Archive for May, 2010

1641: Thomas Wentworth, Earl of Strafford

1 comment May 12th, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1641, the doomed English monarch Charles I regretfully sacrificed one of his ablest ministers to the headsman.

Thomas Wentworth and loyal doggie, painted c. 1639 by Anthony van Dyck.

Thomas Wentworth, Earl of Strafford had cut his teeth in Parliament in the 1620s as an advocate of the rights of the Commons as against those of the king, but the notion that he’d be hoisted by his own petard would be little comfort to a King soon destined to find himself in similar straits.

After Parliament forced through the 1628 Petition of Right (and Wentworth’s pro-monarchist personal rival George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham had been conveniently assassinated) Wentworth went over to the king’s camp with the sententious declaration

The authority of a king is the keystone which closeth up the arch of order and government.

The authority of that king, which Wentworth now worked vigorously to uphold during the crown’s Parliament-free Personal Rule of the 1630s, also elevated Wentworth to higher honors.

He would have occasion to exercise his own “personal rule” as dictatorial viceroy in Ireland, and when push came to shove between King and Commons, advocated the most tyrannical measures to compel the compliance of obstinate Englishmen.

By 1640, Wentworth had become in the eyes of his enemies the very embodiment of the monarch’s every sin, and when Charles was obliged by his deteriorating situation to summon Parliament once more, its first order of business was the impeachment of this obnoxious retainer. When Wentworth skillfully repelled the charges and won acquittal on April 10, his parliamentarian opponents simply passed a bill of attainder condemning him to death anyway.

The only thing that stood in the way of the chop was the signature of that ruler whom Wentworth had served so loyally. As Charles dithered — for he had personally guaranteed Wentworth his safety upon his most recent summons to London — popular hatred for the Earl threatened to escalate the crisis into something much more dangerous for the throne.

In one last gesture of fealty, Wentworth dashed off a note to his sovereign, magnanimously releasing him from any obligation save political calculation.

Sire, out of much sadness, I am come to a resolution of that which I take to be the best becoming me; and that is, to look upon the prosperity of your sacred person and the commonwealth as infinitely to be preferred before any man’s private interest. And therefore, in few words, as I have placed myself wholly upon the honour and justice of my peers, I do most humbly beseech you, for the preventing of such mischiefs as may happen by your refusal to pass this bill, by this means to remove this unfortunate thing forth of the way towards that blessed agreement, which God, I trust, shall for ever establish betwixt you and your subjects. Sire, my consent herein shall acquit you more to God than all the world can do beside. To a willing man there is no injury done; and as, by God’s grace, I forgive all the world with a calmness and meekness of infinite contentment to my disloding soul, so, Sire, I can give the life of this world with all cheerfulness imaginable, in the just acknowledgment of your exceeding favours; and only beg that, in your goodness, you would vouchsafe to cast your gracious regard upon my poor son and his three sisters, less or more, and no otherwise, than their unfortunate father shall appear more or less guilty of this death. (Quoted here)

This letter’s place in the annals of sacrificial loyalty is compromised only slightly by its author’s dismay upon finding out that his feckless majesty had quickly taken up the offer:* Wentworth rolled his eyes heavenward and exclaimed

Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation.**

But the miscalculation was done.

Two days after Charles signed off, Wentworth was beheaded on Tower Hill to the rapture of an audience supposed to have numbered 200,000 strong.


Strafford Led to Execution, by Paul Delaroche, with Thomas Wentworth, Earl of Stafford, receiving the blessing of his ally, the imprisoned Archbishop William Laud.


1642 pamphlet illustration of the beheading, from here.

As things went from bad to worse for Charles in the years ahead, he would have many occasions to regret the sacrifice of so loyal and energetic a minister … and to lament, upon hearing his own death sentence, that he was suffering divine judgment for this date’s act of expedient faithlessness.

A few books about Thomas Wentworth

* In acceding to the sentence, Charles proposed giving Strafford the best part of a week to prepare himself. Parliament ignored that request and set the execution for the very next day.

** That’s Psalm 146:3.

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Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Arts and Literature,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Famous,History,Ireland,Martyrs,Nobility,Political Expedience,Posthumous Exonerations,Power,Public Executions,Treason,Wrongful Executions

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1939: Evgeny Miller, White Russian

2 comments May 11th, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1938, former tsarist Gen. Evgeny Miller was executed in Moscow, having been brazenly kidnapped by the Soviet NKVD from exile in France.

Miller opposed the 1917 Russian Revolutions (both of them) and ended up on the wrong side of the ensuing civil war as Aleksandr Kolchak‘s man in Archangel.

There, Miller (he was half-German) was the beneficiary of the Entente powers’ anti-Soviet incursion of British, French, American and Canadian troops.

These powers soon found that their respective peoples, wearied by the late world war, had little appetite for spilling more blood in the service of enthroning a Romanov, and cut bait in 1920.

Miller wisely did likewise, and watched the great workers’ and peasants’ republic take shape from the safety of Paris — where, in the 1930s, he chaired the anti-communist Russian All-Military Union (ROVS).

Soviet intelligence had infiltrated this body, however, and hatched a bold plot* to shanghai Miller and smuggle him out of the country in order to cause ROVS leadership to pass to the Soviets’ own agent, Nikolai Skoblin. Although they got Miller, they didn’t quite pull off the putsch, since the wary general had left behind a note outlining his suspicions of Skoblin in the event foul play should befall him.

Imprisoned at Lubyanka, Miller was personally interrogated by NKVD boss Nikolai Yezhov, but according to Vladislav Goldin and John Long,

little or nothing of what Miller had to report about the recent activities of the ROVS was unknown to the NKVD … the leaders of the NKVD found themselves saddled with a prominent prisoner of no significant value to Soviet intelligence and from whose capture, at the same time, nothing useful could be derived by way of publicity or propaganda.

The fall of Ezhov sealed the doom of General Miller, whose abduction had from the outset been his inspiration. In these circumstances, given his continuing uselessness to the NKVD, Miller’s elimination became an inevitable element in Commissar Beria‘s liquidation of the so-called Ezhovshchina, an operation which lasted from late 1938 through at least 1940. Although part of this undertaking involved the release of up to 200,000 of Ezhov’s prisoners, no such option was available in the case of General Miller for whose disappearance the Soviet government had consistently denied any responsibility. Accordingly, on 11 May 1939, after more than nineteen months of agonizing solitary confinement, Commissar Beria, with no viable alternative, ordered the trial and execution of the long-suffering General Miller in a process, ironically, that was fully implemented in less than twenty-four hours.

[it was] an ill-conceived, poorly executed and totally unnecessary adventure that, in the end, failed to benefit any of its apparent perpetrators.**

Skoblin, for his part, fled, disappearing to a still-unknown fate. His wife, Nadezhda Plevitskaya, copped a 20-year sentence for helping arrange the kidnapping, and died in prison.

They may not have gotten ROVS, but at least they made celluloid. Skoblin’s shadowy activities in France in this period are the inspiration for the 2004 French film Triple Agent.

* Georgy Kosenko, who we’ve previously met in these pages, helped orchestrate the kidnapping. (Times being dangerous as they were, the wheel of Red Terror turned against Kosenko so quickly that Miller actually outlived him.)

** Goldin, Vladislav I. and Long, John W. “Resistance and Retribution: The Life and Fate of General E.K. Miller”, Revolutionary Russia, 12:2 (1999), pp. 19-40.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Activists,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Power,Russia,Shot,Soldiers,Torture,Treason,USSR

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1821: Stephen Merrill Clark, boy arsonist

Add comment May 10th, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1821, a 17-year-old ne’er-do-well was hanged at Winter Island near Salem, Mass., for arson.

Several fires had menaced Newburyport in 1820, and skulking juvenile delinquent Stephen Merrill Clark was swiftly suspected. Clark’s father had even been trying to fix up some kind of intervention for the boy, who had twice washed out of apprenticeships.

Stephen’s main squeeze, a “night walker” and “person of lascivious behavior” by the name of Hannah Downes, obligingly informed on him in the arson matter, and this was sufficient to secure his conviction. (Trial transcriptions are available here.)

The perp’s youth and the impeachable evidence against him helped raise the general public hand-wringing over the matter; even Clark’s convicting jury recommended mercy, which the Bay State’s Governor’s Council declined to extend in view of the serious public menace posed by fires.

And Clark, in the end, provided an obliging 11th-hour confession to set everyone’s mind at ease as regards the shaky stool-pigeon testimony that hung him. Clark blamed that night-walker girl of his for instigating everything, licensing the circulation of outstanding doggerel like the following from an execution broadside.

Be warn’d, ye youth, who see my sad despair:
Avoid LEWD WOMEN, false as they are fair.
By my example learn to shun my fate:
How wretched is the man who’s wise too late!
Ere innocence, and fame and life be lost,
Here purchase wisdom cheaply, at my cost.*

Indeed.

The Essex Register of May 12, 1821 printed this eyewitness report of the scaffold, similarly suggestive of a prisoner just barely keeping his composure.

O, how changed from that sturdy, robust and apparently unconcerned youth who, but a few weeks before, was tried, convicted and sentenced to suffer death. Then, his countenance was flushed and ruddy with the glow of health, his eye was quick and animated his nerves unshaken by the array and circumstance of the judicial proceedings, and his whole frame was firm and strong — Now, a ghastly paleness covered his face, his eye was languid and declined to earth, his aspect bespoke an inward grief and agony that could not be uttered, and as the Rev. Clergyman supported his feeble steps toward the scaffold, his very soul appeared to quake at the terrors of the law that surrounded him.

He was conducted up the first flight of steps … here the agony of his spirit almost overpowered his strength, and he was near fainting, but was in some measure revived by the kind and assiduous attentions of those about him … a profound and solemn silence reigned throughout the vast multitude of spectators, whose countenances were marked by feelings of the deepest interest, and who remained uncovered during the residue of the tragic scene… when he ascended the second flight of steps, and took his stand upon his last support, the sympathies and pity of the beholders were raised to the highest pitch, and when his bosom and his neck were bared and he meekly inclined his head to enable Mr. Brown to adjust the fatal cord, and submissively placed himself in the position most convenient for the dreadful purpose for which he was brought there, the feelings of the multitude could no longer be suppressed, and mingled sighs and groans were heard in every direction. These preparations were soon finished, & at a signal from the High Sheriff, the spring was touched, and Clark was, in a moment, launched into eternity! — Thus died Stephen Merrill Clark, aged 17 years — cut off in the morning of his life, for a heinous offence, and made a public example of the terrible retributions of the present world, and held up as an awful warning to all survivors, and especially to young persons, to shun the paths of vice.

* Not that it wasn’t circulating already; this poem was just an execution-day twist on the argument of Clark’s defense counsel, that “respectable citizens have been unfortunately led, by the wicked arts of the most abandoned of women … of notoriously profligate character … on whose word no reliance can be placed.” Sally Chase, another woman of circumstances similar to Hannah Downes, provided similar testimony against Clark.

Oh, along with a bunch of other confessional things Clark admitted to various authorities under various states of cajolery or duress.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Arson,Capital Punishment,Children,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Massachusetts,Public Executions,USA

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1794: Four members of the Targowica Confederation

3 comments May 9th, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1794, four members of Poland’s pro-Russia Targowica Confederation were convicted of treason by a revolutionary court, and promptly hanged before a jeering mob in Warsaw.


The Hanging of traitors at Warsaw’s Old Town Market Square, by Jean-Pierre Norblin de La Gourdaine

This spectacle unfolds in a revolutionary age, which finds the first constitution in Europe* written … in Polish?

There was good reason.

The once-proud empire had been reduced to a pliable rump state under a sclerotic aristocracy.

The Polish Constitution of May 3, 1791 aimed for national rebirth with a constitutional monarchy and circumscribed nobility. This nationalist ferment was opposed equally by the Russian monarch Catherine the Great, and by a league of those circumscribed, sclerotic nobles which constituted itself the Targowica Confederation and immediately “invited” Russia to invade. Russia was happy to oblige.

This launched the countries into a war whose predictable outcome further reduced Polish territory in 1793.

There’d be one more hurrah for independent Poland, however: a 1794 national uprising under the leadership of war hero** Tadeusz Kosciuszko.

In Warsaw, that uprising drove the Polish King Stanislaw August Poniatowski† into Warsaw Castle as it overwhelmed the Russian garrison.

On May 9, four prominent Targowica supporters who had the misfortune to be trapped in the city — Jozef Ankwicz, Piotr Ozarowski, Jozef Zabiello and the Bishop of Livonia Jozef Kossakowski — were tried and demonstratively hanged.

Unfortunately for the Kosciuszko Uprising, the next day would mark Prussia’s entry into the fray, on the side of Russia, exacerbating the already dire balance-of-forces situation.

By the next year, defeated Poland ceased to exist altogether, partitioned among its stronger neighbors Russia, Prussia and Austria.

The historical legacy, nevertheless, is pretty clear. Kosciuszko has monuments in every Polish city, while targowiczanin remains an epithet for “traitor” in the Polish tongue to the present day.

* Except the Corsican Constitution.

** Kosciuszko was already an old hand at the revolution game: he’d crossed the Atlantic to fight for George Washington in the American Revolution.

† Catherine the Great’s former lover.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Language,Nobility,Occupation and Colonialism,Poland,Power,Public Executions,Russia,Summary Executions,Treason,Wartime Executions

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1794: Antoine Laurent Lavoisier, father of modern chemistry

7 comments May 8th, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1794, French scientist Antoine Laurent Lavoisier was guillotined in Paris for “adding water to the people’s tobacco.”

Portrait of Monsieur de Lavoisier and his Wife, chemist Marie-Anne Pierrette Paulze, by Jacques-Louis David (1788) Marie assisted Lavoisier in the laboratory; she also studied art under David the better to illustrate the resulting publications.

Tobacco-watering was the least of Lavoisier’s pastimes.

The man’s resume* of 50 busy years in chemical and biological experimentation included

  • Proving the law of conservation of mass
  • Naming oxygen and hydrogen
  • Demonstrating oxygen’s role in combustion and respiration
  • Writing the first chemistry textbook, with the first list of elements

Unfortunately, Lavoisier funded these eggheaded avocations with an investment in the Ferme générale, the hated tax-farming syndicate to which the crown outsourced its revenue-squeezing operations.

This is just the sort of operation one would expect to find in the crosshairs of the French Revolution’s Terror: hence, watering the people’s tobacco.

(Allegedly, Jean-Paul Marat also had it in for Lavoisier personally, on account of the latter’s having blown off Marat’s pre-Revolution scientific efforts.)

The company was shut down in 1790.

But at the height of the Terror, Lavoisier and 27 fellow tax-farmers of the Ferme were rounded up and quickly condemned.

Lavoisier’s appeal for a stay of execution to complete some experiments met a brusque refusal from the people’s tribunal: “The Republic has no need for scientists.”

Mathematician Joseph Louis Lagrange, whom Lavoisier had helped escape the Revolution’s proscription, left the chemist his epigrammatic epitaph:

It took only an instant to cut off that head, and a hundred years may not produce another like it.

* And yet,

[i]n spite of his great services it is impossible to overlook the sins of Lavoisier in appropriating to himself discoveries made by chemists who were his contemporaries or predecessors. Oxygen was first discovered by Hales in 1727, and had already been prepared from mercuric oxide by Priestley in 1774, by Bayen in the same year, and still earlier by Scheele in 1771. It was at a dinner at Lavoisier’s house that Priestley confidentially communicated his discovery to Lavoisier, in 1774; in 1778 Lavoisier then claimed for himself the discovery of the composition of water, whilst, as is now known, Blagden, a friend of Cavendish, when visiting Paris in 1781, told Lavoisier that Cavendish had discovered the composition of water in a very simple manner by burning inflammable air (hydrogen), as water alone was formed during this combustion.

Lavoisier and Laplace immediately repeated the experiment and then communicated the discovery to the French Academy in 1783.

These facts certainly do not obscure the fame of the great scientist when we remember his eminent services, but in the interests of historic accuracy and justice it is impossible to pass them over in silence.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous,France,Guillotine,History,Intellectuals,Nobility,Posthumous Exonerations,Public Executions,Theft,Wrongful Executions

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Daily Double: Revolutionary Justice

Add comment May 8th, 2010 Headsman

The revolutionary year 1794 has made unsurprisingly regular appearances in these pages.

The French Revolution was going great guns, and giving the National Razor near-daily workouts here at the height of the Terror. But France wasn’t the only revolutionary game on the continent.

On these next two dates, in Europes west and east, tribunals of the people soon to be overthrown by events meted out their revolutionary justice to their enemies.

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Entry Filed under: Daily Doubles

1896: H. H. Holmes, America’s first serial killer

6 comments May 7th, 2010 Headsman

(Thanks for the public-domain “guest post” on prolific serial killer H.H. Holmes to Harry Brodribb Irving, from his A Book of Remarkable Criminals (Google Books | Project Gutenberg). Also enjoy The Holmes-Pitezel Case (1896).)

Honour Amongst Thieves

In the year 1894 Mr. Smith, a carpenter, of Philadelphia, had patented a new saw-set. Wishing to make some money out of his invention, Mr. Smith was attracted by the sign:

B. F. PERRY
PATENTS BOUGHT AND SOLD

which he saw stretched across the window of a two-storied house, 1,316 Callowhill Street. He entered the house and made the acquaintance of Mr. Perry, a tall, dark, bony man, to whom he explained the merits of his invention. Perry listened with interest, and asked for a model. In the meantime he suggested that Smith should do some carpenter’s work for him in the house. Smith agreed, and on August 22, while at work there saw a man enter the house and go up with Perry to a room on the second story.

A few days later Smith called at Callowhill Street to ask Perry about the sale of the patent. He waited half an hour in the shop below, called out to Perry who, he thought, might be in the rooms above, received no answer and went away. Next day, September 4, Smith returned, found the place just as he had left it the day before; called Perry again, but again got no answer. Surprised, he went upstairs, and in the back room of the second story the morning sunshine, streaming through the window, showed him the dead body of a man, his face charred beyond recognition, lying with his feet to the window and his head to the door. There was evidence of some sort of explosion: a broken bottle that had contained an inflammable substance, a broken pipe filled with tobacco, and a burnt match lay by the side of the body.

The general appearance of the dead man answered to that of B. F. Perry. A medical examination of the body showed that death had been sudden, that there had been paralysis of the involuntary muscles, and that the stomach, besides showing symptoms of alcoholic irritation, emitted a strong odour of chloroform. An inquest was held, and a verdict returned that B. F. Perry had died of congestion of the lungs caused by the inhalation of flame or chloroform. After lying in the mortuary for eleven days the body was buried.

In the meantime the Philadelphia branch of the Fidelity Mutual Life Association had received a letter from one Jephtha D. Howe, an attorney at St. Louis, stating that the deceased B. F. Perry was Benjamin F. Pitezel of that city, who had been insured in their office for a sum of ten thousand dollars. The insurance had been effected in Chicago in the November of 1893. Mr. Howe proposed to come to Philadelphia with some members of the Pitezel family to identify the remains. Referring to their Chicago branch, the insurance company found that the only person who would seem to have known Pitezel when in that city, was a certain H. H. Holmes, living at Wilmette, Illinois. They got into communication with Mr. Holmes, and forwarded to him a cutting from a newspaper, which stated erroneously that the death of B. F. Perry had taken place in Chicago.

On September 18 they received a letter from Mr. Holmes, in which he offered what assistance he could toward the identification of B. F. Perry as B. F. Pitezel. He gave the name of a dentist in Chicago who would be able to recognise teeth which he had made for Pitezel, and himself furnished a description of the man, especially of a malformation of the knee and a warty growth on the back of the neck by which he could be further identified. Mr. Holmes offered, if his expenses were paid, to come to Chicago to view the body. Two days later he wrote again saying that he had seen by other papers that Perry’s death had taken place in Philadelphia and not in Chicago, and that as he had to be in Baltimore in a day or two, he would run over to Philadelphia and visit the office of the Fidelity Life Association.

On September 20 the assiduous Mr. Holmes called at the office of the Association in Philadelphia, inquired anxiously about the nature and cause of Perry’s death, gave again a description of him and, on learning that Mr. Howe, the attorney from St. Louis, was about to come to Philadelphia to represent the widow, Mrs. Pitezel, and complete the identification, said that he would return to give the company any further help he could in the matter. The following day Mr. Jephtha D. Howe, attorney of St. Louis, arrived in Philadelphia, accompanied by Alice Pitezel, a daughter of the deceased. Howe explained that Pitezel had taken the name of Perry owing to financial difficulties. The company said that they accepted the fact that Perry and Pitezel were one and the same man, but were not convinced that the body was Pitezel’s body. The visit of Holmes was mentioned. Howe said that he did not know Mr. Holmes, but would be willing to meet him. At this moment Holmes arrived at the office. He was introduced to Howe as a stranger, and recognised as a friend by Alice Pitezel, a shy, awkward girl of fourteen or fifteen years of age. It was then arranged that all the parties should meet again next day to identify, if possible, the body, which had been disinterred for that purpose.

The unpleasant duty of identifying the rapidly decomposing remains was greatly curtailed by the readiness of Mr. Holmes. When the party met on the 22nd at the Potter’s Field, where the body had been disinterred and laid out, the doctor present was unable to find the distinctive marks which would show Perry and Pitezel to have been the same man. Holmes at once stepped into the breach, took off his coat, rolled up his sleeves, put on the rubber gloves, and taking a surgeon’s knife from his pocket, cut off the wart at the back of the neck, showed the injury to the leg, and revealed also a bruised thumb-nail which had been another distinctive mark of Pitezel. The body was then covered up all but the teeth; the girl Alice was brought in, and she said that the teeth appeared to be like those of her father. The insurance company declared themselves satisfied, and handed to Mr. Howe a cheque for 9,175 dollars, and to Mr. Holmes ten dollars for his expenses. Smith, the carpenter, had been present at the proceedings at the Potter’s Field. For a moment he thought he detected a likeness in Mr. Holmes to the man who had visited Perry at Callowhill Street on August 22 and gone upstairs with him, but he did not feel sure enough of the fact to make any mention of it.

In the prison at St. Louis there languished in the year 1894 one Marion Hedgspeth, serving a sentence of twenty years’ imprisonment for an audacious train robbery. On the night of November 30, 1891, the “‘Friscow express from St. Louis had been boarded by four ruffians, the express car blown open with dynamite, and 10,000 dollars carried off. Hedgspeth and another man were tried for the robbery, and sentenced to twenty years’ imprisonment. On October 9, 1894, Hegspeth{sic} made a statement to the Governor of the St. Louis prison, which he said he wished to be communicated to the Fidelity Mutual Life Association. In the previous July Hedgspeth said that he had met in the prison a man of the name of H. M. Howard, who was charged with fraud, but had been released on bail later in the month. While in prison Howard told Hedgspeth that he had devised a scheme for swindling an insurance company of 10,000 dollars, and promised Hedgspeth that, if he would recommend him a lawyer suitable for such an enterprise, he should have 500 dollars as his share of the proceeds. Hedgspeth recommended Jephtha D. Howe. The latter entered with enthusiasm into the scheme, and told Hedgspeth that he thought Mr. Howard “one of the smoothest and slickest” men he had ever known. A corpse was to be found answering to Pitezel’s description, and to be so treated as to appear to have been the victim of an accidental explosion, while Pitezel himself would disappear to Germany. From Howe Hedgspeth learnt that the swindle had been carried out successfully, but he had never received from Howard the 500 dollars promised him. Consequently, he had but little compunction in divulging the plot to the authorities.

It was realised at once that H. M. Howard and H. H. Holmes were the same person, and that Jephtha D. Howe and Mr. Holmes were not the strangers to each other that they had affected to be when they met in Philadelphia. Though somewhat doubtful of the truth of Hedgspeth’s statement, the insurance company decided to set Pinkerton’s detectives on the track of Mr. H. H. Holmes. After more than a month’s search he was traced to his father’s house at Gilmanton, N. H., and arrested in Boston on November 17.

Inquiry showed that, early in 1894, Holmes and Pitezel had acquired some real property at Fort Worth in Texas and commenced building operations, but had soon after left Texas under a cloud, arising from the theft of a horse and other dubious transactions.

Holmes had obtained the property at Fort Worth from a Miss Minnie Williams, and transferred it to Pitezel. Pitezel was a drunken “crook,” of mean intelligence, a mesmeric subject entirely under the influence of Holmes, who claimed to have considerable hypnotic powers. Pitezel had a wife living at St. Louis and five children, three girls–Dessie, Alice, and Nellie–a boy, Howard, and a baby in arms. At the time of Holmes’ arrest Mrs. Pitezel, with her eldest daughter, Dessie, and her little baby, was living at a house rented by Holmes at Burlington, Vermont. She also was arrested on a charge of complicity in the insurance fraud and brought to Boston.

Two days after his arrest Holmes, who dreaded being sent back to Texas on a charge of horse-stealing, for which in that State the punishment is apt to be rough and ready, made a statement to the police, in which he acknowledged the fraud practised by him and Pitezel on the insurance company. The body substituted for Pitezel had been obtained, said Holmes, from a doctor in New York, packed in a trunk and sent to Philadelphia, but he declined for the present to give the doctor’s name. Pitezel, he said, had gone with three of his children–Alice, Nellie and Howard–to South America. This fact, however, Holmes had not communicated to Mrs. Pitezel. When she arrived at Boston, the poor woman was in great distress of mind. Questioned by the officers, she attempted to deny any complicity in the fraud, but her real anxiety was to get news of her husband and her three children. Alice she had not seen since the girl had gone to Philadelphia to identify the supposed remains of her father. Shortly after this Holmes had come to Mrs. Pitezel at St. Louis, and taken away Nellie and Howard to join Alice, who, he said, was in the care of a widow lady at Ovington, Kentucky. Since then Mrs. Pitezel had seen nothing of the children or her husband. At Holmes’ direction she had gone to Detroit, Toronto, Ogdensberg and, lastly, to Burlington in the hope of meeting either Pitezel or the children, but in vain. She believed that her husband had deserted her; her only desire was to recover her children.

On November 20 Holmes and Mrs. Pitezel were transferred from Boston to Philadelphia, and there, along with Benjamin Pitezel and Jephtha D. Howe, were charged with defrauding the Fidelity Life Association of 10,000 dollars. Soon after his arrival in Philadelphia Holmes, who was never averse to talking, was asked by an inspector of the insurance company who it was that had helped him to double up the body sent from New York and pack it into the trunk. He replied that he had done it alone, having learned the trick when studying medicine in Michigan. The inspector recollected that the body when removed from Callowhill Street had been straight and rigid. He asked Holmes what trick he had learnt in the course of his medical studies by which it was possible to re-stiffen a body once the rigor mortis had been broken. To this Holmes made no reply. But he realised his mistake, and a few weeks later volunteered a second statement. He now said that Pitezel, in a fit of depression, aggravated by his drinking habits, had committed suicide on the third story of the house in Callowhill Street. There Holmes had found his body,carried it down on to the floor below, and arranged it in the manner agreed upon for deceiving the insurance company. Pitezel, he said, had taken his life by lying on the floor and allowing chloroform to run slowly into his mouth through a rubber tube placed on a chair. The three children, Holmes now stated, had gone to England with a friend of his, Miss Minnie Williams.

Miss Minnie Williams was the lady, from whom Holmes was said to have acquired the property in Texas which he and Pitezel had set about developing. There was quite a tragedy, according to Holmes, connected with the life of Miss Williams. She had come to Holmes in 1893, as secretary, at a drug store which he was then keeping in Chicago. Their relations had become more intimate, and later in the year Miss Williams wrote to her sister, Nannie, saying that she was going to be married, and inviting her to the wedding. Nannie arrived, but unfortunately a violent quarrel broke out between the two sisters, and Holmes came home to find that Minnie in her rage had killed her sister. He had helped her out of the trouble by dropping Nannie’s body into the Chicago lake. After such a distressing occurrence Miss Williams was only too glad of the opportunity of leaving America with the Pitezel children. In the meantime Holmes, under the name of Bond, and Pitezel, under that of Lyman, had proceeded to deal with Miss Williams’ property in Texas.

For women Holmes would always appear to have possessed some power of attraction, a power of which he availed himself generously. Holmes, whose real name was Herman W. Mudgett, was thirty-four years of age at the time of his arrest. As a boy he had spent his life farming in Vermont, after which he had taken up medicine and acquired some kind of medical degree. In the course of his training Holmes and a fellow student, finding a body that bore a striking resemblance to the latter; obtained 1,000 dollars from an insurance company by a fraud similar to that in which Holmes had engaged subsequently with Pitezel. After spending some time on the staff of a lunatic asylum in Pennsylvania, Holmes set up as a druggist in Chicago. His affairs in this city prospered, and he was enabled to erect, at the corner of Wallace and Sixty-Third Streets, the four-storied building known later as “Holmes Castle.” It was a singular structure. The lower part consisted of a shop and offices. Holmes occupied the second floor, and had a laboratory on the third. In his office was a vault, air proof and sound proof. In the bathroom a trap-door, covered by a rug, opened on to a secret staircase leading down to the cellar, and a similar staircase connected the cellar with the laboratory. In the cellar was a large grate. To this building Miss Minnie Williams had invited her sister to come for her wedding with Holmes, and it was in this building, according to Holmes, that the tragedy of Nannie’s untimely death occurred.


“Holmes Castle”

In hoping to become Holmes’ wife, Miss Minnie Williams was not to enjoy an exclusive privilege. At the time of his arrest Holmes had three wives, each ignorant of the others’ existence. He had married the first in 1878, under the name of Mudgett, and was visiting her at Burlington, Vermont, when the Pinkerton detectives first got on his track. The second he had married at Chicago, under the name of Howard, and the third at Denver as recently as January, 1894, under the name of Holmes. The third Mrs. Holmes had been with him when he came to Philadelphia to identify Pitezel’s body. The appearance of Holmes was commonplace, but he was a man of plausible and ingratiating address, apparent candour, and able in case of necessity to “let loose,” as he phrased it, “the fount of emotion.”

The year 1895 opened to find the much enduring Holmes still a prisoner in Philadelphia. The authorities seemed in no haste to indict him for fraud; their interest was concentrated rather in endeavouring to find the whereabouts of Miss Williams and her children, and of one Edward Hatch, whom Holmes had described as helping him in arranging for their departure. The “great humiliation” of being a prisoner was very distressing to Holmes.

“I only know the sky has lost its blue,
The days are weary and the night is drear.”

These struck him as two beautiful lines very appropriate to his situation. He made a New Year’s resolve to give up meat during his close confinement. The visits of his third wife brought him some comfort. He was “agreeably surprised” to find that, as an unconvicted prisoner, he could order in his own meals and receive newspapers and periodicals. But he was hurt at an unfriendly suggestion on the part of the authorities that Pitezel had not died by his own hand, and that Edward Hatch was but a figment of his rich imagination. He would like to have been released on bail, but in the same unfriendly spirit was informed that, if he were, he would be detained on a charge of murder. And so the months dragged on. Holmes, studious, patient, injured, the authorities puzzled, suspicions, baffled — still no news of Miss Williams or the three children. It was not until June 3 that Holmes was put on his trial for fraud, and the following day pleaded guilty. Sentence was postponed.

The same day Holmes was sent for to the office of the District Attorney, who thus addressed him: “It is strongly suspected, Holmes, that you have not only murdered Pitezel, but that you have killed the children. The best way to remove this suspicion is to produce the children at once. Now, where are they?” Unfriendly as was this approach, Holmes met it calmly, reiterated his previous statement that the children had gone with Miss Williams to England, and gave her address in London, 80 Veder or Vadar Street, where, he said, Miss Williams had opened a massage establishment. He offered to draw up and insert a cipher advertisement in the New York Herald, by means of which, he said, Miss Williams and he had agreed to communicate, and almost tearfully he added, “Why should I kill innocent children?”

Asked to give the name of any person who had seen Miss Williams and the children in the course of their journeyings in America, he resented the disbelief implied in such a question, and strong was his manly indignation when one of the gentlemen present expressed his opinion that the story was a lie from beginning to end. This rude estimate of Holmes’ veracity was, however, in some degree confirmed when a cipher advertisement published in the New York Herald according to Holmes’ directions, produced no reply from Miss Williams, and inquiry showed that no such street as Veder or Vadar Street was to be found in London.

In spite of these disappointments, Holmes’ quiet confidence in his own good faith continued unshaken. When the hapless Mrs. Pitezel was released, he wrote her a long letter. “Knowing me as you do,” he said, “can you imagine me killing little and innocent children, especially without any motive?” But even Mrs. Pitezel was not wholly reassured. She recollected how Holmes had taken her just before his arrest to a house he had rented at Burlington, Vermont, how he had written asking her to carry a package of nitro-glycerine from the bottom to the top of the house, and how one day she had found him busily removing the boards in the cellar.

The District Attorney and the Insurance Company were not in agreement as to the fate of the Pitezel children. The former still inclined to the hope and belief that they were in England with Miss Williams, but the insurance company took a more sinister view. No trace of them existed except a tin box found among Holmes’ effects, containing letters they had written to their mother and grandparents from Cincinnati, Indianapolis, and Detroit, which had been given to Holmes to dispatch but had never reached their destination. The box contained letters from Mrs. Pitezel to her children, which Holmes had presumably intercepted.

It was decided to make a final attempt to resolve all doubts by sending an experienced detective over the route taken by the children in America. He was to make exhaustive inquiries in each city with a view to tracing the visits of Holmes or the three children. For this purpose a detective of the name of Geyer was chosen. The record of his search is a remarkable story of patient and persistent investigation.

Alice Pitezel had not seen her mother since she had gone with Holmes to identify her father’s remains in Philadelphia. From there Holmes had taken her to Indianapolis. In the meantime he had visited Mrs. Pitezel at St. Louis, and taken away with him the girl, Nellie, and the boy, Howard, alleging as his reason for doing so that they and Alice were to join their father, whose temporary effacement was necessary to carry out successfully the fraud on the insurance company, to which Mrs. Pitezel had been from the first an unwilling party. Holmes, Nellie and Howard had joined Alice at Indianapolis, and from there all four were believed to have gone to Cincinnati. It was here, accordingly, on June 27, 1895, that Geyer commenced his search.

After calling at a number of hotels, Geyer found that on Friday, September 28, 1894, a man, giving the name of Alexander E. Cook, and three children had stayed at a hotel called the Atlantic House. Geyer recollected that Holmes, when later on he had sent Mrs. Pitezel to the house in Burlington, had described her as Mrs. A. E. Cook and, though not positive, the hotel clerk thought that he recognised in the photographs of Holmes and he three children, which Geyer showed him, the four visitors to the hotel.

They had left the Atlantic House the next day, and on that same day, the 29th, Geyer found that Mr. A. E. Cook and three children had registered at the Bristol Hotel, where they had stayed until Sunday the 30th.

Knowing Holmes’ habit of renting houses, Geyer did not confine his enquiries to the hotels. He visited a number of estate agents and learnt that a man and a boy, identified as Holmes and Howard Pitezel, had occupied a house No. 305 Poplar Street. The man had given the name of A. C. Hayes. He had taken the house on Friday the 28th, and on the 29th had driven up to it with the boy in a furniture wagon. A curious neighbour, interested in the advent of a newcomer, saw the wagon arrive, and was somewhat astonished to observe that the only furniture taken into the house was a large iron cylinder stove. She was still further surprised when, on the following day, Mr. Hayes told her that he was not going after all to occupy the house, and made her a present of the cylinder stove.

From Cincinnati Geyer went to Indianapolis. Here inquiry showed that on September 30 three children had been brought by a man identified as Holmes to the Hotel English, and registered in the name of Canning. This was the maiden name of Mrs. Pitezel. The children had stayed at the hotel one night. After that Geyer seemed to lose track of them until he was reminded of a hotel then closed, called the Circle House. With some difficulty he got a sight of the books of the hotel, and found that the three Canning children had arrived there on October 1 and stayed until the 10th. From the former proprietor of the hotel he learnt that Holmes had described himself as the children’s uncle, and had said that Howard was a bad boy, whom he was trying to place in some institution. The children seldom went out; they would sit in their room drawing or writing, often they were found crying; they seemed homesick and unhappy.

There are letters of the children written from Indianapolis to their mothers, letters found in Holmes’ possession, which had never reached her. In these letters they ask their mother why she does not write to them. She had written, but her letters were in Holmes’ possession. Alice writes that she is reading “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” She has read so much that her eyes hurt; they have bought a crystal pen for five cents which gives them some amusement; they had been to the Zoo in Cincinnati the Sunday before: “I expect this Sunday will pass away slower than I don’t know–Howard is two (sic) dirty to be seen out on the street to-day.” Sometimes they go and watch a man who paints “genuine oil paintings” in a shoe store, which are given away with every dollar purchase of shoes–“he can paint a picture in one and a half minutes, ain’t that quick!” Howard was getting a little troublesome. “I don’t like to tell you,” writes Alice, “but you ask me, so I will have to. Howard won’t mind me at all. He wanted a book and I got `Life of General Sheridan,’ and it is awful nice, but now he don’t read it at all hardly.” Poor Howard! One morning, says Alice, Mr. Holmes told him to stay in and wait for him, as he was coming to take him out, but Howard was disobedient, and when Mr. Holmes arrived he had gone out. Better for Howard had he never returned! “We have written two or three letters to you,” Alice tells her mother, “and I guess you will begin to get them now. She will not get them. Mr. Holmes is so very particular that the insurance company shall get no clue to the whereabouts of any member of the Pitezel family.

Geyer knew that from Indianapolis Holmes had gone to Detroit. He ascertained that two girls, “Etta and Nellie Canning,” had registered on October 12 at the New Western Hotel in that city, and from there had moved on the 15th to a boarding-house in Congress Street. From Detroit Alice had written to her grandparents. It was cold and wet, she wrote; she and Etta had colds and chapped hands: “We have to stay in all the time. All that Nell and I can do is to draw, and I get so tired sitting that I could get up and fly almost. I wish I could see you all. I am getting so homesick that I don’t know what to do. I suppose Wharton (their baby brother) walks by this time, don’t he? I would like to have him here, he would pass away the time a good deal.” As a fact little Wharton, his mother and sister Dessie, were at this very moment in Detroit, within ten minutes’ walk of the hotel at which Holmes had registered “Etta and Nellie Canning.”

On October 14 there had arrived in that city a weary, anxious-looking woman, with a girl and a little baby. They took a room at Geis’s Hotel, registering as Mrs. Adams and daughter. Mrs. Adams seemed in great distress of mind, and never left her room.

The housekeeper, being shown their photographs, identified the woman and the girl as Mrs. Pitezel and her eldest daughter Dessie. As the same time there had been staying at another hotel in Detroit a Mr. and Mrs. Holmes, whose photographs showed them to be the Mr. Holmes in question and his third wife. These three parties–the two children, Mrs. Pitezel and her baby, and the third Mrs. Holmes–were all ignorant of each other’s presence in Detroit; and under the secret guidance of Mr. Holmes the three parties (still unaware of their proximity to each other, left Detroit for Canada, arriving in Toronto on or about October 18, and registering at three separate hotels. The only one who had not to all appearances reached Toronto was the boy Howard.

In Toronto “Alice and Nellie Canning” stayed at the Albion Hotel.

They arrived there on October 19, and left on the 25th. During their stay a man, identified as Holmes, had called every morning for the two children, and taken them out; but they had come back alone, usually in time for supper. On the 25th he had called and taken them out, but they had not returned to supper. After that date Geyer could find no trace of them. Bearing in mind Holmes’ custom of renting houses, he compiled a list of all the house agents in Toronto, and laboriously applied to each one for information. The process was a slow one, and the result seemed likely to be disappointing.

To aid his search Geyer decided to call in the assistance of the Press. The newspapers readily published long accounts of the case and portraits of Holmes and the children. At last, after eight days of patient and untiring investigation, after following up more than one false clue, Geyer received a report that there was a house–No. 16 St. Vincent Street–which had been rented in the previous October by a man answering to the description of Holmes. The information came from an old Scottish gentleman living next door. Geyer hastened to see him. The old gentleman said that the man who had occupied No. 16 in October had told him that he had taken the house for his widowed sister, and he recognised the photograph of Alice Pitezel as one of the two girls accompanying him. The only furniture the man had taken into the house was a bed, a mattress and a trunk. During his stay at No. 16 this man had called on his neighbour about four o’clock one afternoon and borrowed a spade, saying that he wanted to dig a place in the cellar where his widowed sister could keep potatoes; he had returned the spade the following morning. The lady to whom the house belonged recognised Holmes’ portrait as that of the man to whom she had let No. 16.

At last Geyer seemed to be on the right track. He hurried back to St. Vincent Street, borrowed from the old gentleman at No. 18 the very spade which he had lent to Holmes in the previous October, and got the permission of the present occupier of No. 16 to make a search. In the centre of the kitchen Geyer found a trap-door leading down into a small cellar. In one corner of the cellar he saw that the earth had been recently dug up. With the help of the spade the loose earth was removed, and at a depth of some three feet, in a state of advanced decomposition, lay the remains of what appeared to be two children. A little toy wooden egg with a snake inside it, belonging to the Pitezel children, had been found by the tenant who had taken the house after Holmes; a later tenant had found stuffed into the chimney, but not burnt, some clothing that answered the description of that worn by Alice and Etta Pitezel; and by the teeth and hair of the two corpses Mrs. Pitezel was able to identify them as those of her two daughters. The very day that Alice and Etta had met their deaths at St. Vincent Street, their mother had been staying near them at a hotel in the same city, and later on the same day Holmes had persuaded her to leave Toronto for Ogdensburg. He said that they were being watched by detectives, and so it would be impossible for her husband to come to see her there.

But the problem was not yet wholly solved. What had become of Howard? So far Geyer’s search had shown that Holmes had rented three houses, one in Cincinnati, one in Detroit, and one in Toronto. Howard had been with his sisters at the hotels in Indianapolis, and in Detroit the house agents had said that, when Holmes had rented a house there, he had been accompanied by a boy. Yet an exhaustive search of that house had revealed no trace of him. Geyer returned to Detroit and again questioned the house agents; on being pressed their recollection of the boy who had accompanied Holmes seemed very vague and uncertain. This served only to justify a conclusion at which Geyer had already arrived, that Howard had never reached Detroit, but had disappeared in Indianapolis. Alice’s letters, written from there, had described how Holmes had wanted to take Howard out one day and how the boy had refused to stay in and wait for him. In the same way Holmes had called for the two girls at the Albion Hotel in Toronto on October 25 and taken them out with him, after which they had never been seen alive except by the old gentleman at No. 18 St. Vincent Street.

If Geyer could discover that Holmes had not departed in Indianapolis from his usual custom of renting houses, he might be on the high way to solving the mystery of Howard’s fate. Accordingly he returned to Indianapolis.

In the meantime, Holmes, in his prison at Philadelphia, learnt of the discovery at Toronto. “On the morning of the 16th of July,” he writes in his journal, “my newspaper was delivered to me about 8.30 a.m., and I had hardly opened it before I saw in large headlines the announcement of the finding of the children in Toronto. For the moment it seemed so impossible that I was inclined to think it was one of the frequent newspaper excitements that had attended the earlier part of the case, but, in attempting to gain some accurate comprehension of what was stated in the article, I became convinced that at least certain bodies had been found there, and upon comparing the date when the house was hired I knew it to be the same as when the children had been in Toronto; and thus being forced to realise the awfulness of what had probably happened, I gave up trying to read the article, and saw instead the two little faces as they had looked when I hurriedly left them–felt the innocent child’s kiss so timidly given, and heard again their earnest words of farewell, and realised that I had received another burden to carry to my grave with me, equal, if not worse, than the horrors of Nannie Williams’ death.”

Questioned by the district attorney, Holmes met this fresh evidence by evoking once again the mythical Edward Hatch and suggesting that Miss Minnie Williams, in a “hellish wish for vengeance” because of Holmes’ fancied desertion, and in order to make it appear probable that he, and not she, had murdered her sister, had prompted Hatch to commit the horrid deed. Holmes asked to be allowed to go to Toronto that he might collect any evidence which he could find there in his favour. The district attorney refused his request; he had determined to try Holmes in Philadelphia. “What more could, be said?” writes Holmes. Indeed, under the circumstances, and in the unaccountable absence of Edward Hatch and Minnie Williams, there was little more to be said.

Detective Geyer reopened his search in Indianapolis by obtaining a list of advertisements of houses to let in the city in 1894. Nine hundred of these were followed up in vain. He then turned his attention to the small towns lying around Indianapolis with no happier result. Geyer wrote in something of despair to his superiors: “By Monday we will have searched every outlying town except Irvington. After Irvington, I scarcely know where we shall go.” Thither he went on August 27, exactly two months from the day on which his quest had begun. As he entered the town he noticed the advertisement of an estate agent. He called at the office and found a “pleasant-faced old gentleman,” who greeted him amiably. Once again Geyer opened his now soiled and ragged packet of photographs, and asked the gentleman if in October, 1894, he had let a house to a man who said that he wanted one for a widowed sister. He showed him the portrait of Holmes.

The old man put on his glasses and looked at the photograph for some time. Yes, he said, he did remember that he had given the keys of a cottage in October, 1894, to a man of Holmes’ appearance, and he recollected the man the more distinctly for the uncivil abruptness with which he had asked for the keys; “I felt,” he said, “he should have had more respect for my grey hairs.”

From the old gentleman’s office Geyer hastened to the cottage, and made at once for the cellar. There he could find no sign of recent disturbance. But beneath the floor of a piazza adjoining the house he found the remains of a trunk, answering to the description of that which the Pitezel children had had with them, and in an outhouse he discovered the inevitable stove, Holmes’ one indispensable piece of furniture. It was stained with blood on the top. A neighbour had seen Holmes in the same October drive up to the house in the furniture wagon accompanied by a boy, and later in the day Holmes had asked him to come over to the cottage and help him to put up a stove. The neighbour asked him why he did not use gas; Holmes replied that he did not think gas was healthy for children. While the two men were putting up the stove, the little boy stood by and watched them. After further search there were discovered in the cellar chimney some bones, teeth, a pelvis and the baked remains of a stomach, liver and spleen.

Medical examination showed them to be the remains of a child between seven and ten years of age. A spinning top, a scarf-pin, a pair of shoes and some articles of clothing that had belonged to the little Pitezels, had been found in the house at different times, and were handed over to Geyer.

His search was ended. On September 1 he returned to Philadelphia.

Holmes was put on his trial on October 28, 1895, before the Court of Oyer and Terminer in Philadelphia, charged with the murder of Benjamin Pitezel. In the course of the trial the district attorney offered to put in evidence showing that Holmes had also murdered the three children of Pitezel, contending that such evidence was admissible on the ground that the murders of the children and their father were parts of the same transaction. The judge refused to admit the evidence, though expressing a doubt as to its inadmissibility. The defence did not dispute the identity of the body found in Callowhill Street, but contended that Pitezel had committed suicide. The medical evidence negatived such a theory. The position of the body, its condition when discovered, were entirely inconsistent with self-destruction, and the absence of irritation in the stomach showed that the chloroform found there must have been poured into it after death. In all probability, Holmes had chloroformed Pitezel when he was drunk or asleep. He had taken the chloroform to Callowhill Street as a proposed ingredient in a solution for cleaning clothes, which he and Pitezel were to patent. It was no doubt with the help of the same drug that he had done to death the little children, and failing the nitro-glycerine, with that drug he had intended to put Mrs. Pitezel and her two remaining children out of the way at the house in Burlington; for after his trial there was found there, hidden away in the cellar, a bottle containing eight or ten ounces of chloroform.

Though assisted by counsel, Holmes took an active part in his defence. He betrayed no feeling at the sight of Mrs. Pitezel, the greater part of whose family he had destroyed, but the appearance of his third wife as a witness he made an opportunity for “letting loose the fount of emotion,” taking care to inform his counsel beforehand that he intended to perform this touching feat. He was convicted and sentenced to death on November 2.

Previous to the trial of Holmes the police had made an exhaustive investigation of the mysterious building in Chicago known as “Holmes’ Castle.” The result was sufficiently sinister. In the stove in the cellar charred human bones were found, and in the middle of the room stood a large dissecting table stained with blood. On digging up the cellar floor some human ribs, sections of vertebrae and teeth were discovered buried in quicklime, and in other parts of the “castle” the police found more charred bones, some metal buttons, a trunk, and a piece of a watch chain.

The trunk and piece of watch chain were identified as having belonged to Miss Minnie Williams.

Inquiry showed that Miss Williams had entered Holmes’ employment as a typist in 1893, and had lived with him at the castle. In the latter part of the year she had invited her sister, Nannie, to be present at her wedding with Holmes. Nannie had come to Chicago for that purpose, and since then the two sisters had never been seen alive. In February in the following year Pitezel, under the name of Lyman, had deposited at Fort Worth, Texas, a deed according to which a man named Bond had transferred to him property in that city which had belonged to Miss Williams, and shortly after, Holmes, under the name of Pratt, joined him at Fort Worth, whereupon the two commenced building on Miss Williams’ land.

Other mysterious cases besides those of the Williams sisters revealed the Bluebeard-like character of this latterday castle of Mr. Holmes. In 1887 a man of the name of Connor entered Holmes’ employment. He brought with him to the castle a handsome, intelligent wife and a little girl of eight or nine years of age.

After a short time Connor quarrelled with his wife and went away, leaving Mrs. Connor and the little girl with Holmes. After 1892 Mrs. Connor and her daughter had disappeared, but in August, 1895, the police found in the castle some clothes identified as theirs, and the janitor, Quinlan, admitted having seen the dead body of Mrs. Connor in the castle. Holmes, questioned in his prison in Philadelphia, said that Mrs. Connor had died under an operation, but that he did not know what had become of the little girl.

In the year of Mrs. Connor’s disappearance, a typist named Emily Cigrand, who had been employed in a hospital in which Benjamin Pitezel had been a patient, was recommended by the latter to Holmes. She entered his employment, and she and Holmes soon became intimate, passing as “Mr. and Mrs. Gordon.” Emily Cigrand had been in the habit of writing regularly to her parents in Indiana, but after December 6, 1892, they had never heard from her again, nor could any further trace of her be found.

A man who worked for Holmes as a handy man at the castle stated to the police that in 1892 Holmes had given him a skeleton of a man to mount, and in January, 1893, showed him in the laboratory another male skeleton with some flesh still on it, which also he asked him to mount. As there was a set of surgical instruments in the laboratory and also a tank filled with a fluid preparation for removing flesh, the handy man thought that Holmes was engaged in some kind of surgical work.

About a month before his execution, when Holmes’ appeals from his sentence had failed and death appeared imminent, he sold to the newspapers for 7,500 dollars a confession in which he claimed to have committed twenty-seven murders in the course of his career. The day after it appeared he declared the whole confession to be a “fake.” He was tired, he said, of being accused by the newspapers of having committed every mysterious murder that had occurred during the last ten years. When it was pointed out to him that the account given in his confession of the murder of the Pitezel children was clearly untrue, he replied, “Of course, it is not true, but the newspapers wanted a sensation and they have got it.” The confession was certainly sensational enough to satisfy the most exacting of penny-a-liners, and a lasting tribute to Holmes’ undoubted power of extravagant romancing.

According to his story, some of his twenty-seven victims had met their death by poison, some by more violent methods, some had died a lingering death in the air-tight and sound-proof vault of the castle. Most of these he mentioned by name, but some of these were proved afterwards to be alive. Holmes had actually perpetrated, in all probability, about ten murders. But, given further time and opportunity, there is no reason why this peripatetic assassin should not have attained to the considerable figure with which he credited himself in his bogus confession.

Holmes was executed in Philadelphia on May 7, 1896. He seemed to meet his fate with indifference.

The motive of Holmes in murdering Pitezel and three of his children and in planning to murder his wife and remaining children, originated in all probability in a quarrel that occurred between Pitezel and himself in the July of 1894. Pitezel had tired apparently of Holmes and his doings, and wanted to break off the connection. But he must have known enough of Holmes’ past to make him a dangerous enemy. It was Pitezel who had introduced to Holmes Emily Cigrand, the typist, who had disappeared so mysteriously in the castle; Pitezel had been his partner in the fraudulent appropriation of Miss Minnie Williams’ property in Texas; it is more than likely, therefore, that Pitezel knew something of the fate of Miss Williams and her sister. By reviving, with Pitezel’s help, his old plan for defrauding insurance companies, Holmes saw the opportunity of making 10,000 dollars, which he needed sorely, and at the same time removing his inconvenient and now lukewarm associate. Having killed Pitezel and received the insurance money, Holmes appropriated to his own use the greater part of the 10,000 dollars, giving Mrs. Pitezel in return for her share of the plunder a bogus bill for 5,000 dollars. Having robbed Mrs. Pitezel of both her husband and her money, to this thoroughgoing criminal there seemed only one satisfactory way of escaping detection, and that was to exterminate her and the whole of her family.

Had Holmes not confided his scheme of the insurance fraud to Hedgspeth in St. Louis prison and then broken faith with him, there is no reason why the fraud should ever have been discovered. The subsequent murders had been so cunningly contrived that, had the Insurance Company not put the Pinkerton detectives on his track, Holmes would in all probability have ended by successfully disposing of Mrs. Pitezel, Dessie, and the baby at the house in Burlington, Vermont, and the entire Pitezel family would have disappeared as completely as his other victims.

Holmes admitted afterwards that his one mistake had been his confiding to Hedgspeth his plans for defrauding an insurance company–a mistake, the unfortunate results of which might have been avoided, if he had kept faith with the train robber and given him the 500 dollars which he had promised.

The case of Holmes illustrates the practical as well as the purely ethical value of “honour among thieves,” and shows how a comparatively insignificant misdeed may ruin a great and comprehensive plan of crime. To dare to attempt the extermination of a family of seven persons, and to succeed so nearly in effecting it, could be the work of no tyro, no beginner like J. B. Troppmann. It was the act of one who having already succeeded in putting out of the way a number of other persons undetected, might well and justifiably believe that he was born for greater and more compendious achievements in robbery and murder than any who had gone before him. One can almost subscribe to America’s claim that Holmes is the “greatest criminal” of a century boasting no mean record in such persons.

In the remarkable character of his achievements as an assassin we are apt to lose sight of Holmes’ singular skill and daring as a liar and a bigamist. As an instance of the former may be cited his audacious explanation to his family, when they heard of his having married a second time. He said that he had met with a serious accident to his head, and that when he left the hospital, found that he had entirely lost his memory; that, while in this state of oblivion, he had married again and then, when his memory returned, realised to his horror his unfortunate position. Plausibility would seem to have been one of Holmes’ most useful gifts; men and women alike — particularly the latter — he seems to have deceived with ease. His appearance was commonplace, in no way suggesting the conventional criminal, his manner courteous, ingratiating and seemingly candid, and like so many scoundrels, he could play consummately the man of sentiment.

The weak spot in Holmes’ armour as an enemy of society was a dangerous tendency to loquacity, the defect no doubt of his qualities of plausible and insinuating address and ever ready mendacity.

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1904: Zenon Champoux, French degenerate

Add comment May 6th, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1904, the state of Washington carried out its first execution under the auspices of a new law requiring that hangings be held in that state’s penitentiary in Walla Walla.*

Its subject was French-Canadian laborer Zenon Champoux, and his crime was as flamboyant as his moniker: publicly planting a knife in the forehead of a dance hall girl who did not return his affections.

The first man executed under the auspices of the Evergreen State, we admit, is a milestone that’s a bit on the smaller side.

But we think his name stands out admirably in the annals, especially paired with a characterization like the Seattle Star gave him: French degenerate.

“Zenon Champoux, French Degenerate” — it’s the scoundrel who’s rogering your girl, or else the branding on his designer condoms. On this date in 1904, it was just the guy at the end of his rope.

* Previously, hangings had been conducted by counties, in public. Laws removing them to the auspices of the state and behind the walls of a prison were in vogue at the time.

Washington went on to abolish the death penalty in 1913, only to reinstate it again in 1919.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,Milestones,Murder,Sex,USA,Washington

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2003: Guillermo Gaviria Correa and nine other FARC hostages

Add comment May 5th, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 2003, the Colombian military mounted a raid in an attempt to free 13 hostages of the narco-trafficking guerrilla organization FARC — causing the rebels to summarily execute their hostages. (Three survived.)

Most notable among the victims of what Colombian President Alvaro Uribe called “another massacre” in that country’s long-running civil war were two men:

Scion of a political family, Gaviria had become a notable exponent of nonviolence; he and Echeverri had been captured leading an unarmed, 1,000-person solidarity march in April of 2002.

It was part of the governor’s visionary (or quixotic) bid to transform his society.

As time passes, my confidence about the benefits of spreading and promoting nonviolence in Antioquia grows stronger. It is not about using nonviolence as a tool to try to transform FARC-EP attitudes. Before we can aim that high, it is absolutely necessary for the people of Antioquia to familiarize themselves with the concept of nonviolence and to adopt it, to the best of their abilities, as their own. We need nonviolence as a society to overcome our mistakes and transform the cruel reality suffered by so many in Antioquia. Here I have pondered about what kind of message I could offer as a leader. I came to the conclusion that the only message I want and can give is about the transforming power of nonviolence, its tremendous capacity to bring out the best in human beings, even in the worst of circumstances.

Peace activist Glenn D. Paige paid Gaviria the tribute of comparing him to Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, and nominated the governor for a posthumous Nobel Peace Prize.

The diary Gaviria kept during his year’s captivity, reflecting on his “journey toward nonviolent transformation,” has been published.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Activists,Borderline "Executions",Businessmen,Colombia,Cycle of Violence,Drugs,Execution,Executions Survived,Famous,History,Hostages,Martyrs,Mass Executions,No Formal Charge,Politicians,Power,Ripped from the Headlines,Shot,Summary Executions

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1677: Seven at Tyburn

3 comments May 4th, 2010 Headsman

Many an hour can be spent enjoying the Old Bailey Online site for the forgotten criminals of a bygone age.

May 4, 1677 takes us to Restoration England for a routine hanging of seven at Tyburn, who all but come to life with just the few words of the Ordinary’s account.

One of the other Four [Margaret Spicer] was Condemned for murthering her Bastard-Childe, which she most unnaturally kill’d and hid in her bed for some days, till the same was discovered by one that came to visit her. As she denied her murthering of it at the Bar, so she persisted in that negative to Master Ordinary and other Ministers since she received Sentence, alleadging that it was Stillborn; or at least, contracted its death as soon as ever it saluted the light, by an accidental fall; However, the Law, to prevent such presences which in all Cases of that kind might be made, obliging the woman immediately after to Cry out, and she failing therein, and as ’tis shrewdly apparent by Circumstance, was the principal Author of its destruction, she was condemned to die, and this day executed at Tyburn according to Sentence.

If you didn’t report your pregnancy, the infanticide presumption went against you. We’ve seen this elsewhere.

Meanwhile, the Dine siblings of Enfield got it in the neck for mutilating a girl who had spurned one of them, quite the spiteful little affair down in the servant-quarters.

Three others, as the Crime they suffered for was the first they were known to have committed; so was it so strange and heinous, as searce ever to have been done by any body but themselves: So that we may say, They died Presidents of Punishment, for a Crime unpresidented. These were the two Brothers and Sister of Enfield, who so barbarously mangled Jane King, to whom Robert, one of the Brothers, pretended Love; but after a long acquaintance, being Fellow-Servants together, she refused to have him: whereupon his treacherous Love turned to Hatred and Malice, instigated (as ’tis supposed) chiefly thereunto by this unhappy Sister, with whom and his Brother he lays a Plot to disfigure her; maliciously and enviously designing, that because she would not accept of him, they would render her so deformed, that she her self should not be acceptable to any other person. In pursuance whereof, on the 20 February last about 8 of the clock in the evening, Robert and Jane being only up, and their aged Master in bed, somealls Robert by his name at the back-door, whimmediatley opens; and then comes in the Sister and Brother, the later of whom seizes upon Jane and holds her, while the former barbarous Furcy cuts her Eye so lamentably that she has utterly lost the use of it; mangles her Nose in a dismal manner, insomuch that two bones were taken out of it; her Tongue she flit, and almost cut off both her Lips; and also gave her a wound and two slabs in the Neck, and several slashes on the Arm, Etc. And having dispatch’d this unheard of Cruelty, left her for dead, and went home; who being gone, Robert cries cut Murther and Thieves; and Neighbours coming in, presends to be knock’s down, Etc. but in pleas’d God Jane, after three or four days, recovered herand then declared who had abused her, andully proved the same at the Sessions; whereupon they were all Condemned according to the Statute in that Case made and provided.

Yet did they all persist in the denial of the Fact, after their Condemnation, even to the day of their Death: nor would all Perswasions or Admonitions of several Ministers that came to visit them, get any acknowledgement that they had any hand in it. Though on the Sunday they carried themselves very attentively in the Chappel, and a great part of the Sermon was to perswade the necessity of Confession in order to their Souls health, yet they could not be prevailed upon; only on the Munday Margaret seemed a little unusually troubled, and delared, That she had something lay upon her Conscience, and desired she might speak with a Minister in private; whereupon a Minister was sent for, who took her aside, and hoping then she would have made an ingenuous Discovery, press’d her with all imaginable Arguments, but to no purpose: For she told him, she knew nothing of it; whereupon he as’d her, What it was she said troubled her, and lay upon her Conscience, for which she defired to speak with a Minister by her self: To which,all the answer that he could get was, That she had, when she said so, something in her head, but now she had forgot it.

[Note: lacking access to an original, I’ve erred on the side of caution in tidying up this text from the obviously squirrelly copy at the Old Bailey Online. Hopefully it’s still readable despite dicey scanning and 17th century language.]

This is an interesting case, seemingly prosecuted under the Coventry Act* against deliberate maiming — contra the claim elsewhere in these pages that this legislation did not claim a juridical victim until 1722.

* “It was the first President of Punishment on that most necessary Statute against cutting off Noses, disfiguring and maiming his Majesties Subjects … it was a premeditated act of Malice to render her deform’d and unfit for any bodies.”

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Abortion and Infanticide,Attempted Murder,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,History,Mass Executions,Murder,Public Executions,Sex,Women

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