1917: Otilio Montaño, Zapatista

Add comment May 18th, 2017 Headsman

One hundred years ago today, Otilio Montaño Sánchez was shot as a traitor to the Mexican Revolution.

Montaño was a rural schoolteacher who came to mentor Emiliano Zapata via Zapata’s cousin.

Montaño had the distinction of helping Zapata draw up his movement’s “sacred scripture,” the egalitarian Plan of Ayala, and rose with his protege to become Secretary of Public Instructions in the Zapatista governing junta.

This association was destined to be displaced by a different (ex-)revolutionary, Venustiano Carranza, who would break with Zapata and emerge from the Revolution as Mexico’s president. Montaño suffered the fate Carranza’s former allies would have wished to impose upon him: being accused of supporting a pro-Carranza revolt, a revolutionary tribunal had him shot (dishonorably, shot in the back) wearing a defamatory sign reading “So die all traitors to the fatherland.”

A small town in Morelos is named for Montaño.

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1548: Giulio Cybo, Andrea Doria disaster

Add comment May 18th, 2016 Headsman

On this date in 1548, Giulio Cybo was beheaded in Genoa for plotting against his father-in-law Andrea Doria.

Cybo (English Wikipedia entry | Italian) was a babe of barely 20 when he died, the whole of his short life lost to frustrating defeats in the skein of peninsular and familial politics.

His parents were the original Cybo and Malaspina whose union founded the Cybo-Malaspina house that until the 18th century ruled the small Duchy of Massa and Carrara where Liguria meets Tuscany.

Successful though their line might prove, theirs was a house divided and the parents’ rivalry for precedence in their territory transferred to their two sons. Thus Giulio, the father’s favorite, makes his first appearance on history’s stage invading Massa with a cohort of gendarmes to seize power from his own mother.

The success of his rude maneuver was short-lived and mom soon restored her authority — backed by the imperial forces haunting the land during the interminable Italian Wars. Although Giulio was married to the daughter of the Genoese admiral Andrea Doria,* whose word was law in that city, the in-laws frustratingly stiffed him out of the dowry payment that Giulio intended to use to restore his Freudian conquest.

These material grievances, and a young man’s wide streak of tragic impetuousity,** drove Giulio into the arms of Giovanni Luigi Fieschi. The latter was a Genoese nobleman whose dramatic plot to topple Doria failed with operatic† absurdity in 1547 when Fieschi mid-coup fell off a gangway and drowned in the harbor. Only in Genoa.

Cybo’s complicity in this scheme could not be proven because he arrived too late to do anything other than make a politic show of support for the already-victorious Doria. But now, encouraged by the French — the Habsburg empire’s enemy in the aforementioned Italian Wars and therefore the sponsor of its every rival faction — Cybo gathered some fellow malcontents in Venice and began working up a plot to oust Doria, restore the liberty of Genoa, and really put all the parents in their place. Once bitten, however, the wily old Doria was on the lookout for these troublemakers and had Cybo’s circle infiltrated early. The young man was arrested en route back to Genoa to implement his design.

The letters of the Fieschi [family] which were found on his person left no room to doubt his guilt. Some tell us that he was several times tortured and confessed that Farnese, Maffei, Ghisa and the Pope himself were accomplices in the plot, and that the Fieschi and Farnese were its instigators.

The emperor did not wish to execute Cybo; and we find evidence in documents of the period that even the bloodthirsty Gonzaga made every exertion to save him. On the other hand Graneville and Doria laboured with all their power to secure his punishment. In fact, so soon as Doria heard of this plot, committed rather in intention than act and excusable by the youth of the conspirator, “the prince (I use the words of Porzio) inflamed to wrath by the offence and full of vengeful animosity, disregarded the double tie which bound him to the young man, and made incessant appeals to Caesar for the blood of his relative.”

Many Italian and foreign princes asked grace for the prisoner, and the emperor was at first undecided; but severity triumphed over mercy — Doria desired vengeance and he obtained it. The victim met his fate with manly intrepidity. He was beheaded and his body exposed between two wax candles in the public square … on the 18th of May, 1548. He was scarcely twenty years of age.

Porzio says: —

His courage and military capacity inspired all who knew him with the conviction that, if he had not perished in boyhood, he would have become one of the first captains of his age. He made a single mistake: that of endeavouring to expel one foreigner with another — to drive out the Spaniards in order to establish the French in Italy.

* This man, one of the great naval captains of his age, was of course the namesake of the Genoese ocean liner Andrea Doria that sank in 1956.

** Cybo “liked not to rest contented in the battle of life,” was James Bent’s judgment, although it is difficult to tell that he ever had the option to do so.

** Well, stage-worthy at any rate: Fieschi’s fiasco is the basis of Schiller’s play Fiesco.

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1616: Margaret Vincent, “Pitilesse Mother”

Add comment May 18th, 2015 Headsman


(Via)

A pitiless mother, that most unnaturally at one time murdered two of her own children, at Acton within six miles from London, upon Holy Thursday last 1616, the ninth of May. Being a gentlewoman named Margaret Vincent, wife of Mr. Jarvis Vincent of the same town. With her examination, confession and true discovery of all proceedings in the said bloody accident.

How easy are the ways unto evil, and how soon are our minds (by the Devil’s enticement) withdrawn from goodness. Leviathan, the archenemy of mankind, hath set such and so many bewitching snares to entrap us that unless we continually stand watching with careful diligence to shun them, we are like to cast the principal substance of our reputation upon the rack of his ensnaring engines. As for example, a gentlewoman, ere now fresh in memory, presents her own ruin amongst us, whose life’s overthrow may well serve for a clear looking-glass to see a woman’s weakness in, how soon and apt she is won unto wickedness, not only to the body’s overthrow but the soul’s danger. God of his mercy keep us all from the like wilfulness.

At Acton, some six miles westward from London, this unfortunate gentlewoman dwelled, named Margaret Vincent, the wife of Mr. Jarvis Vincent, gentleman, who by unhappy destiny marked to mischance I here now make the subject of my pen and publish her hard hap unto the world, that all others may shun the like occasions by which she was overthrown.

This Margaret Vincent before named, of good parentage, born in the county of Hertford at a town named Rickmansworth, her name from her parents Margaret Day, of good education, graced with good parts from her youth that promised succeeding virtues in her age, if good luck had served. For being discreet, civil, and of modest conversation, she was preferred in marriage to this gentleman Master Vincent, with whom she lived in good estimation, well beloved and much esteemed of all that knew her for her modesty and seemly carriage. And so might have continued to her old age, had not this bloody accident committed upon her own children blemished the glory of the same.

But now mark (gentle reader) the first entrance into her life’s overthrow, and consider with thyself how strangely the Devil here set in his foot and what cunning instruments he used in his assailments. The gentlewoman being witty and of a ripe understanding desired much conference in religion, and being careful, as it seemed, of her soul’s happiness, many times resorted to divines to have instructions to salvation, little thinking to fall into the hands of Roman wolves (as she did) and to have the sweet lamb, her soul, thus entangled by their persuasions.

Twelve or fourteen years had she lived in marriage with her husband well beloved, having for their comforts diverse pretty children between them with all other things in plenty, as health, riches, and such like, to increase concord and no necessity that might be hindrance to contentment. Yet at last there was such traps and engines set that her quet was caught and her discontent set at liberty. Her opinion of the true faith (by the subtle sophistry of some close Papists) was converted to a blind belief of bewitching heresy. For they have such charming persuasions that hardly the female kind can escape their enticements, of which weak sex they continually make prize of and by them lay plots to ensnare others, as they did by this deceived gentlewoman. For she, good soul, being made a bird of their own feather, desired to beget more of the same kind and from time to time made persuasive arguments to win her husband to the same opinion, and deemed it a meritorious deed to charge his conscience with that infectious burden of Romish opinions, affirming by many false reasons that his former life had been led in blindness, and that she was appointed by the Holy Church to shew him the light of true understanding. These and such like were the instructions she had given her to entangle her husband in and win him if she might to their blind heresies.

But he, good gentleman, over-deeply grounded in the right faith of religion than to be thus so easily removed, grew regardless of her persuasions, accounting them vain and frivolous, and she undutiful to make so fond an attempt, many times snubbing her with some few unkind speeches, which bred in her heart a purpose of more extremity. For having learned this maxim of their religion that it was meritorious, yea, and pardonable, to take away the lives of any opposing Protestants were it of any degree whatsoever, in which resolution or bloody purpose she long stood upon and at last (only by the Devil’s temptation) resolved the ruin of her own children, affirming to her conscience these reasons: that they were brought up in blindness and darksome errors, hoodwinked (by her husband’s instructions) from the true light, and therefore to save their soul (as she vainly thought) she purposed to become a tigerous mother, and so wolfishly to commit the murder of her own flesh and blood. In which opinion she steadfastly continued, never relenting according to nature but casting about to find time and place for so wicked a deed, which unhappily fell out as after followed.

It so chanced that a discord arose between the two towns of Acton and Willesden about a certain common bordering between them, where the town of Acton, as it seems, having the more right unto it, by watching defended it a time from the other’s cattle. whereupon the women of the same town, having likewise a willingness to assist their husbands in the same defence, appointed a day for the like purpose, which was the Ascension Day last past, commonly called Holy Thursday, falling upon the 9th of the last past month of May. Which day (as ill chance would have it) was the fatal time appointed for her to act this bloody tragedy, whereon she made her husband fatherless of two as pretty children as ever came from woman’s womb.

Upon the Ascension Day aforesaid, after the time of divine service, the women of the town being gathered together about their promised business, some of them came to Mistress Vincent and according to promise desired her company. Who having a mind as then more settled on bloody purposes than country occasions, feigned an excuse of ill at ease and not half well, desired pardon of them, and offering her maid in her behalf, who being a good, apt, and willing servant was accepted of, and so the townswomen, misdoubting no such hard accident as after happened, proceeded in their aforesaid defences. The gentlewoman’s husband being also from home, in whose absence, by the fury and assistance of the Devil, she enacted this woeful accident in form and manner following.

This Mistress Vincent, now deserving no name of gentlewoman, being in her own house fast locked up only with her two small children, the one of the age of five years, the other hardly two years old, unhappily brought to that age to be made away by their own mother, who by nature should have cherished them with her own body, as the pelican that pecks her own breast to feed her young ones with her blood. But she, more cruel than the viper, the envenomed serpent, the snake, or any beast whatsoever, against all kind, takes away those lives to whom she first gave life.

Being alone (as I said before) assisted by the Devil, she took the youngest of the two, having a countenance so sweet that might have begged mercy at a tyrant’s hand, but she regarding neither the pretty smiles it made nor the dadling before the mother’s face, nor anything it could do, but like a fierce and bloody Medea she took it violently by the throat, and with a garter taken from her leg, making thereof a noose and putting the same about her child’s sweet neck, she in a wrathful manner drew the same so close together that in a moment she parted the soul and body. Without any terror of conscience she laid the lifeless infant, still remaining warm, upon her bed and with a relentless countenance looking thereon, thinking thereby she had done a deed of immortality. Oh, blinded ignorance! Oh, inhumane devotion! Purposing by this to merit Heaven, she hath deserved (without true repentance) the reward of damnation.

This creature not deserving mother’s name, as I said before, not yet glutted nor sufficed with these few drops of innocent blood, nay, her own dear blood bred in her own body, cherished in her own womb with much dearness full forty weeks. Not satisfied, I say, with this one murder but she would headlong run unto a second and to heap more vengeance upon her head. She came unto the elder child of that small age that it could hardly discern a mother’s cruelty nor understand the fatal destiny fallen upon the other before, which as it were seemed to smile upon her as though it begged for pity, but all in vain, for so tyrannous was her heart that without all motherly pity she made it drink of the same bitter cup as she had done the other. For with her garter she likewise pressed out the sweet air of life and laid it by the other upon the bed sleeping in death together, a sight that might have burst an iron heart asunder and made the very tiger to relent.

These two pretty children being thus murdered, without all hope of recovery, she began to grow desperate and still to desire more and more blood, which had been a third murder of her own babes, had it not been abroad at nurse and by that means could not be accomplished. Whereupon she fell into a violent rage, purposing as then to shew the like mischief upon herself, being of this strange opinion that she herself by that deed had made saints of her two children in Heaven. So taking the same garter that was the instrument of their deaths and putting the noose thereof about her own neck, she strove therewith to have strangled herself. But nature being weak and flesh frail, she was not able to do it. Whereupon in a more violent fury (still animated foreward by instigation of the Devil) she ran into the yard purposing there in a pond to have drowned herself, having not one good motion of salvation left within her.

But here, good reader, mark what a happy prevention chanced to preserve her in hope of repentance, which at that time stayed her from that desperate attempt. The maid, by great fortune, at the very instant of this deed of desperation returned from the field or common where she had left most of the neighbours. And coming in at the backside, perceiving her mistress by her ghastly countenance that all was not well and that some hard chance had happened her or hers, demanded how the children did.

“Oh Nan,” quoth she, “never, oh never, shalt thou see thy Tom more,” and withal gave the maid a box upon the ear. At which she laid hold upon her mistress, calling out for help into the town. whereat diverse came running in and after them her husband, within a while after, who finding what had happened were all so amazed together that they knew not what to do. some wrung their hands, some wept, some called out for neighbours; so general a fear was struck amongst them all that they knew not whether to go nor run.

Especially the good gentleman her husband, that seeing his own children slain, murdered by his wife and their own mother, a deed beyond nature and humanity, in which ecstasy of grief at last he broke out in these speeches: “Oh Margaret, Margaret, how often have I persuaded thee from this damned opinion, this damned opinion that hath undone us all.”

Whereupon with a ghastly look and fearful eye she replied thus, “Oh Jarvis, this had never been done if thou hadst been ruled and by me converted. But what is done is past, for they are saints in Heaven, and I nothing at all repent it.”

These and such like words passed betwixt them till such time as the constable and others of the townsmen came in and according to law carried her before a justice of the peace, which is a gentleman named Master Roberts of Willesden, who, understanding these heinous offences, rightly according to law and course of justice made a mittimus for her conveyance to Newgate in London, there to remain till the Sessions of her trial. Yet this is to be remembered that by examination she voluntarily confessed the fact how she murdered them to save their souls and to make them saints in Heaven, that they might not be brought up in blindness to their own damnation. Oh, wilful heresy, that ever Christian should in conscience be thus miscarried. But to be short, she proved herself to be an obstinate papist, for there was found about her neck a crucifix with other relics which she then wore about her, that by the justice was commanded to be taken away and an English Bible to be delivered her to read, the which she with great stubbornness threw from her, not willing as once to look thereupon, nor to hear any divine comforts delivered thereout for the succour of her soul.

But now again to her conveyance towards prison. It being Ascension Day and near the closing of the evening, too late as then to be sent to London she was by commandment put to the constable’s keeping for that night, who with a strong watch lodged her in his own house till morning, which was at the Bell in Acton where he dwelled. Shewing the part and duty of a good Christian, with diverse other of his neighbours, all that same night they plied her with good admonitions, tending to repentance, and seeking with great pains to convert her from those erroneous opinions which she so stubbornly stood in. But it little availed, for she seemed in outward shew so obstinate in arguments that she made small reckoning of repentance, nor was a whit sorrowful for the murder committed upon her children but maintained the deed to be meritorious and of high desert.

Oh, that the blood of her own body should have no more power to pierce remorse into her iron natured heart, when pagan women that know not God nor have any feeling of his deity will shun to commit bloodshed, much more of their own seed. The cannibals that eat one another will spare the fruits of their own bodies; the savages will do the like; yea, every beast and fowl hath a feeling of nature, and according to kind will cherish their young ones. And shall woman, nay, a Christian woman, God’s own image, be more unnatural than pagan, cannibal, savage, beast, or fowl? It even now makes a trembling fear to best me to think what an error this unhappy gentlewoman was bewitched with, a witchcraft begot by Hell and nursed by the Romish sect, from which enchantment God of Heaven defend us.

But now again to our purpose. The next day being Friday and the tenth of May, by the Constable Master Dighton of the Bell in Acton, with other of his neighbours, she was conveyed to Newgate in London. Where lodging, in the master’s side, many people resorted to her, as well of her acquaintance as others and as before, with sweet and comfortable persuasions practised to beget repentance and to be sorry for that which she had committed. But blindness so prevailed that she continued still in her former stubbornness, affirming (contrary to all persuasive reasons) that she had done a deed of charity in making them saints in Heaven that otherwise might have lived to destruction in Hell, and likewise refused to look upon any Protestant book as Bible, meditation, prayer book, and such like, affirming them to be erroneous and dangerous for any Romish Catholic to look in. Such were the violent opinions she had been instructed in, and with such fervencies therein she continued that no dissuasions could withdraw her from them, no, not death itself, being here possessed with such bewitching wilfulness.

In this danger of mind continued she all Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. The Sessions drawing near, there came certain godly preachers unto her, who prevailed with her by celestial consolations, that her heart by degrees became a little mollified and in nature somewhat repentant for these her most heinous offences. Her soul, a little leaning to salvation, encouraged these good men to persevere and go forward in so godly a labour, who at last brought her to this opinion, as it was justified by one that came from her in Newgate upon the Monday before the Sessions: that she earnestly believed she had eternally deserved hellfire for the murder of her children, and that she so earnestly repented the deed, saying that if they were alive again not all the world should procure her to do it. Thus was she truly repentant, to which (no doubt) but by the good means of these preachers she was wrought unto.

And now to come to a conclusion, as well of the discourse as of her life, she deserved death, and both law and justice hath awarded her the same. For her examination and free confession needed no jury: her own tongue proved a sufficient evidence, and her conscience a witness that condemned her. Her judgment and execution she received with a patient mind, her soul no doubt hath got a true penitent desire to be in Heaven, and the blood of her two innocent children so wilfully shed (according to all charitable judgements) is washed away by the mercies of God. Forgive and forget her, good gentlewomen. She is not the first that hath been blemished with blood nor the last that will make a husband wifeless. Her offence was begot by a strange occasion but buried, I hope, with true repentance.

Thus, countrymen of England, have you heard the ruin of a gentlewoman who, if Popish persuasions had not been, the world could not have spotted her with the smallest mark of infamy but had carried the name of virtue even unto her grave. And for a warning unto you all, by her example, take heed how you put confidence unto that dangerous sect, for they surely will deceive you.

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Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Abortion and Infanticide,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Diminished Capacity,Disfavored Minorities,England,Execution,Hanged,History,Murder,Public Executions,Women

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1871: Edward Rulloff

1 comment May 18th, 2014 Robert Wilhelm

(Thanks for the guest post to Robert Wilhelm, author of the Murder By Gaslight historic crime blog, and author of the book Murder And Mayhem in Essex County. Executed Today readers are sure to enjoy Wilhelm’s detailed investigations into long-lost historic crime, including his more detailed exploration of Edward Rulloff. -ed.)

An 1871 biography of Edward Rulloff was entitled The Man of Two Lives. This was an understatement.

Rulloff — also known as James Nelson, E. C. Howard, James Dalton, Edward Lieurio, etc. — had been a doctor, a lawyer, a schoolmaster, a photographer, a carpet designer, an inventor, and a phrenologist. Most notably, Rulloff was a philologist, who could speak Latin, Greek and six modern languages and in 1870, was working on a manuscript, Method in the Formation of Language, which he believed would revolutionize the field. But the real dichotomy of Edward Rulloff’s life was the fact that he financed his research by theft and did much of his philological work in prison.

Rulloff started both sides of his life early, working in a law firm and spending two years in the penitentiary for theft, both before age twenty. In 1844 his wife and daughter disappeared and Rulloff was charged with their murder. He handled his own defense and managed to beat the murder charge but was convicted of abduction and spent ten years in Auburn Prison.

After being released, Rulloff divided his time between is intellectual and criminal pursuits, and saw the inside of a jail more than once. In 1870 he was living in New York City, working on his book and running with a gang of petty thieves.

The morning of August 17, 1870, Rulloff and two others broke into Halbert’s dry goods store in Binghamton, New York. A gunfight ensued which left night watchman Fred A. Merrick dead. Rulloff was captured in the manhunt that followed.

Rulloff’s trial for the murder Fred Merrick was sensational, receiving national press coverage and attracting thousands of spectators. Once again Rulloff handled his own defense but this time he was found guilty of murder and sentenced to hang on March 3, 1871.

Unsuccessful appeals delayed the hanging by two and a half months. While awaiting execution, the case became a subject of national debate. Some said it was wrong to take the life of such a learned man who may be on the verge of a great intellectual breakthrough. Horace Greely, owner of the New York Tribune wrote: “In the prison in Binghamton there is a man awaiting death who is too curious an intellectual problem to be wasted on the gallows.”

Others however believed that Rulloff was an intellectual fraud, among them Mark Twain, who satirized Greely’s position saying: “If a life be offered up to the gallows to atone for the murder Rulloff did, will that suffice? If so … I will bring forward a man who, in the interest of learning and science, will take Rulloff’s crime upon himself and submit to be hanged in Rulloff’s place.”

Edward Rulloff was hanged on May 18, 1871. Before his execution, he confessed to killing his wife by smashing her skull with a pestle he used to grind medicine. Rulloff requested that his body be put in a vault so it would not be desecrated, but his request was not honored. Before his lawyer could claim the body, it was placed on public display and the owner of a local art gallery made a plaster death mask. His lawyer gave the body to Dr. George Burr of the Geneva Medical College who promised to bury the body in a private cemetery if he could keep the head for study. After the body was buried it was dug up and stolen by medical students. Edward Rulloff’s brain still exists as part of the Wilder Brain Collection at Cornell University.

Visit Murder by Gaslight for more information on the life and crimes of Edward Rulloff.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Doctors,Execution,Guest Writers,Hanged,History,Intellectuals,Lawyers,Murder,New York,Other Voices,Theft,USA

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1891: Benjamin Harrison spares the Navassa rioters

1 comment May 18th, 2013 Headsman

On this date in 1891, U.S. President Benjamin Harrison settled a death penalty case from the remote Navassa Island by granting a commutation.

Back in the 19th century, islands stacked high with guano were worth their weight in bird crap. The phosphate-rich dung piled meters-deep in some places, and could be mined for agricultural fertilizer and for use in gunpowder and explosives.

In 1856, Congress even passed a Guano Islands Act empowering skippers to plant the stars and stripes on any of these lucrative little turd reefs they happened to run across. That’s how the U.S. came to possess, for instance, Midway Island … and more than 100 other islands as well. For audio product handling the guano binge, try this 99 Percent Invisible podcast.

Most of these claims have long since been ceded, but a few remain today. One of them is (still!) Navassa, a three-square-mile speck off the coast of Haiti, 100 miles south of Guantanamo Bay.

Today, Navassa is uninhabited and administered by the Department of the Interior on somewhat disputable footing. (Haiti, just two miles away, also claims Navassa.)

But in the late 19th century, its sweet, sweet guano was being extracted by a Baltimore-based firm known as the Navassa Phosphate Company. This operation employed 137 African-American laborers, moving groaning shitloads of product by raw muscle power under a blistering tropical sun … and under 11 white overseers.

The nature of the assignment — an island very far from the nearest American settlement, with no other industry, community or outpost to repair to — made taking a job on Navassa almost like hitching on somewhere as a sailor: you were off to a little floating dictatorship, with no way out until the end of the contract.

Navassa’s overseers turned out to have a taste for the cat o’nine tails, and worse.

“The conditions surrounding the prisoners and their fellows were of a most peculiar character,” Harrison noted in his eventual commutation order.

They were American citizens, under contracts to perform labor upon specified terms, within American territory, removed from any opportunity to appeal to any court or public officer for redress of any injury or the enforcement of any civil right. Their employers were, in fact, their masters. The bosses placed over them imposed fines and penalties without any semblance of trial. These penalties extended to imprisonment, and even to the cruel practice of tricing men up for a refusal to work. Escape was impossible, and the state of things generally such as might make men reckless and dangerous.

Or, as a naval inspection judged it, Navassa resembled “a convict establishment without its comforts and cleanliness”: people being worked brutally to the bone during their contract, eating rancid rations and living in filth.

Not surprisingly, Navassa’s “convict” laboring population rebelled in 1889, and in a vicious hour-long riot slew five overseers while maiming several others.

Warships calling on the island shipped 18 back to face murder charges; ultimately, three black guano-miners were sentenced to death for the affair.*

However, a huge clemency push spearheaded by the Baltimore-based black fraternal organization the Grand United Order of Galilean Fishermen raised the cry to spare the condemned men.

Guano harvesting resumed after the riot, but was aborted in 1898 by the Spanish-American War; the Navassa Phosphate Company fell into bankruptcy, and although the U.S. later threw up a lighthouse on Navassa to aid Panama Canal-bound vessels, it’s been effectively uninhabited ever since.

* The appeals arising from the Navassa conviction generated the 1890 Supreme Court case Jones v. United States, affirming Navassa’s American territoriality, and establishing Congressional jurisdiction over violations of U.S. law that didn’t take place in any particular state. This bit of jurisprudence has turned up all over the place in the century-plus since it was issued.

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1812: John Bellingham, Prime Minister assassin

1 comment May 18th, 2012 Headsman

Two centuries ago today, the only man to assassinate a British Prime Minister was hanged for his trouble.

The man at the end of the rope, John Bellingham, was a Liverpool businessman who had gone to Archangel, Russia to do some export/import trade and there been spuriously accused a debtor and slapped in prison for five years.

His target, Spencer Perceval, was the pious Tory heir to the late William Pitt, and famous (or infamous) for his evangelical personal rectitude and an accompanying status-quo smallness. (He was physically short, too.) “He has looked at human nature from the top of Hampstead Hill,” snorted his contemporary Sydney Smith, “and has not a thought beyond the little sphere of his own vision.”*

Though others judge more generously of him, Perceval’s overall reputation is that of the prim caretaker, violently anti-Bonaparte, anti-Catholic, anti-adultery, anti-worker, anti-egalitarian, anti-democratic, anti-slavery. Anti- a lot of things.

Anti-cluttering up his schedule was the thing that did him in.

John Bellingham returned from his sojourn in the Romanovs’ dungeons in 1809, understandably embittered over his ordeal and the bankruptcy it had driven him into. He then besieged the government with demands for compensation, but met a cold reception all over and got no reply at all for his request to meet with Spencer Perceval.

So Bellingham did what anyone would do: he walked up to Perceval at Westminster on May 11, 1812, and shot him dead.

Then the strange perpetrator with the private grievance re-seated himself comfortably by the fireplace (rather than exploiting the hubbub to fly), where he was promptly arrested. They didn’t mess around back then: John Bellingham was on trial for his life four days after pulling the trigger.

Nevertheless, as the rumor first spread there were fears — or in some cases, hopes — of Jacobin intrigues afoot. And it’s safe to say that the nation’s magnates had better cause than its underclasses to mourn Perceval. “Among the multitude,” one parliamentarian remembered of those days, “the most savage expressions of joy and exultation were heard: accompanied with regret that others, and particularly the attorney-general, had not shared the same fate.”

Clearly something less than fully rational, Bellingham was also more than lucid enough for the hemp. A minister who visited him in the hours before his execution found him unsettlingly unrepentant, and attributed to “the perverse inflexibility of his character” Bellingham’s delusional “self-vindication. He had accordingly taken his ground, and there he obstinately stood; and the weakness of his allegations only increased the firmness by which he was determined to maintain them.”

He had, indeed, maintained them openly at trial, bizarrely casting his homicide as a blow for better government to remind ministers of state to keep longer office hours.

Finding myself thus bereft of all hopes of redress, my affairs ruined by my long imprisonment in Russia through the fault of the British minister, my property all dispersed for want of my own attention, my family driven into tribulation and want, my wife and child claiming support, which I was unable to give them, myself involved in difficulties, and pressed on all sides by claims I could not answer; and that justice refused to me which is the duty of government to give, not as a matter of favour, but of right; and Mr. Perceval obstinately refusing to sanction my claims in Parliament; and I trust this fatal catastrophe will be warning to other ministers. If they had listened to my case this court would not have been engaged in this case, but Mr. Perceval obstinately refusing to sanction my claim in Parliament I was driven to despair, and under these agonizing feelings I was impelled to that desperate alternative which I unfortunately adopted. My arm was the instrument that shot Mr. Perceval, but, gentlemen, ought I not to be redressed; instead of that Mr. Ryder referred me to the Treasury, and after several weeks the Treasury sent me to the Secretary of State’s office; Mr. Hill informed me that it would be useless to apply to government any more; Mr. Beckitt added, Mr. Perceval has been consulted, he would not let my petition come forward.

Gentlemen, A refusal of justice was the sole cause of this fatal catastrophe; his Majesty’s ministers have now to reflect upon their conduct for what has happened. Lord Gower is now in court, I call on him to contradict, if he can, the statement I have made, and, gentlemen, if he does not, I hope you will then take my statement to be correct. Mr. Perceval has unfortunately fallen the victim of my desperate resolution. No man, I am sure, laments the calamitous event more than I do. If I had met Lord Gower he would have received the ball, and not Mr. Perceval. As to death, if it were to be suffered five hundred times, I should prefer it to the injuries and indignities which I have experienced in Russia, I should consider it as the wearied traveller does the inn which affords him an asylum for repose, but government, in the injustice they have done me, were infinitely more criminal than the wretch, who, for depriving the traveller of a few shillings on the highway, forfeits his life to the law. What is the comparison of this man’s offence to government? or, gentlemen, what is my crime to the crime of government itself? It is no more than a mite to a mountain, unless it was proved that I had malice propense towards the unfortunate gentleman for whose death I am now upon my trial. I disclaim all personal or intentional malice against Mr. Perceval.

According to a Frenchman in England at the time, the still-sympathetic public raised for Bellingham’s widow and orphan a subscription “ten times greater than they could ever have expected in any other circumstances.”

A few topical books

* In Peter Plymley’s Letters, which is full of vituperation for Perceval’s harsh Irish policy … words that could go just as readily for many a reputed statesman in many a time and circumstance over the two centuries elapsed since.

I cannot describe the horror and disgust which I felt at hearing Mr. Perceval call upon the then Ministry for measures of vigour in Ireland. If I lived at Hampstead upon stewed meats and claret; if I walked to church every Sunday before eleven young gentlemen of my own begetting, with their faces washed, and their hair pleasingly combed; if the Almighty had blessed me with every earthly comfort — how awfully would I pause before I sent forth the flame and the sword over the cabins of the poor, brave, generous, open-hearted peasants of Ireland! How easy it is to shed human blood; how easy it is to persuade ourselves that it is our duty to do so, and that the decision has cost us a severe struggle; how much in all ages have wounds and shrieks and tears been the cheap and vulgar resources of the rulers of mankind; how difficult and how noble it is to govern in kindness and to found an empire upon the everlasting basis of justice and affection! But what do men call vigour? To let loose hussars and to bring up artillery, to govern with lighted matches, and to cut, and push, and prime; I call this not vigour, but the SLOTH OF CRUELTY AND IGNORANCE. The vigour I love consists in finding out wherein subjects are aggrieved, in relieving them, in studying the temper and genius of a people, in consulting their prejudices, in selecting proper persons to lead and manage them, in the laborious, watchful, and difficult task of increasing public happiness by allaying each particular discontent. In this way Hoche pacified La Vendee — and in this way only will Ireland ever be subdued. But this, in the eyes of Mr. Perceval, is imbecility and meanness. Houses are not broken open, women are not insulted, the people seem all to be happy; they are not rode over by horses, and cut by whips. Do you call this vigour? Is this government?

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Assassins,Businessmen,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Death Penalty,Diminished Capacity,England,Execution,Hanged,History,Murder,Notable for their Victims

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1965: Eli Cohen, Israel’s man in Damascus

1 comment May 18th, 2011 Headsman

On this date in 1965, Israel’s greatest spy suffered an ignominious public hanging in Martyrs Square, Damascus.


The signage swaddling the body denounces his crimes.

Eliahu Ben Saul Cohen — you can call him Eli(e) — was an Egyptian Jew who got recruited by Israeli intelligence to put his Arabic credentials to use in the cloak and dagger game.

You could say he’d found his calling.

After a spell establishing his cover story credentials in Argentina, he “returned” to Syria posing as a prodigal returning emigrant. There, he became the Zionist Richard Sorge.

Brazenly infiltrating the ascendant Ba’ath party and Syrian elite circles as wealthy businessman “Kamel Amin Thaabet”, Cohen piped years of high-quality intelligence to Israel from the very pinnacle of its enemy’s power structure.

(As described in this account, Eli’s own brother, another Mossad agent, was at one point charged with deciphering the spy’s communiques — thereby accidentally catching up with the family business.)


The trusted Eli Cohen in a snapshot with Syrian officials in the Golan Heights, overlooking Israel.

Cohen’s information on Syrian positions in the Golan has been credited with helping Israel win the Six-Day War in 1967.

But he wasn’t around to see it.

By that time, Syrian and Soviet intelligence had finally traced the damaging radio transmissions to “Kamel’s” apartment. He was purportedly — the matter is disputed, and smacks of hagiography — so influential and well-trusted at that point that he was on the verge of being named Deputy Minister of Defense.

Instead, he had a future in the martyr business.

A few books about Eli Cohen

After Cohen’s January 1965 arrest, events moved with implacable dispatch, and neither spy swaps nor diplomatic arm-twisting would avail an agent so embarrassingly, damagingly accomplished. Thousands turned out to cheer the spy’s public hanging, or gawk at the body as it remained hanging throughout the morning. Thousands more watched the live telecast of the execution.

(Six Syrians drew prison sentences for their parts in Cohen’s spy ring.)

Israel is still on about getting his body back from the Syrians. Whether or not that ever happens, the man lives on as a hero for his side. His story is the subject of the 1987 TV movie The Impossible Spy.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Espionage,Execution,Famous,Hanged,History,Infamous,Jews,Martyrs,Public Executions,Spies,Syria,Torture

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1990: Dalton Prejean, cop-killing child

4 comments May 18th, 2010 Headsman

Just after midnight this date in 1990, Dalton Prejean was electrocuted in Louisiana for murdering state trooper Donald Cleveland.

A 17-year-old (at the time of the crime) black youth who tested just this side of mentally disabled, Prejean shot Cleveland during a traffic stop. (He was, at the time, just seven months out of a reform school stint he had served for murdering a taxi driver at the tender age of 14.)

It was a three-day trial with an all-white jury, and not much question as to Prejean’s culpability.

But as he neared the execution of that sentence, his youth and his limited candlepower loomed ever larger. They would generate worldwide attention with some heated rhetoric like this one from Amnesty International’s southern regional director:

“I doubt that in documented recent world history there is an execution” with “such a pile of reasons not to do it.”

The Louisiana board of pardons agreed — it recommended commutation — but Gov. Buddy Roemer did not.

Dalton Prejean’s was the first execution of a juvenile offender in the United States since the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of that practice in the 1989 decision Stanford v. Kentucky. That decision was reversed in 2005, and minors are no longer eligible for death-sentencing in the U.S.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Children,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Diminished Capacity,Disfavored Minorities,Electrocuted,Execution,Louisiana,Murder,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,USA

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1781: Tupac Amaru II, Incan insurgent

3 comments May 18th, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 1781, the last name in Incan rebellion met a horrible end in the ancient Incan capital of Cusco.

José Gabriel Condorcanqui — rechristened Tupac Amaru II, as he was a distant descendant of the last Incan king — was a member of the privileged indigenous population depended upon by the Spanish to administer the forced and extorted labor that made its New World empire worth having.

Condorcanqui evidently had an epiphany.

In November 1780, he launched a well-planned rebellion by engineering the public execution of a hated corregidor Antonio de Arriaga at the hands of his own servant.

“From this day, no longer shall the Spanish feast on your poverty!”

This attention-grabbing entry onto the political chessboard was followed with an exemplary victory over Spanish forces. His revolt rapidly metastasized into an ethno-religious crusade, with all the accumulated bitterness of the Indians’ two-plus centuries maltreatment ferociously visited upon the Spanish.

It was a heady moment — but only a moment; within a few months, the Spanish had rallied and Tupac Amaru was betrayed into their hands.

The rebel had seized Incan symbology for his own purposes — speaking at ancient shrines, for instance — and the Spanish sentence against him included not only the inevitably horrific execution (of both Tupac Amaru and his wife and family) but a comprehensive and explicit programme of cultural annihilation to consign the Incan identity to the past. This lengthy sentence is well worth the read. (Sourced here, a pdf file; the bolded sections are my highlights.)

I must and do condemn José G. Túpac Amaru to be taken out to the main public square of [Cuzco], dragged out to the place of execution, where he shall witness the execution of the sentences imposed on his wife, Micaela Bastidas [Spanish link]; his two sons, Hipólito and Fernando Túpac Amaru; his uncle, Francisco Túpac Amaru; and his brother-in-law, Antonio Bastidas, as well as some of the principal captains and aides in his iniquitous and perverse intent or project, all of whom must die on the same day.

And once these sentences have been carried out, the executioner will cut out his tongue, and he will then be tied or bound by strong cords on each one of his arms and feet in such a way that each rope can be easily tied or fastened to others hanging from t he saddle straps of four horses, so that, in this position, each one of these horses, facing opposite corners of the square, will pull toward his own direction; and let the horses be urged or jolted into motion at the same time so that his body be divided into as many parts and then, once it is done, the parts should be carried to the hill or high ground known as “Picchu,” which is where he came to intimidate, lay siege to, and demand the surrender of this city; and let there be lit a fire which shall be prepared in advance and then let ashes be thrown into the air and a stone tablet placed there detailing his main crimes and manner of his death as the only record and statement of his loathsome action.

His head will be sent to the town of Tinta where, after being three days on the gallows, it shall be placed on a stake at the most public entrance to the town, one of his arms will go to the town of Tungasuca, where he was chief, where it will be treated in like manner, and the other in the capital of the province of Carabaya; one of the legs shall likewise be sent for the same kind of demonstration to the town of Libitaca in the province of Chumbilcas, while the remaining one shall go to Santa Rosa in the province of Lampa along with the affidavit and order to the respective chief magistrates, or territorial judges that this sentence be proclaimed publicly with the greatest solemnity as soon as it arrives in their hands, and on the same day every year thereafter; and they will give notice in writing of this to their superiors in government who are familiar with the said territories.

Since this traitor managed to arm himself and form an army and forces against the royal arms by making use of or seducing and leading with his falsehood the chiefs who are the second in command in the villages, since these villages, being of Indians, are not governed by such chiefs but rather by mayors who are elected annually by the vote or nomination of the chiefs: let these same electoral communities and the chief magistrates that care to give preference to candidates who know Spanish, and who are of the best behavior, reputation, and customs so that they will treat their subjects well and lovingly, honoring only those who have demonstrated honestly their inclination and faithfulness, eagerness, respect, obedience, submission, and gratitude to the greater glory of our great Monarch through the sacrificed of their lives, properties, or ranches in deference of their country or religion, receiving with brave disdain the threats and offers of the aforesaid reel leader and his military chiefs, yet taking care that these elected leaders are the only ones with the right to the title of chief or governor of their ayllus [communities] or towns, and that they cannot transmit their position to their children or other family members.

To this same end, it is prohibited that the Indians wear heathen clothes, especially those who belong to the nobility, since it only serves to symbolize those worn by their Inca ancestors, reminding them of memories which serve no other end than to increase their hatred toward the dominant nation; not to mention that their appear is ridiculous and very little in accordance with the purity of our relics, since they place in different parts images of the sun, which was their primary deity; and this prohibition is to be extended to all the provinces of this southern America, in order to completely eliminate such clothing, especially those items which represent the bestialities of their heathen kings through emblems such and the unco, which is a kind of vest; yacollas, which are very rich blankets or shawls of black velvet or taffeta; the macapaycha, which is a circle in the shape of a crown from which they hand a certain emblem of ancient nobility signified by a tuft or tassel of red-colored alpaca wool, as well as many other things of this kind and symbolism. All of this shall be proclaimed in writing in each province, that they dispose of or surrender to the magistrates whatever clothing of this kind exists in the province, as well as all the paintings or likenesses of their Incas which are extremely abundant in the houses of the Indians who consider themselves to be nobles and who use them to prove their claim or boast of their lineage.

These latter shall be erased without fail since they do not merit the dignity of being painted in such places, and with the same end in mind there shall also be erased, so that no sign remains, any portraits that might be found on walls or other solid objects; in churches, monasteries, hospitals, holy places or private homes, such duties fall under the jurisdiction of the reverend archbishops or bishops of both viceroyalties in those areas pertaining to the churches; and in their place it would be best to replace such adornments with images of the King and our other Catholic sovereigns should that be necessary. Also, the ministers and chief magistrates should ensure that in no town of their respective provinces be performed plays or other public functions of the kind that the Indians are accustomed to put on to commemorate their former Incas; and having carried out the order, these ministers shall give a certified account to the secretaries of the respective governments. In like manner shall be prohibited and confiscated the trumpets or bugles that the Indians use for their ceremonies and which they call pututos, being seashells with a strange and mournful sound that celebrate the mourning and pitiful memorial they make for their antiquity; and there shall also be prohibited the custom of using or wearing black clothing as a sign of mourning, a custom that drags on in some provinces in memory of their deceased monarchs and also of the day or time of the conquest which they consider disastrous and we consider fortunate since it brought them into the company of the Catholic Church and the very loving and gentle domination of our Kings.

With the same goal it is absolutely forbidden that the Indians sign themselves as “Incas,” since it is a title that anyone can assume but which makes a lasting impression on those of their class; and it is ordered, as is required of all those who have genealogical trees or documents that prove in some way their descent, that they produce them or send them certified and without cost by mail to the respective secretaries of both viceroyalties so that the formalities may be observed by those persons responsible to their excellencies the viceroys, consulting His Majesty where necessary according to each case; and the chief magistrates are charged to oversee the fulfillment of such requirements, to seek out and discover anyone who does not observe them correctly, in order to have it done to collect the documents with the aim of sending them to the proper authorities after giving their owners a receipt.

And so that these Indians renounce the hatred that they have conceived against the Spaniards, and that they adhere to the dress which the laws indicate, adopting our Spanish customs and speaking Castilian [Spanish], we shall introduce more vigorously than we have done up to now the use of schools, imposing the most rigorous and fair penalties on those who do not attend once enough time has passed for them to have learned the language; the duties and responsibilities involved in this plan going to the very reverend ecclesiastical prelates so that, in the opposition between parishes and doctrinas, they take care that those candidates bring affidavits from the provincial judges as to the numbers of people who speak the Said Castilian in those provinces … it being left up to the sovereign discretion of His Majesty to reward and honor those towns whose inhabitants have rendered, under the present circumstances, their due loyalty and faithfulness.

Finally, the manufacture of cannons of all kinds shall be prohibited under the penalty that any noble found manufacturing such items will be sentenced to ten years of prison in one of the presidios in Africa and any commoner will receive two hundred lashes as well as the same penalty for the same time period; reserving for a future time a similar resolution with regards to the manufacture of powder. And since there cannons of almost every caliber in the many ore-crushing mills and timber yards in these provinces, they will be gathered up by the magistrates once of the pacification of this uprising has been completely terminated in order to give account of them to the respective captaincy general so that he may determine whatever use he deems proper for them. Thus have I visualized, ordered, and signed: this is my final judgment.

José Antonio de Areche.

Tupac Lives.

The Spanish campaign to eradicate his name and identity didn’t exactly have legs.

The savagery of the crackdown helped generate Incan support for the rebellions that would shake off Spanish authority in the generations to come. He entered the official iconography of the post-colonial state, and can be found on Peruvian currency.

The very name Tupac Amaru became pregnant with the spirit of resistance — both in Peru, where it was adopted by a 1990’s revolutionary movement, and abroad, where a New York City Black Panther activist (pdf) gave the name to a son: Tupac Amaru Shakur.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Capital Punishment,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Dismembered,Execution,Famous,Gruesome Methods,History,Martyrs,Mass Executions,Myths,Occupation and Colonialism,Peru,Popular Culture,Power,Public Executions,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Revolutionaries,Royalty,Separatists,Soldiers,Spain,Torture,Treason

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