1885: Robert Goodale, messily

1 comment November 30th, 2018 Richard Clark

(Thanks to Richard Clark of Capital Punishment U.K. for the guest post, a reprint of an article originally published on that site with some explanatory links added by Executed Today. CapitalPunishmentUK.org features a trove of research and feature articles on the death penalty in England and elsewhere. -ed.)

45-year-old Robert Goodale was a market gardener who had been married to a lady called Bethsheba for 22 years. He owned a piece of land at Walsoken Marsh, near Wisbech, where he grew fruit and vegetables. On the property was a house that was used only for storage and not lived in, together with a well. The Goodales lived in Wisbech with their two sons, aged 18 and 21. All of them would walk to Walsoken in the mornings and work on the land.

On the 15th of September 1885 Bethsheba did not arrive at the market garden and a search was made for her. Her body was discovered the following day in the well. Examination of the body revealed that she had been struck three times on the head, most probably with a bill-hook, and then thrown down the well, where she drowned.

Goodale was arrested by Sgt. Roughton on suspicion of murder and later charged with the crime. He came to trial at the Norfolk Assizes at Norwich before Mr. Justice Stephen on Friday the 13th of November 1885.

Evidence was presented of the Goodales’ unhappy marriage and of threats of violence made against Bethsheba by her husband. A witness testified that he had heard a quarrel in the Goodales’ house on the afternoon of the murder. Dr. Stevenson the Home Office analyst said he had found traces of mammalian blood on the prisoner’s hat and jacket.

The defence led by Mr. Horace Browne contended that the case against Goodale was very weak. He conceded that husband and wife were not on good terms but insisted that Goodale’s conduct was not consistent with that of a murderer. He rebutted the blood stain evidence and suggested that it had come from the prisoner having a nose bleed. At this time it was not possible to determine the group to which the blood belonged and therefore it could not be certain that it was the victim’s blood, or even that it was human rather than animal blood.

The trial resumed on the Saturday and after the closing speeches and the summing up it took the jury just 20 minutes to reach their verdict of guilty of the wilful murder of his wife. Goodale was sentenced to death and removed to the Condemned Cell in Norwich Castle to await execution on Monday the 30th of November.

He was visited by his two sons and his sister on the Friday. Later that day he asked to see the governor of Norwich Castle, Mr. Dent. He and the Chief Warder went to Goodale’s cell where he told them that the crime had taken place due to extreme provocation. He claimed that his wife had told him that she liked other men. Mr. Dent took Goodale’s statement down in writing and sent it to the Home Secretary. The Rev. Mr. Wheeler and a former Sheriff of Norwich went to London and made representations for a reprieve at the Home Office. On Sunday the 29th of November the governor received a letter saying that the Home Secretary had not found cause to grant a reprieve.

James Berry had arrived at the prison and tested the drop on the Monday morning in the presence of the governor and under-sheriff. The gallows there had been constructed some three and a half years earlier for the execution of William Abigail on the 22nd of May 1882. The trap doors were set level with the floor over an 11′ 5″ deep brick lined pit in the middle of a small yard. This yard was approximately 48 feet long by 15 feet wide near the Castle wall, opposite Opie Street. The gallows consisted of a black painted wooden beam supported by two stout uprights set over the black painted trap doors.

Goodale stood 5′ 11″ tall and was a heavy man at 15 stone (210 lbs.) with a weak neck. Berry considered that a drop of 5′ 9″ should be given. He used a “government rope” that had been used for the hanging of John Williams at Hereford a week earlier.

At 7.55 a.m. on the Monday morning the bell of St. Peter’s church began to toll and the officials proceeded to the condemned cell. A procession then formed consisting of the governor, the Rev. Mr. Wheeler, the surgeon, Mr. Robinson and the under-sheriff, Mr. Hales. Mr. Charles Mackie of the Norfolk Chronicle represented the press. They went down a passage that connected the cell to the gallows yard where Berry met them and pinioned Goodale, after which they continued into the prison yard.

Here Berry strapped Goodale’s legs and applied the white hood and the noose. Goodale several times exclaimed “Oh God, receive my soul.” As the church clock struck for the eighth time Berry released the trap doors and Goodale disappeared into the pit, but the rope sprung back up to the horror of the witnesses.

As they looked down into the pit they could see the body and the head lying separately at the bottom.

The law required that an inquest be held after an execution and this was presided over by Mr. E. S. Bignold, the Coroner. Mr. Dent gave evidence that the machinery of the gallows was in good working order and that Goodale was decapitated by the force of the drop. Mr. Dent did not think that a drop of 5′ 9″ was excessive and in fact thought it was insufficient for a man of ordinary build. He also stated that James Berry was perfectly sober.

Berry himself testified and at the end of this the Coroner absolved him of any blame for what had happened. The jury returned a verdict that Goodale “came to his death by hanging, according to the judgement of the law.” They further said “that they did not consider that anyone was to blame for what had occurred.”

This is the only occasion of a complete decapitation occurring at a hanging in England, Scotland and Wales, although Berry had several partial ones.

Assuming that Goodale actually weighed 15 stones (in some reports it is given as 16 stones) and that Berry had correctly set the drop at 5′ 9½” or 5′ 10″ then the energy developed would have been around 1218 foot lbs. This is around 100 foot lbs. more than would have been given after 1939 for a man of normal build with a normal neck. The “Goodale Mess” as it came to be known, led to a lot of unfavourable comment in the press.

Just one day after the most damning newspaper editorials had appeared, the head of the Prison Commission, Sir Edward Du Cane, wrote to the Home Secretary on the 2nd of December. In his letter he suggested the setting up of a Committee on Capital Punishment (which became the Aberdare Committee).

Footnote:

The Norwich Chronicle published an interview with Goodale’s spiritual advisor, the Rev. Mr. Wheeler, a Baptist minister. He felt that maybe Goodale might not have been convicted of murder if he had said earlier what he said in his confession on the Friday evening. When Bethsheba fell into the well, he fetched a ladder to go down and look for her but that he could not get down the well since the opening was just 18 inches wide and he could not physically fit through it.

Had he spoken up earlier, Mr. Wheeler said, the police would have found the ladder still in the well and the dirt of the well on Goodale’s clothes. It might have led to a verdict of manslaughter.

When Goodale finally came forward with this tale, it was too late.

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2007: Leong Siew Chor, Kallang Body Parts Murderer

Add comment November 30th, 2017 Headsman

On this date in 2007, Singapore hanged Leong Siew Chor.

Perpetrator of a crime evocatively known as the Kallang Body Parts Murder, Leong circa mid-2005 was a 50-year-old married man having a fling with a 22-year-old aide, Liu Hong Mei … owner of the body parts in question.

Having swiped his lover’s bank card and withdrawn a few thousand dollars on it, Leong belatedly realized that security camera footage was sure to expose him. A day or two after this epiphany, pieces of Liu Hong Mei’s torso were found adrift in the Kallang River and then elsewhere. She’d seemingly been strangled to death at Leong’s home, after which he’d “cut body bit by bit, starting with feet,” in the words of a headline.

The horror of the crime belied the smallness of its author. For nothing but a pittance of money and a want of commonsense foresight, Leong had careened in a matter of days from humdrum marital malfeasance to an improvised abattoir. He lamely tried to claim that they’d been part of a suicide pact that he chickened out of, while also undercutting himself by acknowledging that he feared her discovering his ATM embezzlements.

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1557: Galvarino, Mapuche warrior

Add comment November 30th, 2015 Headsman

On this date in 1557, the handless Mapuche cacique Galvarino was executed by the Spanish during the Arauco War.

The Mapuche people, still extant today, inhabited present-day Chile and Argentina; Spanish explorers pushing south from the wreck of the Inca Empire encountered them, and naturally antagonized them.

Rebellion broke out among the Mapuche in 1553, led by Caupolican and his able commander Lautaro; they won some signal victories but the conflict was never decisively finished by either side. The Arauco War — encompassing many distinct rebellions and campaigns punctuated by relative calm — ran until the early 19th century.

Our fellow Galvarino was elevated to folk hero status by the Spanish in the very first period of rebellion when he was captured in battle at Lagunillas. Instead of cutting off his head, the Europeans chopped off his hands — then sent him (with a number of like mutilated prisoners) back to his people. The intent was to make a terrifying example, but Galvarino made the example his own: brandishing the bloodied stumps and oratorical fury to match, he incited his comrades to further resistance.

At the Battle of Millarapue on this date in 1557, hours before his execution, the Spanish beheld him urging on the Mapuche:

My Brothers, why have you stopped attacking these Christians, seeing the manifest damage that from the day which they entered our kingdom until today they have done and are doing? And they still will do to you what you see that they have done and they are doing? And still they will do to you what you see that they have done to me, cut your hands off, if you are not diligent in making the most of wreaking destruction on these so injurious people for us and or or our children and women!

But by evening, the Spanish carried the day — and once again had Galvarino in their custody.

“The poet Ercilla, impressed by the Indian’s valor, made every effort to keep him from being executed, arguing that he had seen Galvarino changing sides and joining the Spanish troops,” writes Guillermo I. Castillo-Feliu in Culture and Customs of Chile. “Galvarino, displaying his mutilated arms, until then covered by a shawl, refused Ercilla’s offer to commute his death sentence and said that he only wished that he could tear his enemies apart with his teeth.”

They put him to death straightaway. Accounts of the execution method range from hanging to impalement to being thrown to dogs.

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Feast Day of St. Andrew

1 comment November 30th, 2014 Headsman

Now after that John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel.

Now as he walked by the sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew his brother casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers. And Jesus said unto them, Come ye after me, and I will make you to become fishers of men. And straightway they forsook their nets, and followed him.

Mark 1:14-18

“Walks on the Water” by the Russian band Nautilus Pompilius
Translation from friend of the blog Sonechka; alternate version here

Apostle Andrew was fishing from a wharf.
While the Savior was walking on the water.
Andrew was pulling fishes from the sea,
While the Savior – fallen men.

Andrew cried out: “I will leave the wharf,
If you reveal the secret to me.”
And the Savior answered: “Be calm, Andrew.
There is no secret here.

“You see, yonder, on the mountain
Towers a cross,
Underneath are a dozen soldiers.
Hang on it for a while.
And when you get bored,
Return back here
To walk on the water with me.”

“But, Master, the helmets are adorned with glistening horns,
A black raven circles the cross.
Explain to me now, take pity on the fool,
And leave the crucifixion for later.”

The Messiah gasped and with ire
Stamped his foot on the smoothness of water.
“You are indeed a fool.” — And Andrew in tears
Shuffled off home with his fishes.

November 30 is the feast date of St. Andrew the Apostle, Christ‘s very first disciple along with his brother St. Peter.

Andrew gets pretty short shrift in the New Testament compared to his brother, even though the Gospel of John actually credits our man with being the first of the two boys to cotton to the Nazarene’s preaching.

Despite playing such a minor role in the sacred texts, he has a cultural footprint far in excess of fellow apostolic extras like Saint Bartholomew.

After the master’s crucifixion, Andrew is supposed to have preached in Turkey and Greece. Romanian and Kievan Rus’ traditions posit that he wandered even further north to make the first Christian inroads among their pagan forebears; as a consequence, Romania, Russia, and Ukraine are all among the countries that count Andrew as a patron saint, along with the place of his martyrdom, Greece.

The most recognizable such patronage, of course, is Scotland.

The story has it that a legendary Roman monk in the fourth century brought three fingers, an arm bone, a kneecap, and a tooth formerly comprising the saint from Patras, where Andrew died, to a monastery on the coast of Fife. The subsequent settlement has been known as St Andrews for over 800 years, so if you like that might make Andrew the patron saint of golf, too.**

Scotland’s flag, the ☓-shaped heraldic saltire pictured above, evokes Saint Andrew’s distinctive execution device, the aptly-named (and kink-friendly) St. Andrew’s Cross.

Like his brother’s physiologically improbable upside-down execution, this is supposed to have represented the disciple’s own unworthiness to die the same death as the Savior, and Roman executioners’ surprising accommodation of such scruples.


The Martyrdom of Saint Andrew, by Charles Le Brun (1646-1647).

St. Andrew’s Day is an official holiday in Scotland. In many other countries of central and Eastern Europe, the vigil preceding St. Andrew’s Day has long been associated with folk magic for divining the identity of an unmarried maid’s future husband.


Detail view (click for the full image) of Henryk Siemiradzki’s 1867 painting Siemiradzki Noc-Andrzeja.

Andre, Andrei, or Andreas are equivalents; it’s thanks to a November 30 christening that San Andreas Lake got its name, and in turn conferred same on the associated continental fault that keeps Californians employed making disaster movies about their own selves going the way of Atlantis.

* There is also an apocryphal Acts of Andrew, whose original text has been lost but is known in summation indirectly through other authors. It is thought to date to the third century.

** It was Archbishop James Hamilton — later executed — who gave the residents of St Andrews standing access to golf’s Holiest of Holies, the Old Course at St Andrews.

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2000: Kiyotaka Katsuta, Japan’s “most evil” killer

Add comment November 30th, 2013 Headsman

On this date in 2000, Japan hanged three fifty-something murderers.

While Takashi Miyawaki and Kunikatsu Oishi were rather garden-variety criminals who killed family members over private vendettas, Kiyotaka Katsuta had been impressively dignified by one of his judges as the “most maliciously evil criminal in Japanese history.”

The former firefighter was convicted of eight murders but twice or even thrice that number might lie upon his soul.

He got started in 1972, strangling and robbing a Kyoto bar hostess.

Having found a workable m.o., Katsuta murdered and stole from (police suspected rapes, too, but couldn’t prove it) another four women over the 1970s. Then he moved on to armed robbery of men, stealing a gun from a policeman and killing at least three (with others wounded) in his various stickups — deeply shocking in Japan where guns are hard to own and firearm crime vanishingly rare.

Katsuta was so notorious after his 1983 arrest that a movie came out based on his crime spree.

In the will scribbled out during the few minutes he had left after being informed of his imminent execution, Katsuta professed that he had “managed to lead myself to a spiritual state of resignation.”

One of his victims’ family expressed a different form of closure — that Katsuta’s hanging “has made us feel we at long last have become able to close a chapter in our anguish, although we still feel never able to forgive the perpetrator.”

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1871: Gaston Cremieux, Marseilles Commune leader

Add comment November 30th, 2012 Headsman

On this date in 1871, Gaston Cremieux was shot at Marseilles for his role in that city’s lately-destroyed Commune.

Cremieux (French Wikipedia page: most external links in this post are also in French) was a gifted young lawyer with a social conscience who was known for taking on indigent-defense cases and working-class causes.

Given his prominence in radical circles, Cremieux was naturally thrust into leadership when word of the Paris Commune brought Marseilles, too, into a popular rising.

Lissagaray called Cremieux “an elegant and effeminate speaker … a mild enthusiast, who beheld the revolution under rather a bucolic aspect.” His admirable principles were not those of bloody revolutionary will, and he was accordingly viewed (or disdained) as a moderate.

The Marseilles Commune lasted only a fortnight: neighboring towns did not rally to it, and elsewhere in the south Toulouse and Narbonne communards were crushed within days.

When troops of the bourgeois Versailles government — the city to which it had fled from Paris — took Marseilles, according to Lissagaray, they “arrested at random, and dragged their victims into the lamp-stores of the station. There an officer scrutinized the prisoners, made a sign to one or the other of them to step out, and blew out his brains. The following days there were rumours of summary executions in the barracks, the forts and the prisons. The number of dead the people lost is unknown, but it exceeded 150.”

Cremieux’s own conscience was pretty clean in all this — he’d even advocated against keeping hostages. (Unsuccessfully, but Marseilles did not kill its hostages, unlike Paris.) “Show me those whom Cremieux has shot,” his lawyer would later protest to the military tribunal called to try him.

Cremieux’s own shooting would have to suffice. He died crying “Vive la République!” as the firing squad emptied its barrels into his torso … as per Cremieux’s request to preserve his face lest his parents be too shaken by his corpse. Just call him a family man.

A posthumously-published French volume of Cremieux’s work contains verse, a play about Robespierre’s fall, and his “Impressions of a Condemned Man”.

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1938: Corneliu Codreanu, Romanian fascist martyr

Add comment November 30th, 2011 Headsman

“In place of the weak and beaten man who bends with every breeze, a man who is all too common in politics and other fields, we must create for this nation a man who does not bend, who is inflexible.”

-Corneliu Codreanu

On this date in 1938, 14 political prisoners of the Romanian Legionary movement were extrajudicially executed — including Corneliu Codreanu, one of the Romanian right’s leading spirits.

The son of a Bukovina schoolteacher in what was then Austria-Hungary, Codreanu came to political maturity in the interwar heyday of Greater Romania. It was a moment of national aspiration — the Romanian state had never before grown so large — but it was abutted by the great threats of Germany and Russia, and haunted by nationalism, economic crisis, shaken political authority, and all the other spooks conjured by the first World War.

For Codreanu as for many at that time it was the stage for a blood-and-soil death struggle against Communist agitators and sinister Jewish financiers.

But his vision was an intensely positive one as well: a valiant new Romania founded by a courageous new man, honorable and true to the virtues of the nation’s noble peasant stock. “We shall create,” Codreanu declared, “a spiritual atmosphere, a moral atmosphere, in which the heroic man may be born and on which he can thrive.”

Codreanu’s vehicle for stamping out these heroic countrymen was the Legion of the Archangel Michael* which our principal founded in 1927. Named for God’s ass-kickingest enforcer, this movement/militia was not above creating its spiritual atmosphere with political assassinations by adherents widely noted for a willingness to die for the cause.

Later known as the Iron Guard, the Legion, in the view of German historian Ernst Nolte, “plainly appears to be the most interesting and the most complex fascist movement, because like geological formations of superimposed layers it presents at once both prefascist and radically fascist characteristics.” (Qutoed here.)

As his Legion’s name suggested, Codreanu was intently religious — virtually a mystic, and a messianic Romanian Orthodox Christianity was essential to his new Romania. His movement took root in a peasant society, not an industrial state with a revolutionary working class to crush or co-opt. Rather, it organized in opposition to a mediocre king and a feckless, heavily non-Romanian oligarchy which maintained its enervating grip on the nation with “endless appeals to the Fatherland which it does not love, to God in whom it does not believe, to the Church where it never sets foot, to the Army which it sends to war with empty hands.”*

And also to the police, which clapped Codreanu and his confederates in prison after the revolutionaries declined the elite incumbents’ offer of political collaboration.

In 1938, Codreanu was hit with a long prison sentence for sedition. Uncowed, the Legion grew ever more overtly aggressive when Nazi Germany successfully dismembered Czechoslovakia; Berlin made the Legions plainly aware that it saw their movement as Romania’s future, German-allied government. Futilely maneuvering for his own scope of action, Carol attempted to decapitate the Iron Guard by having its imprisoned leadership “shot while trying to escape” on this date.

This did not turn out to help the king. Codreanu’s movement traded stripe for stripe with its foes; within two years, Carol had been forced to abdicate and the Iron Guard helped govern (albeit with tension) a fascist state.

The contemporary Romanian right aggressively reclaimed Capitanul, “the Captain”, after the fall of communism. Codreanu is now revered among not only among Romanian nationalists but in fascism’s wider populist Strasserite tradition. (Gregor Strasser, who liked the socialist part of national socialism too much for Hitler’s taste, was among those murdered on Nazi Germany’s Night of the Long Knives.)

* Eugen Weber in Varieties of Fascism, quoted by Anthony James Joes in “Fascism: The Past and the Future,” Comparative Political Studies, April 1974

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1539: Don Carlos Ometochtzin, Aztec heretic

1 comment November 30th, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1539, the Spanish Inquisition had Aztec noble Don Carlos Ometochtzin (or Don Carlos Chichimecatecuhi, or Don Carlos Ahuachpitzactzin) burned at the stake for reverting to the pre-Columbian indigenous religion.

Just another Mesoamerican depredation?

Surprisingly, this execution stands out as an exception in the first generations of its conquest. It even cost the first bishop of Mexico, Juan de Zumarraga, a reprimand for his excess severity. Why?

Certainly any European Christian would have had trouble with the Inquisition if, like Don Carlos (Spanish Wikipedia entry | English), he had been caught with idols of Xipe Totec in his place.

But it was precisely the point that these weren’t Europeans. In 16th century “New Spain,” syncretisms of Christianity and the native Mexican cults still in living memory were the norm, a scenario recalling early Christianity co-opting the pagan rites it supplanted.*


Respect Xipe Totec’s authoritah!

And that created for the Spanish a problem: how stringently to insist upon an alien orthodoxy for its new subjects? The problem was pragmatic at least as much as it was theological, because the business of winning converts for Christ had to coexist with the business of running an empire. No sense provoking civil war just because the newest souls in the fold don’t have the Te Deum down; Cortes himself, in his initial conquest, had prohibited human sacrifice but not risked closing native temples.* That wasn’t done until 1525.

Over the 1530’s, a campaign unfolded to pare down the many holdover native behaviors — polygamy, idolatry — and cement Christianity. Of particular concern were the “converted” elites who had both means (their social position) and motive (privileges lost to the Spanish) to use nostalgia for the old ways to make trouble.

So, a powerful indigenous priest who “converted” and then went about preaching heretically was investigated by Zumarraga, wielding the Inquisitorial authority, in 1536.

But even that didn’t draw a death sentence.

In Zumarraga’s 19 Inquisitorial trials involving at least 75 suspects, the one and only instance of an Indian being “relaxed” to the secular authorities for execution came in 1539, when Zumarraga was tipped that the hereditary ruler of one of the Aztec Triple Alliance‘s principal city-states was a secret idolator, and a public declaimer of treasonable utterances like this:

Who are those that undo us and disturb us and live on us and we have them on our backs and they subjugate us? … no one shall equal us, that this is our land, and our treasure and our jewel, and our possession, and the Dominion is ours and belongs to us.

Don Carlos was ultimately acquitted of the idolatry stuff, but convicted of heretical dogmatizing.

So far, so good, right? Executions for heresy might be horrible in general, but if you live in a world where they’re routine, surely having your colonial satrap out there calling the empire parasitical, and telling the unwashed masses to go ahead and take multiple wives (Aztec elites seem to have been especially piqued by the lifestyle austerity preached by Franciscan missionaries) is the sort of thing that’ll get you burned at the stake.** And there were plenty more like him out there.

But though the Christianizing campaign of the 1530’s would continue in many forms for decades still to come, the bloodletting which Don Carlos figured to presage was abruptly canceled.

According to Patricia Lopes Don’s “Franciscans, Indian Sorcerers, and the Inquisition in New Spain, 1536–1543,” in Journal of World History, Vol. 17, No. 1,

[a] holocaust was most probably at hand in the spring of 1540. However, when the Council of the Indies in Spain learned of Don Carlos’s execution, they reprimanded Zumárraga, sent a visitador, an inspector-auditor, to New Spain to take away the bishop’s inquisitorial powers, and left him in a state of some humiliation until his death in 1548. All indications were that they feared further such executions would lead to widespread indigenous rebellion in New Spain. As was the case with the Muslims in the Old World, although orthodox Christianity was central to the concept of Spain and the monarchy, when the imperial Spanish needed to choose between religious orthodoxy and the security of the state, they could learn very quickly to be flexible and politique, yet express their concerns in judicious language. In a letter of 22 November 1540, Francisco de Nava, bishop of Seville, explained to Zumárraga that while he understood that he had executed Don Carlos “in the belief that burning would put fear into others and make an example of him,” the Indians, he suggested, “might be more persuaded with love than with rigor.”

When the Inquisition was formally instituted in New Spain in 1571, the native populace was explicitly outside its jurisdiction: its job was to monitor the European population for covert Protestants, Muslims, and Jews.

Although this development has to count as a break for the locals, it’s interesting to note that the theological superstructure of the Spanish policy tension between religious conformity and practical colonialism turned at least in part on a condescending dispute over the “capacity” of Indians to truly become Christian. In that dispute, Zumarraga and his Franciscan order were the ones who thought more highly of the indigenous “capacity”, as against the more skeptical Dominicans; the logical consequence of the Franciscan position was to impose upon those capacious natives the fullest severity of God’s law.

* Though not to be underestimated is the persistence within the citadel of Christendom of everyday folk beliefs, and occasional social movements, at odds with ecclesiastical dogma.

** Treasonous quote and details about the investigation and trial from Richard E. Greenleaf, “Persistence of Native Values: The Inquisition and the Indians of Colonial Mexico”, The Americas, Vol. 50, No. 3 (Jan., 1994)

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1945: Heinz Eck, U-Boat commander

5 comments November 30th, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 1945, Heinz-Wilhelm Eck and two of his former subordinates on the Unterseeboot U-852 were shot in Hamburg for killing the survivors of a sunk target.


The defendants in the U-852 trial. From left to right: Eck, August Hoffmann, Walter Weisspfennig, Hans Lenz, Wolfgang Schwender. The leftmost three were executed.

On March 13, 1944, in the South Atlantic en route to the Indian Ocean, U-852 torpedoed the Greek-flagged Peleus.

The submarine commander Eck feared the steamer’s debris would be observed by a passing airplane, and give enough information to Allied reconnaissance to enable it to find his ship. He therefore surfaced and attempted to have the debris field eliminated by machine-gunning and grenading it into the watery deep.

This seems a rather curious expedient, but evidently it was a common one.

U-Boat ace Adalbert Schnee was called (German link) to testify that blasting away at ship wreckage actually was an effective practice. But on prosecution’s cross-examination, Schnee was deftly trapped — lest he incriminate himself in a potential war crime — into disavowing (pdf) the killing of survivors who happened to be clinging to that debris.*

Q. What would you have done if you had been in Eck’s position?

A. I would under all circumstances have tried my best to save lives, as that is a measure which was taken by all U-boat commanders; but when I hear of this case, then I can only explain it as this, that Captain Eck, through the terrific experience he had been through, lost his nerve.

Q. Does that mean that you would not have done what Captain Eck did if you had kept your nerve?

A. I would not have done it.

Survivors of torpedo attacks usually had problems enough without the sub crew taking pains to attack them. Eck claimed that he worried that the survivors’ rafts might have communications equipment that would call out the sub-hunters tout de suite, but a standing German directive forbade U-boat captains assisting their prey.

No attempt of any kind should be made at rescuing members of ships sunk, and this includes picking up persons in the water and putting them in lifeboats, righting capsized lifeboats and handing over food and water. Rescue runs counter to the rudimentary demands of warfare for the destruction of enemy ships and crews … Be harsh, having in mind that the enemy takes no regard of women and children in his bombing attacks of German cities.

An unpleasant reality of sub warfare, as depicted in the classic submarine film Das Boot:

But in this case, some of the Peleus crew managed to survive the mop-up operation, and then the open ocean, long enough to tell their tale.

The British military tribunal sentenced Eck to death, his plea of “operational necessity” (i.e., “I had to shoot the survivors to sink the debris to save my ship”) rejected; also condemned were the ship’s doctor Walter Weisspfennig, who wasn’t supposed to be involved in gunplay at all, and August Hoffmann. Both of them had taken the “only following [Eck’s] orders” line.

Hans Lenz, who had opposed Eck’s order but ultimately complied with it, drew a life sentence. Wolfgang Schwender, who seems to have shot generally at debris but not (he said) at human beings, and then got bumped off his gun by the reluctant Lenz, got off the easiest at 15 years.

Despite the predictable “victor’s justice” dynamic — American and British sub personnel, and even Japanese I-boat officers, evidently skated on similar conduct — Eck was the only U-boat commander in World War II to draw a war crimes conviction. That was surely due in part to the overwhelming majority of them having simply failed to survive the perilous undersea campaign long enough to see the inside of a war crimes court.

* Part of the past-is-prologue contest for this case was the World War I sinking of the Llandovery Castle by a German submarine, which had then proceeded to hunt down the lifeboats. It resulted in (non-death penalty) war crimes convictions for some of the U-boat officers involved. The existence of this precedent helped to defeat the “superior orders” defense of the junior officers, since they could be held to have known that Eck’s command was illegal.

Part of the Daily Double: Lesser War Criminals.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Germany,History,Notable Jurisprudence,Shot,Soldiers,War Crimes

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1824: Henry Fauntleroy, choked on debt

7 comments November 30th, 2008 Headsman

On this date in 1824, the last Englishman to hang for forgery, met his fate at Newgate prison.

Henry Fauntleroy making his defense. From this Harvard gallery (part of the university’s Crimes Virtual Collection) of the period’s hanging press, including a Fauntleroy broadsheet (huge image, with a generic-looking merchant type as the criminal).

In a celebrated affair of the time, Fauntleroy was found to have inherited from his father a partnership in the foundering London bank Marsh, Sibbald & Co.

Desperate to keep the concern alive by maintaining a front of normalcy, Fauntleroy serviced its obligations by forging powers of attorney authorizing him to sell stock that he was supposed to merely be holding for investors.

Ever the diligent clerk, Fauntleroy made a ledger of the fraudulent transactions, plainly footnoted:

In order to keep up the credit of our house, I have forged powers of attorney for the above sums and parties, and sold out to the amount here stated, and without the knowledge of my partners. I kept up the payments of the dividends, but made no entries of such payments in our books.

The more things change

Fauntleroy, of course, didn’t have the reach of the Smartest Guys in the Room; what he did by foul means the collapse of his firm might have (more or less) accomplished by what economists regard as fair.

The firm, said the defendant, was in quite a fix.

I was only twenty-two years of age, and the whole weight of an extensive but needy Banking establishment at once devolved upon me, and I found the concern deeply involved in advances to builders and others … and the necessity of making further advances to those persons to secure the sums in which they stood indebted.

Translation: If you owe the bank £100, you’ve got a problem; if you owe the bank £100,000,000, the bank has a problem.

It took a lot less than that to run Marsh, Sibbald & Co. into the ground.

In this perplexed state the house continued until 1810, when its embarrassments were greatly increased, owing to the bankruptcies of Brickwood and others, which brought upon it a sudden demand for no less a sum than 170,000 £ … About 1814, 1815, and 1816, from the speculations with builders and brickmakers, & others, in which the house was engaged, it was called upon to provide funds to near 100,000 £, to avert the losses which would otherwise have visited it from these speculations. In 1819, the most responsible of our partners died, and we were called upon to pay over the amount of his capital, although the resources of the house were wholly inadequate to meet so large a payment. During these numerous and trying difficulties the house was nearly without resources, and the whole burthen of management falling upon me, I was driven to a state of distraction, in which I could meet with no relief from my partners, and, almost broken-hearted, I sought resources where I could, and so long as they were provided, and the credit of the house supported, no inquiries were made, either as to the manner in which they were procured, or as to the sources from whence they were derived.

In almost Dickensian fashion, our malefactor reacted more violently to allegations that the embezzlement had been effected in pursuit of a debaucherous lifestyle than he did to the criminal charge itself; if his version of bourgeois rectitude and endemic financial criminality further to the crumbling facade of his enterprise rings true, the ascetic clerk’s mortal penalty on behalf of his crummy bank will be a timely reminder of the pleasures one ought to seek before life withdraws them (or at least — just ask Robert Rubin! — of the invaluable utility of the limited liability company).

Having thus exposed all the necessities of the house, I declare that all the monies temporarily raised by me, were applied, not in one instance for my own separate purposes or expenses, but in every case they were immediately placed to the credit of the house in Berners-street, and applied to the payment of the pressing demands upon it. This fact does not rest on my assertion, as the transactions referred to are entered in the books now in the possession of the assignees, and to which I have had no access since my apprehension. These books, I understand, are now in Court, and will confirm the truth of my statement; and to whatever account all the sums may be entered, whether to that of Stock, of Exchequer Bills, or to my private account, the whole went to the general funds of the Banking-house.

Parliament abolished the death penalty for forgery in 1832. According to Hanging in the Balance: A History of the Abolition of Capital Punishment in Britain, a factor in the legislation was jurors’ increasing unwillingness to convict those accused of the crime knowing that it could lead to hanging. (See much testimony to that effect from the period’s lawyers and bankers here.)

A rumor circulated after Fauntleroy’s death — having something to do with the fame of the criminal, and something to do with what was reportedly his corpse’s unnaturally undamaged condition after the execution — that he had contrived to survive the hanging by slipping a silver tube down his throat, then absconded to live abroad.

Though evidently baseless as a factual matter, the legend is paid tribute by Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Blithedale Romance, with a mysterious banker named “Fauntleroy” whose backstory would have elicited a knowing wink from many a reader in his time … and ours.

After Fauntleroy had thus spent a few empty years, coruscating continually an unnatural light, the source of it — which was merely his gold — began to grow more shallow, and finally became exhausted. He saw himself in imminent peril of losing all that had heretofore distinguished him; and, conscious of no innate worth to fall back upon, he recoiled from this calamity with the instinct of a soul shrinking from annihilation. To avoid it, — wretched man! — or rather to defer it, if but for a month, a day, or only to procure himself the life of a few breaths more amid the false glitter which was now less his own than ever, — he made himself guilty of a crime. It was just the sort of crime, growing out of its artificial state, which society (unless it should change its entire constitution for this man’s unworthy sake) neither could nor ought to pardon. More safely might it pardon murder. Fauntleroy’s guilt was discovered. He fled …

The wreck of his estate was divided among his creditors: His name, in a very brief space, was forgotten by the multitude who had passed it so diligently from mouth to mouth. Seldom, indeed, was it recalled, even by his closest former intimates. Nor could it have been otherwise. The man had laid no real touch on any mortal’s heart. Being a mere image, an optical delusion, created by the sunshine of prosperity, it was his law to vanish into the shadow of the first intervening cloud. He seemed to leave no vacancy; a phenomenon which, like many others that attended his brief career, went far to prove the illusiveness of his existence.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Executions Survived,Hanged,Pelf,Public Executions,Ripped from the Headlines

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