Executed Today’s Third Annual Report: Third Time Lucky

Of executions, hangings, murders, and bombs people now write and speak as they used to speak about the weather. Children play at hangings. …

Yes, this executioner at first hand knows that he is an executioner, and that he does wrong, and is, therefore, hated, and he is afraid of men, and I think this consciousness and this fear before men atone for at least a part of his guilt.

His guilt? CG art (c) Eugene Fokin, used with permission.

But you all … you indirect participators in the iniquities perpetrated every day — do not seem to feel your guilt, nor the shame your participation in those horrors would evoke. It is true that, like the executioner, you fear men … You are all afraid; but, unlike that executioner, you are afraid, not because you know you are doing evil, but because you think other people do evil. …

for me the horrible work goes on of these hangmen, at first enlisted with difficulty, but now no longer so loathing their work; for me exist these gallows, with well-soaped cords, from which hang women, children, and peasants; for me exists this terrible embitterment of man against his fellow-man.


Somehow, since our Halloween 2007 launch, the grim furies have scourged this blog along for three full years of fresh ghoulish content every single one of 1,096 straight days. Talk about rigor mortis.

Like the executioner, we’re usually all business here. But Halloween is a special occasion, and even we can let our hair down on our anniversary.


The blog traffic stats go up and to the right, just like they’re supposed to, now averaging well over 5,000 pageviews daily, with more than 700 feed subscribers. (Pageviews are up more than 50% since last year’s annual report, even though advertising rates haven’t budged. What a bargain!) Residents of 187 different countries have visited Executed Today in the past year.

In all, there were nearly 1.6 million pageviews from last Nov. 1 to the present — as against 1.1 million pageviews cumulative for the first two years of this site’s existence. (For all that growth, the single-day traffic record is still held by a day in the site’s penurious first year: that one time Andrew Sullivan linked me. If Sully doesn’t come through with another link, however, traffic growth trajectory suggests he won’t hold that distinction much longer.)

The site’s Twitter feed has grown more than 150%, to 470-some followers … although given the meteoric growth of Twitter itself, I’m not sure how much weight to put on that. If you do follow me on Twitter, you’ll get about 6-12 tweets daily about executions and connected subjects of crime, violence, and history, and no tweets about how drunk I am or that the circle line is running late or the last time I moved my bowels. Like I said: proper executioners are all business.

Where Are You?

The top 20 countries in terms of traffic are basically the usual suspects; the shuffling on this list is pretty minor year to year. The U.S. was over half the pie last year, and lost some of that ground; Poland and New Zealand both had disproportionate increases in their traffic.

United States
United Kingdom
New Zealand

There was some sort of Slavic renaissance on the site in Year III; in addition to Poland, visits from Russia, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Serbia, Macedonia, Croatia, and Ukraine also surged far above the baseline traffic growth metrics.

The average for pages viewed per visit (2.1), time spent on site (2:29) and “bounce rate” (69% of visitors who leave without clicking a second page) all remained essentially level; given that one might expect the many new visitors to the site to be more casually engaged than returning regular readers, I take that as a positive.

How’d You Get Here?

The site’s historic 60-30-10 ratio of search traffic-referral links-direct lookups stayed pretty much the same, with image searches specifically accounting for over 8% of the overall traffic.

Day by day, much of the daily surge and undertow in traffic is noticeably (to me) accounted for by search hits, and these often tip me to some bit of breaking news. The most popular search remains “executed today”; “executedtoday.com” is also in the top 10, and I’ve also filtered out a couple of site searches explicitly invoking this domain’s Ted Bundy discussion (more on that in a moment). As can be readily observed, there are a couple of searches for specific methods of execution (specifically: nasty methods of execution), but most of the leading search terms are lookups on specific individuals. (Executed individuals … except for one search on an executioner’s name, that of English hangman Albert Pierrepoint.)

thomas cromwell execution botched
samuel doe execution video
soraya manutchehri
thomas cromwell
michael x
samuel doe
albert pierrepoint
ling chi
zhang minsheng
john albert taylor
ruth snyder
botak chin
karl hermann frank
drawn and quartered
botched executions
hamida djandoubi
charles starkweather
broken on the wheel
jenny wanda barkmann
masha bruskina
maggie dela riva
lois nadean smith
du’a khalil aswad video
hannah ocuish
mohammed bijeh
karl hermann frank execution video
khristian oliver
samuel doe execution
peter stubbe

What’d You See When You Got Here?

This has become one of my favorite parts of the annual report. With nearly 1,100 daily entries now posted along with meta-content, I’m going to extend it from last year’s top 25 to the top 40 all-time posts.

1. Jan. 24, 1989: Ted Bundy, psycho killer

Now with more traffic than the next three posts combined, this 3,000-plus comment living thread on one of America’s most infamous serial killers just keeps going strong.

It’s not the #1 post every single day; news-driven search hits or traffic to the day’s anniversary posts not infrequently surpass it. But it’s almost always one of the top two or three, and it’s the default number one when nothing else is cooking.

Many thanks to author Kevin M. Sullivan and the many other posters on this thread for making it one of the site’s most captivating pages.

2. Sep. 9, 1990: Samuel K. Doe

The former Liberian dictator, famously captured and tortured to death on video, which many an Internet denizen comes a-searchin’. (I have only a truncated and relatively PG version of that video.)

3. July 21, 1944: Col. Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg

He tried to kill Hitler. More importantly for his search prominence, he was cinematically portrayed by Tom Cruise.

4. Aug. 14, 1936: Rainey Bethea, America’s last public hanging

Holding steady from fourth place last year, this post’s traffic is almost unnaturally consistent: 20 to 60 hits a day from people who mostly run searches trying to find out when America’s last public hanging took place.

(Also of note: the execution was overseen by a female sheriff, although she ended up delegating the actual execution to male hangmen while she remained off the scaffold.)

5. July 4, 1946: Eleven from the Stutthoff concentration camp

The “Jenny Wanda Barkmann” from the top search hits list above was a comely Nazi guard, publicly strangled to death on the gallows on this date.

6. July 28, 1540: Thomas Cromwell

As noted above, “thomas cromwell execution botched” is your search term winner for the year.

7. May 15, 1916: Jesse Washington lynched after conviction

Not a literal execution, though the connection between lynching and the death penalty as varietals of communal violence is uncomfortably close — especially when, as in this case, the outrages of the Negro upon the virtues of southern white women are at issue.

This post’s images of Jesse Washington’s blackened remains are among the more unpleasant illustrations on the site.

8. May 22, 1946: Karl Hermann Frank

Again, the appeal of multimedia. Frank’s hanging in Prague, by the old Austro-Hungarian “pole hanging” method, was filmed. He earned his death in part for one of the war’s most notorious atrocities, the Lidice massacre.

9. Dec. 23, 1948: Hideki Tojo and six other Japanese war criminals

The wartime Prime Minister of Imperial Japan.

10. Apr. 10, 1905: Fou Tchou-Li, by a thousand cuts

People come here looking for the ghastly photos of China’s old “slow slicing” execution method, that so exalted the likes of Bataille.

11. June 19, 1953: Julius and Ethel Rosenberg – Cold War cause celebre
12. June 6, 1997: Henry Francis Hays – White supremacist whose lynching of a random black youth cost the Klan its headquarters
13. Apr. 7, 2007: Du’a Khalil Aswad – Her “honor killing” stoning to death was filmed
14. Sep. 10, 1977: Hamida Djandoubi – The last drop for the French guillotine
15. July 8, 1999: Allen Lee “Tiny” Davis – So rotund, Florida built him a new electric chair
16. Dec. 11, 1962: Arthur Lucas and Ronald Turpin – These guys knew there was a good chance they’d be the last men hanged in Canada.
17. Nov. 28, 1950: James Corbitt, the hangman’s mate – Those search hits on “Albert Pierrepoint” find this story of the famed executioner hanging a former customer of Pierrepoint’s pub
18. Oct. 9, 1967: Ernesto “Che” Guevara – You might have heard of him.
19. Jan. 31, 1945: Private Eddie Slovik – The last U.S. soldier executed for desertion
20. Nov. 29, 1941: Zoya Kosmodemyanskaya – Famed teenage anti-Nazi partisan
21. Feb. 17, 2004: Cameron Todd Willingham – He’s the reason Texas Gov. Rick Perry will never be president.
22. July 19, 2005: Mahmoud Asgari and Ayaz Marhoni – Photographs of these two youths going fearfully to their deaths focused attention on the plight of homosexuals in Iran.
23. June 25, 1959: Charles Starkweather – This seminal heartland spree killer has his own Springsteen song.
24. Dec. 13, 1945: The Belsen war criminals – Another in the continuing “hot Nazi prison babes hanged” series
25. Sep. 13, 1946: Amon Goeth – The villainous concentration camp commandant in Schindler’s List
26. November, 1942: Partisans by the Sonderbataillon Dirlewanger – A graphic photo (with no specific known attribution date) of German units executing prisoners on the bloody eastern front
27. May 25, 1948: Witold Pilecki – Polish Home Guard agent who had once infiltrated Auschwitz, but ran afoul of the Communists after World War II
28. Jan. 12, 1928: Ruth Snyder and Judd Gray – The inspirations for Double Indemnity, doubly notable because a reporter secretly snapped a blurry picture of Ruth Snyder in the electric chair.
29. Jan. 9, 1923: Edith Thompson and Frederick Bywaters – An English love triangle; Thompson’s controversial, and botched, hanging was said to have contributed to the suicide of her executioner.
30. Aug. 8, 1944: Eight July 20 plotters – The aforementioned Stauffenberg was actually executed on the night of the coup by another German officer trying to cover his own complicity. These eight co-conspirators met a more official end: tortured by the Gestapo, abused in the People’s Court, and strangled on piano wire.
31. May 16, 1975: Michael X – Black nationalist hanged in Trinidad for burning to death a Tory M.P.’s daughter.
32. May 17, 1972: The rapists of Maggie dela Riva – Callow sons of the elite electrocuted for raping a well-known Filipina actress.
33. Oct. 26, 1941: Masha Bruskina, Kiril Trus and Voldia Shcherbatshevich – This post has graphic photos of partisans publicly executed by the Wehrmacht in Minsk
34. Feb. 1, 1968: Nguyen Van Lem – The prisoner summarily shot through the head by South Vietnamese Gen. Nguyen Ngoc Loan, in one of the Vietnam War’s most unforgettable images
35. Sep. 27, 1996: Dr. Mohammad Najibullah – The Soviet-sponsored former Afghan head of state, strung up on a traffic pylon when the Taliban took power.
36. July 15, 1977: Princess Misha’al bint Fahd al Saud – Nineteen-year-old Saudi royal adulteress
37. May 10, 1994: John Wayne Gacy – Democratic machine operative, amateur harlequin, serial killer
38. Aug. 14, 2004: Dhananjoy Chatterjee – The only person hanged in India in the past generation … though he doesn’t seem destined to be the last.
39. Apr. 28, 1945: Benito Mussolini, his mistress, and his aides – Afterwards, their bodies were strung up for public abuse in Milan
40. Mar. 28, 1757: Robert Francois Damiens – You’ll read a ghastly description of his quartering in Foucault’s Discipline and Punish. Appropriately for Foucault (though not mentioned by him) Casanova also helped his friend get busy while watching the execution.

I mention this every year, because it bears mentioning every year: there’s a striking traffic advantage for executions of a more recent vintage. I have fortuitous search placement on Tudor politician Thomas Cromwell — that fact surprises me somewhat — and since he’s recently been one of the main characters on a hit TV show, he gets plenty of search love.

After that, you need to get all the way down to #40 to find the next post about someone who was executed before the 20th century … even though just a bit over half the site’s content concerns pre-20th century executions. By my count, World War II alone accounts for 13 posts in the top 40, and 20 more of those entries are postwar executions. The same effect is also visible in the search terms.

The Stefaneschi Triptych: Christ, flanked by the executions of St. Peter and St. Paul.

Guest Content

Again, guest content to the tune of nearly a month was generously supplied by various friends of the site. Copious thanks to all of the following:

Anthony Vaver

Caitlin GD Hopkins

David Carson


Elizabeth M. Hull


Jeffrey Fisher

John Temple

Jonathan Shipley

Meaghan Good


Robert Elder

Sarah Chan

I’m also grateful for these expert interviews:

This poster of the triangular Tyburn gallows is available from Madame Talbot’s Victorian & Gothic Lowbrow.

Other Highlights

Random. This little innovation actually got introduced last year and remains one of the most popular bits on the site. Every thirtieth pageview or so is from someone just dialing up a random execution — about 53,000 for the year.

Okay, this was pretty cool.

Legibility. If the text on the site is a bit easier on the eyes lately, it’s thanks to Ramon Garcia‘s pro bono CSS work.

Milestone. There’s no shortage of material, but I’m a little surprised my constitution has held out long enough to make it to 1,000-plus consecutive days. We take it one day at a time, coach.

Killed the Radio Star. My post on Arkadi Berdichevsky, a Soviet economist purged in the 1930s who also happened to be the father of conservative intellectual Jon Utley, actually prompted Mr. Utley to get in touch with me and led to an appearance on Antiwar Radio.

Metadeath. This post to mark the odometer rolling over to 2010 actually has more clicks than any posts save Bundy and Doe. Given three years of content in the reservoir and the way list posts are catnip to clickthroughs … there may be a few more of these in the offing.

Editor’s Picks. These posts aren’t necessarily big traffic-earners or major award-winners. But — to me, at least — they stood out somewhat from the everyday, as unusually interesting.

  • Ali Resti and Sayyid Husain, to placate America Great moments in American foreign policy: “When you are dealing with a government like Persia … if you ask them to execute a Moslem for the death of a Christian … if they do it, you accomplish more for the prestige of your country than if they paid a million.”
  • Four for the oil of Chad. Natural resource politics: scary.
  • The time when America went to war to protect the P.O.W. status of foreign terrorists. Or the time when trying unlawful combatants outside the Geneva Conventions outraged Britain and the U.S.
  • The Slaves of the Zong: cold-blooded summary “executions” of slaves when they became more profitable dead than alive.
  • Robert Kett, rebelling against the landlords’ enclosures of common lands that marked the dawn of capitalism. There’s more on enclosures in the hanging of these 19th century poachers
  • Aesop, of the fables. He’s supposed to have been executed by Delphians by hurling off a rock … for stinginess.
  • Young Goethe’s family was involved in the case of Susanna Margaretha Brandt, an infanticide who might have inspired the Gretchen character in his Faust
  • Joshua Tefft, the only person drawn and quartered in (what is now) the U.S.A. … for being too friendly with the neighboring Indians.
  • Mary Carleton, a 17th century adventuress whose manipulation of identity and celebrity is downright postmodern.
  • William Williams, the last hanged in Minnesota — a story also bound up in the move from public to secretive executions late at night and behind prison walls.
  • The Amboyna Massacre, in which Dutch colonial authorities in Indonesia waterboarded English prisoners into confessing to a fantastical terrorist plot, then executed them en masse
  • Jacques de Molay, the last Templar Grand Master, historical conspiracy theory nexus
  • Mehmed Kemal, executed by defeated Ottoman Turkey for the Armenian genocide, as it tried to make enough amends for the recent First World War to survive. (It didn’t.)
  • The Tour de Nesle affair saw princesses and knights with an excessive investment in romantic love set up the Hundred Years War.
  • Caryl Chessman, death row author and lightning rod for death penalty proponents and opponents alike.
  • Italian national heroes Cesare Battisti and Fabio Filzi — lavishly photographed martyring themselves to Austria-Hungary.
  • The first major war crimes trials of World War II took place in 1943, in the USSR … and those hanged as a result of the Krasnodar trials were not German soldiers, but alleged Soviet collaborators.
  • A mass execution Ivan the Terrible carried out at the height of his oprichnina terror.
  • Valery Sablin, the misunderstood inspiration for The Hunt for Red October.
  • Maharajah Nandakumar, a nasty little judicial assassination in colonial India that helped set the scene for a more orderly Empire.
  • Elizabeth Martha Brown, a disturbingly sexy hanging witnessed by young go-getter Thomas Hardy — and arguably an inspiration for his novel Tess of the D’Urbervilles.
  • Neptune, an African in Suriname whose butchery was vividly recorded by John Gabriel Stedman.
  • Roux de Marsilly, a hook to the Man in the Iron Mask
  • Gasim, the character Peter O’Toole executes just before taking Aqaba in Lawrence of Arabia
  • Thomas Nash, controversially renditioned to the British by the Federalists in 1799
  • A montage of cultural artifacts generated by Sacco and Vanzetti
  • A notorious mass impaling by Vlad the Impaler
  • All the entries in the Executions by Effigy themed set, a truly strange old practice
  • The Babington Plot, busted by Queen Elizabeth’s spymaster Walsingham
  • Mehdi Hashemi, who exposed the Iran-Contra scandal
  • “The Rand … never again saw a significant white mineworkers’ strike” after South Africa hanged C.C. Stassen in 1922

… topical for year three, we are obliged to mention

And, because third time lucky is scarcely guaranteed — more like a guideline, or wishful thinking — we might also direct you to an older post noting Thomas Egan: 3 tries, 2 ropes, 1 innocent man.

On this day..

1492: Sir Nicholas de Mimsy-Porpington, Nearly Headless Nick

(Thanks to Elizabeth M. Hull for the guest post. -ed.)

Post-mortem resident of Gryffindor House, Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, Hogsmeade, U.K.

A minor character in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter saga, Nearly Headless Nick remains one of the most memorable. Executed — badly — on Halloween of 1492, Sir Nicholas de Mimsy-Porpington became the ghost of Gryffindor House. The school has about 20 resident ghosts: the Grey Lady (Helena Ravenclaw) and the Bloody Baron of Slytherin House died violently as well, in a murder-suicide.

Rowling says that her editor suggested that she cut a ballad Mimsy-Porpington wrote about himself from The Chamber of Secrets. In the song, the ghost claimed to have been executed for “a mistake any wizard could make,” a “piffling error,” a case of wizardry gone wrong. Asked by Lady Grieve (otherwise unknown) to straighten her teeth, Mimsy-Porpington seems to have given her a tusk. “They” imprisoned the piffler immediately, though he cried all night that he could fix his mistake, and his beheading followed the next morning.

Unfortunately for Mimsy-Porpington, his was not the only incompetence: “they’d mislaid the rock/Where they usually sharpened the axe”! The “cack-handed twit” of a headsman said “this may sting a bit” to the gibbering wizard, and swung the axe in the air. Alas, unable to sharpen the blade, the executioner was reduced to bestowing numerous blows: “But oh the blunt blade! No difference it made,” the ghost sang,

My head was still definitely there.
The axeman he hacked and he whacked and he thwacked,
“Won’t be too long,” he assured me,
But quick it was not, and the bone-headed clot
Took forty-five goes ’til he floored me.

(The full ballad is here and here; the original handwritten version can be seen here.)

After repeated strokes of the edgeless axe, Mimsy-Porpington finally expired. On festival occasions, he re-enacts his near-beheading, a show quite popular with the Hogwarts student body (Prisoner of Azkaban, p. 159).

However, the bone-headed, cloddish headsman was unable to completely behead the wizard. As Ron Weasly notes, the ghost is merely nearly headless.

Nick, as played in the Harry Potter films by John Cleese. Rowling’s own original sketch of Nearly Headless Nick is here.

While he gets a great deal of pleasure from entertaining Hogwarts residents by swinging “his whole head . . . off his neck and . . . onto his shoulder as if it was on a hinge” (Sorceror’s Stone, p. 124), his condition limits his access to the dizziest heights of post-mortem society. Beheading was an aristocratic execution, meant to bring a swift death to the privileged, those able to hunt legally in their lifetime. In the afterlife, the beheaded aristocrats have established a “Headless Hunt” Club, and have blackballed Mimsy-Porpington, who misses their entrance requirements by that much: “‘half an inch of skin and sinew holding my neck on.'” Unable to participate in Club sports like “Horseback Head-Juggling and Head Polo,” Mimsy-Porpington is denied admission into the elite society (Chamber of Secrets, p. 124).

Sadly, their scorn for his crippling condition is not limited to exclusion from their company.

Mimsy-Porpington’s five hundredth Deathday anniversary party, held on Halloween 1992, welcomes hundreds of ghosts from as far away as Kent to a feast of rotten fish, putrid, “maggoty haggis,” and a tombstone cake with grey icing, while an orchestra of 30 musical saws plays waltzes. The Deathday Boy’s speech is interrupted by the members of the Headless Hunt: “Sir Properly Decapitated-Podmore” begins a game of Head Hockey, sending his own head sailing past the humiliated Mimsy-Porpington as he tries to address his guests (Chamber of Secrets, p. 132-7).

Somehow the courageous Gryffindor ghost overcomes this diabolical heads-up-manship and several months as a petrified cloud to live a useful afterlife, helping Harry many times. Most significantly, in the final pages of The Order of the Phoenix, a traumatized and grieving Harry turns to Mimsy-Porpington, hoping to discover a way to keep his dead friend and guardian Sirius Black alive. “‘You’re dead,'” Harry says, “‘But you’re still here, aren’t you? … People can come back, right? As ghosts. They don’t have to disappear completely.'” Mimsy-Porpington gently tells Harry that he can only “‘walk palely'” where his living self once trod, “‘neither here nor there,'” hovering between life and death for fear of the unknown. However, Black risked his life joyously and died laughing; he will not linger between death and life. Harry must live on without him.

There may be historical precedent for Mimsy-Porpington’s death in the botched execution of James Scott, Duke of Monmouth (1685), when the notorious Jack Ketch took five blows to kill the rebel, and finally had to use a knife to sever the last “skin and sinew” connecting the head to the corpse. Monmouth’s hairstyle in portraits from the late 1600s resembles that drawn by Rowling in her sketch of Nearly Headless Nick, although that sketch shows a beard style from the early 1600s, nearly 70 years earlier. Moreover, the ghost enters Harry Potter’s life wearing an Elizabethan neck ruff and says that he has not eaten in nearly 400 years, implying a death in the late 1500s.

In spite of this wibbly-wobbly timeline, Mimsy-Porpington’s deathdate establishes the firm chronology of Rowling’s series: the five hundredth anniversary of his death in 1492 would fall in 1992; therefore the events of Chamber of Secrets (published in 1997) must occur in 1992. The dating of the series is confirmed five books later by the tombstones of Harry’s parents, who died on Halloween Day, 1981 (Deathly Hallows, p. 328). For J.K. Rowling, death, the last enemy — not life — marks the measure of this world’s time.

On this day..

2008: Greg Wright, still fighting for exoneration

Two years on from his execution in Texas this date in 2008, the website FreeGregWright.com still bears its namesake’s now-hopeless case for exoneration.

Wright’s wife Connie (the woman on the right) and their friend Bente Hjortshøj released this photo of Greg Wright 15 minutes after execution “to show the world the cruel and unusual punishment and its horrible consequences.”

Wright and another homeless man, John Adams, were taken in by a generous 52-year-old widow named Donna Vick. Vick paid for her charity with her life … but who was the killer?

Adams fingered Wright, but Wright always insisted that Adams killed her. Late-arriving DNA evidence appeared to back Wright. So did too-late-to-matter confessions by Adams. (Adams, for his part, was also convicted for capital murder; each man was separately tried on the theory that he was the murderer and the other the bystander.)

The disputed facts of this case are a muddier affair that don’t readily admit a slam-dunk exoneration. An episode of the Dallas DNA television series looked at Wright’s case and disappointed Wright’s supporters with its unfavorable view of the subject’s case.

Wright, nevertheless, maintained his innocence from the execution gurney.

John Adams lied. He went to the police and told them a story. He made deals and sold stuff to keep from going to prison. I left the house, and I left him there. My only act or involvement was not telling on him. John Adams is the one that killed Donna Vick. I took a polygraph and passed. John Adams never volunteered to take one. … I was in the bathroom when [Adams] attacked [Vick]. I am deaf in one ear and I thought the T.V. was up too loud. I ran in to the bedroom. By the time I came in, when I tried to help her, with first aid, it was too late. The veins were cut on her throat. He stabbed her in her heart, and that’s what killed her. I told John Adams, “turn yourself in or hit the high road.” I owed him a favor because he pulled someone off my back. I was in a fight downtown. Two or three days later he turned on me. I have done everything to prove my innocence. Before you is an innocent man.

The victim’s son — for whom little ice was cut by Wright’s admitted failure to summon medical help for the victim, or to turn in the alleged killer Adams — complained that the statement was “the same thing we’ve got since day one, each of them blaming it on the other one.”

Former congresswoman Cynthia McKinney witnessed the execution, taking a break from her Green Party presidential bid.

One of the crime scene investigators in this case, Eric George Rosenstrom, is now himself wanted for murder.

On this day..

1268: Conradin of Swabia

On this date in 1268, 16-year-old boy-king Conradin was beheaded in Naples with his best friend.

This short-lived son of German king Conrad IV inherited his call on the purple at the age of 26. 26 months.

While the infant king worked on his ABC’s in Swabia, different regents tried to keep his Sicily and Jerusalem thrones warm in the far-flung empire.

Knowing an opportunity when he saw it, Conradin’s uncle and “regent” Manfred usurped him in Sicily, tipping over the first domino in a peninsular political chain that would fell both relatives. With Manfred’s accession, the rival power of the papacy now faced an active military strongman at its doorstep — and it, in turn, sponsored French noble Charles of Anjou to oppose, and eventually overthrow, Manfred.

By the time all this played out, Conradin was, if not exactly a seasoned man of the world, at least old enough to hear his voice cracking and start noticing girls. By the standards of medieval Europe, that was plenty old enough to press his injured rights in battle.

Accordingly, Conradin — Corradino, to the Italians — led Hohenstaufen boots down the boot to reclaim Sicily. No dice.

His captor’s attitude was summed up in the sentiment, Conradi vita, Caroli mors — “Conrad’s life is Charles’s death,” somewhat doubtfully ascribed to the counsel of Pope Clement IV — so when you think about it, it was no more than self-defense to cut short that vita. And his buddy’s, too, since the scaffold was already hired for the day.

Conradin of Swabia and Frederick of Baden Being Informed of Their Execution in Prison in Naples, by Goethe buddy Johann Heinrich Wilhelm Tischbein. Did either try the Sicilian Defence?

He turns to clasp with longing arms his friend,
And turning, sees the fatal blow descend,
Then presses with his lips the severed head,
Last greeting of the dying to the dead.
One quivering flash, a shock that is not pain,
And those he parted death unites again.
So perished Conradin, but legends tell
That as the trenchant blade descending fell,
An eagle, that, unseen by human eyes,
Had poised aloft, down swooping from the skies,
For one short instant hovered o’er the slain,
And dyed his pinions with a crimson stain,
Then wildly shrieked, and upward soaring sped
To witness for the blood unjustly shed.

-Tribute in purple poetry by William John Rous (Here’s a more prose-y review of Conradin’s campaign and demise)

This upward-soaring, crimson-pinioned raptor saw off the Hohenstaufen dynasty of the Holy Roman Empire.

In the unstable years that followed, as rival princes and factions jockeyed for influence, there’d be some serious nostalgia for the bygone Hohenstaufens. But there is opportunity as well as peril in change, and though it may be that this fractious realm was neither Holy, nor Roman, nor an Empire, it emerged from its interregnum with its first Habsburg ruler — of many.

What’s left of Corradino di Svevia (and Frederick of Baden) lies entombed at a Neapolitan church, watched over by a monumental 19th century marble sculpture of the youth.

On this day..

1941: Twenty Red Army officers

Top to bottom: Proskurov, Rychagov, Shtern, and Smushkevich.

“Quantity has a quality all its own.”


The aphoristic Uncle Joe doomed Soviet officers in both quantity and quality on this date in 1941, shooting 20 Soviet officers at the very moment when Mother Russia could have used them most.

This wouldn’t seem like the ideal time for a purge, but old habits are hard to break.

As the Wehrmacht closed in on Moscow, these prisoners had been evacuated to the Volga city of Kuybyshev (today, Samara). In this, they were already treated more courteously than some.

But any semblance of consideration for these fallen brass — to say nothing of bourgeois indulgences like due process — went out the window when an order arrived from Lavrenty Beria:

“Investigation to be stopped, all to be executed by firing squad without delay.”

They were.

Those “all” included:

Many of this day’s victims were rehabilitated after Stalin fell.

Cold comfort, perhaps, but for their survivors there was bloodier satisfaction: the personal order Beria gave to execute them was in turn used against Beria when he was purged.

It’s a bit tangential, but here‘s an interesting interview with one of their contemporaries in Soviet combat aviation, who managed to survive those terrible years (despite being “taken out to be shot on three occasions” while a POW in Spain). There are some pictures of the planes these men would have used in this thread of a Spanish-language military forum.

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1659: The first two Boston Martyrs

October 27 is International Religious Freedom Day, dating to the execution this date in 1659 of Quakers Marmaduke Stephenson and William Robinson on Boston Commons. They were two of the four Boston Martyrs, Quakers whose necks were stretched in Massachusetts for failing to either keep quiet or stay out of town.

(Fellow Quaker Mary Dyer, perhaps the more famous martyr, was led out to execution with Stephenson and Robinson but reprieved at the last moment. Her time was still some months away.)

As Puritans had fled C-of-E persecution earlier in the 17th century, Quakers migrated to the New World with Cromwell‘s Puritan ascendancy.

And in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, the old dissidence had become the new orthodoxy — as described by the (obviously partisan) Horatio Rogers. (Via)

In June, 1659, William Robinson, a merchant of London, and Marmaduke Stephenson, a countryman of the east pan of Yorkshire, “were moved by the Lord,” in Quaker phrase, to go from Rhode Island to Massachusetts to bear witness against the persecuting spirit existing there; and with them went Nicholas Davis of Plymouth Colony, and Patience Scott of Providence, Rhode Island, a girl of about eleven years of age … During their incarceration Mary Dyer was moved of the Lord to go from Rhode Island to visit the prisoners, and she too was arrested and imprisoned. On September 12, 1659, the Court banished the four adults from Massachusetts upon pain of death

… On October 8, within thirty days of her banishment, Mary Dyer with other Rhode Island Quakers went to Boston, …where she was again arrested and held for the action of the authorities. Five days later William Robinson and Marmaduke Stephenson, who had been travelling about spreading their doctrines through Massachusetts and Rhode Island since their release from prison, also went to Boston to look the bloody laws in the face, in the words of the Quaker chronicler; and they too were arrested and cast into prison. …

The issue was now clearly made between Quaker and Puritan. The Quaker defied the unjust Puritan laws, and dared martyrdom. Dare the Puritan authorities inflict it?

On October 19 the three prisoners were brought before Governor Endicott and the Assistants, and demand having been made of them — Why they came again into that jurisdiction after having been banished from it upon pain of death if they returned? — they severally declared that the cause of their coming was of the Lord and in obedience to him. The next day they were again brought before the magistrates, when the Governor called to the keeper of the prison to pull off their hats, which having been done, he addressed them substantially as follows: “We have made many laws and endeavored in several ways to keep you from among us, but neither whipping nor imprisonment, nor cutting off ears, nor banishment upon pain of death, will keep you from among us. We desire not your death.” Notwithstanding which, he immediately added: “Hearken now to your sentence of death.” … When the Governor ceased speaking, however, Stephenson lifted up his voice in this wise: “Give ear, ye magistrates, and all who are guilty, for this the Lord hath said concerning you, who will perform this promise upon you, that the same day that you put his servants to death shall the day of your visitation pass over your heads, and you shall be cursed forevermore, the Lord of Hosts hath spoken it; therefore in love to you all take warning before it be too late, that so the curse might be removed; for assuredly if you put us to death, you will bring innocent blood upon your own heads, and swift destruction will come upon you.” …

Great influence was brought to bear to prevent the execution of the sentences. Governor Winthrop of Connecticut appeared before the Massachusetts authorities, urging that the condemned be not put to death. He said that he would beg it of them on his bare knees that they would not do it. … Governor Endicott, the Rev. John Wilson, and the whole pack of persecutors, however, seemed to thirst for blood; and it was determined that somebody must die.

The 27th of October, 1659, was fixed for the triple execution and elaborate preparations, for those days, were made for it. Popular excitement ran high, and the people resorted to the prison windows to hold communication with the condemned, so male prisoners were put in irons, and a force was detailed, in words of the order, “to watch with great care the towne, especially the prison.”…

The eventful day having arrived, Captain Oliver and his military guard attended to receive the prisoners. The marshal and the jailer brought them forth, the men from the jail, and Mary Dyer from the House of Correction. They parted from their friends at the prison full of joy, thanking the Lord that he accounted them worthy to suffer for his name and had kept them faithful to the end. The condemned came forth hand in hand, Mary Dyer between the other two, and when the marshal asked, “Whether she was not ashamed to walk hand in hand between two young men,” for her companions were much younger than she, she replied, “It is an hour of the greatest joy I can enjoy in this world. No eye can see, no ear can hear, no tongue can speak, no heart can understand, the sweet incomes and refreshings of the spirit of the Lord which now I enjoy.” The concourse of people was immense, the guard was strong and strict, and when the prisoners sought to speak the drums were caused to be beaten.

The method of execution was extremely simple in those days. A great elm upon Boston Common constituted the gallows. The halter having been adjusted round the prisoner’s neck, he was forced to ascend a ladder affording an approach to the limb to be used for the fatal purpose, to which limb the other end of the halter was attached. Then the ladder was pulled away, and the execution, though rude, was complete.

The prisoners took a tender leave of one another, and William Robinson, who was the first to suffer, said, as he was about to be turned off by the executioner, ‘I suffer for Christ, in whom I lived, and for whom I will die.” Marmaduke Stephenson came next, and, being on the ladder, he said to the people, “Be it known unto all this day, that we suffer not as evil-doers, but for conscience sake.”

Next came Mary Dyer’s turn. Expecting immediate death, she had been forced to wait at the foot of the fatal tree, with a rope about her neck, and witness the violent taking off of her friends. With their lifeless bodies hanging before her, she was made ready to be suspended beside them. Her arms and legs were bound, and her skirts secured about her feet; her face was covered with a handkerchief which the Rev. Mr. Wilson, who had been her pastor when she lived in Boston, had loaned the hangman. And there, made ready for death, with the halter round her neck, she stood upon the fatal ladder in calm serenity, expecting to die….

Just then an order for a reprieve, upon the petition of her son all unknown to her, arrives. The halter is loosed from her neck and she is unbound and told to come down the ladder. She neither answered nor moved. In the words of the Quaker chronicler, “she was waiting on the Lord to know his pleasure in so sudden a change, having given herself up to dye.” The people cried, “Pull her down.” So earnest were they that she tried to prevail upon them to wait a little whilst she might consider and know of the Lord what to do. The people were pulling her and the ladder down together, when they were stopped, and the marshal took her down in his arms, and she was carried back to prison. . .

It was a mere prearranged scheme, for before she set forth from the prison it had been determined that she was not to be executed, as shown by the reprieve itself, which reads as follows: “Whereas Mary Dyer is condemned by the Generall Court to be executed for hir offences, on the petition of William Dier, hir sonne, it is ordered that the sajd Mary Dyer shall have liberty for forty-eight howers after this day to depart out of this jurisdiction, after which time, being found therein, she is forthwith to be executed, and in the meane time that she be kept a close prisoner till hir sonne or some other be ready to carry hir away within the aforesajd tyme; and it is further ordered, that she shall he carrjed to the place of execution, and there to stand upon the gallowes, with a rope about her necke, till the rest be executed, and then to returne to the prison and remajne as aforesaid.

Mary Dyer once again returned from exile the following year, and was hanged in June 1660.

The hours were numbered, however, for New England Puritans in their most cartoonishly obnoxious form. Upon the restoration of the monarchy in the mother country, an edict forbidding the death penalty for Quakerism closed the doors to the Boston Martyrs club.

An Account of the Sufferings of Marmaduke Stephenson is available free on Google books.

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1978: Seventeen officers in Somalia

Seventeen army officers were shot this day on the outskirts of Mogadishu for attempting to overthrow Somali dictator Siad Barre.

“The executions were carried out by by a firing squad formed of soldiers of the armed forces and were witnessed by thousands of people from all areas of Mogadishu,” said Mogadishu radio.

The abortive April 9 coup attempt seems to have been precipitated by Somalia’s ill-fated intervention in neighboring Ethiopia’s Ogaden region, a bloody little Cold War sideshow that saw both the U.S. (from Ethiopia, to Somalia) and Soviet Union (from Somalia, to Ethiopia) switch sides. Some of the officers concerned feared that Siad would come a-purgin’ after the last Somali forces slunk home on March 15, 1978.

The condemned (per this source) were:

  • Col Mohamed Sheikh Osman “Cirro”
  • Maj Siad Mohamed Jama
  • Maj Ibrahim Mohamed Hersi
  • Maj Siad Jama Nur
  • Capt Mohamed Ahmed Yusuf Aganeh
  • Capt Abdisalan Elmi Warsame
  • Capt Bashir Abshir Isa
  • Capt Abdillahi Hasan Nur
  • Lt Abdi Osman Ugas
  • Lt Abdirahman Maalin Bashir
  • Lt Adan Warsame Abdillahi
  • Lt Abdillahi Mahamud Guled
  • Lt Mohamed Abdullahi Husein (Gorod)
  • Lt Abdulwahab Ahmed Hashim
  • Lt Abdulqadir Gelle Omar
  • Sgt Farah Mohamed Halwo
  • Director Abdulqafar Warsame Abdilleh

But they’re perhaps most memorable for a coup participant not among their number, Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed, who fled to Kenya and founded from exile the Somali Salvation Democratic Front, eventually one of the principal entities resisting the Barre regime. Ahmed served as President of Somalia from 2004 to 2008, but his government was unable to gain control of the notoriously fractious state or to end Somalia’s ongoing civil war.

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1769: Nicolas de Lafreniere and four others for the Louisiana Rebellion

On this date in 1769, five French Creoles were shot in New Orleans for a revolt the previous year against a Spanish takeover.

This date’s story begins with the French King Louis XV getting his French clock cleaned in the French and Indian War. This conflict blew an ill wind all over Francophone North America, much of which was taken by the British. Result: a quarter-millennium later, this blog is in English.

Even what France kept, she did not keep. In a secret pact, France ceded to wartime ally Spain “the country known as Louisiana, as well as New Orleans and the island in which the city is situated.”

This projection onto New World colonists of Old World diplomatic horse-trading was rife with potential hostility among the traded horses. In this instance, Louisianans were widely dismayed when they were finally informed that they’d become Spaniards.

When they did get the memo — and Louis XV declined to reconsider — they launched the Louisiana Rebellion of 1768, expelling the new Spanish govenror Antonio de Ulloa.*

These weren’t mere rabble who showed Ulloa “insubordination … a sense of liberty and independence,” but elites of French New Orleans. Nicolas de Lafreniere was the attorney general.

“The name of Lafreniere deserves rank with those of foremost American patriots,” Americans later reckoned. O’Reilly’s reputation did not fare as well in the patriotic literature, but he perhaps had the best of the law.

Between a rock and a hard place, the leftover French adjutant Charles-Philippe Aubry refused to support the rebels, but also refused to fire on fellow Frenchmen. Meanwhile, Ulloa refused to provide his credentials to the uppity colonists. Louis XV refused to receive the delegations sent to implore him to keep Louisiana.

All these refuseniks found the matter adjudicated by immigrant Irish officer Alejandro O’Reilly, plucked out of Cuba to replace Ulloa and lay down the law. He spoke softly when he landed, but the amnesty he offered was followed a few months later by the surprise arrest of the chief rebels.

Lafreniere, Joseph Milhet, Jean-Baptiste Noyan, Pierre Caresse, and Pierre Marquis were ordered hanged on this date. Noyan, nephew of the city’s founder and a young man just married, was offered his pardon, but melodramatically refused.

It was found that there was no hangman in the colony, so the condemned prisoners were ordered to be shot. When the day of execution came, hundreds of people left the city. Those who could not leave went into their houses, closed the doors and windows and waited in an agony of sickening dread to hear the fatal shots. Only the tramping of soldiers broke the deathlike stillness which brooded over the crushed and helpless city. At three o’clock on a perfect October afternoon in 1769, the condemned men were led to the Spanish barracks. Lafreniere, it is said, gave the order to fire. A volley of muskets broke out on the still air, and five patriots went to their death, — the first Louisianians to give their blood for the cause of freedom.

A History of Louisiana

The details and historiography of this event are the subject of this 146-page master’s thesis. (pdf)

Whether or not all that stuff about Louisiana planters as freedom-loving patriots trod down by the barbarous Spanish has any real merit to it, that’s the way they’ve been memorialized.

Lafreniere Park in Metairie, La. — home of anti-death penalty VIP Sister Helen Prejean — is named for Nick Lafreniere.

When next visiting the Louisiana State House, keep an eye out for this day’s victims on the frieze to the right of the main entrance. And when next visiting New Orleans, keep an ear out for the ghost of the priest that buried them.

* Ulloa was also a scientist and gave his name to the Ulloa Halo, a “physical illusion consisting of a white luminous ring or arch that can sometimes be seen in mountainous regions, typically in foggy weather, while facing an area opposite the Sun.”

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1943: Leonard Siffleet, beach beheading

On this date in 1943, Australian World War II commando Leonard Siffleet was beheaded on Aitape Beach in Papua New Guinea, along with two Ambonese, H. Pattiwal and M. Reharing

A photograph of the Japanese soldier Yasuno Chikao an instant before he strikes off Siffleet’s head was taken from the body of a Japanese casualty later in the war. Published in Life magazine, it became one of the war’s most iconic photos.

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1895: Not Almighty Voice

On October 22, 1895, Cree warrior Almighty Voice was arrested for the considerable crime of killing a cow without the right permit. When a white guard japed that workmen were “erecting a scaffold from which you will be hanged next morning” — actually, they were putting up a building — it set off one of the longest and bloodiest manhunts in Saskatchewan history.

Almighty Voice took the prospect of having his neck stretched this date seriously enough to break out of prison the night of October 22-23.

A week later, a Mountie tried to arrest Almighty Voice and was shot dead for his trouble. From a spurious criminal complaint that likely would not have been pursued, the specter of the gallows had sent Almighty Voice into wanted-outlaw status.

For a year and a half he mostly avoided detection, and if the other Cree on his reservation had knowledge of his whereabouts, the government’s $500 reward was not enough to induce them to supply it.

In May 1897, Almighty Voice and two fellow-travelers were finally caught in a shootout. The Cree did just fine in this exchange, but two more Mounties and (for some reason) a postmaster were not so lucky.

The next day, the Mounties turned cannon on the Indians’ position, finally killing the three of them in the bombardment — or else inducing them to kill themselves.

Nineteen months on, seven men were dead on account of our guard’s ill-chosen bit of gallows “humor.” Hardy-har-har. But Almighty Voice remains a legendary name in Saskatchewan.

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