1945: Karl Hulten, for the Cleft Chin Murder

1 comment March 8th, 2013 Headsman

On this date in 1945, Karl (or Carl) Hulten, a 22-year-old American paratrooper, hanged in Pentonville Prison for murdering an English taxi driver for £8.

The “cleft chin murder” — so dubbed because the victim had this feature — is explored as extensively as anyone need know about it in George Orwell’s curmudgeonly 1946 essay “Decline of the English Murder”.

Orwell posited the passing of “our great period in murder, our Elizabethan period, so to speak … roughly 1850 and 1925” featuring magnetic, literary-quality criminals whose misdeeds had “stood the test of time”: “Dr. Palmer of Rugely, Jack the Ripper, Neill Cream, Mrs. Maybrick, Dr. Crippen, Seddon, Joseph Smith, Armstrong, and Bywaters and Thompson.”

For Orwell, the “great period” elapsed in part because the 20th century’s monumental destruction of human life dwarfed the meaning of individual homicides, and in part because the crimes themselves (and even their frequent medium, arsenic) connected to frustrated (usually domestic) Victorian passions and imbued “dramatic and even tragic qualities which make [them] memorable and excite pity for both victim and murderer.”

But that was then. Orwell wants these newfangled atavistic hoodlums and their crummy American films to get off his damn terrace.


Sure, but where’s the heart? (London Times, Jan. 24, 1945)

Now compare the Cleft Chin Murder. There is no depth of feeling in it. It was almost chance that the two people concerned committed that particular murder, and it was only by good luck that they did not commit several others. The background was not domesticity, but the anonymous life of the dance-halls and the false values of the American film. The two culprits were an eighteen-year-old ex-waitress named Elizabeth Jones, and an American army deserter, posing as an officer, named Karl Hulten. They were only together for six days, and it seems doubtful whether, until they were arrested, they even learned one another’s true names. They met casually in a teashop, and that night went out for a ride in a stolen army truck. Jones described herself as a strip-tease artist, which was not strictly true (she had given one unsuccessful performance in this line); and declared that she wanted to do something dangerous, “like being a gun-moll.” Hulten described himself as a big-time Chicago gangster, which was also untrue. They met a girl bicycling along the road, and to show how tough he was Hulten ran over her with his truck, after which the pair robbed her of the few shillings that were on her. On another occasion they knocked out a girl to whom they had offered a lift, took her coat and handbag and threw her into a river. Finally, in the most wanton way, they murdered a taxi-driver who happened to have £8 in his pocket. Soon afterwards they parted. Hulten was caught because he had foolishly kept the dead man’s car, and Jones made spontaneous confessions to the police. In court each prisoner incriminated the other. In between crimes, both of them seem to have behaved with the utmost callousness: they spent the dead taxi-driver’s £8 at the dog races.

Judging from her letters, the girl’s case has a certain amount of psychological interest, but this murder probably captured the headlines because it provided distraction amid the doodle-bugs and the anxieties of the Battle of France. Jones and Hulten committed their murder to the tune of V1, and were convicted to the tune of V2. There was also considerable excitement because — as has become usual in England — the man was sentenced to death and the girl to imprisonment. According to Mr. Raymond, the reprieving of Jones caused widespread indignation and streams of telegrams to the Home Secretary: in her native town, “SHE SHOULD HANG” was chalked on the walls beside pictures of a figure dangling from a gallows. Considering that only ten women have been hanged in Britain this century, and that the practice has gone out largely because of popular feeling against it, it is difficult not to feel that this clamour to hang an eighteen-year-old girl was due partly to the brutalizing effects of war. Indeed, the whole meaningless story, with its atmosphere of dance-halls, movie-palaces, cheap perfume, false names and stolen cars, belongs essentially to a war period.

Perhaps it is significant that the most talked-of English murder of recent years should have been committed by an American and an English girl who had become partly Americanized. But it is difficult to believe that this case will be so long remembered as the old domestic poisoning dramas, product of a stable society where the all-prevailing hypocrisy did at least ensure that crimes as serious as murder should have strong emotions behind them.

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

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Unspecified year: Snowball’s animal fifth column

2 comments April 10th, 2011 Headsman

“Four days” after an unspecified “early spring” date in George Orwell’s classic allegory of Soviet communism, Animal Farm, a show trial and mass execution of animals purporting to work for the book’s Trotsky figure signals the titular farm’s unmistakable collapse into dystopia.

In the book, a revolution of animals displaces the farm’s human owner, Jones — the hated ruler of the ancien regime.

The farm’s early cooperative elan soon shatters, with a pig bearing the unsubtle name of Napoleon becoming the revolution’s autocrat, and fostering a paranoid security climate against phantasmal plots by his fellow swine and onetime comrade, the exiled Snowball.

Let’s watch.

Napoleon ordered all the animals to assemble in the yard. When they were all gathered together, Napoleon emerged from the farmhouse, wearing both his medals (for he had recently awarded himself “Animal Hero, First Class”, and “Animal Hero, Second Class”), with his nine huge dogs frisking round him and uttering growls that sent shivers down all the animals’ spines. They all cowered silently in their places, seeming to know in advance that some terrible thing was about to happen.

Napoleon stood sternly surveying his audience; then he uttered a high-pitched whimper. Immediately the dogs bounded forward, seized four of the pigs by the ear and dragged them, squealing with pain and terror, to Napoleon’s feet.0 …

The four pigs waited, trembling, with guilt written on every line of their countenances. Napoleon now called upon them to confess their crimes. … Without any further prompting they confessed that they had been secretly in touch with Snowball ever since his expulsion, that they had collaborated with him in destroying the windmill, and that they had entered into an agreement with him to hand over Animal Farm to Mr. Frederick. They added that Snowball had privately admitted to them that he had been Jones’s secret agent for years past. When they had finished their confession, the dogs promptly tore their throats out, and in a terrible voice Napoleon demanded whether any other animal had anything to confess.

The three hens who had been the ringleaders in the attempted rebellion over the eggs now came forward and stated that Snowball had appeared to them in a dream and incited them to disobey Napoleon’s orders. They, too, were slaughtered. Then a goose came forward and confessed to having secreted six ears of corn during the last year’s harvest and eaten them in the night. Then a sheep confessed to having urinated in the drinking pool — urged to do this, so she said, by Snowball — and two other sheep confessed to having murdered an old ram, an especially devoted follower of Napoleon, by chasing him round and round a bonfire when he was suffering from a cough. They were all slain on the spot. And so the tale of confessions and executions went on, until there was a pile of corpses lying before Napoleon’s feet and the air was heavy with the smell of blood, which had been unknown there since the expulsion of Jones.

When it was all over, the remaining animals, except for the pigs and dogs, crept away in a body. They were shaken and miserable. They did not know which was more shocking — the treachery of the animals who had leagued themselves with Snowball, or the cruel retribution they had just witnessed. In the old days there had often been scenes of bloodshed equally terrible, but it seemed to all of them that it was far worse now that it was happening among themselves. Since Jones had left the farm, until today, no animal had killed another animal.

Animal Farm was published in 1945. In this 1954 British animated feature, the downer of an ending — with the corrupt pig rulers becoming literally indistinguishable from people — was dumped in favor of an ending where the animals revolt again.

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1930: Captains Fermin Galan and Angel Garcia Hernandez

1 comment December 14th, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1930, two Spanish soldiers were shot for an abortive mutiny against the crown.

Fermin Galan (Spanish Wikipedia entry; most of the available online material about him is in Spanish) earned his military spurs in the Rif War in Morocco, and earned his revolutionary spurs participating in an attempted 1926 rising evocatively named La Sanjuanada. The resultant prison term shoulder to shoulder with Barcelona anarchists only radicalized Galan further. (It also gave him a chance to write.)

After an amnesty, Captain Galan was back in his fatigues commanding the garrison at Jaca.

And he was positively a firebrand; other left-leaning activists who knew he was cooking up a mutiny struggled to restrain him knowing the time was not ripe. When strikes swept Spain in November, followed by violent police suppression, Galan forced the issue, wanting waffling “revolutionaries” to commit themselves.

Galan, as he expressly stated during those feverish days, was fed up with the failures of 1926 and didn’t want to rely on pseudo-revolutionary generals in the style of Blazquez, or on the opportunistic politicians … The majority of the Jaca soldiers adored him and would follow him wherever he led. (Quoted here)

One will discern that that commitment was not forthcoming. Galan’s rising Dec. 12 was quashed; a more general rebellion slated for Dec. 15 fizzled, and Galan and one of his fellow-officers were court-martialed and quickly put to death.

According to Robin Warner,*

If authorities’ intention had been to discourage Republican support by making an example of Galan, the burgeoning legend of his self-sacrifice achieved quite the opposite effect. In the context of a well organised campaign for the release of imprisoned Republican leaders, the dead officer was given the status of a martyr. Clandestine journals and street ballads were quick to provide details of the bravery of his last moments and blame his death on royal intervention … With the accession to power of the provisional Republican Government on 14 April the figure of Galan had a place of honour at the official — and unofficial — celebrations. One of the first acts of the new regime was solemnly to honour the memory of the December martyrs and order a revision of their trial …

Galan had few illusions about the nature of the broad Republican movement which was to exploit his death. He roundly denounced “la ficcion hueca y pomposa que constituye la democracia moderna”, whose rhetoric serves to conceal the aim of perpetuating traditional privileges and blocking genuine change.

Opportunistic is as opportunistic does: that Republican movement exploited Galan’s martyrdom right into conquest of state power by the following April — inaugurating the second Spanish republic, the one that summoned Orwell and all those other starry-eyed multinational leftists (and Fermin Galan’s brother Francisco) to war to defend it against Franco.

* “The Legend of Fermin Galan,” Forum for Modern Language Studies, October 1984 XX(4).

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

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1936: The Sacred Heart, by Spanish leftists

2 comments August 7th, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1936, anticlerical leftists in the Spanish Civil War allegedly subjected a monumental statue of Christ to a ritual “execution”.


“This picture, taken by a Paramount News-reel representative and received by air from Madrid yesterday, illustrates an outrage which has no parallel in the photographs published by “The Daily Mail” of the Spanish Reds’ war on religion. It shows a Communist firing squad aiming at the colossal Monument of the Sacred Heart on the Cerro de los Angeles, a hill a few miles south of Madrid which is regarded as the exact centre of Spain.” (Source)

This outstandingly incendiary image made for great recruiting for the Francoist enemies of the “firing squad” and gave credence to a “crusade” lexicology that insured the devout would break overwhelmingly against the Republic. (Nearly 7,000 men and women in religious orders whose deaths during the war are charged to the Republican account also helped.)

Maybe that was inevitable, anyway.

George Orwell, the English leftist who volunteered for the Spanish Republicans, noted in his Homage to Catalonia that

the people in this part of Spain must be genuinely without religious feeling — religious feeling, I mean, in the orthodox sense. It is curious that all the time I was in Spain I never once saw a person cross himself; yet you would think such a movement would become instinctive, revolution or no revolution. Obviously the Spanish Church will come back (as the saying goes, night and the Jesuits always return), but there is no doubt that at the outbreak of the revolution it collapsed and was smashed up to an extent that would be unthinkable even for the moribund C. of E. in like circumstances. To the Spanish people, at any rate in Catalonia and Aragon, the Church was a racket pure and simple. And possibly Christian belief was replaced to some extent by Anarchism, whose influence is widely spread and which undoubtedly has a religious tinge.

Be that as it may, Republican types suspected photographic fakery.

Just like its inspiration is reported to have done, this statue survived its “execution” in fine shapewas resurrected by public subscription, and can still be seen at Cerro de los Angeles outside Madrid.


The “executed” statue today. (cc) image from bigchus.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Arts and Literature,Borderline "Executions",Executed in Effigy,Execution,God,History,Inanimate Objects,Mock Executions,No Formal Charge,Not Executed,Public Executions,Religious Figures,Shot,Spain,Wartime Executions

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