1893: Frederick Wyndham, unrepentant patricide

Add comment December 21st, 2013 Headsman

On this date in 1893, Frederick Wyndham, aged 45, was hanged at Gloucester Gaol for the shotgun murder of his own father near Stroud.


From Illustrated Police News, via.

This murder discharged a vast accumulation of Oedipal wrath in the Wyndham family.

The eventual victim, 73-year-old widower farmer James Wyndham, had taken up with his housekeeper, a woman by the provocative and wholly unmerited name of Virtue.

She was, James retorted to his son’s protests, the “biggest whore” he could lay hands on.

Meanwhile, Frederick’s unmarried sisters had been turned out of the house. Following a dispute over money, Old Man Wyndham actually tried to run one of them down with his horse and cart.

On October 19, 1893, it all came to a head. Frederick, drunk on rum and cider, took some friends in a hunting party to James’s land and ran into dad. The two fell into a furious row over Virtue, the sister, and who knows how many pent-up grievances when Frederick finally whipped out his shotgun and blasted his father through the neck and heart.

Then the parricide went straight back to his sister to inform her what he had done and make some arrangements for the disposal of affairs, and marched himself off to the police to turn himself in.

“I have only done my duty,” he told the lawmen. “I solemnly declare I shot him. I put two barrels into him. I hope he is dead. I can die happy.” (London Times, Oct. 21, 1893) By the time his trial came around he’d thought of something else that would make his life complete, belligerently interrupting the testimony of his late father’s lover with sundry threatening vituperations.

His last sentiment on the scaffold, after shaking hands with his executioner,* was the regret that he had not killed “that whore” Virtue, too. (Times, Dec. 22)

* According to the Times (Oct. 21), Frederick Wyndham himself once applied for the hangman’s job.

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1884: Two Pennsylvania murderers

Add comment September 23rd, 2013 Headsman

On this date in 1884, Joseph Sarver was hanged as a parricide at Indiana, Pennsylvania.

Sarver became enraged by his father’s affair with their housekeeper Mary Kelley, and shot the father dead in his doorway. (He also shot Mary Kelley; she survived.)

As if the parricide rap wasn’t enough to get the blood up, he “greatly intensified the popular feeling against him” by behaving after his arrest like an all-around jerk. Sarver reportedly fought with jailers over the timeliness of his breakfast, made merry in prison, and blithely boasted that “they could never hang him because he was a Democrat, and so was Governor Pattison.” (St. Louis Globe-Democrat, Nov. 14, 1883; Galveston Daily News, same date. It made the national crime blotter.)

He eventually made a full confession, and was said to have died firmly.


Executed on the same date in Cambria County, Penn., Michael Murray “dictated a letter, to be made public after his death, in which he charged that certain persons, possessing the powers of witchcraft, had exercised a spell over him, and while under its influence, he committed the deed.” The deed created by this sorcery was shooting a man on the Pittsburgh turnpike who called Murray a name.

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1926: Petrus Stephanus Hauptfleisch, mother-murderer

Add comment December 23rd, 2012 Meaghan

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

At 7:00 a.m. on this date in 1926, alcoholic and all-around loser Petrus Hauptfleisch was hanged in South Africa for the murder of his elderly mother nearly two years earlier. The case is detailed in Rob Marsh’s book Famous South African Crimes, available to read for free here.

Hauptfleisch had lived with his mother well into adulthood. When World War I started, he joined the army and served in Europe for four years.

After his return to South Africa in 1919, he demonstrated signs of having grown up a bit: he got a job as a butcher, married and had a young child. He and his wife fought constantly, however. He had a violent temper and drank heavily, to the extent that eventually none of the local businesses would sell him liquor anymore.

Finally his wife left him and he moved back in with Mom, but he was abusive to her as well and over Christmas 1924 she had him arrested after he threatened to kill her.

But once he sobered up and was released from custody, Mom let him move back in. Perhaps she felt she had to, since Petrus was haupt-fleisch und blut. Whatever her reason, the sins of the son were soon visited upon the mother.

Hauptfleisch claimed his mother accidentally set the kitchen on fire on January 13, 1925 and burned to death. The autopsy, however, didn’t support his story: all indications were that Mrs. Hauptfleisch had been suffocated or strangled to death and then burned afterward. There was no sign of soot or ashes in her bronchial tube or lungs, strong evidence that she hadn’t been breathing when the fire started, and there were other indications of asphyxiation. The postmortem lividity indicated she’d been lying flat on her back at the time of death, not face-down as Hauptfleisch said he’d found her.

Authorities believed Hauptfleisch was driven to homicide partly because of greed (he was the sole heir to his mother’s £600 estate) and partly out of personal rancor over that whole arrest thing.

After he was convicted and the sentence of death was passed upon him, Hauptfleisch issued a statement acknowledging that he had not been a good son, but protesting his innocence of this “most dastardly” crime. He would maintain his innocence until he died.

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1788: Not Jean Louschart, rescued by the crowd

1 comment August 3rd, 2012 Headsman

On this date in 1788, France’s last attempt at an execution by breaking-wheel was thwarted by a vast crowd sympathetic to the condemned … which stormed the scaffold in Versailles and liberated the victim.

As neat a parable as one might like to find of the entire revolutionary storm then rising on France’s horizons, Jean Louschart’s tale begins with a conflict at home between the young man Jean — neck-deep in Voltaire, Rousseau, and the rest of Enlightenment thought — and his father, a respected and conservative smith not to keen on the boy’s books. Then add to this, that the Louschart family took on one Madame Verdier as a boarder, and Jean grew smitten with that woman’s daughter Helen, to the chagrin of Madame Verdier … who wanted to marry that girl off to Jean’s own father.

So Mathurin Louschart eventually got into it with his son Jean over the boy’s subversive reading. When Mathurin ordered Jean to be silent, the young man just feeling his oats retorted that this was a novel way of settling the dispute. This jab at the elder’s native prerogatives led Mathurin to drive Jean from the house full stop.

That might have been all there was to it if not for the pull of Helen. The Greeks would have understood.

Jean eventually snuck back intending to elope with the willing Helen and salvage her from her father’s hand, but Helen’s mother sniffed out the plan … and the boy entered his former domicile to find Helen being soundly thrashed by Madame. This led Jean to try to protect her, which led Mathurin to intervene, which led to a dramatic bout of father-son violence in which Mathurin was fatally struck with a smithy hammer. Madame Verdier would accuse the young man of willful murder; Jean’s supporters insisted that he had merely tossed the hammer back into the house as he fled it (having overpowered the father’s own murderous rampage), accidentally causing the father’s death. Jean himself kept mum at trial, certain that he could never convince the judges of this version of events and content to suffer for having shed his father’s blood.

We’ll take it here from the Memoirs of the Sansons. The voice here is the grandson of the venerable French Revolution executioner Charles Henri Sanson, who was before that the venerable executioner of the ancien regime. (The mob addresses him familiarly as “Charlot” here.) Fathers and sons had this much in common at least.

the court sentenced [Jean Louschart] to die on the wheel. The prisoner, however, was not condemned to amende honorable, which included the amputation of the hand; and the judges added a retentum to their sentence by which Jean Louschart was to be secretly strangled before his limbs were crushed.

Now public opinion, in Versailles, had already settled that Jean was innocent, and the news of his forthcoming execution caused general excitement. The execution was appointed to take place on August 3. On the morning of the 2nd, Charles Henri Sanson sent from Paris two carts containing the instruments of torture, and beams and boards for the erection of the scaffold. He himself went to Versailles in the afternoon. The emotion caused by Jean Louschart’s impending fate was limited to Versailles; and my grandfather was so thoroughly convinced that he had to deal with a vulgar criminal that he was greatly surprised when he found the whole town in a fever. The Place Saint-Louis was covered with so great a multitude that the assistants and carpenters could hardly go on with their work. No hostility was manifested, however; the crowd was noisy, but its mood was gay; the name of Jean was scarcely pronounced; and the workmen who were erecting the platform were merely jeered. One of the carpenters having, however, struck an urchin who was throwing stones at him, cries of ‘Death!’ were uttered; in an instant all the mocking faces became dark and threatening ; the assistants and carpenters were attacked, and their lives were in great danger. But a body of a hundred men, who could easily be identified as smiths by their athletic proportions and brawny faces, interfered, and partly by strength, partly by persuasion, they induced the crowd to retreat.

My grandfather had not bestowed much attention on this popular demonstration, but he became more attentive when the interference of the smiths took place. He felt convinced that the crowd was obeying a by-word, and that if it had retreated it was merely because it preferred to wait for a more favourable time for action. He directed his assistants to finish the erection of the scaffold as quickly as possible, and returned to Paris, where he lost no time in acquainting the proper authorities with his apprehensions.

Political emotion had already given rise to many storms in the provinces. Normandy, Bretagne, Bear n had risen on behalf of their parliaments, attacked in their privileges. Dauphine had taken a decisive step; after a long series of riots, the representatives of the three orders, nobility, clergy, and tiers-tiat, had assembled, and proclaimed their provincial independence. Paris, however, had heard with indifference of the arrest of two members of the Parliament d’Espremenil and Monsabert; and the authorities had no idea that a struggle between the Government and the people could take place in the very town inhabited by the King and his Court, so that only a few soldiers were sent to Versailles.

The multitude which had thronged the Place Saint-Louis retired during the night; only a few young men remaining to watch what took place around the scaffold. It was rumoured that Helen Verdier had thrown herself at the Queen’s feet, imploring the reprieve of the culprit, and that Marie Antoinette had prevailed on the King to grant it. The news had doubtless led to the dispersion of the crowd.

Charles Henri Sanson made the most of the circumstance. He caused a strong paling to be erected around the scaffold; and, on their side, the executive magistrates took upon themselves to advance the hour of execution.

It was two o’clock in the morning when my grandfather left the Place Saint-Louis for the prison, and he remarked that the men who were still in the place dispersed in different directions as he went away. Jean Louschart was stretched on his pallet when he entered his cell. The doomed man rose and calmly surveyed him. The clerk of the parliament read aloud the sentence, to which he listened with much attention. He then murmured a few words, among which only those of ‘ Poor father!’ were heard, and he added in a loud voice:

‘In two hours I shall justify myself before him.’ On being told that it was time to depart for the scaffold, he turned to the executioner, saying, ‘You can be in no greater hurry than I am, sir.’

At half-past four o’clock the cart moved in the direction of the Place Saint-Louis. The executive magistrates were in hopes that, owing to the retentum, everything could be finished before the population awoke. But they soon perceived their mistake. The streets were swarming with people. The whole of the population was astir. Deafening clamours burst from the crowd as the cart appeared, and it was with the greatest difficulty that it made its way. The prisoner did not even seem to suspect that all this movement was caused by the sympathy people felt for him. At the corner of the Rue de Satory a piercing cry was heard, and a girl was seen waving her handkerchief. Jean Louschart looked up, and rising to his feet, he tried to smile, and exclaimed, ‘Farewell, Helen, farewell!’ At that moment a smith of high stature and herculean proportions, who was walking near the cart, cried in a thundering voice: ‘It is an revoir you should say, Jean. Are good fellows like you to be broken on the wheel?’

A horseman drove him back, but applause and cheers came from every quarter. It was obvious, by the pale faces of the clerk, the policemen, and the soldiers who surrounded the cart, that the agents of the law were anything but confident. The scaffold, however, was reached without accident. The crowd was thickly packed on the Place Saint-Louis. As the cart stopped Jean Louschart addressed a question to the priest who was sitting near him, and my grandfather heard the latter answer, ‘To save you.’ ‘No, father,’ said the doomed man in a feverish voice and with some impatience; ‘if I am innocent of the intention of committing the crime, my hands are nevertheless stained with blood. I must die, and I wish to die.—Be quick, sir,’ he added, turning to my grandfather.

‘Sir,’ answered Charles Henri, pointing to the infuriated masses that were already breaking through the paling, ‘if there is a man here who is in danger of death it is not you.’

Hardly were the words out of his mouth than a tempest of groans and screams burst forth. The paling was broken and trodden under foot, and hundreds of men rushed on the scaffold. The smith who had already spoken to Louschart was among the foremost. He seized the prisoner in his muscular arms, cut his bonds, and prepared to carry him off in triumph. An extraordinary scene now took place; Jean Louschart struggled violently against his saviours, turned towards the executioner and begged for death with the earnestness usually displayed by other culprits in asking for mercy. But his friends surrounded him, and at length succeeded in carrying him away.

My grandfather’s position was perilous in the extreme. Separated from his assistants, alone amidst a crowd that knew him but too well, he really thought that his last hour was at hand. His countenance probably betrayed his thoughts, for the tall smith came up to him, and seized his arm: ‘Fear nothing, Charlot,’ he cried; ‘we don’t want to harm you, but your tools. Henceforth, Charlot, you must kill your customers without making them suffer.’ And speaking to the crowd: ‘Let him pass, and take care he is not hurt.’

This harangue calmed the crowd, and my grandfather was allowed to withdraw. In less time than it takes to write this account the scaffold and all its accessories were broken into pieces, which were thrown on the pile prepared for the burning of the prisoner’s body; and the terrible wheel was placed on the summit as a kind of crown. Fire was set to the heap, and men and women, holding each other by the hand, formed an immense ring and danced around the crackling pile until it was reduced to ashes.

Louis XVI pardoned the unwillingly liberated Jean Louschart, and abolished the breaking-wheel.

Part of the Themed Set: Scary Escapes.

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1909: Georges-Henri Duchemin, matricide

Add comment August 5th, 2011 Headsman

On this date in 1909, Georges-Henri Duchemin was guillotined in Paris for murdering his mother. It was the first execution in that city in a decade.

An aimless gadabout, Duchemin mostly sponged off his dear mom, and the filial bond of nature proved insufficiently developed to restrain him strangling the old lady when she held out on him one time.

The ungrateful child made off with a couple hundred francs, but his sister knew right where to direct the police.

His lawyer bid to represent the killer as unbalanced (French link; most of the material on this criminal is in French). The general public horror of parricide and the undisguisedly mercenary nature of the murder made it a no-go.

France had taken a death penalty hiatus of three-plus years from late 1905 to early 1909, under the anti-death penalty president Armand Fallieres. But even those in the first half of the decade had been elsewhere than the capital: Paris hadn’t seen the national razor shave a head since Alfred Peugnez in 1899.


“[Juve] led Fandon just behind the guillotine, to the side where the severed head would fall into the basket. ‘We shall see the poor devil get out of the carriage, and being fastened on to the bascule, and pulled into the lunette.’ He went on talking as if to divert his own mind from the thing before him. ‘That’s the best place for seeing things: I stood there when Peugnez was guillotined, a long time ago now, and I was there again in 1909 when Duchemin, the parricide, was executed.-
-Fantomas

With the new death penalty era in the new century came a new location for the guillotine: just outside La Sante Prison. (The guillotine had formerly been stationed outside La Roquette Prison, but that facility had closed in 1900; today, it’s a park — but look sharp and you can still find the guillotine’s old support stones.)


Le Petit Parisien provided this map to curious onlookers as part of its vast Aug. 5, 1909 coverage of Paris’s biggest crime story of the summer.

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1591: John Dickson, “broken on ane rack”

3 comments April 30th, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1591, Scotsman John Dickson was condemned to death (which he immediately suffered) for murdering his father.

“The criminal record,” observes this volume of Scottish crime, “contains neither the particulars of the murder, nor the evidence against the prisoner.”

What is particular to this case is the method of execution: the breaking-wheel, or something very similar to it, a tortuous death used throughout continental Europe but that never caught on in the British Isles.

John Dickson, younger of Belchester, being apprehended, ta’en, and brought to Edinburgh, was put to the knawledge of ane assize for the slaughter of his awn natural father [in July 1588], and also for the lying for the said offence at the process of excommunication. [Being convicted, he was] brought to the scaffold, and at the Cross broken on ane rack, [and] worried—where he lay all that night, and on the morn [was] carried to the gallows of the Burgh-moor, where the rack was set up, and the corpse laid thereupon. (Passage from here or here.)

Dickson’s is the first of only two such “breaking” death sentences, in which the doomed is staked out spread-eagled and has his limbs shattered one by one, documented in Scotland. (The other is that of Robert Weir in 1604; an assassin in 1571 “is said, also” to have suffered such a fate, but actual documentation has been lost.)


Sort of like this. (Source)

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1740: Charles Drew, parricide

1 comment April 9th, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 1740, a “horrid parricide” was hanged for murdering his father.

No known connection to Polish metal band Parricide.

The neglected son of an attorney, Charles Drew needed no better provocation for shooting the old dog than his paramour’s remark, “I wish somebody would shoot the old dog.”

The specific provocation for the wish, and the deed, was the likelihood of being disinherited by dad should he make an honest woman of Miss Elizabeth Boyer.

Chas attempted to deflect attention by posting a reward for information, finding to his consternation that said reward quickly triggered the arrest of a man to whom he had actually confided about the crime.

This gave Drew great uneasiness; he took the utmost pains to suppress all farther informations, and even to destroy the credibility of those already made. He publicly declared that Humphreys was not the man who shot his father, and threatened to prosecute the officer who apprehended him.

Their correspondence eventually (by way of a nosy attorney) betrayed young Charles, who upon exposure “seemed not to have a proper sense of the enormity of the crime of which he had been guilty, and would have attributed it to his father’s ill treatment of him.”

Lacking therefore the connivance of the criminal himself in explicating the moral lesson (“don’t kill dad”), the Newgate Calendar clears its editorial voice to expand upon the indignity of Drew’s hanging* this date in 1740.

The crime of murder is in itself so horrid, that it requires no aggravation; but that of parricide is of the worst species of murder. The destruction of those from whom, under God, we have immediately derived our being, has something in it so shocking to humanity, that one would think it impossible it should ever be committed.

By the Lex Pompeia of the Romans parricides were ordained to be put into a sack, with a dog, a cock, a viper, and an ape, and thrown into the sea, thus to perish by the most cruel of all tortures. The Egyptians also put such delinquents to death in the most horrible manner. They gradually mangled their body and limbs, and, when almost every limb was dislocated or broken, they placed the criminal, writhing and screeching with pain, upon thorns, where he was burnt alive! In China impiety to parents was considered a crime similar in atrocity to treason and rebellion, for which criminals were sentenced to be cut in ten thousand pieces! By the ancient Jewish law it was also death for children to curse or strike their parents: in fine, every nation punished the parricide in the most exemplary manner.

* Drew “seemed to part with life with evident signs of reluctance.”

Part of the Themed Set: Selections from the Newgate Calendar.

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