1641: Not Manuel de Gerrit de Reus, chosen by lot, saved by hemp

Add comment January 24th, 2017 Headsman

Dutch New Amsterdam’s council minutes give us today’s remarkable story, of the chance condemnation and chance deliverance of an Angolan

Our Manuel — his “de Reus” surname came from his Dutch owner — appears to have been among the very earliest slaves imported into New Amsterdam when the Dutch West India Company first introduced this institution in 1626.

By every indication apart from this brush with the scaffold he was a respected man who prospered about as well as his situation permitted. Manuel received (partial) freedom in 1644 along with nine other slaves, prominently including several others charged in this same fracas. These freedmen and their families would thereafter form the nucleus of create Manhattan’s first black community by settling (post-manumission) neighboring farming plots north of Fresh Water Pond.*

We can continue to track Manuel, fleetingly, through colonial records as late as 1674 — by which time his place was no longer New Amsterdam at all, but New York.


Anno 1641. In the Name of God

On Thursday, being the 17th of January, Cornelio vander Hoykens, fiscal, plaintiff, vs. little Antonio Paulo d’Angola, Gracia d’Angola, Jan of Fort Orange, Manuel of Gerrit de Reus, Anthony the Portuguese, Manuel Minuit, Simon Conge and big Manuel, all Negroes, defendants, charged with homicide of Jan Premero, also a Negro. The plaintiff charges the defendants with manslaughter committed in killing Jan Premero and demands that Justice be administered in the case, as this is directly contrary to the laws of God and man, since they have committed a crime of lese majesty against God, their prince and their masters by robbing the same of their subject and servant.

The defendants appeared in court and without torture or shackles voluntarily declared and confessed that they jointly committed the murder, whereupon we examined the defendants, asking them who was the leader in perpetrating this deed and who gave Jan Premero the death blow. The defendants said that they did not know, except that they committed the deed together.

The aforesaid case having been duly considered, it is after mature deliberation resolved, inasmuch as the actual murderer can not be discovered, the defendants acknowledging only that they jointly committed the murder and that one is as guilty as another, to have them draw lots as to who shall be punished by hanging until death do ensue, praying Almighty God, creator of heaven and earth, to designate the culprit by lot.

The defendants having drawn lots in court, the lot, by the providence of God, fell upon Manuel of Gerrit de Reus, who shall be kept in prison until the next court day, when sentence shall be pronounced and he be executed.

On the 24th of January, being Thursday The governor and council, residing in New Netherland in the name of the High and Mighty Lords the States General of the United Netherlands, his highness of Orange and the honorable directors of the Chartered West India Company, having seen the criminal proceedings of Cornelio vander Hoykens, fiscal, against little Antonio, Paulo d’Angola, Gracia d’Angola, Jan of Fort Orange, Manuel of Gerrit de Reus, Antony the Portuguese, Manuel Minuit, Simon Conge and big Manuel, all Negroes and slaves of the aforesaid Company, in which criminal proceedings by the fiscal the said Negroes are charged with the murder of Jan Premero, also a slave, committed on the 6th of January 1641, which said defendants on Monday last, being the 21st of this month, without torture or irons, jointly acknowledged in court at Fort Amsterdam that they had committed the ugly deed against the slain Premero in the woods near their houses; therefore, wishing to provide herein and to do justice, as we do hereby, in accordance with the Holy Scriptures and secular ordinances, we have, after due deliberation and consideration of the matter, condemned the delinquents to draw lots which of them shall be hanged until death ensue. And after we had called upon God to designate the culprit by lot, finally, through the providence of God, the lot fell upon Manuel of Gerrit de Reus, who therefore is thereby debarred from any exceptions, pleas and defenses which in the aforesaid matter he might in any wise set up, inasmuch as the ugly murderous deed is committed against the highest majesty of God and His supreme rulers, whom he has deliberately robbed of their servant, whose blood calls for vengence before God; all of which can in no wise be tolerated or suffered in countries where it is customary to maintain justice and should be punished as an example to others; therefore, we have condemned, as we do hereby condemn, the afore­said Manuel of Gerrlt de Reus (inasmuch as he drew the lot) to be punished by hanging until death follows, as an example to all such malefactors.

Thus done and sentenced in our council and put into execution on the 24th of January of this year of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ anno 1641.

On the 24th of January 1641 Manuel of Gerrit de Reus having been condemned to be executed with the rope so that death would follow, standing on the ladder, was pushed off by the executioner, being a Negro, having around his neck two good ropes, both of which broke, whereupon the inhabitants and bystanders called for mercy and very earnestly solicited the same.

We, therefore, having taken into consideration the request of the community, as also that the said Manuel had partly under­gone his sentence, have graciously granted him his life and pardoned him and all the other Negroes, on promise of good behavior and willing service. Thus done the day and year above written, in Fort Amsterdam in New Netherland.

* Also (and better) known as Collect Pond. Although the body of water itself has long since gone the way of urban infill, we touched on its interesting proximity to Gotham’s criminal history in a footnote to this post.

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1970: Three in Baghdad

Add comment January 24th, 2016 Headsman

One last coda to our recent Iraqi coup series occurred after a day’s pause in the hecatombs, as reported by the New York Times on Jan. 25, 1970:

BEIRUT, Lebanon, Jan. 24 — Three more men were executed in Baghdad at dawn today bringing to 44 the number shot or hanged since the leftist Baath Government in Iraq headed off a rightist plot on Tuesday.

The three-man special court that has sentenced 37 conspirators said the three were the last of those apprehended. Others, it added, are still at large.

An Iraqi military aircraft landed here this afternoon with a token gift of 30 submachine guns confiscated from the plotters. Iraq has promised to turn over all 3,000 submachine guns captured to the Palestinian commandos.

More blood was spilled in Baghdad this week than after any comparable attempted coup since World War II, and many Arab commentators expressed dismay and horror.

OTHER MASSACRES RECALLED

The nearest approach was 18, shot after a Nasserite rising against a Baathist Government in Syria in July, 1963.

The Baghdad executions fitted the context of Iraq’s violent history, which has led some historians to compare the current regime with that of the eighth-century Abbasid governor Al Hajjaj Ben Yussef, who declared, when he took office, that the Iraqis were a mean people and he was “going to wring their necks.” Great numbers of executions followed.

In more recent times the Iraqis in 1933 killed several thousand Assyrians who had volunteered for armed service with the British. In 1941 several hundred Jews were killed in a major pogrom in Baghdad.

In contrast to Egypt’s bloodless overthrow of King Farouk, the Iraqis in 1958 shot King Faisal and his family in the garden of their palace and went on to drag the bodies of Prince Abdul Illah and Premier Nuri al Said through the streets.

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

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1538: Anna Jansz, Anabaptist

2 comments January 24th, 2015 Headsman

Dutch Anabaptist Anneke Esaiasdochter (better known as Anna Jansz; this was the surname of her husband*) was executed in Rotterdam on this date in 1538.

Anna (English Wikipedia entry | German) is a key martyr of the fragmented Anabaptist movement following the destruction of Anabaptis’s “New Jerusalem” in Münster.

This catastrophe hurled Anabaptism into the desert, where rival leaders pointed the way to different horizons. Would it double down on revolutionary political aspirations, along the lines of Münster? Would it become a pacificist, spiritual movement without secular aspirations?

Anna Jansz, at least as she appears in the readings others have given her, somewhat personifies these conflicting directions — and not incidentally, the also-open question of women’s role in the Anabaptist movement.

Though she appears in the Martyrs’ Mirror as a model feminine sufferer, the “Trumpet Song” she composed has in at least some versions a distinctly apocalyptic tone. One historian called it the Marseillaise of Anabaptist hymns:

Wash your feet in the godless blood

This is shocking imagery, but it’s also far from clear that it’s actually what Anna herself wrote — or if its surface interpretation is what the author intended to convey. Anabaptism’s fast-evolving strains published different versions of the “Trumpet Song” in the 16th century, whose slight alterations dramatically shade its meaning — especially so in view of the possible scriptural allusions. Here’s a version of the same line in which the verb wash (wascht) is replaced with watch, or mind (wacht), and it now advises the true Christian to leave punishment of the persecutors to God:

You true Christians be of good cheer
Mind dipping your feet in blood
Because this is the reward which those who
robbed us will receive

As Timothy Nyhof details in this paper (pdf), her image is ultimately quite elusive to us,** and filtered through the texts of interlocutors like the great Anabaptist fugitive David Joris, rumored to have been Anna’s onetime lover. Joris published the version of the “Trumpet Song” excerpted just above — the cautious one.†

In the end, a fixed conclusion as to whether Anna was a firebrand later softened for public consumption, or the reverse, or a more nuanced character entirely, is beyond the reach of posterity. In any guise, she was an exponent of the call to spiritual purity and anticipation of the Lord that fortified a proscribed faith in its wilderness sojourn.


Detail view (click for the full image) of Anna Jansz en route to her January 24, 1538 execution from the Martyrs’ Mirror.

* Anna’s husband Arendt Jansz fled to England to escape the persecution of Anabaptists, which is why he doesn’t figure in this story.

** Nyhof ultimately situates Anna Jansz among the Melchiorites. Although that philosophy’s namesake had gone down backing the Anabaptist commune, his post-Münster followers turned Melchior Hoffman’s eschatology towards personal redemption instead of political violence. (Source)

† I’m certain it must exist out there, but I have not been able to find online a complete version of any of the “original” versions of Anna’s famous song, either in Dutch or in translation. Profiles of Anabaptist Women: Sixteenth-Century Reforming Pioneers gives the last three of its 13 stanzas thus:

At Borsa and Edom, so the author has read
The Lord is preparing a feast
From the flesh of kings and princes.
Come all you birds,
Gather quickly
I will feed you the flesh of princes.
As they have done, so shall be done to them.
You servants of the Lord, be of good cheer.
Wash your feet in the blood of the godless.
This shall be the reward for those who robbed us.

Be pleased therefore, rejoice and be glad.
Play a new song on your harps;
Delight in our God
All you who foresee vengeance.
The Lord comes to pay
And to revenge all our blood.
His wrath is beginning to descend.
We are awaiting the last bowl.

Oh bride, go to meet your Lord and King.
Arise, Jerusalem, prepare yourself.
Receive all your children alike.
You shall spread out your tents.
Receive your corwn, receive your kingdom.
Your King comes to deliver.
He brings his reward before him.
You shall rejoice in it.
We shall see his glory in these times.
Rejoice, Zion, with pure Jerusalem.

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1963: Lazhar Chraiti and nine other Tunisian conspirators

1 comment January 24th, 2014 Headsman

Ten men were executed at dawn on this date in 1963 in Tunis for an assassination plot against President Habib Bourguiba.

Lazhar Chraiti. His daughter has founded a center dedicated to rehabilitating his memory.

Bourguiba was first president of the independent Republic of Tunisia, having led that country out of French domination in the 1950s … and this plot was the first major threat to his rule. “It is a miracle that I am still alive,” he told a women’s conference at the western city of El Kef after it was discovered on December 19. Kebair Meherzi, an officer of President’s Guard (who was among those executed this date) had been privy to the plot, and intended to admit the assassins to Bourguiba’s own bedside. (London Times, Dec. 27, 1962)

Twenty-six people faced a military trial for this attempted coup in early January with thirteen death sentences handed down — most notably including legendary Arab independence guerrilla Lazhar Chraiti (by now a respected official in the ruling Neo Destour party).

One of those 13 was condemned in absentia, having already fled the country to Algeria — the plotters’ Algerian ties caused Tunisia to withdraw its embassy — while two other army officers were reprieved to life and hard labor.

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1846: Elizabeth Van Valkenburgh, in her rocking chair

1 comment January 24th, 2013 Headsman

On this date in 1846, a 46-year-old woman lamed from a fall got noosed in her rocking chair in Fulton, N.Y.

Elizabeth Van Valkenburgh had been widowed at 34 with four children, when her first husband died of dyspepsia and exposure. “There is no foundation,” the prisoner explained, “for the report that I had in any way hastened his death, nor did such a thing ever enter my mind.”

She remarried shortly thereafter to John Van Valkenburgh, apparently a violent drunk, whose depredations eventually led Elizabeth to get rid of him by spiking his tea with arsenic. “To this act I was prompted by no living soul,” she said in her confession. “I consulted with no one on the subject, nor was any individual privy to it.” She may have been keen to clear any public suspicion from her oldest children — they were old enough to try to get mom to move out of the house with them and offer to help take care of the younger kids. She suffered a fall from a barn’s hayloft as she was hiding out, which crippled her leg.

The key original documents from her trial, including the death sentence and the rejection of clemency (a petition to which 10 of Valkenburgh’s 12 jurors subscribed) are preserved here.

Oh, and one other thing. On the eve of her hanging, the condemned murderess produced a germane revision to her aforementioned confession, recalling that there may actually have been some foundation for the report that she also hastened her first husband’s death.

With respect to my first husband I should have stated that about a year before his death I mixed arsenic, which I purchased several months previously at Mr. Saddler’s in Johnstown, with some rum which he had in a jug, of which he drunk once, and by which he was made very sick and vomited, but it did not prevent his going to work the next day and continuing to work afterwards, until the next June. His feet and the lower part of his legs became numb after drinking this, which continued until his death, and his digestion was also impaired.

I always had a very ungovernable temper, and was so provoked by his going to Mr. Terrill’s bar where he had determined to go and I had threatened that if he did go he should never go to another bar, and as he did go nothwithstanding this, I put in the arsenic as I have said.

Right.

Because of the her impaired mobility, the condemned poisoner was carried in her rocking chair to the gallows, and stayed right in it for the whole procedure. They noosed her up sitting in the rocker, and dropped the platform to hang her as she rocked away in it.

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1936: Allen Foster, who fought Joe Louis

2 comments January 24th, 2012 Headsman

More than twenty-five years ago, one of the southern states adopted a new method of capital punishment. Poison gas supplanted the gallows. In its earliest stages, a microphone was placed inside the sealed death chamber so that scientific observers might hear the words of the dying prisoner to judge how the human reacted in this novel situation.

The first victim was a young Negro. As the pellet dropped into the container, and the gas curled upward, through the microphone came these words: “Save me, Joe Louis. Save me, Joe Louis. Save me, Joe Louis…”

It is heartbreaking enough to ponder the last words of any person dying by force. It is even more poignant to contemplate the words of this boy because they reveal the helplessness, the loneliness and the profound despair of Negroes in that period. The condemned young Negro, groping for someone who might care for him, and had power enough to rescue him, found only the heavyweight boxing champion of the world. Joe Louis would care because he was a Negro. Joe Louis could do something because he was a fighter. In a few words the dying man had written a social commentary. Not God, not government, not charitably minded white men, but a Negro who was the world’s most expert fighter, in this last extremity, was the last hope.

-Martin Luther King, Why We Can’t Wait

This story isn’t precisely accurate as Dr. King told it, but the factual basis for this empathetic legend is Allen Foster.

On this date in 1936, Foster was the first man executed by lethal gas in North Carolina — and en route to this minor distinction he punched his ticket for commemoration in civil rights literature when he flourished a flamboyant uppercut to witnesses as he was led to the gas chamber and cried out, “I fought Joe Louis!” It was an allusion to having matched with the world champ when both were youngsters in Alabama.

This coincidental brush with celebrity was about as strange as the fact that it occurred in a gas chamber at all.

After the arrival of the electric chair, the South adopted it virtually across the board; North Carolina had switched from hanging to electrocution in 1910.

But the Tarheel State was also generally more progressive than its neighbors;* V.O. Key would write of North Carolina, “It has been the vogue to be progressive. Willingness to accept new ideas, sense of community responsibility toward the Negro, feeling of common purpose, and relative prosperity have given North Carolina a more sophisticated politics than exists in most southern states.”

Part of that “sophisticated politics” was, in the 1930s, a growing debate about the application — indeed, the mere existence — of capital punishment.

According to Trina Seitz’s “The Kiling Chair: North Carolina’s Experiment in Civility and the Execution of Allen Foster” (North Carolina Historical Review, Jan. 2004):

North Carolinians were beginning to doubt the effectiveness of the sanction and the method used to enforce it. Furthermore, private citizens, humanitarians, and state institutions alike were increasingly scrutinizing the demographics of those being put to death.

Though this scrutiny did not lead so far as actual abolition, it provided the receptively reformist environment for Mitchell County Dr. Charles Peterson’s “pet project” of switching the execution protocol to lethal gas.

The reason for his fascination with gas seems to be obscure; the method had never been employed east of the Mississippi. Maybe it had something to do with 1932’s remarkably smooth gassing of a North Carolinian from nearby Burke County in Nevada, the nation’s gas chamber pioneer.

Whatever the reason, Peterson took a seat in the legislature in 1935 and won adoption for his idea in this very first session.

Unfortunately for Peterson — and doubly so for Foster — North Carolina didn’t have quite the same facility with hydrogen cyanide, and Foster’s execution was a notorious botch that immediately got people back on the electrocution bandwagon.

Foster was doomed for raping a white woman — this may be progressive North Carolina, but it’s still the South — and according to Seitz’s rendering of the News and Observer‘s first-hand report:

“Good-bye.” The Negro’s lips framed the words so clearly that no man in the witness room could doubt what he had said. As he said it, he winked and then forced a smile at the faces peering in at him. Then he began to suffer. No man could look squarely into his eyes and fail to perceive that they were registering pain. The Negro fought for breath, knowing he was going to die and fighting to get it over with as quickly as possible …

he sucked the gas desperately until his head rolled back three minutes later, indicating to physicians that the man finally had lost consciousness. But after a period of quiescence, his small, but powerfully built torso began to retch and jerk, throwing his head forward on his chest, where witnesses could see his eyes slowly glaze … The torturous, convulsive retching continued spasmodically for a full four minutes.

Officially, it took about 11 minutes for Foster to die, and as those agonizing minutes dragged by a physician broke the witness room’s mortified silence by exclaiming, “We’ve got to shorten [the execution method] or get rid of it entirely.” Um, yeah? The prison warden was quoted the next day as saying that even hanging was preferable to this.

The ensuing political controversy, however, did not succeed in reverting the method to electrocution.

Like the original electric chair, North Carolina’s gas chamber was the beneficiary of some hasty technical fixes: heating the gas chamber (it was at the freezing point when Foster died; Colorado executioners advised North Carolina that this would impede the gassing); tweaking the chemical formula.

The very next week, a white murderer named Ed Jenkins followed Foster into the toxic plume, this time to rave reviews: he “died painlessly and the method of execution was humane”. These advances were enough to keep the gas chamber in place, although the state legislature considered several bills to return to electrocution from 1937 to 1943.

During one such debate, North Carolina playwright Paul Green testified to the assembly (per Seitz),

Some day the electric chair and the gas chamber will be set up in the State Museum as symbols of an age of horror and ignorance. School children will look at them and feel superior to us as they look back upon an era of ignorance

Three hundred sixty-two people ultimately died in North Carolina’s gas chamber. And as Green anticipated, the execution chair resides today in the state’s Museum of History.

* This is still true of North Carolina: it has employed the allegedly more humane method of lethal injection since 1984, when no other Southern state save Texas used the needle until the 1990s; that use has been sparing enough that its per-capita execution rate remains markedly lower than most other former Confederate states; and in 2009, North Carolina implemented a still-controversial Racial Justice Act empowering condemned prisoners to challenge their sentence with statistical evidence of racial disparity even though courts don’t require this at all.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Botched Executions,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Gassed,History,Milestones,North Carolina,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Rape,USA

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1911: Shusui Kotoku and ten other anarchists

4 comments January 24th, 2011 Headsman

A century ago today, eleven Japanese anarchists were hanged for plotting the assassination of the Emperor.

Radical journalist Shusui Kotoku challenged Meiji Japan from the insurrectionary anarchist left.

A socialist early on — he helped translate The Communist Manifesto into Japanese — Kotoku turned towards anarchism when he read Kropotkin while serving time for opposing the Russo-Japanese War. He “had gone [to jail] as a Marxian Socialist,” he said, “and returned as a radical Anarchist.”

After his release, and a trip to America which had just birthed the anarcho-syndicalist Industrial Workers of the World, Kotoku returned to Japan as his nation’s patriarch of anarchism.*

All of this, naturally, drew a Sarah Palin-sized targetsurveyors’ symbol on Kotoku’s back.

So, when police uncovered an apparent plot by other radicals to off Emperor Meiji, and opportunistically used it to sweep up as fellow-travelers a nationwide “conspiracy” of twenty-plus alleged plotters, Kotoku was naturally one of the bad apples they were pleased to indict.**

The twelve ultimately doomed to death were slated to receive their judicially appointed sanctions on this occasion, just six days after conviction. (The rest of the anarchist movement was harshly suppressed in the years ahead.)

Among the most noteworthy of these Japanese Saccos and Vanzettis:

The first eleven (all men) took so long that the twelfth doomed soul, Suga Kanno — Kotoku’s lover and a genuine bomb-plot participant, who enjoys the distinction of being the only woman her country ever hanged for treason — had her execution put off to the 25th for want of daylight.

Though he’s never been officially [judicially] exonerated, Kotoku’s native Nakamura voted in 2000 to declare his rehabilitation. A secret letter that surfaced only in 2010 appears to support that position.

* Shusui Kotoku in turn greatly influenced Chinese anarchism.

Some of Kotoku’s writing is available online in Japanese here.

** George Elison translated a Kotoku Shusui letter denying any interest in the anarchist assassination racket. It appears as “Discussion of Violent Revolution, From a Jail Cell,” in the Vol. 22, No. 3/4 (1967) Monumenta Nipponica.

How is the anarchist revolution to be brought about if not by bomb-throwing attempts upon the life of the sovereign? The Japanese word for “revolution” — kakumei — is Chinese in origin. In China, the term was used to describe the process in which the emperor of dynasty A, receiving the Mandate of Heaven, replaced the emperor of dynasty B; so it signified mainly the change of emperors, the change of sovereigns. Our “revolution” has quite a different meaning. We do not place much value upon the mere transfer of power between potentates; we do not use the word “revolution” except to mean a fundamental change in the governmental system and in the organization of society.

… they who for the sake of universal peace and liberty participate in this revolution must endeavor as best they can to avoid violence, to avoid producing victims to the revolution. For it seems that the great revolutions of the past were accompanied by much violence and required a great number of victims … I only hope for the disappearance of the misconception that the anarchist revolution has as its objective the assassination of the sovereign …

the prosecution and the examiners first put the title “Violent Revolution” to what I had said and contrived the stern-sounding phrase “death-defying band,” with other similar phrases. And I believe they condemned us under this syllogism: “The anarchist revolution is concerned with the destruction of the Imperial Family. But Kotoku’s plan was to carry out a revolution by violence. Therefore, all who were party to this plot planned to commit the crime of High Treason.” So the fact that these people used to discuss such things as direct action and the revolutionary movement has now served to get them into trouble! This I deeply regret.

On the other hand, Kotoku openly celebrated the assassination of Ito Hirobumi by a Korean nationalist.

Part of the Daily Double: The High Treason Incident.

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1938: Han Fuqu, Koumintang general

2 comments January 24th, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1938, Chinese warlord Han Fuqu (or Fuju, or Fu-chu) was executed by the Koumintang for cravenly surrendering Shandong Province to the Japanese without a fight.

Han cut his teeth during China’s Warlord Era, and though he made a timely adherence to Chiang Kai-shek‘s central government that gave him rule over Shandong, he was never exactly in love with the KMT. He ran his fief like a dictator and got rich.

When Japan and China went to war in 1937, it wasn’t a gung-ho nationalist heart throbbing beneath his decorated breast.

Commanded by this still-alien central government to defend Shandong and its capital Jinan at all costs, the former warlord instead bargained secretly with the Japanese for a way to keep his prerogatives.

Why, after all, should he throw away his own position against an overwhelming foe merely for the better advantage of the distant Chiang Kai-shek?

When Han couldn’t pull off a deal and the Japanese set about simply taking his province by force, Han withdrew without firing a shot — forcing other KMT units in Shandong to likewise fall back. To top it off, Han himself then ditched the army he’d taken a-retreatin’.

Chiang, no dummy, could see an example waiting to be made. A couple weeks after arresting Han, Chiang’s trusted aide Hu Zongnan shot him in the back of the head in what is now Wuhan for flouting superior orders.

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1989: Ted Bundy, psycho killer

8,379 comments January 24th, 2009 Headsman

Qu’est-ce que c’est?

It was 20 years today that Ted Bundy, the signature sexual psychopath in a golden age of serial killers,* rode the lightning in Florida’s Starke Prison.

Executed Today is pleased to mark the occasion with a conversation with Louisville crime writer Kevin M. Sullivan, author of a forthcoming2009 book on Ted Bundy … and a man who knows how the world looks from inside Bundy’s ski mask.


Ted Bundy is obviously one of the most iconic, written-about serial killers in history. Why a book about Ted Bundy? What’s the untold story that you set out to uncover?

The desire, or drive, if you will, to write an article about Ted Bundy and then create a 120,000 plus word book about the murders, was born out of my crossing paths with his infamous murder kit. Had Jerry Thompson [a key detective on the Bundy case -ed.] left Bundy’s stuff in Utah that May of 2005, well, it would have been an enjoyable meeting with the former detective, but I’m certain it would have all ended quietly there. Indeed, I doubt if I’d even considered writing an article for Snitch [a now-defunct crime magazine -ed.], much less a book about the killings. But it was having all that stuff in my hands, and in my home, and then being given one of the Glad bags from Ted’s VW that made it very real (or surreal) to me, and from this, a hunger to find out more about the crimes led me forward.


Ted Bundy’s gear, right where you want it — image courtesy of Kevin M. Sullivan. (Check the 1975 police photo for confirmation.)

Believe me, in a thousand years, I never would have expected such a thing to ever come my way. I can’t think of anything more odd or surreal.

ET: You mentioned that you think you’ve been able to answer some longstanding questions about Bundy’s career. Can you give us some hints? What don’t people know about Ted Bundy that they ought to know?

I must admit, when I first decided to write a book about the crimes, I wasn’t sure what I’d find, so the first thing I had to do was read every book ever written about Bundy, which took the better portion of three or four months.

From this I took a trip to Utah to again meet with Thompson and check out the sites pertaining to Bundy and the murders in that state. Next came the acquisition of case files from the various states and the tracking down of those detectives who participated in the hunt for the elusive killer.

Now, no one could have been more surprised than me to begin discovering what I was discovering about some of these murders. But as I kept hunting down the right people and the right documents, I was able to confirm these “finds” at every turn. And while I cannot reveal everything here, It’s all in the book in great detail. Indeed, you could say that my book is not a biography in the truest sense, but rather an in-depth look at Bundy and the murders from a vantage point that is quite unique. I wish I could delve further into these things now , but I must wait until it’s published.

The Bundy story has a magnetic villain and a host of victims … was there a hero? Was there a lesson?

The real heroes in this story are the detectives who worked day and night for years to bring Ted Bundy to justice. And if there’s a lesson to be learned from all of this, it is this: It doesn’t matter how handsome or articulate a person might be, or how nicely they smile at you, for behind it all, there could reside the most diabolical person you’ll ever meet! We need to remember this.

But how can you act on that lesson without living in a continual state of terror? Bundy strikes me as so far outside our normal experience, even the normal experience of criminality, that I’m inclined to wonder how much can be generalized from him.

Actually, (and I might say, thank God here!) people as “successful” as Ted Bundy don’t come our way very often. I mean, the guy was a rising star in the Republican Party in Washington, had influential friends, a law student, and certainly appeared to be going places in life. Some were even quite envious of his ascension in life. However, it was all a well-placed mask that he wore to cover his true feelings and intentions. On the outside he was perfect, but on the inside a monster. He just didn’t fit the mold we’re used to when we think of a terrible killer, does he?

Now, there are those among us — sociopaths — who can kill or do all manner of terrible things in life and maintain the nicest smile upon their faces, but again, just beneath the surface ticks the heart of a monster, or predator, or what ever you might want to call them. Having said that, I’m not a suspicious person by nature, and so I personally judge people by their outward appearance until shown otherwise. Still, it’s difficult (if not impossible) to see the “real” individual behind the person they present to us on a daily basis.

You worked with case detectives in researching your book. How did the Ted Bundy case affect the way law enforcement has subsequently investigated serial killers? If they had it to do over again, what’s the thing you think they’d have done differently?

They all agree that today, DNA would play a part of the investigation that wasn’t available then. However, in the early portion of the murders, Bundy made few if any mistakes, as he had done his homework so as to avoid detection. As such, even this wouldn’t be a panacea when it came to a very mobile killer like Bundy who understood the very real limitations sometimes surrounding homicide investigations.

I can’t help but ask about these detectives as human beings, too. Clearly they’re in a position to deal with the heart of darkness in the human soul day in and day out and still lead normal lives … is a Ted Bundy the kind of killer that haunts or scars investigators years later, or is this something most can set aside as all in a day’s work?

They are, first of all, very nice people. And you can’t be around them (either in person, or through numerous phone calls or emails) for very long before you understand how dedicated they are (or were) in their careers as police officers. They are honorable people, with a clear sense of duty, and without such people, we, as a society, would be in dire circumstances indeed.

Even before Bundy came along, these men were veteran investigators who had seen many bad things in life, so they carried a toughness which allowed them to deal with the situations they came up against in a professional manner. That said, I remember Jerry Thompson telling me how he looked at Ted one day and thought how much he reminded him of a monster, or a vampire of sorts. And my book contains a number of exchanges between the two men (including a chilling telephone call) which demonstrate why he felt this way

How about for you, as a writer — was there a frightening, creepy, traumatic moment in your research that really shook you? Was there an emotional toll for you?

Absolutely. But the degree of “shock”, if you will, depends (at least for me) on what I know as I first delve into each murder. In the Bundy cases I had a general knowledge of how Bundy killed, so there wasn’t a great deal that caught me by surprise, as it were. Even so, as a writer, you tend to get to know the victims very well through the case files, their family members or friends, and so on. Hence, I’ll continue to carry with me many of the details of their lives and deaths for the remainder of my life. And so, lasting changes are a part of what we do.

However, I did a story a few years back about a 16 year old girl who was horribly murdered here in Kentucky, and this case did cause me to wake up in the night in a cold sweat. Perhaps it was because I have a daughter that was, at the time, only a few years younger than this girl, and that some of what transpired did catch me off guard, so to speak, as I began uncovering just what had happened to this very nice kid.

Watch for Kevin M. Sullivan’s forthcoming The Bundy Murders: A Comprehensive History from McFarland in summer or fall of 2009.

* In fact, the term “serial killer” was coined in the 1970’s by FBI profiler Robert Ressler, as an improvement on the sometimes inaccurate category of “stranger killer”.


Additional Bundy resources from the enormous comment thread:

On this day..

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