2008: Kedisaletse Tsobane

Add comment September 19th, 2017 Meaghan

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

On this day in 2008, 49-year-old Kedisaletse Tsobane was executed in the southern African nation of Botswana for the murder of his ten-year-old daughter, Kgotso Macfallen. He was the first person to be executed under the administration of President Ian Khama.

Tsobane approached Kgotso as she was walking to school in Francistown on the morning of January 20, 2004, and offered her a lift. She hopped into his car. Later that day, passersby found the little girl’s body in the bush. She was kneeling on the ground, hanging from a tree by an electric cable.

Arrested the next day, Tsobane quickly confessed to the crime. He pleaded guilty to murder, saying,

I killed the child in an attempt to avoid liability in order to do away with my indebtedness. I was trying to do away with maintenance arrears. I killed the child by strangling it with a rope.

He was supposed to pay 40 Botswana pula, or a little less than $4 a month, but he hadn’t parted with so much as a single thebe since Kgotso’s birth. He was deep in debt and his wife had begun to complain.

Tsobane claimed that a week before the murder, Kgotso’s mother had taunted him about the debt, telling him he had to pay support for a child that wasn’t his. He said he got drunk and high on marijuana and committed the murder impulsively. Upon these mitigating circumstances Tsobane founded his case for commuting the sentence to life in prison.

The prosecution, however, produced a death certificate for Kgotso’s mother: she’d died in 2002 and couldn’t have been teasing him like he said. And the court didn’t buy Tsobane’s plea that he was too intoxicated to realize the nature and consequences of his actions. His own statement that he’d strangled Kgotso and then hanged her from a tree to make her death look like a suicide probably didn’t help his case.

The judge that sentenced Tsobane to death remarked, “In the circumstances, it is not clear why he was driven to commit the offense.” The Botswana Court of Appeal was equally puzzled by Tsobane’s motives. He could have sold his car to alleviate his financial worries, the court noted, but

He did not do so. He had, apparently, never paid any maintenance for the deceased, so even that had nothing in reality to do with her. Why then kill her, in order to get rid of his liabilities?

Whatever his reasons, Tsobane took them with him to his grave.

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1851: Aaron Stookey, clemency denied

Add comment September 19th, 2015 Headsman

State of New York, Executive Department
Albany, Sept. 4, 1851.

To Thomas Carnley, Esq., Sheriff of the City and County of New York

Sir: — I have carefully considered the application for a commutation of the sentence of death pronounced upon Aaron B. Stookey, to be executed on the 19th inst., for the murder of Zeddy Moore.

I have weighed the evidence with an anxious desire to give him the benefit of every circumstance which tends to extenuate his guilt; but after a mature deliberation I am clearly of opinion that his conviction was merited, and that the ends of public justice require the execution of the sentence.

The facts disclosed on his trial were sufficient beyond all doubt, to constitute the crime of wilful murder. It is contended that most of the material witnesses for the prosecution were persons of infamous character and unworthy credit. Making all due allowance for this objection, the proof of his guilt is so complete and overwhelming as to preclude any doubt, and in fact no material fact alleged by any of the witnesses have been called in question by the convict or his friends.

It appears that Stookey met his unfortunate victim casually in one of the public streets of your city. He was armed with deadly weapons, which he usually carried about his person. Upon provocation which, if not wholly imaginary, was too trivial to justify even momentary resentment, and apparently with no other motive than the indulgence of wanton and brutal passion, after first instigating his comrade to commit violence upon Moore, he declared his own intention to kill him and instantly stabbed him to the heart.

To palliate the enormity of this offence, it has been alleged that Stookey was laboring under temporary alteration of intellect, and was morally incapable of an intentional and deliberate crime. [i.e., he was drunk on rum -ed.] Several affidavits have been placed before me intended to sustain this hypothesis. Deeming it my duty to obtain satisfactory evidence on so material a point before coming to a final decision, I have caused an investigation to be made of all the facts bearing upon the question of insanity, and the result proves that there are no sufficient grounds for such an assumption.

It is shown that Stookey, for some years past, had led a life of dissipation and debauchery, that his moral nature was depraved, and his mental faculties impaired, by a long course of vicious indulgence; and in this general degradation of character consists the only reason that has been adduced for doubting that he was conscious of evil, and still retained those powers of moral perception which are given to discern between virtue and crime. All the usual phenomena of insanity and lunacy are wanting. There was nothing in his conduct to indicate that destitution of reason which absolves men from moral and legal responsibility.

My sympathies have been deeply moved by the earnest appeals made in behalf of your prisoner by his worthy relatives and friends. The petitions presented to me bear the names of many influential and respected citizens, whose opinions deserve the highest deference and regard. It is a painful office to be compelled to resist these urgent and affecting solicitations. But all must remember it is the voice of the law which condemns the murderer to death. This penalty, the most dreadful which human power can inflict, is imposed not in a spirit of retaliation or of vengeance, but from conviction of its necessity, for the protection of society and the security of mankind. The severity of the law in this respect has its source in the sacred regard for human life which pervades all civilized communities.

It proclaims in advance, to all whose evil passions may prompt to deeds of blood and vengeance, the impressive warning, that whosoever shall take the life of his fellow being shall thereby forfeit his own. This stern mandate is conceived not in cruelty but in humanity; in compassion for the innocent rather than a willingness to destroy the guilty; it originates in the obligation which society owes to all its members to protect them from unlawful violence, and its true aim is to prevent both crimes and punishments by restraining those who can only be deterred from the worst of offences by the most terrible penalties.

I am aware that serious differences of opinion exist among enlightened legislators in respect to the justice and tendency of a penal code which forfeits the life of the offender in case of murder. It does not come within my province to discuss this principle in the discharge of my executive duties. The law as it stands must be my guide, so long as it remains in force. It is among the first and highest of my obligations to see that it is faithfully executed.

The penalty which the State has prescribed, as a punishment for the crime of wilful murder, must be enforced in all cases where the offence is established by clear and sufficient proofs. This responsibility, weighty and difficult at all times, derives unusual force from the alarming increase of crime in some portions of our State, and especially in your city. The destruction of life by criminal violence has become an event of almost daily occurrence. My reflections upon this subject have produced a firm conviction that this deplorable evil is to be checked, and the lives of our peaceful citizens effectually shielded from danger only by an efficient, faithful and unswerving execution of the law. The peace and safety of society are too sacred to be hazarded by the indulgence of those generous sympathies which the fate of the convict is so well calculated to excite. The demands of justice, and an enlightened regard for the public security, must prevail over the pleadings of compassion.

It remains for you to discharge the most trying duty of your office as I now do mine.

Very respectfully,

Washington Hunt

P.S. — I intended to have remarked that Stookey’s crime may be traced directly to the habit he had adopted of carrying a dangerous weapon concealed about his person. His fate should be a warning to all who indulge in this reprehensible practice. It cannot be too strongly impressed upon their minds that persons who choose to carry concealed arms, will be held to a rigid responsibility for the use they may make of them, and for all consequences that may ensue.

(Clemency denial and execution order as printed in the New York Spectator, September 11, 1851.)

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1946: Ernst Lohmeyer, theologian

Add comment September 19th, 2014 Headsman

On this date in 1946, the Soviets occupying East Germany executed Bible scholar Ernst Lohmeyer.

A fifty-five-year-old professor when the NKGB whisked him out of his apartment without explanation to his dumbfounded wife, Lohmeyer (English Wikipedia entry | German) was an important Protestant theologian of the interwar period with a knack for eschewing the opportunistic choice.

By refusing to disavow Jewish associates, his academic career got derailed in the 1930s, despite his producing influential critical commentary on the Gospel of Mark;* by patriotically serving in the Wehrmacht despite his reservations about the Third Reich, he set himself up to profile as an undesirable after World War II.

For a long time, Lohmeyer’s fate was, if not difficult to guess, obscure in its particulars. Not until 1957 was his execution in a forest near Hanshagen officially confirmed; he had been condemned by a military tribunal for participating in the German occupation of Sloviansk even though he wasn’t personally associated with any known atrocities.

The post-Soviet Russian state officially exonerated Lohmeyer in 1996. The University of Greifswald, where Lohmeyer was teaching when arrested, has a theology faculty building named for him.

* Lohmeyer postulated that the Gospel of Mark reflected a contemporary-to-the-evangelist (that is, post-Jesus) conflict between Christian communities in different locales, and that Mark himself was associated with Galilee’s Christians and therefore structured his narrative to exalt this location.

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1729: Jephthah Big, ineffective extortionist

Add comment September 19th, 2013 Headsman

On this date in 1729, Jephthah Big was hanged at Tyburn — “so ill at the place of execution, that he could not attend the devotions proper for men in his calamitous situation,” according to the Newgate calendar.

This member of the all-name team got his from an Israelite warrior-judge noted for the human sacrifice of his daughter. The sin of Jephthah Big was much the smaller.

When Big’s brother got hired as a London gentleman’s coachman, Jephthah decided to make a quick hundred guineas of his own off the guy by sending him “such a letter as would make the gentleman tremble.”

The difficulty in this scenario is always in actually taking possession of the boodle without exposing oneself to capture.

Jephthah’s big plan was to ask for the money to be delivered to the Black Boy ale-house in Goodman’s Fields, but while his confederate Peter Salter was holding down a bench there day after day waiting for the windfall, Salter chanced to read a newspaper advert taken out by the target himself offering a reward for busting the shakedown. When a porter turned up asking for their extortionist alias, Salter sagely opted not to answer to it and instead left the tavern … but the porter had his own suspicions, and when he saw Salter by chance again a few days later, he had him arrested.

Salter got out of the scrape by turning crown’s evidence against Jephthah Big, who was hanged as the instigator of the whole mess.

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2011: Abdul Hamid Bin Hussain Bin Moustafa al-Fakki, sorcerer

Add comment September 19th, 2012 Headsman

On this date last year, a Sudanese man who “practised witchcraft and sorcery” was beheaded in a Medina carpark.

This being the 21st century — whatever the Saudi statutes might say — it was caught on film.

Warning: Mature Content It’s filmed from too far away to be gory per se, but this video clearly captures the severing of a man’s head.

“Abdul Hamid is understood to have been arrested in 2005 after he was entrapped by a man working for the Mutawa’een (religious police),” according to the Daily Mail.

He was asked to concoct a spell that would cause the officer’s father to leave his second wife.

According to the officer’s account Abdul Hamid agreed to carry out the curse in exchange for 6,000 Saudi Arabian riyals (approximately £1,000).

He was beaten after his arrest and thought to have been forced to admit to acts of sorcery.

In a secret trial, where he was not allowed legal representation, he was sentenced to death by the General Court in Medina in March 2007.

Few details are available about his trial but he is reported to have been tried behind closed doors and without legal representation.

At the time of his arrest, English language Saudi daily The Saudi Gazette ran an article entitled Magic Maids which said that ‘we must face up to the threats from some maids and servants and their satanic games of witchcraft and sorcery, their robbery, murder, entrapment of husbands, corruption of children and other countless stories of crime that have been highlighted by both experts and victims of these crimes’.

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1902: Fred Hardy, the first hanged in Alaska

5 comments September 19th, 2011 Headsman

On this date in 1902, a hanging in Alaska capped a gold rush story fit for Jack London.


“A leetle favor … I gif my husky-dog, Diable, to de devil. De leetle favor? Firs’ you hang heem, an’ den you hang me.” Illustration from Jack London’s short story “Diable” (or “Batard”).

Actually, this tale is set not in London’s characteristic Klondike gold rush, but a subsequent one centered on remote Nome. There, in the words of the Rex Beach novel The Spoilers, “a frenzied horde of gold-seekers paused in their rush to the new El Dorado. They had come like a locust cloud, thousands strong, settling on the edge of the Smoky Sea, waiting the going of the ice that barred them from their Golden Fleece — from Nome the new, where men found fortune in a night.”

(The Spoilers is available free online in both text and audio book forms. The clip above is from a 1914 cinematic adaptation.)

The victims in this case of mercenary arctic brutality were a party of four who set up prospecting camp on Unimak Island, in the Aleutians. Their impression that they were safely alone on this large territory was refuted with the inexorable cruelty of a slasher flick.

After being caught out by the elements in a secondary camp, the party returned to its unsecured main base to discover “that their tent had been torn down in their absence and their stores taken away.”

Here the ominous overture fades in, and by the time it hits crescendo the mysterious robbers will have visited a cold-blooded massacre on our quartet of prospectors.

“Suddenly a man, who had been hid by the tall coarse grass, jumped up several hundred yards away, and took aim with a rifle at Florence. He fired and Florence fell with a scream. ‘Con’ and I ran for the boat, jumped in, and Rooney started to shove her off. The next moment a shot came from somewhere in the cliff above our heads.

“Rooney grabbed hold of his right knee, cried ‘They’ve got me too,’ and sank into the surf. Con and I saw that there was no use trying to get away in the boat, and so took it on the run for the shelter of the cliffs. We hadn’t gone twenty steps when another shot rang out; Con threw up his hands and fell headlong upon the beach, stone dead, with a shot between the shoulders. I kept on running, hearing shot after shot fired at me and striking about me with dull thumps like pieces of heavy hail.”

That’s from the riveting account of the lone survivor, one Jackson, who managed to escape into the island’s interior and after tramping about for two weeks, near to starvation and in continual terror of his stalkers, was finally found at death’s door by a friendly hunter.

Jackson’s information was able to tip off an investigation that led to the capture of two suspects. By the time Fred Hardy and George Aston were nabbed, they had “taken possession of” a fishing village and “kept [the fishers] in a terrified state.” They also happened to have the late prospectors’ booty, including personal items like an inscribed watch.

Aston wisely turned on his confederate, saving his own neck at the cost of stretching Hardy’s.

Hardy, a veteran of America’s colonial adventure in the Philippines and a nephew (so he said) of department store magnate John Wanamaker, denied guilt all the way to the scaffold but got no help from appellate courts or from President Teddy Roosevelt. (Since Alaska was still a territory, executive clemency was up to the White House.) He was put to death “in an addition built to the ice-house on the lot opposite the jail” (according to Washington state’s Morning Olympian, Oct. 3, 1902) at Nome City itself.

It wasn’t actually the first execution in Alaska, or even American-run Alaska, but Hardy’s hanging was a significant milestone. Prior to 1900, the vast territory was next door to lawless, order enforced in the interior by miner’s meetings or not at all, while a smattering of coastal military and customs outposts projected vague federal authority. Data on executions from this period is sketchy and incomplete.

In 1900, with the Alaskan population booming from that locust cloud of gold-hunters, promulgation of a civil code set Alaska on the way to something resembling normal government. Hardy’s execution was the first under legal judicial authority — the first of eight in the first half of the 20th century. Alaska abolished capital punishment shortly before attaining statehood in 1959.

Part of the Themed Set: Americana.

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1692: Giles Corey, “more weight!”

9 comments September 19th, 2009 Headsman

Monday, September 19, 1692. About noon, at Salem, Giles Corey was press’d to death for standing mute; much pains was used with him two days, one after another, by the Court and Capt. Gardner of Nantucket, who had been of his acquaintance: but all in vain.
-Diary of Salem witch trials judge Samuel Sewall

Pressing to death — peine forte et dure — was a brutal procedure that wasn’t technically a method of execution: courts used it to extract a plea from a defendant, since the law of the time (altered in the 18th century) would not allow criminal proceedings to get underway without one.

Procedure: stake a fellow down and start piling crushing weight on his chest for hours or days until he agrees to enter a plea and start the trial.

For the sufficiently obstinate prisoner, it was a manner of exiting the world quite a bit more unpleasant than hanging. But it came with one significant advantage: since one died without a capital conviction, one could pass on one’s property rather than having it confiscated by the state. For Giles Corey, that was worth two days of agony.

PROCTOR: And Giles?

ELIZABETH: You have not heard of it?

PROCTOR:* I hear nothin’, where I am kept.

ELIZABETH: Giles is dead.

(He looks at her incredulously.)

PROCTOR: When were he hanged?

ELIZABETH (quietly, factually): He were not hanged. He would not answer aye or nay to his indictment; for if he denied the charge they’d hang him surely, and auction out his property. So he stand mute, and died Christian under the law. And so his sons will have his farm. It is the law, for he could not be condemned a wizard without he answer the indictment, aye or nay.

PROCTOR: Then how does he die?

ELIZABETH (gently): They press him, John.

PROCTOR: Press?

ELIZABETH: Great stones they lay upon his chest until he please aye or nay. (With a tender smile for the old man.) They say he give them but two words. ‘More weight,’ he says. And died.

PROCTOR (numbed — a thread to weave into his agony): ‘More weight’.

ELIZABETH: Aye. It were a fearsome man, Giles Corey.

-Arthur Miller‘s The Crucible

Hard core, that Giles Corey.

Giles Cory pleaded not guilty to his indictment, but would not put himself on Tryal by the Jury (they having cleared none upon tryal) and knowing there would be the same witnesses against him, rather chose to undergo what death they would put him to. In pressing his tongue being forced out of his mouth, the Sheriff with his Cane forced it in again, when he was dying. He was the first in New England that was ever prest to death. (Source)

* Arthur Miller availed himself some dramatic license in The Crucible; among the more trifling was that the historical John Proctor was actually hanged a month before Giles Corey’s death.

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