1949: Li Bai, PLA spy

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Red spy Li Bai was executed in the Pudong district of Shanghai on this date in 1949.

Li Bai and his circuitry immortalized in stone in Shanghai’s Century Park. (cc) image from (checks notes) “Kgbkgbkgb”

A survivor of the Party’s epic Long March Li Bai (English Wikipedia entry | Chinese) was a Party-trained wireless operator who was detailed to Shanghai with the 1937 outbreak of the Sino-Japanese War.

He was fortunate to survive arrest by the Japanese while transmitting from occupied Shanghai in 1942. (The Japanese took him for a mere enthusiast.) Even more fortunate from his handlers’ standpoint was the interest his radio skills subsequently attracted from the nationalist Kuomintang, which recruited him into service that Li Bai was only too happy to accept.

For the next several years, he sent to the Communists voluminous inside information about the disposition of their opponents in the endgame stage of the Chinese Civil War. He was detected in the last days of 1948, sending to the People’s Liberation Army the troop dispositions that would enable it to overrun the capitals in the subsequent months. Not three weeks after Li Bai’s execution in Shanghai that city fell to the Communists; by year’s end, the Kuomintang had evacuated the mainland for its so-far permanent Formosan redoubt.

There’s a 1958 Chinese biopic about him, titled The Unfailing Radio Wave; the embed below is one of many subsequent readaptations:

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,China,Death Penalty,Espionage,Execution,History,Martyrs,Shot,Spies,Wartime Executions

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1864: Utuwankande Sura Saradiel, Ceylon social bandit

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Ceylon social bandit Utuwankande Sura Saradiel (or Sardiel) was hanged by the British on this date in 1864.

Saradiel fled a barracks servant’s life to take the road as a bandit. He’s alleged to have gallantly shared his proceeds with the poor; what he unquestionably did was tweak the tail of the powerful (and in this case, colonial) overlords. As is often the case with social bandits, it is difficult to know for certain whether it is for reason the latter that he enjoys the reputation of the former.

The indefatigable brigand was captured multiple times and made at least two escapes — inherently a winning public relations move — eventually maintaining himself from a picturesque mountain cavern and authoring throwback knight-of-the-road exploits to earn the nickname “Robin Hood of Ceylon”.*

Naturally, there is always a Sheriff of Nottingham.


Reward notice for the capture of our man, from the Ceylon Gazette of January 13, 1864.

Saradiel cinched his fate by shooting dead a constable in the course of his arrest. Considering that circumstance, we here at Executed Today are officially skeptical of the legend that a misplaced comma — “kill him, not let him go” when “kill him not, let him go” was intended — decided the man’s fate.

* The best one is that, having robbed from a father what he later learned to be the dowry for a bride-to-be, the robber found his victim again to return the sum, compounded by gambling winnings. Heart of gold, this guy!

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Famous,Hanged,History,Murder,Occupation and Colonialism,Outlaws,Public Executions,Sri Lanka,Theft

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1900: James Nettles

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From the St. Louis Republic, July 9, 1898

James Nettle has Partly Confessed.

Suspect in the Mann Murder Case Admits All but the Shooting.
Caused the Arrest of His Double in Order to Confuse the Several Witnesses.

James Nettle, the negro who is accused of the murder of Conductor Edward Mann of the Suburban Railway, on the night of July 4, after emphatically declaring his innocence and even going so far as to bring about the arrest of his “double,” Esbree Manley, a negro ventriloquist, as a suspect in the case, yesterday began to show signs of weakening, and at a late hour last night had confessed everything but the firing of the three shots which proved fatal to Mann.

The arrest of Manley on Nettle’s statement that he had overheard a conversation in the calaboose that a ventriloquist had a hand in the shooting, proved to be Nettle’s undoing. When confronted by Manley, Nettle was unable to carry out his well-laid plans. The striking similarity in the physique of the two negroes would have rendered it almost impossible to pick out the real culprit, but Manley met Nettle and the police with such a straight story of his whereabouts at the time of the tragedy that the former burst into tears and admitted after a little coaxing that he was in the street car fight in which Conductor Mann was slain.

He told his story between sobs, for he broke down completely under the strain. He declared that Mann had ordered him off the car and had returned his fare, in order to hasten his departure, when the fight started. He did not recall how they began fighting, but he said the conductor and motorman tackled him and forced him off the platform, threatening to do him violence.

Even after he had left the car, he said, the conductor followed him several steps. At this point the shooting was done, but all efforts to make the negro Nettle relate these further details have proven futile. In order to avoid the cross-fire of questions from Chief Desmond, the negro complained of being ill and had to be given medicine by the Dispensary physicians. Afterward he said he would not talk further on the murder until to-day.

The negro Manley was released last night after he had established an alibi.


From the St. Louis Republic, Dec. 16, 1898

Testimony Finished.

James Nettles’ Fate Will Be Decided To-Day.

To-day the fate of James Nettles, colored, charged with murder in the first degree, probably will be decided in Judge Tally’s court, after 10 hours’ argument by the attorneys for the State and the prosecution. At 11 a.m. yesterday the State rested and the defense was through at 6 p.m., having tried to establish an alibi.

Thomas L. Brown, the motorman of the car on which Conductor Samuel W. Mann was mortally wounded on the night of July 4 last, was the first witness for the State. He told how the negro boarded the St. Louis and Suburban car at Jefferson avenue, quarreled over car fare, and at Garrison avenue shot the conductor as he retreated from the car. He identified Nettles. Others testified that they were sure Nettles was the assassin.

For the defense, Michael White, a negro, with whom Nettles lived at No. 1321 Linden street, was the main witness. His testimony was that he and the defendant were together all day on July 4, and that Nettles was not at any time near the scene of the murder. He testified that they went to Kirkwood in the morning, returning to their home about 7 p.m., where there was an entertainment, at which both Nettles and White were present until 11:30 p.m. In corroboration of this testimony many witnesses were introduced.

In rebuttal, the State introduced Frederick Brunesman of No. 2641 East Prairie avenue, the motorman of the car which immediately preceded Conductor Mann’s car on the night of the killing. Brunesman identified Nettles as the negro who tried to board his car that night at Jefferson avenue, but was so drunk he fell off. Detective John Gallagher and Policeman Thomas Mahon told of an interview they had with Nettles on the day following his arrest. On that occasion, they testified, Nettles said he assaulted Conductor Mann because Mann rebuked him for misconduct.


From the St. Louis Republic, Dec. 17, 1898

Nettles Found Guilty

Jury Decides That the Negro Murderer Must Hang.

Had James Nettles, a negro, been informed that his dinner was ready, he could not have displayed less concern than when told the jury had found him guilty of murder in the first degree and that he must be hanged. Death seems to have no terrors for him and he smiled at his fate in the same indifferent manner with which he greeted the onslaught of the State’s witnesses. Never through the long trial has he ever manifested even a moderate interest in the proceedings. If he is guilty of the foul murder of Conductor Mann before his wife and children on July 4, he did not show it yesterday.

The cases on both sides were rested on Thursday evening and for four hours yesterday the attorneys for the State and the defense fought an oratorical battle before the jury. Finally, a few minutes before 2 o’clock, the case was given to the jury.

Then, for three hours the jurors debated the case, finally coming to a decision at 5 o’clock. Several of the jurors, it was learned, stood for a life sentence, but were converted to capital punishment on the ground that executive clemency might intervene to cut short the term.

The State had many witnesses who were on the car and identified Nettles as the assassin; while, on the other hand, the defense had nearly a score of negroes to establish an alibi. The State’s attorneys held that it was an alibi for the occasion and made efforts to break it down. One of the defense’s witnesses, who said he was with Nettles at a dance on the night of July 4, testified that there was a roaring fire in the parlor. Other similar statements served to weaken the alibi.

When the verdict had been rendered, Attorneys Van Patten and Morroll, for the defense, declared they would ask for a new trial, and in case it were refused, would appeal.


From the St. Louis Republic, April 5, 1900

Respite for Nettles

Governor Grants the Condemned Man Another Thirty Days

Governor Stephens last night granted a thirty day’s respite to James Nettles, the negro who has been condemned to be hanged for the murder of Conductor Samuel W. Mann on a St. Louis and Suburban car, near Leffingwell avenue, on the night of July 4, 1898. He was to have been hanged a month ago, but a reprieve of thirty days was granted in order to give the Governor time to examine into the merits of the appeals for clemency.

The death watch was placed on Nettles yesterday morning at 6 o’clock and has not yet been removed, as Sheriff Pohlmann has not received official notification of the respite. He expects a letter from the Governor to-day.

Nettles was not in the least perturbed yesterday. When the Reverend Mr. Hurzburger of the German Evangelical Church called at the jail last night with Sheriff Pohlmann and notified the condemned man that the Governor had granted a respite of thirty days, the negro, without any apparent emotion, thanked him for what he had done in the matter and reiterated his assertion of innocence.


From the St. Louis Republic, April 26, 1900

A QUESTION OF WHISKERS — Another attempt is being made to get Governor Stephens to commute the death sentence of James Nettles, the negro who was convicted of the murder of Conductor Sam W. Mann on the night of July 4, 1898. Governor Stephens has granted two stays of execution to allow himself time to investigate the application and petitions. At the trial some of the witnesses testified that Mann’s assailant wore side whiskers. Attorney Maurer had several barbers examine Nettles’s face, and he says that they will make affidavit that he could not raise side whiskers.


From the St. Louis Republic, May 6, 1900

To Be Hanged To-Morrow

Death Watch Placed on the Negro James nettles.

Chief Deputy Sheriff Pohlman yesterday for the third time placed the death watch on James Nettles, the negro who is under sentence of death for the murder of Conductor Samuel W. Mann. Nettles will be hanged at 6 o’clock to-morrow morning unless Governor Stephens stays the execution. Twice Nettles has been within the shadow of the gallows, with the death watch set, when each time the Governor granted reprieves that he might look further into the applications for clemency.

Nettles has all but lost hope. When Deputy Sheriffs Parcel and Hoefer escorted him from his cell on the second tier to cell No. 46 on the round floor, he said he guessed this was the last time. The cell to which he was transferred is the one occupied by all St Louis murderers during the last hours before their execution. Nettles was restless Friday night, alternately reading the Scriptures, praying and singing. When the deputies came in he seemed somewhat relieved. He walked between them up and down the exercise yard until 7 o’clock, when he went into his new cell, where he ate a hearty breakfast. At dinner and supper it was the same way; he seemed to take a last pleasure in ordering what he wanted to eat. He still protests his innocence.

He was convicted of the murder of Conductor Sam W. Mann on the night of July 4, 1898. Nettles got on Mann’s car at Jefferson and Franklin avenues. He refused to pay his fare and Mann ordered him from the car. A scuffle followed and Nettles fired a shot which struck Mann in the abdomen, causing his death a few hours afterwards. Mrs. Mann and two little daughters of the conductor were on the car at the time and witnessed the killing.


From the St. Louis Republic, May 8, 1900

James Nettles, the negro convicted of the murder of Conductor Samuel W. Mann of the Suburban Street railway, was hanged yesterday morning. The drop fell at 6:07 o’clock, and nineteen minutes afterwards the doctors pronounced him dead. Nettles met his death bravely and declared his innocence with almost his last breath.

The execution was conducted with precision and dispatch, but without unnecessary haste. About 250 spectators were present, but they were more orderly than those present at previous hangings.

Nettles was restless throughout the night preceding his execution, and did not sleep any. A number of friends called to bid him good-by early in the night. The Reverend Mr. Sachs, Nettles’s spiritual adviser, the Deputy Sheriffs on the “death watch,” and a few newspaper men remained with him throughout the night. At 3 o’clock in the morning the Century Quartet called at the jail and sang several favorite hymns.

Early in the morning Nettles retired to his cell with the Reverend Mr. Sachs, where they read the Scriptures and prayed until the arrival of Sheriff Pohlman.

At 6 o’clock Sheriff Pohlman read the death warrant to Nettles. The prisoner’s arms were then bound and he was led to the scaffold. Nettles did not falter, although he was a trifle nervous. After his legs and arms had been securely bound Sheriff Pohlman asked him if he had anything to say before he died. In a clear, resonant voice he said,

I am about to die for another man’s crime. The Lord knows I am innocent, and I go to meet him with a clear conscience. I love you and I hope to meet you above. I am innocent!

Then the black cap was pulled down over his head, the noose adjusted and Chief Deputy Sheriff Pohlman sprung the lever. Nettles’s body, after the drop, hung perfectly still. Nineteen minutes later the physicians pronounced him dead and his body was cut down and taken into the morgue. An examination revealed that his neck was broken.

Nettles shot and killed Conductor Mann on his car in Franklin avenue near Leffingwell avenue on the night of July 4, 1898. The negro got on the car and refused to pay his fare. While Mann was ejecting him he pulled a revolver and fired. Mrs. Mann and two little children were on the car and witnessed the murder.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Hanged,Missouri,Murder,Pelf,Public Executions,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,USA

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2004: Nick Berg, by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi

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Twenty-six-year-old American communications contractor Nick Berg was beheaded a hostage in Iraq on this date in 2004 — allegedly by the personal hand of Al-Qaeda in Iraq chief Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

A veteran of the mujahideen who drove the Soviets out of Afghanistan in the 1980s, Zarqawi spent most of the 1990s in a Jordanian prison but was amnestied just in time to rejoin militant Islam before it became a post-9/11 boom industry.

Zarqawi’s Jordanian terrorist group Jama’at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad, founded in 1999, transitioned with the American invasion of Iraq into the Al-Qaeda franchise in that country, a feared prosecutor of the sectarian civil war there, and the lineal forbear of the present-day Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL).

It also became a lusty early adopter of the emerging beheading-video genre: an ancient penalty perfectly adapted for the digital age.

This ferocious group was a severe mismatch for Berg, a Pennsylvanian freelance radio tower repairman (and pertinently, a Jew) who set up his Prometheus Methods Tower Service in the northern city of Mosul* in the months following the 2003 U.S. invasion. This was also around the time that American occupation forces’ abuse of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib came to light — a powerful excuse for blood vengeance.

Berg vanished from Baghdad in April 2004, and was not seen in public again until the whole world saw him: the unwilling feature of a May 11 video titled Sheik Abu Musab al-Zarqawi slaughters an American infidel with his hands and promises Bush more.

“We tell you that the dignity of the Muslim men and women in Abu Ghraib and others is not redeemed except by blood and souls,” a voice says. “You will not receive anything from us but coffins after coffins … slaughtered in this way.”

Warning: Mature Content. This is both a political document of our time, and a horrifying snuff film. Notice that Berg appears in an orange jumpsuit, a seeming allusion to Muslim prisoners being held by the United States at Guantanamo Bay.

Twenty-five months later to the day, Zarqawi was assassinated by a U.S. Air Force bombing.

* As of this writing, Mosul is occupied by Zarqawi’s creation, the Islamic State.

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Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Beheaded,Borderline "Executions",Businessmen,Cycle of Violence,Execution,History,Iraq,Mature Content,No Formal Charge,Notable Participants,Occupation and Colonialism,Public Executions,Ripped from the Headlines,Summary Executions,USA,Wartime Executions

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1829: Richard Johnson and Catharine Cashiere, the last public hangings in New York City

1 comment May 7th, 2015 Headsman

New York Evening Post, Nov. 21, 1828

[O]n his return from Rochester, [Richard] Johnson brought with him a little girl, apparently about three years old.

This child he declared to be his by Mrs. [Ursula] Newman, and repeatedly demanded of her to acknowledge it, which she as often refused to do.

On Thursday afternoon he came into the dining room, the windows of which are in the rear of the house, and having locked the door by which he entered, and put the key in his pocket, again made the above mentioned demand. Another female was in the room, and heard the conversation which took place between them.

Mrs. Newman, perceiving that Johnson was more than usually excited, said to him “Good God, Johnson what are you going to do.” He replied “I am going to shew you that I am a man, you have imposed upon me too long.”

Mrs. Newman then called to the other female to open the door, which she could not do as Johnson had the key in his pocket.

Becoming frightened at his violence, Mrs. Newman opened one of the windows and sprang into the yard — from that went into a small room in the rear of the stair-case.

He followed her, threatening that if she did not acknowledge the child he would shoot her, and shortly after he discharged the pistol at her. She had the child hanging upon her left arm, in such a manner that Johnson could not take a fatal aim without wounding the child. He put one hand to the child, moved it out of the way, and with the other, clapping the pistol to her breast, discharged it.

Finding that the wound was not fatal, he ran up stairs, loaded the pistol again with several slugs, and returned.

At the first discharge a number of persons had rushed into the house; but on his returning, and declaring his intention of taking her life, and that if one shot did not do the work another should, they all took to flight.

The family however remained.

Johnson then made several attempts to take aim at Mrs. Newman, but was prevented by the resolution of her daughter, a girl of about eighteen years of age, who repeatedly thrust aside the pistol and prevented him.

After several attempts he discharged the pistol, but the daughter in pushing the weapon aside prevented the shot from taking the fatal effect intended, and the slugs were lodged in her mother’s arm.

The pistol burst in the discharge, shattering Johnson’s right hand and wounding the hand of the girl considerably. Since this tragical affair the daughter has not left her mother’s bedside, but has continued ever since to watch over her and to pay her every possible attention, notwithstanding the painful wound she has received. [she died that Saturday, two days after being shot -ed.]

At noon today Mrs. Newman was still alive, and in perfect possession of her senses, tho’ in extreme pain. The physicians think there is little hope of her recovery. The fatal wound was inflicted by the first discharge of the pistol. The ball passed through her body and lodged in the back, near the spine.

New York Evening Post, Feb. 7, 1829

Murder. — Susannah Anthony, a colored woman, was killed last night at about seven o’clock by Catharine Cashiere. The deceased gave a card party at the corner of Centre and Anthony street, at which there were 30 or 40 persons, all colored, and mostly penitentiary birds.

During the evening an agreement was made between Maria Collet and Catharine Cashiere, that they would have a quarrel with the deceased. They went into the room where she was and began some loud and abusive language, the deceased endeavoured to prevail on them to go away, and put her hands gently upon Cashiere to enforce her request, the latter thereupon drew a jack-knife, cut off deceased neck-handkerchief, & made two stabs at her.

The first wounded her hand with which she attempted to defend herself, and the second entered the chest and penetrated the heart. The blood spouted from the wound against the opposite wall, and the wounded woman fell and instantly expired. The murdress was secured and lodged in Bridewell.

A Coroner’s Inquest was held this morning at the house where the horrible deed was committed, and the verdict of the jury was, that the deceased came to her death by the wound of a knife, inflicted by the hand of Catharine Cashiere.


Hampshire Gazette, March 25, 1829

About half past ten, Richard Johnson and Catherine Cashiere were borught over from the Bridewell and placed near the fire place in the N.W. part of the room.

Johnson was immediately surrounded by several officers, with whom he appeared to converse in the most unrestrained manner. He seemed broken, but not contrite in spirit; and while anguish of mind was apparent, it was not seemingly of that character which is the beginning of true repentance.

The woman, however, was just the reverse in her deportment and appearance, and as soon as she was brought into court, she appeared considerably distressed and wept with great apparent emotion. But her tears were dried before the court came in; and she listened to her sentence with perfect composure though with due solemnity. She is a good looking young woman, with but a shade of the olive complexion, dark lustrous eyes, and rather an agreeable expression of countenance.

The sentence of Johnson was pronounced first. — On the usual question being put, “If he had any thing to say why sentence of death should not be pronounced according to law?” he addressed the Court as follows:

If your Honors please — I am asked, “what I have to say, why judgment of death should not be pronounced upon me?”

To this, I reply, to the judgment of the law, nothing.

A jury of my country has pronounced me Guilty; and there remains no discretion with the court, but to pronounce upon me the sentence of the law. But to the judgment of the world, I have much to say. I have been convicted of a crime, the bare recital of which causes humanity to shudder; — and it is a duty I owe to myself, while living, and to my memory when dead, that the circumstances of my offence should be fully explained.

Before entering into this detail, I must take this public opportunity, in the name of that Omniscient and All Merciful Being, who will hereafter pronounce His judgment, alike upon my judges and myself, of disclaiming any knowledge of the transaction of that fatal 20th of November.

I do not mean to impugn the decision of the jury; — the movements of the mind were beyond their power to penetrate; and hard as is my fate, I humbly bow to their verdict.

I cannot here enter fully into the details of my intimacy with the unfortunate cause of my own present awful situation. Duped and betrayed as I have been, into sorrow, despair, and lastly involuntary crime, I am unwilling, while living, to indulge in unavailing reproaches.

In life the deceased was the object of my tenderest affection, — an affection that her own unkind conduct seemed but to inflame, and that, baffled in its honorable purposes — expelled reason from her throne — and in its absence, led to the commission of the offence for which I am now to satisfy the offended community, by my own life.

Was I conscious of any moral guilt, at this result I should not repine. Accustomed throughout my life to respect the law, I have not now to learn that the blood of the murdered is alike a propitiatory sacrifice to the laws of God and man.

Convicted of the legal crime, I know my fate. For the moral offence, I have to answer to my conscience and my God; and that innate monitor tells me, that I stand before this Court and this community a legal, but not a moral murderer.

To my counsel, who have so ably, though vainly managed my defence, I tender my warmest thanks.

Of the Court I have but one request to make — that the period allowed me, to prepare for my impending fate, may be, as long as the law will permit.

His manner was firm and collected; his articulation deliberate and distinct; and he delivered himself with a studied oratorical air.

His Honor Judge Irving then pronounced his sentence as follows:

Richard Johnson, you have been found guilty by a jury of your country, of one of the greatest crimes a human being can perpetrate.

Instigated by evil passions, you have suddenly and with premeditated violence taken the life of a fellow being. Ursula Newman, the victim of your unbridled passions, was but shortly before the commission of this offence, the object of your strong attachment.

Yet that attachment not being based upon virtuous affection, has enkindled those furious passions, which have plunged you into guilt and have terminated in your destruction.

You stand a melancholy proof how speedy can be the transition from one licentious passion to another, and that vice is so all-absorbing in its nature that he who gives himself to its indulgence will eventually be led on to deeds of the greatest depravity.

The object for several years of your improper pursuit has at last perished by your hand. She has been hurried by you out of existence, without time allowed to her for preparation. Her children, some of whom are of very tender years, and who were entirely dependent upon her, have been deprived by you of their earthly support, and are now cast upon the world orphans and destitute.

I mention not these painful circumstances to harass your feelings, deeply as I trust they must be afflicted by these consequences of your crime. I dwell upon them for a better purpose. I would awaken your mind to a scene of its situation, with the hope of leading you to contrition. It is one of the most consoling principles of our religion, that however great are our offences, forgiveness will await the contrite, and that our Maker is as merciful as he is just.

The character which was testified of you on your trial, was that of being industrious in your habits, upright in your dealings, and kind in your general deportment — that you had been brought up to a reputable business, and which you was [sic] diligently pursuing for a livelihood. Young in life, had you only kept a vigilant guard upon your conduct, you had every think [sic] to hope.

The indulgence in one vice has blasted these expectations — has hurried you into the commission of an enormous crime, and has left you miserable and desolate.

While we pity you, public justice requires that you be held up an example and a warning to others. We would enjoin you not to be misled by the hope of escaping the fate which must so soon await you. The yielding to such hope, will only beguile your mind from that serious reflection which your present situation most solemnly requires.

What is left to you of life, is too short to be passed otherwise than in humble preparation for your future state. Let your thoughts be anxiously devoted to your religious duties; and while every thing is failing you here, let your reliance in penitence and humility of soul, be placed upon Him, who, in the deepest extremity, is able to console and to sustain you.

The sentence of the Court is, that you, Richard Johnson, be taken hence to the prison from which you last came, and from thence on Thursday, the seventh day of May next, to the place of execution, and there there, between the hours of seven in the forenoon and twelve at noon, you be hung by the neck till you are dead. May God prepare you for that awful event, and have mercy on your sou.

Catharine Cashiere, the colored girl, was then requested to stand up, and the Clerk put the usual question. She replied faintly, that she had nothing to say. The sentence of the court was then pronounced by Judge Edwards, as follows:

Catharine Cashiere — As you have been already informed, you are now arraigned at this bar for the purpose of receiving sentence of death.

Upon this solemn occasion it is proper that something should be said in vindication of the justice of the country, and with a view to awaken you to a realizing sense of your situation.

After a patient investigation of your case — after being zealously and ably defended by your counsel, a jury of your country have found you guilty of the crime of murder. In the circumstances attending the transaction, I can discover nothing to palliate your offence.

It is true that you were in a state of intoxication, but this in the eye of the law is no excuse. A contrary doctrine would be tantamoun to a letter of license to drunkards to depredate upon society with impunity.

Susan Anthony now lies in her cold and silent grave, bereft of life and all its enjoyments by your hands; and you must soon follow her to the silent mansions of the dead. By the laws of our country, by the laws of all countries, civilized as well as barbarous, the crime of murder is punished with death. As life is precious above all things, it is the bounden duty of those to whom is committed the safety of society, to take the most effectual measures for its protection.

Your situation is indeed an awful one.

At the early age of twenty-one, your existence will be brought to a sudden and violent end, a victim to the violated justice of the country. With earth and all its enjoyments, your connexion will soon cease forever, and you must go away, with all your imperfections upon your head, into the presence of your Maker.

Let me beseech you to devote the small remnant of your existence in preparing for this change.

Remember, and never let it be absent from your thoughts, that as you are indebted to him for your existence and all you have enjoyed here, so you must look to him for all you can hope for hereafter.

Before I proceed to sentence the prisoner, I conceive it to be my duty to address some remarks to this numerous audience, which most forcibly pressed themselves upon my attention during and since her trial.

Upon a former occasion, I expressed, from this bench, my sentiments upon the subject of the deplorable consequences attendant upon the facilities afforded in this city, for the vending of ardent spirits.

We were then called upon to sentence seven young men to the state prison, for killing one of our fellow citizens in a wanton and unprovoked manner, in the public streets. It appeared that prior to sallying out they had each been helped to seven or eight glasses of spirituous liquors by one of our licensed retailers; and that the crime was committed under the influence of the delirium necessarily consequent thereon.

During the present court we have been called to pass upon two cases of homicide, in one of which, both the prisoner and the deceased were at the time the offence was alledged to have been committed, in a state of beastly intoxication. And in the other, the case of the miserable being who is now arraigned at this bar, it was also proved by one of our licensed retailers, that he sold her on the night of the murder three or four glasses, although at the time she came into the store, she was so intoxicated that she staggered.

Thus prepared, in a state of mind thus phrenzied, this crime was committed.

If, as we are taught to believe, it is a crime to tempt as well as to be tempted, how can those hope to escape moral retribution, who hold forth lures to intemperance and by assisting to overthrow the reason of the vicious prepare them for the work of iniquity?

It is undeniably true, that a very large proportion of the crimes which are committed, are traceable either directly or indirectly to the influence of spirituous liquors; and I will add, that the poverty and wretchedness which prevails in society are to be ascribed more to this than all other causes united.

These facts are matters of notoriety, and yet the evil continues, spreading and extending a baneful influence.

In probing the sources of this evil we are met with the appaling fact that there [are] at this moment three thousand persons in this city, who are licensed to retail spirituous liquors. Licensed to pursue a calling the direct tendency and necesary consequences of which, is to ruin the health and deprave the morals of thousands of our fellow beings.

While such facilities are afforded for depraving morals and dethroning reason, is it matter of surprise, that “blood stained murder” stalks abroad among us. If the power of applying a correction was not in the hands of the people, if the government under which we live was independent of any superior to the will of the people, “if an enemy had done this thing,” there might be some excuse for us.

But as all power is either mediately or immediately derived from them, and is in their hands, as it is but necessary for them to will that a correction should be applied, and it will be done, how can we stand acuqitted in neglecting to apply a remedy.

In our ardent and headlong career through this world, in the pursuit of property or honor, let us pause for a moment to consider the cause of suffering humanity; let us devise the most judicious measures for the correction of this evil, and by a firm, united and determined concert of action, carry those measures into effect.

It is the cause of public justice, of public morals, and of suffering humanity, which demands our aid. Vain are all the expectations which are formed, of its being in the power of the ministers of justice to restrain the workers of iniquity — to stay the hand of violence, until this evil is corrected. Fifty are corrupted by ardent spirits, to where one is corrected by the law.

I will now proceed to the discharge of the last and most painful duty of the court.

Catharine Cashiere — Listen to your sentence. It is, that you be taken hence to the prison whence you last came, and that you be taken from thence on Thursday the seventh day of May next to the place of execution, and that between the hours of seven in the morning and twelve at noon of that day you be there hanged by the neck until you are dead. And may God have mercy on your soul.

There was no visible increase of emotion on the part of either of the prisoners, either during the time the Judges were speaking, or at the close of the concluding and awful sentence.


Both prisoners appealed to Enos Throop, the then-interim governor weeks after Martin Van Buren had resigned the post to serve in the cabinet of the newly-inaugurated President Andrew Jackson. Gov. Throop rejected both in separate letters directed to the sheriff imploring the prisoners’ jailers not to burden Johnson or Cashiere with any fanciful hopes of reprieve.

Executive Department
Albany, April 25, 1829

Sir, — I have received a petition for pardon, in behalf of Richard Johnson, in your custody, under sentence of death for murder, and have bestowed upon the case that attention which the importance and painful interest of the subject demand.

The killing was in the presence of witnesses, and the manner in which it was perpetrated is not a matter of doubt or dispute. It was done deliberately. The pistol was put in order and prepared for the occasion; it was twice discharged; and its contents were, each time, lodged in the body of the deceased.

The tragic deed was the result of a previous misunderstanding between the parties, of several days continuance; and the proximate cause, a personal struggle, commenced with angry feelings, and carried on with a sufficient interval before its fatal termination to accomplish the death of the miserable victim of his violence.

During several preceding days he exhibited those appearances of gloom, abstraction of mind, and depression of spirits, which indicate a bosom deeply agitated with violent passion, and a mind occupied with absorbing subjects.

It is urged in his favor, that his mind was deranged when the deed was done, — and that he had before sustained a good character, and was of an amiable and benevolent disposition.

The question of insanity was a matter in issue on the trial; and the jury, after hearing all the testimony, decided against him. — I see nothing in the evidence to induce me to doubt the correctness of their verdict in that respect.

His supposed amiable character, while it is evidence, in a doubtful case, to be duly weighed by the jury in pronouncing upon the intent, and appeals to our sympathy, does not afford a sufficient reason for arresting the course of Justice. It is in proof, however, upon this point, that he had lived in a licentious intercourse with this woman for several years, and their intimacy has, in the ordinary process of vice, terminated in the highest misdeeds.

The laws have pronounced his doom, and declared him a fit object of exemplary punishment; and I do not feel justified in interposing the Executive arm to defeat their politic ends.

I must therefore request you, to communicate to the wretched convict my decision, without delay, that he may prepare himself to meet his fate, and make his peace with his offended God.

I am respectfully, your’s [sic], &c.
E.T. Throop

Executive Department
Albany, May 4th, 1829

Sir — My attention has been recently called to the case of Catharine Cashiere, a coloured woman in your custody, under the sentence of death for the murder of Susan Anthony, also a colored woman.

On receiving a report of the trial from the presiding Judge, accompanied by affidavits, I at a former day attentively examined the case: but the respectability of the petition, which has been forwarded to me, through the praise worthy exertions of humane persons, in behalf of a friendless individual, has induced me to re-examine the case, and look, with scrupulous care, at the conclusion to which my mind has arrived.

All punishments are prescribed by the wisdom of our lawgives, for purposes of public good, and should not be dispensed with for light causes. It is a maxim drawn from experience, and sanctioned by sound reason, that laws restrain crime, not by the severity of their enactments, but by the certainty of their being enforced.

It was not intended by the framers of the Constitution to erect in the Executive a tribunal which shall arbitrarily dispense with those judgments of our courts, which are pronounced in strict conformity to the design of wise and prudent laws; but one which shall discreetly exercise its powers to favor the designs of the Legislature in tempering undesigned severities with the administration of justice.

With these views I have examined the case of Catharine Cashiere.

The facts as reported shew: That the convict came to the house of the deceased by invitation, and soon began to use indecent and profane language. She was requested by the deceased to go out, and did so. She returned again in a few minutes, resumed her ill conduct, and was again mildly requested to go out. — She refused to go, and used language shewing her determination not to go.

The deceased then gently laid her hand upon her, when the convict made three attempts to stab her with a knife, which she drew from under her apron. The two first attempts were ineffectual, but the last was made with much force and preparation, and the knife reached the heart of her victim.

It further appears that while she was absent from the room after the commencement of the affray, she was seen in a grocery kept in another part of the same house, with a knife in her hand. Whether she procured the knife then, or had it before, is not in proof, but the testimony affords good reason to believe that she there opened it and hid it under her apron, and returned to the room for the purpose of renewing the quarrel, and contemplating the dreadful catastrophe which ensued. — Here was positive proof of malice propense.

Although the design of murder was conceived after the quarrel was begun, yet the wrong was altogether on the part of the convict, and the interval of absence from the room was sufficient and was employed in deliberately contriving the execution of the bloody deed.

Independent of the common law doctrines of murder, stabbing is so odious that special statutory provisions exist, declaring designed stabbing which produced death to be murder without proof of malice.

It is declared by statute, “that if any person or persons shall stab or thrust any person or persons that hath not then any weapon drawn, or that hath not then first stricken, the party who shall so stab or thrust so as the person so stabbed or thrust shall thereof die within the space of six months then next following, although it cannot be proved that the same was done of malice aforethought, every such unlawful killing shall be adjudged, taken and deemed wilful murder.” Her case comes directly within this statute.

It is urged that she was insane, and that she was intoxicated. Drunkenness afford no excuse for crime. If it should, every species of crime, from arson and murder down to the smallest larcenies, would be perpetrated under that pretence. The facts in regard to her drinking were before the jury.

It is said that when she is intoxicated she is deranged: that is the natural effect of intoxication: but the law says, with great justice, that voluntary derangement shall not excuse crime.

Affidavits are presented to shew that when she was a child she received a hurt in her head which impaired the strength of her mind, and that when she is intoxicated she exhibits insanity which is supposed to result from the hurt in her head, and that the fact of the hurt was not proved on the trial. It is not satisfactorily proved that she ever manifested symptoms of insanity, except when she was under the influence of liquor.

Her conduct during the quarrel, from its commencement until its fatal termination, shews no evidence of insanity, nor that prostration of mind by liquor which totally extinguishes reason; but, on the contrary, it evinced a capacity to plan and execute her projects of revenge.

I therefore feel it a duty which I owe to the state, the execution of whose laws are entrusted to me, to deny the pardon solicited. You will therefore make known to the miserable culprit my determination, so that if she has cherished any hope from Executive clemency, she may dismiss it, and prepare her mind to appear before that high tribunal where there is no error in judgment and from which there is no appeal.

Your obedient servant,
E.T. Throop


Baltimore Patriot, May 9, 1829

From the New York Post of Thursday.

EXECUTIONS. — Richard Johnson and Catherine Cashiere, under sentence of death for murder, were this forenoon executed on Blackwell’s Island.

They were taken from the Bridewell a little after 8 o’clock, and conveyed to the gallows, accompanied by the Sheriff and a troop of horse, and followed by an assemblage of several thousands of men, women and boys, eager to witness the dying struggles of two of their fellow beings.

Early in the morning Broadway, opposite the Bridewell, was blocked up with spectators, so much so as to make it difficult for carriages to pass: and for a short time before the procession moved every avenue leading to the prison was completely closed.

We hope it will be the last time a similar opportunity will be afforded to gratify the idle curiosity of the populace of this large city. The revised laws provide that after the year 1829, all executions for capital crimes shall be performed in the yard of the prison where the convict is confined, in the presence of the proper officers.

We have just learned that the poor unfortunate wretches were turned off between 10 and 11 o’clock, from a gallows erected for the purpose on Blackwell’s Island, and that a great part of the procession were disappointed in witnessing the spectacle, not being able to procure boats to convey them across the river to the Island; and this perhaps was a fortunate circumstance, for we have heard that one of the few boats which were put in requisition, with twelve persons in it, was upset and before assistance could be rendered several were drowned.


It was indeed the last public hanging in New York City.

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1909: Fred Seward

Add comment May 7th, 2014 Headsman

On this date in 1909, Fred Seward was hanged at the Boise penitentiary.

Seward developed an obsession with a “notorious woman” named Clara O’Neill, of Moscow. (Idaho, not Russia.)

When O’Neill spurned his suit, Seward shot her dead. Then he turned the same gun on himself: the shot gruesomely disfigured his face and cost him the sight in his left eye — but it did not kill him.

The state of Idaho was more than willing to pick up the slack.


From the Idaho Daily Statesman, May 8, 1909

His last words were simply, “Do a good job, boys.”

The boys — Seward’s executioners — did so, and cleanly snapped his neck in the fall.


“The Son of God, who came not to destroy, but to save men’s lives, has revealed to the world the right life for both men and nations. The great mission then of the individual, the church, the state and the nation is not to destroy men, but to bless, help and save them. In the light of the teachings of Christ, the state has no more right to kill than the individual.

“The official murder at the penitentiary the other day was most demoralizing in its influence upon the people who read the horrible details of the transaction. Let men who are a menace to the public be shut up where they can do no harm to their fellows, but let the state learn to help, reform and save them, but not destroy them. ‘Thou shalt not kill’ is as good scripture for a state or nation as for a church or an individual.”

-Rev. A.L. Chapman (Boise, Idaho)
May 16, 1909 “Peace Day” sermon

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1946: Anton Mussert, Dutch collaborator

2 comments May 7th, 2013 Headsman

On this date in 1946, the Dutch fascist leader Anton Mussert was shot

Mussert was a young engineer who came to the fore in the interwar period as a strident right-wing populist. He co-founded in 1931 the Netherlands’ homegrown Nazi knockoff, the Nationaal-Socialistische Beweging; by 1935, it was polling 300,000 votes.

Mussert of course welcomed the German incursion into the Netherlands on the way to someplace else. That put the Dutch under wartime Nazi administration, but Mussert didn’t score a Quislingesque head-of-state plum out of the arrangement.

Instead, Mussert found himself brusquely shut out of any real power; the Austrian Arthur Seyss-Inquart ran the country instead, and would eventually hang via the Numremberg trial for his occupation atrocities, such as the wholesale deportation of the Dutch Jewish population that swept up diarist Anne Frank. Plum or no, however, what Mussert had done was more than enough to elevate him to the most conspicuous Nazi collaborator in the postwar Netherlands.

Mussert was captured after the war and shot at the open-air location near The Hague where over 250 people had been put to death during the war years.

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1318: Four Fraticelli friars

4 comments May 7th, 2012 Headsman

[Spiritual Franciscans record] the names of the condemned and the days or calends on which they suffered like martyrs.

-Inquisitor Bernard Gui (the gui from Umberto Eco’s Name of the Rose)

On this date in 1318, four Franciscans — Jean Barrani, Deodat Michel, Guillem Sainton, and Pons Rocha — were burned at the stake in Marseilles.

This illustration of the martyred friars also adorns the cover of the book So Great a Light, So Great a Smoke: The Beguin Heretics of Languedoc … which tells the story of what happened next.

These Fraticelli were part of the great and multi-headed 13th-14th century movement towards spiritual poverty — movements like the Apostolic Brethren, of Fra Dolcino fame.

The worldly wealth of the Church, as Eco’s narrator explains it,

generated movements of men bent on a poorer life, in protest against the corrupt priests … [the Fraticelli] claimed that Christ and the apostles had owned no property, individually or in common; and the Pope condemned this idea as heretical. An amazing position, because there is no evident reason why a pope should consider perverse the notion that Christ was poor.

Distinct from Dolcino et al (who were outside any official institutional order) but mutually sympathetic with their like, the Fraticelli were “Spiritual” Franciscans who rejected the more worldly accoutrement that even their humble order had taken on.

“Hardly a handful [of Franciscans] can be found who will abstain from luxuries, wearing cheap, patched tunics, and going without shoes, like the first brethren and the blessed Francis,” complained the ascetic Ubertino of Casale in 1311. “It seems as if all the spiritual offices of the order were rated at a price.”

In the hands of a more supple pope, this popular energy might have helped the Church, but John XXII — who held his court at Avignon in the care and feeding of the French crown — rejected his predecessors’ attempts at brokering compromises and just cracked down.

“Great is poverty,” said the papal bull ordering an end to the disputation. (Quoted here.) “But greater is blamelessness, and perfect obedience is the greatest good.”

And you have to enforce perfect blamelessness.

It began in the Avignon papacy’s Provencal back yard: southern France, which had felt the papal whip before, had proven very fertile soil for the Fraticelli, with its own similar Beguin movements among the laity.

Soon after Pope John ascended the seat of St. Peter, 25 obdurate Spiritual Franciscans were summoned to Avignon to answer to the Inquisition; 21 of them succumbed to the menacing proceedings and produced their “obedient” recantations, leaving the four stern enough to persevere unto the stake.

Many more, too many to track from the era’s sketchy documentation, followed them in the ensuing years.

The fires kindled at Marseilles were a signal for the extermination of the Spiritualists throughout Provence. We hear of burnings at Narbonne, Montpelier, Toulouse, Lunel, Lodvfere, Carcassonne, Cabestaing, Beziers, Montreal. Mosheim tells us of a band of a hundred and thirteen Spirituals sacrificed at Carcassonne from 1318 to 1350. Wadding tells us that the Franciscan inquisitors alone burned one hundred and fourteen of the zealots in a single year (1323). And Angelo compares the indiscriminate frenzy of the persecutors to the fierceness of rabid dogs and wolves. The works of Olivi were condemned at the Pentecostal chapter of 1319 at Marseilles, and even the bones of many saints who had died uncondemned (though suspected), were cast out of their tombs. The result of the fierce persecutions was to stamp out the Spirituals in Provence.

Beguini combusti or “burned Beguins” (doc link) inspired their synoptic brethren, and strains of the persecuted movement persisted for many years.**

John XXII reaped the hatred of the put-upon Franciscans. According to Bernard McGinn’s study of reputed “papal antichrists”† John was “the pope who bears the distinction of being the most popular candidate for the role of Papal Antichrist in medieval history.”


Image of Pope John XXII as the Antichrist. 15th century image from the Vaticinia de Summis Pontificibus, adapted from a c. 1340 illustration of the apocalyptic pro-Spiritual text as described in The Use and Abuse of Eschatology in the Middle Ages.

* Theologically, it was a dispute over whether Christ and the Apostles owned anything, singly or jointly. Politically, it pitted the Holy See against the Holy Roman Emperor, the classic Guelph-Ghibelline contest. (A few years on, there would be a Spiritual Franciscan appointed as antipope by the emperor.)

** William of Ockham — the Occam’s Razor guy — had to flee to imperial protection because, although not a radical Fraticello, he merely considered well-founded the doctrine that Christ and company didn’t own anything.

† In “Angel Pope and Papal Antichrist”, Church History (Jun., 1978)

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1323: Jourdain de l’Isle-Jourdain, Gascon rascal

Add comment May 7th, 2011 Headsman

On this date in 1323, Jourdain de l’Isle-Jourdain, lord of Casaubon, was “stripped naked, drawn on a hurdle from the Chatelet to the gibbet, and hanged there.” (Source)

This robber-baron‘s offense had been nothing less than the years-long defiance of his every actual and potential liege — consequence of the wide scope of action available to feudal nobles before the ascendance of absolutism.

Jourdain was the younger son of a lord, but managed to inherit a good chunk of land and marry into more of it … giving him power well beyond his merely nominal aristocratic rank.

Jourdain’s stomping ground was Gascony in the southwest of France, which in this period was a contested fringe of English and French authority* and so was under little true authority at all.

An unscrupulous operator could have a field day — or in Jourdain’s case, a field decade or two.

Joseph Klicklighter, “The Nobility of English Gascony: the case of Jourdain de l’Isle” in the Journal of Medieval History 13 (1987), pp. 327-342 documents Jourdain de l’Isle-Jourdain’s run of rapine in the “chaos and lawlessness” of 14th century Gascony.

He would occupy lands to extract official concessions, rip off the sailors and merchants crossing his territory, play English and French power off against one other (not neglecting to drag in the Avignonese pope John XXII, who had our crooked noble’s back as his kinsman), even rape, murder, and plunder outright. When forced to fight a judicial duel that turned out inconclusively, he peevishly razed a castle of his opponent.

“For years,” Klicklighter notes, “Jourdain de l’Isle was able to … pursue his wars and crimes and to flaunt ducal [English] and French authorities alike.”

Mind, he was hardly the only Gascon noble amok, but he seems to have been the most offensively undiplomatic of the lot. When the new French King Charles IV** sent armed envoys to summon him (along with other lords) to Paris, Jourdain had the envoys beheaded.

At last someone prevailed upon our man to make the trip, and despite arriving “in grand array and with great arrogance,” the French clapped him in prison with what we can only assume was relief. The Pope’s frantic appeals on Jourdain’s behalf didn’t do him any good: in fact, our man was hanged in a garment derisively sporting the papal insignia.

Though this date’s execution put an end to one man’s depravities, the violence attributable to his contumacious native region was just getting started. Fourteen years later, the next French monarch, Philip VI, went to put an end to this foolishness by definitively reclaiming Gascony for France … and triggered the Hundred Years War.

* Formally, Gascony was an English fief of the French crown. Functionally, that meant that whenever the English seneschal issued an edict, the local lords could ignore it by appealing to Parlement.

** Charles IV was the last ruler of the House of Capet … thanks in part to the dynasty-destroying Tour de Nesle scandal.

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1896: H. H. Holmes, America’s first serial killer

6 comments May 7th, 2010 Headsman

(Thanks for the public-domain “guest post” on prolific serial killer H.H. Holmes to Harry Brodribb Irving, from his A Book of Remarkable Criminals (Google Books | Project Gutenberg). Also enjoy The Holmes-Pitezel Case (1896).)

Honour Amongst Thieves

In the year 1894 Mr. Smith, a carpenter, of Philadelphia, had patented a new saw-set. Wishing to make some money out of his invention, Mr. Smith was attracted by the sign:

B. F. PERRY
PATENTS BOUGHT AND SOLD

which he saw stretched across the window of a two-storied house, 1,316 Callowhill Street. He entered the house and made the acquaintance of Mr. Perry, a tall, dark, bony man, to whom he explained the merits of his invention. Perry listened with interest, and asked for a model. In the meantime he suggested that Smith should do some carpenter’s work for him in the house. Smith agreed, and on August 22, while at work there saw a man enter the house and go up with Perry to a room on the second story.

A few days later Smith called at Callowhill Street to ask Perry about the sale of the patent. He waited half an hour in the shop below, called out to Perry who, he thought, might be in the rooms above, received no answer and went away. Next day, September 4, Smith returned, found the place just as he had left it the day before; called Perry again, but again got no answer. Surprised, he went upstairs, and in the back room of the second story the morning sunshine, streaming through the window, showed him the dead body of a man, his face charred beyond recognition, lying with his feet to the window and his head to the door. There was evidence of some sort of explosion: a broken bottle that had contained an inflammable substance, a broken pipe filled with tobacco, and a burnt match lay by the side of the body.

The general appearance of the dead man answered to that of B. F. Perry. A medical examination of the body showed that death had been sudden, that there had been paralysis of the involuntary muscles, and that the stomach, besides showing symptoms of alcoholic irritation, emitted a strong odour of chloroform. An inquest was held, and a verdict returned that B. F. Perry had died of congestion of the lungs caused by the inhalation of flame or chloroform. After lying in the mortuary for eleven days the body was buried.

In the meantime the Philadelphia branch of the Fidelity Mutual Life Association had received a letter from one Jephtha D. Howe, an attorney at St. Louis, stating that the deceased B. F. Perry was Benjamin F. Pitezel of that city, who had been insured in their office for a sum of ten thousand dollars. The insurance had been effected in Chicago in the November of 1893. Mr. Howe proposed to come to Philadelphia with some members of the Pitezel family to identify the remains. Referring to their Chicago branch, the insurance company found that the only person who would seem to have known Pitezel when in that city, was a certain H. H. Holmes, living at Wilmette, Illinois. They got into communication with Mr. Holmes, and forwarded to him a cutting from a newspaper, which stated erroneously that the death of B. F. Perry had taken place in Chicago.

On September 18 they received a letter from Mr. Holmes, in which he offered what assistance he could toward the identification of B. F. Perry as B. F. Pitezel. He gave the name of a dentist in Chicago who would be able to recognise teeth which he had made for Pitezel, and himself furnished a description of the man, especially of a malformation of the knee and a warty growth on the back of the neck by which he could be further identified. Mr. Holmes offered, if his expenses were paid, to come to Chicago to view the body. Two days later he wrote again saying that he had seen by other papers that Perry’s death had taken place in Philadelphia and not in Chicago, and that as he had to be in Baltimore in a day or two, he would run over to Philadelphia and visit the office of the Fidelity Life Association.

On September 20 the assiduous Mr. Holmes called at the office of the Association in Philadelphia, inquired anxiously about the nature and cause of Perry’s death, gave again a description of him and, on learning that Mr. Howe, the attorney from St. Louis, was about to come to Philadelphia to represent the widow, Mrs. Pitezel, and complete the identification, said that he would return to give the company any further help he could in the matter. The following day Mr. Jephtha D. Howe, attorney of St. Louis, arrived in Philadelphia, accompanied by Alice Pitezel, a daughter of the deceased. Howe explained that Pitezel had taken the name of Perry owing to financial difficulties. The company said that they accepted the fact that Perry and Pitezel were one and the same man, but were not convinced that the body was Pitezel’s body. The visit of Holmes was mentioned. Howe said that he did not know Mr. Holmes, but would be willing to meet him. At this moment Holmes arrived at the office. He was introduced to Howe as a stranger, and recognised as a friend by Alice Pitezel, a shy, awkward girl of fourteen or fifteen years of age. It was then arranged that all the parties should meet again next day to identify, if possible, the body, which had been disinterred for that purpose.

The unpleasant duty of identifying the rapidly decomposing remains was greatly curtailed by the readiness of Mr. Holmes. When the party met on the 22nd at the Potter’s Field, where the body had been disinterred and laid out, the doctor present was unable to find the distinctive marks which would show Perry and Pitezel to have been the same man. Holmes at once stepped into the breach, took off his coat, rolled up his sleeves, put on the rubber gloves, and taking a surgeon’s knife from his pocket, cut off the wart at the back of the neck, showed the injury to the leg, and revealed also a bruised thumb-nail which had been another distinctive mark of Pitezel. The body was then covered up all but the teeth; the girl Alice was brought in, and she said that the teeth appeared to be like those of her father. The insurance company declared themselves satisfied, and handed to Mr. Howe a cheque for 9,175 dollars, and to Mr. Holmes ten dollars for his expenses. Smith, the carpenter, had been present at the proceedings at the Potter’s Field. For a moment he thought he detected a likeness in Mr. Holmes to the man who had visited Perry at Callowhill Street on August 22 and gone upstairs with him, but he did not feel sure enough of the fact to make any mention of it.

In the prison at St. Louis there languished in the year 1894 one Marion Hedgspeth, serving a sentence of twenty years’ imprisonment for an audacious train robbery. On the night of November 30, 1891, the “‘Friscow express from St. Louis had been boarded by four ruffians, the express car blown open with dynamite, and 10,000 dollars carried off. Hedgspeth and another man were tried for the robbery, and sentenced to twenty years’ imprisonment. On October 9, 1894, Hegspeth{sic} made a statement to the Governor of the St. Louis prison, which he said he wished to be communicated to the Fidelity Mutual Life Association. In the previous July Hedgspeth said that he had met in the prison a man of the name of H. M. Howard, who was charged with fraud, but had been released on bail later in the month. While in prison Howard told Hedgspeth that he had devised a scheme for swindling an insurance company of 10,000 dollars, and promised Hedgspeth that, if he would recommend him a lawyer suitable for such an enterprise, he should have 500 dollars as his share of the proceeds. Hedgspeth recommended Jephtha D. Howe. The latter entered with enthusiasm into the scheme, and told Hedgspeth that he thought Mr. Howard “one of the smoothest and slickest” men he had ever known. A corpse was to be found answering to Pitezel’s description, and to be so treated as to appear to have been the victim of an accidental explosion, while Pitezel himself would disappear to Germany. From Howe Hedgspeth learnt that the swindle had been carried out successfully, but he had never received from Howard the 500 dollars promised him. Consequently, he had but little compunction in divulging the plot to the authorities.

It was realised at once that H. M. Howard and H. H. Holmes were the same person, and that Jephtha D. Howe and Mr. Holmes were not the strangers to each other that they had affected to be when they met in Philadelphia. Though somewhat doubtful of the truth of Hedgspeth’s statement, the insurance company decided to set Pinkerton’s detectives on the track of Mr. H. H. Holmes. After more than a month’s search he was traced to his father’s house at Gilmanton, N. H., and arrested in Boston on November 17.

Inquiry showed that, early in 1894, Holmes and Pitezel had acquired some real property at Fort Worth in Texas and commenced building operations, but had soon after left Texas under a cloud, arising from the theft of a horse and other dubious transactions.

Holmes had obtained the property at Fort Worth from a Miss Minnie Williams, and transferred it to Pitezel. Pitezel was a drunken “crook,” of mean intelligence, a mesmeric subject entirely under the influence of Holmes, who claimed to have considerable hypnotic powers. Pitezel had a wife living at St. Louis and five children, three girls–Dessie, Alice, and Nellie–a boy, Howard, and a baby in arms. At the time of Holmes’ arrest Mrs. Pitezel, with her eldest daughter, Dessie, and her little baby, was living at a house rented by Holmes at Burlington, Vermont. She also was arrested on a charge of complicity in the insurance fraud and brought to Boston.

Two days after his arrest Holmes, who dreaded being sent back to Texas on a charge of horse-stealing, for which in that State the punishment is apt to be rough and ready, made a statement to the police, in which he acknowledged the fraud practised by him and Pitezel on the insurance company. The body substituted for Pitezel had been obtained, said Holmes, from a doctor in New York, packed in a trunk and sent to Philadelphia, but he declined for the present to give the doctor’s name. Pitezel, he said, had gone with three of his children–Alice, Nellie and Howard–to South America. This fact, however, Holmes had not communicated to Mrs. Pitezel. When she arrived at Boston, the poor woman was in great distress of mind. Questioned by the officers, she attempted to deny any complicity in the fraud, but her real anxiety was to get news of her husband and her three children. Alice she had not seen since the girl had gone to Philadelphia to identify the supposed remains of her father. Shortly after this Holmes had come to Mrs. Pitezel at St. Louis, and taken away Nellie and Howard to join Alice, who, he said, was in the care of a widow lady at Ovington, Kentucky. Since then Mrs. Pitezel had seen nothing of the children or her husband. At Holmes’ direction she had gone to Detroit, Toronto, Ogdensberg and, lastly, to Burlington in the hope of meeting either Pitezel or the children, but in vain. She believed that her husband had deserted her; her only desire was to recover her children.

On November 20 Holmes and Mrs. Pitezel were transferred from Boston to Philadelphia, and there, along with Benjamin Pitezel and Jephtha D. Howe, were charged with defrauding the Fidelity Life Association of 10,000 dollars. Soon after his arrival in Philadelphia Holmes, who was never averse to talking, was asked by an inspector of the insurance company who it was that had helped him to double up the body sent from New York and pack it into the trunk. He replied that he had done it alone, having learned the trick when studying medicine in Michigan. The inspector recollected that the body when removed from Callowhill Street had been straight and rigid. He asked Holmes what trick he had learnt in the course of his medical studies by which it was possible to re-stiffen a body once the rigor mortis had been broken. To this Holmes made no reply. But he realised his mistake, and a few weeks later volunteered a second statement. He now said that Pitezel, in a fit of depression, aggravated by his drinking habits, had committed suicide on the third story of the house in Callowhill Street. There Holmes had found his body,carried it down on to the floor below, and arranged it in the manner agreed upon for deceiving the insurance company. Pitezel, he said, had taken his life by lying on the floor and allowing chloroform to run slowly into his mouth through a rubber tube placed on a chair. The three children, Holmes now stated, had gone to England with a friend of his, Miss Minnie Williams.

Miss Minnie Williams was the lady, from whom Holmes was said to have acquired the property in Texas which he and Pitezel had set about developing. There was quite a tragedy, according to Holmes, connected with the life of Miss Williams. She had come to Holmes in 1893, as secretary, at a drug store which he was then keeping in Chicago. Their relations had become more intimate, and later in the year Miss Williams wrote to her sister, Nannie, saying that she was going to be married, and inviting her to the wedding. Nannie arrived, but unfortunately a violent quarrel broke out between the two sisters, and Holmes came home to find that Minnie in her rage had killed her sister. He had helped her out of the trouble by dropping Nannie’s body into the Chicago lake. After such a distressing occurrence Miss Williams was only too glad of the opportunity of leaving America with the Pitezel children. In the meantime Holmes, under the name of Bond, and Pitezel, under that of Lyman, had proceeded to deal with Miss Williams’ property in Texas.

For women Holmes would always appear to have possessed some power of attraction, a power of which he availed himself generously. Holmes, whose real name was Herman W. Mudgett, was thirty-four years of age at the time of his arrest. As a boy he had spent his life farming in Vermont, after which he had taken up medicine and acquired some kind of medical degree. In the course of his training Holmes and a fellow student, finding a body that bore a striking resemblance to the latter; obtained 1,000 dollars from an insurance company by a fraud similar to that in which Holmes had engaged subsequently with Pitezel. After spending some time on the staff of a lunatic asylum in Pennsylvania, Holmes set up as a druggist in Chicago. His affairs in this city prospered, and he was enabled to erect, at the corner of Wallace and Sixty-Third Streets, the four-storied building known later as “Holmes Castle.” It was a singular structure. The lower part consisted of a shop and offices. Holmes occupied the second floor, and had a laboratory on the third. In his office was a vault, air proof and sound proof. In the bathroom a trap-door, covered by a rug, opened on to a secret staircase leading down to the cellar, and a similar staircase connected the cellar with the laboratory. In the cellar was a large grate. To this building Miss Minnie Williams had invited her sister to come for her wedding with Holmes, and it was in this building, according to Holmes, that the tragedy of Nannie’s untimely death occurred.


“Holmes Castle”

In hoping to become Holmes’ wife, Miss Minnie Williams was not to enjoy an exclusive privilege. At the time of his arrest Holmes had three wives, each ignorant of the others’ existence. He had married the first in 1878, under the name of Mudgett, and was visiting her at Burlington, Vermont, when the Pinkerton detectives first got on his track. The second he had married at Chicago, under the name of Howard, and the third at Denver as recently as January, 1894, under the name of Holmes. The third Mrs. Holmes had been with him when he came to Philadelphia to identify Pitezel’s body. The appearance of Holmes was commonplace, but he was a man of plausible and ingratiating address, apparent candour, and able in case of necessity to “let loose,” as he phrased it, “the fount of emotion.”

The year 1895 opened to find the much enduring Holmes still a prisoner in Philadelphia. The authorities seemed in no haste to indict him for fraud; their interest was concentrated rather in endeavouring to find the whereabouts of Miss Williams and her children, and of one Edward Hatch, whom Holmes had described as helping him in arranging for their departure. The “great humiliation” of being a prisoner was very distressing to Holmes.

“I only know the sky has lost its blue,
The days are weary and the night is drear.”

These struck him as two beautiful lines very appropriate to his situation. He made a New Year’s resolve to give up meat during his close confinement. The visits of his third wife brought him some comfort. He was “agreeably surprised” to find that, as an unconvicted prisoner, he could order in his own meals and receive newspapers and periodicals. But he was hurt at an unfriendly suggestion on the part of the authorities that Pitezel had not died by his own hand, and that Edward Hatch was but a figment of his rich imagination. He would like to have been released on bail, but in the same unfriendly spirit was informed that, if he were, he would be detained on a charge of murder. And so the months dragged on. Holmes, studious, patient, injured, the authorities puzzled, suspicions, baffled — still no news of Miss Williams or the three children. It was not until June 3 that Holmes was put on his trial for fraud, and the following day pleaded guilty. Sentence was postponed.

The same day Holmes was sent for to the office of the District Attorney, who thus addressed him: “It is strongly suspected, Holmes, that you have not only murdered Pitezel, but that you have killed the children. The best way to remove this suspicion is to produce the children at once. Now, where are they?” Unfriendly as was this approach, Holmes met it calmly, reiterated his previous statement that the children had gone with Miss Williams to England, and gave her address in London, 80 Veder or Vadar Street, where, he said, Miss Williams had opened a massage establishment. He offered to draw up and insert a cipher advertisement in the New York Herald, by means of which, he said, Miss Williams and he had agreed to communicate, and almost tearfully he added, “Why should I kill innocent children?”

Asked to give the name of any person who had seen Miss Williams and the children in the course of their journeyings in America, he resented the disbelief implied in such a question, and strong was his manly indignation when one of the gentlemen present expressed his opinion that the story was a lie from beginning to end. This rude estimate of Holmes’ veracity was, however, in some degree confirmed when a cipher advertisement published in the New York Herald according to Holmes’ directions, produced no reply from Miss Williams, and inquiry showed that no such street as Veder or Vadar Street was to be found in London.

In spite of these disappointments, Holmes’ quiet confidence in his own good faith continued unshaken. When the hapless Mrs. Pitezel was released, he wrote her a long letter. “Knowing me as you do,” he said, “can you imagine me killing little and innocent children, especially without any motive?” But even Mrs. Pitezel was not wholly reassured. She recollected how Holmes had taken her just before his arrest to a house he had rented at Burlington, Vermont, how he had written asking her to carry a package of nitro-glycerine from the bottom to the top of the house, and how one day she had found him busily removing the boards in the cellar.

The District Attorney and the Insurance Company were not in agreement as to the fate of the Pitezel children. The former still inclined to the hope and belief that they were in England with Miss Williams, but the insurance company took a more sinister view. No trace of them existed except a tin box found among Holmes’ effects, containing letters they had written to their mother and grandparents from Cincinnati, Indianapolis, and Detroit, which had been given to Holmes to dispatch but had never reached their destination. The box contained letters from Mrs. Pitezel to her children, which Holmes had presumably intercepted.

It was decided to make a final attempt to resolve all doubts by sending an experienced detective over the route taken by the children in America. He was to make exhaustive inquiries in each city with a view to tracing the visits of Holmes or the three children. For this purpose a detective of the name of Geyer was chosen. The record of his search is a remarkable story of patient and persistent investigation.

Alice Pitezel had not seen her mother since she had gone with Holmes to identify her father’s remains in Philadelphia. From there Holmes had taken her to Indianapolis. In the meantime he had visited Mrs. Pitezel at St. Louis, and taken away with him the girl, Nellie, and the boy, Howard, alleging as his reason for doing so that they and Alice were to join their father, whose temporary effacement was necessary to carry out successfully the fraud on the insurance company, to which Mrs. Pitezel had been from the first an unwilling party. Holmes, Nellie and Howard had joined Alice at Indianapolis, and from there all four were believed to have gone to Cincinnati. It was here, accordingly, on June 27, 1895, that Geyer commenced his search.

After calling at a number of hotels, Geyer found that on Friday, September 28, 1894, a man, giving the name of Alexander E. Cook, and three children had stayed at a hotel called the Atlantic House. Geyer recollected that Holmes, when later on he had sent Mrs. Pitezel to the house in Burlington, had described her as Mrs. A. E. Cook and, though not positive, the hotel clerk thought that he recognised in the photographs of Holmes and he three children, which Geyer showed him, the four visitors to the hotel.

They had left the Atlantic House the next day, and on that same day, the 29th, Geyer found that Mr. A. E. Cook and three children had registered at the Bristol Hotel, where they had stayed until Sunday the 30th.

Knowing Holmes’ habit of renting houses, Geyer did not confine his enquiries to the hotels. He visited a number of estate agents and learnt that a man and a boy, identified as Holmes and Howard Pitezel, had occupied a house No. 305 Poplar Street. The man had given the name of A. C. Hayes. He had taken the house on Friday the 28th, and on the 29th had driven up to it with the boy in a furniture wagon. A curious neighbour, interested in the advent of a newcomer, saw the wagon arrive, and was somewhat astonished to observe that the only furniture taken into the house was a large iron cylinder stove. She was still further surprised when, on the following day, Mr. Hayes told her that he was not going after all to occupy the house, and made her a present of the cylinder stove.

From Cincinnati Geyer went to Indianapolis. Here inquiry showed that on September 30 three children had been brought by a man identified as Holmes to the Hotel English, and registered in the name of Canning. This was the maiden name of Mrs. Pitezel. The children had stayed at the hotel one night. After that Geyer seemed to lose track of them until he was reminded of a hotel then closed, called the Circle House. With some difficulty he got a sight of the books of the hotel, and found that the three Canning children had arrived there on October 1 and stayed until the 10th. From the former proprietor of the hotel he learnt that Holmes had described himself as the children’s uncle, and had said that Howard was a bad boy, whom he was trying to place in some institution. The children seldom went out; they would sit in their room drawing or writing, often they were found crying; they seemed homesick and unhappy.

There are letters of the children written from Indianapolis to their mothers, letters found in Holmes’ possession, which had never reached her. In these letters they ask their mother why she does not write to them. She had written, but her letters were in Holmes’ possession. Alice writes that she is reading “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” She has read so much that her eyes hurt; they have bought a crystal pen for five cents which gives them some amusement; they had been to the Zoo in Cincinnati the Sunday before: “I expect this Sunday will pass away slower than I don’t know–Howard is two (sic) dirty to be seen out on the street to-day.” Sometimes they go and watch a man who paints “genuine oil paintings” in a shoe store, which are given away with every dollar purchase of shoes–“he can paint a picture in one and a half minutes, ain’t that quick!” Howard was getting a little troublesome. “I don’t like to tell you,” writes Alice, “but you ask me, so I will have to. Howard won’t mind me at all. He wanted a book and I got `Life of General Sheridan,’ and it is awful nice, but now he don’t read it at all hardly.” Poor Howard! One morning, says Alice, Mr. Holmes told him to stay in and wait for him, as he was coming to take him out, but Howard was disobedient, and when Mr. Holmes arrived he had gone out. Better for Howard had he never returned! “We have written two or three letters to you,” Alice tells her mother, “and I guess you will begin to get them now. She will not get them. Mr. Holmes is so very particular that the insurance company shall get no clue to the whereabouts of any member of the Pitezel family.

Geyer knew that from Indianapolis Holmes had gone to Detroit. He ascertained that two girls, “Etta and Nellie Canning,” had registered on October 12 at the New Western Hotel in that city, and from there had moved on the 15th to a boarding-house in Congress Street. From Detroit Alice had written to her grandparents. It was cold and wet, she wrote; she and Etta had colds and chapped hands: “We have to stay in all the time. All that Nell and I can do is to draw, and I get so tired sitting that I could get up and fly almost. I wish I could see you all. I am getting so homesick that I don’t know what to do. I suppose Wharton (their baby brother) walks by this time, don’t he? I would like to have him here, he would pass away the time a good deal.” As a fact little Wharton, his mother and sister Dessie, were at this very moment in Detroit, within ten minutes’ walk of the hotel at which Holmes had registered “Etta and Nellie Canning.”

On October 14 there had arrived in that city a weary, anxious-looking woman, with a girl and a little baby. They took a room at Geis’s Hotel, registering as Mrs. Adams and daughter. Mrs. Adams seemed in great distress of mind, and never left her room.

The housekeeper, being shown their photographs, identified the woman and the girl as Mrs. Pitezel and her eldest daughter Dessie. As the same time there had been staying at another hotel in Detroit a Mr. and Mrs. Holmes, whose photographs showed them to be the Mr. Holmes in question and his third wife. These three parties–the two children, Mrs. Pitezel and her baby, and the third Mrs. Holmes–were all ignorant of each other’s presence in Detroit; and under the secret guidance of Mr. Holmes the three parties (still unaware of their proximity to each other, left Detroit for Canada, arriving in Toronto on or about October 18, and registering at three separate hotels. The only one who had not to all appearances reached Toronto was the boy Howard.

In Toronto “Alice and Nellie Canning” stayed at the Albion Hotel.

They arrived there on October 19, and left on the 25th. During their stay a man, identified as Holmes, had called every morning for the two children, and taken them out; but they had come back alone, usually in time for supper. On the 25th he had called and taken them out, but they had not returned to supper. After that date Geyer could find no trace of them. Bearing in mind Holmes’ custom of renting houses, he compiled a list of all the house agents in Toronto, and laboriously applied to each one for information. The process was a slow one, and the result seemed likely to be disappointing.

To aid his search Geyer decided to call in the assistance of the Press. The newspapers readily published long accounts of the case and portraits of Holmes and the children. At last, after eight days of patient and untiring investigation, after following up more than one false clue, Geyer received a report that there was a house–No. 16 St. Vincent Street–which had been rented in the previous October by a man answering to the description of Holmes. The information came from an old Scottish gentleman living next door. Geyer hastened to see him. The old gentleman said that the man who had occupied No. 16 in October had told him that he had taken the house for his widowed sister, and he recognised the photograph of Alice Pitezel as one of the two girls accompanying him. The only furniture the man had taken into the house was a bed, a mattress and a trunk. During his stay at No. 16 this man had called on his neighbour about four o’clock one afternoon and borrowed a spade, saying that he wanted to dig a place in the cellar where his widowed sister could keep potatoes; he had returned the spade the following morning. The lady to whom the house belonged recognised Holmes’ portrait as that of the man to whom she had let No. 16.

At last Geyer seemed to be on the right track. He hurried back to St. Vincent Street, borrowed from the old gentleman at No. 18 the very spade which he had lent to Holmes in the previous October, and got the permission of the present occupier of No. 16 to make a search. In the centre of the kitchen Geyer found a trap-door leading down into a small cellar. In one corner of the cellar he saw that the earth had been recently dug up. With the help of the spade the loose earth was removed, and at a depth of some three feet, in a state of advanced decomposition, lay the remains of what appeared to be two children. A little toy wooden egg with a snake inside it, belonging to the Pitezel children, had been found by the tenant who had taken the house after Holmes; a later tenant had found stuffed into the chimney, but not burnt, some clothing that answered the description of that worn by Alice and Etta Pitezel; and by the teeth and hair of the two corpses Mrs. Pitezel was able to identify them as those of her two daughters. The very day that Alice and Etta had met their deaths at St. Vincent Street, their mother had been staying near them at a hotel in the same city, and later on the same day Holmes had persuaded her to leave Toronto for Ogdensburg. He said that they were being watched by detectives, and so it would be impossible for her husband to come to see her there.

But the problem was not yet wholly solved. What had become of Howard? So far Geyer’s search had shown that Holmes had rented three houses, one in Cincinnati, one in Detroit, and one in Toronto. Howard had been with his sisters at the hotels in Indianapolis, and in Detroit the house agents had said that, when Holmes had rented a house there, he had been accompanied by a boy. Yet an exhaustive search of that house had revealed no trace of him. Geyer returned to Detroit and again questioned the house agents; on being pressed their recollection of the boy who had accompanied Holmes seemed very vague and uncertain. This served only to justify a conclusion at which Geyer had already arrived, that Howard had never reached Detroit, but had disappeared in Indianapolis. Alice’s letters, written from there, had described how Holmes had wanted to take Howard out one day and how the boy had refused to stay in and wait for him. In the same way Holmes had called for the two girls at the Albion Hotel in Toronto on October 25 and taken them out with him, after which they had never been seen alive except by the old gentleman at No. 18 St. Vincent Street.

If Geyer could discover that Holmes had not departed in Indianapolis from his usual custom of renting houses, he might be on the high way to solving the mystery of Howard’s fate. Accordingly he returned to Indianapolis.

In the meantime, Holmes, in his prison at Philadelphia, learnt of the discovery at Toronto. “On the morning of the 16th of July,” he writes in his journal, “my newspaper was delivered to me about 8.30 a.m., and I had hardly opened it before I saw in large headlines the announcement of the finding of the children in Toronto. For the moment it seemed so impossible that I was inclined to think it was one of the frequent newspaper excitements that had attended the earlier part of the case, but, in attempting to gain some accurate comprehension of what was stated in the article, I became convinced that at least certain bodies had been found there, and upon comparing the date when the house was hired I knew it to be the same as when the children had been in Toronto; and thus being forced to realise the awfulness of what had probably happened, I gave up trying to read the article, and saw instead the two little faces as they had looked when I hurriedly left them–felt the innocent child’s kiss so timidly given, and heard again their earnest words of farewell, and realised that I had received another burden to carry to my grave with me, equal, if not worse, than the horrors of Nannie Williams’ death.”

Questioned by the district attorney, Holmes met this fresh evidence by evoking once again the mythical Edward Hatch and suggesting that Miss Minnie Williams, in a “hellish wish for vengeance” because of Holmes’ fancied desertion, and in order to make it appear probable that he, and not she, had murdered her sister, had prompted Hatch to commit the horrid deed. Holmes asked to be allowed to go to Toronto that he might collect any evidence which he could find there in his favour. The district attorney refused his request; he had determined to try Holmes in Philadelphia. “What more could, be said?” writes Holmes. Indeed, under the circumstances, and in the unaccountable absence of Edward Hatch and Minnie Williams, there was little more to be said.

Detective Geyer reopened his search in Indianapolis by obtaining a list of advertisements of houses to let in the city in 1894. Nine hundred of these were followed up in vain. He then turned his attention to the small towns lying around Indianapolis with no happier result. Geyer wrote in something of despair to his superiors: “By Monday we will have searched every outlying town except Irvington. After Irvington, I scarcely know where we shall go.” Thither he went on August 27, exactly two months from the day on which his quest had begun. As he entered the town he noticed the advertisement of an estate agent. He called at the office and found a “pleasant-faced old gentleman,” who greeted him amiably. Once again Geyer opened his now soiled and ragged packet of photographs, and asked the gentleman if in October, 1894, he had let a house to a man who said that he wanted one for a widowed sister. He showed him the portrait of Holmes.

The old man put on his glasses and looked at the photograph for some time. Yes, he said, he did remember that he had given the keys of a cottage in October, 1894, to a man of Holmes’ appearance, and he recollected the man the more distinctly for the uncivil abruptness with which he had asked for the keys; “I felt,” he said, “he should have had more respect for my grey hairs.”

From the old gentleman’s office Geyer hastened to the cottage, and made at once for the cellar. There he could find no sign of recent disturbance. But beneath the floor of a piazza adjoining the house he found the remains of a trunk, answering to the description of that which the Pitezel children had had with them, and in an outhouse he discovered the inevitable stove, Holmes’ one indispensable piece of furniture. It was stained with blood on the top. A neighbour had seen Holmes in the same October drive up to the house in the furniture wagon accompanied by a boy, and later in the day Holmes had asked him to come over to the cottage and help him to put up a stove. The neighbour asked him why he did not use gas; Holmes replied that he did not think gas was healthy for children. While the two men were putting up the stove, the little boy stood by and watched them. After further search there were discovered in the cellar chimney some bones, teeth, a pelvis and the baked remains of a stomach, liver and spleen.

Medical examination showed them to be the remains of a child between seven and ten years of age. A spinning top, a scarf-pin, a pair of shoes and some articles of clothing that had belonged to the little Pitezels, had been found in the house at different times, and were handed over to Geyer.

His search was ended. On September 1 he returned to Philadelphia.

Holmes was put on his trial on October 28, 1895, before the Court of Oyer and Terminer in Philadelphia, charged with the murder of Benjamin Pitezel. In the course of the trial the district attorney offered to put in evidence showing that Holmes had also murdered the three children of Pitezel, contending that such evidence was admissible on the ground that the murders of the children and their father were parts of the same transaction. The judge refused to admit the evidence, though expressing a doubt as to its inadmissibility. The defence did not dispute the identity of the body found in Callowhill Street, but contended that Pitezel had committed suicide. The medical evidence negatived such a theory. The position of the body, its condition when discovered, were entirely inconsistent with self-destruction, and the absence of irritation in the stomach showed that the chloroform found there must have been poured into it after death. In all probability, Holmes had chloroformed Pitezel when he was drunk or asleep. He had taken the chloroform to Callowhill Street as a proposed ingredient in a solution for cleaning clothes, which he and Pitezel were to patent. It was no doubt with the help of the same drug that he had done to death the little children, and failing the nitro-glycerine, with that drug he had intended to put Mrs. Pitezel and her two remaining children out of the way at the house in Burlington; for after his trial there was found there, hidden away in the cellar, a bottle containing eight or ten ounces of chloroform.

Though assisted by counsel, Holmes took an active part in his defence. He betrayed no feeling at the sight of Mrs. Pitezel, the greater part of whose family he had destroyed, but the appearance of his third wife as a witness he made an opportunity for “letting loose the fount of emotion,” taking care to inform his counsel beforehand that he intended to perform this touching feat. He was convicted and sentenced to death on November 2.

Previous to the trial of Holmes the police had made an exhaustive investigation of the mysterious building in Chicago known as “Holmes’ Castle.” The result was sufficiently sinister. In the stove in the cellar charred human bones were found, and in the middle of the room stood a large dissecting table stained with blood. On digging up the cellar floor some human ribs, sections of vertebrae and teeth were discovered buried in quicklime, and in other parts of the “castle” the police found more charred bones, some metal buttons, a trunk, and a piece of a watch chain.

The trunk and piece of watch chain were identified as having belonged to Miss Minnie Williams.

Inquiry showed that Miss Williams had entered Holmes’ employment as a typist in 1893, and had lived with him at the castle. In the latter part of the year she had invited her sister, Nannie, to be present at her wedding with Holmes. Nannie had come to Chicago for that purpose, and since then the two sisters had never been seen alive. In February in the following year Pitezel, under the name of Lyman, had deposited at Fort Worth, Texas, a deed according to which a man named Bond had transferred to him property in that city which had belonged to Miss Williams, and shortly after, Holmes, under the name of Pratt, joined him at Fort Worth, whereupon the two commenced building on Miss Williams’ land.

Other mysterious cases besides those of the Williams sisters revealed the Bluebeard-like character of this latterday castle of Mr. Holmes. In 1887 a man of the name of Connor entered Holmes’ employment. He brought with him to the castle a handsome, intelligent wife and a little girl of eight or nine years of age.

After a short time Connor quarrelled with his wife and went away, leaving Mrs. Connor and the little girl with Holmes. After 1892 Mrs. Connor and her daughter had disappeared, but in August, 1895, the police found in the castle some clothes identified as theirs, and the janitor, Quinlan, admitted having seen the dead body of Mrs. Connor in the castle. Holmes, questioned in his prison in Philadelphia, said that Mrs. Connor had died under an operation, but that he did not know what had become of the little girl.

In the year of Mrs. Connor’s disappearance, a typist named Emily Cigrand, who had been employed in a hospital in which Benjamin Pitezel had been a patient, was recommended by the latter to Holmes. She entered his employment, and she and Holmes soon became intimate, passing as “Mr. and Mrs. Gordon.” Emily Cigrand had been in the habit of writing regularly to her parents in Indiana, but after December 6, 1892, they had never heard from her again, nor could any further trace of her be found.

A man who worked for Holmes as a handy man at the castle stated to the police that in 1892 Holmes had given him a skeleton of a man to mount, and in January, 1893, showed him in the laboratory another male skeleton with some flesh still on it, which also he asked him to mount. As there was a set of surgical instruments in the laboratory and also a tank filled with a fluid preparation for removing flesh, the handy man thought that Holmes was engaged in some kind of surgical work.

About a month before his execution, when Holmes’ appeals from his sentence had failed and death appeared imminent, he sold to the newspapers for 7,500 dollars a confession in which he claimed to have committed twenty-seven murders in the course of his career. The day after it appeared he declared the whole confession to be a “fake.” He was tired, he said, of being accused by the newspapers of having committed every mysterious murder that had occurred during the last ten years. When it was pointed out to him that the account given in his confession of the murder of the Pitezel children was clearly untrue, he replied, “Of course, it is not true, but the newspapers wanted a sensation and they have got it.” The confession was certainly sensational enough to satisfy the most exacting of penny-a-liners, and a lasting tribute to Holmes’ undoubted power of extravagant romancing.

According to his story, some of his twenty-seven victims had met their death by poison, some by more violent methods, some had died a lingering death in the air-tight and sound-proof vault of the castle. Most of these he mentioned by name, but some of these were proved afterwards to be alive. Holmes had actually perpetrated, in all probability, about ten murders. But, given further time and opportunity, there is no reason why this peripatetic assassin should not have attained to the considerable figure with which he credited himself in his bogus confession.

Holmes was executed in Philadelphia on May 7, 1896. He seemed to meet his fate with indifference.

The motive of Holmes in murdering Pitezel and three of his children and in planning to murder his wife and remaining children, originated in all probability in a quarrel that occurred between Pitezel and himself in the July of 1894. Pitezel had tired apparently of Holmes and his doings, and wanted to break off the connection. But he must have known enough of Holmes’ past to make him a dangerous enemy. It was Pitezel who had introduced to Holmes Emily Cigrand, the typist, who had disappeared so mysteriously in the castle; Pitezel had been his partner in the fraudulent appropriation of Miss Minnie Williams’ property in Texas; it is more than likely, therefore, that Pitezel knew something of the fate of Miss Williams and her sister. By reviving, with Pitezel’s help, his old plan for defrauding insurance companies, Holmes saw the opportunity of making 10,000 dollars, which he needed sorely, and at the same time removing his inconvenient and now lukewarm associate. Having killed Pitezel and received the insurance money, Holmes appropriated to his own use the greater part of the 10,000 dollars, giving Mrs. Pitezel in return for her share of the plunder a bogus bill for 5,000 dollars. Having robbed Mrs. Pitezel of both her husband and her money, to this thoroughgoing criminal there seemed only one satisfactory way of escaping detection, and that was to exterminate her and the whole of her family.

Had Holmes not confided his scheme of the insurance fraud to Hedgspeth in St. Louis prison and then broken faith with him, there is no reason why the fraud should ever have been discovered. The subsequent murders had been so cunningly contrived that, had the Insurance Company not put the Pinkerton detectives on his track, Holmes would in all probability have ended by successfully disposing of Mrs. Pitezel, Dessie, and the baby at the house in Burlington, Vermont, and the entire Pitezel family would have disappeared as completely as his other victims.

Holmes admitted afterwards that his one mistake had been his confiding to Hedgspeth his plans for defrauding an insurance company–a mistake, the unfortunate results of which might have been avoided, if he had kept faith with the train robber and given him the 500 dollars which he had promised.

The case of Holmes illustrates the practical as well as the purely ethical value of “honour among thieves,” and shows how a comparatively insignificant misdeed may ruin a great and comprehensive plan of crime. To dare to attempt the extermination of a family of seven persons, and to succeed so nearly in effecting it, could be the work of no tyro, no beginner like J. B. Troppmann. It was the act of one who having already succeeded in putting out of the way a number of other persons undetected, might well and justifiably believe that he was born for greater and more compendious achievements in robbery and murder than any who had gone before him. One can almost subscribe to America’s claim that Holmes is the “greatest criminal” of a century boasting no mean record in such persons.

In the remarkable character of his achievements as an assassin we are apt to lose sight of Holmes’ singular skill and daring as a liar and a bigamist. As an instance of the former may be cited his audacious explanation to his family, when they heard of his having married a second time. He said that he had met with a serious accident to his head, and that when he left the hospital, found that he had entirely lost his memory; that, while in this state of oblivion, he had married again and then, when his memory returned, realised to his horror his unfortunate position. Plausibility would seem to have been one of Holmes’ most useful gifts; men and women alike — particularly the latter — he seems to have deceived with ease. His appearance was commonplace, in no way suggesting the conventional criminal, his manner courteous, ingratiating and seemingly candid, and like so many scoundrels, he could play consummately the man of sentiment.

The weak spot in Holmes’ armour as an enemy of society was a dangerous tendency to loquacity, the defect no doubt of his qualities of plausible and insinuating address and ever ready mendacity.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Botched Executions,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Infamous,Milestones,Murder,Notable Sleuthing,Pelf,Pennsylvania,Serial Killers,Theft,USA

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