1591: Brian O’Rourke, Irish lord

Add comment November 3rd, 2016 Headsman

On this date in 1591, Brian na Múrtha Ó Ruairc — Brian O’Rourke to the English who killed him — was drawn and quartered as a rebel at Tyburn.

O’Rourke was a chieftain in a disappearing world, the Gaelic Ireland that the English had been engaged in reducing ever since King Henry VIII realized that he was King of Ireland back in 1542.

O’Rourke’s patrimony in this Tudor conquest was the kingdom of West Breifne, with a lineage going right back to its 12th century founder. As far as the Tudors were concerned he was just one more truculent local lord to subdue — even if the very “proudest man this day living on the earth.” (per Nicholas Maltby)

O’Rourke’s pride put him into opposition against the English satrap and even led him to succor sailors taking refuge from the shattered Spanish Armada in 1588. But the scope of his autonomy was narrowed and narrowed as expanding English occupation crept upon his environs.

In the end it was his brother-Celts in Scotland who finished him: when O’Rourke turned up there in 1591 seeking license to recruit sword-arms from King James VI (James was not yet James I of England at this point), Queen Elizabeth successfully prevailed upon her Scottish counterpart to arrest and extradite the man — an incident that triggered a riot in Glasgow.

Tried on the highly dubious grounds of treason against England committed in Ireland — plus a lese-majeste incident of having the queen’s image dragged in the mud tossed into the indictment for good measure* — O’Rourke scornfully refused to plead, or to defend himself unless Elizabeth herself would deign to sit in judgment — sovereign to sovereign. The court required only O’Rourke’s body, not his assent, to proceed.

O’Rourke had a sharp enough tongue when minded to deploy it, however. On the scaffold, he witheringly abused the notoriously avaricious bishop Miler Magrath who had been sent to minister to him. Then …

Upon Wednesdaie the 3 of November, Bren O’Royrke was drawne to Tyborne, and there hanged, his members and bowels burned in the fire, his heart taken out, and holden up by the hangman, naming it to be the archtraytors heart, and then did he cast the same into the fire, then was the head stricken off, and his bodie quartered

-John Stowe, The Annales of England (1605) (via)

O’Rourke’s son Brian oge O’Rourke inherited his position, and his struggle, until younger brother Tadgh O’Rourke deposed him with English support. Tadgh died young in 1605 — and with him, West Breifne expired too.

* Enjoy an itemized list of the naughty O’Rourke’s many offenses against English sensibilities from page 144 of this public domain volume.

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Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Drawn and Quartered,England,Execution,Gruesome Methods,Heads of State,History,Ireland,Nobility,Occupation and Colonialism,Power,Public Executions,Treason,Wartime Executions

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1854: William Lipsey and James Logan, in gold rush Coloma

Add comment November 3rd, 2015 Headsman

The gold rush boom town of Coloma, California hosted its first (legal) hanging on this date in 1854.

Coloma was the very site of Sutter’s Mill, where the accidental discovery of gold flakes launched California’s gold rush.

The ensuing swell of human avarice arriving from every corner of the globe all but overwhelmed the frontier territory’s capacity; nearby San Francisco, “transformed … into a bawdy, bustling bedlam of mud-holes and shanties,” was so disordered that its laws were enforced extrajudicially by a self-appointed Vigilance Committee.

Coloma itself, the literal first mining town of the gold rush, boomed as the county seat of the new-christened El Dorado County. According to Alton Pryor, Coloma had 300 buildings and a hotel under construction by the summer of 1848, six months after the gold strike. (Today, Coloma is a near ghost town.) And like everywhere else, it had a job to manage the mad new world of desperate fortune-hunters ready to murder one another for the dust in their pockets.

Coloma has the distinction of giving birth to California’s first sheriff’s department, in 1852.

It’s almost surprising in such an environment that the original gold rush hotbed didn’t have an execution until 1854 — but Coloma made up for lost time* on November 3, 1854, by hanging two men, twice over.

The milestone perpetrators were classic frontier rascals, straight from a spaghetti Western rogues’ gallery. William Lipsey, a 25-year-old gambler, had murdered a fellow cardsharp in a drunken brawl over a game. James Logan, a 47-year-old miner “silvered o’er with age”, was condemned for killing a fellow miner in a claim dispute — though all the way to the gallows, Logan insisted to the last, before the 6,000 or so souls assembled to watch him die, that he had killed only in self-defense, remarking that

[h]e stood before them a condemned man, the victim of false testimony. It was true that he had taken the life of a fellow creature, but he had committed the deed in self-defence. He went to the claim where the tragedy took place, not as has been said to kill Fennel, but because the claim was his own, and he went to get possession of it. His own rash threats had brought him to the scaffold. In answer to propositions to settle the difficulty by law or arbitration, he had rashly replied that there was a shorter and better way — but he did not mean it. He went to the claim to get possession of it, but did not snap or present his pistol — he merely showed it. It was merely a single-barreled pistol. Fennel went and got a revolver, and came back and presented it at him, cocked. Fennel was advancing upon him with a cocked revolver when he presented his singlebarreled pistol. Any other testimony than this was false. He only snapped his pistol a moment before Fennel did his. The man who swore that he snapped his first swore a lie. They both snapped together. He had warned Fennel not to advance. He got behind Swift, and if he (Swift) had stood his ground, nobody would have been killed, But Swift flinched, and stepped aside. He then had to be killed himself, kill Fennel, or run away. He fired, and Fennel fell. He repeated that it was false that he snapped his pistol first; it was that snap that had brought him to the gallows, and the testimony about it was false.

In view of the halter (to which he pointed his finger) and in presence of that God before whom he was so shortly to appear, he was now speaking the truth. He would never have been hung if he had not had a principle of courage in his composition that prevented him from running away.

Lipsey, who was unquestionably guilty, did not have the older man’s composure and had to be half-dragged to the scaffold where he was so unmanned that he could not muster any last remark — though he was heard to murmur before dropped, “I don’t think I’m a murderer at heart.”

As the Coloma sheriff had no experience with executions, both men fell through their nooses and landed on the ground still alive. Still cool under pressure, Logan raised his hood to look around, got up, and walked back up to the gallows platform unassisted — but as the lawmen adjusted the hemp for the do-over, he recollected the letter of the death warrant and asked to see a watch.

“Ah, you have twenty minutes yet,” he exclaimed with a laugh. “If it was two o’clock I would demand my liberty under the law.”

* Coloma had another double hanging in 1855: outlaw Mickey Free hanged alongside Kentucky-born schoolmaster Jerry Crane, who murdered a student with whom he had become infatuated.

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1697: Three duty stamp counterfeiters

Add comment November 3rd, 2014 Headsman

On this date in 1697, nine men hanged at Tyburn — all for property crimes.

Three were highway robbers. A fourth was a coiner. A fifth was a pickpocket. A sixth was a husbandman who stole a gelding.

The remaining three men, Thomas Houghton, Francis Cook and Francis Salisbury, operated a ring selling vellum paper bearing counterfeit sixpenny impressed duty stamps.

Their offense was against a 1694 levy titled “An act for granting to Their Majesties several duties on Vellum, Parchment and Paper for 10 years, towards carrying on the war against France”. This statute (full text here) imposed taxes of varying amounts for any number of a huge variety of officially-registered business. Routine commercial transactions now almost universally came with a rake for the taxman: “every skin or piece of vellum or parchment, or sheet of paper, upon which shall be ingrossed or written any indenture, lease, or deed-poll” had to be executed with a sixpenny stamp.

As a practical matter, such skins or pieces of vellum or parchment were sold pre-stamped, the stamp to be canceled by the parties in question when they signed on the line which is dotted. And it was this market that Houghton, Cook, and Salisbury exploited.

While counterfeiting the specie could be held to imperil the kingdom so dangerously to rate as treason, this trio’s “counterfeiting” was just everyday white-collar siphoning. By forging a bogus sixpenny stamp and applying it to sheafs of contract-ready vellum that they could sell at market rates, they got the revenue-agent’s cut — not the crown. (The scam is described in their Newgate Calendar entry, which inexplicably gives short shrift to Francis Cook.)

Though the “war against France” named by the stamp bill — the War of the League of Augsburg or the Nine Years’ War — had ended weeks before even the hangings we mark on this date, the lucrative levy long outlasted it. In the following century, England revived this type of tax often, notably in 1712 expanding it to encompass printed publications like newspapers and pamphlets. Hey, just require anything printed on paper to have a royal stamp on it — easy! This habit would eventually create the 1765 Stamp Act so obnoxious to North American colonists in the run-up to the American Revolution.

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1941: Alfredo Castoldi, German spy in Vichy Algiers

Add comment November 3rd, 2013 Headsman

Simon Kitson‘s engrossing The Hunt for Nazi Spies: Fighting Espionage in Vichy France makes the case that Vichy France — and in particular, 1940-42 Vichy, before Operation Torch triggered the outright German occupation of Vichy France — had an active counterespionage program working against German spies.

Once recruitment in the German secret services was suspected, evidence was needed to carry out an arrest. The general rule was to delay arresting suspects so as to be able to tail them to find out who their contacts were and the exact nature of their activities. This is what happened with Alfredo Castoldi, an Italian working for the Germans. Castoldi made the acquaintance of someone named Perez in a bar and tried to convince him to provide military information. Perez pretended to accept but the next day he went to tell all to the local police chief. The police did not arrest Castoldi right away but asked Perez to maintain contact with him and to earn his trust and find out the nature of his intentions and his network. The evidence acquired in this way was so convincing that on 3 November 1941, at 7:30 in the morning, Castoldi was executed by a French army firing squad in Algiers.

Castoldi was not an outlier. Several dozen German spies may have been shot by Vichy France in the 1940-42 period. Kitson notes that it is

difficult to ascertain the exact number of German spies sentenced by Vichy military courts who were actually executed by the firing squads of the French army. [Paul] Paillole claims there were forty-two of them. In research for the present study, I found formal proof of eight such executions, but Paillole’s figure seems credible for two reasons. Firstly, during the postwar trial of Marshal Philippe Petain, Ernest Lagarde, the former director of political affairs in the Foreign Affairs Ministry, claimed there were about thirty such executions in 1941, which does not exclude a total of forty-two for the years 1940-42. Secondly, there is a register of Petain’s decisions concerning appeals for clemency from individuals condemned to death for activities ranging from Communism to army mutinies to espionage. In espionage cases, the registry does not specify for which country a particular spy was working, but it would seem that, after cross-checking the names listed with other sources used for the present study, there were twenty-seven confirmed cases of Axis spies having their appeal for clemency refused. A further twenty-three cases in which clemency was refused also appear to involve Axis spies. Of course, in a handful of instances where the appeal for clemency was rejected, executions may still not have been carried out as a result of the invasion of the southern zone by the Germans, which brought a sudden end to official executions. This registry nevertheless adds credibility to Paillole’s estimate.

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1858: Henry Jackson, in Decatur

Add comment November 3rd, 2012 Headsman

On this date in 1858, a slave named Henry — property* of a local farmer named William Jackson — was hanged in Decatur, Georgia for attempted rape.

We have of this occasion a first-person account from a 16-year-old white neighbor of the Jackson farm, Catherine Hewes, and the impressions she recorded of it that evening are reprinted by John C. Edwards in “Slave Justice in Four Middle Georgia Counties” in the Summer 1973 Georgia Historical Quarterly. A few additional paragraph breaks have been added for readability, and [sic] notations where necessary either by myself or by Edwards; however, there are many other minor language irregularities not worth individually noting, and simply presented as-is.

The Execution of Henry Jackson a slave of William Jackson at Decatur Ga. at an early hour this morning I dressed myself and prepared to accompany my brother and Sister to Decatur, a beautiful village an [sic] the County site of DeKalb county Ga. As we lived four miles south of Decatur we crossed the Georgia R Road in sight of the village, where we stopped a few moments to enquire where the gallows had been located and were infomed that it was situated one mile north of the Court-house on the Shallow ford road.

By ten Oclock a great many people throned the streets, and clustered around the old weather beaten jail. Our little company had beome quite a respectable crowd before we reached the Public Square where we drove slowly through the immense mass of living beings. All along the way form the Court-house to the gallows Carriages, Wagons and carts were seen bearing on their living freight to the scene of the execution. The high and low the rich and the poor the free and the bond alike pressing forward to the gallows their desires of seeing the law enforced and crime meet its own reward.

After a slow tedious drive we arrived at the appointd place where the rough benches had been erected in an old field whos [sic surroundings were on the amphitheater order. For several hours I had been pleasantly situated and with good company which caused thime [sic] to pass by almost imperceptibly but when I was confronted by a “gallows,” the simple construction of which was two upright posts and a cross beam from the top of the posts I viewed it with horror.

My reflections gushed forth when my eye took in the surroundings. On one side of the gallows were the colored people and on the other side the white people who had gathered on the little hillock. It was quite gratifying to the feelings to see the willingness of slave owners to teach their Slaves an important lesson by sending them here to day. The gallows, yes here on this gallows ill-fated Henry, will have to give up his life for crime and go to his long home with God in eternity.

In the midst of my reflections I saw a vast crowd of people coming from Town toward the gallows[.] It was announced that “They are a coming.” and I looked and saw on [sic] Ox-cart coming on which rode the unfortunate Henry dressed in a suit of white sitting by the coffn which was to incase his lifeless form. They drove the Ox-cart near the gallows, then the drive unhitched the Sturdy oxen and proceeded to direct the cart by hand.

The Sheriff plased [sic] his guard and when the cart stopped under the gallows by the platform a negro man ascended the stand and sang Hymns. Many joined in singing aloud the praises of God, while I stood gazing on in amazement. At the conclusion of the Hymn he offered a very appropriate prayer which seemed to affect a great many. When he raised up from prayer he began exhorting the people from Acts 6-23 — “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” [sic — she means Romans 6:23] When he had ended his discourse, the Rev. Jns. W. Yarbough got up and made a short, but very appropriate exhortation.

They closed the religious services, but the convict desired to speak to the people. His discourse was very affecting, so much so that some of the black women shouted praises to their immortal King. The mother of Henry screamed aloud and shouted with vehemence while her son stood on the platform speaking to the auditory. At the conclusion of his remarks the Officers began to fix for his execution. The Sheriff, Capt John Jones, a capital man, was very much affected during the Scene. They first tied his feet together, then his hands, and then adjusted his clothing. The Sherff then permitted him to look over the vast multitude which surrounded him for a few moments and then tied a white handkerchief over his face which excluded it from view.

The hangmans Knot was adjusted around his neck then the rope was passed over the cross-bar of the gallows[.]

All things read at 12 N the Sheriff descended the steps to the ground and with help drew the Cart on which the Convict stood from under him — leaving the dangling form of the poor victim suspended in the air by a rope. When the form dropped from the Cart, a loud groan went up from the people and then they people [sic] began to disperse.

After the untwisting of the rope and the shrugging of the shoulder had ceased the Dr. E N Calhoun (I believ [sic]) approached and took hold of the hand and after a few moments announced that life was extinct. We came back to town and staid [sic] a few hours, and while at the Old Washington Hotel Kept by Mr. Banks George, I saw the Sheriff Mr Jones bring the corps [sic] back and carry the coffin up a flight of rickety steps to the door of the second story of the jail and deposit it therein. Doubtlessly the Doctors will take advantage of this subject for anatomical investigation, and be found with sleeves rolled up chatting over the mortal remains of this deluded victim. We left town with Mrs Parker, masters Bob and Miss Betsy, and got home before night.

Cottage House DeKalb Ga.
Catherine M. Hewey
November 3, 1858

* Henry was William Jackson’s only slave, and the latter was not compensated by the state for Henry’s execution: it was a substantial loss to the master.

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1324: Petronilla de Meath, the first Irish woman burned for heresy

1 comment November 3rd, 2011 Headsman

On this date in 1324, Ireland entered the witch-burning club by burning to death servant Petronilla de Meath for the infernal traffickings of her escaped mistress.

Alice Kyteler, the stock of a successful family in the prosperous medieval trading hub, was the real target of what Jeffrey Burton Russell reckoned “complex machinations prompted by politics and greed.”

Kyteler was on to her fourth husband and had done well from her previous matches: a little too well, in fact. The various stepchildren from Kyteler’s various marriages were aggrieved that she took the assets she married into, and lavished them on her own son from the first union — a lad sporting the unfortunate handle of William Outlaw, and the unfortunate profession of moneylender.

When these restive relations presented to the local bishop a complaint couched in a supernatural hocus-pocus, family spat met an emerging and violent continent-wide jurisprudence around hunting impiety. That bishop was English-born and French-trained Franciscan Richard de Ledrede, who saw behind the tissue of rumor and folklore a diabolical hand bent on tearing down the edifice of faith.

In this he was merely a man before his time. Civil law in these parts had previously treated witchcraft as a petty criminal offense, but in the century to come it would be promoted to existential menace, with the body count to match. That transformation was already well underway closer to Europe’s continental heart.

A veritable witches’ brew of dangerous charges against Alice ensued: that she spellbound men to steal their money; that she conducted arcane magical rituals to summon demonic aid; that she took a supernatural familiar to bed; and more. Alice and William had their own clout, however, and the case graduated into a rousing political donnybrook against the controversial bishop, “this vile, rustic vagabond from England”** — who, not obtaining the cooperation expected, outraged and/or terrified his congregants further by placing his diocese under an interdict.*

Alice eventually escaped Ireland no worse the wear — at least bodily — while William Outlaw got off with a penance.

But their politically punchless servant Petronilla (or Petronella) de Meath was left holding the bag and achieving an unwanted milestone. She would be made to confess to a litany that, while familiar by now, must have been exotic stuff in 1324 Kilkenny — a brand-new import courtesy of the church hierarchy. We’ll give this as translated from the Latin Contemporary Narrative of the proceedings by William Renwick Riddell in “The First Execution for Witchcraft in Ireland,” Journal of the American Institute of Criminal Law and Criminology, Mar. 1917

On this same day was burned Petronilla of Midia, the heretic, one of the accomplices of the said Dame Alice, who after she had been flogged by the Bishop through six parishes for her sorceries, then being in custody, confessed publicly before all the clergy and the people that at the instance of the said Alice she had wholly denied the faith of Christ and of the Church, and that she had at Alice’s instigation sacrificed in three places to devils, in each of which places she had sacrificed three cocks at cross-roads without the city to a certain demon. who called himself Robert Artson (filiam Artis) one of the inferior order from Hell, by shedding their blood and tearing them limb from limb, from the intestines of which, with spiders and black worms like scorpions with a certain plant called millefoil and other plants and disgusting worms along with the brain and the swaddling bands of a child dead without baptism, she, in the skull of a certain thief who had been beheaded, and on the instruction of the said Alice, made many confections, ointments, and powders for afflicting the bodies of the faithful, and for producing love and hatred and for making the faces of certain women on the use of certain incantations appear to certain persons to be hored like goats. She also confessed that many times she at the instance of the said Alice and sometimes in her presence had consulted devils and received responses; and that she had agreed with her (Alice) that she (Alice) should be the mediator between her and the said devil Robert, her (Alice’s) friend.

She also confessed publicly that with her own eyes she was a witness when the said demon in the form of three Ethopians carrying three iron rods in their hands appeared to her said mistress (Alice) in broad daylight and (while she was looking on) knew her (Alice) carnally, and after such a shameful act he with his own hand wiped clean the place where the crime was committed with linen from her bed.

Amongst other things she said that she with her said mistress often made a sentence of excommunication against her own husband with wax candles lighted and repeated expectoration, as their rules required. And though she was indeed herself an adept in this accursed art of theirs, she said she was nothing in comparison with her mistress, from whom she had learned all these things and many more; and indeed in all the realm of the King of England there was none more
skilled or equal to her in this art …

Publicly confessing her detestable crimes, she was burned in presence of an infinite multitude of people with due solemnity.

And this was the first heretical sorceress burned in Ireland.

A podcast about this case for Irish Heritage Week can be found here or here. (Two different links, but the same podcast.)

Feminist artist Judy Chicago set a place for this unfortunate woman at her Dinner Party, an installation piece featuring dining places for 39 notable women from history.

Here’s a picture of Petronilla’s place setting at the “dinner party”, and an interpretive description from the Brooklyn Museum.

* More on the political jousting in Bernadette Williams, “The Sorcery Trial of Alice Kyteler,” History Ireland, Winter 1994.

** Comment by one of Dame Kyteler’s kinsmen and allies.

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Entry Filed under: 14th Century,Arts and Literature,Burned,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,God,Heresy,History,Ireland,Milestones,Public Executions,Torture,Witchcraft,Women

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1991: Barrios Altos massacre

3 comments November 3rd, 2010 Michael Baney

(Thanks to Michael Baney for the guest post. -ed.)

On this date in 1991, a Peruvian death squad showed up at the wrong party, and altered its country’s history.

In 1980 the Communist Party of Peru, better known as the Shining Path, launched its “People’s War,” which was never actually supported by the majority of Peruvians. Latin America had had its share of Marxist revolts, but this one was different from the others. There was nothing romantic about the revolutionaries, who wore plain clothes rather than uniforms, attacked the civilian population rather than invest significant capital to win them over to the Shining Path cause, and rose up in an effort to overthrow a democracy rather than a dictatorship.

The Shining Path was based mainly in Andean villages, but once they began to take serious losses in their own territory, they made a concerted effort to accelerate the war by pushing into the capital city, Lima. Both the Shining Path and the Peruvian military were committing deplorable human rights violations by the time Alberto Fujimori was elected president in 1990, although the vast majority of the violence had been confined to the hinterlands of the country up until then.

With Fujimori’s election, more urban-based death squad activities began. Perhaps the most famous was the November 3, 1991 massacre in the Barrios Altos neighborhood of Lima, a poor barrio only a few minutes’ drive away from the Congress and the Presidential Palace.

The murders are described in great detail in this old US government document (pdf) once classified as secret, but since declassified thanks to the efforts of expert Tamara Feinstein of the National Security Archive.

This date’s incident occurred when members of Grupo Colina (English Wikipedia entry | Spanish), a death squad that was part of the Army Intelligence Service, believed that they had identified a group of Shining Path militants having a pollada, which is a traditional fundraiser in Peru where a party is held so that chicken and beer can be sold to the neighbors. (Here’s a description, in Spanish)

A Grupo Colina squad drove to the building where this terrorist pollada was supposed to be taking place, lined the partygoers up, and extrajudicially executed them with submachine guns with silencers that the army had provided the group for the operation. Then the leader of the group, Santiago Martin Rivas, shot a young child who came running over to the body of his father. The troops got back into their vehicles, turned on their sirens to appear like they were the police in an effort to shift blame over the killings, and got drunk at the beach to celebrate.

Almost immediately it became clear that the death squad members had completely screwed up their hit.

The people who had been murdered were indeed having a pollada … not to fund the Shining Path’s Maoist agrarian war, but to fix the pipes in their building

And it transpired that that fateful night of Nov. 3, there was a different pollada being held on a different floor in the very same building. The participants of that other party fled the building, never to return. There were reports that upon searching the rooms of those who fled, police uncovered many issues of El Dario, the Shining Path newspaper.

If Grupo Colina indeed crashed the wrong party, then it not only slaughtered a bunch of innocent people — it helpfully tipped the Shining Path to the fact that the army was onto them.

In any event, the executions became a media spectacle and the police had to at least go through the motions of investigating them. At first, the government suggested that the murders might have been actually carried out by the Shining Path, and as evidence of this theory they showed that one of the people who had been killed was previously a member of a Ronda, which is a peasant patrol group that fought against cattle rustling and, in some cases, the Shining Path. But it later turned out that the man had been a member of the Rondas many years before and hundred of miles away from the killings, and it seemed extremely improbable that the Shining Path would even bother to target him.

By December 4, 1991, the US embassy in Lima was informing the Secretary of State that the Peruvian government lacked the political will to investigate the murders, and had lied about whether or not the guns used in the extrajudicial executions were equipped with silencers in “an apparently deliberate attempt to obfuscate the situation.”

The Congress created a committee to investigate the crimes, which was a real threat to the Fujimori government because the Fujimoristas did not have a majority in Congress.

This ceased to be a problem on April 5, 1992, when Fujimori suspended the Congress, permanently disbanded the Senate, and fired a good number of the judges in the country, all in total violation of the Constitution. That ended the investigation.

Under pressure from the international community, a new Congress stacked with Fujimoristas was convened to write a new Constitution, and the investigation of the Barrios Altos killing nominally restarted. When the Congress called Nicolas Hermoza Rios de Bari, the Chairman of the Joint Command of the Armed Forces to testify, he took the oppotunity to remind the Congress that the military would never tolerate being “insulted.” When hearings continued, Hermoza Rios held an impromptu tank parade directly in front of the Congress. The few brave Congressmen and women who actually desired to expose the truth about the killings got the message loud and clear: the case would never go anywhere as long as Fujimori remained president.

When it finally looked like the perpetrators might be punished, for example, Fujimori rammed a law through the Congress that provided a general amnesty to everyone who had violated human rights “in defense of the fatherland.” When a judge ruled the amnesty law unconstitutional, Fujimori’s Congress stripped the power of judicial review from the courts in cases of amnesty laws.

In a very real sense, the Peruvian government had legalized illegality. Fujimori created a system in which there was no way to punish — or even investigate — murder so long as someone, somewhere considered the crime to have been committed for patriotic reasons.

All that changed in 2000, however, when Fujimori’s government collapsed amid scandal.

An opposition figure who vowed to create a Truth and Reconciliation Commission was sworn in as into office, and Peru reaffirmed its commitment to the American Convention on Human Rights. In 2001, in a groundbreaking decision, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruled in its Barrios Altos case that countries cannot issue an amnesty for “serious human rights violations.” The amnesty was thrown out and Grupo Colina members were arrested.

In 2007, Alberto Fujimori was extradited from Chile, where he had traveled, to Peru. In 2009, the Peruvian courts convicted Fujimori of a number of human rights abuses, including ordering the Barrios Altos murders. Just last month, justice was finally served when the members of Grupo Colina were convicted of murder, kidnapping, forced disappearance, and conspiracy, and were given various sentences ranging up to 25 years of prison. After 19 years, the Peruvian government has finally acknowledged that the extrajudicial executions that took place during that country’s cold war were crimes that must not go unpunished.

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1942: Duncan Scott-Ford, because loose lips sink ships

2 comments November 3rd, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 1942, British merchant sailor Duncan Scott-Ford was hanged at London’s Wandsworth Prison for giving German agents sensitive information about ship movements.

This, of course, was just the sort of thing everyone was trying to discourage.

… and a version to keep young soldiers on the pull Mata Hari-conscious:

For a case that so handily underscored the posters, the Scott-Ford affair made great copy … but not until a day after the hanging itself. Having kept everything secret, the papers were finally allowed on Nov. 4 to announce

that a British subject was executed for treachery at Wandsworth Prison yesterday morning.

Scott-Ford was paid 1,800 escudos by the enemy. This sum, which in English currency is equivalent only to about £18, was all that Scott-Ford in fact received from the enemy, though promises were held out to him which lured him deeper and deeper into the blackmailing clutches of the enemy. Thus when Scott-Ford returned on his second visit to Lisbon with the information which he had collected the Germans, instead of honouring their promises, threatened that they would expose him to the British authorities unless he continued to perform further services, to collect more valuable information and to undergo greater risks in their interest.

Some of the information which Scott-Ford gave to the enemy related to his own ship, and thus imperilled the lives of his own shipmates.

The moral to be drawn from this case is that British and allied seamen when visiting neutral ports should be constantly on their guard against strangers who may frequently approach them for apparently innocent purposes. Such strangers are apt to be enemy agents … (London Times, Nov. 4, 1942)

Shhhhh!

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,England,Espionage,Execution,Hanged,History,Spies,Wartime Executions

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1793: Olympe de Gouges, a head of her time

9 comments November 3rd, 2008 Headsman

On this date in 1793, Olympe de Gouges’ forward thoughts were removed from her shoulders in the Place de la Revolution.

Most recognizable today for her Declaration of the Rights of Woman and the Citizen* — a proto-feminist call for equality of the sexes issued in response to the day’s revolutionary but guy-centric Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizende Gouges was much more than a one-issue woman.

Fully engaged with the liberal intellectual currents of the Enlightenment, de Gouges spent the 1770’s and 1780’s in Parisian salon circles cranking out plays (over 40) and petitions, pamphlets and manifestos on animal welfare, poverty, the treatment of orphans, and ending slavery.

The latter issue, and not women’s rights, was the cause her contemporaries would have most associated with her.

But the natural-born gadfly didn’t pick her battles with injustice, and the Terror was a bad period to be indiscriminate. Like some of her Girondist associates, she risked the Paris mob’s wrath by openly opposing Louis XVI‘s execution — right in character, Olympe was down on the whole idea of the death penalty — and she carried principle into foolhardiness by printing broadsides savaging Robespierre.

Show trial time.

There can be no mistaking the perfidious intentions of this criminal woman, and her hidden motives … calumniating and spewing out bile in large doses against the warmest friends of the people, their most intrepid defender.

Misogynist condescension veined the prevailing interpretation of this misbehavior.

Olympe de Gouges, born with an exalted imagination, mistook her delirium for an inspiration of nature. She wanted to be a man of state. She took up the projects of the perfidious people who want to divide France. It seems the law has punished this conspirator for having forgotten the virtues that belong to her sex.

And strange to say, that condescension outlived Robespierre by centuries.

Only recently, as mainstream thought has (sort of) caught up with de Gouges, has the scope of her work (French link) attracted renewed appreciation, and Olympe been acknowledged an Olympian herself.

* Article 10: “Woman has the right to mount the scaffold; she must equally have the right to mount the rostrum.” The work was dedicated to Marie Antoinette.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Activists,Artists,Arts and Literature,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous,France,Freethinkers,Guillotine,History,Intellectuals,Martyrs,Public Executions,Treason,Women

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1783: John Austin

12 comments November 3rd, 2007 Headsman

On this date in 1783, highwayman John Austin was hanged at Tyburn for robbing and murdering John Spicer on the road to London.

The village Tyburn on the outskirts of London had been used for public hangings dating to the 12th century. Though not the only site of executions in London, it was the iconic one. Situated at the modern intersection of Edgware and Bayswater Roads on the northeast corner of Hyde Park, the distinctive “Tyburn tree” — a triangular gallows capable of hanging over twenty prisoners simultaneously — made a foreboding landmark round which teemed thousands of spectators on execution days. Some 1,200 people were executed on this singular device.

Public executions typically began four kilometers away at Newgate Prison, where the condemned were loaded into ox carts for a two-to-three-hour procession through public streets now at the very core of London, perhaps including stops at public ale houses.


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While Tyburn carved its niche during England’s age of religious bloodletting, its social role had changed significantly by the 18th century. Most of the doomed were offenders against property, often executed for stealing negligible sums or else reprieved for transport to the New World or, later, Australia. Peter Linebaugh’s The London Hanged intriguingly suggests that hangings of this era were an assertion of nascent capitalism, violently throwing off the remains of feudal labor relations. (Summarized more thoroughly in this friendly review.)

Even that formative age was receding. Once a neighboring village, Tyburn had been swallowed up by the city; a generation before Austin’s death, residents of the now-upscale neighborhood had successfully pushed for the removal of the macabre “Tyburn tree”.

Austin was hanged, instead, on a portable gallows, a typical penitent imploring heavenly mercy and taking 10 minutes to strangle to death — the very last execution at that somber and storied crossroads.

Here’s the story of the Tyburn hangings from London writer Peter Ackroyd:

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Common Criminals,England,Hanged,Milestones,Murder,Popular Culture,Public Executions,Theft,Tyburn

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