1453: Stefano Porcari

Add comment January 9th, 2019 Edward Gibbon

(Thanks to the estimable historian Edward Gibbon for this guest post on the humanist Stefano Porcari, who aspired to follow the revolutionary trail of the previous century’s great tribune of the people Cola di Rienzi … and did follow Rienzi’s fate. Compare with the account of Machiavelli in History of Florence, who remarks that “though some may applaud his intentions, he must stand charged with deficiency of understanding; for such undertakings, though possessing some slight appearance of glory, are almost always attended with ruin.” -ed.)

It is an obvious truth, that the times must be suited to extraordinary characters, and that the genius of Cromwell or Retz might now expire in obscurity.

The political enthusiasm of Rienzi had exalted him to a throne; the same enthusiasm, in the next century, conducted his imitator to the gallows.

The birth of Stephen Porcaro was noble, his reputation spotless: his tongue was armed with eloquence, his mind was enlightened with learning; and he aspired, beyond the aim of vulgar ambition, to free his country and immortalize his name.

Spirto gentil, che quelle membra reggi

Gentle spirit, that rules those members
in which a pilgrim lives,
a brave lord, shrewd and wise,
now you have taken up the ivory sceptre
with which you punish Rome and her wrongdoers,
and recall her to her ancient ways,
I speak to you, because I see no other ray
of virtue that is quenched from the world,
nor do I find men ashamed of doing wrong.
I don’t know what Italy expects or hopes for,
she seems not to feel her trouble,
old, lazy, slow,
will she sleep forever, no one to wake her?
I should grasp her by the hair with my hand.

I’ve no hope she’ll ever move her head
in lazy slumber whatever noise men make,
so heavily is she oppressed and by such a sleep:
not without the destiny in your right hand,
that can shake her fiercely and waken her,
now the guide of our Rome.
Set your hand to her venerable locks
and scattered tresses with firmness,
so that this sluggard might escape the mire.
I who weep for her torment day and night,
place the greater part of my hopes in you:
for if the people of Mars
ever come to lift their eyes to true honour,
I think that grace will touch them in your days.

Those ancient walls the world still fears and loves
and trembles at, whenever it recalls
past times and looks around,
and those tombs that enclose the dust
of those who will never lack fame
until the universe itself first dissolves,
and all is involved in one great ruin,
trust in you to heal all their ills.
O famous Scipios, o loyal Brutus,
how pleased you must be, if the rumour has yet
reached you there, of this well-judged appointment!
I think indeed Fabricius
will be delighted to hear the news!
And will say: ‘My Rome will once more be beautiful!’

And if Heaven cares for anything down here,
the souls, that up there are citizens,
and have abandoned their bodies to earth,
pray you to put an end to civil hatred,
that means the people have no real safety:
so the way to their temples that once
were so frequented is blocked, and now
they have almost become thieves’ dens in this strife,
so that their doors are only closed against virtue,
and amongst the altars and the naked statues
they commit every savage act.
Ah what alien deeds!
And no assault begun without a peal of bells
that were hung on high in thanks to God.

Weeping women, the defenceless children
of tender years, and the wearied old
who hate themselves and their burdened life,
and the black friars, the grey and the white,
with a crowd of others troubled and infirm,
cry: ‘O Lord, help us, help us.’
And the poor citizens dismayed
show you their wounds, thousand on thousands,
that Hannibal, no less, would pity them.
And if you gaze at the mansion of God
that is all ablaze today, if you stamped out
a few sparks, the will would become calm,
that shows itself so inflamed,
then your work would be praised to the skies.

Bears, wolves, lions, eagles and serpents
commit atrocities against a great
marble column, and harm themselves by it.
Because this gentle lady grieves at it,
she calls to you that you may root out
those evil plants that will never flower.
For more than a thousand years now
she has lacked those gracious spirits
who had placed her where she was.
Ah, you new people, proud by any measure,
lacking in reverence for such and so great a mother!
You, be husband and father:
all help is looked for from your hands,
for the Holy Father attends to other things.

It rarely happens that injurious fortune
is not opposed to the highest enterprises,
when hostile fate is in tune with ill.
But now clearing the path you take,
she makes me pardon many other offences,
being out of sorts with herself:
so that in all the history of the world
the way was never so open to a mortal man
to achieve, as you can, immortal fame,
by helping a nobler monarchy, if I
am not mistaken, rise to its feet.
What glory will be yours, to hear:
‘Others helped her when she was young and strong:
this one saved her from death in her old age.’

On the Tarpeian Rock, my song, you’ll see
a knight, whom all Italy honours,
thinking of others more than of himself.
Say to him: ‘One who has not seen you close to,
and only loves you from your human fame,
tells you that all of Rome
with eyes wet and bathed with sorrow,
begs mercy of you from all her seven hills.’

-Verse no. 53 from this English translation of Petrarch

The dominion of priests is most odious to a liberal spirit: every scruple was removed by the recent knowledge of the fable and forgery of Constantine’s donation; Petrarch was now the oracle of the Italians; and as often as Porcaro revolved the ode which describes the patriot and hero of Rome, he applied to himself the visions of the prophetic bard.

His first trial of the popular feelings was at the funeral of Eugenius the Fourth: in an elaborate speech he called the Romans to liberty and arms; and they listened with apparent pleasure, till Porcaro was interrupted and answered by a grave advocate, who pleaded for the church and state.

By every law the seditious orator was guilty of treason; but the benevolence of the new pontiff [Pope Nicholas V -ed.], who viewed his character with pity and esteem, attempted by an honorable office to convert the patriot into a friend.

The inflexible Roman returned from Anagni with an increase of reputation and zeal; and, on the first opportunity, the games of the place Navona, he tried to inflame the casual dispute of some boys and mechanics into a general rising of the people.

Yet the humane Nicholas was still averse to accept the forfeit of his life; and the traitor was removed from the scene of temptation to Bologna, with a liberal allowance for his support, and the easy obligation of presenting himself each day before the governor of the city.

But Porcaro had learned from the younger Brutus, that with tyrants no faith or gratitude should be observed: the exile declaimed against the arbitrary sentence; a party and a conspiracy were gradually formed: his nephew, a daring youth, assembled a band of volunteers; and on the appointed evening a feast was prepared at his house for the friends of the republic. Their leader, who had escaped from Bologna, appeared among them in a robe of purple and gold: his voice, his countenance, his gestures, bespoke the man who had devoted his life or death to the glorious cause.

In a studied oration, he expiated on the motives and the means of their enterprise; the name and liberties of Rome; the sloth and pride of their ecclesiastical tyrants; the active or passive consent of their fellow-citizens; three hundred soldiers, and four hundred exiles, long exercised in arms or in wrongs; the license of revenge to edge their swords, and a million of ducats to reward their victory. It would be easy, (he said,) on the next day, the festival of the Epiphany, to seize the pope and his cardinals, before the doors, or at the altar, of St. Peter’s; to lead them in chains under the walls of St. Angelo; to extort by the threat of their instant death a surrender of the castle; to ascend the vacant Capitol; to ring the alarm bell; and to restore in a popular assembly the ancient republic of Rome.

While he triumphed, he was already betrayed.

The senator, with a strong guard, invested the house: the nephew of Porcaro cut his way through the crowd; but the unfortunate Stephen was drawn from a chest, lamenting that his enemies had anticipated by three hours the execution of his design.

After such manifest and repeated guilt, even the mercy of Nicholas was silent. Porcaro, and nine of his accomplices, were hanged without the benefit of the sacraments; and, amidst the fears and invectives of the papal court, the Romans pitied, and almost applauded, these martyrs of their country. But their applause was mute, their pity ineffectual, their liberty forever extinct; and, if they have since risen in a vacancy of the throne or a scarcity of bread, such accidental tumults may be found in the bosom of the most abject servitude.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 15th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Guest Writers,Hanged,History,Italy,Martyrs,Other Voices,Papal States,Power,Public Executions,Revolutionaries

Tags: , , , , , ,

1864: Luke Charles, ex-policeman

Add comment January 9th, 2018 Headsman

From the Birmingham Daily Post of January 11, 1864:

On Saturday, at noon, the ex-policeman, Luke Charles, who was sentenced to death at the recent Liverpool Assizes, for the murder of his wife, suffered the extreme penalty of the law at Kirkdale Gaol, in the presence of a very large concourse of spectators, numbering, it is stated, some 6,000. An unsuccessful effort had been made to get a mitigation of Charles’s sentence, and on Thursday the result of the application to the Home Secretary was made known to him by the Rev. Mr. Gibson, his spiritual adviser. Charles manifested neither disappointment nor depression of spirits, but merely remarked that he never expected the exertions of his friends would be successful. He seemed quite resigned to his fate, and had, to all appearances, been earnest in his preparations for eternity. His brother, whom he had not seen for fourteen years, and who saw the account of his trial in the news-papers, visited him on Sunday last, and the meeting is said to have been one of a most affecting nature. The wretched man slept well on Friday night, and partook heartily of the prison breakfast the next morning. He seemed perfectly self-possessed, and received the holy Sacrament at the hands of his spiritual adviser. He made no open confession, and if he did make any it was in the Confessional, the secrets of which are but rarely disclosed. At noon, the hour fixed for the execution, he walked firmly on to the scaffold, but his face was very pale, and his eyes were closed He died almost immediately the bolt was withdrawn by the executioner (Calcraft). The crowd maintained great quietude.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,Murder

Tags: , , ,

1824: John Thurtell, the Radlett murderer

1 comment January 9th, 2017 Headsman

They cut his throat from ear to ear,
His head they battered in.
His name was Mr William Weare,
He lived in Lyons Inn.

At noon this date in 1824, upon a fresh-built black gallows adjoining Hertford Prison, John Thurtell hanged for one of regency England’s most infamous crimes.

Son of the Norwich mayor, John Thurtell was rubbish with money and had twice crashed his bombazine business into insolvency while stiffing his creditors. (John’s brother Tom served time for defrauding an insurance company with a suspicious warehouse fire.)

But these were merely business matters.

When Thurtell fell into a £300 gambling debt to thanks to Weare’s cheating at cards, maybe it was a matter of honor. Thurtell invited the Lyon’s Inn barrister to a gaming piss-up at Thurtell’s cottage in the village of Radlett. They’d be joined by Thurtell’s mates Joseph Hunt and William Probert, “Turpin lads” in Thurtell’s estimation.

Just short of their destination, on a street later to be known as “Murder Lane”, Thurtell shot Weare in the face. The shot scored only a glancing hit against his victim’s cheekbone, but Thurtell was in for a penny, in for a pound: he tackled the fleeing Weare, opened his throat from ear to ear, and pistol-whipped his skull into bloody-brained bits.

Whatever malice aforethought had moved Thurtell to this vengeful crime did not contain near enough calculation. “The whole history of the murder, and the scenes which ensued, are strange pictures of desperate and short-sighted wickedness,” Sir Walter Scott marveled.

Abandoning the gun at the scene — it was one of a paired set of which Thurtell owned the other — the killer and his friends hauled the corpse to a nearby pond, then proceeded unperturbed to the night’s revelry fresh from homicide, even donning Weare’s own clothes in subsequent days.

Worst of all from the perfect-crime standpoint, Thurtell had undertaken the crime himself (openly popping off, per the subsequent court record, “if Weare comes down, I will do him, for he has done me out of several hundred pounds”) and his companions turned on him when the investigation inevitably bore down on them. Probert went crown’s evidence immediately in exchange for immunity, even leading authorities to the body; Hunt stalled and lied for a while, but cracked soon enough.

To the nationwide outrage at this shocking callousness among obnoxious society rakes was added the whiff of scandal about Thurtell’s involvement in “the Fancy” — the semi-illicit sport of amateur boxing.

Frequented then as now both by underworld elements and society gentlemen, boxing was officially illegal but widely celebrated and openly advertised without much fear of police intervention. At the same time, the burgeoning sport — with its naked brutality, more-than-occasional fatalities, multiracial proletarian cast, and associations with various unsavory characters, had ample moral-panic potential. The Fancy, said a judge in 1803,

draws industrious people away from the subject of their industry; and when great multitudes are so collected, they are likely enough to be engaged in broils. It affords an opportunity for people of the most mischievous disposition to assemble, under the colour of seeing this exhibition, and to do a great deal of mischief; in short, it is a practice that is extremely injurious in every respect and must be repressed.

But many of his peers were there in the audience, laying their own mischievous wagers.

As magistrates it may have been their duty to discountenance, but as county gentleman it was their privilege to support, the noble champions of the art, especially when they had their money on the event.

Thurtell, briefly an amateur pugilist himself, was a trainer and promoter on the boxing circuit.


Detail view (click for full image) of “A correct view of the execution, taken on the spot by an eminent artist.” (Source)

Thurtell was anatomized after execution; a wax likeliness of the hated murderer stood in Madame Tussaud’s until the 1970s.

As for Thurtell’s confederates: Joseph Hunt’s cooperation was sufficient to cop a last-second commutation of his death sentence; he was transported to Australia instead. William Probert completely avoided prosecution thanks to his expeditious turn to crown’s evidence, but the career criminal (now practically disbarred from honest labor by dint of his nationwide infamy) found himself in hangman Foxen‘s hands not long thereafter for stealing a horse.

The foreman of the jury that convicted Thurtell went on to become the Prime Minister.

And Thurtell’s victim Weare did his own posthumous bit for the annals of English publishing when a printer multiplied its customary revenue stream on a Thurtell gallows broadsheet with a second edition headed “WE ARE alive”. Printed in such a way to intentionally make the first two words appear to read “WEARE”, its handsome sales to the gullible allegedly originated the term “catchpenny”.

There are a number of 19th century accounts of this case available in the public domain, including here, here and here.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Athletes,Businessmen,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,History,Murder,Notable Participants,Pelf,Public Executions

Tags: , , , , , ,

1899: Bailer Decker, Theodore Roosevelt’s first

Add comment January 9th, 2016 Headsman

This report of the New York Times, Jan. 10, 1899, concerns the forgettable murderer whose electrocution was approved on his first day in office by New York’s new governor — Theodore Roosevelt, soon to become President of the United States.

SING SING, N.Y., Jan. 9 — Bailer Decker, the negro wife murderer of Tottenville, Staten Island, died to-day in the electric chair in Sing Sing Prison. The curren was twice turned on, each time with a voltage of 1,780. He was pronounced dead five minutes after the first shock.

Decker met death without flinching. Just before he started from his cell to the execution room he requested of Warden Sage that the other four murderers in the condemned cells be permitted to sing “Comrades.” The Warden granted the request, and Decker joined in the singing with a clear tenor voice.

The witnesses to the execution included H.F. Bridges, Warden of the Massachusetts State Prison, at Charlestown. That State, it is said, is likely to adopt the electric chair. Mr. Bridges expressed himself as pleased with the method of the execution.*

The crime for which Decker was executed was the murder of his wife, a white woman, on May 25 last. Decker was an oysterman, but spent much of his time in saloons. He was jealous, and shot the woman while in a drunken rage. He then fired a bullet into his own abdomen with suicidal intent.

* Indeed, Massachusetts did adopt the electric chair in 1900: it would eventually use this device to kill Sacco and Vanzetti in 1927.

On this day..

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

Tags: , , , , , ,

1945: Karolina Juszczykowska, who couldn’t say no

1 comment January 9th, 2015 Meaghan

(Thanks to Meaghan Good of the Charley Project for the guest post. -ed.)

On this date in 1945, Polish Gentile Karolina Juszczykowska was executed at the prison in Frankfurt am Main for her attempt to save two Jewish men in Tomaschow, Poland, the previous year. She was 46 years old.

The people she tried to rescue have never been identified; only their first names, Paul and Janek, are known. According to Karolina, she met them on the street and they offered her 300 zloty a week to hide them. She kept them in her home and locked them inside when she went off to work during the day; they slept on the floor at night.

The arrangement lasted only about six weeks before they were betrayed.

The Gestapo raided Karolina’s home on July 23, 1944 and found Janek and Paul hiding in the cellar. Karolina was arrested and the two men were summarily executed.

Karolina emphasized that she only took them in because she needed the money to support herself. The judges who presided over her case seemed to believe her and, although they issued the mandatory death sentence, recommended clemency, writing, “The accused is in a difficult financial situation and succumbed to the temptation to improve her life.”

Karolina was indeed poor. “I have no assets,” she said in her statement to the police, “and don’t expect to have any in the future.” She’d worked menial jobs her whole life: farm work, construction, domestic service, and most recently in the kitchens of Organization Todt, the Third Reich’s civil and military engineering division. She had never been to school and was completely illiterate; she signed her police statement with three crosses.

But, as Yad Vashem points out when writing of her case, no matter what she said, it’s highly unlikely that Karolina Juszczykowska’s reasons for hiding Jews were primarily mercenary.

The wartime Polish economy had shattered, inflation had soared, and 300 zlotys wouldn’t have even been enough to cover the costs of feeding two extra people. No rational person would risk her life for that — the sentence for a Pole caught helping Jews was nearly always death.

What, then, motivated our Gentile rescuer?

Psychologist and filmmaker Eva Fogelman wrote a book called Conscience and Courage: Rescuers of Jews During the Holocaust, wherein she examines the many and various motivations of rescuers. “Many rescuers,” she writes,

found it impossible to explain to anyone who did not live through those times why they acted as they did. In war, there were no rules. The familiar seemed strange, and the bizarre seemed normal. In retrospect, rescuers’ behavior, in some instances, was not understandable even to them. How could they have endangered their families? How could they have done what they did or said what they said?

In Fogelman’s estimation, many rescuers were motivated by simple morality, either of a religious or purely personal kind.

Moral rescuers had a strong sense of who they were and what they were about. Their values were self-sustaining, not dependent on the approval of others. To them, what mattered most was behaving in a way that maintained their integrity. The bystanders who ultimately became rescuers knew that unless they took action, people would die …moral rescuers typically launched their rescuing activity only after being asked to help or after an encounter with suffering and death that awakened their consciences. Scenes of Nazi brutality touched their inner core and activated their moral values … For the most part, when asked for help, moral rescuers could not say no.

We will never know for sure, but it could have happened like this: In 1943, Karolina, while working for Todt, either witnessed or heard about the liquidation of the Tomaschow Ghetto and the accompanying violence and brutality. Most of the ghetto’s Jews were sent to Treblinka in January 1943; the last few hundred were taken away in May. Janek and Paul went into hiding and managed to stay off the radar for a year or so, but by the time they met Karolina they’d been run to ground and were desperate. They asked for her help. She couldn’t say no.

Although Karolina’s judges recommended she be pardoned, the death sentence was carried out anyway. There were no survivors and all we know about this case comes from court documents. But her sacrifice did not go unnoticed.

On May 17, 2011, over 65 years after her death, Israel recognized Karolina Juszczykowska as Righteous Among the Nations, its official honorific for Gentiles who aided Jews during the Holocaust.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Concentration Camps,Death Penalty,Execution,Germany,Guest Writers,History,Occupation and Colonialism,Other Voices,Poland,Wartime Executions,Women

Tags: , , , , , ,

1386: The Sow of Falaise, seeing justice done

13 comments January 9th, 2013 Headsman

There exists a receipt for January 9, 1386, in which the executioner of Falaise, France, acknowledges payment of ten sous and ten deniers

for his efforts and salary for having dragged and then hanged at the [place of] Justice in Falaise a sow of approximately three years of age who had eaten the face of the child of Jonnet le Macon, who was in his crib & who was approximately three months old, in such a way that the said infant died from [the injuries], and [an additional] ten s. tournoise for a new glove when the Hangman performed the said execution: this receipt is given to Regnaud Rigaut, Vicomte de Falaise; the Hangman declares that he is well satisfied with this sum and that he makes no further claims on the King our Sire and the said Vicomte.

From this tiny kernel of primary documentation — the only primary source that exists — an impressive legend has grown up around the “Sow of Falaise”. It’s been alleged by subsequent interlocuters that the condemned sow was dressed up as a person for execution, that other pigs were made to attend in order to take warning by their swinish sister’s fate, and even that the incident became so famous as to merit depiction in a church fresco.


The supposed fresco has been whitewashed, but Arthur Mangin’s L’Homme et la Bete (1872) took a stab at reconstructing it.

This bizarre scenario can’t help but raise the question for we later observers — just what was the objective in trying and “executing” a farm animal? Did the human supporting cast to this scene not feel itself ridiculous?


Scene from The Hour of the Pig.

Book CoverAccording to Paul Friedland‘s research for his fascinating recent survey of public executions, Seeing Justice Done: The Age of Spectacular Capital Punishment in France, the subsequent embroideries around the Sow of Falaise have no basis in fact. They were simply made up … or rather, they were interpolations of authors who were baffled as we to see a sow hoisted on a gibbet.

“Punishment may be about many things, but in the last instance, we citizens of the modern world have an almost visceral need to believe that it is primarily about one thing: deterrence,” Friedland opines.

“The punishment of a pig for murder violates our modern understanding of the essential purpose of punishment because it punishes an animal, which we ordinarily do not believe to be capable of criminal intent, and because it does not lend itself very well to the principle of exemplary deterrence.” The tale’s evolution in later centuries “allowed an incomprehensible anecdote from the past to fit neatly into the modern paradigm of penal deterrence.”

Well, the past is a foreign country. They do things differently there.

Seeing Justice Done situates that murderous pig within an unfolding saga of penal theory and practice stretching from the Roman Empire to the 20th century. And while Friedland’s study focuses on France in particular, the historical threads he teases out will look familiar much further afield.

We had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Friedland about his book recently, and we’re pleased to present it here not in our customary Q&A form, but as Executed Today‘s debut podcast. The mediocre sound quality is on me, but Dr. Friedland’s insights are more than worth it. (Unlike your host, Friedland is a podcasting natural; catch him in a July 2012 episode of the New Books In Human Rights podcast.)


Trouble seeing the podcast player? Access the interview on podbean.

Other executions referenced in this podcast: Christ | the brutal 1757 execution of Damiens | Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette | the filmed 1939 execution of Eugen Weidmann | the last execution in France ever | Saddam Hussein‘s filmed hanging

(n.b. the intro/outtro music is Blind Lemon Jefferson‘s “‘Lectric Chair Blues”, a 1928 recording now in the public domain.)

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 14th Century,Animals,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,France,Hanged,History,Murder,Notable Jurisprudence,Other Voices,Podcasts,Popular Culture,Public Executions

Tags: , , , , ,

1900: Louisa Josephine Jemima Masset

5 comments January 9th, 2012 Meaghan

(Thanks to Meaghan Good of the Charley Project for the guest post. -ed.)

On this day in 1900, 36-year-old Louisa Josephine Jemima Masset (also called “Louise” in some accounts) was hung for the murder of her young son the previous year. She was the first woman, indeed the first person, to be executed in London in the brand spanking new 1900s.

Her crime, even by today’s standards, was shocking and there is little doubt that had it occurred today, Louisa would be featured on blogs with names like People You’ll See In Hell. (Actually, she got a TV miniseries in the early 1990s.)

The story of the murder and Louisa’s trial and death were recorded in detail in John J. Eddleston’s A Century of London Murders and Executions. Capital Punishment U.K. provides additional details, and the trial records can be seen here.

Our story begins a little after six on Friday, October 27, 1899, when a lady at the Dalston Junction train station in London found the body of a small boy shoved behind the door to the women’s lavatory. The child was naked, bloody and partially covered with a black shawl, and a bloodstained brick lay nearby.


Dalston Junction: Mind the gap. (cc) image from Matt From London

The post-mortem determined that the child had been beaten “with much violence” on the head and face, but the actual cause of death was suffocation. He probably died only about an hour or two before his body was found. There was no indication of his identity, so his description was published in the newspapers with hopes that someone would recognize him.

Someone did: the following Monday, a children’s nurse named Helen Eliza Gentle came forward and identified the murdered boy as Manfred Louis Masset, age three and a half, who had been in her charge until the previous Friday.

Manfred was illegitimate and had been in Helen Gentle’s care since shortly after birth. Louisa, his mother, doesn’t seem to have been the maternal type. She paid 37 shillings a month for his care and would visit him once every two weeks and take him to the park. The money supposedly came from Manfred’s father in France; Louisa herself earned a living as a day governess and gave piano lessons.

The arrangement with Helen Gentle ended when Louisa told Helen that she was sending Manfred to France to be with his father. Helen handed the child over to her at 12:45 p.m. on October 27, only hours before his death.


The day before giving him up, Helen Gentle took this picture of the tot to remember him by.

When she was tracked down at her brother-in-law’s house, Louisa denied having harmed her son and stated she didn’t even know he was dead until she read about it in the newspaper. She admitted the story about taking Manfred to France a lie and said she only wanted to transfer him to another carer, as she thought Nurse Gentle wasn’t educating him properly. Louisa claimed she had met two women, one of them a schoolmistress, in the park a few weeks earlier. She arranged to enroll Manfred for the price of £18 per annum, and handed the little boy over on October 27.

When pressed, however, Louisa couldn’t remember much about these women or their school. The police smelled a rat and took her into custody for murder.

At Louisa’s trial in December, she stuck to her story about giving Manfred to a schoolmistress. She said she’d handed him over at the train station at 4:00 p.m., along with a £12 deposit towards his school tuition, then took the 4:07 train to Brighton. No one at the station saw the two women Louisa described. However, three witnesses at the train station remembered seeing Louisa and Manfred, who was crying, hanging about the station for over an hour on the afternoon of Manfred’s death: one of those same witnesses saw and spoke to Louisa at the station at 6:50 p.m., nearly two hours after Louisa claimed to have left, and said her little boy wasn’t with her anymore.

The icing on the cake was when the brick used to batter Manfred was shown to be same kind as those in Louisa’s garden.

Louisa’s story was partially true; she did go to Brighton that day, hours later than she said, and Manfred’s clothes turned up in the waiting room of the train station there. Eudor Lucas, Louisa’s next-door neighbor, said they had spent the weekend together in Brighton, sleeping in the same bed, and he had “had connection” with her.

The jury must have been outraged by their blatantly immoral behavior, and in any case the evidence against Louisa was overwhelming. The jury got the case on December 18 and took thirty minutes to convict her. She was hung just three weeks later.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Guest Writers,Hanged,History,Murder,Other Voices,Women

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

2010: Six drug traffickers in Isfahan

1 comment January 9th, 2011 Headsman

On this date in 2010, Iran hanged six in Isfahan for drug trafficking.

According to the prosecutor — the partisan voice so often the only one audible from our distance —

Five of these people were members of an organized narcotics smugling league. They used false ID cards and cars with logos belonging to the revolutionary guards (IRGC) and security forces for drug smugling. The sixth person had previously been jailed for drug trafficking and was this time arrested with 38 kilograms of opium.

Iran’s use of the death penalty, liberal in any circumstances, ramped up significantly in 2010 in the aftermath of the near-insurrectionary protests that rocked the Islamic Republic after its dubious 2009 election.

Though Iran took, and in some cases hanged, election protesters, most of its executions have been of conventional criminals … although it’s difficult to differentiate, because Iran is also known to announce more palatable drug-trafficking charges against people who are actually political prisoners.

Under either rubric, the pace alone of those executions has conveyed a terrible message from Tehran.

Part of the Themed Set: 2010.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Drugs,Execution,Hanged,Iran,Known But To God,Mass Executions,Organized Crime

Tags: , , ,

1953: Marguerite Pitre, the last woman hanged in Canada

4 comments January 9th, 2010 Headsman

Thirty-five minutes past midnight this date in 1953, the 13th and last woman executed in Canada, Marguerite Pitre, was hanged in Montreal’s Bourdeaux gaol.

Pitre was condemned an accomplice to Albert Guay in the latter’s 1949 airline bombing, which killed 23 people just to get rid of Mrs. Guay.

The “dark and buxom go-between in Guay’s affair”* with a teenage waitress had rented Guay a room to install the nymphet when the girl’s father got wise to the frolicking and kicked her out of the house.

Pitre actually testified against Albert Guay in his trial, describing how she bought dynamite at his instruction and delivered a “mystery parcel” to the air freight on the doomed plane.

In fact, she helped blow open the case at the outset by attempting suicide 10 days after the crime and blabbing in the hospital how Albert had made her do it. Pitre insisted, though, that her own involvement was unintentional, and that she thought the box held a statue even though it was her own brother who had fashioned the explosives into a time bomb.

But after Guay’s conviction, both Pitre and her brother were arrested and separately tried for the plot themselves — both of them to follow Guay to the gallows for the audacious crime.

* Chicago Tribune, Jan. 9, 1953.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,France,Hanged,History,Milestones,Murder,Women

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

1980: Islamic extremists for the Grand Mosque seizure

15 comments January 9th, 2009 Headsman

At dawn this date in 1980, the kingdom of Saudi Arabia publicly beheaded over 60 Islamic extremists who had seized Mecca’s holy Al-Masjid al-Haram the preceding November — one of the formative and strangely forgotten events in the birth of radical Islam.

Saudi Arabia’s uneven but unmistakable modernization generated friction extending to the royal family itself.

On November 20, 1979, with 100,000-plus pilgrims bustling in Islam’s holiest shrine on the hajj, a few hundred multinational messianic militants took it over with a cache of smuggled firearms.

For two embarrassing weeks, the Saudi government struggled to respond, bumbling a couple of military operations and delicately negotiating the ecclesiastical permission it would require to commit violence within the Grand Mosque. (Strict Moslim prohibitions against same had left the kingdom’s unarmed guards essentially defenseless against the initial takeover.)

In exchange for that fatwa, the House of Saud struck a Faustian bargain: agreeing to roll back secularization and impose strict Islamic law.

The balance of military materiel, of course, would prove to be no contest at all; Riyadh had troops, heavy armament, and now, permission to use them (and to damage the mosque … which they did). Most of the Mahdists were slain in the decisive assault; the survivors* (except for a few who were underage) were publicly beheaded in various cities around Saudi Arabia on this date, including the operation’s leader, Juhayman al-Otaibi.

But their deed — second-tier news at the time in a United States distracted by the Iranian Revolution — would have dramatic long-term repurcussions. Though intimations of deeper bin Laden family involvement** seem sketchy, it certainly appears to have inspired the 22-year-old Osama bin Laden; he soon made his way to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan, a war that began in earnest just days after the end of the siege and to whose prosecution Saudi Arabia and the west would gratefully direct Islamist energies.

Meanwhile, the Saudi government’s pact with the clergy that gained it permission to assail the Grand Mosque saw it subsequently bankroll Wahhabi religious instruction in Saudi Arabia and beyond … arguably the hand that rocked the cradle of present-day Islamic radical movements like al-Qaeda.

Much of what is latterly recalled about this affair by Anglophones comes courtesy of journalist Yaroslav Trofimov’s recent book The Siege of Mecca: The 1979 Uprising at Islam’s Holiest Shrine. (Review | Another | Book home page).

In this clip, the author discusses the legacy of the siege with Fareed Zakaria.

* The Saudi government put out the figure of 63 executions. Some sources now report 67.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,God,History,Known But To God,Mass Executions,Public Executions,Religious Figures,Saudi Arabia,Terrorists

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Previous Posts


Calendar

November 2019
M T W T F S S
« Oct    
 123
45678910
11121314151617
18192021222324
252627282930  

Archives

Categories

Execution Playing Cards

Exclusively available on this site: our one-of-a-kind custom playing card deck.

Every card features a historical execution from England, France, Germany, or Russia!