1855: Jeremiah Craine

Add comment October 26th, 2018 Headsman

(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.)

Susan, receive me; I will soon be with you.

-Jeremiah V. Craine, convicted of murder, hanging, California.
Executed October 26, 1855

Though married with four children in Kentucky, Craine had an affair with eighteen-year-old Susan Newnham. Craine, who believed in spiritualism, said his relationship with Susan was “sanctioned by heaven.” This did not stop Craine from shooting Susan several times, claiming that she pleaded that they make a suicide pact to escape gossip and her family’s anger about their relationship. Craine was stopped from committing suicide the next day. At his execution, Craine read an address to the assembled crowd, calling Susan his “wife.” He was allowed to sing a song he wrote to the tune of “The Indian Hunter’s Lament,” in which he described his wish to die.

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1781: Twelve Aymara rebels

Add comment October 26th, 2017 Headsman

My very esteemed friend. [I write to you] in the midst of all the travails I have suffered during these two sieges, the first lasting 109 days and the second 15. In both of them, more than 14,000 will have perished in this unhappy city, the great majority through starvation; others were shot, and still others were beheaded by the rebels in the fields that many attempted to cross even though they knew that the rebels would not show them any mercy if they looked Spanish in any way …

There is no Indian who is not a rebel; all die willingly for their Inca King, without coming to terms with God or his sacred law. On October 26th twelve rebels were beheaded and none of them were convinced to accept Jesus; and the same has happened with another 600 that have died in executions during both sieges …

In these nine months we have survived eating biscuits and to do this we hae been taking the tiles from the roofs of our houses. I, who find myself taking care of the gunpowder during the day, have estranged almost all the city. Nobody wants to fight willingly … I have threatened them with military execution and have promised to spare their heads as long as they obey me …

More troops are needed from both Viceroyalties or from Spain, some 8,000 to 10,000 men to make Our Sovereign’s name respected throughout the entire Sierra and to finally, once and for all, cut off some heads and be finished with all these cursed relics. We need, I repeat, seasoned troops and these as soon as possible.

-Juan Bautista de Zavala, in a November 1781 letter after surviving Tupac Katari‘s 1781 indigenous siege of La Paz (via The Tupac Amaru and Catarista Rebellions: An Anthology of Sources)

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2010: Jeffrey Landrigan, thiopentaled

1 comment October 26th, 2016 Headsman

Jeffrey Landrigan was executed in Arizona for murder on this date in 2010 — via an import drug that made his case a recent landmark in the ongoing U.S. tussle over lethal injection.

Landrigan broke out of jail in 1989 where he was serving a second-degree murder sentence and did a first-degree murder in the course of an armed robbery.

By the time this mundanely terrifying killer was ready to face his punishment, U.S. states were beginning to feel the pinch from anti-death penalty activists’ campaign to shut off the supply of a key drug in the lethal injection protocol — sodium thiopental.

Since the very first lethal injections, sodium thiopental has stood as the first of the standard three-drug cocktail: sodium thiopental to induce unconsciousness, pancuronium bromide to inflict muscle paralysis, and potassium chloride to stop the “patient’s” heart.

Sodium thiopental owed this juridical responsibility to its place as the Brand X medical anaesthetic thirty or forty years ago. But in the time since, that medical role has been overtaken by propofol, leaving sodium thiopental ever less frequently manufactured — and exposing a potential vulnerability in the executioner’s supply chain. Death penalty abolitionists targeted that weak point with effect, especially once the last U.S. manufacturer of sodium thiopental, pharma giant Hospira, got out of the game.

Sodium thiopental expires, so states that intend to conduct lethal injection executions couldn’t really stockpile. Instead, they have two options:

  • Find a new source for sodium thiopental; or,
  • Find a new lethal injection procedure

In the past few years, those laboratories of democracy known as state legislatures have experimented promiscuously with re-jiggering the lethal injection to account for the inhospitable thiopental climate with the upshot that there no longer remains one standard lethal injection protocol, but multiple mutations innovated and cribbed state by state — and each mutation is liable to change again without warning in response to the next setback.

This ongoing drama has played out throughout the 2010s, but it so happened that Landrigan’s long road to death reached its end about where the scarce thiopental story began.

In Arizona’s case at the comparatively early date of 2010 — back when Hospira had already suspended domestic thiopental manufacture — the gap was filled by requisitioning the drug from an overseas supplier.

Easy enough, one might suppose: C11H17N2NaO2S is C11H17N2NaO2S no matter its brand label.

But it turns out that the production and the import of medical drugs are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, and neither Arizona nor the fly-by-night British pharmaceutical maker it contracted had bothered satisfying the paperwork requirements. Landrigan’s appellate lawyers fastened on this failure, arguing that the state’s calculated ignorance of its drug’s purity was inviting a painful botch.

Landrigan’s story and the larger lethal injection crisis into which it fits was the subject of the very first episode of the popular podcast More Perfect — whose beat is the U.S. Supreme Court.

That institution had a low moment in this drama interceding at the 11th hour to okay Landrigan’s execution after a Kafkaesque legal shell game in which Arizona repeatedly ignored lower courts’ orders to supply documentation about its proposed execution drug, then argued — and won the argument! — that the prisoner’s lawyers were only speculating that the drug might be impure or harmful and couldn’t prove any problem. Try that one out on your customs officer the next time you get pinched carrying contraband at the border. A Ninth Circuit Court judge punished bad faith with a stay of execution, but the high court reversed that stay on a 5-4 vote this very October 26, allowing Landrigan’s execution hours later.

“The state flatly stonewalled the lower courts by defying orders to produce information, and then was rewarded at the Supreme Court by winning its case on the basis that the defendant had not put forward enough evidence,” Hofstra law professor Eric Freedman lamented to the New York Times. “That is an outcome which turns simple justice upside-down and a victory that the state should be ashamed to have obtained.” It’s a line that mirrors the critique exasperated death penalty advocates have leveled against their foes for suing to block “cruel and unusual” executions on the back of drug supply kinks that they themselves engineered.

The messy resolution of Landrigan’s own case was very far from a solution to the underlying dilemma. In the years since, European manufacturers have themselves been squeezed out of the lethal injection supply chain by anti-death penalty pressure, while the states’ various adaptations have worked themselves out in a mess of litigation and human experimentation. It’s a story still being written — into the very flesh, sometimes, of men like Jeffrey Landrigan.

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1761: Richard Parrott

Add comment October 26th, 2015 Meaghan

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

On this date in 1761, Richard Parrott, a middle-aged man from Harmondsworth, was hanged for the murder of his wife.

According to witness accounts, it all started over “a trifling dispute first arose between the prisoner and the deceased, whether their son or daughter, should go to the field for a cow.”

Parrott later claimed his wife, Anne, had “told a great many lies of him.” The end result was that he beat her and then cut off a large chunk of her tongue. The policeman who responded to the scene later described what he saw in graphic terms:

She lay on the bed, leaning over one side, spitting blood, but could not speak. Her mouth was swelled, and battered in such a manner, there was no such thing as seeing her tongue, She was so swelled and black, she looked like a blackamoor; I should not have known her, though I had known her from a little girl, being born in the same parish.

The assault had knocked out several of Anne’s teeth and badly bruised her. The swelling in her mouth was such that she could eat only broth, and that with great difficulty.

She died a few weeks later.

Before the tragic incident Richard had claimed his wife put “brimstone” in his clothes in an attempt to kill him. To save himself from the supposed brimstone he’d torn off the garments, cut them into pieces and buried them. Witnesses reported he had been “barbarous cruel” to his wife. Anne had told their son he was paranoid and “out of his mind,” and said she was afraid of him.

Nothing was done about it, however, until it was too late.

As the Newgate Ordinary’s account opined,

Nothing but the defence made for the prisoner, viz. Insanity, (supposing it to have a real foundation) can extenuate this horrid and most inhuman fact: nothing but the supposed madness of the perpetrator, can rescue it from being ranked among the most cruel deeds, that ever was perpetrated …

But these circumstances put together don’t remove the probability of the prisoner’s being insane when the fact was done. Subtilty and craft are known to attend this unaccountable distemper, in carrying on any mischief or outrage. The affections are generally inverted; love is turned into hatred, suspicion, jealousy, and rage; and the dearest object of love, is doomed to be the first victim of the perverted passions. The excuse he made when apprehended for this outrage, shews something like this, viz. That she had told lies of him, and he would prevent her doing the like again. Probably he resented her representing and declaring him to be out of his mind, as it appears on the trial she did, when she sent one of her sons for another of them twelve miles, to come and take care of his father, as being in that case. Nothing can provoke a madman more than to be thought or called mad; they are the last, generally speaking, who are sensible of it; and it is the last thing they will acknowledge. Happy had it been for his family, his friends, his neighbours, and parishioners, had they secured and put him under care for this fatal malady; they might have prevented this sad event to the deceased, this reproach to the survivors, who are in any degree blameable for this gross and dangerous neglect.

Found competent to hang by his jury, Parrott “seemed calm, sensible, and resigned” at the Tyburn gallows, where he hanged with three other people: thief Edward Garnet; infanticide Esther Rowden; and a grossly incompetent forger named Donald Campbell who was detected in his craft “by misspelling the names, and the inconsistency of placing 200l. at the top, and writing one hundred pounds in the body of the bill.”

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1781: Twelve Aymara rebels

Add comment October 26th, 2014 Headsman

[M]ore than 14,000 will have perished in this unhappy city, the great majority through starvation; others were shot, and still others were beheaded by the rebels in the fields that many attempted to cross even though they knew that the rebels would not show them any mercy if they looked Spanish in any way. And I, in the middle of all this misfortune and despite having as many bullets pass over me as passed over Carlos Federico of Prussia, I am still alive up to this date and after having satisfactorily carried out all the enterprises entrusted to me by my friend Commander Segurola, and having shown myself on all occasion to be very competent, and with a selfless love of service towards both Majesties, risking my life and everything I own to defend this hapless city. And everybody has celebrated, but especially said Commander, my activity and boldness at night as well as during the day, as I could always be found in the most dangerous areas of this wretched city, supervising and reprimanding those officers who were slack in their duties. Whatever happens from now on, God was served.

There is no Indian who is not a rebel; all die willingly for their Inca King, without coming to terms with God or his sacred law. On October 26th twelve rebels were beheaded and none of them were convinced to accept Jesus; and the same has happened with another 600 that have died in executions during both sieges.

The head of the infamous Tupac Catari still hangs from one of the gallows of this square, and on the 20th of last month they began to form the cases against twenty-four of the principal rebel officers who served under his perverse and iniquitous command. Equal diligence is being practiced against five women who are being held in the command post of this square. Among them is Catari’s sister and one of his women with the same inclinations as that iniquitous Indian, who must have come from the depths of hell.

More troops are needed from both Viceroyalties or from Spain, some 8,0000 to 10,000 men to make Our Sovereign’s name respected throughout the entire Sierra and to finally, once and for all, cut off some heads and be finished with all these cursed relics.

-Dec. 3, 1781 letter from Juan Bautisa Zavala “summarizing the calamities” of La Paz under Aymara siege over the foregoing months (As quoted in this anthology)

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1964: Eric Edgar Cooke, the Night Caller

Add comment October 26th, 2013 Headsman

On this date in 1964, Western Australia conducted its last hanging — that of Eric Edgar Cooke.

Cooke was one of Australia’s worst serial killers, and also one of its strangest: the eight homicides were almost unpatterned save for their rage.

A harelipped, bullied youth turned delinquent turned small-time criminal — he had numerous arrests to his name for theft, for vandalism, for torching a church that rejected his choir audition, for auto theft and for being a peeping tom — Cooke busted out of obscurity and into nightmares on the night of Australia Day 1963 when he gunned down five random people in Perth‘s comfortable suburbs. But even by then he had already been stabbing and shooting at people, and menacing them with cars.

Cooke’s Australia Day spree comprised four distinct incidents united to one another and to Cooke’s previous patterns by little but a lust for the hunt: his sole methodology was opportunism. Cooke shot a couple parked in a car (they survived), then an accountant through his apartment window (not so lucky); then, Cooke murdered a young man asleep on an open veranda, and rang the doorbell of another house to lure a fifth victim (both of these men also died).

As he’d been previously arrested on the strength of his fingerprints, Cooke had taken the precaution to wear gloves, leaving police a very cold trail indeed. The shock of the one night’s carnage multiplied as weeks, and then months, elapsed with no arrest. Thirty thousand men were fingerprinted in a futile fishing expedition.

An isolated western city in the midst of a transformative population boom, Perth learned mistrust from Eric Edgar Cooke. Of course that can’t literally be true; Perth was half a million people strong by this time. But in the civic memory Cooke’s Australia Day signposts an innocence lost. Estelle Blackburn in her Broken Lives depicts Cooke as the baleful spirit come to scourge Perth’s newly, complacently prosperous. (See this pdf.) It was

[t]he small city … [that] had ways of a friendly, easy going big country town where people left their doors unlocked and their car keys in the ignition of open cars. They trusted each other. He turned it into a city of suspicion and terror. For the first time people started locking the doors of their homes and cars, stopped going out at night and slept with guns or any weapons they could find under their pillows.

There’s a kernel of truth in this cliche, for Cooke liberally exploited Perthians’ inattention to security. When finally arrested in August of 1963 after he shot an 18-year-old babysitter, his confession explained that thanks to car owners’ habit of just leaving the keys in the ignition, he had frequently stolen vehicles parked for the night, used them in hit-and-runs or other crimes, and returned them before morning … the owners very often none the wiser.

Cooke had, meanwhile, also strangled a social worker in the Perth suburbs in February 1963, and stabbed to death a South Perth beautician during a home invasion robbery back in 1959. He proved to have a photographic memory of his misdeeds, and could detail exactly the objects he had stolen in hundreds of long-past burglaries. He copped in all to eight murders and 14 attempted murders.

With such evidence from Cooke’s own mouth his barristers had little choice but to pursue an insanity defense. This didn’t fly with the courts, but neither too did Cooke’s more embarrassing admissions to two murders for which two other men were already imprisoned. (Officially, the crown only credited him with six of his eight kills.) A “villainous unscrupulous liar” he was called for those claims; Darryl Beamish and John Button each served many more years in prison for these two disputed murders; with Blackburn’s help, they were both formally vindicated in the 2000s.

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2000: Yopougon Massacre

Add comment October 26th, 2012 Headsman

This date in 2000 saw the most notorious incident in a dreadful wave of election violence in the West African nation of Ivory Coast.

The context was the aftermath of a contentious 2000 presidential election summoned by a coup government that had overthrown the previous regime the year before.

Ivorian politics pitted the more prosperous coastal Christian south against the more rural Muslim inlands, but the 2000 election did not: Alassane Ouattara, the northern/Muslim standard-bearer was eliminated from the election by a conveniently-introduced summer 2000 law disqualifying candidates with a foreign parent. Ouattara was a former Ivorian Prime Minister, but for this election, he wasn’t Ivorian enough to stand.

Political bad blood became political bloodsport with the Oct. 22 election.

On Thursday, Oct. 26, 2000 — which was also the day that election’s winner Laurent Gbagbo was officially sworn in, despite thousands protesting — pro-Gbagbo militias went to town on Ouattara supporters, Muslims, immigrants.

In pro-Gbagbo sections of Abidjan like the suburbs of Abobo and Yopougon, ethnic Dyula or Dioula were rounded up en masse, mosques attacked by mobs, and people menaced, beaten, or worse.

The Human Rights Watch report “The New Racism: The Political Manipulation of Ethnicity in Côte d’Ivoire” gathers a number of these eyewitness accounts, including the summary execution/mass murder of 57 that would make global headlines (French link):

In the late afternoon of October 27, the bullet-ridden bodies of fifty-seven young men were found dumped in two piles in a forest clearing on the outskirts of Yopougon. After speaking with two survivors of and several witnesses to events surrounding the massacre, Human Rights Watch researchers established that paramilitary gendarmes based at the Gendarme Camp of Abobo were directly responsible for the killings. This incident was the single worst atrocity of the election period.

The massacre took place on October 26, 2000 in two stages. The first involved the shooting of detainees at the Gendarme Camp of Abobo, where young men rounded up from Abobo neighborhood were taken during the morning and early afternoon of October 26, 2000. Prior to the shooting detainees were subject to … brutality and torture … At approximately 3:00 p.m…. at least two gendarmes opened fire on the detainees held there, killing some thirty to forty.

The second stage showed the signs of being a well-planned operation. Well-armed gendarmes deployed intoa neighborhood bordering the Gendarme Camp of Abobo and rounded up between eight and thirteen young men who were used as porters to load the dead onto a truck and later dispose of the bodies in the forest. The porters and all other survivors were then gunned down, though some were not killed. These survivors described the presence of one truck, two jeeps, and the involvement of some thirty gendarmes in this operation.

Two men (they’re both directly quoted in the Human Rights Watch report) survived the second stage of the massacre by playing dead.

This unpunished incident — eight gendarmes were tried, but all acquitted — has blended into the rich tapestry of grievances stoking Ivory Coast tensions down to the present day.

Laurent Gbagbo … under arrest. (Not for this massacre.)

When outright civil war erupted in 2002, anti-Gbagbo rebels reportedly yelled “This is for Yopougon!” when gunning down policemen.

In 2010 Ouattara beat Gbagbo in yet another presidential election. That led to a fresh round of nasty civil war.

That war’s upshot was to seat Ouattara — he’s President of the Ivory Coast as of this writing — and to extradite Gbagbo for war crimes proceedings at the Hague. But in the course of that more recent bloodletting, Yopougon once again became a massacre site, and its football pitch “an open-air cemetery”.

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1440: Gilles de Rais, unholy

Add comment October 26th, 2011 Headsman

On this date in 1440, the wealthiest man in France, a noble who had once fought under Joan of Arc‘s banner, was hanged for an outlandishly demonic crime spree.


This dashing Gilles opposite Milla Jovovich in The Messenger; you’d never think he would sodomize hundreds of children.

Rivaling Hungarian blood-bather Erzsebet Bathory for the reputation of most bewitchingly depraved aristocratic sex-killer of early modern Europe, Gilles de Rais (or de Retz) hanged for abducting numberless legions of anonymous young commoners (boys, mostly) for rape and murder.

It’s a rap sheet trebly astounding given that a decade before, de Rais’s reputation for posterity would have figured to be his role as Saint Joan’s chief lieutenant when she raised the siege of Orleans, culminating with elevation to the rank of Marshall of France on the very day Charles VII was crowned in Reims. Talk about a fall from grace.

A 1440 investigation triggered by de Rais’s attack on a priest during an intra-aristocracy dispute turned up a Gacy‘s floorboards’ worth of Nantes-area kids allegedly disappeared into the Marechal’s creepy castle. Remarkably detailed trial records preserve a heartbreaking cavalcade of parents who entrusted their children to de Rais’s service or just sent them out one morning never to be heard from again. “It is notorious,” one added, “that infants are murdered in the said chateau.” (Many of these depositions and other original trial records can be read here.)

His servants and co-deviants Henriet and Pouitou admitted the most shocking stuff —

that de Rais then raped [the typical captive] as he was hanged from a hook by the neck. Before the child died, Gilles took him down, comforted him, repeated the act and either killed him himself or had him slain.

Poitou testified that the child victims were murdered sometimes by decapitating them, sometimes by cutting their throats, sometimes by dismembering them, sometimes by breaking their necks with a stick …

Gilles de Rais rarely left a child alive for more than one evening’s pleasure, Poitou claimed.

Now, it needs to be said that the servants were induced to these confessions by the threat of physical harm — and that when de Rais reversed his own denials he had likewise been menaced with torture. Nobody had been tortured, mind. But they had been given to understand that they would be corroborating the witnesses with self-incriminating statments, and we can do this the easy way or the hard way. In a world without dispositive forensics, confessions were the evidentiary gold standard … and torturing to obtain them was standard operating procedure.

It’s for that reason that there has also long persisted a revisionist thesis that de Rais was actually innocent, framed up by elite rivals who cannibalized the man’s estates. A 1992 “rehabilitation tribunal” re-tried the affair, and returned an acquittal.

Arguably, the populace — font of all those damning accusations — did likewise on the day de Rais hanged with his two servants. A crowd one might expect to be frenzied with rage actually sympathized with the doomed noble, even rescuing his hanged body from the fire. A monument his daughter put up became an unsanctioned popular pilgrimage site until it was destroyed during the French Revolution.

Whether as fact or fable, there’s something gorgeously baroque about de Rais’s dungeon mastering — especially when considered vis-a-vis his historical casting call opposite the abstemious Maid.

As a text for our latter-day edification, de Rais appears a carnivore devoured by his own appetites (and not only sexual: he also blew through the gargantuan family fortune). Reduced from hero to beast, he’s almost a literal werewolf or vampire; he’s often cast as such in video games and the like.

And he transfixes us because he personifies this uncanny bridge from the atomized digital age with its iconic serial killers, alone and psychologically deconstructed, back into the medieval — feudal, irrational, communal, violent and physical but also suffused with an omnipresent alien-to-us paranormal spirit world. It is enough to glance to experience the pull of the abyss gazing back.

Sabine Baring-Gould anticipated the modern afterlife of Gilles de Rais in the mid-19th century Book of Were-Wolves — which incorporated an extended account of de Rais’s trial into a wider narrative of folklore shapeshifting.

De Rais himself shapeshifts even within the brief arc of his dramatic trial: from indignant defendant into contrite supplicant, every drop sincere so far as one can perceive. His very prosecutors, indeed his very victims, wept for the fallen Marechal, and the “monster” reversed with this display his excommunication. (This may have been the part of the punishment de Rais feared most: again, we encounter the alien cosmology.)

“Nothing seems to me to be more beautiful –- and farthest away from our mentality of today — than the crowd of parents of the victims praying for this soul’s salvation,” one modern observed. “That is spiritual nobility.”

Agonizing ecstacist Georges Bataille wrote a whole book about de Rais, characteristically taken by the intersection of repugnance and transcendence. For Bataille, Christianity even reconciles our prisoner’s stupendous villainy with his unfeigned anticipation of spiritual salvation that “ultimately summarize the Christian situation.”

“Perhaps,” Bataille mused, “Christianity is even fundamentally the pressing demand for crime, the demand for the horror that in a sense it needs in order to forgive.”

A Few Books About Gilles de Rais

There are also several free public-domain books, such as Bluebeard: an account of Comorre the cursed and Gilles de Rais, with summaries of various tales and traditions and (already alluded to, the one with the original trial documents) Blue-beard, a contribution to history and folk-lore. Gilles de Rais is popularly, though I think not very persuasively, believed to have helped inspire the “Bluebeard” legend of the murderous aristocrat.

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1978: Seventeen officers in Somalia

1 comment October 26th, 2010 Headsman

Seventeen army officers were shot this day on the outskirts of Mogadishu for attempting to overthrow Somali dictator Siad Barre.

“The executions were carried out by by a firing squad formed of soldiers of the armed forces and were witnessed by thousands of people from all areas of Mogadishu,” said Mogadishu radio.

The abortive April 9 coup attempt seems to have been precipitated by Somalia’s ill-fated intervention in neighboring Ethiopia’s Ogaden region, a bloody little Cold War sideshow that saw both the U.S. (from Ethiopia, to Somalia) and Soviet Union (from Somalia, to Ethiopia) switch sides. Some of the officers concerned feared that Siad would come a-purgin’ after the last Somali forces slunk home on March 15, 1978.

The condemned (per this source) were:

  • Col Mohamed Sheikh Osman “Cirro”
  • Maj Siad Mohamed Jama
  • Maj Ibrahim Mohamed Hersi
  • Maj Siad Jama Nur
  • Capt Mohamed Ahmed Yusuf Aganeh
  • Capt Abdisalan Elmi Warsame
  • Capt Bashir Abshir Isa
  • Capt Abdillahi Hasan Nur
  • Lt Abdi Osman Ugas
  • Lt Abdirahman Maalin Bashir
  • Lt Adan Warsame Abdillahi
  • Lt Abdillahi Mahamud Guled
  • Lt Mohamed Abdullahi Husein (Gorod)
  • Lt Abdulwahab Ahmed Hashim
  • Lt Abdulqadir Gelle Omar
  • Sgt Farah Mohamed Halwo
  • Director Abdulqafar Warsame Abdilleh

But they’re perhaps most memorable for a coup participant not among their number, Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed, who fled to Kenya and founded from exile the Somali Salvation Democratic Front, eventually one of the principal entities resisting the Barre regime. Ahmed served as President of Somalia from 2004 to 2008, but his government was unable to gain control of the notoriously fractious state or to end Somalia’s ongoing civil war.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Mass Executions,Not Executed,Notable for their Victims,Public Executions,Shot,Soldiers,Somalia,Treason

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1941: Masha Bruskina, Kiril Trus, and Volodia Shcherbatsevich, partisans

21 comments October 26th, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 1941, the German occupiers of Minsk conducted an infamous public hanging of partisans — perhaps the first such salutary public execution of resistance members of the war.

Jewish* 17-year-old Maria (Masha) Bruskina was the central figure of the grim tableau, and wore the placard announcing “We are partisans and have shot at German soldiers.” Evidently, she also attracted the most attention** from the onlookers to whom the scene was addressed.

Before noon, I saw the armed German and Lithuanian soldiers appear on the street. From over the bridge they escorted three people with their arms tied behind their backs. In the middle there was a girl with a sign-board on her chest. They were led up to the yeast factory gate. I noticed how calmly these people walked. The girl did not look around … The first one led to the gallows was the girl.

She was hanged with bewhiskered World War I vet Kiril Trus and the 16-year-old Volodia Shcherbatsevich. The men were members of a partisan cell organizing anti-fascist resistance; Masha Bruskina was a nurse who had been caught aiding the partisans by providing civilian clothes and papers for wounded Red Army soldiers under her care to smuggle them back to the resistance.

The scene of their deaths was captured in a series of powerful photographs taken by one of the Lithuanian Wehrmacht collaborators.

(More images here and here.)

* Phototextualities: Intersections of Photography and Narrative claims that Bruskina lightened her hair and changed her name to prevent her Jewishness affecting her resistance work; even though she was a Minsk native, her initial identification didn’t happen until 1968. The men who suffered with her were named almost immediately after the war.

** Despite the eye-catching place of the girl, she was officially unidentified for decades even after the name Masha Bruskina surfaced. In “A Historical Injustice: The Case of Masha Bruskina,” (Holocaust Genocide Studies 1997, 11:3) Nechama Tec and Daniel Weiss argued that Soviet authorities, and later Belarusian ones, found her Jewishness problematic and resisted identifying her because of it — while an ethnically Russian female partisan like Zoya Kosmodemyanskaya could be more conveniently accepted as a heroine. Maybe, but bureaucratic inertia and simple precedence (since Zoya Kosmodemyanskaya was known immediately while Masha Bruskina was not) are also plausible contributing factors.

A plaque unveiled at the Minsk yeast factory in 2009 finally called her Maria Bruskina.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Belarus,Capital Punishment,Children,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Famous,Germany,Guerrillas,Hanged,History,Jews,Martyrs,Mature Content,Milestones,No Formal Charge,Occupation and Colonialism,Power,Public Executions,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Soldiers,Torture,USSR,Wartime Executions

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