1946: Walter Grimm and Karl Mumm, judicial murderers

Add comment October 8th, 2019 Headsman

Our friends at Capital Punishment UK favored us with an absolutely fascinating story for the post-World War II execution farm manager Walter Grimm and Gestapo officer Karl Mumm for orchestrating the 1942 hanging of one of Grimm’s Polish slave laborers. The pair falsely charged entire story is a fascinating read.

After the war, Szablewski’s brother was able to bring the matter to the attention of the Allied occupation in Germany, which found that Grimm was exacting revenge for Lütten’s spurning his advances; Grimm and Munn were punished by hanging in Hameln prison on October 8, 1946. There’s a memorial plaque to Szablewski — unveiled in 2003 in the presence of the still-surviving Hildegard Lütten — as well as a Stolperstein (stumbling-stone) unveiled in 2016, both at the Hohenbuchenpark in Hamburg where Szablewski was killed.


copyrighted image authorized for general public use by Bully59.

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1852: Adam Wimple, his executioner’s lodger

Add comment October 8th, 2018 Headsman

This date’s story of the condemned killer of a child bride lodging with his own executioner comes from the recollections of Dallas, Oregon frontierswoman Mrs. Frank Collins, nee Martha Elizabeth Gilliam.

Frank Nichols, who married my sister Sarah, was the next sheriff. One of his first jobs was hanging Adam E. Wimple.

Wimple had stayed for a while at our house in 1845. He married a 13-year-old girl in 1850 and within a year killed her. They lived in Cooper Hollow, four or five miles from Dallas.

My brother-in-law, Alec Gage, and his wife stopped at Wimple’s house the morning he killed her. Mrs. Wimple’s face was all swollen and her eyes were red from crying. Wimple saw they noticed it, so he said ‘Mary isn’t feeling very well this morning.’

My brother-in-law and his wife had not gone over a mile and a half when they saw smoke rising from where the Wimple house was. They hurried back and found the house in flames. It was too late to save anything in the house.

When the fire had burned out they found Mrs. Wimple under the floor partially burned. Wimple had disappeared. He was more than double her age. She was 14 and he was about 35. A posse captured him and brought him to Dallas. I knew Wimple well, so I asked him why he had killed Mary? He said, ‘Well, I killed her. I don’t really know why.’

There was no jail so Frank Nichols took Wimple to his house to stay.

Frank swore in four guards, but Wimple got away and was gone four days before they found him and brought him back. They tracked him to the house where he had killed his wife.

I went over to stay with my sister, Mrs. Nichols, while he was boarding there waiting to be hung and I helped her cook for him.

Frank hung him early in October, 1852. Wimple sat on his coffin in the wagon when they drove to the gallows where he was to be hung. They passed the sheriff’s father, Uncle Ben Nichols, while they were on their way to the gallows. Wimple was afraid Uncle Ben would be late and miss the hanging, so he called out ‘Uncle Ben, ain’t you going to the hanging? Ain’t you coming down to see me hung?’ Uncle Ben said, ‘I have seen enough of you, Adam. No, I ain’t going.’ Uncle Ben was the only man in Polk county to receive a personal invitation and he was about the only one who didn’t take a day off to see the hanging.

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1586: John Lowe, John Adams, and Robert Dibdale, English Catholics

1 comment October 8th, 2017 Richard Stanton

(Thanks to Richard Stanton for his guest post, originally published in A menology of England and Wales, or, Brief memorials of the ancient British and English saints arranged according to the calendar, together with the martyrs of the 16th and 17th centuries. Writing in the 19th century, Stanton calls these English martyrs “Venerable” but at present they are “Blessed” — having been advanced further along the path to sainthood in 1987. -ed.)

The Venerable John Lowe was born in London, and for some time was a Protestant minister. On his conversion he went to the College at Douay, and from thence to Rome, where he was ordained priest. In due time he returned to England and laboured on the Mission, till he was arrested and condemned and executed for high treason, on account of his priestly character and the exercise of its functions.

The Venerable John Adams was a native of Dorsetshire, and went to Rheims for his theological studies. He returned to England as a priest in 1581, and after some time was seized and banished, with a number of others, in the year 1585. After a few months’ stay at the College, he contrived to return to his labours on the Mission, but was once more apprehended and condemned to death, barely for being a priest. Few particulars are known relative to this Martyr, but it is recorded in one of the catalogues that his constancy was proof against all the artifices and promises, used to divert him from his generous resolution to sacrifice his life for the Faith.

The Venerable Richard, or, as he is called in some catalogues, Robert Dibdale, was born in Worcestershire. He became a student, and in due time a priest, of the English College at Rheims. In the year 1584 he was sent on the Mission, which he diligently served for some time. He was however arrested by the persecutors, tried and condemned for high treason, on account of his priestly character and functions. This Martyr, like a number of other missioners of that time, was remarkable for the gift he possessed of exorcising evil spirits. A fellow-missioner has left an account of several wonderful instances of this kind, of which he was himself witness, and others are recorded by Yepez, Bishop of Tarrasona, in his account of the English persecution. These wonderful occurrences were said to be the cause of numerous conversions to the faith.

The three Martyrs, Lowe, Adams, and Dibdale, all suffered at Tyburn on the same day, the 8th October, and on the mere charge of their priesthood, which by the recent statute was declared to be high treason.

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1926: The Lowman lynchings

3 comments October 8th, 2016 Headsman

Aiken, South Carolina disgraced October 8, 1926 with the lynching of three members of the Lowman family.

American lynch law come 1926 was into its decline phase; the 30 lynchings in that year across the country have never been equalled in the nine decades since, but were also 50% below the rates at the beginning of the 1920s, and very far from the peak 1890s where triple-digit counts of mob murder were the perennial norm.

One might say that both the phenomenon and its pracitioners had matured. If exhortations to better refer justice to the law were the authorities’ running strategy for quelling lynch mobs, then the mobs themselves became complicit with the barristers — and could reserve recourse to extrajudicial means for occasions when the courts failed to work Judge Lynch’s will. Leo Frank’s case a decade prior to this is an excellent example: though there was a virtual lynch atmosphere at his trial, it was only after the man’s death sentence had been commuted by the governor that a lynch gang systematically extracted the man from prison to slay him.

Something like this pattern appears to distinguish the Lowman lynchings.

This dreadful case began with an exercise in that other grand tradition of racialized justice, the drug war — Prohibition-style. On April 25, 1925, the Lowmans’ tenant farm near Monetta was raided by police on a bootlegging tip.* The Lowmans resisted and a firefight broke out, leaving two dead: Annie Lowman, and Sheriff Henry Hampton “Bud” Howard.

Annie’s killing would of course never be punished. But inside of three weeks, fourteen-year-old Clarence Lowman was death-sentenced as Sheriff Howard’s killer, along with his cousin and “conspirator” 21-year-old Demmon Lowman. Bertha Lowman, Demmon’s older sister, received a life sentence.

And so Judge Lynch might rest easy.

Except that one year later, the South Carolina Supreme Court surprisingly threw out the Lowmans’ sentences as prejudicially obtained. The second trial began in October and right away the state suffered a setback when Judge Samuel Lanham threw out the murder case against Demmon Lowman.

Judge Lynch was wide awake now.

That very night — October 7 — white vigilantes organized a new verdict. According to the NAACP’s investigation, “within one hour of [Lanham’s] decision, news had been sent to as distant a point as Columbia that the three Lowmans were to be lynched that night.”

At 3 o’clock in the morning of October 8, and aided by the local constabulary, the mob stormed the jail and dragged Clarence, Demmon and Bertha Lowman away to a pine thicket outside of town where they were gunned down.

“On the way Clarence Lowman jumped from the car in which he was held,” the NAACP investigator would later report in the summation of his interviews.

He was shot down and recaptured, in order to prevent telltale blood marks, a rope was tied to the back of the car and the other end of it around Clarence’s body. In this manner he was dragged about a mile to the place of execution. The members of the mob sated that Bertha was the hardest one to kill. She was shot but not killed instantly. She dragged herself over the ground and as one member of the mob put it, ‘bleated like a goat.’ Another member of the mob, slightly more decent, said that she begged so piteously for her life and squirmed about so that a number of shots had to be fired before one found a vital spot and ended her agony.

Although the NAACP supplied South Carolina’s governor with the identities of 22 alleged members of the lynch mobs (including the sheriff himself) and 11 other witnesses to its actions, no man was ever sanctioned for this event, and an all-white grand jury declined to forward any indictments.

A distant Lowman relative was quoted in the Augusta Chronicle recollecting the stories his grandmother told about that horrible night, and the impression those stories had in his own life.

“She [grandma] talked about it all the time,” William Cue said. “Took them out of jail — drug them out like dead mules. When I drive past, I think about it — it happened in that house. … I learned something from that. … There was a lot of times where a man mistreated me and it kept me from doing anything.”

* It’s been argued by latter-day researchers that the tip itself was bogus, and supplied to police further to a personal vendetta — which, if true, would make the Lowmans victims of the 1920s version of SWATting.

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1946: The Neuengamme camp war criminals

Add comment October 8th, 2015 Headsman

On this date in 1946, eleven men convicted by a British war crimes court of war crimes at the Neuengamme concentration camp hanged at Hamelin prison.

Neuengamme held about 106,000 prisoners from 1938 until the British overran it on May 3, 1945. (In a tragic coda, many of the last prisoners died when the ships to which they had been transferred were mistakenly strafed by the Royal Air Force that same day.)

Though its primary purpose was slave labor — Neuengamme inmates cranked out bricks and armaments — rather than extermination, close on half of its residents died of the maltreatment. Anne Frank’s elderly roommate-in-hiding “Albert Dussel” (his real name was Fritz Pfeffer) died there of enterocolitis in 1944; Suriname national hero Anton de Kom succumbed to tuberculosis at Neuengamme days before it was liberated.

Nor was Neuengamme above more direct methods — of course it wasn’t. As the Third Reich collapsed, Neuengamme was used to dispose of 71 leftists for no better reason than the Nazis begrudged their potential postwar life; meanwhile, Jewish children who had been subjected to medical experiments were hanged by their stonehearted SS doctor.

That gentleman, Alfred Trzebinski, was one of the men in the dock for Neuengamme, and ultimately, one of the men on the scaffold.*

Camp commandant Max Pauly and SS Schutzhaftlagerführer Anton Thumann were among the 10 others executed for Neuengamme, all together on October 8, 1946.

* Sigmund Freud’s grandson Walter worked for the War Crimes Investigation Unit on (among other cases) Trzebinski’s Bullenhuser Damm school hangings.

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1760: John Bruleman, weary of life

Add comment October 8th, 2014 Headsman

On this date in 1760,* silversmith and murderer John Bruleman (sometimes given as Bruelman or Bruellman) was hanged by his own wish. “Weary of life,” he “had committed the crime to escape from the toils and troubles of the world.”

The Boston Evening-Post of Nov. 3, 1760 records of the tragedy (line breaks have been added for readability):

PHILADELPHIA, Octob. 16.

John Bruleman, who was executed here the 8th inst. for the murder of Mr. Scull, had been an officer in the Royal American regiment; but being detected in counterfeiting, or uttering counterfeit money, was discharged: He then returned hither, and growing insupportable to himself, and yet being unwilling to put an end to his own life, he determined upon the commission of some crime, for which he might get hang’d by the law.

Having formed this design, he loaded his gun with a brace of balls, and ask’d his landlord to go a shooting with him, intending to murder him before his return, but his landlord not choosing to go escaped the danger.

He then went out alone, and on the way met a man, whom he was about to kill, but recollecting that there was no witnesses to prove him guilty, he let the man pass.

He then went to a public house, where he drank some liquor, and hearing people at play at billiards, in a room above stairs; he went up and sat with them, and was talkative, facetious, and good-humour’d; after some time, he called to the landlord, and desired him to hand up the gun. Mr Scull, who was at play, having struck his antagonist’s ball into one of the pockets, Bruleman said to him, — “Sir you are a good marks-man, — and now I’ll show you a fine stroke.”

He immediately levell’d his piece, and took aim at Mr. Scull (who imagined him in jest) and shot both balls thro’ his body. — He then went up to Mr. Scull (who did not expire nor lose his senses, till a considerable time after) and said to him, — “Sir, I had no malice nor ill-will against you, I never saw you before, but I was determined to kill somebody, that might be hanged, and you happen to be the man, and as you are a very likely young man, I am sorry for your misfortune.”

Advertisement in the Pennsylvania Journal, Oct. 2, 1760

Mr. Scull had time to send for his friends, and to make his will. He forgave his murderer, and if it could be done, desired he might be pardoned.

Bruleman did not think it worth his while to prepare for another world, notwithstanding sundry clergymen were continually soliciting him thereto; and would ot forgive his enemies, saying he left them to the mercy of the Almighty.

* Oct. 22 is a widely-cited date; however, it is unambiguously incorrect per the contemporary newspaper reports. It probably traces to the date (mis)reported in the Espy file of historical American executions.

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1295: Thomas Turbeville, undercover knight

Add comment October 8th, 2013 Headsman

As related by Bartholomew Cotton’s Historia Anglia:


A certain knight, Thomas Turbevile by name, who had been taken by the French at the siege of Rheims, and detained in prison by the said King of France, came over to England with traitorous designs, and said that he had escaped from the prison of the said King of France; whereupon, he was kindly received by our lord the King of England, and much honoured. But after he had remained some little time in the Court of our lord the King of England aforesaid, he attempted to send a certain letter to the King of France; whereupon, his messenger carried the same to our lord the King of England, and gave him a full and open account of the treachery of his employer. The traitor, suspecting this, took to flight, but was taken shortly after. The tenor of his treasonable letter was as follows:

“To the noble Baron and Lord Provost of Paris, sweet Sire, at the Wood of Viciens, his liege man at his hands, greeting. Dear Sire, know that I am come to the Court of the King of England, sound and hearty; and I found the King at London, and he asked much news of me, of which I told him the best that I knew; and know, that I found the land of Wales in peace, wherefore I did not dare to deliver unto Morgan the thing which you well wot of. And know that the King has fully granted peace and truce; but be you careful and well advised to take no truce, if the same be not to your great advantage; and know that if you make no truce, great advantage will accrue unto you, and this you may say to the high Lord. And know that I found Sir John Fitz-Thomas at the King’s Court, for the purpose of treating of peace between him and the Earl of Nichole as to the Earldom of Ulvester [Ulster]; but I do not yet know how the business will turn out, as this letter was written the day after that the Cardinals had been answered; wherefore I did not dare touch at all upon the business that concerns you. And know that there is little watch kept on the sea-coast towards the South; and know that the Isle of Wycht is without garrison; and know that the King is sending into Almaine [Germany] two earls, two bishops, and two barons, to speak to, and counsel with, the King of Almaine as to this war. And know that the King is sending into Gascoigne twenty ships laden with wheat and oats, and with other provisions, and a large amount of money; and Sir Edmund, the King’s brother, will go thither, and the Earl of Nichole, Sir Hugh le Despenser,* the Earl of Warwyk, and many other good folks; and this you may tell to the high Lord. And know that we think that we have enough to do against those of Scotland; and if those of Scotland rise against the King of England, the Welsh will rise also. And this I have well contrived, and Morgan has fully covenanted with me to that effect. Wherefore I counsel you forthwith to send great persons into Scotland; for if you can enter therein, you will have gained it for ever. And if you will that I should go thither, send word to the King of Scotland, that he find for me and all my people at their charges honourably; but be you well advised whether you will that I should go thither or not; for I think that I shall act more for your advantage by waiting at the King’s Court, to espy and learn by enquiry such news as may be for you; for all that I can learn by enquiry I will let you know. And send to me Perot, who was my keeper in the prison where I was; for to him I shall say such things as I shall know from henceforth, and by him I will send you the matters that I fully ascertain. And for the sake of God, I pray you that you will remember and be advised of the promises that you made me on behalf of the high Lord, that is to say, one hundred livres of land to me and to my heirs. And for the sake of God, I pray you on behalf of my children, that they may have no want so long as they are in your keeping, in meat or in drink, or in other sustenance. And for the sake of God, I pray you that you be advised how I may be paid here; for I have nothing, as I have lost all, as well on this side as on the other; and nothing have I from you, except your great loyalty, in which I greatly trust. Confide fearlessly in the bearer of this letter, and shew him courtesy. And know that I am in great fear and in great dread; for some folks entertain suspicion against me, because that I have said that I have escaped from prison. Inform me as to your wishes in all things. Unto God [I commend you], and may he have you in his keeping.”

The said Thomas was seized on the Saturday next before the Feast of Saint Michael [29 September], and taken to the Tower of London; and on the Saturday next after the Feast of Saint Faith [6 October] he had his trial, and departed in manner underwritten:

He came from the Tower, mounted on a poor hack, in a coat of ray [a striped coat], and shod with white shoes, his head being covered with a hood, and his feet tied beneath the horse’s belly, and his hands tied before him: and around him were riding six torturers attired in the form of the devil, one of whom held his rein, and the hangman his halter, for the horse which bore him had them both upon it: and in such manner was he led from the Tower through London to Westminster, and was condemned on the dais in the Great Hall there; and Sir Roger Brabazun pronounced judgment upon him, that he should be drawn and hanged, and that he should hang so long as anything should be left whole of him; and he was drawn on a fresh ox-hide from Westminster to the Conduit of London, and then back to the gallows; and there is he hung by a chain of iron, and will hang, so long as anything of him may remain.

* Father of the more famous Hugh Despenser, lover of Edward II.

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1354: Cola di Rienzi, last of the Roman Tribunes

1 comment October 8th, 2011 Headsman

On this date in 1354, Cola di Rienzi (or Rienzo) was slain by a miserly Roman mob — rather a lynching than an execution, but by any name the tragic end to one of history’s most amazing political careers.*

“Almost the only man,” in the estimation of his admiring biographer Edward Bulwer-Lytton,** “who ever rose from the rank of a citizen to a power equal to that of monarchs without a single act of violence or treachery.”

So magnetic was that era’s revival of classical learning that young Rienzi’s plebeian parents found a way on an innkeeper’s wages to immerse the boy in Cicero, Seneca, and the rest. As Gibbon put it, “the gift of a liberal education, which they painfully bestowed, was the cause of his glory and untimely end.” (Surely this is an object lesson for present-day families contemplating the daunting cost of university education.)

And the oratorical gifts he thereby developed found ready exercise lamenting Rome’s medieval degradation.


This View of the Campo Vaccino actually dates to 1636, but you get the idea. “Campo Vaccino”: that’s “cow pasture,” also known (to you, me, and Julius Caesar) as the Roman Forum.

Rome had bled away the grandeur of its imperial past without recovering the liberty of its populace. A haughty and dissolute aristocracy tyrannized the brackish city: a brawl between rival factions took Rienzi’s own brother’s life, with no prospect of justice.


Rienzi vows to obtain justice for his murdered brother, depicted in a pre-Raphaelite painting by the young William Holman Hunt.

Added to this civic humiliation (though only fortuitous for Rienzi’s political opportunity), the papacy itself had decamped for its captivity in Avignon.

What to do?

How about — overthrow the bastards?

Astonishingly, for Rienzi, to dare was to do: on Pentecost in 1347, he rallied a Roman mob and proclaimed the Republic re-established — taking for himself the ancient honorific of Tribune and the real power of an autocrat. The nobility routed in disarray, or else submitted to the sudden new authority.

For the balance of the year, Rienzi’s word was law in Rome, and as a messianic, popular dictator he cleared woods of bandits, imposed the death penalty for (all) murderers, and beat the aristocracy’s re-invasion with a citizen militia. He audaciously began to resume the primacy of the caput mundi: as “Tribune”, Rienzi summoned delegations from the other Italian cities, and presumed to arbitrate the disputes of neighboring kingdoms. Audacity veered into delirium as he pressed demands on the likes of the Holy Roman Emperor. He acquired a taste for fine wine and good clothes.

“Never perhaps has the energy and effect of a single mind been more remarkably felt than in the sudden, though transient, reformation of Rome by the tribune Rienzi,” Gibbon marveled. “A den of robbers was converted to the discipline of a camp or convent: patient to hear, swift to redress, inexorable to punish, his tribunal was always accessible to the poor and stranger; nor could birth, or dignity, or the immunities of the church, protect the offender or his accomplices.”

The great humanist Petrarch, Rienzi’s contemporary, was smitten by the unfolding revolution.

But almost as soon as Rienzi’s republic began, the man fell: another invasion found the Roman in the street deaf to the alarm bells, and Rienzi fled.

“He was a dreamer rather than a man of action,” is the charge of the Catholic encyclopedia; excitable, injudicious, spendthrift, and prey to the “Asiatic” emoluments of his station.

This career alone would merit a remembrance, but Rienzi had a second act.


Richard Wagner’s first hit opera — though hard to come by in the wild nowadays — was Rienzi, der Letzte der Tribunen (synopsis), from a libretto based on Bulwer-Lytton’s homage.

After a long spell in exile, he was captured by the Holy Roman Emperor and transferred to the papacy, where he remained comfortably imprisoned for a couple of years. When the pontiff’s hat changed heads to Innocent VI, the latter freed the illustrious ex-Tribune and dispatched him back to Rome under the title of Senator — intending him a catspaw to re-assert the supremacy the papacy had abandoned by moving away.

Within weeks of arrival in 1354, Rienzi again made himself master of the city.

And within months thereafter, he had fallen again — to his death.

He is charged in this last term with severity (the execution of a high-born freebooter, Fra Monreale, in particular), with avarice and abuse of power and once more with political incompetence.

Gibbon claims that Rienzi “contracted the habits of intemperance and cruelty: adversity had chilled his enthusiasm, without fortifying his reason or virtue; and that youthful hope, that lively assurance, which is the pledge of success, was now succeeded by the cold impotence of distrust and despair.” We incline to prefer Bulwer-Lytton’s more generous estimation of a man who with no resource save his own brilliance twice recovered to his low-born person the tattered remnants of the purple and dared against a thousand mighty antagonists to lift it on the standard of the Gracchi. Flaws, and they fatal, he possessed in abundance: but greatness even more.

At any rate, all the scolds upon Rienzi’s imperfections were so much froth in 1354. He certainly did not succumb to the greater virtue of the polis, but merely to its shortsighted refusal to bear a levy:

it was from a gabelle on wine and salt that he fell. To preserve Rome from the tyrants it was necessary to maintain an armed force; to pay the force a tax was necessary; the tax was imposed — and the multitude joined with the tyrants, and their cry was, “Perish the traitor who has made the gabelle!” This was their only charge — this the only crime that their passions and their fury could cite against him.

Rienzi’s eloquence, so often his decisive weapon, failed to move the shortsighted mob that besieged him, and he was hauled to a platform in the Capitol where public executions had been performed at his behest. “A whole hour, without voice or motion, he stood amidst the multitude half naked and half dead: their rage was hushed into curiosity and wonder: the last feelings of reverence and compassion yet struggled in his favour; and they might have prevailed, if a bold assassin had not plunged a dagger in his breast.” (Gibbon)

If this amazing character’s contradictions seem difficult to reconcile and his actions sometimes perplexing, Bulwer-Lytton argues in Rienzi’s defense that we must view him as a complex man ultimately fired not by political ambition but by religious zealotry. One thinks of Savonarola, the prim monk who mastered Florence and perished in flames, save for the essential detail: Rienzi’s loss “was bitterly regretted … for centuries afterwards, whenever that wretched and degenerate populace dreamed of glory or sighed for justice, they recalled the bright vision of their own victim, and deplored the fate of Cola di Rienzi.”


Statue of Rienzi in Rome. (cc) image from ZeroOne.

* And surely in keeping with the time-honored way for Roman chiefs to fall.

** We’ve encountered Bulwer-Lytton glancingly in these pages; his novel Zanoni climaxes with the beheading of its fictional title character in one of the last carts of the French Revolution’s Terror, and he wrote a novel (savaged by Thackeray) about executed intellectual Eugene Aram. The “biography” in question for this piece is actually a work of historical fiction, Rienzi, Last of the Roman Tribunes; the quoted sections are from Bulwer-Lytton’s (non-fiction) afterword.

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1927: Martyrdom of Five Christeros

Add comment October 8th, 2010 Headsman

Artist unknown. The inscription reads:

Execution of Cristeros by federal soldiers on the outskirts of San Gabriel, Jalisco, October 8, 1927. On the same site, the soldiers were ambushed, suffering the same fate.

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1789: Rachel Wall, female pirate

2 comments October 8th, 2009 Jonathan Shipley

(Thanks to Jonathan Shipley of A Writer’s Desk for the guest post. -ed.)

“Into the hands of the Almighty God I commit my soul, relying on his mercy … and die an unworthy member of the Presbyterian Church, in the 29th year of my age.”

These were the last words of Rachel Wall, on this date in 1789. It was she, whom the Presbyterians must have frowned upon mightily, who was the last woman hanged in Massachusetts and, further, the first noted American-born female pirate.

No walking the plank for her. She was hanged, proven guilty of robbery, by Sheriff Joe Robinson on a beautiful fall day. Her downfall after a brief career with her husband of piracy, thievery and murder? A pretty bonnet.

Rachel, around the age of 16, loved the water. The boats and dockyards always spoke to her. Born on a farm outside of Carlisle, Pennsylvania, it bored her; so, while in Harrisburg, she went to the docks. She was harassed, harangued and attacked by a group of girls. Enter George Wall –- a fisherman and former privateer who served in the Revolutionary War. He saved Rachel from the girls and Rachel, against her devout Presbyterian parents, eloped with him.

They went to Boston where she stayed on as a servant girl while George plundered. He convinced her to join him and his cohorts in piracy. It proved successful, for a time.

Their plan was this: anchor near an island during a storm. When it passed, make their boat appear damaged. When another boat came, Rachel would shout for help. Help would come. They’d then murder the would-be rescuers, steal their valuables, and sink their ship. Those awaiting the unfortunate sailors would think simply that the storm had taken them away, not Mr. and Mrs. Wall. Between 1781 and 1782 they captured 12 boats, murdered 24 sailors and kept around $6,000 in booty for themselves.

Another Brick in the Wall

This plan worked quite well, until September of 1782 when one storm proved too powerful. George Wall and his motley crew drowned. The only survivor was Rachel. She returned to Boston and in the remaining years of her life she became a maid, a petty thief, and possibly a prostitute, stealing from johns as they slept.

Then, the bonnet incident.

One day Margaret Bender, a 17-year-old Bostonian, was minding her own business, walking down the street, a pretty bonnet affixed to her head. Wall, seeing said bonnet, pushed Bender down, stole the bonnet and then tried to rip out the girl’s tongue. Wall ran from the police when they were summoned. She was caught, put in jail and tried on September 10, 1789 for robbery (she copped to her piratical career, but claimed she had never killed anyone). Less than a month later, she hung from the gallows.

Part of the Themed Set: Women Who Kill.

On this day..

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

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