1579: Hatano Hideharu, en route to the Tokugawa Shogunate

5 comments June 25th, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 1579, the treacherous execution of a rebellious Japanese lord set events in motion that would shape the nation’s destiny.

For two centuries, Japan had been shaken with civil strife in the Sengoku, or “Warring States”, period.

Hatano Hideharu, chief of the minor Hatano clan, got himself on the outs with powerful daimyo Oda Nobunaga. Nobunaga’s samurai general Akechi Mitsuhide forced Hideharu’s capitulation, convincing him to lay down his arms by offering his own mother as a hostage.*

And here’s where the bodies start piling up.

Nobunaga overruled Mitsuhide’s promise of safe conduct and had Hatano Hideharu put to death.

Outraged, the Hatano clan retaliated by crucifying Akechi Mitsuhide’s mother.

Since Mitsuhide suffered the consequences for the bad behavior of his boss, this tit-for-tat left a bit of tension between the two. (The Hatano were done as a factor in Japanese politics, so having served to poison this relationship, our story takes its leave of them here.)

Perhaps as a result — there’s no single agreed-upon reason, but the personal vendetta has drawn the most commentary — Mitsuhide himself rebelled and forced Oba Nobunaga to commit seppuku.

It probably wasn’t exactly like this fanvid of Samurai Warriors 2 scenes.

Mitsuhide’s betrayal opened the door for another Nobunaga retainer, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, to in turn crush Mitsuhide,** and seize power for himself.

From that station, Hideyoshi completed the national unificiation that Nobunaga had commenced and set the stage for the Edo period under the shogunate founded by his successor, Tokugawa Ieyasu.

And maybe — with a stretch — they owe it all to Hatano Hideharu.

* The online sourcing on the death of Makiko, Akechi Mitsuhide’s mother, is a bit inconsistent; some suggest that the Hatano didn’t have her a hostage, but found a way to kidnap her for revenge.

** Mitsuhide’s daughter Hosokawa Gracia, became a legendary Christian convert after his death.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Japan,No Formal Charge,Notable Participants,Politicians,Power,Public Executions,Soldiers,Summary Executions,Wartime Executions,Wrongful Executions

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1959: Charles Starkweather, Nebraska spree killer

33 comments June 25th, 2008 Headsman

Just past midnight this date in 1959, Charles Starkweather was electrocuted in Lincoln, Nebraska, for a mass-murdering road trip with his jailbait date that claimed ten lives.*

A loner and loser, Starkweather’s spree in January 1958 caught the national imagination and has never quite let it go since — the prototypical despair of miscarried white masculinity, a primal scream from the underbelly of the American dream.

Bowlegged, myopic, slightly speech-impaired, Starkweather was an outcast at school and fought back with his fists, then dropped out entirely and into a yawning dead-end economic life collecting garbage from the wealthier quarters of Lincoln. “The more I looked at people the more I hated them because I knowed they wasn’t any place for me with the kind of people I knowed,” he said in his confession. Starkweather palliated his isolation by aping James Dean, dreaming of a big robbery score, and losing his heart to 14-year-old Caril Ann Fugate, in whose adolescent eyes the beaten boy felt his stature grow.

He — or maybe they together — killed her parents when they tried to interfere in the relationship, and then eight days of murderous desperation ensued that riveted Lincoln and the nation: they lived a few days with the corpses, shooing neighbors away with a story about the flu, then fled like animals, killing ruthlessly for a couple of cars and a place to spend the night and heading for Wyoming — all to no end that would make a lick of sense, not even the cockeyed hope that there was somewhere to go to outrun the gore. Killing and running had just become what they did to keep from having to stop.

I had hated and been hated. I had my little world to keep alive as long as possible and my gun. That was my answer. (Source)

Four months after he murdered the Fugate family and not yet 20 years of age, Charles heard his own death sentence from jurors in the city he’d briefly but unforgettably terrorized. (There’s a pdf timeline of the case from the Lincoln Evening Journal here.)

He lived cruelly, and it went cruelly with him to the last; offered a chance to donate his eyes, Starkweather retorted that “nobody ever did anything for me when I was alive. Why should I help anybody when I’m dead?” According to the Los Angeles Times, the doctor who was supposed to pronounce the prisoner dead himself suffered a fatal heart attack minutes before the electrocution.

Fugate’s tender age and sex spared her a death sentence, even though Starkweather said that she ought to be “sitting in my lap” when he went to the chair. She was paroled in 1976 and has mostly stayed out of view since. Laura James at CLEWS recently posted an update on her whereabouts.

More detailed annotations of this notorious duo’s life and times can be found here and here; the Lincoln Journal Star recently published an online 50-year retrospective on the case with high production values.

But if Starkweather’s James Dean fixation denoted the pull of celebrity glamor culture, his death left an enduring legacy for a world that had nothing for him in life, a haunting name recognition few school shooters or bell tower snipers have been able to hold since. He captivated the boyhood Steven King:

I do think that the very first time I saw a picture of [Starkweather], I knew I was looking at the future. His eyes were a double zero. There was just nothing there. He was like an outrider of what America might become.

The title track of Bruce Springsteen’s 1982 album Nebraska is written as a first-person narrative by Starkweather, to the tune of a desolate acoustic accompaniment that imbues the killer’s brutality with an aching loneliness.

They wanted to know why I did what I did
Well sir I guess there’s just a meanness in this world

Martin Sheen wonderfully rendered a (heavily fictionalized) Starkweather character opposite Sissy Spacek on the silver screen in Badlands (1973):

Rather less artistically consequential, the 1963 low-budget film The Sadist, also based on the Starkweather case, is in the public domain and available free on Google video:* Starkweather killed a gas station attendant in a separate incident weeks before, so his body count is 11, with ten of them on his infamous spree.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Electrocuted,Execution,Infamous,Murder,Popular Culture,Serial Killers,USA

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