1773: Eva Faschaunerin, the last tortured in Austria

Add comment November 9th, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1773, Eva Faschaunerin was beheaded for the arsenic murder of her husband Jakob Kary, mere weeks after their 1770 marriage.

Faschaunerin (English Wikipedia entry | German), who was interrogated on the rack, is distinguished as the last victim in the Austrian empire of official judicial torture: the practice was abolished in 1776 by Maria Theresa.

She’s still well-known in her locale, the Alpine Lieser-Maltatal region and even further afield than that; the town of Gmünd has an Eva Faschaunerin museum in its former jail.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Austria,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Habsburg Realm,History,Milestones,Murder,Public Executions,Torture,Women

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1641: Maren Splids, Jutland witch

1 comment November 9th, 2017 Headsman

On this date in 1641, one of Denmark’s most famous witches suffered at the stake.

Maren Splid, Spliid, or Splids (English Wikipedia entry | Danish) remains a paradigmatic exemplar of the witch-hunt’s terrifying capacity to make magicians of anyone some neighbor might one day accuse. In Splids’s case, the neighbor was a competitor of her prosperous husband, a tailor in the Jutland town of Ribe; the commercial motive obviously suggests itself but one dismisses superstitious folly at one’s peril. Apparently Maren Splids had given him some nasty words a full 13 years before the trouble started and the neighbor nursed the grudge along as if he was carrying a flame for her.

In 1637 this accuser, Didrik by name, denounced our misfortunate principal for bewitching him unto an infernal illness; he even delivered to gobsmacked investigators some strange object that he had vomited up under her spell.

Now, Maren and husband were big enough wheels to defeat this case in Ribe — but the diligent Didrick proceeded to carry the matter all the way to King Christian IV, a supernatural paranoiac in the mold of his witchsniffing contemporary and brother-in-law James VI of Scotland/James I of England.

This sovereign ordered the case re-tried and put it on goodwife Splids to produce no fewer than 15 witnesses to her witchless character. The headsman is not quite certain whether, in a pinch, he could conjure 15 witnesses capable of credibly exonerating him of the Lindbergh baby kidnapping; neither did Splids manage to satisfy the court with a sufficient chorus.

Still supported by her husband, Splids leveraged a right of appeal which initially resulted in the grandees of Ribe overturning the conviction but her enemies were able to kick the appeal to the national government. Tortured in Copenhagen’s Blue Tower, Splids at last cracked and admitted the charges, also implicating several other women,* and was returned to Ribe to burn at the stake.


Marker at Maren Splids Hus in Ribe, which is a tourist attraction. (cc) image by Wolfgang Sauber.

She’s one of Denmark’s best-remembered sorceresses and an emblem of the witching era that saw 22 such prosecutions in Ribe alone from 1572 to 1652. She’s also been latterly reclaimed as an admirable figure — for instance, there was a 1970s feminist magazine called Maren Splids.

* One other woman, Anne Thomasdatter, would be put to death on the basis of Splids’s confession. Several others endured stays in the dungeon.

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Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Burned,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Denmark,Execution,Famous,History,Public Executions,Witchcraft,Women

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1940: Julian Zugazagoitia, Minister of the Interior to republican Spain

Add comment November 9th, 2016 Headsman

On this date in 1940, the late Spanish Republic’s former Interior Minister was shot by Franco’s dictatorship, having received him from the hands of the Gestapo who arrested the man in exile.

A socialist journalist, Julian Zugazagoitia (English Wikipedia entry | the more detailed Spanish) was tapped for the ministry gig by Prime Minister Juan Negrin — a man to whom history appointed the distasteful destiny of trying to turn the Republic away from the abyss that gaped for it.

Negrin’s major resource in this doomed project was Russian aid* — aid conditioned on Kremlin internal control within Spain, against the other factional groups (anarchists, social democrats, and so forth) that comprised the Republic’s “popular front”. Indeed, Negrin himself came to power thanks to a bloody internal coup against anarchists and anti-Soviet communists. Zugazagoitia found this distasteful but for his year in the government he had to toe the line on it: pressed by a British delegation over the political arrests — and sometimes murders — of pro-Republic dissidents like Andres Nin, Zugazagoitia allowed that “We have received aid from Russia and have had to permit certain actions which we did not like.” (quoted (p. 86) in Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia)

Though he managed to escape abroad as the Republic fell to Franco’s armies, Zugazagoitia was caught by the Gestapo in France; as they had done with his fellow politician Lluis Companys in a similar spot, the Germans deported the former Minister of the Interior to certain execution in Spain.

Zugazagoitia’s grandson, also named Julian Zugazagoitia, directs the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, USA.

* An embargo on arms shipments by most western countries all but forced Spain to buy Russian arms, on Russian terms.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Intellectuals,Politicians,Power,Shot,Spain,Treason

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1945: Charles Ford Silliman, suicide pact?

Add comment November 9th, 2015 Meaghan

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

On this date in 1945, stripped down to his socks and underwear, 35-year-old truck driver and double murderer Charles Silliman was gassed in Colorado’s death chamber. He died for the murder of his wife, Esther Corrine Silliman, and their four-year-old daughter.

Charles and Esther had been married for nine years and didn’t have any relationship problems that anybody knew about. After dinner on January 22, 1944, he poured her nightly glass of brandy. He also gave a small amount to little Patricia Mae. Both mother and child became violently ill and quickly expired.

Charles said he had no idea what had caused their deaths, and suggested food poisoning as a possible answer. When the cops arrived on the scene, they found the grieving husband and father studying his wife and daughter’s life insurance policies.

The police were suspicious, especially after Charles began weeping and pulled out a handkerchief marked with lipstick. He said the lipstick was his wife’s, but … she never wore makeup.

Chemical analysis showed the brandy had been laced with strychnine, and a bottle of the poison turned up hidden in the tire kit in Silliman’s car. The police theorized he had committed the murders to collect on the insurance and be with “a woman whom he met in a beer tavern in Denver and later … while his wife was absent, he rather frequently visited.”

Charged with murder, Silliman admitted to the poisonings and said he and his wife, plagued by poor health and debt, had jointly decided to commit suicide and take both their children with them — but that he chickened out and was unable to go through with it. (Son Charles Jr. was not harmed, as he was living with his grandparents at the time of the murders.)

Silliman was tried for his wife’s murder only, and he told the jury about the unfinished suicide pact. The prosecution pointed out that, even if his story was true, the deaths of Esther and Patricia still constituted first-degree murder.

His insanity plea didn’t go anywhere either. “We are convinced from the record,” ruled the appellate court, “as the jury must have been from the evidence, that defendant’s insanity was an afterthought and conceived by him as a means of escaping the penalty which, under the evidence, he merited.”

Silliman did, however, gain an extra two hours of life: executions at the Colorado prison normally took place at 8:00 p.m., but at that time there was a Chamber of Commerce banquet going on and 550 guests were chowing down on turkey. The warden delayed the execution until 10:00 p.m., after dinner was over and everyone had left the prison.

His last words were, “I do not fear. I am going to a better world.”

(An aside: elsewhere in the United States on that same November 9, 1945, Jesse Craiton and Noah Collins were electrocuted in Georgia for robbery-homicide, and Cliff Norman died for rape in Oklahoma’s electric chair.)

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Colorado,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Gassed,Guest Writers,Murder,Other Voices,Sex,USA

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2011: Luo Yaping, “land granny”

2 comments November 9th, 2014 Headsman

On this date in 2011, China’s “land granny” was executed for plundering 145 million yuan ($23 million) from China’s swelling bubble in real estate.

Luo Yaping was head of a land sub-bureau in a district of Fushun, a city in northeast China — not an especially high position — and yet she was able to use her power over land development and compensation to accumulate a fortune in bribes and embezzled compensation,” according to Reuters.

Though anti-corruption investigators tarred her racket as “the lowest in class, biggest in sum and evilest in tactics,” neither the person nor her boodle were very big game at all for China’s bananas real estate market. Chinese conglomerates write budget lines for routine bribery far beyond what Luo feathered her nest with.

China’s new fortunes chasing after property — and vice versa — have given the country a wild kaleidoscope: astronomical urban rents; colossal speculative ghost cities awaiting tenants who might never arrive; and underhanded deals among developers and government officials to split up the spoils. Average housing prices across the country tripled from 2005 to 2009.

Whatever the inanities of the market, more buyers have always been there because real estate has long been seen in China as one of the few fairly reliable places to put one’s money. In fact, China’s newly minted millionaires have even globalized the real estate markets of some European and North American cities.

But for China’s 99% the tectonic social changes so profitable to builders are full of dislocations; probably fewer people feel kinship to a grandmother waxing fat on the boom than to a grandmother literally buried alive by ravenous builders.

It would take deeper knowledge than this site can pretend to to figure why the Land Granny in particular got fitted for the harshest sanction, but it seems reasonable to presume that in carrying it out China had a mind to redress some grievances.

China’s real estate sector has continued to go great guns in the years since Luo died — only recently as of this writing (in 2014) showing signs of faltering.

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Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Capital Punishment,China,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Lethal Injection,Pelf,Ripped from the Headlines

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1942: Eddie Leonski, the Brownout Strangler

3 comments November 9th, 2013 Meaghan

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

On this date in 1942, a boyishly handsome G.I. named Edward Joseph “Eddie” Leonski was hanged at Pentridge Prison in Melbourne, Australia.

Although his crimes were committed in Australia and were not war-related, he was court-martialed and sentenced to die under American military law.

This was the first and last time a foreign national who committed crimes in Australia was tried and sentenced under the laws of their own country. Eddie was only the second U.S. serviceman to be executed in World War II. (The first, James Rowe, had been convicted of murdering another soldier and was hanged in Arizona just three weeks earlier.)

Known as the “Brownout Strangler” due to his penchant for attacking women at night on Melbourne’s dimly lit streets, Leonski killed three people and assaulted several others of the course of just over two weeks, from May 3 to May 18, 1942. He said he was fascinated by women’s singing and killed his victims to “get at their voices.”

Leonski was born in New Jersey in 1917, the sixth child of Polish/Russian immigrant parents, and grew up in New York City. Crime historian Harold Schechter notes he had the kind of unstable childhood, dysfunctional family background and mommy issues typical of serial killers:

Both [parents were] confirmed alcoholics. He was seven when his father abandoned the family. Not long afterward, his mother, Amelia, took up with another drunkard. She herself suffered at least two mental breakdowns, severe enough to land her in Bellevue, where she was diagnosed with both manic-depression and incipient schizophrenia. From an early age, three of his brothers were chronic troublemakers, eventually racking up lengthy rap sheets. One of them ended up in a state institution, where he lived out his life.

According to all accounts, Eddie was the apple of his unstable mother’s eye. He, in turn, had the kind of deeply disturbing attachment to her found in other homicidal mama’s boys.

On the surface Eddie seemed to have risen above his origins. He began weight-lifting in adolescence and eventually developed an impressive physique. Following high school he took a three-year stenography course and graduated in the top ten percent of his class. He was a promising employee at a Manhattan supermarket chain before he was drafted into the Army in 1941.

Leonski didn’t do nearly so well in the military: although he was reliable and charming when sober, he drank heavily and was unstable and aggressive when under the influence. As a result, he was always in some minor trouble or another.

But there was a war on and the United States was not in a position to be picky about who would serve. Eddie was sent to Australia in early 1942.

Only weeks after his arrival, he began attacking women and trying to choke them. The first few times, he was interrupted and had to flee before he could accomplish his purpose. Then his crime spree was interrupted in the last week of March after he went AWOL on a six-day bender and was thrown into the brig for a month. As soon as he got out he began stalking women again.

At 2:00 a.m. on May 3, an extremely intoxicated Leonski encountered 40-year-old Ivy Violet McLeod waiting for a streetcar near a dry cleaner’s. He strangled her to death and ripped off her clothing, but was scared away when he heard footsteps.

McLeod’s body was found several hours later: “legs wide apart and feet tucked under her thighs, with genitals exposed.” Her killer had not had time to rape her.

A week later, Eddie was in a restaurant when he struck up a conversation with 31-year-old Pauline Buchan Thompson, a policeman’s wife and mother of two. They went to a bar after dinner and spent several hours talking and drinking.

Close to midnight, Eddie offered to escort her home. On the way, Mrs. Thompson started drunkenly singing.

“She had a nice voice,” he said in his confession. He got angry when she stopped: “I got mad and then tore at her, I tore her apart.”

A few hours later a night watchman found her body on the very steps of her boardinghouse. Like Mrs. McLeod, she was nearly nude with her legs splayed, but had not been raped.

Hours later, a hung-over Eddie Leonski was nursing the hair of the dog that bit him when he told a fellow soldier what he’d done. He made more statements about the two murders over the next few days, but his friend didn’t believe him and told no one what Leonski was saying — time during which Leonski made three more unsuccessful assaults on women.

Eddie’s friend finally took him seriously on the morning of May 19, after the body of 41-year-old Gladys Lillian Hosking was found sprawled in a patch of yellow mud outside Camp Pell, where the American soldiers were stationed.

The previous night, Eddie had come in after midnight, slathered head to toe in the same yellow mud. Too drunk to clean himself up (he’d consumed an incredible thirty beers and seven whiskeys that day), he just shed his soiled clothes and collapsed into bed.

Leonski’s friend finally went to the cops.

When he was arrested, Eddie made no pretense of innocence: he quickly confessed, and various witnesses to his aborted attacks identified him. (That said, Ivan Chapman’s out-of-print book on Leonski makes the point that the evidence against him might not really have held up without those confessions: 1940s forensics techniques would not have yielded a positive match to a victim from his bloodstained trousers, and the yellow mud could easily have been picked up innocently by any drunken G.I. who stumbled traversing the trench.)

Fredric Wertham, a noted forensic psychiatrist who never met Leonski, believed he was insane and the murders were prompted by his twisted relationship with his mother:

That his three victims were all women considerably older than he was is psychiatrically most significant. He unconsciously linked their voices with his mother. The whole psychological explosion occurred in a period of deprivation when he was away from home and separated from his mother — but not from her dominating image. The deeds constituted symbolic matricide.

Very Norman Batesian.

Army psychiatrists, however, believed that while Eddie Leonski was certainly a psychopath, he was not psychotic and was fully aware of the wrongfulness of his acts. Douglas MacArthur personally signed the death warrant.

Eddie maintained a positive, chipper attitude awaiting execution. He spent his time memorizing Oscar Wilde’s Ballad of Reading Gaol, and converted to Catholicism, and went to the gallows singing a popular song that was called, ironically, “It’s a Lovely Day Tomorrow.”

His remains were moved several times before finally finding a permanent grave in a military cemetery in Hawaii. The Australian modernist artist Albert Tucker made a painting titled “Memory of Leonski.” The film Death of a Soldier is based on his crimes.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Australia,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Guest Writers,Hanged,History,Milestones,Murder,Notable Jurisprudence,Other Voices,Rape,Serial Killers,Soldiers,U.S. Military,USA,Wartime Executions

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1848: Robert Blum, German democrat

Add comment November 9th, 2012 Headsman

On this date in 1848, a day short of his forty-second birthday, the German revolutionist Robert Blum was summarily shot in Vienna — a tragic victim of Germany’s Revolutions of 1848.

Marker at Robert Blum’s birthplace in Cologne reads “I die for the German liberty that I fought for. May the fatherland remember me.” (cc) image from Elke Wetzig.

Blum grew up in a penniless proletarian family but drifted into the literary set. He spent the 1830s penning liberal-minded plays, poetry, newspaper correspondence. He uncovered a magnetic personality and a gift for organization.

By the 1840s he was a — maybe the — preeminent left-liberal in the Kingdom of Saxony: pro-parliamentary democracy, anti-violence, for a wide grant of civil liberties and mass education.

The pressures, both liberal and radical, pushed to the brink the small realms in the German Confederation, as well as the neighboring Austrian Empire. Both struggled to handle even the liberals’ demands like expanding the franchise and freedom of the press, with old hereditary polities that might not be up to changing times. Germany, Marx and Engels wrote in the Communist Manifesto (1847), “is on the eve of a bourgeois revolution.”

Right on cue…

That pregnant year of 1848 found Blum in the Frankfurt parliament, and his neither-fish-nor-fowl leftism — a little too out there for mainstream liberals; a little too bourgeois for real radicals — made Blum the perfect pick for a solidarity mission.

When in September 1848 the Austrian army was defeated trying to crush a Hungarian rebellion, the Habsburg capital of Vienna took the example and mounted a revolution of its own, putting the government to flight.

Blum was sent as sympathetic delegate to this abortive Viennese commune, but found himself trapped in the city when the Austrian army encircled it in late October.

The Austrians, when they caught him, sent their own message back by denying him any form of deference for his parliamentary rank. Blum’s direct condemnation was a stark warning by the Habsburg state to agitators, but also to their putative brethren dreaming of a Greater Germany. Austria wasn’t buying what the Großdeutsche people were selling.


Detail view (click for the full image) of Carl Steffeck’s painting of Robert Blum’s execution. Here’s a YouTube recreation (in German).

Blum went on to a posthumous career as a star liberal martyr among the German circles who had use for such a character.

Blum’s seven-year-old son Hans grew up to follow his father’s literary footsteps … but from quite the other side of the aisle. He was a pro-Bismarck nationalist.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Activists,Artists,Arts and Literature,Austria,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Germany,History,No Formal Charge,Politicians,Revolutionaries,Shot,Summary Executions

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1842: Stephen Brennan, desperate bushranger

1 comment November 9th, 2011 Headsman

From the 1908 History of the Australian Bushrangers:

Stephen Brennan was sent to the island for bushranging. He was tried there and found guilty of the murder of another convict. There had been no quarrel between the two men, who were as friendly as circumstances permitted under the rigid discipline, nevertheless Brennan suddenly struck Patrick Lynch a blow with a stone-breaker’s hammer, and then stabbed him with a knife. The murder was committed avowedly so that the perpetrator might be hung, and thus escape the harsh treatment he was subjected to, and it is not improbable that it was committed with the consent of the victim, for although there is no evidence of this in this case, it is well known that men had actually drawn lots in Norfolk Island, to decide which should murder the other and get hung for the crime.

This is a very compelling parable, but as a factual matter we’re not sure the basis of the word “avowedly” here; be that mutual lot-drawing trend as it may, the reporting accessible from the National Library of Australia archives suggests that Brennan mounted a vigorous defense, and continued to claim to the foot of the gallows that the homicide was strictly self-defense.

Incidents of “suicide by hangman” had been known among the prison population under the island’s rigorous recent commandant, Joseph Anderson.

But in the early 1840s, the once notoriously draconian penal colony was being run by noted reformer Alexander Maconochie, who relaxed prison discipline with mixed results. (Rougher varieties of discipline would be reimposed thereafter, contributing to the prison riot that resulted in the hanging of bushranger Jackey Jackey.)

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Australia,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,Murder

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1610: Blessed George Napier

1 comment November 9th, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1610, the Catholic priest George Napier (or Napper, or Nappier) was hanged, drawn, and quartered at Oxford, having said Mass that very morning.


From here, attributed to Richard Challoner‘s Memoirs of Missionary Priests.

A son of Oxford himself who went abroad to France for ordination in his outlawed faith, Napier cut a fairly typical martyrology for the Catholic clergy. He was caught red-handed with the implements of the Roman church, refused to avow the supremacy of the English crown, and aggravated his offense by converting a fellow-prisoner to Catholicism.

This unfortunate has made headlines recently around the fourth centennial of his martyrdom, for which occasion a pilgrimage of Catholic faithful unveiled a plaque in Nappier’s honor at Oxford Castle.


Archbishop Bernard Longley blessing on Oct. 23, 2010 the marker honoring George Napier. Images on this page (cc) Joseph Shaw.

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Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Drawn and Quartered,England,Execution,God,Gruesome Methods,History,Martyrs,Power,Public Executions,Religious Figures,Treason

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1944: Georges Suarez, collaborationist editor

Add comment November 9th, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 1944, the restored French Republic shot the editor of the collaborationist newspaper Aujourd’hui (Today).

Suarez‘s (linked page in French) writings (French again) had endorsed the German occupation and called for steps even beyond what the Germans were prepared to take: the wholesale taking of Anglo hostages as proof against Allied bombing raids, for instance.

His trial and execution were the first of many suffered by pro-Vichy writers and journalists condemned by the vengeful free French courts for their part in the Nazi occupation, especially in the first months after liberation. The public intellectuals of the wartime government were, as a matter of fact, in the dock faster than the government itself.

Alice Kaplan, writing of the more infamous collaborationist writer Robert Brasillach who would follow Suarez’ footsteps in a few weeks, observes:

Writers were easy to try. Their files, crumbling now, are rather thin: clippings of their articles from the collaborationist press, underlined in red and blue ink with an occasional commentary; a report by the prefecture of police outlining their political affiliations and behavior during the Occupation; a list of witnesses called by the defense and the prosecution; interviews of the accused, before the trial, going over the charges against him; letters from friends — and enemies — sent to the judge before the trial. It was easier to organize a case against a journalist than a case against a common-law criminal or a financial collaborator. The bulk of the evidence was in newspaper clippings, quickly compiled.

“Treason is a matter of dates,” Suarez’ lawyer averred, channeling Talleyrand. But at this early date of freedom, not six months after Omaha Beach had been wrenched from German hands, there was much less sympathy for the philosophic vagaries of history than some subsequent writers would enjoy — and there was a good deal of indictable behavior:

Whether they faced the charge of treason or of national indignity, the writers were accused of having espoused numerous elements of Nazi ideology: anti-communism; anti-Semitism; support for the releve (the system designed to send French workers to Germany in exchange for French POWs); support for the Milice (Vichy’s police force); support for the German and French troops fighting the Soviets on the Eastern front; attacks against de Gaulle and the Resistance; participation in collaborationist organizations; trips to Germany during the Occupation, in particular to the International Writers’ Congress at Weimar in 1941.

Philip Watts, Allegories of the Purge

In addition to its noteworthy history in the postwar purge of journalists, Kaplan reports that Suarez’s trial may also have been the first in French history for which women were eligible to serve as jurors — although none of the women in the jury pool were ultimately seated, and the milestone seems not to have been widely noticed even at the time.

The execution itself was badly botched: Suarez is said to have survived both the initial fusillade and a second barrage from the firing squad before a third round finished him off.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Activists,Botched Executions,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,France,History,Intellectuals,Milestones,Notable Jurisprudence,Occupation and Colonialism,Popular Culture,Shot,Treason,Wartime Executions

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