1976: Michiah Shobek

Add comment October 19th, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1976, American killer Michiah Shobek was hanged in the Bahamas.

Born James Michael Shoffner, Shobek was a Milwaukee handyman who murdered* three other Americans abroad in Nassau during a two-month period — people Shobek called “angels of Lucifer.”

* Two by stabbing, one by strangulation.

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

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1662: A shipwrecked Turk in Dutch Pennsylvania

Add comment October 19th, 2017 Headsman

Well known as is the Dutch heritage of New York City — the former New Amsterdam — fewer realize that the Low Countries’ writ in the New World for a brief time ran far down what is today styled the Mid-Atlantic coast, all the way to the lower Delaware River separating present-day New Jersey and Pennsylvania. “New Netherland” had swiped it just a few years before the events in this post from “New Sweden”.

Before it all went over to the Anglosphere the aspirant imperial rival got a few executions in on these distant shores — as we see in this narrative sited in what is now Delaware County, Pennsylvania. It comes to us from the Proceedings of the Delaware County Historical Society, Volume 1, January 1902 via this Delaware County History blog:

UNDER HOLLAND’S RULE – When the next important criminal trial, which has been presented to us in official documents, presents itself, the flag of Sweden had been supplanted by the standard of their High Mightiness of Holland and while the case did not in its incidents come within the present commonwealth of Pennsylvania, yet the criminal proceedings were held within the territory which was subsequently known as Pena’s three lower counties.

In 1661 Alexander D’Hinojassa was acting governor of that portion of the present state of Delaware extending from the southern bank of the Cristiana River to Cape Henlopen, he asserting that the City of Amsterdam, by reason of its purchase from the Dutch West Indies Company, had acquired absolute jurisdiction over the territory before designated, hence he stoutly refused to recognize the authority of Governor Stuyvesant in anywise within those boundaries. D’Hinojassa was a rash, impetuous, headstrong man and in would brook no interference on the part of any one with his prerogatives, the particular case to which I am now referring are unusually interesting. A vessel had been wrecked on the coast near the present breakwater and one of the sailors, a Turk, reached the shore where he was taken prisoner by a party of Indians, who sold their captive to Peter Alrichs. Peter among other things was a slave dealer and was chiefly instrumental in fitting out the ship Glide which brought the first cargo of slaves from Africa to the shores of the Delaware.

The unfortunate Turk was sold by Peter to an English planter in Maryland. Subsequently the Turk and four other slaves escaped to Delaware, but, were pursued and captured. While they were being conveyed in a boat to New Castle, when near Bombay Hook, the Turk made a desperate fight for Liberty and during the struggle and before he could be subdued he wounded two Englishmen seriously and a third slightly.

In the confusion which followed, he sprang overboard and succeeded in reaching the shore but he was shortly recaptured and taken to New Castle where he was heavily ironed and imprisoned. D’Hinojassa refused when the application was made to him to deliver the prisoner to the English claimant but declared that as the Turk had committed a crime within the jurisdiction of the City Colony, he must be held on that charge. He thereupon ordered him to be arraigned before Van Sweeringham, who sat as the judge at the trial.

The prisoner, practically ignorant of the language in which he was called to make his defense was convicted of having resisted and wounded his captors. Although the laws of Holland applicable to the colonies provided that in criminal cases where the punishment was capital five judges must actually preside at the trial, the miserable Turk notwithstanding that violation of law was sentenced to be hanged.

On Sunday, October 19, 1662, the sentence was carried into execution. The Turk was hanged at Lewes, his head being afterwards “cut off and placed on a post or stake at Hare Mill.” This incident is also memorable because it is the first case of capital punishment in the Delaware River settlements.

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1883: Margaret Harris

Add comment October 19th, 2016 Robert Elder

(Thanks to Robert Elder of Last Words of the Executed — the blog, and the book — for the guest post. This post originally appeared on the Last Words blog. Fans of this here site are highly likely to enjoy following Elder’s own pithy, almanac-style collection of last words on the scaffold. -ed.)

“I am going to tell the truth before God. I am innocent of the charge…My kin people brought me to this, and I want them to pray to meet me in heaven. I have heard they said hanging was too good for me, that I ought to be burned…I hope this poor man will be released, as he is innocent before God.”

(Turning to her sister on the scaffold:)

“I want to be buried by the side of my mother, but they will not allow it. They don’t care what becomes of my body. Good-bye! Sister, good-bye!”

— Margaret Harris, convicted of murder, hanging, Georgia.
Executed October 19, 1883

Servant Harris, age eighteen, was accused of poisoning the family she worked for in order to leave and live with David Dukes, her alleged accomplice, whom she referred to as “this poor man.” Prosecutors said she first added the poison to coffee, which only sickened her mistress, widow Nancy Barnwell, and Barnwell’s two grandchildren. She then added poison, procured from Duke, to rice, killing one of the grandchildren. A commutation was requested from the governor, but it was refused “as there has lately been a perfect avalanche of poisoning cases and an example needed to be made of it,” according to the Chicago Daily Tribune. At the hanging, “In the Sweet By-and-By” was sung by the four clergymen attending. The condemned and spectators joined in the song.

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1866: Frank Ferris, a Portuguese ax murderer in New York

4 comments October 19th, 2015 Headsman

New York Times, Oct. 19, 1866:

FRANK FERRIS, the unfortunate man who is condemned to be executed to-day for the murder of his wife, has been positively refused a further respite by GOV. FENTON. No efforts have been spared by the Portuguese Minister, or Mr. Kintzing, his counsel, to secure a commutation of sentence to imprisonment for life. Both these gentlemen have personally importuned the Governor, but without avail, as he yesterday declared, for the last time, that he could see no reason for clemency in this case.

The murder of which FERRIS was convicted was committed on the night of the 9th of September, 1964, and seems to have been as deliberate as it was horrible. After having announced his purpose, he went to the room occupied by his wife, and after breaking in the door with an ax, beat her brains out with the same instrument. He was arrested by the side of his victim, with the murderous weapon in his hand.

He was formally indicted, tried, and, on conviction, sentenced to be hanged in April last. The case was appealed, and after a review of the proceedings he was resentenced. A respite was granted form the 17th of August until to-day, when the execution will take place.

FERRIS has been a very troublesome prisoner during his incarceration, his querulous and jealous disposition occasioning the keepers much trouble. He found fault with everybody and everything that came near him — the physicians, the keepers, his counsel, his friends, his food and his accommodation, and even so late as yesterday, repeated to our reporter the long list of fictitious grievances which have troubled his mind so much. His nature seemed to be devoid of gratitude, and for all the favors gratuitously heaped upon him by the representatives of his country, his counsel and the prison officials, he has had no word of thanks, but rather of censure.

Although he has been carefully examined by experts in reference to his sanity, and pronounced a responsible person, there are certain points upon which his perverseness would seem to amount to insanity. He says that he has forgiven all his enemies and is prepared to die, yet speaks with great bitterness regarding some of the witnesses who testified against him, and persons who have been of service to him since his arrest.

Twice since his sentence was pronounced he has been deprived of the means of self-destruction. Once he made a great fuss because he had no looking glass. One was furnished him, and shortly afterward a quantity of strychnine was found concealed between the glass and the frame. Subsequently an apple was found in his cell stuck full of matches. Matches had been furnished him for lighting his pipe, and he had stuck the ends of these, which contained the phosphorous and brimstone, into an apple, doubtless intending, when a sufficient supply of the poison was obtained, to eat the apple.

FERRIS had been attended constantly of late by Fathers DURANQUET and MCKENNA, who have endeavored to prepare him for his fate. While he talks fairly upon religious subjects, it is evident from the manner in which he converses upon other subjects, that his thoughts are “of the world worldly.” He appears in good health, is strong and vigorous, and says he will walk manfully to his death. He did contemplate making a speech under the scaffold, but at the instance of his spiritual advisers has relinquished the idea.

All the preparations for the execution are completed. The gallows — on which GONZALES and PELLICIER were hung last Friday — was erected yesterday, and the usual preliminaries arranged. During the erection of the gallows, FERRIS was removed from the condemned end of the first floor of the prison to one in the second corridor, where the sound of the carpenter’s hammer could not reach his ears. The execution will take place around 10 o’clock to-day.


New York Times, Oct. 20, 1866:

FRANK FERRIS, alias FRANCISCO FERREIRA, was executed yesterday morning at the Tombs for the murder of his wife, MARY FERRIS, on the night of Sept. 9, 1864. The murderer was a Portuguese, 36 years of age, and was a sea-faring man. His victim was an Irish woman, the mother of three children, two of them by a former husband. FERRIS was an intemperate man, of violent temper, and often had severe quarrels with his wife. Instead of contributing to the support of his wife and children, FERRIS squandered in drink the money earned by his wife by washing and ironing. He enlisted as a private soldier in a Massachusetts regiment early in 186, but after a few months’ service was discharged for disability. He returned to New York, resuming his old habits, and his wife refused to live with him. He became jealous, and in his drunken frenzy frequently threatened to take her life. Unfortunately those threats were not heeded, and the brutal murder was committed.

THE MURDER.

MARY FERRIS, the wife of FRANK FERRIS, occupied the top floor of the tenement-house, No. 31 James-street. She was living with her children apart from her husband. She is spoken of by some as a hard-working, industrious, patient woman. Others alleged, and her husband among their number, that she was a prostitute and a disorderly character. No evidence of this kind, however, was adduced at the trial, but a good character was given her.

Her husband had been striving to insinuate himself into her lodgings for weeks, and on her refusal to live with him, had beaten her repeatedly. But a short time before the murder he had assaulted her with an ax, and inflicted such wounds upon her that her life was despaired of. At the instance of her friends she procured the arrest of her husband, and on her complaint he was sentenced to the Penitentiary.

Upon the expiration of his sentence, FERRIS returned to New-York and commenced a search for his wife, but for two or three days he was unable to find her. He finally traced her to her lodgings, and on the 9th of September he called there. MRS. FERRIS was not in and he went away. He had been drinking freely, and while in the house where his wife lived he made terrible threats against her. At one place where he called on that afternoon to inquire for her, he knelt in the middle of the room and said: “I swear by the Virgin Mary and Jesus Christ that I will kill her before 9 o’clock to-night …”

He also swore that he would kill himself.

When asked what would become of his children, he replied that they could go on the island. He was observed during the day sharpening a knife on the curbstone in front of the house in which his wife lived. When MRS. FERRIS returned from her work she was informed of the threats made by her husband, and, yielding to the entreaties of her friends, she removed her children and some of her things to the room of a neighbor on a lower floor of the building, where she gave the children supper and put them to bed, intending to remain there with them.

About 8 o’clock in the evening, FERRIS, armed with a heavy, dull ax, went to his wife’s room, and finding the door fastened broke it in with the ax. Disappointed at not finding his wife within, he commenced destroying the furniture. MRS. FERRIS hearing the noise, and hoping to save her furniture, rushed up to her room despite the warnings of her friends. She found the door shut, and a few words were exchanged by her on one side of the door and him on the other. The door then opened, and the woman passed into the room. A moment later she appeared at the window, screaming “Murder, watch!”

UNDER THE GALLOWS.

Yesterday morning about 200 persons gathered within the walls of the prison to witness the execution. Capt. JOURDAN, of the Sixth precinct, was in attendance with a force of 150 policemen, for the purpose of preserving order within and without the prison. The clergymen were saying the last prayers in company with the prisoner in his cell as the spectators were assembling. Sheriff KELLY was with him also most of the morning, and superintended his dressing for the scaffold. The fatal cord was adjusted about his neck, and the black cap was fitted to his head by Mr. GEORGE ISAACS, upon whom the duty of executioner devolves.

FERRIS then bade good bye to all present, and everything being in readiness the solemn procession moved toward the gallows, FERRIS walking between Sheriff KELLY and Mr. ISAACS, preceded by the clergymen. As they emerged from the cell the condemned man began singing, in a clear and distinct voice, a Portuguese hymn, usually sung by his countrymen when the holy sacrament is being given to a dying man. He continued singing as he walked through the line of spectators, concluding the hymn as he took his place beneath the gallows.

In his hand he carried an ebony crucifix, and as he ceased singing he kissed this several times. He then knelt down between the priests, the Sheriff and his assistants kneeling also, and the last prayers were said. He then rose to his feet, and on being asked if he wished to say anything, he replied that he did. In a clear voice, but in scarcely intelligible English, he spoke as follows:

HIS LAST WORDS.

My Dear Gentlemen: I am going to die, and I am innocent of the crime for which I suffer. I do not mean I did not do it, but, though my hand is guilty, my heart is innocent. But for Father DURANQUET and the good Sisters of Mercy, I would have had more to say, and give an account of some people. Good bye, my dear brothers — Amen.

He then thanked Sheriff KELLY for his kindness to him, and resumed his position under the rope. Mr. ISAACS then pulled the black cap over his face, adjusted the rope which was around his neck to that dangling from the beam and all was ready. The Sheriff, with his handkerchief, gave the signal, and with the fall of the heavy weights behind the screen, the body of FRANK FERRIS was drawn into the air. There were a few spasmodic twitchings of the limbs, a convulsive clutching of the hands, and then all was quiet. It was just 9 o’clock and 50 minutes when the weights fell, and in fifteen minutes pulsation had ceased. The body was partially lowered and examined by several physicians, and a few minutes later was taken down and deposited in a plain coffin.

BURIAL.

The body of FERRIS is to be buried in Calvary Cemetery, the Portuguese Consul having made arrangements to that effect, and defraying the expenses of burial.

THE CHILDREN.

The orphan children of FRANK FERRIS and his murdered wife have been cared for by the Catholic charitable institutions of the City. The Sisters of Mercy have taken the two girls, and the Brothers of Mercy the little crippled boy. The injury to this child was received after the incarceration of the father, and while in the care of Mrs. FERRIS’ sister. The father manifested much affection for the boy, and not till recently, if ever, forgave his sister-in-law for her carelessness in permitting the child to fall out of a window.

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1660: Francis Hacker and Daniel Axtell, regicides

Add comment October 19th, 2014 Headsman

On this date in 1660, the English soldiers Francis Hacker and Daniel Axtel(l) were executed for their roles in keeping the captured King Charles I, and for eventually seeing that late king to his beheading.

Francis Hacker

No hapless grunt, Hacker was a committed Roundhead even though most of his family stayed loyal to the Stuarts. When captured by the royalists at Leicester, Hacker “was so much prized by the enemy as they offered him the command of a choice regiment of horse to serve the king.”

Hacker disdainfully turned it down.

And as the wheel of fortune turned, the king would become Hacker’s prize. It was Hacker who commanded the detail of 32 halberdiers who marched the deposed monarch into Westminster Hall on January 20, 1649 to begin a weeklong trial — and a whole new historical era of parliamentary ascendancy.

Ten days later, when Charles was led out for beheading outside the Banqueting House, it was Hacker who escorted him. Hacker might have escaped even this much participation with his own life after the restoration of Charles’s son and heir, but it came out that he had even written, with Cromwell, the order to the executioner.

(It was an order that one of his comrades that day had very presciently refused to set his own hand to; come 1660, Hercules Huncks would owe his life to this refusal.)


Detailed view (click for a larger image) of an illustration of the king’s beheading. On the right of the scaffold, character “D” sporting a natty scabbard is Francis Hacker.

It’s a funny little thing to lose your life over, because — narrowly considered — it was nothing but a bit of bureaucracy. Hacker et al had been given from above a commission for the king’s death. On the occasion of the execution they had to convey from their party to the executioner a secondary writ licensing the day’s beheading.

But monarchs asserting divine prerogative certainly do not take such a view of mere paperwork.

“When you come to the Person of the King, what do our Law Books say he is? they call it, Caput Reipublicae, salus Populi, the Leiutenant of God”

The regicides’ judge, delivering sentence

Huncks refusing to set his hand to this death warrant, it was Cromwell himself who personally dashed it off, then handed it to Hacker, who fatally countersigned it, just before the execution proceeded.

Meanwhile, Hacker’s subaltern Daniel Axtell razzed Huncks for chickening out. Axtell, who seemingly would be right at home in the kit of your most hated sports club, was indicted a regicide for his gauche fan behavior during the king’s trial, several times inciting soldiers (on pain of thrashing, per testimony in 1660) to chant for the king’s condemnation, whilst bullying any onlookers who dared to shout for Charles into silence.

Hacker did not bother to mount a defense; the verdicts were foreordained by political settlement.

Axtell argued superior orders, a defense best-known to us for its unsuccessful use by Nazis at Nuremberg but one which actually boasts a long history of failing to impress:

the Parliament, thus constituted, and having made their Generals, he by their Authority did constitute and appoint me to be an Inferior Officer in the Army, serving them in the quarters of the Parliament, and under and within their power; and what I have done, my Lord, it hath been done only as a Souldier, deriving my power from the General, he had his power from the Fountain, to wit, the Lords and Commons; and, my Lord, this being done, as hath been said by several, that I was there, and had command at Westminster-hall; truly, my Lord, if the Parliament command the General, and the General the inferiour Officers, I am bound by my Commission, according to the Laws and Customs of War to be where the Regiment is; I came not thither voluntarily, but by command of the General, who had a Commission (as I said before) from the Parliament. I was no Counsellor, no Contriver, I was no Parliament-man, none of the Judges, none that Sentenced, Signed, none that had any hand in the Execution, onely that which is charged is that I was an Officer in the Army.

Sounding equally modern, the court replied:

You are to obey them in their just commands, all unjust commands are invalid. If our Superiours should command us to undue and irregular things (much more if to the committing of Treason) we are in each Case to make use of our passive not active Obedience.*

The two men were drawn from Newgate to Tyburn this date and hanged.

Axtell was quartered, the customary fate of those regicides who had been put to death all the week preceding. Hacker, however, enjoyed the favor of hanging only, and was delivered and “was, by his Majesties great favour, given entire to his Friends, and buried” — perhaps because so many of Hacker’s family had remained true to Charles.

“If I had a thousand lives, I could lay them all down for the Cause

-Axtell, at his execution

* Axtell’s trial has a good deal of detailed bickering over the superior-orders defense, but the court itself did also take pains to differentiate the things Axtell did as an officer, such as commanding troops (for which Axtell was not charged) — and his going the extra mile and surely beyond his commission to shout for the king’s death.

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1998: Twenty-four Sierra Leone rebels

Add comment October 19th, 2013 Headsman

Fifteen years ago today, thousands of Freetown residents piled into a stone quarry on the outskirts of the Sierra Leone capital to cheer the firing squad executions of two dozen soldiers linked to the previous year’s coup.

In an episode of Sierra Leone’s intractable 1990s civil war, the government of Ahmad Tejan Kabbah was overthrown in 1997 by a military clique in alliance with the murderous Revolutionary United Front (RUF).

This was the height of Sierra Leone’s “blood diamond” chaos, and the RUF had earned an international reputation for savagery in exploiting this lucrative trade — most vividly symbolized by thousands of civilians whose arms or legs were chopped off in an effort to induce population flight away from the diamond mines it intended to control.

The RUF lived down to its terrifying reputation when it marched into Freetown with its military allies in May 1997. Disorderly gangs brandishing AK-47s looted buildings in Freetown* as President Kabbah fled the country.

The oppressive putsch was short-lived: Nigerian-backed intervention reversed the coup early in 1998, causing the RUF to melt back into the bush.**

The Freetown populace’s enthusiasm for revenge against the rebels is to be understood in this light. Those shot at the quarry this date included some major figures in the coup, according to the New York Times: “Brig. Samuel Koroma, a former chief of defense staff and the elder brother of the junta leader, Johnny Paul Koroma, who is a fugitive, and Cpl. Tamba Gborie, the man who announced the coup. The junta secretary general, Col. Abdul Karim Sesay, was also executed.”

The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights later found Sierra Leone in violation of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights for denying the soldiers a “right of appeal to competent national organs” which “falls short of the requirement of the respect for fair trial standards expected of such courts.” Sierra Leone was so little perturbed by the non-binding and unenforceable ruling that it didn’t even bother defending itself against the complaint.

* Dubbed “Operation Pay Yourself”.

** They weren’t done by a long shot. In January 1999, the RUF’s more systematically homicidal “Operation No Living Thing” attack on Freetown claimed 7,000 lives, half of them civilians.

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1489: Domenico Gentile and Francesco Maldente, Bull-shitters

Add comment October 19th, 2012 Headsman

From Pope Alexander VI and his court: extracts from the Latin diary of Johannes Burchardus (line breaks added for readability):


On the Sunday night, 15th September, 1489, Signor Domenico Gentile of Viterbo, apostolic writer, Francesco Maldente, canon of Forli and Conrado, also Battista of Spell, notary of the Apostolic Camera, Lorenzo Signoretto, writer in the Register of Bulls, and Bartolommeo Budello, procurator of the Penitentiary, were successively taken and detained in the Castle of San Angelo on a charge of forging apostolic letters.

The Lord Domenico aforesaid confessed that he had forged about fifty apostolic letters or bulls, containing various matters, in the following way: The Lord Francesco would discover matters to be despatched and agree with the parties upon the sum which they were to pay after the despatch of letters. When the agreement had been made and a bank named by the party for paying the sum agreed upon to be paid when the letters were presented to the bank, then he would despatch one that was expected, or some matter that would pass easily through all the offices by the royal way.

When this was done, the Lord Domenico aforementioned washed out all the writing of the bull, or that part which he did not want, with a certain fluid, restored the paper with flour and stiffened it again. Afterward he wrote on it the matter concerning which Francesco had agreed with the party, leaving in the bull the names of the rescribendary, computators, and other officials.

More often he changed the stamp, and put on another, according to the nature of the matter. He also used different inks. That with which he wrote the first matter to be despatched in the proper way was made of gum or some other material, but was certainly indelible. But the other, which he used to write over the bull that had been erased, was ordinary ink. In this way they gave forged bulls to the parties.

Within about two years they had despatched divers matters, for example, dispensations to one or two benefices for Friars of the Orders of Mendicants, unions of many benefices to the incomes of certain abbots with permission to rule these in an order changeable at pleasure, a dispensation for a certain priest of the Diocese of Rouen, who had married a wife, to the effect that he might lawfully keep her and many others for which they had received sometimes a hundred, two hundred, two hundred and fifty, and two thousand ducats, as is related in the process instituted against them.

The said Francesco also made confession, and on Sunday, the 18th of October, at about nine in the evening, they both were led from the castle aforementioned to the Castle of Soldano, and before they reached that place they believed they were condemned to death. For the auditor of the Camera, the Bishop of Cesena, and the Lord Bartolommeo Deolpito, first apostolic notary and governor of the city, who in their official capacity had prosecuted them, told the said Francesco that if he named his fellow accomplices our Most Holy Lord would be pleased to bestow the office of abbreviator upon him and set him at liberty, and he believing that he would do this accused the above named and several others.

On behalf of the Lord Domenico, his father who had attended our Most Holy Lord in the first illness of his pontificate, and his two brothers interceded most earnestly with the cardinals and other influential men in the city for his life. But no one could prevail upon our Most Holy Lord. So, after they had been established in the said castle, they were told that they were to die on the morrow; and therefore were bidden to take heed to the salvation of their souls, and priests were sent to them to hear their confession and strengthen them in the faith.

On Monday, the 19th of October, 1489, there was a consistory and the auditor of the Camera aforesaid with the governor came to the Castle of Soldano where they passed definite sentence against the said Domenico and Francesco, degraded them, deprived them of office and emoluments, and handed them over to the secular court.

Then mass was celebrated in the said castle, at which the said Domenico and Francesco were present, and at the close they received the holy communion from the hands of the celebrant; after this they were led to the Piazza di San Pietro, where a platform had been erected in a space not far from the lowest step, four rods long, three wide, and one high, or thereabouts.

There the said Francesco who was a priest was robed in full vestments in the usual way. Then the summary of the case was read by the notary, Antonio of Paimpol. After the reading of it, Francesco was degraded and given over to the secular court into the hands of Ambrosino, the apparitor.

After he had been given over, Domenico who had only the first tonsure was robed in a surplice and degraded from that rank by the Father Pietro Paolo, Lord Bishop of Santa Agata, who vested himself in stole and cope upon the platform, and put on in front a plain alb over the rochet. After his degradation Domenico was given over to the court and the said apparitor.

Their heads were not shaved otherwise than they had been before, nor were they stripped of the clothes in which they came from the castle, because of their office and because such was the pleasure of the Bishop of Cesena, the auditor.
After this the aforesaid having been degraded were placed upon a chariot which stood ready there, Domenico on the right and Francesco on the left.

In front of them were seated a friar of the Order of Minors, their confessor, in accordance with the observance in parts of France, and another of the society of the Misericordia who held a crucifix and was robed in the garb of that society with his face covered. Behind the degraded ones were erected two rods, and to the top of them cords were fastened, on which were hung four of the bulls despatched and forged by them.

In this way they were conducted by the Bridge of San Angelo past the Castle of Soldano and hard by the house of the Cardinal of Ascanio, past the Hospital of the Germans, close to the house of the Lord Falco by the Pario straight to another street, thence by the bridge to the Campo dei Fiori, where near the corner by the steps and the Taberna Vacca, so-called, the place of execution had been prepared in the form of a hut, having a wooden pillar erected in the center, and surrounded by piled-up faggots. To the upper part of the column had been fixed two ropes. Below the ropes two stools were placed upon the ground for the accused and another on the other side of the column for the lictor, and around the shed outside many piles of logs.

When the aforementioned degraded persons reached the said place of execution, they got down from the cart, and entered the hut, where in the guise and clothes in which they were brought there, they ascended the two stools prepared for them.

The lictor put ropes upon their neck of which they were scarcely conscious, for the confessor and the other friar who bore the crucifix were continually strengthening them in Christ. When the ropes had been placed in position, the lictor’s assistants drew away the stools from beneath their feet and thus they were hanged and gave up the ghost.

After they were dead they were taken down from the pillar, stripped to their shirts and placed in a sitting position upon the said stools, propped against the pillar, and bound to the column with the chain beneath their arms. Then the fire was kindled and their bodies burned. The lictor heaped up the logs many times until after the hour of vespers, that the bodies might be entirely consumed, and thus the fire lasted until the following morning.

On the following day, about the hour of vespers, ashes, in which many of the bones were still found, were collected by certain of the society of Misericordia with a broom, placed in a sack in a new chest, and with the cross and the usual procession was borne by the said society to the church appointed for the purpose and buried.


As shockingly impious as the forgery of papal bulls sounds (and was), this sort of fraud was very much a thing. Papal bulls were never confined to only grand matters, but issued for all sorts of everyday reasons. In a world where nobody could shoot an email to the Holy See to confirm this or that declaration, a document blazoned with the papal keys which asserted some local monastic prerogative or personal perquisite could be law for a good long time.

(In maybe the most notorious case, the penultimate Count of Armagnac obtained a forged papal dispensation permitting an incestuous marriage to his sister.)

Innocent VIII, born Giovanni Battista Cibo, is scarcely the most egregiously disreputable cleric* of the age — the guy after him was a Borgia, after all — and as may be seen from today’s entry had a care for at least the public relations debacle of particularly flagrant abuses.

But as a Renaissance pontiff, Innocent had a brood of illegitimate children and a view of St. Peter’s Throne as a seat for nakedly worldly ambition — marrying, for instance, one son to the daughter of Lorenzo de’ Medici in a deal that also obtained a cardinal’s hat for a Medici relation who in time would become Pope Leo X. Wholesale ecclesiastical corruption, including the market in bulls-to-order, was simply part of this world; Domenico and Francesco notwithstanding, Innocent did little to tame it.

The Florentine priest Savonarola first rose to prominence thundering against (and supposedly predicting the death of) this guilty Innocent. But that later Medici pope Leo X would in a few decades’ time meet the more serious challenge to ecclesiastical corruption. When that day came, Martin Luther initially suspected that the papal bull Leo X issued denouncing Luther’s theses might be … a forgery. (The reformer even published a short 1520 manifesto to that effect, “Against the New Bull forged by Eck“.)

* Innocent may be best known as the guy who fired up the coming age of wholesale witch persecutions.

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1973: 14 during the Caravan of Death

2 comments October 19th, 2011 Headsman

Fourteen early-morning executions in Chile on this date in 1973 heralded the end of one of the Augusto Pinochet dictatorship’s most notorious human rights abuses: the Caravan of Death.

For this “caravan” picture not camel-borne spice traders but a helicoptering death squad. In the bloody aftermath of Pinochet’s September 11, 1973 coup against the elected socialist government, the new strongman’s buddy Gen. Sergio Arellano Stark took this evil-omened chopper on a south-to-north tour from prison to prison beginning September 30 — leaving its wares behind at each stop, in the form of spent shells and murdered men.


Arellano and Pinochet were all hugs hours before the caravan departed.

The intended consumer of this murderous spectacle, according to the human rights organization Memoria y Justicia, was as much the military itself as it was the political opposition. “One of the reasons,” said one officer at Arellano’s very first stop,

was to set a drastic precedent in order to terrorize the presumed willingness of the Chilean people to fight back. But without a doubt, it was also intended to instill fear and terror among the commanders. To prevent any military personnel, down to lowest ranking officers, from taking a false step: this could happen to you!

And indeed, several officers were also sacked along the way, a couple even imprisoned and tortured. Their lenient treatment of presumed subversives constituted “failure to fulfill military duties”: one can readily imagine the impression made upon junior officers in Pinochet’s armed forces.

Said subversives had it worst of all, of course.

These were people already in prison, many having voluntarily turned themselves in upon request after the coup; they were drug out of cells in the dark of night and machine-gunned, or worse. Close to 100 defenseless political detainees died this way over a three-week span.

The Caravan reached Antofagasta on October 18, where Gen. Arellano was received by the zone chief Gen. Joaquin Lagos.

Arellano’s unit did its dirty work overnight: the names of its 14 victims on this date’s early hours are recorded here. One was an 18-year-old student, one a 66-year-old “maritime worker”. Several were figures in local government.

Lagos was horrified the next morning when he discovered what his guests had been up to — and he immediately gave Pinochet his resignation.

I felt hurt, powerless and angry [Lagos later said] that a criminal action of this nature that had been committed in my jurisdictional zone and behind my back.

Lagos had the juice to make this sort of gesture without winding up in prison himself: indeed, he gave Pinochet his resignation (and the reason) personally.

Though Lagos has said that Pinochet seemed much more concerned about his (Lagos’s) attitude towards the atrocity than the atrocity itself, he (Lagos) also remembers Pinochet placing a call to Gen. Arellano and, not reaching him, leaving his nomadic deputy a message “not to do anything more.” The Caravan did stop on Oct. 22: maybe, Lagos’s resignation did the trick, at least to the extent one can attribute any cause to the cessation. This outcome will always rate a bullet point on the brief against the “superior orders” defense.

Relatively speaking, these unfortunates are only one puddle of blood among seas from the Pinochet years. Still, the Caravan of Death in particular was (and still is) a focus of the indictments handed down against him after the return of civilian government, thanks in no small part to Gen. Lagos’s willingness to go on the record about it — and as a result, many of the legal maneuvers around Pinochet in the last years of his life, both in Europe and Chile, concerned this horrible affair.

Pinochet finally died in December 2006 while under house arrest for two specific Caravan of Death murders. While alive, however, his legal team predictably attempted to blame local commanders for the Caravan’s atrocities; in response to this gambit, Lagos went public on television with his version (which human rights organizations also tend to credit) — along with horrifying descriptions (Spanish link) of the death squad’s activites that left him too “ashamed” to return the victims’ remains to their loved ones.

They were torn apart. They were no longer human bodies. I wanted to at least put the bodies back together again, to leave them more decent, but you couldn’t.

They cut eyes out with daggers. They broke their jaws and legs

They shot them to pieces, first the legs, then the sexual organs, then the heart, all with machine guns.


From an entire album that Dark Order devoted to the Pinochet dictatorship.

Part of the Themed Set: Illegitimate Power.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Activists,Businessmen,Chile,Execution,History,Mass Executions,No Formal Charge,Notable Participants,Politicians,Power,Ripped from the Headlines,Shot,Summary Executions,Torture,Wrongful Executions

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1928: William Edward Hickman, Randian superhero?

7 comments October 19th, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 1928, William Edward Hickman was hanged at California’s San Quentin prison for what the Los Angeles Times was still calling a decade later* “the most horrible crime of the 1920’s.”

Eighteen- or nineteen-year-old Hickman kidnapped the 12-year-old daughter of a Los Angeles banker, extracted a $1,500 ransom from said banker for her return, then delivered up the girl’s horribly mutilated corpse.

A nationwide manhunt immediately ensued, with Hickman soon captured in Oregon.

Pretty white girls abducted have been media catnip for many a livelong year. In this case, the dastardly deed induced the Los Angeles Times to editorially demand (Dec. 21, 1927) an automatic death penalty for murder in a manifesto that reads like it was written yesterday for whatever the outrageous crime du jour might be.

LET MURDERERS HANG

The sickly sentimentality which wars upon capital punishment for murder and insists upon the coddling of convicts will have a hard time to justify itself in the case of the slayer of Marian Parker, who, if police theories are correct, is William Edward Hickman, a criminal on probation. Had Hickman been serving the prison term which he deserved for his forgeries, he could not have committed the series of crimes which culminated in one of the most atrocious murders of which there is any record. He was free through the lenity of the California law to take his revenge in the most horrible fashion, against a man who had done him no injury that could be considered such by anyone with a spark of moral sense.

Not for vengeance, but for its own protection, both through example and through the eradication of a rotten and depraved individual, society should put the Parker case slayer out of life as quickly as the formalities of law permit. His continued existence is a reproach to all humanity.

A clash of conflicting theories of the best methods of dealing with criminals has brought society to a condition of hesitation. This condition is highly favorable to criminal operations of all sorts, while justice and the law seem to stand by, bewildered and helpless. The logical way to meet this situation is to take practical steps which society knows will protect it, and let penologists and psychiatrists conduct their debate over the ideal system, entirely to one side.

There can be no question that men in jail, while in jail, are no particular menace to society, and that men who have been hanged do not commit further murders. Upon these two solid facts let society base its actions, unless and until something better has been devised and proved. The semi-punishment, semi-reformatory scheme at present in force is obviously a failure.

Its greatest error is that it considers the interest of the criminal rather than those of his victim, or rather the interest of the class to which his victim belongs. This class is made up of the honest, the law-abiding, the God-fearing, the hard-working, the solid and substantial; in other words, of all individuals who are resolved to live in peace and harmony with their neighbors,. respecting others’ rights as courtesouly as they expect their own to be respected. Against this class, the great majority, another class, a minority, is waging war. It consists of the vicious, the depraved, the degenerate; nonproducers and parasites. At best this class is a drag upon progress, at worst it is a menace to civilization. Yet the law as it stands at present regards the rights of the individuals of the class as paramount. The machinery of the courts is strained at every point to aid them.

It is not necessary to inquire why a rattlesnake strikes, or if it is likely to strike again. His motives may be interesting, but they are not important. It is sufficient to recognize the danger and to deal with it appropriately.

It does not matter whether anti-social individuals are all insane, as some criminologists assert, whether they are economic misfits, as other theorists declare, or whether they are in the main ordinary persons gone wrong, as still another school insists. There has been too much consideration for them and not enough for those they prey upon and injure. It is time the emphasis was shifted.

It is time to face the facts, before the criminal class succeeds entirely in getting the upper hand. It is time to place every proved criminal where he can do no more harm. It is time for society to take the certainty of protection; it is time to stop giving the criminal “another chance.”

It is time to hang every murderer.

Lack of firmness in dealing with the criminal problem is due largely to the sob-sister and the sentimentalist. At the other extreme stands the mob spirit and lynch law, equally destructive of the foundations of society. Criminals should be judged without passion, bias or prejudice, and this is possible only in a court of law. No matter how heinous the crime, it is a matter for the courts to deal with. Good citizens will insist that proper punishment be dealt out in accordance with the provisions of law and order. For men to take the law into their own hands is to place themselves on a plane with the criminals, and to give away the immense moral advantage of being right.

Sensational crime + ill-considered policy response = a California tradition. (There wasn’t actually a change of the law in 1927-28, though.)

Perhaps recoiling from the self-righteous public baying after Hickman’s blood, a young Ayn Rand took such a shine to Hickman as to base upon him a murderous protagonist in a 1928 work, The Little Street. The budding apostle of selfishness decried in her journals

[a]verage, everyday, rather stupid looking citizens. Shabbily dressed, dried, worn looking little men. Fat, overdressed, very average, ‘dignified’ housewives … How can they decide the fate of that boy? Or anyone’s fate?

Though The Little Street never saw print, the hero disdainful of the petty bonds of moral hypocrisy is the go-to trope of Rand’s later novels. If you can bear them, you’ll find Rand speaking of “nonproducers and parasites” who are “a drag upon progress … a menace to civilization” in much the way the Times speaks of Hickman.

Rand wrote that “other people do not exist for [Hickman], and he does not see why they should … He has the true, innate psychology of a Superman. He can never realize and feel ‘other people.'” It’s a pretty near definition of sociopathy likewise imputed to the hero of her later novel The Fountainhead: “He was born without the ability to consider others.”

“She had a crush on him [Hickman],” says Lisa Duggan, author of a study of Rand’s thought, in this podcast.

Indeed, Hickman was a very strange choice for Rand’s affection, quite apart from the obvious: other than the derring-do to bluff school administrators into letting him take away a child on his own say-so, he didn’t really exhibit the magnificent contempt for his many lessers one would expect from a Howard Roark.


From the Los Angeles Times, Dec. 25, 1927.

Hickman broke down and confessed, not in pride but in panic, and signed a simpering “warning” to young men of the classic gallows-speech variety on Christmas Eve 1927:

Crime in its simplest definition is to have without work and enjoy the same place in society as other people and still show no honest effort or intention to go right.

Young men, when crime has once overcome your will power to be honest and straight you are a menace to society. …

Think it over, see my mistake. Be honest and upright. Respect the law. If you do these things you’ll be happier in the end. (Source: Los Angeles Times, Dec. 24, 1927)

Over the ten ensuing months, the teen had the opportunity to recover his wits and play a more manful part, but that didn’t happen either. A week before execution, when any hope of reprieve was gone and there was little percentage left in playing the supplicant, Hickman sent the Associated Press this bit of self-flagellation.

I know very well that I have been a most guilty sinner … I am sorry for having offended God and man … Please ask the people in the name of God to pray for us condemned men here at San Quentin prison.

(To top it off, he wilted climbing the scaffold and had to be helped up the last few steps.)

The miscreant unequal to the weight of his crime-slash-sin, thirsting for the redemptive chalice of heaven … as a criminals go, that’s more Dostoyevsky than Rand.

* Mar. 27, 1938. The context was a roundup of the gallows highlights of San Quentin’s history on the occasion of its switch from hanging to lethal gas.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Arts and Literature,California,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Kidnapping,Murder,USA

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2005: Wang Binyu, desperate migrant laborer

3 comments October 19th, 2008 Headsman

On this date in 2005, a Chinese murderer who became the unlikely symbol of migrant laborers’ desperate plight was — quickly and quietly — put to death.

Binyu knifed four people to death, which isn’t the typical stuff to earn a public outpouring. In the course of things, he’d ordinarily have gone to his grave in the anonymity that attends most Chinese executions, perhaps not even a number to international monitors who struggle to ballpark China’s executions to the nearest thousand.

But the government news service published a surprisingly sympathetic interview of him, raising the case up for public comment that state authorities surely did not intend.

Jobbed

Wang earned his sentence during an altercation that occurred as he tried to collect years of unpaid back wages from his employer. It was the last of several encounters of escalating desperation driven by Wang’s father’s need for expensive medical treatment. Wang’s boss kept refusing to settle with his man, ultimately barring him from the factory premises.

In a China shaken by industrialization — proletarianization — Wang’s plight struck a chord. (Although there may have been a mistaken sense that he killed the nasty boss; in fact, the victims were the foreman and other factory employees who’d been detailed to force him out.) China has 200 million migrant workers like Wang, collectively owed billions in unpaid wages they have scant prospect of recovering.

I want to die. When I am dead, nobody can exploit me anymore. Right?

Exploitation at an end, Wang Binyu became the subject of a Pulitzer Prize-winning profile* in the New York Times; some additional coverage is here. The briefly vigorous conversation about his case in China, however, was forcibly shut down.

* The Pulitzer was actually awarded to the Times’ Joseph Kahn and Jim Yardley for a series of articles on the Chinese justice system; the linked story on Wang Binyu is one of eight.

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Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Capital Punishment,China,Common Criminals,Crime,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Execution,Murder,Pelf,Popular Culture,Ripped from the Headlines,Shot

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