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.

On this day..

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

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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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2011: Li Lei, of whom much was expected

Add comment September 16th, 2019 Headsman

To whom much is given …

BEIJING — A man who in 2009 killed six of his family, including his own children, was executed Friday [September 16, 2011] in Beijing.

Li Lei, 31 years old, stabbed his parents, two sons, wife and sister to death on November 23, 2009, at their home in Beijing’s Daxing District. Li’s sons were aged one and six-years old.

Li was sentenced to death by the Beijing No. 1 Intermediate People’s Court last October, and was ordered to pay 3.45 million yuan (540,000 US dollars) in compensation to his grandmothers and parents-in-law.

Li did not appeal the criminal part of the ruling, but appealed to lower the compensation amount.

In March, the Beijing Higher People’s Court upheld the verdict.

The death penalty was approved by the Supreme People’s Court.

Li told police after being nabbed that he had been annoyed by his family, including his parents, sister and wife, who expected too much from him.

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Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Capital Punishment,China,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Lethal Injection,Murder,Ripped from the Headlines

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1230: William de Braose, bold paramour

Add comment May 2nd, 2019 Headsman

In this year William de Breos the Younger, lord of Brycheiniog, was hanged by the Lord Llywelyn in Gwynedd, after he had been caught in Llywelyn’s chamber with the king of England’s daughter, Llywelyn’s wife.

-Chronicle of Ystrad Fflur

The Welsh king Llywelyn the Great had William de Braose hanged on this date in 1230 near Bala for — well, the aforesaid.

The lords of his Norman house patrolled the Welsh marches, and our man — Gwilym Ddu (“Black William”) to the Welsh — was Llywelyn’s prisoner from 1228 via capture in some skirmish. All in a day’s work for the feudal nobility, for whom “captivity” meant honored hospitality while waiting around for their relatives to raise the ransom for their relief.

Black William made time in more ways during this spell, not only seducing Llewelyn’s wife Joan, Lady of Wales, but playing matchmaker between Llywelyn’s son and his, da Braose’s, daughter. This marriage still went off notwithstanding Llywelyn’s discovery that his own had been violated, something the Welsh prince allegedly found out by walking in on the two in the middle of the night, when an already-ransomed Black William had gone back to pay an Easter visit to his future in-laws.

In the record of the Abbott of Vaudey, “On 2nd of May, at a certain manor called ‘Crokein’, he was made ‘Crogyn’, i.e. hanged on a tree, and this not privily or in the night time, but openly and in the broad daylight, in the presence of more than 800 men assembled to behold the piteous and melancholy spectacle.”

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Entry Filed under: 13th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,History,Nobility,Public Executions,Scandal,Sex,Wales

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1623: Reinier van Oldenbarnevelt, family tradition

Add comment March 29th, 2019 Headsman

Reinier van Oldenbarnevelt was a chip off the old headsman’s block on this date in 1623, beheaded in The Hague for plotting to avenge the beheading of his father.

The old man, Johan van Oldenbarnevelt by name, had lost a power struggle to Maurice of Orange and gone to the scaffold in 1619.

Full of murderous filial piety, our man Reinier (English Wikipedia entry | Dutch) conspired with his brother Willem and others of their faction to return the favor on Maurice by having a gang of toughs ambush him in early February.

Word leaked early; the plot fizzled and Reinier was captured to face the vengeance Maurice had once once designed for his father. (Willem escaped to Belgium, but two of their accomplices were dismembered with Reinier.)


Dutch illustrator Claes Janszoon Visscher depicted the son’s execution, as he had once depicted the father’s. For an analysis of the scene, see John Decker’s Death, Torture and the Broken Body in European Art, 1300-1650.

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Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Assassins,Attempted Murder,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Netherlands,Power,Public Executions

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