1949: Luka Javorina, trainwrecker

Add comment October 24th, 2020 Headsman

A 27-year-old railway worker named Luka Javorina was shot on this date in 1949 for workplace negligence resulting in a fatal train accident in Plavno, Yugoslavia (present-day Croatia).

According to this extensive profile (in Croatian), Javorina and some coworkers at the Plavno train station slaughtered a lamb for spit-roasting and tucked into about 12 liters of wine.

Javorina was the station chief there, although not a particularly happy one; he’d been transferred to the village station against his will a few months before, forcing him into an inconvenient commute. His discontent in Plavno might have been one oblique cause in what ensued, and perhaps a much more direct factor in his zeal to suddenly binge-drink on the job when he hadn’t drunk at all since 1945.

The rail schedule went to pot that night, not because he and a couple of on-duty switchmen were getting drunk but due to the everyday logistical knock-ons in a complex transport network. The upshot of those knock-ons were that a passenger train southbound from Zagreb, and a freight train northbound from Knin, became slated to cross one another at Plavno that night. (Ordinarily, they would have crossed elsewhere.)

Informed by phone of his new and critical responsibility to manage the passage of these opposite-heading trains, the wine-addled Javorina acknowledged it and apparently promptly forgot it — failing to inform the (equally drunk) switchmen and ultimately leaving the signals on at both ends of his station. The result was a horrifying head-on collision in the dark pre-dawn hours, two kilometers south of Plavno. Twenty-one people were killed; Javorina pathetically fled to a nearby corn field and hid himself in shame or (as he said) fear of lynching while survivors were being rescued. Far more than a “mere” deadly workplace accident, this negligence was tantamount to a state-level crime considering the urgency of economic development and ideological credibility in these postwar years. You just cannot have people entrusted with critical infrastructure who feel free to get shitfaced on the job.

“The accused Javorina came to a state of not only severe fatigue but also almost complete oblivion due to alcohol consumption,” the court found in sentencing him to death. The switchmen got prison terms for complicity, they also being drunk at their posts even though it was Javorina’s failure to tell them what was happening that prevented them averting the disaster.

An hour before the execution, on October 24, a door opened in Javorina’s cell. An investigator stood in the doorway. He briefly asked the convict, “Do you know that your request for pardon was denied?”

Javorina just nodded. Then he put on his coat and left the cell. He said nothing. He knew where they were taking him. He got into a closed police car in the prison yard. Along with them were two other armed guards. They said nothing. Javorina only asked them for a cigarette at one point.

They drove for less than an hour — at 4.45 pm they stopped on a hill. Javorina did not know the area. Getting out of the car, the former head of the railway station in Plavno still had a cigarette in his mouth.

They took him to a freshly dug mound and drove him away. Ten armed militiamen stood ten meters in front of him. They waited for the convict to smoke a cigarette. At 5 pm, a short man, clad in an overcoat, approached Javorina. Four minutes later, the afternoon silence of KoreŇ°nica was interrupted by a barrage of military rifles. Then the doctor’s voice was heard: “Luka Javorina is dead. Death occurred at 17.04, ascertained at 17.05.”

The file on the catastrophe of the passenger train number 1012, which was traveling on the Zagreb-Split route, was thus closed.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Croatia,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Murder,Shot,Yugoslavia

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1824: Alexander Pearce, cannibal convict

Add comment July 19th, 2008 Headsman

On this date in 1824, Irish convict Alexander Pearce received the Catholic last rites and was hanged in Australia’s Hobart town jail for murdering and cannibalizing a fellow con during an escape attempt.

When Pearce, a petty thief who had been sentenced in England to penal transportation, was caught at King River after fleeing a Tasmanian prison colony. He had human flesh in his pocket … pretty much as alleged in this court scene from the docudrama “Exile in Hell”:

… or, at least, there is no record of Pearce, who was defended by no lawyer, contesting the charges. He is said to have had other food available at this time; it seems he killed his young companion when he realized the boy would hold him up … then ate him, because he liked the taste.

You’re wondering how he knew he liked human flesh, right?

Incredibly, the crime for which he was hanged was not Pearce’s first incident of cannibalism — not even his first incident of confessed cannibalism.

During a previous escape attempt in 1822 with six other men, the party had plunged ill-equipped into forbidding terrain, and fallen to … well, you know. Here’s a newspaper account by the author of a book about Pearce:

As the journey continued, one by one, the weakest man was killed with an axe and butchered to provide food for the others. After five weeks of endless walking, only three men were left: [Robert] Greenhill, Pearce and [Matthew] Travers.

Driven by extreme hunger, Greenhill finally faced the prospect of having to kill his injured friend Travers, who had been bitten on the foot by a venomous tiger snake. With Travers’ foot now gangrenous, Greenhill and Pearce half-dragged and carried their injured companion for five days until Travers begged them to kill him. The only weapon left was the axe. They killed him in his sleep, and ate his flesh.

Pearce and Greenhill struggled on for eight days, playing cat and mouse with each other, desperate to stay awake, fearing that the other would attack him if he closed his eyes and nodded off. It was Pearce who kept awake long enough to grab the axe and kill the sleeping Greenhill with a blow to the head.

Months later, when the law finally caught up with Pearce, he admitted to killing and eating his companions. He wasn’t believed: authorities figured his collaborators were still on the run and Pearce was covering for them, so they sent him back to the prison colony.

Whoops.

This unpleasant story is the subject of a forthcoming film, The Last Confession of Alexander Pearce.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Arts and Literature,Australia,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,History,Infamous,Murder,Occupation and Colonialism

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