1895: Charles Stokes, in the heart of darkness

3 comments January 15th, 2009 Headsman

On January 15, 1895, a Belgian colonial official in the Congo Free State hanged Charles Stokes for trading illicitly.

A British subject who’d abandoned his humdrum Liverpool desk job to become an missionary in Africa, Stokes eventually became a merchant in the mysterious continent noted for his favorable relationships with the locals. (He had two African wives.)

In 1895, operating out of German East Africa,* his caravan was detained trading into the Congo Free StateKing Leopold’s hellish personal reserve — with “Arab” slavers who colonial authorities considered rebels. That “rebel Arab slavers” bit formed the charge against him, but trading outside the royal monopoly was probably at least as egregious in Belgian eyes.

An 1895 Review of Public Events at Home and Abroad sums up the scenario.

It was alleged that [Stokes] had large quantities of arms, ammunition, and ivory, and that he had bought the ivory at a low price from Kibonge, the assassin of Emin Pasha. Captain Lothaire, an official, an official of the Congo State, with a strong force, was then advancing from Stanley Falls to attack this Arab chief Kibonge, in revolt against the Congo State.** On Lothaire’s arrival at Kilunga, Kibonge was already a prisoner in the hands of his own native subordinates, who refused to join him in fighting the State. Stokes applied to Lothaire for protection of his ivory and goods, which he desired to carry towards the East Coast. Lothaire claimed that letters were found among Kibonge’s effects which went to prove that Stokes had sold large quantities of arms and ammunition to this chief, to be used in war against the Congo State. Mr. Stokes was arrested by Captain Lothaire’s orders, brought before a court-martial composed of two non-commissioned officers and Lothaire, and sentenced to be hanged. The execution took place the following morning.

Though not surprising that the summary hanging of a European would provoke an international incident, one would hardly call it equitable given the unnumbered, unmourned multitudes of Africans whose lives were wrung dry and discarded for Belgium’s treasury. Still, the “Stokes Affair” made the headlines in both England and Germany, and for activist types struggling to gain any kind of traction for their tales of colonial horrors, it was something to work with.

Leopold paid off both countries. The trial of Lohaire for naughtily conducting the execution ended in an acquittal. Belgium set up a blue-ribbon commission of missionaries solemnly vowing to investigate abuses, which was never heard from again.

(Look for Charles Stokes’ appearance in this tale of the Belgian Congo’s woe, beginning at about 1:01:25.)

If the Stokes incident didn’t catch fire itself, it became a stick in the accumulating dry tinder that Sir Roger Casement set a spark to in the early 20th century.

And maybe a bit more than that, too.

The horror! The horror!

Stokes’s singular story is often thought to inform (pdf) Joseph Conrad’s great literary critique of colonialism, Heart of Darkness.

The Stokes hanging would be only one data point among many for those who had ears to listen to the horrors emerging from the Congo, to be sure. Still, Molly Mahood and Ian Watt have included Stokes — the gone-native ivory trader — as one of several possible inspirations for the novel and especially the Kurtz character. Lothaire himself probably offered fodder for the petty, tyrannous impunity of colonial officers who the narrator encounters on his way to meet Kurtz.

I gathered in snatches that this was some man supposed to be in Kurtz’s district, and of whom the manager did not approve. ‘We will not be free from unfair competition till one of these fellows is hanged for an example,’ he said. ‘Certainly,’ grunted the other; ‘get him hanged! Why not? Anything — anything can be done in this country.’

* Present-day Rwanda, Burundi and Tanzania.

** Lothaire had spent the early part of the decade wresting Belgian commercial dominance in the eastern Congo from the incumbent Arabo-Swahili elites. (The link is French.) “Arabs” in the context of the Belgian Free State meant these Moslem bantus, not (by and large) ethnic Arabs as we would think of them today.

Neither were “Arab slavers” a distinct enemy class for the Free State; those prepared to play ball with white authorities raided native settlements to obtain slaves for rubber plantations and other Belgian-authorized ventures.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,20th Century,Belgium,Capital Punishment,Congo (Kinshasa),Death Penalty,England,Execution,Germany,Hanged,History,Murder,Occupation and Colonialism,Pelf,Power,Wrongful Executions

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1943: Sue Logue, George Logue and Clarence Bagwell

17 comments January 15th, 2008 Headsman

On this date in 1943, as the New York Times laconically led the story, “[t]wo men and a woman died in the electric chair … bringing to eight the number of deaths in ‘The Logue Case,’ which started over a dead calf.”

This culmination to an operatic South Carolina feud has a book all its own, and that scarcely seems equal to the events.

The dead calf in question* belonged to the Logue family, and (your headsman wouldn’t make this up) had been kicked to death by a mule of the neighboring Timmermans. Perhaps mistaking themselves for a cartoon parody, the two leading families of rural Edgefield County, S.C., used the incident to escalate a long-simmering feud.

Killing higher up the food chain soon followed.

The Timmerman patriarch wasted the Logue patriarch — Sue Logue’s husband and George Logue’s brother — but claimed self-defense and was acquitted. (Body Count: 1)

So Sue and George hired (via nephew Joe Frank Logue) a down-on-his-luck plasterer to even the score. Clarence Bagwell said he’d kill everyone in the county for $500, but he earned his fee just by gunning down old man Timmerman. (Body Count: 2)

The investigation brought the law to the Logue doorstep, and the requisite gun battle ensued. A sharecropper on the farm was killed. So was the sheriff — he was Sue Logue’s cousin — and the sheriff’s deputy. (Body Count: 5)

“[T]he only circuit court judge in South Carolina history to have made love to a condemned murderess as she was being transferred … to Death Row.” (Source)

The officers’ death necessitated the appearance of the man who now became the senior law enforcement official in the county: Strom Thurmond, still a local judge and a few years away from his vault into national prominence as a segregationist presidential candidate and 46-year South Carolina Senator.

Thurmond waded through the posse and talked the trio into surrendering. His warning that they were liable to be lynched must have been compelling in any circumstance, but the old goat was a uniquely qualified ambassador: he’d been having an affair with Sue Logue.

Small wonder the trial venue was moved. “[N]o section of the county could be found that did not include a relative of theirs.” (Source)

And small good it did the Logues, who died with their hireling in the early morning hours this day. (Body Count: 8)

For such an outlandish case, it earned only muted national coverage — a pittance reckoned against the feeding frenzy latterly occasioned by such relatively meager gruel as Scott Peterson. World War II stole its thunder, although local interest was intense.

Yet it lives on for the involvement of Thurmond in a second guise that rates as quite possibly the juiciest slice of death row gossip in American history. According to Ol’ Strom: An Unauthorized Biography of Strom Thurmond:

Randall Johnson, a black man who supervised “colored help” at the State House and often served as driver and messenger, drove Sue from the women’s penitentiary to the death house at the main penitentiary in Columbia.** In the back seat with her, he said many years later, was Thurmond, then an Army officer on active duty. They were “a-huggin’ and a-kissin’ the whole day,” said Johnson, whom Thurmond later as governor considered a trusted driver… In whispered “graveyard talk” — the kind of stories not to be told outsiders — the word around SLED (State Law Enforcement Division) was that Joe Frank said his aunt Sue was the only person seduced on the way to the electric chair.

* A “prize calf,” to be fair.

** On Christmas Day, according to Dorn.

Part of the Themed Set: The Spectacle of Private Execution in America.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Electrocuted,Execution,History,Milestones,Murder,Notable Participants,Scandal,South Carolina,USA,Women

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