Augustine, “Manicheaism” was the medieval byword for heresy of any sort. There’s no concrete reason to ascribe Manicheaism to those burnt this day.

According to R.I. Moore‘s engaging The War On Heresy: Faith and Power in Medieval Europe** (from which all quotes in this post derive), it was precisely because of their high ranks that the Orleans “heretics” were targeted — and so far from being the purveyors of some devilish doctrine, they were basically the victims of a political purge for which “heresy” was the stalking-horse.

Moore’s argument, in fine, is that King Robert, who was the scion of the new and uncertain Capetian dynasty, was in a tight spot vis-a-vis his powerful neighbors. He had previously married one Bertha, the mother of one of the Count of Blois; Robert, however, put her aside in favor of Constance, kin to the Count of Anjou. However, he had flip-flopped a couple of times between these two spouses, and the domestic relations mirrored the king’s political maneuvering opposite Blois, Anjou, and Normandy, where the trial was held. Richard II, Duke of Normandy,† was a Blois ally; it was Richard’s uncle who claimed to have busted the heresy by infiltrating the group.

The heresy charge, Moore argues, “was a manoeuvre by the supporters of the Blois faction, still hoping for the restoration of Bertha, against those of Constance and her Angevin connections.” They were able to attack Constance’s circle via her spiritual (and temporal) allies, and they were able to force the deposition of the Constance-friendly Archbishop of Orleans in favor of their own candidate.

It was a move very dangerous to the king. He was able to counter it only by dissociating himself from his former favourites at a hastily summoned trial. As Paul of St Père described it, ‘The king and Queen Constance had come to Orléans, as Harfast had asked, with a number of bishops, and at his suggestion the whole wicked gang was arrested by royal officials at the house where they met, and brought before the king and queen and an assembly of clerks and bishops at the church of Ste Croix.’

It was, Moore says, “like a kangaroo court.” Stephen had been Queen Constance’s own confessor; one later chronicler, exaggerating events he did not witness, claimed that Constance actually struck out Stephen’s eye with her staff as the condemned were hauled out of their home church for the stakes.

We have no way to know if the representation of the prelates’ beliefs that comes down to us bears any relationship to their real thoughts. If so, the grounds upon which this “wicked gang” were targeted does indeed read like heresy: denying the Virgin birth, the Resurrection, the efficacy of baptism, and transubstantiation. Certainly a rap sheet like that would be enough to get a body burned in the heretic-hunting centuries to come.

Moore speculates that these “heretics” were basically neoplatonists who had some off-script ideas or experiences and got demagogued by Bertha’s people on that basis. The disdainfully condescending supposed riposte of the condemned certainly sounds calculated to put their persecutors in their place.

You may tell all this to those who are learned in earthly things, who believe the fabrications which men have written on the skins of animals. We believe in the law written within us by the Holy Spirit, and hold everything else, except what we have learned from God, the maker of all things, empty, unnecessary and remote from divinity. Therefore bring an end to your speeches and do with us what you will. Now we see our king reigning in heaven. He will raise us to his right hand in triumph and give us eternal joy.

Being heretics, of course, they didn’t get to drop the mic with their noble defiance ringing from the page.

when the flames began to burn them savagely they cried out as loudly as they could from the middle of the fire that they had been terribly deceived by the trickery of the devil, that the views they had recently held of God and Lord of All were bad, and that as punishment for their blasphemy against Him they would endure much torment in this world and more in that to come. Many of those standing near by heard this, and moved by pity and humanity, approached, seeking to pluck them from the furnace even when half roasted. But they could do nothing, for the avenging flames consumed them, and reduced them straight away to dust.

For more on the primary(ish) sources that document this event and their various problem points, see this pdf.

* Notwithstanding his piety, Robert had actually been excommunicated for his marriage to Bertha, who was his cousin.

** Of interest in the same vein, Moore’s The Formation of a Persecuting Society: Authority and Deviance in Western Europe 950-1250.

† More about Richard II, Duke of Normandy, in this podcast episode from Lars Brownworth’s Norman Centuries. You might be familiar with his grandson, William the Conqueror.

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1868: Priscilla Biggadike, exonerated Stickney murderess

5 comments December 28th, 2012 Headsman

On this date in 1868, Priscilla Biggadike withstood one last gallows-foot plea from her minister to admit to poisoning her husband.

‘I implore you not to pass away without confessing all your sins; not only generally, but especially this particular case, for which you are about to suffer. I had hoped that you would have made that confession, and thus have enabled me, as a minister of Christ, to have pronounced the forgiveness of your sins … It has grieved me much to find that [you] still persist in the declaration, that you are not accountable for your husband’s death; that you still say that you did not administer the poison yourself; that you did not see any other person administer it, and that you are entirely free from the crime. Do you say so, now?

The Prisoner, still in a firm voice, said, yes.

The Chaplain. — There is only one [hope] left, that you have endeavoured to confess your sins to God, though you will not to your fellow creatures. All I can now say is that I leave you in the hands of God; and may he have mercy on your soul. What a satisfaction it would be to your children, to your friends, to your relations, to know that you had passed from death into life, in the full persuasion that your sins were forgiven you … I am sorry I cannot exercise that authority [to pronounce sins forgiven] at the present moment.

Then, at the stroke of 9 a.m., she was hanged by ten-thumbed executioner Thomas Askern. True to form, Askern made a mess of it, and Biggadike painfully strangled to death with the rope’s knot infelicitously positioned under her chin* … although, since this execution was behind the walls of Lincoln Castle (in fact, it was the first female hanging after an 1868 Act of Parliament had made all hangings private), at least it didn’t incense a vast concourse of onlookers.

Posterity, though, has taken plenty of umbrage at Priscilla Biggadike’s fate.

She and her late husband Richard kept two lodgers in a two-room house in the village of Stickney.

Richard already suspected an affair between Priscilla and one of those lodgers, Thomas Procter (or Proctor), when he returned home from work on September 30, 1868, enjoyed tea and cakethat his wife had made for him, and then fell violently, fatally ill. The post-mortem examination showed Richard Biggadike had been poisoned with arsenic.

Priscilla Biggadike and Thomas Procter were both arrested on suspicion of murder but charges against Procter were soon dropped.

Priscilla was known to have quarreled with her husband over that whole infidelity thing, and she had alluded at least once to having arsenic around for killing mice. She was accordingly found guilty of poisoning him, though “only,” in the words of the jurors when the judge pressed the question, “upon the ground of circumstantial evidence.”

Indictment, trial, conviction, and execution for the “Stickney Murderess” wrapped up in two months’ time. But the discharged co-accused, Thomas Procter, years later made a deathbed confession that it was really he who poisoned Richard Biggadike.

(During the investigation, Priscilla had even attempted to blame Thomas Procter, reporting that on one occasion prior to the murder he’d even made what looked like an attempt to poison Richard by mixing white powder into his tea, after which Richard became sick. Police didn’t regard the accused as a particularly credible source for obvious reasons, but it’s hard to believe anyone would have failed to follow up on that sort of lead.)

On account of that whole wrongful-hanging mix-up, Priscilla Biggadike received a posthumous pardon. She’s even had a short musical made about her conviction, which was recently performed in Lincoln Castle. If you visit, you can still see the cell where she passed her final days.

* The bad botch of this job led Lincolnshire officials to audition for their next execution a local cobbler and amateur noose enthusiast destined to revolutionize the British hanging with his scientific approach: William Marwood.

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2010: Two Iranian political prisoners

Add comment December 28th, 2011 Headsman

Two politically sensitive cases, otherwise unrelated to one another, were joined in hanging at Iran’s Evin Prison on this day last year, possibly in a tit for tat following the November assassination of a nuclear physicist.

Ali Saremi

Ali Saremi cut the highest profile of the two, a 63-year-old member of the People’s Mujahedin of Iran (PMOI, aka MEK or MKO).

The PMOI/MEK/MKO, originally a Marxist revolutionary group opposing the dictatorship of the Shah, split with the theocratic Iranian Revolution.

It’s led an interesting life since then.

After creating the still-extant National Council of Resistance of Iran, the PMOI set up camp in Saddam Hussein‘s Iraq, which readily deployed it in the Iran-Iraq War.

Camp Ashraf was still there when the U.S. invasion rolled into Baghdad in 2003. (As of this writing, it’s only just now being closed.) While MEK has long been considered a terrorist organization, including by the U.S. State Department,* Iraq’s new occupiers also found this nest of exiles a convenient ally for its own campaign against Iran’s mullahs.

The organization has been much in the news of late both as a bargaining chip in regional diplomacy, and for lavishly bankrolling a lobbying campaign to get off everybody’s official terrorism lists — positioning itself as simply an Iranian opposition group. (It claims to have renounced violence.)

From Tehran, of course, there’s much less gray shading: the MEK is an enemy.

Saremi, a longtime member, was arrested four times for his association with the group.

The first time was in 1976; the last, and ultimately fatal, in 2007. He had just returned from Camp Ashraf to visit his son and commemorate the anniversary of Iran’s late-1980s mass execution of prisoners, an atrocity that claimed a large share of MEK sympathizers in apparent retaliation for the organization’s aforementioned wartime aid to Baghdad.

Saremi got the all-purpose mohareb death sentence — roughly, “waging war against God,” which can potentially compass any resistance to the Islamic Republic — basically for having a going association with PMOI. According to NCRI, Saremi’s prosecutor alleged that

[h]e visited Ashraf and during that he received necessary trainings and returned to the country … and eventually he was arrested in August 2007 for his repeated activities and participation in counter revolutionary ceremonies and gatherings in support of PMOI and dispatching reports to this grouplet (PMOI). During a search in his house some CDs, films, pictures from PMOI and hand written organizational documents linked to the grouplet were found and confiscated.

Iran carried out the execution without notice.**

Ali Saremi’s portrait and memory are now powerful props for the MEK terrorism de-listing campaign.

Ali Akbar Siadati

Also hanged this day was a man named Ali Akbar Siadati, about whom only sketchy information appears to be available.

Siadati was condemned for spying for Israel from 2004 until his arrest in 2008, allegedly supplying Iran’s foe a wide range of sensitive military information — a crime to which Siadati confessed, according to the state news agency IRNA.

Who Siadati was, how he had access to military intelligence, and why (apart from money) he might have betrayed it seems to be publicly obscure.

* In fact, the charge of sheltering MEK — guilty of “terrorist violence against Iran” — even appears on the Bush administration’s justification for war with Iraq.

** Iranian law requires 48 hours’ notice of an imminent execution be given to a defendant’s lawyer. This rule is routinely ignored.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Activists,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Espionage,Execution,Famous,God,Hanged,History,Iran,Martyrs,Politicians,Power,Ripped from the Headlines,Spies,Treason

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1888: Prado, before Gauguin

3 comments December 28th, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1888, “Prado” — also known as “Count Linska de Castillon”; he never copped to his real identity — was beheaded as a thief and murderer at Paris.

The trial of this intrepid criminal promised, in the London Times‘ Nov. 6, 1888 preview, to be “one of the most extraordinary of our times”

He [Prado] is a Spaniard, and was brought up at Gijon, but he refused to say who he was. When 14 years of age he visited Mozambique, India, China, California, the West Indies, and North America. In 1872 he was a sub-lieutenant in the Carlist bands. He then lived by his wits. He once crossed the French frontier and stole 8,000f. At the battle of Somorrostro he was wounded by a shell, and removed to a hospital, from which he enticed the sister of the Order of Saint Vincent de Paul who nursed him. She belonged to one of the first families in England. He married her, and with her visited the Holy Land, but her health failed, and she died on their return to Italy. Prado says he married a second wife at Lima, with a dowry of 1,200,000f., and that after her death he committed many daring robberies.

He’s the most interesting man in the world.

This vagabond upon the overgrown lost highways of fortune eventually ditched wife #2 in penury in Spain and proceeded to France where he mooched off a local girl and her absentee American sugar daddy, until one night he slashed the throat a dame named Marie Aguetant, the lover of a late-working croupier, and plundered their domicile of chattels.

Prado eluded capture for some time, keeping his lover, taking another — both of whom ended up in the dock with their insolent Don Juan, along with various male intimates in various aspects of accesorizing. None of those others drew a death sentence, but as the interest of the London Times suggests — it fronted near-daily trial dispatches from Paris — all this stuff about cabals of swarthy men ravishing women of their virtue and their valuables made global news.

It also moved Third Republic bodice-ripping true crime like this zippy little volume, “Prado ou Le Tueur de Filles,” with a copyright notice as late as 1931.

A savage crime by a strange character, but now that it’s long departed all living memory, it scarcely stands out. Legion are the lotharios who have slain for the pedestrian motivation of gold.

In a post-bourgeois order, “we will no longer see men like Pranzini, Prado, Berland, Anastay and others who kill in order to have this metal,” the French terrorist Ravachol‘s suppressed address to the courtroom declared in 1892. “The cause of all crimes is always the same, and you have to be foolish not to see this.”

Yes, I repeat it: it is society that makes criminals and you, jury members, instead of striking you should use your intelligence and your strength to transform society. In one fell swoop you’ll suppress all crime. And your work, in attacking causes, will be greater and more fruitful than your justice, which belittles itself in punishing its effects.

-Ravachol


Just a few days before this headline-grabbing execution, impressionist painter Vincent van Gogh undertook the most famous thing he ever did off-canvas: after his latest dispute with roommate and fellow-artist Paul Gauguin, van Gogh sliced off his own left earlobe.*

It was in this abnormal circumstance that Gauguin, fresh to Paris fleeing from the scene of the self-mutilation in Arles, attended Prado’s beheading, even forcing his way through a line of gendarmes to obtain a closer view.

“[H]e may have had the counterphobic desire to reassure himself of his courage by taking an unflinching look at Prado’s execution,” writes Bradley Collins. “Gauguin may have identified with both the executioner and his victim. On the one hand, by watching the state kill a man, he could vicariously release some of his pent-up aggression toward Vincent. On the other, by identifying with Prado he could vicariously atone for the guilt he felt about precipitating Vincent’s breakdown and abandoning [Arles].”

Aptly for Gauguin’s personal demons, the guillotine managed to botch this job, too — giving Prado a non-fatal facial injury and requiring the now-wounded condemned to be repositioned for another chop.

All this pate-slashing sure seems to have found its way into Gauguin’s next creation:


Gauguin’s grotesque “Jug in the form of a Head, Self-Portrait”. “Within one work, he has become both the bloody, earless Vincent [Van Gogh] and the guillotined Prado.” –Collins

* Latter-day revisionist hypothesis: Gauguin actually cut off van Gogh’s ear in a fight, but both painters kept to a cover story to keep everyone out of trouble. That version would only thicken the psychological stew for Gauguin’s pilgrimage to the guillotine and subsequent “self-portrait”.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Beheaded,Botched Executions,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,France,Guillotine,History,Murder,Pelf,Public Executions,Theft

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1894: Chief Two Sticks, Ghost Dancer

1 comment December 28th, 2008 Headsman

On this date in 1894, Sioux Chief Cha Nopa Uhah (“Two Sticks”) was hanged in Deadwood, S.D., for instigating the murder of white ranchers on the Pine Ridge Reservation.

The story begins little more than two years after one of the most tragic and emblematic events in the white conquest of North America — Wounded Knee:

By early 1893, the “Ghost Dance” religious movement that had animated the Lakota people had not disappeared … nor had the futile dream of armed resistance to white domination.

A band under Chief Two Sticks, a leader described as resistant to settled white civilization and inclined towards retaining the traditional nomadic life, raided a white cattle ranch. The raid was not deadly, but its consequences were.

Indian police dispatched to arrest the raiders were killed in a shootout, after which the raiders again attacked the ranch — looking this time for men, not cattle. Four white cowboys were killed.

A number of additional Indians died when tribal authorities deployed in force to stop Two Sticks’ followers, perhaps narrowly averting much worse — as it’s a given that federal authorities would not have countenanced Two Sticks’ continued liberty.

The chief himself was severely wounded in the process, and only after a lengthy recovery was he well enough to stand trial in the white men’s courts in Deadwood.

His last words, according to an impressive HistoryNet retelling of Chief Two Sticks’ tale with a great deal of detail about his last hours (including an attempted suicide, so that he could die by Indian hands), denied responsibility for the violence.

My heart is not bad. I did not kill the cowboys; the Indian boys [meaning White Faced Horse, Fights With, Two Two and First Eagle] killed them. I have killed many Indians, but never killed a white man; I never pulled a gun on a white man. The great father* and the men under him should talk to me and I would show them I am innocent. The white men are going to kill me for something I haven’t done. I am a great chief myself. I have always been a friend of the white man. The white men will find out sometime that I am innocent and then they will be sorry they killed me. The great father will be sorry, too, and he will be ashamed. My people will be ashamed, too. My heart is straight and I like everybody. God made all hearts the same. My heart is the same as the white man’s. If I had not been innocent I would not have come up here so good when they wanted me. They know I am innocent or they would not let me go around here. My heart knows I am not guilty and I am happy. I am not afraid to die. I was taught that if I raised my hands to God and told a lie that God would kill me that day. I never told a lie in my life.

The killing and execution are related (from the white settlers’ point of view) in The Black Hills trails : a history of the struggles of the pioneers in the winning of the Black Hills by Jesse Brown and A.M. Willard.

* Earlier that day, Two Sticks had received word that President (and former hangman) Grover Cleveland had denied him clemency.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Hanged,History,Murder,Occupation and Colonialism,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,South Dakota,USA

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