1759: Mary Edmondson

Add comment April 2nd, 2020 Headsman

A sad selection from the Newgate Calendar:

MARY EDMONDSON

Strongly protesting her Innocence, she was executed on Kennington Common, 2nd of April, 1759, for the Murder of her Aunt

This unhappy girl was the daughter of a farmer near Leeds, in Yorkshire, and was sent to reside with her aunt, Mrs Walker, of Rotherhithe, who was a widow lady. With this aunt she lived two years, comporting herself in the most decent manner, and regularly attending the duties of religion.

A lady, named Toucher, having spent the evening with Mrs Walker, Mary Edmondson lighted her across the street on her way home, and soon after her return a woman who cried oysters through the street observed that the door was open and heard the girl cry out “Help! Murder! They have killed my aunt!” Edmondson now ran to the house of Mrs Odell, wringing her hands and bewailing the misfortune, and, the neighbours being by this time alarmed, some gentlemen went from a public-house, where they had spent the evening, determined to inquire into the affair. They found Mrs Walker, with her throat cut, lying on her right side, and her head near a table, which was covered with linen. One of the gentlemen, named Holloway, said: “This is very strange; I know not what to make of it: let us examine the girl.”

Her account of the matter was that four men had entered at the back door, one of whom put his arms round her aunt’s neck, and another, who was a tall man, dressed in black, swore that he would kill her if she spoke a single word.

Mr Holloway, observing that the girl’s arm was cut, asked her how it had happened; to which she replied that one of the men, in attempting to get out, had jammed it with the door. But Holloway, judging from all appearances that no men had been in the house, said he did not believe her, but supposed she was the murderer of her aunt.

On this charge she fell into a fit and, being removed to a neighbour’s house, was bled by a surgeon, and continued there till the following day, when the coroner’s inquest sat on the body, and brought in a verdict of wilful murder; whereupon she was committed to prison, on the coroner’s warrant.

Mrs Walker’s executors, anxious to discover the truth, caused the house to be diligently searched, and found that a variety of things, which Mary Edmondson had said were stolen, were not missing; nor could they discover that anything was lost. Mrs Walker’s watch and some other articles which she said had been carried off by the murderers were found under the floor of the necessary-house.

Being committed to the New Jail, Southwark, she remained there till the next assizes for Surrey, when she was tried at Kingston, and convicted on evidence which, though acknowledged to be circumstantial, was such as, in the general opinion, admitted little doubt of her guilt.

She made a defence indeed; but there was not enough of probability in it to have any weight.

Being condemned on Saturday, to be executed on the Monday following, she was lodged in the prison at Kingston, whence she wrote to her parents, most solemnly avowing her innocence. She likewise begged that the minister of the parish would preach a sermon on the occasion of her death. She asserted her innocence on the Sunday, when she was visited by a clergyman and several other people; yet was her behaviour devout, and apparently sincere.

Being taken out of prison on the Monday morning, she got into a post-chaise with the keeper, and, arriving at the Peacock, in Kennington Lane, about nine o’clock, there drank a glass of wine; and then, being put into a cart, was conveyed to the place of execution, where she behaved devoutly, and made the following address to the surrounding multitude: —

It is now too late to trifle either with God or man. I solemnly declare that I am innocent of the crime laid to my charge. I am very easy in my mind, as I suffer with as much pleasure as if I was going to sleep. I freely forgive my prosecutors, and earnestly beg your prayers for my departing soul.

After execution her body was conveyed to St Thomas’s Hospital, Southwark, and there dissected, agreeably to the laws respecting murderers.

On this day..

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1984: Ryszard Sobok

Add comment March 31st, 2020 Headsman

Polish mass murderer Ryszard Sobok hanged in Wroclaw on this date in 1984.

The horror of the little village of Walim, Sobok suddenly slaughtered six intimates from February 11 to 12, 1981.

On the former date, Sobok strangled his seven-month-pregnant mistress Krystyna Nykiel along with Krystyna’s 16-year-old daughter and one-year-old son. They had a fractured relationship: Sobok drank away their little money, and he was angry that she wanted to abort her pregnancy. Still, the fury he vented on this woman seemed to well surpass the bounds of any ordinary crime of passion: Sobok hung up the bodies in his tenement’s main living room, then went calmly to sleep.

Upon waking, he called on his father and bludgeoned the man to death with a hammer, then applied the same fate to a young niece and nephew. And once again these last two he strung up, a special nightmare awaiting their mother’s discovery upon return from work that afternoon.

His chillingly calm confession gave no hint of madness and neither did the court psychiatrists. He was treated accordingly.

I killed Krystyna Nykiel because she wanted to kill my child and drive me away … her daughter Teresa because she saw me kill her mother and could tell someone … her son Marek so that he didn’t starve when orphaned … my father because he didn’t lend me money for food and because of him I didn’t have any milk or food at home … Irka and Anka because they tried to defend my father.

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1521: The rebel Ribbings

Add comment December 23rd, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1521, the Swedish rebel brothers Lindorm and Peder Ribbing were beheaded in Jönköping.

This event fell during the brief reign of the Danish king Christian II over Sweden, notably distinguished by the previous year’s Stockholm Bloodbath. Christian held Sweden only by force of arms and his continual bloody exertions to put down resistance have blackened his name in Swedish annals as “Christian the Tyrant”.

While the Ribbings were merely minor rebels in a country teeming with umbrage, their executions contributed a particularly atrocious (albeit perhaps folklorish) episode to that tyrannous reputation.

Not only the brothers themselves but their children also were put to death … and the story has it that after Lindorm Ribbing’s eldest son lost his head, his five-year-old brother pitiably implored the headsman, “My good man. Please do not stain my shirt as you did my brother’s or my mother will spank me.” Moved to tears, the executioner then discarded his sword and exclaimed, “Never! Sooner shall my own shirt be stained then I would stain yours.” Both he and the little boy then got the chop from a less sentimental swordsman.

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Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Children,Death Penalty,Denmark,Execution,Executioners,History,Occupation and Colonialism,Power,Public Executions,Separatists,Sweden,Treason

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1913: Frederick Seekings, the last hanged in Cambridgeshire

Add comment November 4th, 2019 Headsman

The last man hanged in Cambridgeshire was Frederick Seekings on this date in 1913, for the drunken murder of his lover.

“Of limited intellect and a demon in drink,”* this Brampton laborer staggered out of Bell Inn on the 28 of July 28, 1913 with his eventual victim, Martha Beeby.** Both were deep in cups and argument, stumbling drunkenly to the ground as they vociferated until the innkeeper’s son helped steady them on their way.

Later that night, both were found sprawled out together alongside that same road: Frederick splayed over Martha, and Martha dead of a slashed throat. Frederick’s unconvincing claim that she’d done it to herself only confirmed his own guilty conscience; only the fact that he’d been drunk himself presented itself as a mitigating circumstance, but the Crown disputed his true degree of intoxication and the defence failed to persuade the jury to settle on mere manslaughter.

He was hanged by Thomas Pierrepoint in an execution shed at Cambridge County Gaol† in the city of Cambridge November 4, 1913, with little fanfare. There’s been no fanfare at all for 106 subsequent years, for neither city nor shire have since returned to the gallows in any capacity.

According to the Capital Punishment UK Facebook page (corroborated by its commenters), “The gallows from Cambridge was displayed in Madame Tussaud’s wax works in Blackpool in the 1980’s and consisted of two uprights with a crossbeam, bearing the Royal Coat of Arms, set over the double leaf trapdoors.” If there’s a photo of this relic available online, I have not been able to locate it.

* Quote is from the scholarly annotations to Malcolm Lowry‘s lost-then-rediscovered novel of Cambridge, In Ballast to the White Sea, which passingly alludes to the hanging.

** Frederick and Martha cohabited and she commonly went by his surname, Seekings — but they never married, and Martha actually had a never-annulled marriage to a different man.

† Tangentially, Cambridge-curious readers might enjoy this tour of the prison’s early 19th century executions.

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1890: Tom Woolfolk, “Bloody Wolfolk”

Add comment October 29th, 2019 Headsman

Try to resist this riveting true crime hook from Murder By Gaslight, who’s been seen guest-blogging in these parts from time to time as well:

In the early hours of August 6, 1887, nine members of the Woolfolk family of Bibb County, Georgia — ranging in age from 18 months to 84 years — were hacked to death in their home. The only surviving member of the household was 27-year-old Tom Woolfolk who quickly became the prime suspect. The press called him “Bloody Woolfolk” and it was all the sheriff could do to keep him out of the hands of a lynch mob. But when the trap sprung on Tom Woolfolk’s legal hanging, had the State of Georgia finished the work of the real killer?

Read the rest here.

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

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Feast Day of the Talavera Martyrs

Add comment October 27th, 2019 Headsman

The gorgeous Basilica de San Vicente* in Avila, Spain is dedicated to a trio of Christian martyrs whose feast day today is.


(cc) inage from David Perez.

The Romanesque masterpiece was begun about 1175, when the relics of three Diocletian martyrs — Saint Vicente and his sisters Sabina and Cristeta — were translated from the Monastery of San Pedro de Arlanza. (In the present day, the relics reside in the church’s high altar.)

Panels in the basilica relay for the illiterate medieval audience their stock martyrdom tale of these faithful siblings: tortured on wooden crosses before having their heads graphically smashed under wooden beams.


Vicente, Sabina, and Cristeta, the martyrs of Talavera, along with St. Anthony (16th century painting).

* The church’s full official name is Basilica de los Santos Hermanos Mártires, Vicente, Sabina y Cristet.

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Entry Filed under: Ancient,Crushed,Disfavored Minorities,God,Gruesome Methods,Martyrs,Religious Figures,Roman Empire,Spain,Torture,Uncertain Dates,Women

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1928: Chen Jue

Add comment October 14th, 2019 Headsman

China Communist revolutionary hero Chen Jue was executed on this date in 1928 by the nationalist Kuomintang.

Chen Jue with his wife Zhao Yunxiao or Yunqi are celebrated revolutionary martyrs for their respective sacrifices of life for the cause in Changsha.

They met pursuing studies of revolutionary praxis in Moscow in the mid-1920s, and returned as revolutionary cadres at just the moment that China fell to open civil war.

In April 1928 both were betrayed to the KMT. Zhao Yunxiao was pregnant; she would be suffered to carry her daughter Qiming to term before quaffing the same cup as her husband. The two swapped red tear-jerking missives before their death, that are preserved at an exhibit at the People’s Revolutionary Military Museum.

“We didn’t believe in ghosts before. Now I am willing to become a ghost,” the man wrote the wife before his execution. “We are here to save the parents, wives and children of the entire Chinese people, so we sacrificed everything. Although we die, our spirits remain with the comrades who yet live.”

“Little baby, your mother will be taken from you when you have no more than a month and a dozen days,” the wife wrote the child months later. “Little baby, I tell you very clearly that your parents were Communists … I hope that when you grow up, you read well and know how your parents died.”*

Their cause, of course, was destined for victory. If history records the destiny of their child, I have not located it.

* Both of these are my amateur-hour translations via online tours, unaided by any actual expertise in Chinese. Caveat emptor.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,China,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Martyrs,Power,Revolutionaries,Shot

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1941: Bronislava Poskrebysheva

Add comment October 13th, 2019 Headsman

Endocrinologist Dr. Bronislava Poskrebysheva was shot on this date in 1941.

She was the Jewish Lithuanian wife of Alexander Poskrebyshev, who was Stalin’s longtime aide and Chief of Staff to the Special Section of Central Committee of Communist Party — an organ that coordinated other state bureaus in the implementation of party directives, often sensitive ones. Bronislava, for her part, had a non-political career, although this was scarcely any guarantee of safety during the years of the purges.

At a scientific conference in Paris in 1933, Dr. Poskrebysheva and her brother, Michael Metallikov, had met the communist non grata Leon Trotsky; before the decade was out, the mere fact of this meeting was sufficient to implicate them as spies of the alleged Trotskyite conspiracies forever bedeviling the Soviet Union. Metallikov would ultimately be executed himself in 1939 but while his life hung in the balance, Dr. Poskrebysheva made bold to apply to that dread minister Lavrenty Beria to plead for her brother. She must have spoken a little too loosely in this personal interview of the exile’s charms, for not only did she fail to save him — she was arrested herself.

And her incidental brush with Trotsky proved more harmful to her by far than her intimate relationship with Soviet elites was helpful.

In truth her husband’s position was not nearly so strong a card as one might assume; as the doctor’s own backfiring effort to save her brother proved, there were perils risked by intercessors as well, and this would have been only more true for a man as perilously close to Stalin as was Alexander Poskrebyshev. Even brand-name Bolsheviks found in those years that they could not necessarily shield family from political persecution: Mikhail Kalinin‘s wife Ekaterina was thrown into the gulag, as was Vyacheslav Molotov‘s wife Polina Zhemchuzhina. The best Poskrebyshev could do was to raise the couple’s daughters, Galya and Natasha, even as he labored loyally onward for the state that had put a bullet in his wife. (He eventually became a Politburo member.)

Bronislava Poskrebysheva and Michael Metallikov were both posthumously rehabilitated in the 1950s.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Doctors,Espionage,Execution,History,Notably Survived By,Russia,Shot,USSR,Women

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1732: Edward Dalton, brotherly hate

Add comment October 9th, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1732, Tyburn groaned with 13 men (no women) hanged en masse for various crimes — the most eye-catching of whom per the account of the ubiquitous Newgate Ordinary is surely

Edward Dalton, 26 Years of Age, Born in London, [and] Brother to James Dalton the famous Robber and Evidence, who was Executed last Year, as was thought upon the false Evidence of the infamous Waller

We have previously met in these pages that villainous brother, James Dalton. Jemmy was a serial robber and highwayman as sure as hemp is strong, but part of the lethal charge laid against him came courtesy of this “infamous Waller” who made his bones as an unscrupulous thief-taker, offering testimony fit to swing other fellows in order to secure reward purses.

James Dalton even in acknowledging several other charges that were plenty enough to hang him took violent exception to the mugging alleged by John Waller — for the latter was

a Man of a vile Character, that he was a common Affidavit Man, and was but lately, before the time charg’d in the Indictment, come out of Newgate himself; that though he himself had done many ill Things, and had deserv’d Death many times, yet not for this Fact, he being Innocent of it; and said, the Prosecutor was as great a Rogue as himself, and there was never a Barrel the better Herring

About a year later — with the elder Dalton already in his tomb — the magistrates came to the same conclusion in a different case, convicting Waller for perversion of justice “for endeavouring to defraud John Edlin of his good Name, his Life, his Goods, and Chattels, by making before Mr. Justice Gifford, on the 28th of January last, a false Information in Writing, by the Name of John Trevor, charging the said Edlin and another Person with assaulting him the said Waller on the Highway.”

Waller was condemned to stand in the pillory as a result — a punishment that under the brickbats of the London mob could easily exceed ritual shaming and imperil life and limb. At least seven people died in the pillory in the 18th century. One of them was the hated Waller, upon whom Edward Dalton visited his brother’s revenge after the stool pigeon had stood exposed for only “about two or three Minutes.” That’s when, according to a witness, Dalton and a goon named Serjeant Griffith(s) (“very honest in all his Dealings, and never wrong’d any Body” but given to a “particular Pleasure in mobbing and pelting Persons appointed to stand upon the Pillory”)

got upon the Pillory Board, Griffith took hold of Waller’s Coat, and Dalton of the Waisthand of his Breeches, and so they pulled his Head out of the Pillory, and he hung a little while by one Hand, but pulling that Hand out they threw him on the Pillory-board. [William] Belt took him up and endeavoured to put him in again, but the hung-an-Arse, upon which Belt gave him a Knock or two over the Back, with his Hand, (for I can’t say that he had any Weapon) and I believe to get him into the Pillory, but the other two Prisoners and a Chimney Sweeper laid hold of Waller, and stripped him as naked as he was born, except his Feet, for they pulled his Stockings over his Shoes and so left them; then they beat him with Collyflower-stalks, and threw him down upon the Pillory-board. The Chimney-Sweeper put something into his Mouth, and Griffith ramm’d it down his Throat with a Collyflower-stalk. Dalton and Griffith jumpt and stampt upon his naked Body and Head, and kick’d him and beat him with Artichoke and Collyflower-Stalks, as he lay on the Pillory-Board. They continued beating, kicking, and stamping upon him in this manner, for above 1/4 of an Hour, and then the Mob threw down the Pillory, and all that were upon it. Waller then lay naked on the Ground. Dalton got upon him, and stamping on his Privy Parts, he gave a dismal Groan, and I believe it was his last; for after that I never heard him groan nor speak, nor saw him stir.

William Belt was acquitted in this affair, but both Edward Dalton and Serjeant Griffith went to Tyburn’s gallows on October 9, 1732.

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

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1912: Sargent Philp

Add comment October 1st, 2019 Headsman

The junction between workplace, home, identity (here masculinity), social welfare (or the lack thereof), and partner violence has rarely been so poignantly encapsulated as in the case of Sargent Philp — whose October 1, 1912 hanging for the embittered slaying of his wife is spotlighted by our friends at Capital Punishment UK.

33 year old Philp had been married to 35 year old Rose for 11 years and they had six children ranging from seven months to nine years. Philp was to loose [sic] his right eye in an accident at work and in the early 1900’s there was no compensation for industrial injury and no social security. He was fired as he could no longer do his job. This caused serious financial hardship for the family and in June 1912 Rose took her baby and moved in with her sister, Alice, at 31 Morby Road in the Old Kent Road area of London.

Philp went right round the bend to stalker territory trying to get Rose back: the wife’s understandable insistence on his securing a home played to his ear like the dunning of creditors, until a madness of possessiveness subsumed every familial tenderness.

According to the British National Archives,

Sargent Philp saw Rose Philp several times after the Police Court proceedings, and he told her that he wanted her back, however, she said that she wouldn’t come back until he had a home.

On one visit to Rose Philp’s mother’s house, Sargent Philp said, ‘If she has done this to get money out of me, she is mistaken’, and then added words to the effect that he would rather swing or go to the gallows.

… on Friday 26 July 1912 at about midday … [Rose] came into the kitchen where her sister was already, with Sargent Philp standing at the door, and Sargent Philp said, ‘I’ve got some news for you’, to which Rose Philp asked, ‘Have you got any work?’. Sargent Philp then replied, ‘I’ve got a job to go to on Monday, a good job’, but Rose Philp replied, ‘That’s no news, you are always getting good jobs’. Sargent Philp then asked, ‘Will you come back to me?’ and Rose Philp replied, ‘When you get a home’.

Sargent Philp then ran at Rose Philp, but she dodged round the table and called out for her sister to get a policeman. The sister then ran out for help and Rose Philp ran out of the house and along the street and then into an area of the next house, followed by Sargent Philp who had a shoemaker’s knife in his hand.

He was soon after seen leaning over her as she lay on the ground in the area of the next house. He had cut her throat, severing her windpipe and jugular with a stabbing motion. Rose Philp also had a cut on the left side of her jaw, a severe cut on her left wrist, and several cuts on her left hand and fingers.

Sargent Philp was then at once seized by two men, and he said, ‘I’ve done it, and meant to do it, and if her mother had been here I’d have done her the same. She has been the cause of all my trouble’.

The mother came up a few minutes after, and Sargent Philp repeated either to her or the sister, ‘If you had been here, I should have done you the same’.

It was noted that as Sargent Philp was seized by the two men as he was leaning over Rose Philp, he appeared to have started an attempt to cut his own throat, but his hand was seized.

Other remarks that he was said to have made included, ‘I told you what I would do, and I have done it’, and ‘I don’t care. I am glad I’ve done it. You don’t know what I have been through’.

On this day..

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

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