2000: Cheng Kejie of the National People’s Congress

1 comment September 14th, 2010 Headsman

Ten years ago today, former Chinese politburo member Cheng Kejie was executed for gobbling up an impressive $5 million in bribes.

The onetime chairman of the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region was (and, as best I can determine, remains) the highest-ranking official judicially executed since the Communists took power in China in 1949. He’d spent the best part of the 1990s soaking up kickbacks from his powerful post, much of it secreted in out-of-country accounts.

The execution was part of a massive campaign against official corruption which has long bedeviled China’s economic surge. Cheng’s own former boss around this time warned that “graft could destroy China”.

Cheng’s execution was announced after the fact, at the same time that China belatedly publicized the arrest of former Vice-Minister of Public Security Li Jizhou in a billion-dollar smuggling scandal. Li somehow managed to duck execution for similarly show-stopping corruption allegations (including scandalous details supplied by his mistress*), a fact which raised eyebrows in the People’s Republic about improper influence.** He “deserves to die ten thousand times over,” opined the Beijing Youth Daily.

Here in 2010, China (whose wholesale execution pace is quietly on the decline) has moved — not without opposition — to drop the death penalty for a number of non-violent economic crimes. That rollback apparently would not apply to bribery, however.

* Cheng’s case also featured the salacious “other woman” hook, which often rounds out modern-day tales of official malfeasance. Cheng and his bit on the side “conspired to amass wealth for their planned marriage after divorcing their spouses”; Cheng’s lover, however, turned state’s evidence on him. She wound up with a life sentence.

** Li had some serious political weight to throw around; his father had helped prosecute the Gang of Four after the Cultural Revolution.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,China,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous,History,Infamous,Milestones,Pelf,Politicians,Ripped from the Headlines,Scandal

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1932: Paul Gorguloff, who assassinated the French President

Add comment September 14th, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 1932, deranged Russian emigre Paul Gorguloff was guillotined for murdering President Paul Doumer four months before.


The forgettable Paul Doumer — distinguished for reasons quite beyond his control as the penultimate President of the Third Republic — was a week short of his one-year anniversary in office when the nutbar gunned him down at a Parisian book fair.

Disturbed 37-year-old Gorguloff had some impenetrably incoherent justification for the murder having to do with some “Idea” formed in a trance-like state.

From the moment of my arrival in Paris, and even in the train, I had a sort of hypnotic obsession that I must kill the President. I went and prayed in Notre Dame; then I drank heavily, and gradually decided to kill myself, the idea almost supplanting that of assassination. After drinking I conceived the idea of getting arrested to prevent me from committing the crime, so I asked a policeman on the Boulevard Saint-Michel a lot of stupid questions, hoping that he would ask for my papers and, finding them not to be in order, arrest me. All the time the Devil was saying: “Kill yourself, if you like, but only after you have killed the President.” Until 2 o’clock in the afternoon on the day of the crime I drank in a bar, emptying a bottle of cognac in the hope that I would get too drunk to do anything. Nevertheless I finally went to the book exhibition in the Rue Berryer, where the President was expected. After I had spoken with M. Farrere [he was later shot in the arm by Gorguloff] and looked at a few books, the President arrived. I was in a kind of hypnotic sleep, and fired without really knowing what I was doing. (The Times of London, May 18, 1932)

Whatever this daemon may have amounted to in Gorguloff’s mind, he cherished it; the brief trial was punctuated by repeated invocation of the never-explicated “Idea”:

France, listen to me! I am the apostle of my Idea. My crime was a great protest in the name of the miserable ones who wait ‘over there’ [in Russia] … My Idea is more precious than my life. Take my life, but save my Idea. (The Times of London, July 26, 1932)

The “idea” may have been fame. Gorguloff’s defense counsel — understandably pinning its hopes on an insanity defense (French link) — entered into the record a request the assassin had forwarded Czech authorities to be launched in a rocket to the moon; a correspondent for Le Matin discovered that the killer had nursed similarly half-baked plots to do in Hindenburg, Lenin, and Czech President Thomas Masaryk instead/as well.

Gorguloff was beheaded just before 6 a.m. outside La Sante Prison in Paris.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Assassins,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Crime,Death Penalty,Diminished Capacity,Execution,France,Guillotine,History,Murder,Notable for their Victims,Public Executions

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2004: Mamoru Takuma, for the Osaka school massacre

1 comment September 14th, 2008 Headsman

On this date in 2004, Mamoru Takuma was hanged for one of the most notorious crimes in modern Japan — the Osaka school massacre.

On June 8, 2001 — a day the 11-time arrestee was due in court for assaulting a bellhop — Mamoru Takuma (English Wikipedia entry | Japanese) entered the Ikeda Elementary School in Osaka and knifed 20-plus people, killing eight young students.

Even when taking on 7- and 8-year-old children, that’s an astonishing body count for a guy packing only a blade. Some staff at the school finally tackled the guy.

“I want others to know the unreasonableness that high-achieving children could be killed at any time.”

Takuma had been institutionalized even more often than he had been arrested, so the shocking crime pitted public outrage against the judiciary’s capacity for handling mentally ill offenders.

Guess which won out. In the wake of the crime, in fact, the government toughened laws on crimes committed by mentally ill offenders.

Takuma was hanged barely three years after the attacks, and even though he pushed for his own execution, the lightning-fast completion of the sentence (most death penalty cases in Japan drag on for decades — here’s an extreme example) raised misgivings both domestic and international.

Though his case remains an outlier, those concerns already seem a bit passe: Takuma also turned out to presage the distinctly more aggressive pace of executions in Japan in recent years.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Diminished Capacity,Execution,Hanged,Infamous,Japan,Murder,Ripped from the Headlines,Volunteers

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