Archive for September, 2019

1878: John Speer

Add comment September 20th, 2019 Headsman

From the Galveston (Texas) News, September 24, 1878:


Execution of Speer.

The First White Man Hanged is in McLennan County.

A Solemn and Impressive Scene — Speer’s Letter to his Friends in Arkansas and Texas — History of the Murder and Prosecution.

WACO, Sept. 20. — John W. Speer born in Arkansas in 1852, whose execution took place here to-day for the murder of the Rev. J.S. Pledger, came to Texas in 1874 on account of bad health, and remained with his brother-in-law until July, 1875, when he was arrested, being charged with the murder. His father die when he was 16 years of age, and his mother died July 6, 1877, the day after being notified of his second conviction. In early life he was of lively disposition, fond of excitement, but not such as would indicate anything of malice or violence toward any one, even an enemy. A fair education was acquired before his father’s death, but from that time it was necessary for him to make every effort for his own support, and to accomplish this he rented a piece of land in this county and commenced farming, his land adjoining that of Mr. Pledger. Ill will existed between the two for some time, and a double fence had been constructed in consequence.

On the 13th day of July, 1875, Rev. J.S. Pledger, while plowing in his field, was shot down by some one concealed in the weeds between the fences, and a man plowing with Mr. Pledger recognized J.W. Speer as the one who fired the fatal shot. He was arrested shortly after and remained in prison until May, 1876, when his trial took place. Messrs. Herring, Anderson & Kelly were retained for his defense, and did all in their power to save him, but the jury returned a verdict of murder in the first degree, assessing the death penalty. An appeal was taken, and the case remanded. In July, 1877, a new trial was had before Judge L.C Alexander, resulting in a verdict the same as the former one. Again his counsel appealed to the higher tribunal, when in due time the judgement was affirmed, and on July 6, 1878, Judge Alexander sentenced him to be hung on August 28. Gov. Hubbard granted a respite until September 20, after declining any commutation of punishment, though earnestly petitioned to do so by many citizens of this county, for the following reasons, addressed to Col. Parrott:

[some boilerplate omitted -ed.] … No newly discovered proofs tending to show the innocence of the defendant have been presented to the executive. No proofs tending to mitigate or palliate the crime, or bring it under the denomination of murder in the second degree, or manslaughter, have been presented. The statement of facts, certified by the district judge as being the only evidence on the final trial, has alone governed the executive in determining his decision in this case. From a most earnest review of this evidence, he arrives at the conclusion that the defendant was guilty of murder, as charged. A credible witness swears positively to seeing the defendant kill the deceased by a gun, which he saw defendant hold in his hands, and di[s]charge at the body of the deceased; and that from the wounds then received did die. Other witnesses testify to a chain of circumstances establishing the guilt of the defendant as clearly as the positive evidence. Add to all which the defendant, when not under duress, and when not under threats, or under promises of liberty or life, confessed to having killed the deceased … The crime is not relieved by any mitigating circumstances. If the facts as sworn to are true, it was an assassination of an old and unarmed citizen, who had no opportunity of defense, or even notice of the fate which awaited him. With such convictions, formed upon the evidence presented, the executive can not interfere with the judgment of the court.

R.B. HUBBARD, Governor.

Your correspondent visited him on yesterday in company with his spiritual adviser, Rev. M.H. Wells, and found him in good health, and quite cheerful, considering his approaching doom.

In response to questions asked him he declines to make any confession, as it would do him no good, but only bring trouble upon others. In a letter to his friends he says: “I will leave no statement of my case. You will judge me as leniently as possible. I will make my confession to God alone, not to man.” He appears quite reconciled to his fate, and claims every reason to hope for the pardon of his sins, and acceptance at the throne of grace. In his will made on the 17th inst. he bequeathed the remaining estate to his sister, now twelve years of age, sent his trunk by express to his brother, and placed papers and other valuables in the hands of Rev. M.H. Wells to be disposed of as directed. He renders grateful thanks to sheriff Ross and John Magee, the jailer, and other officers and many friends for constant and uniform kindness to him during his long imprisonment. The members of the young men’s christian association have done much to encourage him by their kind words and earnest prayers. His great regret is that he has not yet been able fully to forgive those who were instrumental in bringing upon him this great trouble, and not coming to his rescue as they promised.

Early this morning crowds of people from the surrounding country gathered around the jail. The trees and housetops and every available window were filled with anxious spectators, awaiting the hour of execution, and not less than 3000 persons were on the ground.

At half past 2 o’clock Mr. Wells and other ministers of the methodist church, members of the young men’s christian association and representatives of the press were admitted into the jail, when Speer was brought into the room outside the cage, where religious services were conducted by Mr. Wells, in the following order: Singing first, “Jesus, lover of my soul,” reading the fifty-first psalm; second, hymn, “There is a fountain filled with blood;” prayer by Mr. Wells; after which the sacrament of the Lord’s supper was administered. Prayer by the Rev. W.R.D. Stockton, followed by singing “What a friend we have in Jesus,” and “Shall We Meet Beyond the River,” the latter at the request of the prisoner, and during the singing he shook hands with all in the room; then turning to his companions in prison, bade them good-by, expressing the hope they should meet in heaven. The services and leave-taking were one of the most solemn and impressive scenes it has ever been my lot to witness. Deputy sheriff J.S. Moore then came forward and read the death warrant, the prisoner listening attentively and without any apparent emotion.

The door being thrown open, he took the arms of his spiritual adviser and A.R. McCollum, of the Telephone, who was a friend of his youth, and walked with a firm step around the building, and up the steps to the platform of the gallows, where he stood alone and unmoved during a short and fervent prayer. The rope was then adjusted, his arms and feet pinioned, during which there was no perceptible emotion, but a smile lit up his countenance, which continued until the black cap was drawn over the face. The officers and friends descended from the platform, and at 4.05 the wedge was knocked away, and J.W. Speer was suspended between earth and heaven. The rope having slipped his neck was not broken, but he strangled. At 4.17 the physicians pronounced him dead, and at 4.22 he was cut down and placed in his coffin. Mr. A.R. McCollum took charge of the corpse, and had it buried in the Waco cemetery, Rev. M.H. Wells conducting the burial services.

Just before ascending the scaffold, Speer gave to McCollum, to whom I am indebted for a copy, the following statement in his own handwriting:

WACO, TEXAS, Sept. 18, 1878.

To my friends in Arkansas and elsewhere:

I adopt the present mode of returning thanks to you for your sympathy and assistance during my late trouble. Though all your efforts have been of no avail toward prolonging my life, yet I duly appreciate the endeavors you have made in my behalf, and thank you as freely and heartily as if your wishes had been accomplished. I have been often asked for a written statement of the case against me, with the names of all persons concerned in the murder, but I have, and must still, decline to give such a statement. But for the gratification of my friends, I will give the names of all the parties that I know of, commencing with myself. To a certain extent I am particepts criminis with W.S. Nolan and J.W. Wilson, though I myself never had a cross word with Mr. Pledger in my life. There may be others who are morally guilty, whom I do not know of. More than this I do not wish to say, but leave those who hav eknown me best to judge for themselves. A lady friend once asked me why I did not tell all that I knew of the case and try to save my own life. In answer to her, I will say I have been as she thinks much wronged by W.S. Nolan, J.M. Nolan and J.W. Wilson, and it was my intention at one time to try to do so, but I listened to the persuasions and promise of assistance from J.M. Nolan and W.S. Nolan until it was too late for me to do anything but await my fate and meet it as best I could.

I have been informed that J.M. Nolan has been recently working against me, and my reasons are good for believing the report to be true. Prejudice at one time was very strong against me here, but since my last trial public opinion seems to have changed to some extent, and I now believe that I have the sympathy of all good citizens. Though the change has come too late to do me any good, yet I am grateful to the people, and thank them from my heart for their sympathy and kind appeal to the governor asking executive clemency in my behalf. I know that my friends have thought it very strange that Gov. Hubbard did not commute my sentence to imprisonment for life. But I can only say that it was my misfortune that the case of Emil Houillion was presented and acted on before mine. Had my case been first of the two before his excellency, I think his decision, would have been different.

My treatment here has been very good. Col. Ross, sheriff, and Mr. McGee, jailer, and Mr. McGee’s family have been very kind to me. I have no irons of any sort on me, and have been allowed all the liberties and favors that a person could ask — more, in fact, than one in my condition could expect. To you, my friends, I would respectfully remember his excellency Gov. Miller, of Arkansas, United States senator A.H. Garland, of that state and Col. A.B. Williams, who have indeed tried to befriend me in this trouble; and should it ever be in your power to assist either of these gentlemen, then think of me, who will remember them and you when with my Father in heaven. There are many others, both in this country and there, whose memory and friendship are very dear to me, but their names are too numerous to mention in this statement. It is indeed a priceless pleasure to me to know that I have so many friends and few enemies; and I hope my friends will remember me in after years with pleasure, and not let my memory die entirely out of their hearts. One of my earliest friends, who knew me when I was a little boy in Camden, Arkansas — Mr. McCollum, editor of the Telephone — will kindly take charge of my remains and see that everything is properly attended to, and should any of my friends ever come to Waco and wish to see the last resting-place allotted me here, Mr. McCollum will no doubt cheerfully show them my grave. I would have much preferred that my death could have been a natural one; but, as it is, I feel prepared to go, as a christian should, with hopes of a happy home in heaven. And I shall hope, sooner or later, to meet you all there, where pain and grief have no part, but all is joy and peace. I have one great consolation — that my mother is not here to suffer with my sisters. But I soon will be with her, and await them there. As my time is short, I will bring this letter to a close. May God, in his infinite love and mercy, ever bless and protect you while on earth, and finally reunited us in His upper and better kingdoms, is my daily prayer. In life and in death I remain, with love and well wishes, your true and much wronged friend, formerly of Antoine, Arkansas,

JOHN SPEER

A detachment of the Waco Greys, under command of Capt. Robinson, and of the Central City Guards, under command of Lieut. M.V. Fort, were detailed as guard during the day. Doctors Hamlet, Willis, Holbert, Park, Campbell and Tollivero were announced by the sheriff to be in attendance. The reporter of the News and other representatives of the press, together with some seventy-five others, were admitted into the jail yard, amongst whom were a daughter of Mr. Pledger, the murdered man, and her four children.

The above is the record of the first execution of a white man in McLennan county, and may we not hope that few such scenes will occur in future! -R.G.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Botched Executions,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,Murder,Texas,USA

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1791: George Dingler, proved guilty

Add comment September 19th, 2019 Headsman

“every man is presumed to be innocent till proved guilty …”

-Whig barrister William Garrow, coining a soon-to-become-foundational juridical catchphrase in his unsuccessful defense of wife-murderer George Dingler, who was hanged at Tyburn on 19 September 1791

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,History,Murder,Notable Participants,Public Executions

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1973: Charles Horman, American journalist in the Pinochet coup

Add comment September 18th, 2019 Headsman

Horman was interrogated at the military school and then transferred to the national stadium for further questioning. He was ordered shot and killed the evening of September 19. According to [redacted] the authorities at the stadium did not know that Horman was an American … the body was taken from the stadium and left at a location to create the idea that he had been killed in a firefight with the military. However, in the confused days following the coup, and after it was known that he was an American, the military sought to hide the fact that he was dead.

Declassified informant’s report (pdf) of the death of Charles Horman

On this date in 1973,* American journalist Charles Horman was extrajudicially executed by the Chilean coup junta of Augusto Pinochet.

Horman was a prizewinning U.S. journalist and filmmaker from the heyday of crusading, adversarial journalism: stateside, he’d made a documentary about napalm use in Vietnam and protested that war at the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago.

With his wife Joyce, Horman had been living in the Chile of socialist president Salvador Allende since the spring of 1972, reporting freelance while working as a screenwriter. He was right there in the capital on September 11, 1973, to see Allende’s vision ground under tank treads when the Chilean military with U.S. support overthrew the elected civilian government and initiated a litany of horrors.

One of the most emblematic atrocities of Pinochet in his earliest hours was his regime’s commandeering the Santiago football stadium as a makeshift concentration camp for leftists whose blood would desecrate the facility’s recreational purpose.**

The putschists did not fear to extend their terror to subversive Yanks like Horman and (a few days after him) a fellow-journalist named Frank Teruggi — their murders secretly okayed by Pinochet’s CIA comrades.†

There’s a 1978 book investigating this affair, titled The Execution of Charles Horman; the book, and Horman’s fate, inspired the 1982 Costa-Gavras film Missing.

* There are some citations out there for September 17 (the date of Horman’s arrest) or September 19, and a good many general punts to only “September 1973” for this extrajudicial execution/murder. We’re depending for our part on the firm published findings of Chilean judge Jorge Zepeda:

the following day, September 18, 1973 at around 1:35 p.m., military officials took the remains of an unidentified male to the Servicio Medico Legal [Medical Legal Department], and this individual was later fingerprinted and identified as Charles Edmund Horman Lazar, in accordance with Protocol No. 2663/73; the Medical Legal Department concluded that his death had occurred on September 18 at approximately 9:45 a.m. The corresponding death certificate was issued on October 4, 1973 by Doctor Ezequiel Jimenez Ferry of the aforementioned Department.

** In November 1973, the Soviet Union honorably refused to set boots on this boneyard to contest a World Cup playoff and was disqualified as a result — although not before the hosts were made to take the pitch unopposed in a sham “match”.

Thanks to Chile’s consequent advance to the 1974 tourney, a Chilean player holds the distinction of being the first footballer red-carded at the World Cup finals.

† Post-Pinochet Chile unsuccessfully sought the extradition of the former American military mission commander for permitting these murders, when he as the delegate of the coup’s sponsor-empire presumably would have had the juice to forbid them.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Artists,Arts and Literature,Borderline "Executions",Capital Punishment,Chile,Death Penalty,Execution,History,No Formal Charge,Power,Shot,Summary Executions,Torture

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1915: Augusto Alfredo Roggen, World War I spy

Add comment September 17th, 2019 Headsman

Uruguay-born World War I spy Augusto Alfredo Roggen was shot in the Tower of London on this date in 1915.

Like most German-on-British agents during the Great War — at least, the ones we know about! — he didn’t have much of a run. Although this son of a German national did it by the book by arriving legally and properly registering as a foreigner, he whistled on the security services’ frequency by sending a couple of postcards to a known-to-be-suspect address in the wartime espionage hub of Rotterdam.* The cards were copied and their sender was flagged.

After a few weeks of quietly monitoring his movements, British cops raided his hotel room while Roggen was on “holiday” at Loch Lomond. He had in his possession a revolver and equipment for writing in invisible ink; apparently he’d been intending to photograph facilities at Arrochar Torpedo Range.

Instead, he was tried at Middlesex Guildhall where he gave no evidence and made no defense. The intervention of the Uruguayan embassy on behalf of its national was to no avail.

* The Netherlands’ wartime neutrality made Dutch citizens — who could travel throughout Europe — natural spy recruits. The best-known monument of that era is the executed exotic dancer Mata Hari, who was actually a Dutchwoman named Margaretha Zelle.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,England,Espionage,Execution,Germany,Shot,Spies,Uruguay,Wartime Executions

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2011: Li Lei, of whom much was expected

Add comment September 16th, 2019 Headsman

To whom much is given …

BEIJING — A man who in 2009 killed six of his family, including his own children, was executed Friday [September 16, 2011] in Beijing.

Li Lei, 31 years old, stabbed his parents, two sons, wife and sister to death on November 23, 2009, at their home in Beijing’s Daxing District. Li’s sons were aged one and six-years old.

Li was sentenced to death by the Beijing No. 1 Intermediate People’s Court last October, and was ordered to pay 3.45 million yuan (540,000 US dollars) in compensation to his grandmothers and parents-in-law.

Li did not appeal the criminal part of the ruling, but appealed to lower the compensation amount.

In March, the Beijing Higher People’s Court upheld the verdict.

The death penalty was approved by the Supreme People’s Court.

Li told police after being nabbed that he had been annoyed by his family, including his parents, sister and wife, who expected too much from him.

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Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Capital Punishment,China,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Lethal Injection,Murder,Ripped from the Headlines

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1525: Jan de Bakker

Add comment September 15th, 2019 Headsman

Heretical prelate Jan de Bakker went to The Stake at The Hague on this date in 1525.


Stained glass dedicated to Jan de Bakker at Sint-Jacobskerk in The Hague. (cc) image from Roel Wijnants.

A young ordained priest, Bakker (English Wikipedia entry | Dutch), Bakker got interested in early Sacramentarianism and learned at the foot of that Reformation-proximate scholar Erasmus.

His preaching veering outside the bounds of orthodoxy he was imprisoned briefly and soon set aside his holy orders for the baking trade, itinerant evangelizing, and marriage.

After the Inquisition had a go at menacing him into compliance, Bakker had the honor of submitting his living flesh to the flame under the eyes of the Hapsburg governor, Margaret of Austria. “O death, where is thy victory?” were his last words, quoting Corinthians. “O death, where is they sting?” Not so sanguine as he about the pains of the stake, his illicit wife preferred strategic repudiation to scriptural owns.

As he’s remembered as the Protestant protomartyr in the northern Netherlands he’s had a purchase on subsequent generations’ remembrance, and there are some streets and schools named for him.

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Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Burned,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,God,Habsburg Realm,Heresy,History,Martyrs,Milestones,Netherlands,Public Executions,Religious Figures,Torture

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2014: Darfur rebels for killing Chinese oil workers

Add comment September 14th, 2019 Headsman

From news reports:

The management of the federal Kober Prison in Khartoum North on Sunday [September 14, 2014] carried out the death penalty against two men accused of having killed Chinese workers in West Kordofan several years ago.

The members of the Darfur rebel Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) were sentenced to death on charges of murdering the five Chinese who were working at the Abu Dafra oil field in West Kordofan in 2008. 17 others were acquitted.

On 18 October 2008, a group of 35 JEM rebels kidnapped nine Chinese oil workers and a Sudanese driver at the Abu Dafra oil field. The bodies of five workers were found a few days later.

JEM strongly condemned the execution of the “freedom fighters” in Kober prison, stressing that “no JEM combatant had anything to do with the assassination of the Chinese in Abu Dafra.”

Jibril Adam Bilal, the spokesman for the movement, told Radio Dabanga that the trial, in which the two were convicted, was politically motivated. “It was directed by the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS), and has nothing to do with the judiciary in the country.”

He urged human rights organizations to investigate and document “this crime committed against innocent people.”

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Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Capital Punishment,China,Death Penalty,Execution,Guerrillas,Hanged,Mass Executions,Murder,Revolutionaries,Ripped from the Headlines,Soldiers,Sudan,Terrorists

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1775: Huttenkloas

Add comment September 13th, 2019 Headsman

The notorious Dutch criminal Huttenkloas was broken on the wheel on this date in 1775.


The distinctive brand Huttenkloas today attaches to a brewery with a sigil depicting the “chair of Huttenkloas” into which the robber was chained and tortured for several months. This torture device — the chair, not the beer — can be seen at the Palthehuis Museum in Oldenzaal.

Klaas Annink by name (English Wikipedia entry | Dutch), this 65-year-old was implicated in a number of robbers and murders in the vicinity of Hof van Twente, nearby the village where he lived in his creepy shack. His son Jannes and his wife Aarne Spanjers were also condemned for these same crimes, and both also put to death.

We’re a bit short on archival footage of Huttenkloas, but this 2019 re-enactment might do instead.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Broken on the Wheel,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Gruesome Methods,Netherlands,Public Executions,Serial Killers,Torture

1917: Private John Abigail

Add comment September 12th, 2019 Headsman

Private John Abigail of the Royal Norfolk Regiment was shot on this date in 1917 for World War I desertion, at the village of Esquelbecq on the French-Belgian border.

He was a four-time offender, the last occasion judiciously ditching his post just before he was ordered over the top into the Passchendaele bloodbath.

Abigail’s name surprisingly appears carved on a war memorial plaque at St. Augustine’s Church in Norwich that long predates the humane 21st century rehabilitation of those shot at dawn. (See it here, at the very top of the right panel.)

The BBC has a short program about him available here.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Desertion,England,Execution,France,Military Crimes,Shot,Soldiers,Wartime Executions

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1916: Yakub Cemil, Ottoman putschist

Add comment September 11th, 2019 Headsman

Ottoman officer Yakub Cemil was executed on this date in 1916 as an aspiring putschist.

A Circassian infantryman who served under Enver Pasha in the 1900s, Cemil was an early and ardent supporter of the Committee of Union and Progress. This onetime underground party ascended to national preeminence in 1908, after which Cemil became a sturdy “weapon of the organization”.

He did not shrink to imbrue his hands with blood; allegedly, he assassinated journalist Ahmet Samin Bey in 1910, and on campaign in Libya against the Italian invasion he privately murdered a black lieutenant out of some combination of suspected espionage and racial animus. His implacability was his great asset and his great liability; the eventual father of post-Ottoman Turkeuy, Ataturk is perhaps apocryphally supposed to have mused, “If I one day mount a revolution, Cemil is the first man I want by my side, and Cemil is the first man I will hang afterwards.”

Such provincial homicides were but studies for the main deed of his days when in the 1913 Ottoman coup d’etat when he gunned down War Minister Nazim Pasha on the steps of the Sublime Porte as his CUP comrades barged in to force the resignation of the aging Grand Vizier and take the state firmly in hand.

It was an act that shook capitals around the world.


9 February 1913 edition of Le Petit Journal with a cover depiction of “un coup d’etat a Constantinople: muertre de Nazim Pacha”.

Ironically it was a desire for peace that brought his end. A couple of years deep into the catastrophe of World War I, Cemil rightly perceived the need to extricate his state from the conflict, and began making plans to topple the “Three Pashas” of the CUP whom he had helped to bring to power. His old friend Enver Pasha had no intention of approving the resulting death sentence — indeed, he had caught wind of it and tried persuasion to bring Cemil back onside — but when Enver Pasha was summoned to Berlin for a war council the fellow triumvir Talaat Pasha signed off on the execution with dispatch.

Rumors and legends abound concerning his death, such as shouting “Long live the Committee for Union and Progress!” before the firing squad opened up on him, and an agonizing half-hour bleed-out during which the expiring Cemil scrawled a patriotic slogan in the dirt with his own blood.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Assassins,Capital Punishment,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Ottoman Empire,Power,Shot,Soldiers,Treason,Turkey,Wartime Executions

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