1928: Seven electrocuted in Kentucky

Add comment July 13th, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1928 — Friday the 13th — the Bluegrass State tied a terrible record that still stands to this day by sending seven men to the electric chair on a single day. (New York, the electric chair pioneer, had carried out a sevenfold electrocution in 1912.)

The prolific history writer/blogger Mike Dash fielded a Reddit question with some detail about this event, here; Dash notes that Kentucky habitually carried out (smaller) multiple-execution batches during this period, likely for reasons of administrative convenience moreso than record-hunting.

For additional particulars, we excerpt a summary of their cases from the Owensboro (Kentucky) Messenger of the same date.

Milford Lawson

Milford Lawson was convicted in the Whitley circuit court at Corbin, in 1926, for the killing of John Stansberry. Stansberry, who lived with his wife and daughter on Main street in Corbin was awakened by an alarm at his door at midnight. He was shot to death by Lawson when he opened the door to answer the alarm. The sixteen year old daughter of Stansberry witnessed the shooting. Stansberry was killed instantly.

Orlando Seymour

Orlando Seymour was indicted jointly with William Huddleston for the killing of Will Schanzenbacher in Louisville. Huddleston was given a life sentence and Seymour, who actually did the killing, was given a death sentence. Mr. Schanzenbacher had charge of a coal yard in Louisville. It was known to the two defendants that he was in the habit of carrying the receipts of each day home with him in the afternoon in a tin box. Huddleston and Seymour planned to hold him up and rob him. It fell to the lot of Seymour to do the actual holding up, while Huddleston waited in the car. When demanded by Seymour to give up his money, Mr. Schanzenbacher, instead of acceding to his demands, started to run away and was shot down by Seymour.

Hasque Dockery

Hasque Dockery was tried in the Harlan circuit court in 1926 and given the death penalty for killing Mrs. Elizabeth Howard. Dockery was guilty of a triple murder, having killed Mrs. Howard, Joe Jenkins and Mrs. Jenkins at the same time. He appears to have been estranged from his wife, who was living with Bradley Howard and his wife and the Jenkins family. It appears that Dockery went to that house on the night of the killing search for his wife and without provacation [sic] shot and killed Mrs. Howard, Joe Jenkins and his wife. Charles Howard, a young boy, escaped only by running. Dockery also fired one shot at him.

Charles P. Miltra

Charles P. Miltra was indicted jointly with Carl Hord in the Jefferson circuit court for the murder of Marion A. George in 1926. George opera[t]ed a grocery store at First and Magazine streets in Louisville. This murder was committed in pursuit of a plan which the two defendants had entered into to rob Mr. George. It was agreed that Hord should go into the store and call for cigarettes and that Miltra was to follow, and while Mr. George was getting the cigarettes he was to cover him with the pistol and demand the money. That part of the program was carried out, but Mr. George grabbed a meat cleaver and struck Miltra with it. Miltra then fired two shots, the first missing George but the second piercing his abdomen. Miltra escaped and went to St. Louis where he was arrested a few days after the tragedy and upon his return to Louisville made a voluntary confession. The peculiar defense was interposed for Miltra, that he should not be held responsible for the shooting of George because he was rendered unconscious by the lick which George inflicted upon him with the meat cleaver and did not know that [sic] he was doing when he shot Mr. George. This contention, however, was overruled by the court on the idea that malice is not necessarily confined to specific intention to take the life of the person killed, but it may include an intention to do an unlawful act whose result will probaably [sic] deprive another person’s life.

James Howard

James Howard, negro, was given the extreme penalty in the Jefferson circuit court for the murder of his common law wife, Lucy Buckner. He stabbed his victim to death with a knife. This killing took place April 17, 1926. It is disclosed by the evidence that Howard ran his victim down and stabbed her to death while she was trying to escape from him. Howard was jealous of another negro, which appears to have incited the killing.

Clarence McQueen

Clarence McQueen, negro, was indicted in the Harrison circuit court and given the death penalty for the murder of Louis Williams, another negro. McQueen is a negro about forty years of age. He and Williams were neighbors and had been friends for a long time. On April 25, 1927, while under the influence of liquor, McQueen, who had a shotgun, came upon Williams on the river bank where they became involved in a difficulty and McQueen shot Williams to death. He then escaped and was not apprehended until September, 1927, when he was returned to Cynthiana and placed on trial.

William Moore

William Moore, negro, was indicted and tried in the Jefferson [… omitted text …] Anna Eslick, who appears to have been his sweetheart, and who was the wife of another negro. This killing took place in the absence of any eye witness, but while the evidence against Moore was largely circumstantial, at the same time it was practically conclusive that Moore killed the woman, by beating her to death with a beer bottle.

The state of Georgia supplemented the day’s grim toll with a “mere” double electrocution of Sam Gower and Preddis Taylor, while two men more, Will Burdo and Greene Kirk, hanged in separate executions by two Mississippi counties.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Electrocuted,Execution,Kentucky,Mass Executions,Murder,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,USA

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

1515: Gio Batta, on the Capitoline Hill

Add comment July 13th, 2018 Headsman

You’ll not find the single execution (and its accounting of fees) that forms the very slim hook for this post until the very end of an extensively bloody tour of Renaissance and Early Modern Rome’s execution topography. This unauthorized appendix to your Rome tourism guide comprises excerpts of the public domain volume The Roman Capitol in Ancient and Modern Times, by Emmanuel Rodocanachi.


THE TARPEIAN MOUNT OR MOUNT CAPRINO.

In the Middle Ages nothing survived of what had constituted the splendour of the Tarpeian Mount of antiquity. Here and there only were a few scattered shafts of columns lying, a few sides of walls that had fallen, a few vestiges of foundations, while the other end of the Capitoline Mount was becoming the centre of municipal life, and a church, that of S. Maria Aracoeli, adorned it. Furthermore, this portion of the hill was soon chosen as the public execution place. In a chronicle of the thirteenth century, relating the legend of Pope Filigato (996 [sic]), we read: “… idcirco usque adhuc nullus papa venire vult in montem tarpeium ad arcen Urbis Romae scilicet in Capitolium ubi iste Johannes tormenta sustinuit. Ibi itaque semper ferebantur sententiae mortis contra sceleratos et contra adversarios Romanorum.”

To this spot the name platea of spianata was given, in translation of the word area, area capitolina (as opposed to arx), which had formerly designated it. This explains why the place of execution was often so called. Fra Montreale, who was condemned to death by Rienzo, was led “a lo piano” to be executed there. His head was cut off near the ruins of a tower.

The spot appointed for executions is fixed with accuracy by a curious document. In 1385, Giordanello degli Ilperini or Alberini, a nobleman of the Monti quarter, was cast into the prisons of the Capitol. Fearing the rage of the lords bannerets, furor presentium dominorum banderentium,” and not wishing to die without a will, he drew one up, forthwith, in the great hall where the assemblies of the people were held. Among other dispositions, he required his heirs to spend two florins in having a figure painted “ad imaginem gloriosissime virginis Marie,” in front of the gibbet and place of execution, “ante furcas et locum iustitie.” And, in fact, the figure was painted beneath the portico of a granary belonging to the Maffei family, in a spot indicated by Infessura thus: “in una costa di muro appresso santa Maria delle grazie di sotto a Campidoglio a piedi lo monte.” Thenceforward, criminals had a sight that consoled them in their last moments.

The custom of hanging people in this place was continued in the fifteenth century. In the Diario di Antonio Petri (1407) is the expression: “In loco iustitiae, videlicet in plano Capitolii.” The gallows is clearly visible in the Sienna plan. Somewhat later, documentary allusions become more frequent. An Act dated in 1457 bears on it: “in loco qui dicitur Monte Arpetio (Tarpeio) sive lo piano inter hos fines … ab alio via per quam itur ad furcas.” In another document, dated in 1473, and referring to the settling of a boundary, the following passage occurs: “ab alio tenet locus iustitiae qui dicitur lo piano.” This same document informs us that, behind the palace of the Conservators, lay a garden belonging to them, part of which exists to-day, while the other has been taken into the Caffarelli palace, which, at present, is the German embassy.

Executions were witnessed by the Senator. It was a duty incumbent on his office. He took up his position at the window in the palace situated in the southern tower. This window, as previously said, was ornamented in 1413 by the Senator Nicola of Diano.

Among the celebrated executions which took place on the gibbet of Mount Caprino was that of the accomplices of the Chevalier Stefano Porcari, who himself was hanged from the battlements of St. Angel’s castle in 1453. His accomplices were nine in number; and eight of them were hanged together. In 1490, a man accused of trying to poison Pope Innocent VIII, at the instigation of the Sultan of Constantinople, was beaten to the ground, on the ordinary execution place, by blows on his head with a club; then he was struck on the chest and stomach with an iron-covered fist, after which he was drawn and quartered. Hangings were numerous; in 1507, there were seven. The gibbet continued to be used in this spot until 1550, when the improvements that were undertaken in the surroundings brought about its suppression. Thenceforward, criminals were hanged on the Giudea square, at the entrance to the Ghetto.


A high gallows towers over Rome’s Piazza Giudia in this 1752 engraving by Giuseppi Vasi.

On occasion, use was made, as a prison, of the ruins standing on this potion of the hill, perhaps of some pits that will be spoken of further. Under the pontificate of Innocent III, the Romans confined their prisoners of war there.

The neighbouring quarters, suffering from the presence of the gibbet, remained deserted and neglected. Goats browsed in them, which soon caused the hill to receive the name of Mount Caprino, a name that it retained for a long time. The locality was almost a jungle. Gregory XIII, having remade, in 1582, the road that led to it, was justified in having inscribed on a stone that still exists in the Via di Monte Tarpeio these words: “Hinc ad tarpejam sedem et capitolia ducit. Pervia nunc olim silvestribus horrida dumis …”


The Piazza del Campidoglio atop Capitoline Hill, where beheadings took place. This is a view of its condition prior to Michelangelo’s 16th century makeover of the place, which changed it into this …
EXECUTIONS IN THE CAPITOLINE PALACE.

Whilst hangings took place on the gibbet of Mount Caprino, the beheadings were carried out on the Square of the Capitol [Piazza del Campidoglio -ed.], and even inside the palace. If Fra Montreale was beheaded at the foot of the Mount Caprino tower, it was by way of compromise, since he was considered as much a malefactor an an “enemy of the people” as a prisoner of war. Usually, executions in the Capitol took place on the great staircase, near the lion. It was there that, on the 3rd of March, 1398, the conspirators were beheaded who had attempted to re-establish the power of the bannerets, destroyed by Pope Boniface IX.

In the fifteenth century, executions were frequent. In 1405, Paolo Maracini, Giovanni Gnafri, and Motta were beheaded in the Capitol. In 1406, Antonio Carola was beheaded there also, as well as Giovanni Colonna, Jacovo de Nepi, “miles libertatis,” Ricardo Sanguineis, rebels against Pope Gregory XII. In 1497, Galleotto de Normanis was “decollatus, de mane, hora consueta, in loco institiae Capitolii, tanquam proditor Urbis.” Sometimes the execution was carried out in the evening: “De sero, hora completorii, fuit capta uxor Cole Cancellarii de Reg. Columne ac etiam Paulus de Cancellariis … omnes tanquam proditores Urbis et ducti per mercatum ad Capitolium et martirazti.” Before each execution, the condemned person had his sentence read to him, in the great hall of the Capitol. The bell rang thrice, and, at the third peal, he was put to death. In certain cases, the bell was not run; but this, as previously said, was when the execution was considered to be a murder. Occasionally the execution was inside the palace. We read that Lello Capocci was decapitated “Intus in palatio Capitolii ad pedem secunde columne ubi tenetur ratio.” The Square of the Capitol was also used as a place to expose criminals. Cardinal Vitelleschi shut up in three wooden cages, which were set there for the people to mock at, a triplet of thieves who had stolen the precious stones adorning the reliquary wherein were kept, at the church of St. John Lateran, the heads of St. Peter and St. Paul. The thieves were subsequently executed on the Square of the Lateran.

Now and again, hangings took place from the windows or arcades of the Capitoline loggia. On the 19th of December, 1458, Bernardo della Rosa was hanged from the window of the great staircase. At that time, however, hangings were not frequent. Infessura complains of it: “In Capitolio nulla vel saltem rara executio corporalis fit, nisi quod per curiam domini vicecamerarii aliqui nocte suspenduntur et mane suspensi reperiuntur apud turrim Nonae sine nomine et sine causa: et hoc ordine vivitur hodie in Urbe sedente Innocentio octavo” (1489).

EXECUTIONS IN THE SIXTEENTH CENTURY.

The hangings that Infessura, in his time, regretted were so few, as was seen in the previous chapter, were not long before they began again; and numerous ones took place on the Capitol during the sixteenth century, and in the few yers prior to it.

In the single year of 1497 were hanged from the windows of the Capitol: Matteo di Andrea, Francesco di Giacomo, Pietro Santi, Giordano della Scarpa. At the same time, hangings were also carried out on the gibbet of Mount Caprino.*

The expenses of executions were generally paid by the Governor, who deducted the necessary sums from the money furnished by fines, taxae maleficiorum. Under the date of the 13th of July, 1515, the executioner received three julii (about a hundred sols) for cutting off the head of a male servant, Gio. Batta; he received, besides, a salary of three gold ducats a month. The price paid for hangings was the same as for decapitations, three julii. It cost no more to have the criminal burned, after he had been hanged. However, it would seem that compensation was made for the wood, the chains, and the scaffold, when the criminal had been burned alive. Eighteen carlins were paid for the execution of a forger; and, for floggings, the executioner charged six carlins.

* A footnote here in the original helpfully explains that the executions referenced in this section come from “Archiv di Stato, Archivio di s. Giovanni Decollato, Busta XXIV. vol. 2″: “This brotherhood’s mission was to assist criminals; a regular register was kept of the executions at which the brethren of the order had been present.”

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Italy,Murder,Papal States,Public Executions

Tags: , , ,

1807: Richard Faulkner, scared straight

Add comment July 13th, 2017 Headsman

On this date in 1807 at Wisbech, 15-year-old Richard Faulkner hanged in a truly repentant frame of mind — as described by the Norfolk Chronicle of August 1, 1807:

At Ely assizes, held at Wisbech, there was but one prisoner for trial; viz. Richard Faulkner, convicted of the murder of George Burnham a lad about 13 years of age, at Whittlesea, on Sunday, the 15th of February last, by cruelly beating him to death, for no other cause than to revenge his (the deceased) mother’s having thrown some dirty water upon him.

The prisoner himself was not 16, but so shockingly depraved and hardened, that after condemnation he repeatedly clenched his fist, and threatened to murder the clergyman who attended the gaol, or any one who dared to approach him.

Indeed he was so ferocious that the gaoler found it necessary to chain him hands and feet to his dungeon, where he uttered the most horrid oaths and imprecations on all who came near him; and from the Friday to Saturday night refused to listen to any religious advice or admonition.

At length to prevent the termination of his existence in this depraved state, the expedient was devised of procuring a child about the size of the one murdered, and similar in feature and dress, whom two clergymen unexpectedly led between them, by the hands, into his cell, where he laid sulkily chained to the ground; but on their approach he started and seemed so completely terrified, that he trembled every limb, cold drops of sweat profusely falling from him, and was almost momentarily in such a dreadful state of agitation, that he intreated the clergymen to continue with him, and from that instant became as contrite a penitent as he had before been callous and insensible.

In this happy transition he remained till his execution on Monday morning the 13th inst. having fully confessed his crime and implored by fervent prayer the forgiveness of his sins from a merciful God!

On this day..

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

Tags: , , , ,

1918: Private David Stevenson, repeat deserter

Add comment July 13th, 2015 Meaghan

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

On this dayJuly 18 in 1918, in Bully-Grenay in war-torn France, Private David Stevenson* of the Lowland Field Artillery was shot by the British Army for desertion and insubordination. “His record,” notes Cathryn Corns and John Hughes-Wilson in their book Blindfold and Alone: British Military Executions in the Great War, “is one of the longest amongst all surviving records of courts martial.”

Private Stevenson enlisted on August 17, 1915 and began misbehaving almost immediately. His disciplinary record can be summarized as follows:

September 1, 1915: AWOL, six days
September 13: AWOL, one day
September 18: AWOL, four days
September 30: AWOL, five days
October 5: AWOL, one day
October 7: AWOL, one day
October 11: AWOL, seven days
October 20: Malingering
January 15, 1916: AWOL, twenty-eight days
March 17: Drunk and disorderly
April 2: Drunk and disorderly
April 24: Escaping from a hospital
May 14: AWOL, nine days
May 28: Creating a disturbance, damaging public property
May 30: Noncompliance with an order
May 31: Creating a disturbance, damaging public property
June 7: AWOL, two days
June 14: AWOL, three days
July 15: AWOL, eighteen days
August 19: AWOL, seventy-four (!) days
November 18: AWOL, one day
November 21: Insolence to an NCO
December 1: AWOL, seven days
December 18: AWOL, eighteen days

In 1917, Pte. Stevenson was shipped out to France. Somehow he managed to maintain a clean record for several months, but soon he was back to his old habits again:

August 18, 1917: Lying to an NCO and hestitating to obey an order
August 27: Losing a folding saw by neglect
October 22: Desertion; tried by the Field General Court Martial (FGCM) and sentenced to five years in prison
December 20: Drunk in camp, entering a guard tent without permission, resisting escort.
March 8, 1918: AWOL, fifty-two days.

Apprehended on April 29, Stevenson was locked up at Army headquarters and was admitted to the No. 55 Casualty Clearing Station on May 5. He was supposed to get cleaned up and then returned to headquarters the next day, but instead he flew the coop. He later claimed he had just gone out for a walk and then got afraid he’d get into trouble if he went back, so he just “loitered about” until he was arrested three days later.

At his court martial, David Stevenson pleaded for mercy, saying, “If I could get another transfer to another regiment, I could prove myself a soldier.”

But by then the Army had had quite enough of him. His brigade commander wrote, “To my mind there are no redeeming points in this case.” General Henry Horne, 1st Baron Horne, agreed.

The authors of Blindfold and Alone note that Stevenson’s case left puzzling questions: “With his bad record, Stevenson must have known he was heading for a death sentence, and yet persisted with the behavior which would inevitably lead to his execution.” Why?

Lt. Gen. Sir Aylmer Gould Hunter-Weston summed up his superiors’ take on it nicely when he said Stevenson’s conduct could “only be explained by his obvious and habitual tendency to avoid all authority.”

* Not to be confused with the present-day British historian of the First World War also named David Stevenson.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Desertion,England,Execution,France,Guest Writers,Military Crimes,Other Voices,Shot,Soldiers,Wartime Executions

Tags: , , , , , ,

1616: “A gentellwoeman” by exposure, for a eunuch liaison

Add comment July 13th, 2014 Headsman

The English diplomat Sir Thomas Roe, envoy to the Mughal Empire from 1615 to 1619 during the reign of Jahangir, recorded in his journal* the unfortunate fate this date of a nameless woman for being caught rendezvousing with a palace eunuch.

This day a gentellwoeman of Normalls was taken in the kings house in some action with an Eunuch. Another Capon that loved her kylld him. The Poore Woeman was sett up to the Arme pitts in the Earth hard ramed, her feete tyde to a stake, to abyde 3 dayes and 2 nights without any sustenance, her head and armes bare, exposed to the sunns violence: if shee died not in that tyme she should bee pardoned. The Eunuch was Condemned to the Eliphantes. This damsell yeelded in Pearle, Jewelles, and ready mony 160,000 rupias.

That this bit character who does not even merit a name here left such a fortune surely testifies to the Mughal Empire’s famously astounding trade wealth.

Roe does not disclose how long the condemned woman managed to survive, but the separate memoir of Roe’s chaplain Edward Terry confirms that she succumbed to exposure well before the elapse of the pardonable three days. (The two seem to have received differing intelligence on the execution method of the eunuch, despite Terry’s indication that it transpired practically in the English mission’s backyard.)

Now for the disposition of that King, it ever seemed unto me to be composed of extremes; for sometimes he was barbarously cruel, and at other times he would seem to be exceedingly fair and gentle.

For his cruelties, he put one of his women to a miserable death; one of his women he had formerly touched and kept company with, but now she was superannuated; for neither himself nor nobles (as they say) come near their wives or women, after they exceed the age of thirty years. The fault of that woman was this; the Mogul upon a time found her and one of his eunuchs kissing one another; and for this very thing, the King presently gave command that a round hole should be made in the earth, and that her body should be put into that hole, where she should stnad with her head only above ground, and the earth to be put in again unto her close round about her, that so she might stand in the parching sun ’till the extreme hot beams thereof did kill her; in which torment she lived one whole day, and the night following, and almost ’till the next noon, crying out most lamentably, while she was able to speak, in her language, as the Shumanite’s child did in his, 2 King. 4. “Ah my head, my head!” which horrid execution, or rather murder, was acted near our house; where the eunuch, by the command of the said King, was brought very near the place where this poor creature was thus buried alive, and there in her sight cut all into pieces.

* Published as The embassy of Sir Thomas Roe to the court of the Great Mogul, 1615-1619, as narrated in his journal and correspondence. This vignette is from volume 1; there is also a volume 2

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 17th Century,By Animals,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Dismembered,Execution,Gruesome Methods,History,India,Known But To God,Mughal Empire,Public Executions,Scandal,Sex,Women

Tags: , , , , , ,

1955: Ruth Ellis, the last woman hanged in England

3 comments July 13th, 2013 Headsman

On this date in 1955, Albert Pierrepoint escorted the alluringly tragic Ruth Ellis to the gallows at Holloway Prison — the last woman ever hanged in Great Britain.

The former hostess had tracked her inconstant and abusive lover David Blakely to a Hampstead pub a few months before — getting the ride, and the murder weapon, from her unrequited hanger-on Desmond Cussen — and shot Blakely dead on the street. Five bullets: the last, a coup de grace. (Another missed entirely and winged a passerby.)

A bitterly controversial case from the moment it entered the public eye, Ellis’s hanging bolstered the movement to abolish Britain’s death penalty. Juridically, however, it was resolved in the blink of an eye when a crown’s attorney cross-examined the murderess:

Christmas Humphreys: Mrs. Ellis, when you fired that revolver at close range into the body of David Blakely what did you intend to do?

Ellis: It was obvious that when I shot him I intended to kill him.

Book CoverThe jury, which never heard that Blakely regularly beat his killer (including once to induce a miscarriage), needed 14 minutes to convict her.

We’re pleased to mark this anniversary with Carol Ann Lee, author of a recent biography A Fine Day for a Hanging: The Real Ruth Ellis Story. (Here’s a review. Also check out two long pieces Lee wrote about Ruth Ellis for the Daily Mail: 1, 2)

ET: I think at a certain point in time, everyone in Great Britain would have known who Ruth Ellis was, and quite a few abroad, too. How true is that still, nearing 60 years after her execution?

I think her name is still quite familiar, to be honest.

When I began researching the book, everyone I discussed it with either already knew the very basic facts of Ruth’s story, and at the very least that she was the last woman to be hanged in England. The 1985 biopic Dance with a Stranger left a big impression too, even though it wasn’t entirely faithful to Ruth’s character, making her seem much more hysterical a personality than she actually was, although I thought Miranda Richardson was brilliant in the role — as she always is!

What led you to the Ruth Ellis story?

I’ve always been interested in Ruth and that period in history — and I vividly remember going to see ‘Dance with a Stranger’ when it came out in the cinemas here. But it always struck me that her full story had never been told, particularly the last few months of her life after she shot David Blakely. And a couple of years ago there was quite an intense debate about bringing back capital punishment; Ruth’s name was always mentioned in relation to that particular argument, and I really felt it was time to explore her whole story.

What are the greatest misconceptions people have of her? Have her previous biographies and screen portrayals fed those misconceptions?

Without doubt, many people see Ruth as she was shown in ‘Dance with a Stranger’ — very screechy, out of control and violently jealous.

I think it’s true to say that she and David were both deeply jealous of each other (both giving the other reason to be so), but Ruth was not as hysterical as she was portrayed in the film. In fact, it was quite the opposite — the men were hysterical and it was Ruth who usually vented a sort of quiet fury. There is one scene in the film which shows her smashing the windows of David’s car and screaming in the street. Reading the original police statement about that night reveals a very different story; she was described as very calm and rational. There was no screaming, and although she did damage the vehicle, it was not remotely as it was shown in the film.

I think other adaptations have also done her a disservice. Ironically, probably the most accurate portrayal is in the film ‘Pierrepoint,’ where the character of Ruth appears for no more than a minute or two on screen.

I get the sense that Ruth was always running uphill against her class position, trying to climb a little higher than she could reach — right up to the end where her lover is a well-off cad and the rivals for the lover’s affection are his middle-class friends. What role did England’s class relations have in Ruth Ellis’s life and death, and in the way that others perceived her? Do they still shape the way we talk about her all these years later?

Class and politics played a huge role in Ruth’s life generally.

England was distinctly class-led at the time and when the case hit the headlines, she was described as a working-class floozie who attached herself to the upper-class David Blakely purely in order to hoist herself up the class ladder.

That couldn’t have been further from the truth; if she was only interested in using men to better herself socially, she would surely have married her sometime-lover Desmond Cussen, who was a much steadier prospect with money and property and who wanted very much to marry her. Ruth worked hard to better herself but she didn’t use the men she loved to do so.

And when it came to her trial, the class values of the time were heavy in the courtroom with the male barristers and judge and so on all very much men of the upper classes — and who viewed her accordingly. I hope we have got beyond all that nonsense now — but it does add a very distinct dimension to discussions of her case.

She was working as a hostess when she met David Blakely. What would a hostess do, who worked in this trade, and who were the clientele? Was it usual for “real” relationships to evolve? Do people still have this job in the same form as Ruth had it?

Hostessing in the clubs in which Ruth worked was quite straightforward — or it should have been, but there was Morris Conley to contend with, and he was quite a character.

Ruth’s basic job description was to look good and to chat to customers (mostly men) in the clubs, laugh at their jokes and keep them buying food and drink for as long as possible. Most hostesses were in their late teens and early twenties, working-class girls who thought the lifestyle was more glamorous than toiling in a factory or in a shop.

They were usually paid badly and relied on tips to make ends meet, but were given a dress allowance so that they could look as alluring as possible. The clientele mainly consisted of demobbed servicemen who suddenly seemed to have lost their attractiveness to women after the war — where once they had been heroes, by the late 1940s many of them were down on their luck and working as door-to-door salesmen, very lonely and eager to talk to pretty young girls about their war exploits.

The girls who worked for Morris Conley, like Ruth, were expected to sleep with the clients if that was asked of them, and often had to sleep with ‘Morrie’ and his less than respectable friends too. Many of them were very poor young women who lived in flats owned by Conley and his wife — and if they didn’t toe the line, they lost their jobs and their homes in one fell swoop.

Did real relationships evolve? Yes, they did, but very rarely. There are girls all over the world doing very similar jobs today — from London to Japan and everywhere in between too, no doubt.

You have this quote from Ruth about David Blakely: ‘I thought the world of him; I put him on the highest of pedestals. He could do nothing wrong and I trusted him implicitly.’ Ruth had an alcoholic, abusive father, and then she had two children from marriages with two different men that both fell apart — one from bigamy and abandonment, the second from alcoholism and domestic violence. Blakely himself cheated on her. Why wasn’t she more cynical about Blakely? If you take away the tragic ending to this particular relationship, was something like this a pattern she was doomed to keep repeating ad infinitum?

She loved him — it’s really as simple as that.

Although she obviously had a good degree of self-awareness and knew what David was and always would be, she truly loved him and for a time believed they had a future together. As for a pattern — I don’t know. Perhaps if she had met one good, steady man to whom she was attracted as much as she was to David, her life — and David’s too of course — might have been very different.

I’m going to phrase this inelegantly: what is the DEAL with Desmond Cussen?

Good question! I really think that he was as confused and tormented by everything that was happening as a result of Ruth’s and David’s relationship as Ruth herself.

I think he did love Ruth, and he tried hard to make things work with her, but he knew her heart was with David. His apparent lack of self-respect and backbone is baffling — quite why he kept ferrying her across London and out to Buckinghamshire in pursuit of David is a bit mystifying. I did question in the book why no one seemed to query his state of mind as much as Ruth’s — and as to whether he gave her the gun or not, knowing what she intended to do … I am sure he did, even though he must have known where it would end for Ruth herself.

Perhaps he hoped that with David out of the way, she would be reprieved and they could then have a life together. But I really don’t know!

Ruth’s legal defence was legendarily feeble. That said, I’m very interested in the barrister’s attempt to frame its insanity defense around feminine hysteria — “the effect of jealousy upon a female mind can so work as to unseat the reason and can operate to a degree in which a male mind is quite incapable of operating.” This was bound to be undermined by Ruth’s own calm and the statements about her intent to kill that she gave to police and in court. Was it the case that the law at the time didn’t have the instruments to situate Ruth’s context and state of mind, other than hysterical/not? Or could an abler barrister have presented a different story?

I think part of the difficulty is obviously that the defence of diminished responsibility was not introduced in the courts here until 1957 — largely as a direct result of this particular case.

Ruth’s lawyers tried to argue this as a defence for her to some extent, but it just wasn’t possible legally. That said, I think they served her quite badly and didn’t bring out so much that might have enabled the jury to see her crime in context. There was no mention of the abuse in her childhood, no mention of the violence she had suffered at the hands of her ex-husband and very little said about David’s own brutal treatment of her.

But Ruth herself did not seem to care much what happened in the courtroom, once it became evident that the story as she saw it — David’s friends having, in her view, deliberately destroyed the relationship between them — was not going to come to light. She gave up, and volunteered nothing that could have helped her, minimizing the violence to which she had been subjected and dismissing most of the questions put to her in a short sentence or two.

She also infamously replied to the prosecution’s question of what she intended to do when she set out to find David with the gun, “It is obvious when I shot him I intended to kill him.” That one line completely sealed her fate.

Despite all this, the public did seem to be shocked by Ruth Ellis’s hanging, and it’s supposed to have boosted the anti-death penalty campaign. If one may phrase it this way, were people shocked for the right reasons? How much did the symbolic “Ruth Ellis” that even her supporters among the general public had in view have to do with the real person as you understand her?

I think any case is always immeasurably more complex than it is presented in newspaper columns and headlines.

I think, again, the outcry at her execution has to be seen in context — people were becoming more and more opposed to the death penalty and there had been some very high-profile, contentious cases that really did cause a great deal of debate, anger, and distress: the hanging of Timothy Evans in 1950 and of Derek Bentley in 1953 for instance (both of whom were posthumously pardoned).

The fact that Ruth was a young, attractive, lively woman with two small children caused many people to question the validity of capital punishment. It was her death on the scaffold that gave the abolition movement its emotional spur.

What became of Ruth Ellis’s body after her hanging? And what became of her family and the others who were part of the story?

Ruth was buried in the confines of Holloway Prison after her execution, sharing her unmarked grave with four other women who had been hanged there. In 1971, when the prison was demolished and rebuilt, her body was released to her son for burial.

He had hoped to lay his mother to rest alongside David Blakely at the Holy Trinity churchyard in Penn but the vicar there would not allow it. Ruth was instead buried in the churchyard of St Mary’s in Amersham, a few miles away.

As to what became of her family: her son Andre (who was ten when Ruth was executed) was diagnosed with schizophrenia as a very young man and never came to terms with the loss of his mother. He committed suicide in 1982. Ruth’s daughter, Georgina, had quite a colourful life, becoming a successful model who was in the newspapers fairly often as part of the George Best ‘set.’ She married and had children and worked hard to win a posthumous pardon for her mother, of whom she spoke often. She died of cancer at the age of only 50.

As for Desmond Cussen: he emigrated to Australia and opened a flower shop there. He never married and became an alcoholic, dying in Perth on 8 May 1991 of pneumonia and organ failure following a fracture dislocation of the neck in a fall at his home.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,History,Interviews,Milestones,Murder,Other Voices,Popular Culture,Sex,Women

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

1708: Anne Harris, twice a hempen widow

1 comment July 13th, 2012 Headsman

On this date in 1708, a twenty-year-old shoplifter Anne Harris was hanged at Tyburn for serial larceny.

This young woman (“bidding adieu to everything that looked like virtue,” in the words of her Newgate Calendar entry) had picked up the tricks of her trade at least in part from two paramours who had already preceded her to the gallows. Signature trick: freebasing ale in a spoon, our subject would burn it down to a sticky syrup, which she could apply to her hands for a useful spidey-grip.

At age 14, she ditched her impoverished St. Giles family to cohabit with a thief 10 years her senior by the scabrous handle of “Jemmy the Mouth”, who was hanged for burglary in 1702. Nothing daunted, Anne moved on to one “Norwich Will”, who also had a good decade on her; this one swung in 1705 for a lucrative highway robbery.

Perhaps from their examples of excess greed, Anne seems to have picked up another useful trick: thieving modestly. Hangings required stealing goods in excess of a certain value, and while the threshold was heartbreaking low, it did exist. (Juries loath to hang a certain defendant for a mere property crime would often intentionally construe the value of stolen objects to only a sub-capital level.)

Anne Harris had been caught before for purloinings of a sub-felonious nature, and frequently: she was “so often burned in the face that there was no more room left for the hangman to stigmatise her.” In just her few years in the trade, almost every inch of her face had been burnt and scarred.

Accordingly, although her fatal crime likewise appears to have been only a minor theft, “the Court thought fit to condemn her for privately stealing a piece of printed calico” on the grounds of incorrigibility.

Update: via Althea Preston and Two Nerdy History Girls, clarification on the apparent context for Anne’s former sentences of facial burning.

From 1699 until 1707/8, England used a facial-burning sentence for minor thefts when the offender could claim benefit of clergy. After 1691, this benefit was fully available to women, and from 1706 it was even available for both men and women without the classical literacy test.

Since the point of the benefit by this time — long past the sell-by date of its ecclesiastical foundation — was to go easy on first-time offenders, it’s a bit surprising that Anne Harris might have had it several times. More than likely that again underscores the trifling value of her previous thefts. After the change in law early in 1708, it would be the hand that got branded instead … but as a repeat recidivist, Anne apparently was past the help of this little loophole regardless of the body part mutilated.

Incidentally, the reason England so quickly gave up on its experiment in branding small-time criminals with a prominent, visible-to-everyone stigmata was that “it hath been found by experience, that the said punishment hath not had its desired effect, by deterring such offenders from the further committing such crimes and offences, but on the contrary, such offenders being rendered thereby unfit to be intrusted in any service or employment to get their livelihood in any honest and lawful way, become the most desperate.”

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,History,Public Executions,Theft

Tags: , , , ,

2010: William Garner, arsonist

Add comment July 13th, 2011 Meaghan

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

On this day in 2010, at 10:38 a.m., at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville, convicted arsonist and quintuple murderer William L. Garner got the needle for the crimes he had committed eighteen years earlier.

Garner had burglarized the Cincinnati, Ohio apartment of Addie F. Mack on January 26, 1992, after he stole her purse and keys while she was being treated in a hospital emergency room.

After taking some electronics, Garner set three fires within the residence, although he knew there were children asleep inside it. Markeca Mason and Richard Gaines, both 11, Denitra Satterwhite, 12, Deondra Freeman, 10, and Mykkila Mason, 8, all died of smoke inhalation. Addie Mack’s oldest child, 13-year-old Rodriczus Mack, escaped through a window; he was the only survivor.

Rodriczus, Denitra, Deondra and Mykkila were siblings, and Markeca was their cousin. Richard was a friend of Rodriczus who happened to be spending the night.

Thanks to a tip from an observant taxi driver, Garner was arrested the next day and quickly confessed. He considered the children’s deaths to be “accidental” because he only set the fires to obliterate his fingerprints and he believed the children would smell the smoke and be able to get out in time.

Unfortunately, the apartment’s smoke detector was inoperable.

Garner was nineteen years old at the time of the murders. He had a criminal record dating back to age eleven, and following his January 1992 arrest he racked up thirteen behavior infractions in prison … including a fire-setting incident.

A psychologist who interviewed him said he functioned at the level of a 14-year-old, and his IQ tested at 76, barely above the juridical cutoff mark for mental retardation. When asking for clemency, Garner’s attorneys cited these factors as well as his “extremely violent and dysfunctional” upbringing, and also argued that he was brain-damaged due to lead poisoning.

In June 2010, the parole board voted unanimously to reject Garner’s clemency request, stating in its report, (pdf)

Considerable weight was afforded the considerable mitigation presented. It is clear that Mr. Garner suffered developmentally and was raised in an exceptionally and horrendously abusive environment. However, we cannot conclude that the mitigating factors are significant enough to outweigh the aggravating circumstances of an offense resulting in the death of five innocent children.

Garner was executed a month later, using Ohio’s recently-adopted “one-drug” lethal injection protocol (most states use, as Ohio had previously, a cocktail of three). It didn’t go smoothly.

A Toledo Blade article provides a detailed account of his last moments. The prison had to open a second viewing room to fit all the people who came to watch him die.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Arson,Botched Executions,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Diminished Capacity,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Guest Writers,Lethal Injection,Murder,Ohio,Other Voices,Pelf,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Ripped from the Headlines,Theft,USA

Tags: , , , , ,

1989: Arnaldo Ochoa and Tony de la Guardia

2 comments July 13th, 2010 Headsman

In the predawn hours this date in 1989, Cuban Gen. Arnaldo Ochoa was shot in a pasture at a West Havana military base along with Col. Antonio “Tony” de la Guardia and Captains Antonio Padrón and Jorge Martinez — all convicted of treason against the Cuban Revolution because of drug trafficking.

Before his abrupt fall just weeks before this date, Arnaldo Ochoa was one of the shining stars of Castro’s Cuba.

One of the Sierra Maestre guerrillas, Ochoa had fought with Che Guevara in the Battle of Santa Clara that toppled the Batista regime.

In the decades that followed, he rose to become one of the most powerful officers in Cuba, serving in Venezuela, Angola, Ethiopia.

But in early June 1989, and shortly after a Mikhail Gorbachev state visit to Cuba delivered the bad news that the crumbling Soviet Union would be withdrawing its subsidies to Havana, Ochoa and State Security officer Tony de la Guardia* were suddenly busted for running a drug-smuggling operation — essentially conspiring with the Colombian Medellion cartel to exploit Cuba’s position on the most direct routes to Florida, and corruptly skimming the proceeds in the process.

There seems to be little doubt among those in the know that they were doing exactly that, but endless speculation about what else they were up to — what the executions were really about.

There is the year, to begin with, which is why we’ve mentioned Gorbachev; Castro was hostile to the Soviet leader’s glasnost reforms, and could read well enough the dangerous direction of change in eastern Europe. He wanted Gorbachev to put the brakes on.

Ochoa was seen as a charismatic figure of a more liberal outlook and close to Russian officers to boot, and one school of thought has it that he therefore looked like the sort of man who might be able to mount a coup or serve as the KGB’s catspaw if it came to regime change.

Whether or not Ochoa was targeted on that basis, Castro surely did not regret during those dangerous transitional years as Russian patronage slipped away the salutary effect this day’s doings would have had on any other potential aspirants for his job.

That consideration, whether it was primary or tertiary, probably helps explain the purge’s old-school show trial vibe. On television, Ochoa confessed to it all, and assured the court,

If I receive this sentence, which might be execution … my last thought will be of Fidel, for the great revolution he has given our people.

(Although what that thought would have been is a different matter. After falling out with Ochoa over military operations in Angola, the Cuban dictator had bugged his general’s environs and thereby eavesdropped on numerous of caustic remarks about himself.)

The drug charges, too, point the way towards plausible hidden agendas.

Fidel and Raul generally took a cautious approach to the drug business — hardly virginal, but reputedly avoiding particularly egregious entanglements lest they gift-wrap the hostile Yankees a pretext for invading. (Given what happened to Panama later in this eventful year, that would have been a reasonable concern.)

At the same time, it’s all but inconceivable that they were taken completely unawares by “revelations” that their aides were up to something shady.

So the hypotheses in this area run the gamut from: Ochoa and de la Guardia taking an authorized but circumscribed covert operation and avariciously expanding it beyond any possible license; to, everyone at the top being up to his eyeballs and Ochoa and de la Guardia eliminated when it became expedient to bury their firsthand knowledge of Fidel’s firsthand knowledge. Timing, again, is suggestive; with the coming withdrawal of Soviet protection, this might have been seen in Havana a prudent moment to trim sails on narcotics transshipment.

Whatever Arnaldo Ochoa and Tony de la Guardia may have known or sensed about the wheels-within-wheels of Havana politics, they took it to their grave 21 years ago today. Perennial declarations of the Castros’ imminent fall have made the rounds ever since, but until that old stopped clock manages to tell the right time, it’s likely that the rest of us will have to content ourselves with guesswork.

* De la Guardia was a friend of the writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez. In this very year, Marquez dedicated The General in his Labyrinth to the soon-to-be-disgraced colonel.

Speaking of de la Guardia literary connections: Tony’s daughter, Ileana, has also published a book.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Cuba,Death Penalty,Drugs,Execution,Famous,History,Power,Shot,Soldiers,Treason

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

1826: The Decembrists

7 comments July 25th, 2009 Headsman

On this date* in 1826, five leaders of the Decembrist revolt were hanged at St. Petersburg’s Peter and Paul fortress for their abortive eponymous uprising eight months before.

The most renowned and romantic of Russia’s hapless liberals, the Decembrists were a secret clique of idealistic young officers, many of whom had cut their teeth chasing Napoleon’s grande armee out of Russia in 1812.

In Russia’s complex interaction with the West — its ideas, its political institutions, its ways of life — these were the westernizers, who saw constitutionalism as the way of the future.

Upon the mysteriously sudden death of Tsar Alexander I, an irregular succession to the second-oldest surviving brother, Nicholas I, gave our day’s doomed and gallant youth cause to occupy St. Petersburg’s Senatskaya Square to uphold the rights of the first brother — and more to the point, to uphold the constitution to the extent of constraining the monarchy.


Decembrists at Senate Square, as depicted by Karl Kolman.

Uh … Now What?

This badly organized affair failed in its aim to attract the mass of soldiery and, constitutionalists as its organizers were, did not even aim at mobilizing the general populace.

After the initial heady rush of marching into the square in the name of liberty, the Decembrists were left in a standoff against a much larger force of loyalists. When the latter started shooting, that was that.

Those that survived faced trial, with five — Peter Kakhovsky, Kondraty Ryleyev, Sergei Muravyov-Apostol, Mikhail Bestuzhev-Ryumin and Pavel Pestel — initially sentenced to drawing and quartering.

“Mere” hanging was deemed sufficient for the purpose. That would be about the maximum embrace of liberalism by the Russian autocracy, whose lesson from the uprising was to crack down against any hint of forward-thinking politics — ultimately an unsuccessful strategy for the Romanov dynasty.

St. Petersburg’s Senate Square — renamed Decembrist Square by the Soviet government — where the action happened. The iconic equestrian statue of Peter the Great, commissioned by Catherine the Great and unveiled in 1782, witnessed it all; the statue acquired its enduring moniker, “The Bronze Horseman”, from a poem of the same title penned in 1833 by Alexander Pushkin, a friend of several Decembrists.

One of the greatest works of Russian literature, Pushkin’s “Bronze Horseman” weaves an ambiguous Decembrist-tinged critique of cruel imperial power and overreach into a complex narrative of St. Petersburg whose upshot is still up for lively literary debate. “The Bronze Horseman’s crag rose up before the poet on an empty square,” wrote one historian, “washed with the blood of those who rebelled on December 14, 1825”

Appalling there
He sat, begirt with mist and air.
What thoughts engrave His brow! what hidden
Power and authority He claims!
What fire in yonder charger flames!
Proud charger, whither art thou ridden,
Where leapest thou? and where, on whom,
Wilt plant thy hoof?

“They don’t even know how to hang you …”

When the hangings were carried out, Kakhovsky, Muravyov-Apostol and Ryleyev all had their ropes break; while some in the crowd anticipated the old prerogative of mercy for any prisoner who survives an execution, they just got re-hung instead. “Unhappy country,” quipped Ryleyev as the fresh nooses were fixed up, “where they don’t even know how to hang you.”**

Other Decembrists not condemned to the unreliable craftmanship of the Russian gallows were shipped to Siberia, where they invigorated the cultural life of the Lake Baikal city of Irkutsk — many of them famously followed by their “Decembrists’ wives,” an iconic type that continues to denote heroically sacrificial loyalty since the women had to renounce their own right to return to European Russia.

These, at least, had a place to call their own, however distant. But the class of Russian elites to which they belonged would be thrust into a trackless wilderness by their failure (in the Decembrist rising and otherwise) to carve out some distinct place for themselves. Russia’s long reckoning with modernity still had many years to run.


A worn postcard of a 19th century Russian painting depicting (perhaps) a political prisoner in the Peter and Paul Fortress.

* July 25 was the date on the Gregorian calendar; per the Julian calendar still in use in Russia at the time, the date was July 13.

** Ryleyev was quite the saucy one, having fought a “mysterious” duel with Pushkin in 1823, and instigated (and served as second at) a famous St. Petersburg jilted-love duel in 1825 that cost the lives of both antagonists.

A poet himself and a romantic to the point of fanaticism, Ryleyev wrote odes extolling executed national heroes like Artemy Volynsky and Severyn Nalyvaiko, seemingly alluding (as in this excerpt from the latter work) to his anticipation of joining them.

I know full well the dire fate
Which must upon the patriot wait
Who first dare rise against the foe
And at the tyrant aim the blow.
This is my destined fate

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Artists,Arts and Literature,Botched Executions,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous,Famous Last Words,Gallows Humor,Hanged,History,Intellectuals,Language,Martyrs,Mass Executions,Nobility,Popular Culture,Power,Public Executions,Revolutionaries,Russia,Soldiers,Treason

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

Previous Posts


Calendar

September 2019
M T W T F S S
« Aug    
 1
2345678
9101112131415
16171819202122
23242526272829
30  

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!