2011: Reginald Brooks, flipping the bird

Add comment November 15th, 2013 Meaghan

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

On this day in 2011, multi-filicide Reginald Brooks was executed in the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville, Ohio.* He was the fifth man executed that year and, at 66, the oldest since 1999.


Brooks (top) and the children he murdered.

Although his guilt was never in question, he had spent close to thirty years on death row while his appeals wound their way through the system.

On March 6, 1982, just days after his wife filed for divorce, Brooks shot their three sleeping sons: Reginald Jr., 17, Vaughn, 15, and Niarchos, 11. He then bought a bus ticket to Las Vegas, taking the gun with him in his suitcase, as well as his birth certificate and high school diploma. The police caught up with him in Utah.

Brooks had some history of domestic violence, but his only prior arrest had been for grand theft. His aunt, when asking the appeals board for clemency, said he had a normal, loving relationship with his children. Before shooting them all in their sleep, that is.

His attorneys argued that his crimes were motivated by mental illness, namely paranoid schizophrenia. Brooks had a normal childhood and young adulthood, but started to fall apart in the years prior to the murders. He quit his job in the 1970s because he thought his coworkers were trying to poison him. (He never worked again and his wife had to support their family.)

Beginning around 1980, he began isolating himself from friends and family, and accused his wife of committing incest with Reginald Jr. The family tried to get psychiatric help for him, to no avail.

In spite of overwhelming evidence, Brooks never admitted to his crime and suggested various bizarre theories as to what had really happened. A psychiatrist who evaluated him in 2010 and 2011 believed Brooks genuinely could not remember shooting his sons.

There was, however, clear evidence of premeditation: Brooks had purchased the murder weapon nine days before the murders, lying on his application form where it asked if he’d ever been convicted of a felony. He also turned on the stereo in his apartment and left the music blaring loudly, presumably to drown out the sound of the gunshots. Then, after the murders, Brooks immediately left town, taking documents he would need to start a new life — clearly suggesting cognizance of guilt.

The prosecution conceded Brooks did have schizophrenia, but argued that his illness was not so severe as to make him incompetent or legally insane, and that he was lying when he said he couldn’t remember committing the murders. Attorneys for the state suggested he murdered his children to spite his wife, “through a twisted sense of jealousy, hatred, or despair.”

Brooks’s ex-wife, Beverly, witnessed his execution. He had no last words, but he did give a message: glaring at the glass behind which the witnesses were standing, he stuck out the middle fingers of both hands. And as he slowly lost consciousness and breathed his last, his middle fingers still stood erect.

* The Texas of the North when it comes to capital punishment.

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2011: Oba Chandler

2 comments November 15th, 2012 Meaghan

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

A year ago today, Oba Chandler was executed by lethal injection in Florida for the brutal triple homicide of a Willshire, Ohio mother and her two teenage daughters.

Thirty-six-year-old Joan Mae “Jo” Rogers and her daughters Michelle, 17, and Christe, 14, were vacationing in Florida when they vanished on June 1, 1989. Three days later their bodies turned up in the Tampa Bay. All three were naked from the waist down and had their hands and feet bound, their mouths taped shut, and concrete blocks tied to their necks. Michelle had managed to free one arm before she drowned.


The victims (left to right): Joan, Michelle, and Christe Rogers.

The police initially suspected the girls’ uncle, John Rogers, even though he was in prison at the time.

Rogers had been incarcerated for rape; one of his victims was Michelle, and authorities theorized he had a third party kill her and her mother and sister. Eventually that gentleman was cleared, as was his brother Hal, husband and father of the victims.

The sexual abuse, which had gone on for years, had torn the family apart, and part of the reason for the Florida vacation was so that everyone could relax and get some distance from what had happened. Hal had wanted to join his wife and daughters on their trip, but he had to stay and look after the family’s dairy farm.

The murders and subsequent investigation were covered in heartbreaking detail in St. Petersburg Times reporter Thomas French‘s Pulitzer Prize-winning series here.

Characteristically, local gossip pursued Hal and John for years, particularly Hal. His neighbors in Ohio thought he didn’t appear traumatized enough,* noting that he never cried in public and that he continued to take care of his farm in the wake of the murders.

They didn’t care that the farm was Hal’s livelihood, that cows could not milk themselves. They didn’t care that there was no evidence that he’d left Ohio during the critical time period, and that the police had very quickly cleared Hal as a possible suspect in Jo, Michelle and Christe’s deaths. They didn’t know that he was too traumatized to sleep in his own home and spent months couch-surfing at friends’ houses. They didn’t know that he was devastated, that he’d tried to take his own life at one point so he could be with his family.

As Hal’s sister-in-law said, “There’s no protocol here. There’s no Murder 101 class. No Grief 101 that anybody thinks to give you.”

Stranger-on-stranger crimes are incredibly difficult to solve. It wasn’t until October 1989 that the police linked the Rogers family’s murders to the rape of a Canadian tourist that had happened in May, two weeks before the triple homicide. The rapist had lured the woman out onto a boat, threatened to kill her, and threatened to duct-tape her mouth if she didn’t stop screaming. After the rape he apologized to her, threw up over the side of the boat, took her to shore and let her go.

Police released a composite sketch of the woman’s attacker, whom they believed was the same man who killed the Rogerses. That got over 400 tips from the public, but none of them panned out.

Twice, the case appeared on the popular television show Unsolved Mysteries.

The authorities found some driving directions written on a brochure in Jo’s car which were not in her handwriting and which they thought were written by the murderer; they released samples to the public in the hopes that someone would recognize the writing.


Composite sketch of the suspect (top); Oba Chandler as he looked around the time of his 1992 arrest (bottom).

Finally they got a break: one of Chandler’s neighbors recognized the sketch of the rape suspect and turned his name over to the police. That same neighbor had hired Chandler to build out her porch, and she had a copy of the contract he’d written out for her. She turned the contract over to the authorities, and handwriting experts determined it was written by the same man who wrote the driving directions found in Jo’s car. Investigators also found Chandler’s palm print on the brochure.

In September 1992, convinced that they were on the right track, the police flew to Canada to interview the rape survivor from May 1989. She picked Chandler’s photo out of a line-up. With that, the authorities finally had enough evidence to make the arrest.

Chandler, an Ohio native like his victims, gave the impression of an ordinary, mild-mannered sort, but he was in fact a career criminal: he went by many alias names and had an arrest record dating back to when he was fourteen years old, for a wide range of offenses including car theft, robbery, kidnapping, receiving stolen property, possession of counterfeit money, and various sex crimes. By the time of his 1992 arrest he had racked up six felony convictions.

Chandler testified at the murder trial, against the advice of his attorney, and admitted he had met the three victims and given them directions. He could hardly deny that, given the handwriting and fingerprint evidence.

He did deny having ever seen them again after that, and he swore he’d never taken them out on his boat and never harmed them. He called the very idea “ludicrous.” In fact, he maintained his innocence until his death.

But the prosecution eviscerated him during cross-examination. Chandler claimed that on the night of the murders he’d gotten stuck out in Tampa Bay when his boat’s fuel line sprung a leak and he ran out of gas. A boat mechanic employed by the Florida Marine Patrol examined the vessel and determined that this story was impossible: the boat had an anti-siphon valve that would have prevented a leak.

The Canadian rape victim was permitted to testify. She didn’t cry as she described what happened to her, but some of the jurors did. One of Chandler’s adult daughters (he had eight children by seven different women) also testified, saying her father had told her he’d raped a foreign tourist and also killed some women in Florida.

The judge who presided over the trial later said Chandler was “the vilest, most evil defendant I ever handled.” When the jury retired, they took an initial poll among themselves and discovered that all twelve believed he was guilty. For form’s sake, however, they waited an hour and a half before returning with their verdict.

There’s some speculation that Chandler was involved in other murders besides those of the Rogers family.

Linda Lois Little, a Daytona Beach woman, disappeared on his birthday in 1991 and was never found. One of Little’s sisters thinks saw him at her apartment complex a few days before Little disappeared. Chandler refused to answer law enforcement’s questions about Little’s disappearance and his involvement has never been proved one way or the other.

During his seventeen years on death row, Chandler never had a single visitor, not even any of his own relatives. The execution, which went smoothly, was attended by Michelle and Christe’s cousin, as well as a reluctant Hal Rogers. He remarried more than a decade after his family’s murder and became a stepfather of four, but wasn’t able to have any more children.

When asked if he had any last words, Chandler simply answered, “No.” He did leave a written statement that simply said, “You are killing an innocent man today.”

No one believed him.

* “Didn’t display the right kind of grief in the right kind of way for the right amount of time” was also one of the raps on wrongly executed “arsonist” Cameron Todd Willingham.

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1781: Tupac Katari

Add comment November 15th, 2011 Headsman

On or about this date in 1781,* the native Aymara revolutionary Tupac Katari (or Tupac Catari, or Tupaj Katari) was torn apart in the Bolivian village of Penas — a messianic warning on his lips of his Spanish captors’ future comeuppance.

Hard on the heels of Tupac Amaru‘s public dismembering in nearby Cuzco (present-day Peru), Julian Apasa Nina took up the name and mantle of recent Bolivian insurgent Tomas Katari.

Julian Apasa’s new name Tupac Katari was as ambitious as his plans, for he took the thousands of indigenous Americans who flocked to his banner and laid siege to La Paz from the adjacent El Alto.**

The object was not mere plunder, but rolling back Spanish domination full stop.

A friar who met Katari reported that the Spanish tongue was forbidden on pain of death, and the rebel leader aimed to “totally separate himself from all Customs of the Spanish.” (Source) He did not shrink from ferocity to achieve his ends, hanging captives outsice the walls of the city, enforcing military discipline ruthlessly. (Source) The Aymara fought with “a spirit and pretentiousness so horrible that … it can serve as an example as the most valiant nation.” (Source)

Though the siege† reduced Spanish defenders to eating bark and horseflesh, and starved out thousands, the city held out and the siege was at length lifted and Tupac Katari betrayed into his enemies’ hands.

Condemned to death (a fate his wife Bartolina Sisa would share months later), Katari was lashed to four horses who strained until his body ripped into quarters suitable for placarding towns of the district. But before he went, Katari bequeathed posterity a legendary final sentiment.

“I shall return, and I shall be millions.”

* It appears that the primary sources themselves are unclear on the precise date, and there are citations for the execution taking place anywhere from Nov. 13 to Nov. 18. Nov. 15 appears to be the best-preferred by scholars, or the co-number one with Nov. 14, and we’re inclined to prefer this date because of the 20th century Indian social justice movement which explicitly cited Katari’s inspiration — the Movimiento 15 de Noviembre (more in Spanish). It’s part of an entire political tendency in Bolivia called Katarismo. If the date is good enough for the Aymara, it’s good enough for this blog.

That wasn’t the only 20th century movement to situate itself as Katari’s heirs. A set of Marxist indigenous guerrillas styled themselves the Tupac Katari Guerrilla Army, and a former member of this Che-inspired militia is currently Bolivia’s vice president.

** From the Aymara siege of La Paz developed the local tradition of Ekeko.

† Actually, two distinct sieges in 1781, one lasting just over three months and the next lasting just over two.

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1808: Sultan Mustafa IV, by his brother

Add comment November 15th, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1808, the former, and now deposed, Ottoman Sultan Mustafa IV was strangled at the command of his successor and brother.

The Ottoman Empire, once the very terror of western Christendom, entered the 19th century in a stagnation that had it well on its way to its way to “sick man of Europe” status.

Its fate would be defined by the political — and sometimes literal — battle between its entrenched interests and forward-looking reformers who struggled to restructure the empire for the challenges that lay ahead.

And at this point, it wasn’t only the Ottoman polity that had to fret for its survival. Its very namesake dynasty was in danger of extinguishing itself. There hadn’t been a male born to the House of Osman in twenty years, and in the events herein narrated, internecine conflict would winnow the Osmans down to their very last man.

Aggressive Progressive

Reform was the project of our principal’s predecessor, Selim. In the years around the turn of the century, Selim endeavored to get Turkey out of its wasteful foreign conflicts to gain maneuvering room for more urgent domestic projects.*

Chief among the many oxes Selim proposed to gore were the Janissaries, the Ottomans’ powerful and increasingly archaic military elite, much given to destructive use of their martial prowess in various factional conflicts within the Empire.

Possessive Regressive

The Janissaries deposed Selim in 1807, elevating his cousin — our man, Mustafa, a mere handmaiden of the hidebound. (His contemporaries in Europe more commonly transliterated the name “Mustapha”)

They didn’t kill Selim … just left him alive within the palace where armed men could find him in a pinch.

That pinch arrived in June in the form of Mustafa Bayrakdar, a reformist official who marched on Istanbul to overthrow the reactionary elements. As Bayrakdar took the city in hand, Mustafa desperately ordered the executions of Selim and of Mustafa’s own brother, Mahmud.

Selim was disposed of. Mahmud got tipped off, and the servants — most famously, a Georgian harem girl named Cevri Kalfa — helped him escape to the roof. Mustafa Bayrakdar ousted the ousters before anyone who meant Mahmud ill could find him.

Impressive Successive

That left Mahmud the only choice for Sultan, and he followed his brother’s own questionable policy of consanguinary clemency. Mustafa’s demotion back to crown prince after having once ordered the now-sultan’s death must have made for some awkward chit-chat around the family table.

It didn’t last long. The London Times of January 16, 1809 reported** that

[o]n the 14th of November, at day-break, the Janissaries were seen assembling from all quarters, and being reinforced by those who were in the vicinity of Constantinople, they … massacred all the partisans of the Grand Vizier that came in their way. The contest spread to eveyr street in Constantinople … On the 15th, the Janissaries assaulted the high walls of the Seraglio; and it was at this moment that the Grand Vizier, after causing the unfortunate Mustapha IV, who was a prisoner there, to be strangled, blew himself up in his own Palace with gunpowder, of which he purposely provided a large quantity before-hand, to prevent his falling alive into the hands of his enemies.

Sauce for the goose was sauce for Mustafa, and on this same desperate day when he lost Bayrakdar to a vault of gunpowder, Mahmud had his brother put to death. This maneuver left Mahmud the last surviving male Osman.

Passive Aggressive?

The legacies of this date were varied and ambiguous.

Mahmud II remained on the Ottoman throne for the next three decades, ample time to secure the Osman line.

The Janissaries returned to their barracks, chastened; Mahmud would destroy them after an attempted revolt in 1826.

But Mahmud too was chastened by the experience — or else, too encumbered by the apparatus of the state, or too cautious of his legacy before that heir appeared (it took years), or simply too unskillful — and his reformist vision proceeded haltingly until the very end of his life, even as breakaway nations continued to erode the Porte’s influence.

In his The Decline and Fall of the Ottoman Empire, Alan Palmer says of Mahmud,

Over a century and a half after his death, Mahmud II remains the most puzzling of the thirty-six Ottoman Sultans … Was he a despot or a reformer, a capricious betrayer of trust or a dedicated ruler of a vision, a muddler who plunged into disastrous wars or a shrewd statesman who preserved his Empire from rapacious neighbors? Should we think of him as the ‘Infidel Sultan’ who imposed European ways on the Islamic faithful, or as Mahmud Adli (‘Mahmud the Just’), like Turks today? The contrasts seem endless. Mahmud is one of history’s most enigmatic figures …

* Selim was sucked back into armed conflict by the Napoleonic wars.

** Though two months after the fact, the report is in media res, since it was transcribing German papers from mail dispatched out of the Ottoman capital on Nov. 16 when “the utmost confusion still prevailed there.”

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1539: Richard Whiting, the last Abbot of Glastonbury

8 comments November 15th, 2009 Headsman

Letter to Thomas Cromwell from his man in Somerset,* Richard Pollard, a local gentry type making out well under the Dissolution of the Monasteries:

Pleaseth it your lordship to be advertised, that … the same 15th day [of November] the late abbot of Glastonbury went from Wells to Glastonbury, and there was drawn through the town upon a hurdle to the hill called the Torre, where he was put to execution; at which time he asked God mercy and the king for his great offences towards his highness, and also desired my servants then being there present to see the execution done, that they would be meane [communicate] to my lord president and to me that we should desire the king’s highness of his merciful goodness and in the way of charity to forgive him his great offences by him committed and done against his grace, and thereupon took his death very patiently, and his head and body bestowed in like manner as I certified your lordship in my last letter. And likewise the other two monks [John Thorne and Roger James, executed with Richard Whiting] desired like forgiveness, and took their death very patiently, whose souls God pardon.

And whereas I at my last being with your lordship at London moved your lordship for my brother Paulett, desiring your lordship to be a mean that he might have the surveyorship of Glastonbury, which I doubt not but he will use and exercise the said office to the king’s most profit and advantage, and your lordship’s goodness herein to him to be shown he shall recompense to his little power, I assure your lordship he hath been very diligent, and divers others by his means, to serve the king at this time, according to his duty and right…

the late abbot of Glastonbury, afore his execution, was examined upon divers articles and interrogatories to him ministered by me, but he could accuse no man but himself of any offence against the king’s highness, nor he would confess no more gold nor silver nor any other thing more than he did before your lordship in the Tower …

From Wells, the 16th day of November.

Your assured to command,

Rychard Pollard

Once one of the greatest religious houses in England (and the legendary burial place of King Arthur), Glastonbury Abbey today is a picturesque ruin. Cornell University has published some 19th century photos of the abbey’s remains in a less manicured, more gorgeously overgrown situation.

Pollard had just a few weeks before exonerated the monastery of any profligacy, and the abbot seems perhaps not to have even been properly charged or attainted … but as one can discern in Pollard’s cloying appeal to keep the surveying position in the family, the practical henchman had no qualms as events unfolded about taking a commercial position on the end of the Abbot of Glastonbury.

For your public domain perusing pleasure: The last abbot of Glastonbury: and other essays, by Cardinal Francis Aidan Gasquet.

* Pollard had been in the thick of the destruction of Henry Courtenay, Marquess of Exeter just the year before.

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1726: The Gypsy outlaws of Hesse-Darmstadt

Add comment November 14th, 2009 Headsman

On November 14 and 15, 1726, more than 20 Gypsy outlaws of Hesse-Darmstadt were executed en masse.

Detail view (click for full image) of the execution of the Gypsies at Giessen.

Gypsies in Europe still suffer ample discrimination today, so it’s little surprise to find early modern Europe thick with anti-Gypsy legislation.

No surprise, Angus Fraser writes in The Gypsies, this sort of thing

did in the end produce enormous changes in the life of the Gypsies in Europe. To survive, they had to adapt; they also had to make the most of the loopholes in a system which expressly sought, by denying them food and shelter, to make honest living impossible. Some found a degree of security in inaccessible waste-lands and forests. Some exploited differences in jurisdiction and the spasmodic nature of the authorities’ activity, by making a home in frontier regions … Many broke up into small groups when it was necessary to avoid attention; conversely, others gathered into larger bands to facilitate self-protection … sometimes resorting to violence. Certain Gypsy brigands gained notoriety in eighteenth-century Germany, large tracts of which were overrun with robber companies of mixed and varying origins. Some of these had a strong Gypsy element: numbering perhaps 50 or 100, armed and defiant, they stole for their sustenance and skirmished with the soldier-police sent to confine them.

“The poor Gypsies,” one poor Gypsy lamented to a contemporary German author,* “also want to have the right to live.”

Like the Gypsies’ other necessities, that right went as far as they themselves could secure it … and when secured by brigandage, it eventually brought down an overwhelming response.

The German author in question, J.B. Weissenbruch, relates the tale of a particularly notorious pack of Gypsy outlaws under the leadership of rough characters names of Antoine la Grave, aka “der Grosse Galantho” or “the Great Gallant”, and Johannes la Fortun, aka “Hemperla”.

These were no romantic Johnny Depp-esque Gypsies, at least according to Weissenbruch. Besides “their disposition to wandering, to idleness, to theft, to polygamy, or rather promiscuous license” — well, okay, sort of romantic — these went toe to toe with soldiery dispatched to corral them and had the chops to “take military possession” of a village for the purpose of exacting some corporal revenge.

We know where this ends up.

Though the Great Gallant escaped punishment,† Hemperla and 20-plus of his band (different sources quote slightly different figures) enjoyed the pleasures of the thumbscrew and the Spanish boot to secure confessions necessary to license their sentences. Some were hanged, others (including women) beheaded, and Hemperla and a few comrades were broken on the wheel.

* Cited here; regrettably, I have not been able to locate a browsable original of the Weissenbruch text.

** Same story in yet another Google books freebie.

This German book says his rank got him off the hook, but he lost his head just the same in 1733.

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1924: Daisuke Namba, for the Toranomon Incident

1 comment November 15th, 2008 Headsman

On this date in 1924, just two days after his sentencing, Japanese student Namba Daisuke was hanged for attempting to assassinate the the future emperor Hirohito.

Namba (or Nanba) was a 24-year-old Communist and son of a Japanese parliamentarian.* Inflamed by reports of Japanese atrocities in Korea and by the execution years earlier of leftist agitator Shusui Kotoku, Namba fired a pistol at the 22-year-old Prince Regent in a Tokyo intersection.**

It was a pretty simple case: no doubt he’d done it, and no sympathy for the assailant. The act shook Japan so deeply that Namba’s prosecutors stuck to the story that the offender must be deranged — even though he clearly was not. Under the circumstances, that wouldn’t cut enough ice to mitigate the sentence anyway.

In the words of the judge who sentenced him:

Daisuke has made a blot upon Japanese history. He believed in violence and had determined to kill the Prince Regent. He committed a great crime in attempting to injure the imperial family, which has never oppressed the poor.

To which Daisuke had a direct reply:

Long live the Communist Party of Japan!

As is often the case, the gesture of violence against the established order provoked a still more repressive crackdown. The Prime Minister resigned for the security lapse, to be replaced a more conservative government that pushed through the radical-hunting measures of the Peace Preservation Law.

And the award goes to …

Simple enough as far as the assassin goes.

Let’s take a sideways turn into a digression from the blog’s macabre daily fare to ponder a strangely pleasant ripple effect of this young man’s shot.

According to Ben-Ami Shillony’s Politics and Culture in Wartime Japan, the incident forced the resignation of a senior police official charged with keeping an eye on subversives.

You’re welcome, Ichiro. (The Major League superstar won the Matsutaro Shoriki Award twice during his Japanese professional career, in 1994 and 1995.)

This gentleman, Matsutaro Shoriki, transitioned into a career as a media mogul, building up one of the country’s most prominent papers. In that capacity, he took to promoting baseball in Japan.

Though this imported sport had an existing — and growing — popularity from the first decades of the century, Shoriki became the father of Japanese baseball by sponsoring American all-star teams to play on Japanese tours and creating the country’s first professional baseball team.

Shoriki even survived an assassination attempt of his own, at the hands of a nationalist who thought bringing Babe Ruth to the Land of the Rising Sun was treasonable.

Today, he’s remembered generously and his name adorns one of Japanese baseball’s major awards. But if not for Daisuke Namba’s shot, he might have served those years moving paper in the tokko, trying to ferret out dangerous elements.

* The father had to resign his seat in the Diet, of course; not only his immediate family but his former schoolmasters and his whole hometown were put under the pall. According to Time, Namba’s relatives were formally released from their debt of shame by Hirohito in 1926, and took the unblemished name Kurokawa.

** Hirohito did not become Emperor until his father’s death in 1926.

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1922: Six Greek former ministers of state

11 comments November 28th, 2007 Headsman

On this date in 1922,* on the morning after a revolutionary tribunal held them liable for treason in the catastrophic Greek loss of Smyrna, six former high-ranking political and military officials of the Greek government were shot in Athens.

The long-running national conflict between liberals and monarchists had boiled over during World War I, setting the stage for increasingly bitter internecine conflict played out against the backdrop of a misbegotten foreign adventure.

Greece’s territorial aspirations after World War I.

As the Ottoman Empire — Greece’s neighbor and historical rival — collapsed in the aftermath of the world war, Athens under liberal colossus Eleftherios Venizelos set her sights on a vast pan-Hellenic domain spanning Constantinople, western Anatolia, and the Black Sea coast.

In 1919, backed — even pushed — by the British, Greece occupied Smyrna, a multiethnic economic hub in Asia Minor. But cruelty towards the Turkish population sparked immediate resistance which soon blended insensibly into the burgeoning Turkish National Movement, already on the path towards its destiny of forging the modern state of Turkey.

As the Greek army pressed outwards from Smyrna, it became drawn into full-fledged war. In 1920, the Greek government turned over (as it was often wont to do) and under the ascendant monarchists whose irredentism was not to be upstaged “fantasy began to direct Greek policy” — like a quixotic scheme to march on Constantinople rather than hold a defensible position. Greece’s European allies and sponsors began to cut bait.

September 14, 1922: Smyrna burns.

Far from threatening Constantinople, the Greeks suffered one of their greatest disasters — the “Catastrophe of Asia Minor”, when Ataturk drove them back to, and then out of, Smyrna, emptying the once-cosmopolitan city of thousands of Greek (and Armenian) refugees fleeing a sectarian carnage. Some swam out of the burning city only to be refused aid by ships of nations unwilling to be drawn into the affair politically.

In the dismayed Greek capital, anti-monarchist officers who had been purged by the new government revolted and rounded up the opposition’s leadership. “The Six” who faced public trial for treason included three former Prime Ministers:

With two other ministers of state and a general, they comprised all but one member of the offending monarchist government, a bloody thoroughness the New York Times compared to Robespierre. Western governments temporarily broke off relations.

After the day’s bloody deeds, Venizelos returned from exile to conclude the war on Turkish terms, including “population exchange” — fragrant euphemism — to solidify each government’s demarcation as a nation-state and ratify the destruction of Smyrna (renamed Izmir) as a multiconfessional melting pot.

Today, Smyrna is largely forgotten by those to whom it is not intensely remembered — and among the latter, its meaning is ferociously contested. To Turks, a chapter in their founding expulsion of foreign occupation; to Greeks, the calamitous end of the ancient Hellenic presence in Asia Minor; to each, a touchstone for one another’s atrocities; to others of a less parochial frame of mind, a parable of the perfidy of an entire enemy faith, or a subplot in the great game for Ottoman oil, or as Henry Miller conceived it writing in the antechamber of the second World War, the avatar of a stunted and cynical moral sense among European powers that would lead them to their next great reckoning:

Even the most ignorant yokel knows that the name Attila is associated with untold horrors and vandalism. But the Smyrna affair, which far outweighs the horrors of the first World War or even the present one, has been somehow soft-pedalled and almost expunged from the memory of present day man. The peculiar horror which clings to this catastrophe is due not alone to the savagery and barbarism of the Turks but to the disgraceful, supine acquiescence of the big powers.

Smyrna, like the Boxer Rebellion and other incidents too numerous to mention, was a premonitory example of the fate which lay in store for European nations, the fate which they were slowly accumulating by their diplomatic intrigues, their petty horse-trading, their cultivated neutrality and indifference in the face of obvious wrongs and injustices.

*Greece did not adopt the Gregorian calendar until 1923, the last European country to do so — so the date in Greece on the day of the execution was actually November 15.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Greece,Heads of State,Mass Executions,Notable Jurisprudence,Politicians,Power,Shot,Treason,Wartime Executions,Wrongful Executions

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