1716: Stefan Cantacuzino, Wallachian prince

1 comment January 21st, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1716, the Ottomans extinguished their Wallachian (Romanian) client king — and with him native rule on that soil.

The Cantacuzino family has bequeathed Romania no small quantity of notables down to our present time. Our man Stefan Cantacuzino (English Wikipedia entry | Romanian) got the throne of the Ottoman satellite principality of Wallachia via intriguing against a cousin whom the Ottomans deposed and executed in 1714. That guy is a saint today for refusing to convert to save his life.

Stefan Cantacuzino aimed perhaps at a more secular apotheosis, tipping the Austrians to Turkish battle plans as the frontier slid into war between those empires. Who knows what reverential murmurs would attend his name had he been able to attach the Danubian Principalities to Christendom?

But considering that summary death at the command of dissatisfied sultans was an occupational hazard for Wallachian princes, he can’t have been surprised to find the bowstring around his own neck instead.

“With him terminated the rule of the native princes,” notes this 19th century history — and began that of “the so-called Phanariote governors,” a class of Greek magnates initially resident in Istanbul. The Porte’s arbitration among these as deputies for Wallachia enabled it to maintain much better control of the troublesome province than entrusting succession to the treacherous local boyars.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Heads of State,History,Nobility,Power,Romania,Strangled,Turkey,Wartime Executions

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1876: Marshall Crain, Bloody Williamson killer

Add comment January 21st, 2017 Robert Elder

(Thanks to Robert Elder of Last Words of the Executed — the blog, and the book — for the guest post. This post originally appeared on the Last Words blog here. Fans of this here site are highly likely to enjoy following Elder’s own pithy, almanac-style collection of last words on the scaffold. -ed.)

“I must make a statement in regard to this matter. I feel it my duty to God and to man to do so. I am guilty of killing the two men. My soul is stained with blood and my punishment is just. I hope all will forgive me. I pray God to guide and prosper this country. I am the murderer of William Spence. And George W. Sisney. That is all I have to say.”

Marshall Crain, convicted of murder, hanging, Illinois.
Executed January 21, 1876

Crain, a twenty-year-old hired assassin, murdered Sisney and Spence in 1876. The double murder, labeled by the press the “Williamson County Vendetta,” was part of a long- standing feud between the Bulliner and Henderson families of Carbondale, Illinois. Before Crain’s execution, he was remanded to a jail in Marion County in order to avoid a lynching at the hands of an angry mob.

The Chicago Tribune noted: “He was born, raised, educated, married, committed his crimes and was executed within a radius of 10 miles.”

(Williamson County, Illinois has an impressively vast catalogue of highlight-reel violence to its history; there’s more about the Great Vendetta and other skeletons in Williamson’s closet in Bloody Williamson: A Chapter in American Lawlessness.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Execution,Guest Writers,Hanged,History,Illinois,Murder,Other Voices,USA

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1970: Twenty-two in Baghdad

Add comment January 21st, 2016 Headsman

From the Jan. 22, 1970 London Times:

Baghdad, Jan 21. — Twenty-two people were executed in Baghdad today for plotting to overthrow the Iraq Government.

First of all three retired Army men and two serving officers were executed by firing squad. Seventeen more executions were carried out tonight and Baghdad radio said a special three-man tribunal set up to try the plotters was still meeting.

The radio had interrupted its programmes to announce the discovery of a plot, crushed by tanks last night, against the ruling Baath Party. All the plotters were arrested, it said.

Two Government soldiers had died in putting down the conspiracy, the radio said. An official funeral for them will be held in Baghdad tomorrow, and the radio called on the people to attend in thousands.

Although there were no details of how many plotters were arrested, the fact that clashes occurred suggested to observers that an actual attempt had been made against the Government when the Army moved in. Tanks from Rashid Army camp, on the fringes of the capital’s suburbs, foiled the plot, according to the official Iraq news agency.

The radio claimed that the United States, Britain and West Germany were behind the attempted coup.

The Middle East News Agency said some Army officers pretended to join the conspirators and then reported them to the authorities.

The executed men were accused of plotting against the socialist regime of President Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr in the interests of “imperialism and Zionism”. –Reuter, A.P. and U.P.I.

Part of the Daily Double: Saddam Hussein crushes a coup.

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1932: Two-Gun Crowley

Add comment January 21st, 2015 Robert Elder

(Thanks to Robert Elder of Last Words of the Executed — the blog, and the book — for the guest post. Fans of this here site are highly likely to enjoy following Elder’s own pithy, almanac-style collection of last words on the scaffold. -ed.)

“I don’t mind it. My love to mother and tell Mrs. Lawes I appreciate all she did for me.”

Waving to a guard:
“How is it, Sarge?”

Francis “Two-Gun” Crowley, convicted of murder, electric chair, New York.
Executed January 21, 1932

Crowley killed patrolman Frederick Hirsch after the officer asked for his driver’s license. Characterized by the press as a “petty city thug,” Crowley had been wanted for questioning in another murder case. After fleeing, Crowley, his girlfriend, and an accomplice staged a two-hour standoff with police, during which he wrote the following: “Underneath my coat will lay a weary kind of heart what wouldn’t hurt anything. I hadn’t anything else do to. That’s why I went around bumping off cops.”

Crowley’s last words previously had been reported as “You sons of bitches. Give my love to Mother,” but no original record of this account could be found.

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Feast Day of Saint Agnes

1 comment January 21st, 2014 Headsman

January 21 is the feast date and traditional martyrdom date (in the year 304) of Agnes of Rome, a 13-year-old put to death in the Diocletian persecutions who has the distinction of being among the seven women mentioned by name in the Catholic Canon of the Mass.

Agnes means “chaste” in Greek,* and this was precisely the problem.

As prosperous as she was pulchritudinous, she was pious even moreso and spurned the many suitors for her hand and bed. Eventually one or the other of them peevishly reported her as a Christian.

Upon arrest, the abstinent youth was allegedly subjected to an official program of sexual assault, including displaying her naked in public and forcing her into a brothel. It’s said that divine intervention prevented her violation in these ordeals. (The flowing locks in the Ribera portrait of her at right are part of that myth, supposed to have sprouted long enough to save her from her public shaming.)

Considering that her defining characteristic is her virginity, Agnes has quite the lurid legend — and that does not exclude her very martyrdom. Per the erotically-charged poetic account of the 4th-5th century Christian poet Prudentius,** Agnes rejoiced sensually in the executioner sent to to render her to her heavenly bridal-bed:

I rejoice that there comes a man like this,
A savage, cruel, and wild warrior,
Rather than a languid, soft,
Womanish youth fragrant with perfume,
Come to destroy my life with the death of my honor.

This lover, this one at last, I confess, pleases me.
I shall rush to his eager steps
And not demur from his hot ardor.
I shall welcome the entire length of
His blade into my bosom, drawing the sword-blow
To the depths of my breast.

Original Latin here from Prudentius’s Liber Peristephanon (Crowns of Martyrdom)†

Agnes, whose purported relics are interred in the Roman church Sant’Agnese in Agone, is the patron saint of an entire pantheon of feminine sexual incipience: chastity, virgins, young women, and betrothed couples.‡

Little surprise, then, that the legend arose in Christendom that a maid could invoke the vision of her future husband by performing certain suggestive rituals — like lying supine and naked on her bed — on the eve of St. Agnes (that is, the night of January 20).

It’s upon this occasion that Keats pins his narrative poem The Eve of St. Agnes§ (full text here or here), in which a young woman performing these rites is in her dreamlike state deflowered by the desired suitor her family forbids — and then the two slip away by night “o’er the southern moors.”

Beyond a mortal man impassion’d far
At these voluptuous accents, he arose,
Ethereal, flush’d, and like a throbbing star
Seen mid the sapphire heaven’s deep repose;
Into her dream he melted, as the rose
Blendeth its odour with the violet,–
Solution sweet: meantime the frost-wind blows
Like Love’s alarum pattering the sharp sleet
Against the window-panes; St. Agnes’ moon hath set.


The Eve of St. Agnes, by John Everett Millais (1863) shows Keats’s Madeleine about to disrobe before taking to bed on that occasion. The Keats poem was very popular with Millais’s pre-Raphaelite crowd.

* It’s also similar to the Latin word for lamb, agnus; consequently, the lamb is Agnes’s usual iconographic symbol.

** Prudentius, best-known for his seminal allegorical verse Psychomachia, composed a number of hymnal poems. Some are still in use today — such as “Of the Father’s Love Begotten”.

† Translation has a few tweaks of my own but is primarily that of Colbert I. Nepaulsingh in “The Afrenta de Corpes and the Martyrological Tradition,” Hispanic Review, Spring, 1983.

‡ She’s also the patron saint of rape victims.

§ Tennyson later wrote a short poem of his own touching the same theme, “St. Agnes’ Eve”.

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Entry Filed under: Ancient,Arts and Literature,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Children,Death Penalty,Execution,God,History,Italy,Martyrs,Public Executions,Put to the Sword,Religious Figures,Roman Empire,Sex,Uncertain Dates,Women

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1880: Daniel Searles, the first hanging in Tioga County

2 comments January 21st, 2012 Headsman

From the New York Evening Express, January 21, 1880.

DANIEL SEARLES HANGED.


THE NEGRO MURDERER OF OLD MR. REWEY

Sketch of a Brutal Crime — The Condemned Man Owns His Guilt and Admits the Justice of His Sentence.

OSWEGOOWEGO, N.Y., January 21. — The first instance of capital punishment in Tioga county occurred here to-day at noon. The extreme penalty of the law was inflicted upon Daniel Searles, an illiterate negro, who in June last murdered Eldridge Rewey, an aged farmer, who lived alone in the neighboring vilage of Newark Valley.

The murder was for the purpose of robbery, and was one of fiendish atrocity. Calling at the farmer’s house in the early evening of June 25, Searles felled him senseless to the floor, and then cut his throat with a razor.

He obtained about $300 by searching the house, and, on preparing to leave, noticed that his victim had revived. Rewey had also drawn a knife from his pocket, as if to defend himself, which the negro wrested from him, and with which he nearly decapitated his helpless victim.

He was arrested next day, tried before Judge Follett at OswegoOwego, and on December 8 was sentenced to be hung to-day.

Searles has made no attempt to deny his guilt, openly confessing the crime and saying he deserved to die for it. He has preserved a brave exterior throughout, and passed his last night on earth seemingly with less anxiety than did his executioner.

The execution took place in a temporary frame structure in the jail-yard, erected for the purpose. A cordon of military attended. The gallows was the same on which Penwell was executed at Elmira in July, 1877, for wife murder. The ponderous drop weighed three hundred pounds.

The spectators were in attendance at 11:45, some two hundred being present. Prayers were said in the prisoner’s cell at noon and the death warrant read to him.

Part of the Daily Triple: 1880 and Death.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Hanged,Murder,New York,Pelf,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Theft,USA

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1943: Hemu Kalani, Sindh revolutionary

1 comment January 21st, 2011 Headsman

On this date in 1943, the British hanged India independence activist Hemu Kalani in Sukkur for attempting to sabotage a rail line.

You could say the Sindh youth was not cowed by the Empire’s suppression of the Quit India movement.

“In the face of this shameful capitulation of the ‘left’ leaders,” he raged of respectable pols prepared to accept office at the pleasure of the British during wholesale confinement of political prisoners, “what should the rank and file ‘leftists’ do?”

It is only by waging unremitting struggle against capitulation in every form, by fighting against dissolution of their own organizations, that they can seriously fight to attain the goal. Intransigent opposition to every capitulationist masquerading as a ‘leftist’!

As the British rounded up the Quit India leadership, less conciliatory young people like Kalani came to the fore (pdf) and then were further radicalized by British intransigence.

If you’re going to lock up Mr. Nonviolence himself, Mahatma Gandhi, you’re going to get to deal instead with the elements he keeps in check. That was certainly Gandhi’s argument: he refused to condemn violence, observing that the British themselves had called it up.

Mass protests gave way to more aggressive direct action; in Kalani’s case, that meant derailing a train bringing ammunition to the European forces occupying his native province.

Caught in the act, he refused under torture to shop his comrade, earning a hemp necktie from the occupiers and the tribute of posterity on the subcontinent.

Somewhat ironically, the relative intransigence of Quit India supporters during this period, as compared with the Muslim League‘s greater support for Britain’s immediate World War II exigencies, helped to cleave apart Pakistan and India when independence did come in the late 1940s … which is why the Hindu Kalani is most honored in India, even though his native soil is now in Pakistan.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,History,India,Martyrs,Occupation and Colonialism,Pakistan,Power,Revolutionaries,Torture,Treason,Wartime Executions

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1670: Claude Duval, gentleman highwayman

23 comments January 21st, 2010 Headsman

It’s been 340 years since the immortal highwayman Claude Duval (or Du Val, or Du Vall) went to the Tyburn gallows and was turned off into legend as the ne plus ultra of English gentleman thieves.

Duval, actually, was French, an import to Isles in the train of some forgotten noble migrating with the restoration of royal prerogatives.

On the English highway, this formerly impecunious retainer coruscated as a knight of the road, the very model of the chivalrous outlaw against whom the likes of Dick Turpin would be compared to disadvantage. Macaulay recorded

how Claude Duval, the French page of the Duke of Richmond, took to the road, became captain of a formidable gang, and had the honour to be named first in a royal proclamation against notorious offenders; how at the head of his troop he stopped a lady’s coach, in which there was a booty of four hundred pounds; how he took only one hundred, and suffered the fair owner to ransom the rest by dancing a coranto with him on the heath;


William Powell Frith‘s painting (1860) of Claude Duval dancing with his prey.

how his vivacious gallantry stole away the hearts of all women; how his dexterity at sword and pistol made him a terror to all men; how, at length, in the year 1670, he was seized when overcome by wine; how dames of high rank visited him in prison, and with tears interceded for his life; how the king would have granted a pardon, but for the interference of Judge Morton, the terror of highwaymen, who threatened to resign his office unless the law were carried into full effect; and how, after the execution, the corpse lay in state with all the pomp of scutcheons, wax lights, black hangings and mutes, till the same cruel judge, who had intercepted the mercy of the crown, sent officers to disturb the obsequies. In these anecdotes there is doubtless a large mixture of fable; but they are not on that account unworthy of being recorded; for it is both an authentic and an important fact, that such tales, whether false or true, were heard by our ancestors with eagerness and faith.

Gillian Spraggs justifiably observes that no matter how genuinely gallant the brigand, his profession entailed relieving others of their rightful produce by main force. But then, the same could be said of the lords of the realm.

No, although Duval’s legend invites debunking, this must be for another blog.

We take Duval here at his mythological acme: he is the patron saint of the early modern bandit, the Superman of English outlawry, succoring with the fantasy of freedom upon the road the thousands of porters and scullery maids and apprentices chained to their oars below-decks upon Britannia’s ship of state.

What matter the rest?

This day, we toast Claude Duval, the Knight of the Road, in the manner of the fetching inscription (since destroyed by fire) under which he was reportedly buried:

Here lies DuVall: Reder, if male thou art,
Look to thy purse; if female, to thy heart.
Much havoc has he made of both; for all
Men he made to stand, and women he made to fall
The second Conqueror of the Norman race,
Knights to his arm did yield, and ladies to his face.
Old Tyburn’s glory; England’s illustrious Thief,
Du Vall, the ladies’ joy; Du Vall, the ladies’ grief.

Part of the Themed Set: Resistance and Rebellion in the Restoration.

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Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Famous,Hanged,History,Outlaws,Pelf,Popular Culture,Public Executions,Theft

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2001: Larry Keith Robison

15 comments January 21st, 2009 Kristin Houle

(Thanks to Kristin Houlé of the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty for the guest post, adapted from her Mental Illness and the Death Penalty Resource Guide (pdf link). Kristin blogs at Prevention Not Punishment. -ed.)

A mentally ill man who had been refused treatment because his condition had not yet turned him violent suffered lethal injection in Texas eight years ago today for finally turning violent.

Larry Robison was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia at the age of 21, three years before the murders for which he was sentenced to die. He began hearing voices and acting strangely as a teenager, claiming to have secret paranormal mental powers and the ability to read people’s minds and move objects from a distance. He joined the Army but was discharged after only a year.

Robison’s parents sought help and warned mental health authorities of their son’s erratic and increasingly aggressive behavior, but were told that the state could offer no resources unless he turned violent. He was shuffled in and out of mental hospitals, admitted after aggressive behavior and released after a period of medicated passivity. He received no regular, ongoing treatment. Robison was not covered by his parents’ insurance, nor did he have his own.

Robison claimed that voices in his head, which came through the clocks in his room, spewed out warnings about Old Testament prophecies of the Apocalypse and told him to murder, behead, and mutilate his roommate, Bruce Gardner. Robison then went next door and murdered four of his neighbors. When authorities arrested him, he told them that he had committed the murders in order to “find God.”

The four prosecutors developing the case against Larry Robison recognized his past history of mental illness and were willing to accept an insanity plea in exchange for life in a mental institution. The Tarrant County district attorney overruled them, however, and ordered them to seek a death sentence. In the courtroom, most evidence of Robison’s mental illness was ruled inadmissible, so the jury heard little of it. None of the three doctors who had diagnosed Robison before the crime as suffering from paranoid schizophrenia were called to testify at his trial. The jury rejected his plea of not guilty by reason of insanity.

Once in prison, evidence of Robison’s mental illness continued to accumulate. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals stayed his execution at one point, doubtful as to whether or not he was competent to be executed. When asked what the execution would be like, Robison replied that he felt like “a little kid at Christmas time waiting for Santa Claus to come.” Eventually, he demanded that his lawyers cease filing appeals based on his mental illness, but only if the state agreed to execute him on the night of a full moon. Despite protests from mental health organizations and concerned citizens throughout the world, the state complied.

Larry Robison’s case drew attention largely as a result of the tireless efforts of his own family, taking a public profile unusual for the family of the condemned. CBS News’ 48 Hours profiled the Robisons shortly before Larry’s execution. They continue to maintain a website, larryrobison.org; mother Lois Robison remains a vocal critic of executing the mentally ill, and delivered this address to a Murder Victims’ Families for Human Rights conference last fall.

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Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Diminished Capacity,Execution,Guest Writers,Lethal Injection,Murder,Other Voices,Texas,USA

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