1726: Franz Laubler, Hermann Joachim Hahn’s murderer

Add comment July 18th, 2018 Headsman

Franz Laubler was broken on the wheel in Dresden on this date for assassinating Protestant deacon Hermann Joachim Hahn.

Hahn was a well-connected pastor who had been plying his trade in the Lutheran Kreuzkirche for nigh 20 years. That trade consisted heavily in the evangelization of Catholics in a confessionally split city;* indeed, his murderer, a Catholic-reared butcher and mercenary, had himself once upon a time been converted by Deacon Hahn.

Said Franz Laubler had in time returned his soul to the Roman fold but the unsettled mind suggested by his sectarian vacillation is supported by Laubler’s strange conviction that a communion wafer taken in 1720 had lodged permanently in his gullet. “Schlaget mir den Kopt ab, und ihr werdet noch die Hostie in meinem Halse finden!” he exclaimed: “Cut off my head, and you’ll still find the Host in my throat!”


Not to be confused with the Ghost to the Post.

On May 21 of that same year of our Lord 1726, the Host-throatened Laubler presented himself at the divine’s residence under the guise of seeking spiritual counsel, but instead sent Hahn straight to his maker with a hidden blade.** He’d thrown down Dresden’s Lucifer, he explained to the gendarmes who took him into custody — and made his heavy heart light.

The murder triggered a massive Protestant pogrom against Catholics which required several days to quell.

There’s a public domain volume from 1826 about these events available free here, as well as a 2009 book Die Hostie im Hals. (The Host in the Throat | here’s a review) Both titles are in German. Hahn’s Wikipedia page itemizes a number of other German pamphlets about his murder dating to the 1720s.

Hahn’s tomb can be found in the Trinitatiskirche Cemetery, where it was transferred in the mid-19th century from the old Johanniskirchof.

* Dresden, and Saxony in general, were predominantly Protestant. However, Catholics enjoyed a broad grant of tolerance thanks in part to the Elector of Saxony, Augustus the Strong, who converted to Catholicism in 1697 in order to become King of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.

** Okay, it wasn’t straight to his maker: Laubler started by trying to strangle Hahn with a rope, and resorted to the knife as his victim resisted him.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Assassins,Broken on the Wheel,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Diminished Capacity,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Germany,God,Gruesome Methods,History,Holy Roman Empire,Murder,Notable for their Victims,Public Executions

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1888: Two in New Jersey, by father and son hangmen

Add comment July 18th, 2017 Headsman

This morning in 1888, two different locales in the U.S. state of New Jersey put two different men to death — respectively hanged by James Van Hise pere and fils, father and son executioners.

George Kearney

(From the New York Herald, July 19, 1888)

In the heart of New Jersey’s great apple whiskey district is Freehold, the drowsy, ancient town where George Richard Kearney was neatly hanged yesterday for the murder of gray haired Mrs. Margaret Purcell, the housekeeper of Mrs. Daniel R. Lyddy, at Elberon, in February.

It is an old fashioned place, and its people are both picturesque and peculiar. Nowhere in New Jersey are the old prejudices and notions cherished as they are in Freehold. The leading newspaper has been going for over three-quarters of a century, and has a circulation of twelve hundred.

But even the fierce heat of journalism has failed to reform or mould New Jersey human nature into modern ideas.

One of the keen features of Freehold philosophy is that a dollar is a dollar. It stares you in the face at every step you take. The genuine native sucks it in with his mother’s milk.

But the last place you would expect to hear that a dollar is a dollar is the cell of a condemned murderer spending his last night on earth.

And yet on Tuesday night men stood in the little brick jail in the rear of the Freehold Court House intriguing to make a few dollars out of the murderer’s agony of mind. The main idea was to get Kearney to confess so that the confession could be peddled for money to the newspapers.

No reporters were allowed to get near him lest the marketable value of the expected confession might be impaired. The most subtle methods were employed to work the negro up to the point of disgorging. He was fed on peaches and coddled. Then he was plied with questions, charged with trying to keep the secret and urged to make all the facts known.

As the night wore on there was a great deal of winking and whispering. Kearney had been worked up, they said, and could not hold out much longer. There was big money in it, perhaps a thousand dollars. So the whispers said. The newspapers would pay high to get a confession.

Every time a reporter appeared to be curious about the chances of a confession the intriguers received a nervous shock. A thrill of horror went through them when it was learned that the HERALD had asked the telegraph operator to hold his wire until midnight. Perhaps some reporter might slyly get hold of the confession. They were such oily, keen eyed fellows, these reporters.

TRYING TO WORK KEARNEY UP.

Kearney held out doggedly. He was innocent of the Purcell murder, he said, and he could not understand why they were so persistent. Even his Bible reading was rudely disturbed by the confession hunters.

The slightest evidence of emotion caused a flutter. When he was seen to weep there was great joy and excitement. Surely he would reveal marketable matter now.

So, while the black browed wretch tried in vain to forget his approaching doom the high toned officials schemed to make a few dollars.

All this was the result of a confession which Kearney made a short time ago, when he acknowledged that he was guilty of an assault upon Miss Angelina Herbert at Eatontown, for which poor old Mingo Jack was cruelly lynched. Under Sheriff Fields, who has charge of the jail, was left out in the cold. Either Prosecutor Haight or Assistant Prosecutor Schwartz sold the text of the confession to a New York newspaper. He divided with no one. Under Sheriff Fields and his father, the Sheriff and all the constables and turnkeys were blazing mad about it according to what the townspeople say. Fabulous stories were told about the amount paid by the New York newspaper for the confession. Some said it was $1,000 and some said it was $100.

Anyhow, the price of Kearney confessions went up. A person who was supposed to have secret means of influencing the murderer to talk was followed about like a man with a straight tip on a race course. A dollar is a dollar, you know. He was treated and flattered. The general impression in Freehold was that to have a one-half interest in genuine Kearney confession was equal to retiring from active business on a comfortable income.

The HERALD reporter who went to witness the hanging had not been in Freehold an hour before he was asked by two different persons for the exclusive use of the last confession of the condemned man. He was sure to break down, they said. Things were being made hot for him.

Later on the reporter learned that Under Sheriff Fields was in a fever of anxiety lest the confession might escape him. He regarded it as a sort of perquisite. One of the death watch officers was pulling a quiet wire to outwit his chief and capture the confession himself.

And Kearney turned the plots all upside down by going to bed without breathing a word of confession, except the private statement he made to Lawyer Johnston.

New York Herald, July 18, 1888:

PREPARING FOR THE GALLOWS.

Hardly had the sun reddened the east yesterday when the murderer got out of bed and dressed himself. He went to the door of his cell and talked with Constable Fleming. When he mentioned his wife he cried heartily. Then he sat down and read the Bible. Now and then some favored person was permitted by the Sheriff to enter the jail corridor and look at the prisoner.

Meanwhile groups of farmers began to assemble in the rear of the Court House, outside of the enclosure where the new scaffold stood. Lawyer Johnston shook hands and chatted with Undertaker Barkalow, who was to bury his client. Men, women and children lingered in front of the jail. The main street put on a busy, metropolitan aspect. All the saloons did a rushing trade.

Then Hangman Van Hise arrived.

He was the hero of the hour. The fact that he was to hang Kearney while his hopeful son was hanging Ebert in Jersey City made him a person of great importance. All the folks in the street smiled and said “How air you?” when he passed. Van Hise is a short man, with a deep chest and heavy shoulders. His features are blunt and coarse. He wears a large red mustache and there is a cold, steady light in his small gray eyes. In appearance he is an ideal hangman.

KEARNEY GETS RELIGION.

While Van Hise was rigging the rope on the scaffold the colored clergymen arrived.

They were Rev. J. Giles Mowbray, of Freehold; the Rev. T.T. Webster, of Fair Haven, and the Rev. Littleton Sturgis, of Asbury Park.

The ministers were admitted to the corridor and Kearney was led out of his cell. He wore a rough white shirt, with a rolling collar, and gray-brown shabby trowsers.

He was a stoutly built man, with a large head, powerful, hairy jaws and thick neck. His smile was snaky and unpleasant to look at. This man of nature had confessed to two horrible outrages upon white women, but denied the last attempt at the same crime which resulted in murder. Brutality and sensuality were stamped plainly upon his dark countenance. He showed the whites of his eyes and his hands trembled as he met the clergymen.

All three kneeled in the corridor and prayed aloud. Their prayers were disturbed again and again by the amateur constables who were having new clubs with red cords served out to them and banged the clubs against every object within reach. The hammering at the gallows also drowned the sound of the prayers.

Kearney knew what the hammering meant. Once he put his hands over his ears.

When the prayers wee done the Rev. Mr. Mowbray poured out some wine and broke bread. He then read the communion service and gave the sacrament to the murderer. Finally he asked Kearney to pick out the religious service he wanted at the scaffold. He sent into his cell for a Bible. Turning over the leaves rapidly he put his black thumb on the eighty-sixth psalm at the words: —

O God, the proud are risen against me and the assemblies of violent men have sought after men soul.

“I want you to read that?” he said horasely.

Kearney next asked that the hymn sung at the gallows should be “Take the name of Jesus with you.” He read over the verse: —

Oh, the precious name of Jesus!
How it thrills our souls with joy
When his loving arms receive us
And his songs our tongues employ!

One or two of the jail officials who looked on at a distance suspected that Kearney was making a confession, and they suffered sharp anguish as they saw a turnkey creep up close enough to hear. If the confession got out it could not be peddled. The officials panted and perspired. Suddenly Kearney leaped up and threw his hands wildly into the air.

“Glory! glory! glory!” he screamed. “I long for the end now. Jesus is mine. I’ve had trials and tribulations here, but there are none above. Glory to God! Glory! Let the end come. Let it come! Glory!”

“MY BLOOD WILL BE UPON THEM.”

His face was convulsed with emotion and tears ran from his eyes. The cries which he uttered could be heard outside of the jail.

When he sat down the clergyman asked him if he wished to relieve his bosom from any secret connected with the crime. He passionately declared his innocence and turning to Mr. Mowbray, said: —

If they hang me they will be taking the life of an innocent man. My blood will be upon them. I had nothing to do with the murder of Mrs. Purcell.

As the clergyman retired Kearney said to a constable that his confession that it was he and not Mingo Jack who assaulted Miss Herbert at Eatontown was true.

“Mingo Jack was innocent,” he said. “They can believe what they please, but I did it. I told the truth in my confession.”

By this time there was a great crowd in front of the jail. Men, women and children pressed against each other in the vain attempt to hear or see some thing.

An old colored woman kept kneeling at the door on the sidewalk and praying in a low voice. A constable drove her away. There was a drove of constables in the flower garden at the jail. Among them was Clay Wooley, who came near having Stanford Potter hanged for the Hamilton murder at Long Branch. Mayor Brown, of Long Branch, passed in to see the execution. The Sheriff was half crazy settling disputes as to who should see Kearney die.

A lot of boys climbed into tree tops which commanded a view of the gallows. Constables drove them away. Up in the tower of the big Court House rows of fingers at the green slats of the belfry showed where a small army of peepers was concealed.

Chief Haggerty, of the New Jersey Detective Bureau, was hid behind a curtain in the window of the jail hospital. The glare of his diamond pin almost revealed him. Nothing was left undone to evade the law, which declares that not more than thirty-eight specified persons shall witness an execution.

Out in the jail yard a reporter who could not gain admittance to the fatal enclosure sat under a cherry tree in a corner half asleep. In a window opposite to him the female prisoners were crowded.

WALKING TO THE GALLOWS.

At last the side door of the jail was thrown open and the death procession appeared.

First came the Sheriff, and after him the prisoner supporter on either side by the Rev. Mr. Mowbray and the Rev. Mr. Webster. The jailer, a reporter, several jurors, S.B. Hinsdale, the official stenographer in the case, and a posse of constables brought up the rear. Kearney walked with a firm step and showed no signs of fear.

His arms were lashed behind hi by means of straps. The black cap falling back from his face like a cowl and the trailing end of the noose around his neck gave him a horrible appearance. As the ghastly figure passed the corridor the female prisoners gasped and shuddered. The murderer was led into the little rough enclosure where the jurors and others were waiting. As the hangman attached the noose to the rope Kearney smiled in the old surly way.

“If you want to say anything, say it to the Sheriff,” said Van Hise.

“I’ve nothing to say.”

The Rev. Mr. Webster started to pray, when the murderer frowned and told him that he wanted no delay. Van Hise at once pulled the black cap over his face.

“Goodby,” said the negro.

“Goodby, George,” groaned the clergyman.

DEATH WITHOUT A STRUGGLE.

The Sheriff signalled to Van Hise, who pressed his foot on a spring at the side of the gallows. The trigger released weights amounting to 650 pounds, which hung over a nine foot pit in the ground. Instantly the body of Kearney was whipped up from the ground. The rope doubled and his head came within two feet of the crossbeam. The body descended with a terrific jar and swung gently to and fro.

It was seen at once that the knot had slipped from the left ear around to the back of the neck and everybody thought there would be a horrible scene of strangulation. The body hung motionless. There was not the slightest motion to show that Kearney was alive.

About a minute after the spring was touched the shoulders and chest moved slightly, but it was merely the usual muscular spasms. The two doctors who were present decided to allow the body to hang for half an hour, after which it was cut down and put in a coffin. The shoes were cut from the dead man’s feet and there was a general scramble for pieces of shoestrings as mementos. Van Hise declared that Kearney’s neck was broken. He was delighted over a telegram from his hopeful son announcing that the hanging in Jersey City was a success.

“He’s a promising young man,” he said. “It’s the first time I have left him alone on a job.”

NO GRAVE FOR KEARNEY.

As none of Kearney’s relatives turned up the Coroner decided to bury the body at the county’s expense. Both the colored cemetery and the white cemetery authorities refused to allow the remains to be buried in their grounds. The Coroner suggested that the coffin might be stood on end in the narrow pit into which the gallows weights dropped and covered over. This ideas was rejected.

“I don’t know where I am to get a grave,” said the Coroner distractedly, after the execution. “I have an idea that I can bury the corpse at any crossroads. It would serve the town right if I buried it on the crossing of the two main streets. I’ll bury it anyhow, even if I have to dig a grave on my own farm. I offered $5 for a grave in a field near the cemetery, but the owner wouldn’t have it.”

The crime for which Kearney was hanged was committed on February 13, 1888. He was coachman for Mrs. Daniel R. Lyddy, and attempted to outrage Mrs. Purcell, the housekeeper. The old woman resisted and he beat her and threw her down a cellar stairs. She was horribly mutilated, but lived for a month afterward. She identified Kearney and made a dying declaration of the circumstances of the crime.

Henry Ebert

(via Augustine E. Costello)

EXECUTION OF EBERT. — On July 18, 1888, in the Hudson County Jail, Henry Conrad Ebert, paid with his life the penalty for the murder of his wife, Elizabeth. The fatal deed was committed on Sunday, November 27th, 1887, and at no time has there been any doubt of Ebert’s guilt.

Ebert dressed himself for the last few steps he was to walk on earth as late as possible, and lingered over the process to an unusual degree. It was not until 9.55 o’clock that Deputy Sheriff Mersheimer informed Sheriff Davis that Ebert had finished his toilet. The particulars that follow, of the hanging, are taken from the daily press:

Precisely at 10 o’clock, six strokes of the Court House bell clanged upon the air. The sound was expected, but caused cold chills to run over those who heard them. How the knell must have affected the doomed man can be better imagined than described.

Sheriff Davis read the list of witnesses, and they formed in double column. The procession passed through the Court House park and entered the jail. They reached the fatal corridor at 10 o’clock.

Sheriff Davis and Deputies Mersheimer and McPhillips left the corridor and went up stairs for the law’s victim. The two faithful clergymen were with Ebert and their presence had a bracing effect. The death warrant was read and then Ebert’s arms were pinioned behind him at the elbows. The deadly noose was adjusted and the black cap placed upon Ebert’s head. All was now ready for the death march.

Sheriff Davis led the way and was followed down the narrow stairs by the two ministers. Next came the murderer with Deputy Mersheimer supporting him at the left elbow and McPhillips at the right. They reached the entrance to the corridor at 10:10 o’clock.

Ebert’s face was deadly pale as he crossed the fatal threshold and caught sight of the grim gallows at the end. His right eye was gone, and the reddened socket seemed to heighten the pallor of his cheeks. [a result of shooting himself after shooting his wife -ed.] He never faltered.

A few short steps brought him beneath the beam. Van Hise Jr. guided him to the cruciform chalk marks upon the floor. The centre point was directly in line with the pendent rope. Ebert’s legs were quickly fastened with straps. A silence that could be felt, prevailed, broken only by the pulsations of the water pipe keeping time to the strokes of the pumping engine at High Service.

Dr. Meury’s voice broke the stillness as the black cap was drawn down, to forever shut out daylight from the murderer’s sight. He prayed earnestly, and as follows:

O, most merciful God, who according to the multitude of thy mercies, dost so put away the sins of those who truly repent, that thou rememberedst them no more; open thine eye of mercy upon this, thy servant, who most earnestly desireth pardon, and forgiveness. Renew in him whatsoever hath been decayed by the fraud and the malice of the devil, or by his own carnal will and frailness, consider his contrition, accept his tears, assuage his pain, as shall seem to thee most expedient for him, and for as much as he putteth his full trust only in thy mercy, impute not unto him his former sins, but strengthen him with thy blessed spirit, and if it be in accordance with thy will. When he shall have departed hence, take him unto thy favor through the merits of thy beloved son our Lord Christ Jesus, to whom with the Father and Holy Spirit shall be all the glory. Amen.

As the “amen” was uttered there was a pause. Then Sheriff Davis signalled to Van Hise, who pressed the gallows treadle. Ebert’s body sprang into the air at 10:13 o’clock.

His neck was not broken, and a horrible sight followed. The knot slipped from its proper place behind the left ear, and was jerked around to the middle of the left jaw. Fully one-quarter of the dying man’s face was exposed as he strangled to death. His hands were bare and turned purple as the oxygen was gradually cut off from his lungs. The forearms raised until the clenched hands repeatedly rested upon his breast.

The lower limbs were forcibly contracted. His feet seemed to reach out for a resting place in vain. The sight appalled most of the witnesses. Many of them turned their heads aside. Dr. Heifer, of Hoboken, said he would not be surprised if Ebert lived for thirty minutes.

At 10:17½ o’clock the weight was raised sufficiently to lower the body until the feet almost touched the floor. The doctors and the newspaper men gathered around the pendant body. The head of the corpse was a few inches higher than the head of the bystanders, and the doctors took turns in noting the condition of the heart.

At 10:20 o’clock the heart rate was 84; at 10:22 it had fallen to 80; at 10:23 it was 60, and at 10:26 the pulsations were inaudible even with a stethoscope. At 10:33 the body was lowered, and Coroner Brackner and his assistants took possession of it. The body was removed to Speer’s Morgue, where an autopsy was held.

Ebert ate dinner with his usual relish, and a short time afterward, Keeper Eltringham asked him if he would like to be shaved. Ebert said he would, and Chris. Munzing, the Newark avenue barber, was called in. When Ebert sat down to be shaved, the keeper said, “You will have to be handcuffed before he begins.” “What for?” said Ebert; “there is no need of that.” “It is the Sheriff’s order,” said the keeper. “Then I won’t be shaved at all,” said Ebert resolutely, and he was not.

Sheriff Davis and the executioner visited the corridor and examined the gallows, and the afternoon passed for the prisoner without incident. He frequently went to the window and looked out at the crowd of curious people who hung over the iron fence. A number of them were his former neighbors, but he did not recognize any of them.

About five o’clock, Rev. Mr. Meury reached the jail. He was accompanied by Rev. John Staehli of Jersey City, who had been selected as his assistant by the spiritual adviser.

Mr. Meury had intended to go to Trenton with Ebert’s brother and counsel to present the petition signed by over 150 residents of the Fourth district, asking for a commutation of sentence, but he was unable to go. As soon as he learned of the unsuccessful result of the appeal to the Court of Pardons, Mr. Meury started for the jail. He went up to Ebert’s cell and broke the news to him. Ebert bore up well, showing outwardly but little change. The faithful pastor then tried to induce Ebert to make a clean breast of the crime, the prisoner with only a few hours between him and eternity, still adhered to his original statement which all the known facts disprove. Mr. Meury came down from the cell about half-past five o’clock, and just at that time Ebert’s brother called at the jail and asked permission to go in and see the condemned man. It did not take Jailer Birdsall a minute to make up his mind, although it was a very trying moment. He directed Keeper Eltringham to refuse him admittance. Young Ebert walked back to the gate and catching sight of his brother at the window of his cell he made a dumb show to let him understand that he had been refused admission. The crowd around the fence pressed in but the young man was too much excited to pay any attention to them. He returned to the door and asked for Mr. Meury. When he saw him he urged him to get permission for him to go in the gallery at the head of the stairs where he could see his brother and call good by to him. Mr. Meury urged Jailer Birdsall to grant this request, but was firmly refused, “I am satisfied,” said Mr. Birdsall; “that my reasons for refusing are good. It will only make a scene and Ebert has already said that he don’t want to see anybody. I don’t think it will be safe to allow them to come together, and I will not take the responsibility. If the Sheriff will come with him and take him in I will not offer any objection.”

Mr. Meury and young Ebert went to the Sheriff’s office, but did not find the Sheriff. The deputy in charge of his office talked to Ebert and convinced him that it would be useless to search for the Sheriff, as the prisoner was in the custody of the Jailer. Young Ebert hung around the vicinity of the jail for a good while. talking to all he knew about the affair.

The Jailer was right, however, for he did not want to run any risks, and the young man’s erratic actions on former visits were enough to inspire any jailer with extra caution.

After the brother had gone a committee from the Council of Red Men called to see Ebert. They were not allowed to do so. They were very much affected by the condition in which they found him, and said that he had been suspended about six months before the murder. They said, “If he had only let us know about his condition or his trouble with his wife we would have gladly helped him; but we only knew that he had fallen behind, and he was dropped under the rule.” They were affected to tears when they talked with the pastor.

Keepers Hanley and Hanlon and Constable Carroll kept watch by turns over Ebert during the afternoon and evening. About eight o’clock Ebert wanted his supper. He ate a hearty meal sent from Jailor Birdsall’s table. There is a peculiar feature about a murderer’s last two or three weeks. Humanity and custom have made it a rule that condemned men, while awaiting execution, shall be fed on a more liberal plan than ordinary prisoners, yet there are no funds for this, and the jailor has to provide it at his own expense. Ebert had had pretty much anything he liked to order for the two weeks previously, and he thought more about his next meal than he did about the next world. After he ate his supper he chatted with Keeper Eltringham about the Order of Red Men, the different processes of making beer and wine in Germany, and when the keeper was changed he spoke to keeper Hanlon about his service in the Prussian artillery service. He said he enlisted when he was seventeen years old, and served until he was twenty-one, and that while doing garrison duty he learned to play the zither and the trombone in the band. He was quite chatty and frequently laughed. He smoked a pipe after supper, and smoked a cigar which Mr. Meury gave him. He was not allowed to have any cigars except those given by the jailer and Mr. Meury, for fear that some dangerous weapon or poison might have been concealed in the cigar. The police drove the crowd away from the front of the jail, and the place was kept pretty clear all night. Pastor Meury went home for a short time about 9 o’clock, promising to return at 11 o’clock. There were few callers except the newspaper men during the evening, but all the principal papers were represented between dark and midnight.

Ebert went to sleep at 11:15 o’clock and slept soundly.

Rev. Mr. Meury, with Rev. Mr. Staehle returned to the jail at 2 o’clock, and went up in about an hour. They found Ebert still sleeping.

Ebert had requested Mr. Meury to admininister the Communion during the day, but when Ebert persisted in refusing to make a confession, the minister would not administer the rite.

At midnight the jail was closed. The heavy iron shutters closed out the sights and sounds of the outer world. No sounds were heard inside of the building. Groups of newspaper men occupied every available space for writing and the night passed quietly. Ebert became restless as morning drew near, and the flies annoyed him by lighting on the wounded eye.

The twittering of the sparrows about 4 o’clock gave the first notice of the coming dawn, and daylight followed very suddenly. The wagons followed and the day’s work began, the sights and sounds of busy life began to come into the jail, still Ebert slept on as unconcerned as if he had no interest in the proceedings.

Rev. Mr. Meury accompanied by Mr. Staehle, went up at four o’clock. They found Ebert awake waiting for them. He greeted them cheerfully and told them that he had slept very well. Mr. Meury asked him if he had anything further to say, and he said, yes. Then Dr. Meury took out a memorandum book and wrote down the statement in German, of which the following is a translation:

I forgive all who have sinned against me. If I killed my wife in a fit of insanity I regret it from the bottom of my heart, as I would never have killed her had I been in a healthy state of mind. I pray God to forgive me, and hope to meet my wife in heaven. I thank the jailor, my pastor, and all who have been so kind to me while I have been here.

The two ministers then examined him as to his spiritual condition, and at his request they decided to administer the sacred communion. They took up the wine and bread at five o’clock.

The Counsel of Henry Ebert were not from the start all sanguine of saving him from the gallows. The verdict reached by the jury was no surprise to them, as their expectations never went beyond a sort of a forlorn hope that the circumstances attending the shooting of Mrs. Ebert by her husband might lead the jury to bring a verdict of murder in the second degree. When that slender prop was swept away it was manifest to them that their application for a writ of error would be denied because they had nothing sufficiently tangible upon which to base any assurance of procuring a new trial for the unfortunate man. Counselor Wm. D. Daly, who through a creditable sense of his duty towards the murderer, fought to the last for him, spent days striving to discover something that might avail Ebert before the Court of Pardons, but as he admitted sorrowfully after returning from that court, his efforts were discouraging, and he was not disappointed that they were unavailing. The main point upon which the lawyers made a plea for clemency for Ebert, was the fact that the killing was the result of a mutual prearranged plan to die together, and to this end the following letter was brought to the attention of the Court of Pardons:

We are being persecuted by the Groeschel family. Fred Groeschel, his wife, and Dorett List, the mother of my wife, have been accepting as true everything which my wife has said during her insanity, and for this reason now they are persecuting me, running me down wherever they can. They are trying to persuade my wife that they may alienate her affections from me. These people, do not know what true love is. They do not know that a true German woman will cling to her husband, even though he should become bad. I, however, was not and am not bad. These people, through their behavior, have made me sick, confused my brain and made me despondent of the love of humanity. My wife dies of her own free will, and has begged me a hundred times to shoot her. I could not do it and would not do it. I am, however, at the present time, in such a frame of mind, that I should like to shoot myself. Should my wife hear this, however, she would be unredeemably lost, and it is better therefore, that we die together. It is my wife’s own wish that we die together, and I do it. I become a murderer in order to make my wife happy.

(Signed) Henry Ebert.

When all hope was gone, Rev. Mr Meury showed these documents to Ebert, and he admitted that they were in his handwriting. The letter was written by him before he left home on the day of the murder. It was intended that it should account to the public for the projected suicide of himself and his wife. It was found wrapped up in a newspaper among Ebert’s effects, which were turned over to his brother by Warden George O. Osborne when the former left the City Hospital. Ebert’s brother did not discover it until after the trial, and then, believing it to be of great importance, he gave it to Mr. Daly, who had him translate it. While it offered proof that mutual suicide was contemplated, in the eyes of the law it did not in the slightest degree mitigate his crime. But it proves beyond all possible doubt that Ebert’s published statement was false, and was made for effect only. It was convincing circumstantial evidence that he meant to kill both himself and wife that ill-fated day. It was quite probable, judging from their wanderings in New York on the day, he having a loaded revolver in his possession, that he or they were merely seeking a favorable opportunity to end their wretched existence. The letter brushed away whatever doubt there might be of his suicidal and murderous intentions, and fixed his responsibility for the fatal crime.

Among Ebert’s effects at the hospital was also found the following:

Tallahassa Council No. 22, F. O R. M.:

“Bury me as a brother and give the balance to our Elsa.”

This is understood to have reference to the money which was to be paid by the Council at Ebert’s death.

Many of the early workers who left their homes on the hill in the morning, paused as they passed, to gaze up at the grim front of the County Jail, where the condemned man awaited his doom. They pointed out Ebert’s window to each other and talked over his fate until the two Third precinct policemen ordered them to move on. At the foot of the hill, three long cattle trains could be seen on the elevated freight roads waiting a chance to reach the abattoir. The lowing of the bovine victims, as they halted upon their unconscious journey to death reminded many of Ebert’s fate, that was coming with equal certainty and even greater speed.

The sun arose, bright and clear, and promised a perfect day. All who felt its influence rejoiced except the man who was to be cut off in the bloom of health and manly vigor. Beneath his window could be heard the juvenile voices of newsboys as they cheerily hawked their stocks of morning papers.

As the hours sped along the crowds in front of the jail, while constantly changing, increased steadily in numbers. Nothing whatever could be seen and little more learned of what was going on inside the building. There was a peculiar morbid fascination about the spot, however, that proved irresistible to many.

The throng of spectators about the jail became more and more dense, and at 8:30 o’clock the end of Oakland avenue, opposite the jail, and the sidewalk of Newark avenue, were practically blockaded. This state of affairs continued until 9 o’clock, when a detail of about 60 police made their appearance. Chief Murphy was in command, with Inspector Lange and Captain Newton, of the Third precinct, to assist him. The crowds were cleared away in short order, and no one outside of those holding proper credentials were then allowed to pass the lines until all was over. A lot of boys who had gained points of supposed vantage close to the windows of the jail office, were particularly sore at being driven off.

When Ebert’s brother applied for admission to the jail, and was persistently refused by Jailor Birdsall, a good many people were inclined to think that it was unnecessarily severe, but the Jailor had good reasons.

About two weeks before, in searching Ebert the keeper found a small package of strychnine sewed into the buckle band of his vest. It was carefully removed and preserved.

When Ebert’s brother was allowed to call on him he handed him a segar. Ebert in taking it did not notice quickly enough that there was something else in the hand that extended the segar. He made motion to cover his blunder, and the motion slight as it was, attracted attention. The segar was tendered while the brothers were parting and as soon as the younger one was out of the room the prisoner was seized and stripped. The keeper found a small package of strychnine in his pocket and upon comparing the package with the other one seized before, it was found that the wrapper was a piece of the same paper in which the first one was wrapped. This proved that young Ebert had smuggled the first package into the jail, After that he could not get near enough to pass him any more articles.

Ebert’s lease of life had expired. His sands of life were run. The fatal noose was about his neck. The signal was given and Ebert’s soul was launched into eternity. He had expiated his awful crime. The gallows had vindicated this outraged majesty of the laws. There was one murderer less in the world. Was the sacrificial warning heeded? Alas, no! Candidates are still awaiting their turn to share a similar fate.

On this day..

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

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1741: Othello, Doctor Harry, and five other New York slaves

Add comment July 18th, 2016 Headsman


New-York Weekly Journal, July 20, 1741.

On this date in 1741, six slaves named Othello, Quack, Venture, Frank, Fortune, and Galloway were hanged, and a seventh, “Harry the Negro Doctor”, burned — all casualties of the ongoing investigation into the purported slave plot to torch colonial New York.

A truly horrific day in the city’s history. However, as we have noted in our entry about the last prior mass execution of this affair, these July bloodbaths surprisingly turn out to be all about the court extricating itself from a potentially limitless investigation into the servile classes.

With the return of the Chief Justice James De Lancey from New England on the first day of the month — taking control of the court from the implacable inquisition of his junior partner Daniel Horsmanden — the whole judicial momentum turns away from compounding arrests upon accusations and towards disposing of cases already in hand and tying up loose ends.

But there were a lot of loose ends … and some of them could only be tied up with hemp.

For some of the nearly 100 slaves in the city dungeon when De Lancey returned, the evidence was so scanty that they were outright released. Most of the rest were disposed of through an almost shameless wink-nod arrangement: the slaves pleaded guilty to the terrorist plot (vindicating the court’s diligence, and also the blood it had already shed), and in exchange were not executed but approved for convict transportation (sparing life and limb for the slaves, and financial injury for the owners).* Almost every weekday the court would open nominally in a proceeding against six or ten or twelve black men and women only to hear all plead guilty and promptly adjourn upon the court’s recommendation of mercy. Under “inbox zero” De Lancey, these people were not pressed to name more names, and when they did so those potential new arrestees were often left unmolested. (We shall arrive shortly at a notable exception.)

On July 15, 1741, De Lancey actually held court. True, there were 14 more Negroes, “most of which had been made Use of as Witnesses,” who were on this occasion recommended for pardon and sale abroad. But our doomed seven plus an eighth man, Tom, were the last ones in the jail who were refusing to plead guilty. (Tom was convicted with the rest, but his sentence was abated.)

It reads like a principled stand but if so, their integrity was unequalled by their trial strategy. They simply “said nothing material in their Defence, but denied all alledged against them.”

Unfortunately with everyone singing from De Lancey’s hymnal as the price of their own necks, there were a good many witnesses prepared to alledge. For this trial, six black slaves described the accused hanging around arch-plotter John Hughson, “talking about the Conspiracy to set the Town on Fire, and to kill the white People.” Besides the slave evidence, two white people also denounced the prisoners: Mary Burton, the Hughsons’ former servant who had became the ubiquitous crown witness to accuse all comers; and, William Kane, an Irish soldier who had been named as the plot’s inside man at the fort by the slave Will when the latter burned at the stake.

Kane was just the second white person in all this time to join Mary Burton on the prosecution’s witness list — and he was obtained with chilling ease.

The very night that Will burned, July 4, Kane was taken up. Examined the next day he denied knowing anything about the plot or even where Hughsons’ tavern was located.

But, Horsmanden recorded in his journal of the proceedings, “while Kane was under Examination, the Under-Sheriff came and informed the Judges, that Mary Burton had declared, that she had often seen him at Hughson’s, amongst Hughson, his Wife, &c. and the Negroes, when they were talking of the Conspiracy, and that he was one of the Confederates.”

A dramatic moment ensued, gut-wrenching even in Horsmanden’s few sentences.

Chief Justice De Lancey, “who was a Stranger to the Transactions concerning the Detection of the Conspiracy” and could therefore still be shocked by the casual way this teenager rolled into her conspiracy stories whomever some frightened prisoner had recently implicated, “thought proper to admonish the Witness in an awful and solemn Manner, concerning the Nature of an Oath, and the Consequences of taking a false one, more especially as it affected a Man’s Life.”

Would the girl fluster under this magisterial caution? Would De Lancey himself dare to press it so far as to discredit the one witness his court had depended upon for prosecuting the conspiracy thus far?

No. “She answered, she was acquainted with the Nature of an Oath very well, and that she would not take a false one upon any Account.” De Lancey dropped the point, and Mary Burton was sworn in, saying

That she had seen the said Kane at Hughson’s very often, talking with Hughson, his Wife and Daughter, Peggy Salingburgh alias Kerry, Caesar, Vaarck’s; Galloway, Rutgers’s; Prince, Auboyneau’s, and Cuffee, Philipse’s, Negroes; and the Discourse amongst them was, That they would burn the Town; the Fort first, the Governor and all his Family in it, and kill all the white People; and that she heard the said William Kane say, that he would help them all that lay in his Power.

Kane, “his Countenance changed, and being near fainting,” called for a glass of water. Kane was no fool, and when the court explicitly confirmed to him “the Danger he was in, and told [him] he must not flatter himself with the least Hopes of Mercy, but by making a candid and ingenuous Confession” he duly swallowed the draught prepared for him — albeit “after some Pause” and “tho’ at the same Time he seemed very loth to do it.” There was no way out — not for the court, not for Mary, and not for Kane — but for the soldier to corroborate her story. He numbly did so, although one would rather know how he spoke about this episode of his life under the seal of the confessional.

There is a deadening similarity to these stories, of course; it is not merely retrospective interpretation that surfaces the perverse incentives newly-arrested slaves faced — it is remarked a few times via the comments of slaves themselves in Horsmanden’s own record. “Moore’s Cato advised him and Pedro, to bring in many Negroes, telling Pedro, that he would be certainly burnt or hanged if he did not confess,” in one description … “but that if he brought in a good many, it would save his Life; for he had found it so himself; and must say, he was to set his Master’s House on fire, which would make the Judges believe him.” Why this day’s crop refused to take their out we don’t really know. Maybe they were stubborn — or had a care for their soul — or more than death feared being sold out of the place that had become their home, and onto some backbreaking sugar plantation in the West Indies.

But two of our group merit notice for more unusual profiles.

“Doctor Harry” was an unauthorized medical practitioner on account of his race and station, and so had been driven out of New York City years before. He made his home thereafter on Long Island, forbidden from venturing into New York on pain of flogging. The physician’s addition to the plot segued into the frightening prospect of a poison angle to the race war.

“A smooth soft spoken Fellow, and like other Knaves, affected the Air of Sincerity and Innocence” in Horsmanden’s words, Harry was already on the judges’ radar when a slave named Adam accused him. (Soon joined by the reluctant William Kane.) That he was on their radar as someone who was not allowed in the city does not seem to have counted a great deal. “He stifly denied all, and declared, that he never was at Hughson’s, nor had he been in Town since he was ordered out by the Magistrates.”

Othello had also been out of town during events — not by banishment, but because he was Chief Justice De Lancey’s own slave, and had accompanied his master’s New England mission during the spring when New York went arson-crazy.

Aptly for his name, Othello reads in Horsmanden’s narrative as a tragic figure who unlike Doctor Harry was ready to say what he had to say to save his own life but hanged because he couldn’t reconcile himself in time to the urgency of his situation.

Horsmanden, who also would have been Othello’s personal acquaintance, clearly respected the slave; in the judge’s estimation, Othello “had more Sense than the common Rank of Negroes” and was one of “the Head Negroes in Town.” Maybe Othello counted too highly the weight of his association with the judges, or maybe since he was out of town he simply did not have the right feel for the witch-hunt dimensions the arson investigation had taken. Reading bulletins from his city, De Lancey had questioned Othello about the plot and Othello had denied any knowledge of it. Did the slave suppose that a Head Negro in Town could be above suspicion?

De Lancey disabused him of any such hope in late June when the Chief Justice received word that Othello had been denounced in the investigation, and promptly shipped his slave back to New York in chains.

He arrived in the last days of the governor’s official amnesty window for slave confessions, having heard God knows what of proceedings from his distance. His accuser Adam gave him sound advice in the city hall’s then-teeming basement prison: “to confess … [as] a Means of getting him[self] off.” But Othello at first refused to do so, even when warned that he had little time remaining to take advantage of the amnesty.

Othello being asked, Why he so positively denied on Saturday, that he knew any Thing about the Plot; though he was warned of the Proclamation, and that the Time therein limited for the Confederates to come in and make voluntary Confession and Discovery, would expire as Tomorrow; and notwithstanding he was told, that there was full and clear Evidence against him, Why he did not take the Recorder’s Advice, and confess then what he had done now? He answered with a Smile,

Why, Sir, I was but just then come to Town.

The reluctance is easy to understand. Othello was the Man Friday to a colonial oligarch: it was worth a risk to defend that position against the loss in stature and comfort that would surely result from being sold abroad. Besides that, he needed time to get his bearings: who was accusing him of what? What cards did he hold?

Othello soon understood that advancing a strong claim of innocence would be a nonstarter, so on the eve of the amnesty’s expiration he tried to claim it by offering a “confession.” It’s the first of several that would be extracted from him; each is a noticeably minimalist contrivance to fit his circumstances of the moment — too cute by half, a cruel observer might say. In late June, Othello simply named a bunch of names that others had already named with few additional details. The judges could see very well that this was no better than a token submission.

Come July 12th, having been issued a summary death sentence upon the guilty plea he had committed to, Othello expanded that confession. Now he detailed a longer intimacy with John Hughson — but one in which Othello, although aware of the plot, repeatedly refused to swear hiimself to it. The plot as the court understood it required its adherents to promise to kill their own masters. By insisting he had never sworn, Othello wanted to avoid going on record with any intent to slay James De Lancey. He was a week from execution at this moment, and still he dreamed that maybe De Lancey would one day take him back.

But the privilege Othello clung to might have already begun to cut against him. As an appearance-of-propriety issue vis-a-vis his white neighbors, was De Lancey, the highest judge in the colony and the wealthiest man in the colony, going to spare his own property from the full rigor of the law when his court had so readily destroyed other men’s slaves? The judges considered where Othello stood with his late and cloying “confessions”, and on July 16 recommended against extending him a pardon.

Still Othello tried one last time — on the very morning of his execution. On that occasion, Horsmanden took down one last, expanded confession … and even at this desperate hour, Othello was trying to thread the needle where his master’s life was concerned.

That Adam persuaded him, since he came in Jail, to say, that he had agreed to kill his Master and Mistress; and that by saying so, he would get clear: But this was all false, he never engaged to do any such Thing, nor was it ever proposed to him by Hughson, or any one else; only Hughson told him, he must rise with the Mob, and kill the People in general, as the rest were to do.

No doubt poor Othello had invested many of his last hours going over this decisive confession, trying to calibrate it precisely. Unfortunately, it showed.

For Horsmanden and his fellow judges, what Othello had provided was “neither voluntary nor free, but came from them very unwillingly, and after much Persuasion” and Othello as with his fellow-prisoner Quack only “acknowledged their Guilt in general, by their Plea, and by their Confessions, in a few Particulars, thinking thereby, as it may well be inferred, to come off as cheap as they could.” Horsmanden does not seem far from the mark in this observation, much as posterity might doubt his certainty that “both had it in their Power to make very considerable Discoveries.” At any rate,

The Judges could by no Means think them proper Objects of Mercy; and had they recommended them to the Governor as such, and his Honour had pardoned them, such Lenity towards them, might have been deemed Cruelty to the People.

As ghastly as this was for Othello and his mates, this date essentially finished the court’s business with the Negro Plot.

Does that mean we have reached the end of our series? Alas, the court’s bloodthirst had not quite been slaked. … for in the course of winding down, Horsmanden et al had opened one last line of inquiry, in hot pursuit now for a true arch-villain to lurk behind the passe conspiracies of slaves, an enemy dread enough to equal the advertised danger to New York City.

“The Old proverb has herein also been verifyed,” a satisfied Horsmanden would eventually report of this last phase that was even then opening up “that there is Scarce a plot but a priest is at the Bottom of it.”

* This was also the explicit preference of acting governor George Clarke, who on June 20 wrote to London that he “desired the Judges to single out only a few of the most notorious for execution, and that I would pardon the rest … whereby their masters will transport them out of hand.”

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Burned,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,England,Execution,Hanged,History,Mass Executions,New York,Occupation and Colonialism,Public Executions,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Slaves,Terrorists,Treason,USA,Wrongful Executions

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1801: Chloe

1 comment July 18th, 2014 Headsman

On this date in 1801, the teenage slave “negro Chloe” — as the press reports almost invariably called her — was hanged at Carlisle, Penn., for murdering her owner’s two young children.

Although a slave by every experience of her short life, Chloe and others of her generation actually existed in a legal twilight space between slave and free. Pennsylvania in 1780 had taken a step towards emancipation that was pioneering for its time but the halfest of half-measures: the Gradual Abolition Act made the children of slaves born in Pennsylvania after 1780 into indentured servants who would be manumitted by age 28.* As a result, dwindling numbers of grandfathered legal slaves remained in Pennsylvania until 1847, even as the state became an antebellum hotbed of abolitionist activism with a huge population of free blacks and slaves fled from Southern plantations via the Underground Railroad.

In Chloe’s case, she had been born to a slave in 1782, then willed when her owner William Kelso died in 1789 to William’s daughter Rebecca, who eventually sold Chloe on to a dealer.

In 1794, Chloe was bought and sold repeatedly: she was sold in July of that year, and then again in August, and then again in October, until an Irish merchant named Oliver Pollock finally bought her in March of 1795 and gave her a little bit of stability. In her eventual last confession, Chloe credited Pollock and his daughter as the only owners who took any care for her education.

Pollock, however, sold Chloe as well at the end of 1796. One wonders if the “high passion” to which she would eventually attribute her murders made her a notably ungovernable slave-child for all these passing masters, or whether it was all just happenstance — that she was just a commodity that could be liquefied in a pinch.

Whatever the case, Andrew Carothers — the man who bought Chloe from Pollock — would be her last master.**

The hard-working Andrew Carothers and his wife, Mary, had a little log cabin in Cumberland County, home to six children. Chloe was their first slave, to relieve Mary of her household labors while Andrew cleared a plot of forested land nearby, and the tone of Chloe’s last confession — widely published at the time of her execution — clearly implies a going resentment for Mary. Chloe will have just turned 18 years old when she commits her capital crimes; she’s grown out of childhood and through adolescence in this family, working as Mary’s constant domestic drudge and probably sleeping in the barn.

On January 24, 1801, the family realized that four-year-old Lucetta had gone missing. Andrew found her dead in the nearby creek where they drew water.

Since we’ve begun our story at the end we know the author of the deed in advance. Chloe would say that she had been given of late to “temptations” to do violence to her owners — sudden fancies that she would unthinkingly indulge. She had already tried and failed to murder the family’s youngest son, she said, and twice attempted to fire the barn.

On that fatal Saturday, Chloe had taken Lucetta to the creek when she needed to retrieve some water without, she said, intending any mischief. But the “temptation” came upon her there and she yielded to it readily, suffocating Lucetta and leaving her in the creek.

By returning nonchalantly and playing surprised that evening, Chloe evaded suspicion in this instance. It wouldn’t have been so implausible that an unattended little girl in a rural family might have fallen into a river and drowned, and a relieved Chloe “promised myself good days” without violent urges.

But, she said, Mary’s strict discipline soon undid those better angels. After Lucetta was buried on Sunday the 25th, Mary “made me strip off my short-gown, and gave me a severe whipping, with a cowskin; also on Tuesday she gave me another, and on the following Saturday she gave me a third.” For one who had so lately experienced the cruel pleasure of visiting lethal violence upon her tormenter’s own flesh and blood, this treatment was too much to bear. That weekend she lured another daughter, six-year-old Polly, to the creek and did her the same way.

Chloe was reported to have forsworn “any spite or malice against” her victims — “on the contrary, I loved them both.”

But, she said, she murdered them because their tattling on her misbehaviors set her up for Mary’s corrective hidings (“far beyond the demerit of the fault”); and, “the second and greatest motive … to bring all the misery I possibly could upon the family, and particularly upon my mistress.”

If suspicion had escaped Mary the first time around, it now insisted upon itself.

Mary’s account of matters also hit the papers; she said that on the Monday following Polly’s death she accused Chloe of the horrible crime. “She [Chloe] said she did not do it, had no hand in it, and full denied it till Monday was a week.” That must have been an excruciating week, doing the wash and preparing dinner with the sullen teenager who you’re also convinced is picking off your family and torturing to that effect. “I was much whipped by my master, to extort a confession,” Chloe recalled. At last the Carothers’ pressure overwhelmed their slave.

I said [to Chloe] it was not worth while to deny it, her countenance would condemn her, it was plain she had a hand in it — it was plain, for the children would have crawled on their hands and feet out of the run if somebody had not held them in … she might as well tell as not — I could not bear the sight of her about the house; I was sure she had done it.

Chloe eventually consented to confess not to Mary Carothers but to a neighbor, Mrs. Clendinen, who had a lighter personal touch and not so much acrimonious history with Chloe. Even so it was still another two weeks before they escorted Chloe to the sheriff. The spiritual instruction that her many owners had never bothered with in her life now became available to her as she approached death — obviously all-inclusive with ghostwriting services as well.

Oh! what have I done? In revenging the injuries I suffered, I have drawn the fierce indignation of heaven upon myself. The voice of the blood of two innocent children crieth against me from the ground. Is my sin too great, for the mercy of God to pardon? Is my stain too deep for the blood of Jesus to wash away? I am full encouraged to trust that, loud as the blood of these innocents cries for vengeannce, the blood of Jesus cries louder still for mercy and pardon and I trust that his unbounded goodness will not suffer me to perish.

The original source of both Chloe’s and Mary Carothers’s accounts are separate 1801 articles in Kline’s Carlisle Weekly Gazette: July 22 (Chloe) and June 24 (Mary). Both were subsequently reprinted by other newspapers around the young country.

* This law inconvenienced the political elites of the early Republic, since it also prohibited importing new slaves — even for the Southern congressmen who came to Philadelphia while that city served as the U.S. capital during the 1790s. George Washington, famous for crossing the Delaware, had to run his black slaves over that river to New Jersey periodically while he was president, lest they become automatically liberated by residing continuously in Pennsylvania for six-plus months.

That said, the Gradual Abolition framework did sustain a market in human chattel inasmuch as somebody’s compulsory labor unto age 28 was still a value that could be calculated and sold. The way to import slaves to Pennsylvania was to bring them in under the same transit auspices that Washington used, legally manumit them there into “indentured servitude” pending their 28th birthday, and then sell the indenture contract.

** John Carothers, Andrew’s cousin, had been poisoned in 1798 with his own wife Mary in another, unrelated Cumberland County death penalty case.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Hanged,History,Murder,Pennsylvania,Public Executions,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Slaves,USA

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1936: Virgilio Leret, the first shot in the Spanish Civil War

Add comment July 18th, 2012 Headsman

On this date in 1936, Spanish aviator Virgilio Leret Ruiz was shot for resisting the fascists’ opening gambit in what would become the Spanish Civil War.


The first vignette of this recent film supporting justice for victims of the civil war is voiced by film director Pedro Almodovar, who says “My name is Virgilio Leret Ruiz … I’m a pilot, head of the air force in the eastern part of Morocco. I refuse to support the uprising, and at dawn on 18 July 1936, my comrades turned me into the first military officer assassinated for fulfilling his duty.”

Leret (Spanish link, as are all the ensuing links in this post), who has the incidental distinction of having patented an early jet engine design, was, circa 1936, stationed at the Atalayon Seaplane Base on the outskirts of Spain’s Moroccan exclave of Melilla.

This would put him in the front row for the very first action of the terrible civil war — the July 17 military uprising (Spanish link) that secured Spanish Morocco for the putschists within hours.

North Africa, correctly rated as easy pickings, was to be the first target of Franco’s rising, with the main event on the Iberian peninsula following the very next day. From their standpoint, it pretty much went off without a hitch.


This pro-Franco plaque in Melilla celebrates the city’s distinction as the place where his “glorious national movement” was launched. Image (c) Joshua Benton and used with permission.

Leret’s wife Carlota, spent 4+ years locked up and wrote this book about her fellow prisoners. She later moved to Venezuela, where Leret progeny still remain.

Despite the absence of any effective resistance elsewhere in Melilla, Captain Leret scrambled from a relaxing day swimming with his family and commanded his base to hold out for the Republican government.

While it was no real threat to the rebelling officers, the gesture required a slight detour by Franco’s forces, and even a couple of casualties before the Seaplane base surrendered that night to obviously overwhelming opposition.

The next day at dawn, “half-naked and with a broken arm,” Virgilio Leret Ruiz became — along with two ensigns under his command, Armando Corral Gonzalez and Luis Calvo Calavia — the first people executed in the Spanish Civil War.

Needless to say, a great many others would follow them.

A 2011 documentary, Virgilio Leret, the Blue Knight, retrieves the reputation of this “exceptional man”, and the experience of 20th century Spain through the fate of his family.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Martyrs,Milestones,Morocco,No Formal Charge,Power,Shot,Soldiers,Spain,Wartime Executions

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1300: Gerard Segarelli, Apostolic Brethren founder

2 comments July 18th, 2011 Headsman

This date in 1300 saw the execution in Parma, Italy of Gerard Segarelli, the founder of the order of the Apostolic Brethren who are perhaps better known for Segarelli’s apocalyptic successor, Fra Dolcino.

Despite the tendency of his follower to eclipse his star, Segarelli was himself a formidable religious reformer in a time flowering with expressions of popular piety that regularly confounded the prelates.

Joined as Dolcino and Segarelli are in this fascinating period, Executed Today aptly welcomes back Dr. Jerry Pierce to talk Segarelli. He’s already shed some light on Dolcino in these pages.

Dr. Pierce is completing a forthcoming book on the Apostles.

You view Segarelli as a very different sort of character from Dolcino.

One of the big issues in studying Segarelli is that he’s always tied to Dolcino. I mean, Segarelli does die a heretic, but he’s always tied to the biggest heresy. He actually founds his order in 1260 and he’s not executed until 1300, so that’s 40 years.

Doctrinally, the reason Segarelli didn’t have any issues for so long is that as far as we can tell, he never had an anti-clerical agenda. Unlike Dolcino, he doesn’t go around calling the Church the “Whore of Babylon”.

Even at the end?

No. Basically, the reason he’s executed is that he refuses to renounce his movement, it’s not that he has any doctrinal errors or anything like that.

He’s basically like a Franciscan, just 50 years later. It’s this popular, penitential movement. They have tons of support throughout central Italy, support from the lay people who provide them with shelter and food. They’re basically doing the stuff that Francis and the early Franciscans did, wandering around exhibiting the ascetic lifestyle. And it’s okay for lay people to do this at this point. Everybody does this.

Why does everybody do this? This century has an explosion of penitential religious mass movements.

Personally, I think it has to do with economics — you have the growth of cities, growth of money economy. These are urban movements. Segarelli’s in Parma, the flagellants are in Parma and other cities.

It has to do with living in this world of growing wealth, growing towns, hearing this message of poverty preached from the pulpit and then they look around and say, “wait a minute.”

Different individuals come to this conclusion — Francis, Peter Waldo, Segarelli — I don’t think they had an idea about founding a movement. They were just trying to do something to preserve their souls.

And these other groups like the Franciscans also face an internal tension between the spirit of ascetic poverty and the institutional Church.

Even before Segarelli, the guy who’s the head of the Franciscans in one letter that he wrote said, “people wandering in Italy would rather run into robbers on the road than two begging Franciscans because at least they know the robbers’ intentions.”

A lot of authors say that Segarelli is an offshoot of the poor spiritual Franciscans. But he has no connection. He tried to join the Franciscan order, but the poor order founded by St. Francis says, “yeah, you don’t have the right pedigree to be a Franciscan,” which really goes to show how institutionalized and closed the Franciscans had already become.

Most of the stuff we have about Segarelli for his first 20 years or so is from a rival Franciscan named Salimbene who’s mad that he’s making such headway. He actually says that he can’t believe that his fellow citizens are giving more to Segarelli and his Apostles than they ever did to the Franciscans. And that colors how they talk about them: in his eyes, Segarelli is a rustic from the country.

Did Segarelli preach at all?

He goes around telling people to do penance, and the Franciscan chronicler makes fun of him because he doesn’t say the Latin version, he uses the vernacular: penitenziagite instead of the Latin penitentiam agite.

Most of it was by example. You don’t have access, really, to a Bible as a lay person; this was a way for people to sort of experience the religious life without becoming a nun or a monk.

So for these first decades of his career, if he’s attracting all this criticism, why is he still tolerated?

Because he’s not really a threat. It’s a good way to channel lay piety without it becoming a threat or anything.

Bear in mind, this is after the Waldensians, after the Crusade against the Albigensians — and both of those groups talked about poverty. This gives Church figures a pretty good idea that, hey, maybe we should be accepting of these movements.

The Bishop of Parma accepted Segarelli. There was apparently a group of Apostolic sisters who did the same thing, and the Bishop of Parma sort of wrote a document saying that you get a partial indulgence for giving to them.

Given this institutional semi-support, why wasn’t Segarelli’s movement also corrupted?

There are other leaders than Segarelli, and some do have this issue. One guy is the brother of the podesta of Bologna, a pretty wealthy dude. He takes over this movement and he’s basically using people’s donations to buy horses and ride around in nice clothes. There’s a huge civil war within the Apostles. At one point Segarelli himself gets kidnapped by rival members.

It’s not until the 1280s that they start really running into problems with respect to the Catholic hierarchy, and the problem is because of the general proliferation of the lay movements. Two different popes lay out guidelines saying unestablished religious orders need to join established orders or just disband. But then you see people in the Apostolic movement ignoring that, moving into actually preaching things, which is potentially heretical, and they start attacking the Franciscans, the Friars Minor, by referring to themselves as the Friars Minimi, “the least.” The Franciscans are pretty powerful and they start going against the Apostles.

But Segarelli himself stays clear of this?

Segarelli himself doesn’t really take a leadership role even though he’s the founder. He’s sort of hands-off.

You can argue that he has some issues because he won’t follow authority when they tell him to disband. But it was after the group had been around for so long, it’d be like telling the Franciscans 40 years on, “sorry.” Early in the movement, the Apostles had actually gone to different members of the hurch hierarhy asking for a rule under which they could operate. So they’re not trying to be insurrectionaries.

How does it all break down for the Apostles, then?

It’d be too easy to say that it’s just greedy Franciscans. I think the other part is you have people who are getting into the movement, people like Dolcino, who have other agenda. And the Church is worried that they’re unregulated and without control you get improper doctrine being preached.

When it comes to it, Segarelli just refuses to disband. The Apostles had really grown beyond his personal control anyway. But at one point he escapes from the bishop’s palace where he’s sort of under house arrest and resumes his preaching, and they’re like, “all right, enough.”

What do we know about Segarelli’s relationship with Dolcino?

We think that Dolcino may have joined the order around 1290, but it’s all hearsay. Dolcino talks some about Segarelli.

What’s Segarelli’s long-term legacy?

It’s not heresy to be associated with Segarelli after he’s executed. We have Inquisitional trial records for several years after Segarelli in places like Bologna and other areas. There’s even some evidence that there were followers in France and Germany.

As time goes on, there’s a lot of people in Italy itself like Dolcino who appropriate the movement, so you have modern writers who talk about Segarelli and Dolcino as proto-Communists, or Segarelli as the real Franciscans. Some of them have an axe to grind against the institutional Church.

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Entry Filed under: 13th Century,Activists,Burned,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous,God,Heresy,History,Interviews,Italy,Martyrs,Other Voices,Power,Public Executions,Religious Figures

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1943: Eight from the Krasnodar Trials

1 comment July 18th, 2010 Headsman

On July 18, 1943, eight Soviet citizens who were among 11 tried for collaboration with the recently expelled German occupiers were hanged before tens of thousands in the main square Krasnodar.

The proceedings from July 14-17 were the first major, open war crimes tribunals of World War II … which, of course, was still ongoing at this point.

But the previous winter, the Soviet Union had turned the tide by winning the Battle of Stalingrad, which victory presaged the liberation of the nearby north Caucasus city where we lay our scene.

The Russians proceeded to put the murderous Nazi occupation on trial, but did so not by trying Germans or their allies — but by trying eleven Soviet citizens for collaboration. Indeed, until the end of the war, thousands of Russians were prosecuted for crimes of collaboration, but only a relative handful of Germans for actually authoring those crimes.

These eleven were mostly* men who had served the Sonderkommando 10a (part of Einsatzgruppe D) in “guarding Gestapo buildings that held arrested Soviet citizens, executing arrests, going on military searches and expeditions against the partisans and peaceful Soviet citizens, [and] exterminating Soviet citizens by hanging, mass shootings, and use of poison gases.”

That “Soviet citizen” stuff, technically accurate, soft-pedaled the Einsatzgruppe‘s predictable primary target: local Jewry.

Sonderkommando 10a arrived in the town of Krasnodar when it fell to the Germans on August 12, 1942. On August 21 and 22, all the Jews were ordered to report for transfer to a certain neighborhood in the city. They were taken to the Pervomaisk woods, where they were shot. Many of the city’s Jews did not obey the order, but they, too, were eventually caught and shot. According to a Soviet committee of inquiry report, the number of civilians — women, old people, and children — murdered in Krasnodar was in excess of 13,000. Almost all were Jews. (Source)

This in a city that was occupied for only six months.

Under any description of the victims, these depredations were plenty to condemn collaborators with even the vaguest of associations. Only a few of the men had specific acts charged against them; evidence establishing frightful Nazi atrocities in the region (not hard to find) plus confessions to having worked for the Nazis (not hard to wring out) forged a sufficient evidentiary chain without getting lost in the weeds of such minutiae as: was the collaboration really voluntary? did these collaborators themselves actually carry out war crimes? was that confession actually reliable? (good luck with that one.)

In this military tribunal, the public prosecutor had a free hand for grandstanding, the defense had almost no scope of action, and (the USSR being an old hand at the show trial game) the accused knew their own part to play with craven self-denunciations and pleas for the “mercy” of being sent to the most dangerous part of the front. This made great headlines in Pravda and Izvestia (and update memos straight to the Kremlin) about Nazi bestiality,** and great copy with inquisitorial slam dunks like,

Today Soviet law will mete out justice to the traitors, fascist hirelings, and boot-lickers now in the prisoners’ dock. Tomorrow the court of history, the court of freedom-loving nations of the world, will pronounce its inexorable verdict on the bloodthirsty rulers of Hitlerite Germany and all its associates — on the enemies of mankind who have plunged the world into the welter of the present war. Not one of them will escape stern retribution! Blood for blood, death for death!

All were convicted; three drew long prison sentences and eight hanging, and since the tribunal permitted no appeal, those sentences were executed the day after the court finished its business.

The period quotes, and much of the information about this otherwise somewhat inaccessible trial, comes from Ilya Bourtman’s 2008 article for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, “‘Blood for Blood, Death for Death’: The Soviet Military Tribunal in Krasnodar, 1943.”


It may have been a first, but one need hardly add that it was hardly the last such prosecution.

Several others war crimes show trials took place in other Soviet cities over the next few months, and these would obviously continue after the war.

Long, long after the war.

* The one exception was a 60-year-old former kulak who had illicitly escaped the deportation prescribed for this class in the 1930s. His “collaboration” consisted of having been a doorman whom a German soldier asked a question of.

** e.g., “Death to Hitler’s Butchers and Their Vile Accomplices”

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Crimes Against Humanity,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Execution,Germany,Hanged,History,Mass Executions,Milestones,Notable Jurisprudence,Occupation and Colonialism,Public Executions,Russia,Soldiers,The Worm Turns,Torture,USSR,War Crimes,Wartime Executions

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1865: Chief Ahan of the Tsilhqot’in

Add comment July 18th, 2009 Headsman

“The Indian Ahan,” read the dispatch in the British Columbian this date in 1865, “will have expiated his crime upon the gallows ere these lines meet the public eye. The execution will take place in the rear of the jail early this morning.”

Ahan and another Tsilhqot’in (or Chilcotin) were of the party of Klatsassin, whom we have already met in these pages. Months after the Chilcotin War‘s mass execution, the luckless pair were arrested trying to pay what would have been a routine-for-them bit of blood money.

Both were condemned; Lutas received clemency, and his freedom. (“I eagerly availed myself of some favorable circumstances in the case of Sutas and sent him back pardoned to his tribe. A sufficient number of Indians has now perished on the scaffold to atone for the atrocities committed last year.”)

Documents related to this proceeding are archived at a canadianmysteries.ca page on Klatsassin.

Ahan’s execution in New Westminster, now part of the Vancouver, B.C. metropolis, isn’t dead, though — and isn’t even past.

Over the course of the past year, a public school project in the city that had been built over an old pauper’s grave that might have become the hanged man’s resting place was gravely (ahem) complicated by the continuing Tsilhqot’in search for Ahan’s remains. While Ahan’s own situation remains unresolved, the suit on his behalf eerily outlined the macabre past lurking everywhere beneath our workaday feet.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Canada,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Guerrillas,Hanged,History,Murder,Occupation and Colonialism,Power,Public Executions,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Soldiers,Wrongful Executions

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2007: Not Sina Paymard, saved by a flute

July 18th, 2008 Headsman

On this date one year ago, a teenager who saved himself with a flute cheated Iran’s hangman by the narrowest of margins.

Sina Paymard had had the hemp about his throat the previous fall for murdering — at the tender age of 16 — a drug dealer in a pot buy gone bad.

The bipolar young musician’s last request was to play the ney (a Persian flute), and in a feat fit for legend, he played so movingly that the family of the victim reprieved him.

This power under Islamic sharia law comes with a price: the reprieve bought time for the families to negotiate alternative financial compensation known as diyeh. Come July, the lad’s family was still $90,000 short, and he was shifted to Tehran’s Evin prison to do the whole thing over again.

Sina’s new execution date received worldwide attention:

… helping them scrape together enough from donors (“notably a substantial donation from a university lecturer”) to make good his escape.

Such are the vicissitudes of the Iranian judiciary that Paymard went from all but dancing on air twice to outright liberty: he’s a free man today, or was as of a few months ago.

Though things worked out for Sina Paymard, other juvenile offenders continue to face the ultimate sanction in Iran — virtually the last outpost of the practice on the globe. Earlier this month, StopChildExecutions.com detailed 138 Iranian prisoners condemned for crimes committed as children; Iran has executed at least two such prisoners this year.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Artists,Capital Punishment,Children,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Diminished Capacity,Execution,Hanged,Iran,Last Minute Reprieve,Lucky to be Alive,Murder,Not Executed,Pardons and Clemencies,Public Executions,Ripped from the Headlines

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