Posts filed under 'Cheated the Hangman'

1946: The Nuremberg Trial War Criminals

22 comments October 16th, 2009 Headsman

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

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

(From this page of original period audio files.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

On this day..

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

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1972: Mohamed Oufkir

3 comments August 16th, 2009 Headsman

When last we met Mohamed Oufkir in these pages, he was violently suppressing an attempted coup against Morocco’s King Hassan II.

Mohamed Oufkir’s wife and six children were “disappeared” to a desert prison, not to emerge for 18 years. Daughter Malika, a royal favorite in happier times, wrote Stolen Lives about that ordeal. (Interview | Another)

We find him today, 13 months later as the arrow of time flies, in the same story — on the other end of the gun-barrel.

At around 4 o’clock this afternoon, a stunning attempt on the monarch took place as he flew back to Morocco from France. The king’s 727 was attacked by F-5 fighters of the Moroccan Air Force, surviving, it is said, when the quick-thinking king himself took the radio, pretended to be a flight engineer, and informed the attacking fighters that the pilots were dead and the king mortally wounded.

The ruse tricked the attacking pilots into allowing the crippled plane to make its landing in Rabat; they returned too late to strafe the airfield when they realized their mistake.

This quashed coup was swiftly laid at the door of Oufkir, the powerful Defence Minister.

Oufkir was declared to have committed suicide late this night, or else in the small hours of August 17; this still-standing official explanation has always had its doubters, with more extravagant versions implicating the offended sovereign himself in dealing out the punishment. Probably not, but here’s foreign correspondent Stephen O. Douglas’s reconstruction in Morocco Under King Hassan:

[Interior Minister Mohamed] Benhima said that when Oufkir arrived at the Skhirat palace at 11 p.m. he was met in an anteroom by General Mawlay Hafid and Colonel Dlimi, and when he realised that the king knew he had masterminded the plot he pulled out a revolver saying, ‘I know what to expect.’ Benhima added, ‘The two witnesses tried to stop him. In the struggle he fired three shots, one wounding him in the chest, the second I don’t know where, but the third was the most fatal.’ He said this was ‘the truthful and authentic version’.

‘General Oufkir committed suicide. He was not killed. It has been asked if it was a suicide of loyalty or a suicide of treason. Well then, I am authorised to tell you, to certify that since 1 p.m. today, and considering the elements of inquiry we have in our possession, I can affirm that it was a suicide of treason and not a suicide of loyalty,’ Benhima said.

Later at the same news conference, Benhima indicated he was just as astonished as most of the journalists. He said he and Oufkir were ‘great friends. We appreciated each other very much and had confidence in each other. We had a common denominator: our loyalty, and I think we wore the same decoration, given to us on the same day for the same reasons. He was a great patriot, a great minister. As I just told one of your colleagues, I cannot figure how he could have done what he did. But he is one of the most attractive people I have known, and what I have said about him today is painful to me, but the truth had to be told.’

I learned later that during the fatal night a military ambulance took Oufkir’s blood-stained body back to his Souissi house where it was placed on the floor of a playroom. His wife Fatima was away on vacation on the Mediterranean coast and there were very few people in the house. They found Oufkir had four bullet wounds, three in the back and the fourth having gone through the nape of his neck and out through his left eye, shattering his glasses, the coup de grace. Suddenly someone decided it was a mistake to send the corpse back to his family and it was hastily retrieved the same night. Thus evidence that he may have been ‘suicided’ disappeared.

Hassan somehow escaped the day with his crown, but with two attempts to overthrow him over the previous 13 months and a need to purge the many unreliable Oufkir loyalists in the armed forces — well, as the London Times put it (Aug. 22, 1972), “short of his incredible good fortune there is little else that can be cited in real terms to guarantee the perpetuation of his rule.” You could have made good coin wagering informed observers of the time that Hassan would live and reign another 27 years and be internationally saluted at his peaceful death at age 70.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Borderline "Executions",Cheated the Hangman,Execution,Famous,History,Infamous,Morocco,No Formal Charge,Notable for their Victims,Notable Participants,Notably Survived By,Power,Shot,Soldiers,Summary Executions,The Worm Turns,Treason

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1795: The last Montagnards

1 comment June 17th, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 1795, the Mountain that had so recently dominated revolutionary France was destroyed by the blade.

This largely forgotten date is actually a significant milestone of those years’ imbroglio: the date on which the French bourgeoisie achieved its revolution by slaying the last sans-culottes-affiliated deputies in punishment for the last sans-culottes uprising.

In the year since the fall of Robespierre, a White Terror had purged his former adherents — or in class terms, had put Madame Guillotine to work pushing the Paris working class out of its former political authority.

The latter’s last hurrah of resistance was the Prairal Rebellion of May 20, 1795, when a mob stormed the Convention.

In the florid narration of Thomas Carlyle,

[I]t billows free through all Corridors; within and without, far as the eye reaches, nothing but Bedlam, and the great Deep broken loose! … Insurrection rages; rolls its drums; will read its Paper of Grievances, will have this decreed, will have that.

… National Representation, deluged with black Sansculottism, glides out; for help elsewhere, for safety elsewhere; here is no help.

About four in the afternoon, there remain hardly more than some Sixty Members: mere friends, or even secret leaders; a remnant of the Mountain-crest, held in silence by Thermidorian thraldom. Now is the time for them; now or never let them descend, and speak! They descend, these Sixty, invited by Sansculottism: Romme of the New Calendar, Ruhl of the Sacred Phial, Goujon, Duquesnoy, Soubrany, and the rest. Glad Sansculottism forms a ring for them; Romme takes the President’s chair; they begin resolving and decreeing. Fast enough now comes Decree after Decree, in alternate brief strains, or strophe and antistrophe, — what will cheapen bread, what will awaken the dormant lion. And at every new decree,* Sansculottism shouts “Decreed, decreed!” and rolls its drums.

Fast enough; the work of months in hours, — when see, a Figure enters … And then Gilt Youth, with levelled bayonets, countenances screwed to the sticking-place! Tramp, tramp, with bayonets gleaming in the lamp-light: what can one do, worn down with long riot, grown heartless, dark, hungry, but roll back, but rush back, and escape who can? The very windows need to be thrown up, that Sansculottism may escape fast enough. Money-changer Sections and Gilt Youth sweep them forth, with steel besom, far into the depths of Saint-Antoine. Triumph once more! The Decrees of that Sixty are not so much as rescinded; they are declared null and non-extant. Romme, Ruhl, Goujon and the ringleaders, some thirteen in all, are decreed Accused. Permanent-session ends at three in the morning. Sansculottism, once more flung resupine, lies sprawling; sprawling its last.

The so-called Cretois were hailed before a tribunal; six were condemned to death on this date.**

They dramatically attempted to cheat the headsman by stabbing themselves after the trial, somehow passing down the line without intervention a single knife smuggled by Goujon.

Three of them died of their self-inflicted injuries. The other three went immediately to the guillotine.

“They were,” Carlyle concludes, “the Ultimi Romanorum … Sansculottism sprawls no more. The dormant lion has become a dead one; and now, as we see, any hoof may smite him.”

* According to A Popular History of France from the First Revolution to the Present Time, one of the decrees was abolition of the death penalty “except in the case of emigrants and forgers of assignats.”

** Other less treasonably culpable former Montagnards who had not cast their lot squarely with the Thermidorians were proscribed or otherwise cut off from power in the aftermath of the Prairal rebellion.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Cheated the Hangman,Death Penalty,Execution,France,Guillotine,History,Milestones,Not Executed,Politicians,Public Executions,Wrongful Executions

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1676: Anna Zippel, Brita Zippel and the body of Anna Mansdotter

1 comment April 29th, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 1676, two sisters were beheaded in Stockholm in one of Sweden’s most famous witch trials.

The great Swedish witch hunt of 1668-1676 was at its crescendo, having spread from the provinces to the capital. Here was repeated pattern by now familiar — children accusing adult women of taking them to witches’ sabbaths, and various and sundry infernally-inspired offenses against the civic order.

Brita Zippel (or Britta Sippel) was a natural magnet for accusations. Born well-off but fallen into poverty, and hot-tempered (as we shall see) besides, she had already survived two previous witch trials.

Her sister Anna remained a member of the town’s elite, but her status proved no use to her when suspicion fell on the family. Rumors and accusations snowballed over a period of months — that the sisters kidnapped children; that they committed arson; that both Anna’s wealth and Brita’s poverty proved their diabolical affiliations. That Anna Zippel and her business partner Anna Mansdotter made money selling medicines to the rich and powerful hardly decreased suspicion. The children who drove all this really made the most of the limelight — fainting spells, supernatural tales, the whole nine yards.

While the well-heeled Annas maintained a dignified stoicism during their trial — which only served to condemn them — Brita gave rein to all her furious indignation — which only served to condemn her. Anna Zippel defended herself calmly. Brita threatened witnesses, attacked her sister, and poured invective on her persecutors. Same result.

Their contrast in demeanor continued to the scaffold itself.

Shaking her chains, threatening her confessor with her posthumous vengeance, and cursing her onlookers, Brita required the offices of five men to wrestle her to the block for her beheading. (She went first because of the scene she was making.) Anna Zippel followed quietly, and then (quieter still) Anna Mansdotter, who had managed to commit suicide in prison but whose corpse still suffered the same fate of decapitation and burning.

These first witch-hunt victims in Stockholm were not the last, but they would presage the collapse of an enterprise that had consumed some 200 lives over the preceding eight years. According to Witch Hunts in Europe and America,

[i]n the spring of 1676, the court of appeals in Stockholm began investigating cases directly, rather than simply examining the records local officials forwarded. This resulted in the appointment of yet more royal commissions, but these were completely dominated by skeptical Stockholm officials. Turning the pressure on the accusers, the commissions gained several confessions from child accusers stating that they had made the whole thing up. The witch-hunt quickly collapsed, and four accusers, including a boy of 13, were executed.

Of no direct relevance, our dalliance with Scandinavian witchery offers a pretext to excerpt Benjamin Christiensen‘s freaky (and censored) 1922 silent classic Haxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Beheaded,Burned,Capital Punishment,Cheated the Hangman,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Posthumous Executions,Public Executions,Sweden,The Supernatural,Witchcraft,Women,Wrongful Executions

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1887: Parsons, Spies, Fischer and Engel, the Haymarket Martyrs

10 comments November 11th, 2008 Headsman

On this date in 1887, the Chicago political machine hanged four at Cook County Jail to defend civilization from the eight-hour day.

The Haymarket martyrs, as they would be remembered ere the hysterical atmosphere of their sentencing had passed, were four from a group of eight anarchist agitators rounded up when a never-identified person threw a bomb at Chicago police breaking up a peaceful rally. The bomb killed one cop; the indiscriminate police shooting that followed killed several more in friendly fire, plus an uncertain number of civilians.

The incident occurred just days after nationwide strikes began on May 1, 1886, in support of the eight-hour day. Nowhere were the tensions greater than Chicago, an epicenter of militant organizing. When tens of thousands poured into the streets on May 1, the Chicago Mail darkly said of high-profile radicals Albert Parsons and August Spies,

Mark them for today. Hold them responsible for any trouble that occurs. Make an example of them if trouble does occur.

Sure enough …

Most of the eight hadn’t even been present at the time the bomb was thrown, but the state put anarchism itself on trial under the capacious umbrella of “conspiracy,” in a proceeding so absurdly rigged that a relative of a slain cop was on the jury. Quoth the prosecutor,

Law is upon trial. Anarchy is on trial. These men have been selected, picked out by the grand jury and indicted because they were leaders. They are no more guilty than the thousand who follow them. Gentlemen of the jury; convict these men, make examples of them, hang them and save our institutions, our society.

That was the argument for hanging them. And right-thinking burghers applauded it.

Seven of the eight were condemned to die; two had their sentences commuted, but the other five refused to ask for clemency on the grounds that, innocent, they would “demand either liberty or death.” One of those five, Louis Lingg, painfully cheated the hangman by setting off a blasting cap in his mouth the night before his execution. (Lingg might have made, though seemingly not thrown, the mysterious bomb.)

The others — Parsons and Spies, along with Adolph Fischer and George Engel — hanged together, with their epitaphs upon their lips — literally so for Parsons, whose parting remark is at the base of the Haymarket Martyrs Monument*

“The time will come when our silence will be more powerful than the voices you are throttling today.”

“Throttle” was right, as the Chicago Tribune reported the next day, taking up when the trap was sprung:

Then begins a scene of horror that freezes the blood. The loosely-adjusted nooses remain behind the left ear and do not slip to the back of the neck. Not a single neck is broken, and the horrors of a death by strangulation begin.

Six years later, Illinois Gov. John Altgeld granted the free pardon the hanged men had demanded to the three surviving Haymarket anarchists. There is no institutional mechanism to determine erroneous executions in American jurisprudence — a fact that occasionally leads to smugly circular avowals that nobody recently executed has ever been “proven” innocent — and death penalty researchers Michael Radelet and Hugo Bedau believed as of this 1998 paper (pdf) that Altgeld’s executive statement flatly asserting the injustice of the Haymarket convictions was the most recent official acknowledgment of a wrongful execution in U.S. history. If true, its uniqueness would be understandable: the gesture cost Altgeld his political career.

Long gone as all these principals are, the legacy of Haymarket remains very much with us, and not just as a magnet for digital archives like this, this and this (don’t miss the brass gallows pin).

May 1, now rich with the symbolism of the Haymarket Passion, was soon selected by the international labor movement as the date to resume the eight-hour-day push — thus becoming the global workers’ holiday it remains to this day.

* Opposing interpretations of the Haymarket affair — which can be the “Haymarket riot” or the “Haymarket massacre,” depending on where you line up — were marked by opposing memorials. The police memorial was itself eventually bombed by the Weather Underground, and subsequently squirreled away from easy public view. Paradoxically, the Haymarket Martyrs Monument has been federally dignified as a National Historic Landmark.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Activists,Botched Executions,Capital Punishment,Cheated the Hangman,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Famous,Famous Last Words,Freethinkers,Hanged,History,Illinois,Infamous,Innocent Bystanders,Martyrs,Murder,Not Executed,Notable Jurisprudence,Popular Culture,Posthumous Exonerations,Power,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Revolutionaries,Terrorists,USA,Wrongful Executions

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