1971: Sean Flynn and Dana Stone, Vietnam War photojournalists

1 comment June 6th, 2016 Headsman

On an unknown date thought to be approximately June of 1971, American photojournalists Sean Flynn and Dana Stone were executed by Communist captors in Southeast Asia.

Flynn is the big name of the pair,* literally: a former actor, he wasn’t in like his superstar father Errol Flynn. After trading on his prestigious name for a few silver screen credits, Sean grew bored of Hollywood and pivoted into a career in wanderlust — trying his hand as a safari guide and a singer before washing up in Vietnam where the action was in January 1966.

He made his name there as a man who would find a way to snatch an indelible image out of war’s hurricane, even at the risk of his own life.


One of Flynn’s photos: A captured Viet Cong being tortured. (1966)

On April 6, 1970, Flynn and fellow risk-seeking photojournalist Dana Stone hopped on rented motorbikes bound for the front lines in Cambodia. It was a last mission born of their characteristic bravado — all but bursting out of the frame astride their crotch rockets in the last photo that would become their epitaph. They were never seen again; having apparently been detained at a Viet Cong checkpoint, it’s thought that they ended up in the hands of Cambodian Khmer Rouge guerrillas and were held for over a year before they were slain by their jailers.


Flynn (left) and Stone mount the bikes for their lethal assignment. This is the last picture ever taken of them.

Sean’s mother, actress Lili Damita, spent years seeking definitive information about his fate, without success. Dana’s brother, John Thomas Stone, joined the army in 1971 reportedly with a similar end in mind; he was killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan in 2006. The prevailing conclusion about their fate arrives via the investigation of their colleague and friend, Australian journalist Tim Page — a man for whom memorializing the journalists who lost their lives during the Vietnam War has been a lifelong mission.

Though Flynn’s and Stone’s guts are undeniable, not everyone appreciated their methods. “Dana Stone and Sean Flynn [son of the Hollywood actor, Errol Flynn] were straight out of Easy Rider, riding around on motorcycles carrying pearl-handled pistols. Cowboys, really,” said fellow photog Don McCullin. “I think they did more harm than good to our profession.”

* He’s not to be confused with present-day actor Sean Flynn — that’s our Sean Flynn’s nephew. (Sean the nephew was named for Sean the uncle.)

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Borderline "Executions",Execution,History,No Formal Charge,Uncertain Dates,USA,Vietnam,Wartime Executions

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1977: Hu Nim, Cambodian Minister of Information

1 comment July 6th, 2012 Headsman

On this date in 1978, peripatetic Communist intellectual Hu Nim vanished into Khmer Rouge Cambodia’s charnel house along with 126 others at Tuol Seng.

The child of a poor peasant’s family, Nim was a gifted young state worker who studied in Paris in the 1950s, where he met several future Khmer Rouge leaders.

Nim charted an independent — some might say hypocritical — course over the next two decades, serving uneasily as a leftist parliamentarian in Prince Sihanouk‘s nationalist coalition government, fleeing ahead of a conservative purge into the bush to join Communist guerrillas, then returning once more to Sihanouk’s now-leftist Chinese-backed government-in-exile. It’s a period whose interests and alliances don’t map straightforwardly onto the familiar Cold War axis.

Hu Nim’s stature as Minister of Information in the government-in-exile transitioned directly to that same portfolio when the Khmer Rouge came to power.

Maybe those old ties to the ancien regime did him in — Vietnam, after invading Cambodia, would seize on the late minister’s reputation for independence to damn the Khmer Rouge for purging a moderate socialist — but there was no ideological talisman for safety during those terrible years. Hu Nim’s longstanding pro-Chinese position was also a dangerous association come 1977, and Phouk Chhay, a fellow officer of the Khmer-Chinese Friendship Association, was among the batch of prisoners shot along with Hu Nim this date.

Early in 1977, a massive internal purge shook the regime; as many people (some 1,500) went to Tuol Sleng from mid-February to mid-April of that year as had gone in all of 1976.* Almost every one of these humans would be, in the terrible bureaucrat-ese of the security apparatus, “smashed.”

Hu Nim was one of these, a denunciation wrung from a local commander leading to his April 10, 1977 arrest. Under repeated torture over the ensuing three months, the ex-Minister of Information would write and re-write his confession, fashioning himself “a counterfeit revolutionary, in fact … an agent of the enemy … the cheapest reactionary intellectual disguised as a revolutionary,” a stooge of the CIA since the high school, and a skeptic of the disastrous forced agricultural collectivization who had swallowed his doubts lest “I would have had my faced smashed in like Prom Sam Ar.” The confession ultimately tallied 200-plus pages. (Here’s some of it.)

Four days after his arrest, Hu Nim submitted the first of seven draft “confessions” to his interrogator, who appended a note to Deuch, saying: “We whipped him four or five times to break his stand, before taking him to be stuffed with water.” On April 22, the interrogator reported: “I have tortured him to write it again.” Five weeks later, Hu Nim was abject: “I am not a human being, I am an animal.” (Source

* Official count for all of 1977: 6,330 “anti-party” types tortured and executed at Tuol Sleng, as against “only” 2,404 in 1975-1976 combined.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Bludgeoned,Cambodia,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Intellectuals,Mass Executions,No Formal Charge,Politicians,Revolutionaries,Torture,Treason

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1977: 178 enemies of the people

1 comment July 23rd, 2009 Headsman

A final example of the S-21 archives discovered by the Documentation Center is more mundane, yet poignant and telling. This particular document is of a type we refer to as an “execution log,” a daily record of executions at a given security center, in this case, at Tuol Sleng itself. Dated July 23, 1977, it is signed You Huy (a chief of guards) and authorized by Hor, the deputy director of S-21. The typewritten form lists biographical details on eighteen prisoners executed that day and, almost as an afterthought, in Huy’s handwriting a note at the bottom adds, “Also killed 160 children today for a total of 178 enemies killed.” This chilling glimpse into the Khmer Rouge internal security services is but a tiny example of the tens of thousands of documents discovered by the Documentation Center of Cambodia.

The “You Huy” named in Craig Etcheson’s After the Killing Fields: Lessons from the Cambodian Genocide is this man, Him Huy:

Huy survived his stint as a guard at the notorious Tuol Sleng prison, which was no mean feat: guards were routinely arrested and executed themselves. (Of course, prisoners had it worse.)

Now a 54-year-old farmer, Huy has been a spellbinding presence at and outside of Cambodia’s ongoing-as-of-this-writing “mixed tribunal”, reckoning with the horrors of the Khmer Rouge.

Like the method of execution.

All prisoners were blindfolded so they did not know where they were taken and their hands were tied up to prevent them from contesting us …

They were asked to sit on the edge of the pits and they were struck with stick on their necks …

Their throats were slashed before we removed their handcuffs and clothes, and they were thrown into the pits.

Him Huy has argued that guards like him “were victims too”. At least some victims and outside observers view him as a man more important to the killing process than Huy makes himself out to be.

Both accounts, though, could be true simultaneously: everyone in Cambodia was in danger of being purged, and guards at Tuol Sleng could find themselves inmates for the slightest derelictions of duty or enthusiasm. From April 17, 1975, Cambodia fell into madness.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Cambodia,Execution,History,Mass Executions,Notable Participants,Ripped from the Headlines,Summary Executions,Wrongful Executions

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