1829: Richard Johnson and Catharine Cashiere, the last public hangings in New York City

1 comment May 7th, 2015 Headsman

New York Evening Post, Nov. 21, 1828

[O]n his return from Rochester, [Richard] Johnson brought with him a little girl, apparently about three years old.

This child he declared to be his by Mrs. [Ursula] Newman, and repeatedly demanded of her to acknowledge it, which she as often refused to do.

On Thursday afternoon he came into the dining room, the windows of which are in the rear of the house, and having locked the door by which he entered, and put the key in his pocket, again made the above mentioned demand. Another female was in the room, and heard the conversation which took place between them.

Mrs. Newman, perceiving that Johnson was more than usually excited, said to him “Good God, Johnson what are you going to do.” He replied “I am going to shew you that I am a man, you have imposed upon me too long.”

Mrs. Newman then called to the other female to open the door, which she could not do as Johnson had the key in his pocket.

Becoming frightened at his violence, Mrs. Newman opened one of the windows and sprang into the yard — from that went into a small room in the rear of the stair-case.

He followed her, threatening that if she did not acknowledge the child he would shoot her, and shortly after he discharged the pistol at her. She had the child hanging upon her left arm, in such a manner that Johnson could not take a fatal aim without wounding the child. He put one hand to the child, moved it out of the way, and with the other, clapping the pistol to her breast, discharged it.

Finding that the wound was not fatal, he ran up stairs, loaded the pistol again with several slugs, and returned.

At the first discharge a number of persons had rushed into the house; but on his returning, and declaring his intention of taking her life, and that if one shot did not do the work another should, they all took to flight.

The family however remained.

Johnson then made several attempts to take aim at Mrs. Newman, but was prevented by the resolution of her daughter, a girl of about eighteen years of age, who repeatedly thrust aside the pistol and prevented him.

After several attempts he discharged the pistol, but the daughter in pushing the weapon aside prevented the shot from taking the fatal effect intended, and the slugs were lodged in her mother’s arm.

The pistol burst in the discharge, shattering Johnson’s right hand and wounding the hand of the girl considerably. Since this tragical affair the daughter has not left her mother’s bedside, but has continued ever since to watch over her and to pay her every possible attention, notwithstanding the painful wound she has received. [she died that Saturday, two days after being shot -ed.]

At noon today Mrs. Newman was still alive, and in perfect possession of her senses, tho’ in extreme pain. The physicians think there is little hope of her recovery. The fatal wound was inflicted by the first discharge of the pistol. The ball passed through her body and lodged in the back, near the spine.

New York Evening Post, Feb. 7, 1829

Murder. — Susannah Anthony, a colored woman, was killed last night at about seven o’clock by Catharine Cashiere. The deceased gave a card party at the corner of Centre and Anthony street, at which there were 30 or 40 persons, all colored, and mostly penitentiary birds.

During the evening an agreement was made between Maria Collet and Catharine Cashiere, that they would have a quarrel with the deceased. They went into the room where she was and began some loud and abusive language, the deceased endeavoured to prevail on them to go away, and put her hands gently upon Cashiere to enforce her request, the latter thereupon drew a jack-knife, cut off deceased neck-handkerchief, & made two stabs at her.

The first wounded her hand with which she attempted to defend herself, and the second entered the chest and penetrated the heart. The blood spouted from the wound against the opposite wall, and the wounded woman fell and instantly expired. The murdress was secured and lodged in Bridewell.

A Coroner’s Inquest was held this morning at the house where the horrible deed was committed, and the verdict of the jury was, that the deceased came to her death by the wound of a knife, inflicted by the hand of Catharine Cashiere.


Hampshire Gazette, March 25, 1829

About half past ten, Richard Johnson and Catherine Cashiere were borught over from the Bridewell and placed near the fire place in the N.W. part of the room.

Johnson was immediately surrounded by several officers, with whom he appeared to converse in the most unrestrained manner. He seemed broken, but not contrite in spirit; and while anguish of mind was apparent, it was not seemingly of that character which is the beginning of true repentance.

The woman, however, was just the reverse in her deportment and appearance, and as soon as she was brought into court, she appeared considerably distressed and wept with great apparent emotion. But her tears were dried before the court came in; and she listened to her sentence with perfect composure though with due solemnity. She is a good looking young woman, with but a shade of the olive complexion, dark lustrous eyes, and rather an agreeable expression of countenance.

The sentence of Johnson was pronounced first. — On the usual question being put, “If he had any thing to say why sentence of death should not be pronounced according to law?” he addressed the Court as follows:

If your Honors please — I am asked, “what I have to say, why judgment of death should not be pronounced upon me?”

To this, I reply, to the judgment of the law, nothing.

A jury of my country has pronounced me Guilty; and there remains no discretion with the court, but to pronounce upon me the sentence of the law. But to the judgment of the world, I have much to say. I have been convicted of a crime, the bare recital of which causes humanity to shudder; — and it is a duty I owe to myself, while living, and to my memory when dead, that the circumstances of my offence should be fully explained.

Before entering into this detail, I must take this public opportunity, in the name of that Omniscient and All Merciful Being, who will hereafter pronounce His judgment, alike upon my judges and myself, of disclaiming any knowledge of the transaction of that fatal 20th of November.

I do not mean to impugn the decision of the jury; — the movements of the mind were beyond their power to penetrate; and hard as is my fate, I humbly bow to their verdict.

I cannot here enter fully into the details of my intimacy with the unfortunate cause of my own present awful situation. Duped and betrayed as I have been, into sorrow, despair, and lastly involuntary crime, I am unwilling, while living, to indulge in unavailing reproaches.

In life the deceased was the object of my tenderest affection, — an affection that her own unkind conduct seemed but to inflame, and that, baffled in its honorable purposes — expelled reason from her throne — and in its absence, led to the commission of the offence for which I am now to satisfy the offended community, by my own life.

Was I conscious of any moral guilt, at this result I should not repine. Accustomed throughout my life to respect the law, I have not now to learn that the blood of the murdered is alike a propitiatory sacrifice to the laws of God and man.

Convicted of the legal crime, I know my fate. For the moral offence, I have to answer to my conscience and my God; and that innate monitor tells me, that I stand before this Court and this community a legal, but not a moral murderer.

To my counsel, who have so ably, though vainly managed my defence, I tender my warmest thanks.

Of the Court I have but one request to make — that the period allowed me, to prepare for my impending fate, may be, as long as the law will permit.

His manner was firm and collected; his articulation deliberate and distinct; and he delivered himself with a studied oratorical air.

His Honor Judge Irving then pronounced his sentence as follows:

Richard Johnson, you have been found guilty by a jury of your country, of one of the greatest crimes a human being can perpetrate.

Instigated by evil passions, you have suddenly and with premeditated violence taken the life of a fellow being. Ursula Newman, the victim of your unbridled passions, was but shortly before the commission of this offence, the object of your strong attachment.

Yet that attachment not being based upon virtuous affection, has enkindled those furious passions, which have plunged you into guilt and have terminated in your destruction.

You stand a melancholy proof how speedy can be the transition from one licentious passion to another, and that vice is so all-absorbing in its nature that he who gives himself to its indulgence will eventually be led on to deeds of the greatest depravity.

The object for several years of your improper pursuit has at last perished by your hand. She has been hurried by you out of existence, without time allowed to her for preparation. Her children, some of whom are of very tender years, and who were entirely dependent upon her, have been deprived by you of their earthly support, and are now cast upon the world orphans and destitute.

I mention not these painful circumstances to harass your feelings, deeply as I trust they must be afflicted by these consequences of your crime. I dwell upon them for a better purpose. I would awaken your mind to a scene of its situation, with the hope of leading you to contrition. It is one of the most consoling principles of our religion, that however great are our offences, forgiveness will await the contrite, and that our Maker is as merciful as he is just.

The character which was testified of you on your trial, was that of being industrious in your habits, upright in your dealings, and kind in your general deportment — that you had been brought up to a reputable business, and which you was [sic] diligently pursuing for a livelihood. Young in life, had you only kept a vigilant guard upon your conduct, you had every think [sic] to hope.

The indulgence in one vice has blasted these expectations — has hurried you into the commission of an enormous crime, and has left you miserable and desolate.

While we pity you, public justice requires that you be held up an example and a warning to others. We would enjoin you not to be misled by the hope of escaping the fate which must so soon await you. The yielding to such hope, will only beguile your mind from that serious reflection which your present situation most solemnly requires.

What is left to you of life, is too short to be passed otherwise than in humble preparation for your future state. Let your thoughts be anxiously devoted to your religious duties; and while every thing is failing you here, let your reliance in penitence and humility of soul, be placed upon Him, who, in the deepest extremity, is able to console and to sustain you.

The sentence of the Court is, that you, Richard Johnson, be taken hence to the prison from which you last came, and from thence on Thursday, the seventh day of May next, to the place of execution, and there there, between the hours of seven in the forenoon and twelve at noon, you be hung by the neck till you are dead. May God prepare you for that awful event, and have mercy on your sou.

Catharine Cashiere, the colored girl, was then requested to stand up, and the Clerk put the usual question. She replied faintly, that she had nothing to say. The sentence of the court was then pronounced by Judge Edwards, as follows:

Catharine Cashiere — As you have been already informed, you are now arraigned at this bar for the purpose of receiving sentence of death.

Upon this solemn occasion it is proper that something should be said in vindication of the justice of the country, and with a view to awaken you to a realizing sense of your situation.

After a patient investigation of your case — after being zealously and ably defended by your counsel, a jury of your country have found you guilty of the crime of murder. In the circumstances attending the transaction, I can discover nothing to palliate your offence.

It is true that you were in a state of intoxication, but this in the eye of the law is no excuse. A contrary doctrine would be tantamoun to a letter of license to drunkards to depredate upon society with impunity.

Susan Anthony now lies in her cold and silent grave, bereft of life and all its enjoyments by your hands; and you must soon follow her to the silent mansions of the dead. By the laws of our country, by the laws of all countries, civilized as well as barbarous, the crime of murder is punished with death. As life is precious above all things, it is the bounden duty of those to whom is committed the safety of society, to take the most effectual measures for its protection.

Your situation is indeed an awful one.

At the early age of twenty-one, your existence will be brought to a sudden and violent end, a victim to the violated justice of the country. With earth and all its enjoyments, your connexion will soon cease forever, and you must go away, with all your imperfections upon your head, into the presence of your Maker.

Let me beseech you to devote the small remnant of your existence in preparing for this change.

Remember, and never let it be absent from your thoughts, that as you are indebted to him for your existence and all you have enjoyed here, so you must look to him for all you can hope for hereafter.

Before I proceed to sentence the prisoner, I conceive it to be my duty to address some remarks to this numerous audience, which most forcibly pressed themselves upon my attention during and since her trial.

Upon a former occasion, I expressed, from this bench, my sentiments upon the subject of the deplorable consequences attendant upon the facilities afforded in this city, for the vending of ardent spirits.

We were then called upon to sentence seven young men to the state prison, for killing one of our fellow citizens in a wanton and unprovoked manner, in the public streets. It appeared that prior to sallying out they had each been helped to seven or eight glasses of spirituous liquors by one of our licensed retailers; and that the crime was committed under the influence of the delirium necessarily consequent thereon.

During the present court we have been called to pass upon two cases of homicide, in one of which, both the prisoner and the deceased were at the time the offence was alledged to have been committed, in a state of beastly intoxication. And in the other, the case of the miserable being who is now arraigned at this bar, it was also proved by one of our licensed retailers, that he sold her on the night of the murder three or four glasses, although at the time she came into the store, she was so intoxicated that she staggered.

Thus prepared, in a state of mind thus phrenzied, this crime was committed.

If, as we are taught to believe, it is a crime to tempt as well as to be tempted, how can those hope to escape moral retribution, who hold forth lures to intemperance and by assisting to overthrow the reason of the vicious prepare them for the work of iniquity?

It is undeniably true, that a very large proportion of the crimes which are committed, are traceable either directly or indirectly to the influence of spirituous liquors; and I will add, that the poverty and wretchedness which prevails in society are to be ascribed more to this than all other causes united.

These facts are matters of notoriety, and yet the evil continues, spreading and extending a baneful influence.

In probing the sources of this evil we are met with the appaling fact that there [are] at this moment three thousand persons in this city, who are licensed to retail spirituous liquors. Licensed to pursue a calling the direct tendency and necesary consequences of which, is to ruin the health and deprave the morals of thousands of our fellow beings.

While such facilities are afforded for depraving morals and dethroning reason, is it matter of surprise, that “blood stained murder” stalks abroad among us. If the power of applying a correction was not in the hands of the people, if the government under which we live was independent of any superior to the will of the people, “if an enemy had done this thing,” there might be some excuse for us.

But as all power is either mediately or immediately derived from them, and is in their hands, as it is but necessary for them to will that a correction should be applied, and it will be done, how can we stand acuqitted in neglecting to apply a remedy.

In our ardent and headlong career through this world, in the pursuit of property or honor, let us pause for a moment to consider the cause of suffering humanity; let us devise the most judicious measures for the correction of this evil, and by a firm, united and determined concert of action, carry those measures into effect.

It is the cause of public justice, of public morals, and of suffering humanity, which demands our aid. Vain are all the expectations which are formed, of its being in the power of the ministers of justice to restrain the workers of iniquity — to stay the hand of violence, until this evil is corrected. Fifty are corrupted by ardent spirits, to where one is corrected by the law.

I will now proceed to the discharge of the last and most painful duty of the court.

Catharine Cashiere — Listen to your sentence. It is, that you be taken hence to the prison whence you last came, and that you be taken from thence on Thursday the seventh day of May next to the place of execution, and that between the hours of seven in the morning and twelve at noon of that day you be there hanged by the neck until you are dead. And may God have mercy on your soul.

There was no visible increase of emotion on the part of either of the prisoners, either during the time the Judges were speaking, or at the close of the concluding and awful sentence.


Both prisoners appealed to Enos Throop, the then-interim governor weeks after Martin Van Buren had resigned the post to serve in the cabinet of the newly-inaugurated President Andrew Jackson. Gov. Throop rejected both in separate letters directed to the sheriff imploring the prisoners’ jailers not to burden Johnson or Cashiere with any fanciful hopes of reprieve.

Executive Department
Albany, April 25, 1829

Sir, — I have received a petition for pardon, in behalf of Richard Johnson, in your custody, under sentence of death for murder, and have bestowed upon the case that attention which the importance and painful interest of the subject demand.

The killing was in the presence of witnesses, and the manner in which it was perpetrated is not a matter of doubt or dispute. It was done deliberately. The pistol was put in order and prepared for the occasion; it was twice discharged; and its contents were, each time, lodged in the body of the deceased.

The tragic deed was the result of a previous misunderstanding between the parties, of several days continuance; and the proximate cause, a personal struggle, commenced with angry feelings, and carried on with a sufficient interval before its fatal termination to accomplish the death of the miserable victim of his violence.

During several preceding days he exhibited those appearances of gloom, abstraction of mind, and depression of spirits, which indicate a bosom deeply agitated with violent passion, and a mind occupied with absorbing subjects.

It is urged in his favor, that his mind was deranged when the deed was done, — and that he had before sustained a good character, and was of an amiable and benevolent disposition.

The question of insanity was a matter in issue on the trial; and the jury, after hearing all the testimony, decided against him. — I see nothing in the evidence to induce me to doubt the correctness of their verdict in that respect.

His supposed amiable character, while it is evidence, in a doubtful case, to be duly weighed by the jury in pronouncing upon the intent, and appeals to our sympathy, does not afford a sufficient reason for arresting the course of Justice. It is in proof, however, upon this point, that he had lived in a licentious intercourse with this woman for several years, and their intimacy has, in the ordinary process of vice, terminated in the highest misdeeds.

The laws have pronounced his doom, and declared him a fit object of exemplary punishment; and I do not feel justified in interposing the Executive arm to defeat their politic ends.

I must therefore request you, to communicate to the wretched convict my decision, without delay, that he may prepare himself to meet his fate, and make his peace with his offended God.

I am respectfully, your’s [sic], &c.
E.T. Throop

Executive Department
Albany, May 4th, 1829

Sir — My attention has been recently called to the case of Catharine Cashiere, a coloured woman in your custody, under the sentence of death for the murder of Susan Anthony, also a colored woman.

On receiving a report of the trial from the presiding Judge, accompanied by affidavits, I at a former day attentively examined the case: but the respectability of the petition, which has been forwarded to me, through the praise worthy exertions of humane persons, in behalf of a friendless individual, has induced me to re-examine the case, and look, with scrupulous care, at the conclusion to which my mind has arrived.

All punishments are prescribed by the wisdom of our lawgives, for purposes of public good, and should not be dispensed with for light causes. It is a maxim drawn from experience, and sanctioned by sound reason, that laws restrain crime, not by the severity of their enactments, but by the certainty of their being enforced.

It was not intended by the framers of the Constitution to erect in the Executive a tribunal which shall arbitrarily dispense with those judgments of our courts, which are pronounced in strict conformity to the design of wise and prudent laws; but one which shall discreetly exercise its powers to favor the designs of the Legislature in tempering undesigned severities with the administration of justice.

With these views I have examined the case of Catharine Cashiere.

The facts as reported shew: That the convict came to the house of the deceased by invitation, and soon began to use indecent and profane language. She was requested by the deceased to go out, and did so. She returned again in a few minutes, resumed her ill conduct, and was again mildly requested to go out. — She refused to go, and used language shewing her determination not to go.

The deceased then gently laid her hand upon her, when the convict made three attempts to stab her with a knife, which she drew from under her apron. The two first attempts were ineffectual, but the last was made with much force and preparation, and the knife reached the heart of her victim.

It further appears that while she was absent from the room after the commencement of the affray, she was seen in a grocery kept in another part of the same house, with a knife in her hand. Whether she procured the knife then, or had it before, is not in proof, but the testimony affords good reason to believe that she there opened it and hid it under her apron, and returned to the room for the purpose of renewing the quarrel, and contemplating the dreadful catastrophe which ensued. — Here was positive proof of malice propense.

Although the design of murder was conceived after the quarrel was begun, yet the wrong was altogether on the part of the convict, and the interval of absence from the room was sufficient and was employed in deliberately contriving the execution of the bloody deed.

Independent of the common law doctrines of murder, stabbing is so odious that special statutory provisions exist, declaring designed stabbing which produced death to be murder without proof of malice.

It is declared by statute, “that if any person or persons shall stab or thrust any person or persons that hath not then any weapon drawn, or that hath not then first stricken, the party who shall so stab or thrust so as the person so stabbed or thrust shall thereof die within the space of six months then next following, although it cannot be proved that the same was done of malice aforethought, every such unlawful killing shall be adjudged, taken and deemed wilful murder.” Her case comes directly within this statute.

It is urged that she was insane, and that she was intoxicated. Drunkenness afford no excuse for crime. If it should, every species of crime, from arson and murder down to the smallest larcenies, would be perpetrated under that pretence. The facts in regard to her drinking were before the jury.

It is said that when she is intoxicated she is deranged: that is the natural effect of intoxication: but the law says, with great justice, that voluntary derangement shall not excuse crime.

Affidavits are presented to shew that when she was a child she received a hurt in her head which impaired the strength of her mind, and that when she is intoxicated she exhibits insanity which is supposed to result from the hurt in her head, and that the fact of the hurt was not proved on the trial. It is not satisfactorily proved that she ever manifested symptoms of insanity, except when she was under the influence of liquor.

Her conduct during the quarrel, from its commencement until its fatal termination, shews no evidence of insanity, nor that prostration of mind by liquor which totally extinguishes reason; but, on the contrary, it evinced a capacity to plan and execute her projects of revenge.

I therefore feel it a duty which I owe to the state, the execution of whose laws are entrusted to me, to deny the pardon solicited. You will therefore make known to the miserable culprit my determination, so that if she has cherished any hope from Executive clemency, she may dismiss it, and prepare her mind to appear before that high tribunal where there is no error in judgment and from which there is no appeal.

Your obedient servant,
E.T. Throop


Baltimore Patriot, May 9, 1829

From the New York Post of Thursday.

EXECUTIONS. — Richard Johnson and Catherine Cashiere, under sentence of death for murder, were this forenoon executed on Blackwell’s Island.

They were taken from the Bridewell a little after 8 o’clock, and conveyed to the gallows, accompanied by the Sheriff and a troop of horse, and followed by an assemblage of several thousands of men, women and boys, eager to witness the dying struggles of two of their fellow beings.

Early in the morning Broadway, opposite the Bridewell, was blocked up with spectators, so much so as to make it difficult for carriages to pass: and for a short time before the procession moved every avenue leading to the prison was completely closed.

We hope it will be the last time a similar opportunity will be afforded to gratify the idle curiosity of the populace of this large city. The revised laws provide that after the year 1829, all executions for capital crimes shall be performed in the yard of the prison where the convict is confined, in the presence of the proper officers.

We have just learned that the poor unfortunate wretches were turned off between 10 and 11 o’clock, from a gallows erected for the purpose on Blackwell’s Island, and that a great part of the procession were disappointed in witnessing the spectacle, not being able to procure boats to convey them across the river to the Island; and this perhaps was a fortunate circumstance, for we have heard that one of the few boats which were put in requisition, with twelve persons in it, was upset and before assistance could be rendered several were drowned.


It was indeed the last public hanging in New York City.

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1691: Eleven at Tyburn

2 comments December 18th, 2012 Headsman

“Having Intangled themselves in the snares of Death, by their Dissolute Practices, against all the warnings of Publick Justice on other Criminals,” as the Ordinary’s Account puts it, 11 men and women “provokt the Lord to set them out, as monuments of his present severe, yet Righteous Judgement” and therefore hanged together on this date at London’s Tyburn gallows.*

Murderers (and -esses)

William Harsey was taken literally red-handed, found by the St. Katherine’s watch passed out drunk, still gripping a bloody knife. He’d wetted the blade in three different bodies that night, one of them his good friend (also drunk). Two died; one survived to testify against Harsey.

Mary Mott‘s infant son was found lying dead in a gutter on her rooftop, by a laborer working on the chimney. She claimed it was stillborn, but was unable to prove it: the presumption in such instances went against the mother, on the grounds that every infanticide would simply claim stillbirth otherwise.

Thieves

William Smith “said that he was guilty of all sins except Murther, he named Sabbath breaking, Drunkenness, and Uncleanness.” John Barret, a burglar, copped to the same trio of gateway sins.

Less repentant were two other robbers who had no use for the Ordinary’s god-bothering, to the detriment of their bloggable biography: Richard Johnson, who “was not concerned for his bad Life, and withdrew himself from Chappel,” and Anne Miller, who “refused to come to the Chappel, saying she was a Papist.”

Posterity has much more on Mary Jones, a scarf-maker whose lover squandered all her revenues and drove “Moll” to make an illicit living by the dexterity of her fingers. Having been branded on the hand for picking the royal chocolatier’s pocket, Jones turned to the boom trade in shoplifting London’s growing traffic of valuable little textiles like stockings and lace.

She must have had no small gift for the five-fingered discount as she practiced it for 3-4 years. “She was apprehended for privately stealing a piece of satin out of a mercer’s shop on Ludgate Hill, whither she went in a very splendid equipage and personated the late Duchess of Norfolk, to avoid suspicion of her dishonesty; but her graceless Grace being sent to Newgate, and condemned for her life at the Old Bailey.”

Hanging day would hardly be complete in the late 17th century without a highwayman like William Good, who with a buddy (uncaptured) carriage-jacked a gentleman on the London-Hackney road and made off with the 12-Days-of-Christmas-like trove of “a Dyaper Napkin Value 12 d. Twelve Larks, Two Ducks, and an Embroidered Wastcoat.”

Where Good hangs, there will you also find Malice — Humphrey Malice, to be exact, “Condemned for Robbing a Gentleman in Chelsy Field” in which crime he nevertheless enjoyed “no share in the spoil.” His better remunerated (and less interestingly named) confederate Edward Booth hanged with him. The gentleman in question was Malice and Booth’s second victim of the night, the first having been a more working-class sort who was stripped stark naked and could still only produce eight coppers. Malice and Booth gave him a vengeful thrashing for their trouble and told him “that the next time he went abroad, he should put more Money in his Pocket.”

Thomas Taylor, a parson’s son “addicted to idleness,” was in fact quite industrious when it came to robbery. There’s a story from his career of engineering a buffoonish caught-in-the-town-pillory routine to distract a crowd of yokels while his pickpocket buddies plucked them clean. His fatal crime was an even more audacious twist on the same, in which Tom, acting alone this time, fired a barn, then joined the resulting rescue scramble and made off with a trunk full of plate and £140 cash. He would later admit this was not the first time he had used this gambit.

The arson was the source of his condemnation, but we could not pass over the Newgate Calendar’s remembrance of a different and dreadfully amusing larcenous exploit … which also goes to show the very private, and very punitive, nature of crime prevention in those days.

Taylor being pretty expert at picking of pockets, he set up for himself; and one day going to the playhouse in Drury Lane, very well dressed, he seated himself by a gentleman in the pit, whose pocket he picked of about forty guineas, and went clean off. This good success tempted Tom to go thither the next day in a different suit of clothes, when, perceiving the same gentleman in the pit whose pocket he had picked but the day before, he takes his seat by him again. The gentleman was so sharp as to know his face again, for all his change of apparel, though he seemed to take no notice of him; whereupon putting a great quantity of guineas into the pocket next Tom, it was not long before he fell to diving for them. The gentleman had sewed fishing- hooks all round the mouth of that pocket, and our gudgeon venturing too deep, by unconscionably plunging down to the very bottom, his hand was caught and held so fast that he could in no manner of way disentangle it.

Tom angled up and down in the pocket for nearly a quarter of an hour; the gentleman, all the while feeling his struggling to get his hand out, took no notice, till at last Tom, very courteously pulling off his hat, quoth: “Sir, by a mistake, I have somehow put my hand into your pocket instead of my own.” The gentleman, without making any noise, arose and went to the Rose Tavern at the corner of Bridget Street, and Tom along with him, with his hand in his pocket, where it remained till he had sent for some of his cronies, who paid down eighty guineas to get the gudgeon out of this dry pond. However, the gentleman, being not altogether contented with this double satisfaction for his loss, most unmercifully caned him, and then turning him over to the mob, they as unmercifully pumped him and ducked him in a horse-pond, and after that so cruelly used him that they broke one of his legs and an arm.

Taylor, the Ordinary reported, “behaved himself very undecently and unhandsomely, all the way from Newgate to Tyburn.”

* A good round number: it was Tyburn’s second 11-spot of the year.

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Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Arson,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,History,Mass Executions,Murder,Public Executions,Theft,Women

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1932: Richard Johnson, great-grandfather of Craig Watkins

1 comment August 10th, 2012 Headsman

On this date in 1932, two African-American men were electrocuted in Huntsville, Texas.

Richard Johnson was a career criminal already serving a 35-year sentence for various burglaries when he busted out of prison in 1931. He teamed up with 20-year-old Richard Brown to rob a white couple in a parked car.

When the man, Ted Nodruft, tried to drive away, they shot him (he died the next day), and then proceeded to rape his fiancee and steal her jewelry. When caught, each man tried to throw the lion’s share of blame on the other.

These two on their own hardly stand out to posterity, and certainly not in the context of notoriously execution-friendly Texas, whose “List of individuals executed in Texas” Wikipedia entry (most states have such a page) is actually paginated by decade. Here’s the doings for the rest of the 1930s in the still-newish Texas electric chair.

We pause to note them here on this site because they made unexpected headlines earlier this year when Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins — the first elected black D.A. in Texas history — publicly revealed that Richard Johnson was his great-grandfather.

Long before that revelation, Watkins had already earned nationwide plaudits for doing what every district attorney should be doing as a matter of course: publicly emphasizing justice rather than conviction counts as his office’s guiding principle, greeting the rising tide of exonerations with a proactive program to search out potential miscarriages of justice rather than doubling down on them … hell, even apologizing to people whose lives have been ripped apart by wrongful convictions.

Watkins knew about the “dark secret of our family” for many years before he mentioned it in the run-up to witnessing his first execution (it was topical because Watkins used the trip to also visit his great-grandfather’s grave in the prison cemetery). How exactly that blood tie has helped to shape Craig Watkins’s outlook is hard to say, but not for any reticence on the DA’s part: he’s been disarmingly public about speaking to the real ambiguities and human costs of the criminal justice system that prosecutors are usually not supposed to acknowledge.

The broader issue is, look, I have walked 25 men out of prison for crimes they didn’t commit. We have gotten this case in Williamson County, where the DA withheld evidence, or it’s alleged that he withheld evidence. Because of that, a guy spent 25 years on death row. The Supreme Court of Texas has instituted a court of inquiry to look into the actions of this individual. At the time he was DA; now he is a judge. You have got the Todd Willingham case. We have had all of these folks who have been exonerated that were on death row throughout our nation.

And so my concern, basically, is, look, we are seeking the ultimate punishment against someone, and we need to have all the safeguards in place to make sure that we don’t wrongly execute someone. And I think with all the evidence that we have seen, I think anyone that does not come to the conclusion that a person has been executed in this country for a crime they didn’t commit is being irresponsible. So that’s my position. Like I said, I can argue from my moralistic standpoint all day, but that’s not where the argument should be had. It should be one of logistics. Are we making mistakes? Do we need to reevaluate the process to make sure we are not making mistakes?

Watkins personally opposes the death penalty on moral grounds, but seeks it routinely in his capacity as district attorney. Here’s the man expanding on some of those themes in a 30-minute interview with the Dallas-Fort Worth NBC affiliate:

Watkins (or someone in his office) blogs infrequently here, and tweets @craigmwatkins.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Electrocuted,Execution,History,Murder,Notably Survived By,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Rape,Ripped from the Headlines,Texas,Theft,USA

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