1734: John Ormesby and Matthew Cushing

Add comment October 17th, 2018 Headsman

If the attached A Few Lines upon the Awful Execution of John Ormesby & Matthew Cushing intrigues, get to know America’s “first celebrity burglar” via a profile from friend of the site Anthony Vaver (author of Bound with an Iron Chain and Early American Criminals).

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,History,Massachusetts,Murder,Public Executions,Theft,USA

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1976: Masacre de Los Surgentes, during the Dirty War

Add comment October 17th, 2017 Headsman

On this date in 1976, seven young leftist Montonero militants were extrajudicially executed by the Argentine junta in Los Surgentes.*

Just months into Argentina’s seven-year military dictatorship and the dread nomenclature of “the disappeared” was already entering the lexicon for activists snatched by paramilitaries to a fate of God knows what.** They vanished by the thousands during Argentina’s “Dirty War” leaving no paper trails to explain their fates, no gravesites to mourn over nor legal cases to mobilize around — no way for their loved ones to get a handle on them, but only the barest veneer of deniability for the junta as its torturers did their monstrous work. In 1978, Argentina dictator Jorge Rafael Videla infamously answered an inquiry at a press conference with the chilling words, “They are neither dead nor alive, they are disappeared.”

But, seriously, the disappeared were mostly dead. Everyone knew.

The Masacre de Los Surgentes was an uncomplicated version of the grim fate awaiting these abductees. Seven young leftist radicals, all in their early twenties and all thought to be in simpatico with the Montonero guerrilla movement, had been kidnapped in the days prior around the city of Rosario. They’d been interrogated and tortured alongside other captives, a few of whom would survive with stories about their compatriots’ last hours.


The secret prison where this day’s victims and hundreds of others were detained in Rosario is today managed as a memorial site. (cc) image by Rosario resident Pablo D. Flores.

Around dawn on the 17th of October, all seven — María Cristina Márquez, Cristina Costanzo, Analía Murgiondo, Sergio Abdo Jalil, Eduardo Felipe Laus, Daniel Oscar Barjacoba, and José Antonio Oyarzábal — were blindfolded, handcuffed, and driven a few kilometers out of town, to the village which gives the massacre its name, and gunned down.

Sergio Jalil’s courageous mother Nelma Jalil became a prominent champion for Argentina’s bereaved families of the “disappeared” as a co-founder of the Madres de la Plaza 25 de Mayo, or “Rosario Mothers”.

* Though a small town of 4,200, Los Surgentes has had an ample allotment of wartime mass executions: it’s is also known as the site where Argentine hero Santiago de Liniers was shot with his associates in 1810.

** Indeed, Argentina’s armed forces and allied paramilitaries had been fighting this dirty war against the left-wing guerrillas for several years prior to the 1976 coup.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Activists,Argentina,Borderline "Executions",Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Martyrs,Mass Executions,No Formal Charge,Shot,Torture,Wartime Executions

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1968: Harun Thohir and Usman Janatin, for the MacDonald House bombing

Add comment October 17th, 2016 Headsman

On this date in 1968, Indonesian Lance Corporal Harun Thohir and Sgt. Usman Janatin were hanged in Singapore for bombing the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank three years earlier.

Aptly, such confrontational behavior took place during the era of Konfrontasi, a running fight between Indonesia — feeling its oats as a regional power — and the British straits possessions that had just recently been amalgamated (to Indonesia’s irritation) into the new country Malaysia.

This wasn’t a “war” full of set-piece battles: think commando raids and jungle skirmishing instead. Initially confined to the island of Borneo of which Indonesia occupied three-quarters and coveted the remainder, the fight provocatively spilled to the “homeland” Malay Peninsula itself, including a number of saboteur bombings concentrated in Singapore — which was still a part of Malaysia in the early 1960s.

The most notorious and destructive of these was conducted on March 10, 1965, by our men Harun Thohir and Usman Janatir along with a third commando named Gani bin Arup. Tasked with bombing an electric station, they instead packed 12 kg of nitroglycerin into a bank — an iconic landmark that was at the time the tallest in its vicinity. The MacDonald House bombing killed three civilians and injured 133 more.

Gani bin Arup escaped successfully, but Janatin and Thohir suffered a motorboat breakdown and were apprehended. By the time their execution date arrived, a few things had changed: Singapore itself had been expelled from Malaysia to become an independent city-state; and, the Konfrontasi era had been dialed back with the deposition of Indonesian president Sukarno.

But the hanging still stayed on, and feelings ran understandably high for both the former antagonists.

The jurisdictional issue of most moment for the bombers was not the identity of the offended state, but their contention that they were regular armed forces members just following their orders and entitled to prisoner of war status. Jakarta was indignant at Singaporean courts’ dismissal of this angle; Singapore, well, it didn’t want to take a soft line on terrorists blowing up banks.


Headline in the Oct. 18, 1968 London Times, reporting “a crowd of 10,000 people who joined the procession to the war heroes’ cemetery here [Jakarta] carried banners proclaiming: ‘Declare total war on Singapore’, ‘Annihilate Singapore’, and ‘Hang Lee Kuan Yew‘.”

As is so often the case, one man’s terrorists are often another’s freedom fighters: the hanged marines remain today official national heroes in Indonesia, and in 2014 the navy created a diplomatic incident with Singapore by christening a Bung Tomo-class corvette the KRI Usman-Harun.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Guerrillas,Hanged,History,Indonesia,Malaysia,Martyrs,Murder,Ripped from the Headlines,Singapore,Soldiers,Terrorists

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1677: John S., William Fletcher, and Robert Perkins

Add comment October 17th, 2015 Headsman

The Confession and Execution of the Three Prisoners suffering at Tyburn on Wednesday the 17th of October, 1677

At the Sessions of Oyer and Terminer for London, and Gaole-delivery of Newgate begun at Justice-Hall in the Old Bayly, 10 Octob. and ending on the 12 of the same Month, there were in all (as by a Printed Narrative you may already have heard) Five persons, who being Convicted on fair Tryals (per Patriam) of several capital Crimes, received Sentence of Death: But Two of them, whose Crime was stealing of two horses, appearing to be objects of mercy, as having never been concern’d in any such offences before, and seeming now extremely penitent for the same, obtained a Gracious Reprieve. The other Three were this present Wednesday 17 Octob. carryed to the place of execution, and by a shameful death surrendered their unhappie lives as Victims duely forfeited to the Justice of the Law.

These were all three old notorious offenders; two of them (taken in Gardiners-lane, Westminster) had long followed the Padd, as they called it, that is, Robbed upon the Highway: The other had made it his trade to break open houses, and pilfer away peoples Goods, being burnt in the hand but two Sessions ago: So that if such Malefactors should have longer been endured, honest Subjects would not be able either to sleep securely in their Dwellings, or travel abroad with safety on their lawful occasions; but both within doors and without, been liable to the spoils and outrages of these barbarous Savages.

To assist these poor wretches for the good of their Souls after the time of their Condemnation, the Sheriffs not onely manifested their pious Charity in sending them able Divines to instruct them, and especially Mr. Ordinary, who very laboriously discharges his weighty office on such occasions, but likewise several godly Ministers of their own accord, in Christian-compassion to their perishing condition, were pleased to visit them. Who laid before them the miserable state they were in; That now their days we [sic] numbered, nay their very hours and minutes which they had to live in this world; and yet these few minutes were all the time and opportunity they had to provide for eternity. That they were doom’d by Justice to a certain death; and though ’twas vain for them to flatter themselves with hopes of longer life in this world, yet there was means left, by a speedy, thorow, sincere and hearty repentance of their sins, and fleeing to Christ for mercy and forgiveness, to secure themselves, by vertue of his merits and righteousness, of a most happy and everlasting life in the world to come. That to such vile and sinful wretches as they had been, it was unspeakable mercy that they had yet a little space left, wherein to make peace with their God: for they might have gone on still in riot and wickedness, and been suddenly snatcht away in the very acts of their impiety Etc. These and many other pressing exhortations, together with severe threatnings to affright them and sweet promises to allure them, taken from the Word of God, were made use of, to bring them to a due sense of their sins, and to cry mightily to God for salvation. But the deaf adder refuses the voice of the charmer, charm he never so wisely All this good seed could take no root, or produce very little visible fruit on the stony ground of two of these Prisoners obdurate hearts; they not seeming (to outward appearance at least) to take that due and sensible notice of this most important counsel, as might be expected from persons in their condition. But the Spirit bloweth where it listeth. The third seemed much affected with this pious advice, and was very earnest and frequent in bewailing his sins, and condemning himself bitterly for having so wickedly mis-spent his precious time heretoforr. He acknowledged to some, that he had several years been a Thief, but not till of late upon the High-way: that at fust his Conscience would after every fact severely check him; but since custom of sinning taking away the sense, he had run on from one degree of wickedness to a greater without controul. He was very frequent in Prayer, wherein he has been heard to express himself to this effect.

Most dreadful and glorious God, though then hatest all the workers of iniquity, yet through the Mediation of they blessed son, with pity behold me a miserable sinner. Had I lived according to thy Commandments, or submitted to the Gospel of thy son, I might approach thee with the confidence of a childe: but I have been a Rebel against thee from my youth up, forgetting the God that made me, and the saviour that redeemed me, quenching and grieving the holy spirit, and slighting the endless Glory which thou hast prepared for me. Oh the precious time which I have lost, which all the world cannot call back; the wonderful love which I unthankfully rejected! How have I lived in continual acts of all kinde of Profaneness, all kind of Debanchery, whoring, swearing, Drunkenness, and especially Theft, which now has brought me to this woful, forlorn, condemned case wherein I am a shame to my friends, and burden to my self; and thou, O God, art my Terrour, who shouldot be my onely Hope and Comfort. Lord, thou knowest my secret sins, which yet are unknown to men, and all their Aggravations. Mine iniquities, Lord, have found me out; my fears and sorrows overwhelm me: a shameful death expects me in this world, and endless torments are ready to receive me in the other. But, Lord! thy Goodness is equal to thy Greatness, thy Mercy over all thy works. Good God, be merciful therefore unto me, the vilest of sinners: save me for thy abundant mercy, for the merit of thy Son, and for the promise of forgiveness which thou hast made through him; for in these alone is all my trust. Thou who didst patiently endure me when I despised thee, Oh do not refuse me now I seek unto thee, and in the dust implore thy mercy. Lord, I ask not for longer life in this world, but for life eternal; not for liberty to sin again, but for deliverance from this sinning nature, and that body of death which overwhelms me. To this purpose Lord give me thy grace to improve these few minutes, and prepare me for death and Judgement; that when I leave this world with Shame, I may be received into glory, and yeeld my departing soul with joy into the faithful hands of my Redeemer. Amen.

He behaved himself very penitently in the Cart, Prayed a considerable time by himself privately at the place of Execution; desired all people to take warning by him to avoid Idleness and Ill Company, which brought him to this Ignominious End. The other joyned in the publick Prayers, but said very little that could be heard. But all of them together suffered very patiently, and with submissive acknowledgements of the Justice of the Sentence.

(Via the invaluable Old Bailey Online)

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1817: Maggie Houghtaling

Add comment October 17th, 2014 Headsman

On this date in 1817, Maggie Houghtaling (alias Peggy Densmore) was hanged in Hudson, N.Y. for infanticide.

Houghtaling lived with the mother of 15-month-old Lewis Spencer. One awful day in August — just eight weeks before the consequent execution — the mother popped out of the house a few moments and left Lewis gnawing on a piece of bread under her roommate’s care.

When the mother returned, she found the child “apparently in convulsions, its tongue protruded from the mouth, and covered with erosions — the inside of the mouth corrugated, and all the shocking symptons which may be supposed to follow from a potion so horrid.” The potion referred to in this account of the New York Evening Post (September 23, 1817): vitriol, also known as sulfuric acid. It’ll do a number on you.

The self-evident inference was that his babysitter had poisoned the kid — an inference the mother made immediately and that Maggie Houghtaling vainly sought to repel all the way to the rope.*

Hudson’s Northern Whig reported a heavily-attended (five to ten to even fifteen thousand souls, by various estimates) but orderly scene and “the ceremonies of the day … conducted with great propriety.” Houghtaling herself was composed and even indifferent** riding a horse-drawn cart with a halter around her neck to a scaffold erected on the pastures north of State Street.†

Houghtaling made one last assertion of her innocence under the gallows, despite the overwhelming confidence her contemporaries had in her guilt. “Such declarations,” sniffed the Otsego Herald (Oct. 30, 1817) “after a fair and impartial trial, and from her incredibility of character, were not entitled to consideration, and made but little impression in her favor.”

Then she swung.


Many, many years later, as the Empire State prepared to execute Roxalana Druse — the very last woman put to death by hanging in New York — one of the numerous pamphlets published in the hope of sparing Ms. Druse curiously resuscitated the Houghtaling hanging.

Mrs. Druse’s case and Maggie Houghtaling: An innocent woman hanged claims that the secret of the crime was revealed to its writer by “a tall, handsome lady of middle age and most refined manner” who had “befriended Peggy, when that unfortunate young woman was being tried and she was the last one who prayed in her cell with her before she was led out for execution.” Since Roxalana Druse was hanged seventy years after our Ms. Houghtaling, this refined Samaritan must have discovered the font of middle age.

There is no evidence I have been able to locate of the manipulative story purportedly related surfacing in any official fashion to exonerate Maggie Houghtaling (or “Peggy Houghtaling”, here). But doubts aside — and we must allow that the incendiary domestic murder of a child has been known to railroad a body now and again — this qualifies at the very least as intriguing folklore: the young woman publicly executed over her protestations of innocence still maintained a purchase on the public conscience seven decades after her death.

In agony she [Houghtaling] begged for her life to be at least spared till she had an opportunity to prove her innocence. But, no, there was no mercy for her as the case was a most revoltingly brutal one, and the wretched woman was strung up like a dog six weeks [sic] after the murder, protesting with her last breath:

God forgive you all for hanging me; but I am innocent, and my only prayer is that some day it may be proved and the black spot taken off my name and memory.

That some day did not come for several years, and then the real murderess was found. She had been a rival of poor Peggy’s in the affections of the same man, and was “cut out” as she called it, by Peggy. In her disappointment and rage she resolved on revenge, but buried it in her heart, and appeared very friendly and indifferent on the surface. At last she got her opportunity, and she cold-bloodedly murdered Peggy’s child. [sic] Her devilish plot had been laid with the most consummate skill, in such a way that suspicion was thrown upon the mother, who accordingly was arrested. The public mind was aroused to the highest point of excitement, most especially by the testimony of this very witness, given on the stand amidst a flow of crocodile tears, and apparently with great reluctance. Her revenge was thus complete; but as he always does, the devil sowed in her bosom the little black seed of remorse, and it sprouted and grew, and spread, until she was the most unhappy wretch in existence. At night the ghosts of her two victims came to her in her sleep, and she would wake up screaming with terror and in daytime her imagination brought them before her, at times so vividly that she would fall in fits.

After enduring a lifetime’s pangs of remorse, the “real murderess” (never named) at last expires

in convulsions on the bed, screaming, clasping her hands, tearing at her throat, and crying out:

“I am lost! I’m lost, forever! There is no forgiveness! none! none!”

In the midst of one of these awful paroxysms the guilty wretch suddenly expired, and her soul stood in the presence of her Maker, to answer for the hideous crime she had committed on earth.

* Maggie Houghtaling was prosecuted by District Attorney Moses I. Cantine with the assistance of his brother-in-law, who just happened to be the state Attorney General: future U.S. President Martin Van Buren. (Evening Post, Sept. 23, 1817)

** By the conventions of the execution bulletin, condemned prisoners are remarked “indifferent” when their composure exceeds the reporter’s own.

† I have no idea whether it actually relates to this date’s events but one would be remiss not to mention that the next lane north of State Street in Hudson is something called Rope Alley.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,Murder,New York,Notable Participants,Public Executions,USA,Women

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1698: Six Streltsy of rank

Add comment October 17th, 2013 Johann Georg Korb

This entry in our Corpses Strewn series on the October 1698 extirpation of the Streltsy is courtesy of the diaries of Austrian diplomat Johann Georg Korb, an eyewitness to the events.

Only six were beheaded today, who had the advantage of rank over the others, if rank be a distinction of honour in executed criminals.

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Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Mass Executions,Power,Public Executions,Russia,Soldiers,Torture,Treason

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1934: Harry Pierpont, Dillinger mentor

6 comments October 17th, 2012 Headsman

At 12:09 a.m. this date in 1934, Harry Pierpont — a partner of notorious gangster John Dillinger — was electrocuted at the Columbus, Ohio penitentiary.

This Indiana-born criminal helped Dillinger transition from local malcontent to FBI’s Most Wanted* in prison in Michigan City, Indiana. Pierpont was a professional armed robber and the leader of a gang that knocked over several Indiana banks in the mid-1920s before his capture.

That was right about the time that fellow Hoosier Dillinger was catching an absurdly harsh 10-to-20-year sentence for robbing a local grocer in Mooresville — a sentence Dillinger helped bring on himself when he took his father’s advice to plead guilty and take responsibility and blah blah blah.

The court threw the book at him.

“I will be the meanest bastard you ever saw when I get out of here,” 21-year-old Dillinger is supposed to have said. He’d prove infamously true to his word … with the help of Harry Pierpont.

The two crossed paths in the penitentiary system in 1925. Pierpont was only eight months older, but was a much more seasoned criminal and mentored the young Dillinger in the arts of bank robbery. Both also cribbed from two former associates of the German robber Hermann Lamm, who broke new ground in the larceny game with his disciplined, systematic approach to the job: casing the bank, organizing the crime, plotting and practicing the getaway route.

Dillinger finally made parole after nine long years in the stir on May 22, 1933. The years-long show of rehabilitation that won him his liberty immediately proved to have been a facade: in a pre-arranged plan, Dillinger committed several bank robberies that summer to raise funds to orchestrate a prison break for Pierpont et al.

Pierpont and seven others, who would form the first Dillinger gang (Pierpont reportedly encouraged the branding fronting his charismatic former apprentice), and their escape conveniently occurred just after Dillinger himself had been arrested. His once-and-future associates returned the favor by liberating Dillinger from the Lima, Ohio jail — gunning down Sheriff Jess Sarber in the process.

That was Oct. 12, 1933. (Here’s a Dillinger gang timeline.)

Dillinger would be dead within the year and Pierpont not much outlive him. But in those months pillaging banks (wildly unpopular at this moment, the very pits of the Great Depression) from the open-road freedom of zooming Terraplanes that could outrace police cars, wielding spectacular Tommy guns that could outgun police, the Dillinger gang staked its social bandit bona fides.**

They robbed several more banks with the discipline and precision that would make them famous; notably, Dillinger and company rarely drank and never when planning heists, evaluating targets with all the businesslike sobriety of corporate raiders.

They weren’t caught in the act, but while trying to lay low in Arizona.

Dillinger and had one more escape in his bag, and that a spectacular one: brandishing a fake wooden “gun”,† Dillinger busted out of the allegedly “escape-proof” Lake County Jail in Crown Point, Ind. and joined up with another gangster.

Dillinger had four months and change yet to go, a cavalcade of Midwestern robberies, an alleged appearance-altering plastic surgery, and a running battle with the young HerbertJ. Edgar Hoover and his star agent Melvin Purvis. Dillinger was finally shot dead in Chicago that summer of 1934. His robbery spree had lasted only 15 months, but it made him a worldwide celebrity.

Three others arrested with Dillinger in Arizona, however, were not with Dillinger when he escaped Crown Point.

Instead, they were destined for Ohio to answer for that sheriff they’d murdered freeing Dillinger the year before. Harry Pierpont and a fellow gang member, Charles Makley, caught capital sentences.

It’s more than likely that they were anticipating another rescue from their famous confederate, but Dillinger’s end in Chicago sealed Pierpont’s and Makley’s fate, too.

On September 22, with death dates looming, those two attempted to replicate Dillinger’s “fake gun” escape gambit with bars of soap carved like pistols and painted with bootblack. (Woody Allen paid it homage.) It was a desperate try, and it ended in a fusillade from an un-bluffed squad of prison guards as Pierpont and Makley tried to spring the gate to their prison block.

Makley, perhaps the luckier of the two, died of his injuries. The hobbled Pierpont lived long enough to make it to the electric chair.

A few books about John Dillinger

* Dillinger was the first person designated as the fledgling Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Most Wanted.

** Anecdote: the Dillinger gang wouldn’t steal from bank customers, telling them “we only want the bank’s money.”

† Or maybe a real gun subsequently replaced with a fake gun, maybe with the connivance of bribed guards or the like … there’s a good deal of unresolved speculation about this escape.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Electrocuted,Execution,History,Murder,Ohio,Organized Crime,USA

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1859: Danford Balch, inadvertent PDX benefactor

Add comment October 17th, 2011 Headsman

On this date in 1859, five to six hundred folks braved a dreary Portland morning to witness the first execution in the state of Oregon — Oregon having graduated into statehood just that very year, as it says on the flag.

Danford Balch, who would surely merit an entry in these pages for his name alone, had staked out a 345-acre land claim near the small settlement of Portland, but all that money couldn’t buy his daughter’s love.

Anna, the eldest of nine kids at a blossoming 15, was amenable to a suit by the farmhand, one Mortimer Stump — this is a Dickensian roster of characters — and in the face of Papa Balch’s opposition, eloped with him over the Columbia River to Vancouver, Wash.

So Danford Balch stewed, and drank, and was allegedly incited by his shrewish wife Mary Jane — this one has an ironically innocent moniker — until, encountering the Stumps in town for supplies one day, Danford Balch tried to retrieve his daughter and ended up shotgunning his unwanted son-in-law, right in the face.

Ka-blamo.

Bystanders tackled Balch immediately, though it took nine more months to bring the killer to trial: in these sparsely-populated frontier precincts justice was being administered on the old “assize” model of wandering judges who dropped in for a spell to try everything at one go. It was enough time for Balch to bust out of a rain-rotted jail cell once and get recaptured (once on the lam, he returned to his own home).

When court was finally in session, conviction was a mere formality. He’d done the deed in public, after all. But the offended father seemed genuinely bewildered by the outcome: apart from the shooting being accidental (so he said), he clearly expected that a court would uphold the dominion of the family patriarch over his wayward progeny.

Heaven knows what fumes he was fuming by the time he climbed the scaffold and beheld that naughty daughter Anna turned up to witness his hanging — sitting in the front row with the [rest of the] Stump family in what you have to think was a somewhat uncomfortable party for all concerned.

Little more affectionate was the post-mortem behavior of the allegedly un-alienated part of the Balch clan.

That widow Mary Jane, whom Danford hinted gave him quite a goading over their wanton daughter, shafted the remaining rugrats out of inheriting their chunks of the family land and instead routed most of it to her next husand.

Balch Creek in Lower Macleay State Park. (cc) image from Brad Reber.

Though pretty difficult to admire by the yardstick of human decency, that behavior turned out to be Danford Balch’s redeeming legacy.

Having passed through several hands, the lion’s share of his former land was in 1897 donated to the city by its then-owner Donald Macleay, who was sick of paying taxes on the unprofitable parcel. That was the time the famously green PDX received its first land gift designated by the donor for parkland: Macleay Park. (Including a Balch Creek.)

Today, it’s all part of the larger Forest Park, and it’s a lovely hiking space for a city that grooves on its outdoor rec … complete with a gorgeously ruined Depression-era stone ranger station that’s popularly believed to be haunted, maybe by the spirit of poor old Danford Balch himself.


The haunted house … (cc) image from Adam Gaumont.

There’s a Balchipedia for chronicling Balch family notables, so you know the first guy executed in Oregon is going to rate a mention.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Milestones,Murder,Oregon,Public Executions,The Supernatural,USA

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1999: Zein al-Abidine al-Mihdar, Yemeni terrorist

2 comments October 17th, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1999, Yemen executed (in its own inimitable style) terrorist Zein al-Abidine al-Mihdar, for orchestrating a kidnapping of western tourists.

A Xerox executive among the party of kidnapped tourists relates her post-captivity search to understand her ordeal.

The drama had unfolded in December of 1998, when a convoy of 16 (mostly British) foreign tourists spending the traditional Christmas in Yemen was seized by the Islamic terrorist group Islamic Army of Aden-Abyan.

The very next day, a massive Yemeni army raid busted up the kidnappers and freed the hostages — all, except for the four who were killed in the affray.

Tried for the kidnapping (a capital crime itself) and those resulting deaths — although some victims slated the army and its aggressive response for those lost souls — three men were condemned death.

“The only dialogue,” al-Mihdar told his judges, “should be with bullets.” And so for him, a bullet had the last word. (The other two condemned men drew commutations.)


Al-Mihdar’s followers promised revenge were he executed. Given that the Islamic Army of Aden claimed responsibility for the 2000 bombing of the American warship USS Cole while it refueled at Aden — Khalid Almihdhar, one of the 9/11 hijackers allegedly affiliated with the IAA, participated — it might well have done just that. (However, the IAA as a distinct terrorist entity petered out in the 2000s.)

By the by, the U.S. is basically at war in Yemen now. Better still: that tribal country is also a proving-grounds for brave new assertions of heretofore undiscovered American presidential prerogatives, like the right to assassinate other Americans.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Kidnapping,Power,Public Executions,Religious Figures,Revolutionaries,Shot,Terrorists,Yemen

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1409: Jean de Montagu

Add comment October 17th, 2009 Headsman

Six hundred years ago today, onetime royal favorite Jean de Montagu* was, at the instigation of his powerful noble rival, beheaded in Paris and his body hung up at Montfaucon.

Montagu (French link) was the 50-something scion of an ennobled notary — or else the illegitimate produce of King Charles V, whose ennobled notary had been induced to claim him. Regardless his blood, the lad made himself quite wealthy with a virtuous cycle of administrative acumen and political connection, winning a variety of honorary posts and riches aplenty he did not shy from displaying. Typical “New Money” type.

Sadly for Montagu, this cycle crested during the reign of Charles VI, also known as Charles the Mad for his bouts of illucidity.

“History,” wrote Barbara Tuchman, “never more cruelly demonstrated the vulnerability of a nation to the person of its chief of state than in the affliction of France beginning [with Charles’ first spell of insanity] in 1392.”

Charles the Mad’s erratic tenure would help bring French fortunes to the low ebb from which Joan of Arc would retrieve them.

Montagu’s period sob story was that his wealth earned him the enmity of nasty Duke of Burgundy John the Fearless,** who induced King Charles during one of the latter’s episodes to affix on Montagu responsibility for the crown’s financial shortfalls. Our day’s victim was arrested on October 7, 1409, tortured into a confession, and beheaded in Paris October 17.

Montagu’s surviving family had the verdict reversed within three years, which would have been a better deal for them had the family’s main branch not been wiped out three years after that at the Battle of Agincourt.

For the wider benefit of posterity, the beheaded lord also left a fair collection of endowed building projects in his lands in Marcoussis, including (French links all): the usual village church; a Celestine monastery; and a picturesque castle unfortunately devastated during the French Revolution but once resembling this:


Atmospheric old sketch from here; others here.

* Not to be confused with his (likewise beheaded) contemporary across the channel, John Montagu, Earl of Salisbury.

** John the Fearless had most recently been seen engineering the infamous murder of the king’s brother, and surviving by dint of his ransom potential the hecatomb of the last crusade.

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Entry Filed under: 15th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,France,History,Nobility,Pelf,Posthumous Exonerations,Torture,Wrongful Executions

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Execution Playing Cards

Exclusively available on this site: our one-of-a-kind custom playing card deck.

Every card features a historical execution from England, France, Germany, or Russia!