1840: Zachariah Freeman

Add comment November 19th, 2018 John O'Sullivan

(Thanks for the guest post to American newsman and reformer John L. O’Sullivan. Best-known as the fellow who coined that potent brand for American empire, “manifest destiny,” O’Sullivan was also a vigorous advocate for abolishing capital punishment as a New York legislator in the 1840s, and made several proposals to that effect. The summary here is one of many reported in O’Sullivan’s appendix to his Report in favor of the abolition of punishment of death, by law, made to the legislature of the state of New York, April 14, 1841. The report did not achieve its objective. -ed.)

Tried in September, 1840, for the murder of Sarah Boyd, his quasiwife, in the town of Lysander, Onondaga county, on the 18th of May, 1840.

Both were negroes. They lived in the same house with his father, 80 years of age, his brother Elihu, and a woman who lived with his brother as his wife. Zachariah was much attached to Sarah, and had taken some steps toward making arrangements for a legal marriage with her.

Jealousy was the motive to the murder — or a combination of jealousy and insanity. They had some trifling dispute, in which she refused to comply with some domestic order of her husband, when he raised a chair, and struck her across the arm, knocking her down. On recovering herself, she declared she would never live with him again. He thereupon went to some woods at a short distance, and made an attempt to hang himself — whether in earnest, or to frighten them, does not appear clear. He was stopped with the rope round his neck, and brought back to the house.

While he was away she expressed great dread of his returning, saying, that if he did, she should be a corpse before morning — that though he had not threatened her, she saw it in his eye. While he was out, before returning to the house, he was praying and singing hymns. He entreated a reconciliation with her, which she refused; — he was willing to go down on his knees to her. She consented to leave it to the rest to decide the next morning, if he would now behave himself.

On this arrangement the rest went to bed — he remained up, smoking a pipe. He had insisted on smoking her pipe, refusing any other. According to his confession of what followed, he after a time leaned his head on the bed, and she kicked him. He then got the knife with which he committed the act, and went to some distance from the house for the purpose of killing himself; but while whetting it, determined to go back to see her once more. She was sitting up in bed. He placed his left hand on her shoulder, and attempted to kiss her. He had no thought of injuring her — “she was young, handsome, and everything that was nice, and it had not occurred to his mind to damage her at all.”

She refused to receive him, and slapped him on the face. He then gave her a stab, which was in a few moments fatal, immediately cutting his own throat also. Though a severe wound, this did not prove fatal.

The family were immediately roused, and eventually he was cured of his wound. He expressed much grief and repentance. He was jealous of his brother Elihu, whom he believed to have criminal intercourse with her. Zachariah had wished her to remove with him to another house, but she had refused. He said, after the affair, that “if she would not lie any more with him, he would not let her with any other man” — “he thought she should never sleep with another man, and he never with another woman.”

He said, he expected to be hanged, but added: “I shall go to the gallows in as good a cause as ever a man went.” His previous general character was good. He was hung November 19th, 1840.

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Feast Day of St. Barlaam

Add comment November 19th, 2017 Headsman

November 19 is the feast date of Diocletian martyr Saint Barlaam of Antioch.*

A Cappadocian peasant, Barlaam defeated through righteous willpower a Roman judge’s diabolical attempt to go easy on him.

Barlaam was doing the old refusal to pay homage to the pagan gods thing and the judge’s plan was a masterpiece of practical jurisprudence: he had the refusenik stationed before the censer, with the offering in his hand. Then hot coals were plopped into the hand, in the expectation that Barlaam would flinch at the pain and involuntarily drop the herb, coals, and all into the fire — and everyone go home with his own honor satisfied.

But Barlaam had for honor “hardened brass, more than iron in mightiness, firmer than a statue” and instead withstood the coal until either it burned out, or his hand did, refusing to permit fire to touch incense under the eyes of the old gods. That earned him his martyrdom from an exasperated magistrate and, let us say, an extremely specific patronage of stoicism under prolonged hand torture, making him the forerunner of figures as diverse as Thomas Cranmer and Paul Muad’dib.

Here’s a laudatio in Latin for our holy militant from John Chrysostom who notes that the expected flinch-and-drop reaction wouldn’t have even counted as a sin.

* Not to be confused with the Russian hermit and painter Barlaam of Khutyn, nor with Barlaam and Josaphat, legendary India Christians who were adopted from Buddhist mythology.

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1659: William Lamport, the real Zorro?

Add comment November 19th, 2016 Headsman

On this date in 1659, an Irish adventurer named Don Guillen Lombardo went to the stake in Mexico City as a heretic — en route to a destiny as a romantic swordsman

William Lamport was born in Wexford, by blood the descendant of English aristocracy and by conviction kin to Ireland’s Gaelic resistance to English incursion. His grandfather Patrick fought for Irish rebels at the Battle of Kinsale.

This was years before Lamport’s own birth but the youth must have been a chip off the old block: by the 1620s, as a student, William got himself run out of London for his aggressive Catholic proselytizing. Or at least, this is what William would say of himself: for his early years, we have mostly just his own word to go by.

Lamport took exile in Spain and there found his niche as a soldier and ladies’ man under a Hispanicized name: “Guillen Lombardo de Guzman” — that last nombre taken in tribute to his patron, the Count of Olivares. Guillen Lombardo de Guzman was a considerable enough figure in the Spanish court to have his portrait painted by Rubens.

These were formative years for the young man, but the crucial formative events we can only guess at: how did his thought evolve to the seditious or heretical form that set him against the Inquisition? Why did he cross the Atlantic to New Spain with the Marques of Villena in his late twenties?

This undergraduate thesis (pdf) tries to unravel the mystery of the man. What we know is that he was denounced to the Inquisition in October 1642 after attempting to enlist a friend in a subversive plot. The records here come via the Inquisition and are colored accordingly, but they indicate that Don Guillen aspired to cleave off New Spain with himself as the king of a radically egalitarian new state that would abolish all race and caste divisions. Among the papers he prepared for this visionary future was the first known declaration of independence in the Indies.

He spent the next 17 years in dungeons — less a few days when he escaped prison on the morrow of Christmas in 1650 and quixotically proceeded to nail up revolutionary manifestos on the cathedral door and around town denouncing the Inquisition. He was quickly recaptured, having now assumed the character of a determined rebel against powers both spiritual and temporal and consigned to an auto de fe in Mexico City’s main square. He was supposed to burn alive, but is said to have effected a cleverly merciful self-strangulation on the iron collar that staked him to his pyre.

It has been postulated that Johnston McCulley borrowed from a 19th century historical romance starring Lamport and his underground circle in McCulley’s The Curse of Capistrano — the serialized novel that introduced the dashing Mexican nobleman with a double life as champion of the little guy, Zorro. Lamport’s native Wexford — the one in Ireland — has consequently celebrated him in a “Wexford Zorrofest”.

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1784: Richard Barrick, Massachusetts highwayman

Add comment November 19th, 2015 Robert Elder

(Thanks to Robert Elder of Last Words of the Executed — the blog, and the book — for the guest post. This post originally appeared on the Last Words blog. Fans of this here site are highly likely to enjoy following Elder’s own pithy, almanac-style collection of last words on the scaffold. -ed.)

I then went to Boston, and got in company with one John Sullivan … we went to Winter’s-Hill, and there robbed one Mr. Baldwin, for which crime Sullivan and myself are to suffer Death, as being the just reward of our demerits.

— Richard Barrick, convicted of highway robbery and murder, hanging, Massacusetts. Executed November 18, 1784

Richard Barrick was born in Ireland in February 1763 and brought up in the Foundling Hospital. He was an apprentice to a silk-weaver and lived with him for three years. But during those years, he was treated poorly and so he eventually left the silk-weaver and joined a gang of thieves. When he was caught, the authorities agreed to pardon him if he entered on board one of his Majesty’s ships. After arriving in New York, Barrick and some others robbed many people and became a notorious and wanted man. He was an accomplice to murder of a man they first robbed. He was eventually caught by a British Colonel and convicted.

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1720: Edward Hunt, the first counterfeiter executed in colonial Pennsylvania

Add comment November 19th, 2013 Headsman

On November 19, 1720, Edward Hunt was hanged in Philadelphia. He was the only Pennsylvanian executed for treason prior to the American Revolution — that treason being not the betrayal of the state (in the sense we might think of it today), but counterfeiting.

In the bitterness of his scaffold speech, which disdains the customary acknowledge-my-guilt, pray-for-my-soul form of the genre to complain about his case, Hunt made plain that he was not reconciled to the justice men had rendered him.

The American Weekly Mercury of Thursday, November 24 published “this extraordinary Piece” only with a preface complaining that “it is evident, that the following Speech was intended to misrepresent the Administration and Justice of this Government, as well as to infuse both ill Principles and Practices into the Minds of the People.”

The Dying Speech of Edward Hunt, formerly taken in Rebellion at Preston, and transported a bound Servant to the Island of Antigua, before his Execution upon the 19th Instant, at Philadelphia, where he had been legally convicted of High Treason, and most justly condemn’d for his Counterfeiting Spanish Silver Coin, made current* by Act of Parliament within all his Majesties Colonies in America.

It may be expected, that I should say some thing now concerning my Life and Conversation, which i must with Sorrow own to God and the Word has not been according to the Precepts and Principles of the Church, in which I was bred and educated: But with a sincere repentance and hearty Sorrow I do lament all the Errors of my past Life, firmly believing in my Saviour Jesus Christ, in whose Merits and ever flowing Mercy I do only trust for Salvation and Pardon, who has promised Eternal Life on no other Terms to the most Righteous upon Earth.

As to the Crime that now I suffer for in particular, I must own it is an Offence against the Laws, which I hope God will pardon me since he knows that I did not do it with any Design to cheat or defraud any one, or to make a Practice of Coining; but being ignorant of the Breach of any Laws of God or Man, I thought I might cut those Impressions as innocently as any other, or the Stamps that the Gentlemen of this place imploy’d me about, to make Farthings.** I am an English Subject, and desired to have the Privilege of the Laws of England, but it was not granted in any Point, except in Condemning me.

I am the first unhappy Instance of this kind that ever suffered in the King’s Dominions, pray God it may be a Warning to all, not to offend wilfully in the same that I did through Ignorance: For if I had known it, I would not have taken all the World to have done it. God give me a patient Resignation to submit to his blessed Will, in whatsoever he please.

I do heartily ask Forgiveness of all that I have offended in any manner of way, and do sincerely forgive all that have injured or offended me; particularly Mr. John Moore and Morris Birchfield, and the Evidence that swore against me in that Tryal. I do solemnly declare, That I know not any thing, or have been guilty of any one thing laid to my Charge in that Matter, or any of the other things laid to my Charge, by John Butler, either in England or Ireland.

I did petition the Honourable Governor for a Reprieve, until the King’s Pleasure was known concerning me, being I could not be tried by the Laws of England in all Points, as a Church of England Man ought to be: But it was a Privilege too great for me to obtain. Pray God to forgive them all, and every one that has a hand in taking away my Life any manner of way, and that my Blood be not required at their Hands, for they know not what they do. I am on Earth judged and condemned to die for the Breach of a Law of Man that was not duly published, which for that Reason I transgress’d it ignorantly, though the first that suffers for the Transgression of unknown Laws, or that was sentenced according to the Laws of England, without the Privilege of a Subject, which I desired of the Judge, which I know was not qualified by the same Laws to try me.

I do not know what Advantage there can be to any in my Death, and that I could not appeal to my King, neither before nor after my Tryal. I do not speak this because I am not in Charity with all the World, I do, from the Bottom of my Heart, forgive all in Obedience to my Saviour’s Command and Example, who suffered more for me, being innocent, and had not only done no Harm, but Good, and pray’d even for is cruel Persecutors and Murderers, and promised, That those that follow his Examples in this World by patiently enduring the Cross, shall reign with him to all Eternity: To Him therefore I commit all, an my poor Wife, beseeching him to help her, and be her Support and Comfort, and preserve her poor Soul free from the Polutions [sic] of the World, that through his precious Merits we may meet where we shall be both happy to all Eternity, in the merciful Arms of our dear Lord and Saviour Jesus, who I do beseech to receive my poor Soul.

According to Kenneth Scott’s Counterfeiting in Colonial America, Edward Hunt’s wife, Martha, got a £500 fine and a lifetime prison sentence for misprision of treason. (If that book is up your alley, Scott has an even more specific Counterfeiting in Colonial Pennsylvania.)

* Early colonial American commerce was severely hampered by a shortage of English/British currency. As a result, coins minted in Spain’s lucrative southern territories served as the colonies’ primary currency in the 17th and 18th centuries, particularly the iconic eight-real silver “pieces of eight”.

This is the reason why the currency of the present-day U.S. isn’t an “American pound sterling” but the almighty dollar: Dutch colonists had brought a coin called the leeuwendaalder to their former New Amsterdam (New York) province, the name deriving from the German thaler. As the pieces of eight corresponded to the thaler/daalder, it inherited the same name. Indeed, the “Spanish Dollar” remained legal tender in the post-colonial United States until 1857.

This is also the reason for reckoning of the eight constituent bits that comprised the dollar, and hence of the American colloquialism “two bits” to denote $0.25 … and, later, the adjective “two-bit” to man something cheap, mean, or small-time.

** They may have been Spain’s coins, but it’s wildly implausible that any Englishman could think he could counterfeit “innocently.”

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1929: Myles Fukunaga

1 comment November 19th, 2012 Headsman

This date in 1929 saw the hanging of a Shakespeare-quoting, suicidal kidnapper for “the most brutal murder in the history of Hawaii”. It was among the last civil executions in Hawaii.

As detailed in the 1991 essay “A Short History of Hawaiian Executions, 1826-1947” (pdf) by Joseph Theroux, a resource we’ve touched on before and which also includes a full list of 75 known legal executions in Hawaii during that period:*

[I]n the death of Gil Jamieson, who had been kidnapped by a mad youth who filled his ransom letters with quotations from the Shakespearen play [Macbeth]: “Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player / that struts and frets his hour upon the stage / and then is heard no more …”

The victim had his skull chiseled in and was strangled and left near Seaside Avenue in Waikiki.

The murderer and author of the letters was captured some days later, tried, convicted, and sentenced to hang, all within three weeks. This feat was facilitated because his lawyers, Beebe and Huber, offered no defense and called no witnesses. The jury included members who were part of the search party and the victim’s bodyguard and gravedigger. A Navy psychiatrist offered to testify for the defense but was rebuffed. The medical examiner was also the prosecution psychiatrist, Doctor Robert Faus. He testified that past suicide attempts by Miles Fukunaga were “normal.” Despite protests and appeals, Fukunaga was hanged.

Ten years earlier, a well-known local haole athlete, David Buick, found himself down on his luck. He ordered a taxi driver, one Ito Suzuki, to drive out of Honolulu proper to a place called Red Hill. He ordered the man to stop the car and get out. He pointed a gun at the driver and robbed him of one dollar. When Suzuki turned to flee, Buick shot him in the back. Before he died, the taxi driver identified Buick a the gunman. The charge was eventually reduced to second degree murder, and Buick is said to have returned to the Mainland following his jail time.

In both cases, there was premeditation, kidnapping, murder, and flight. Fukunaga willingly confessed and indeed showed extreme remorse. Buick never confessed or showed the slightest regret over his actions. But Fukunaga had murdered a fine boy of a prominent haole family.** Buick had only murdered a middle-aged Japanese taxi driver.

This shocking crime — Fukunaga openly cited the notorious Leopold and Loeb murder and the more recent Hickman kidnapping as his models — ratcheted up ethnic tensions in Hawaii between whites, especially elite whites, and Japanese.

The Japanese community’s newspaper Hochi mounted a vigorous clemency campaign emphasizing sentencing differences like that vis-a-vis Buick. “If Myles Fukunaga is hanged it will not be because he killed a human being,” the paper editorialized. (pdf) “It will be because he killed the son of the vice-president of one of our big trust companies and because his victim was a white boy.”

* Ethnic data of those 75 executed: 24 Hawaiian; 24 Filipino; 9 Japanese; 6 Korean; 5 Chinese; 3 Puerto Rican; 3 unknown; 1 Caucasian.

** Gill Jamieson’s father, Frederick Jamieson, was a vice president of the Hawaiian Trust Company (since folded into the Bank of Hawaii). According to Kokugo Gakko in, the targeting of a bankster family by a frustrated working-class youth (Fukunaga was reportedly logging 80-hour weeks in menial jobs, having been forced to quit school in his teens to support his family) was no coincidence at all.

In terms of his motives he said that revenge had been foremost in his mind. In 1928 his parents had been unable to meet monthly rental payments. The Hawaiian Trust company served as the collecting agent for their landlord and had sent a rent collector to the Fukunaga family to demand full payment of back rent. Humiliated and ashamed, Fukunaga bitterly resented the bank’s action and, on learning that Vice President Frederick W. Jamieson had a son, he decided to seek revenge … by kidnapping and murdering the boy. Fukunaga also confessed to another motive. As the eldest son of seven children, Fukunaga stated that he had felt a filial obligation to help his poor parents … he had hoped to accomplish this filial act with the ransom money.

All this might tend to militate against the “insanity” defense, which Fukunaga himself energetically rejected.

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1945: Three German war criminals

Add comment November 19th, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1945, three Germans were hanged by the American army at Landsberg for killing downed U.S. pilots during the late war.

Also available here.

Ernst Waldmann, a former Wehrmacht Unteroffizer, was one of the three; he shot an American pilot at Haimbuch in December 1944.

The other two were policemen Wilhelm Haffner and Albert Bury, who killed a downed pilot at Langen Sel Bold that same month — under, they protested, the coercion of the SS.

As the New York Times report noted, they died “within sight” of the cell in that same prison where Adolf Hitler (serving easy time for the Beer Hall Putsch) wrote Mein Kampf.


This was, coincidentally, also the same date that American president Harry S Truman first transmitted to Congress a national health insurance proposal. The doctors’ lobby howled it down as rank Bolshevism … leading to the bizarre ascendancy of the Rube Goldberg-esque employer-based insurance system that had sprouted during World War II as a consequence of wartime wage controls limiting employers’ ability to bid for workers’ service.

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2002: Craig Neil Ogan, drug war informant

1 comment November 19th, 2009 David Carson

(Thanks to David Carson of the informative Texas Execution Information Center for the guest post, originally run on his site. -ed.)

Craig Neil Ogan, 47, was executed by lethal injection on 19 November 2002 in Huntsville, Texas for the murder of a police officer.

Mugshot clipped from Texas Department of Criminal Justice. More information, including some of Ogan’s own writing, at the Clark County Prosecutor site.

Craig Ogan had worked as an informant for the federal Drug Enforcement Agency since January 1988. Upon his request, the DEA relocated him from St. Louis to Houston in late 1989 after his identity had been revealed in a court proceeding. Ogan was under orders to not personally get involved in any drug transactions. He was also prohibited from carrying a weapon. Despite these instructions, Ogan insisted on arming himself and seeking involvement in drug transactions.

On 8 December 1989, Ogan, then 34, called the DEA agent who supervised him and told him that he was in a restaurant where he had just had an armed confrontation over a drug deal that fell through. He said that a man pointed a gun at his head and called him “narc.” He said that he feared for his life and asked for an escort from the restaurant. The agent arranged for two Houston police officers to escort Ogan from the restaurant back to his apartment. Once at the apartment, the officers watched as Ogan packed his belongings, which included a pistol, a sawed-off shotgun, and some knives. They then followed him to a motel. Ogan checked into a room, and the officers left at around 9:00 p.m.

At about 12:30 a.m., Ogan went to the lobby to complain about his telephone charges and the heater in his room. He argued loudly with the clerk and began kicking at a door. When the clerk called 9-1-1 for assistance, Ogan left.

Around this time, Houston police officers Clay Morgan Gainer and James C. Boswell pulled a car into a parking lot across the street from the motel, for a minor traffic violation. Ogan, then 34, walked over to them and knocked on the passenger window. Officer Boswell, 29, lowered his window and asked Ogan what he wanted. After a heated exchange, Boswell got out of the car. Ogan took Boswell’s pistol and shot him once in the head. He ran. Officer Gainer chased Ogan on foot, shot him in the back, and arrested him.

At Ogan’s trial, Gainer testified that when Boswell lowered his window and asked Ogan what he wanted, Ogan replied, “DEA dropped me off out here, and I’m cold.” Boswell told Ogan that they would help him as soon as they finished with the traffic stop, and to back away from the car. Boswell then raised his window. Ogan, however, demanded immediate attention. He knocked on Boswell’s window again, repeating that he was a DEA informant and that he was cold. Boswell told him, “You need to get out of here if you are not willing to step out of the way and wait. You either need to leave, or you are going to jail.” Ogan persisted with his demands. Boswell got out of the police car. According to Gainer, Boswell removed his sidearm from the holster and held it down against his leg. As he was reaching into the car to unlock the back door, Ogan grabbed Boswell’s gun and shot him once in the head. Ogan then said, “Well, [expletive] you then” and ran.

In addition to the above testimony, Darryl O’Leary, one of the two officers who escorted Ogan from the restaurant, testified that Ogan was “extremely excited” when he arrived. O’Leary said that when he told Ogan he could not take him until a backup officer arrived, Ogan became “impatient, hostile, and loud.”

Ogan had no prior criminal convictions. He had numerous assault charges that had been filed against him, then dismissed.

Sally Webster, a psychologist testifying for the defense, said that Ogan suffered from paranoia and had a passive-aggressive personality, but that these disorders were not mental illnesses and had no bearing on his competency to stand trial. She described Ogan’s mental state on 8 and 9 December as “anxious, agitated, almost hyperactive, very touchy, very worried.” Ogan’s lawyers called Webster to testify in an attempt to assert his mental state as a mitigating factor in determining his punishment, but the tactic backfired. Instead, prosecutors convinced the jury that Ogan’s history of high-strung paranoia made him a future danger to society.

A jury convicted Ogan of capital murder in June 1990 and sentenced him to death. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the conviction and sentence in April 1993. All of his subsequent appeals in state and federal court were denied.

In his appeals, Ogan’s attorneys claimed that their client suffered from a mental illness and that his trial counsel was incompetent for failing to use that in his defense. Ogan, who had an IQ of 140, had attended college, and spoke several languages, told a reporter, “They’re trying to sell me as a nut case. I don’t appreciate that.”

Ogan had a longstanding interest in espionage and had ambitions of joining the Central Intelligence Agency. In one of his letters from death row, he claimed that he had an appointment for an interview with the CIA the day he killed Officer Boswell. His career as a spy, however, never took off. At his trial, DEA agents testified that they considered Ogan to be, though a “marginally successful” informant, mostly a comical figure who ducked behind newspapers whenever a stranger entered their office. They derisively called him “special agent double-oh-five” behind his back. They also criticized him for getting involved in a drug deal without their permission, then calling for their assistance when it got him into trouble.

From death row, Ogan wrote letters that were posted on an anti-death-penalty web site. In one of them, he claimed that his execution represented the “premeditated mass murder” of possibly thousands of his potential descendants. He also provided his version of the conversation between himself and Officer Boswell. In Ogan’s account, he was extremely polite, courteous to a fault, and non-confrontational. Boswell and Gainer, on the other hand, were hostile to him without provocation and called him a “[expletive] DEA snitch.” Ogan wrote that when he told Boswell, “All right, sir; I was only asking for help,” Boswell then threw his door open and burst out of the car “in an insane rage, running/lunging furiously right at me, like a football tackle gone berserk, and clawing frantically at his gun/holster.”

An anti-death-penalty spokesman who visited Ogan on death row described him as “extremely tense.”

Ogan’s execution was delayed for nearly an hour as the Supreme Court considered late appeals questioning his mental competence.

“I would like to say first of all the real violent crimes in this case are acts committed by James Boswell and Clay Morgan Gaines,” Ogan said in his lengthy last statement. “I am not guilty; I acted in self-defense and reflex in the face of a police officer who was out of control,” he said. Ogan referred to a head injury Boswell had suffered and suggested that he had mental problems. He described Boswell as “filled with anger” and “mad at the world.” The lethal injection was given while Ogan was two minutes into his last statement. At 7:05 p.m., he was still talking about Boswell when he paused briefly to collect his thoughts. The lethal drugs took effect as Ogan then snorted, gasped, and lost consciousness. He was pronounced dead at 7:13 p.m.

By David Carson. Originally posted on 20 November 2002. Revised on 5 December 2002.
Sources: Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Texas Attorney General’s office, U.S. Fifth Circuit Court documents, Associated Press, Houston Chronicle, letters from Craig Ogan.

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Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Lethal Injection,Murder,Spies,Texas,USA

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1928: Marshall Ratliff lynched for the Santa Claus Bank Robbery

19 comments November 19th, 2008 Headsman

On this date in 1928, the man whose disguise christened one of the most bizarre crimes in Texas’s colorful history was lynched behind a theater … producing “The Noose”.

The Santa Claus Bank Robbery was, in the words of one columnist present for the affair,

the most spectacular crime in the history of the Southwest … surpassing any in which Billy the Kid or the James boys had ever figured.

The story begins on December 23, 1927, in the town of Cisco, where a genial man dressed as Saint Nick strolled down the main drag dandling playful children en route to the First National Bank.

Santa — Marshall Ratliff — and three accomplices then conducted one of the most inept bank robberies in that craft’s ample stock of ineptitude.

A general gun battle erupted during the robbery, owing to the general citizenry being armed, and a standing reward available from the bank association for shooting a bank robber in the act. When the quartet finally fought their way to the getaway car — killing two cops in the process — they realized it was almost out of gas.

After a few days’ dodging a manhunt, everyone was rounded up, one of them in corpse form. Two of the surviving three drew death sentences, and Henry Helms sat in the Lonestar State’s electric chair on September 6, 1929.

But Kris Kringle — er, Ratliff — had his execution delayed by a sanity hearing that brought him back to Eastland County, where he feigned illness and killed a guard in an abortive escape attempt. The good folk decided they’d had about enough of due process.

Quoth a newspaper report of the day (reproduced in A.C. Greene’s book on the case):

All yesterday afternoon they gathered in little groups about the town and muttered about [the guard] Jones’ shooting which physicians said probably would prove fatal. Last night a crowd in front of the jail swelled to nearly a thousand at 8:30 o’clock.

At about 9 o’clock, some 200 men slipped into a side door of the jail and asked for the man. Jailer Gilborn refused to give him up. They overpowered Gilborn, took his keys and got Ratliff.

… He was dragged in the direction of the public square, but the crowd would not wait to go those few blocks.

At 200 yards from the jail a strong telephone cable was pointed out, a rope flung across it. A noose was put around Ratliff’s neck, a dozen men on the other end of the rope bent their weight, and Ratliff was jerked from the ground.

The rope broke. Messengers were sent for another, and again the mob set to its task. Then someone remembered that men about to die are usually given a chance to say a last word. For another moment he was lowered to the ground, but, displeased at his mumbling, the crowd yelled, “String him up!”

Part of the Themed Set: The “Ex” Stands For “Extrajudicial”.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Borderline "Executions",Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,Lynching,Murder,Texas,Theft,USA

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1915: Joe Hill

7 comments November 19th, 2007 Headsman

On this date in 1915, songwriter, poet and labor activist Joe Hill was shot in Utah for the murder of a local butcher.

Even before his execution, the Swedish immigrant was widely thought to have been railroaded for his IWW affiliation.

Though state authorities had little use for the worldwide clemency bid whose backers included U.S. President Woodrow Wilson — powerless to intervene officially, since the execution was a state matter — Hill walked spryly into his martyrdom. The strange post-mortem career of his totemic ashes is the least of the ways Hill lives on.

His dauntless last message to fellow Wobbly Bill Haywood — “Don’t waste any time mourning. Organize.” — is a permanent fixture on pins and placards among every stripe of left activist. The songs he wrote remain in print — and in performance.

And the Depression-era tribute ballad “I Dreamed I Saw Joe Hill Last Night” can seamlessly serenade ripped-from-the-headlines footage, as a Paul Robeson rendition does in these clips of 1998 protests against then-New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Activists,Artists,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous,Famous Last Words,History,Language,Martyrs,Murder,Popular Culture,Shot,USA,Utah,Wrongful Executions

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