1796: Jerzy Procpak

Add comment January 26th, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1796 the Polish outlaw Jerzy Procpak was executed. Anticipate Polish in all links to follow.

It takes a stretch to reckon this avaricious cutthroat as a social bandit; nevertheless, he’s chanced to a fair measure of historical renown as an exemplar from the dying age of highwayman. He supposedly turned to crime after being punitively thrown in prison for shooting a grazing heifer he had mistaken for a deer. Thereafter he gathered around him a crowd of army deserters and other rough men who prowled the southern borderlands of Silesia, Moravia, and Slovakia.

The “forest Adonis” was celebrated in folk song, and in folk legend which became practically indistinguishable from his biography.

Captured in November 1795, the brigand admitted without recourse to torture to a charge sheet more than ample to take his life: some 60 highway robberies and 13 murders. We have a description of his costume preserved from those same records: “hat with band sewn on, blue caftan lined red, trousers of the same blue paint, sewn with twine, brown leather moccasins, a thin white tunic and sleeves with beautiful cuffs, a brass pin at his throat …”

Throughout January of 1796, ad hoc courts tried upwards of 200 of his alleged associates in ad hoc tribunals in the Silesian towns of Wieprz, Zywiec, and Milowka. Overall, twenty-one were condemned to death and apart from one man, Blazej Solczenski, saved by intercession of a parish priest, all these death sentences were carried into immediate execution.* Several others from the deserter demographic were returned to the hands of the Austrian army for punishment up to and including death by musketry.

* I assume that this reprieve is the source of the confusion among different texts reporting that Procpak was one of twenty robbers executed, or that those executed numbered Procpak plus twenty other robbers. The former is correct, although the executions were scattered across different days and sites; this source (Polish, like everything else) has the breakdowns with names and dates.

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2015: A man in al-Shaddadah, “I won’t forgive you”

Add comment January 26th, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 2015, Islamic State militants occupying the Syrian oil city of al-Shaddadah or al-Shaddadi horrifically beheaded a man on a public square.

Just what action was compassed in his alleged offense of “insulting Allah” is not known; neither so far as I can find was his name. But he fought his killers furiously, and four men were required to wrestle him into the dust and immobilize him for the executioner’s sword. “I won’t forgive you, I am not the one who did it but you did Arabs and civilians of al-Shadadi,” he cried out to townspeople unwilling or unable to lift a finger on his behalf against the butchers.

Al-Shaddadah was recaptured from ISIS in February 2016.

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1950: Anton van der Waals, traitor

Add comment January 26th, 2017 Headsman

One of the Netherlands’ most infamous traitors, Anton van der Waals, was shot on this date in 1950.

An electrician with a misfiring career, van der Waals joined the Dutch fascist party NSB in the interwar years.

The German invasion of 1940 gave this small-timer a (short) lease on espionage stardom, plus a lasting purchase on his countrymen’s hatred.

“Had I read of my adventures in a book, I would not have believed they could all be true,” he would one day muse from the self-reflective confines of his own dungeon.

Although he would also have a brief turn after the war as an Allied spy upon his former masters, those adventures in the main consisted of posing as a Resistance member for the purpose of informing on his “comrades”.

He was repeatedly, devastatingly good at this evil game. At trial after the war, van der Waals was slated with betraying at least 83 anti-fascists, at least 34 of whom were killed. The true extent of his activities, however, is uncertain and it is commonly thought that the ranks of his victims were well into the hundreds.

Van der Waals was shot on the Waaldsdorpervlakte, a site noted for the 250+ Resistance members executed there.

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1318: Sir Gilbert Middleton, son of iniquity

2 comments January 26th, 2016 Headsman

On this date in 1318, for kidnapping and robbing some churchmen, the Northumberland knight Sir Gilbert Middleton was condemned to be “hanged and drawn in the site of the cardinals which he had robbed” — the sentence thought to have been executed immediately.

The mid-1310s were a deep slough for King Edward II:* his political power faltered, his finances sank, and the Scots gave him a thrashing at Bannockburn. So low was Edward’s prestige that a pretender turned up claiming to have been switched at birth with the unsatisfactory king.

A “Poem on the Evil Times of Edward II” from that time enumerates the woes of Britons. It reserves several stanzas for the disreputable knights afoot in the land.

Thus is the ordre of kniht turned up-so-doun,
Also wel can a kniht chide as any skolde of a toun.
Hii sholde ben also hende as any levedi in londe,
And for to speke alle vilanie nel nu no kniht wonde
For shame;
And thus knihtshipe is acloied and waxen al fot-lame.

Knihtshipe is acloied and deolfulliche i-diht;
Kunne a boy nu breke a spere, he shal be mad a kniht.
And thus ben knihtes gadered of unkinde blod,
And envenimeth that ordre that shold be so god
And hende;
Ac o shrewe in a court many man may shende.

The author of this verse would have recognized Gilbert Middleton for sure, but before we come to the unkinde blod, appreciate the dastard’s situation. Post-Bannockburn, Robert the Bruce raided into Northumberland with impunity. Estates in that zone could suffer the pillage or pay the Scots off, but in either event they had no protection from the crown … since King Edward had his hands full in a virtual civil cold war against the powerful Earl of Lancaster.

In this tense situation, Middleton shockingly attacked the king’s cousin Lewis de Beaumont on September 1, 1317 while the latter was en route to be consecrated Bishop of Durham. Seized in the same party were Beaumont’s brother Henry, plus two Italian cardinals they had escorted back as emissaries to hammer out a truce between England and Scotland. (The papacy’s interest here was to redeploy Britain’s armed men to Crusading.)

The reasons for this attack have always been mysterious: the Pope blamed those marauding Scots for putting Middleton up to it, but Lancaster was also an ally of the errant knight as well as the promoter of a candidate for bishop rival to Lewis de Beaumont.

However it was intended to play out, the ambush quickly went pear-shaped. Perhaps raiding and holding for ransom was the sort of elbow one could throw in intra-elite politicking of the 14th century, but the presence of the cardinals changed everything.

Middleton might even have been unaware such august dignitaries were in the party when he first attacked it, and one chronicler reports that his party “at first spared the cardinals and their men, for they were not seeking to injure them” until this clemency started leading Beaumont’s retainers too to assert “themselves to be servants of the cardinals, and neither the cardinals nor others were spared, but all were despoiled.”** Regardless of how they came to do it, the sacrilegious rapine of holy cardinals and their retinue was the shocking crime that would thrust Middleton beyond the pale, either of friendship in his rebellion or of reconciliation afterwards. (Beaumont had not yet been consecrated, so the indignities he suffered were all in a day’s work.)

The Beaumonts became Middleton’s unwilling guests at Mitford Castle.† The cardinals had their effects restored and, after enduring their now-excommunicate captors’ unavailing petition for a suitable penance, were given over to Lancaster; they returned all the way to London under his safe conduct … and as they went they “published a terrible sentence upon their assailant and upon all in any way adhering to them … demand[ing] execution of this sentence through all England.” Before September was out, there was a royal proclamation against Middleton’s “sons of iniquity.”

This rebellion, whatever its dimensions, lasted for a vague span over the autumn and winter months. Sir Gilbert and his too-few friends held some fortifications in Northumberland and Yorkshire; where possible they added more noble types to his collection in Mitford but in spite of the tense situation in England no wider rising materialized.

And living by plunder quickly caught up with Gilbert Middleton.

certain nobles of the countryside … went to him under safe conduct, as if for their [the hostages] deliverance, and after many words and quibblings, a certain price for them being settled, they set free certain ones and left certain ones as hostages until full payment of the money. Thereupon, the day of the final payment arriving, and the appointed time, when the attendants of the same Gilbert were roaming in various places, in order to plunder and pillage, those who ought to have made the payment came to speak with him, saying that they had the money secretly in the town, and asked that free exit and entrance might be granted to them to fetch it. This granted, when they came to the gate of the castle as if to go out, the porters’ throats being cut in a moment, they led in a multitude of armed men hiding outside, who suddenly, rushing with blows upon him [Gilbert], who was thinking of no such thing, bound him tightly with iron chains.

-annals of John de Trokelowe

The captive Middleton was shipped to London and there condemned to “be dragged through the city to the gallows and there be hanged alive, and alive be torn apart and afterwards be beheaded … heart and organs to be burnt beneath the aforesaid gallows, also the body of the same Gilbert be divided into four parts, so that one quarter of his body be sent to Newcastle, another to York, the third to Bristol, and the fourth to Dover, there to remain.”

* Of course, worse times were yet to come.

** Quoted (as are many other period citations) in this useful public domain biography of Middleton. This author’s take was that Lancaster was behind the affair, believing “that it would be popular in the North of England, and would make a signal for a general rebellion throughout the country. The presence of the cardinals ruined the scheme” — and Lancaster himself had the wit and the pull to dissociate himself before it all came down on Middleton’s head.

† Yes, those Mitfords.

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1849: Andrew Tyler, clairvoyant

3 comments January 26th, 2015 Headsman

Fortune Telling and Crime.

(Daily Ohio Statesman, August 22, 1848)

The trial in the case of Andrew Tyler, convicted and sentenced to die, at the late term of the Supreme Court held in Williams county, as accesory [sic] to one of the most wanton and singular murders of which the records of depravity and crime presents an example.

From the evidence given on the trial, as well as the confessions of Heckerthorn, the principal, (who awaits his trial in November next,) it appears that Heckerthorn was desirous of learning the art of fortune telling, and that as the initiatory step, Tyler persuaded him to kill Scamp’s child, and hide the body, designing then to leave the country together, and after some months return and get a reward for finding the body of the child, and thus establish a reputation as fortune tellers, by which they would be enabled to make a great deal of money.

A more inadequate cause for so great a crime we never learned of; and, on Tyler’s part, the instigation of the murder can only be explained by the supposition that long habits of deception and falsehood, practiced by him as a fortune teller, had darkened in his mind whatever little sense of right and humanity he ever possessed. –Kalida Venture

The Death Penalty
Horrible Account of a legalized murder in Williams county, Ohio, which took place on Friday week.

(Cleveland Plain Dealer, February 6, 1849)

If we are at times put to the blush for the crimes of our fellow-beings, we are as often shocked at the barbaraties [sic] of our race, who to retaliate for one crime commit another, no less offensive in the sight of God and man. We refer to the barbarous custom of strangling a man to death in cold blood for certain crimes which twelve men believe he has committed.

Here is an account of this legalized murder, committed no the 26th ult. in Bryan, Williams Co., the particulars of which contain enough of the horrible to gratify the most savage. The Spirit of the Age, published at Bryan, says:

About one o’clock, P.M. the prisoner was conducted on to the scaffold, accompanied by Rev. R.R. Walters, who, after the prisoner had taken his seat, delivered some very appropriate remarks from Acts, chap. 5th, verses 2nd, and 3d — a text selected by the prisoner.

A hymn was sung and prayer offered by Rev. Mr. Walters.

The prisoner then made a brief address to the assembly. He asserted his innocence in the strongest terms — declaring that he had nothing to do with the perpetration of the crime, for which he was to be executed. He said he had no anxiety to live — but felt prepared and desired to depart and dwell with his Saviour.

At the close of his remarks, he knelt down, and spent a few moments in audible prayer. He prayed for support in the terrible scene upon which he was immediately to enter — for the forgiveness of all who had sought his hurt, and that he and they might meet in a happier world.

At a quarter past two, the Sheriff adjusted the rope, which was already around the prisoner’s neck, drew the cap over his face, and bade him adieu.

He then descended the stairs, and as he went down, touched the spring with his foot, and the drop fell.

Here followed a scene, which was for a moment, shocking to all beholders — almost beyond description. To set the matter in its true light, it should be mentioned that Tyler had at all times insisted that he should be executed without any slack of rope.

Willing to gratify him so far as duty would permit, and in accordance with this oft-repeated and urgent request, the Sheriff gave him at first only about one foot of slack.

The instant the drop was sprung, the prisoner slightly crouched his body; by this means the hoose slipped around, bringing the knot immediately under the chin, in such a position that with his short fall it did not tighten at all, consequently he was merely suspended by the neck.

Probably his first slight fall suspended sensation and respiration temporarily for he hung quietly for a time; but this suspension was only temporary, and it is certain that nothing like strangulation was produced.

He soon recovered his breath, and commenced groaning and struggling as if suffering excruciating torture.

The spectacle at this moment was too revolting to witness; we noticed many who had thought and said, that they could look on his expiring agonies with a hearty good will, who turned away from the sight with blanched cheeks and looks of commiseration.

The Sheriff, probably somewhat overcome by the fearful duty he had attempted to discharge, did not immediately after springing the drop go around to see the true condition of affairs.

On learning the situation of the prisoner, he promptly ordered the scaffold raised, and no sooner was this done than he was upon it, and taking Tyler by the hand directed him to stand on his feet, which he was able to do without assistance.

Aided by Gen. Gilson, the Sheriff then proceeded to lengthen the rope, giving it about four feet additional slack.

Tyler still fervently begged them to shorten instead of lengthening it, but he was told that his wishes could no longer be regarded.

During this time, Ex-Sheriff Cunningham passed up the stairs, and taking Tyler’s hand, inquired if he still asserted his innocence; he replied, “I am innocent.”

Having adjusted the noose, and all others having left the scaffold, the Sheriff took his hand, and again bade him farewell. His last words to the Sheriff were — “For God’s sake shorten the rope.”

Again the drop was sprung, and Andrew F. Tyler was launched into eternity. He scarcely struggled after the second fall — after about thirty minutes, his body was taken down, placed in the coffin and carried back to an upper room of the jail.

Executed

(New York Commercial Advertiser, February 13, 1849)

Andrew F. Tyler, the “fortune teller,” convicted in Williams county, Ohio, as accessary [sic] to the murder of a small child in that county, was executed at Bryan, on the 26th ult. A large concourse of citizens assembled to see the spectacle, and in defiance of the law abolishing public executions, tore down the jail yard erected by the Sheriff. The last words of Tyler were, “I am innocent.”

If we recollect right, Tyler was charged with aiding in the murder of a child in order that the fortune he had preetended to tell might prove true. He declared his innocence of a murder of such strange motive to the moment of the falling of the fatal drop, and would it not have been better for the cause of justice, and just as well for the community to have sent him to life imprisonment as the gallows? His dying declaration may be true, for evidence that appears conclusive of guilt is not always so. –Cleve. Herald

The Popular Taste

(Boston Daily Atlas, February 22, 1849)

A man named Andrew F. Tyler, convicted of murder, was hung recently at Bryant [sic], in Williams county, Ohio.

The Dayton Transcript states that the Sheriff had built a high wood fence around the jail yard, in order to have the execution as private as possible, but the populace were so eager to witness the spectacle, they tore down the fence the night previous.

The brutal taste which prompted this act, is of the same character as that which leads crowds to witness prize fights, and makes momentary heroes of the vilest bullies in creation. –Cincinnati Gazette

(As inchthrift old-time editors were fond of forbidding walls of unbroken text, line breaks and white space have been added to all of the excerpts above. -ed.)

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1681: Isabel Alison and Marian Harvey, Covenanters

Add comment January 26th, 2014 Headsman

We turn today to William Crookshank’s (certainly partisan) narrative of the hanging of two Scottish Covenanters on this date in Edinburgh, as told in his The history of the state and sufferings of the Church of Scotland.


On the 25th of December some of the students in the College of Edinburgh brought to the head of the Cowgate the effigy of the pope in his robes, with his keys, mitre, and triple crown; and, when they had excommunicated him, they carried him about in a chair, like that wherein he is elected at Rome, to the foot of the Blackfriars’ Wynd. The students, knowing the thing had taken air, gave out that they were to carry his holiness in procession to the Grassmarket, the place of the execution of criminals; whereupon the guards marched thither. Meanwhile the boys marched in procession by the Black-friars’ Wynd to the High-street, three of them going before with lighted torches. Being come thither they condemned his holiness to be burnt: accordingly the torchmen blew up the effigy with gun-powder, notwithstanding their being attacked by some soldiers commanded by Linlithgow and his son; whom they warned to beware whom he struck, since he had relations among them.

The Duke of York’s [the future James II -ed.] being now in Scotland sharpened the edge of the persecution; so that no less than twenty were executed in the course of this year 1681.

The sufferers had, it is true, declared against the king’s authority, for which many of them were hanged, and otherwise persecuted by their enemies, and’censured by their friends. They branded them as madmen, enemies to government and civil society; but it is very plain that they never opposed government or monarchy as such, but only wicked, perjured, and persecuting governors. These they did oppose, and that for the very same reasons that brought about the Revolution and the protestant succession.

I cannot express this better than in the words of the author of the Memoirs of the Church of Scotland, when speaking of the Torwood excommunication. Says he,

I desire the impartial reader to compare it with the memorials above-mentioned, [to wit, the memorial to the Prince of Orange from the people of Great Britain, to invite him to come to their assistance] and see if it be posible for any British protestant, who owns the justice of the Revolution, to reflect upon the zeal of these people, without blushing for himself and the whole nation, that they did not see and abhor the tyranny of those reigns sooner; then they had joined with those people instead of censuring their zeal; the Revolution had then been brought about without sovereign help at all; the Prince of Orange had then been called over, as peaceably as King George, to take possession of the crown; and the blood of near 20,000 people, who were one way or other murdered and destroyed by that now abdicated race of tyrants, had been saved. What a shame is it, says he, to us, and how much to the honour of these persecuted people, that they could thus see the treachery and tyranny of those reigns, when we saw it not; or rather, that they had so much honesty of principle, and obeyed so strictly the dictates of conscience, as to bear their testimony early, nobly, and gloriously to the truth of God and the rights of their country, both civil and religious; while we all, though seeing the same things, yet betrayed the cause of liberty and religion, by a sinful silence and a dreadful cowardice.

But suppose, through the treatment, the unacountable treatment they met with, they had gone a little beyond due bounds, and though sometimes their expressions were not so well chosen, can that either condemn the principles of religion and liberty upon which they acted; nay, or their actual disowning those tyrants, who, for nothing but the matters of their God and Saviour, had declared them outlaws, rebels and traitors? Besides, the blood of many was shed, against whom they could prove nothing, but what they extorted from them by their ensnaring questions. Nay, even some of the weaker sex were hanged or drowned on this score. But I shall relate the matters of fact as they happened in the order of time.

It was a dreadful affront to the Duke of York to find his holiness treated in such a manner, on that grand festival the 25th of December; and therefore the sycophant managers must not overlook such an indignity.

Accordingly, on the 4th of January, the masters of the college declared their abhorrence of what their scholars had done; and on the 6th, the council commanded the magistrates to order the college gates to be shut, and the classes to be dissolved. About this time several of the students were imprisoned, besides Mr Ridpath, which so exasperated the rest, that it is said, they threatened to burn the provost’s house at Priestfield, because the magistrates, who were patrons of the college, instead of protecting them, had acted violently against them; and in a few days the house of Priestfield was burnt.

Whereupon the council, on the 17th, issued a proclamation, offering 2000 merks and a remission, to any who should discover the actors: but it does not appear that any discovery was made …

The order of time leads me to the case of Isobel Alison and Marion Harvey, two young women, who were executed this month, to the perpetual disgrace of the bloody managers, who could have no acts of what they called rebellion, in the least, to lay to their charge.

When they were taken, I know not. Isobel Alison was apprehended at Perth, where she lived, only for speaking against the severity used to sundry good people there; for they could accuse her of nothing else. Marion Harvey was seized while going one day from Edinburgh to hear sermon in the fields, and was last year before the council. But though they had nothing against these two young women, they were resolved to shed their blood: and therefore upon what they owned at their examination they founded their indictment, and took away their lives. That the reader may have a specimen of the injustice of this period, that afterwards became common, I shall here insert the substance of their examination first before the council, and next before the lords of justiciary.

When Isobel Alison was before the council, she was interrogated as follows:

Q. Can you read the Bible?

A. Yes.

Q. Do you know the duty we owe to the civil magistrate?

A. When the magistrate carrieth the sword for God, according to what the scripture calls for, we owe him all due reverence; but when they overturn the work of God, and set themselves in opposition to him, it is the duty of his servants to execute his laws and ordinances on them.

Q. Do you own the Sanquhar declaration? [a speech disavowing Presbyterian allegiance to the government]

A. I do own it.

Marion Harvey’s examination before the council was upon the same points with that of her fellow-sufferer … Only, among other tilings, they said, Will you cast away yourself so? To which shy replied, I love my life as well as any of you, but would not redeem it upon sinful terms. They said, the rock, the cod and bobbins, were as fit for her to meddle with as those things. They offered her the assistance of ministers, but she would have none of their pro. vidiug

On the 17th of January they were brought before the Lords of Justiciary; for it was the constant practice at this time, the one day to bring such as fell into their hands before the council, and there by ensnaring questions, to bring them into a confession of such things as they accounted treason, and next day to prosecute them before the criminal court. These two women were accused for hearing at field-conventicles, harbouring Messrs Cargill, Cameron, &c. owning the Rutherglen and Sanquhar declarations, &c.

When Isobel Alison was before them, she was examined as follows:

Q. Do you abide by what you said the last day?

A. I am not to deny any thing of it. She owned she had converged with David Hackstoun, and disowned their authority.

Q. Do you disown us and the king’s authority in us?

A. I disown you all because you carry the sword against God, and not for him, and have, these nineteen or twenty years, made it your work to dethrone him, by swearing, year after year, against him and his work, and assuming that power to a human creature which is due to him alone, and have rent the members from their Head, Christ.

… Then they said, Your blood be on your own head, we shall be free of it. She answered, So said Pilate, but it is a question if it was so; and ye have nothing to say against me, but for owning of Christ’s truths and his persecuted members. They made no reply, but desired her to subscribe what she had owned, and, upon her refusing, did it for her.

Marion Harvey, before the justiciary, owned the Sanquhar declaration, &c. and then protested that they had nothing to say against her as to matter of fact; but only that she owned Christ and his truth, his persecuted gospel and members; of which she said, Ye have hanged some, others you have beheaded and quartered quick. To this they said nothing; but called those who were to sit on the jury, who appeared with reluctance. One of them said, He did not desire to be engaged in this matter; but he was obliged: then he desired that the confessions of the two prisoners might be read, because he knew not what they had to say against them. When he was ordered to hold up his hand and swear, he fell a-trembling. The jury being fixed, the confessions were read, and the advocate in a speech, aggravated every particular, in order to prove them guilty of treason. Some of the jury urged that there was no fact proved against them. The advocate said, But treason is fact; and taking himself again, he said, It is true, it is only treason in their judgment, but go on according to our law; and if you will not do it, I will proceed. The jury brought them in guilty on their own confession; however, the passing of the sentence was deferred till the 21st, when they were both condemned to be hanged at the Grassmarket on the 26th.

Meanwhile, on the 20th, the council enlarged the powers of the laird of Meldrum for apprehending those who were in the rebellion. The many searches which were made in consequence of this were most oppresive. The same day the magistrates of Edinburgh were ordered to call all the masters of coffee-houses before them, and obliged them to come under a bond of 5000 merks, to suffer no news-paper to be read in their houses, but such as are approved of by the officers of state.

Next day all the students in the college of Edinburgh were ordered to retire fifteen miles from that place, within twenty four hours, and not to come within these bounds without leave from the council, under the pain of being treated as seditious persons. A fine protestant government, to make such a splutter about burning the pope! But it was decent to compliment his Royal Highness the Duke!

On the 26th, Isobel Alison and Marion Harvey were executed according to their sentence. The reader will find what passed between them and Mr Riddel in the Cloud of Witnesses, together with their respective testimonies. When they were brought from the prison to the council-house, in order to be carried from thence to the place of execution, Marion Harvey said, with a surprising chearfulness and heavenenly transport, Behold, I hear my Moved saying unto me, Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away. When in the council-house, Paterson bishop of Edinburgh (such was the spirit of the man!) said, Marion, you said you never would hear a curate, now you shall be forced to hear one; and immediately ordered one of his suffragans, whom he had prepared for the purpose, to pray. When he began, she said to her fellow-prisoner, Come, Isobel, let us sing the 23d Psalm; which they did, and thereby drowned the curate’s voice, and confounded their persecutors.

Their behaviour on the scaffold is not to be omitted. Isobel having sung the lxxxiv Psalm, and read Mark xvi, cried over the scaffold, and said, Rejoice in the Lord ye righteous; and again, I say, rejoice. She was not suffered to pray till she came to the foot of the ladder. As she went up, she cried out, ‘O be zealous, sirs, be zealous, be zealous! O love the Lord, all ye his servants! O love him; for in his favour is life!’ And added, ‘O ye his enemies, what will ye do? Whither will ye fly in that day? for now there is a dreadful day coming on all the enemies of Jesus Christ. Come out from among them, all ye that are the Lord’s people.’ Then she concluded, ‘Farewell all created comforts; farewell sweet Bible in which I delighted most, and which has been sweet to me since I came to prison; farewell Christian acquaintances. Now into thy hands I commit my spirit, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.’ Then the executioner threw her over.

Marion Harvey likewise sung Psal. lxxxiv. and having read Mal. iii, she said, ‘I am come here to-day for avowing Christ to be Head of his church and King in Zion. O seek him, sirs, seek him and ye shall find him: I sought him and I found him; I held him, and would not let him go.’ Then she rehearsed briefly the heads of her written testimony. Going up the ladder she said, 0 my fair one, my lovely one, come away. And, sitting down on the ladder, she said, ‘I am not come here for murder; for they have no matter of fact to charge me with ; but only by judgment. I am about twenty years of age: at fourteen or fifteen I was a hearer of the curates and indulged; and while I was a hearer of these I was a blasphemer and Sabbath-breaker, and a chapter of the Bible was a burden to me; but since I heard this persecuted gospel, I durst not blaspheme nor break the Sabbath, and the Bible became my delight.’ Upon this the commanding officer called to the executioner to throw her over, which he did accordingly.

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1909: Remy Danvers

Add comment January 26th, 2013 Headsman

On this date in 1909, French double-murderer Remy Danvers was guillotined in Carpentras.


From Le Matin, January 27, 1909.

Danvers, already a career criminal, signed on as a farmhand at age 22 in 1907 — a period when capital punishment in France was in abeyance owing to the presidency of a death penalty opponent who systematically blocked executions.

On February 1, 1908, he shot that farmer dead to steal some money he learned was available in the house … and for good measure shot his wife too, as she begged him on her knees for her life. He got caught trying to dump the burlap-sacked corpses in the Rhone. (Here’s a French-language summary, from the original Le Figaro report.)

Because of the de facto death penalty moratorium, Danvers didn’t sweat his death sentence too much. However, the outrages of the Pollet gang finally restored the guillotine to the French criminal justice scene earlier in January of 1909. Danvers turned out to be the very next victim in its path.

Shortly before the sentence was carried out, the public prosecutor appeared in Danvers’ cell to advise the doomed man of his appeal’s rejection, and the consequent imminent removal of his head. Fortified by rum, a visibly upset Danvers managed to get through it, but execution-starved French folk crowded a scene that authorities attempted to restrict. Someone snapped this photo:

The unruly public, the New York Times opined, “undoubtedly will hasten Parliamentary action toward making future executions private.”

That date was still some years away, but a France increasingly discomfited by its history of public executions did institute laws forbidding attendees from filming or photographing executions. (Those laws didn’t work, but there they were just the same.)

There’s more about Remy Danvers in this guillotine.cultureforum.net thread (French).

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,France,Guillotine,History,Murder,Pelf,Public Executions

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1894: George Painter, Chicago infamous

1 comment January 26th, 2012 Headsman

While there may be serious doubt about the wisdom of capital punishment it is at present imposed by the law of this State, and if it is to be applied in any case then it should be in this … Any man who will live off of the shame of a woman and beat her from time to time as he would a dog, and finally kill her, must expect to suffer the penalty of the law.

-Illinois Gov. John Altgeld denying clemency to George Painter (Jan. 25, 1894)

On this date in 1894, the Land of Lincoln bloodily botched (but ultimately accomplished) the hanging of George Painter.

Painter died for the sordid murder of prostitute-lover-income source Alice Martin.

Painter insisted he was out at the pub when Martin was throttled and bludgeoned to death in their mutual bed, but the timelines left the alibi leaky and a patch of bloodiness on the reprobate’s coat undid him.

Despite swearing his innocence on pains of being “condemned to a flaming hell for all eternity” and winning three gubernatorial reprieves as his appellate lawyers scrounged up sketchy supportive testimony from various lowlifes, matters were pretty solidly against him by the end. So much so that the seemingly-sturdy rope, “of the same coil with which the anarchists were hanged,” snapped jaggedly when Painter was dropped.

The condemned killer’s body carthwheeled from the jolt of the rope’s end, crashing headlong into the concrete floor. Doctors advised that Painter’s neck was broken and life gone or ebbing … and puzzled executioners, unsure what to do with this unusual semi-successful botch, hauled the hemorrhaging near-corpse back up the scaffold, strapped it up, and dropped it again. You can’t be too careful.

We came by this story on the website of Robert Loerzel’s Alchemy of Bones, a wonderful book about another infamous turn-of-the-century Chicago homicide. (Loerzel’s post gives the train-wreck Painter case a much more detailed rubbernecking.)

Although the subject of Loerzel’s book, the immigrant sausage-maker Adolph Luetgert, was not put to death for his trouble, we were thrilled that the author sat down with Executed Today to find out a little bit about how criminal justice looked in Chicago on the eve of the 20th century.

Book CoverET: One of the aspects that you cover in Alchemy of Bones that’s also present in the Painter case is circumstantial evidence of uncertain probative value. What’s a definitive piece of evidence to a late 19th-century juror?

RL: Obviously if we had a time machine and we could go back 100 years and reinvestigate some of these cases with today’s forensic science, I think we would find a lot of cases of miscarriages of justice. It’s hard to tell looking at these cases today when all you have is these newspaper articles and court transcripts. You can look at it with common sense and try to determine from what people are saying whether there might be some element of doubt.

Today there’s been this huge change with the introduction of DNA evidence and we’ve suddenly discovered that a huge number of people on death row or in prison who are innocent. And that has caused a lot of people to question the reliability of eyewitness testimony and the identification of suspects.

All these things — the testimony of witnesses who say they saw something or said, yeah, that’s the guy — that’s what people in the 19th century were being convicted on. We’re talking about an era when even fingerprints weren’t being used yet.

In the Luetgert case one of the key things was that they found some bone fragments. The Luetgert case is one of these rare murder cases where for all intents and purposes there was no body found. We have some of those cases still today where someone is missing; all the circumstances seem to point to the fact that someone is dead. And prosecutors and police face an additional hurdle — they have to persuade a court that a murder actually happened.

With those sorts of cases, you had some bones that were found. The forensic science of the time — you coudn’t run a DNA test on it. Part of the question was, were those bone fragments even human? Is it possible that pig bones or cow bones were found in a sausage factory? Of course it was possible.

The Luetgert trial was one of the first cases which had testimony from anthropologists, which was a pretty new field at the time. They brought in some experts from the Field Museum.

How did that go?

It wasn’t necessarily the greatest start — but it was sort of like the criminal justice system started to take some baby steps toward bringing science into the courtroom.

Later, in the 1920s or 30s, there was a landmark case called Frye. They still today have the Frye rule — when courts look at a witness to determine if he is an expert. In the Luetgert case, they didn’t do that, and it was kind of a carnival. A high school chemistry teacher was one of the people they put on the stand to testify about the bones.

Luetgert’s crime, murdering his wife and dissolving her or possibly stuffing her into the sausages, was so much more infamous than Painter’s. Why didn’t Luetgert get the death penalty?

Then as now, it was somewhat arbitrary which criminals would get the death penalty and which would get a prison sentence.

In Illinois during that era, there were a lot of people convicted of crimes and sent to prison for much less than a life sentence. They had a system there of “indeterminate sentence” where they would sentence someone to a wide range of possible terms, maybe from two years to 50 years; it was really flexible and vague with the idea that it was a more humane way of dealing with criminals.

It probably also put the thought in the minds of jurors that, do we want to put this guy in prison and he might be getting out in a few years?

In the Luetgert case, there was some outrage that if you were going to convict a person of this crime, you have to sentence him to death. Some people thought that they sentenced him to life in prison because, what if his wife is still alive? There were all these stories coming out at the time of the trial where people thought they had seen Mrs. Luetgert.

So there was the thought, what if we hang him and a year later, Mrs. Luetgert shows up?

None of the jurors ever came right out and said it, but it’s possible that that doubt played some role in the decision not to sentence him to death.

Luetgert’s case got national media attention which Painter’s did not. Was it a milestone for that kind of treatment? What was the media landscape for crime reporting at the time?

There were a few other cases during that era, so it’s hard for me to say that this was the first. But it was certainly an early example of a sort of 19th century equivalent of what we experience with, for instance, the O.J. Simpson trial.

Newspapers covered it in great depth. In Chicago they had a dozen newspapers at the time; they would print page after page of transcripts and reports — far more detailed than anything you see in trial coverage in newspapers now.

The prosecutor, who later became Governor of Illinois, had six scrapbook volumes of newspaper coverage, with clips from Los Angeles and Buffalo and Baltimore and New York.

It actually looks like a lot of newspapers around the country did what we today call news aggregating. We complain about sites like the Huffington Post … well, a 19th century newspaper in a small town in Iowa would just publish a huge long excerpt of a story from a Chicago newspaper. And sometimes they would credit it and sometimes they wouldn’t.

Compared to present-day one- and two-paper cities, that’s still quite a difference.

There’s a lot of media out there now. If you look on the web, blogs, news aggregator sites, TV and radio. We still have a lot of media coverage now, it’s just spread out into a lot of different channels.

I was frankly shocked when I was researching how detailed some of the articles were. It helped me as a researcher. Interestingly, the readership included a lot of people who were not necessarily well-educated, yet newspapers wouldn’t hesitate to run page after page of transcripts. Nowadays, I think you’d have an editor saying, “give me 10 inches.”

Having written the book on the case, do you think Luetgert was rightly convicted?

I believe so. More than the forensic testimony, Adolph Luetgert’s behavior after his wife disappeared sort of points to a guilty conscience. He feared that certain people would go to the police and he either offered them jobs or threatened them.

Though this is precisely the sort of fuzzy circumstantial evidence those 19th century juries were acting on.

That’s absolutely true. In some of these cases you look at, what’s the difference between a man acting suspicious and an innocent man being wrongfully accused? There’s some overlap there.

On this day..

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1891: Ramon Lopez, a Spaniard, aged 38 years

Add comment January 26th, 2011 Headsman

“Escaped the Rope”

Los Angeles Time, Oct. 21, 1890

SANTA BARBARA, Oct. 20 — [By the Associated Press.] Mary Dezirello, aged 22 years, was shot and instantly killed this morning at 10 o’clock by Ramon Lopez, a Spaniard, aged 38 years. Lopez has been bothering the girl with his attentions for some time past, and had made threats of violence against her, declaring that if she did not marry him she should not marry anyone.

This morning he called at her father’s residence and called her out to the gate. He wanted to make up with her. She refused to have anything to do with him, when he pulled a big Colt’s revolver and shot her through the body. She died almost instantly. Lopez then shot twice at himself, without effect, and then walked away.

Shortly afterwards an officer came up and went toward Lopez’s house, which is in the same block. Lopez fired three shots at the officer without effect and was then arrested and locked up. Threats of lynching were so strongly made that this afternoon the murderer was taken to Ventura for safe keeping.


“Bound to Hang Him”

Los Angeles Times, Oct. 22, 1890

SANTA BARBARA, Oct. 21 — [By the Associated Press.] A vigilance committee was formed here yesterday to avenge the death of Mary Dezirello, the young girl who was murdered early yesterday morning by Ramon Lopez, because she refused to accept the latter’s attentions. The prisoner was taken to Ventura during the afternoon, but the committee did not believe this and last night over one hundred men visited the County Jail and demanded that Lopez be delivered to them.

The keys were given to the leader and the jail and courthouse searched, but the murdered [sic] was not found. The feeling against Lopez is at fever heat, and it is reported that members of the Vigilance Committee have sworn to hang him. The officers in Ventura feared that the crowd would go there to take the prisoner, and this morning Lopez and Edwardo Espinosa, another Santa Barbara murderer, were placed on a train at Ventura and taken to Los Angeles for safe-keeping.

It is reported here tonight that the mother of the murdered girl is dying on account of the tragedy, and that her father is nearly crazed.


“Last Day on Earth”

Los Angeles Times, Jan. 26, 1891

SANTA BARBARA (Cal.) Jan. 25 — [Special.] This was the last day for Ramon Lopez on this terrestrial sphere. Tomorrow, at some time between the hours of 10 and 3, he will be hanged in the jail-yard here for the murder of pretty Mary Dezirello in October last. Everything is in readiness and the rope has been thoroughly tested. He has spent much of the day in company with a priest.

Sheriff Broughton opened the gates to the jail-yard yesterday and today, and hundreds availed themselves of the opportunity to see a scaffold ready for the hangman. There is considerable suppressed excitement over the event. Lopez eats heartily and is cool and quiet. Several peace officers from adjoining counties are already in the city for the purpose of witnessing the execution.

“Only One Hitch; An Artistic Execution at the Channel City”

Los Angeles Times, Jan. 27, 1891

SANTA BARBARA, Jan. 26 — [Special.] Another life has been snuffed out in obedience to the mandates of the law. Ramon E. Lopez was executed on the gallows here today by the Sheriff of this county in a most expeditious and faultless manner. People who have witnessed a large number of executions say that they never saw anything of the kind so perfectly accomplished.

The sentence of Lopez said that he should be hanged by the neck until dead some time between the hours of 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. of today. Sheriff Broughton had not given out what would be the exact time of the hanging. By 10 o’clock, however, a large number of curious people, including a few women, were on the grounds, some of whom, of course, held permits which were to admit the bearers of the jail yard. About this time it was rumored around that the execution would be at 11 o’clock.

THE FAVORED FEW.

At 10:30 o’clock the gate to the jail inclosure was opened, and the ticket-holders were allowed to pass in one at a time, but before they were permitted to pass under the canvas where the scaffold was erected, each one was required to sign his name in a large blank book, which was kept near the entrance. About one hundred and fifty names were registered in this manner in this manner, which constituted probably three-fourths of those who witnessed the execution. At 10:57 o’clock Sheriff Broughton ascended the platform, and, addressing the crowd below, said: “Gentlemen, I think that a proper respect for the prisoner requires that you should all remove your hats and cease smoking when he comes upon the platform. Please do so from that time until the execution is over.”

THE PRISONER’S APPEARANCE.

The speaker then went down the steps and entered the jail, but reappeared almost immediately afterward, accompanied by the prisoner, two deputies and a Catholic priest. The condemned man was dressed in black, wore a plain black tie and carried aloft a large Roman cross. While crossing the yard to the scaffold the priest read aloud in Spanish an invocation from a small book. Lopez walked with a firm, deliberate tread across the grounds and up the steps. A general murmur went through the crowd of “How cool he is!” “What nerve!”

CONFESSED TO THE PRIEST.

The priest then stepped to the edge of the platform, and, looking down upon the heads below, said in broken English: “This man has confessed to me that he is guilty of the crime for which he is about to be hanged; he says that he deserves the punishment, and wishes me to ask all whom he may have offended, to forgive him; he is ready.”

Lopez’s arms and legs were then tied securely by the deputies. In about one minute the black cap was placed over his head, followed immediately by the fatal rope, and at 11:05 Sheriff Broughton pressed the pedal to the platform with his right foot, the trap door was free, and the condemned

SHOT LIKE AN ARROW

through the aperture beneath him, a distance of six and a half feet, and there he remained suspended for fifteen minutes, during which time not one tremor or convulsion of any kind was discernable. His neck had been dislocated by the fall, and he moved not a muscle.

The body vibrated very slightly but did not turn round, and remained exactly was when it dropped. This was considered very remarkable by the crowd. The knot, which had been placed under the left ear, by some means slipped around almost under the center of the chin.

THE BODY CUT DOWN.

At the end of the time mentioned the corpse was lowered into a coffin and was taken away by a local undertaker. Two physicians took turns testing the heart’s action and one of them reported to the Sheriff that “the prisoner is dead” at the end of the fifteenth minute.

The condemned man uttered not a word during the ordeal of the final preparations. Immediately after he ascended the platform the town clock struck eleven times. Lopez soon after turned his face to the south and upward, and seemed for a moment to

GAZE FULL UPON THE SUN,

which shone in uninterrupted rays upon him. This was his only voluntary act while on the platform, except kissing the cross, which the priest placed to his lips. The rest of the time he stood perfectly still with his eyes closed, and was apparently the most composed man on the platform.


“The Crime and Criminal”

Los Angeles Times, Jan. 27, 1891

SANTA BARBARA, Jan. 26 — [Special.] For days and days almost the sole topic of conversation here among all classes has been the forthcoming execution of Ramon E. Lopez. This was partly the result of the extraordinary nature of his crime, for which he has suffered death, and partly from the fact that it is the first legal execution ever held in the county. During these days of discussion the condemned man has occupied a small cell upstairs in the county jail, under the eyes of the “death watch,” pacing up and down in his small room or lying stretched out on his cot, conversing with the attendants or an occasional visitor, or playing on his favorite instrument — the guitar.

RESIGNED TO HIS FATE.

He was a small, compactly built Spaniard with a typical Castilian face and a very large head which required a 7 1/2 hat. When seen by your correspondent a few days ago he was perfectly calm and collected, and seemed everyway resigned to his impending fate. He was asked if he had any statement for the public, but answered in the negative and added: “The poor girl I loved so well, is gone to her long home; I shall soon go too. I am ready; there is nothing more to be said.”

I learn that Lopez was a man of considerable intellectual attainments, being especially well versed in the history of his own and contemporary nations. He was a natural mechanic of unusual skill. He had worked at the blacksmith’s trade, but of late years was principally engaged in repairing complicated machinery, including watches and clocks. He was born and raised in this city and was 38 years of age. He has relatives in Los Angeles, Ventura and San Jose.

LOPEZ’S CRIME.

The murder he committed was among the most atrocious and inexcusable known to the annals of crime. About 8 o’clock in the morning of October 20, last, he called at the home of his victim in one of the principal residence streets of this city, summoned her to his side, and without even the pretext of a personal quarrel, shot her down on the spot. She was his sweetheart, and they had been engaged to be married. Her parents were opposed to the match and she felt compelled to break off the engagement, and for this she lost her life! Her name was Mary Dezirello, and she was young, beautiful, and accomplished.

WANTED TO LYNCH HIM.

The reading public will probably remember the frantic attempts of a mob which came near lynching the murderer, and of his being spirited away by the officers to Ventura, and later to Los Angeles, in order to save his neck. He remained in the Los Angeles County Jail for a month and was then returned to this city. He was tried in December last and promptly convicted of murder in the first degree, the jury occupying only twenty minutes in finding a verdict.

ANOTHER VICTIM.

But this was not his only crime. He killed Henry Heldt in Los Angeles in 1883, in a row at a dance, and got three years at San Quentin for manslaughter, but was pardoned out a few years since by Gov. Stoneman. Lopez has not been guilty of any of the smaller vices so common to murderers. On the contrary, he has generally led a quiet, peaceable and industrious life, but has always been known to possess an ungovernable temper.

THE SOLACE OF RELIGION.

During the last few days of his life he was under the almost constant tutorage of his father confessor. His prison life has otherwise been quiet and uneventful. A few Christian ladies did, occasionally, visit him and pray and sing in his presence. He was always attentive and respectful to them, and generally asked them to return again. There has been a notable lack of that sickly sentimentality in his case so often displayed by the morbid and curious. It may be worth while to state that after the murder, and before he left the spot, Lopez fired two shots over his own head as if to take his own life; but he seems to have exercised considerable caution in doing so, since neither of the shots took effect.

A STRANGE ADVERTISEMENT.

A few days before the killing this extraordinary notice appeared over Lopez’s signature in one of the local papers:

All those desiring to marry a certain girl might be on the lookout, as their steps, manners and customs will be made known through the press next week in a historical point of view.

This was no doubt meant for a threat against any gentleman who might sue for the girl’s hand in marriage.

THE INSTRUMENT OF DEATH.

The scaffold, which was erected in a corner of the jail yard, has been ready since Friday last, and has been viewed by hundreds of people who were admitted to the premises by the Sheriff. The framework and platform of this scaffold was made in San Bernardino several years ago and its first service was in the case of the murderer McDowell, about the year 1883. Since that time it has done yeoman’s service in “removing” Silvas and Martinez in Los Angeles. It was also got in readiness to add dramatic effect to the taking off of one [Fritz] Anschlag, but that accomplished butcher chose his own method of quitting the earth, and cheated this useful instrument. It was shipped here from Los Angeles several days ago, and althrough it looks a little scarred and weather-beaten, seems sufficient for much substantial service in behalf of good society yet.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,California,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Murder,Sex,USA

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1996: John Albert Taylor, the last American to face a firing squad

8 comments January 26th, 2010 Headsman

Moments past midnight on this date in 1996 five anonymous marksmen fired four .30-.30 caliber rounds (one rifle had blanks, a balm to the shooters’ consciences) into the heart of Utah rapist John Albert Taylor: the last use to date of a firing squad in the United States. (Update: Not anymore.)

Actually, he’s the only person put to death by shooting under the modern American death penalty regime besides Gary Gilmore.

Like Gilmore, Taylor voluntarily dropped his appeals and sought his own execution for the 1989 rape-murder of Charla Nicole King. A confidante would later reveal that health problems led him to do so in preference to the feared alternative of dying alone in his cell.

As he chose death, so he chose the method: not a clinical, forgettable lethal injection, but the discomfiting tableau of the target pinned over his heart, the protective sandbags stacked up behind him, and the tray of blood beneath the chair he was strapped into. Taylor said he wanted to make a statement. (And that he feared “flipping around like a fish out of water” on an injection gurney, his other option in Utah.)

The reclusive Taylor denied the crime to the end, but never found many takers for the story he was selling — that he’d just so happened to leave his fingerprints on the phone cord later used to strangle the prepubescent girl in the course of committing an unrelated robbery. It didn’t help that Taylor had raped his own sister when she was 12.

For the national and international media circus — British, Australian, Japanese, German, Italian, French, and Spanish media all represented — the story was the anachronistic method of execution, right out of the Wild West.

That story doesn’t have many rounds left in the chamber, as it were. In 2004, Utah succumbed to pressure to change its execution method to lethal injection alone. Though the firing squad is technically on the books in Idaho (at the discretion of the state, not the prisoner) and Oklahoma (as a backup option to lethal injection), it’s vanishingly unlikely to be used in either state.* That leaves just a few of the pre-2004 Utah prisoners grandfathered into the option to supplant John Albert Taylor for the distinction of suffering the last firing squad execution in American history.


That’s a “last,” but given our bloggy medium, we would be remiss not to notice a milestone “first” that also attended Taylor’s death.

According to the Deseret News (Jan. 26, 1996), the ACLU sponsored an America Online chat with anti-death penalty actor Mike Farrell during the hours leading up to and following this execution — “the first-ever death-penalty vigil in cyberspace.”

* Predominantly Mormon Utah has been the firing squad’s last redoubt thanks to the sect’s “blood atonement” theology. (As seen in its pioneer days.) According to the Espy file (pdf) of historical U.S. executions, the last American execution by shooting not to occur in the state of Utah was that of Andriza Mircovich in Nevada back in 1913. (Oklahoma used the firing squad routinely in the 19th century.)

Part of the Daily Double: Throwback Executions.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Milestones,Murder,Rape,Sex,Shot,USA,Utah,Volunteers

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