1717: The witch-children of Freising

1 comment November 12th, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1717 a witch hunt in the Bavarian town of Freising concluded with the beheading of three beggar children as magicians.*

The accusations of other kids in the city against two youths named Andre and Lorenz got the snowball rolling with the aid of adults credulous enough to believe the pubescent warlocks could conjure piglets and mice.

Andre and Lorenz, naturally, then supplied confessions and additional accusations, as a result of which several more children aged 9 to 14 were arrested, all of them cajoled and tortured towards symoptic allegations. Thirteen-year-old Andre eventually hanged himself; Lorenz and two others were put to sword and fire on November 12, 1717.

Notably, two other boys were spared execution but forced to watch their fellows’ fate. One of those, Veit Adlwart, would stand at the center of a second Kinderhexenprozess in Freising that claimed eight boys and three adults in the early 1720s. Veit Adlwart was put to death on December 15, 1721.

* Street children were at great risk of catching the witch stigma given the wrong place at the time.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Beheaded,Burned,Capital Punishment,Children,Death Penalty,Execution,Germany,History,Public Executions,Torture,Witchcraft

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1963: Four CIA saboteurs in Cuba

Add comment November 12th, 2017 Headsman

Cuba executed thirteen people in the course of this week in 1963 as CIA agents. This date marked the middle group, as detailed in the Nov. 13, 1963 New York Times:

HAVANA, Nov. 12 (UPI) — Four more Cubans were executed by firing squads today as “agents” of the United States Central Intelligence Agency.

Five other Cuban [sic] accused as “CIA agents” were executed last Friday.

The victims today were identified as Antonio Cobelas Rodriguez, Orlando Sanchez Saraza, Juan M. Milian Rodriguez and Jose S. Bolanos Morales.

An official announcement said that they had been captured while trying to sneak ashore from an armed boat that sailed from Marathon, in the Florida Keys, on an undisclosed date.

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1886: William Wilson

Add comment November 12th, 2016 Meaghan

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

On this date in 1886, 45-year-old William S. Wilson was hanged for murder in Jonesboro, Illinois. He had killed his wife, Margaret.

Wilson was good at producing offspring — he was the father of at least seven children and possibly as many as nine — but not so good at providing for them. At Christmas in 1885, he left his family and went to Kentucky, leaving his destitute wife and kids only $5 in cash (the equivalent of about $130 in modern terms) and very little fuel. When supplies ran out in early January, several neighbors took pity on Margaret Wilson and her brood and banded together to cut enough firewood to get them through the winter.

When William returned home on January 7, however, he was furious when he learned Margaret had shamed him by accepting charity.

Daniel Allen Hearn, in his book Legal Executions in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky and Missouri: A Comprehensive Registry, 1866-1965, records,

Wilson berated his wife for allowing the neighbors to act. He chased the heavily pregnant woman out of their cabin and shot her down in the mud and slush. The sight of her near-term unborn baby vainly kicking against the interior wall of her abdomen appalled witnesses, who could do nothing to save it. Details such as these illustrate the brutality that often characterizes these all-too-common wife-killing cases.

William had shot Margaret twice: once in the chest inside the house, and once again outdoors as she was running away. As she lay dying on the frozen ground he walked away. He didn’t get far before he was arrested.

A contemporary newspaper article speculated that William might be crazy, noting that he had been “affected for a long time with some incurable disease” and “is not regarded by some as sane.” But it wasn’t enough. William paid the ultimate price for his crime eleven months after the murder.

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1800: Thomas Chalfont, postboy

2 comments November 12th, 2015 Meaghan

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

On this day in 1800,* a seventeen-year-old mail sorter named Thomas Chalfont was hanged at Newgate for theft.

Chalfont “feloniously did secrete a letter, or packet, directed to Messrs. Bedwells, St. John’s-street.” Said letter, or packet, had contained three £10 notes; it arrived to Messrs. Bedwells late and containing only two such notes. The accompanying letter had also been altered to correspond to the diminished enclosure.

The recipient complained to the post office, and Chalfont was found out.

He was the second post office employee to be executed for the same offense; almost a year earlier, John Williams had faced the hangman for taking money — it was even the same amount, £10 — out of a letter in his charge.

According to Susan Whyman, the royal mail was a frequent locus of property crime throughout the 18th century: “armed robbery, overcharging for postage, forging franks, wilful destruction of letters, and embezzlement of enclosed bills or money.” Chalfont’s variant here seems downright banal, but it was commonplace enough that one correspondent Whyman cites in 1787 defeated sticky-fingered mail sorters by tearing a £10 Bank of England note in half and mailing the two halves to his wife separately.

The Newgate Calendar sighed,

We greatly lament to find young men gratuitously placed in trust in the Post-office, frequently abusing the confidence reposed in them, disgracing their friends, who necessarily must have used much interest in obtaining such places for them, and then bringing themselves to an ignominious fate.

Four others died alongside Chalfont: Thomas Douglas, a horse-thief; John Price and John Robinson, burglars; and William Hatton, who took a shot at a watchman.

In the Derby Mercury edition (Nov. 13, 1800) reporting the quintuple execution, the very next news item underscored the post’s continuing security problems:

A singular attempt to intercept the passage of the letters into the Post Office, at Durham, was fortunately discovered on Sunday evening last, before any mischief had been effected by the stratagem. A piece of sheet iron, so modelled as to fit the entrance of the box, had been introduced, so as that it could be withdrawn with any letter that might be put into it.

* The Newgate Calendar supplies the date of November 11; this appears to be erroneous, as the period’s reporting confirms a Wednesday, Nov. 12 execution.

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1858: James Rodgers, lamented

1 comment November 12th, 2012 Headsman

On this date in 1858, youthful delinquent James Rodgers was hanged in New York City.

The 19-year-old Irish immigrant Rodgers, according to the New York Herald‘s Nov. 13 post-hanging review, was one of a gaggle of ne’er-do-wells “well known to the police of the Sixteenth precinct as loungers about the corners.”

Corner-loungers evidently share behavioral DNA with the common high school meathead, for Rodgers (drunk on rum) precipitated his trouble by carrying “his arms a-kimbo, so that one elbow hit [John] Swanston violently as he went by him.” Swanston, a respectable burgher returning from market with his wife, didn’t take kindly to this territory-marking, and exchanged words with Rodgers until the punk terminated the conversation by planting a knife between Swanston’s ribs. The unfortunate gentleman, perhaps second-guessing his decision to make such a big deal over the elbow, expired painfully in the street as witnesses rushed to the scene.

If the Herald is to be believed, a concerted clemency push (including author Caroline Kirkland, who called personally on Gov. John King) went begging owing to a general public outcry against corner-lounging Irish hoodlums and their a-kimbo elbows.

Even though Rodgers was hanged in private in the Tombs, New Yorkers strained the roofs of nearby buildings (at ten to fifty cents per head) just to get a glimpse of him being walked to the gallows with the rope picturesquely around his neck and whatever else they could peep over the walls.

Reportedly contrite (he slept on the stone floor of his cell and ate bread and water by way of self-mortification), prayerful, handsome, and at the gallows unflinching, the youthful Rodgers died game … and also harrowingly.

The Tombs was already by this point employing a gallows that jerked the condemned upward rather than dropping him through a trap: the idea was that this method would humanely kill the wretch on the first strike of the knot.

That was not the case for James Rodgers.

By the time the executioners axed through the rope restraining the counterbalance and the fall of a 250-pound lead weight yanked Rodgers into the air, the noose’s knot had slipped to the nape of the culprit’s neck where it would fail to deliver a lethal fracture. The killer twisted and fought horribly for some eight minutes as he strangled to death, even freeing his right hand from its restraint and with it tearing at his heart. “Sickening to behold,” reported the New York Times.

So, that was James Rodgers. Like many murderers of the time, and especially those who could be constructed as sympathetic people led astray by drink, the man got himself a hanging ballad, “The Lamentation of James Rodgers.”

This ditty appears to have been appropriated, meter and lyrics alike, a generation later for the ballad “Charles Guiteau” — whose subject is the nutter assassin of President James Garfield. Guiteau hanged in 1882.

It’s pretty striking, really, even if not unusual for the genre; the lyrics show a line-for-line lift.

Lamentation of James Rodgers

Come all you tender Christians,
I hope you will draw near,
And likewise pay attention
To those few lines I have here:
For the murder of Mr. Swanston
I am condemned to die,
On the twelfth day of November
Upon the gallows high.

My name is James Rodgers
The same I ne’er denied,
Which leaves my aged parents
In sorrow for to cry,
It’s little ever they thought
All in my youth and bloom,
I came into New York
For to meet my fatal doom.

Charles Guiteau

Come all you tender Christians
Wherever you may be
And likewise pay attention
To these few lines from me.
For the murder of James A. Garfield
I am condemned to die
On the thirtieth day of June
Upon the scaffold high.

My name is Charles Guiteau
My name I’ll never deny,
To leave my aged parents
To sorrow and to die.
But little did I think
While in my youthful bloom
I’d be carried to the scaffold
To meet my fatal doom.

Here’s the Garfield version … as the guilt-ridden young tough James Rodgers is not much remembered on YouTube.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Arts and Literature,Botched Executions,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Hanged,History,Murder,New York,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,USA

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1793: Jean-Sylvain Bailly, moonstruck

Add comment November 12th, 2011 Headsman

See Bailly, likewise of Paris, time-honoured Historian of Astronomy Ancient and Modern. Poor Bailly, how thy serenely beautiful Philosophising, with its soft moonshiny clearness and thinness, ends in foul thick confusion — of Presidency, Mayorship, diplomatic Officiality, rabid Triviality, and the throat of everlasting Darkness! Far was it to descend from the heavenly Galaxy to the Drapeau Rouge: beside that fatal dung-heap, on that last hell-day, thou must ‘tremble,’ though only with cold, ‘de froid.’ Speculation is not practice: to be weak is not so miserable; but to be weaker than our task. Wo the day when they mounted thee, a peaceable pedestrian, on that wild Hippogriff of a Democracy; which, spurning the firm earth, nay lashing at the very stars, no yet known Astolpho could have ridden!

Carlyle

On this date in 1793, French astronomer turned revolutionary Jean-Sylvain Bailly was guillotined during the Paris Terror.

Bailly ditched a family trade in the arts — his father was a supervisor at the Louvre — and turned his gaze skyward.

Studying astronomy under Lacaille, Bailly made a quick splash in astronomical circles with meticulous work on Halley’s Comet and the moons of Jupiter. He was inducted into the French Academy of Sciences while still in his twenties. Not quite the guy every schoolchild knows, but a significant scientist in his time. As one twentieth-century reviewer put it,*

Bailly was not a great thinker or the discoverer of new concepts; no case can be made for placing his name beside those of Newton, Leibnitz, and Laplace. But he should not be denied a niche among the numerous competent and persevering work-a-day scientists who, perhaps, in the long run make possible the achievements of a few great men. His observations and reductions, his application of a mathematical discipline to the movements of the heavenly bodies, and his detailed publications had brought him, by 1766, considerable credit among fellow scientists.

His “considerable credit” in the public sphere, enhanced by his widely-admired writing, set him up for election to the Estates-General in 1789. Indeed, Bailly was elected to head the body’s Third Estate.

On June 20th of that pregnant year, days after the Estates-General had constituted itself a National Assembly with ambitions far outstripping the limited purpose of revenue collection the king intended them for, Louis XVI locked the delegates out of their meeting-room.

Bailly, in consequence, would lead one of the pivotal actions of the embryonic French Revolution. “I do not need to tell you in what a grievous situation the Assembly finds itself,” he said to the assembly reconvened at a nearby tennis court. “I propose that we deliberate on what action to take under such tumultuous circumstances.” The result of that deliberation was the Tennis Court Oath.


Detail view (click for the full image) of Jean-Sylvain Bailly administering the Tennis Court Oath, in Jacques-Louis David‘s sketch of the event.

When the Paris provost — an archaic municipal office — was shot by the mob on Bastille Day, Bailly became the City of Light’s first mayor.

But as with other principals of the Revolution’s earliest stirrings, like Bailly’s ally Lafayette, the man was left behind by the rapid progress of events. He’d been two years retired out of public service in Nantes when he was hailed before the Revolutionary Tribunal on the preposterous charge of having conspired in Louis XVI’s attempted flight and guillotined on that basis.

A lunar crater — the largest crater visible from earth — is appropriately named after this prolific observer of the heavens.

* Edwin Burrows Smith, Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, New Series, Vol. 44, No. 4 (1954).

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1977: Atnafu Abate, Mengistu’s last rival

Add comment November 12th, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1977,* Ethiopian dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam eliminated one of his last political rivals with the execution of Atnafu Abate.

The men’s relationship had long been complex and unclear; Abate backed the Derg’s “Black Saturday” mass executions in 1974, and sometimes lined up as Mengistu’s ally over the succeeding years as part of the Derg military junta.

At the same time, there were rumors that things between Mengistu and Atnafu were so tense that they pulled guns at meetings.

Atnafu’s absence (by accident or design) during an early 1977 purge within the Derg left the conservative and Orthodox Atnafu officially second-in-command, and unofficially the last real or potential rival to Mengistu.

His elimination was widely expected, though exactly why it went down, when it went down has never been transparent. Mengistu’s grip on the country was already secure enough to have launched the Red Terror.

The New York Times‘ Nov. 15 report of this development captures a bit of the Alice-in-Wonderland political logic evidently at work.

The Ethiopian press agency, which made the announcement, also released what amounted to a six-page indictment listing “twelve specific antirevolutionary crimes,” and “five specific arch-reactionary stands” attributed to Colonel Atnafu, who had served as vice chairman of the provisional military administrative council.

The statement charged Colonel Atnafu with opposing “proclamations intensifying the revolution,” manifesting “a feudal arrogance while on visits to various provinces,” and consorting after working hours with what the statement called riff-raff of the aristocracy and military bourgeois, as well as “extremely dangerous imperialist agents — especially CIA agents.”

The statement also charged that “he had repeatedly confessed at meetings that he did not believe in the ideology of the working class.”

But perhaps the section of the statement that most accurately reflects the bewildering tone of political rhetoric and chaos in Addis Ababa, was one that charged that the proof of Colonel Atnafu’s “reactionary stands” was his placing of Ethiopian national interests before ideological considerations.

“At this time,” said the document, “when workers, farmers, the men in uniform and all the toiling masses are intensifying the revolutionary struggle guided by the principles of Marxism-Leninism, Lieut. Col. Atnafu has been antagonistic to the idea and has instead by way of dilatory tactic, argued that the interest of Ethiopia should be put before ideology.”

* As reported by the London Times gloss (articles Nov. 14 and Nov. 15) of a state radio report given in Ethiopia on Nov. 13. “A revolutionary measure” was the official euphemism for the action taken against Atnafu Abate.

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1679: The hot-blooded Lady Christian Nimmo

1 comment November 12th, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 1679, a spurned lover laid her head on the block in Edinburgh and began her career as a spook.

Decadent widower James Forrester (or Forester), having run through his cash, was marking his time at the pub and in the arms of Lady Christian Nimmo.

She was a great deal younger than himself, and a niece of his first wife’s. This near relationship greatly increased the scandal, which was aggravated by Lord Forester having always professed to be a religious man, and a rigid Presbyterian. [Edinburgh’s rigid Presbyterians had a recurring misconduct problem. -ed.] Mrs. Nimmo, besides being a very beautiful woman, was of a violent and impulsive nature. She was believed always to carry a sword under her petticoats, and so was not a person to be treated lightly, especially by those who reflected what blood ran in her veins, — Mrs. Bedford, who had murdered her husband a few years before, being her cousin-german. She was also related to the unhappy Lady Warriston, who suffered death for the same crime in 1600. Lord Forester’s passion for her appears to have cooled; and, shutting his eyes to possible consequences, he permitted himself in one of his carouses to speak more than lightly of her. This came to her ears, and, seized with fury, she went at once to his castle at Corstorphine … a violent altercation took place between them. In the midst of it, she snatched the sword from his side, ran him through the body, and killed him.

… She confessed her crime, but pleaded that Lord Forester, being ferocious and intoxicated with drink, had drawn his sword; that, to save herself, she had snatched it from him, and that in the struggle he had fallen upon it, and so killed himself. In spite of this defence, sentence of death was passed upon her … [she was] beheaded at the Market Cross on the 12th November 1679. At her execution she appeared dressed in deep mourning, with a long veil, which, before laying her head on the block, she took off, and replaced with a white taffeta hood. She met her fate with great courage. It was said at the time that, in spite of his professed Presbyterianism, a dispensation from the Pope to marry Mrs. Nimmo was found among Lord Forester’s papers, and that his delay in using it had caused her fury. (Source)

An apparition known as “the white lady” is supposed to haunt the site of the murder with a melodramatic bloody sword.

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1874: William Udderzook, because a picture is worth a thousand words

2 comments November 12th, 2008 Headsman

On this date in 1874, William Udderzook was hanged in West Chester, Pennsylvania for an insurance scam gone horribly macabre — accidentally making judicial history in the process.

Udderzook and his brother-in-law Winfield Scott Goss had contrived to pick up some easy scratch by insuring Goss’s life and having him “burned to death” in a laboratory fire; Udderzook procured a medical cadaver for the purpose, and duly identified its charred remains the late lamented Goss, who was in fact laying low in Newark under an assumed name.

An amateurish stunt by today’s standards, but forensic science was still in its infancy. During the Civil War just a decade before, the majority of the dead had been buried unidentified. Personal recognition was still the best way available in most cases to tell who was who.

Udderzook and Goss’s wife therefore collected on their say-so, but insurance adjusters smelled fraud. It was through their pressure that the “Goss-Udderzook tragedy” unfolded, and became an object lesson and test case in the science of establishing identity.

Goss was the first hoisted on his own petard, for his faked death meant that Udderzook could not afford to have investigators find him alive. So Udderzook murdered Goss, this time for real — real gruesome, that is. When the body was discovered, it had been dismembered, disemboweled, and repeatedly stabbed.

When Udderzook faced trial, Goss’s identity with “Wilson” (his assumed name) was the central question, and it was established using photography. (The same way they identified the body, actually, per a contemporary New York Times account here. (pdf))

Udderzook fought the photographic identification all the way to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court — which turned aside the appeal with a landmark ruling whose embrace of the photographic science would unlock its forensic potential:

That a portrait or a miniature painting from life and proved to resemble the person may be used to identify him cannot be doubted, though, like all other evidences of identity, it is open to disproof or doubt, and must be determined by the jury. There seems to be no reason why a photograph, proved to be taken from life and to resemble the person photographed, should not fill the same measure of evidence. It is true that the photographs we see are not the original likenesses; their lines are not traced by the hand of the artist nor can the artist be called to testify that he faithfully limned [sic] the portrait. They are but paper copies taken from the original plate, called the negative, made sensitive by chemicals, and printed by the sunlight through the camera. It is the result of art, guided by certain principles of science. . . .

It is evident that the competency of the evidence in such a case depends on the reliability of the photograph of a work of art, and this, in the case before us, in which no proof was made by experts of this reliability, must depend upon the judicial cognizance we make of photographs as an established means of producing a correct likeness. The Daguerrean process was first given to the world in 1839. It was soon followed by photography, of which we have nearly a generation’s experience. . . . We know that its principles are derived from science; that the images on the plate, made by the rays of light through the camera, are dependent on the same general laws which produce the images of outward forms upon the retina through the lenses of the eye. The process has become one in general use, so common that we cannot refuse to take judicial cognisance of it as a proper means of producing correct likeness.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,Murder,Notable Jurisprudence,Notable Sleuthing,Pelf,Pennsylvania,USA

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1755: Rowley Hanson

2 comments November 12th, 2007 Headsman

On this date in 1755, a young soldier named Rowley Hanson was hanged at Tyburn.

Though the hanging, like many of its era, was for a trifling theft, the account of the Newgate ordinary (chaplain) did not dwell overmuch on the watch he stole from a London barrister.

What wrought his ruin was, the company he fell into, when a drummer [in the army]; and shocking delusion from the most abandoned, and unnatural crew of wretches, that ever the world knew, called Sodomites, first led him into that damnable violation of all laws, natural, civil, and religious.

all he had besides his pay arose from the advantages which he received from those worse than brutes, whom St. Paul has complimented with the name of men, who leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one towards another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompense of their error which was meet.

This unfortunate youth, who laid open the way to these short observations, declared himself much more affected with sorrow, for that he had been among so vile a set of wretches, than that he was to suffer death for the robbery … He thanked God, who had thus afflicted him, and given him time to repent; and generally when we conversed he wept very bitterly.

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