1912: Sargent Philp

Add comment October 1st, 2019 Headsman

The junction between workplace, home, identity (here masculinity), social welfare (or the lack thereof), and partner violence has rarely been so poignantly encapsulated as in the case of Sargent Philp — whose October 1, 1912 hanging for the embittered slaying of his wife is spotlighted by our friends at Capital Punishment UK.

33 year old Philp had been married to 35 year old Rose for 11 years and they had six children ranging from seven months to nine years. Philp was to loose [sic] his right eye in an accident at work and in the early 1900’s there was no compensation for industrial injury and no social security. He was fired as he could no longer do his job. This caused serious financial hardship for the family and in June 1912 Rose took her baby and moved in with her sister, Alice, at 31 Morby Road in the Old Kent Road area of London.

Philp went right round the bend to stalker territory trying to get Rose back: the wife’s understandable insistence on his securing a home played to his ear like the dunning of creditors, until a madness of possessiveness subsumed every familial tenderness.

According to the British National Archives,

Sargent Philp saw Rose Philp several times after the Police Court proceedings, and he told her that he wanted her back, however, she said that she wouldn’t come back until he had a home.

On one visit to Rose Philp’s mother’s house, Sargent Philp said, ‘If she has done this to get money out of me, she is mistaken’, and then added words to the effect that he would rather swing or go to the gallows.

… on Friday 26 July 1912 at about midday … [Rose] came into the kitchen where her sister was already, with Sargent Philp standing at the door, and Sargent Philp said, ‘I’ve got some news for you’, to which Rose Philp asked, ‘Have you got any work?’. Sargent Philp then replied, ‘I’ve got a job to go to on Monday, a good job’, but Rose Philp replied, ‘That’s no news, you are always getting good jobs’. Sargent Philp then asked, ‘Will you come back to me?’ and Rose Philp replied, ‘When you get a home’.

Sargent Philp then ran at Rose Philp, but she dodged round the table and called out for her sister to get a policeman. The sister then ran out for help and Rose Philp ran out of the house and along the street and then into an area of the next house, followed by Sargent Philp who had a shoemaker’s knife in his hand.

He was soon after seen leaning over her as she lay on the ground in the area of the next house. He had cut her throat, severing her windpipe and jugular with a stabbing motion. Rose Philp also had a cut on the left side of her jaw, a severe cut on her left wrist, and several cuts on her left hand and fingers.

Sargent Philp was then at once seized by two men, and he said, ‘I’ve done it, and meant to do it, and if her mother had been here I’d have done her the same. She has been the cause of all my trouble’.

The mother came up a few minutes after, and Sargent Philp repeated either to her or the sister, ‘If you had been here, I should have done you the same’.

It was noted that as Sargent Philp was seized by the two men as he was leaning over Rose Philp, he appeared to have started an attempt to cut his own throat, but his hand was seized.

Other remarks that he was said to have made included, ‘I told you what I would do, and I have done it’, and ‘I don’t care. I am glad I’ve done it. You don’t know what I have been through’.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,Murder,Pelf

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1499: Paolo Vitelli, duplicitous commander

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On this date in 1499, Florence decapitated its chief general for dereliction of command.

Paolo Vitelli, a noted condottiero whose family had taken over Citta di Castello, was hired by the post-Savonarola Florentine Republic during the Italian Wars to campaign against Florence’s traditional rival, Pisa.

“If this man had taken Pisa, nobody can deny that it would have been proper for the Florentines to keep in with him,” mused Machiavelli years later in The Prince. “For if he became the soldier of their enemies they had no means of resisting, and if they held to him they must obey him.”

The prospective kingpin made fantastic progress against the Pisans, and when news reached his Florentine patrons that Vitelli had taken a key gate in Pisa’s walls, the city smugly began drawing up wishlists of humiliations to heap upon the vanquished. But at the critical moment, “just when the whole army, and especially the youthful Florentines who had joined the camp as volunteers, were carrying all before them by their indomitable ardour, they were suddenly ordered to retreat. And Paolo Vitelli, seeing the unwillingness of the soldiers to obey, rushed among them with his brother Vitellozzo* and drove them back with blows.”

As jaws hit tables all around Florence, Pisa’s defenders were hurriedly patching the breach and retrenching. The attackers had ransacked their treasury to finance the expedition; there was nothing for a do-over. Had Vitelli quailed, or was he playing some double game? Either way, Machiavelli lamented — contemporaneously this time, in his capacity as an emissary of state — “We should have preferred defeat to inaction at so decisive a moment.”

With mingled urgency and circumspection, Florence’s leaders arranged to invite Vitteli to a war council at which he was arrested. Interrogated on September 30th, he was beheaded the very next day.

* Three years later, Paolo’s brother Vitellozzo would also achieve the pages of Executed Today … and once again did so under the sharp eyes of Machiavelli.

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1818: James Ouley

1 comment October 1st, 2017 Headsman

This date’s entry arrives to us via the 1921 Indiana Magazine of History, looking back to frontier times over a century before. According to the Espy File‘s index of U.S. executions, this appears to be just the second hanging since Indiana attained statehood in 1816.

ORGANIZATION OF THE FIRST COURT

The first session of the circuit court of Crawford county convened at Mount Sterling, August 1, 1818. Hon. Davis Floyd, Judge Green, and James Glenn composed the court. Since there was no courthouse in Mount Sterling then, James Brasher let the judges use his new log house. This house was too small to accommodate all of the jurors, hence they sat around on logs in the yard.

Sheriff Daniel Weathers was present and returned the names of the following men for a grand jury: Cornelius Hall, Lazarus Stewart, Alex King, William Osborn, James Lewis, Elias Davis, Elisha Potter, Alex Barnett, William Potter, Robert Yates, Peter Peckinpaugh, William Scott, Reuben Laswell, Abraham Wiseman, George Tutter, Martin Scott, John Sturgeon, Robert Sands, Isaac Lamp, Ed Gobin, and Malachi Monk.

These men elected Cornelius Hall foreman. After due consideration the jury returned a bill against James Ouley for murder in the first degree. The evidence showed that Ouley had followed William Briley through the woods for some distance and had then shot him in the back about where his suspenders crossed.

The ball came out in his neck making a wound about 8 inches deep. Briley died almost instantly and Ouley escaped with his horse and about 75 cents in money.

Briley lived near the present town of English. He had left home with a sack of wool and was going to Corydon to get the wool carded. He was traveling on the Governor’s Old Trail which ran from Corydon to Vincennes. The exact spot where the shooting occurred cannot now be located. It happened near the top of White Oak hill in what was then Whiskey Run township.

This act occurred July 1, 1818. Some men happened by and found Briley. They started to carry him to his cabin over on Dog creek. After they had gone about two miles they decided that they would bury him there. So a grave was dug and the body was buried just as the men had found it. Briley had no person living with him and Ouley might have escaped if he had hidden the body.

The news spread rapidly and the whole community was aroused. The only evidence then against Ouley was that he had disappeared from home that same day on which the man Briley was killed and that some woman had seen him following Briley through the woods.

Jonathan Chambers and Zedekiah Lindley who were prominent men volunteered to catch Ouley. These men had no warrant for his arrest but they were experts in catching horse thieves and felt sure that they could catch Ouley if he could be found anywhere. So they traveled all over southern Indiana but did not find him. They then crossed the Ohio river near Mauckport and began hunting for him in Meade county, Kentucky. After a two weeks’ tramp they came to the town of Brandenburg and decided to give up the hunt and let him go. While stopping at the tavern one day they saw men hauling cord wood into town. From these men they learned that there was a wood cutter out in the forest who had come there from Corydon a short time before. That night Chambers and Lindley crept up and caught Ouley in his cabin. They brought him back to the old block house near Marengo and chained him to the logs in the house and guarded him day and night till the trial came off on the first day of August.

The bill returned by the grand jury read:

James Ouley late of Crawford county, a yeoman not having the fear of God before his eyes, but moved |and seduced by the spirit of the Devil on July 1, 1818, with force and arms in Whiskey Run township in and upon William Briley in the peace of God then and there being wilful and of malice a fore thought did make and against James Ouley with a certain rifle gun of the value |of $10 loaded with gun powder and a certain leaden bullet with which gun the said Ouley did shoot William Briley in the back and the ball came out in his neck making a wound about 8 inches deep from which wound Briley died almost instantly.

The trial began at once. Ouley pleaded not guilty and demanded that the county furnish him an attorney. The court appointed Henry Stephens and Harbin Moore to defend while William Thompson was appointed prosecuting attorney for that session of the court.

Daniel Weathers, the sheriff, had a large number of men present from which these men were selected for a petit jury: Elisha Lane, Constance Williams, Marcus Troelock, Joseph Beals, Andrew Troelock, David Beals, John Goldman, James Richie, William May, George Peckinpaugh, Thomas W. Cummins, and Robert Grimes. Constance Williams was selected foreman of the jury.

The trial was conducted out of doors in the woodyard. The jurors who were among the best men in the county were sworn to hear the evidence and to decide the case. After all the evidence was in and the court had instructed the jurors, the jury retired to consider the evidence. After some time the jury returned a verdict of guilty and placed his sentence at death.

The counsel for defense asked for a new trial on these grounds:

  1. That the verdict was contrary to the state law;
  2. That the evidence was not sufficient;
  3. The conduct of the jurors was not proper;
  4. That outsiders talked to the jurors during the trial;
  5. That Elisha Lane had expressed his opinion before the trial began;
  6. That one of the jurors was too much indisposed to pay the proper amount of attention that such a case demanded. The juror in question was said to have been asleep.

The court not being fully advised adjourned till the next day when it refused the defendant a new trial and asked him if he had any further reason why sentence of death should not be passed upon him. He asked the court to arrest the judgment of the jurors on these grounds:

  1. That he was a wheelright made the evidence uncertain;
  2. That the bill did not have the name of the state or county in it.

The court overruled the argument and passed this sentence upon him:

That he should be kept in the old block house in the custody of the sheriff till October 1, 1818, when he should be taken out on the same road pr on what ever new road might be laid out by that time in one half mile of Old Mount Sterling, between the hours 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. and hanged by the neck till dead.

Sheriff Weathers took the prisoner back to the block house and chained him to the logs. Men kept guard over him day and night. Yet he attempted to gnaw out. Years afterwards when the block house was torn down one could see the place where he had gnawed with his teeth on the logs of the block house.

Cornelius Hall who was a carpenter, volunteered to make the casket for Ouley. On the day of execution the coffin was put into a wagon and Ouley was chained and hauled back to Mount Sterling and hanged. He was buried in the old field near the site of the hanging. His grave was marked for a long time but now no trace of it can be found. Henry Batman who cleared the old field in 1900 said that he found a spot of clay near the road about three feet by six and thought that must have been the dirt which was thrown up from the grave. There was not much direct evidence against Ouley in the case but the jury was sure that he was guilty. So they wanted to make an example of him for the rest of the outlaws who lived in the county.

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1822: Augustin Joseph Caron, entrapped

Add comment October 1st, 2016 Headsman

On this date in 1822, French Lt. Col. Augustin Joseph Caron was shot at Strasbourg as a rebel.

Little is known of his background, but Caron (English Wikipedia entry | French) enlisted in his army during the revolutionary year of 1791 and advanced into command positions under Napoleon. From his later conduct it’s apparent that these years shaped a political passion that would be starkly at odds with the post-Napoleon Bourbon restoration.

As we have noted elsewhere on this site France’s Liberal (often Bonapartist) opposition during these years was urged by the persecution of the monarchist party into conspiracy as the common coin of its politics.

Out of this mire grew both charbonnerie (France’s analogue to the carbonari terrorists who proliferated in Italy) and an overvigilant secret police whose campaigns of entrapment and threat exaggeration did nothing so well as to further obscure the line between mundane opposition and treason.

The strange interplay between these midnight foes would shape the fate of Col. Caron.

Caron’s path to execution begins with the thwarted rising of the Belfort garrison for New Year’s 1822 — a real plot that the government spies were able to squelch. This resulted in a number of executions, by dint of which it has featured in these very pages.

Caron enters this story in its second chapter: a pensioned former officer of known Bonapartist sympathies, Caron was (with another man named Roger) baited by police spies into mounting an attempted raid on Colmar prison where the arrested Belfort conspirators were being held. Officers chosen to play the part were detailed to meet him as “conspirators” and march with him to Colmar, allowing Caron to make compromising “Vive l’Empereur” exhortations along the way, before finally arresting him.

Though Caron himself had been a willing participant who most certainly did intend to raise a mutiny, the ridiculous spectacle of His Majesty’s warriors congratulating themselves for crushing a plot that they themselves controlled from the get-go came to crystallize the Liberal fulminations against abusive use of agents provocateur. As Alan Barrie Spitzer puts it in Old Hatreds and Young Hopes: The French Carbonari against the Bourbon Restoration,

the means employed to net such a minor, and such a vulnerable, agitator gave the critics of the regime and the defenders of other conspirators the opportunity to assimilate all the operations of the political police to this contemptible one. The government was placed on the defensive from the first. It proved difficult to demonstrate the Caron and Roger had initiated the seditious proposals … Two entire squadrons of chasseurs had conducted their brilliant operation to net only the two original suspects. And then there was the abrasive question of who, under what circumstances, shouted out “Vive l’Empereur!” — that is, tempted innocent passersby-into political crime. The original story … described the squadrons as riding through the countryside crying “Vive l’Empereur,” and innocently wondered whether these purveyors of seditious slogans would be arrested along with Caron, their alleged “leader.”

One Liberal deputy sneeringly pictured future French veterans boasting of their service, “I was in those squadrons that rode through the countryside of the Haut-Rhin shouting ‘Vive l’Empereur!’ in order to test the disposition of the inhabitants.” Indeed, what if the dispositions had been otherwise? It had been only a few years since the emperor really had returned from exile and raised a brief civil war; the idea that the military had risked triggering “the insurrection of a town and the massacre of its inhabitants” for no better reason than to compromise an utter nobody blossomed into a gigantic scandal. Caron became France’s metonym for a patsy;* demands to grant Caron leniency and turn the investigation against his persecutors multiplied discomfitingly.

But this was only one of several high-profile trials against anti-Bourbon plotters unfolding in 1822, and the Liberal denunciations against them practically staked the government’s credibility upon their outcome. So the government saw to the outcome it required — by invoking Caron’s military rank to have him transferred out of the civilian justice system and tried by a military tribunal that would be sure to convict him. Just to complete the shambles, the execution was then hurriedly conducted before Caron’s appeal could be brought before the Court of Cassation.

The Journal of the Lower Rhine gives the following details concerning the execution of Colonel Caron: —

Colonel Caron, who was unanimously condemned to death for the crime of embauchage [“hiring” -ed], by the first permanent council of war of this division, the judgment of which was likewise unanimously confirmed by the council of revision, was executed at two o’clock in the afternoon, in the presence of a small detachment of the garrison, and a numerous concourse of people who were attracted by curiosity. The Abbe Schittig zealously administered to him the consolations of religion, which he received with humility, and he died with the courage of a Christian and an old soldier. Caron was alone in a carriage, amidst the retinue which conducted him to the place of execution. At the entrance of the horn-work, called Finkmatt, where the execution took place, he alighted from the carriage without the assistance of the driver. On arriving in front of the 12 men who were to be his executioners, he refused to have his eyes bandaged. With his hat on, he himself gave the signal. Immediately the muskets were fired, and Caron was no more.

London Times, Oct. 10, 1822

He’s buried in Strasbourg, under a slab that reads MORT POUR LA LIBERTE.

* In The Red and The Black, the main character Julien Sorel at one point muses that, should a provocative letter be attributed to his hand, it could make him “the next Colonel Caron at Colmar.”

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,France,History,Martyrs,Public Executions,Revolutionaries,Shot,Soldiers,Treason,Wrongful Executions

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1970: Hilmar “Henry Stutzbach” Swinka

Add comment October 1st, 2015 Headsman

East Germany executed sociopath Hilmar Swinka* on this date in 1970 for three murders in Berlin.

Swinka’s trial and execution were conducted in great secrecy — the Communist bloc being oft lothe to acknowledge such bourgeois monsters as serial sex-killers. Hans Girod describes him in his German-language study of DDR criminals, Blutspuren (Bloodstains), using the pseudonym Henry Stutzbach.

Swinka/Stutzbach wasn’t the type where you say nobody could have seen it coming.

A disaffected loner abandoned by his violent father, he dropped out of his apprenticeship and rotated unskilled jobs through his twenties while passing his time with pugilism of both the sweet science and the barroom brawl varieties.

His last job, as an assistant at a pathology institute, creepily set up his crimes — where he made a nauseating mockery of dissection by strangling and then carving open two ex-lovers on February 13, 1969. The next day, Swinka honored St. Valentine by doing the same thing to his lawfully wedded wife.

Swinka was shot at a secret execution facility in Leipzig, by Hermann Lorenz — East Germany’s last executioner.


There’s a truncated version of this documentary about the Leipzig death chambers here.

* The surname means pig in Slavic languages.

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1881: Charlie Pierce lynched in Bloomington, Illinois

Add comment October 1st, 2014 Headsman


Philadelphia Inquirer, October 3, 1881

On this date in 1881, a mob of 5,000 shouting imprecations against the courts spent two hours breaking open the jail in Bloomington, Illinois, then hauled out a horse thief named Charlie Pierce* and lynched him to an elm tree at the corner of Market and Center.

Pierce’s offense wasn’t so much the horse-and-buggy theft from a weeks prior — the crime for which he was arrested — as making an impulsive and extraordinarily foolish escape attempt that entailed grabbing the sidearm of a well-liked jailer named Teddy Frank and shooting him dead. Rushing to the scene, the sheriff disarmed an unresisting Pierce who perhaps was already beginning to apprehend the possible consequences his rashness would visit on him that very night.

Now, murdering a lawman was typically just about the best way to appear before the bar of Judge Lynch this side of sexual assault. And it may have been that folks in McLean County were just spoiling for a bout of vigilante justice anyway; the local paper Pantagraph had reported that June that such “excitement prevails” against two other criminals that “it is not improbable they will be lynched.”

They weren’t, but according to a 2010 recap of the still-notorious Pierce hanging written by a McLean County Museum of History archivist, matters were exacerbated by the autumn by an Illinois Supreme Court ruling reversing the conviction of another Bloomington murderer.** And Pierce’s end came just two weeks after the U.S. President finally succumbed to the bullet that a madman had pumped into him months before.

A flash mob of infuriated citizenry had the jail surrounded by 8 o’clock, 90 minutes or so after Pierce shot Frank.

“Special despatches from Bloomington, Ill., give graphic details,” ran wire copy that generally expressed special shock at the participation of “the best citizens … in the front ranks of the lynchers. Leading business men cheered and encouraged the lynchers, and women waved their handkerchiefs in approbation.” (Philadelphia Inquirer, Oct. 3, 1881)

These bloodthirsty local grandees ran up against — and in this instance prevailed over — the growing sentiment among respectable elites that such carnivals tarnished the majesty of the law. In some cases, that was pretty near the very point of them; hooting onlookers were reported to have shouted things like “Justice and the courts are a farce!” and “We have seen too much of court quibblings!” For any observer in his wits it was manifest that such hot blood would bend towards anarchy if given free rein.

A police officer managed to cut down Pierce as the three-quarter-inch manila hemp gouged into his neck, but the miscreant was strung up a second time and “upon [the officer’s] attempting to repeat this act of bravery he came near being killed.” The fire department was summoned to disperse the mob with hoses but was also forced to retreat. And the area’s delegate to the U.S. Senate as well as a state’s attorney pleaded with the mob to let the courts handle Mr. Pierce.

By way, maybe, of retort, a placard appeared the following day on the late Charlie Pierce’s lynch tree reading

McLean, Illinois — Ax-man, ax-man, spare this tree, and never touch a single bough; and may God spare this elm tree forever to grow to mark where the first justice to a murder ever was done in McLean County, and may the good people stand by the boys that did it. (The Daily Inter Ocean (Chicago, Ill.), October 3, 1881)

It’s the only lynching in McLean County’s history.

* It transpired that Pierce’s actual surname was Howlett. He hailed from Mount Pleasant, Iowa.

** Patrick “Patsey” Devine, the beneficiary of that ruling, would be convicted again and hanged in 1882. He was feared in danger of joining Pierce on the lynch tree this night, but the mob gave him a miss.

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1567: Pietro Carnesecchi, Florentine humanist and heretic

1 comment October 1st, 2013 Headsman

On this date* in 1567, Florentine humanist Pietro Carnesecchi was burned after beheading at the Ponte Sant’Angelo in Rome.

Carnesecchi (English Wikipedia entry | Italian) was born to a wealthy Florentine merchant family allied with the Medici; as a child, Carnesecchi probably dandled the infant Cosimo, the future ruler of the city. His education was patronized by the Medici cardinal who went on to become Pope Clement VII.

All these friends in high places would prove in time to be a poisoned chalice.

But the young man was in his glory in his twenties at Clement’s papal court, as notary and protonotary, excelling in his lucrative sinecures on the curial cursus honorum.

To his grief and/or glory, he met along the way the Spanish reformer Juan de Valdes, who had taken refuge in Naples from the Spanish Inquisition, and the spellbinding pulpit orator Bernardino Ochino, who was by the late 1530s to trend towards outright apostasy.

Intellectual curiosity was a quality dangerous to its owners during the Reformation. Carnesecchi had his own insider’s view of the Church’s warts to add to the influences of these brilliant associates, and by the 1540s was obliged by his affinities to seek his safety in the more liberal religious environment of Venice … and later, after a close first brush with the Roman Inquisition, to leave Italy altogether.

He wasn’t on the run per se, but his was a contingent life: a few years in a place, with the ever-present peril that a shift in the political winds could see him or his friends to the scaffold. He returned from France to Venice in 1552, spurned a summons to justify himself once more to the Inquisition under the furiously anti-Protestant Pope Paul IV, and was even able to move back to the Eternal City with the accession to St. Peter’s Throne of another Medici cardinal as Pope Pius IV. The Inquisition, nevertheless, drug its feet when it came to acquitting Carnesecchi once again.

“Nothing progresses!” he cries in one of his letters, for the Inquisitors “will not judge as right and duty dictate, for they suggest scrupulous hesitancy where there is no ground for it, and interpret that prejudicially which, rightly apprehended, is good and praiseworthy.” In other words: prosecutors.

As Popes are said to alternate fat with thin, and old with young, here they traded zealot of the faith with mellow humanist. When Pius IV died, the pendulum swung back against Pietro and the relentlessly orthodox** Pius V took charge.

Carnesecchi took refuge in his native Florence, governed by that baby Cosimo de’ Medici, all grown up now into an authoritarian state-builder. Cosimo had welcomed him before, and interceded on his behalf in the last go-round with the Inquisition; Florence, moreover, had a long-running rivalry with Rome in peninsular politics. Carnesecchi would have supposed himself as safe there as ever he had been in his peregrinations.

“But how did Ghislieri’s [Pope Pius V’s given name] reckless energy paralyse others!” as this book puts it. “Cosimo, too, was destined to feel its influence.”

Carnesecchi was a guest at his sovereign’s table when the friar Tomaso Manrique, the Master of the Papal Palace, was announced, as sent on a special mission to Florence, and desiring an interview with the Duke. The Pope had furnished his messenger with a letter bearing date June 20th, 1566, in which, after greeting Cosimo with the Apostolic Benediction, ‘he was called upon, in an affair which nearly affected obedience to the Divine Majesty and to the Catholic Church, and which the Pope had greatly at heart, as being of the highest importance, to give to the bearer of this letter the same faith as though His Holiness were present conversing with him.” Manrique claimed in the Pope’s name the delivering over of Carnesecchi into the hands of the Inquisition. The Duke made his friend and guest rise from the table and surrender himself on the spot to the Papal messenger. And he abjectly added, that, “had His Holiness — which God forfend — called upon him to surrender his own son for the same motive, he would not have hesitated one moment to have him bound and surrendered.”

Thanks, buddy.

Hauled immediately to a Vatican dungeon, Carnesecchi spent his last 15 months in prison, under interrogation, and sometimes on the rack.

“They would fain have me say of the living and of the dead things which I do not know, and which they would so fain hear,” Carnesecchi pleaded in (futile, intercepted) letters to old associates from the Curia. He admirably refused to incriminate anyone, but was convicted in September 1567 on 34 counts of obstinate heresy. They can all be read here — headlined by that hallmark of rank Protestantism, justification by faith alone.

Carnesecchi was stripped of his ecclesiastical ranks and his property, and turned over to the secular arm — the latter hypocritically “beseech[ed] … to mitigate the severity of your sentence with respect to his body, that there may be no anger of death or of shedding of blood,” which was, of course, the very intent and the effect of turning him over. Carnesecchi met his fate sturdily; his Catholic confessor complained that he was more interested in bantering ideas than penitence for his wrong opinions, and showed no proper fear of death.

In 1569, Pius V bestowed the title of Grand Duke of Tuscany on Cosimo.

Carnesecchi, long obscure to posterity, was exhumed almost literally when the Napoleonic Wars gave anti-clerical factions the opportunity to ransack secret Roman Inquisition archives. His meter-long file passed into a succession of private hands and was finally published in the mid-19th century, and as a result there are several public-domain volumes about the heretic in addition to the one we have already cited. Some of the original documents, with English translation, can be read in this volume; Italian speakers might give this one a go.

* There are a few citations out there for October 3. I can’t find a definitive primary source, and it may be that the original records are themselves ambiguous, so I’m going with the bulk of the modern and academic citations in favor of October 1.

** Anglos may recognize Pius V as the pope whose bull explicitly releasing Catholics from their allegiance to Queen Elizabeth put English followers of the Old Faith in an untenable position, much to the grisly profit of this here blog.

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Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Beheaded,Burned,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,God,Heresy,History,Intellectuals,Italy,Papal States,Political Expedience,Power,Public Executions,Religious Figures,Torture

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1926: Tony Vettere, who put up a fierce fight

Add comment October 1st, 2012 Meaghan

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

On this day in 1926, triple murderer Tony Vettere was executed on the “Galloping Gallows” in Butte, Montana. He would be the last person judicially hanged in that city.

The previous year on November 22, the Italian-born Vettere had encountered John Deranja about a mile outside of the town of Meaderville, a suburb of Butte in Silver Bow County. For no apparent reason, Vettere shot Deranja in the left side and killed him instantly.

That was at 9:15 p.m.

By 10:00 p.m., Vettere was on North Main Street in Meaderville and saw Joseph Cicarelli standing in front of a house talking to another man, Antone Favero. Vettere called out Cicarelli’s name, raised his shotgun, and fired on both men. Cicarelli was hit in the shoulder; he died within minutes. Favero got it in the abdomen and lived long enough to get to the hospital and make a statement implicating Vettere. Then he, too, succumbed at midnight.

By this time, Vettere had already attempted a fourth murder: he shot at still another Meaderville man, Angelino Gucciono, but missed. Gucciono hit the ground when he heard shots and the woman he was walking with legged it for the nearest house, where the occupants let her inside. Vettere chased after her and broke several of the house’s windows, but didn’t go in; instead, he fled the scene.

The next day the police found him hiding, unarmed, in a gully eight miles outside of town. His murder spree seems to have been motiveless: he had had some problems with Gucciono, but that had been years ago, and he didn’t seem to have had anything against the other men.

Vettere, according to witnesses, was drunk during the late afternoon hours on the day of the murder, but by 10:30 he appeared to be sober.

The victims left behind eighteen children between them.

Some people, even before his shooting spree, thought Vettere was crazy. He behaved erratically in jail and claimed he didn’t remember the murders. His lawyer claimed he “spoke incoherently on many different subjects” and didn’t seem to know why he was locked up. The court decided he was legally sane, however.

The portable (horse-hauled; hence the name) gallows were set up in the foyer of the old jail, which is today the Butte police department. According to the Billings Gazette, hundreds crowded in to witness it.

“A hanging was a pretty big social event,” Butte Archives volunteer Jim McCarthy told the paper. “The sheriff would send out invitations in those days.”

After his inevitable conviction and death sentence, Vettere became one of the few condemned men who actually put up a physical resistance en route to the gallows. Amateur historian R. Michael Wilson describes it:

During his final days Vettere was visited by Father J.M. Gilmore but his reaction to the priest was so violent he was not permitted to be with the prisoner alone. On September 30 the prisoner asked to see Judge Lynch [yes, that was the judge’s real name], but he refused to visit the man in his cell. Vettere would not rest that final evening and paced his cell, tensed as if ready to spring, and when the deputies entered the corridor Vettere yelled out, “Where are all these men come from.”

Undersheriff Robinson entered his cell at midnight to take him into the corridor for the reading of the death warrant but Vettere pulled a three foot piece of pipe from his bed clothes and attacked the undersheriff. Robinson backed out of the cell with Vettere close behind, and in the corridor of the jail Vettere pulled out a makeshift knife made from a spoon and, flailing about with the pipe in one hand, tried to cut the officers. He yelled, “You can shoot me but you won’t hang me,” and said, “I kill every man who come here. Get Judge Lynch. I want to kill him,” and then, “Viva Mussolini!” Sheriff Larry “Jack” Duggan demanded the pipe, but Vettere refused saying he would kill everyone. Two canisters of tear gas were brought in and he was sprayed from two sides, and the officers finally managed to herd him back into his cell, where he was gassed for fifteen minutes.

He was finally overcome by choking, dropped his weapons, and retreated onto his cots. The deputies then rushed in, overpowered him, and his wrist and arms, knees and ankles were bound with straps. He was carried onto the gallows and as he stood on the trapdoor he recovered his senses and began cursing everyone.

After death, Vettere’s brain was removed and examined by two doctors, who found no visible anomalies.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Hanged,Montana,Murder,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,USA

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1903: Willis, Frederick, and Burton van Wormer

2 comments October 1st, 2011 Headsman

I know the vicinity of our old Dutch settlements to have been very subject to marvelous events and appearances. Indeed, I have heard many stranger stories than this …

-Washington Irving, “Rip Van Winkle”

On this date in 1903, an“unusual if not unprecedented” execution occurred when three brothers died one after the other in the Sing Sing electric chair. (Correction: at Clinton Prison, not Sing Sing.)

Willis, Frederick, and Burton van Wormer — stock, as their name suggests, of vintage Dutch family whose more reputable products ca be found on various Empire State placenames — were doomed for the Christmas Eve, 1901 murder of their uncle.

The family tree’s branching over generations had put family enmities between relatives; in this case, working stiff John van Wormer’s home in Columbia County, N.Y. was mortgaged to his brother-in-law (and the eventual murder victim), richie-rich Peter Hallenbeck. After John passed away, Peter lowered the boom and foreclosed on the widow, booting John’s sons out of the house.

The boys got even with an unsubtle gangland masked home raid, riddling their Uncle Scrooge with bullets.

(Signs of the times: the murder happened mere weeks after William McKinley‘s assassination, and testimony had one of the boys bragging with reference to the fatal gut-shot wound inflicted on the late president. “I made a Czolgosz shot. I shot him in the stomach.”)

Though these three attracted national public sympathy — someone even telegrammed a bogus reprieve signed, “The President of the United States” in a vain stab at delay — their case was pretty open-and-shut.

Since they were doing death as a brother act, it was only fair that they sort out precedence within the family: the condemned themselves decided the order of their execution, with Willis first, Frederick second, and Burton third. The whole thing took 15 minutes.

But leave it to the youngest child to stick out from the crowd. Frederick, the baby of the family, actually managed to survive the electric chair, sort of. Not walk clean away from it like Willie Francis would do, but impolitely revive when he was supposed to be laid out dead like folk used to do back in the bad old hanging days.

The executions went off without a hitch and the brothers were pronounced dead. Later, after they’d been laid out in the autopsy room, a guard saw one of them out in the autopsy room, a guard saw one of them, Frederick Van Wormer, move a hand. Then an eye flickered. The prison doctor was immediately summoned. Putting a stethoscope to the “dead” man’s heart, he discovered it was still beating. Frederick’s heart (it was determined later) was bigger than that of anyone executed up to that date, so two charges of full current had failed to kill him. The convict was carried back to the chair and kept in it until he was dead beyond the shadow of a doubt. [he died without actually being re-executed -ed.]

In part because of accidents like these during the early decades of the electric chair, numbers of people weren’t convinced it was as deadly as it was supposed to be. (Source)

They’re not kidding about that brain bit, either.

A fellow by the name of Edward Anthony Spitzka autopsied the van Wormers, “direct[ing] my attention especially to the brains. The opportunity afforded by this triple execution was certainly most rare, and a similar case will not soon occur again,” and found Frederick with a robust 1.6 kg brain, compared to less than 1.4 kg for his siblings. Now that JSTOR has opened its oldest journal content, you can read all about Spitzka’s meddlings in the van Wormer grey matter here.

Additional historical artifacts: an original invitation to the proceedings.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Botched Executions,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Electrocuted,Execution,Executions Survived,History,Murder,New York,USA

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1950: The Leningrad Affair “culprits”

1 comment October 1st, 2010 Headsman

Fifty-nine minutes after midnight on this date in 1950, five Soviet cadres were condemned to death in a secret trial on trumped-up charges of treason in one of Stalin’s party purges. An hour later, they were shot.

The “Leningrad Affair” saw Uncle Joe — with the urging of other henchmen jockeying for the imminent post-Stalin succession — liquidate the excessively independent leaders of Russia’s other capital.

During the late World War, the “hero city” Leningrad withstood a withering 28-month Nazi siege stretching from the very first weeks of war into 1944.

In those days there was something in a man’s face which told you that he would die within the next twenty-four hours …

I shall always remember how I’d walk every day from my house near the Tauris Garden to my work in the centre of the city, a matter of two or three kilometres. I’d walk for a-while, and then sit down for a rest. Many a time I saw a man suddenly collapse on the snow. There was nothing I could do. One just walked on. And, on the way back, I would see a vague human form covered with snow on the spot where, in the morning, I had seen a man fall down.

One didn’t worry; what was the good? People didn’t wash for weeks; there were no bath houses and no fuel. But at least people were urged to shave. And during that winter I don’t think I ever saw a person smile. It was frightful. And yet there was a kind of inner discipline that made people carry on.

-A survivor of the siege

This horror cost the lives of a million Leningraders, and tour guides will be sure to point out the physical scars still to be seen.

But the city never fell, and its resistance wrote one of the 20th century’s awe-inspiring monuments to human perseverance. Dmitri Shostakovich, caught in the city himself, composed one of the Great Patriotic War’s most famous musical anthems, defiantly performed by the Leningrad symphony itself during the actual siege, and broadcast on Soviet radio and around the world.

One result of a city’s being carved away from its country — and of consequence to this date’s victims — was that it put Leningrad on increasingly autonomous footing.

Voznesensky, who literally wrote the (incautiously heterodox) book on The Economy of the USSR during World War II

And as the war receded, the men who administered Leningrad were left with an unusual scope of action … bolstered by their recent reputation for anti-fascist heroism. The so-called “Leningraders” had become an embryonic rival power center.

The Leningrad Affair corrected that unwelcome-to-Stalin development with a wholesale purge. While the Soviet judiciary harvested the most illustrious heads on this date — economist Nikolai Voznesensky, Party bigwig Aleksei Kuznetsov — Michael Parrish observes in The lesser terror: Soviet state security, 1939-1953 that

[t]he executions of October 1, 1950, were only the tip of the iceberg … The Leningrad Affair probably claimed more than 1,300 victims, including over 100 who were shot, nearly 2,000 people who were dismissed, and many arrseted.

This day’s victims (though not all those persecuted) were officially rehabilitated during the Khrushchev era; responsibility for the Leningrad Affair even served to condemn one of its authors, NKVD torturer Viktor Abakumov, to death in the 1950s.

But compared to the corpse motel of 1930s USSR, this purge was distinctly small potatoes. One of its survivors — a man who could easily have been condemned on the same evidence that doomed the likes of Kuznetsov — was politician Alexei Kosygin, later to emerge as one of the USSR’s leading liberalizers in the 1960s and (in the words of Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau) “the forerunner of Mikhail Gorbachev.”

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Businessmen,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Intellectuals,Lucky to be Alive,Mass Executions,Not Executed,Politicians,Posthumous Exonerations,Power,Russia,Shot,Theft,Treason,USSR,Wrongful Executions

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