1991: Ignacio Cuevas, Huntsville Prison Siege survivor

1 comment May 23rd, 2014 Headsman

This date in 1991 was the quiet coda of one of America’s most spectacular prison risings.

At the stroke of 1 o’clock on July 24, 1974, Federico “Fred” Gomez Carrasco, a life-sentenced heroin kingpin with more money than God, took control of the Huntsville Walls Unit‘s prison library with two henchmen — inmates Rudolfo Dominguez and Ignacio Cuevas. It is Cuevas’s eventual execution on May 23, 1991, that gives us occasion for this post — but the so-called Huntsville Prison Siege was all Carrasco’s show, starting with the guns he was able to smuggle into the stir.

With fifteen hostages in their power, a cordon of Texas Rangers blockading Walls Unit, and a legion of media camped round the clock, the audacious trio bargained for eleven tense and sweltering days — Eleven Days in Hell, by the title of a later account. The desperados won little amenities, like new clothes and toothpaste. The hostages braced for the worst, despite Carrasco’s considerable personal charm.

“I believe Carrasco made an attempt to be shown as a gentleman criminal,” a surviving hostage remembered. “He treated us with a great deal of respect and kindness — except, of course, when he’d tell us, ‘I’m going to shoot you in 20 minutes.’ And he did that three or four times a day.”

One inmate hostage was so afraid of Carrasco that he hurled himself out a glass window to get out from under his thumb. (It worked.) Two other inmates were freed after suffering heart incidents, one real and one feigned.

But Carrasco et al weren’t looking to move into the library permanently and make friends with their hostages. Their ultimate ask of negotiators was a biggie: an armored getaway car. Texas Gov. Dolph Briscoe approved it and had rolled up to the prison courtyard.

The plan, so Carrasco said, was to flee for Cuba.

That Cuba wasn’t, topographically speaking, a drivable destination didn’t really enter into the question: car or no, the authorities obviously had no intention of letting their inmates roll on out for the freedom of the open road. The inmates obviously knew that, too … but then, they hadn’t got all dressed up for nothing.

Shortly after 9 p.m. on August 3, the dramatic eleven-day standoff came to a suitably cinematic shootout conclusion.

The trio of would-be escapees made their way that night for the armored car in an improvised fortification dubbed by the press (with questionable taste) the “Trojan Taco”: rolling blackboards armored with 700 pounds of legal tomes and all the remaining hostages. Carrasco, Dominguez, and Cuevas each handcuffed himself to one of the hostages and hunkered down with his unwilling escort inside the blackboard walls; the others formed a human shield outside the makeshift tank.

It was a pretty good plan to blank the Rangers’ guns.

So the Rangers brought firehoses to the fight instead.

The whole bunch, hostages and all, got hammered as they made their way down a ramp towards the car by the water jets, although the sheer weight of the “Taco” and its law library kept the formation from toppling. A melee ensued, with the desperate inmates firing from little gun ports in the “Taco”, and also shooting their hostages within it. Two of those unfortunates, Yvonne Beseda and Judy Standley, bled out in the prison courtyard.

Cal Thomas, today a nationally syndicated columnist, was a young reporter at the time for a Houston television station. “It is a tragedy that two hostages died,” he would later write. “It is a miracle all the rest lived.”

The perpetrators did not fare as miraculously. Rudolfo Dominguez was shot dead in the exchange. And Carrasco himself, who had once vowed in vain never to be taken alive by U.S. law enforcement, now belatedly made good his resolution by taking his own life. Only Ignacio Cuevas survived it, and he only to face capital murder charges and draw a 1975 ticket to death row. He was finally put to death sixteen years later — just steps away from the scene of his most notorious crime.

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1876: Four for the Mutiny on the Lennie

1 comment May 23rd, 2013 dogboy

As criminals go, the Lennie mutineers were neither organized nor gifted. Indeed, they likely did not fancy themselves mutineers when they perpetrated a triple-murder of the officer corps on board the vessel during high seas.

Matteo Cargalis, Pascalis Caludis, George Kaida, and Giovanni Carcaris were hanged on this date for that “atrocious conspiracy” in Newgate prison’s largest mass execution behind closed doors.

As they say, you get what you pay for, and Captain Stanley Hatfield apparently didn’t pay too well. His ragtag crew of multinationals — Turks, Greeks, Dutch, Belgians, and possibly others (Hatfield himself was a Canadian) — was in it for the money when the vessel left Antwerp bound for New Orleans on 24 October 1875.

The circumstances of the mutiny’s start are hazy, but what is clear is that the entire ship’s complement excluding first officer, cabin boy, and steward were on deck in heavy seas about 10 days out. What seems to have been a minor labor dispute resulted in Hatfield and Second Mate Richard Macdonald being summarily dispatched by stabbing; the first mate, Joseph Wortley, was sought out below and shot in his quarters.

Since the crew was all in now, the murderers and a small group of associates pressed the remainder of the deckhands into service. The two remaining persons belowdecks were now let out. The Belgian steward, Constant von Hoydonck (spelled in various ways, but Anglicized in what seems to be the most popular way), and the cabin boy, Henri Trousselot, were given the option to join the rest of the crew.

To the now-leaderless and ill-educated rebellious deck crew, Von Hoydonck’s literacy made him was the best hope of finding safe harbor, and Von Hoydonck hammed it up like Mark Hamill going on about Tosche Station.

Trousselot was worth little (though he was also literate), and he gamely followed Von Hoydonck’s lead and elected to join the mutineers.

The rest of the tale reads like a Hardy Boys story, with an implausible plot built around incompetent characters.

Apparently, one of the Greek crew members knew someone back home that he felt would be interested in the vessel, so the crew now had a “plan”. All they needed was a quick trip through the Strait of Gibraltar followed by a trip across the Mediterranean, and they were home free! Von Hoydonck volunteered to navigate the course to the Strait, but rather than head southeast, he led the ship straight back toward the French coast.

The details of the voyage, embellished and colorfully littered with age-appropriate judgments about Greeks, were handled by the newspaper “The Age” in 1958:

When France was sighted he brazenly told them it was Spain, and sailed along the coast.

When they asked why he hugged the shore, he told them it was to avoid the chief traffic routes and the consequent danger of being hailed by another ship…

By November 14 he had navigated the Lennie between the Isle of Rhe and the French mainland. In spite of rough seas he brought the ship almost within hailing distance of the short and then calmly ordered the anchor to be let go.

This was carried out promptly enough by the slow-thinking mutineers, but after some ten minutes what intelligence they had started to function, and they swarmed round remanding to know why they were at anchor.

[Von Hoydonck] surveyed them coldly and pointed out that that the coast of Spain (which, of course, was some 250 miles away) was rocky and dangerous, and as they could not risk standing out into the traffic lanes they must anchor here until the heavy sea subsided.

The mutineers were not satisfied with this explanation and angrily threatened to send him after the ship’s officers.

[Von Hoydonck], playing his part superbly, indignantly informed them that as they seemed to have so little faith in his handling of the ship they could sail her themselves. He then went below, slamming the companion door behind him as if in a temper.

Von Hoydonck then had Trousselot write up notices of the mutiny in French, English, and Dutch; these letters were placed in a dozen or more bottles and slipped out a port hole, hopefully to quickly reach shore. Meanwhile, the mutineers decided they really needed that navigationally competent steward and urgently repaired relations with him.

The storm subsided during the night and Von Hoydonck got some sleep. By morning, the mutineers had taken the initiative, and they rounded the Isle of Rhe and traced down the Isle of Oleron toward a lighthouse that — to the geographically confused crew — looked mighty like the Pillars of Hercules.

Unfortunately, it failed to meet the one critical test: the pinch of island and shore lacked the distinctive Rock of Gibraltar.


… and Gibraltar’s distinctive Barbary Apes.

Von Hoydonck offered the lame excuse that, instead of risking the Mediterranean, he had led them to a nearly uninhabited part of the French coast, where they could get off the boat without risk of being found out. Six of the more aggressive members of the mutineers took this bait, so they hopped a life boat and scuttled to shore.

Five mutineers now remained, and none of them was particularly big on the cause. So Von Hoydonck followed up his successful bluff by clambering up the rigging in the dead of night to raise the flag of distress. He then took to the deck with a pair of revolvers and waited for morning.

The bottles had done their job, and the French man-of-war Tirailleur was dispatched immediately when authorities heard of the trouble; her crew quickly spotted the Lennie.

The six who had gone ashore were almost as swiftly rounded up on the mainland.

In all, eight of the 11 on board were put on trial, and only the four implicated directly in the murders of the officers were found guilty* and sentenced to death.

At the time, the Lennie was quite well-known; the actions of Von Hoydonck were celebrated in the local press, and the crown awarded Von Hoydonck 50 pounds for his actions.**

Strangely, the ship’s story has slipped into obscurity,† perhaps because reality in this case sounds like a plot written for 8-year-olds.

* Though the vessel’s occupants had mutinied, the British had the crew extradited under charges of murder. Two of the defendants were released by the technicalities of the extradition treaty.

** Constant von Hoydonck went on to own a pub in Middlesex and was bankrupt by 1892. Henri Trousselot moved to New Zealand, where he and others are memorialized for attending to a double shipwreck in Timaru; he lived to 66.

† The Record of Yarmouth Shipping reports that the Lennie was refitted and carried on to New Orleans with a new crew.

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1892: Frederick Bailey Deeming, Bluebeard

2 comments May 23rd, 2012 Meaghan

(Thanks to Meaghan Good of the Charley Project for the guest post. -ed.)

On this day in 1892, Frederick Bailey Deeming was hanged in Melbourne, Australia for the murder of his second wife, Emily Mather. She was not his only victim; he’d also murdered his first wife, son and three daughters.

Deeming was born and raised in Ashby-de-la-Zouch in the UK. One of seven children, he was reportedly a “difficult” child. He later claimed he’d spent years in mental hospitals as a youth, something his brother disputed.

Deeming ran away to sea at sixteen and began committing crimes, mostly thefts. Wherever he went, he swindled and stole from people.

Deeming married Marie James in 1881 (his brother married Marie’s sister) and they moved to Australia. They went on to have four children.

In 1888, Deeming and his family moved to South Africa. His movements around that time are unclear, but he was definitely back in England by November 1889, and separated from his wife and children, who lived in another city.

Deeming bigamously married Helen Matheson in 1890, and deserted her shortly after the honeymoon. He visited his wife, gave her some money and told he was going to South America and would send for her and the children once he’d settled. Before he left he conned some jewelers in Hull; as a result, he was arrested upon his arrival in Montevideo, Uruguay and sent back to England to serve nine months in the clink.

In 1891, after his release from prison, Deeming took the name “Albert Williams” and leased a house in the village of Rainhill. A woman and several children were seen visiting him; he claimed they were his sister and her children.

The woman and children disappeared — off to an extended holiday, Deeming said. A short time later, complaining that the drains were defective, Deeming had the floor of his house re-concreted.

In fact, the “sister” was his first wife Marie and the “nieces” and “nephews” his own children — Bertha, 9, Marie, 7, Sidney, 5, and Leala, 18 months. And in fact, they were “vacationing” permanently, under the concrete floor. Authorities believe he killed them on or about July 26, 1891.

By that time, Deeming was already courting Emily Lydia Mather. They married on September 22 and by December 1891 had up and moved to Melbourne.

Emily didn’t make it past Christmas before Deeming had her entombed under the fireplace.

In January 1892, Deeming moved to Sydney. On the way he met a delightful young lady named Kate Rousenfell. He gave her several expensive gifts, including jewelry he’d stolen while he was in Melbourne, and proposed marriage. She agreed and said she would join him in Western Australia when he moved there.

But the course of true love never did run smooth, and Miss Rousenfell was cheated of her bridegroom by Deeming’s March 11 arrest for Emily’s murder.

Emily’s body had been discovered on March 3, after the house’s owner, investigating his new tenant’s complaints of a strange smell, raised the hearthstone. Her throat had been cut and her skull was fractured. When Deeming was taken into custody, he had some of her things with him, including her prayer book.

The murder case received extensive publicity and when those back in England heard of it, they decided to have a look at Deeming’s former home in Rainhill. There they dug up the bodies of Marie and the four children.

At his trial, Deeming claimed insanity and brain damage from epilepsy and tertiary syphilis, and said his dead mother’s spirit had ordered him to commit the murders.

He told the jury that Marie wasn’t dead and had, in fact, left him for another man. In the three weeks between the verdict and the hanging he penned his biography and some bad poetry. English publishers offered him £1,000 for the rights to his writings, but the Australian government had them all destroyed.

There have been suggestions, in Deeming’s time and ours, that he was the serial killer Jack the Ripper, who slaughtered and mutilated a handful of London prostitutes in 1888. The fact that evidence indicates Deeming was in South Africa at the time of the Jack the Ripper murders hasn’t stopped the speculation. He allegedly told his cellmates he was the Ripper, but when asked directly by the authorities, he refused to answer yes or no.

Deeming’s skull and death mask are still on display in the Old Melbourne Gaol Museum.

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1673: Thomas Cornell, on spectral evidence

1 comment May 23rd, 2011 Meaghan

(Thanks to Meaghan Good of the Charley Project for the guest post. -ed.)

On this day in 1673, alleged mother-slayer and arsonist Thomas Cornell was hanged in Portsmouth in the colony of Rhode Island.

The death of his elderly mother, Rebecca, and the subsequent homicide investigation have got to be one of the strangest murder stories in American colonial history.

The Cornells were a respectable and prosperous Quaker family, the ancestors of the man who founded Cornell University. (Their descendants also included Lizzie Borden of the “forty whacks” fame, but that’s another story.)

Rebecca, a 73-year-old widow, was the legal owner of the family’s hundred-acre spread by Narragansett Bay. Her oldest son, Thomas, and his wife and six children lived there with her, along with one lodger and one male servant, a Narragansett Indian named Wickopash.

Crowded as the house was, Rebecca had the master bedroom all to herself. It was well known that Rebecca and Thomas didn’t get along. For some time, both parties had been complaining bitterly about each other to anyone who would listen. Thomas resented the fact that, at 46, he was still financially dependent on his mother, who had made generous gifts from her late husband’s estate to her other children but not to him. Rebecca, for her part, said Thomas was “a Terror to her” and that she was neglected and had to fetch her own firewood.

None of her complaints were taken seriously until after her mysterious death, which is chronicled in Elaine Forman Crane’s 2002 book Killed Strangely: The Death of Rebecca Cornell.

Rebecca died on the evening of February 8, 1673.

That night, she refused to join the family for dinner because she didn’t like what was being served. After the meal was over, her grandson came to her room to check on her and found her charred body lying on the floor by the fireplace, burnt “to a cole.” She was recognizable only by her shoes.

Her death was originally ruled “an unhappie accident.”

It could have been spontaneous human combustion, but a more likely explanation is that embers from the fireplace or from the pipe Rebecca smoked landed on her dress.


An alleged victim of spontaneous human combustion.

No one heard her scream, no one smelled smoke, and somehow the fire didn’t spread to the rest of the house. No one seems to have suspected foul play at that time.

Two nights later, however, Rebecca’s younger brother, John Briggs, received a spiritual visitation from his sister as she slept. “See how I was burned with fire,” she said. He inferred that someone had intentionally burned her.

Briggs didn’t report his experience for a week, but when he did his account was taken seriously by the superstitious colonials. Rebecca’s body was exhumed and given a thorough inspection, and this time a wound was found on her upper abdomen. The authorities decided she had been stabbed by something like “the iron spyndell of a spinning whelle.” No murder weapon was ever produced, however.

Thomas quickly became the prime suspect: he was the last person to see Rebecca alive, and the whole town knew of the enmity between them. After Rebecca’s death, Thomas and his wife Sarah reportedly made some incredibly crass remarks; Sarah said her mother-in-law’s demise was “a wonderfull thing,” and Thomas said that his mother had always liked a good fire, and “God had answered her ends, for now shee had it.”

This hearsay was presented as evidence at Thomas’s trial, along with John Briggs’s dream.

Thomas was convicted and, although many of the townspeople had doubts about the verdict and death sentence, he chose not to appeal. He was hung before a crowd of over one thousand people.

Did Thomas Cornell murder his mother?

Certainly he wasn’t the only one who had the opportunity to do so; the house was full of people that night. In fact, a year after Thomas’s death, the servant Wickopash was tried as an accomplice to the murder. Nothing is known about the case against him, but he was acquitted.

In 1675, Rebecca’s son William tried to make a case against Thomas’s wife for the murder, but he failed to produce any witnesses or evidence against her.

Was this even a murder at all?

The fire, as noted above, could have been accidental; as for the “suspicious wound” the authorities found after they dug up the body, Rebecca could have stabbed herself in her struggles after her dress caught fire, or perhaps those who performed the exhumation saw only what they expected to see.

And there is yet a third possibility: prior to her death, Rebecca told her daughter she had contemplated suicide on several occasions, but her religious beliefs prohibited such action.

One final note: Thomas’s wife, Sarah, was pregnant at the time of his execution and later gave birth to a daughter.

She named the baby Innocent.

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1906: Ivan Kalyayev, moralistic assassin

Add comment May 23rd, 2010 Headsman

On this date* in 1906, Ivan Kalyayev (also transliterated Kaliayev, or Kaliaev) was hanged by his own assent for assassinating Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich in Moscow.

The Warsaw-born Kalyayev tread the usual path of student radicals — expulsion, arrest, internal exile — into the camp of the Socialist-Revolutionary Party and the trendy propaganda-of-the-deed philosophy.

He was the very epitome there of what Chaliand and Blin call “the moralistic approach to terrorism”; he would slay, of course, from a profound sense of moral outrage, but contextualized that terrible act with a no less dramatic sense of personal moral responsibility.

Revolutionary fellow-traveler Boris Savinkov remembered** of our day’s principal that he

loved the revolution with the tender, profound love felt for it only by those who have made it an offering of the whole of their lives.

Kalyayev voluntarily aborted his first attempt to murder the Grand Duke when he beheld his target’s wife and child riding along in the carriage where he meant to toss his bomb. Upon successfully carrying out the hit two days later, he made no attempt to flee, and at trial requested the death sentence for himself.†

In this behavior, Kalyayev presents the fascinating specter of a terrorist whose certainty of the justice of his crime does not excuse himself from moral responsibility for the crime.

For Kalyayev, the murder itself and its mortal expiation completed its own redemptive cycle. As the murderer wrote to his mother,

I am happy to know I acted in obedience to the call of my duty … It would be ridiculous to think of saving my life now, when my end makes me so happy. I refused to sign the petition for pardon, and you know why. It was not because I have spent all my physical and mental powers; on the contrary, I have preserved all that life gave me for my last triumph in death … I could not accept pardon because it is against my convictions.

This striking attitude recommended him to Camus, who featured it in Les Justes (The Just Assassins), a 1949 play exploring the morality of terrorism.

The second act of the play features Kalyayev’s revolutionary cell disputing his decision not to follow through on his first opportunity to kill the Grand Duke. Ignacio Gotz describes our killer’s posture as, “kill only when absolutely necessary and then accept your own death as proof that murder is not permitted.”

That’s what love is — giving everything, sacrificing everything, without any hope of it being returned.

-The character Ivan Kalyayev, in Les Justes

This was not the only ethos competing for purchase on the story and the soul of Ivan Kalyayev.

The widowed Grand Duchess Elizabeth Fyodorovna visited her husband’s assassin in prison and unavailingly attempted to convert him to Orthodox Christianity. (The Grand Duchess would take her own solace in a religious life, ultimately being martyred by the Bolsheviks during the Russian Civil War; she has since been canonized.)

The Russian paper Novaya Gazeta published a fairly lengthy Russian-language biography of Kalyayev on the centennial of his entry into the executioner’s annals.

* May 23 was the Gregorian date of the execution; it was May 10 by the Julian calendar still in use in Russia at the time.

** Cited in The History of Terrorism: From Antiquity to Al Qaeda.

† With the requisite grandstanding, of course — a moral indictment given added depth by Kalyayev’s personal conduct.

We are separated by mountains of corpses, by hundreds of thousands of broken lives, by an ocean of tears and blood that is flooding the entire country in a torrent of outrage and horror. You have declared war on the people. We have taken up the challenge … You are prepared to say that there are two moralities, one for mere mortals, stating, “Thou shalt not kill; thou shalt not steal,” and another, political, morality for the rulers, for whom it permits everything.

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1832: Samuel Sharpe, “I would rather die upon yonder gallows than live in slavery”

3 comments May 23rd, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 1832, Jamaican national hero Samuel Sharpe died upon the gallows for instigating the slave revolt that would (help to) end slavery.

Samuel Sharpe, an educated slave who was also a Baptist deacon, was the moving spirit behind the attempted general strike that became the Christmas Rebellion.

That time of year was less than festive for Jamaica’s enormous slave population, for Saint Nick opened the short window for harvesting the island’s sugar cane.

Samuel Sharpe and collaborators had the wit to realize that being depended upon to bring in the cash crop that made life comfortable for their owners put the slaves’ hands upon a potent economic lever. In the last few days of 1831, they pressed it.

The “passive resistance” thing didn’t last long, however, and the “strike” transmuted into a rebellion — the cause swiftly taken up by thousands of slaves around the island who torched crops. Given the small (less than 20) white body count,* the “violence” appears to have been directed against the instruments, rather than the perpetrators, of their enslavement.

Not so the reprisals.

The rebellion was suppressed within days, and over 300 put to death for it (in addition to 200 slave casualties during the pacification itself). There’s an absorbing BBC Witness episode about this affair available as a podcast here.

Sharpe was the last of those executed.

But his revolt is widely thought to have given impetus to the British parliament’s deliberations over the ensuing months that ultimately led to the Slavery Abolition Act (1833).

Sharpe, today, is an official national hero of Jamaica. The place in Montego Bay that he hanged is known as Sam Sharpe Square, and his face adorns the currency.

* Contrast with the much smaller, much bloodier rebellion of Nat Turner in the U.S., which preceded the Christmas Rebellion by a few months.

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