1931: Alfred Arthur Rouse, Blazing Car Murderer

1 comment March 10th, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1931, Alfred Arthur Rouse hanged at Bedford Gaol for the murder of … someone.

A traveling salesman, Rouse tomcatted around old Albion leaving several illegitimate children and at least three bigamous marriages in his wake.

The weight of these strata of deceptions (and financial obligations) eventually drove Rouse to start thinking about how he could “start afresh” (his words) and darned if he wasn’t undone by the added decency of wanting to be sure that his legal wife and son would be looked-after once he walked out on them. And they say romance is dead.

The answer to his dilemma was a life insurance policy plus “a down-and-out” case that Rouse met at a pub who tellingly remarked over pints that “nobody in the world cares whether I live of die.”

Dangling the prospect of a job, Rouse convinced this man to accompany him to the Midlands on Guy Fawkes night of 1930 — a night when “a fire would not be noticed so much.” Before the night was over, Rouse’s Morris Minor made just such a fire, with a charred corpse of Rouse’s age and build behind the wheel.

The Headsman is fully prepared to believe that the Edmond Dantes-like corpse switcheroo has been executed by a few clever folk in history. Rouse, however, seems not to have thought through the endgame for he returned home — just briefly, but long enough for his wife to get a cockamamie story from him about his car being stolen — and then proceeded to Walea and the arms of one of those mistresses on whom he was allegedly trying to get a fresh start. Suspicious of him because he scrammed when she showed him the newspaper article reporting his possible roadside murder, she rang the police.*

Rouse’s claims that he’d picked up a hitchhiker who accidentally set himself ablaze in the car while refilling the gas tank while Rouse took a piss didn’t get much traction in view of the obvious motive presented by Rouse’s misbehavior. (And the fact that he’d previously told his wife and mistress the different story about his car being stolen.) Furthermore, crown forensic witnesses were able to show that whoever burned to death in that car was alive but unconscious when the fire killed him — perhaps incapacitated by a blow from a wooden mallet also found in the Morris Minor.

Rouse professed innocence of murder deep into his appeals but as hope disappeared he wrote a confessional to the Daily Sketch from which the quotes herein have been derived.

In it, he said that he never asked his passenger’s name. It’s a name that has not been established in the intervening decades, and not for want of trying; there have been several DNA misses on leads brought by families of men who disappeared in 1930. We may one day discover it; for now, the mysterious last word belongs to the Times of March 21, 1931.

At dawn yesterday the funeral of the unknown man murdered by Alfred Arthur Rouse in his motor-car took place in secret at Hardingstone parish church.

On Thursday night the remains of the body were removed from Northampton Hospital to the mortuary. Early yesterday morning the coffin was placed in a police tender and taken to Hardingstone.

The vicar officiated at a brief service. Six police officers carried the coffin to the grave by the side of the path behind the church. The plate on the coffin bore the inscription, “Man unknown. Died November 6, 1930.” A wreath was placed on the coffin by Superintendent Brumby, and was inscribed: “With deepest sympathy from the officers and constables of the Northampton and Daventry Division.”

* Rouse would claim that he intended to disappear to some new life but, having been observed by passersby down the road from the blazing car, he feared that he would not after all be taken for the victim.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,History,Murder

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1714: A Tyburn dozen

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The Ordinary of Newgate His Account of The Behaviour, Confessions, and Last Speeches of the Malefactors that were Executed at Tyburn, on Wednesday the 10th of March, 1713/1714.

At the Sessions held at Justice-Hall in the Old-baily, London, on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, the 24th, 25th 26th, and 27th of February last, Fifteen Persons, viz. Fourteen Men, and One Woman, who were all Try’d for, and brought in Guilty of several Capital Crimes, did receive Sentence of Death accordingly. But the Woman being found pregnant, and Two of the Men having obtain’d the QUEEN’s most gracious Reprieve (which I pray GOD they may have Grace duely to improve) Twelve of them are now order’d for Execution.

While they lay under this Condemnation, I constantly visited them, and had them (twice every day) brought up to the Chapel of Newgate, where I pray’d with them, and read and expounded the Word of God to them; instructing them in the Duties of the Christian Religion, and endeavouring to perswade them to the sincere Practice of them, from the weighty Considerations, first, of God’s severe Judgments to obstinate and harden’d Sinners; and, secondly, of his boundless Mercy to them that truly repent.

On the Lord’s Day, the 28th of February last, I preach’d to them (and others there present, who were many) on Ephes. 5. 1, 2. being part, both of the Epistle appointed for the Day, and of the 2d Lesson for that Evening-Service, and the Words these, Be ye Followers of God, as dear Children; and walk in Love, as Christ also has loved us, and has given Himself for us, an Offering and a Sacrifice to God, for a sweet-smelling Savour.

These Words I first explain’d in general; shewing that they contain,

  1. The plain Matter of our Christian Duty. And,
  2. The true Ground of our Christian Hope.

Which I then made out, by speaking to the several Points following, viz.

1st, Who it is we are to imitate, i. e. GOD; which the Apostle shews in these first Words of the Text, Be ye Followers of God.

2dly, Wherefore we ought to imitate Him; and that is, because we are his Children; yea, his dear Children.

3dly, Wherein we should imitate God, viz. in Love; for, says the Text, Walk in Love. Which includes Kindness in Giving, Mercy in Forgiving, Holiness in our Lives and Conversations, and Sincerity in our Endeavours to discharge all Religious and Christian Duties.

4thly, and lastly, How, and in what manner we are to take Pattern for our Imitation of GOD in Love; and that is, Even as Christ also has loved us. Which is to be understood as to the Nature or Manner, not in the Measure or Extent of that Love; for, in this latter Sence, the Love of Christ is immitable, it passeth all Knowledge and Understanding; and is such indeed as no Tongue, either of Men or Angels, can express: For, saith our Apostle in the Text, CHRIST so loved us, that He gave Himself for us, an Offering and a Sacrifice to God, of a sweet-smelling Savour.

Upon these I enlarg’d, and then apply’d; shewing, How much we are oblig’d constantly to discharge this great Duty of Love towards all Men, the want of which being the Cause of all the Evils and Mischiefs committed in the World, and the Troubles and Miseries consequent thereupon.

On the Lord’s Day the 7th instant, I preach’d again to them, both in the Forenoon and Afternoon, upon Luke 18. 1, being part of the Second Lesson for that Morning-Service, and the Words these: And He spake a Parable unto them, to this end, That Men ought always to pray, and not to faint.

Having in general open’d and illustrated these Words of our Blessed Saviour’s, (both in Text and Context) I then proceeded to discourse in particular on this important Subject of Prayer; shewing,

  1. The Necessity of Prayer.
  2. Whom we ought to pray to.
  3. What we ought to pray for.
  4. The due Qualifications for Prayer.
  5. and lastly, The Blessed Fruits and Effects of Prayer, both with respect to our Bodies, and to our Souls.

And on the Day following, being the 8th instant, (the Anniversary of our most Gracious QUEEN‘s happy Accession to the Throne) I did again preach to them, taking my Text out of the Epistle appointed for that solemn Day, viz. 1 Pet. 2. 13, 14. Submit your selves to every Ordinance of Man, for the Lord’s sake; whether it be to the King, as Supreme; or unto Governours, as unto them that are sent by him, for the Punishment of Evil-doers, and for the Praise of them that do well.

This Text I first explain’d in general; and then I consider’d in particular these three Things resulting from it, and the great Import of them.

  1. The Subjection and Obedience we owe, and are to pay to, our Superiours, viz. to the King, as Supreme; or unto Governours, as unto them that are sent by him; saith the Text.
  2. The Civil and Religious Obligation incumbent on us thus to submit, and to obey, as being what God himself has appointed, and is imply’d in these Words, For the Lord’s sake; i. e. according to the Lord’s Will.
  3. and lastly, The Reasonableness and Usefulness of our exact Performance of this Duty, and the excellent Advantages accruing from it, both to the Publick, and to Private Persons; in that a good Government (which cannot well subsist without Mens Obedience to it) is for the suppression of Sin and Vice, and the promotion of Religion and Virtue. And this is evident from the Text, wherein the Apostle declares, That Governours are ordain’d both for the Punishment of Evil-doers, and for the Praise (i. e. the Encouragement and Support) of them that do well.

On these I largely discours’d, and then observ’d how much we (of this Church and Nation) are bound to praise God for his having, as on this Day, bless’d us with so Pious, so Just, and so Excellent a Princess, to reign over us; and (according to our most indispensable Duty) heartily pray for Her MAJESTY’s Long Life, Encrease of Health, and Everlasting Prosperity.

After I had a little more enlarg’d upon this Subject, I apply’d my self with particular Admonitions and Exhortations to the Persons condemn’d; in whom I endeavour’d to raise a due Sense of the great Miseries they had brought on themselves and the much greater they were in danger of falling into hereafter, by their presumptuous Transgressions of he Laws both of GOD and of the Queen.

These Considerations I often press’d upon them, both in my publick Discourses and private Admonitions to them; of whom I am to give the Accounts following.

1. Thomas Grey, convicted of, and condemn’d for committing three Robberies on the QUEEN’s High-way. First, For Assaulting and Robbing Mrs. Baxter as she was coming from Hampsted towards London in a Coach, which he stopt near the Halfway-house, taking 3 s. from her, on the 11th of January last. Secondly, For a like Robbery he committed upon Mrs. Wilson, as she was riding (with other Passengers in a Coach) to Hampsted, taking some Money from them, on the 15th of January last. Thirdly, For such another Robbery by him committed on the same Day, upon the Person of Mr. Samuel Harding, from whom he took 9 s. in Money, about the Halfway-house on the Road to Hampsted. There was also another Robbery, which he was not Try’d for, but had committed in company with Edmund Eames (one of his Fellow sufferers) and one William Biggs, hereafter mention’d, who stopt a Coach coming from Hampsted, and took from the Passengers that were in it about 28 s. on the 2d of January last. At first indeed he was very unwilling to speak out his Guilt in these Matters, and in his faultring way of Speech went about to excuse himself, protesting his Innocency: But I exhorted him, and at last perswaded him to confess; which he did with this seeming Extenuation of these his wicked Facts, That he would never, have committed them, had he not been prompted to (and assisted in) them by William Biggs, a wicked Person, who had formerly receiv’d Sentence of Death twice, viz. once at Maidstone in Kent, and another time in the Old-baily, London. He said, he was above 50 years of age, born in the Parish of St. James Clerkenwell: That he had kept a Publick House in the City of Oxford for several Years, and of late a Salesman’s Shop in Monmouth-street in the Parish of St. Giles in the Fields; and, That tho’ in former time (i. e about 20 years ago) he had done ill things, and was then burnt in the Hand for the same, yet he had not committed any Fact worthy of Death till Christmas last, when his Poverty and Incumbrances with Debts (as he pretended) had made him comply with the wicked Insinuations of bad Men, and embrace the unhappy Opportunities of doing those Mischiefs to honest People, which he must now account and suffer for. I found him very stubborn, and very unwilling either to be ask’d, or to resolve any Question: And when I plainly perceiv’d that he prevaricated in many things, and would not shew any Remorse or Sorrow for his having liv’d to these Years, not to the Glory, but (far from it) to the Dishonour of God and Religion, I refus’d to administer the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper to him: Upon which he curs’d me to the Pit of Hill, and said, That he would certainly kill me, if ever I durst venture to come to pray with him and the rest in the Cart at Tyburn. In answer to this his Threat, I told him, That I would nevertheless do my Duty to his Soul to the very last; and tho’ he Curs’d, yet I pray’d God to Bless both Him and Me, and lay not this additional Sin to his charge; adding, That I heartily pray’d for his Conversion and Salvation; and, That I much pitied him, but fear’d him not in the least.

2. Edmund Eames alias Edward Aimes, condemn’d for 3 several Robberies by him committed on the Queen’s High-way, viz. 1st, For Assaulting and Robbing Mrs. Rogers, at Pancras-Wash, on the 20th of January last, stopping the Coach wherein she was, and taking Money both from her and other Passengers with her. 2dly, For a like Assault upon Mr. Edward Yarborough, stopping the Wakefield-Coach, in which he was, near the foot of Highgate-hill, and taking 5 s. from him, on the 23d of the same Month. 3dly, For another Fact of the same nature, viz. his Assaulting Mrs. Shutter, as she was in a Coach going down the Hill near Pancras, and robbing her of 3 Gold Rings and some Money, on the 19th of February last. He said, he was this very Day (being the 10th of March) just entring upon the 32d Year of his age; That he was born at Dunstable in Bedfordshire, and there serv’d 8 Years Apprenticeship with a Surgeon; That when he was out of his Time, he came up to London, where he exerted his Art for a little while, and then went to a Gentleman’s Service: That afterwards he listed himself a Souldier , and at last arriv’d to the Post of a Surgeon’s Mate in the 2d Regiment of Guards. He at first said, he did not commit the former, but the two latter Robberies aforemention’d; yet at last he confest all, & likewise 3 or 4 more of the same nature, and about the same time; for he had not been engag’d long in that wicked Course, having enter’d upon it but since Christmas last; and that too not so much by his own Inclination, as by the pernicious Instigation and Perswasion of one William Biggs, an old Offender, (not yet taken) with whom he had robb’d a Coach coming from Hampsted, and taken from 3 or 4 Passengers in it about 28 s. in Money, which was divided among them two and Tho. Grey, before mention’d, who was concern’d with them in that Robbery, on the 2d of January last, being Sunday; and on the Tuesday following he robb’d also some Passengers in a Coach on Newington Road, and took from them 22 s. And on or about the 14th of the said Month, he set upon a Worthy Justice of Peace (an ancient Gentleman) as he was riding on Horseback towards Hampsted, taking from him a Watch and some old Gold; which, with his robbing a young Man of Half-a-Crown on the High-way near Uxbridge, on Thursday the 7th of the said January last, were all the Robberies he could reme he ever committed. And now he said, That he was very sensible that for all his unjust Practices, into which he had so foolishly suffer’d himself to be deluded, and by which (as it often happens) he had got but little (not 6 l. in all, he said) he justly deserv’d the shameful Death he was now condem’d to; and thereupon begg’d Pardon of GOD, and of the Persons he had wrong’d, earnestly imploring the Divine Mercy, thro’ the Merits of JESUS CHRIST. And to this his Confession (which he had before told me was all he had done of this nature) he did (for the clearing of the Truth, and his own Conscience, as he pretended) add this,

That he was the only Person who robb’d Mr. James Boys upon the Queen’s High-way between Pancras and Kentish Town, on the 19th of January last; taking from him an old Watch in a Tortoise-shell Case, and 11 s. in Money: And, That since the time he lay under this Condemnation, he had consider’d how to make what Amends he could for the Injuries done by him, and therefore had sent several times to Mr. Boys, to let him know where he might have his Watch again; which when he took, Mr. Boys (as he said) told him, he was very loth to part with it, tho’ it was an old Thing that would yield but little Money, not 3 l. but he valu’d it much more upon some particular Account.

This specious and artificial Speech and formal Declaration he thought I would take as the pure Effect of an awaken’d Conscience, that was now willing to discharge itself of its Guilt, and do Right to all the World: And indeed I was at first doubtful in the matter; but I at last discover’d that herein he prevaricated; I taxed him with it, and reprov’d him for it, shewing him what a dangerous thing it was for him thus to add Sin to Sin, and how presumptuous he was, to desire (as he did) that I would administer the Holy Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper to him, who solemnly attested a Lying Story to be true, at such a time when he was just going to be call’d before the dreadful Tribunal of Christ, there to give an Account (to Him who knows the inmost Thoughts of Men’s Hearts) of all his secret Imaginations, as well as Overt Acts. With that I startled him, but yet could not make him plainly confess, that John Collins (as I knew) had perswaded him to charge himself with this Robbery, by telling him it would now do him no hurt, but himself a great deal of service, in that it might save his Life. This he (the said Edmund Eams) could not absolutely deny: And so I told him, I wondred that Men under such Circumstances as theirs, whose Business it was to prepare for Eternity, would imploy their Thoughts and precious Time in such wicked Machinations, by which, instead of pacifying the Wrath of God, they provoked him more and more to let them perish in their Sins. On this I enlarg’d, but could get no great Satisfaction from him herein; therefore I shall say no more of him here, but proceed to my Account of the other, viz.

3. John Collins alias Collinson, condemn’d for breaking the House of Mr. John Holloway at Chelsea, and stealing thence 2 Exchequer Notes, value 100 l. each, 237 l. 10 s. in Money, and 194 l. in Gold, on the 23d of January last. And he was also at the same time convicted of a Robbery, on the High-way, committed upon the Person of Mr. James Boys, whose Silver-Watch, with 10 or 12 s. were taken from him, between Pancras and Kentish Town, on the 19th of the said Month of January. He said, he was not at all concern’d in this latter Fact, but Eams was the Man had done it, as he told him himself since they were condemn’d. And as to the former, he own’d thus much of it, viz. That he robb’d Mr. Holloway’s House, and took thence 107 l. (or thereabouts) in 100 l. Bag, and another smaller Bag, and no Gold, nor Money-Notes, nor any thing else: Adding, That he had spent some part of that Money before his being apprehended, but most of it, viz. 90 l. and upwards, was then taken from him, which he suppos’d Mr. Holloway has, or will have again; wishing he were able to make up his whole Loss. He said, he was 42 Years of age, born at Faustone near Hull in Northumberland; That he was brought up to no Trade, but had been a Footman to several Gentlemen, both in the Country, and here in London, and was some time a Coachman to one of them: That he had also been a Souldier for 6 Years together, and attain’d at last to the Office of a Sergeant in Colonel Wing’s Regiment; and little thought then, that he could ever have done such a thing, as should bring him to such a shameful End. He said, he heartily repented, and begg’d Pardon of GOD. And this I will say of him, That when he came nearer the Day of his Death, he outwardly behav’d himself somewhat better than I thought at first he would have done. But I discover’d him to be a great Hypocrite; who put Edmund Eams upon charging himself (as I have observ’d before) with the Robbery committed on Mr. Boys, for which the said Collins was condemn’d. I told him that I could not look on him otherwise than as a great Impostor, who endeavour’d (and that too at such a time, and under such Circumstances) to impose upon Justice, and GOD’s Minister, and be so presumptuous also, as to desire to receive the Blessed Sacrament, which upon the same Account was desir’d by, and I refus’d to Eams, and so I did to this Collins; resolving to administer it to neither of them; because I found them most unworthy of it. And this my Dealing with them (which was according to the Practice of the Primitive Church) I wish may be a Warning and Terror to other Sinners, who will not betimes repent as they should do, but erroneously fancy, that if they outwardly partake of that Divine Ordinance, they shall be safe enough, tho’ not altogether so well prepar’d as they might be either for it, or for Death. And on this occasion I must here declare, That when Malefactors (whoever they be) if any shall come under my Cure, and shall not at first open and clear their Consciences, and give me full Satisfaction, that they do truly repent, I shall never admit them to the Holy Sacrament, whatever they may do, or desire when just upon their Departure out of this World. And if they be not satisfy’d with such a Proceeding of mine, let them consult any other Orthodox Divines in the Matter. But as to this Collins, what I shall further say of him here, is that he did Yesterday attempt to poyson himself, for which I reprov’d him; shewing him the Wickedness of such a Fact, or such an Attempt.

4. Charles Weymouth, condemn’d with Christopher Dickson, and John Gibson, for assaulting and robbing Mr. Thomas Blake, Mr. Samuel Slap, and Mr. John Edwards (who was dangerously wounded by Weymouth) taking from them several Goods and Money, upon the Queen’s High-way in Stepney Parish, on the 8th of February last. This Weymouth, who (it seem’d) had endeavour’d to make himself an Evidence against his Accomplices, being disappointed therein, was very uneasy and restless, and shew’d himself all-along of a stubborn and rough Behaviour, giving little sign of Repentance, and making (as it outwardly appear’d both to my self and others) no great Preparation for Death, till he was upon the very brink of it. What Account he gave me of himself, was only this, That he was born at Redriff, and had been brought up to the Sea, and serv’d the Queen on Board some of Her Majesty’s Men of War for several Years off and on; That he was 25 Years of Age, and that he had fallen into wicked Courses only by the Inducement of others, more wicked (as he said) than himself. I told him, he should not answer for their Sins, if he were not the occasion of them; but must expect to be call’d to a very strict and severe Account for what himself had done wickedly, if he did not now undo it (as far as he could) by all possible Reparation, Repentance, and Amendment of Life. Now whether any thing that was then offer’d to him from Reason and Scripture, did work any Reformation upon him, I could not perceive, but pray’d GOD to convert him; and so left him to His Mercy, which he did not seem much to desire; or to his Judgment, which he had greatly deserv’d. This wicked Person also threaten’d to be the Death of me before he dy’d: Upon which I said to him, as I did to Thomas Grey, That I was sorry to see him in such a furious Temper, and heartily pray’d GOD to turn his Heart, for I greatly pity’d him, but fear’d him not.

5. Christopher Dickson, condemn’d for the same Robbery wherein he was concern’d with Charles Weymouth. He confess’d the Fact, and behav’d himself much better than Weymouth; and by what I could perceive, I may say, that what he told me might be true, viz. That he never did commit such Facts before. He said, he was about 22 Years of Age, born in the Parish of St. Mary Whitechappel: That he had serv’d 5 Years of Apprentiship with a Baker, and then by consent parted with him: That afterwards he was a Journeyman to another Baker, but staid not long there bad; Company (that easily wrought upon his corrupt Nature) drawing him away, and bringing him into a vicious Course; which, he said, he now heartily repented of; and I hope he did, for he seem’d very much affected, and greatly to abhor his past sinful Life, and earnestly to implore God’s Forgiveness and Mercy in Christ.

6. John Gibson, condemn’d for being concern’d also in the Robbery before-mention’d with Charles Weymouth and Christopher Dickson. He said, he was about 20 years of age, born at Newcastle under Line; and he readily own’d his being Guilty of this Fact; but said it was his first; which I could not gainsay. Only I advised him to look back upon, and seriously examine his past Life between God and his own Conscience, and tell me how he found himself, and what he thought of himself. Upon this, he confess’d, That he had been a loose Liver, much addicted to Swearing, excessive Drinking, Lasciviousness, and suchlike Vices, too too common among Men of his Profession, he being a Seafaring Man , that had for these several years past been employ’d both in the Queen’s Royal Navy, and Merchant’s Service at Sea; and, that he had little minded or regarded the wonderful Works of God in the Deep; for which he was now very much grieved, and wish’d he had been wiser and better; praying God to forgive him his Sins, and have Mercy upon his Soul, and (to that end) give him a New Heart.

7. Alexander Petre, condemn’d for privately stealing a great quantity of Copper of the value of 20 l. out of the Warehouse of Mr. Thomas Chambers, on the 26th of January last. He readily confess’d, That he was guilty of this Fact; but told me it was his first, and that one Powell (the Evidence against him) was the Person that induc’d him to the Commission of it. He said, That he was (as it appear’d) but a young Man, about 22 years of age; yet acknowledg’d, that he had Years, Descretion, and Understanding enough to know, That what he did ought not to be done; and therefore asked Pardon of God, and the Persons he had any ways offended; praying for Mercy and Forgiveness. The place of his Birth, he said, was Newcastle upon Tyne, his Calling a Sailor, who had for these 12 years past been employ’d on board several of Her Majesty’s Men of War; and the last of them on board which he served, was the New Advice, a 4th Rate. He was very tractable, and seem’d to be Penitent.

8. Thomas Koome, condemn’d for breaking open the House of Mr. John Garret, and stealing from thence a Riding-Hood, a Suit of Curtains, and other Goods, on the 17th of January last. He said he was 21 years of age, born at Hackney near London, and had served at Sea , sometimes in the Royal Navy, and at other times in Merchant-Men, for the most part of his Life. He confess’d the Fact for which he was condemn’d; but said it was his first. For which saying I reprov’d him, knowing he had lately been whipt for a Felony he was then convicted of; which he was forc’d to acknowledge, saying, that the keeping of bad Company had heretofore been the Occasion of his committing many Sins, and now proved his Ruin. I perceiv’d his Friends had given him good Education, and I hope it was not quite lost upon him; for it dispos’d him so much the better to understand the Things of Religion that were laid before him, and to apply himself to the Practice of them, while under this Condemnation. Yet I cannot say, that he made at first so good use of his time as he might have, and I wish he had done.

9. Samuel Denny, alias Appleby, condemn’d for stealing a Gelding from Mr. John Scagg, and robbing him of 27 s. in Money, on the Queen’s Highway, the 31st of January last. He said, That he was 23 years of age, born at Braintree in Essex, and a Wheelwright by his Trade; but had served four years as a private Sentinel in the Army . He own’d the Fact he was to die for, (which he said was the first he ever committed) and pray’d God to forgive him, both that and all other his Sins, and give him Grace so to repent that he might be saved. By what I could all-along observe in him, or get from him, I found he had not been a greater Offender than now he appear’d a Penitent: And therefore, at his earnest Desire, I administer’d the Holy Sacrament to him yesterday: Which I also did, at the same time, to the Three last mention’d, viz. Christopher Dickson, John Gibson, and Alexander Petre; whose Behaviour, from first to last, was (to the best of my Observation) such as became true Penitents.

10. John Winteringham, condemn’d for stealing a Gold-Watch, a Perruke, some Linnen and Apparel out of his Master (Thomas Wynn Esq.) his Lodgings, and some Plate from Mr. James Montjoy, the Landlord of the House where his said Master lodg’d. He own’d himself Guilty of this Fact; but said he never committed the like before; and that he had been (at times) a Servant to other Gentlemen before he came to live with Mr. Wynn, and never wrong’d them to the value of a Farthing; and that being brought up to no Trade, he had for the most part of his Life been a Domestick-Servant in several worthy Families, both in the Country and in London. He said he was but 25 years of age, born at Pomfret (or rather Pontefract) in Yorkshire, and little thought once he should ever come to end his Life in this shameful manner, which (however) he could not but acknowledge was what he had wilfully brought upon himself, and did highly deserve. It seems he was the first Person condemn’d upon the Act lately made against such wicked Servants as rob their Masters. [A 1713 act that made theft of goods valued at 40s. (£2) a capital crime, even without a break-in -ed.] Which I hope will be an effectual Warning to others, so as to teach them to be wiser and more just.

11. Christopher Moor, condemn’d for Burglary in Breaking open the House of Mr. Thomas Wright, and taking thence a pair of Silver-Branches, 8 Tea-Spoons, 2 Tea-Pots, a Lamp, and a large quantity of other Plate, on the 13th of February last. He said, he was but 20 years of age, born in the Parish of St. Giles in the Fields; That for the most part of his Life, he had been a Servant in some Victualling-Houses in and about London, had lived a very loose Life, and done many ill things, besides the Fact he was condemn’d for, which he confess’d; but would give no particular Account of any thing else he had been guilty of, nor discover where the Plate he had stoln might be found, that the right Owner of it might have it again: And when I press’d him to make such Discovery, if he could, he did not so much alledge his Incapacity, as he plainly shew’d his Unwillingness of doing it; saying, that tho’ he could do it, yet he would make no such Discovery, if he were sure he should be damned for it: So desparately wicked he then shew’d himself to be, on whom no Admonitions could at first prevail: But I hope he did at last come to understand better Things. And yet this I must say of him, That his Obstinacy in Iniquity, and Impudent Behaviour towards myself and others, were such, as I never met with the like in any of the Malefactors, whom I have had under my Cure for almost these 14 years I have been in this melancholy and difficult Office. When he saw that he must certainly die, then he remembred what I had told him of another World, and of our necessary Preparation for it. Now he seem’d to be willing to do something to clear his Conscience, and save his Soul; giving attention to my Admonitions, and the Information desir’d of him about the Plate he had stoln. And here (among other things) he told me, That about a Month ago, at Night, he robb’d a House in Grey-Fryars, near Christ-Hospital, by lifting up the Sash-Window, and entring the Parlour, and taking from thence 6 Silver Tea-Spoons and a Strainer, with a Silk-Handkerchief Ell-wide, which he sold for 3 s. tho’ it was worth more: And that as for the Plate, he sold it with a larger Parcel (amounting to 100 ounces) for 4 s. per ounce. And further, he said, that he had wrong’d Mr. Johnson, a Working Silver-Smith, and begg’d his Pardon (before me) for his having (about 18 Months ago) falsly sworn against him, That he the said Mr. Johnson had bought of him and Roderick Awdry, some Plate, which they had stoln out of my Lady Edwin’s House; praying God to forgive him such his Perjury, which I endeavour’d to make him sensible was a most heinous Crime.

12. Daniel Hughes, condemn’d for the Fact last mention’d, in which he was concerned with Christopher Moor, and own’d he was so. He said, he was about 16 years of age, born at Gravesend in Kent, and brought up to the Sea, and that he had been a very loose young Man, addicted to many Vices. He was very stupid, foolish and unconcern’d, and gave no great Signs of his Penitence for his Offences against God and his Neighbour, nor of the Punishment he deserved for them, both in this World, and in the next, till he came within the Borders of Death.

At the Place of Execution, to which they were this Day carry’d from Newgate, in four Carts, I attended them for the last time, and endeavour’d to perswade them (who had lived such vicious Lives) throughly to clear their Consciences, and strive to obtain God’s Grace, to make a good End in this World, that they might be received into that State of Bliss and Glory in the next, which shall have no end. To this purpose I earnestly spoke to them, and pray’d for them. Then I made them rehearse the Apostles Creed, and sung some Penitential Psalms with them; and finally having recommended their Souls to God, I withdrew from them; leaving them to their private Devotions, for which they had some little time allow’d them. And after that, the Cart drawing away, they were turn’d off: all of them bitterly crying unto God to have Mercy upon their departing Souls.

Before they were turn’d off, I thought (as I exhorted them) that some of them should make a further Confession, but they did not: Only those that had been rude to me, and threaten’d my Life, begg’d my Pardon, and thank’d me for the Pains I took for their Souls: And all of them declar’d that they dy’d in Charity with all the World.

This is all the Account here to be given of these Dying Malefactors, by me,

PAUL LORRAIN, Ordinary .
Wednesday, Mar. 10. 1713-14.

London Printed, and are to be Sold by J. Morphew near Stationers-hall.

Just Publish’d, The Third Edition of the 1st and 2d Volumes of the History of Highwaymen, Footpad, &c. And next Week will be publish’d a 3d Volume, continued to this last Sessions. [Here are all three volumes -ed: Volume 1 (part 1) | Volume 1 (part 2) | Volume 2 (part 1) | Volume 2 (part 2) | Volume 3 (part 1) | Volume 3 (part 2)]

Part of the Themed Set: The Ordinary of Newgate.

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1992: Robyn Leroy Parks, botched lethal injection

1 comment March 10th, 2016 Headsman

On this date in 1992, Robyn Leroy Parks was executed by lethal injection for stabbing an Edmond, Okla. gas station minder to death 15 years before. Parks was afraid that Abdullah Ibrahim would call police to report the stolen credit card he was using to gas up, but he left behind at the murder scene a scratch pad on which Ibrahim had noted his license plate number.

Parks’s execution by lethal injection was very badly botched in a scene that anticipated the better-publicized tribulations this supposedly antiseptic execution process has inflicted in recent years.

Parks appeared to suffer a violent reaction, possibly allergic, to the execution drugs. “I’m still awake,” he said after the drugs were dispensed — said that “lightheartedly,” according to the New York Times.

Parks then endured what looked like a waking strangulation: “the muscles in his jaw, neck, and abdomen began to react spasmodically … [he] continued to grasp and violently gag until death came, some eleven minutes after the drugs were first administered,” in the words of Michael Radelet’s compendium of botched executions.

Tulsa World reporter Wayne Green, an official witness to the debacle, recounted events in the next day’s edition under the discomfiting headline “11-Minute Execution Seemingly Took Forever.”

It was overwhelming, stunning, disturbing — an intrusion into a moment so personal that reporters, taught for years that intrusion is their business, had trouble looking each other in the eyes after it was over.

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1610: Henry Paine, shipwrecked mutineer

Add comment March 14th, 2015 Brazen Bull

On this date in 1610, Henry Paine was executed on the island of Bermuda for mutiny.

Paine arrived on the island most unfortunately on the Sea Venture, the flagship for the London Company bound for the New World under the command of Admiral George Somers.

Her freight was approximately 150 passengers, among them Sir Thomas Gates, who had been appointed as the new governor of Jamestown, Virginia. The ship was caught in a hurricane and wrecked near the Bermuda Islands in July of 1609. All aboard survived the wreck, and they took up temporary settlement on the islands. Neither natives nor other Europeans had settled there, possibly due to the difficult weather conditions.

The castaways determined that they could rebuild and continue to Jamestown using many of the salvaged supplies and parts of the wrecked Sea Venture; Gates and the colonists began building while they waited to hear back from the rest of their fleet — six other ships which had sailed on to Virginia.

But no word came, and soon enough a dispute between Somers and Gates over who held command split the survivors into factions. Somers and his crew of mostly sailors relocated to a nearby island and began work on a smaller ship.

Throughout the winter months, both factions worked to build amid growing discord.

William Strachey, who chronicled the events firsthand in his account entitled A True Reportory of the Wreck and Redemption of Sir Thomas Gates, Knight, upon and from the Islands of the Bermudas: His Coming to Virginia and the Estate of that Colony Then and After, under the Government of the Lord La Warr, July 15, 1610, makes it clear that he did not exactly find Bermuda to be a tropical paradise. But repeated attempts at mutiny suggest that many of the colonists thought it might be nice to just stay put. Jamestown, after all, was struggling through a period known as the Starving Time, and the population had dwindled by more than 80% in recent years thanks to famine, illness, and a hostile relationship with nearby natives. In Bermuda, food — fruit, fish, and wild hog — was plentiful.

In March of 1610, both vessels were nearing completion, forcing the dissident factions to either go along with the colonization plan or try one more time to break free.

Henry Paine, hardly more than a footnote in the more spectacular tale of the shipwreck, survival, and remarkable eventual landing at Jamestown, was apprehended for stealing supplies to be used for a mutinous group that hoped to relocate to another island and remain there. He assaulted the commanding officer and said some very naughty things about the governor, which would prove to be his doom (particularly since Gates’ own toughness had come into question after prior pardons for both mutiny and murder).

Strachey wrote:

Paine replied with a settled and bitter violence and in such unreverent terms as I should offend the modest ear too much to express it in his own phrase; but the contents were how that the governor had no authority of that quality to justify upon anyone (how mean so ever in the colony) an action of that nature, and therefore let the governor (said he) kiss, etc. Which words, being with the omitted additions brought the next day unto every common and public discourse, at length they were delivered over to the governor, who, examining well the fact (the transgression so much the more exemplary and odious as being in a dangerous time, in a confederate, and the success of the same wishedly listened after, with a doubtful conceit what might be the issue of so notorious a boldness and impudency), calling the said Paine before him and the whole company, where (being soon convinced both by the witness of the commander and many which were upon the watch with him) our governor, who had now the eyes of the whole colony fixed upon him, condemned him to be instantly hanged. And the ladder being ready, after he had made many confessions, he earnestly desired, being a gentleman, that he might be shot to death, and toward the evening he had his desire, the sun and his life setting together.

Aside from his being a gentleman (and thereby having his preferred method of execution), little has been written about Paine. But the several Virginia Charters issued by this time gave the governor of a colony broad authority to convict, punish, and execute criminals in this manner.

Paine’s execution seemed to put a stop to most rumblings of mutiny; Somers and Gates set aside their differences and the two ships, Deliverance and Patience, were soon completed. The marooned men and women set sail again on May 10, 1610 and successfully made their way to Jamestown.

Two of those lost on Bermuda in the interim were the wife and infant daughter of John Rolfe, who would later go on to famously marry Pocahontas.

Three men did successfully desert the company and remain behind on Bermuda: Robert Waters, Edward Chard, and Christopher Carter. When the British returned to claim and settle Bermuda properly in 1612, they were all seized, imprisoned, and shipped back to England. Captain Somers returned to the islands later in 1610 hoping to collect supplies for Virginia, but he became ill on the journey and died in Bermuda (which was for a time later referred to as The Somers Isles).

The story of the Sea Venture is often cited as a possible inspiration for William Shakespeare’s The Tempest, which was written around the same time period and includes a similar storyline of a shipwreck and disputed leadership … but has a lot more magic in it.

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1899: Cordelia Poirier and Samuel Parslow

2 comments March 10th, 2015 Headsman

On this date in 1899, Cordelia Poirier was hanged in Ste. Scholastique, Quebec with her lover Samuel Parslow.*

Cordelia Viau by her maiden name, the femme fatale in this transaction found that in her marriage to one Isidore Poirier she was much the sturdier spirit.

“She was a masterful woman,” this old public-domain text on insurance crimes muses, “and Poirier seems to have been a man of very common mould. He was not great or strong enough to make his wife admire or respect him, yet was too obstinate to yield to her domination.”

Cordelia soon turned this gap in magnetism to good effect on Mr. Parslow, a local carpenter, to the considerable scandal of their village, Saint-Canut.

An intolerable domestic situation drove Isidore Poirier to the bottle, and Cordelia Poirier to the insurance underwriters — from whom she obtained two separate $1,000 policies on the life of her spouse. Much to the discredit of her agents (and, one must suspect, to the commission wage model), the wife’s blunt inquiries as to whether a death by assassination woud void the policies were met with simple affirmations rather than a summons to the constable.

Sure enough, Isidore Poirier suffered just such a death on November 21, 1897: after vespers (Cordelia was an organist at the church), she and Parslow barged in on the intoxicated Isidore at his home and Parslow slashed him to death with a butcher knife. The body was discovered the next day, and it wasn’t hard to put means to motive and clap the adulterers in gaol.

Having perhaps not thought this venture through, Samuel Parslow and Cordelia Poirier promptly began informing on one another in hopes of avoiding the rope. Their confessions would only cinch one another’s fates. By the time of trial, Parslow had to feebly accuse Mrs. Poirier of hypnotizing him.**

Her cynical domestic crime and vampish reputation earned her an extreme level of disapprobation: her behavior obviously inverted and betrayed the model of domestic virtue whose penumbra of sentimentality has often been counted on to save female murderers from the gallows. Cordelia Poirier was actively hated.

“The crowd inside the jail jeered [Cordelia Poirier],” it was reported — “but even then her nerve did not desert her, and at the suggestion of the executioner she turned and faced the Jeerers, and stood erect and prayed to the last.”

* Thanks to the wonders of database searches, research for this post also revealed a completely different legal drama off the same era related to a competely different Parslow. This story is from the Feb. 4, 1898 Minneapolis Journal.

** All reports do paint Cordelia Poirier as the stronger will in her adulterous relationship, as well as her marital one, and the instigator of the murder.

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1865: Amy Spain, liberation anticipation

1 comment March 10th, 2014 Headsman

This date in 1865, just weeks before the final collapse of the Confederacy, a slave named Amy was hanged on a sycamore tree before the courthouse of Darlingon, S.C., for anticipating her liberty a little too exuberantly.

Mopping up after his march to the sea, Union Gen. William T. Sherman proceeded to South Carolina. After occuping the capital, Columbia, Sherman’s army made a northerly progression towards North Carolina.

In early March, Union Cavalry appeared in Darlington. Our 17-year-old principal, the domestic of a local lawyer named A.C. Spain,* exulted at this arrival.

“Bless the Lord, the Yankees have come!” Harper’s Weekly** would later report her to have exclaimed.

The long night of darkness which had bound her in slavery was about to break away. It was impossible to repress the exuberance of her feelings; and although powerless to aid the advancing deliverers of her caste, or to injure her oppressors, the simple expression of satisfaction at the event sealed her doom.

But the Union men were not long for the town. It was just a scout party; constrained by strategic objectives, and hindered by swollen early-spring rivers, the main body of Union forces passed Darlington by.

Anticipating an occupation that was not about to occur, Amy recklessly declared herself free and took some of the Spain household’s possessions — the fruit of her own involuntary labor. Whatever her exact actions in those days, they were frightfully punished — over the objection of A.C. Spain himself, who reportedly served as her advocate at the rebel military trial that condemned her.


This illustration of Amy Spain’s execution appeared with the Harper’s Weekly article quoted above.

Her persecutors will pass away and be forgotten, but Amy Spain’s name is now hallowed among the Africans, who, emancipated and free, dare, with the starry folds of the flag of the free floating over them, speak her name with holy reverence.

-Harper’s Weekly

* Spain was also a Confederate commissioner to Arkansas at the start of the Civil War, in which capacity he successfully urged Arkansas into the rebel camp.

** Septemer 30, 1865.

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1777: James Aitken, aka John the Painter, terrorist of the American Revolution

1 comment March 10th, 2013 Headsman

This date in 1777 saw the public execution of “John the Painter” — a Scotsman who had been christened “James Aitken” at his birth less than 25 years before, but who had run through countless aliases in his adult life as a (mostly) petty thief.

But this man was not a hapless victim of England’s Bloody Code, although he often enough offended the capital statutes against petty property crime.

Rather, the scraggly redhead with the thick Scottish brogue was the author of a stunning act of domestic terrorism, in England, in freelance support of the rebellious American colonies an ocean away.

“So dangerous an individual to the kingdom as this man perhaps never existed,” in the judgment of the Newgate Calendar, who knew him as “John Hill” — just one of Aitken’s many aliases. “and whose confession and repentence can hardly soften the abhorrence felt on the contemplation of the extent of his crimes.”

James Aitken, aka John Hill, aka John the Painter — for this last was, unfortunately, the unprofitable occupation of his apprenticeship training — fired the Portsmouth dockyards on December 7, 1776, then followed that up with an attack on the Bristol dock and city shortly after the New Year, as well as an unsuccessful attempt to ignite the Plymouth quay.

There are ready reasons we imagine men to undertake terrorist activities. James Aitken did not have them, according to Jessica Warner’s John the Painter: Terrorist of the American Revolution (review).

Although he was well-read for his class, he was not ideological, not a zealot of any creed religious or secular.

He was not American himself even in the loose sense that term could hold for the immigrant proto-nation. His only brush with that land was brief and unedifying: fearing his many thefts had made London a bit too hot for him, he signed on as an indentured servant and shipped out to the colonies in 1773 and slave-like labor in the fields. He escaped his master in 1775 and immediately shipped back to Europe, leaving no evidence of any revolutionary contacts.

And he wasn’t a madman. Just lonely, as evidenced, Warner says, by the “sad and always desperate invitations” to drink with which he plied the newest of acquaintances, to their discomfort. “He asked complete strangers to drink with him because he was lonely, and loneliness overrode his reason. His invitations always came too quickly, and his conversation and his manner always just a little off.” He even invited this indiscreet attention when on the incendiary job.

James Aitken reads like an Enlightenment version of the disaffected loser “going postal” on a world that could barely see him to tread upon him. His fondest desire from childhood was that classic Scots aspiration, the army commission. The closest he came was a series of short-term army enlistments to pocket the enrollment bonus, each of which he deserted as soon as practicable. (He did dream that his terrorism spree would earn him an appointment in the Americans’ Continental Army.)


Back in Britain after his unsuccessful foray in the colonies, Aitken conceived a disordered affinity for the burgeoning patriotic cause of the colonies he had recently fled. (Warner thinks he read Thomas Paine‘s Common Sense.) Only accidentally, when he overheard boozers at an Oxford pub chatting about the importance of the dockyards to the British Navy, did the heretofore aimless Aitken animate his wanderings with a new revolutionary purpose: he, scorned nobody, could win the War of Independence by crippling these facilities.

I spent two days in the contemplation of this malicious design, and promised myself immortal honour in the accomplishment of it. I beheld it in the light of a truly heroic enterprise, such as never would have been equalled to the end of time. I was persuaded it would entitle me to the first rank in America, and flattered myself with the ambition of becoming the admiration of the world! (Source)

Aitken was not a criminal mastermind, but there was a plausibility to the plot that fluttered the Admiralty’s heart once the details emerged. The dockyards were critical. They were also — Aitken readily perceived this as he began to case them — scarcely guarded; at Portsmouth, Aitken came and went as he pleased, freely schlepping his materiel in and out. (His attempt at Portsmouth set the subsequent facilities more on guard; the man’s initial plan to hit five different dockyards in sequence would ultimately have been as self-defeating as the 9/11 hijackers planning to commandeer a different plane on five consecutive days … but this was the way Aitken had to conceive it since he lacked the charisma or leadership aptitude to form a cell of fellow-travelers for a coordinated attack.)

Before launching himself into history, Aitken made an autumn 1776 visit to Paris to call upon the American representative there, Silas Deane.

Deane’s own recounting says he was struck by the wildness of Aitken’s scheme. But he was sufficiently taken with the prospective payoff to lend it his blessing, and “sponsor” it to the extent of giving the Scotsman a little pocket money to make his way back to England. He would later defend himself against “respectable persons,” presumably British ones, who “[regard] me equally criminal with the actor.”

[S]upposing me to be the liege subject, not of Great Brittain, but of a foreign independant Nation, at the Time at War with Great Brittain, and that imagining that I had found a favorable opportunity, & met with a proper Agent to destroy, at one blow, the Fleet & armaments preparing to carry, and to spread devastation, and bloodshed in my Country, and that I improved the favorable moment, and attempted through this agency, to effect this great object; on this view of the case I am confident that every one of common sense & impartiality must acquit me, nay more though they rejoice at the defeat of the enterprize they must approve of the motives, which influenced me to engage in it, motives no less than a desire to weaken a declared Enemy, and to preserve my Country, by every means in my power, from the horrors, and distress of Fire and desolation.

… if it was a noble, and most honorable Action in Lord Rodney to defeat the Count de Grasse, would not the Man who at equal hazard of his Life, had set fire to the Count’s Squadron in Brest, & thereby have equally defeated his expedition, been entitled (at least in the Court of Common sense) to the same Honors?

This was certainly good enough to convince Aitken that he torched in the name of Liberty, and he made his way back to set his plan in motion.


After botching his first attempt at Portsmouth and getting locked in the rope house — he pounded on the door until he got someone to open up, then bluffed his way out of the situation — Aitken got the least mileage possible from a superficially successful attack.

At about 3:30 p.m. on Saturday, December 7, Aitken fired three homemade incendiaries in the rope house and slipped away in what witnesses would later reconstruct as an evident state of agitation. The flames soon gutted the brick building (the damage would eventually reckon to £20,000) but he was this close to an exponentially more impressive bit of sabotage.

To begin with, many of his matches failed to start up Aitken’s jerry-built fuses. (This is also what caused his initial arson attempt to abort.) Having been once bitten by finding himself locked into the rope house at night, Aitken made his next trip earlier in the afternoon: that ensured that plenty of dockhands would still be in the vicinity to contain the fire to the one building. It also meant that the tide was in, and the nearby brig swollen with two thousand pounds of gunpowder could be easily put out to sea and away from danger as soon as the alarm went up.*

Admiralty investigators weren’t even sure at first that it was arson. Yards in the era of wood ships and wood buildings had a lot of flammable materials lying around. Fires happened.

Aitken soon dispelled any possible confusion.

Finding the Royal Navy dockyards at Plymouth too vigilant for his machinations, Aitken settled on an ambitious, and again somewhat plausible, scheme to engulf the densely-populated port of Bristol — dockyard and city alike. Repeatedly his blazes petered out or were suppressed. They did little consequential damage, but raised a rapidly-escalating panic at revolutionary incendiaries abroad, and it did not take long to link them to Portsmouth. (Copycat attempts and crackpot anonymous letters threatening same also started popping up elsewhere in the realm.)

I have not the least doubt that the late fires have been the effects of premeditated malice,” wrote Bristol’s M.P. — the political philosopher Edmund Burke. Naturally this only had the effect of silencing potentially considerable pro-American sentiment in Bristol and throughout the realm. Lord Germain exploited the terrorist panic to push through a February 1777 Treason Act aimed at the American colonies. It authorized detention of suspected rebels without habeas corpus protection at His Majesty’s pleasure.

Aitken himself, though, was at the end of his own fuse. At Sir John Fielding‘s urging, the Admiralty posted an eye-popping £1,000 reward for the terrorists’ (multiple attackers were presumed, owing to the quantity of fires) capture. The arsonist was in irons with a week; a gaoler had noticed him and recognized Aitken’s fit to the description of the unknown Scotsman who had been seen in the vicinity of some of these blazes which Fielding had published in his crime clearinghouse periodical, Hue and Cry.** That man rode off after the suspect and overtook him in the village of Odiham,† where an exhausted and by now fatalistic Aitken surrendered without a fight.


The mizzenmast of the docked HMS Arethusa was removed and set up on land to hang this enemy of the navy outside the walls of the damaged Portsmouth dockyard.

Upon it, they would hang their man as high as Haman: after being turned off, a team of workmen hoisted Aitken’s still-strangling body 60 feet into the air. It’s reportedly the highest gallows ever known to be erected in England, and for the benefit of anyone who didn’t get a good enough look at the spectacle, his body remained conspicuously suspended in chains for years thereafter at Fort Blockhouse, overlooking the Portsmouth harbor as it rotted away.

One might expect that a man who had turned his face against king and country to such an extent would make his end defiantly. James Aitken, once again, defies expectations here, sounding submissive and contrite in the officially reported last words.

I asked John the Painter author Jessica Warner what it was that the state hoped a prisoner like Aitken would say from the scaffold. How did condemned prisoners typically come to shape their last words in (usual) conformity to the expected models? Was it usually necessary for somebody to convince them to do so?

JW: I can only speak for eighteenth-century England. The so-called “dying speeches” of the condemned follow a pretty predictable pattern: the condemned man expresses contrition for his crime, warns others against following his example, and says, in so many words, that he is reconciled with his Creator. That’s the official version, and really two things are going on here: the prisoner is in effect upholding the state’s right to take his life while also upholding the moral order of the Ancien Regime, its laws as much as its religious teachings. I say “official” because just about all dying speeches were penned by other people, the most notorious being the succession of chaplains (ordinaries) who presided over the condemned prisoners at Newgate. It was a bit of a standing joke that dying speeches were printed before they were delivered. The irony is that shorthand was used in the eighteenth century, and so theoretically it was possible to take down exactly what prisoners said.

Popular expectations, to the extent that they can be penetrated, also expected the condemned to make a good end, a good end being measured in terms of bravery bordering on contemptuous indifference to one’s fate. It’s hard to reconcile this indifference with the regret the prisoner was supposed to express.

ET: Did the fact that Aitken was a hated state criminal, rather than an everyday felon, alter anything about the role he was expected to play in the execution ritual?

JW: I don’t think so. The various accounts of his last moments read suspiciously like those you find in other dying speeches. Given the fact that he was a Scot who had poor social skills and who was also more than a little off his head, it beggars belief that he would have performed his part so well and in so conventional a fashion. I don’t doubt, though, that he made a brave end of it.

* The original Portsmouth plan was to start with a diversionary fire in the city itself, and then burn the dockyard while fire engines were occupied with the previous blaze. Again, his imagination outstripped his reach as a lone wolf: the attempt to kindle this preliminary fire just got him run out of his boarding-house and made the landlady a later witness against him.

** For more on Fielding’s criminal investigation reforms, see this post.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Arson,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Gibbeted,Hanged,History,Interviews,Other Voices,Public Executions,Terrorists,Treason,USA,Wartime Executions

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2010: Jihan Mohammed Ali and Atef Rohyum Abd El Al Rohyum, lovers

2 comments March 10th, 2011 Headsman

You cannot do a kindness too soon, for you never know how soon it will be too late.

-Ralph Waldo Emerson

As of this date last year, the latterly deposed Hosni Mubarak still held power of life and death over subjects.

And on this date in 2010, he used it to turn thumbs-down to both Jihan Mohammed Ali and Atef Rohyum Abd El Al Rohyum.

Those two were condemned for the 2004 murder of Jihan’s husband, but Jihan apparently claimed to have acted alone, involving her lover only as an after-the-fact accessory to move the body.

(You know what they say … friends help you move. Good friends help you move bodies.)

Atef’s attempts to parlay this information into a new trial or some form of executive mercy fell on deaf ears, prompting a fruitless Amnesty International appeal that Egypt was risking a wrongful execution.

The two were executed on the same day, though not executed together; Jihan hanged in al-Kanater prison outside Cairo, while Atef was put to death in Isti’naf prison.

We suspect that ex-President Mubarak’s regrets, if any, run more to the prosaic opportunities missed in the maintenance and exploitation of power. But given the events of recent months, maybe his soul and his regime alike could have profited from fewer revengeful spirits like Atef.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Egypt,Execution,Hanged,Murder,Ripped from the Headlines,Sex,Torture,Women,Wrongful Executions

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1799: The defenders of Jaffa, at Napoleon’s command

5 comments March 10th, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1799, Napoleon Bonaparte gave, and saw executed, the dreadful order to slaughter thousands of Muslim prisoners from the Siege of Jaffa.

Having just conquered the city from the Ottomans, the Corsican faced the inconvenience of having a large number of POWs with no way to provision them. What to do?

His private secretary Louis Antoine Fauvelet de Bourrienne later remembered the scene.

The Arnauts and Albanians, of whom these refugees were almost entirely composed, cried from the windows that they were willing to surrender upon an assurance that they would be exempted from the massacre to which the town was doomed; if not, they threatened to fire on the ‘aides de camp’, and to defend themselves to the last extremity. The two officers thought that they ought to accede to the proposition, notwithstanding the decree of death which had been pronounced against the whole garrison, in consequence of the town being taken by storm. They brought them to our camp in two divisions, one consisting of about 2500 men, the other of about 1600.

I was walking with General Bonaparte, in front of his tent, when he beheld this mass of men approaching, and before he even saw his ‘aides de camp’ he said to me, in a tone of profound sorrow, “What do they wish me to do with these men? Have I food for them?–ships to convey them to Egypt or France? Why, in the devil’s name, have they served me thus?” After their arrival, and the explanations which the General-in-Chief demanded and listened to with anger, Eugene* and Croisier [the officers who accepted the Jaffa garrison’s surrender] received the most severe reprimand for their conduct. But the deed was done. Four thousand men were there. It was necessary to decide upon their fate. The two aides de camp observed that they had found themselves alone in the midst of numerous enemies, and that he had directed them to restrain the carnage. “Yes, doubtless,” replied the General-in-Chief, with great warmth, “as to women, children, and old men–all the peaceable inhabitants; but not with respect to armed soldiers. It was your duty to die rather than bring these unfortunate creatures to me. What do you want me to do with them?”

The third day arrived without its being possible, anxiously as it was desired, to come to any conclusion favourable to the preservation of these unfortunate men. The murmurs in the camp grew louder the evil went on increasing–remedy appeared impossible–the danger was real and imminent. The order for shooting the prisoners was given and executed on the 10th of March.

This atrocious scene, when I think of it, still makes me shudder, as it did on the day I beheld it; and I would wish it were possible for me to forget it, rather than be compelled to describe it. All the horrors imagination can conceive, relative to that day of blood, would fall short of the reality.**

… the situation of the army, the scarcity of food, our small numerical strength, in the midst of a country where every individual was an enemy, would have induced me to vote in the affirmative of the proposition which was carried into effect, if I had a vote to give. It was necessary to be on the spot in order to understand the horrible necessity which existed.

War, unfortunately, presents too many occasions on which a law, immutable in all ages, and common to all nations, requires that private interests should be sacrificed to a great general interest, and that even humanity should be forgotten. It is for posterity to judge whether this terrible situation was that in which Bonaparte was placed.† For my own part, I have a perfect conviction that he could not do otherwise than yield to the dire necessity of the case. It was the advice of the council, whose opinion was unanimous in favour of the execution, that governed him, Indeed I ought in truth to say, that he yielded only in the last extremity, and was one of those, perhaps, who beheld the massacre with the deepest pain.

As tends to happen, this sort of thing made future garrisons much less interested in surrender.

Walter Scott, in his biography of the Corsican, judged that the “bloody deed must always remain a deep stain on the character of Napoleon.”

[W]e do not view it as the indulgence of an innate love of cruelty; for nothing in Bonaparte’s history shows the existence of that vice, and there are many things which intimate his disposition to have been naturally humane. But he was ambitious, aimed at immense and gigantic undertakings, and easily learned to overlook the waste of human life, which the execution of his projjects necessarily invvolved … That sort of necessity, therefore, which men fancy to themselves when they are unwilling to forego a favourite object for the sake of obeying a moral precept — that necessity which might be more properly termed a temptation difficult to be resisted — that necessity which has been called the tyrant’s plea, was the cause of the massacre at Jaffa, and must remain its sole apology.

And, Scott adds, “it might almost seem that Heaven set its vindictive brand upon this deed of butchery.”

This city the French wanted so desperately as to “forget humanity” was beset with plague; Antoine-Jean Gros would depict Napoleon on canvas humanely visiting the stricken right around the time he ordered a couple thousand prisoners shot dead.


Bonaparte Visiting the Pesthouse in Jaffa, by Antoine-Jean Gros (1804).

Bourrienne recorded that

[a]fter the siege of Jaffe the plague began to exhibit itself with a little more virulence. We lost between seven and eight hundred, men by the contagion during the campaign of Syria.

* “Eugene” is Napoleon’s adopted son-in-law Eugene de Beauharnais, one of the commanders whose expedient clemency inconvenienced the marshal. Beauharnais’s father was executed himself, during the French Revolution.

** Bourrienne goes light on the atrocity details, and makes it sound like it’s all shootings; Muslim sources record bayonet work.

† [sic!] By “terrible situation … in which Bonaparte was placed,” he of course means the terrible situation in which Bonaparte placed himself by launching his Egyptian campaign.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Borderline "Executions",Execution,France,History,Israel,Known But To God,Mass Executions,Notable Participants,Occupation and Colonialism,Ottoman Empire,Shot,Soldiers,Summary Executions,Wartime Executions,Wrongful Executions

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1615: St. John Ogilvie

1 comment March 10th, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 1615, Scotland’s only post-Reformation Catholic martyr was hanged at Glasgow Cross.

The Protestant-born Ogilvie had been educated in Europe and there fallen under the sway of the Catholic faith forbidden in his homeland. He converted, trained as a Jesuit, and at his own request returned to minister to the secret Catholic population in Glasgow.

Within a year he was in irons, awaiting a death sentence he refused to spurn with a timely submission to King James‘ spiritual supremacy. Ogilvie greeted his conviction for treason — and like most Catholic martyrs in the British Isles, he protested his loyalty in vain — with the words,

God have mercie upon mee! … if there bee heere anie hidden catholikes, let them pray for me, but the Prayers of Heretickes I will not have.


John Ogilvie? (See Update below)

There’s a multilingual Jesuit text celebrating Ogilvie available free from Google books.

Glaswegians can watch for more demonstrative tribute at St. Andrew’s Cathedral, which is poised to produce a monumental mural by Peter Howson.

Part of the Themed Set: The Church confronts its competition.


Update: Friend of the blog Louise Yeoman, whose guest post on a witchcraft execution remains one of the best pieces in this humble space, has an interesting correction to offer on Saint J.O. According to Yeoman, disemboweling “was not part of Scots law until 1708, when the British government wanted to hang draw and quarter some of those involved in the abortive Jacobite uprising of that year and were shocked to find that Scotland had no such penalty.” She’s backed by this contemporaneous account of Ogilvie’s death, which observes that even the “quartering” part of the sentence was not carried out.

So, what gives with the image, if Ogilvie’s corpse wasn’t carved up?

It’s from this (U.S.) Library of Congress page which marks it as a representation of Ogilvie in a late 17th-century text of Bohemian Jesuit propagandist Matthias Tanner. That provenance, of course, would be consistent with a bit of sanguinary exaggeration. It’s also possible that it’s mislabeled on the Library of Congress page, whose identification of it seems a bit oblique.

Working as I am from secondary sources, I tread cautiously here and welcome further clarification or correction.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,God,Hanged,History,Martyrs,Mature Content,Milestones,Public Executions,Religious Figures,Ripped from the Headlines,Scotland,Torture,Treason

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