1917: James Smith, Early One Morning

Add comment September 5th, 2017 Headsman

One hundred years ago today, a Bolton private (formerly lance corporal) named James Smith fell to his countrymen’s guns on Belgian soil during World War I.

A career soldier since 1909, Smith had served honorably in India and Egypt before the war. He had the hardiness and luck to survive Gallipoli and the Somme — but their horrors broke him mentally.

According to this biography, “Jimmy almost lost his life on the Somme on 11 October 1916 when a German artillery shell exploded, burying him alive and causing a shrapnel wound ‘the size of a fist’ on his right shoulder.” When he returned from two months’ convalescence leave his mates could see that shellshock had destroyed the old Jimmy Smith.

Erratic behavior that cost him his good conduct badges culminated in a break on July 30, 1917, the eve of the frightful Battle of Passchendaele, when Smith deserted his post and disappeared from the front — to be found later, wandering in a nearby town. In World War I, such an offense invited the brass to make an example of you.

Smith’s own comrades from the 17th Battalion King’s Liverpool Regiment were drafted into the firing squad. Pitying their victim, the executioners pulled their shots and missed the target, only succeeding in wounding the brutalized private. When the firing squad commander faltered at his duty to deliver the coup de grace, the task monstrously fell on a close friend of Smith’s, Private Richard Blundell, to press the revolver to Smith’s temple and blow out his brains. For its service to the war effort, the firing detail got 10 days’ R&R … and a lifetime of shame.

In the weeks before his own death, in February 1989, Blundell was often heard by his son, William, to murmur deliriously: ‘What a way to get leave, what a way to get leave.’

According to historian Graham Maddocks, in his book Liverpool Pals, William Blundell asked his father in a more lucid moment what he meant.

Still desperately upset seven decades after the incident, the dying Richard told his son what had happened. It was clear, that as he faced his own death, Richard had never forgiven himself.

Jimmy Smith was the subject of a 1998 play, Early One Morning.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Arts and Literature,Belgium,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Desertion,Diminished Capacity,England,Execution,History,Military Crimes,Shot,Soldiers,Wartime Executions

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1789: Thomas Phipps the elder and Thomas Phipps the younger

2 comments September 5th, 2015 Meaghan

From the Newgate Calendar (with thanks to frequent guest poster Meaghan Good of the Charley Project for the find):


These malefactors were father and son; and their final exit from this life was attended by circumstances of the most heart-rending and melancholy description.

The father was a man of good property, and lived on his own estate at Llwyney Mapsis, in Shropshire; and he and his son were indicted for uttering a note of hand for twenty pounds, purporting to be that of Mr. Richard Coleman of Oswestry, knowing the same to have been forged.

It was proved on their trial that Mr. Coleman never had had any transactions with Mr. Phipps that required the signing of any note whatever; that about the Christmas before, Mr. Coleman was served with a copy of a writ at the suit of Mr. Phipps the elder, which action Mr. Coleman defended, and for want of further proceedings on the part of the plaintiff, a non pros. was signed, with two pounds three shillings costs of suit against Phipps.

Upon this an affidavit was drawn up and sworn by Phipps the elder, Phipps the younger, and William Thomas, their clerk, for the purpose of moving the Court of Exchequer to set aside the judgment of non pros. and therein they swore that the cause of action was a note of the said Coleman’s for twenty pounds, which was given as satisfaction for a trespass by him committed in carrying some hay off the land of one of Mr. Phipps the elder’s tenants.

The Court thereupon granted a rule to show cause why the judgment should not be set aside; but Mr. Coleman insisting that the note was a forgery, the present prosecution was instituted against the father, son, and Thomas.

After a full hearing at the assizes at Shrewsbury, the father and son were pronounced “Guilty of uttering and publishing the note, knowing it to be forged;” and William Thomas was found “Not Guilty.”

Though convicted on the fullest evidence, the unhappy men, until the morning of their execution, persisted in their innocence; but when about to leave the jail, young Phipps made the following confession: “It was I alone who committed the forgery: my father is entirely innocent, and was ignorant of the note being forged when he published it.”

They were taken in a mourning-coach to the place of execution, accompanied by a clergyman and a friend who attended them daily after their condemnation.

On their way to the fatal tree the father said to the son, “Tommy, thou hast brought me to this shameful end, but I freely forgive thee;” to which the son made no reply. It being remarkably wet weather, their devotions were chiefly performed in the coach.

When the awful moment arrived, Mr. Phipps said to his son, “You have brought me hither; do you lead the way!” which the youth immediately did, and in the most composed manner ascended the ladder to a temporary scaffold erected for the purpose of their execution, followed by his father.

When their devotions were finished, and the halters tied to the gallows, this most wretched father and son embraced each other, and in a few moments the scaffold fell, and they were hand-in-hand launched into eternity, September the 5th 1789, amid a vast concourse of pitying spectators.

The father was forty-eight, and the son just twenty years of age.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Counterfeiting,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,History,Pelf,Public Executions

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1782: Bartolina Sisa, indigenous rebel

Add comment September 5th, 2014 Headsman

September 5 is International Indigenous Women’s Day, in honor of the torturous execution in Bolivia on this date in 1782 of the Aymara peasant rebel Bartolina Sisa.

Sisa (English Wikipedia entry | Spanish) shared with her husband Tupac Katari leadership of a huge indigenous uprising against the Spanish.

Eighteen months before Bartolina’s execution, she and Tupac Katari — Julian Apasa, to use his given name before he staked out a nom de guerre claiming the inheritance of Tupac Amaru and Tomas Katari — laid La Paz* under siege with an army 40,000 strong. Over the course of that spring summer, the Bolivian capital lost 10,000 souls and teetered on the brink of collapse — actually in two separate three-month sieges with a brief interim between.

Bartolina Sisa was recognized by the rebels as the coequal of her husband; the two took command decisions together in consultation.

As such, when the siege was finally relieved and the natives defeated that October, Sisa was in line to share her husband’s fate. This was easy to effect because she had been betrayed into Spanish hands between the first and second sieges. Her enemies refused Tupac Katari’s every blandishment to exchange her, and in time had the cruel pleasure of forcing her to watch her defeated husband’s butchery. Nearly a year later Sisa tasted a like fate, and her body was thereafter chopped up to display as a warning in various towns to cow potential future native insurgents.

A present-day peasant women’s union bears Sisa’s name, the Bartolina Sisa Confederation; the president of Brazil’s 2006 Constituent Assembly that drafted the country’s current constitution was an indigenous Quechua woman named Silvia Lazarte, who was the Bartolina Sisa Confederation’s former executive secretary.

* The city‘s full original name was Nuestra Señora de La Paz, “Our Lady of Peace”. It was founded in 1548 at the site of a former indigenous village and the “peace” referred to is the restoration of calm after Gonzalo Pizarro‘s rising.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Beheaded,Bolivia,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Dismembered,Execution,Famous,Gibbeted,History,Martyrs,Occupation and Colonialism,Power,Public Executions,Revolutionaries,Soldiers,Spain,Torture,Treason,Women

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1981: Nasiru Bello, a little overeagerly

1 comment September 5th, 2013 Headsman

It’s certainly understandable that dilatory appeals leaving it nigh-impossible to actually carry out a meritorious death sentence provoke aggravation.

But as always, one is left in the real sphere of human endeavor to choose among alternatives that each sport their own drawbacks — and where “drawbacks” are no mere debating points but actual lives on the line. After all, even a years-long appellate process that actually results in an execution can go and execute the wrong guy, to say nothing of systems that promise more immediate enforcement.

In a similar vein is the maxim that however adroit the hangman, etiquette forbids him entering the scene before the legally constituted appellate process — of whatever length it may be — has actually run its course. At least that much patience is not merely a virtue but absolutely de rigueur.

On this date thirty-two years ago, Nigeria committed a serious breach of that decorum.

Nasiru Bello, on death row for armed robbery — a crime the recently installed civilian government appeared to be easing off treating as a hanging offense* — was abruptly put to death by Oyo State before a filed and pending appeal could actually be heard by the court.

That’s what you’d call an irreversible error.

Five years later, Bello’s kin won a unanimous Supreme Court judgment against Oyo State for the wrongful execution, which stirringly declared that

“the premature execution of the deceased by the Oyo State Government, while the deceased’s appeal against his conviction was still pending, was not only unconstitutional, but also illegal and unlawful.** By it, the deceased has lost both his right to life and his right to prosecute his appeal.”

And then that same court reduced the plaintiffs’ claimed damages of 100,000 naira to 7,400: about US $1,900 by the local currency’s black market exchange rate. Bello, of course, stayed dead.

* See the 1980 entries in this pdf of Amnesty International reports on Nigeria.

** Unconstitutional, unlawful and illegal here being used in particular, juridically distinct senses. Despite the finding, nobody involved faced criminal sanctions for reasons boiling down to sovereign immunity.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,Nigeria,Notable Jurisprudence,Theft,Wrongful Executions

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1937: Andrei Stepanovich Arzhilovsky, counterrevolutionary kulak

Add comment September 5th, 2012 Meaghan

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

On this date in 1937, a 51-year-old Russian peasant by the name of Andrei Stepanovich Arzhilovsky was executed by firing squad, having been convicted of membership in a “counterrevolutionary kulak sabotage organization.”

Arzhilovsky, who had five young children by the time of his death, was evidently a nefarious thought-criminal with a record. He had sufficient literacy to join the regional administration in the nineteen-teens, which led to his arrest in 1919 in the wake of the October Revolution of two years previously.

He denied having ever persecuted Communist sympathizers, but a revolutionary tribunal sentenced him to eight years in prison.

Released after an amnesty in 1923, Arzhilovsky returned home, took up farming again, joined the peasant cooperative and took up a number of other minor civic posts. He owned 8.1 hectares of cultivated land, a house and outbuildings, two horses, two cows and other livestock. He was classified as a farmer of average means — that is, not a kulak or class enemy — but in 1929 he was convicted of “counterrevolutionary agitation” and sentenced to a decade in a labor camp.

In 1936, Arzhilovsky was released from detention early for health reasons. They expected him to go home and die, but instead he took an accounting job at a factory.

Perhaps frustrated by Arzhilovsky’s refusal to expire, the NKVD “uncovered” the “conspiracy” that lead to his death sentence. Under interrogation, he had to admit his opinions weren’t purely Soviet. Perhaps that alone was enough.

Arzhilovsky was a simple farmer, just one of the millions who died during Stalin’s Great Terror from 1936-1938. He probably would have been forgotten entirely today were it not for the forty-page diary he kept during the year prior to his death.

It was confiscated by NKVD agents when they searched his home. The diary was translated and published in 1995 in an anthology of several others from that period, under the title Intimacy and Terror: Soviet Diaries of the 1930s.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Guest Writers,History,Other Voices,Russia,Shot,USSR

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1924: Richard A. Birkes, stickup man

1 comment September 5th, 2011 Headsman

Our serialized Americana would hardly be complete without that classic rogue, the bank robber.

On this date in 1924, “chewing the frayed stump of a cigar,” holdup man Richard Birkes sauntered to the electric chair at the McAlester, Oklahoma state prison and rode the lightning for gunning down a teller in the course of a heist.

“So long boys,” which he tried to accompany with a wave of the hand already strapped to the death-chair, were Birkes’ last words.

Although other points give his last words as “I’m not guilty and I am not afraid to die; turn it on, boys.”

Birkes was unquestionably part of the three-man team that had knocked over the Ketchum Bank the summer prior, laying poor Frank Pitts, Sr. in his grave. The robber’s potential “innocence” turned on the question of which miscreant actually put him there.

This “non-triggerman” stuff is not necessarily legally or morally compelling in the best of circumstances, but right or wrong it was dispositive in this case: his accomplices both drew life terms.

This generic Prohibition-era bandit was so perfectly a creature of his time that his dear mum Eliza trekked over from Siloam Springs, Ark. to make a tearful eleventh-hour clemency plea, maternally (and mistakenly) certain that “the governor will surely spare my boy’s life.”

That executive’s thoughts ran to different plans.

Alarmed at the rash of bank jobs by brazen outlaws like Birkes who could strike and then escape over county lines in their period Studebakers, twirling their villainous mustaches, said unmerciful Gov. Martin E. Trapp the next year created a statewide law enforcement agency, the Oklahoma State Bureau of Invesigation.

This bureau’s effective intervention in the Sooner gangland scene (bank robberies fell … ) heralded a long and fruitful life that still continues to this day. They’re the people you’re gonna call when some local police pathologist gets caught systematically cooking forensic results to order for the state’s prosecutors.

Part of the Themed Set: Americana.

On this day..

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

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2007: Duan Yihe, mistress-murderer

3 comments September 5th, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 2007, former senior Chinese lawmaker Duan Yihe was executed in Jinan along with the policeman nephew who had helped him spectacularly assassinate Duan’s mistress just two months before.

Taking up with a teenager 30 years his junior must have been an appealing perk of the job when Duan Yihe was a rising official in the early 1990’s.

Fast forward 14 years, and he’s in for several cars, a couple of apartments, and tired of the now 31-year-old Liu Haiping, who’s blackmailing him for more. Much less appealing.

Solution?

Why, detonate a remote-controlled explosive in her car.

“The blast was so powerful that her Honda sedan was ripped apart, her lower body was destroyed and her torso landed 30 metres away,” reported The Times.

The case helped crystallize growing official concern with the corrupting potential of senior officials’ ubiquitous mistresses. The day before the car-bombing, the Chinese Supreme Court issued a ruling extending anti-graft laws to mistresses.

The method of execution (either gunshot or — more likely — lethal injection) was not publicized.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Capital Punishment,China,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Murder,Politicians,Ripped from the Headlines,Scandal,Sex

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1930: Carl Panzram, rage personified

September 5th, 2008 Headsman

On this date in 1930, one of the most nihilistic criminals in American history was hanged for murder at Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary — in character to his last breath, a sneer at the hangman about to put him to death:

“Hurry it up, you Hoosier bastard! I could hang 10 men while you’re fooling around!”

Panzram — according, at least, to an autobiography which is largely unverifiable — had the chops to back up his taunt.

A Minnesota-born son of German immigrants, Panzram was into the juvenile detention system by adolescence, and at 14 hopped a freight train bound for a life of vagrancy. In Panzram’s recounting, his boyhood was a hellscape — even knowing what he became, it’s possible to feel compassion for the the killer’s remembrance, “Everybody thought it was all right to deceive me, lie to me and kick me around whenever they felt like it, and they felt like it pretty regular.”

Worse was to come for Carl — sexual molestation, a gang-rape by fellow hobos — and much worse by Carl.

The rape may have shattered the restraints on his conscience … or maybe they was already gone by then. “Might makes right” became his credo; to alcoholic and thief he added a portfolio of rape and enthusiastic homicide, crisscrossing the country (with a side trip to Africa), escaping or wheedling out of jails when he was picked up for something, and finding it amazingly easy to slay his fellow men.

A full narrative of Panzram’s grisly career is available at trutv.com. Much of this is, again, sourced only to Panzram himself, so the possibility of bloodthirsty braggadocio cannot be dismissed; even at a fraction of its alleged scope and brutality, his career was a triumph in horror.

While I was sitting there, a little kid about eleven or twelve years old came bumming around. He was looking for something. He found it, too. I took him out to a gravel pit about one-quarter mile away. I left him there, but first I committed sodomy on him and then killed him. His brains were coming out of his ears when I left him, and he will never be any deader.

It was the murder of a fellow inmate at the federal prison in Leavenworth, Ks., that sealed his fate. Panzram was in his late 30’s by this time, facing a long prison sentence. Something between the fury that fueled him and the desperate reality of not seeing the outside again until he was an old man may have impelled him to check out intentionally: he had warned that he would murder an inmate, and he responded to anti-death penalty campaigners’ attempts to save him by threatening to kill them, too.

In my lifetime I have murdered 21 human beings, I have committed thousands of burglaries, robberies, larcenies, arsons and last but not least I have committed sodomy on more than 1,000 male human beings. For all these things I am not in the least bit sorry.

It seems the fate of common criminals, even those as prolific and infernal as Panzram, to shuffle into obscurity in fairly short order. Among devotees of the dark underbelly, Panzram may be well-known; to the larger public, he’s long forgotten.

Panzram’s memoirs, released as Killer: A Journal of Murder, were turned into a 1996 James Woods vehicle of the same title:

Interestingly, Panzram is also name-checked in another more famous literary artifact: In the Belly of the Beast, the tour de force of Norman Mailer protege Jack Abbott, who had conned the litterateur into backing his bid for parole, was rather boldly dedicated to Carl Panzram.* It will not surprise the reader to learn that Abbott, upon his release, killed again.

But a new generation is waiting to rediscover its butchers … and a new documentary, Panzram, is in production to bring the story back to silver screens and Netflix queues of the 21st century.

* Abbott was writing to Mailer while the latter was banging out his book about notable executee Gary Gilmore.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous Last Words,Gallows Humor,Hanged,Infamous,Kansas,Minnesota,Murder,Serial Killers,U.S. Federal,USA

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