Archive for February, 2011

1790: Thomas de Mahy, Marquis de Favras

Add comment February 19th, 2011 Headsman

On this date in 1790, Thomas de Mahy, Marquis de Favras, became a penal milestone: the first French noble executed without class distinction from commoners.

At least he made history.

The scion of an ancient and penurious noble line, Favras was trying to make a different kind of history: he’d hitched onto a plot of the future Louis XVIII to reverse the still-infant French Revolution and rescue the king and queen from captivity in the Tuileries.

The royal couple were ultimately destined to escape this palatial dungeon only to the guillotine.

But in Mahy’s day, it was possible to dream of counterrevolution. And that terrifying machine of the revolution hadn’t even been invented.

For that matter, the machinery of revolutionary justice had also not been born; this was Lafayette‘s year, the revolution in its moderate phase.

It was ancien regime jurists of the Chatelet who were here appointed to judge the enemies of the nation. Having just acquitted the guy who commanded monarchist forces in Paris on Bastille Day, these establishment magistrates proceeded to throw the revolutionary left a bone by condemning Favras to the democratic capital expiration of … hanging. (Back in the good old days, he would have had the right to a beheading. Plus ça change.)

The crowd was said to be quite enthusiastic.


“Thomas de Mahy, Marquis of Favras Making Honourable Amends before Notre-Dame,” engraving by Pierre-Gabriel Berthault (French link).

Little less interested in Favras’s elimination — he was executed the day after sentence — were his fellow conspirators and other sympathetic members of the royalist party. (Future-Louis XVIII hurriedly washed his hands of the scheme.) These were quite pleased to suppress any wider exploration of

the project that this lost child of royalist enthusiasm had formed in the interest of the royal family. Among those participating in this project, but with a cowardice that is well known, were persons that an important consideration prevented from naming at the time.*

You’ve got to look forward, not back.

Despite the mob scene surrounding him as he carried his damning information to the grave, Favras had the sang-froid to remark upon being handed a copy of the order for his execution, “I see that you have made three spelling mistakes.”

“It can be said,” wrote Camille Desmoulins, “that all the aristocrats have been hung through him.”

And since they did such a metaphorically comprehensive job through this single unfortunate, it’s no wonder that Favras was the only aristocrat executed for counterrevolutionary activity during the entire first three years of the Revolution.*

* Barry Shapiro, “Revolutionary Justice in 1789-1790: The Comité des Recherches, the Châtelet, and the Fayettist Coalition,” French Historical Studies, Spring 1992.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous Last Words,France,Gallows Humor,Hanged,History,Milestones,Nobility,Power,Public Executions,Soldiers,Treason

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1957: Walter James Bolton, the last hanged in New Zealand

11 comments February 18th, 2011 Headsman

New Zealand got itself permanently out of the execution business after hanging Walter Bolton this date in 1957 for the murder of his wife.

The 68-year-old farmer was condemned after his wife finally succumbed to a year-long bout with some mysterious recurring ailment — and the post-mortem revealed long-term arsenic poisoning. Since Bolton turned out to have been having an affair with his wife’s sister, the pieces just fell right into place.

Jurors found these circumstances credible enough to stretch Bolton’s neck, but there’s the small problem that Walter Bolton himself also tested for arsenic poisoning.

The defense argued that the farm’s wells must have soaked up the poison from sheep dip.

But if you like your wrongful executions more sinister than dunderheaded, you might turn a wary eye to that adulterous sister-in-law, Florence Doherty, who committed suicide a year after Bolton hanged. This 2001 Investigate magazine argues (beginning on p. 24 of the pdf) that Doherty may have been a serial arsenic poisoner.

(Bolton’s hanging was also botched, to complete the official dog’s breakfast.)

Whether or not Bolton was rightly accused, nothing along the lines of a public scandal over the case triggered death penalty abolition in New Zealand.

It was rather the First World’s collctive mid-20th century move away from capital punishment. Various abolition efforts building in the 1950’s finally led to a 1961 free vote on the matter, in which ten members of the conservative National Party broke party ranks to eliminate the death penalty for all ordinary crimes. (Decades later, a Labour government also eliminated the death penalty for treason; New Zealand has only ever hanged one person for that crime.)

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Botched Executions,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Milestones,Murder,New Zealand,Sex,Wrongful Executions

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1944: Jean Cavailles, philosopher-mathematician

Add comment February 17th, 2011 Headsman

“A philosopher-mathematician loaded with explosives, lucid and reckless, resolute without optimism. If that’s not a hero, what is a hero?”

Georges Canguilhem

On this date in 1944, French intellectual Jean Cavaillès was shot at Arras for his role in the French Resistance.

The university lecturer had been called up as France mobilized against Germany, and captured in the ensuing German blitz.

Escaping, he started a subversive newspaper, was appointed to the Sorbonne, got captured again, escaped again, made it to London, and returned to occupied France to direct a sabotage campaign.

This “intellectual who loved explosives” was finally captured for good in the summer of 1943 along with his handler (and future French Foreign Minister) Christian Pineau.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,France,History,Intellectuals,Occupation and Colonialism,Power,Shot,Terrorists,Torture,Wartime Executions

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1939: The only triple execution in Manitoba

11 comments February 16th, 2011 Headsman

On this date in 1939, the Canadian province of Manitoba carried out at Headingley Gaol the only triple execution in its history.

Peter Korzenowski and William Kanuka hanged side by side just after midnight that February 16, while their accomplice Dan Prytula waited 14 minutes for his turn on the gallows.

Less than a year before, drunk on moonshine, the trio beat and kicked 81-year-old Anna Cottick to death on her Dauphin-area farm in an attempt to plunder the place of a rumored $1,000. In fact, they only found twenty-three bucks.

According to an article that appeared on the regrettably extinct Manitoba’s Buried History site,

The process of finding enough corroborating evidence to obtain murder convictions was the stuff of modern crime dramas.

As soon as the Royal Canadian Mounted Police arrived at the Cottick farm, members noticed fresh tire tracks entering and leaving the yard. They were tracked three miles west to within 150 yards of Kanuka’s residence, and from there to the Gilbert Plains home of Prytula’s sister. The tire marks were a perfect match to the treads on Prytula’s 1929 Ford. It was confiscated and, while casts were taken of its treads, Prytula was arrested and his blood-stained clothes, boots and three .32 calibre bullets were seized and sent to the RCMP crime lab for testing.

As one group of police officers were arresting Prytula and Korzenowski, another searched the Cottick residence for additional evidence. Almost immediately they noticed what appeared to be fingerprints on the glass smashed by the assailants. Fragments were sent to experts in Winnipeg, along with a window frame and piece of wall where the bullets fired by Korzenowski and Prytula lodged.

The RCMP also searched the residence and yard of Korzenowski, located a few hundred yards from where Kanuka had been staying. There they found the revolvers used in the break-ins, hidden in a pile of stones. Korzenowski was promptly arrested, and three days later he and his two friends were part of an identification line-up paraded in front of the hospital beds of the Cotticks.*

To top all that off, they bugged the men’s jail cell with a dictograph and snared them in several incriminating conversations. Representative remark: the lawyers are so expensive, “No wonder one has to go robbing.”

* Anna’s 91-year-old husband survived the home invasion.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Canada,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,Murder,Notable Sleuthing,Pelf,Theft

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1688: Philip Standsfield

2 comments February 15th, 2011 Headsman

Oh Gentlemen, see, see dead Henrys wounds,
Open their congeal’d mouthes, and bleed afresh.
Blush, blush, thou lumpe of fowle Deformitie:
For ’tis thy presence that exhales this blood
From cold and empty Veines where no blood dwels.
Thy Deeds inhumane and unnaturall,
Provokes this Deluge most unnaturall.

Lady Anne Neville in Shakespeare’s Richard III

There long persisted superstition* of ancient vintage that the wounds of a murder victim will bleed in the presence of the murderer.**

This date in 1688 saw the execution in Edinburgh of one Philip Standsfield (sometimes Stansfield or even Standfield) for parricide, his conviction being secured in part by the supposed accusation of his father’s corpse.

The prodigal firstborn of James Standsfield was an incorrigible scoundrel, and the state had a considerable circumstantial case to the effect that said scoundrel finally popped the old man to prevent disinheritance. (It also appeared that he’d tried to do it other times over the years.)

Circumstantial evidence is nice.

But how about some forensic evidence to really cinch a conviction? No DNA evidence here in the 17th century, so maybe something a little more … supernatural?


From A True Relation of a Barbarous Bloody Murther etc., available here.

The King’s Advocate insisted — over the objections of a defense attorney that “it was a superstitious observation, founded neither upon law nor reason” — that the corpse’s having bled on Philip Standsfield but none of the others in his party simultaneously attempting to move it “he must ascribe … to the wonderful Providence of God, who in this manner discovers murder.”

Divine forensics. That’s even better than the arson evidence Texas used to kill Cameron Willingham.

And it had the same result, to wit,

the said Philip Standsfield to be taken upon Wednesday next, being the 15th of February instant, to the Market-cross of Edinbrugh, and there, betwixt two and four o’clock in the afternoon, to be hanged on a gibbet till he be dead, and his tongue to be cut out and burnt upon a scaffold, and his right hand to be cut off and affixed to the east port of Haddingtoun, and his body to be carried to the Gallowlie betwixt Leith and Edinburgh, and there to be hanged up in chains; and ordains his name, fame, memory, and honours to be extinct, his arms to be riven forth and delete out of the books of arms …†

Well, you get the idea. Executed Today would like to apologize to the dempster of Edinburgh for keeping Philip Standsfield’s name, fame, and memory alive.

In our defense, we are hardly the only ones: this is thought to be the last time that Scottish law employed the bleeding-corpse “test”.

* Some other instances of purported “bleeding at the touch” may be perused here.

** In a 1927 piece in the Journal of the American Institute of Criminal Law and Criminology, Canadian jurist William Renwick Riddell says this folk belief “was wide spread and is not dead yet” and offers in a footnote (perhaps by way of explaining his interest) that “when at the Bar, I was once offered such evidence by my client; but I declined to use it.”

† The execution was botched, and the gibbeted body illicitly pulled down and tossed in a ditch — which is where the elder Standsfield’s had been discovered.

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Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Botched Executions,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Milestones,Murder,Notable Sleuthing,Public Executions,Scotland,The Supernatural,Wrongful Executions

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1554: David van der Leyen and Levina Ghyselius, Anabaptist martyrs

Add comment February 14th, 2011 Headsman

On this date in 1554, Anabaptists David van der Leyen and Levina Ghyselius were burned at the stake in Ghent.*

Looks like it hurt.


In the year 1554, there was imprisoned at Ghent, in Flanders, for following Christ and living according to God’s commandments, a young brother named David, who, when examined, freely confessed his faith. Being asked what he thought of the sacrament, David said, that he considered it nothing else than idolatry. Then a priest said to him, “Friend, you err greatly, that you so readily confess your faith, for it will cost you your life, if you do not change your mind in time.” Thereupon David sweetly replied, “I am ready to shed my blood for the name of Christ, even though it should be here in this place; for God is my salvation, who will keep me, and preserve me from all evil.” The priest said, “It will not be as good as though you were put to death secretly here in this place; but you will be burnt publicly at the stake, for an everlasting reproach.” He was then brought into the court, where he was condemned to death, and his sentence was read, namely, that he had fallen from the true faith into heresy, and was therefore, according to the imperial edict, sentenced to be strangled and burned. David said, “No one will ever be able to prove by the Scriptures, that the faith for which I must now die is heresy.”

There was also sentenced to death with him a woman named Levina, who rather forsook, not only her six dear children, but also her temporal life, than her dear Lord and Bridegroom Jesus Christ. Arriving on the scaffold, David attempted to kneel down in order to offer up his prayer to God, but he was prevented, and they were immediately driven away to the stakes, standing at which, David said to Levina, “Rejoice, dear sister; for what we suffer here is not to be compared with the eternal good that awaits us.” (Rom. 8:18) When about to offer up their sacrifice, both exclaimed, “Father, into thy hands do we commend our spirits.” A little bag of gunpowder was tied to each of them, whereupon they were strangled and burned. But there happened a manifest miracle of God; for though they were completely burned, and the fire was as good as extinguished, David was seen to move his head, so that the people exclaimed, “He still lives.” The executioner seized the fork, and thrust it three times into his bowels, so that the blood flowed out; yet even after this he was still seen to move, hence, the executioner threw a chain around his neck, and bound him to the stake, and thus broke his neck.

Thus these two valiantly fought their way through, firmly trusting in God, who did not let them be confounded, since they had firmly built their building upon the only foundation; wherefore they shall never perish, but abide forever.

Martyrs Mirror

* The very birthplace of the then-sitting Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V.

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Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Arts and Literature,Belgium,Burned,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,God,Habsburg Realm,Heresy,History,Martyrs,Mature Content,Public Executions,Religious Figures

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1892: Two Georgian bandits, witnessed by Stalin

7 comments February 13th, 2011 Headsman

On this date in 1892, two outlaws were hanged (and a third spared at the last moment) in Gori, Georgia — part of the tsarist Russian Empire.

Josef Djughashvili, the future Stalin, was a teenager when he saw an 1892 public hanging in Gori.

The most noteworthy executioner present on this occasion was not on the scaffold, but in the audience: a 14-year-old student at an orthodox church school named Joseph Djugashvili. You know him by his later, steely revolutionist alias: Stalin.

This precocious, ferocious youth attended the public hanging with school mates to whom he was already a natural leader.

He and his friends sympathized with the doomed Caucasians, so insouciant at being strung up by the tsarist oppressor: conversing after the gruesome spectacle, Djugashvili would maintain that the men had not been consigned to hell, for they had suffered enough in the present.

But this boy was not made for theologizing; though he proceeded to seminary school in Tiflis — the best education prospect for an impoverished family — he disappeared thence into the life of professional revolutionary outlawry.

The recent (and well-received) biography Young Stalin recaptures this scene from Joseph Djugashvili’s youth.

The condemned men had stolen a cow and, in the ensuing pursuit, had killed a policeman. But the boys learned that the criminals were actually just three “peasants who had been so oppressed by landowners that they escaped into the forest,” petty Robin Hoods, attacking only local squires and helping other peasants …

The boys were fascinated. “Soso Djugashvili, me and four other schoolboys climbed a tree and watched the terrifying show from there,” remembers one of the group, Grigory Razmadze … Another spectator whom Stalin would later befriend and promote was Maxim Gorky, then a journalist, soon to be Russia’s most celebrated writer.

The Gorelis sympathized with these brave Caucasian bandits … The crowd became menacing; double ranks of Russian soldiers encircled the square. The drums began to beat. “The authorities in uniforms lingered around the scaffold,” wrote Gorky in his article. “Their dreary and severe faces looked strange and hostile.” They had reason to be nervous.

The three bandits in leg irons were marched onto the scaffold. One was separated from the others — he had been reprieved. The priest offered the two condemned men his blessings; one accepted and one refused. Both asked for a smoke and a sip of water. Sandro Khubuluri was silent, but the handsome and strong “ringleader,” Tato Jioshvili, smiled and joked valiantly before the admiring crowd. He leaned on the railings of the gallows and, noticed Gorky, “chatted to people who had come to see hi die.” The crowd threw stones at the hangman, who was masked and clad completely in scarlet. He placed the condemned on stools and tightened the nooses around their necks. Sandro just twirled his moustache and readjusted the noose. The time had come.

The hangman kicked away the stools. As so often with Tsarist repression, it was inept: Sandro’s rope broke. The crowd gasped. The scarlet hangman replaced him on the stool, placed a new noose round his neck and hanged him again. Tato also took a while to die.


Even Joseph Stalin was a child once.

One would have to really like the difficult-to-prove notion that executions have a brutalizing effect encouraging violence in others in order to see in this hanging the germ of the incomprehensible suffering young master Djugashvili would eventually unleash.

It’s not like this was Stalin’s only childhood exposure to brutality, and not too many of those buddies who watched this date’s hanging grew up to kill 20 million people.

Gori was one of the last towns to practise the ‘picturesque and savage custom’ of free-for-all town brawls with special rules but no-holds-barred violence. The boozing, praying and fighting were all interconnected, with drunken priests acting as referees… [At festivals during Stalin’s youth] the males in each family, from children upwards, also paraded, drinking wine and singing until night fell, when the real fun began. This ‘assault of free boxing’—the sport of krivi—was a ‘mass duel with rules’; boys of three wrestled other three-year-olds, then children fought together, then teenagers and finally the men threw themselves into ‘an incredible battle,’ by which time the town was completely out of control, a state that lasted into the following day—even at school, where classes fought classes.


This is Russia, not Georgia: festive Maslenitsa fisticuffs.

The small Georgian town that spawned the first name in Soviet terror actually maintained a public statue to its most famous son until 2010 — when it was finally removed in an apparent anti-Russian gesture in the wake of the South Ossetia war.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Botched Executions,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Georgia,Hanged,History,Murder,Outlaws,Public Executions,Russia,Theft

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2004: Former vice-governor Wang Huaizhong

Add comment February 12th, 2011 Headsman

On this date in 2004, the former deputy governor of China’s Anhui province was executed for official corruption.

It was just weeks after Wang’s conviction for grifting some 100 million yuan in real estate transactions dating back to the mid 1990’s.

We suppose Wang did his appeals no favors by steadfastly denying guilt — although he might have reckoned that the national “determination … to fight corruption” thwarted any such plan.

Instead of confessing to his crimes, Wang had stood against the public prosecutors and even continued to seek bribes during the investigation from some private business owners, said Wang Huanhai, head of the investigation team.

According to the prosecutor, Wang attempted to use the bribe to buy over more relations, hoping the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection of the Chinese Communist Party would spare him from being inquisited.

During the first trial on Dec. 29, 2003, Wang denied all the allegations, but in the latest trial confessed to most of the crimes and argued for a light penalty on the grounds that the bribes he had taken were not big enough to justify a death penalty.

His request was turned down, given the amount involved in the case as well as his resistance to investigation.

Wang’s prosecutors said he was an orphan and had climbed up the social ladder with an inferiority complex. “That’s why he was dictatorial and could not stand anyone questioning him,” said Wang Huanhai, “Nor did he ever confess to his wrongdoing in public.”

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Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Capital Punishment,China,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Lethal Injection,Pelf,Politicians,Theft

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1984: Maqbool Bhat, for Kashmir

3 comments February 11th, 2011 Headsman

On this date in 1984, India hanged Kashmiri nationalist Maqbool Bhat.

A terrorist to his enemies and a freedom fighter to his friends, Bhat was born in the Kashmir region back when it “was ruled by the Dogra Family and the entire Kashmiri nation was living a life of slavery.”

When Bhat was a nine-year-old child, the prince of Jammu and Kashmir inked a bitterly controversial accession of his domain to the foundling independent nation of India. Kashmir has been hitched to the adjective “troubled” ever since.

The broader Kashmir region remains a warren of competing claims among Pakistan, India, and China. Bhat operated not for any of these governments, but for Kashmiri independence … and since he came of age in the revolutionary twilight of colonialism, he did not shy from putting the fight in freedom fighter. Bhat was an early exponent of an armed independence struggle.

Both India and Pakistan proscribed as terrorist Bhat’s Jammu and Kashmir National Liberation Front (forerunner of the still-extant JKLF, which is the same acronym less the middle letter); both those longtime subcontinent antagonists arrested Bhat at different times for subversive activities. The most notable: Bhat engineered an airplane hijacking in 1971 to push his cause onto the world’s front pages.

But the hostage-taking game came a-cropper for the Kashmiri rebel.

Languishing under a dormant death sentence for the 1968 murder of an Indian policeman,* Bhat unexpectedly became the focus of his fellow-travelers’ revolutionary ardor: in Birmingham, England, Kashmiri activists kidnapped Indian diplomat Ravindra Mhatre in an attempt to force a hostage exchange.

When Delhi refused to deal, the captors executed Mhatre. Within days, India traded tit for tat by stringing up Bhat — a man who in life had been known for his boast that “nobody has the rope which can hang men.”

They may not have got their man, but they sure got a martyr.

Five years after Bhat’s execution, Kashmir finally broke into armed revolt — Bhat’s very own project, and one that has claimed tens of thousands of lives in the succeeding years.

That movement repeatedly demands the return of Bhat’s remains for burial. It annually marks this anniversary of his martyrdom with tributes and strikes.

* Bhat’s partisans insist that he was wrongly accused.

Update: Reprint of a 1984 article, “The last days of Maqbool Butt”

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Hanged,History,India,Martyrs,Murder,Occupation and Colonialism,Political Expedience,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Terrorists,Wrongful Executions

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2011: Rashid al Rashidi, Mousa mosque murderer

5 comments February 10th, 2011 Headsman

This morning in Dubai, Emirati sailor Rashid al Rashidi was executed by firing squad for raping and murdering four-year-old Moosa (Mousa) Mukhtiar Ahmed in a mosque washroom.

The pedophiliac crime on the first day of Eid al-Adha in 2009 shocked the United Arab Emirates. Eleven judges have okayed the death sentence; even one of al Rashidi’s own lawyers demonstratively resigned himself from the case of “the suspect who brought shame to mankind.”

The terrified al Rashidi met his death at a Dubai shooting range this morning, begging for God’s forgiveness … and also that of his victim’s relatives, five of whom witnessed the execution.

Unsurprisingly, the aggrieved family wasn’t biting.

“I will never forgive him,” Mousa’s father reportedly told the Grand Mufti to whom al Rashidi had entrusted his contrition.

It’s the first execution in the UAE 1945: Giovanni Cerbai, partisan - 2020

  • 1726: Margaret Millar, infanticide - 2019
  • 1938: Vladimir Antonov-Ovseyenko, Winter Palace stormer - 2018
  • 1956: Elifasi Msomi, witch doctor - 2017
  • 1854: John Tapner, the last hanged on Guernsey - 2016
  • 1945: Anacleto Diaz, Philippines Supreme Court Justice - 2015
  • 1973: Tom Masaba, Sebastino Namirundu, and 10 other Uganda Fronsana rebels - 2014
  • 1892: Four anarchists in Jerez - 2013
  • 1794: Jacques Roux, the Red Priest, cheats the guillotine - 2012
  • 1952: Liu Qingshan and Zhang Zishan, the first corruption executions in Red China - 2010
  • 1956: Wilbert Coffin - 2009
  • 1905: Samuel McCue, mayor of Charlottesville, Virginia - 2008
  • Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Murder,Rape,Ripped from the Headlines,Sex,Shot,UAE

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