1926: Anteo Zamboni, Mussolini near-assassin, lynched

Add comment October 31st, 2018 Headsman

Halloween of 1926 was a festival of triumph for the Italian fascists … and they crowned it in a festival of blood.

The occasion marked (not exactly to the day) the fourth anniversary of Benito Mussolini‘s bloodless coup via the October 1922 March on Rome. And as a gift for himself and his populace, Benito Mussolini on that date inaugurated Bologna’s Stadio Littoriale by riding a charger into the arena and delivering a harangue.


Fascist-built and still in service, it’s now known as the Stadio Renato Dall’Ara and it’s home to Bologna F.C. 1909. (cc) image by Udb.

After another address to a medical conference later that afternoon, Mussolini was motorcading down via Rizzoli in an Alfa Romeo when a gunshot whizzed through his collar.*

It had been fired by a 15-year-old anarchist named Anteo Zamboni, vainly and sacrificially hoping to turn history’s tide with a well-placed bullet.

Instead, his act would offer Il Duce a Reichstag Fire-like pretext — there was always bound to be one, sooner or later — for a raft of repressive legislation including the creation of a nasty secret police, the dissolution of political opposition, and (of interest to this here site) reintroduction of the death penalty.**

But Anteo Zamboni would see his penalty delivered summarily after the crowd seized him.†

Zamboni was done to death with blows and blades by Mussolini’s fascist admirers right on the spot. In a turn of heart, Bologna — by tradition a leftist stronghold — now has a street named for the young would-be assassin. (Here is the source for the ghastly Mature Content images below of Zamboni’s brutalized corpse.)

The incident is the subject of the 1978 film Gli Ultimi Tre Giorni.

* Zamboni’s was only one of three assassination attempts on Mussolini in 1926 alone.

** Just days afterwards during the post-Zamboni repressive pall, the great Marxist intellectual Antonio Gramsci was tossed into prison, never to emerge. Gramsci’s Prison Notebooks issued out of his dungeon, before his health succumbed in 1937 to the intentional neglect of his captors.

† It’s reportedly cavalry officer Carlo Alberto Pasolini who first detained the youth: the father of postwar film director Pier Paolo Pasolini.

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1860: Johannes Nathan, the last ordinary execution in the Netherlands

Add comment October 31st, 2017 Headsman

On this date in 1860, Johannes Nathan was hanged in Maastricht for murder.

Nathan murdered his mother-in-law over a pig. Most executions in the Netherlands at this point were commuted by royal prerogative but it was felt that Nathan’s acknowledgment of guilt was late, partial, and insincere — rendering him an unfit object for mercy.

Although the execution took place on the Markt, it “was not a public amusement as it was in the Middle Ages: Nathan walked through dead streets, the curtains were closed in the houses, children were held in.”

The Netherlands formally abolished the death penalty for ordinary criminal offenses in 1870; the only executions since then took place under 20th century wartime occupation, or in revenge for same.

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1862: Thomas Sanders, rapist

Add comment October 31st, 2016 Headsman

Thomas Sanders was hanged on this date in 1862 at Melbourne Gaol.

An ex-con at Norfolk Island, Sanders took to the bush with another man named John Johnson and in 1862 perpetrated a terrifying home-invasion raid upon the farm of Henry Cropley. They spent five hours there, eating, relaxing, and terrifying the family, comfortably remote on Keilor Plains from any possible source of help. Nobody died — but Sanders too a liking to the family serving-girl Mary Egan and raped her. Egan gave the evidence about her harrowing ordeal — and subject to Sanders’s own direct cross-examination* — just three weeks before Sanders hanged:

The tall man was standing in the middle of the room. I turned to look at him, and he told me to turn my face away, and put a chair for me against my master and missis. He then told the other man to “tie my master’s hands up,” and pulled a rope out of his pocket, and tied him up. He afterwards told me to get up and make tea. I got up and stood at the fire, but was so frightened I could not make tea.

When I saw my master tied up I began to cry, and the little man came up and told me to “shut up,” at the same time pulling a pistol out of his pocket. Sanders then searched the rooms. I saw him as I was standing at the mantelpiece. Johnson was walking about the kitchen with a double-barrelled pistol in each hand.

I thought they were then going away, but they came back again, and Sanders saw the ham hanging up in the kitchen. After they had had their own supper, Sanders sent Johnson to ask me if I would have any. I said I would not.

They had been drinking a bottle of port wine and some spirits. I then heard them go into my rom and pull out my little box. Sanders then said it was time to put the girls to bed.

He told my missis to go into her room, and then came back and took the cradle in. He stopped there some time. I can’t say how long, and then came out, and said to me, “You, girl, you go to bed.”

I went in, and he followed me into my room with the candle.

I was going t bed with some of my things n, and he made me get out and take off everything, except my chemise.

He then tied me hand and foot to the four corners of the bed, and as my foot slipped while he hurt my ankle, I kicked him in the face.

He then said, “Oh, you —- little wretch; I’ll give it to you for that.” I ceased to resist him, as I saw it was no good, and my master had told me to do what he told me. I did not resist him, because he had pistols in his pocket and he said if I did not do what he ordered me he would blow my head off, and would think no more of my life than a cat’s.

He ordered me then to be quiet, and tied my hands behind me. He then brought the other man in, and said, “Isn’t she an enticing little devil.”

I didn’t hear the other man say anything.

They then went out, and took the candle with them, and, after remaining a few minutes, Sanders returned, and said, “Now, my good girl, I’ll give it to you for kicking me in the face.”

It was in the dark. I could not see him, but I knew his voice. I think he was undressed.

He got into bed, and I said to him, “For God’s sake not to do anything t me, for I was a poor orphan girl.”

He did not seem to hear, but I spoke loud enough for my master and mistress to hear.

I then heard him at the foot of the bed, and he asked me “if I had any relations in the colony.”

I said “Yes, I had brothers and uncles.”

He said he didn’t care, and then he had connection with me.

I said, “God help me; there is no help.”

(The witness here described the circumstances, and was almost unable to proceed from agitation. They distinctly proved that a rape was committed.)

Afterwards I begged him to untie me, as the flesh was rising over the ropes, and hurt me. He then untied me.

I never told any one afterwards, as I never dreamt they would be taken up. I afterwards told the doctor everything.

The witness here looked round, at the desire of the Bench, and said, “These are the two men. The one (pinting to Sanders) is the man who had connexion with me.”

* Egan was credited with maintaining her composure admirably under the trying circumstances, but at noe point Sanders asked a question “of such a brutal nature that her firmness, which had been remarkable, gave way, and she had to be removed, in a fainting fit, from the court. The prisoner Johnson made some remark, and Sanders exclaimed “Oh, she’s well tutored!”

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1460: Tiburzio di Maso, Roman brigand

Add comment October 31st, 2015 Headsman

The Roman outlaw-slash-rebel Tiburzio di Maso was executed on this date in 1460, with seven other members of his band.

Tiburzio’s father had been put to death seven years before for joining in the anti-papal intrigues of his kinsman (by marriage) Stefano Porcaro. Theirs was the old populist dream of Cola di Rienzi, to throw off the depraved overlordship of Rome’s patricians and resume the tribune of the people.

Their enemy in this endeavor, to speak a bit more specifically, must be the pope himself — for as Gibbon observed, “the policy of the Caesars has been repeated by the popes; and the bishop of Rome affected to maintain the form of a republic, while he reigned with the absolute powers of a temporal, as well as a spiritual, monarch.” It was this throne that had destroyed Tiburzio’s father, and upon which he proposed to revenge himself.

White breast, sweet tongue, kind eyes and ready wit! You marble limbs, full of vigour, when shall I see you again? When again shall I bite those coral lips, or feel again that tremulous tongue murmuring in my mouth, or ever handle those breasts.

Why, Achates, you have scarcely seen this woman. Where she is most feminine, there she is most lovely. I wish you could be me! Not the beautiful wife of Candaules, King of Lydia, was more beautiful than she. I cannot wonder that he wished to show his wife naked to his friend, to give him the greater pleasure. I would do the same myself. If it were possible, I’d show you Lucretia naked, for otherwise I cannot describe to you how beautiful she is, nor can you imagine how full and substantial was my pleasure. But rejoice with me, because my delight was greater than words can tell.

-[the man who would become] Pope Pius II, The Tale of Two Lovers

By the time the son Tiburzio came to avenge his father,* the pope in question was Pius II, once so much the gentleman-humanist that he is the only pontiff to byline an epistolary erotic novel. Come election to the seat of St. Peter, however, he had predictably discovered a newly illiberal affinity for the overweening prerogatives customarily asserted by his office

Among the lesser of these prerogatives was the option to make his residence in the less miasmatic confines of his native Siena, and his extended absence from Rome surely gave some air by which the brash youth could kindle a rebellion. Tiburzio attracted a gang who alternately caroused together and sallied together as highwaymen on the famously dangerous roads. “If in Porcaro the democratic movement had already generated to the level of Catiline, in Tiburzio and Valeriano, the heroes of 1460, it had sunk to that of mere brigandage,” wrote the German historian Ferdinand Gregorovius. (Via)

“Mere” brigandae posed a real danger to papacy’s safety, however, enough so that the governor’s running skirmishes with this most dangerous gang eventually required the returned of Pope Pius to steady the situation: a captured informant gave information that Tiburzio’s band was in league with Ghibelline nobles and had even arranged with the condottiero Jacopo Piccinino to throw open the city gates for his army.

But our man, well into the history-repeating-as-farce cycle, squandered his opportunity and his life by recklessly sallying into the city from refuge in nearby Palombara once one of his party was arrested. The Roman masses turned deaf ears on his calls to arms, and papal gendarmes captured Tiburzio and several misadventuring comrades. Without the inducements of torture, he too admitted the conspiracy with Piccinino — and the whole bunch hanged together on Capitoline Hill.

* Dad’s foe was Pope Nicholas V, who died in 1455.

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1907: Evstolia Ragozinnikova

Add comment October 31st, 2012 Headsman

On this date in 1907* an audacious would-be suicide bomber was executed by tsarist Russia.

Thousands of Russians immersed themselves in the late 1900s in revolutionary struggle after the Romanovs bloodily stopped the 1905 revolution. So many of them were executed that the gallows became known as “Stolypin’s Necktie”, after the sitting Prime Minister.

Twenty-one-year-old conservatory pianist and singer Evstolia Ragozinnikova got involved in a plot to assassinate the said Stolypin. (It was only one among several such plots, one of which finally succeeded in 1911.)

But “Tolia” feigned madness and then escaped the psychiatric hospital where she’d been confined. She rejoined her Socialist-Revolutionary conspirators, some of whom tried to get her to flee to Milan to further her musical studies.

Instead of concert houses, Ragozinnikova raised the curtain on her magnum opus on October 28* with a bid to land a Guy Fawkes-like blow against the autocracy.

Communist-turned-anticommunist Whittaker Chambers would, much later, remember in his correspondence with William F. Buckley the power that deeds like Ragozinnikova’s had to inspire, notwithstanding Lenin’s eventually-orthodox disavowal of terrorism. For Chambers, it was not material immiseration but spiritual disinheritance, existential despair — the sort that made artists into suicide bombers — that was the true midwife of Communism.

I may presume in supposing that the name of Ragozinikova is unknown to you. But the facts are these. In 1907, the Russian government instituted a policy of systematically beating its political prisoners. One night, a fashionably dressed young woman called at the Central Prison in Petersburg and asked to speak with the commandant, Maximovsky. This was Ragozinikova, who had come to protest the government’s policy. Inside the bodice of her dress were sewed thirteen pounds of dynamite and a detonator. When Maximovsky appeared, she shot him with her revolver and killed him. The dynamite was for another purpose. After the murder of Maximovsky, Ragozinikova asked the police to interrogate her at the headquarters of the Okhrana. She meant to blow it up together with herself; she had not known any other way to penetrate it. But she was searched and the dynamite discovered. She was sentenced to be hanged.

Awaiting execution., she wrote her family: ‘Death itself is nothing, … Frightful only is the thought of dying without having achieved what I could have done How good it is to love people. How much strength one gains from such love.’

Chambers aside, she’s not so well attested on the English-lanuage Internet; there’s a bit about her in Russian here and here, as well as some references to both Ragozinnikova and her peers in an academic pdf, “Women in the World of Gender Stereotypes: The Case of the Russian Female Terrorists at the Beginning of the 20th Century” by Nadezda Petrusenko in International Journal of Humanities and Social Science, April 2011.

* Gregorian dates. By the local Julian calendar in Russia, she committed her murder on October 15, and was hanged on October 18.

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1893: Bertha Zillmann, completely prostrate

Add comment October 31st, 2011 Headsman

From the Birmingham (England) Daily Post, Nov. 1, 1893 (and also reproduced here)


A WOMAN BEHEADED IN GERMANY.

The Berlin correspondent of the Daily News telegraphs that on Monday, for the first time in many years, a woman was beheaded in Germany. The prisoner had murdered her husband by poisoning him, after he had brutally ill treated her and her children. At the trial the woman said she would reserve her defence, but she was sentenced to death, and the Emperor confirmed the sentence. Yesterday the woman, whose name was Zillmann, was informed that she was to die. She had hoped to be pardoned, and burst into tears.

She was on Sunday taken to Plotzensee, where the execution took place. There she asked for coffee and a well-done beefsteak, saying, “I should like to eat as much as I like once more.” To the chaplain the woman declared her innocence to the last moment. In the night she spoke continually of her miserable married life, and of her five children. On Monday morning, however, she was quite apathetic while being prepared for the execution. Her dress was cut out at the neck down to the shoulders, and her hair fastened up in a knot, her shoulders being then covered with a shawl. At eight the inspector of the prison entered Zillmann’s cell, and found her completely prostrate, and not capable of putting one foot before the other. Two warders raised her up, and led her to the block. Without a sound she removed the shawl from her shoulders, and three minutes after eight the executioner had done his work.

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1938: The terrified John Deering

3 comments October 31st, 2009 Headsman

We meet people in these pages who go to the scaffold joking, or sarcastic, or cocksure.

Humans bear up to proximity of death with every psychological defense in the book, but even if surprisingly few die in naked terror, make no mistake this Halloween: there’s a reason the executioner is scary.

Shot Through the Heart

Habitual criminal John Deering had a date with a Salt Lake City firing squad this date in 1938.

If anyone should be nonchalant about being ripped open by bullets, it’s a guy who eschewed a prison sentence in Michigan and confessed to murder to get himself extradited to Utah to face capital murder charges — saying that he and the world would both be better off with him dead.

The 39-year-old put on a cool front, but how steady was he, really? In a weird experiment, Deering agreed to be hooked to an electrocardiogram that measured his heart rate during his last moments.

Here comes the science!

The heart of John W. Deering, holdup murderer, beat three times faster than normal just before he was put to death today by a firing squad in the state prison here. The unprecedented recording was termed valuable to heart disease specialists as it showed clearly the effect of fear.

An electro-cardiograph film, recorded with the condemned man’s permission, showed that Deering’s heart beat jumped from normal 72 to 180, although he appeared outwardly calm. It maintained that rate for the several minutes required to complete preliminaries for the execution.

When the doomed man was asked for a last statement his heart beat fluttered wildly, then calmed after he spoke until bullets ended his life. The heart beat stopped 15.6 seconds after the bullets struck, but he was not pronounced dead until two and a half minutes after the five shots rang out. (Chicago Tribune, Nov. 1, 1938)

Still no cure for cancer.

This guy is obviously not to be confused with his tragic Hollywood contemporary of the same name.

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1793: The Girondists

9 comments October 31st, 2008 Headsman

On this date in 1793, in a revolutionary Paris where the machinery of the Terror was clattering to life, five tumbrils bore to the guillotine twenty former Girondist ministers to the National Convention — plus the corpse of their late colleague Dufriche de Valazé, who had cheated the executioner by killing himself.

Named for the region of Aquitaine from which their leading lights hailed, the Girondists (or Girondins) had in the compressed history of the Revolution ascended from fringe democratic party to governing party even as the political facts shifted under their feet. Finding themselves the conservative party in an assembly increasingly dominated by radical Montagnards and the Paris mob, the Girondists’ tactlessness and stubborn refusal to deal with Georges Danton after his (still historically murky) involvement in the riotous slaughter of prisoners during the September Massacre eroded their position.

As the terrible year of 1793 unfolded, the Girondins discovered themselves successively overthrown, expelled from the Convention, proscribed, and hunted. Though many more — Girondists and others — were to follow in their steps, the trial of these 21 before the Revolutionary Tribunal and subsequent guillotining, the first notable mass-execution of the Revolution, raised the curtain on the Terror.


L’ultime adieu des Girondins le 31 Octobre 1793, by Paul Delaroche

Decades later, the English historian Lord Acton remembered the faction’s doomed heroism.

[The Girondins] stood four months before their fall. During that memorable struggle, the question was whether France should be ruled by violence and blood, or by men who knew the passion for freedom. The Girondins at once raised the real issue by demanding inquiry into the massacres of September. It was a valid but a perilous weapon. There could be no doubt as to what those who had committed a thousand murders to obtain power would be capable of doing in their own defence.

Almost to the last moment Danton wished to avoid the conflict. Again and again they rejected his offers. Open war, said Vergniaud, is better than a hollow truce. Their rejection of the hand that bore the crimson stain is the cause of their ruin, but also of their renown. They were always impolitic, disunited, and undecided; but they rose, at times, to the level of honest men.

They were easily beaten and mercilessly destroyed, and no man stirred to save them. At their fall liberty perished; but it had become a feeble remnant in their hands, and a spark almost extinguished. Although they were not only weak but bad, no nation ever suffered a greater misfortune than that which befell France in their defeat and destruction.

That Pierre Vergniaud who scorned the hollow truce was the last to mount the scaffold this day — a shining orator of the Revolution who captured the calamity engulfing his nation in another well-remembered aphorism, “the Revolution devours its own children.”

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1589: Peter Stubbe, Sybil Stubbe and Katharina Trump

39 comments October 31st, 2007 Headsman

On Halloween in 1589, the “Werewolf of Bedburg” was put to a horrible death for a supposed slew of crimes committed in lupine form in the environs of the German city of Cologne.

Our knowledge of the strange case of Peter Stubbe comes primarily from a single surviving account, and with many of the potential supplementary sources lost to the ravages of time and war, interpretations are inevitably speculative.

Stubbe reportedly confessed under (or facing) torture to having practiced witchcraft and claimed to have received a magic belt from the infernal powers enabling him to transform into a wolf. The doomed man owned, during the quarter-century riot of sin that ensued this youthful acquisition, to rape, murder, cannibalism, incest, filicide, slaughtering livestock and keeping a succubus in his bed. (Authorities were unable to recover this potent belt, and sighed that Satan must have reclaimed it.)

For these crimes, he was broken on the wheel, beheaded, then burnt — the latter punishment shared with his daughter and his mistress, apparently implicated as accessories.

Was there a real wolf terrorizing the vicinity? Was Stubbe an actual murderer with a supernatural cover story? Was he nursing a genuine delusion of lycanthropy? Did he back the wrong faith as strife over Protestantism rent Germany? Or was he just unluckily caught up in an instance of demonic hysteria?

Whatever the individual circumstances of Stubbe’s death might have been, it occurred during a surge of panic over the venerable superstition of were-beasts and shapeshifters (particularly pronounced in France) coeval with Europe’s crises of religious and political authority on the eve of the Thirty Years’ War.

Yet this troubled period bore the germ of a modernity whose pervasive social changes would upend, among other things, the idea of a real werewolf. As the sixteenth century closed, both medical and theological understandings of “werewolfism” increasingly located it in the realm of the psychological instead of the supernatural.

Within a few years of Stubbe’s torture, werewolves had left the hands of magistrates for those of doctors … bound eventually for the pens of screenwriters with Halloween fare in mind.

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Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Beheaded,Broken on the Wheel,Burned,Common Criminals,Germany,Gruesome Methods,Mature Content,Murder,Public Executions,Rape,Serial Killers,Sex,The Supernatural,Torture,Witchcraft,Women

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