1973: Charles Horman, American journalist in the Pinochet coup

Add comment September 18th, 2019 Headsman

Horman was interrogated at the military school and then transferred to the national stadium for further questioning. He was ordered shot and killed the evening of September 19. According to [redacted] the authorities at the stadium did not know that Horman was an American … the body was taken from the stadium and left at a location to create the idea that he had been killed in a firefight with the military. However, in the confused days following the coup, and after it was known that he was an American, the military sought to hide the fact that he was dead.

Declassified informant’s report (pdf) of the death of Charles Horman

On this date in 1973,* American journalist Charles Horman was extrajudicially executed by the Chilean coup junta of Augusto Pinochet.

Horman was a prizewinning U.S. journalist and filmmaker from the heyday of crusading, adversarial journalism: stateside, he’d made a documentary about napalm use in Vietnam and protested that war at the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago.

With his wife Joyce, Horman had been living in the Chile of socialist president Salvador Allende since the spring of 1972, reporting freelance while working as a screenwriter. He was right there in the capital on September 11, 1973, to see Allende’s vision ground under tank treads when the Chilean military with U.S. support overthrew the elected civilian government and initiated a litany of horrors.

One of the most emblematic atrocities of Pinochet in his earliest hours was his regime’s commandeering the Santiago football stadium as a makeshift concentration camp for leftists whose blood would desecrate the facility’s recreational purpose.**

The putschists did not fear to extend their terror to subversive Yanks like Horman and (a few days after him) a fellow-journalist named Frank Teruggi — their murders secretly okayed by Pinochet’s CIA comrades.†

There’s a 1978 book investigating this affair, titled The Execution of Charles Horman; the book, and Horman’s fate, inspired the 1982 Costa-Gavras film Missing.

* There are some citations out there for September 17 (the date of Horman’s arrest) or September 19, and a good many general punts to only “September 1973” for this extrajudicial execution/murder. We’re depending for our part on the firm published findings of Chilean judge Jorge Zepeda:

the following day, September 18, 1973 at around 1:35 p.m., military officials took the remains of an unidentified male to the Servicio Medico Legal [Medical Legal Department], and this individual was later fingerprinted and identified as Charles Edmund Horman Lazar, in accordance with Protocol No. 2663/73; the Medical Legal Department concluded that his death had occurred on September 18 at approximately 9:45 a.m. The corresponding death certificate was issued on October 4, 1973 by Doctor Ezequiel Jimenez Ferry of the aforementioned Department.

** In November 1973, the Soviet Union honorably refused to set boots on this boneyard to contest a World Cup playoff and was disqualified as a result — although not before the hosts were made to take the pitch unopposed in a sham “match”.

Thanks to Chile’s consequent advance to the 1974 tourney, a Chilean player holds the distinction of being the first footballer red-carded at the World Cup finals.

† Post-Pinochet Chile unsuccessfully sought the extradition of the former American military mission commander for permitting these murders, when he as the delegate of the coup’s sponsor-empire presumably would have had the juice to forbid them.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Artists,Arts and Literature,Borderline "Executions",Capital Punishment,Chile,Death Penalty,Execution,History,No Formal Charge,Power,Shot,Summary Executions,Torture

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1868: Melvin Baughn, Pony Express rider turned horse thief

Add comment September 18th, 2018 Headsman

We cadge today’s entry from the August 1950 Kansas Historical Quarterly; the article “Legal Hangings in Kansas” by Louise Barry can be perused in pdf form here.

A footnote in the original notes that “During the time in 1860 and 1861, when the Pony Express was in operation, one of the well-known riders on the route between St. Joseph, Mo., and Seneca, was Melvin Baughn. It is said he turned to a life of crime by joining a gang of horse thieves, soon after the Pony Express ended. Mooney is said to have been lynched sometime later.”


The Hanging of Melvin E. Baughn

Three Doniphan county men arrived in Seneca on November 19, 1866, with warrants for four horse thieves known to be in the vicinity. Sheriff William Boulton and a posse of Nemaha county men joined in the hunt. Jackson and Strange, two of the wanted men, were captured a little east of town. Three posse members (Charles W. Ingram, Henry H. Hillix and Jesse S. Dennis) overtook the other two criminals on the road to Capioma. When they rode up to arrest the men — Melvin E. Baughn and Zach Mooney — they were fired upon. Hillix was wounded severely and Dennis was fatally shot in the back, dying a few minutes later. The horse thieves escaped.

Baughn was arrested in Leavenworth on January 6, 1867, on a robbery charge. When recognized as Dennis’ murderer, he was turned over to Nemaha county officers who placed him in the Seneca jail. Four days later an unsuccessful attempt was made to lynch him. On February 6 he and another prisoner escaped.

More than 15 months later Baughn was captured near Sedalia, Mo., after being wounded by officers attempting to arrest him for a robbery. Upon being identified, he was returned to Kansas and to the Seneca jail. He was tried during the next term of the district court, early in August, Judge R. St. Clair Graham presiding. The jury found him guilty of murder in the first degree and on August 7 he was sentenced to be hanged on September 18, 1868.

A gallows was erected on the south side of the Nemaha county jail, and an area of the jail yard was enclosed by a “fence” of canvas. And, on the appointed day, at 3:18 in the afternoon, Baughn was hanged.

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1727: Three at Tyburn

Add comment September 18th, 2017 Headsman

Daniel Defoe* once summarized early 18th century England’s class strata as

  1. The great, who live profusely
  2. The rich, who live plentifully
  3. The middle sort, who live well
  4. The working trades, who labour hard, but feel no want
  5. The country people, farmers, etc. who fare indifferently
  6. The poor, who fare hard
  7. The miserable, that really pinch and suffer want.

These ranks of “poor” and “miserably poor” were quite enormous in the 18th century, with something like a tenth of the population subsisting below the “breadline” even when the harvests were good.

It is arguably the struggle to control this lot that brings us that era’s notoriously aggressive “Bloody Code” of hanging laws; certainly the law flaunts its class character openly in many particular capital statutes such as the Black Acts to enforce rural enclosure and harsh laws against labor organizing.

The heaving of these great swells could not but drown a great many already struggling to keep their heads above the waves. And our visit this week to the Ordinary of Newgate brings a sad quartet of Tyburn hangings culled from that fringe of disposable young men “that really pinch and suffer want.”

Thomas Johnson, alias “Handy”

Handy’s nickname tells us something about the progress of his life, for (according to the Ordinary) in his infancy “his Right Arm and Hand had been bruis’d, so that being distorted, they decay’d and were only of the bigness of a Child’s Arm and Hand, neither had he the Use of them, having no strength and scarce any Motion in them.”

Abandoned to be succored by the Stepney parish poor relief around the age of three, Handy was considered able-bodied enough to be dropped from the rolls once he hit adolescence — and maybe the gentlemen of Stepney had a point, for Handy once set to shift for himself “turn[ed] Thief and Housebreaker … [and] made considerable proficiency, and turn’d dexterous in his Profession.” But he had a near-impossible task of finding honest work: city and country were everywhere awash in working poor ready to hire who had two good hands.

Eventually one of Handy’s misadventures caught him a sentence to convict transportation — which was yet another juridical innovation of the Hanoverian age for managing the mother country’s vast underclass. But transportation, a sort of mercantile slavery in the colonies, depended for its part on a market for the human cargo and our man’s crippled arm again militated against him. Handy would lament this again at the very gallows, where he

exclaim’d against one who Transported Felons, saying that after he had caused them to Work for him in these foreign Countries; he brought them Home to England in the same Ship which he had carried them off; and that the Reason of his returning was, because No body would Buy him, and that he must have starv’d there and that when at Home he had no way to get his Bread because he wanted his Right Hand to enable him for Work.

This act — returning from convict transportation — itself constituted a capital crime. And when arrested again, Handy confessed it, almost whimsically. He would tell the Ordinary that he was wearying of life and anticipated additional indictments, but the record of the trial suggests that he sent himself to the gallows to revenge himself on the informers who would have made evidence against him in hopes of pocketing a reward: “the Prosecutors thought to hang him for the sake of the 40 Pounds allowed by the Government, but he would baulk their Expectations, for he would be hanged for returning from Transportation according to Law.”

Samuel Hammond

In comparison to Handy, Samuel Hammond had it made.

Apprenticed to a man named Thomas Barker, Hammond had a path to Defoe’s “working trades” class (“who labour hard, but feel no want”), undone by a youth’s impulsiveness. One day when Barker chastised him — “You Blockhead you’ll break the Drill, why don’t you use the Pliers” — Barker grabbed a sword and stabbed him through the ribcage. Barker’s son arrived to find the apprentice brandishing the weapon over his fallen father, “saying to the Decesed [sic], D – n your B – d you Son of a B – h I’ll kill you; upon which then Deceased said, you have done it already.”

The Ordinary reported that Hammond was tearfully repentant and insisted even before his conviction on joining chapel services for the condemned. The only grievance he could point to against his master besides that “blockhead” burn was that he was sweet on a maid in the house whom Barker had also “corrected … for a Fault” months before. We hear this frightened young man through the Ordinary here, so one can only guess whether our surviving account elides a longer litany of domestic cruelty for the boy or the maid.

“Luckily” Samuel Hammond did not suffer the ignominy of hanging for all that: he fell grievously ill in the pestilential Newgate cells, and “after that Sentence of Death was pronounc’d upon him, he was never able to rise and go to Chappel, but lay in a high Fever, to Thursday, the 7th of September, when about 11 o’Clock at Night he expir’d.”

Henry Chaplin and Peter Boother

These housebreakers each blamed the other as well as several other confederates (one of them still at large, plus two others who had given evidence against them) as the principal authors of the robbery that did them in. Oh, sure, they were there, invading Daniel Lyver’s house — where the gang “in a violent Manner broke the Windows, burst open the Window-Shutters and the Door, took the Goods mentioned in the Indictment, and beat him [Lyver] at the same Time with much Barbarity” — but (each said) he’d been there urging all his accomplices to come away and not steal all the pewter. Each carried that eye-rolling story from trial to gallows.

Chaplin was about 27; his father had tried to teach him his trade of “Ribband-weaving” which suggests (as does his surname) that his family might have been among the Huguenot weavers who escaped France’s religious crackdown decades before. He must have been a restless sort, for instead of sweltering over a loom he joined the army around age 15, perhaps about the right timing to put down the Jacobites, and afterwards basically went adrift in London’s criminal substratum. There he led “a very vicious Life … much addicted to Drinking, Swearing, and Whoring.”

His companion in the Lyver home and at the triple tree was Peter Boother, “about 21 Years of Age, descended of honest but very poor Parents, about 14 Miles from this Town his Father having been a mean Labourer in the Country.” The Ordinary does not give us a clear picture of Boother’s path into the felonious way of life, merely that he was young, penniless, and completely uneducated; combined with Boother’s tearful susceptibility to the Ordinary’s preaching, it suggests an impressionable youth, malleable to the forces around him which happened to be those of vicious want. (Chaplin, the Ordinary noticed, “appear’d to be a Man of more Resolution than his Companion, being more compos’d and settled in his Behaviour.”)

* Defoe had a few thoughts on the death penalty, too.

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96: Domitian assassinated after condemning an astrologer

Add comment September 18th, 2016 Headsman

On this date in the year 96, the Roman Emperor Domitian was assassinated … his very last act in the purple having been to condemn to death an astrologer who predicted Domitian’s murder.

Son and second successor of the Flavian dynasty’s founder, Vespasian, Domitian left his mark on Italian postcard stands by decorating the Roman Forum with the Arch of Titus to salute his older brother and immediate predecessor.

In his day he was known as a tyrant, especially compared to the dynasty which followed him; indeed, Domitian’s murder was the exact birth date for imperial Rome’s golden age in the judgment of Gibbon, who opined that “if a man were called to fix the period in the history of the world during which the condition of the human race was most happy and prosperous, he would, without hesitation, name that which elapsed from the death of Domitian to the accession of Commodus.”

Domitian, shall we say, set a low bar for the Antonines to step over by keeping the capital in a state of perpetual terror with wanton purges, not even excepting the sacred Vestal Virgins.

As is usually the case with ancient scrolls, our lurid accounts rarely furnish convenient dates to later death-bloggers. Our excuse for this occasion will be the condemnation Domitian issued to a nameless astrologer immediately preceding his own fate; alternatively, we could cite the subsequent execution of Domitian’s assassins which was successfully demanded by the soldiery, who admired him.

If this seems a cheat for an almanac site, consider that given a better documentary environment, the man’s entire reign would supply the execution-blogger a near limitless stock.

“It would be impossible to discover the total number of those who were executed by Domitian,” wrote Cassius Dio, conveniently excusing a gap in his research.* “Indeed, he condemned himself so severely for this course that, in order to prevent any remembrance of those who were put to death from surviving, he prohibited the entering of their names in the records.”

Pretexts for these executions under Domitian were as varied and capricious as the killings were numerous.

Many men and women alike among the wealthy were punished for adultery; some of these women had been debauched by Domitian himself. Many persons were also fined or put to death on other charges. Thus, a woman was tried and put to death because she had undressed in front of an image of Domitian, and a man for having associated with astrologers. Among the many who perished at this time was Mettius Pompusianus, whom Vespasian had failed to harm after learning from some report that he would one day be sovereign, but on the contrary had shown him honour, declaring: “He will surely remember me and will surely honour me in return.” But Domitian first exiled him to Corsica and now put him to death, one of the complaints against him being that he had a map of the world painted on the walls of his bed-chamber, and another complaint being that he had excerpted and was wont to read the speeches of kings and other leaders that are recorded in Livy. Also Maternus, a sophist, was put out of the way because in a practice speech he had something against tyrants. The emperor himself used to visit those who were expecting to accuse or to give evidence of guilt and he would help to frame and compose all that required to be said. Often, too, he would talk to the prisoners alone, while holding their chains in his hands; for he would not entrust to others the knowledge of what was going to be said, and as for the accused, he feared them even in their bonds.

As a consequence of his cruelty the emperor was suspicious of all mankind, and from now on ceased to repose hopes of safety in either the freedmen or yet the prefects, whom he usually caused to be brought to trail during their very term of office. He had first banished and now slew Epaphroditus, Nero’s freedman, accusing him of having failed to defend Nero; for he wished by the vengeance that he took on Nero’s behalf to terrify his own freedmen long in advance, so that they should venture no similar deed.

The historian Suetonius concurred that the emperor was taking Tiberius’s old turn into a paranoid old coot.

He put to death a pupil of the pantomimic actor Paris, who was still a beardless boy and ill at the time, because in his skill and his appearance he seemed not unlike his master; also Hermogenes of Tarsus because of some allusions in his History, besides crucifying even the slaves who had written it out. A householder who said that a Thracian gladiator was a match for the murmillo, but not for the giver of the games, he caused to be dragged from his seat and thrown into the arena to dogs, with this placard: “A favourer of the Thracians who spoke impiously.”

He put to death many senators, among them several ex-consuls, including Civica Cerealis, at the very time when he was proconsul in Asia, Salvidienus Orfitus, Acilius Glabrio while he was in exile — these on the ground of plotting revolution, the rest on any charge, however trivial. He slew Aelius Lamia for joking remarks, which were reflections on him, it is true, but made long before and harmless. For when Domitian had taken away Lamia’s wife, the latter replied to someone who praised his voice: “I practise continence”; and when Titus urged him to marry again, he replied: “Are you too looking for a wife?” He put to death Salvius Cocceianus, because he had kept the birthday of the emperor Otho, his paternal uncle; Mettius Pompusianus, because it was commonly reported that he had an imperial nativity and carried about a map of the world on parchment and speeches of the kings and generals from Titus Livius, besides giving two of his slaves the names of Mago and Hannibal; Sallustius Lucullus, governor of Britain, for allowing some lances of a new pattern to be named “Lucullean,” after his own name; Junius Rusticus, because he had published eulogies of Paetus Thrasea and Helvidius Priscus and called them the most upright of men; and on the occasion of this charge he banished all the philosophers from the city and from Italy. He also executed the younger Helvidius, alleging that in a farce composed for the stage he had under the characters of Paris and Oenone censured Domitian’s divorce from his wife; Flavius Sabinus too, one of his cousins, because on the day of the consular elections the crier had inadvertently announced him to the people as emperor elect, instead of consul.

His savage cruelty was not only excessive, but also cunning and sudden. He invited one of his stewards to his bed-chamber the day before crucifying him, made him sit beside him on his couch, and dismissed him in a secure and gay frame of mind, even deigning to send him a share of his dinner. When he was on the point of condemning the ex-consul Arrecinius Clemens, one of his intimates and tools, he treated him with as great favour as before, if not greater, and finally, as he was taking a drive with him, catching sight of his accuser he said: “Pray, shall we hear this base slave to?morrow?”

Domitian also seems to have been extremely superstitious, even by Roman standards. Suetonius gets a little carried away here, enough so that it is impossible at 2,000 years’ distance to guess precisely where the embroidery was sewn to the facts; after all, Domitian’s subjects and observers were all superstitious too. It certainly makes a jolly good story.

It is said that when Domitian was but a boy astrologers had forecast the very moment of his eventual violent death: the fifth hour of September the 18th in this very year. Domitian became extremely jumpy as Atropos’s shears drew nearer and dark omens began to accumulate around him:

For eight successive months so many strokes of lightning occurred and were reported, that at last he cried: “Well, let him now strike whom he will.” The temple of Jupiter of the Capitol was struck and that of the Flavian family, as well as the Palace and the emperor’s own bedroom. The inscription too on the base of a triumphal statue of his was torn off in a violent tempest and fell upon a neighbouring tomb. The tree which had been overthrown when Vespasian was still a private citizen but had sprung up anew, then on a sudden fell down again. Fortune of Praeneste had throughout his whole reign, when he commended the new year to her protection, given him a favourable omen and always in the same words. Now at last she returned a most direful one, not without the mention of bloodshed. (Suetonius again)

He tried to defeat the gods by having put to death an astrologer named Ascletarion, having first demanded Ascletarion’s prediction of his own manner of death: “that he would shortly be rent by dogs,” the oracle replied. To prove him wrong, Domitian had him killed some other way and immolated — but his satisfaction drained away when “it chanced that the pyre was overset by a sudden storm and that the dogs mangled the corpse.” Death closed around the prince, to his growing fear, and now he watched for the very hour.

At about midnight he was so terrified that he leaped from his bed. The next morning he conducted the trial of a soothsayer sent from Germany, who when consulted about the lightning strokes had foretold a change of rulers, and condemned him to death. While he was vigorously scratching a festered wart on his forehead, and had drawn blood, he said: “May this be all.” Then he asked the time, and by pre-arrangement [of those conspiring against Domitian] the sixth hour was announced to him, instead of the fifth, which he feared. Filled with joy at this, and believing all danger now past, he was hastening to the bath, when his chamberlain Parthenius changed his purpose by announcing that someone had called about a matter of great moment and would not be put off.

Retiring his bedroom to prepare for an exultant bath, Domitian was there attacked and stabbed to death by a steward named Stephanus, joined by several others — “Clodianus, a subaltern, Maximus, a freedman of Parthenius, Satur, decurion of the chamberlains, and a gladiator from the imperial school.”

Domitian’s memory was immediately damned by the overjoyed Senate, which proclaimed as his successor an elderly placeholder named Nerva (who immediately canceled treason trials against this same Senate). Nerva’s line of adoptive succession (Nerva himself adopted the redoubtable Trajan) would rule that “happy and prosperous” Rome of Gibbon’s celebration for the best part of a century.

* Cassius Dio wrote more than a century after Domitian. Suetonius and Tacitus are truer primary sources as both wrote their histories in the early second century, and both had themselves experienced life in Domitian’s Rome. Unfortunately the books of the latter’s Histories that cover the reign of Domitian have not survived to posterity — so from Tacitus we have only fleeting glimpses of the young Domitian aiding his father’s rise to power.

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Entry Filed under: Ancient,Borderline "Executions",Cycle of Violence,History,Italy,Power,Roman Empire,Uncertain Dates

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1858: Preston Turley, drunkard preacher

Add comment September 17th, 2016 Headsman

The city of Charleston, Virginia — soon to become Charleston, West Virginia — hosted the unctuously ceremonious public hanging of a killer preacher on this date in 1858.

Perhaps your correspondent is merely cynical having seen in these pages a thousand small-minded murderers lay their misdeeds to liquor and claim their redemptive shortcut to heaven. After all, hypocrisies great and small light each one of us through our days; Preston Turley no less than any man is surely entitled to his.

But we do incline with the fellow in the posse who arrested Turley after his missing wife Mary Susan was discovered at the bottom of a river, a rope fixing her neck to a stone and bludgeon bruises visible about her head, who had this exchange with Mr. Turley:

Turley: Whisky has brought me to this.

Mr. Webb: Don’t lay it all to whisky, as a man might have a deed in his breast, but not the courage to perform it, until he drank whisky.

Turley: That is about the fact.

Betweentimes Turley had posted a phony reward for his “missing” wife, slated her for unfaithfulness by way of palliating his crime, and briefly escaped his cell a few weeks before the execution. All of this is no more than any murderer might do to avoid the terrors of execution, but also does seem a bit difficult to square with the lamblike sacrificial Turley who presented on the scaffold September 17, preaching his last sermon to a throng five thousand strong or larger. Turley on this occasion was able to report that he had but a few days prior undergone a third and this time definitive conversion and that now, now, he had conquered death in Christ and become entitled to harangue the crowd and lead it in hymns. (And also that whisky was still the culprit.) He even got the murdered woman’s brothers to come out of the crowd and give him a tearful parting; “the whole scene was more that of an excited protracted [revival] meeting, than that of an execution.” If nothing else we have a compelling instance of the continuation of that ancient spirit of public execution reconciling the criminal to his community through his sacrifice.

We’ve been quoting from one of those books someone churned out to monetize all that pathos, suitably entitled “The trial, conviction, sentence, confession, and execution of Preston S. Turley: for the murder of his wife, Mary Susan Turley, in Kanawha County, Virginia.” We present it here for whomever might judge Turley’s character:

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Murder,Public Executions,Religious Figures,USA,Virginia,West Virginia

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1685: Krystof Alois Lautner, Witch Hammer victim

Add comment September 18th, 2015 Headsman

On this date in 1685, Catholic priest Kryštof* Alois Lautner was degraded from the clergy and burnt at the stake as a sorcer — but his real crime was standing athwart a witch hunt.

The term “witch craze” doesn’t quite seem the just one for the Northern Moravian witch trials since they spanned 18 terribly systematic years until the gouty main inquisitor mercifully retired in 1696, having put about 100 people to the sword and stake.

Generally understood in the context of Catholic hostility to reform denominations on the soil of the present-day Czech Republic, this dreadful affair started when a Vernirovice woman was caught sneaking the Host out of Easter Mass in 1678, intending to use it as a charm for a folk spell to enhance the fertility of her cows.

By 1679, that woman was burned at the stake — along with two others whom she was induced to accuse by the threat of torture.

These executions were the fruit of a witchcraft commission that had been empaneled to pursue the original desecration of the communion bread, but now that the witch team was an institution it began finding more and more necromancers, in a self-justifying spiral of accusations.

Lautner, a well-liked deacon of Sumperk, spoke against the witch hunt when it came to that city and for his pains he was arrested there in 1680 … then leisurely broken by torture over a period of four years until he was at last undone by accusations wrenched from the torture of the wealthy Sattler family. (Whose valuables the commission did not neglect to appropriate.) It was standard witchcraft fare: black sabbaths, incestuous orgies, pacts with Satan.

Milder tortures were used against him initially” the records say. “But those he admirably resisted, and remained obdurate. Then came harsher steps. Lautner began to confess, but when he was removed from the devices he recanted his admissions. So he was put to torture again and again, to defeat the devil’s secrecy. He was interrogated in June 1684 — twelve days in a row, except Sunday.” The case progressed so deliberately in part because the prosecution of a clergyman required the signoff of church heirarchy** … and in part because Lautner’s own friends intervened to try to free him. (One such ally, the priest Tomáš König, wrote a letter to the bishop on Lautner’s behalf and thereby became an object for investigation himself; it’s thought that he was about to be arrested by the witchsmellers when he fortuitously died in 1682.)

In the end the cleric could not hope to withstand the pressure. 20,000 people are reported to have swelled Sumperk for his execution by fire.

His case — which has latterly been commemorated by public monuments celebrating Lautner as a hero of conscience — was dramatized in the historical novel Witch Hammer by Vaclav Kaplicki. Otakar Vavry adapted the story for the silver screen; Kladivo na Carodejnice is available online in its entirety, but you’ll need to be up on your Czech.

* Hacek courtesy of Jan Hus!

** Pope Innocent XI ultimately signed off on proceedings, on the sententious grounds that clergy can’t be above the law when they traffic with devils.

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1953: Louisa May Merrifield, elder abuser

1 comment September 18th, 2013 Meaghan

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

On this date in 1953, housekeeper Louisa May Merrifield, the so-called Blackpool Poisoner, was hanged at Machester’s Strangeways Prison for killing her employer.

She was the third-last woman hanged in Britain and the very last woman to be executed at that particular prison, which now houses only men; the job was performed by Albert Pierrepoint.

Born in 1906, Louisa had already served prison time for ration book fraud by the time of the murder, and she lost custody of her four children due to her excessive drinking and neglect.

She couldn’t seem to hold on to a man (she was married three times) or a job (she had 20 in three years).

She took her final position on March 12, 1953, after she and her husband of one month, 71-year-old Alfred Edward Merrifield, became housekeepers and live-in companions to Sarah Ann Ricketts, a spinster who was nearly eighty years old. Sarah Ricketts owned a bungalow at 339 Devonshire Road, North Shore, Blackpool.

The Merrifields indulged in elder abuse and neglect, and Sarah Ann complained she didn’t get enough to eat and that her housekeepers swilled rum on her dime. Meanwhile, Louisa was going around boasting that she’d inherited a £3,000 house.

When someone asked her who had died, she answered, “She’s not dead yet, but she soon will be.”

Louisa’s prophecy was eerily accurate: Sarah Ann Ricketts expired on the night of April 14, 1953, only a month after she’d hired the Merrifields and three days after Louisa’s prediction … but not before drafting a new will which left her bungalow to the Merrifields.

Louisa didn’t call a doctor until the next morning. She said that, as the old woman was clearly beyond help, she didn’t want to drag anyone out of bed in the middle of the night.

The suspicious GP refused to sign a death certificate and insisted on an autopsy, which revealed the cause of death as phosphorus poisoning, administered in the form of a rat poison called Rodine.

Although a police search of the bungalow didn’t turn up any Rodine, a check at the local pharmacy showed Louisa had recently purchased the stuff and signed the poison register.

The Merrifields found themselves charged with murder. Louisa was arrested first, two weeks after Sarah Ricketts died, and Alfred a few days later.

At their trial in July 1953, Louisa was convicted and sentenced to hang. The judge called her crime “as wicked and cruel a murder as I ever heard tell of.”

The jury couldn’t reach a verdict on Alfred, however, and the district attorney decided not to prosecute again. He was released and in due time inherited a half-share in Mrs. Ricketts’s bungalow. He died in 1962 at the age of 80.

Louisa Merrifield’s ghost is said to haunt the cell she once inhabited at Strangeways Prison.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Guest Writers,Hanged,History,Murder,Other Voices,Pelf,The Supernatural,Women

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1959: Harvey Glatman, signature killer

5 comments September 18th, 2012 Headsman

On this date in 1959, serial sex killer Harvey Glatman was gassed in San Quentin.

The dweeby, jug-eared TV repairman manifested an early kinky streak when his parents discovered the rope burns he’d given himself practicing autoerotic asphyxiation.

In time, he would do it without that important prefix.

Paroled from Sing Sing for teenage molestation convictions, Glatman moved west — to Denver, and then to Los Angeles, spending several years in monklike isolation from the opposite sex.

“Then,” writes Carlton Smith in a book about the BTK killer, “one sweltering afternoon in July 1957, the dam broke.”*

Glatman began trolling the City of Angels’ famous seedy underbelly for young women to model for “detective magazines” shoots — an understood euphemism for snapping illicit bondage pics. This excellent cover not only enabled him to have his victims willingly put themselves at his mercy in private, it enabled him to take their pictures as trophies.

They were images of Glatman’s detailed methodology of murder, which showed a sequence of terror by re-creating the entire psychological arc of the crime. He first photographed each victim with a look of innocence on her face as if she were truly enjoying a modeling session. The next series represented a sadist’s view of a sexually terrorized victim with the impending horror of a slow and painful death etched across her face. The final frame depicted the victim’s position that Glatman himself had arranged after he strangled her.

-Robert Keppel, Signature Killers



Photos Glatman took of two of his victims, models Judy Ann Dull (top) and Ruth Mercado (bottom). Images via Murderpedia’s collection, at least one of which is very distinctly NSFW. Murderpedia also has, as per usual, a detailed writeup of the Glatman case.

Glatman killed two women this way and a third via a lonely-hearts club meeting,** while losing a few targets along the way who were put off by his aspect or wily enough to demand a male escort for the photography sessions.

He was only stopped in 1958 when a police officer chanced to encounter him while attempting the more daring enterprise of roadside kidnapping. The perp was only 30 years old at the time, a frightening mixture of predatory calculation and homicidal lust: if not for this fortuitous early detection, it’s not too hard to imagine 1957-58 Glatman standing at the outset of a serial rape-murder spree of Bundyesque dimensions.

Unlike that later conniving, spotlight-hogging monster, Glatman post-arrest retreated quickly back to reclusion. He made only a token effort to deny his crimes; as soon as detectives tricked him (by pretending they had it already) into coming clean about a hidden toolbox full of incriminating evidence, the confessions started gushing out of him — another dam burst. He was begging detectives for death well before trial and willingly pled guilty to speed his own steps to San Quentin’s gas chamber. It took less than a year, time Glatman mostly spent in self-imposed isolation from the society of the inmates and guards around him in prison.

“It’s better this way,” he once said near the end, of his imminent date with those noxious fumes. “I knew this is the way it would be.”

Glatman’s LAPD interrogator, legendary detective Pierce Brooks, would later serve as a consultant for the made-for-TV Dragnet 1966 movie. In that film, the serial kidnapper, bondage-photographer, and murderer of young models, “Don Negler”, is conned by police into revealing the location of his incriminating toolbox — just like Glatman was.

The full film is available on YouTube; the interrogation sequence begins about 1:23:56. It clinches with the nebbishy “Negler’s” pathetic self-explanation.

Negler: The reason I killed those girls is they asked me to. (pause) They did; all of ’em.

Joe Friday: They asked you to.

Negler: Sure. They said they’d rather be dead than be with me.

* Glatman is also a suspect in a never-solved Colorado murder from 1954. So maybe that dam had a few leaks.

** The personal-ad gambit led the press to start nicknaming Glatman the “Lonely-Hearts Killer,” which appellation was of course already spoken for.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,California,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Gassed,History,Murder,Rape,Serial Killers,Sex,USA,Volunteers

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1755: Mark and Phillis, a landmark

1 comment September 18th, 2011 Headsman

“I set off upon a very good Horse; it was then about 11 o’Clock, and very pleasant. After I had passed Charlestown Neck, and got nearly opposite where Mark was hung in chains, I saw two men on Horse back, under a Tree. When I got near them, I discovered they were British officers.”

Paul Revere‘s account of his midnight ride

This useful Cambridge landmark* so nearly catastrophic for the cause of American liberty had been supplied this date in 1755 by the fruit of American liberty’s original sin: slavery.

“Mark” was a Massachusetts slave who, for the crime of offing his master Captain John Codman — “willfully felloniously and Traiterously put a Deadly Poison called Arsenick into a Vial of Water” because Captain John had separated Mark from his family — was entombed in colonial cartography by means of hanging, tarring, and gibbeting in an iron cage.

This exceptional sentence was mirrored by the rare-for-North-America fate of burning alive meted out to Mark’s fellow-slave and co-conspirator, Phillis.

They were adjudged to have committed not merely murder, but that archaic offense of petty treason — betraying not their sovereign but their natural superior.

Besides Mark’s becoming a literal landmark, theirs was a landmark case: Mark and Phillis were the only people ever convicted (pdf) for petit treason in Massachusetts.

The records of this trial are preserved in a public domain volume available from Google books; we’re particularly drawn to a tangential mention in this tome of a British governor‘s defense of capital punishment as a specifically oligarchical strategy: “Whilst the people of this country lived from hand to mouth, and had very little wealth … capital punishment might in a great measure be avoided; but when by the acquisition, diffusion, and general intercourse of wealth, the temptations to fraud are abundantly increased, the terrors of it must be also proportionably enlarged; otherwise if, through a false tenderness for wicked men, the laws should not be sufficient to protect the property of the honest and industrious …”

borne on the night-wind of the Past,
Through all our history, to the last,
In the hour of darkness and peril and need,
The people will waken and listen to hear
The hurrying hoof-beats of that steed,
And the midnight message of Paul Revere.

Longfellow, who doesn’t mention Mark

* A nicely tarred corpse will really keep for you: one colonial doctor observing this gibbet in years past had noted that Mark’s “skin was but little broken altho’ he had been hanging there near three or four years.” This is the kind of Founding Fathers’ wisdom that latter-day America has so sadly turned its back on.

Part of the Themed Set: Americana.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Burned,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,England,Execution,Gibbeted,Hanged,History,Massachusetts,Milestones,Murder,Occupation and Colonialism,Popular Culture,Public Executions,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Slaves,USA

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1944: Six Jesuits in Palau

1 comment September 18th, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1944, six Spanish Jesuit missionaries were executed in Palau by the island’s increasingly desperate Japanese defenders.

Fr. Elias Fernandez Gonzalez, Fr. Marino de la Hoz, and Br. Emilio del Villar were on hand to spread Catholicism in the island, which fell into Japan’s lap at the end of World War I and was therefore incorporated into the Asian hegemon’s economic plans.

Taking no chances with these foreign proselytizers, Japan had them confined when the Pacific War broke out in 1941.

By 1944, with the writing clearly visible on the wall, they were joined by three other Jesuits captured from nearby Yap, now a part of the Federated States of Micronesia, Fr. Luis Blanco Suarez, Fr. Bernardo de Espriella, and Br. Francisco Hernandez.

After a few months’ confinement, all six were summarily executed. Their remains have never been recovered; they were allegedly exhumed and burned shortly before Allied occupation, a bit of evidence-destruction similar to Wake Island.

There was a Japanese officer arrested for these executions and other war crimes, but he committed suicide before he could face judgment.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Borderline "Executions",Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,God,History,Japan,Martyrs,Mass Executions,Micronesia (FSM),Occupation and Colonialism,Palau,Religious Figures,Shot,Wartime Executions

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