1937: Panfiliya Tanailidi, Azerbaijani actress

Add comment October 15th, 2016 Headsman

On this date in 1937, Azerbaijani actress Panfiliya Tanailidi (various other transliterations are possible) was purged during Stalin’s terror.

Born in a tsarist governorate to Greek emigres, Tanailidi (English Wikipedia entry | Azerbaijani) was treading the Caucasus boards as a teenager in the pregnant century’s first decade.

She became an accomplished stage and screen actress, starring in 1930s silents Ismet and Almaz.

Come the Stalin years when any pretext was enough to destroy a body, the pretext against Tanailidi was apparently her affiliations with an Iran then taking a concerted anti-Soviet line: the actress had toured Iran in 1917 and had friends like Govhar Aliyeva who had fled the Soviet Union for Iran. This was more than enough to cast the pall of espionage about her.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Artists,Azerbaijan,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Espionage,Execution,History,Russia,Shot,USSR,Women

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1651: James Stanley, Earl of Derby

Add comment October 15th, 2015 Headsman

Oliver Cromwell famously called his victory in the last battle of the English Civil War “a crowning mercy” … but it was anything but for royalist nobleman James Stanley, who was beheaded a few weeks afterwards, on this date in 1651.

Packing the marvelous title of Earl of Derby and the Marvel Comics-esque one of Baron Strange, Stanley was the maternal grandson of playwright Edward de Vere.

He had fought the cavalier side in the 1640s and made his name notorious with the storming of Bolton that resulted in the Bolton Massacre. Weeks later, he was present when royalist fortunes went pear-shaped in the north at the Battle of Marston Moor.

Stanley holed up on the Isle of Man after King Charles I lost his head, refusing his enemies’ every blandishment until he could re-enter the field as a commander for Charles II‘s reboot of hostilities.

This also proved a catastrophic failure, and while Charles was able to slip back to continental exile the Lord Derby could not find such obliging oak trees as served his master.*

Though given terms by his captors, a court martial subsequently disallowed such liberality to the butcher of Bolton and condemned him as a traitor.

The parliamentarians would take him back to Bolton to face his punishment; the spot of the beheading is marked by a column in Bolton’s market cross.

Undependable local folklore holds that Lord Derby spent his last night in the ancient (and still-extant) Ye Olde Man and Scythe inn, whose environs exhibit some artifacts of Lord Derby, including a prop severed head.

It’s even said that Stanley’s ghost haunts the pub.

* Stanley was also the Lord of Mann (i.e., of the Isle of Man), and the efforts of Stanley’s wife to negotiate surrender of the royalist island in exchange for her husband’s safety triggered the rebellion of Illiam Dhone.

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Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,England,Execution,History,Isle of Man,Nobility,Power,Public Executions,Soldiers,The Supernatural,Treason

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2012: Eric Robert, determined volunteer

4 comments October 15th, 2012 Headsman

Tonight at 10 p.m. local (U.S. Central) time* in Sioux Falls, South Dakota will administer a toxic lethal injection to Eric Robert … with Robert’s complete consent. (Update: Robert has indeed been executed as scheduled.)

Robert will reach the gurney on the greased-lightning legal path, thanks to his own willingness to die.

It’s a mere 18 months since Robert (then serving a prison term for kidnapping) and another convict murdered guard Ronald “RJ” Johnson for his uniform during an unsuccessful escape attempt.

Robert pled guilty, requested the death penalty, and waived his appeals. This phenomenon is surprisingly common; the Death Penalty Information Center’s invaluable executions database classifies over 10% of modern U.S. executions as voluntary. (138 volunteers out of 1,308 total executions as of this writing: Robert will be the 139th and 1,309th)

While many of those abandoned their appeals in despair once they’d been on death row for a while, Robert has shown uncommon clarity of purpose from the very first, and his firm and intelligent resistance to any attempt to intervene against his death sentence has undermined any possible argument that the guy isn’t in his right mind. So far as anyone can tell, he sincerely believes in a retributive criminal justice ethos.

It might help that the man has followed an atypical criminal arc. He has a biology degree and was a law-abiding wastewater treatment supervisor and Little League coach until he weirdly posed as a police officer and kidnapped a teenager in 2005.** (He says he was drunk.)

Robert even complained publicly when South Dakota nixed a spring 2012 execution date to conduct the mandatory appellate review all capital cases receive; he wrote a letter to the Associated Press saying that he would kill again.

“Victims of non-capital offenses receive their justice when the perpetrator is placed in custody,” Robert wrote. “Victims in capital cases receive their justice when the perpetrator is executed.” That might indeed constitute a persuasive reason to execute Eric Robert, though the same logic would just as readily dispute the suitability of the death penalty as public policy. It’s invariably justice delayed, after all.

I am free to admit my guilt, as well as acknowledge and accept society’s punishment just as I am free to proclaim innocence in defiance of a verdict. I believe that the sentence of death is justly deserved in any murder and should be carried out … Give the Ron Johnson family their justice, they have been forced to wait too long. I finish where I started — I deserve to die.

The court soon obliged him. With legal interventions seemingly at an end and no reason to expect a change of heart from Robert (who could stop the proceeding at any time by announcing his intent to file additional appeals) his execution tonight appears to be inevitable.

And if legal maneuvering has been light, South Dakota — whose 2007 execution of Elijah Page, another volunteer, was the first in that state since the Truman administration — has not been spared the lethal injection misadventures that have bedeviled American death chambers the country over.

Sodium thiopental, one of the drugs used in the classic three-drug lethal injection cocktail, has become very hard to come by for executions. In 2011, South Dakota was exposed for having purchased a supply of unlicensed thiopental from the India company Kayem Pharamaceuticals.

That led South Dakota to switch its lethal injection process to instead use pentobarbital, again following a nationwide trend. Pentobarbital executions have been subject to their own legal challenges, and in South Dakota such suits have been pushed by advocates for Donald Moeller.

Moeller is the next man scheduled to die at Sioux Falls; like Robert, he’s a volunteer, and he’s successfully rejected the “assistance” of the pentobarbital appeal. If all goes to plan Moeller will die during the week of Halloween: two executions in three weeks for a state where the death chamber went unused for a lifetime.

* See this handy list of the times of day each U.S. jurisdiction conducts its executions. The time is rather unusual; many states have moved away from the stereotypical “midnight assassination” late-night execution in favor of something more proximate to business hours.

** The available public evidence suggests Robert perhaps (and understandably) loathes incarceration; rather than shibboleths about society’s punishment, Robert fought to reduce his kidnapping sentence to bring a potential parole opportunity within his grasp. The escape attempt and bluster about killing people happened after those kidnapping appeals foundered.

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Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Lethal Injection,Murder,Ripped from the Headlines,South Dakota,USA,Volunteers

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1964: Nguyen Van Troi, Viet Cong urban guerrilla

4 comments October 15th, 2011 Headsman

On this date in 1964, South Vietnam executed a 17-year-old Communist for a plot to assassinate American Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara.

The young electrical worker and Viet Cong urban guerrilla Nguyen Van Troi was nabbed in the spring of 1963 trying to off both McNamara, famous for the megatonnage he would bestow on Southeast Asia, and U.S. ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr.

(Later, when the South Vietnamese client president whose guests these men ostensibly were was being shot in an armored personnel carrier with the Americans’ blessing, Ngo Dinh Diem might have had cause to wish this youth’s inhospitable gesture had not been undone by his men. Lodge was a particularly vocal advocate in the Kennedy administration for overthrowing Diem.)

For the months leading up to his public shooting, he became an international cause celebre; North Vietnam would later milk his martyrdom with a postage stamp, an award, and numerous public streets.

The international reach of his case was underscored when a Venezuelan revolutionary cell kidnapped an American officer shortly before Troi’s execution, and threatened to shoot him in retaliation. (They didn’t.)

Against this, South Vietnam counterposed the unedifying spectacle of a 17-year-old patriot put to death, energetically declaiming at the stake while cameras rolled,

It is the Americans who have committed aggression on our country, it is they who have been killing our people with planes and bombs…. I have never acted against the will of my people. It is against the Americans that I have taken action.

Naturally, he became a worldwide leftist martyr. There’s an Estadio Nguyen Van Troi in Cuba; American actor Troy Garity, son of Jane Fonda from her “Hanoi Jane” days, is also named for Nguyen Van Troi.

Robert McNamara, meanwhile, had many, many years yet to live, and many, many more Vietnamese deaths to burden his conscience.Troi’s widow wrote a 1965 book about him, out of print but still available on the used book market.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Assassins,Attempted Murder,Capital Punishment,Children,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous,Famous Last Words,Guerrillas,History,Martyrs,Notable for their Victims,Occupation and Colonialism,Popular Culture,Power,Public Executions,Revolutionaries,Shot,Soldiers,Terrorists,USA,Vietnam,Wartime Executions

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1942: Three Doolittle raiders

3 comments October 15th, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1942, three captured American airmen who had bombed Japan in the Doolittle Raid were shot in Tokyo.

The Doolittle Raid — named for its commander, Jimmy Doolittle — was America’s April 1942 retaliation for the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor a few months before.

The mission: bomb the Japanese homeland.

Later in the war, American advances in the Pacific would enable the Yankee to do this regularly. In 1942, it was all but a suicide mission.

The plan involved launching 16 B-25s from an aircraft carrier — an unprecedented feat in itself — to fly light with arms and heavy with fuel to just make it 400 miles to Honshu, and with any luck on to China before the tanks ran dry.

Considering that the bombers had to launch in a panic when the carrier group was spotted a couple hundred miles too early, the raid’s success was downright miraculous: all 16 bombers made it on to (or near enough) the mainland without being shot down, where the crews bailed out and, for the most part, escaped to allied forces. Jimmy Doolittle would title his autobiography I Could Never Be So Lucky Again.

But not all were quite as lucky as Lt. Col. (later, General) Doolittle.

Farrow (left) and Hallmark. Spatz was a member of Farrow’s crew, and is pictured center in that plane’s crew shot here.

Two (out of eighty) drowned when their ride was ditched in the drink. Eight others were captured by the Japanese.

Four of those eight captives would survive the war to tell the tale. A fifth died in captivity. And the other three — pilots William Farrow and Dean Edward Hallmark, and (for somewhat unclear reasons) gunner Harold Spatz — were shot this day in a Shanghai cemetery following a sketchy military trial which condemned them for hitting civilian targets.

Designed largely for its psychological effect, the morale-boosting Doolittle raid has attracted interest from countless other sources who treat it in greater depth. DoolittleRaid.com and DoolittleRaider.com both provide detailed online information about the raid.

For more traditional media, one could do worse than bomber pilot Ted Lawson’s book, and its subsequent propaganda film adaptation, Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Japan,Shot,Soldiers,Torture,USA,War Crimes,Wartime Executions

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1896: Rainandriamampandry and Prince Ratsimamanga

Add comment October 15th, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 1896, two Malagasy movers and shakers were shot to help cement French colonial control of Madagascar.

Interior Minister Rainandriamampandry

Having conquered the island militarily by 1895, France immediately faced indigenous resistance.

According to Stephen Ellis*

One of the most puzzling and fascinating of all resistance movements is that known as the revolt of the menalamba. It occurred over a wide area of central Madagascar, mostly in the kingdom of Imerina, in the two years following the French invasion of Madagascar in 1895. The most mysterious aspect of the rising has always been the question of who, if anyone, was its leader. The official version, that reported by the French government in Madagascar, was that the movement was inspired or directed by a number of magnates at the old Merina court. The published evidence is so ambiguous as to have obliged every subsequent author to accept this version, although there was considerable doubt expressed as to its truth at that time.

Managing this drumhead tribunal was just-arrived “Resident-General” Joseph Simon Gallieni, who seems to have alit (fresh from an assignment in Indochina) with the certain conviction that examples must be made.

While more wholesale bloodletting was deployed in the field, Gallieni selected some suitably high-profile exemplars from the supine state’s ruling elite — “Ratsimamanga, a nobleman who had been unpopular for many years because of his financial extortions,” says Ellis, and “Rainandriamampandry because … he had no close political friends and might therefore be considered dispensable.”

The convenient loss of the tribunal paperwork, which renders evaluation impossible and colonial motivation suspect, hardly would have been well beside the point. As one periodical in Paris (where Gallieni’s pacification project received enthusiastic greeting) approvingly put it,

As a lesson to the rebels, two great figures who had sided with them, Prince Ratsimamanga and Minister of the Interior Rainandriamampandry have both been tried, convicted and shot, all with such rapidity as to inspire their accomplices to salutary reflections.

Below: Selected photographs of the execution from the University of Southern California Digital Library. Click for larger images.

An aside: Madagascar was also the scene of intensely sectarian competition in the soul-saving business, resulting in an execution-day travesty reported in An Empire Divided: Religion, Republicanism, and the Making of French Colonialism, 1880-1914:

Gallieni gave permission to both the cure of the Antananarivo cathedral and a local French pastor to be with [Rainandriamampandry] during his last hours. But … the two started quarreling almost at once. Gallieni was deeply disturbed by the image of two religious men fighting during “the final minutes of a condemned man.”

* “The Political Elite of Imerina and the Revolt of the Menalamba. The Creation of a Colonial Myth in Madagascar, 1895-1898,” The Journal of African History, vol. 21, no. 2 (1980).

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Madagascar,Mature Content,Occupation and Colonialism,Politicians,Power,Public Executions,Shot

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1917: Mata Hari, femme fatale

6 comments October 15th, 2008 Headsman

At 5 a.m. this date in 1917, Margaretha Geertruida Zelle — better known as Mata Hari — was awoken at Saint-Lazare Prison to news that it was her last day on earth.

She died in a muddy drill field outside Paris, facing a firing squad as she had lived: self-possessed, mysterious, her eyes (she refused a blindfold) open.

For the oldest profession, it may be there is nothing truly original, nothing new under the sun. But Mata Hari — thanks in no small part to her genuinely fatale end — redefined it for the dawning age of mass visual media and tapped the power of sexual allure for a commercial century.

She was already pushing 30 when she got into the exotic dance game, with a failed May-December marriage behind her from what a wag might call her first sexual bargain, to get out from under the thumb of her family and see the world. In Paris in the belle epoque, there were assuredly dancers younger, prettier. Margaretha, who here debuted the show name by which history would know here, surpassed them with showmanship.

She exploited her exotic olive-toned looks — there were rumors of Javanese or Jewish blood even in her childhood — and claimed to be an Indian princess; her talent for repackaging oriental exoticism with just the right amount of otherness combined with her willingness to push boundaries of eroticism made her an instant sensation. Naturally gregarious and unprudish, she segued into the courtesan biz on the side with dashing officers and wealthy industrialists.

Not bad for a thirty-something mother of two.

She comes at the start of our own era: sensual postcards and posed photos of Mata Hari were at once her pitch and her product; celluloid was just coming online, and 14 years after her death, she’d be portrayed by silver screen femme fatale Greta Garbo:

That’s her with the last object of her affections, a Russian aviator young enough to be her son, and a reminder that the birth of Greta Garbo’s era was also the death of Mata Hari’s own.

She was aging, for one thing. For another, of course, war shattered Europe. Famous, decadent, polyglot … those things that had been her passport suddenly became her liabilities. Globetrotting travel? Payoffs from a multinational cast of officers for her companionship?

There’s no take here on whether she was really, as convicted, a German spy of any variety at all — she seems to have been approached, to have tried her hand clumsily or to have been set up by either French or German intelligence, or simply to have behaved indiscreetly. Once she was caught up against events, her maneating reputation did her no favors.

Spying, she was terrible at. Commanding men’s attention? As a British correspondent reported, Margaretha Zelle owned her role to the very last.

The first intimation she received that her plea had been denied was when she was led at daybreak from her cell in the Saint-Lazare prison to a waiting automobile and then rushed to the barracks where the firing squad awaited her.

Never once had the iron will of the beautiful woman failed her. Father Arbaux, accompanied by two sisters of charity, Captain Bouchardon, and Maitre Clunet, her lawyer, entered her cell, where she was still sleeping – a calm, untroubled sleep, it was remarked by the turnkeys and trusties.

The sisters gently shook her. She arose and was told that her hour had come.

‘May I write two letters?’ was all she asked.

Consent was given immediately by Captain Bouchardon, and pen, ink, paper, and envelopes were given to her.

She seated herself at the edge of the bed and wrote the letters with feverish haste. She handed them over to the custody of her lawyer.

Then she drew on her stockings, black, silken, filmy things, grotesque in the circumstances. She placed her high-heeled slippers on her feet and tied the silken ribbons over her insteps.

She arose and took the long black velvet cloak, edged around the bottom with fur and with a huge square fur collar hanging down the back, from a hook over the head of her bed. She placed this cloak over the heavy silk kimono which she had been wearing over her nightdress.

Her wealth of black hair was still coiled about her head in braids. She put on a large, flapping black felt hat with a black silk ribbon and bow. Slowly and indifferently, it seemed, she pulled on a pair of black kid gloves. Then she said calmly:

‘I am ready.’

The party slowly filed out of her cell to the waiting automobile.

The car sped through the heart of the sleeping city. It was scarcely half-past five in the morning and the sun was not yet fully up.

Clear across Paris the car whirled to the Caserne de Vincennes, the barracks of the old fort which the Germans stormed in 1870.

The troops were already drawn up for the execution. The twelve Zouaves, forming the firing squad, stood in line, their rifles at ease. A subofficer stood behind them, sword drawn.

The automobile stopped, and the party descended, Mata Hari last. The party walked straight to the spot, where a little hummock of earth reared itself seven or eight feet high and afforded a background for such bullets as might miss the human target.

As Father Arbaux spoke with the condemned woman, a French officer approached, carrying a white cloth.

‘The blindfold,’ he whispered to the nuns who stood there and handed it to them.

‘Must I wear that?’ asked Mata Hari, turning to her lawyer, as her eyes glimpsed the blindfold.

Maitre Clunet turned interrogatively to the French officer.

‘If Madame prefers not, it makes no difference,’ replied the officer, hurriedly turning away. .

Mata Hari was not bound and she was not blindfolded. She stood gazing steadfastly at her executioners, when the priest, the nuns, and her lawyer stepped away from her.*

The officer in command of the firing squad, who had been watching his men like a hawk that none might examine his rifle and try to find out whether he was destined to fire the blank cartridge which was in the breech of one rifle, seemed relieved that the business would soon be over.

A sharp, crackling command and the file of twelve men assumed rigid positions at attention. Another command, and their rifles were at their shoulders; each man gazed down his barrel at the breast of the women which was the target.

She did not move a muscle.

The underofficer in charge had moved to a position where from the corners of their eyes they could see him. His sword was extended in the air.

It dropped. The sun – by this time up – flashed on the burnished blade as it described an arc in falling. Simultaneously the sound of the volley rang out. Flame and a tiny puff of greyish smoke issued from the muzzle of each rifle. Automatically the men dropped their arms.

At the report Mata Hari fell. She did not die as actors and moving picture stars would have us believe that people die when they are shot. She did not throw up her hands nor did she plunge straight forward or straight back.

Instead she seemed to collapse. Slowly, inertly, she settled to her knees, her head up always, and without the slightest change of expression on her face. For the fraction of a second it seemed she tottered there, on her knees, gazing directly at those who had taken her life. Then she fell backward, bending at the waist, with her legs doubled up beneath her. She lay prone, motionless, with her face turned towards the sky.

A non-commissioned officer, who accompanied a lieutenant, drew his revolver from the big, black holster strapped about his waist. Bending over, he placed the muzzle of the revolver almost – but not quite – against the left temple of the spy. He pulled the trigger, and the bullet tore into the brain of the woman.

Mata Hari was surely dead.

* Inevitably, a story got around that she’d opened her funereal coat to the firing squad, revealing no clothing beneath it.

Part of the Themed Set: Belles Epoque.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Entertainers,Espionage,Execution,Famous,France,Germany,History,Language,Netherlands,Popular Culture,Sex,Shot,Wartime Executions,Women,Wrongful Executions

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