1682: Ivan Khovansky

Add comment September 17th, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1682, the boyar Ivan Andreyevich Khovansky went from being the power behind the throne to one of the skulls under it.

A veteran military commander, Khovansky (English Wikipedia entry | Russian) became a key figure in the months after the death of Tsar Feodor III of Russia. This perilous political moment left the throne in the hands of two underage half-brothers overseen by a female regent.

With benefit of hindsight we know that 10-year-old (in 1682) Peter will emerge from this troika to become the mighty Tsar Peter the Great. In 1682, it was anybody’s guess whether any of these dubious prospective autocrats might survive at all.

Peter in particular had cause to fear for his life in May 1682 when the Streltsy, a hereditary guard of Moscow musketeers, bloodily rebelled in favor of his co-heir’s privileges and against his own, rampaging through the Kremlin murdering princes in Peter’s circle. And at the head of these furies stood Khovansky.

Many years later, Peter would revenge himself upon the Streltsy for this horror but in the moment it carried the day, incidentally also carrying Khovansky to a preeminent position in the state.

But he was pitted almost immediately against his erstwhile patron and ally, the regent Sophia Alekseyevna.

Even though the Streltsy rebellion had been conducted on Sophia’s behalf, she could see as well as the next tsar the perils of embracing these latter-day praetorians‘ authority to remake the government by force … and the Streltsy made sure to remind her of it almost immediately when the “Old Believer” movement that predominated among its ranks started raising complaints about Sophia’s religious accommodations.*

Fearing an overmighty nobleman at the head of a treasonable host — and Khovansky has been suspected by both his contemporaries and posterity of coveting the regency for himself — Sophia and the young co-tsars briefly fled Moscow “because we could not tolerate the many offences, unlawful and gross actions and violations committed by criminals and traitors.” Meanwhile she maneuvered adroitly to isolate him politically and had the boyar Duma vote his attainder.

His fate was sealed by the discovery of an anonymous (probably fabricated) letter of denunciation. On 17 September, her own name day, Sophia succeeded in luring Ivan Khovansky and his son Ivan to the royal summer residence at Vozdvizhenskoe outside Moscow. The charges against them centred on their ‘evil designs upon the health and authority of the great sovereigns’ which involved no less than plotting to use the strel’tsy to kill the tsars, Tsaritsa Natalia, Sophia and the patriarch, then to raise rebellion all over Moscow and snatch the throne. The lesser charges included association with ‘accursed schismatics’, embezzlement, dereliction of military duty, and insulting the boyars. The charges were full of inconsistencies and illogicalities, but their sheer weight sealed the Khovanskys’ fate and Prince Ivan and his son were beheaded on the spot … The strel’tsy were forced to swear an oath of loyalty based on a set of conditions, the final clause of which threatened death to anyone who ‘speaks approvingly of the deeds of late, or boasts of committing murder or makes up phrases inciting rebellion as before, or stirs up people to commit criminal acts.’ (Source)

He’s the subject of the Mussorgsky opera Khovanshchina.

* Old Believers wanted a rollback of religious reforms decreed in recent years; Sophia said no dice. Once Peter the Great took over, Sophia and Old Believers alike would end up in the same boat.

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1524: Caspar Tauber, Protestant protomartyr of Vienna

Add comment September 17th, 2017 Hermann Fick

(Thanks to Lutheran Pastor C.J. Hermann Fick for the guest post on the Protestant protomartyr of Austria, who was beheaded on September 17, 1524. It was originally published in Fick’s Die Märtyrer der Evangelisch-Lutherischen Kirche. -ed.)

“And if I still had eighty thousand souls, they would all be supplied today through my faith in God.”

-Tauber against the Roman priests.

Caspar Tauber was a highly respected, wealthy citizen of Vienna, Austria, and had a beautiful wife and several children. He had everything that people highly desire. But he left everything and denied himself; he took up his cross, and followed the Lord Jesus as a faithful disciple through shame, prison, sword and fire.

After he had championed Christian liberty often and much with words and works as a true Christian against the Antichrist, he was at last taken in solely by the Word of God in 1524. When he had for some time patiently suffered imprisonment, the Bishop of Vienna, Johann von Revellis, and his assessors spent much time secretly in prison with him in order to prevent him from making his Christian separation. But in vain. The blessed martyr chose the better part and stayed with the Word of God, fought gallantly and fearlessly, and persisted until the end. As he was taught by the Spirit of God, he was persuaded neither by threats nor by flattery and sweet words to a defection from the Gospel.

Then the servants of Antichrist tried other means. They printed a retraction that Tauber should read publicly. In it they imputed to him out of malice the error that because Christ is a spirit, his true body and blood cannot be present in Lord’s Supper. Furthermore in it is indicated that he said that he was both a priest, as an other ordained priest, that the keys of the church together belonged to all Christians, men and women. Also he had rejected the intercession of the saints, purgatory, auricular confession, and the superstition that the things blest by the priest expelled the devil. All this he should revoke and publicly renounce the Lutheran doctrine.

Now on the day appointed a high pulpit was erected in the churchyard of St. Stephen, which Tauber had to climb. Beside him, on another pulpit, was the choral master, and around them was a considerable crowd in tense anticipation. Tauber alone remained quiet and patient in the deepest silence. Then spoke the choral master: “Tauber, you are conscious why our prince and lord, Lord Ferdinand, has put there to you to recant without doubt the articles that thus lie here before you; now then you would do enough and follow.”

Then the devout Christian lifted his eyes towards heaven to God, and answered, “Dear beloved in Christ, God Almighty does not want people to be laid with heavy burdens, as He indicates in Matthew 23. Therefore is my plea to all you gathered here, and pray for the sake of God’s love, to pray an Our Father, therewith the almighty everlasting God this, so to be in the right true Christian faith, to stay and remain steadfast, but these who are not illuminated, thus are yet enlightened in Christ Jesus our dear Lord.”

But the choral master fell on his speech: “Tauber, you are not to preach but to recant what was previously stated.” With gentle heart he replied: “My lord, I have listened to you, so listen to me a little.” But the choral master angrily shouted: “You are not commanded to say such, but speak and read off what is set before you!” Then said Tauber to the people: “Dearly beloved, one has sent me a writing that I should make a revocation, particularly the first article of the sacrament of the altar, which they have invented and set at their pleasure. They scold me as a heretic and deceiver, and yet have not overcome me by the Holy Scriptures. I appeal publicly here to the Holy Roman Empire, that they choose me as their judge. I will then overcome by the Holy Scriptures, or be found unjust, so will I suffer over what set me right.” And again he said: “I testify here before everyone that I revoke absolutely nothing.” But he was ordered to descend, where he lamented, “My enemies have compassed me about, and I may never speak.” Then he was returned to prison, and the people followed him.

Then on September 10, the final judgment was made on Tauber. Early in the morning at 7 clock he was placed before the court in the Augustinian monastery. “Revoke, revoke, or you will die as a heretic!” shouted the popish clergy to him. But Tauber remained steadfast. Whereupon the official read in Latin the court’s judgment, declaring him to be a public damned heretic and condemned him to death.

But the martyr said to the assembled citizens: “Dear friends, I beg you, for God’s sake, will ye be also my witnesses, not only here, but also by the almighty God, that they have so falsely and secretly condemned me; neither I, nor you, have all understood their words and actions. For this ye also well see that they have not presented any articles to me. It would have been easy for me to answer, by God’s grace, from divine Scriptures. Unconquered, and even without a hearing, I must be condemned.

“If there were eighty thousand of their Doctors, so could or would they not get anything of me, because the Word of God is on my side. In the dark have they played with me. They are ashamed of their actions, so they hate the light. On the Word will I persevere, die and be healed. They want to force me, and set me up with falsehoods which I have not spoken. I have thought they should make heretics Christians, so they would make of me Christian from a heretic over my will and without all my confessions of a heretic. So God has taught me, so I must die.”

After such a long struggle God wanted to reveal his glory and Tauber’s faith. Once again the tyrants tried to persuade him to revoke. Many men and a great crowd gathered, eager to all learn if he would recant. But the pious Christian was not weaker but stronger and more joyful through so much pain and shame. He desired not to withdraw, but only to die.

On September 17, 1524 he won the martyr’s crown. Early in the morning at 6 o’clock he was taken to be executed on a cart. Before him was a Roman Catholic priest who reproached him with a little board painted with a crucifix and the image of the Virgin Mary; behind him sat the executioner, beside him were seven servants of the mayor and four henchmen. So the train went secretly behind the town wall by the exchange gate out on the gravel. Arriving at the place of execution, he went joyfully from the carriage and asked all those present that they should not be bad-tempered nor enemies towards those who would be so responsible for his death, for thus it would please God.

Then spoke the papal priest: “Tauber, will you not confess?” The martyr replied: “Arise, my idleness, createth your cause. I have confessed God, my heavenly Father.” The priest replied, “You should see to it that your soul is supplied.” Tauber said, “I have already supplied my soul; and if I still had eighty thousand souls, they would all be supplied today through my faith in God.”

Having said this, he looked up to heaven, and said, “O Lord Jesus Christ, you who have died for our sake and for us, I give Thee thanks that you chose me, unworthy, and hast made me worthy to die for the sake of thy divine Word.” Then he made a cross with his right foot upon the earth and knelt down joyfully on it.

As now the executioner took off his red cap, the dear martyr spoke to him: “Dear Master, take it and carry it from me!” Then the executioner tore the shirt off his neck. Tauber however, very willing and eager to die, wound his hands one over the other, raised his eyes to heaven and said three times with a loud voice, and joyful, fervent heart. “Lord Jesus Christ, into your hands I commend my spirit.”

And immediately his head fell, from which his body was dragged to a large pyre and burned. Thus he fell asleep in the Lord.


The martyred heretic’s name now decorates Vienna’s Taubergasse.

A 16th century German pamphlet celebrating Tauber is available free on Google books; you’ll need to bring along your proficiency in deciphering sumptuous Gothic blackletter.

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1811: Anna Maria Zwanziger, “once beautiful, exceedingly beautiful”

Add comment September 17th, 2015 Lady Duff-Gordon

Thanks to Lucie, Lady Duff-Gordon for the guest-post — part of her translation of Paul Johann von Feuerbach‘s Narratives of Remarkable Criminal Trials. Footnotes are original from the text. -ed.

ANNA MARIA ZWANZIGER, THE GERMAN BRINVILLIERS.

In the year 1807 a widow, nearly fifty years of age, calling herself Nanette Schönleben, lived at Pegnitz in the territory of Baireuth, supporting herself by knitting. Her conduct gained her a reputation which induced Justice Wolfgang Glaser, who was then living at Rosendorf separated from his wife, to take her as his housekeeper, on the 5th March, 1808. On the 22nd of the following July Glaser was reconciled to his wife, who had been living with her relations at Grieshaber near Augsburg. Soon after her return to her husband’s house, though a strong healthy woman, she was suddenly seized with violent vomiting, diarrhoea, &c., and on the 26th August, a month after the reconciliation, she died.

Anna Schönleben now left Glaser’s service, and on the 25th September she went to live as housekeeper with Justice Grohmann at Sanspareil. Her new master, who was unmarried, was thirty-eight years of age, and though a large and powerful man, had suffered from gout for several years, and was often confined to his bed. On these occasions Anna Schönleben always nursed him with the utmost care. In the spring of 1809 he was seized with an illness more violent than any he had had before, and accompanied by entirely new symptoms, violent vomiting, pains in the stomach, diarrhoea, heat and dryness of the skin, inflammation of the mouth and throat, insatiable thirst, and excessive weakness and pains in the limbs. He died on the 8th May, after an illness of eleven days, and his housekeeper appeared inconsolable for his loss. Every one, the medical men included, took it for granted that Grohmann, who had long been ailing, had died a natural death.

Anna Schönleben was once more out of place, but her reputation for kindness, activity, attention and skill as a sick-nurse soon procured her a new home. At the time of Grohmann’s death the wife of the magistrate Gebhard was just expecting to be brought to bed, and asked Anna Schonleben to attend her as nurse and housekeeper during her lying-in. Anna Schönleben, always willing to oblige, readily agreed, and from the day of the confinement she resided in Gebhard’s house, dividing her time between the care of the household and of the child. Madame Gebhard was confined on the 13th May, 1809, and both the mother and the child were doing very well until the third day, which the mother fell ill. Her illness became more alarming every day; she was seized with violent vomiting, nervous agitation, distressing heat in the intestines, inflammation in the throat, &c.; and on the 20th May, seven days after her confinement, she died, exclaiming in her agony, “Merciful Heaven! you have given me poison!” As Madame Gebhard had always been sickly, and moreover had died in childbirth, her death excited no suspicion, and, like Madame Glaser and Grohmann, she was buried without more ado. The widower, embarrassed by his household and the infant which was left upon his hands, thought that he could do nothing better than to keep Anna Schönleben as his housekeeper. Several persons endeavoured to change his resolution. They said that this woman carried death with her wherever she went; that three young persons whom she had served, had died one after the other within a very short time. No one made the smallest accusation against her; their warnings arose from a mere superstitious dread of an unfortunate sympathetic influence exercised by her upon those with whom she lived: her obliging deportment, her piety, and her air of honesty, humility and kindness, protected her from every breath of suspicion. Thus she remained for several months in Gebhard’s service unsuspected and unaccused.

During her residence in Gebhard’s house various suspicious events occurred, without, however, exciting attention. On the 25th August, 1809, a certain Beck, and the widow Alberti, dined with Gebhard. Soon after dinner they were both seized with violent vomiting, colic, spasms, &c., which lasted until late at night. About the same time she gave the messenger Rosenhauer a glass of white wine, and not long after he had swallowed it he was attacked in precisely the same manner, and was so ill as to be forced to go to bed. On the very same day she took Rosenhauer’s porter, a lad of nineteen named Johann Kraus, into the cellar and gave him a glass of brandy. After drinking a small quantity he perceived a sort of white sediment in it, and therefore left the rest, but in a short time he felt very sick. During the last week of August, one of Gebhard’s maid-servants, Barbara Waldmann, with whom Anna Schönleben had had several trifling disputes, was taken ill after drinking a cup of coffee, and vomited every half-hour during the whole day. The most remarkable occurrence, however, took place on the 1st September. Gebhard, while playing at skittles with a party of his friends, sent for a few pitchers of beer from his own cellar. He and five other persons drank some of the beer, and were seized soon after with sickness and internal pains; some of the party, among whom was Gebhard, were so ill as to require medical aid.

This first inspired distrust and dislike of Anna Schönleben. On the following day, chiefly at the instigation of one of his fellow-sufferers at the skittle-ground, Gebhard dismissed her from his service, but gave her a written character for honesty and fidelity.

She was to leave Sanspareil for Baireuth on the next day 3rd September. She expressed her surprise at so sudden a dismissal, but was civil and obliging as usual, and busied herself during the whole evening in various domestic arrangements. Among other things she took the salt-box out of the kitchen (which was no part of her usual duty), and filled it from a barrel of salt which stood in Gebhard’s bedroom. When the maid-servant Waldmann commented upon this, Anna Schönleben said, in a jesting manner, that she must do so, for that if those who were going away filled the salt-box, the other servants would keep their places the longer. On the morning of her departure she affected the greatest friendship for the two maid-servants, Hazin and Waldmann, and gave each of them a cup of coffee sweetened with sugar which she took out of a piece of paper. While the carriage was waiting for her at the door she took Gebhard’s child, ail infant five months old, in her arms, gave it a biscuit soaked in milk to eat, then let it drink the milk, and finally parted from it with the most tender caresses, and got into the carriage which was to convey her to Baireuth, and which Gebhard paid for, besides giving her a crown dollar and some chocolate.

She had been gone scarce half an hour when the child became alarmingly ill and vomited terribly, and in a few hours more the two maid-servants were attacked in the same manner; and now, for the first time, suspicion was excited. On hearing from his servants how Anna Schönleben had busied herself, Gebhard had the contents of the kitchen salt-box analyzed by a chemist, and a large quantity of arsenic was found among it. The salt-barrel was likewise found at the trial to contain thirty grains of arsenic to every three pounds of salt.

To these facts were now added a number of hitherto unnoticed reports of persons who had been taken ill immediately after eating or drinking at Glaser’s and Grohmann’s houses, whilst Anna Schonleben was in their service. Moreover it came out that Schönleben was only her maiden name, and that she was in fact the widow of a notary called Zwanziger, who had lived at Nürnberg.

It is strange that after all these discoveries it was not till the 29th September that Gebhard laid information against her at the criminal court of Baireuth, which immediately appointed chief magistrate Brater to conduct the inquiry. He went at once to the spot, where the charges against her of various cases of poisoning were confirmed, and increased in number.

The most important point was to discover the causes of the sudden and unexpected deaths of those three persons whom Anna Schönleben had served in succession since 1808. The body of Madame Glaser was dug up on the 23rd October, in the churchyard at Rasendorf. It presented in a very remarkable manner all those appearances which the discoveries of modern science have taught us to regard as the peculiar symptoms of death from arsenic. Although the body had been buried for fourteen months, it was very little decomposed, dried up and hardened like a mummy, and the skin was the colour of mahogany. The abdomen was rather swollen and gave a peculiar hollow sound when struck. The coats and muscles of the stomach were converted into a substance resembling cheese in appearance and smell, and the whole body emitted the same peculiar odour. On the following day the body of Madame Gebhard and that of Grohmann, which had lain in the earth for nearly six months, were disinterred in the churchyard at Wonsers, and presented exactly the same appearances as that of Glaser’s wife. On investigation the intestines of the two female corpses were found to contain arsenic. In those of Grohmann the presence of the poison was not discovered, although his body exhibited every symptom of it.

Meanwhile, Anna Schönleben, or, as we will henceforth call her, Zwanziger, felt perfectly secure. On quitting Gebhard’s service she had left a letter for him in which she reproached him with exaggerated sensibility for the ingratitude with which he had repaid her care of him, and her devotion to his child. “If,” says she, “the child should be restless and unhappy, my guardian angel will say to you, ‘Why didst thou take from her that which she held most dear?’ If, six weeks hence, you should ask for me, you will hear ‘She is no more,’ and then woe to your heart, for it will break; woe to those who have calumniated me to you.” She then prays God to reward him for his kindness, begs him to continue his friendship to her, and promises to write to him every fortnight. This promise she faithfully kept; and both from Baireuth, where she actually quartered herself for a month upon the mother of Gebhard’s dead wife, and afterwards from Nürnberg, she sent him several letters, in which she tells him the state of her health, how well she was received, and how soon she hoped to get a place, and then recommends herself to the “kind recollection of her revered master;” or talks about “her darling child,” sends it kisses, and asks after its health. It is clear that she hoped no less than to be recalled by Gebhard, and that the true purpose of her letters was to put this into his head by every means in her power as frequently as possible. She was equally lavish of her letters to several other persons. Among others she wrote to Glaser and offered him her services again as housekeeper. After waiting in vain both at Baireuth and at Nürnberg for a recall, she went to Mainbernheirn in Franconia, where she hoped to be received by her son-in-law, a bookbinder called Sauer. But he had meanwhile divorced her daughter, who was in the house of correction for stealing and swindling, and was celebrating his second marriage on the very day on which his former mother-in-law arrived at his house. This disagreeable coincidence soon caused her to leave Mainbernheim, and return to Nürnberg, where she was immediately arrested on the 18th October, 1809. On searching her person two packets of tartar emetic and one of arsenic were found in her pocket.

We will postpone for the present the history of her life, which came out on her examination at Culmbach and at Nürnberg, though only piecemeal and in very general terms. Neither would it answer our purpose to follow the long course of examination, as it would be impossible to describe the cunning and adroitness with which the criminal contrived to evade all questions and remonstrances, or the patience, prudence, and skill with which the judge enclosed her within narrow and narrower circles, until she was no longer able to resist the truth. From the 19th October, 1809, till the 16th April, 1810, she resolutely denied every accusation connected with the charge of poisoning. On the last-named day she appeared before her judge with perfect composure, believing that all the evidence against her was exhausted, when he opened the proceedings with the unexpected announcement that the body of Glaser’s wife had been dug up; that upon minute investigation she was found to have been poisoned with arsenic, and that there was the strongest ground for suspicion that the poison had been administered by the prisoner. After the judge had represented this to her in various forms during two whole hours, her courage at length gave way. She wept, wrung her hands, protested her innocence, and endeavoured to mislead the judge in broken and unconnected sentences which she uttered with great rapidity and in evident terror, and at length confessed that she had twice given poison to Glaser’s wife, at the same time interweaving with her confession an atrocious calumny. The words had scarcely passed her lips when she fell as if struck by lightning, rolled upon the floor in strong convulsions, and had to be carried out of court.

The poisonings which Anna Zwanziger partly confessed and partly was proved to have committed, were as follows:

Justice Glaser, a man upwards of fifty, had lived for several years separate from his wife, from no fault of his own, when, on the 25th March, 1808, he took Anna Zwanziger into his service, at the recommendation of his son. She soon contrived to ingratiate herself with her master, and to place herself upon a footing almost of equality with him. She had not been long in his service before she began to be very officious in endeavouring to effect a reconciliation between him and his wife, partly indeed without Glaser’s knowledge or consent. Not satisfied with using all her powers of persuasion to induce Glaser to take back his wife, she opened a secret correspondence with the latter, who was living with her brother at Grieshaber, wrote to several friends of the family in order to induce them to assist in the work of reconciliation, among others to the neighbouring Catholic priest at Holfeld, enclosing a piece of money, with the request, Protestant as she was, that a mass might be read for the success of her undertaking.

She at length succeeded in persuading the wife to return, and the husband to receive her. Madame Glaser left Grieshaber, and, a few days before her arrival in Kasendorf, she wrote to one of her relations to announce that on the following Wednesday a formal reconciliation would take place between her husband and herself.

On the 22nd July, 1808, Glaser went to meet his wife at Holfeld, and on returning with her to Kasendorf he was met by a brilliant reception which had been prepared by Anna Zwanziger to celebrate the reconciliation. All Kasendorf was in commotion: the floors of the house were strewn with flowers, and the doorposts and walls hung with garlands; the bed was decorated with wreaths, and on it was pinned an ornamental sheet of paper with the words

The widow’s hand
Hath joined this band.

The poetry and the writing were Anna Zwanziger’s.

The real motive for her uncalled-for interference in this affair is obvious. In spite of her age and ugliness, she expected no less than that Glaser would marry her in the event of his wife’s death, and she herself confessed that she hoped by this murder to secure a provision for her old age.

Thus she acted the pious part of a peacemaker merely with the view of getting Glaser’s wife into her power, and welcomed and caressed her victim in order the more quickly and safely to sacrifice her.

Madame Glaser had been only a few weeks in the house of her husband, who treated her with the greatest kindness and affection, when Anna Zwanziger began to put her scheme into execution. On the 13th or 14th August, she put, as she declared, half a teaspoonful of arsenic into some tea which stood at the fire, and gave it to Madame Glaser, who drank it, and soon after was seized with vomiting. “When I gave her the arsenic in the tea,” said Zwanziger, “I said to myself, I must make my old age comfortable, and if the poison does not do her business this time, why I will give it her again till it does.” And accordingly a few days afterwards, on the 15th August, between four and five in the afternoon, she dissolved a large dessert spoonful of tartar emetic in a cup of coffee, and invited Madame Glaser into her room to drink it. She did so, and drank her death. That night she was seized with vomiting and pains in the intestines, which increased in violence, and in ten days she was a corpse. “When,” said Zwanziger, “I had mixed the poison in the cup, and saw how thick it was, I said to myself, Lord Jesus! this time she must surely die.”

It is highly characteristic of Zwanziger that in her confession she endeavoured to implicate Justice Glaser in crime; she accused him of having instigated her to murder his wife, of being privy to the attempt with the tea, and of having given her the tartar emetic to put in the coffee, with the words “There, do you give it to her; such carrion is no loss.” In consequence of this statement, Justice Glaser was arrested and involved in the examination, which, however, terminated in his complete acquittal.

About a week before the first attempt on Glaser’s wife, a certain Wagenholz, with his wife and son, came to call on the Glasers, and stopped to supper. Soon after, the whole party were taken ill with sickness and vomiting. Next day Zwanziger gave the remains of the food to the son of Harbach, the watchman, and he too was so sick as to be confined to his bed for some time. It is uncertain whether her object was merely to try the effect of her poison preparatory to her more important scheme, or whether the guests were unwelcome to her and she wished to punish them for coming uninvited, and her master and mistress for receiving them too graciously. However this may be, she denied the charge altogether, at the same time taking the opportunity of throwing fresh suspicion upon Glaser. “He was,” said she, “as savage as Satan himself against Wagenholz and his wife, and I thought at the time that he must have put something into the food, for I was very sick and ill myself.”

After Madame Glaser’s death, on the 25th September of the same year, 1808, she was taken into Justice Grohmann’s service. Here her envy and jealousy were immediately excited by the two messengers Lawrence and Johann Dorsch, who, besides their official duties, rendered various domestic services to Grohmann. Moreover she asserted that they constantly teazed and laughed at her, and it vexed her that they drank too much beer. “I determined,” said the prisoner, “to spoil their appetite, and took four pitchers of beer, two of which I mixed with tartar emetic, and the other two with a larger dose of arsenic; my intention was to give them the contents of these pitchers by degrees, not in order to kill them, but only to make them sick. I once set one of these poisoned pitchers before them, but they did not like the taste of the beer, and drank very little of it, after which they emptied another pitcher, which contained no poison.”

The two Dorschs felt no bad effect whatever, and Zwanziger never repeated the attempt, probably because her attention was speedily directed to a more important object.

In the spring of 1809 Justice Christopher Hoffmann, of Wiesenfels, visited Grohmann, who was then ill in bed. A few glasses of beer, which tasted flat and unpleasant, were given to him, but he cannot remember by whom, and immediately after he went to see Gebhard. Scarce had he arrived at Gebhard’s house, when he felt very sick and went out into the air, whereupon he was seized with violent vomiting. The prisoner denied having poisoned him intentionally, but said that she put the pitchers which she had mixed with poison for the Dorschs into the cellar with the rest of the beer without marking them, and that she was unable to distinguish the poisoned from the unpoisoned beer. “Thus then,” said she, “it is possible that he may have drunk some of the poisoned beer by accident, but it certainly was never my intention even to make him sick, for he was a very respectable and excellent man, for whom I had a great regard, arid who had always shown me every respect, as also had his wife.”

One day Madame Schell and her husband went to see Grohmann, and she drank a cup of coffee. During the course of her visit at Grohmann’s she fainted and vomited the prisoner denied having given her any poison, and there was room for doubt, as Madame Schell did not remember distinctly whether she was taken ill before drinking the coffee or after.

It was not juridically proved that Grohmann died by poison, but the unusual symptoms that appeared during his last illness, the traces of arsenic found in the exhumed corpse, and the opinion of the physicians attached to the court, rendered it not only possible, but highly probable. A probability, amounting almost to certainty, pointed out Anna Zwanziger as the poisoner. A person who had already poisoned one woman, who was in the constant habit of dealing with poisons, and who kept a large store of poisoned drink ready in Grohmann’s house, which she had, according to her own confession, already used to the injury of two persons on the very slightest provocation, such a person would look upon such a deed as a commonplace occurrence. Moreover she was constantly about her master while suffering from gout; sought to keep away those who wished to wait upon him, and was angry when others gave him his medicines. These suspicions were strengthened by her violent demonstration of grief at Grohmann’s death, and the cries and lamentations with which she made the whole house resound, more especially whenever any stranger came into the room. Nor are her motives for murdering him difficult to guess. Ill as he was, Grohmann intended to marry the daughter of the neighbouring Justice Herrgott, at Dachsbach. Grohmann’s courtship and the prospect of his marriage were highly distasteful to Anna Zwanziger, and she showed this in various ways. Every letter that went to or came from Dachsbach was watched, waylaid, and examined. Grohmann once told Madame Schell that he was by no means satisfied with his housekeeper; that “she imagined every letter he received contained some offer of marriage, and that, old as she was, she had actually taken it into her head that he would marry her.” John Dorsch also said, “Whenever I went to the house, and asked after the health of her master, her constant answer was, ‘Why, he is always ill, and yet, to be sure, he wants to marry.’ She talked in the same strain to Grohmann’s sister : “Your brother’s intended is accustomed to a merry life, and will never be happy in such a quiet place as Sanspariel, with nothing to do but to be always mixing draughts.” At length there was a report in Grohmann’s house that the banns had actually been published, and that the bride was expected in eight days; this threw Zwanziger’s tongue and temper into a state of extraordinary excitement. Just at this time Grohmann was taken ill, and in a few days he died. If we consider these circumstances and the woman’s character, the following explanation appears extremely probable: That she, who never entered any man’s service without reckoning upon him as her future husband, indulged like hopes of Grohmann. But when, spite of all the flattery and subservience by which she had hoped to worm herself into his good graces, she found herself disappointed, anger against her master, envy of the young girl whose good fortune she envied, hatred of them both, and of the marriage which she foresaw would cost her her place these were sufficient to induce a person of her disposition to resolve upon punishing Grohmann by death, and his intended bride by depriving her of her bridegroom and thus to avenge her jealous fury upon them both. The most charitable interpretation of which her conduct admits, is, that she administered the poison to him with the object of keeping him continually so ill as to prevent the marriage, and by making herself necessary to him as a nurse, of securing the permanence of her situation. She denied having poisoned Grohmann intentionally, but admitted that he accidentally drank some of the poisoned beer which she kept ready for the Dorschs. When she set the poisoned pitcher before them, they refused to touch it, and placed it on a table with the other pitchers intended for Grohmann and his visitors. “The three remaining poisoned pitchers,” she continued, “I placed in the cellar with those containing the sound beer, and, as I had not marked them distinctly, the pitchers got mixed, so that I could no longer distinguish between those which were poisoned and those which were not. It is therefore very possible that Grohmann may have drunk some of the poisoned beer, in the same manner as Hoffmann also did. I cannot deny that he vomited very often. But Grohmann was much too valuable to me that I should injure him purposely; he was all in all to me; and what he ate, that I ate too. He was my best friend, and never offended me, so that I had nothing to revenge upon him.”

According to the strict letter of the law, the intentional poisoning was not clearly proved, but no unprejudiced person could entertain any doubt of it. How improbable is the statement by which she attempted to explain away her crime! Grohmann is “her all in all; her best friend;” and yet she leaves a pitcher of poisoned beer in his way; she knows that the pitchers of poisoned and sound beer are mixed together in the cellar, and yet, regardless of the consequences, she places those which may possibly be poisoned before her sick and “highly treasured best friend!”

On the 24th May, 1810, the body of Madame Gebhard was again disinterred and shown to Zwanziger, in the churchyard at Wonsers. She touched the right hand, saying, “Peace be with your ashes! I wish I lay in the grave by your side; I should there be freed from my woes!” She was then led to Grohmann’s grave. “Yes,” said she, “this is the grave of Justice Grohmann! With his death, as with Madame Gebhard’s, I had nothing to do.” Madame Gebhard, however, was, as she afterwards confessed, actually poisoned by her. She therefore probably had as much to do with Grohmann’s death as with Madame Gebhard’s; and her asseverations at his grave may be considered as a sort of veiled and half ironical admission that she was as innocent of his murder as of Madame Gebhard’s. In Gebhard’s house, which she entered on the 13th May, 1809, as housekeeper and monthly nurse, her career of guilt was still more rapid.

Scarce had she been in the house four days before she selected the lying-in woman as her victim. “Because,” said the prisoner, “Madame Gebhard was very cross, treated me roughly, and scolded me for having, as she said, neglected the housekeeping, I resolved to poison her.” On Wednesday the 17th May, Zwanziger accordingly went into the cellar, where she poisoned two pitchers of beer, one with as much tartar emetic as she could take up between the fingers of her right hand, and the other with a still stronger dose of arsenic. On the same day a glass jug was filled out of the first pitcher for the lying-in woman; and Gebhard himself, unconscious of what he was doing, repeatedly handed the poisonous draught to his wife. On Friday the 19th May, the day before her death, the contents of the second pitcher were placed before the sick woman, who drank but little. “I did not give her the poison to kill her,” said Zwanziger, “but only to plague her by making her sick, because she had plagued me. I knew very well that the beer could do her no harm. Had I thought that Madame Gebhard died by my fault, I would have laid myself in the grave beside her; for she had always been fond of me; she was my best friend, and always helped me byword and deed; she praised me wherever she went, and was invariably kind to me. We were like two sisters; we constantly met and talked about economical matters.” The malice and duplicity exhibited in this statement surpass all one can believe of human depravity, and it presents a very remarkable parallel to her declarations about Grohmann. She confessed that she intentionally gave poison to her “best friend her sister her friend in word and deed,” Madame Gebhard; and on the other hand she asked, how could she have wished to poison Grohmann, who was her “best friend her all in all.”

No one can doubt that her assertion that she did not give Madame Gebhard poison with the intention of causing her death, was a mere lie. Why, if she did not want to destroy her, did she, after the first pitcher was exhausted, give to her mistress already dangerously ill the beer containing a still larger dose of poison? Nor does her assertion that she did it to revenge insult and unkindness at all agree with any other part of the evidence. It was completely proved by the evidence of a number of witnesses, and by several passages in letters found in her commode, that she had conceived the same wishes and formed the same scheme with regard to Gebhard as she had already done with regard to Glaser and Grohmann; and although she had no ground for hope that Gebhard would marry her, still there was always the possibility that if left a widower he might be induced to do so; and to a person of her character this was sufficient reason for putting his wife out of the way.

Towards the end of August, as we have already stated, Beck, a shopman, and the widow of the secretary Alberti, dined with Gebhard, and were poisoned. The prisoner confessed this charge. She said that Beck had occasionally teased and laughed at her, and that she gave him some beer mixed with arsenic out of the same pitcher from which Madame Gebhard had been poisoned, and which, when half empty, she had merely filled up with fresh beer. She declared that it was never her intention to kill him, but only to punish him for laughing at her. “I must confess,” said she, “that it was good fun to see people who had teased me made very sick.” She also acknowledged that Madame Alberti drank out of the same pitcher, but added, that it was not her intention that she should do so, for that she dissuaded her from it, and gave her a cordial and some coffee after she had been made sick by the poisoned beer.

She denied having poisoned the messenger Rosenhauer with wine, but confessed having done so with beer. She said that she had an antipathy to Rosenhauer because he told tales against her, and that she gave him some of the same beer that she gave to Beck a few days later, in order to punish him; adding that on both occasions she did no more than fill up the pitcher from which Madame Gebhard had been poisoned.

With regard to the charge of poisoning Rosenhauer’s lad, she did not deny the deed, but only the means alleged. She said that “it was contrary to common sense to suppose that any one could be poisoned in brandy, which is so clear that the least grain of dust could be seen in it; but that as Kraus had always been very rude to her, she gave him a glass of the poisoned beer to make him sick.” Her statement is in direct contradiction to the fact that Kraus was taken ill after drinking some muddy-looking brandy given him by Zwanziger; whereas he affirmed that she had frequently given him beer, from which he had never perceived any ill effects.

It is likewise proved that on the 1st September, Gebhard, Beck, his brother, who had been poisoned by Zwanziger only a few days before, the burghermaster Petz and the clerk Scherber, who were assembled on the skittle-ground, were all taken ill after drinking some beer which was sent by Zwanziger, at her master’s desire, and out of his cellar. Zwanziger resolutely denied any criminal intention; she asserted that she did not know how it happened; “that perhaps some sediment might have remained in the bottom of the two pitchers originally prepared for Madame Gebhard, that they may have been filled up afresh, and that she may have sent them by accident.” Nothing can be more improbable than this statement and nothing more certain than her guilt, according to all the rules of experience and common sense. She, to whom, according to her own confession, it was “great fun” to watch the torments of the people whom she had poisoned, might think it vastly droll to spoil the sport of a whole party and be entertained by the mere thought of their pains, contortions, and wry faces; not to mention that among them was Beck, whom she hated, and on whom she had played the same trick only a few days before.

Nor is her statement that she did all this with the same two pitchers, into which she had put poison on the 17th May, without adding any fresh arsenic to the old sediment, at all more credible; if it were true, they must have strangely resembled the widow’s cruse of oil. First, Madame Gebhard was. destroyed by their contents; next Beck and Madame Alberti each drank several glasses, after which they were both violently ill; then Rosenhauer and Kraus; and finally a party of five persons, who were all taken ill, and most of whom felt the effects of the poison for months. The following circumstance gives the key to a far more probable explanation: On the evening before her departure from Gebhard’s house, after he had taken the keys from her, she went into the cellar with Scherber, the clerk, in order to show him, what he could easily have found without her, the place where the candles were kept. As Scherber was going out again with the candles, she took up a little earthen jar, saying that she would take it with her, for that it had stood there for a long time past. She then gave it to the housemaid, and told her to wash it; and in doing so the latter perceived a hard white deposit, about one-eighth of an inch thick, in the bottom of the jar. This was in all probability the vessel in which she prepared the poison for the beer as often as she wanted it. She denied any concern with the sickness which attacked the two maid-servants, Hazin and Waldman, after drinking the coffee. On the other hand, she confessed that she put poison into the salt-box in the kitchen on the evening before she left Gebhard’s house. “I must confess,” these are her own words, “that on the evening before my departure I mixed the contents of the salt-box which is used in the kitchen with arsenic, in order that after I was gone everybody who stayed in the house might get some of it, and also in order to get the maid into trouble. I took a pinch of arsenic out of my pocket, went with it from my bed-room into the kitchen, whence I carried the salt-box into the servants’ hall, and dropped the arsenic into it while I stirred the salt three times, and made some joke about it.”

Now the store of salt in the barrel was likewise found to contain a considerable admixture of arsenic, and out of this very barrel Zwanziger had with her own hands filled the kitchen salt-box. There is scarce room for doubt that she who put poison into the one put it into the other; and yet she asserted her innocence in the face of all this evidence. “I can only suppose,” said she, “that several persons have conspired to destroy me.”

With regard to Gebhard’s child, an infant six months old, “her darling,” as she called it, to which she was accused of having administered arsenic in a biscuit and some milk, under pretence of affection, she stated that she did not give it anything in the biscuit, but that she put “just the least bit of tartar emetic” into a coffee-cup full of milk, of which she gave the child a few spoonfuls, and then threw away the rest, on perceiving that the tartar was not entirely dissolved. She says that she had no design upon the child’s life, but only wanted to make it feel sick, so that it might cry and be uneasy, and thus induce Gebhard to send for her back from Baireuth to quiet it: she then adds, that she waited in this hope at Baireuth for four weeks. That her account of the motives which led her to commit this crime is in the main true, is proved by various passages in several of her letters to Gebhard; but her endeavour to extenuate her guilt is as evident in this instance as in all the preceding ones; for the maid-servant Hazin states that Zwanziger gave the child a biscuit soaked in the poisoned milk, which filled not quite half a coffee-cup, instead of a whole one, and which she let the child drink right off, instead of, as she said, giving a few teaspoonfuls.

It appears strange that this woman, after confessing, as she well knew, more than enough to ensure her sentence of death, should have endeavoured till the very last to explain away and gloss over her chief crimes, and, in the face of the most complete evidence, have altogether denied her lesser offences. It seemed impossible to her false and distorted nature to be quite sincere, or to utter a truth without associating with it a lie.

When Anna Zwanziger fell into the hands of justice, she had already reached her fiftieth year; she was of small stature, thin and deformed, her sallow and meagre face was deeply furrowed by passion as well as by age, and bore no trace of former beauty. Her eyes were expressive of envy and malice, and her brow was perpetually clouded, even when her lips moved to smile. Her manner was cringing, servile, and affected, and age and ugliness had not diminished her craving for admiration. Even in prison and under sentence of death, her imagination was still occupied with the pleasures of her youth. One day when her judge visited her in prison, she begged him not to infer what she had been from what she then was, for “that she was once beautiful, exceedingly beautiful.”

The following story of her life is founded partly on the testimony of witnesses, and partly on her autobiography, which filled eighteen closely-written folio sheets.

Anna Schönleben (English Wikipedia entry | the slightly more detailed German) was born at Nürnberg, on the 7th August, 1760, at the sign of the Black Cross, an inn belonging to her father, whose name was Schönleben. He died only a year and a half after her birth, and before she was five years old she lost her mother and her only brother. After her mother’s death she was put to board with an old maid at Nürnberg, and two or three years later she went to live with an aunt at Feucht, who, she says, was a second mother to her; at the end of two years more she was sent back to Nürnberg to live with the widow of a clergyman. At last, when she was about ten years old, her guardian, a rich merchant, took her into his house, where she received a very good religious education, and learnt writing, reading, arithmetic, and the rudiments of the French language, besides all kinds of needlework, in which she acquired extraordinary skill.

She had scarcely completed her fifteenth year when her guardian determined to marry her to a notary named Zwanziger. She did not like her future husband, who was already past thirty, and for a long time she avoided him and rejected all his offers. At length, however, her guardian’s persuasions subdued her resistance, and in the nineteenth year of her age she became Zwanziger’s wife.

Married to a man whom she feared and disliked, and who moreover was always engaged either in business or in drinking, leaving her to lead a life of solitude and monotony, which contrasted most disagreeably with the gaiety of her guardian’s house, she endeavoured to divert her melancholy by reading novels. “My first novel,” said she, “was the Sorrows of Werther,’ and it affected me so much that I did nothing but weep; if I had had a pistol, I should have shot myself too. After this I read Pamela and Emilia Galotti.” Thus uncultivated and frigid natures excite their imaginations to represent as really felt emotions they are incapable of feeling. Such natures strive to deceive themselves as well as others by a mere grimace of sensibility, till at last it becomes so habitual to them, that they are really incapable of distinguishing truth from falsehood, and end by poisoning the very source of truth, the natural feelings. Hypocrisy, falsehood, and malice are fruits easily produced, and fearfully soon matured in a soul accustomed to disguise its real feelings under assumed ones; and thus it is that sentimentality is perfectly consistent with total hardness of heart, and even with cruelty.

The pleasures of sensibility were soon superseded by enjoyments more congenial to her character; she came of age, and her property was delivered into the hands of her husband, who spent it in amusements, in which, as was but fair, he permitted his wife to take part. They gave dinners, concerts, balls, and fête champêtres, and spent their days and nights in a constant round of dissipation.

A few years of this kind of life exhausted her fortune. She now had two children to support, and her husband was a confirmed drunkard, who often drank ten bottles of wine a day, and always wanted to be at the tavern; he was as irritable and tyrannical when money for this purpose was not forthcoming, as he was obliging and indulgent when he got it. The admirer of Pamela, she who had wept over the Sorrows of Werther, now offered her person for hire. “But,” said she, “I always had the delicacy to admit none but men of rank and discretion; for from my youth upwards my principle has ever been to stick to those who could advance my fortunes; and thus, I had the good luck to receive a great, deal of assistance from many distinguished men.”

After about two years, Zwanziger contrived a scheme for a lottery of watches, which for a time restored their fortunes. This improvement in their circumstances immediately brought with it a return to habits of dissipation; the course of life which Zwanziger had entered from want and for money, she now pursued from habit and inclination. A scandalous and expensive connection with a Lieutenant von B gave rise to a violent domestic quarrel.

Zwanziger left her husband, and went to her lover’s sister at Vienna, but soon returned to Nürnberg in consequence of her husband’s representations, where, at her lover’s instigation, she commenced an action for divorce against her husband, and obtained it after a short suit. On the very day after the proclamation of the divorce she remarried him, and, according to her own statement, lived with him very contentedly till the day of his death. She says that she ended by being positively attached to him, for that on several occasions he had shown “a very noble way of thinking, and a susceptible heart.”

On the 20th January, 1796, Anna Zwanziger was left a widow, after eighteen years of marriage. Her husband died after a short illness, and she was suspected of having poisoned him, but this suspicion was not confirmed on investigation.

Ever since her husband’s death Zwanziger’s life was one tissue of misfortunes, follies, vices, and, finally, crimes. Her patrimony was consumed, and every other source of income dried up. She was unable to collect in all more than 400 florins. With this sum she went to Vienna, as she gave out, to establish herself as a confectioner. Failing in this, she became housekeeper in several considerable families. She then grew intimate with a clerk in the Hungarian exchequer, “of very fine sensibilities,” by whom she had an illegitimate child, which she put into the foundling hospital, where it died soon after. She returned to Nürnberg after an absence of a year and a half. She had at first no intention of remaining long in her paternal city. But one day a certain Freiherr von W called upon her, and offered his protection, his friendship, and his love. She perceived, as she said, that in the Freiherr she had found a “very noble man,” and thereupon hired a private lodging. Here she was constantly visited by her protector, who provided her with money; but, according to her own account, respected her virtue. She added to her means by making dolls.

This connection lasted about three months, when the place of housekeeper to one of the ministers resident at Frankfurt was offered to her. Her noble protector at Nürnberg was so generous as not to stand in the way of her promotion, and she set out for the place of her destination with 100 florins, which he gave her. She did not, however, remain in this situation above two or three months, chiefly owing to her dirty habits and want of skill in cookery. According to her own statement, indeed, she stayed there a year and a half, and left her place for quite different reasons.

She then hired an apartment over a hairdresser’s shop at Frankfurt, for a month: entered the service of a troop of equestrian performers, whom she quitted at the end of eight days, as they were going to Bamberg, and returned to the hairdresser at Frankfurt, where a merchant took her for a short time into his family as nursemaid all this within the space of a few months. So many misfortunes in succession, added to the insupportable thought of having fallen from her station as mistress of a house and family to the condition of a servant, worked so strongly on her feelings as to cause her to behave like a mad woman. She wept, laughed, and prayed by turns. She received her mistress’s orders with a laugh, and went obediently away, but never executed them.

In her extreme need she applied by letter to her noble friend the Freiherr, who accordingly again offered her his protection, and on her arrival at Nürnberg received her with open arms. “But, to her
astonishment” so she would have it believed “she now found a great alteration in his manners. He, a married man, grew free in speech and conduct, and at last so far forgot his dignity” as to cause her to have the prospect of becoming a mother.”* As soon as her protector was informed of this fact, his manner became colder and his visits less frequent, and she soon ascertained that he paid far greater attention to an actress of considerable reputation in Germany, who was then at Nürnberg. This shock, as she pretended, brought on a miscarriage; and not content with this, on the following day she borrowed a lancet from the people of the house and opened a vein in each arm, but, as she said, “was stopped in the execution of her purpose, and lost only a teacupful of blood.” The owner of the lodging called upon Freiherr von W , told him what had happened, and showing him the fatal lancet, induced him to visit this female Werther on the following day. The Freiherr appeared, but not as a penitent. When the teacupful of blood was shown to him, he laughed at her folly, and after a scene of violent reproaches on her side he turned his back upon her, and never saw her again. Burning for revenge, she collected his letters and sent them to his wife. She then went with Siegwart in her pocket, and accompanied by her maid, to the Pegnitz, resolved, as she asserted, to drown herself. She seated herself on the bank of the river, and read Siegwart, till she carne to the song “Mein leben ist so traurig,” &c., whereupon she jumped into the stream. Two fishermen who were near at hand rescued her, with no other injury than a thorough wetting. A change of clothes was immediately brought her, and the wet ones were carried to the Freiherr as evidence of her second attempt at suicide.

The maid who conveyed them received from the Freiherr 25 florins, with the recommendation to her mistress to quit Nürnberg as soon as possible. She accordingly went to Ratisbon that very night, without even returning to her lodging.

It is evident that the object of these two attempts at self-destruction was the same. She let herself blood with no intention to bleed to death; and jumped into the water merely that she might be pulled out again. Nevertheless she ascribed, and no doubt truly, her hatred of mankind to the faithless and hard-hearted conduct of her protector. She said in one of her examinations, “It is all Freiherr von W’s fault that my heart is so hard. When I opened my veins and he saw my blood, he only laughed. And when I reproached him with having once before ruined a poor girl who drowned herself and her child by him, he laughed again. My feelings were terrible, and when I afterwards did anything wicked, I said to myself, No one ever pitied me, and therefore I will show no
pity to others
.”

At Ratisbon she lay ill for three weeks of a fever; she then went to Vienna, thence back to Nürnberg, and finally into Thuringia, where in 1804 she entered the service of Kammerherr von S at Weimar, as housemaid. According to her account all the servants in the house were hard worked and ill paid, for which reason she soon got tired of it and resolved to leave it secretly without giving warning, and to carry away something “to make herself amends.” “My plan,” says she, “succeeded admirably. One day while my master and mistress were at dinner, I was told to play with the child to keep it quiet. I accordingly went with it into the drawing-room, where there was a small round table with a drawer, in which were a diamond ring, a number of pearls, earrings, jewels, and other such trinkets. Where, thought I, such things as these are left for a child to play with, it is clear that they are not much valued; if they were, they would be locked up. At that moment the child was playing with a ring-case, and, after rolling it to and fro, put it into my hand; I opened it, and on seeing the ring I felt as if some one stood beside me and said “Keep it!” I obeyed the inspiration, put the child to sleep, and quitted the house and the town before my master and mistress had left the dinner-table.” This ingenious romance, in which she ascribes a deed which she had unguardedly owned to be premeditated, to the sudden inspiration of an evil spirit, and which is moreover calculated to give an unfavourable idea of the habits of order and care of her mistress, is utterly inconsistent with the very prosaic account of the affair given by the latter, who declares that the ring was taken out of a locked escritoire, the key of which was kept in her own work-basket.

Having escaped from Weimar with her booty, Zwanziger took refuge with her son-in-law Sauer, a bookbinder, at Mainbernheim. Scarcely, however, had she been three days in his house, when a newspaper fell into his hands containing an advertisement from Weimar for the apprehension of his mother-in-law on the charge of having stolen a diamond ring. He immediately turned her out of his house, and on the same day she went to Würzburg, whence she had the audacity to write to the master whom she had robbed, reproaching him for bringing her into misfortune by this public advertisement. And indeed it had fallen upon her like a thunderbolt; her name was dishonoured, she was outlawed and civilly dead; and in order to be tolerated among men she was forced as it were to cease to exist in her own person, and from this time forward she exchanged the name of Zwanziger for her maiden name of Schönleben.

She wandered about Franconia for some time, staying now in one place and now in another, and finding temporary shelter and assistance chiefly among people of rank and education. At length, in the year 1805, she found a provision in the little town of Neumarkt, in the upper Palatinate. She established herself there to teach needlework to young girls, got a number of pupils, besides earning a good deal by sewing, and, according to the testimony of the magistrates, won universal good will by her industry and her decorous behaviour. But her fate, or rather her restless discontented spirit, would not suffer her to remain quiet. Unhappily for her, old General N. came to stay a while at Neumarkt. She contrived to insinuate herself into the old gentleman’s favour, who descended to the closest familiarity with her, and on one occasion promised to provide for her. She was again filled with the memory of bygone days, in which she enjoyed the protection of “distinguished noblemen,” and fancied that, old as she was, those days were now about to return. She already dreamed of going to Munich as the mistress of “his Excellency.” She indulged these visions with feelings of perfect security, as she had “always heard that the Catholics nearly always kept their word.” General N. left Neumarkt, and soon after she wrote to him, but received no answer. Some time after she wrote again, and falsely told him that she was with child. But instead of an answer, she received, through the hands of a clergyman, a trifling sum of money to stop her importunities. Not yet discouraged, she left Neumarkt, where she had found peace and support for a whole year, and went to Munich to present herself in person before his Excellency, but was refused admission. She wrote a letter to him from the inn, but received a verbal answer through a secretary or servant to the effect that she was no longer to trouble his Excellency with her foolish impertinence; he also sent her a small sum of money for her travelling expenses.

Thus forced to leave Münich, she went to several different places in succession till her destiny led her to Pegnitz in 1807, and from thence to Kasendorf and Sanspareil, the scene of her greater crimes.

In her youth this woman showed herself irresolute, coquettish, superficially accomplished, and perverted by reading sentimental novels. Always the slave of circumstances, she at first gave herself up to folly and dissipation, until she gradually sunk into vice, and at last sold her person for money; and thus, with honour and self-respect, she lost her last social restraint and support.

Her vanity, which she dignified with the name of delicate sensibility, drew her towards the higher classes; she was often compelled to please and attract men whom she did not like, to assume a cheerful countenance among strangers by whom she was repulsed and humbled, and to smother the passions which were raging within her. She was too restless to live honestly by the work of her hands in quiet and retirement, and too proud to be satisfied as a mere domestic servant; she therefore affected great zeal in the service of her various masters, and endeavoured to place herself upon such a confidential footing with them as to preclude all exercise of authority on their part. Thus, always acting a part, and forced to appear different to what she really was, she learnt the art of accommodating herself to those with whom she lived, and lost what little truth and honesty was still left in her. She became false, cunning, smooth-tongued, and hypocritical. There was a smile upon her lips, while within there was burning hatred; her mouth spoke of God, while her heart took counsel of Satan; she sowed hatred, while she spoke the words of conciliation; her praises were calumnies, and her calumny was concealed in praise; when forced to speak the truth, she invariably coupled with it a lie. But she was not yet prepared to become a poisoner, and a compounder of poisons, as she showed herself at Kasendorf and Sanspareil. With no worse a character she might still belong to the world; with these vices a man may command a distinguished place in the best society, as they frequently form the basis of what in fashionable life is called knowledge of the world.

But Zwanziger thought herself unfortunate, and in her this feeling severed all the ties of human sympathy. Persecuted by destiny, or rather by the consequences of her own faults and vices, her ever ready self-love led her to ascribe every hope deceived, and every evil that befel her, to the malice or the cruelty of mankind. With such dispositions as these, is it surprising that her heart should soon be filled with envy and mischief?

After being for twenty years a wanderer on the face of the earth, nearly fifty years of age, and still homeless, friendless, and only endured among men by concealing her real name, she now anxiously sought a resting-place and a provision, and that not as the maid-servant she now was, but as the mistress of a house which she had formerly been. She could no longer endure to belong always to others, and never to herself; continually to cringe and flatter, and to affect zeal in the service of those whom in her heart she hated; to be always dependent and subservient, while her soul was filled with the recollection of bygone days, in which she was the object of attention and flattery. She was resolved to escape from this position, or at all events to find some compensation for it.

But no means of acquiring independence presented itself to her within the pale of social order, till at length she discovered the secret of a hidden power, by the exercise of which she might not only emancipate herself from restraint, but also rule unseen and uncontrolled. This secret power was poison.

As Zwanziger never made a complete and sincere confession, we have no means of knowing at what time and on what inducement the idea first occurred to her whether suddenly or by slow degrees whether she at once formed a systematic plan, or whether it developed itself little by little and almost unconsciously in her mind. Her confession almost always leaves us in the dark with regard to the secret springs which guided her actions, but the actions themselves are so numerous and so clear, that we may trace them to their source with perhaps as much certainty as the most open confession could do for us.

Thus much is clearly proved by her whole course of action, that we cannot attribute it, as in the case of ordinary criminals, to any one ruling passion, or to one especial motive. Her attachment to poison was based upon the proud consciousness of possessing a power which enabled her to break through every restraint, to attain every object, to gratify every inclination, and to determine the very existence of others. Poison was the magic wand with which she ruled those whom she outwardly obeyed, and opened the way to her fondest hopes. Poison enabled her to deal out death, sickness, and torture to all who offended her or stood in her way — it punished every slight — it prevented the return of unwelcome guests — it disturbed those social pleasures which it galled her not to share — it afforded her amusement by the contortions of the victims, and an opportunity of ingratiating herself by affected sympathy with their sufferings — it was the means of throwing suspicion upon innocent persons, and of getting fellow-servants into trouble. If she flattered herself with the prospect of marrying an already married man, at her will wives descended into the grave, and left their husbands free for her. She grudged the bride her bridegroom, and the wedding-feast was held in vain. In time mixing and giving poison became her constant occupation; she practised it in jest and in earnest, and at last with real passion for poison itself, without reference to the object for which it was given. She grew to love it from long habit and from gratitude for its faithful services, she looked upon it as her truest friend, and made it her constant companion. At her apprehension arsenic was found in her pocket, and when it was laid before her at Culmbach to be identified, she seemed to tremble with pleasure, and gazed upon the white powder with eyes beaming with rapture. This love for poison may perhaps in some degree explain why she, who had confessed the most atrocious crimes and was under sentence of death, in her written memoirs speaks of her deeds as “slight errors,” accuses of cruelty and injustice those who could bring destruction upon her for the sake of such “trifling offences,” and boasts of her “piety” as only “too great,” and as the origin of all her misfortunes. So true is it that habit reconciles us to everything, and that we are inclined to excuse the most atrocious crimes when they are committed by one we love.

On the 7th of July, 1811, the court at Bamberg sentenced Anna Margaret Zwanziger to have her head cut off by the sword, and her body to be afterwards laid upon the wheel.

The sentence of death received the royal confirmation, accompanied by the command that the exposure of the body on the wheel be omitted.

Zwanziger received her sentence without any perceptible emotion, and signed the papers presented to her with a firm hand. She passed the three days which remained to her of life with perfect composure. She confessed to her judge that her death was fortunate for mankind, for that it would have been impossible to her to discontinue her trade of poisoning. On the day before her execution she wrote, in the presence of the judge, a farewell letter to one of her friends at Nürnberg, in which she thanks her in measured terms for the friendship she had shown her, begs her forgiveness and sympathy, sends her love to other persons, and concludes thus: “I must now end; the hour will soon strike at which my woes will cease. Pray for me. The 17th of September is the day fixed for my death, on which I shall receive from God the reward of my actions. I have already ceased to belong to this world.” She wished to prove to the judge her sense of the kindness he had shown to her by the strange request that he would allow her, if it were possible, to appear to him after her death, and to give him ocular demonstration of the immortality of the soul. She remained constant to her character on the day of her execution. She listened to her sentence with the greatest composure, and without shedding a tear. While it was read she held her handkerchief before her face, as the crowd put her to shame; and when the wand was broken over her,** she took courteous leave of the judge and officers of the court, as of some every-day company.

A short time before her execution, the judge appealed to her conscience to confess the innocence of Justice Glaser; but she persisted in her slanderous accusation that he had participated in her first murder, and with this lie upon her soul she laid her guilty head upon the block.

* This was probably a mere pretext to attach her lover to her more firmly.

** “Breaking the wand” in Germany answers to “putting on the black cap” in England.

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1971: Victor Apaza Quispe, Arequipa folk saint

Add comment September 17th, 2014 Headsman

From Frank Graziano’s Cultures of Devotion: Folk Saints of Spanish America:


In Arequipa, there is active devotion to Victor Apaza Quispe, who was born in the Miraflores district in 1932. Apaza led a vagrant life supported by odd jobs after fleeing his abusive father. In a variant version that he related to inmates, he was sold by his father into farm labor. Apaza married in 1953, continued a life of transient jobs and petty crime, drank heavily, and physically abused his wife and daughter until he finally abandoned the home. When he returned ten years later, the marriage was beyond repair. In January 1969, Apaza dreamed that his wife was unfaithful to him. He went to the location revealed in the dream and saw the shadowy figure of a man escaping. His wife, also there, was not as fortunate. Apaza beat her to death with a rock.

It was later revealed that the crime was premeditated and carefully planned. Apaza originally denied responsibility but confessed his guilt once the evidence mounted against him. Later, during appeals for clemency, he again declared his innocence. He was convicted partially on the evidence of his two daughters, who wittingly or unwittingly offered testimony that supported the death penalty. Apaza did not understand the sentence until his lawyer translated it for him into Quechua. He hugged his lawyer, the two of them crying, and then collapsed into his chair.

People in the courtroom were shocked by the death sentence. The rarity of the event — this would be the first execution in Arequipa — resulted in extensive press coverage. Apaza suddenly gained a celebrity derived less from his crime than from the punishment. The press represented him as a poor, simple man and a good Christian. According to Apaza’s defense attorney, “the very foundation of society was shaken” when the public learned that Apaza had been sentenced to death. Horror and indignation were aroused because the imminent execution was “an unjust action of human justice.” Divine justice would make amends.

Apaza faced the firing squad in prison on September 17, 1971. (The drama is intensified in some folkloric versions by locating the execution in Arequipa’s main plaza.) Arequipa’s residents were outraged, even traumatized, and some fifteen hundred attended Apaza’s funeral. They organized themselves into squads, taking turns to carry the coffin.

Apaza had been in prison for two years before he was executed. Like Ubilberto Vasquez Bautista in Cajamarca, he became a model prisoner and something of a populist. Fellow inmates described Apaza as a good, hardworking, honest man. In 1971, the 531 men incracerated with him sent a letter to the court petitioning clemency, in part because Apaza had proven himself to be “an honorable man and dedicated to his work.” The prison chaplain, a Jesuit, found Apaza to be pious and God-fearing, and the warden thought he was a “completely good” man. Later, retrospective press accounts described Apaza and Ubilberto together as “innocent men crushed by the Kafkaesque and labyrinthine cruelties of the administration of justice in Peru.”

Book CoverThe devotees with whom I spoke in Arequipa knew little about Apaza. Even the official rezador, a man who prays for tips at the shrine, did not have the story clear. Many devotees had a vague idea that Apaza had been executed under circumstances that suggested injustice, however, and the key word offered by all was “innocent.” Some believed that the true killer confessed the crime after Apaza was executed.

When I asked devotees how they knew that Apaza was innocent, one woman astonished me with her answer: “because a sinner cannot work miracles.” I later encountered this same response in other devotions. Once a folk saint’s fame for miracles is accepted as true, then this truth — this evidence — revises backward to create the conditions necessary for the production of miracles. Miracles make Apaza’s apparent guilt impossible, so the verdict is reversed. Innocence causes miracles, and miracles cause innocence. Miracles occur within the circularity defined by these parameters.

Apaza is miraculous, like all folk saints of this prototype, because “he died innocent and is beside Our Lord.” “You were shot, you suffered,” people said when they requested the first miracles, because these misfortunes qualified Apaza for sainthood.

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1814: Vicente Salias, Venezuelan national anthem author

Add comment September 17th, 2013 Headsman

On this date in 1814, the Venezuelan doctor and writer Vicente Salias was shot in San Felipe castle at Puerto Cabello by the Spanish who meant to run the place.

Salias (English Wikipedia entry | Spanish) was a founding member of the Sociedad Patriotica de Caracas and editor of the nationalist publication El Patriota de Venezuela.

He worked for the First Republic of Venezuela, a short-lived (1810-1812) attempt to break away from a Spanish empire preoccupied by the Napoleonic Wars. In 1810, Salias is said to have* composed the lyrics for Gloria al Bravo Pueblo (Glory to the Brave People),

Captured attempting to escape the approaching royalist forces of Jose Tomas Boves, Salias was shot with the spectacularly defiant last cry of “God Almighty, if the Heavens admit Spaniards, then I renounce the Heavens!”

* There are some revisionist hypotheses postulating other authors.

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1895: The Vegetarian perpetrators of the Kucheng Massacre

1 comment September 17th, 2012 Headsman

On the morning of September 17, 1895, in the presence of the British and American consuls, seven perpetrators of a Chinese massacre of western Christian missionaries were beheaded at Foochow.

Anticipating the better-known Boxer Rebellion by four years, the Kucheng Massacre (there are many other transliterations of “Kucheng”) was likewise a response to the Celestial Empire’s frustrating second-class status as against European interlopers.

Christian missionaries had been a point of friction in China for decades. Though their rights to proselytize had been guaranteed in a hated treaty dictated to China by force of arms, they often met resentment or worse on the ground.

“You bring incense in one hand, a spear in the other;” one evangelist reported being told: that is, however honorable the immediate intentions of many individual missionaries, their presence looked like a stalking horse for less reputable western interventions like the opium trade. (That’s how it looked to many Chinese. Professional western diplomats themselves found the impolitic preachers a hindrance to their statecraft, according to Ian Welch’s 2006 paper “Missionaries, Murder and Diplomacy in Late 19th Century China: A Case Study” (pdf).*)

On August 1, 1895, these frustrations unleashed a river of blood at the village of Huashan in Gutian County, where a Buddhist secret society — known as “Vegetarians” in the western press for their characteristic dietary vow — fell upon a group of vacationing British Anglican missionaries still abed at dawn and ruthlessly slaughtered eleven of them. (There are some 1890s books paying tribute to the fallen available online: Robert and Louisa Stewart: In Life and in Death, and The sister martyrs of Ku Cheng : Memoir and Letters of Eleanor and Elizabeth Saunders (“Nellie” and “Topsie”) of Melbourne.)

“The attack came,” said a physician from a nearby town who was summoned to the bloody scene, “like a thunderbolt from a clear sky, not one of the victims having received the slightest intimation of the intended assault.”

Word of the carnage struck western powers with similar force.

Incensed newspaper-readers literally demanded** gunboat diplomacy, and literally got it, especially when Chinese authorities drug their feet on the condign punishment the missionaries’ countrymen were clamoring for.

All this put British diplomacy on a sticky wicket, which Welch (pdf) deals with in detail. To satisfy the domestic audience, the government had to be seen to be taking a hard line on avenging the outrages; at the same time, London was wise to the Chinese state’s shakiness and wary that a “barbarous holocaust” perpetrated against the Vegetarians would trigger a mass backlash and bring the whole thing down.

An obdurate Chinese viceroy impeded the quick resolution everyone was after by making inflammatory public proclamations against Christians, and releasing without explanation six of the thirteen men who had initially been condemned to death in the month of August. The seven who were executed on this date were therefore only the vanguard of 26 humans ultimately put to death for their involvement in the atrocity.

Some of the execution photographs that follow are Mature Content. They’re obtained via Visual Cultures in East Asia; some also available at USC Digital Library.



Raids and investigations to bring the Vegetarian movement to heel continued for several months thereafter, and the whole affair ultimately was quelled without doing any of the wider damage that might have been feared — not even to missionaries who continued pouring into China.

And that, effectively, kicked the can down the road on the anti-foreigner sentiments afoot in the land … sentiments that would find much costlier expression a few years later when another secret society kicked off the Boxer Rebellion.

* I’ve relied heavily on Welch for this post. He’s also collected a massive trove (over 1,200 pages) of primary documents from this incident available in a series of pdfs (some quite large) from the Australian National University website:

** This was not universally so. The wife of missionary Stephen Livingston Baldwin, who knew some of the victims of the attack, urged a “charitable” response and sensitivity that “the Chinese feel that all the world is against them, and they are not far from right.” (New York Times, Aug. 10, 1895) In letters responding to intemperate coverage elsewhere, she acidly compared (pdf) western editorialists’ high dudgeon to their look-forward-not-back dismissal of recent stateside anti-Chinese violence.

It was ten years yesterday since more Chinese were killed, and burned alive and left to die wounded, in one hour, at Rock Springs, Wyoming (the very same Territory in which the recent massacre occurred) than have been Americans and English in China in the thirty-four years I have personally known that land, being a resident there twenty years and closely connected with it ever since. Ten years yesterday since that awful Rock Springs massacre, and up to date no one arrested, much less punished! The anti-Chinese papers of the town and neighbourhood gloating over the awful details and assuring all that there would be “no Congressional investigation,” and no waste of “enterprising newspaper eloquence” over the woes of the Chinese, “though their blood flow like rivers, as they had no votes and no friends.” In less than four weeks after the Ku-Cheng massacre, arrest, investigation and execution have all taken place for the Ku-Cheng massacre. Would that our colored, red and yellow brethren, so helpless in our so-called civilized and Christian land, had some power behind them to bestir Ministers Plenipotentiary, wave flags, and run gunboats to the front, to bully, if necessary, our pusillanimous Government into some sort of civilization — I will not say Christian justice!

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1912: Bertram Spencer

1 comment September 17th, 2011 Headsman

On this date in 1912, a prolific Springfield thief died in the electric chair.


No, not Snake.

This fellow was Bertram G. Spencer, whose Boston Brahmin name belied a deceptively modest station.

A brakeman by day, Spencer lived a double life as Massacusetts’ boldest burglar in the evenings, when he would raid homes around Springfield at times when he was likely to be caught. (Hey, he did have a day job.) He frequently was intercepted, but for two years nobody ever got the drop on him and the numerous conversations he had with his victims were not enough to crack the case.

This villain comes up short of positively Moriartyesque by virtue of his amateurish chops in acquisition; one of the mystery burglar’s noted characteristics was the frequency with which he passed over the most valuable booty in the house in favor of some inconsequential bauble.

With his penchant for brandishing a weapon at the folks he bumped into, it was only a matter of time before somebody died for one of those inconsequential baubles. On March 31, 1910, schoolteacher Martha A. Blackstone became that somebody when in a panicking reaction to Spencer’s home invasion she failed to pipe down and let him rob — and he shot her dead.

Forensics then languishing in a primitive state, Spencer kept getting away with his larcenous (and then murderous) spree with little more than the expedient of wearing a kerchief and hat to hide his face. How were they ever going to find the guy — unless he did something ridiculous like drop a monogrammed locket on the scene?

Wait. No way. You cannot be serious.


Period
postcard shows images connected to the Spencer crimes centered around the “B.G.S.” locket he dropped at one site, leading to his detection. Just to really make sure he hung himself, the locket contained pictures of his mother and sister.

Upon arrest, police tossed his home and discovered (quoth the New York Times) “black masks, slouch hats,” and “a big revolver, fully loaded” under his pillow. No word on whether he was twirling his mustache, too.

Where the relieved well-to-do of Springfield perhaps saw only a somewhat preposterous villain — inspired, according to the Springfield Republican, by “a daredevil bravado, a love of the spectacular and a lack of pecuniary calculation which strongly suggested either the monomania of an unbalanced mind or a romantic vanity fed on by penny dreadfuls” — other practitioners in the emerging field of psychiatry saw a systemic breakdown.

Indeed, Spencer became the topic of an open tug-of-war over handling defendants with putative mental disorders in the criminal justice system. The district attorney at the time had Spencer committed without trial, and his doing so — rather than contesting Spencer’s sanity in court — contributed to his loss at the polls in 1910. (The new guy, in his remarks on the case, reclassified Spencer from “insane” to the more prosecutable “moral imbecile.”)

If the public was certain enough about Bertram Spencer’s sanity to elect a guy just to try him, it will come as no surprise that the testimony about Spencer’s abusive childhood and manic-depression cut no ice with a jury of his peers.

While our burglar went to his juridical death (last words: “good night”), a Massachusetts psychologist named Lloyd Vernon Briggs took up the man (alongside more luminous criminals like presidential assassin Leon Czolgosz) as one of his case studies for a 1914 book, The Manner of Man That Kills. A lengthy pdf of the Spencer material — it’s all public domain — is available here.

Briggs viewed mentally disordered prisoners as people who were ill-served by the criminal justice system: more than that, as instances where a society failed itself by failing to recognize potentially criminal mental illness before it metastasized into actual crime, and the adversarial judiciary as a factor in that dysfunction.

Dr. L. Vernon Briggs … made it his goal to end the courtroom spectacle of dueling psychiatrists. …

Briggs was an indefatigable advocate of the psychological links between mental illness and murder. He believed that mental illness and moral degradation were the root causes of crime and violence. … Briggs insisted that the “real offender is society and not the children in the form of men, not the mentally diseased” who commit violent crime.

When mentally ill people landed in court, Briggs believed that the law’s adversary procedures undermined scientific truth and the legal protection provided a defendant. He wanted to bridge the gulf between law and psychiatry by intervening in the process before a mentally ill defendant appeared in court. He was especially critical of the “spectacle in our courts of two or more physicians pitted against one another, testifying to diametrically opposite opinions as to the mental condition and responsibility” of the defendant. Such a procedure, he said, not only humiliates the mentally ill defendant but increases the likelihood that a mentally ill capital defendant will be sentenced to death and executed … Briggs lobbied the public and the legislature for a law that required all capital defendants to undergo a psychiatric examination by neutral experts as son as they were taken into police custody.

Briggs was appalled [at Spencer’s case]. He contended that all of the psychiatrists who examined Spencer knew he was insane at the time of the murder and at the trial. Some thought he was medically insane but not legally insane. Briggs denounced the distinction between medical insanity and legal insanity as without a difference. The awful result of the confusion between psychhiatry and the law was the unnecessary execution of an insane person. “The whole legal machinery of the State,” he wrote angrily, “had been put in motin to crush this defective and uphold the Majesty ofthe Law and so it came about that Bertram G. Spencer, a defective from birth, with the mind of a child, was tried for his life and sentenced to death and executed with a smile upon his lips.”

-From Alan Rogers, Murder and the Death Penalty in Massachusetts

Part of the Themed Set: Americana.

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1773: David Reynolds, colonial counterfeiter

1 comment September 17th, 2010 Headsman

On Friday the 17th Instant at Morris Town in East New Jersey, was executed, David Reynolds, a Native of Ireland, about 32 years of age, for counterfeiting the money Bills of Credit of that Colony. He arrived there about ten Years ago, and chiefly followed the farming business, till getting acquainted with one Rosecrans (executed some time ago for the like Crime, but without declaring his Accomplices) he was by him led into the Scheme of making and passing counterfeit Money; after the Execution of Rosecrans, Reynolds accidentally met with Capt. Richardson (of Philadelphia, who is fled) and getting acquainted with each other’s Characters, was by him introduced to Ford, Haynes, Cooper, Budd, King, and the rest of the Gang. Ford the Principal, termed by the Rest, the Treasurer of the three Provinces, had counterfeited the Money Bills of New York, New-Jersey, and Pennsylvania, in so Masterly a manner as not to be distinguished from the true Bills without the nicest Inspection, and also several of the Gold and Silver Coins current in the British Colonies: and in passing these, Reynolds and the Rest of the Accomplices continued, till Ford and King were apprehended and imprisoned in Morris County Gaol, from whence they soon made their escape, as mentioned in the Papers.


Paper currency of colonial New Jersey.

One of the Gang being convicted of aiding them in their Escape and other high Misdemeanors, to mitigate the Punishment, made some Confessions tending to the Discovery of the Rest, which alarmed another, who made an ample confession of the whole, in Consequence of which Reynolds, Haynes, Cooper, and Budd, were tried, confessed their Guilt, and were condemned to be hanged. Their Execution was ordered to be on the 17th Instant; before that Time, Budd and Haynes were respited for a Month, but Reynolds and Cooper were ordered to prepare for Execution at the Time appointed. A few Minutes before the Time, Cooper confessed himself privy to the Robbery of the Treasury at Amboy, and that he received Three Hundred Pounds of the Money; on which he was also respited till he should make further Discoveries. Reynolds was therefore ordered for Execution alone, at which he seemed much affected and burst into Tears, but thro’ the Assistance of a Minister who attended him, he grew Calm, and resigned to his Fate. His Behaviour during his Confinement and after his Sentence, was penitent and submissive; he shewed a proper Sensibility of his unhappy Situation, and earnestly exhorted his Companions in Guilt, to a sincere Repentance. On the fatal Day, he took an affecting Leave of them; and they all discovered the most lively Expressions of that Distress to which their Crimes and Follies had reduced them, which drew Tears from the Eyes of the Spectators. At the Place of Execution, Reynolds sung and prayed very earnestly, and in a short but pathetic Speech, warned the People to avoid the Vices that had undone him, and earnestly requested them not to reflect on his innocent Wife and helpless Infants.

The New-York Gazette; and The Weekly Mercury, September 27, 1773

All the other three reprieved ultimately escaped hanging, owing to influential connections.

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1961: Adnan Menderes

2 comments September 17th, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 1961, the Turkish Prime Minister deposed in the previous year’s military coup was hanged at the island of Imrali.

Condemned at the same trial as his comrades in government,* Adnan Menderes delayed his execution with an unsuccessful suicide bid. Revived from a sleeping pill-induced coma, the gag about Istanbul was that he would soon be fit enough to hang.

Twenty-four hours and one involuntary stomach-pumping later, and he was.

The 62-year-old Smyrna/Izmir native had had a memorable run. He served in Ataturk’s army, then toppled Ataturk’s political party: Menderes won the first three free elections in Turkey in 1950, 1954, and 1957, a feat never since replicated. He was notorious for his temper and sensitivity to criticism, reportedly given to smashing things in his office and demonstrably given to firing ministers and aides for even trifling differences of opinion. Just months before his ouster, he’d survived a plane crash in England — “the former Premier,” observed the New York Times,** “might have gone down in Turkish history as a great patriot and champion of the people” if he had died in it.

His ignominious end didn’t blacken his name to posterity. Years later, he (and the officials who preceded him to the gallows) was posthumously pardoned and reburied in an Istanbul mausoleum. Today, he’s so far from public opprobrium that his name can be found on public accommodations like airports and ferries

There’s more information about Menderes available online in Turkish, including this biography and this film:

* Among the co-defendants also condemned but reprieved was Mahmut Celal Bayar, President of the Republic of Turkey. Bayar died in 1986 at age 103, supposedly the longest-lived head of state or head of government in all of history.

** September 17, 1961.

Part of the Daily Double: Turkey’s “Left-Wing Coup”.

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284: Aper, by Diocletian

6 comments November 20th, 2008 Headsman

On this date* in 284, one of Rome’s greatest emperors claimed the purple by summarily executing his rival before the approving army in Anatolia.

The Emperor Diocletian christened his reign with a bit of scaffold theatricality, but he might have been the real perp.

For half a century, the Roman Empire had waded through crisis. In its political manifestation, a parade of forgettable emperors had marched through the throne room, each to be assassinated, overthrown, or otherwise disposed of by some equally forgettable aspirant en route to a similarly unenviable end.

At length, out of this unpropitious bunch, rose one Diocles, a low-born Dalmatian of classical education whose martial gifts saw him rise through the legions. His opportunity came when the emperor Carus, barely a year on from succeeding his assassinated predecessor, died on campaign against Persia allegedly struck by lightning (quite possibly a euphemism for something more dagger-like), leaving his son Numerian in charge.

As the army meandered back to the friendly confines, Numerian secluded himself in his litter. And after a while, the litter started to stink.

Sometime on the journey, he’d been secretly killed — but by whom?

The principals this day are our leading suspects. (And it’s a little mystifying in either case just what was gained by leaving the body hidden so long.) We turn to Gibbon to narrate what must have been a riveting — not to mention definitive — proceeding adjudicating between them a few kilometers past Nicomedia (moder Izmit, Turkey) towards Chalcedon (now the Kadikoy district of Istanbul).

A general assembly of the army was appointed to be held at Chalcedon, whither Aper was transported in chains, as a prisoner and a criminal. A vacant tribunal was erected in the midst of the camp, and the generals and tribunes formed a great military council. They soon announced to the multitude that their choice had fallen on Diocletian, commander of the domestics or body-guards, as the person the most capable of revenging and succeeding their beloved emperor. The future fortunes of the candidate depended on the chance or conduct of the present hour. Conscious that the station which he had filled exposed him to some suspicions, Diocletian ascended the tribunal, and raising his eyes towards the Sun, made a solemn profession of his own innocence, in the presence of that all-seeing Deity. Then, assuming the tone of a sovereign and a judge, he commanded that Aper should be brought in chains to the foot of the tribunal. “This man,” said he, “is the murderer of Numerian;” and without giving him time to enter on a dangerous justification, drew his sword, and buried it in the breast of the unfortunate praefect.** A charge supported by such decisive proof was admitted without contradiction, and the legions, with repeated acclamations, acknowledged the justice and authority of the emperor Diocletian.

Though there isn’t any direct evidence of it, posterity is entitled to suspect on grounds of means, motive and opportunity, that the eventual beneficiary of Numerian’s demise — the emperor henceforth known as Diocletian — was its true author.

Whether obtained by fair means or foul, Diocletian put the laurels of state to good use, stabilizing government by introducing the “Tetrarchy” — the rule of the empire’s eastern and western halves by two emperors (“Augusti”) each aided by a “Caesar” who was also the heir apparent.

Diocletian’s two decades in power before his anomalous voluntary retirement constitute a watershed in the late history of Rome, and not only because the cycle of imperial assassinations and civil war took a welcome generation-long hiatus.

Although he’s also remembered for initiating the last major persecution of Christians, his administration set the stage for the rise of Constantine the Great, the Galilean’s first imperial champion. Constantine’s father was one of the original tetrarchs, the Caesar of the west.

And in the longer term, Diocletian’s division of the empire between east and west would sow the seed of the later separation of Byzantium and Rome, and the corresponding division in the Christian world. No surprise, then, that the first ruler profiled in Lars Brownworth’s 12 Byzantine Rulers podcast is this date’s executioner:

[audio:http://www.12byzantinerulers.com/audio/02-Diocletian.mp3]

More audiophilia about Diocletian and the tetrarchs in this lecture from Isabelle Pafford’s UC-Berkeley course on Roman history. (The first 6:45 or so consists of class business and carryover from previous lectures.)

[audio:http://webcast.berkeley.edu/media/s2008/hist106b/hist106b_20080425.mp3]

* As with much in the ancient world, sourcing is tenuous, and there is some scholarly debate over whether the events in this post should be ascribed to November 20, or to November 17, or to September 17, or to some other date. Since this blog, notwithstanding its title, embraces the occasional execution whose date is uncertain, I am prepared to wave aside textual uncertainty in the interest of a ripping good story.

** According to the Historia Augusta, Diocletian had a superstitious reason to carry out this bloodthirsty act personally.

This story my grandfather related to me, having heard it from Diocletian himself. “When Diocletian,” he said, “while still serving in a minor post, was stopping at a certain tavern in the land of the Tungri in Gaul, and was making up his daily reckoning with a woman, who was a Druidess, she said to him, ‘Diocletian, you are far too greedy and far too stingy,’ to which Diocletian replied, it is said, not in earnest, but only in jest, ‘I shall be generous enough when I become emperor.’ At this the Druidess said, so he related, ‘Do not jest, Diocletian, for you will become emperor when you have slain a Boar (Latin: Aper).’ ” … It is now well known and a common story that when he had killed Aper, the prefect of the guard, he declared, it is said, “At last I have killed my fated Boar.” My grandfather also used to say that Diocletian himself declared that he had no other reason for killing him with his own hand than to fulfill the Druidess’ prophecy and to ensure his own rule. For he would not have wished to become known for such cruelty, especially in the first few days of his power, if Fate had not impelled him to this brutal act of murder.

Part of the Themed Set: The “Ex” Stands For “Extrajudicial”.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: Ancient,Assassins,Borderline "Executions",Execution,History,Murder,No Formal Charge,Notable Participants,Political Expedience,Politicians,Power,Public Executions,Put to the Sword,Roman Empire,Soldiers,Summary Executions,Turkey,Wartime Executions

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