1868: Heli Freymond, the last beheaded by sword in Switzerland

Add comment January 10th, 2019 Headsman

Heli Freymond lost his head on this date in 1868 to an executioner’s sword — the last time that ever happened in Swiss history. (His is also the last death sentence enforced in the canton of Vaud.)

Freymond and his cousin and lover Louise Freymond conspired to murder the man’s pregnant* wife with arsenic.

They might have gotten away with this but avarice for the portion of the wife’s inheritance that had redounded to the wife’s sister led them to make a bid at murdering that sister’s beau. This man survived it, and accurately discerned the hand behind his brush with death; his lawsuit led to the literal and metaphorical exhumation of the late wife’s corpse, too.

Louise Freymond caught a 20-year prison sentence for this, but Freymond was doomed to lose his head. Switzerland had introduced the guillotine as an alternative beheading method some years before, but the old-school two-handed richtschwert blade still remained available for the hands-on touch you only get with hired goons. Twenty thousand souls turned out in Moudon for the occasion.

Heli Freymond was in fact the last person executed at all in Switzerland, for an era: he was still the last when the 1874 constitution abolished capital punishment full stop. However, a crime wave brought the death penalty back in 1879. The last Swiss execution for ordinary crimes occurred in 1940; according to CapitalPunishmentUK’s index of Swiss executions, there were 17 Swiss men (no women) shot during World War II for treason.

* Technically, an initial unsuccessful attempt to poison the pregnant mother Elise Olivier caused a miscarriage; subsequently, another poisoning brought off Elise, too.

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1718: Avram Lopukhin, Peter the Great’s brother-in-law

Add comment December 8th, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1718, Tsar Peter the Great had his brother-in-law beheaded.

The brother of Peter’s discarded first wife Eudoxia Lopukina, our man Avram Fedorovich Lopukhin (Russian link) had neatly installed himself as a grey eminence of the rebellious Tsarevich Alexei.

It was to this youth Alexei that Old Russia turned its hopes while Peter westernized and modernized the empire. Someday Peter would die, and Alexei would inherit, and the clawback would begin.

Lopukhin foresaw a place of power for himself in Alexei’s Russia. He was an old guard boyar prince, formerly an influential courtier, and he had the blood and the ear of the tsarevich.

That also meant he would share the fate of the tsarevich.

What a disaster for Lopukhin when the truculent Alexei made bold enough to outright break with his father by fleeing Russia — but what was even worse was when Alexei returned.

Investigating the matter as a treason, the famously pitiless Peter did not spare his own child from torture and death; still less would he pardon the others in Alexei’s circle whom his inquisitions revealed to be scheming to overturn Peter’s life’s work, if not his very life.

Seditious correspondence and torture-adduced accusations implicated Lopukhin as just such a figure, and he was tossed into the dungeons of Peter and Paul Fortress to face interrogations, knouting, and execution.

Made to confess to desiring the death of the sovereign, Lopukhin had his head publicly on December 8. It was mounted afterwards on a pike overlooking a public market, and his body exposed on a wheel, until the tsar suffered his kinsman’s remains to be interred in the Lopukhin family crypt the following March.

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1913: Captain Manuel Sanchez Lopez

Add comment November 3rd, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1913, Spanish Captain Manuel Sanchez Lopez was shot for a scandalous affair of incest and murder.

You’ll need Spanish for most sources on this tawdry tale. Our principal was a vicious lowlife of long repute, having driven his wife away by dint of his ungovernable affection for cheap brothels, gambling dens, and drunken brawls.

His oldest daughter, María Luisa Sanchez Noguerol, would be his semi-willing accomplice in the crime that ended Captain Sanchez’s life, but she had for many years before that been his victim: not only of the blows the father meted out to all his children, but also to his sexual attentions.

Captain Sanchez forced this daughter into prostitution to support his own degeneracy but he had a larger score in mind when he encouraged her to accept an assignation with a wealthy widower, Rodrigo Garcia Jalon. At this rendezvous, the father — who probably would have been better advised to content himself with the rents of blackmail or robbery — sprang from concealment and fatally bludgeoned the gentleman with a hammer.

Father and daughter desperately dismembered the body in hopes of concealing the crime but another of Manuel Sanchez’s oft-thrashed children denounced them to the police, to the very great delight of scandal-mongering newspapers throughout Europe. Everything was rumored: that the father had once or twice impregnated his own progeny, that they had pulled the seduction/murder trick several times before.


The discovery of the victim’s remains.

The father had the privilege of shooting instead of a garrote, thanks to his military rank. The daughter did share his fate, but received a long prison sentence.

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1909: Martha Rendell

Add comment October 6th, 2018 Headsman

For the last time ever, Western Australia executed a woman on this date in 1909. Her name was Martha Rendell, and she had allegedly murdered up to three of her partner’s five* children.

Although they never got the legal document, we might as well call Rendell and Thomas Nicholls Morris man and wife: the two moved in after Morris’s previous marriage failed, presented themselves as one another’s spouses, and had the four kids call Rendell “mom”. They lived together in a downscale district in east Perth, steps away from an open drain fed by industrial runoff.

And if what they charged her with is true — for Rendell would always deny it and her denials have had found traction with some from her time to ours — then nasty stepmothers of fairy tales might have sued Martha Rendell for defamation of character. Indeed, her step-motherliness clearly weighed against her in the public mind.

In 1907, four of the children took ill with diphtheria. After a relapse, seven-year-old Annie died; the death certificate would put it down to “epilepsy and cardiac weakness” (both diphtheria symptoms). Her little sister Olive, still weakened by her bout with diphtheria, contracted typhoid and bled and vomited to death in August of that same year. The doctors who treated these girls didn’t suspect anything untoward but the following year when yet a third of the children (Arthur, 14) also died of apparent typhoid. Doctors on this occasion conducted an autopsy, curious to find evidence of poisoning — an autopsy that Rendell attended and ordered halted partway through, an action that would play very culpably at her eventual trial.**

Said trial was not to be triggered until the following spring, when another son, George, fled the house to the protection of his natural mother, and told a nightmare tale of the mean stepmother painting the children’s throats with hydrochloric acid and serving them suspicious bitter tea that sent them to their sickbeds.

“In hindsight George’s story seems highly implausible, the feverish imagining of a vengeful mother and stepson newly reunited,” argues a Rendell defender who situates the Morris household’s catastrophe amid a wider social panic over the corruption of Perth’s feminine mores, embracing everything from prostitution to baby farming.

The horrific caustic action of hydrochloric acid was not the sort of stealthy killer chosen by poisoners nor did it fit with the gradual wasting noted by the children’s doctor. And how could the woman have forced a youth of fifteen to submit to such cruelty? If Rendell had used diluted solutions of the acid (and it came to light after the trial that this was a home remedy used as a mild antiseptic and sometimes applied to the throat to treat diphtheria) then how had this uneducated woman calibrated the children’s dosages to create symptoms to fool Perth’s most respected doctors?

The strength of feeling bordering on mass hysteria that lay at the heart of public frenzy about this woman was exhibited in the shrill crowds of Perth women demanding her hanging and worse. Some women even invaded the Morris cottage when it was opened up to auction the contents and souvenired every household item, even the auctioneer’s hat so that only ten pounds were raised for the couple’s legal defence.

Little concrete evidence was ever produced against her — was it thanks to that aborted autopsy? — but neighbors grown prejudiced against the scarlet villainess would color remembrances of her conduct in testimony that also told on themselves as peeping toms: this time a failure to nurture and that time a glow of outright pleasure at a crying child.

Much subtext surfaced in text. The arresting officer noted her “delighted in seeing her victims writhe in agony, and from it derived sexual satisfaction.” One appalling newspaper editorial reviled her as “a type that is seldom encountered in English speaking races … she represents a reversion to the primitive stage of humanity when destructive proclivities are uppermost. Like aboriginals, the Martha Rendells of this world must kill.” It was scarcely a novel formula for anathematizing the female criminal.

It was only Arthur for whom she was formally condemned but after the five-day trial she was popularly understood as responsible for all three of her dead stepchildren. But not all the public, for a vigorous albeit unsuccessful clemency campaign specifically citing doubts about the case’s evidence grew around her during her few short weeks awaiting the gallows. Those doubts have never since been categorically dispelled.

Legend holds that Martha Rendell still haunts Fremantle Prison where she hanged, in the form of a ghostly apparition of her face peering out from a stained-glass window.

* There were five children still in the house. Thomas Morris also had four older children, making nine total.

** Martha Rendell had also fallen ill during the course of treating her children. This of course was read by prosecutors as a feint to deflect suspicion.

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1921: Carl Wanderer, of the Ragged Stranger case

Add comment September 30th, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1921, the villain in the Case of the Ragged Stranger went to the gallows in Chicago.

Then-24-year-old World War I veteran Carl Wanderer entered the public’s cognizance when on the night of June 21, 1920, he and his pregnant young wife Ruth were accosted on the way home from cinema by a tramp — a “ragged stranger” in the piquant phrase that would identify both the case and the man. This stranger, who was never identified, held up the happy couple at gunpoint but Wanderer just so happened to be carrying his service pistol and exchanged gunfire with the mugger. After the hail of bullets was over, the ragged stranger was dead and his wife lay mortally wounded in his arms.

The obvious catnip themes — the young bride, the valiant troop, the machismo shootout — instantly made for a national news crime story.


Cleveland Plain Dealer, June 23, 1920

But it wasn’t many days that Wanderer’s self-flattering story enjoyed the public’s credulity.

Mr. Ragged’s weapon turned out to be an army-issue pistol just like Wanderer’s own … in fact, Wanderer had borrowed it from his cousin just days before the deadly fray. And this connection in turn led Wanderer to admit under intense police questioning that the tramp was a down-and-outer that Wanderer himself had hired to stage the mugging as a pretext under which Wanderer would murder his wife. Having so done, Wanderer realized that capital felonies are really best without surviving witnesses, so that was the end for the Stranger too.

Wanderer’s confessions, well, they wandered. The unifying thread was the man’s obvious desire to exit his marriage; what’s not clear is whether this reason was the object itself or further to some greater purpose. There were hints that the motive was pecuniary or even that Wanderer was homosexual; his defense would eventually raise a family history of mental illness. Wanderer himself at one point said that he wanted to return to military life;* but, investigations also turned up a scandalous flirtation with a 17-year-old customer of his butcher shop to whom he had made bold enough to send billets doux before his wife’s body was cold.

Chicago, Illinois
July 6, 1920

Sweetheart,

I am very lonesome tonight. I thought I would drop you a few lines as I am ever thinking of you.

The reason I wouldn’t meet you at your house is this. The people would talk about us.

Someday I will tell you a whole lot more. I have been double crossed by some people.

Good night little lover & happy dreams to you.

From Carl

After a jury outraged public opinion by failing to hang him for his wife’s murder, he was tried again before standing room only audiences for the stranger’s death — in effect a second bite at the apple. His young flame Julia Schmitt made a humiliating appearance on the stand which would set up a scorching summation by the state’s attorney.

He saw a vision of the future. It included the army life and Julia. But in that vision was no trace of Ruth who was soon to be a mother.

Ruth must die.

Kisses for Julia, bullets for Ruth.

The man who killed his wife and unborn babe.

That’s the kind of a man he is. See his calm face.

An actor.

But a yellow coward, and a murderer.

Send this cowardly, contemptible wretch, who deliberately and cunningly took the lives of his young, trusting wife, her unborn baby, and the poor, innocent, ragged, unidentified stranger, to the gallows. The man who had kisses for Julia Schmitt and bullets for the one he should have loved and cherished most has forfeited all claims to go on living on this earth.

There is abundant proof of this miserable creature’s guilt. You know as well as I do that he has violated every law of God or man. He deserves death. Even death is too good for him. Send him to the rope. Don’t weaken — give him the punishment he deserves.

Hang him.

And they did.


Belleville (Illinois) News Democrat, September 30, 1921

After hearing the condemned sing on the gallows, one wag present reportedly quipped that Wanderer deserved hanging for his voice alone.

This ragged old case has quite good coverage on this here World Wide Web. Some of Carl’s wanderers include:

* Perhaps not coincidentally, his unit had seen very little combat during the Great War.

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1879: Anthony Blair

Add comment September 26th, 2018 Headsman

From the New York Times, September 27, 1879:


ANTHONY BLAIR HANGED
TEN THOUSAND SPECTATORS TO SEE HIM DIE — THE HISTORY OF HIS CRIME.

Nashville, Tenn., Sept. 26. — A Morristown (Tenn.) special to the Banner says: “Your reporter to-day witnessed the execution of Anthony Blair, colored, for the murder of his step-daughter, Maggie Blair, a girl of 16 years, on the 30th of July last. The crime for which he suffered death was looked upon in this community as a most atrocious murder; there was no seeming cause or provocation, no excuse for it. This execution is pronounced by all as just.

Blair was perhaps 30 years of age, an African in every lineament, brutal and sensuous in appearance, and looked to be capable of any crime. At 12 o’clock, Sheriff Loop, with 28 guards, went to the jail, and with your reporter entered Blair’s cell. Blair seemed callous, and without feeling. He submitted quietly to the manacles, and walked with a firm step to the wagon on which he rode to the gallows.

After religious service by the Rev. George Blainer, colored, the prisoner was allowed to talk. His harangue was such as would be expected from such a man. He admitted his guilt, but developed a state of facts leading to the crime which are unfit for publication.

At 1:30 the rope was tied, the black cap arranged, and, at 1:35, the wagon moved from under him. In nine minutes no pulse could be distinguished; in 10 minutes his heart had ceased to act; in 15 minutes he was pronounced dead, and in just 22 minutes after he swung off he was lowered into his coffin. This was the first hanging in Hamblen County, and the crowd present was estimated to number 8,000 to 10,000.

Blair lived in Washington County, near Jonesboro. From some cause Maggie had left his house, and came to this county some time in May last, and when killed was in the service of Esquire William Donaldson, and was represented as a very smart, industrious girl.

Blair, hearing of her whereabouts, came down to Russelville July 29, and immediately made his way to the residence of Esquire Donaldson. He entered the kitchen where the girl and Mrs. Donaldson were engaged in preparing dinner. He asked the girl, looking savagely at her, to come outside the house, that he had something to say to her. The girl refused to go out, telling him that if he had anything to say, he should say it before Mrs. Donaldson.

About this time Esquire Donaldson rode up, and Blair immediately left the house, and was seen no more until Wednesday, July 30. That night the girl, in company with others, went up to the colored church near Russelville to prayer-meeting.

Returning, Blair was met in the road by parties who had been at the prayer-meeting. After some conversation Blair passed on to Russelville, but upon going a short distance, he turned back and took another road, which the young folks, including Maggie Blair, had taken. He overtook the party, and immediately walked up to Maggie, who was walking in the rear by the side of a colored by named Taylor.

Pressing Taylor away, he caught her hand, and said: “You must go home with me on the train to-night to your grandpa,” and pulled her along the road 150 or 200 yards, saying she should go. Maggie struggled to get loose from Blair’s grasp, saying that she would rather die than go, whereupon he drew a pistol and shot her twice, from the effects of which she died the following Saturday.

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1878: George Howell, family arbiter

Add comment September 5th, 2018 Headsman

From the Morristown (Tenn.) Gazette, September 11, 1878:


EXECUTION OF HOWELL

THE CONFESSION OF THE GUILTY WRETCH

From the Knoxville Chronicle

Yesterday Greeneville was astir with the bustle of unusual excitement consequent upon preparations for the execution of the negro George Howell for the murder of Joseph Martin, near Fullen’s station, December 28th, 1877.

A strong police force was sworn in by the town authorities, and Sheriff A.J. Frazier had summoned a large guard to preserve on the occasion. There were no anticipations of attempted rescue of the prisoner, though frequent rumors to that effect had reached the officials, but it was deemed best to be prepared for any emergency, and though the crowd was large, yet no serious disturbance arose.

HOWELL’S CONFESSION.

Some time after sentence of death was passed on him, the prisoner, Howell, made a full confession of the crime and its antecedents to Mr. J.R. Self, proprietor of the Journal, which, if true, put the family of the deceased in the worst possible light, he having declared in the plainest language that the widow and children of the murdered man, by bribes and threats, instigated him to do the deed.

Your reporter, accompanied by several others, visited the prisoner the day before his expected execution, Aug. 9th, expecting to see a burly black ruffian, but entering the cell, beheld confined in the cage, a negro lad, with a remarkably good countenance, holding a book in his hand. In one corner was a small pallet on which he slept, which was the only furniture it contained.

The prisoner seemed gratified at the entrance of visitors and answered all questions freely, even the frivolous one of whether Martin’s ghost ever appeared to him in the still hours of the night, to which he replied in the negative.

HIS ANTECEDENTS.

The unfortunate boy, George Howell, was born in La Grange, Ga., in October, 1861, his owner being Mr. Arch. Howell, who subsequently operated a steam furniture manufactory. His father’s name was Ephraim and his mother’s Mary, the former of whom is living, but the latter died when the prisoner was five years old. His father was a painter, and after his mother’s death both made their home in Atlanta, Ga., for six or seven years, the former pursuing his avocation of painting, while the boy waited on stores, confectioneries, etc. From thence they afterwards removed to Smyrna, Ga., where the prisoner remained a year in the employ of a Dr. Bell. He went from there to Cartersville, Ga., and by that time having become imbued with the spirit of unrest, visited Dalton and proceeded thence to Cleveland and Knoxville, and drifting as far east as Christiansburg, Va. But not liking the Old Dominion he returned to Bristol the day before the Presidential election in November, 1876. A few days after he entered the employ of J.B. Fitzgerald, near Fullen’s Depot, and remained there about seven months. He then worked a short time for Wm. Durman, perhaps two weeks, when he received a better offer and began working for Joseph Martin on the 19th of June, 1877.

The prisoner, in his interview, reiterated the confession previously made to Mr. Self and others regarding the complicity of Martin’s family with the murder, and avowed his intention, he said:

I had been at Martin’s for some time, perhaps a month, before I discovered any misunderstanding between Martin and his family and this occurred between him and his daughter Tennie. She upbraided him for his staying away from home so late; he kicked her over and struck her with a chair.

The next difficulty occurred between Martin and his wife, she accused him of visiting a house of ill fame near by, he went to his trunk, took out a pistol, and swore he would shoot her.

These wranglings and domestic quarrels continued all along through the summer, I remember of one, which at the time I thought would result seriously; it occurred some time in the fall, and late at night, I was asleep in the barn, little Bob woke me up, I went to the house and found Martin in a terrible rage, he said to me that his wife had refused to occupy his bed, that she had taken a separate room and that he would kill her, or any woman, bearing the name of wife, that would treat him in this manner. Bob and I set up the entire night.

THE BLOODY BARGAIN.

The following narrative of events immediately preceding the tragedy seems almost too horrible for relief, because if not the phatasmagoria [sic] of a disordered brain, the prisoner was but the hired tool of an unnatural wife and children. In this connection it should be stated that an attempt was made two days before the executions, by a member of Martin’s family, to induce Mr. Self, the publisher of the “confession,” to suppress the same, which, however, he declined doing. Continuing, the prisoner said:

Some two months before Christmas the family were all in the sitting room — perhaps some of the smaller children were in bed — when Mrs. Martin commenced abusing her husband (Mr. Martin was away from that night, I think he was at his mother’s or brother’s.) The girls, Margaret and Tennie and their brother Bob, all joined with their mother in denouncing the deceased. Mrs. Martin said that ‘Joe had threatened to kill you, (me) twice, and if I was you (me) I would kill him,’ she said that ‘Joe had followed you (me) one day in the railroad cut with the intention of killing you (me) and that if I did not kill him he would certainly murder me, and, if I would kill him she would bake me some cakes for Christmas.’ Bob spoke up and said that he ‘would give me two calves and a pig if I would kill his father.’ I do not remember my reply, but from that time on it was well-understood in the family that Mr. Martin was to be killed, and that I was to do it, and the family were to swear me out of it.

Mrs. Martin baked the cakes for the prisoner on Christmas, he said, reproaching him at the same time for his failure to perform his promise. Three days later, however, he endeavored to do so, and a runaway team, which diverted his attention, was the means of prolonging Martin’s life a few hours. The same evening after being informed that the gun, with which the fatal deed was committed (an Enfield rifle) was loaded, the prisoner made a new ramrod for it the iron rod being too short, and while cutting it the right length at the wood pile, according to his statement, Bob, a son of Martin’s about thirteen years old, brought him the gun, and told him to go around the house and shoot his father. Bob then went into the house, and the prisoner thus describes the

MURDEROUS DEED.

I went round in front and looked through the window, and saw Mag sitting on one side of the fire-place, Tennie on the opposite, Mr. Martin out in front and Bob sitting away back next the back door. They were all out of range. I stepped up to a plank at the edge of the portico took aim at Martin’s ear and fired. I then ran out at the front gate, next the railroad, poured some powder in the gun, put on a cap as I run, went into the barnyard. At this time I saw Martin and his son in the meadow. I fired my gun into the air, shouting to them that there were some robbers going through the field. I did this for the purpose o making Martin think he had been attacked by ‘tramps.’

I then went to Martin and kept with him until he reached the ‘Ridge’ road, some four hundred yards from his house, and at this point, Mr. Thomas stokes, having heard the firing and Martin’s cries for help, come to us. Mr. Stokes took Martin home with him, and deceased, not having at this time, the slightest suspicion that I was the one who shot him, requested me to go back to his house and see what had become of his children. I did so, little Bobby accompanying me. We returned to the house. I went in the large front room, and from there into a small bed-room and set my gun down and came back in the large room, when Miss Mag. gave me a clean shirt and told me I had better leave the country; that it would be all over the country by next morning, that her father was killed, and I would be in danger.

Howell told how he combatted Miss Maggie’s advice, saying “if they stuck to him he would be in no danger,” and acting on that idea the results was disastrous, for the next morning, he was arrested near Fullen’s depot by James F. Dobson and taken before the jury of inquest, where he denied all knowledge of the deed, but under cross-examination his answers were contradictory and he was arrested and taken to Rheatown, where he was examined before Justice G.A. Shoun. On the way the prisoner made a full confession to D.C. Dukes and Wm. T. Mitchell.

He was lodged in jail at Greeneville, Dec. 29th ult., and the case came up before the February term, 1878, of the Circuit Court, but the trial was postponed till the June following, when a verdict of guilty was rendered.

In his “appendix,” the publisher says:

The ‘confession,’ proper, was written at the suggestion of the prisoner, Howell, and after some hesitation we undertook the task: … The language is our own, but we have adhered strictly to the substance of the matter as detailed by him.

IN PRISON.

During his imprisonment, Howell has been visited frequently by clergyman [sic] and others who have conversed and prayed with him, but apparently with out producing any impression to the last. Many think him obdurate, though others more leniently think he could not comprehend the gravity of his situation. He appeared resigned to his fater and expressed deep regret for the crime.

Our reporter visited Howell in his cell yesterday morning, accompanied by Messrs. Dukes and Self. He was reading the 4th chapter of John, and in response to the question, said that he hoped he was prepared to die. He also said that he derived great pleasure from reading the Scriptures, especially a chapter in Revelations regarding the Great Wonder in Heaven.

The statement having been made by Messrs. Frank and Sevier Martin, brothers of the murdered man, that Howell had been prevente4d by Messrs. Dukes and Self from recanting his charges against the Martin family for complicity in the crime, Mr. D. asked the prisoner to state if such was the fact, who replied that it was not, and so far from it that both these gentlemen had repeatedly urged him to make a clean breast of it, and tell the truth.

Howell’s health has been very bad for some time, and last week his life was considered in danger. He stated that he wished to see the Martin family at the scaffold, where, if they came, he would charge them with having brought him. Howell requested that his body should be given to Dr. J.R. Boyd, who wished to make some slight surgical examination, though he objected to out-and-out dissection.

The crowd in attendance was small as compared with that which assembled on the 9th of August. There is, too, considerable change of public sentiment in regard to the complicity of Martin’s family in his murder.

As is generally known, Howell was respited on the 9th of August last, the day first designated for his execution, by Gov. Porter, through the exertions of W.F. Yardley, Esq., who afterwards unavailingly attempted to procure a commutation of the death penalty to imprisonment for life.

THE GALLOWS

Was erected one mile west of Greeneville, on the Knoxville road, and is the first one on which a “drop” has been used in East Tennessee for many years, and was constructed at Howell’s own request, he not wishing to die by strangulation.

A little after 12 o’clock the black cap and shroud were placed on the prisoner in his cell, and the procession left the jail at 12:40, p.m., reaching the gallows, near the fair ground, at 1:10, p.m. Silence was requested when Howell made a rambling, incoherent talk of thirteen minutes, exhorting the young people against bad advisers. He charged the Martin family with being the cause of his death to the last. He acknowledged his guilt, and the justice of his sentence, and forgave the court, jury and officers.

The devotional exercises were conducted by Judge A.W. Woward.

At 1:49 p.m. the black cap was drawn and the prisoner stepped on the trap. One minute after the cord was cut, and he

FELL FOUR FEET.

In forty-seven minutes he was dead, and, the body being cut down, was given over to Dr. Boyd to partially dissect. The crowd was very orderly during the execution.

Sheriff A.J. Frazier was assisted in the performance of his unpleasant duties by ex-Sheriff W.S. White. Having been in office only four days, this was of course, his first execution, but he evinced a coolness throughout.

PREVIOUS EXECUTIONS.

The last man hung by civil process in Greeneville was Archibald Brown, for the murder of Malinda Hinkle, about twenty-six years ago. But the beginning of the war, there were two victims of drum-head court martial executions, Hinchey and Fry, well known Union men, for the alleged crime of bridge burning.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Children,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Hanged,Murder,Public Executions,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Tennessee,USA

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1875: Joseph Le Brun, the last public hanging in the U.K.

4 comments August 12th, 2018 Headsman

Joseph Le Brun starred in the U.K.’s last public execution in the U.K. on this date in 1875.

Although capital punishment had been moved behind prison walls in Great Britain several years earlier, the relevant statute did not apply to Crown dependencies like executions in the Channel Islands. And it is upon one of these rocks, Jersey to be precise, that Joseph Le Brun allegedly killed his sister. The names in this post are Gallic, as was much of the Channel Islands populace.

The milestone case was a strange and unsatisfying one. It entered the view of the judiciary on the evening of December 15, 1874, when a neighbor of Nancy’s reported to the police that Nancy had been murdered and her brother-in-law Philip Laurens wounded in a shooting. The unmarried Le Brun was a frequent dinner companion of this couple as he had been on this night as well, and there was no hatred known to exist among the trio. According to a True Crime Library summary, police

asked Laurens, who had face injuries and an arm wound, who had attacked him, and he replied: ‘My brother-in-law Joseph shot me.’ They found the body of Nancy covered in blood sitting on a sofa. There was a shawl covering her face and her stockinged feet were in a bucket of water.

They arrested Le Brun, who was in bed, and took him to the house where Laurens was awaiting a doctor. Laurens called Le Brun a ‘hangdog,’ and asked, ‘Why did you fire at me?’ Le Brun replied, ‘It wasn’t me.’

At the inquest on Nancy, Philip Laurens said that when he opened his front door on returning home Le Brun pointed a gun at him and shot him in the face. I said to him, ‘What have you done? You have shot me.’ He made no answer.

This evidence of Philip Laurens’s cinched the hemp for Joseph Le Brun. Certainly Philip did know his brother-in-law well. But on the other hand, well, the guy cracked open his front door, in the dark, and immediately got the business end of a rifle in his face. These are circumstances not conducive to the orderly cognitive processes that you’d prefer in a witness.

There was the suggestion that Le Brun might have contemplated such a crime to rob his sister of 28 quid she had recently come into; however, “there was no blood on his clothes, no powder on his hands, and only small change in his pockets” … besides which Nancy was a drunkard who could have been easily relieved of her windfall without the need for homicide. In fact, all three of the principals involved were known to get into their cups.

The crown prosecutor was openly discomfited by the prospect of executing Le Brun on this evidence and the jury likewise. It returned a guilty verdict for the non-fatal shooting of Laurens, but could not come to a unanimous decision about Nancy — the murder charge that would demand the prisoner’s hanging. It was only because Jersey permitted majority verdicts that Le Brun went to the scaffold after the court polled the 24-man panel. Even so, jurors joined the island’s public sentiment and wrote the Home Secretary begging in vain for a reprieve.

Le Brun too maintained his innocence all the way to the end. On the eve of his death, his brother-in-law paid a visit to the man his evidence had doomed, and their queer exchange only deepened the mystery.

Laurens: Joe, I’m sorry to see you here.

Le Brun: And you still wish to say that it was I who did it?

Laurens: Yes, I repeat, you murdered my wife, as you wished to murder me, and no one else but you did it.

Le Brun: You have proof of that?

Laurens: I did not come here to argue with you. I forgive you, but I say that you committed the crime. Adieu!

(Source)

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,Milestones,Public Executions,Wrongful Executions

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1718: Purry Moll and Elizabeth Cave

Add comment August 6th, 2018 Headsman

Tyburn on this date three hundred years ago saw the hanging of two women, both transgressors of the booming capital’s purported sexual mores.

The Ordinary of Newgate Paul Lorrain favored Mary Price (alias Purry Moll) and Elizabeth Cave for the occasion with “A Dehortation from living after the Flesh, that is, after the carnal Desires and sinful Lusts of our Corrupt Nature, which brings forth Death, even Eternal Death.”

Purry Moll‘s sinful Lusts didn’t really have that much to do with her crime; it’s just that she and her husband had walked away from an unedifying union after the banns of marriage were already published. It seems that her post-hubby lover upon putting out to sea had left her a tobacco box as a mark of his affection but — and this gets a little tangled — her mother‘s lover had snatched the box. Moll, clearly in a domestic passion which the scarce words on file at the Old Bailey hardly even attempt to convey, strangled to death a three-year-old girl who was the daughter of mom’s lover. (But not by mom.)

So grief-stricken was she that she insisted on pleading guilty despite the court’s repeated admonition that “if she confess’d it she must be hang’d: To which she replied, if she did confess it, she confess’d nothing but the Truth.”

With her was a woman “about 40 Years of age” of whom the Ordinary noticed — and his narrative is unfortunately truncated by a missing page — “her Face to be extreamly disfigur’d, even to that degree as to have her Nose and Lips eaten up (as it were) with the foul Disease.” Ms. Cave confirmed that “she had been a very lewd Woman, debauch’d.”

She was, in fact, a whore, as would be obvious to any 18th century cad by the cursory narration of her trial: a fellow named Sampson Barret “depos’d, that going through Drury Lane at about 11 o’Clock at Night, there was 6 or 7 Women kind standing together, who divided and made a Lane for him to go through them” whereupon Elizabeth Cave followed him and picked his pocket.

Now, with apologies to the children’s rhyme, there’s really only one reason a guy would be traversing Drury Lane at 11 o’clock at night and that he’d bump into six or seven women on his way … and baked goods weren’t the reason.

This street was a hub of London’s vigorous sex trade. Pronging off “the great thoroughfare running east from the Royal Exchange, along Fleet Street, to St. James’s Park, linking the financial and trade centre of the City with the political power base of aristocratic West London,”* Drury Lane channeled into the far less reputable Covent Garden and from the 17th century had developed into the heart of the red light district that earned this zone the sobriquet “great square of Venus.”

Here, tarts offered their wares amid the bustle of theaters and taverns, often pursuing their profession under the guise of a nominally legitimate street-hawking occupation such as flower-selling.** But little pretense was necessary: from the mid-18th century there was even an annual catalogue of area working girls, Harris’s List of Covent Garden Ladies which by the end of its run in the 1790s was selling 8,000 copies per year. So great a boon was sex work to the economy that a German visitor half-joked that if suppressed, “London would soon be depopulated; the fine arts would be frightened away; one half of the inhabitants would be deprived of subsistence.”


In the “Morning” plate of William Hogarth‘s Four Times of the Day cycle (above), men rendezvous with prostitutes outside a notorious Covent Garden dive, Moll and Tom King’s Coffee House.

We catch an interior glimpse of this same environment in plate three of Hogarth’s A Rake’s Progress, wherein said rake frolics at a Covent Garden brothel (below).

Unsurprisingly, venereal diseases such as that suffered by Elizabeth Cave were quite common among the more proletarian pros to be found at an hour to midnight on Drury Lane; nevertheless, they had no shortage of customers.

If Cave did indeed rob this passing john, it was unfortunate for her that she took currency. In order to save small-time criminals from the gallows, juries routinely applied “pious perjury” to downrate the value of stolen objects below the absurdly low one-shilling (12-pence) threshold for felony larceny; such maneuvers were obviously impossible when it was actual shillings that had been pilfered.

* The trade spilled aggressively out upon that same august thoroughfare, which was the route Defoe alluded to when complaining in the 1720s of “being in full Speed upon important Business, [and] have every now and then been put to the Halt; sometimes by the full Encounter of an audacious Harlot whose impudent Leer shewd she only stopp’d my Passage in order to draw my Observations to her; at other times by Twitches on the Sleeve. Lewd and ogling Salutations; and not infrequently by the more profligate Impudence of some Jades, who boldly dare to seize a Man by the Elbow and make insolent Demands of Wine and Treats before they let him go.” (Source)

** “Flower girl” consequently developed into a euphemism for a tramp. One literary artifact of this history is Eliza Doolittle of the G.B. Shaw play Pygmalion and its musical adaptation My Fair Lady: it’s never overtly stated in the text, but because Eliza begins as a Covent Garden flower girl her virtue is implicitly suspect … hence her repeated insistence, “I’m a good girl I am!”

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

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1402: Fang Xiaoru, of the ten agnates

Add comment July 25th, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1402, the Yongle Emperor cemented his seizure of the throne by purging Confucian scholar-bureaucrat Fang Xiaoru with a legendary extermination to ten degrees of kinship.

Our numerous executions on this occasion bring us to the close of a three-year civil war that ensued the death of the Ming dynasty founder, known as the Hongwu Emperor. In this conflict, the old man’s designated successor, a grandson who took the ironic regnal moniker of Jianwen Emperor (meaning “establishing civility”), was defeated and deposed by one of the old man’s sons, a prince whose name can be transliterated as Zhu Di or Chu Ti.

The uncle was much the abler commander while the nephew was plagued by defections. In July of 1402, Zhu Di’s forces captured the capital city of Nanjing; the Jianwen emperor vanished into history’s fogs — burned to death, Zhu Di would claim, citing an unrecognizable corpse charred in the blaze that consumed the imperial palace; rumors long persisted that he had occulted himself into the mountains in a monk’s robes.

Either way, Zhu Di had occasion now to announce himself the Yongle Emperor. “Perpetual happiness,” that one means. And to make sure that everyone would real happy with the new arrangements, Boss Yongle insisted on the immediate fealty of the capital’s intelligentsia. “Those who are guilty I do not dare to pardon,” he said of the late emperor’s ex-ministers. “Those who are innocent I do not dare to execute.”

Most of those presented with these alternatives chose judiciously, as attested by the Yongle Emperor’s subsequent 22-year reign.

But our principal Fang Xiaoru was the most famous among a number of scholars to stand athwart history yelling stop.* For malcontents like Fang, the Yongle Emperor offered a compelling dissuasion in the form of the ancient “extermination of nine agnates”: the collective execution of the traitor’s entire family, compassing nine different classes of relations.

  1. The criminal himself
  2. His parents
  3. His grandparents
  4. His children (and children’s spouses)
  5. His grandchildren
  6. The criminal’s spouse
  7. The spouse’s parents
  8. The criminal’s aunts and uncles
  9. The criminal’s cousins

We don’t know how all his cousins and in-laws felt about the matter but for his own part, Fang was undaunted: “Never mind nine agnates; give me ten!” And that’s just what they did, drafting the scholar’s own pupils into the hecatomb as the tenth degree, an extremity unequaled in the history of China or academia.

All told, the ten agnates numbered 873 people, among perhaps as many as ten thousand noncompliant officials and family members purged overall. Yet still as he died, hewed apart at the waist, Fang dipped his finger in his own gore and scrawled on the floor his own last verdict on the new emperor: the single Chinese character meaning “usurper”.


An execution by “waist severing” delivers what it promises.

* Others include Huang Zicheng and Lian Zining. See “Venerating the Martyrs of the 1402 Usurpation: History and Memory in the Mid and Late Ming Dynasty” by Peter Ditmanson, T’oung Pao, Second Series, Vol. 93, Fasc. 1/3 (2007), pp. 110-158.

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Entry Filed under: 15th Century,Capital Punishment,China,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous Last Words,Gruesome Methods,History,Innocent Bystanders,Intellectuals,Power,Treason

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