1751: Thomas Quin, Joseph Dowdell, Thomas Talbot, and five others at Tyburn

Add comment June 17th, 2020 Headsman

From the Newgate Calendar:

THOMAS QUIN, JOSEPH DOWDELL, AND THOMAS TALBOT

A Gang of Notorious Thieves, executed at Tyburn, June 17, 1751, for robbery.

At length these miserable robbers see,
Unhappy fruit, suspended on the tree;
They teach, sad lesson! in their wretched state,
That shame and ruin are the villain’s fate;
And that too late each guilty man will find,
Justice, though sometimes slow, is never blind.

The villains disclosed in this narrative, will shew the necessity of the act of parliament for inflicting punishment on masters and mistresses giving a false character. of a servant.

A corrupt servant is the most dangerous inmate of a house; and therefore too much caution cannot be used in admitting such domestics.

Quin, a murderer in his own country, Ireland, was recommended to London as a youth of good morals; while his disposition was base to a great degree.

Dowdell, who in his apprenticeship had injured his first master, procured a recommendation to another, to whom he also proved a villain.

The Case of the unhappy WILLIAM GIBBS, now under Sentence of Death.

On the 13th of March I went to the House of John Duncombe, at Nine at Night, to get a Pint of Beer. I lived five Doors from him. I sat down to drink my Beer, and in came Litchfield, Corbet, Smith, Jackson, and one Gordon; Litchfield went away, and left the rest; Smith and Corbet went to Cards, and Wine came in plentifully. I being a Neighbour, was desired to take Part, which I did. About Two o’Clock Mrs. Duncombs took her Purse, and dropt it over the Bar, I believe, in the Sight of all, except Jackson, who was drunk, and asleep on the Ground, notwithstanding he took upon him to swear hard against me, and was scarce able to stand or sit upon a Chair. I seeing Mrs. Duncombe so careless, and for no other Reason than to make her careful another Time, took the Purse, thinking it was Silver, (and not imagining a Sum of that Consequence would be so heedlessly handled) took it, and went and laid it on a Bulk, (which, by the bye, was his own Wife’s Green-Stall) a few Yards from Duncombe’s Door. Mrs. Duncombe missing the Purse, cried out, I have lost twenty-three Guineas; which frightened me almost out of my Senses, and she called her Husband. I denied the taking of it, and desired the Servant to call my Wife, thinking to get her to bring the Purse, and drop it in the Bar, or thereabouts; for, when I heard of the Sum, my Heart melted within me. Mr. Duncombe said, There’s no Occasion to call any Body, it is a Joke, and I will give a Bottle of Wine, and a free Pardon, and Thanks to him that will give an Account of it. I was very glad to hear that, and called him Backwards into the Yard, and said, Mr. Duncombe, I am sorry I should jest with such edged Tools, I little thought the Contents, but as I am a Neighbour, and live in Credit, pray let it go no farther; he said it should not; I told him where it was, and sent him for it. The Purse he had intire, and brought in a Bottle of Wine; and shook Hands; and, to all Appearance, were good Friends, as formerly, I having used his House ever since he kept it. And when he went to take Ship to go to Scotland, and carried a great Charge of Money, he chose me to conduct him, at Midnight, from Hyde-Park Corner to Hermitage Stairs. I really loved him, and would have done him any Service, as soon as I would have done it for myself; but a Person in Company, Corbet by Name, said we could not make the Matter up without going before a Justice. We agreed to go, Mr. Duncombe, myself, and another, privately. We did so, and Mr. Duncombe told the Justice, who lives near Golden Square, St. James’s, that it was a Jest, but that he wanted to be safe, and we were recommended to give general Releases. While my Wife was gone to get Releases drawn, an inveterate Enemy of mine came into the publick House where we were waiting, who called Mr. Duncombe out, and persuaded him to go to another Justice, and take out a Warrant for me, and before my Wife came back with the Releases, they had served a Warrant on me; and although we were within five or six Doors of the aforesaid Justice, they were ashamed to take me there, but took me about a Mile to another, by whom I was committed, although before recommended for Releases by the other. It plainly appears I had no Intent to keep the Purse or Contents for several Reasons: As first, No Person could lay it on me more than another, for there were four Persons in the House besides myself, and, as I am a dying Man, I never had a Thought of defrauding him of a Shilling. Secondly, I, as a Friend and Neighbour, have been Night and Day entrusted in his House, all the same as his Brother, and he never lost any thing as I ever heard of. Lastly, My Circumstances were not so bad as to cause me to do an ill Action, for I kept two Shops, one at Hammersmith, where my aged Father and Mother lives, and the other at Hyde-Park Corner; and when I came into Trouble I had two Apprentices, one of whom I have turned over since I have been in Newgate. I have a Wife and three Children, a Father and Mother, the one 80, the other 85 Years of Age, whose grey Heirs, without God’s great Mercy, will be brought with Sorrow to the Grave. When this great Misfortune happened to me, I worked for a great many noble Families, and I praise God, wherever I worked there was nothing lost. That unhappy Day, the 13th of March, I had been part of it at work at a worthy Gentleman’s, and was weary, and wanting a Pint of Beer before I went to Bed, could not be content to have it at Home with my Family, but must unfortunately go to the House, whereby I put myself in the Way of this great Misfortune, and if it be the Will of Divine Providence that I must suffer, I am content and resigned.

William Gibbs.
May, 1751.

Letter of one of the five other men hanged with Quinn, Dowdell, and Talbot

Talbot, the third of this dangerous gang, after having robbed on the highway; and being afraid of apprehension; applied to be restored to honest servitude, and was refused; but his master, in pity to his distresses, recommended, him to a nobleman.

Talbot, on the first opportunity, robbing his noble employer, we would ask whether the late master, knowing the servant to have been a thief, was not, in recommending him to an honest employ, virtually, the greater villain of the two? In fine, they were all from early youth, delinquents; and each had been imposed on honest people by those who knew them to be such. No wonder, then, that they will be found thereof the greatest rascals in this calendar of crimes.

Quin was a native of Dublin, the son of honest, but poor parents; and his father dying while he was a child, his uncle put him to school, and afterwards placed him apprentice to a buckle-maker, with whom be served three years faithfully; but his friends supplying him with clothes too genteel for his rank in life, he began to associate with gay company, and was guilty of many irregularities.

These thoughtless youths were frequently concerned in riots, and Quin was considered as the head of the party. In one of these nocturnal insurrections, Quin murdered a man, whose friends, watching him to his master’s house, desired that he might be delivered up to justice; but some of the journeymen sallying forth with offensive weapons, drove off the people; on which a warrant was issued for apprehending the murderer, when his master advised him to depart for England.

A subscription for his use being raised by his friends, he came to London, having recommendations to some gentlemen in that city; but of these he made no use, for, frequenting the purlieus of St. Giles’s, he spent his money among the lowest of his countrymen, and then entered on board a man of war.

After a service of six months, he quitted the ship at Leghorn, and sailed in another vessel to Jamaica, where he received his wages, which he soon spent. He now agreed to work his passage to England, and the ship arriving in the port of London, he took lodgings in St. Giles’s, and soon afterwards became acquainted with Dowdell and Talbot, of whom we are now to give an account.

Dowdell was the son of a bookbinder in Dublin, who being in low circumstances was unable to educate his children as he could have wished. His son Joseph, who was remarkable for the badness of his disposition, he ‘prenticed to a breeches-maker, but the graceless youth grew weary of his place before he had served two years of his time.

Dowdell being ordered by his master to take proper care of some green leather, particularly to defend it from the snow; instead thereof, he heaped such quantities of snow and ice on it, that it was greatly reduced in value. This circumstance so exasperated his master, that he was glad to get rid of him by delivering up his indentures of apprenticeship.

Thus at large, and the father ill able to support him, he was recommended to the service of a gentleman in the country, with whom he might have lived happily: but he behaved badly in his place, and running away to Dublin, commenced pickpocket.

After some practice in this way, he became connected with a gang of housebreakers, in company with whom he committed several depredations in Dublin. Having broke open a gentleman’s house, he was opposed by the servants, and effected his escape only by the use he made of a hanger; soon after which he was taken by the watchmen, and being carried before a magistrate, he was committed to prison till the next morning, His person was advertised, and he was brought to trial, but none of the servants being able to swear to him, he was acquitted for want of evidence.

He now renewed his dangerous practices, and committed a variety of robberies. The following is one of the most singular of his exploits. Going to the house of a farmer, near Dublin, he pretended to be a citizen who wanted a lodging, for the benefit of his health, and he would pay a liberal price.

The unsuspecting farmer put his lodger into the best chamber, and supplied his table in the most ample manner. After a residence of ten days, he asked the farmer’s company to the town of Finglass, where he wanted to purchase some necessaries. The farmer attending him; Dowdell purchased some articles at different shops, till seeing a quantity of gold in a till, he formed a resolution of appropriating it to his own use.

Having returned home with the farmer, Dowdell pretended to recollect that he had omitted to purchase some medicines, which he must take that night, and which had occasioned his going to Finglass. Hereupon the farmer ordered a horse to be saddled, and Dowdell set forwards, on a promise to return before night. On his arrival at Finglass he put up his horse, and stealing stealing unperceived into the shop above-mentioned, he stole the till with the money, and immediately set out for Dublin.

In the interim, the farmer missing his lodger, went to Finglass, and not finding him there, proceeded to Dublin, where he chanced to put up his horse at the same inn where Dowdell had taken up his quarters.

In a short time he saw our adventurer with some dealers, to whom he would have sold the horse; on which the farmer procured a constable, seized the offender, and lodged him in prison.

For this presumed robbery (a real one, doubtless, in the intention) he was brought to trial; but it appearing that the farmer had intrusted him with the horse, he could be convicted of nothing more than a fraud, for which he received sentence of transportation.

The vessel in which he sailed being overtaken by a storm, was dashed on the rocks of Cumberland, and many lives were lost, but several, among whom was Dowdell, swam on shore, and went to Whitehaven, where the inhabitants contributed liberally to their relief. Dowdell travelling to Liverpool, entered on board a privateer, which soon took several prizes, for which he received 60l. to his share, which he soon squandered in the most thoughtless extravagance. Being reduced to poverty, he robbed a Portuguese gentleman; for which he was apprehended, but afterwards released on the intercession of the gentlemen of the English factory; on which he sailed for England, and arrived at London.

He had not been long in the metropolis, before he associated with a gang of pickpockets and street-robbers (among whom was one Carter), whose practice it was to commit depredations at the doors of the theatres. Dowdell had not long entered into this association, before he and Carter went under the piazzas in Covent-garden, where the latter demanded a gentleman’s money, while Dowdell watched at a little distance, to give notice in case of a surprise. While Carter was examining the gentleman’s pockets, he drew his sword and killed the robber on the spot, and a mob gathering at the instant, it was with great difficulty that Dowdell effected his escape.

He now went to the lodgings of a woman of ill fame, who having been heretofore kept by a man of rank, he had given her a gold watch and some trifling jewels, which Dowdell advised her to pawn, to raise him ready money.

The girl hesitating to comply, he beat her in a most violent manner, on which she swore the peace against him; whereupon he was lodged in Newgate, but discharged at the next sessions, no prosecution being commenced against him.

He was no sooner at large, than he made a connexion with a woman of the town, whom an officer had taken to Gibraltar, and during her residence with him she had saved a hundred moidores. Dowdell having possessed himself of this sum, soon spent it extravagantly, and then prevailed on her to pawn her clothes for his support.

Talbot was the son of poor parents, who lived in Wapping, and having received a common education, he engaged himself as the driver of a post-chaise, in the service of a stable-keeper in Piccadilly. While he was driving two gentlemen on the Bath road, a highwayman stopped the carriage, and robbed them of their watches and money.

This circumstance gave Talbot an idea of acquiring money by illicit means; wherefore, on his return to London, he made himself acquainted with some highwaymen, assuring them that he was properly qualified to give them the intelligence necessary for the successful management of their business.

His proposal met with a ready acceptance; and a company having soon afterwards hired a coach and six of his master to go to Bath, Talbot gave one of the highwaymen notice of the affair; and it was resolved that the robbery should be committed on Hounslow-heath.

The highwaymen meeting the carriage on the appointed spot, robbed the parties of all they had, so that they were obliged to return to London for money before they could pursue their journey. Talbot’s share of this ill-gotten booty amounted to fifty pounds, which gave him such spirits that he resolved to pursue the same iniquitous mode of living.

In consequence of this resolution, Talbot informed the highwayman of some company going to Bath, and he attempted to rob them, but a gentleman in the carriage shot him dead on the spot.

Mortified at this accident which had befel his friend, Talbot no sooner arrived in London than he determined to resign his employment, and commence robber on his own account; but previous to engaging in this business, he spent his ready money in the worst company.

After several attempts to commit robberies, and having narrowly escaped the hands of justice, he grew sick of his employment, and requested his former master to take him into his service. This he declined, but in pity to his distress, recommended him to a nobleman, in whose family he was engaged.

Talbot had been but a short time in his new place, before he robbed the house of several articles of value, which he sold to the Jews, to supply the extravagance of one of the maid servants, with whom he had an amour.

This theft was not discovered at the time; but Talbot was soon discharged from his place, in consequence of the badness of his temper, which rendered him insupportable to his fellow servants.

On his dismission he spent his ready money with the most abandoned company, and then commencing housebreaker, committed a variety of depredations in the neighbourhood of London; for one of which he was apprehended and brought to trial at the Old Bailey, but acquitted for want of evidence.

On the very evening he was acquitted, he stopped a carriage in Drury-lane, and robbed a gentleman of his money, which he soon spent among the most dissolute of both sexes; and within a week afterwards, he broke into a house in Westminster, where he obtained plate and cash to a large amount, but was not apprehended for this offence.

In a few days he was taken into custody for picking a gentleman’s pocket, brought to trial, at the Old Bailey, sentenced to be transported for seven years, shipped to America, and sold to slavery.

He had not been long in this situation, when he embarked at Boston, in New England, on board a privateer; but when at sea he entered into a conspiracy with some of the sailors, to murder the officers, and seize the vessel; but the confederacy being discovered in time, a severe punishment was inflicted on Talbot and the other villains.

Talbot, quitting the privateer, sailed to England in a man of war, and engaging with some street-robbers in London, was apprehended, convicted, and sentenced to die: but he found interest to obtain a pardon on condition of transportation.

However, he had not been long abroad before he returned, in company with an abandoned woman, who had been transported at the same time; and this woman introduced him to the acquaintance of Quin and Dowdell, in company with whom he committed a considerable number of robberies.

These accomplices robbed six coaches one evening, and obtained considerable plunder; but this being soon spent in extravagance, they at length embarked in a robbery which cost them their lives.

Having made a connexion with one Cullen, they all joined in a street-robbery, and stopping a coach near Long Acre, robbed a gentleman of his watch and money. Some people being informed of the affair, immediately pursued them; and Cullen, being taken into custody, was admitted an evidence against his accomplices, who were apprehended on the following day.

Being brought to trial at the next sessions at the Old Bailey, they received sentence of death; but, after conviction, seemed as little sensible of the enormity of their crimes, as almost any offenders whose cases we have had occasion to record.

Dowdell and Quin were Roman Catholics; and Talbot refusing to join in devotion with the ordinary of Newgate, at the place of execution, we can say nothing of the disposition of mind in which they left this world.

We would have wished the following exclamation the mouths of these miserable sinners, at the time they made their dying atonements

O omnipotent Creator! Such hellish deeds
My soul abhors. O Lord! behold my frame,
My inmost frame, and cleanse my sinful thoughts
Then ever guide me in thy perfect way,
The way established to eternal bliss?

These men died, we fear, unrepenting sinners.

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1771: Daskalogiannis

Add comment June 17th, 2019 Headsman

The Crete patriot Ioannis Vlachos — better known as Daskalogiannis — lost his skin to the Turks on this date in 1771.

Statue of the D-man at Anopolis, Crete. (cc) image by AWI.

A wealthy shipping magnate, Daskalogiannis led the Cretan arm of the nationalist Orlov Revolt, which also featured on the Peloponnese. This affair is named not for any Greek but for the Russian admiral Alexei Orlov, who brought his fleet into the Mediterranean to engage the Turks during the 1768-1774 Russo-Turkish War, inspiring the Greek rising in the process.

Unfortunately for the rebels, some initial successes failed to catalyze a national revolution and Russian aid for the breakaway regions came up considerably short of what was pledged. While Orlov’s navy still harried Constantinople, Daskalogiannis for several months maintained a sort of autonomous redoubt from the mountain fastnesses around Sfakia with about 1,300 followers. By early 1771, he was forced to surrender himself at a gorgeous old Venetian fortress, then was taken to Heraklion and a horrific execution by flaying alive.

He’s commemorated in many street names in Crete, the name of the Chania International Airport, and a number of poems and folk ballads.

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2008: Tsutomu Miyazaki, the Nerd Cult Killer

Add comment June 17th, 2017 Meaghan

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

On this date in 2008, serial killer Tsutomu Miyazaki was hanged in Japan, alongside two men convicted of unrelated crimes. Sometimes called the “Nerd Cult Killer” for his fascination with anime and manga, Miyazaki had kidnapped, murdered and mutilated four young girls in the course of less than a year, between August 1988 and June 1989.

Like many serial killers, Miyazaki had a bad start in life. He was born premature, weighing in at only four pounds, and both his hands were badly deformed. His fingers were gnarled and his wrists fused, making it impossible for him to bend them upwards. The defect meant he was bullied in school, and at home, his entire family seemed to detest him. (Meanwhile, his father was sexually abusing his sister.)

Miyazaki was bright, and initially did well in school, even becoming the first student at his junior high school to pass the entrance exam to the exclusive Meidai Nakano High School. But in high school his grades got worse and he didn’t land a place in university. Instead he went to a tech school and learned to be a photography technician.

By his early twenties he had become obsessed with child pornography. Things got even worse when his grandfather, the only person he was close to, died in May 1988; Miyazaki killed his first victim a few months later.

Four-year-old Mari Konno walked out of her home in Saitana, Japan on August 22, 1988 and vanished. Robert Keller describes the ensuing search in detail in his book Asian Monsters: 28 Terrifying Serial Killers from Asia and the Far East:*

The little girl’s disappearance caused massive public distress in Saitana, an area unused to violent crime. Police cars with loudspeakers patrolled the streets warning parents not to allow their children out of their sight. Meanwhile the police spent nearly 3,000 man-days interviewing people who lived near Mari’s home. They distributed 50,000 missing person posters and brought in tracking dogs in hope of picking up a scent. Nothing.

A couple of people did report seeing Mari in the company of an adult man and the descriptions they gave, 5-foot-six with a pudgy face and wavy hair, were accurate, but the information lead nowhere. When the police received a genuine clue — a postcard sent to Mari’s mother with the cryptic message “There are devils about” — they dismissed it as a hoax.

Six weeks later, with Mari still missing, Miyazaki abducted seven-year-old Masami Yoshizawa, took her into the hills near Komine Pass, strangled her and sexually violated her corpse, leaving it 100 yards from where he’d dumped Mari’s body earlier.

The police thought the two disappearances were probably related, but they had almost nothing to go on and little hope that the children were still alive.

Miyazaki struck again on December 12, luring four-year-old Erika Namba into his Nissan, taking her to a park and telling her to undress. He started taking photos of her naked body, but then panicked and strangled her. He was driving away, with Erika’s body in the trunk of his car, when the car got stuck. Miyazaki carried the body into the woods and hid it, and when he returned to his vehicle, two men had stopped to help. They were able to get his car back on the road.

When Erika’s body was found the next day, the two witnesses told police about the man and his car, but they said it was a Toyota Corolla, not a Nissan. The police dutifully investigated 6,000 Toyota Corolla owners.

In the months that followed, as Keller records:

[Miyazaki] began stalking his victims’ families, calling them at all hours and then saying nothing on the other end of the line. When the distraught parents stopped picking up the phone, Miyazaki would allow it to continue ringing for upward of twenty minutes. Eventually he grew tired of taunting the grieving families by telephone and resorted to more sickening measures.

A week after Erika Namba was murdered, her father got a postcard with a message formed from cut-out magazine letters: “Erika. Cold. Cough. Throat. Rest. Death.”

On February 6, 1989, Mari Konno’s father found a box on his doorstep containing 220 human bone fragments and ten baby teeth — later identified as Mari’s — and photos of his late daughter’s shorts, underpants and sandals. There was a note also, typed on copier paper: “Mari. Bones. Cremated. Investigate. Prove.”

When the Konno family returned home after Mari’s funeral, they found another communication from the killer: a letter, titled “Confession,” where he described in detail the physical changes in Mari’s body as it decomposed.

On June 6, 1989, Miyazaki abducted five-year-old Ayako Nomoto and strangled her, then photographed and videotaped her body in various poses over the next three days. When the smell became too offensive, he dismembered the body, putting the torso in a public toilet and the head and limbs in the woods. He kept Ayako’s hands, roasted them and ate them.

Ayako’s torso was quickly found, but again the homicide investigation went nowhere. Like a lot of serial killers, Miyazaki was caught by accident.

On July 23, Miyazaki accosted some schoolgirls, sisters, playing in a park. The older one ran to get their father, leaving Miyazaki alone with the younger one. When the girls’ father arrived, he found Miyazaki taking pornographic pictures of his daughter. He was arrested and charged with “forcing a minor to commit indecent acts,” but after 17 days in custody he broke down and confessed to the four murders.

At his trial, he tried for an insanity defense, talking nonsensically and blaming an alternate personality named “Rat Man” for the murders. One court-appointed psychiatrist thought he did have multiple personality disorder; another thought he was schizophrenic; a third said Miyazaki believed the murders were resurrect his dead grandfather, his only friend in the world.

Nevertheless, the verdict was guilty and the sentence, death. The Supreme Court of Japan upheld the death sentence in 2006; Chief Justice Tokiyasu Fujita said, “The crime was cold-blooded and cruel. The atrocious murder of four girls to satisfy his sexual desire leaves no room for leniency.”

To his final breath, Miyazaki never expressed remorse for his crimes.

* We cite the titles, not write the titles. -ed.

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1660: Jan Quisthout van der Linde condemned to drown in New Amsterdam

Add comment June 17th, 2015 Headsman

On this date in 1660, in the Netherlands’ little settlement on the tip of Manhattan Island, New Amsterdam, Jan Quisthout van der Linde was sentenced “to be taken to the place of execution and there stripped of his arms, his sword to be broken at his feet, and he to be then tied in a sack and cast into the river and drowned until dead.”

We do not have an indication of the date this sentence was carried out, if it were not immediate.

It was an unusual execution for an unnatural crime: Quisthout had been found guilty of sodomizing his servant.

New Amsterdam is here just four years away from its seizure by the English, who rechristened it New York;* dour, peg-legged Calvinist Peter Stuyvesant had been hustling for 13 years to put the tenuous little settlement on some sort of sustainable, defensible footing even as its neighbor English colonies in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island grew to dwarf little Manhattan.

Stuyvesant was a crusty boss.** He’d been crestfallen on arrival to his new assignment to find New Amsterdam a rough-edged melting pot city with livestock roaming the streets, a slurry of languages (and religions), and dockside brawls spilling out of seedy taverns.†


The “Castello Plan” map from 1660 shows the germ of Manhattan’s present-day layout. The defensive wall spanning the island on the right gives us Wall Street.

His horror was practical as well as moral: the little colony, a few hundred souls when he took over and perhaps 1,500 when the English finally deposed him, was in danger on all sides and the cash-strapped West India Company was both slow and miserly in response to Stuyvesant’s desperate pleas for men and material. But the horror was also moral. Stuyvesant enforced a whole slew of unpopular injunctions against drunkenness, fisticuffs, and fouling public streets with refuse, and actually had to be reined in by the West India Company board when he got so overbearing as to try shouldering out Jews and prying into the devotional habits of suspected Quakers.

A paragon of rectitude like Stuyvesant was in no way about to turn a blind eye to casual Atlantic-world buggery.

Even his lax predecessor had come down hard on a previous sodomy case, viewing that sin as an existential threat to their depraved port: “such a man is not worthy to associate with mankind and the crime on account of its heinousness may not be tolerated or suffered, in order that the wrath of God may not descend upon us as it did upon Sodom.”

The crime that we might see here with modern eyes, rape, was in no way foremost to Stuyvesant et al. The boy, an Amsterdam orphan named Hendrick Harmensen, stayed out of the drowning-sack — but he was whipped for same-sex contact and ordered “sent to some other place by the first opportunity” even though that very sentence acknowledged that it was Quisthout who had “committed by force the above crime” on the lad.


View of Dutch Manhattan … and its gallows.

* In honor of the then-Duke of York, the future King James II.

** Try a web search on “Peter Stuyvesant martinet” to see what we mean.

† And slavery.

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1800: Suleiman al-Halabi, assassin of General Kleber

2 comments June 17th, 2014 Headsman

On this date in 1800 — which was the same date they buried his victim — the 23-year-old student Suleiman al-Halabi was put to death in Cairo for assassinating French General Jean Baptiste Kleber.

Casualty of the brief Napoleonic adventure in Egypt, Kleber had received supreme command of the expedition when Napoleon himself returned to France the previous year — a mission which involved running the English naval blockade that trapped the Armee d’Orient.

Kleber, a product of the French Revolution’s military meritocracy who had attained his rank capably suppressing the Vendee royalists, was certainly up to the martial tasks at hand. He routed a larger Ottoman-English-Mamluk force in March of 1800, and then smashed a revolt in Cairo.

But the Napoleonic invasion often figures as a periodization marker for this region: the germ of liberalism and nationalism that would tear apart the Ottoman Empire and set the scene for a recognizably modern Middle East. So it’s somewhat fitting that Kleber would be undone by a figure who could be lifted from the evening news,* the anti-occupation insurgent.

Suleiman al-Halabi (English Wikipedia entry | French) was a Syrian Kurd hailing from Aleppo. (“al-Halabi” means “of Aleppo”)

He had been in Cairo to study, but after a return visit home was induced by the Turks to attend himself to punishing the invader instead. He then made his way back to to Egypt where, disguising himself as a beggar, where he was able to approach the general innocuously and dagger him to death.

The French, of course, had just a few years before this point introduced its most distinctive execution device in place of the ghastly old methods, and employed it with egalite for commoner and king alike. Nor was France, as an imperial power, reluctant about exporting its invention to the every corner of earth.

But in this particular instance, the French decided to prioritize, er, cultural sensitivity.

The committee, after carrying through the trial with all due solemnity and process, thought it necessary to follow Egyptian customs in its application of punishment; it condemned the assassin to be impaled after having his right hand burned; and three of the guilty sheikhs to be beheaded and their bodies burned.

The “guilty sheikhs” in question were men to whom the killer had confided — not his plan, exactly, but the fact that he was on a jihad mission. Hey, close enough.

As for Suleiman al-Halabi himself,

The executioner Barthèlemy sat down on Suleiman’s belly, drew a knife from his pocket, and made a large incision to widen the rectum, then hammered the point of the stake into it with his mallet. Then he bound the patient’s arms and legs, raised the stake the air and mounted it in a prepared hole. Suleiman lived for four hours, and he had lived longer save that, during the absence of Barthèlemy, a soldier gave him a drink which caused his immediate death.

(Impaling victims could live for agonizing days, but the water caused Suleiman, mercifully, to quickly bleed out.)

Not content with going all Vlad the Impaler, the French then paid homage to the invasion’s scientific sub-theme** by shipping Suleiman’s remains back to France for use as an anthropological exhibit.† His skull still remains at the Musee de l’Homme to this day. What’s left in his homeland(s) is a martyr’s memory.

According to the scholar al-Jabarti, whose chronicle is one of the principal sources on this episode, the investigation indicated that Suleiman undertook his mission for no ideology save his family’s desperate need of the purse the Porte was willing to offer. But in the ensuing decades’ growth of nationalism and, eventually, anti-colonialism, the brave young Muslim dying on a spike to slay the French commander could not help but be viewed in an exalted light. (Notably, at the acme of Arab nationalism, the Egyptian writer Alfred Farag celebrated Suleiman as an avatar of resistance in a 1965 play. “I do not kill for revenge,” Farag’s Suleiman avers — and when pressed for the reason, he has a one-word reply: “Justice.”)

* Indeed, the name has been in the news: there’s a Suleiman al-Halabi neighborhood in Aleppo that has seen fighting during the ongoing Syrian civil war. Since it’s even a Kurdish neighborhood one can’t but suspect that it’s named for the man featured in this post; however, I haven’t been able to establish that with certainty. If any reader knows, a comment would be most welcome.

** Napoleon brought a corps of scientists and intellectuals along on his invasion, kicking off the modern Egyptology craze. His mission also uncovered the Rosetta Stone — although that artifact now resides in the British Museum because of the aforementioned naval blockade.

† According to Dark Trophies: Hunting and the Enemy Body in Modern War, phrenologists hailed Suleiman’s skull as an outstanding exemplar of criminality and fanaticism.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Arts and Literature,Assassins,Capital Punishment,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Egypt,Execution,France,History,Impaled,Martyrs,Murder,Notable for their Victims,Occupation and Colonialism,Ottoman Empire,Power,Syria,Torture,Treason,Wartime Executions

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1842: Charles Stoddart and Arthur Conolly, Great Game diplomats

1 comment June 17th, 2012 Headsman

On this date in 1842,* British diplomats Charles Stoddart and Arthur Conolly were summarily beheaded by a Central Asian potentate as London’s ill-chosen intervention in Afganistan came to a disastrous conclusion.

The backdrop is “the Great Game”,** the long-running chess match for supremacy in Central Asia between an expanding Russian Empire and Great Britain, with its imperial position in India.

Seeking to pre-empt a Russian move into Afghanistan, Britain invaded in 1839. This was the First Anglo-Afghan War: it would have, for the Brits, an inglorious end.

Our day’s featured principals were among the postscript casualties of that catastrophe, never-avenged losses for an empire that had overreached itself.

Stoddart, an intelligence officer, had been dispatched northward to the ancient silk road city of Bokhara intending enlist the allegiance, or at least the benign neutrality, of its emir, Nasrullah Khan. Today Uzbekistan’s fifth-largest city, Bokhara was then an independent state .

[I]n the nineteenth century, the executions carried out there with genuine cruelty, as well as the tales told by travelers gave the city a reputation of being a forbidden, closed, and hostile place. It was “despotic” Bukhara, and the Europeans projected onto it their own oriental fantasies: with citadel, dungeons, palaces, and city walls bolted shut at night, all helping to set the scene.

(Vibe on some the oriental fantasy in the 1911 volume The Emir of Bokhara and His Country, or this volume on Russian Central Asia, which by then included Bokhara.)


Scenic! Bukhara’s historic citadel, the Ark, where Stoddart (and later Conolly) were imprisoned (and later executed). (cc) image from elif ayse.

Into this scene, our Brit entered clumsily, immediately irritating the ruler he intended to supplicate. Reportedly (though the fact has been disputed), he was on the brink of execution when he acceded to save his life to Nasrullah’s formulaic offer of clemency in exchange for conversion to Islam.

In any event, Stoddart languished for years, alternately imprisoned and in the custody of the (better-received) Russian mission. Though the latter had also been charged by its sovereign to retrieve the ill-favored English emissary as a gesture of Great Powers goodwill (and to deprive England of any rationale for intervention that his captivity might offer), Stoddart seems to have been too stubbornly prideful to get out via St. Petersburg while the getting was good.

Instead, he waited on the arrival of countryman Arthur Conolly, who showed up in late 1841 on a mission to secure Stoddart’s release. But Stoddart’s situation little improved, considering Nasrullah Khan’s wary reaction to this second British interloper.

Word has it that the Bukharan prince was piqued that correspondence to him did not arrive over the signature of the British monarch herself, but merely some subcontinental subaltern — as well as, we might think understandably, suspicious at his guests’ motivations and mission.

The captor’s uncertain attitude towards his prisoners was resolved by Britain’s catastrophic loss of Kabul and the subsequent massacre of an entire 16,000-strong army as it attempted to retreat.

Seriously, the whole army. To a man. Except for one guy.


Remnants of an Army, by Elizabeth Butler, depicts the only British subject on retreat from Kabul to reach Jalalabad, William Brydon.

Battles don’t get much more decisive than that.†

Reasoning‡ that the routed British were now of no conceivable threat, nor his prisoners of any conceivable benefit, Nasrullah Khan now accused them of espionage and abused them with impunity.

The two were cast into an Indiana Jones-esque “bug pit,” an oubliette infested with … well, you know.§

Later, finding illicit writing materials secreted on his captives’ persons, the mercurial Nasrullah disposed of them outright.

their quarters were entered by several men, who stripped them, and carried them off to prison … In stripping Colonel Stoddart a lead pencil was found in the lining of his coat, and some papers in his waist. These were taken to the Ameer, who gave orders that Colonel Stoddart should be beaten with heavy sticks until he disclosed who brought the papers, and to whom he wrote. He was most violently beaten, but he revealed nothing; he was beaten repeatedly for two or three days. On Friday, the 8th or 9th (the 7th) of Jemmadee-ool-Eovel (17th of June), the Ameer gave orders that Colonel Stoddart should be killed in the presence of Captain Conolly, who was to be offered life if he would become a Mahomedan. In the afternoon they were taken outside the prison into the street, which is a kind of small square. Their hands were tied across in front. Many people assembled to behold the spectacle. Their graves were dug before their eyes. Colonel Stoddart exclaimed aloud at the cruelty and tyranny of the Ameer. His head was then cut off with a knife.

The chief executioner then turned to Captain Conolly, and said — “The Ameer spares your life if you will become a Mussulman.” Captain Conolly answered, “Colonel Stoddart has been a Mussulman for three years, and you have killed him, you killed Yoosoof too; I will not be a Mussulman, and I am ready to die.” Saying which he stretched forth his neck. His head was then cut off.

London Times, Aug. 22, 1843, reporting the testimony of a dubious local semi-ally

The veracity of this faint bulletin from a distant and inaccessible realm nevertheless remained in some doubt. Friends of the lost men, despairing of obtaining definitive word of their fate, commissioned a strange but courageous missionary named Joseph Wolff to brave his own sojourn to Bokhara to investigate.

Wolff barely escaped with his own life, but seemingly confirmed the sad story and published a Narrative of his travels in 1845 (Part 1, Part 2).

* The initially reported June 17 execution date was subsequently contested by Joseph Pierre Ferrier, who argued that the chronology instead pointed to the next Friday, June 24. The matter appears to me permanently unresolvable.

** Ironically, the sportive phrase “the Great Game” was itself attributed to Arthur Conolly for whom, in the end, events turned out to be quite other than playful.

† Britain recaptured Kabul in reprisal later in 1842, upon which pretext it was able to declare its honor vindicated and depart Kabul (sans massacre), ending the war. Certain latter-day occupations of that “graveyard of empires” might envy their forebear’s talent for declaring victory and leaving.

‡ Correctly. Nasrullah Khan faced no British reprisal for his treatment of Stoddart and Conolly, notwithstanding the attempt by some friends to use their sad fate as some sort of casus belli. This public domain book from 1845 bears a dedication to Queen Victoria in “hope of directing your Majesty’s attention to the cruel sufferings and alleged murder of two British officers … abandoned in an unaccountable manner, by your Majesty’s Government … [in circumstances] degrading to the British nation;” the same man had previously published an “Appeal to the British Nation” in an “endeavour to excite the public sympathy.” Sympathy or no, the two British officers stayed abandoned.

§ Bug tortureenhanced interrogation was actually authorized during the Bush administration for the insect-averse Abu Zubaydah. The gentleman approving that technique, Jay Bybee, is now a federal circuit judge.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,England,Espionage,Execution,History,Hostages,Innocent Bystanders,No Formal Charge,Occupation and Colonialism,Political Expedience,Power,Public Executions,Soldiers,Summary Executions,Torture,Uncertain Dates,Uzbekistan,Wartime Executions

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1939: Eugen Weidmann, the last public beheading in France

24 comments June 17th, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1939, French murderer Eugen Weidmann dropped his head in the basket outside a prison in Versailles. France’s signal history of public beheadings died along with him.

The career criminal Weidmann knocked around prison in his twenties.

Further to the maxim that penitentiaries are the school of crime, Weidmann’s stint for robbery connected him right up with a couple of accomplices who started up a kidnapping-robbery-murder ring when they got out.

They left several bodies (and miles of newspaper copy) in their wake in late 1937 before the inevitable capture, confession, condemnation. (Weidmann’s accomplices all managed to avoid the chop.)

The beheading this day did not come off well; a massive crowd* jostled for a view, a scene belied by the tame crowd photo of the execution’s official witnesses.


Two photographs of Eugen Weidmann’s execution in Versailles 17 June 1939. (Click for larger images.)

The government immediately banned public executions. Although it wouldn’t be the government much longer, the change stuck.

But the crowd scene wasn’t the half of it.

Still photos of the guillotine had been snapped for years, but a delay putting justice into its heavy downward-crashing motion that morning meant the execution took place in plenty of light for an illicit moving picture.

Caution: Mature content. This is video of the guillotine in action.

From the time this film cut, France’s national razor would do its cutting only behind prison walls. It would be another 38 years yet before it trimmed its last client.

* According to his biography, British horror actor Christopher Lee — age 17 — was in the crowd.

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

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1747: Mary Allen and Henry Simms, Gallows Lovers

1 comment June 17th, 2008 Headsman

(Thanks to Laura James of CLEWS, one of the best crime blogs going, for this guest post — published first at True Crime Magazine; some links have been updated.)

Gallows Love

When Oscar Wilde allegedly gestured at the garish wallpaper in his cheap Parisian hotel room and announced with his dying breath, “Either it goes or I go,” he was exhibiting something beyond an irrepressibly brilliant wit. Freud, you see, wasn’t whistling “Edelweiss” when he wrote that gallows humor is indicative of “a greatness of soul.” The quips of the condemned prisoner or dying patient tower dramatically above, say, sallies on TV sitcoms by reason of their gloriously inappropriate refusal, even at life’s most acute moment, to surrender to despair.

–Tom Robbins, “In Defiance of Gravity”

The Ordinary’s Accounts are some of the earliest true crime stories written in English. Their popularity came at the same time the masses learned to read, and some think there was a cause-and-effect relationship there — Englishmen learned their letters when there were some bloody good murder stories that made the exercise worthwhile.

The Accounts were, in essence, press releases issued by the Newgate prison in London after each execution to give lessons to posterity and to stimulate respect for the criminal laws. Those from the 1740s-1750s are online here.

The authors of these accounts were required to speak to the condemned every day for the weeks between the conviction and execution. They chronicled the confessions and behavior of men and women doomed to die, focusing largely on the personal history of each criminal, their crimes, and questions of faith.

In 1747, an Ordinary recorded the extraordinary story of a shoplifter named Mary Allen and a highwayman named Henry Simms, whose love was born in gaol and lasted to the gallows.

Mary Allen was 26 years old and through shoplifting had “gathered together a large Quantity of Goods of various Kinds, very near sufficient to have furnished a Shop, which it seems was her Intent; which Goods were found in a Room in Park-street.”

The Ordinary did not like Mary. She didn’t want to talk to him because she would have no speeches made about her when she was dead. He thought she was surly, obstinate. She also said it was grief enough to her parents that she was being executed, and she didn’t want to add to their afflictions with her dying quotes. The Ordinary thought it a pity she didn’t think of her parents before she embarked on her criminal career.

Since she wouldn’t speak to him, the Ordinary was forced to record his observations of her. He noted that she was of

[A] turbulent Spirit, and frequently quarrelled with her Fellow-Prisoners, and being the weaker Vessel, frequently came off damaged. When she was tried she had two black Eyes, which she got in a Quarrel; and when she went to the Place of Execution, she had a black Eye, received but a few Days before in another Skirmish. During her Confinement she contracted a great Fondness for Gentleman Harry.

Henry “Gentleman Harry” Simms, aged 30, was an orphan turned highwayman and pimp, known for his large Cutlass and his dandy clothes, and in the Ordinary’s words he was

[As] famous a Thief as ever yet adorn’d the Gallows. The Money he gain’d by Robbing he generally spent among the Whores about Covent-Garden, and as he generally wear very genteely dress’d, they gave him the Title of Gentleman Harry.

While under Sentence of Death, his fertile Brain was continually contriving Schemes in hopes to save his Life. He wrote several Letters to the Secretaries of State, and even to his Majesty himself.

While under Sentence he … still seemed found of the gay Part of Life, having a Number of Ladies coming frequently to see him, and did not appear so much concerned as one in his Circumstances should be.

What occupied Gentleman Harry in his last days was his fellow sufferer Mary Allen. They fell in love and spent their last days in intimacy (though the Ordinary also noted that “they sometimes fell out, when Simms generally beat her.”)

And on the final day, Mary Allen and Gentleman Harry indulged in hugs and kisses and hand-holding until their last moments on earth and met death with a defiant embrace.

THE ORDINARY of NEWGATE’S ACCOUNT of the Behaviour, Confession, & Dying Words of […] MALEFACTORS Who were executed at TYBURN On Wednesday the 17th of JUNE, 1747.

At the PLACE of EXECUTION.

THE Morning of their Execution, after going up to Chappel, where they all behaved very devoutly, they were brought down into the Press-Yard, had their Fetters knock’d off, and was then convey’d to Tyburn … Simms was cleanly dress’d in a White Fustian Frock, White Stockings, and White Drawers; and just as he got into the Cart at Newgate, threw off his Shoes. Being arrived at the Place of Execution, some Time was spent in Devotion, in which they all most heartily joined.

SIMMS … owned the Robbery of Mr. Smith in the Borough.

ALLEN Wept a good deal, and own’d the Robbery for which she died.

And they all went off the Stage calling to the Lord to have Mercy on their Souls.

Just before they were turn’d off, Simms and Allen saluted each other; and then joyning Hands, went off, taking hold of each other.

This is all the Account given by me, JOHN TAYLOR , Ordinary of Newgate.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Guest Writers,Hanged,Other Voices,Public Executions,Theft,Tyburn,Women

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