1872: John Kewish, the last to hang on the Isle of Man

Add comment August 1st, 2020 Headsman

This 2004 episode from Manx Radio gives us the story of John Kewish, hanged on this date in 1872 for killing his father with a pitchfork. Kewish is the last person ever executed on the Isle of Man — indeed even at his own time such a punishment was so passe that the local gallows-makers were vexed by the contract.

Interestingly, because this Irish Sea island is a crown dependency rather than a part of the United Kingdom proper, capital punishment did not end on the Isle of Man when Westminster abolished in the 1960s. Death sentences continued to be handed down there until 1992, and thus it is that a Manx judge holds the distinction of being the last person in the British Isles to pronounce a death sentence from the bench, and a Manx criminal that of being the last to hear it. (Such latter-day sentences were always commuted by Queen Elizabeth II’s royal prerogative.)

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,History,Isle of Man,Milestones,Murder

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2003: Allen Wayne Janecka, hit man

Add comment July 24th, 2020 Headsman

Contract killer Allen Wayne Janecka was executed in Texas on this date in 2003.

This bearer of the classic middle name was the instrument and the last casualty of a Houston insurance agent’s campaign for blood money. Markham Duff-Smith, the insurance agent in question — a man whose lifestyle rather outstripped his premiums — had hired Janecka way back in 1975 to murder his, Duff-Smith’s, adoptive mother so that he could take early collection on some inheritance.

Janecka did that, and everyone got away with the crime, Gertrude Duff-Smith Zabolio being taken for a suicide. But of course Duff-Smith’s issue was voracity and by 1979 he’d burned through the windfall … and he ran the same play a second time, retaining Janecka to murder his adoptive sister Diana Wanstrath, her husband, John; and their 14-month-old son, Kevin. When this trio was found shot to death, the coroner initially ruled it a murder-suicide.

A Javert-like detective who was convinced of foul play cussedly kept the investigation going, even publicly airing his dissent from the official finding which caused Duff-Smith to contemplate whacking him. When the only tool you have is a hit man, every problem looks like a hit.

(Janecka in this instance was the voice of reason, refusing the contract on the obviously correct grounds that such an act would bring way too much heat. You can read all about dogged investigator Johnny Bonds in The Cop Who Wouldn’t Quit.)

Not until late 1980 did the needed break emerge, in the form of some incriminating letters between Duff-Smith’s go-between and Janecka. The latter’s unveiling in the suspect brother’s orbit soon exposed the murder scheme, including the 1975 hit.

Duff-Smith was executed in 1993 for instigating the whole catastrophe.

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Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Lethal Injection,Murder,Pelf,Texas,USA

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1881: Albert and Charles Talbott, bad sons

Add comment July 22nd, 2020 Headsman

Dr. Perry H. Talbott was among the most prominent citizens of Nodaway County, Missouri. In addition to being a skilled physician, Talbott was state legislator, a writer and a newspaper editor. He was a civic minded citizen with strong beliefs, highly admired by friends and neighbors. But towards his family, Dr. Talbott was cold and distant. Miserly and neglectful, he had little interaction with his children beyond the occasional scolding. When Dr. Talbott was shot by an unknown assassin on September 18, 1880, in his dying breath he blamed his political enemies. The Nodaway county authorities, however, believed the killer was someone closer to home.

-Profile of the July 22, 1881 Marysville, Missouri hanging of Albert and Charles Talbott at friend of he site Murder By Gaslight. Enjoy in full here.

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

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1778: Bathsheba Spooner, the first woman hanged in the USA

Add comment July 2nd, 2020 Headsman

Bathsheba Spooner, the first woman executed* in the post-Declaration of Independence (i.e., post-July 4, 1776) United States.

The daughter of one of Massachusetts’s most prominent Tory loyalists — the latter fled to Nova Scotia during the events comprising this post, owing to the ongoing American Revolution — Spooner was married to a wealthy Brookfield gentleman whom she utterly despised.

From late 1777 into 1778, Bathsheba beguiled three young would-be Davids — Ezra Ross, a wounded former Continental Army soldier whom she nursed back to health; and James Buchanan and William Brooks, two redcoat deserters — into getting rid of Mr. Joshua Spooner.

Ross she sent on February 1778 business trip with her hubby and instructions to dose him with nitric acid. The youth chickened out and didn’t do it — but neither did he warn his proposed victim what was afoot.

A couple of weeks later, the Brits achieved by main force what their American opposite dared not attempt by stealth, and “on the evening of the first of March, about 9 o’clock, being returning home from his neighbors, near by his own door was feloniously assaulted by one or more ruffians, knocked down by a club, beat and bruised, and thrown into his well with water in it.” Ross, importantly, had been invited by his lover/sponsor to return and he helped to dispose of the body.

They had not a day’s liberty after this shocking crime, evidently having thought little beyond the deed; the very young Ross especially stands out for his naivete — certainly mingled with lust and cupidity as he contemplated the prospect of attaining a frolicsome, wealthy widow — when the wife went to work on him.

As She was going to Hardwick She asked me the Reason of my being so low Spirited?  I made answer It was my long absence from home.  She replyed that her Opinion was, I wanted some one to lodge with — I told her it would be agreeable.  She asked me if Such an One as her self would do?  I made answer If She was agreeable I was.  [Marginal notation: The Dialect was so.]  Upon which She said “After She came off her Journey she would See.”
 
N.B. After her Return She Gave me an Invitation to Defile her Marriage Bed; which I Expected. [accepted] And after that she proposed constantly every sheam [scheme] for her Husbands Death.  [Marginal notation: The spelling is so.]
 
Ezra Ross

The above is a written account given in jail to the preacher Ebenezer Parkman, who preached a thundering sermon three days after the executions titled “The Adultress Shall Hunt for the Precious Life””

a woman who … allows her loose imagination to range and wander after Others, nay not a few, & rove from [her husband] to pollute & defile the marriage bed [indulging] her own wanton salacious desires … How loathsome are all such, and how directly opposite the pure & holy Nature, Law, and Will of God.

So keep thee from the Evil woman, from the flattery of the tongue of a strange woman. Neither let her take thee with her eyelids. There are a thousand dangers, that poor young wretches are in by reason of the snres & traps which are everywhere laid … particularly the poor beardless youth not quite 18. (As quoted in Deborah Navas’s book about the affair, Murdered by his Wife)

Mrs. Spooner, whose Loyalist family ties did her no favors in this moment, sought a reprieve on grounds of pregnancy. Many condemned women in those days made such requests; more often than not they were temporizing devices that bought no more than the time needed for a panel of matrons to examine them and dismiss the claim. In her case, four examiners submitted a dissenting opinion to the effect “that we have reason to think that she is now quick with child.” Although overruled, they were correct: after the dramatic quadruple execution under a thunderstorm at Worcester’s Washington Square, an autopsy found that Spooner was about five months along with what would have been her fifth child.

According to an early 20th century Chicago Chronicle retrospective (retrieved here via a reprint in the Charleston News and Courier, Jan. 24, 1904) her grave can be located on a manor at Worcester that formerly belonged to the great New York City planner Andrew Haswell Green: Bathsheba Spooner’s sister was Green’s grandmother.

A full original record of the proceedings does not survive for us, but this public domain volume has a lengthy chapter about events, with an appendix preserving some of the original documents.

* We’re at the mercy of uncertain documentation in this context, of course, but there are at least none whose executions can be established that predate Spooner’s within the infant republic. Per the Espy file, a woman named Ann Wyley was hanged in Detroit in 1777, but at the time that city was under British administration as part of the province of Quebec.

For its part, Massachusetts hanged several more women in the 1780s, but has not executed any other women since the George Washington presidential administration. It’s presently a death penalty abolitionist jurisdiction.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Capital Punishment,Children,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Massachusetts,Milestones,Murder,Public Executions,Sex,Soldiers,USA,Wartime Executions,Women

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1677: Benjamin Tuttle

Add comment June 13th, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1677, Benjamin Tuttle expiated the murder of his sister Sarah in New Haven, Connecticut.

His parents, William and Elizabeth, were yeomen who left their Northamptonshire village for the colonies aboard the Planter in 1635, bringing the first three of what were eventually 12 children. (Two other Tuttell/Tuttle families, seemingly those of William’s brothers, shared the same passage.)

After a short stint in Boston, they were among the founding settlers who struck up the New Haven colony: William Tuttle’s signature appears on the “Fundamental Agreement of New Haven” establishing the town.

William waxed wealthy and he counts among his descendants the Great Awakening preacher Rev. Jonathan Edwards* and mercurial Vice President/duelist Aaron Burr. “His descendants,” David Greene remarked, “are famous for intellectual brilliance and, in some cases, for homicidal insanity.”

It is of course the homicidal insanity that earns their foothold in the pages of Executed Today … although we can scarcely avoid by way of character development noting that Sarah Tuttle, the eventual victim relevant to this post, attracted the tutting of the Puritan court as early as 1670 when as “a bold virgin” she ventured an illicit dalliance with a Dutch sailor named Jacob Murline and carried on “in such an imodest [sic], uncivil, wanton, lascivious manner.”

When her father William died unexpectedly in 1673, the younger cohort among his children had not been provided for, which set up years of tussling over the family estate. What surfaces in colonial court records down to 1709(!) is certainly just the tip of the iceberg; the Puritan God only knows what fathoms of crossed words and festering grudges compounded among the Tuttle children.

The most dramatic of these was an argument between Sarah and her younger brother Benjamin one night in November 1676. The surviving record of the jury’s inquest does not make clear how their argument began, but it ended with Benjamin barging into her house and fatally bashing her with an axe, leaving “the Skull and Jaw, eaxtremly broken, from the Jaw to hur neack, and soo to the crown of the head, one the right Sied of the Same, with part of her brayens out, wich ran out at a hool.” We’re grateful to this rootsweb page for the primary document; the narrative below comes from Sarah’s 12-year-old son John Slauson — hence the reference to “his mother” — as corroborated by John’s younger sister Sarah Slauson, and it ensues upon an exchange of “very short” words between their elders over the seemingly trifling matter of Sarah’s husband having to perform his town watch duties that night without having had his supper. Rebuked by his sister for his nastiness about this wifely shortcoming, Benjamin

went out of the dooars, an when he was out his bothar bead his Sistar Sarrah, Shutt the dore, beang It Smockt, and as She went to Shut It, bengiman tuttall came In with Sumtheng In his hand and Spock these words anggarly: Ile Shut the doar for you and soo went to his mother and struck her one the right Sied of the heed with that he broght In his hand, but knoes not whethar It was an ax or other weppon; at wich blow She fell and nevar Spock nor groned more; and followd with Sevrell blows aftar She fell, Standeng over hur, a pone wich he rune out of doars and cried [two illegible words]. Just as he struck his mothar the furst blow, bengiman tuttell Sayed I will tech you to Scold and a pone thaire criyeng out, bengiman tuttell fled; There beeng no parson In the hous when the mistchef begun, to help them.

Nor was Benjamin Tuttle’s death at the end of a rope the following June 13 the last this generation of Tuttles would know of axes. The very youngest daughter, Mercy, in 1691 wielded the same instrument to murder her young son Samuel in a fit of madness — although in this instance, the court found her worthy of her name because

she hath generally been in a crazed or distracted condition as well long before she committed the act, as at that time, and having observed since that she is in such a condition, [we] do not see cause to pass sentence of death against her, but for preventing her doing the like or other mischief for the future, do order, that she shall be kept in custody of the magistrates of New Haven.

* While it hardly rises to the level of homicide, this generation of the family also endured a wrenching divorce. Benjamin’s, Sarah’s, and Mercy’s sister Elizabeth, the paternal grandmother of Jonathan Edwards, was put aside by her husband in 1691 for a long-term refusal to sleep with him even as she carried on extramarital liaisons; biographers have not been above speculating on the family scandal as an influence upon Edwards. Elizabeth got overdue biographical treatment of her own in Ava Chamberlain’s 2012 The Notorious Elizabeth Tuttle: Marriage, Murder, and Madness in the Family of Jonathan Edwards.

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

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2004: Three for honor-killing a 6-year-old

Add comment May 31st, 2020 Richard Clark

(Thanks to Richard Clark of Capital Punishment U.K. for the guest post, a reprinted section from a longer article about capital punishment in Kuwait that was originally published on that site. (Executed Today has taken the liberty of adding some explanatory links.) CapitalPunishmentUK.org features a trove of research and feature articles on the death penalty in England and elsewhere, including a wider history of the juvenile death penalty in England. -ed.)

On the 31st of May 2004, three executions were carried out simultaneously at 8.15 a.m. in the courtyard of the Nayef Palace. The criminals, two Saudi nationals, Marzook Saad Suleiman Al-Saeed, aged 25, Saeed Saad Suleiman Al-Saeed, aged 28 and 24 year old Kuwaiti Hamad Mubarak Turki Al-Dihani, had been convicted of the abduction, rape and murder of a six year old girl.

It was a particularly appalling crime that had received a great deal of media coverage. Their victim, Amna Al-Khaledi, was kidnapped from her home on the 1st of May 2002 and driven to a remote desert area, where she was gang raped and stabbed five times in the chest before her throat was slit. The three men were arrested some three weeks after Amna’s body was discovered. They had murdered Amna in a so called honour killing to avenge a sexual relationship between her elder brother, Adel Al-Khaledi, and Al-Saeed’s sister. Amna’s brother was given a five-year prison term for having the illicit sexual relationship.

(Honour killings are committed to avenge a perceived affront to a family’s honour, such as an out of wedlock relationship or a female relative marrying without her parents’ consent.)

A third Saudi, Latifa Mandil Suleiman Al-Saeed, a 21-year-old female cousin of the two brothers, was sentenced to life in prison for taking part in the abduction.

Some 1,000 people, including Amna’s relatives, were at Nayef Palace to see the aftermath of the executions according to Interior Ministry spokesman Lt. Col. Adel Al-Hashshash. Incongruous photographs appeared in the press the next day showing the hanging bodies with Kuwaiti women in full Islamic dress taking photos of them with their state of the art mobile phones. The bodies were taken down some 20 minutes after the execution and covered with white sheets. The head of the Penal Execution Department, Najeeb Al-Mulla, announced that it took Hamad Al-Dehani approximately 6 minutes to die, while the two Saudi brothers were timed was 8½ minutes and 5½ minutes respectively. Saeed Al-Saeed and Marzouq Al-Saeed had asked for their remains to be buried in Saudi Arabia and the three convicted asked for the authorities to donate a charity project in their names.

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Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Capital Punishment,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Guest Writers,Hanged,Kuwait,Murder,Other Voices,Sex

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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.

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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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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Diminished Capacity,England,Execution,Hanged,History,Milestones,Murder

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