Archive for October, 2009

1971: Ion Rimaru, the Vampire of Bucharest

1 comment October 23rd, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 1971, Romania’s most notorious serial killer was dragged to the stake at Jilava Prison — fighting all the way, and shrieking “Call my father, so he can see what’s happening to me! Make him come! He’s the only guilty one!” — and shot to death for a rape-murder spree that had terrorized Bucharest for more than a year.

Ion Rîmaru (or Ion Râmaru), an emotionally stunted, sexually perverted veterinary school dropout, began in 1970 preying on lone women perambulating the Romanian capital late at night.

Though a number of Rimaru’s targets escaped with their lives,* his attacks were noted for their bestial ferocity: biting into, perhaps cannibalizing, his victims’ sex organs; necrophiliac rapes; blood-drinking (hence the nickname). Authorities loathe to cop to a serial killer were initially tight-lipped about the monster in their midst, only heightening public terror, until a very visible May 1971 dragnet finally caught the Vampire.

Though he surely met someone’s definition of nuts, his attempt to claim insanity at trial was a predictable nonstarter, leading to this day’s scene on the execution grounds. Rimaru actually got himself turned all the way round, and took the firing squad’s barrage in his back. Unseemly, all in all.

But all that carrying on about his father? Evidently it was more than just unresolved Oedipal stuff.

The next year, his father fatally “fell” (read: was pushed by police) from a train. Forensic evidence taken from the body of Florea Rîmaru (Romanian link) implicated the Vampire’s dad in four unsolved 1944 murders in wartime Bucharest.

* His infamous spree’s official tally was four killed, plus six attempted murders, five rapes, one attempted rape, one robbery and three thefts. (Romanian source)

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Infamous,Murder,Popular Culture,Rape,Romania,Serial Killers,Shot

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1789: The murderers of the baker Francois

2 comments October 22nd, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 1789, two working stiffs literally became stiffs for a noteworthy bread riot during the French Revolution’s early days.

Ah, 1789.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times … it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness; it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair. And we know how all that ends.

Just three months after the Bastille was stormed, France was merely pregnant with its coming Terrors. The Revolution was in its “moderate stage”.

Some moderation.


“Events of the 22nd of October, 1789: The hanging of a man named Francois, a baker”. Despite the title, sources (like this French-language study in the Annales historiques de la Revolution francaise, overwhelmingly date the baker’s murder to the 21st.

The tumbrils may not have been running (actually, the Revolution’s iconic execution device had not yet even been created), but the “October Days” had enough to scare you, especially if you were a sensible constitutionalist type like the Marquis de Lafayette.*

Like a mob dragging the King back to Paris from Versailles, with the heads of his royal guards on pikestaffs.

A drought had created a calamitous bread shortage, which in turn helped stir the Revolutionary pot. The mob that invaded Louis XVI‘s palace a couple of weeks before had celebrated his return to Paris singing “We Have the Baker, the Baker’s Wife, and the Baker’s Son. We Shall Have Bread.” When the king’s presence failed to ease the shortage, fresh disturbances followed.

On October 21, 1789,** the baker Denis Francois became the unfortunate focus of one such, when a famished woman spuriously denounced him a monopolist. A frenzied crowd lynched the hapless boulanger before he could get a word in edgewise.

This event occasioned the Constituent Assembly to pass a martial law decree, permitting a municipality to signal martial law by raising a red flag, whereupon anyone failing to disperse made him- or herself liable to summary military execution.

According to Lafayette (cited in Revolutionary Justice in Paris: 1789-1790):

During the disturbance stirred up against the baker Francois, another one broke out in the Faubourg Saint-Antoine, the object of which was to unite with the Faubourg Saint-Marcel for purposes of reducing the price of bread, and for getting into the convents under the pretext of taking the muskets stored there. The National Guard, in breaking up these seditions, arrested the assassin of the baker [a dock porter named Blin] and the principal instigator of the faubourg [i.e., the Faubourg Saint-Antoine, namely a laborer named Michel Adrien†]. Both were judged and hanged the next day.

* We meet Lafayette here as captain of the National Guard; in a few years, the progress of the Revolution that he struggled to contain and direct will make him persona non grata in his country.

** Six Thousand Years of Bread: Its Holy and Unholy History gives the date as Oct. 20, though it’s not clear upon what authority. Archibald Alison placed it on the 19th. Whenever the murder of Francois occurred, the martial law decree’s passage on the 21st appears to be firmly dependable, which would mean the supposed malefactors’ deaths on this date should be as well.

† Revolutionary propagandist Camille Desmoulins later seized on the very skimpily justified Adrien execution — he “was judged and hanged in twenty-four hours for circulating a seditious flyer, although he didn’t know how to read” — to contrast with the outsized tenderheartedness shown for aristocrats who have “different weights on the scales of justice.” (Revolutionary Justice in Paris: 1789-1790)

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Capital Punishment,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Execution,France,Hanged,History,Known But To God,Lynching,Murder,No Formal Charge,Notable Jurisprudence,Notable Participants,Public Executions,Rioting,Summary Executions,Wrongful Executions

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1865: Mexican Republican officers, under the Black Decree

2 comments October 21st, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 1865, two Republican generals, four colonels, and various other officers captured earlier in the month were executed on the authority of Mexico’s notorious Bando Negro — the “Black Decree.”

Halfway into his ill-fated three-year reign as “Emperor,” Maximilian I was in a bad way against Mexican president-turned-guerrilla Benito Juarez.

On October 3, 1865, he authorized summary execution for captured Republicans … and for anyone else who ran afoul of a nearby military official without having speedy proof of his or her political bona fides.

All individuals forming a part of armed bands or bodies existing without legal authority, whether or not proclaiming a political pretext, whatever the number of those forming such band, or its organization, character, and denomination, shall be judged militarily by the courts martial. If found guilty, even though only of the fact of belonging to an armed band, they shall be condemned to capital punishment, and the sentence shall be executed within twenty-four hours.*

In signing the Black Decree, said Mexican essayist Carlos Fuentes, Maximilian “signed his own death warrant.”

But more immediately, of course, he signed a lot of other people’s death warrants.

Republican General José María Arteaga Magallanes (Spanish link), a man of famous chivalry (once, recovering the body of the Belgian Foreign Minister’s son, he returned the boy’s watch home to dad), and fellow General Carlos Salazar Ruiz (Spanish again) were the biggest fish; they and the others are honored today as the Martyrs of Uruapan. (Spanish yet again)


The square in Uruapan where this day’s victims were shot … now known as Plaza Mártires.

* The excerpted text is Article I of the Black Decree, whose entire (taken from here) follows:

THE BANDO NEGRO (BLACK DECREE) PROCLAMATION
OF EMPEROR MAXIMILIAN, OCTOBER 3, 1865

MEXICANS: The cause sustained by D. Benito Juarez with so much valor and constancy had already succumbed, not only before the national will, but before the very law invoked by him in support of his claims. To-day this cause, having degenerated into a faction, is abandoned by the fact of the removal of its leaders from the country’s territory.

The national government has long been indulgent, and has lavished its clemency in order that men led astray or ignorant of the true condition of things might still unite with the majority of the nation and return to the path of duty. The desired result has been obtained. Men of honor have rallied around the flag and have accepted the just and liberal principles which guide its policy. Disorder is now only kept up by a few leaders swayed by their unpatriotic passions, by demoralized individuals unable to rise to the height of political principle, and by an unruly soldiery such as ever remains the last and sad vestige of civil wars.

Henceforth the struggle must be between the honorable men of the nation and bands of brigands and evil-doers. The time for indulgence has gone by: it would only encourage the despotism of bands of incendiaries, of thieves, of highwaymen, and of murderers of old men and defenseless women.

The government, strong in its power, will henceforth be inflexible in meting ont punishment when the laws of civilization, humanity, or morality demand it.

Mexico, October 2, 1865.

Maximilian, Emperor Of Mexico : Our Council of Ministers and our Council of State having been heard, we decree:

Article I. All individuals forming a part of armed bands or bodies existing without legal authority, whether or not proclaiming a political pretext, whatever the number of those forming such band, or its organization, character, and denomination, shall be judged militarily by the courts martial. If found guilty, even though only of the fact of belonging to an armed band, they shall be condemned to capital punishment, and the sentence shall be executed within twenty-four hours.

Article II. Those who, forming part of the bands mentioned in the above article, shall have been taken prisoners in combat shall be judged by the officer commanding the force into the power of which they have fallen. It shall become the duty of said officer within the twenty-four hours following to institute an inquest, hearing the accused in his own behalf. Upon this inquest a report shall be drawn and sentence shall be passed. The pain of death shall be pronounced against offenders even if only found guilty of belonging to an armed band. The chief shall have the sentence carried into execution within twenty-four hours,—being careful to secure to the condemned spiritual aid,—after which he will address the report to the Minister of War.

Article III. Sentence of death shall not be imposed upon those who, although forming part of a band, can prove that they were coerced into its ranks, or upon those who, without belonging to a band, are accidentally found there.

Article IV. If from the inquest mentioned in Article II facts should appear calculated to induce the chief to believe that the accused has been enrolled by force, or that, although forming part of the band, he was there accidentally, he shall abstain from pronouncing a sentence, and will consign the prisoner, with the corresponding report, to the court martial, to be judged in accordance with Article I.

Article V. There shall be judged and sentenced under the terms of Article I of the present law:

I. All individuals who voluntarily have procured money or any other succor to guerrilleros.

II. Those who have given them advice, news, or counsel.

III. Those who voluntarily and with knowledge of the position of said guerrilleros have sold them or procured for them arms, horses, ammunition, provisions, or any other materials of war.

Article VI. There shall be judged and sentenced in accordance with Article I:

I. Those who have entertained with guerrilleros relations constituting the fact of connivance.

II. Those who of their own free will and knowingly have given them shelter in their houses or on their estate.

III. Those who have spread orally or in writing false or alarming news calculated to disturb order, or who have made any demonstration against the public peace.

IV. The owners or agents of rural property who have not at once given notice to the nearest authority of the passage of a band upon their estate.

The persons included in the first and second sections of this article shall be liable to an imprisonment of from six months to two years, or from one to three years’ hard labor, according to the gravity of the offense.

Those who, placed in the second category, are connected with the individual concealed by them by ties of relationship, whether as parents, consorts, or brothers, shall not be liable to the penalty above prescribed, but they shall be subject to surveillance by the authorities during such time as may be prescribed by the court martial.

Those included in the third category shall be sentenced to a fine of from twenty-five to one thousand piasters or to one year’s imprisonment, according to the gravity of the offense.

Article VII. When the authorities have not given notice to their immediate superior of the passage of an armed force in their locality, the superior authority shall inflict a fine of from two hundred to two thousand piasters or from three months’ to two years’ imprisonment.

Article VIII. Every inhabitant who, having knowledge of the passage of an armed band in a village or of its approach, has not notified the authorities shall be liable to a fine of from five to five hundred piasters.

Article IX. All inhabitants between the ages of eighteen and fifty-five years of age not physically incapacitated shall, when the locality inhabited by them is threatened by a band, take part in the defense of the place, under penalty of a fine of from five to two hundred piasters or of from fifteen days’ to four months’ imprisonment. If the authorities deem it proper to punish the village for nonresistance, they may impose a fine of from two hundred to two thousand piasters, which shall be payable by all those who have not taken part in the defense.

Article X. The owners or agents of country property who, being able to defend themselves, have not kept guerrillas and other evil-doers away from their estates or have not notified the nearest military authority of their presence, or who have received the tired or wounded horses of the guerrillas without advising the said authority, shall be punished by said authority by a fine of from one hundred to two thousand piasters, according to the gravity of the offense. In cases of extreme gravity they shall be arrested and brought before the court martial, to be judged in conformity with the rules laid down by the present law. The fine shall be paid to the principal administrator of the revenue of the district where the estate is situated. The provisions of the first part of the present article are applicable to the populations.

Article XI. All authorities, whether political, military, or municipal, who have not acted in accordance with the provisions of the present law against those who are suspected of or recognized as being guilty of the offenses with which it deals, shall be liable to a fine of from fifty to one thousand piasters; and when the omission implies acquaintance with the guilty, the delinquent shall be brought before the court martial, who shall judge him and inflict a penalty in proportion to the offense.

Article XTT. Plagiarios [kidnappers] shall be judged and sentenced under the provisions of Article I of the present law, without regard to the circumstances under which the abduction shall have been committed.

Article XIII. Sentence of death passed upon those guilty of the offenses enumerated by the present law shall be executed in the time fixed, and the benefit of appeal for mercy shall be refused to the condemned. When the accused has not been condemned to death, and is a stranger, the government, after he shall have undergone punishment, may make use with regard to him of its right to expel from its territory pernicious strangers.

i Kidnappers. The Minister of Foreign Affairs, intrusted with the Department

Article XIV. Amnesty is proclaimed in favor of all who, having belonged or still belonging to armed bands and having committed no other offense, shall present themselves to the authorities before the 15th of next November. The authorities shall take possession of the arms of those so surrendering themselves.

Akticle XV. The government reserves unto itself the right to fix the time when the provisions of the present law shall cease to be enforced. Each of our ministers is bound, as far as his department is concerned, to enforce the present law and to issue such orders as will secure its strict observance.

Issued in the Palace of Mexico, October 3, 1865.

Maximilian.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Execution,Guerrillas,History,Martyrs,Mass Executions,Mexico,Notable Jurisprudence,Occupation and Colonialism,Power,Public Executions,Shot,Soldiers,Summary Executions,Treason,Wartime Executions

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2005: Luis Ramirez, claiming innocence

1 comment October 20th, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 2005, Luis Ramirez was executed in Texas for engineering the murder-for-hire of his ex-wife’s new flame.

Ramirez went to his death still insisting on his innocence.

I did not kill your loved one, but I hope that one day you find out who did. I wish I could tell you the reason why, or give some kind of solace; you lost someone you love very much. The same as my family and friends are going to lose in a few minutes. I am sure he died unjustly, just like I am.

Maybe so. Maybe not.

Contrary to the widespread misapprehension that DNA and other forensic evidence are rendering criminology a perfect science, the majority of criminal procedures make do without them — consequently depending on the more impressionistic and time-honored pillars of jurisprudence: a weighing of circumstantial evidence; an estimate of the credibility of competing witnesses; the structural advantage of the well-resourced prosecutor’s office against its typical adversaries.

There may never be an answer to Luis Ramirez’s last statement, simply because there’s no obvious prospect of a dramatic forensic science reveal.

Wherever Ramirez’s soul might truly stand on the matter of capital murder, he left behind this interesting portrait of human connection on death row.

I’m about the share with you a story who’s telling is long past due. It’s a familiar story to most of you reading this from death row. And now it’s one that all of you in “free world ” may benefit from. This is the story of my first day on the row.

I came here in May of 1999. The exact date is something that I can’t recall. I do remember arriving in the afternoon. I was placed in a cell on H-20 wing over at the Ellis Unit in Huntsville, TX. A tsunami of emotions and thoughts were going through my mind at the time. I remember the only things in the cell were a mattress, pillow, a couple of sheets, a pillow case, a roll of toilet paper, and a blanket. I remember sitting there, utterly lost.

The first person I met there was Napoleon Beazley. Back then, death row prisoners still worked. His job at the time was to clean up the wing and help serve during meal times. He was walking around sweeping the pod in these ridiculous looking rubber boots. He came up to the bars on my cell and asked me if I was new. I told him that I had just arrived on death row. He asked what my name is. I told him, not seeing any harm in it. He then stepped back where he could see all three tiers. He hollered at everyone, “There’s a new man here. He just drove up. His name is Luis Ramirez.” When he did that, I didn’t know what to make of it at first. I thought I had made some kind of mistake. You see, like most of you, I was of the impression that everyone on death row was evil. I thought I would find hundreds of “Hannibal Lecters” in here. And now, they all knew my name. I thought “Oh well,” that’s strike one. I was sure that they would soon begin harassing me. This is what happens in the movies after all.

Well, that’s not what happened . After supper was served, Napoleon was once again sweeping the floors. As he passed my cell, He swept a brown paper bag into it. I asked him “What’s this?” He said for me to look inside and continued on his way. Man, I didn’t know what to expect. I was certain it was something bad. Curiosity did get the best of me though. I carefully opened the bag. What I found was the last thing I ever expected to find on death row, and everything I needed. The bag contained some stamps, envelopes, notepad, pen, soap, shampoo, toothpaste, tooth brush, a pastry, a soda, and a couple of Ramen noodles. I remember asking Napoleon where this came from.

He told me that everyone had pitched in. That they knew that I didn’t have anything and that it may be a while before I could get them. I asked him to find out who had contributed. I wanted to pay them back. He said, “It’s not like that. Just remember the next time you see someone come here like you. You pitch in something.”

I sat there on my bunk with my brown paper bag of goodies, and thought about what had just happened to me. The last things I expected to find on death row was kindness and generosity. They knew what I needed and they took it upon themselves to meet those needs. They did this without any expectation of reimbursement or compensation. They did this for a stranger, not a known friend. I don’t know what they felt when they committed this act of incredible kindness. I only know that like them, twelve “good people” had deemed me beyond redemption. The only remedy that these “good people” could offer us is death. Somehow what these “good people” saw and what I was seeing didn’t add up. How could these men, who just showed me so much humanity, be considered the “worst of the worst.”

Ever since Napoleon was executed, for a crime he committed as a teen, I’ve wanted to share this story with his family. I would like for them to know that their son was a good man. One who I will never forget. I want for them to know how sorry I am that we as a society failed them and him. I still find it ridiculous that we as a people feel that we cannot teach or love our young properly. I’m appalled at the idea that a teen is beyond redemption, that the only solution that we can offer is death. It’s tragic that this is being pointed out to the “good people” by one of the “worst of the worst”. God help us all.

What’s in the brown paper bag? I found caring, kindness, love, humanity, and compassion of a scale that I’ve never seen the “good people” in the free world show towards one another.

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Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Lethal Injection,Murder,Texas,USA

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1928: William Edward Hickman, Randian superhero?

7 comments October 19th, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 1928, William Edward Hickman was hanged at California’s San Quentin prison for what the Los Angeles Times was still calling a decade later* “the most horrible crime of the 1920’s.”

Eighteen- or nineteen-year-old Hickman kidnapped the 12-year-old daughter of a Los Angeles banker, extracted a $1,500 ransom from said banker for her return, then delivered up the girl’s horribly mutilated corpse.

A nationwide manhunt immediately ensued, with Hickman soon captured in Oregon.

Pretty white girls abducted have been media catnip for many a livelong year. In this case, the dastardly deed induced the Los Angeles Times to editorially demand (Dec. 21, 1927) an automatic death penalty for murder in a manifesto that reads like it was written yesterday for whatever the outrageous crime du jour might be.

LET MURDERERS HANG

The sickly sentimentality which wars upon capital punishment for murder and insists upon the coddling of convicts will have a hard time to justify itself in the case of the slayer of Marian Parker, who, if police theories are correct, is William Edward Hickman, a criminal on probation. Had Hickman been serving the prison term which he deserved for his forgeries, he could not have committed the series of crimes which culminated in one of the most atrocious murders of which there is any record. He was free through the lenity of the California law to take his revenge in the most horrible fashion, against a man who had done him no injury that could be considered such by anyone with a spark of moral sense.

Not for vengeance, but for its own protection, both through example and through the eradication of a rotten and depraved individual, society should put the Parker case slayer out of life as quickly as the formalities of law permit. His continued existence is a reproach to all humanity.

A clash of conflicting theories of the best methods of dealing with criminals has brought society to a condition of hesitation. This condition is highly favorable to criminal operations of all sorts, while justice and the law seem to stand by, bewildered and helpless. The logical way to meet this situation is to take practical steps which society knows will protect it, and let penologists and psychiatrists conduct their debate over the ideal system, entirely to one side.

There can be no question that men in jail, while in jail, are no particular menace to society, and that men who have been hanged do not commit further murders. Upon these two solid facts let society base its actions, unless and until something better has been devised and proved. The semi-punishment, semi-reformatory scheme at present in force is obviously a failure.

Its greatest error is that it considers the interest of the criminal rather than those of his victim, or rather the interest of the class to which his victim belongs. This class is made up of the honest, the law-abiding, the God-fearing, the hard-working, the solid and substantial; in other words, of all individuals who are resolved to live in peace and harmony with their neighbors,. respecting others’ rights as courtesouly as they expect their own to be respected. Against this class, the great majority, another class, a minority, is waging war. It consists of the vicious, the depraved, the degenerate; nonproducers and parasites. At best this class is a drag upon progress, at worst it is a menace to civilization. Yet the law as it stands at present regards the rights of the individuals of the class as paramount. The machinery of the courts is strained at every point to aid them.

It is not necessary to inquire why a rattlesnake strikes, or if it is likely to strike again. His motives may be interesting, but they are not important. It is sufficient to recognize the danger and to deal with it appropriately.

It does not matter whether anti-social individuals are all insane, as some criminologists assert, whether they are economic misfits, as other theorists declare, or whether they are in the main ordinary persons gone wrong, as still another school insists. There has been too much consideration for them and not enough for those they prey upon and injure. It is time the emphasis was shifted.

It is time to face the facts, before the criminal class succeeds entirely in getting the upper hand. It is time to place every proved criminal where he can do no more harm. It is time for society to take the certainty of protection; it is time to stop giving the criminal “another chance.”

It is time to hang every murderer.

Lack of firmness in dealing with the criminal problem is due largely to the sob-sister and the sentimentalist. At the other extreme stands the mob spirit and lynch law, equally destructive of the foundations of society. Criminals should be judged without passion, bias or prejudice, and this is possible only in a court of law. No matter how heinous the crime, it is a matter for the courts to deal with. Good citizens will insist that proper punishment be dealt out in accordance with the provisions of law and order. For men to take the law into their own hands is to place themselves on a plane with the criminals, and to give away the immense moral advantage of being right.

Sensational crime + ill-considered policy response = a California tradition. (There wasn’t actually a change of the law in 1927-28, though.)

Perhaps recoiling from the self-righteous public baying after Hickman’s blood, a young Ayn Rand took such a shine to Hickman as to base upon him a murderous protagonist in a 1928 work, The Little Street. The budding apostle of selfishness decried in her journals

[a]verage, everyday, rather stupid looking citizens. Shabbily dressed, dried, worn looking little men. Fat, overdressed, very average, ‘dignified’ housewives … How can they decide the fate of that boy? Or anyone’s fate?

Though The Little Street never saw print, the hero disdainful of the petty bonds of moral hypocrisy is the go-to trope of Rand’s later novels. If you can bear them, you’ll find Rand speaking of “nonproducers and parasites” who are “a drag upon progress … a menace to civilization” in much the way the Times speaks of Hickman.

Rand wrote that “other people do not exist for [Hickman], and he does not see why they should … He has the true, innate psychology of a Superman. He can never realize and feel ‘other people.'” It’s a pretty near definition of sociopathy likewise imputed to the hero of her later novel The Fountainhead: “He was born without the ability to consider others.”

“She had a crush on him [Hickman],” says Lisa Duggan, author of a study of Rand’s thought, in this podcast.

Indeed, Hickman was a very strange choice for Rand’s affection, quite apart from the obvious: other than the derring-do to bluff school administrators into letting him take away a child on his own say-so, he didn’t really exhibit the magnificent contempt for his many lessers one would expect from a Howard Roark.


From the Los Angeles Times, Dec. 25, 1927.

Hickman broke down and confessed, not in pride but in panic, and signed a simpering “warning” to young men of the classic gallows-speech variety on Christmas Eve 1927:

Crime in its simplest definition is to have without work and enjoy the same place in society as other people and still show no honest effort or intention to go right.

Young men, when crime has once overcome your will power to be honest and straight you are a menace to society. …

Think it over, see my mistake. Be honest and upright. Respect the law. If you do these things you’ll be happier in the end. (Source: Los Angeles Times, Dec. 24, 1927)

Over the ten ensuing months, the teen had the opportunity to recover his wits and play a more manful part, but that didn’t happen either. A week before execution, when any hope of reprieve was gone and there was little percentage left in playing the supplicant, Hickman sent the Associated Press this bit of self-flagellation.

I know very well that I have been a most guilty sinner … I am sorry for having offended God and man … Please ask the people in the name of God to pray for us condemned men here at San Quentin prison.

(To top it off, he wilted climbing the scaffold and had to be helped up the last few steps.)

The miscreant unequal to the weight of his crime-slash-sin, thirsting for the redemptive chalice of heaven … as a criminals go, that’s more Dostoyevsky than Rand.

* Mar. 27, 1938. The context was a roundup of the gallows highlights of San Quentin’s history on the occasion of its switch from hanging to lethal gas.

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

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1672: Thomas Rood, the only incest execution in America

Add comment October 18th, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 1672, Thomas Rood (or Rhood, or Roode, or even Rude) achieved in Norwich, Conn., the distinction of being the only person executed in the future United States of America for incest.

The native of Glastonbury, England got in a bad way for, in the words of the indictment,

not haveing the feare of God before thine eyes thou hast committed that abominable sin of incest haveing carnall copulation with Sarah Rhood thy reputed daughter for which according to the law of God & the law of this colony thou deservest to dye …

Actually, the laws of the colony said nothing about incest, requiring the Hartford Court of Assistants to ask around the local clergy whether this sort of thing should be a hanging offense.

Hey, what do you think they’re going to say? Antonin Scalia would call this originalism.

Thomas Rhood thou art to goe from here to the place from whence thou camest & in due time to be carryed from thence to the place of execution & there to be hanged by the neck till thou art dead & then cut down & buried.

Of course, it takes two to make the beast with two backs; daughter/lover Sarah was in some fear for her neck as well, until the court took

notice of a great appearance of force layd up upon her spirit by her father overaweing & Tiranical abuse of his parentall authority besides his bodily striveings which not onely at first brought her into the snare but allso in after yeilding to his Temptation.

Having seemingly found her to be a rape victim, the court extended leniency.

[T]he sentence of the court is that shee be severly whipt on the naked body once at Hartford & once at Norwich that others may heare & fear & do no more such abominable wickednesse.

17th century texts from this pdf on a site selling an 820-page genealogy of the Rood lineage in America … to which the randy old man contributed to the tune of at least nine children.

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Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Connecticut,Death Penalty,England,Execution,God,Hanged,History,Milestones,Notable Jurisprudence,Public Executions,Rape,Sex,USA

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1409: Jean de Montagu

Add comment October 17th, 2009 Headsman

Six hundred years ago today, onetime royal favorite Jean de Montagu* was, at the instigation of his powerful noble rival, beheaded in Paris and his body hung up at Montfaucon.

Montagu (French link) was the 50-something scion of an ennobled notary — or else the illegitimate produce of King Charles V, whose ennobled notary had been induced to claim him. Regardless his blood, the lad made himself quite wealthy with a virtuous cycle of administrative acumen and political connection, winning a variety of honorary posts and riches aplenty he did not shy from displaying. Typical “New Money” type.

Sadly for Montagu, this cycle crested during the reign of Charles VI, also known as Charles the Mad for his bouts of illucidity.

“History,” wrote Barbara Tuchman, “never more cruelly demonstrated the vulnerability of a nation to the person of its chief of state than in the affliction of France beginning [with Charles’ first spell of insanity] in 1392.”

Charles the Mad’s erratic tenure would help bring French fortunes to the low ebb from which Joan of Arc would retrieve them.

Montagu’s period sob story was that his wealth earned him the enmity of nasty Duke of Burgundy John the Fearless,** who induced King Charles during one of the latter’s episodes to affix on Montagu responsibility for the crown’s financial shortfalls. Our day’s victim was arrested on October 7, 1409, tortured into a confession, and beheaded in Paris October 17.

Montagu’s surviving family had the verdict reversed within three years, which would have been a better deal for them had the family’s main branch not been wiped out three years after that at the Battle of Agincourt.

For the wider benefit of posterity, the beheaded lord also left a fair collection of endowed building projects in his lands in Marcoussis, including (French links all): the usual village church; a Celestine monastery; and a picturesque castle unfortunately devastated during the French Revolution but once resembling this:


Atmospheric old sketch from here; others here.

* Not to be confused with his (likewise beheaded) contemporary across the channel, John Montagu, Earl of Salisbury.

** John the Fearless had most recently been seen engineering the infamous murder of the king’s brother, and surviving by dint of his ransom potential the hecatomb of the last crusade.

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Entry Filed under: 15th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,France,History,Nobility,Pelf,Posthumous Exonerations,Torture,Wrongful Executions

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1946: The Nuremberg Trial War Criminals

20 comments October 16th, 2009 Headsman

Victor’s justice was never better served than this date in 1946, when the brass of Third Reich hung for crimes against humanity during the late World War II.

[audio:http://www.stelzriede.com/ms/mus/nuremexe.mp3]

(From this page of original period audio files.)

The landmark legal proceeding* is covered well enough in many other sources for this humble venue to break new ground.

Apart from trailblazing international law, the trial was notable for the gut-punching film of German atrocities; this relatively novel piece of evidence is available for perusal thanks to the magic of the Internet. Caution: Strong stuff. An hour’s worth of Nazi atrocities.The climactic hangings in the predawn hours this day in Nuremberg were conducted by an American hangman who used the American standard drop rather than the British table calibrated for efficacious neck-snapping. As a result, at least some hangings were botched strangulation jobs, a circumstance which has occasionally attracted charges of intentional barbarism.

Media eyewitness Kingsbury Smith’s taut report of the night’s executions (well worth the full read) described just such an ugly end for propagandist Julius Streicher.

At that instant the trap opened with a loud bang. He went down kicking. When the rope snapped taut with the body swinging wildly, groans could be heard from within the concealed interior of the scaffold. Finally, the hangman, who had descended from the gallows platform, lifted the black canvas curtain and went inside. Something happened that put a stop to the groans and brought the rope to a standstill. After it was over I was not in the mood to ask what he did, but I assume that he grabbed the swinging body of and pulled down on it. We were all of the opinion that Streicher had strangled.

There were in all 12 condemned to death at Nuremberg; all hanged this day except Martin Bormann (condemned in absentia; it was only years later that his death during the Nazi regime’s 1945 Gotterdammerung was established) and Hermann Goering (who cheated the executioner with a cyanide capsule two hours before hanging). The ten to die this day were:

* Its resultant Nuremberg Principles comprise a lofty articulation of principles whose actual application, as Noam Chomsky has observed, would have meant that “every post-war American president would have been hanged.”

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Botched Executions,Capital Punishment,Cheated the Hangman,Crimes Against Humanity,Death Penalty,England,Execution,France,Germany,Hanged,History,Infamous,Intellectuals,Mass Executions,Notable Jurisprudence,Occupation and Colonialism,Politicians,Posthumous Exonerations,Power,Russia,Soldiers,USA,War Crimes

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1896: Rainandriamampandry and Prince Ratsimamanga

Add comment October 15th, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 1896, two Malagasy movers and shakers were shot to help cement French colonial control of Madagascar.

Interior Minister Rainandriamampandry

Having conquered the island militarily by 1895, France immediately faced indigenous resistance.

According to Stephen Ellis*

One of the most puzzling and fascinating of all resistance movements is that known as the revolt of the menalamba. It occurred over a wide area of central Madagascar, mostly in the kingdom of Imerina, in the two years following the French invasion of Madagascar in 1895. The most mysterious aspect of the rising has always been the question of who, if anyone, was its leader. The official version, that reported by the French government in Madagascar, was that the movement was inspired or directed by a number of magnates at the old Merina court. The published evidence is so ambiguous as to have obliged every subsequent author to accept this version, although there was considerable doubt expressed as to its truth at that time.

Managing this drumhead tribunal was just-arrived “Resident-General” Joseph Simon Gallieni, who seems to have alit (fresh from an assignment in Indochina) with the certain conviction that examples must be made.

While more wholesale bloodletting was deployed in the field, Gallieni selected some suitably high-profile exemplars from the supine state’s ruling elite — “Ratsimamanga, a nobleman who had been unpopular for many years because of his financial extortions,” says Ellis, and “Rainandriamampandry because … he had no close political friends and might therefore be considered dispensable.”

The convenient loss of the tribunal paperwork, which renders evaluation impossible and colonial motivation suspect, hardly would have been well beside the point. As one periodical in Paris (where Gallieni’s pacification project received enthusiastic greeting) approvingly put it,

As a lesson to the rebels, two great figures who had sided with them, Prince Ratsimamanga and Minister of the Interior Rainandriamampandry have both been tried, convicted and shot, all with such rapidity as to inspire their accomplices to salutary reflections.

Below: Selected photographs of the execution from the University of Southern California Digital Library. Click for larger images.

An aside: Madagascar was also the scene of intensely sectarian competition in the soul-saving business, resulting in an execution-day travesty reported in An Empire Divided: Religion, Republicanism, and the Making of French Colonialism, 1880-1914:

Gallieni gave permission to both the cure of the Antananarivo cathedral and a local French pastor to be with [Rainandriamampandry] during his last hours. But … the two started quarreling almost at once. Gallieni was deeply disturbed by the image of two religious men fighting during “the final minutes of a condemned man.”

* “The Political Elite of Imerina and the Revolt of the Menalamba. The Creation of a Colonial Myth in Madagascar, 1895-1898,” The Journal of African History, vol. 21, no. 2 (1980).

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Madagascar,Mature Content,Occupation and Colonialism,Politicians,Power,Public Executions,Shot

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39: Gnaeus Cornelius Lentulus Gaetulicus, erotic poet

1 comment October 14th, 2009 Headsman

On an uncertain date likely around early October* in 39 A.D., former Roman Consul Gnaeus Cornelius Lentulus Gaetulicus (not to be confused with Publius Cornelius Lentulus) was executed at the order of Caligula for his part in some sort of plot long lost to history.

In his public life, Gaetulicus was a Machiavellian politician connected to the fallen Praetorian Guard captain Sejanus (their kids were at one point engaged to be married). He evidently survived the post-Sejanus purge with an adroit bit of written diplomacy to the Praetorian’s patron-cum-executioner the Emperor Tiberius, tactfully pointing out that the Emperor had made the same errant choice of alliance. Thus did Gaetulicus retain both his head and his career.

After a decade milking his German province, and Tiberius shuffled off the mortal coil and young Caligula now ruling the empire, Gaetulicus seemingly** involved himself in something treasonable with Marcus Aemilius Lepidus, the latter a recent fave of Caligula and briefly his designated heir.

Or, if you credit scandal-mongering Roman historian Cassius Dio‘s description of the Emperor’s deadly northward road trip, he did it out of some whim of rivalry or opportunity for pecuniary advantage.

Gaius had now spent practically all the money in Rome and the rest of Italy, gathered from every source from which he could in any way get it, and as no source of revenue in considerable amount or practicable to collect could be found there, and his expenses were pressing him hard, he set out for Gaul, ostensibly because the hostile Germans were stirring up trouble, but in reality with the purpose of exploiting both Gaul with its abounding wealth and Spain also. However, he did not openly announce his expedition beforehand, but went first to one of the suburbs and then suddenly set out on the journey, taking with him many actors, many gladiators, horses, women, and all the other trappings of luxury. When he reached his destination, he did no harm to any of the enemy — in fact, as soon as he had proceeded a short distance beyond the Rhine, he returned, and then set out as if to conduct a campaign against Britain, but turned back from the ocean’s edge, showing no little vexation at his lieutenants who won some slight success — but upon the subject peoples, the allies, and the citizens he inflicted vast and innumerable ills. In the first place, he despoiled those who possessed anything, on any and every excuse; and secondly, both private citizens and cities brought him large gifts voluntarily, as it was made to appear. He murdered some men on the ground that they were rebelling, and others on the ground that they were conspiring against him; but the real complaint was one and the same for the whole people — the fact that they were rich. By selling their possessions himself, he realized far greater sums than would otherwise have been the case; for everybody was compelled to buy them at any price and for much more than their value, for the reasons I have mentioned. Accordingly, he sent also for the finest and most precious heirlooms of the monarchy and sold them off by auction, selling with them the fame of the persons who had once used them. Thus he would make some comment on each one, such as, “this belonged to my father,” “this to my mother,” “this to my grandfather,”, “this to my great-grandfather,” “this Egyptian piece was Antony’s, the prize of victory for Augustus.” At the same time he also explained the necessity of selling them, so that no one could persist in pretending to be poor; and thus he made them buy the reputation of each article along with the thing itself.

In spite of all this he did not secure any surplus, but kept up his customary expenditures, not only for other objects that interested him — exhibiting, for example, some games at Lugdunum — but especially for the legions. For he had gathered together two hundred thousand troops, or, as some say, two hundred and fifty thousand. He was acclaimed imperator by them seven times, as his whim directed, though he had won no battle and slain no enemy. To be sure, he did once by a ruse seize and bind a few of the foe, whereas he used up a large part of his own force, striking some of them down one at a time and butchering others then masse. Thus, on one occasion, when he saw a crowd of prisoners or some other persons, he gave orders in the famous phrase, that they should all be slain “from baldhead to baldhead.” At another time he was playing at dice, and finding that he had no money, he called for the census lists of the Gauls and ordered the wealthiest of them to be put to death; then, returning to his fellow-gamesters, he said: “Here you are playing for a few denarii, while I have taken in a good one hundred and fifty millions.” So these men perished without any consideration. Indeed, one of them, Julius Sacerdos, who was fairly well off, yet not so extremely wealthy as to become the object of attack on that account, was slain simply because of a similarity of names. This shows how carelessly everything was done. As for the others who perished, there is no need of my naming over most of them, but I will mention those of whom history requires some record. In the first place, then, he put to death Lentulus Gaetulicus, who had an excellent reputation in every way and had been governor of Germany for ten years, for the reason that he was endeared to the soldiers. Another of his victims was Lepidus, that lover and favourite of his, the husband of Drusilla, the man who had together with Gaius maintained improper relations with the emperor’s other sisters, Agrippina and Julia, the man whom he had allowed to stand for office five years earlier than was permitted by law and whom he kept declaring he would leave as his successor to the throne. To celebrate this man’s death he gave the soldiers money, as though he had defeated some enemies, and sent three daggers to Mars Ultor in Rome. He deported his sisters to the Pontian Islands because of their relations with Lepidus, having first accused them in a communication to the senate of many impious and immoral actions. Agrippina was given Lepidus’ bones in an urn and bidden to carry it back to Rome, keeping it in her bosom during the whole journey.

It’s a pity that the details of this affair, whatever they were, have been lost to history. The History of Rome podcast treats this episode among a review of Caligula’s gnarly reign

According to Post-Augustan Poetry, Gaetulicus

was consul in 26 A.D., and for ten years was legatus in Upper Germany, where his combination of firmness and clemency won him great popularity. He conspired against Caligula while holding this command, and was put to death. Pliny the younger speaks of him as the writer of sportive and lascivious erotic verse, and Martial writes of him in very similar terms. His mistress was named Caesennia, and was herself a poetess.

Only a fragment (which I have not been able to locate online) of a Latin verse describing Britain remains affirmatively attributed to this poet, though he is sometimes speculatively identified with the “Gaetulicus” to whom some epigrams in the Greek Anthology (or “Palatine Anthology”) are attributed e.g.

TO APHRODITE EUPLOIA

Guardian of the seabeach, to thee I send these cakes, and the gifts of
a scanty sacrifice; for to-morrow I shall cross the broad wave of the
Ionian sea, hastening to our Eidothea’s arms. But shine thou
favourably on my love as on my mast, O Cyprian, mistress of the bride-
chamber and the beach.

* Date ballparked by public sacrifices offered in Rome on October 27 “to mark the exposure of the evil plots of Gnaeus Lentulus Gaetulicus against Gaius Germanicus.” (Agrippina: Sex, Power, and Politics in the Early Empire, which speculates at some length on what the dimensions of a Gaetulicus plot might have been.)

** Though Lepidus was executed at about the same time, and Cassius Dio suggests a connection, it’s not completely clear that they conspired together. Since Cassius Dio (and Suetonius, who also connects them in Life of Claudius), wrote generations after the events themselves, we want for dependable information.

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Entry Filed under: Ancient,Artists,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Germany,History,Nobility,Politicians,Power,Roman Empire,Treason

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