1943: Mao Zemin, brother of Mao Zedong

Add comment September 27th, 2018 Headsman

Mao Zemin, younger brother of Communist leader Mao Zedong, was executed on this date in 1943.

A party cadre since 1921, the non-chairman Mao served a variety of economic leadership posts for the Red Army.

As of early 1941, Mao (English Wikipedia entry | the far more voluminous Chinese was detailed to the western province of Xinjiang, where the warlord Sheng Shicai maintained friendly relations with the neighboring Soviet Union.

To Mao’s grief, this “King of Xinjiang” saw in the unfolding global war an opportunity to realign.

After the German invasion of the USSR in 1941, Sheng boldly flipped his affiliation from Moscow to the nationalist Kuomintang government with which he had theretofore maintained only the frostiest of relations. Crackdowns on Communists ensued too, and both Mao Zemin and Chen Tanqiu were both arrested, tortured, and executed as a result.

Needless to say this KMT-Xinjiang axis did not hold the Celestial Empire’s destiny and the whole decision to fade Moscow looks pretty dumb in retrospect. Sheng, however, surely did not much regret the gambit since he was able to follow the nationalists to Taiwan and spend a comfortable retirement writing memoirs like Sinkiang: Pawn or Pivot?

Mao’s son Mao Yuanxin, a still-living pensioner as of this writing, was a political figure in the 1970s who was jailed post-Gang of Four.

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1517: Konrad Breuning, Tübingen Vogt

1 comment September 27th, 2017 Headsman

On this date in 1517, aged magistrate Konrad Breuning was beheaded as a traitor for helping negotiate a landmark limitation of the Duke of Württemberg’s powers.

Fruit of a wealthy Tübingen family — one can still see in the church there the donative Breuning BellKonrad Breuning was a Vogt, one of the Holy Roman Empire’s important municipal administrators.

In 1514, crushed by taxation and written out of political power, commoners both urban and rural mounted a rebellion known as “Poor Konrad”. (Its title had nothing to do with our post’s star character; “Konrad” was just a common name that had come to denote the everyman.)

Wealthy elites were able to leverage the rebellion’s pressure,* and Duke Ulrich‘s increasingly desperate need for revenues that only they could authorize, into a sort of Magna Carta for the duchy: the Treaty of Tübingen. As the name implies, it was negotiated right in Konrad Breuning’s stomping-ground; the site was his own suggestion.

This great coup was attained at a great cost, for Duke Ulrich was a mercurial fellow who would eventually be run out of Württemberg altogether after he outright murdered a guy. That murder, in 1515, perhaps drove Ulrich to an attempted (and backfiring) show of authority with the 1516 arrest of Bruening, his brother Sebastian (who was Vogt of a different town), and Konrad Vaut (yet another Vogt, and see what we mean about the popularity of the name?). Their rank did not protect them from the torture necessary to extract confessions.

All three were condemned to death for treason in a stacked trial in December 1516. For reasons that are not self-evident to me from the mostly-German sources that I have found, the other two Vogts lost their heads more or less promptly after their conviction but Konrad Bruening was maintained as Ulrich’s most unwilling guest for most of a year before he finally followed them. Maybe it was the duke protracting the savor of his revenge upon Tübingen’s bourgeoisie for that treaty.

* Despite the role of Poor Konrad in catalyzing the Treaty of Tübingen, the urban lower orders got much less out of the deal than the 1% types, and the peasantry was shut out altogether. It would not be long before the frustration of the latter class again conjured an insurrection: the devastating 1524-1525 Peasants War.

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1929: Paul Rowland, cut short

Add comment September 27th, 2016 Robert Elder

(Thanks to Robert Elder of Last Words of the Executed — the blog, and the book — for the guest post. This post originally appeared on the Last Words blog. Fans of this here site are highly likely to enjoy following Elder’s own pithy, almanac-style collection of last words on the scaffold. -ed.)

I have something of interest to tell —

-Paul Rowland, convicted of murder, California. Executed September 27, 1929

Serving time for a robbery, Rowland approached Alger Morrison, a man whom he claimed as a good friend, and stabbed him with a five-inch homemade knife. Rumors circulated among the inmates that Rowland and Morrison had had a “degenerate” sexual relationship, rumors that Rowland found unendurable. His last words were cut short as the trap sprang from beneath his feet.

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Feast Day of Saints Cosmas and Damian

Add comment September 27th, 2015 Headsman


The Martyrdom of Saints Cosmas and Damian, by Fra Angelico.

September 27 is the traditional* feast date of early Christian saints Cosmas and Damian.

Martyred in Syria during the Diocletian persecution, these Arabian brothers were reputedly physicians who did not charge their patients, even for premium services like transplanting an entire leg.


Cosmas and Damian graft an Ethiopian’s leg onto a white patient.

This has made them patron saints to doctors, surgeons, pharmacists, and dentists but decidedly not to insurers.

They were once much more widely known and revered than today, back when the mysteries of medicine and of faith intertwined with one another. The two are named in the Canon of the Mass, and multiple churches in Europe dubiously claim the honor the ancient doctors’ relics; their skulls alone reside simultaneously in Bremen, Vienna, and Madrid, while a church in Venice allegedly holds their non-cranial remains. Visitors to the Roman Forum will behold the beautifully preserved pagan Temple of Romulus, which was rededicated in 527 as the basilica of Santi Cosma de Damiano and still hosts weddings beneath its impressive Cosmas and Damian mosaic.


A reliquary for the skulls of Cosmas and Damian in St. Michael’s Church, Munich.

The saints’ day is observed in Brazil, where children on September 27 receive candies (Cosmas and Damian also count confectioners and children among their devotees). St. Anthony’s Church in Utica, New York, also hosts an annual Cosmas and Damian pilgrimage attracting thousands of people from across North America.

As two men intimate with one another who traveled and ministered together, they are sometimes speculatively ventured as early gay exemplars. (They’re traditionally accounted as brothers.)

* The Vatican’s 1969 calendar revision moved the feast to September 26, leaving September 27 to St. Vincent de Paul.

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1583: Elisabeth Plainacher, Vienna’s only witchcraft execution

Add comment September 27th, 2013 Headsman

The city of Vienna only has one documented execution for witchcraft to its illustrious history. It occurred on this date in 1583.

Elisabeth Plainacher (English Wikipedia entry | German) was a miller’s daughter from Mank who had lived most of her 70 or so years during the Protestant Reformation and the Catholic Counter-Reformation, that social conflict so productive of witchcraft accusations.

It would factor very specifically in Elsa’s case, since she herself was a Protestant in a very Catholic place.

Elsa’s daughter Margaret died in childbirth, and Elsa took all four of the surviving children into her own care while Margaret’s widower went his own way. Three of these children would die in her care; the fourth became an epileptic in her teens, finally leading Margaret’s (Catholic) former husband to accuse his mother-in-law of bewitching everybody.

The accusation was ill-timed for the “witch”: Jesuit zealot Georg Scherer got hold of the case and put the epileptic teenager through a gantlet of exorcisms that he claimed expunged 12,652 infernal spirits. Scherer’s accounting must have been as rigorous as his faith.

“Scholars and men of understanding know that devils have neither flesh nor limbs, but are spirits, and therefore need no place or space as do our bodies,” Scherer later wrote by way of explaining the crowded tenancy. “A hundred thousand legions of spirits could all be collected together on the point of a needle.” Scherer preached, and later published, a sermon this holy combat, titled “A Christian remembrance of the most recent deliverance of a young woman who was possessed by 12,652 devils.”

This was a relentlessness which Elsa Plainacher was not formed to resist. She was a humble miller with some family drama, and then suddenly she was under torture (German link) in the imperial capital with the day’s headline pulpit-basher at her throat. She soon admitted whatever devilries her torturers demanded of her: giving the epileptic over to the devil, desecrating the Host, all that sort of thing.

On September 27, 1583, she was drug by a horse to an open field where she was burned at the stake. Her ashes were consigned to the Danube. Plainacherin even persisted (more German) in the local vernacular for a time as a dirty word.

Posterity’s apology for this horrible fate comes in the form of a small Vienna street, Elsa-Plainacher-Gasse, named after her. (There’s also a Plainachergasse in her native Mank.)

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Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Austria,Burned,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Habsburg Realm,History,Innocent Bystanders,Milestones,Public Executions,Torture,Witchcraft,Women

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1975: The last executions under Franquismo

Add comment September 27th, 2012 Headsman

Though Spain’s last execution is often misremembered as that of handsome anarchist Salvador Puig Antich in 1974, that milestone actually occurred with the shooting of five anti-Franco terrorists in three different cities on September 27, 1975.

It was an ugly coda to an ugly regime and a 40-year history of political killings.

Gen. Francisco Franco had the previous year been forced by his failing health to hand over power, raising hopes for a democratic transition. But after surprisingly recovering, Franco surprisingly took back his strongman role — and anti-Franco revolutionary movements that had been biding their time greeted the return of Franquismo with a wave of bombings and assassinations.

Spain’s cabinet met in September 1975 to consider eleven death-sentenced prisoners — three Basques of the separatist ETA, and eight members of the communist revolutionary organization FRAP. It upheld five of those sentences, all involving the killing of policemen. (Two women, who both claimed to be pregnant, were among those reprieved.)

The five who ultimately died were (and these are all Spanish Wikipedia links):


Headline from the London Times, September 27, 1975. The garrote was not, in fact, used for any of the executions.

The shootings met angry — often violent — reaction throughout Europe. Spanish embassies in the Netherlands and Turkey were attacked; several countries recalled their ambassadors; and French protesters rioted on the Champs Elysees. The EU predecessor entity EEC (Spain was not then a member) voted to freeze its trade relations with Spain.

And it was about more than just the five humans shot to death.

They had all been condemned within a month before their deaths, by military tribunals requiring harsh mandatory death sentences for crimes against public order. As the unsettled situation on the ground implied quite a lot of disorder and anti-government violence, observers worried that the regime’s willingness to actually carry out those sentences would unleash a “death machine” of unstoppable condemnations, met with inevitable reprisals, and still more unstoppable death sentences. Satans mördare, in the words of outspoken Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme. Devilish murders.

The devil had plans for a different soul.

The ailing Franco succumbed to Parkinson’s Disease on November 20, 1975, once again introducing the period of relative calm and stability that Spain could have been enjoying for the previous year had the late caudillo just stayed in retirement. Spain abolished the death penalty under its post-Franco constitution.

Spanish-speakers may enjoy this documentary focusing on one of this day’s victims: parts 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5. Indeed, this gruesome parting Franco made with his mortal coil has inspired many remembrances up the present day, especially given the martyrology-friendly anti-fascist credentials of the five. There’s also a 1991 film called The Longest Night and the Luis Eduardo Aute song “At Dawn”:

* This man’s widow Silvia Carretero, who was herself arrested and tortured (while pregnant!) under Franco, pushed an unsuccessful 2010 lawuit for her husband’s execution.

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1906: Adolph Weber, nervy

Add comment September 27th, 2011 Headsman

On this date in 1906, Adolph Weber hanged in California for “one of the most revolting [crimes] in the annals of criminal history”:* the slaughter of his entire family.

On the night of Nov. 10, 1904, a fire at the Auburn mansion of Julius Weber, the onetime owner of the (still-extant) Auburn Alehouse, raised the town’s alarm. Firemen responding discovered four bodies within: Julius, his wife, and two of the couple’s three children. The coroner’s inquest soon determined that all four victims had met a violent death (three by shooting, one by beating) prior to the conflagration, and suspicion naturally fell on the one kid who survived and now stood to inherit the boodle.

(And, it transpired, had robbed a bank earlier that year.)

“Young Weber,” as the papers began to call him, soon became the object of widespread public opprobrium; the case against him was circumstantial but, with the addition of a man who claimed to have sold Weber the very make and model of a pistol found hidden some days after the crime, more than compelling enough for the judiciary. (The text of an appellate decision here outlines the case in greater detail.)

Meanwhile, the legislative branch got busy on a new 1905 Patricide Law to disinherit any homicide beer baron scions of the future. Since the previous statutes had not bothered to anticipate the present circumstance, Adolph Weber inherited all his purported victim’s money (after all, the other potential heirs were also now dead): he promptly blew through most of it on his legal expenses.

Weber’s phenomenal sangfroid from the moment of his arrest up to that of his noosing was his outstanding characteristic. Considered horrifying “vanity” and coldness while his guilt was adjudicated —

The life and character of Adolph WEBER have come under more notice than those of perhaps any other California criminal, unless DURRANT was the exception. And he is more of an enigma than DURRANT. The latter was industrious in protesting his innocence, while WEBER has never deigned to aver his, except when the direst question of his guilt or innocence was put to him at the trial, and even then his answers were in monosylables.

Sacramento Bee, June 23 1906

— it had become by the time the doomed Weber coolly ran out the clock to execution “the nerve which has characterized him as one of the most remarkable criminals of the century.”

“Never,” the Los Angeles Times wrote on the morrow of Weber’s execution, “did an assassin meet death with firmer step, or cooler nerve, than did the boy murderer of Auburn.”

* Los Angeles Times, Sep. 28, 1906

Part of the Themed Set: Americana.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,California,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Murder,Pelf,USA

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1471: Thomas Neville, the Bastard Faulconbridge

2 comments September 27th, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1471, Lancastrian commander Thomas Neville was beheaded in the War of the Roses.

“The bastard Faulconbridge” (Fauconberg, Falconbridge) got his illegitimacy from dad, the Earl of Kent, and like William Neville, young Thomas played both sides of the aisle during the decades-long dynastic struggle.

Thomas made his most famous mark in May of 1471, leading a Lancastrian column to meet up at London with another led by Margaret of Anjou. Unfortunately for Neville, Margaret’s army was trounced at the Battle of Tewkesbury, leaving the Bastard on his own.

Still, he made a solo go of attacking London — “stirring of coles & proud port,” in the judgment of Holinshed, “with hautinesse of hart & violence of hand thin|king to beare downe the people, as an innudation or flowing of water streams dooth all before it: yet he came short of his purpose, & pulled vpon his owne pate finall destruction: though he thought himselfe a man ordeined to glorie.”

Thomas Neuill, bastard sonne to that valiant cap|teine the lord Thomas Fauconbridge (who had late|lie before beene sent to the sea by the earle of War|wike, and after fallen to practise pirasie) had spoiled diuerse merchants ships, Portingals and others, in breach of the ancient amitie that long had continued betwixt the realms of England and Portingale; and furthermore, had now got to him a great number of mariners, out of all parts of the land, and manie traitors and misgouerned people from each quarter of the realme, beside diuerse also foorth of other coun|tries that delighted in theft and robberies, meaning to worke some exploit against the king.

And verelie, his puissance increased dailie, for ha|uing béene at Calis, and brought from thence into Kent manie euill disposed persons, he began to ga|ther his power in that countrie, meaning (as was thought) to attempt some great and wicked enter|prise. After the kings comming to Couentrie, he receiued aduertisements, that this bastard was come before London, with manie thousands of men by land, and also in ships by water, purposing to rob and spoile the citie. Manie Kentishmen were willing to assist him in this mischieuous enterprise, and other were forced against their wils to go with him, or else to aid him with their substance and monie, insomuch that within a short time, he had got togither sixtéene or seuentene thousand men, as they accompted them|selues.

With these he came before the citie of London the twelfe of Maie, in the quarrell (as he pretended) of king Henrie, whome he also meant to haue out of the Tower, & to restore him againe vnto his crowne & roiall dignitie …

The attack gave London a fright, but was eventually repelled; the Bastard fled town as King Edward IV, fresh from Tewkesbury, approached.* He seems to have copped a pardon, but he was beheaded in unclear circumstances (Holinshed says, after resuming his career in piracy — but royal perfidy seems equally likely), and his head shipped to London Bridge for pike-topping duty.


A distant spinoff of the dynasty is rumored to have founded the Falcon Crest estate.

There’s a bastard Faulconbridge in the Shakespeare canon; oddly enough he’s not found in the Henry VI series … but as the central character in the rarely-performed King John. Apart from the name, this fictional Bastard Philip Faulconbridge doesn’t seem to have a lot in common with our man.

* Just hours after resuming London, Edward’s party murdered the theretofore imprisoned Yorkist claimant that Neville had meant to liberate, Henry VI. Henry was wed to Margaret of Anjou, truly an ill-starred marriage.

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Entry Filed under: 15th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,England,Execution,History,Power,Public Executions,Soldiers,Wartime Executions

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1996: Dr. Mohammad Najibullah

85 comments September 27th, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 1996, the man who once ruled ruled Afghanistan under the aegis of a superpower succumbed to the tender mercies of his country’s fundamentalist insurgency.

Mohammad Najibullah was the last president of the Soviet-backed Democratic Republic of Afghanistan. Unfortunately for Najibullah, he was on the job when Moscow decided to throw in the towel on the Soviet-Afghan War.

After losing the subsequent civil war, the former President was trapped for a nervous few years in Kabul — blocked from joining his family in flight to India by the offices of former Soviet client and present-day American client Abdul Rashid Dostum.

When Kabul finally surrendered to the Taliban in 1996, the hated onetime Communist viceroy — whose stepping-stone to that post was heading the hated Afghan secret police — had a problem.

At the instigation of future Taliban second-in-command Mohammad Rabbani, Najibullah and his brother were hauled out of the U.N. compound where they had taken refuge, publicly beaten, tortured and castrated, and strung up on a traffic barricade.

There was a new sheriff in town.



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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Afghanistan,Borderline "Executions",Capital Punishment,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Doctors,Execution,Hanged,Heads of State,History,Lynching,Mature Content,No Formal Charge,Occupation and Colonialism,Politicians,Power,Public Executions,Summary Executions,The Worm Turns,Torture,Wartime Executions

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1976: Three terrorists in Syria

2 comments September 27th, 2008 Headsman

On this date in 1976, three Abu Nidal terrorists were hanged before the Hotel Semiramis in Damascus, barely 24 hours after they had entered it and taken 90 hostages in a bid to win release of Palestinian prisoners.

Palestinians Muhammad al-Barqawi and Mouatassem Jayyoushi and Iraqi Jabbar Darwish suffered Syria’s first public execution since an accused Israeli spy more than a decade before — and as the late Syrian strongman Hafez al-Assad had pledged, justice was swift and ruthless.

The security of the citizen is sacred. We shall not be soft in this matter. We shall hit back very hard and we denounce this criminal action committed by the gang, which acted as if it was in Israel.

They were the surviving 75% of a quartet of gunmen who early the previous morning had seized the hotel, barricaded themselves on the fifth floor, and attempted to make their trade. Plainly, it didn’t quite work out; the attempt precipitated a battle with Syrian troops which saw the fourth terrorist killed, along with four of the hostages. The Supreme State Security Court condemned the captured men to death overnight; the sentence was carried out between 6:00 and 6:30 the next morning.

New York Times coverage of the raid and the execution is unfortunately behind the paper’s paid-login firewall, but a photo of the execution shows onlookers ringing a single wooden frame for what must have been a short-drop hanging. An unused fourth noose, possibly symbolically present for the killed fourth terrorist (or possibly not; there’s no explicit comment on it), hangs beside the dead men.

So why the grievance? That June — “Black June,” to the Palestinians — Syria had bailed on hard-line Palestinians and entered the Lebanese Civil War on the side of Phalangist Christians,* just as they were on the verge of being overrun. It was the second time in six years that a neighboring Arab power had turned its guns on Palestinians. (In 1970, Jordan had expelled the Palestine Liberation Organization in “Black September.” Lots of black in the Palestinian annals.)

And why the Iraqi, among the hanged?

Palestinian terrormeister Abu Nidal had hung out his shingle in Iraq, then under the control of a rising young dictator destined for the gallows himself, but who grasped the opportunist potential of backing the Palestinian cause while states like Jordan and Syria visibly sold it out. Television crews had a few words in edgewise with the doomed men the evening before their hanging, and they claimed to have trained for their abortive mission in Iraq.

* This put Damascus on the same side as Israel.

Part of the Themed Set: Semiramis.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Iraq,Murder,Occupation and Colonialism,Palestine,Public Executions,Summary Executions,Syria,Terrorists

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