1842: Maketu Wharetotara, New Zealand’s first execution

Add comment March 7th, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1842, New Zealand carried out its first official execution: the hanging of Maori teen Maketu Wharetotara for murdering five people.

The son of a Nga Puhi chief named Ruhe, Maketu took employment as a farmhand for a white household.

An ill-tempered white servant evidently offended him sufficiently to split the bugger’s skull with an axe … and since Maketu wasn’t the type to leave a job half-done, he went ahead and murdered the rest of the household, too.

European settlers, still a minority, initially worried that this outburst might herald the onset of a general native rising. The police magistrate even refused to apprehend the criminal, who had fled back to his people, for fear of triggering conflict.

But internal Maori politics would not let the boy off so lightly.

One of the household members he had murdered was a mixed-race granddaughter of another important Nga Puhi chief, which raised the specter of intertribal strife.

To pre-empt a possible bloodbath, Ruhe turned his own son over to the Europeans.

By British law, it was a pretty cut-and-dried case with a pretty predictable outcome which became, for the crown, a precedent establishing its authority over incidents of interracial violence.

(Maketu Wharetotara — baptized “Wiremu Kingi” by an Anglican minister on the morning of his execution — obtained his milestone status because another Maori minor who had previously been condemned to death died of dysentery before they could noose him.)

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Children,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Hanged,History,Milestones,Murder,New Zealand,Nobility,Notable Jurisprudence,Occupation and Colonialism,Public Executions,Racial and Ethnic Minorities

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1937: Alexander Yulevich Tivel

1 comment March 7th, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 1937 — probably — one of the numberless obscurities consumed by Stalin’s purges was convicted and presumably shot for “preparing to commit a terrorist act against [NKVD head] Yezhov.”

Alexander Yulevich Tivel, a Jewish bureaucrat who had the misfortune to have been in a party organ too close to Zinoviev, was disappeared by the NKVD one day in 1936.

His fate forms the opening hook for J. Arch Getty’s The Road to Terror: Stalin and the Self-Destruction of the Bolsheviks, 1932-1939 — “the story of the Stalinist terror writ small.” (Here’s a review)

We do not know whether he was physically tortured by his interrogators, but there is ample evidence that countless others were. Even high-ranking officials under arrest were beaten or, as Molotov would put it, “worked over.” Ten years later, a high-ranking police official described interrogation procedures in a letter to Stalin. First, prisoners were offered better conditions — better food, mail, and so on — in return for a confession. If that failed, appeals to the prisoner’s conscience and concern for his family followed. The next step was a solitary-confinement cell without exercise, a bed, tobacco, or sleep for up to twenty days … Finally, the use of “physical pressure” was authorized …

Tivel was probably executed on the same day [of his conviction]. Unlike many others who were badgered and tortured by the NKVD, he had not confessed.

His wife and mother-in-law to internal exile. His son would suffer the stigma of being the child of an executed traitor.

The widow Eva Tivel, reports Getty, grappled for years with the unresponsive bureaucracy until she finally cleared Sasha Tivel’s name.

On 23 May 1957, twenty years after Tivel’s execution and after Eva’s many letters and appeals, Tivel’s sentence and party expulsion were overturned … [as] “based on contradictory and dubious materials.”

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Innocent Bystanders,Jews,Posthumous Exonerations,Russia,Shot,Torture,Treason,Uncertain Dates,USSR,Wrongful Executions

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