1822: General Berton

Add comment October 5th, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1822,* General Jean Baptiste Berton (sometimes Breton) was guillotined in Poitiers.

A young junior officer during the French Revolutionary Wars, Breton/Berton scaled the Napoleonic ranks in the early 19th century and was elevated by the Corsican’s own hand to Brigadier General.

Upon Napoleon’s 1815 return from exile Breton rallied to the ex-emperor’s cause but he did not suffer the worst of it after Waterloo, instead scribbling his memoirs in enforced half-pay retirement.

This situation permitted the ex-marechal-de-camp both the time and the liberty to dabble in that era’s rife conspiracies intending the overthrow of the Bourbons — a fact which was exposed by mischance when one of the young cavalrymen he had recruited was killed in an accident with incriminating documents in his pockets. Agents provocateur baited him thereafter into a treasonable and doomed rebellion.

* Some sources give October 6, which was a Sunday. Primary documentation prefers October 5.

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1737: Five Johns

Add comment October 5th, 2017 Headsman

October 5 was a hanging-date at Tyburn in 1737.

The most self-evident oddity of this routine bulk execution was that five of the six men executed upon the occasion bore the same Christian name to the gallows, which is an even better hit rate than the classic middle name: wife-murderer John Totterdale, thief John Cotton, highway robber John Goswel, highway robber John Richardson (“indicted with John Lovell, not taken”), and highway robber John Purdey.* The sole exception was Goswel’s accomplice Robert Barrow, who “was miserably Poor and naked, and was in so very pitiful a Condition, that he declar’d he was willing rather to die than live.”

The name John dominated English christenings for centuries in a way that your latter-day Olivers, Noahs, and (quelle horreur!) Muhammads could never dare to dream. For the best part of a millennium, the post-Norman tongue thrilled to curl around this solid monosyllable by which Christ himself had flanked his movement via a beheaded forerunner and an apocalyptic evangel.

Overall, the pool of names in common usage on Blighty in centuries past was smaller and more static than today’s faddish kaleidoscope; according to Chris Laning in the 16th century “there were only about 30 to 40 common names in circulation for each gender, with perhaps another 100 or so that you would run across from time to time.” And among boys and men, the name “John” towered above all others.

A study of funerary brasses from 1107 to 1600 suggests that something like a staggering 30% of males might have carried this name; a study from the Agincourt Honor Roll agrees, its list concentrated to about one-third for Johns, a second third for Williams and Thomases, and the remaining third for all other names.** While this data is well before the hanging we feature in this post, John reigned supreme from Plantagenet through to Windsor … until just a few decades ago, in fact, when it began a precipitous and continuing tumble.†


Source: Office for National Statistics

But in the 18th century, the ubiquitous John rode tall in the saddle, often robbing the other travelers as it would seem. A search of Executed Today‘s data based on the British hanging rolls kept at capitalpunishmentuk.org gives the name a better than 20% market share of the 18th century gallows. If anyone remarked all the Johns gone to Tyburn this October 5, it was a statistical certainty that they also had in mind a few kinfolk and buddies with the same moniker who would soon come in for a grim spot of ribbing.

Not so contemporary readers, particularly among the younger generation; unthinkably, the once-invincible John has in the present bleakness plummeted all the way outside the top 100 boys’ names.

* The roads were a dangerous adventure in these Bloody Code days; we have formerly noticed the lament of Horace Walpole that “one is forced to travel, even at noon, as if one was going to battle.”

** Curious that for all the bargemen, beggars, ploughmen, pages, shepherds, shopkeeps, scriveners, tinkers, archers, chandlers, M.P.s, hatters, mariners, grenadiers, bakers, day-traders, coal-heavers, fox hunters, yeoman warders, and, yes, doomed criminals to claim the name … there has been only the one King John.

† The name John has taken a similar plunge in the United States.

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1802: Sanite Belair, tigress

Add comment October 5th, 2016 Headsman

On October 5, 1802, Haitian soldier Suzanne Bélair, called Sanité Bélair, was shot with her husband by the French.

This “tigress” is the most famous of the Haitian Revolution’s numerous female protagonists. A free black woman, she married Charles Belair, the nephew and aide of the man who in the 1790s established pre-eminence on Saint-DomingueToussaint L’Ouverture.

L’Ouverture tragically vacillated when the French made their move in 1802 to reverse the revolution’s gains and re-establish slavery, but the tigress rallied General Belair to take the field in resistance — and not only rallied him, but fought alongside him as a regular in his army, attaining the rank of Lieutenant.

It’s said that at her capture, when threatened with beheading, she successfuly asserted the right to an honorable soldier’s death by musketry, and standing before their muzzles cried “Viv libète! Anba esclavaj!” (“Long live freedom! Down with slavery!”)

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1736: Herry Moses, Jewish gangster

Add comment October 5th, 2015 Headsman

On this date in 1736, a Jewish gangster named Herry Moses was hanged as a highwayman at Vlaardingen, Netherlands.

Our source for Moses is Florike Egmond’s “Crime in Context: Jewish Involvement in Organized Crime in the Dutch Republic” from Jewish History, vol. 4, no. 1 (Spring 1989) — for whom Moses forms an window into the criminal life of Netherlands Jews. According to Egmond, Moses hailed from Frankfurt am Main, then an imperial Free City. He had no property or station, and spent the first decades of his life as a wandering beggar, a tinker, and one might guess a petty thief where the opportunity arose.

By 1723, when Moses was around 37 years old, he had washed up in the Dutch Republic — one of many Jews who had migrated to that more tolerant climate from Germany and points east.

In the Low Countries, these arrivistes filled many niches but one of the most noticeable was a burgeoning network of Jewish criminal gangs; per Egmond, in this period “between one-half and two-thirds of all Ashkenazim convicted of burglaries, theft, or robberies had been born outside the Dutch Republic.” The documentary record is far from thorough, but court cases suggest to Egmond the emergence of a small Jewish underground in the mid-17th century following the Thirty Years War, which was bolstered by subsequent immigration waves.

Jews filled plenty of more legitimate places too, of course — and we notice how diligently free of moral panic is the court that handles this minority outlaw. But the Dutch Republic endured in this period the decline of her former trading preeminence, and for the glut of new arrivals — who were sometimes legislated out of certain protected economic spheres — less legitimate occupations could not help but appeal.

Jewish gangs were accordingly quite prominent among the robbers and cutthroats prowling the roads; among other things, they were noteworthy for their willingness to raid churches, which Christian gangs tended to shy from attacking.

Similar “names, geographical background, occupation, travels, meeting places, and variable associations” populate the identifiable records of Jewish criminals, in Egmond’s words. They “were Ashkenazim, most of them poor, and a large majority were first-generation immigrants from Eastern and Central Europe.” Just as with Herry Moses.

So far as I have been able to tell, the annals do not supply us with the why in his strange story … which only deepens the intrigue of the what. Egmond:

In 1735 Herry Moses, alias Abraham Mordechai or Hessel Markus, confessed to a crime he did not commit. According to his version of the story, he murdered a Roman Catholic priest in his house in the Dutch town of Weesp and robbed him of aboug 3,000 guilders. The murder and theft were real enough, and a less scrupulous court than the schepenbank of Weesp (a high jurisdiction some twenty kilometers east of Amsterdam) might have sentenced Herry Moses to death on the strength of his confession alone. Adhering strictly to criminal procedure and confronted with some slight inconsistencies in Moses’ confession, the court tried to obtain more information. Could Moses have murdered the priest, as he declared, when standing behind the bedstead? (There was no room for a man to stand there.) Was he lying when he denounced several Jews and a Christian as his accomplices in both the murder and a burglary at The Hague? His descriptions proved accurate enough to track down some of these men and arrest them in different parts of the Netherlands, but they denied any involvement in the crimes and told the court that they did not even know their accuser. They were eventually released.

Herry Moses was interrogated a number of times during 1734 and most of 1735. Lengthy questioning yielded more detail and added more inconsistencies, but Moses continued to stand by his confession. The court, by now convinced of his innocence, saw no other solution than to torture him — not to obtain a confession but to have him retract it. Moses still did not oblige. The case was subsequently sent to a higher court (the Hof van Holland), which shared the doubts of the local court. Finally, at the end of 1735, Herry Moses was sentenced to whipping, branding, and banishment for life from the provinces of Holland and Zeeland, on account of his false accusations and his contempt for justice in general. Shortly before Herry’s sentencing — after he had been in prison for well over a year — the priest’s housekeeper and her husband confessed to having murdered the priest as well as the woman’s first husband. Both of them were sentenced to death.

As could be expected, Herry disappeared from sight after receiving his sentence, until September 1736, when he again stood trial in a Dutch criminal court. This time, there was no doubt about the indictment or the evidence. Passersby had caught him and his two accomplices in the act of attempting to strangle and rob a woman on a country road near Rotterdam. They arrived in time to save the woman’s life. Herry Moses was sentenced to death, and on 5 October 1736 was hanged at Vlaardingen.

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610: Phocas, “will you rule better?”

Add comment October 5th, 2014 Headsman

It was on this date in 610 that the Byzantine Emperor Phocas was overthrown and put to summary execution — by the very hand, legend says, of his successor Heraclius.*

Perhaps Byzantium’s most anathematized emperor — one Byzantine historian elided his whole 8-year reign because “speaking of suffering is itself suffering” — Phocas’s own rise to the purple owed itself to extrajudicial executions.

That gentleman was a mere army officer of no regal proximity during the previous emperor’s campaigns to ward off the incursions of the Slavs and Avars into the Balkans. While this campaign on the whole enjoyed its successes, Phocas enters the historical scene about 600 as the leader of a delegation sent from the legions to Constantinople to object when the cash-poor imperial court refused to pony up ransom money for comrade soldiers taken prisoner. Phocas was abused at court, and the Avars executed their hostages.

By 602 the policy of having the soldiery take it in the braccae (soldiers’ own allotments had also been pinched by the same budget strictures) blew back when the foul-tempered army was ordered to winter on the far side of the remote Danube. The government collapsed in the face of a military mutiny; Phocas was crowned emperor; and he executed the former emperor Maurice, plus Maurice’s six sons. Much as we are accustomed to think of the old Roman emperors ever on the edge of violent overthrow, this event was for its contemporaries a great novelty and a dangerous precedent. There had not been a regime change by coup d’etat in Constantinople since that city’s namesake set it up as his capital nearly three centuries before.

This fact is a small part of Phocas’s vile reputation for later historians. But — and we will come to this — that reputation is also heavily colored by the perspective of the regime that would eventually overthrow Phocas himself. For Phocas’s subjects, while he had subjects, he was very far form universally hated. He found particular favor with the church, delivering the gorgeous pagan Pantheon to the pontiffs for use as a church. When touring Rome, you might learn that the very last imperial monument in the Forum is the Column of Phocas.**


Erected in gratitude by the Exarch of Ravenna.

Phocas’s reign, however, was defined by war with the Persians. And it was in the time of Phocas that King Khosrau, who actually owed his throne to previous Roman support, started breaking through the weakened Byzantine frontiers and tearing off huge pieces of territory.

By the last years of Phocas the Persians had taken Upper Mesopotamia and Armenia, and begun pressing into Anatolia where resistance collapsed with frightful ease. A Persian raid reached as far as Chalcedon in 608. There’s just something about having an enemy army in the suburbs of your capital that tends to overwhelm the value of any goodwill you got from cozying up to the pope.

In that same year (and this was surely a factor in the Persians’ shocking penetration into Anatolia) the Exarch of Africa began a revolt against the former centurion wearing the purple. From his position he was able to cut off grain shipments to the capital from the empire’s breadbasket, Egypt, which put Phocas in a truly desperate position. This exarch’s name was Heraclius but it was the man’s son, also named Heraclius, who would do the usurping.

Approaching the capital in 610, the Heraclii were able to quickly gather allies. Even the Excubitors, Constantinople’s Praetorian Guards under the leadership here of Phocas’s own son-in-law, saw where the winds were blowing and deserted immediately.

The rebels took Constantinople without a fight, and two patricians seized Phocas and presented him to the new sovereign.

“Is this how you have ruled, wretch?”

To which Phocas sneered,

“And will you rule better?”

Heraclius wasn’t in in the mood to be upstaged by his doomed predecessor, and got the latter’s execution, together with his own immediate coronation, enacted straighaway.

his right arm was removed from the shoulder, as well as his head, his hand was impaled on a sword, and thus it was paraded along the Mese, starting from the Forum. His head was put on a pole, and thus it too was paraded around. The rest of the body was dragged along on the belly, and was brought in the direction of the Chalce of the Hippodrome … And about the ninth hour of the same Monday, heraclius was crowned emperor in the most holy Great Church by Sergius patriarch of Constantinople. And on the following day, Tuesday … the head of Leontius the syrian [the former finance minister] was brought in and burnt in the Hippodrome, along with the image of Phocas which during his lifetime, foolish men wearing white robes had conducted into the Hippodrome with lighted candles. (Chronicon Paschale, as quoted here)

As if in retort to Phocas’s dying taunt, Heraclius held power for 30 distinguished years — “the brightness of the meridian sun,” in the estimation of Gibbon, for “the honor of Rome and Heraclius was gloriously retrieved by the exploits and trophies of six adventurous campaigns” that rescued Byzantium from the brink of destruction, drove back the Persians, enlarged the empire, and even returned the True Cross to Jerusalem. Heraclius himself commanded the army in the field, a practice long out of fashion for emperors. “Since the days of Scipio and Hannibal, no bolder enterprise has been attempted than that which Heraclius achieved for the deliverance of the empire.”

Phocas’s reputation did not profit from the comparison, and for Heraclius the last guy made a convenient foil to whom every evil of the realm could be attributed. We know Phocas almost exclusively through the accounts of later historians dating to this period, which is undoubtedly a factor in the black name our principal enjoys all the way to the present. The excellent History of Byzantium podcast attempts a balanced portrait of this era in an episode aptly named “In Fairness to Phocas”. The subsequent episode, “Heraclius to the Rescue”, deals with Phocas’s unpleasant exit from the scene.

* The new emperor personally executing his rival had a Roman precedent.

** Other Phocas achievement: he re-introduced the beard onto the imperial fashion scene. His predecessors had almost universally gone for the clean-cut look.

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1943: 1,196 Jewish children from Bialystok

3 comments October 5th, 2013 Meaghan

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

On this date in 1943, a special transport of 1,196 children and 53 adults arrived at Auschwitz and were gassed shortly thereafter. Thus ended one of the lesser-known tragedies of the Holocaust.

The children were very nearly the last survivors of the Bialystok Ghetto, which had been liquidated in August 1943. Almost all of the inhabitants of the ghetto wound up being sent to the Treblinka Extermination Camp and killed, but over a thousand children were mysteriously separated from their parents and taken away for some as-yet-unknown purpose. (The transport list can be found here.)

At the time, there were tentative negotiations between the Red Cross and the Nazis to trade Jewish children for either German prisoners of war or cold, hard cash. The exact details are unclear, and there’s a great deal of contradictory information about the entire event.

In any case, the Germans selected children from Bialystok, one of the few places in Nazi Europe where there were any Jewish children left alive.

The children, all of them under 16, spoke only Yiddish and Polish. They were in terrible shape, both mentally and physically. One witness later described them:

Suddenly, a column of bedraggled children appeared, hundreds of them … holding each other’s hands. The older ones helped the small ones, their little bodies moving along in the pouring rain. A column of marching ghosts, with wet rags clinging to their emaciated bodies, accompanied by a large number of SS men …

The children, looking like scarecrows, refused to undress. They held on to their dirty clothing, the older stepping in front of the young ones, protecting them with their bodies, clutching their hands and comforting those that were crying. Their clothing permeated with lice, their bodies full of sores, these children refused to wash.

Their first stop was Theresienstadt in Czechoslovakia, the so-called “model ghetto” which was used by the Nazis as a propaganda tool to show that they weren’t mistreating their Jews.

Theresienstadt was in fact a horribly overcrowded, disease-ridden city and its inhabitants were all dying of starvation, but it was the best there was available. There were no gas chambers there, and the Theresienstadters knew nothing about the kinds of horrors the Bialystok children had been through.

To keep knowledge of said horrors from leaking out, once in Theresienstadt the children were placed in isolation and weren’t allowed to leave their barracks. 53 doctors and nurses were recruited from the local population to take care of them, and they were locked up with the children.

In spite of these security measures, some of the adults were able to make contact with people from the outside. Theresienstadt youth leader Fredy Hirsch got caught making an unauthorized visit to the children’s barracks, for example, and as punishment he was sent to Auschwitz on the next train.

A child thought to be Deborah Klementynowska, possibly the only surviving photo of one of these lost Bialystok children.

The adults — one of whom was Franz Kafka‘s sister, Ottilie — didn’t know what to make of the children’s behavior at first.

For instance, why, when they were invited to take a shower, did they start crying and screaming about gas? The children started to talk about their experiences, and their caregivers were horrified by their stories.

The Nazis intended to quite literally fatten up the children before they were sent off into the world, so the group was treated very well. Everyone got enough to eat, and they were given baths, clean clothes, medical treatment and even toys. Anyone who got seriously ill was taken away “to the hospital” and, ahem, never returned.

Slowly, assisted by their kind caregivers, the children got their equilibrium and began to act like normal kids again.

Meanwhile, negotiations continued …

The Allies wanted to send the children to British Mandate Palestine. The Germans, however, were against this plan because they didn’t want the children growing up there, strengthening the Palestinian Jewish community and possibly establishing a Jewish state someday. (The Mufti of Jerusalem, whom the Nazis were quite friendly with, didn’t like the idea either.)

The Germans wanted the children sent to Great Britain instead.

The UK, however, had already accepted many Jewish refugees, including 10,000 German, Austrian and Czech children with the Kindertransport, and were unwilling to take in any more.

And there was another problem, relating to the prospect of exchanging the children for money.

This money would have to be provided by the American Joint Distribution Committee and other Jewish welfare agencies, and they flat-out refused to give anything to the people who had promised to wipe them off the face of the earth.

In the end, the negotiations collapsed, through what one witness later called “an ill-applied sense of ‘correctness'” on the part of the Allies. Of course, given the Nazis’ track record, one wonders if they ever seriously intended to release the children no matter what they were given in return.

The plan was discarded and the Germans were left with 1,196 useless Jewish children on their hands. They dealt with them in the usual manner.

None of the Bialystok group or their caregivers had any idea what was coming up for them when they were sent away from Theresienstadt. They’d been told the negotiations had been successful and they were on their way to Switzerland, and thence to Palestine. They were told to take off their yellow stars and the adults had to sign a statement promising not to say anything bad about the Germans.

The transport set off in high spirits, rejoicing at their upcoming freedom.

But their train went not to Switzerland but to Poland, marked for “special treatment” on arrival at its destination. Apart from a few of the adults who were selected to work, there were no survivors.

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1900: Coleman Gillespie

Add comment October 5th, 2012 Meaghan

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

The story behind Coleman Gillespie’s execution on this day in 1900 actually begins on February 21, 1856: on that winter’s day, a small group of hostile Rogue River Indians murdered more than half of Christina Edson’s family at their home in what would become the state of Oregon.

The victims included John Geisel, Christina’s husband of 13 years, and their sons Andrew, 5, Henry, 7, and John, 9.

Christina, her three-week old infant Annie and her thirteen-year-old daughter Mary were spared and force-marched into captivity at an Indian camp twelve miles away. Along the way they had to pass the burning houses and dead bodies of their neighbors. 24 people were killed and 60 homes burned in all.

The pioneers wanted vengeance and they got it: the rebellious Indians were defeated in May 1856 and mobs lynched more than a dozen of them, including the man who betrayed the Geisel family. In July of that year, more than 700 Indians were forced to relocate to two different reservations.

All in all, it was a terrible tragedy.

And four decades later, indirectly, it claimed its last victim.

Long-suffering: Christina Edson

Christina, somehow, put her life back together after surviving two weeks in captivity with her daughters. She never had any more children, but she remarried three times (divorcing twice, and being left a widow with her final husband’s death in 1883).

In 1887, Christina filed a claim with the federal government seeking compensation for the loss of her first husband and sons and their farm, which the Indians had burned down. It took twelve years to get through all the red tape. In the end her application was successful and she was granted a monthly pension.

Christina turned 77 years old in 1899. Although her grown-up daughters wanted her to move in with them, she cherished her independence and lived alone in a cabin in Gold Beach, Oregon. Her very first pension check, for $75, arrived Monday, September 18, 1899.

On September 19, her cabin burned to the ground.

The postman found her charred corpse lying sprawled on her bed in the ruins. She’d been tortured and strangled. The fire was arson, and authorities presumed Christina had been killed for her money; her pension check was missing.

The brutal murder of this elderly pioneer horrified the community. As Diane Goeres-Gardner explains in her book Necktie Parties: Legal Executions in Oregon 1851-1905,

Christina Edson had seen her husband and sons tortured and burned by the Indians. The savages could be excused because they were fighting for their rights to the land they once owned. [Christina’s murder] was even more horrifying because it was done in cold blood for a few dollars.

The police got a lead when the check was cashed in Roseburg by one C.O. White, who was brought in for questioning. He said he’d bought the check at a discount from Coleman Gillespie, a known criminal with two prior convictions for theft.

Arrested a few days later, Gillespie quickly broke down and confessed in writing to Christina Edson’s murder. He named his co-conspirator as Charles Strahan, a commercial salmon fisherman who had mysteriously disappeared. There were rumors that he’d tried to flee the area but had drowned in the Rogue River, and other reports that he’d drowned in an ordinary fishing accident: whatever the case, he was never seen again, neither alive nor dead.

Authorities thought the fisherman a red herring — that Gillespie had acted alone and, having heard of Strahan’s disappearance, tried to share the blame with the convenient phantom. Gillespie’s statements about Christina Edson’s murder over time evolved to shift ever more responsibility onto the missing “accomplice”, until Gillespie was all but denying his own presence at the murder scene. He didn’t really seem to realize that, at the end of the day, he was legally just as guilty whether or not he himself had done the killing.

He found out on August 23, 1900, when he was condemned to die for robbery and murder.

When Coleman Gillespie was hanged six weeks later — the first and last legal execution in Curry County — his neck didn’t break. He expiated every penny of the discounted $75 pension check slowly strangling at the end of the rope.

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1816: Camilo Torres, Manuel Rodriguez, and other leaders of independent New Granada

Add comment October 5th, 2011 Headsman

On this date in 1816, Spain hanged the leaders of a breakaway former New World possession in a vain effort to maintain control of what is now Colombia.

The United Provinces of New Granada was la Patria Boba, the “foolish fatherland” of Colombia: a welter of rival provinces and municipalities which capitalized on the mother country’s fall to Napoleon to declare independence and immediately commence fratricidal civil war.

The United Provinces had leave of several years for this foolishness before the Peninsular War ended with the restoration of Ferdinand VII, who promptly dispatched a massive expedition under the notorious command of Pablo Morillo to bring these disobedient satellites to heel … and to hemp.

The gentlemen whose death-day we commemorate today were the ones at the seat of government when the music stopped playing. Those positions, and even the forms of government itself, had been regularly reshuffled in the Patria Boba as federalist and anti-federalist, republican and royalist, threw their respective weights (and armies) around.

Morillo, who is still infamous in Colombia for his cruelty, had the most weight of all.

As Morillo’s reconquista invaded the Provinces, Camilo Torres (English Wikipedia page | the much more detailed Spanish) resigned the presidency. Torres is best-remembered now as the author of the Memorial de Agravios (Spanish link; it translates as “Memorial of Grievances” or, more Office Space-ishly, “Memorandum of Grievances”).

This incendiary document prophetically insisted that

the union between America and Spain [rest on] the just and competent representation of its people, without any difference among its subjects that they do not have because of their laws, their customs, their origins, and their rights. Equality! The sacred right of equality. Justice is founded upon that principle and upon granting every one that which is his.

-Memorial de Agravios, as translated in The Independence of Spanish America, by Jaime Rodriguez

Stuff like this was liable to get you on Morillo’s enemies list political office or no; cowing — or killing — seditious intellectuals was part of his whole project.

Torres, his predecessor and vice president (same guy) Manuel Rodriguez, and several other ministers of state were nabbed together trying to make an escape to sea.

Morillo had them subjected to a snap trial, and Torres and Rodriguez were executed this date along with Pedro Felipe Valencia (Spanish link) and Jose Maria Davila; simultaneous property confiscation left the men’s survivors penniless. (Later, Simon Bolivar would personally support the widow Torres.)

Once hemp got through with the necks this day, old-fashioned blades did their redundant work: Torres’s head was hewed off and mounted in Bogota for public viewing.

It’s noteworthy that the author of this sort of nasty warning to the public would later sign his name opposite his New World antagonist Simon Bolivar in a Treaty of Armistice and Regularization of War (more Spanish) undertaking to stop murdering prisoners and non-combatants and fight only “as do civilized peoples” — one of the seminal documents in the development of human rights and the law of war.

Spanish speakers may appreciate this timeline site on the life and times of Camilo Torres.

* Torres, that Colombian Tom Paine, took some overt inspiration from the recent American Revolution, arguing that “to exclude the Americas from such representation … would forever alienate their desires for such a union.” After all,

If the English government had taken such an important step, perhaps today it would not rue the separation of its colonies. But a feeling of pride and a spirit of vanity and superiority led to the loss of those rich possessions.

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1949: Yoshio Kodaira, soldier turned serial killer

1 comment October 5th, 2009 Headsman

Sixty years ago today, Yoshio Kodaira counted himself “fortunate to be able to die on such a calm and peaceful day.”

For the year after Japan’s wartime surrender to the World War II Allied powers (beginning slightly before that surrender), former Imperial Navy soldier Yoshio Kodaira terrorized Tochigi and Tokyo with a rape-murder binge believed to have claimed ten victims.

Even our monsters — especially our monsters — are creatures of their own milieu.

For Kodaira, that was the Japanese occupation of China, where he slew an unknown number of Chinese soldiers and civilians in his official capacity under the banner of the rising sun … followed by the “anarchy of the postwar years.”

(In between the two, he served a jail term in the 1930’s for killing his father-in-law in a berserk rage when his wife left him.)

Expat author David Peace novelized the 1945-46 Kodaira crime spree in Tokyo: Year Zero, musing (in the voice of the killer),

You know, none of it makes much sense to me … they give us a big medal over there for all the things we did, but then we come back here and all we get is a long rope.

(Here’s an interview with the author.)

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Japan,Murder,Occupation and Colonialism,Rape,Serial Killers,Soldiers

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2007: A factory manager in a packed stadium

2 comments October 5th, 2008 Headsman

Last year on this day, six people were reportedly trampled to death when a massive crowd stampeded after watching the execution of a 75-year-old factory manager in North Korea.

The man, who is not named in English-language sources I’ve perused, had fabricated his father’s past as a good Communist when in fact dad worked to suppress the reds. That con kept the family among North Korea’s privileged elite for years.

According to the South Korean nonprofit Good Friends, he faced a snap tribunal and immediate execution in Suncheon this day, in a stadium with 150,000-plus* onlookers, part of a campaign of stepped-up public executions that Good Friends says (.doc) has been driven by the insular country’s decade-long famine. (See another one — illicitly filmed graphic video included — here.)

And he wasn’t the only one to depart the premises in a body bag. The stampede is said to have occurred after the proceedings as spectators were leaving; the cause, if there was one, is sketchily described, although some news reports call it a “melee.” Thirty-four others were reportedly injuried in the crush.

* The figure 170,000 is also cited.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Known But To God,Korea,North Korea,Public Executions,Ripped from the Headlines,Shot,Summary Executions

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