Archive for May, 2009

1894: Emile Henry, because there are no innocent bourgeois

3 comments May 21st, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 1894, Emile Henry was guillotined in Paris for bombing the Cafe Terminus three months before.

Yale history professor John Merriman (see him lecturing on the Paris Commune) explores how Henry’s bombing “ignited the age of modern terror.” (Review.) (Another.)

A bourgeois youth who, disgusted at the gross economic exploitation of the Gilded Age, had turned against his class with the fury only the apostate can command, Émile Henry had chucked a bomb into the chic cafe of the Parisian Gare Saint-Lazare a week after the execution of Auguste Vaillant.

Henry’s act killed only one, but electrified the country.

The Terminus bombing stood out in an era of violent anarchist ferment for its target selection: not a prince or president or parliamentarian, but the faceless multitudes of the bourgeoisie (formerly) secure in their metropolitan repose — who, in their indifference to the misery of workers assented to and profited from the more infamous repressions wrought by their plenipotentiaries.

Henry was completely explicit about his intent: “there are no innocent bourgeois.”

Recognizing the hopelessness of his legal position, he proudly admitted the charges against him and mounted an eloquent defense for the wider world of his version of anarchist terror.

I had returned to Paris at the time of the Vaillant affair, and I witnessed the frightful repression that followed the explosion at the Palais Bourbon. I saw the draconian measures which the government decided to take against the anarchists. Everywhere there were spies, and searches, and arrests. A crowd of individuals were indiscriminately rounded up, torn from their families, and thrown into prison. Nobody was concerned about what happened to the wives and children of these comrades while they remained in jail.

The anarchist was no longer regarded as a man, but as a wild beast to be hunted everywhere while the bourgeois Press, which is the vile slave of authority, loudly demands his extermination.

But, gentlemen of the bourgeoisie, you have reckoned a little too much without your host. You arrested hundreds of men and women, you violated scores of homes, but still outside the prison walls there were men unknown to you who watched from the shadows as you hunted the anarchists, and waited only for the moment that would be favourable for them in their turn to hunt the hunters.

… The bomb in the Cafe Terminus is the answer to all your violations of freedom, to your arrests, to your searches, to your laws against the Press, to your mass transportations, to your guillotinings. But why, you ask, attack these peaceful cafe guests, who sat listening to music and who, no doubt, were neither judges nor deputies nor bureaucrats? Why? It is very simple. The bourgeoisie did not distinguish among the anarchists. Vaillant, a man on his own, threw a bomb; nine-tenths of the comrades did not even know him. But that meant nothing; the persecution was a mass one, and anyone with the slightest anarchist links was hunted down. And since you hold a whole party responsible for the actions of a single man, and strike indiscriminately, we also strike indiscriminately.

Perhaps we should attack only the deputies who make laws against us, the judges who apply those laws, the police who arrest us? I do not agree. These men are only instruments. They do not act in their own name. Their functions were instituted by the bourgeoisie for its own defence. They are no more guilty than the rest of you. Those good bourgeois who hold no office but who reap their dividends and live idly on the profits of the workers’ toil, they also must take their share in the reprisals. And not only they, but all those who are satisfied with the existing order, who applaud the acts of the government and so become its accomplices, those clerks earning three or five hundred francs a month who hate the people even more violently than the rich, that stupid and pretentious mass of folk who always choose the strongest side — in other words, the daily clientele of Terminus and the other great cafés.

That is why I struck at random and did not choose my victims! The bourgeoisie must be brought to understand that those who have suffered are tired at last of their sufferings; they are showing their teeth and they will strike all the more brutally if you are brutal with them. …

We will not spare the women and children of the bourgeois, for the women and children of those we love have not been spared. Must we not count among the innocent victims those children who die slowly of anaemia in the slums because bread is scarce in their houses; those women who grow pale in your workshops, working to earn forty sous a day and fortunate when poverty does not force them into prostitution; those old men whom you have made production machines all their lives and whom you cast on to the waste heap or into the workhouse when their strength has worn away?

At least have the courage of your crimes, gentlemen of the bourgeoisie, and grant that our reprisals are completely legitimate.

In that pitiless war which we have declared on the bourgeoisie, we ask for no pity. We give death, and we know how to endure it. So it is with indifference that I await your verdict. I know that my head is not the last you will cut off; yet others will fall, for the starving are beginning to know the way to your great cafes and restaurants, to the Terminus and Foyot. You will add other names to the bloody list of our dead.

You have hanged in Chicago, decapitated in Germany, garotted in Jerez, shot in Barcelona, guillotined in Montbrison and Paris, but what you will never destroy is anarchy. Its roots are too deep. It is born in the heart of a society that is rotting and falling apart. It is a violent reaction against the established order. It represents all the egalitarian and libertarian aspirations that strike out against authority. It is everywhere, which makes it impossible to contain. It will end by killing you.

Clemenceau, who witnessed the beheading at the Place de la Roquette, saw in the ghastly white 21-year-old crying “long live anarchy!” in the predawn gloom this morning in 1894 “the face of a tormented Christ, terribly pale, implacable in expression, trying to impose his intellectual pride upon his child’s body … let those for the death penalty go, if they dare, to smell the blood of La Roquette.”

Five weeks later, the French president who had refused to spare Henry was himself assassinated by another anarchist.

The clip above uses an actual 1893 anarchist hymn to dynamite, that fruit of the chemical science whose pyrotechnics were held to catalyze social change. Henry, who probably hummed the song a few times in his life, must have approved the songwriter’s philosophy.

Tant mieux s’il éclate parfois en faisant beaucoup de victimes
Chez nos ennemis les bourgeois cela nous venge de leurs crimes

For more on Henry’s place in the era’s revolutionary ferment, enjoy this lecture by Dynamite Club author John Merriman as part of his course European Civilization, 1648-1945.

[audio:http://openmedia.yale.edu/projects/courses/fall08/hist202/mp3/hist202_14_102208.mp3]

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous Last Words,France,Guillotine,History,Infamous,Martyrs,Murder,Public Executions,Revolutionaries,Terrorists

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2001: Zhang Jun and his gang

2 comments May 20th, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 2001, an infamous crime lord and 13 members of his gang were put to death in two Hunan Province cities.

Suave serial bank robber Zhang Jun had a reported 28 deaths on his conscience, including such underworld classics as forcing a lover to execute someone in order to prove her loyalty, in a years-long spree of robbery and mayhem. He was a major catch early in China’s execution-rich “strike hard” crime crackdown.

Despite-slash-because of the body trail, the cool Zhang — who appeared in court dressed modishly and flaunting such indifference to death that he disdained to defend himself — attracted a strain of fandom for his “gangland chic”.

He’s kind of like the gangsters in the movies, really likable.

The authorities, and his many victims, liked him less.


A still shot from the broadcast of Zhang Jun’s trial.

According to Courts and Criminal Justice in Contemporary China, the gang’s trial had the distinction of being the first ever broadcast live in China.

Zhang Jun’s trial was notable for its ripples in other media as well. The Committee to Protect Journalists reported that several writers and editors were demoted or fired after publishing a story in Nanfang Zhoumo (Southern Weekend) exploring the gang’s roots in poverty and inequality … a take deemed inimical to the dialectical historical march of the Peoples’ Republic. (See here for some of the more approved commentary angles.)

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Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Capital Punishment,China,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Infamous,Mass Executions,Milestones,Murder,Organized Crime,Shot,Theft

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1817: Three criminals in Rome, as witnessed by Lord Byron

5 comments May 19th, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 1817, the day before he left his Roman holiday for Venice, Lord Byron saw three criminals beheaded at the Piazza del Popolo.

He wrote all about it in his correspondence with John Murray.

The day before I left Rome* I saw three robbers** guillotined. The ceremony — including the masqued priests; the half-naked executioners; the bandaged criminals; the black Christ and his banner; the scaffold; the soldiery; the slow procession, and the quick rattle and heavy fall of the axe; the splash of the blood, and the ghastliness of the exposed heads — is altogether more impressive than the vulgar and ungentlemanly dirty ‘new drop’, and dog-like agony of infliction upon the sufferers of the English sentence. Two of these men behaved calmly enough, but the first of the three died with great terror and reluctance, which was very horrible. He would not lie down; then his neck was too large for the aperture, and the priest was obliged to drown his exclamations by still louder exhortations. The head was off before the eye could trace the blow; but from an attempt to draw back the head, notwithstanding it was held forward by the hair, the first head was cut off close to the ears: the other two were taken off more cleanly. It is better than the oriental way, and (I should think) than the axe of our ancestors. The pain seems little; and yet the effect to the spectator, and the preparation to the criminal, are very striking and chilling. The first turned me quite hot and thirsty, and made me shake so that I could hardly hold the opera-glass (I was close, but determined to see, as one should, see every thing, once, with attention); the second and third (which shows how dreadfully soon things grow indifferent), I am ashamed to say, had no effect on me as a horror, though I would have saved them if I could.

— Venice, May 30, 1817

* The date is not stated directly in Byron’s missive, but his movements are known in some detail — for instance, this timeline.

** According to the notes of executioner Mastro Titta, the three criminals “‘decapitati’ al Popolo, per omicidi e grassazioni” this day were Giovanni Francesco Trani, Felice Rocchi and Felice De Simoni.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Guillotine,Italy,Murder,Papal States,Public Executions,Theft

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1781: Tupac Amaru II, Incan insurgent

3 comments May 18th, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 1781, the last name in Incan rebellion met a horrible end in the ancient Incan capital of Cusco.

José Gabriel Condorcanqui — rechristened Tupac Amaru II, as he was a distant descendant of the last Incan king — was a member of the privileged indigenous population depended upon by the Spanish to administer the forced and extorted labor that made its New World empire worth having.

Condorcanqui evidently had an epiphany.

In November 1780, he launched a well-planned rebellion by engineering the public execution of a hated corregidor Antonio de Arriaga at the hands of his own servant.

“From this day, no longer shall the Spanish feast on your poverty!”

This attention-grabbing entry onto the political chessboard was followed with an exemplary victory over Spanish forces. His revolt rapidly metastasized into an ethno-religious crusade, with all the accumulated bitterness of the Indians’ two-plus centuries maltreatment ferociously visited upon the Spanish.

It was a heady moment — but only a moment; within a few months, the Spanish had rallied and Tupac Amaru was betrayed into their hands.

The rebel had seized Incan symbology for his own purposes — speaking at ancient shrines, for instance — and the Spanish sentence against him included not only the inevitably horrific execution (of both Tupac Amaru and his wife and family) but a comprehensive and explicit programme of cultural annihilation to consign the Incan identity to the past. This lengthy sentence is well worth the read. (Sourced here, a pdf file; the bolded sections are my highlights.)

I must and do condemn José G. Túpac Amaru to be taken out to the main public square of [Cuzco], dragged out to the place of execution, where he shall witness the execution of the sentences imposed on his wife, Micaela Bastidas [Spanish link]; his two sons, Hipólito and Fernando Túpac Amaru; his uncle, Francisco Túpac Amaru; and his brother-in-law, Antonio Bastidas, as well as some of the principal captains and aides in his iniquitous and perverse intent or project, all of whom must die on the same day.

And once these sentences have been carried out, the executioner will cut out his tongue, and he will then be tied or bound by strong cords on each one of his arms and feet in such a way that each rope can be easily tied or fastened to others hanging from t he saddle straps of four horses, so that, in this position, each one of these horses, facing opposite corners of the square, will pull toward his own direction; and let the horses be urged or jolted into motion at the same time so that his body be divided into as many parts and then, once it is done, the parts should be carried to the hill or high ground known as “Picchu,” which is where he came to intimidate, lay siege to, and demand the surrender of this city; and let there be lit a fire which shall be prepared in advance and then let ashes be thrown into the air and a stone tablet placed there detailing his main crimes and manner of his death as the only record and statement of his loathsome action.

His head will be sent to the town of Tinta where, after being three days on the gallows, it shall be placed on a stake at the most public entrance to the town, one of his arms will go to the town of Tungasuca, where he was chief, where it will be treated in like manner, and the other in the capital of the province of Carabaya; one of the legs shall likewise be sent for the same kind of demonstration to the town of Libitaca in the province of Chumbilcas, while the remaining one shall go to Santa Rosa in the province of Lampa along with the affidavit and order to the respective chief magistrates, or territorial judges that this sentence be proclaimed publicly with the greatest solemnity as soon as it arrives in their hands, and on the same day every year thereafter; and they will give notice in writing of this to their superiors in government who are familiar with the said territories.

Since this traitor managed to arm himself and form an army and forces against the royal arms by making use of or seducing and leading with his falsehood the chiefs who are the second in command in the villages, since these villages, being of Indians, are not governed by such chiefs but rather by mayors who are elected annually by the vote or nomination of the chiefs: let these same electoral communities and the chief magistrates that care to give preference to candidates who know Spanish, and who are of the best behavior, reputation, and customs so that they will treat their subjects well and lovingly, honoring only those who have demonstrated honestly their inclination and faithfulness, eagerness, respect, obedience, submission, and gratitude to the greater glory of our great Monarch through the sacrificed of their lives, properties, or ranches in deference of their country or religion, receiving with brave disdain the threats and offers of the aforesaid reel leader and his military chiefs, yet taking care that these elected leaders are the only ones with the right to the title of chief or governor of their ayllus [communities] or towns, and that they cannot transmit their position to their children or other family members.

To this same end, it is prohibited that the Indians wear heathen clothes, especially those who belong to the nobility, since it only serves to symbolize those worn by their Inca ancestors, reminding them of memories which serve no other end than to increase their hatred toward the dominant nation; not to mention that their appear is ridiculous and very little in accordance with the purity of our relics, since they place in different parts images of the sun, which was their primary deity; and this prohibition is to be extended to all the provinces of this southern America, in order to completely eliminate such clothing, especially those items which represent the bestialities of their heathen kings through emblems such and the unco, which is a kind of vest; yacollas, which are very rich blankets or shawls of black velvet or taffeta; the macapaycha, which is a circle in the shape of a crown from which they hand a certain emblem of ancient nobility signified by a tuft or tassel of red-colored alpaca wool, as well as many other things of this kind and symbolism. All of this shall be proclaimed in writing in each province, that they dispose of or surrender to the magistrates whatever clothing of this kind exists in the province, as well as all the paintings or likenesses of their Incas which are extremely abundant in the houses of the Indians who consider themselves to be nobles and who use them to prove their claim or boast of their lineage.

These latter shall be erased without fail since they do not merit the dignity of being painted in such places, and with the same end in mind there shall also be erased, so that no sign remains, any portraits that might be found on walls or other solid objects; in churches, monasteries, hospitals, holy places or private homes, such duties fall under the jurisdiction of the reverend archbishops or bishops of both viceroyalties in those areas pertaining to the churches; and in their place it would be best to replace such adornments with images of the King and our other Catholic sovereigns should that be necessary. Also, the ministers and chief magistrates should ensure that in no town of their respective provinces be performed plays or other public functions of the kind that the Indians are accustomed to put on to commemorate their former Incas; and having carried out the order, these ministers shall give a certified account to the secretaries of the respective governments. In like manner shall be prohibited and confiscated the trumpets or bugles that the Indians use for their ceremonies and which they call pututos, being seashells with a strange and mournful sound that celebrate the mourning and pitiful memorial they make for their antiquity; and there shall also be prohibited the custom of using or wearing black clothing as a sign of mourning, a custom that drags on in some provinces in memory of their deceased monarchs and also of the day or time of the conquest which they consider disastrous and we consider fortunate since it brought them into the company of the Catholic Church and the very loving and gentle domination of our Kings.

With the same goal it is absolutely forbidden that the Indians sign themselves as “Incas,” since it is a title that anyone can assume but which makes a lasting impression on those of their class; and it is ordered, as is required of all those who have genealogical trees or documents that prove in some way their descent, that they produce them or send them certified and without cost by mail to the respective secretaries of both viceroyalties so that the formalities may be observed by those persons responsible to their excellencies the viceroys, consulting His Majesty where necessary according to each case; and the chief magistrates are charged to oversee the fulfillment of such requirements, to seek out and discover anyone who does not observe them correctly, in order to have it done to collect the documents with the aim of sending them to the proper authorities after giving their owners a receipt.

And so that these Indians renounce the hatred that they have conceived against the Spaniards, and that they adhere to the dress which the laws indicate, adopting our Spanish customs and speaking Castilian [Spanish], we shall introduce more vigorously than we have done up to now the use of schools, imposing the most rigorous and fair penalties on those who do not attend once enough time has passed for them to have learned the language; the duties and responsibilities involved in this plan going to the very reverend ecclesiastical prelates so that, in the opposition between parishes and doctrinas, they take care that those candidates bring affidavits from the provincial judges as to the numbers of people who speak the Said Castilian in those provinces … it being left up to the sovereign discretion of His Majesty to reward and honor those towns whose inhabitants have rendered, under the present circumstances, their due loyalty and faithfulness.

Finally, the manufacture of cannons of all kinds shall be prohibited under the penalty that any noble found manufacturing such items will be sentenced to ten years of prison in one of the presidios in Africa and any commoner will receive two hundred lashes as well as the same penalty for the same time period; reserving for a future time a similar resolution with regards to the manufacture of powder. And since there cannons of almost every caliber in the many ore-crushing mills and timber yards in these provinces, they will be gathered up by the magistrates once of the pacification of this uprising has been completely terminated in order to give account of them to the respective captaincy general so that he may determine whatever use he deems proper for them. Thus have I visualized, ordered, and signed: this is my final judgment.

José Antonio de Areche.

Tupac Lives.

The Spanish campaign to eradicate his name and identity didn’t exactly have legs.

The savagery of the crackdown helped generate Incan support for the rebellions that would shake off Spanish authority in the generations to come. He entered the official iconography of the post-colonial state, and can be found on Peruvian currency.

The very name Tupac Amaru became pregnant with the spirit of resistance — both in Peru, where it was adopted by a 1990’s revolutionary movement, and abroad, where a New York City Black Panther activist (pdf) gave the name to a son: Tupac Amaru Shakur.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Capital Punishment,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Dismembered,Execution,Famous,Gruesome Methods,History,Martyrs,Mass Executions,Myths,Occupation and Colonialism,Peru,Popular Culture,Power,Public Executions,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Revolutionaries,Royalty,Separatists,Soldiers,Spain,Torture,Treason

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1972: The rapists of Maggie dela Riva

74 comments May 17th, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 1972, Jaime Jose, Basilio Pineda and Edgardo Aquino were electrocuted* in Muntinlupa for the gang-rape of actress Maggie de la Riva (or dela Riva) five years before.

The rising young actress had scarcely wavered after the assault before courageously making the always-fraught rape charge against a quartet** of attackers themselves from elite families. (The particulars are recounted in the Supreme Court ruling.)


J’accuse! Maggie de la Riva identifies two of the culprits just five days after her gang rape. Talk about facing your accuser; according to the accompanying article, “the frail-looking mestiza was a picture of righteous indignation as she extended her arms, showed her bruises, and asked Pineda, pointedly: ‘Do you remember these?'”

The case was a media sensation from day one. The Philippine film blog Video 48 republished a three-part series on the rapists’ capture (parts 1 and 2) and execution (part 3), complete with the desperate efforts of the offenders’ families to save them.

The victim herself continued her acting career.

Decades later, she’s still a public personality, and seems to have made peace with and moved on from her famous ordeal with impressive equanimity.

When that misfortune happened to me, I realized that although my body was raped my true self was never defiled and that there’s another person in me that’s beautiful, strong and true. The old Maggie has faded away. I look at my experience as something that happened to someone else who is no longer the person I am today. (Source)

* The Philippines adopted use of the electric chair in the early 20th century from the U.S., its colonial ruler at the time. It’s the only country besides the United States to have used the chair.

** One of the four condemned to death for the rape, Rogelio Canial, died in prison of a drug overdose several months before the executions.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Electrocuted,Execution,History,Notable for their Victims,Philippines,Popular Culture,Rape

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1975: Michael X

7 comments May 16th, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 1975, black revolutionary Michael X was hanged for murdering an insubordinate follower.

Born Michael de Freitas to a mixed-race parentage, the future Michael X immigrated to London from his native Trinidad in 1957.

There, he quickly established a criminal niche — drugs, racketeering, prostitution. “They’ve made me the archbishop of violence in this country,” he joked. It was a background noticeably parallel to that of Malcolm X, whose naming convention he took after a 1965 meeting.

By then, our day’s subject had been swept into the contradictory whirl of the 1960’s, emerging as Britain’s “authentic voice of black bitterness”, whose networks ran the gamut from the criminal underbelly to the rich and powerful.

(He’s a fringe character in the 2008 film The Bank Job, which imaginatively posits that he ducked prosecution for a heist by threatening to expose incriminating photos of swinging royal Princess Margaret.)

Michael’s chameleon-like identity — he was raised to pass as white, and known as “Red Mike” by black nationalist compadres — meshes well with the Rorschach-blot times he lived in. Certainly there was the eloquent spokesman of black militancy. There was also, ever more predominant, the violent avatar of social breakdown.

Michael X skipped bail in England to bolt for Trinidad and an agricultural commune with an increasingly creepy bent. Eventually, two bodies turned up: Joseph Skerritt, personally murdered by a machete-wielding Michael X for refusing to attack a police station and/or general disillusionment; and (sensationally) the socialite daughter of a Tory M.P. evidently buried alive.

Michael X — now Michael Abdul Malik — still had the cachet to draw celebrity support for his clemency campaign; Angela Davis, William Kunstler and John Lennon (who had put up Michael de Freitas’s bail in some previous legal scrapes) backed the “Save Malik” committee, but to no avail.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Murder,Popular Culture,Trinidad and Tobago

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1381: Eppelein von Gailingen

2 comments May 15th, 2009 dogboy

On this day in 1381, probably the most infamous robber baron in Germany was flogged, done in on the breaking wheel, and beheaded in Postbauer, near Nürnberg.

Eppelein von Gailingen (or Egkelein Geyling, or some variation thereof) has been dramatized across the ages, but little is known of the man’s life. His death, certainly, but his life is clouded in myth and folklore. What’s clear is that von Gailingen met his grisly end for robbery and a subsequent escape from incarceration. The rest is a tad murky (German link).

Von Gailingen belonged to the class of original robber barons, who supplemented their income with unauthorized tolls and, sometimes, flat-out theft. While the term is more popularly known for its application to the so-called industrial robber barons, it derived from a literal description from centuries past — Raubritter, in German, “men of birth who elected to live, in a lawless age, by saddle and by sword; who sought gain by masterful spoliation, and strove for glory by despiteful deeds of arms.” (Source)

A combination of factors led to the slow and steady dissolution of the former feudal system in favor of a money-based economy during the Middle Ages, and after the Plague swept through Europe around 1350, the accumulated changes and decimated population left much of the continent short on labor and, as a result, short on production. This really was a spot of bother for barons who, unlike their monarchical brethren, had no way to draft extra manpower. With resources thinning and a social lifestyle to keep up, many of these former lords turned to theft and exploitation. Although Rome established the rules governing tolls and trade, many local lords, now charged with obeying distant regulations, opted for a more convenient route: they stopped ships at unauthorized points, shook down the merchants, and sometimes seized wares to stock their own shelves.

Eppelein von Gailingen (German link), a lord in the castle at Gunzenhausen, near Illesheim, was of this group, but apparently one of its more bold and populist members.

He was often felt to be a kind of Robin Hood, and the earliest celebrations of the man were largely in this vein: a knight’s knight, fighting against an out-of-control state disregarding its people. Eppelein got away with his skulduggery until 1369, when he was captured by a political rival and imprisoned in Nürnberg. Von Gailingen was sentenced to death, but shortly before his hanging, an accomplice managed to sneak him a horse, on which he rode out the tower gates and hurdled the enclosing wall and moat.

Now the leader of a loyal band of brigands flouting the Roman Catholic Church, Eppelein went on the run for six years, eventually making his way back near his home. It was there that, after six more years, his minimal forces finally yielded to the Count of Nürnberg, who carried out a much more unpleasant version of the death sentence.

Eppelein’s rise to prominence began in the 16th century, when he was immortalized by a folk song, a medium that continues to be kind to him. Locals still tell a variety of tales of his exploits, and a rendition of these classics is vaguely effected through the film Ekkelins Knecht.

Others have simply waxed poetic on the topic.

As if all that attention weren’t enough, von Gailingen’s run from the law lives on through the legend of Nürnberg: locals pushing the town on tourists claim that two hoofprints from his daring escape are imprinted in the stonework near the the castle’s five-pointed tower.* And perhaps most indicative of his endurance as a cultural icon, a neighboring town has devoted a festival to him, which is more than most robber barons of any day can claim.

* Not surprisingly, the tower was destroyed and rebuilt at least once — just five decades after Eppelein’s alleged leap. But the new sandstone structure does bear the marks of what could conceivably be a horse’s hooves.

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Entry Filed under: 14th Century,Broken on the Wheel,Capital Punishment,Crime,Death Penalty,Escapes,Execution,Famous,Germany,Gruesome Methods,History,Murder,Nobility,Outlaws,Pelf,Popular Culture,Power,Public Executions,Theft

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1297: Marion (Murron) Braidfute, bride of The Wallace

3 comments May 14th, 2009 Headsman

May of 1297 marks the first appearance in the historical record of Braveheart hero William Wallace … so we mark today the undated (and presumably fictional) execution/murder of his wife that, by the most cinematic account possible, set Wallace on his own path to the scaffold.

The face that lifted a thousand claymores: Catherine McCormack as Braveheart‘s version of Marion, Murron MacClannough. Murron’s “execution” inspires William Wallace.

Marion (or Marian) Braidfute, she’s called by the Scottish poet Blind Harry in the epic dating near two centuries after famed rebel’s rising. Not wanting audiences to confuse her with Robin Hood sweetie Maid Marian, the Braveheart script renamed her Murron MacClannough.

In Mel Gibson’s gory silver screen epic, Wallace is, at this point, a determinedly apolitical commoner — a stance contrasting markedly with a backstory of nationalistic identity-forming experiences, like having his father and brother killed by the English. He’s radicalized only after his attempt to protect Murron from rape results in her demonstrative summary execution.

And of course, Wallace then wreaks a bloody revenge (complete with summary execution of his own) that soon has the country in flames.

Hollywood’s avenging-his-woman angle exploits a folkloric embroidery of a female character perhaps created by Blind Harry, writing in the 15th century. In “The Wallace”, the titular hero is already well along his conflict with the English crown when he weds Marion — whose story arc differs greatly from that of the peasant eye candy Mel Gibson taps. In the poem, Marion is exposed to the vengeance of the Sheriff of Lanark, William Heselrig, when Wallace goes off to fight and refuses to take her along.

Now fierce with Rage the cruel Foe draws near,
Oh does not Heaven make Innocence its Care!
Where fled thy guardian Angel in that Hour
And left his Charge to the fell Tyrant’s Power,
Shall his fierce Steel be redned with thy Gore
And streaming Blood distain thy Beauties o’er?

But now awaken’d with the dreadfull Sound
The trembling Matron threw her Eyes around,
In vain alace were all the Tears she shed
When fierce he waves the Fauchion o’er her Head
All Tyes of Honour by the Rogue abjur’d
Relentless deep he plung’d the ruthless Sword;
Swift o’er her Limbs does creeping Coldness rise
And Death’s pale Hand seal’d up her fainting Eyes.

Wallace slays Heselrig the next day, according to the poem — the actual historical event of May, 1297,* that marks Wallace’s emergence from the dim fogs of history. (In the film Braveheart, the chronology is unstated, but Wallace is revenged before Murron’s burial.)

John of Fordun, writing in the 14th century, tells the tale.

The same year William Wallace lifted up his head from his den — as it were — and slew the English sheriff of Lanark, a doughty and powerful man, in the town of Lanark. From that time, therefore, there flocked to him all who were in bitterness of spirit, and weighed down beneath the burden of bondage under the unbearable domination of English despotism; and he became their leader. He was wondrously brave and bold, of goodly mien, and boundless liberality … So Wallace overthrew the English on all sides; and gaining strength daily, he, in a short time, by force, and by dint of his prowess, brought all the magnates of Scotland under his sway, whether they would or not.

* “In the month of May the perfidious race of Scots began to rebel.” (Walter of Hemingborough)

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Entry Filed under: 13th Century,Arts and Literature,Borderline "Executions",Cycle of Violence,England,Fictional,History,Innocent Bystanders,No Formal Charge,Notably Survived By,Occupation and Colonialism,Popular Culture,Power,Public Executions,Put to the Sword,Scotland,Summary Executions,Wartime Executions,Women

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1880: Edwin Hoyt, in Bridgeport

Add comment May 13th, 2009 Headsman

From the New York Times.

THE DEATH OF A PARRICIDE.

HANGING OF EDWIN HOYT AT BRIDGEPORT — PERSISTING TO THE LAST THAT HE WAS INSANE.

BRIDGEPORT, Conn., May 13. — The first administration of capital punishment in Fairfield County since 1809 occurred in this city to-day. Edwin Hoyt was hanged for the murder of his father, in the Town of Sherman, June 23, 1878. Hoyt was then 37 years of age, and had shown during his life a very ugly disposition. His wife, the mother of his five children, had experienced his temper in a manner which placed her life in danger, he having discharged a shot-gun at her and severely wounded her. On the Sunday of the murder he had nothing to exasperate him except the refusal of his brother-in-law to accompany him on a fishing trip. Having been refused, he went home, and, taking a butcher-knife from his house, told his wife that he was going to kill his father. He then returned to the house of his brother-in-law, where his father was at the dinner-table with the family. He appearad [sic] despondent, and said it would be better for him to die, but that there were two or three people he wanted to kill first. He then went to the porch and sat down with his father. A few minutes afterward he sprang up and stabbed his father several times, making a fatal wound in the neck. Hoyt was tried twice, the first time in October, 1878, and the second time in April, 1879. The State claimed that the motive for the killing was animosity toward his father, who had always exercised great severity toward him, and who, he believed, had decided to wholly disinherit him. The defense in both cases was that of insanity.

Hoyt had never believed that he was to be hanged until Wednesday evening, when the final attempt to save his life by means of a writ of error proved ineffectual. After this he was not despondent, but talked pleasantly with the Rev. Dr. E.W. Maxey, who baptized him according to the rites of the Protestant Episcopal Church about 7 o’clock in the evening. After the clergyman went away he ate a hearty supper, smoked a cigar, and wrote a letter to his brother George. The letter was finished by the time Judge Blydeuburgh, of New-Haven, and Mr. Taylor, of Danbury, Hoyt’s counsel, arrived. They were with him about an hour, during which time he delivered his will to them, saying that he wished to have it kept private. They suggested to him that he might desire to make a final statement. He had nothing to say, he answered, in addition to what he had said, for he was not responsible for the killing, having known nothing of it. After his lawyers had left him, the Rev. Dr. Maxey came to remain with him until the time of the hanging.

The hanging occurred in a yard on the west side of the jail, and was witnessed by about 500 people. The yard was nearly filled, and from the woman’s ward of the jail many spectators looked down on the gallows. The prisoners in the male ward were permitted to witness the hanging from their windows. At just 11:30 o’clock the procession to the gallows started. First came Sheriff Sanford; next came Deputies Bartram and Dann, and behind them walked Hoyt, the Rev. Dr. Maxey having his hand on his right arm. Deputies Wakeley and Hughes were in the rear of the prisoner, and behind them walked Drs. George R. Porter, Robert Lauder, and E.D. Noony, of Bridgeport, and Dr. Marshall, of Greenwich. Hoyt, on the scaffold, raised his face to the sky, but showed no emotion beyond that which was expressed in his pale face. He was dressed in the old clothing which he has worn in jail, having refused to change to a black suit sent to him by a friend. The streaks of gray in his otherwise black hair and mustache gave him the appearance of being at least 10 years older than he was. When he was placed on the trap Sheriff Sanford asked him if he had anything to say. He answered in a faint voice, “No, Sir.” Dr. Maxey then read prayers, after which the noose was arranged and the black cap adjusted. Sheriff Sanford shook hands with Hoyt, saying, “Good-bye, poor fellow,” and stepped to the spring near which one of his deputies was standing. The trap fell. There was no noise except that made as the body fell a distance of five and a half feet. Dr. Porter, who had been in charge of the bodies of Mrs. Surratt and the other conspirators executed at Washington, had his hand on the wrist of the condemned man as the rope straightened. The fall of the trap occurred at 11:35 1/2, and at 12:14 the body was taken down. Death was instantaneous, resulting from a dislocation of the neck. There was some muscular tremor, but it lasted only a second. After the body had been taken to the jail, the physicians applied electric batteries and produced muscular contortions of the face and limbs an hour and a quarter after death occurred. The body was given up to Hoyt’s sisters, and taken to Sherman for burial.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Connecticut,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,Murder,Pelf,USA

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1993: Leonel Herrera, perilously close to simple murder?

6 comments May 12th, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 1993, Leonel Herrera was executed by lethal injection in Huntsville, Texas, for shooting two policemen. Herrera’s last statement averred,

Herrera’s sister Norma self-published this book about the case — keeping a promise to her executed brother.

I am innocent, innocent, innocent. Make no mistake about this; I owe society nothing. Continue the struggle for human rights, helping those who are innocent, especially Mr. Graham. I am an innocent man, and something very wrong is taking place tonight. May God bless you all. I am ready.

Well, Herrera wasn’t the first to go to his death maintaining his innocence. The circumstances (and circumstantial evidence) of the crime rate on the forgettable side.

But Leonel Torres Herrera was a bit different from his cousins in hopeless protestation: while he died this evening, his name lived on … in a landmark Supreme Court decision

Herrera v. Collins

Years after Herrera was convicted and death-sentenced, multiple affidavits were produced to the effect that his late brother, Raul, was the real killer.

This evidence was naturally pursued with gusto by the condemned man.

Unfortunately, a claim like Herrera’s of “actual innocence” faces a very high bar when raised in appellate courts, once a prisoner has already been convicted and their presumption of innocence become a presumption of guilt.

That this arbitrary rule of the game has a defensible rationale — could any criminal justice system operate if prisoners could continually relitigate their cases while memories fade and evidence ages into obsolescence? — does not make it the less Kafkaesque for individual prisoners, some of whom are in fact innocent.

Herrera presented this problem in unusually stark terms. Lacking any procedural violation upon which to hang his hat as an appeals issue, his claim pitted substance against form in the Supreme Court. (Oral arguments at Oyez.org)

You already know how it ended.

Chief Justice William Rehnquist’s opinion patiently explained a jurisprudential truism loftily uncolored by any experience in life liable to introduce a sense of kinship with a Hispanic man charged with a Texas cop-killing who uncovers too late the evidence that could save him.

“[A]ctual innocence” is not itself a constitutional claim.*

Instead, the Court recommended — tongue no doubt planted firmly in cheek — that Herrera apply for executive clemency, a dead letter procedure in Texas used exclusively in a good cop/bad cop routine opposite the black robes.

“Judicial restraint forbids relieving you,” says the court. “Go ask the governor.”

“The courts have thoroughly reviewed the case,” intones the governor. “May God have mercy on your soul.”

Herrera himself may or may not have been innocent. At the end of the day, he went down because the game was rigged against him: his exculpatory evidence was not available at trial, when it might have introduced “reasonable doubt” — as Rehnquist’s opinion put it, “in state criminal proceedings the trial is the paramount event for determining the guilt or innocence of the defendant.” Once that evidence became available deep in the appeals process, it was procedurally barred, and far from such a slam-dunk exoneration that any institutional actor would stick his, her or its neck out to lift Leonel Torres Herrera from the gurney.

Justice Harry Blackmun’s dissent retorted,

Just as an execution without adequate safeguards is unacceptable, so too is an execution when the condemned prisoner can prove that he is innocent. The execution of a person who can show that he is innocent comes perilously close to simple murder.

Whether “simple murder” happened in Huntsville this night in 1993, perhaps no one can really say with certainty.

But as DNA evidence and other forensic advances in the intervening years have increasingly eroded confidence in the reliability of the justice system that metes out death, Herrera v. Collins stands as a key precedent in a case now before the Supreme Court — in which states (joined by the Obama administration) are asking the justices to agree that convicted prisoners have no right to cheap, simple, and frequently dispositive DNA testing that may not have been available when they were tried.

Given the composition of the court (including three holdovers from the Herrera majority), that decision figures to have Leonel Herrera rolling over in his grave.

* Rehnquist conceded a theoretical possibility that extraordinarily persuasive evidence could generate relief on due process grounds. Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas went much further, claiming that prisoners had no right to anything but their trial and their (procedural) appeals.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Innocent Bystanders,Lethal Injection,Murder,Notable Jurisprudence,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Texas,USA,Wrongful Executions

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