Posts filed under '20th Century'

1909: Sheikh Fazlollah Noori, anti-constitutionalist martyr

Add comment July 31st, 2020 Headsman

Shia cleric Sheikh Fazlollah Noori was hanged by Iran’s Constitutionalist government on this date in 1909.

We’ve observed previously the convulsions of the 1905-1911 Persian Constitutional Revolution, which proposed to bind the Qajar dynasty with a parliament. The movement achieved a constitution in 1906, which was then violently abolished by the Qajar sovereign. We meet the Constitutionalists in this post at the apex of their counterattack, in the heady aftermath of the July 13, 1909 Triumph of Tehran that forced that same Qajar sovereign to abdicate in favor of his young son


Painting of the 1909 Triumph of Tehran, at Sa’dadab Palace.

Needless to say, this was a tight moment for anti-constitutionalists.

Noori was that — not just that, but an apostate who had once espoused a parliament to restrain the despotism of the shahs, but denounced the project as un-Islamic when Western-influenced secular liberals emerged at the helm. Noori had had in mind a collaboration between state and religious authorities that would ensure a godly ship of state.

The tracts he’d issued in those key years anathematizing the reformists — and the support that he’d given the Qajar anti-constitutional coup a couple years earlier — weighed against him once those same reformists seized power.

He’s a martyr in the eyes of present-day conservatives in the Islamic Republic, who view him as a key figure in recognizing the colonial and anti-Islamic bent of western-style parliamentarianism, and an essential theorist for Islamic governance.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Intellectuals,Iran,Martyrs,Power,Religious Figures

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1999: Anthony Briggs, last(?) in Trinidad and Tobago

Add comment July 28th, 2020 Headsman

The most recent execution in Trinidad and Tobago occurred on this date in 1999.

A month after the much higher-profile hangings of crime boss Dole Chadee and eight of his associates, the far more mundane criminal Anthony Briggs was executed for murdering a taxi driver.

We’d hesitate to call this the last execution in Trinidad and Tobago. That Caribbean country has continued handing down death sentences and resuming executions has intermittently been a hot-button political issue; it’s perhaps largely because its prisoners submit appeals to the Judiciary Committee of the Privy Council in Westminster that executions never actually go forward. Should the dam ever break, however, Trinidad and Tobago boasts the second-largest death row in the Americas, after the United States.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,Milestones,Murder,Trinidad and Tobago

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1942: Valentin Feldman, “Imbeciles, it is for you that I die!”

Add comment July 27th, 2020 Headsman

Marxist philosopher and French Resistance figure Valentin Feldman was shot on this date in 1942, but he went out with an epic own of his firing squad: “Imbéciles, c’est pour vous que je meurs!” (“Imbeciles, it is for you that I die!”).

A Jewish emigre from the Soviet Union, Feldman (English Wikipedia entry | the more detailed French) matriculated at Paris’s prestigious Lycee Henri-IV alongside such luminaries as Simone Weil and Maurice Schumann. He mobilized during the “Phoney War” run-up ahead of Germany’s blitz on France, publishing a short Journal de guerre about his experiences.

He was excluded from his teaching work by anti-Semitic laws, leaving him plenty of time for anti-occupation subversion until he was caught sabotaging a factory.

Feldman’s last words were so unsurpassably revolutionary and modern and French that Jean-Luc Godard built a 1988 short film, Le Dernier Mot, around them.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Famous Last Words,France,Germany,History,Intellectuals,Jews,Martyrs,Occupation and Colonialism,Revolutionaries,Wartime Executions

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1943: The hanging of the twelve

Add comment July 19th, 2020 Headsman

This testimonial refers to an incident at the Auschwitz concentration camp.

Those hanged were Poles from a forced-labor detail suffering collective punishment for the escape of other inmates from the same group; Janusz Skrzetuski was the man who kicked out his own stool.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Concentration Camps,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Germany,Hanged,History,Mass Executions,No Formal Charge,Occupation and Colonialism,Poland,Public Executions,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Summary Executions,Wartime Executions

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1980: Winfried Baumann

Add comment July 18th, 2020 Headsman

East German frigate captain Winfried Baumann was shot on this date in 1980 as a spy.

He and a collaborator, Dr. Christa-Karin Schumann,* were caught by the prolific DDR mail surveillance program dropping messages for the West German Federal Intelligence Service. (This Bundesnachrichtendienst, originally founded in 1956, remains unified Germany’s intelligence agency today.) East Germany’s last executioner Hermann Lorenz carried out the sentence by shooting at Leipzig Prison.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,East Germany,Espionage,Execution,Germany,History,Shot,Spies

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1942: Wenceslao Vinzons

Add comment July 15th, 2020 Headsman

Filipino politician/guerrilla/national hero Wenceslao Vinzons was executed by the occupying Japanese on this date in 1942.

He gained prominence as a Manila university activist under U.S. administration for Malaysian-Indonesian-Philippines unification, then went on to co-found the Young Philippines party and become a delegate – at the tender age of 24 — to the 1935 Constitutional Convention that set the framework for his homeland’s independence. He’s the youngest signer of that constitution.

Subsequently governor of Camarines Norte and then a legislator in the National Assembly, Vinzons found his political trajectory interrupted by Japan’s December 1941-January 1942 takeover. Vinzons wasted no time trying to work within the system: he immediately began organizing armed resistance, building a guerrilla army some 2,800 strong over the course of the next months.

An informer betrayed him to the occupiers and after refusing every blandishment to collaborate, Vinzons was bayoneted to death at a Japanese garrison at Daet on July 15, 1942. Several of his family members also executed afterwards, although other surviving descendants have remained fixtures of public life down to the present day.

His hometown — formerly “Indan” — is now named “Vinzons” in his honor, and he’s renowned as the “Father of Student Activism in the Philippines”. A number of buildings and institutions connected to education are named for him.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Activists,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous,Guerrillas,History,Japan,Martyrs,No Formal Charge,Occupation and Colonialism,Philippines,Politicians,Power,Put to the Sword,Soldiers,Torture,Wartime Executions

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1919: Henry Perry, made more vicious

Add comment July 10th, 2020 Headsman

“The war has done great good for some persons, it has taught them discipline, and made honest and honourable men of people who started badly. But the brutalities of war may have made more vicious a person who was vicious before.”

Sir Percival Clarke, prosecuting Great War returnee Henry Perry (aka Henry Beckett) for slaughtering the Cornish family of Stukely Road in Forrest Gate, London. For more, see the indispensable Capital Punishment UK Facebook post here.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,History,Murder

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1986: Kevin Barlow and Brian Chambers, Dadah is Death

Add comment July 7th, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1986, Malaysia hanged Australian nationals Brian Chambers and Kevin Barlow for trafficking heroin.

The two men were nabbed together at the Penang island airport with 179 grams of heroin in their packs. While Chambers was an experienced drug courier, Barlow was a rookie; reportedly, his visible nervousness in the airport gave the game away. (He had also refused out of revulsion to pack the product into his stomach or anus.)

Although the amount they carried far exceeded Malaysia’s then-brand-new 15-gram threshold for an automatic death sentence, “Westerners” so-called had never yet actually been hanged there. The two were initially sanguine about their situation, expecting a mixture of bribes and diplomatic logrolling to do the trick.

Over the 20 months between arrest and their July 1985 trial, they realized their true predicament.

According to Bruce Dover, who covered their trial for Australia’s Herald Sun, “They turned on each other. The parents and family members who Barlow and Chambers had early agreed to ‘keep out of it’ now watched on helplessly from the court gallery, as each man tried to implicate the other in a desperate gambit that at best would send one man to the gallows while the other walked free … [and] in their efforts to save themselves, each had condemned the other to die.” In Dover’s estimation, the very best they could have hoped to achieve was to have one man shoulder the blame to save the other.

International appeals from all the usual suspects — Australia Prime Minister Bob Hawke, the Pope, various human rights organizations, and even Margaret Thatcher (because Barlow was a British-born dual citizen) — failed to move the Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad. If anything, the clamor only strengthened the domestic political imperative to advertise Malaysian resolve in a high-profile case against the special pleading of foreign busybodies.*

“Like many people of European descent, they [Barlow and Chambers] have assumed that a white skin was protection against local laws,” a Kuala Lumpur newspaper editorialized. “That is also the unspoken assumption among many in the foreign media who are now in this country. The two men should be hanged.”

They were.

A 1988 Australian television film about the Barlow and Chambers case, Dadah Is Death — “dadah” being the Malaysian word for drugs — is a star-studded affair, featuring Julie Christie on the marquee as Kevin Barlow’s mother in her fight to save her son, opposite appearances by then-little-known youngsters Hugo Weaving, Sarah Jessica Parker, and John Polson.

* A similar script played out in neighboring Singapore with a Dutch smuggler a few years later.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Arts and Literature,Australia,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Drugs,Execution,Hanged,History,Malaysia,Milestones

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1961: Edwin Bush, Identikitted

Add comment July 6th, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1961, Edwin Bush was hanged at Pentonville Prison. On March 3 of that same year, he’d stabbed to death an assistant at a Loondon antiques shop just off Charing Cross, using a pair of antique daggers from the shop’s own stock. (The scene of this long-ago crime is presently a bookstore.)


The Identikit sketch, and the actual photo, of the culprit.

Although a small-time criminal, Bush was an important milestone in the evolution of the panopticon.

Poor Elsie May Batten had been attacked early in the morning, and nobody witnessed the crime. The killer/robber (he stole a sword that he later sold for 15 quid — nothing else) hadn’t left behind any usable physical clues.

“It could have taken weeks to identify the culprit,” notes this MyLondon.News profile, “but luckily a change in police technology would be of great assistance.” This new system, called Identikit,

used a standardised set of facial features to help a witness build a more accurate picture of a suspect.

In shop owner Louis Meier’s interview, Identikit was used to build a picture of the suspicious man who had gone into the shop the day before Elsie’s killing to admire the sword.

Another witness, who had seen a man and his blond girlfriend try to sell a sword on St Martin’s Lane that very same day, also did the Identikit procedure. Two facial likeness from two different witnesses were unmistakably the same man — and they were printed in the local newspapers asking people if they had seen a man looking like this and his blond girlfriend.

Janet Wheeler, the 17-year-old blond girlfriend of Bush, saw the Identikit and joked about how they fitted the description, unaware of what her boyfriend had done.

But Eddie couldn’t count on such naivete from Londoners who weren’t his girlfriend. An eagle-eyed beat cop recognized Bush from the same wanted pictures and arrested him on March 16, just steps away from the antiquarian. He was with Janet, shopping together for engagement rings. Once they had him, fingerprints, lineup identifications, and eventually a confession all fell into place.

What’s been left unspoken thus far is the story’s racial character, but that factor permeates everything. Edwin Bush’s mixed Asian-white parentage helped consign him to the periphery of London’s economic life, his unusual look possibly helped cinch the surveillance triumph for Identikit … and if Bush is to be believed, it was everyday racism that triggered his crime.

Provoked, he said, when he visited the store just to browse for the second consecutive day only to have Batten drop a racial slur on him (“You niggers are all the same. You come in and never buy anything.”), Bush

went back to the shop and started looking through the daggers, telling her that I might want to buy one, but I picked one up and hit her in the back. I then lost my nerve and picked up a stone vase and hit her with it. I grabbed a knife and hit her once in the stomach and once in the neck.

Of course, only Bush and Batten were present for their conversation, and it must be acknowledged that when Bush made this allegation about his victim, he needed to give the courts reason to mitigate his sentence.

You can hear all about the case on your run or commute in episode 7 of the Murder Mile UK crime podcast.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,England,Execution,Hanged,History,Milestones,Murder,Notable Sleuthing,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Theft

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1945: Harold Pringle, the last Canadian military execution

Add comment July 5th, 2020 Headsman

The only Canadian soldier to be executed during (… actually well after!) World War II, Harold Pringle, caught a fusillade in Italy on this date in 1945.

A 16-year-old — he fibbed about his age — enlistee from small-town Ontario, Pringle joined the Hastings and Prince Edward Regiment.

Pringle and a mate in the Hasty P’s name of “Lucky” MacGillivray linked up with some British deserters to form a black market outfit in conquered Rome. The “Sailor Gang”* enjoyed several weeks of picaresque living in the lawless city. Unsurprisingly, as Allied military authorities got control of the place they were eager to make examples of these minor gangsters. (Major gangsters were a different matter.)

The shooting death of that mate MacGillivray gave military prosecutors the means to sink the Sailors. One of their number was induced by a sweetheart deal to finger Pringle as for murdering him. Pringle and his comrades all contended that “Lucky” had been shot by mischance during one of the outlaws’ frequent drunken bouts, and having died en route to the hospital, Pringle shot him up posthumously in hopes of making the body look like it had been prey to a gang hit.

Despite all the trouble taken to secure a very dubious conviction, the execution itself was carried out in great secrecy by a tiny rump contingent of Canadians — all their fellows had already been withdrawn from Italy — who were not to speak of it afterwards.

According to Andrew Clark, the author whose research revealed the event to the wider public in A Keen Soldier: The Execution of Second World War Private Harold Pringle, it all came down a political balancing act. Canadian Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King faced a June 1945 election (followed by formation of a coalition government) that a controversial execution might complicate.

However, the British had executed two of their guys in the Sailor Gang case, and reciprocity was expected on a diplomatic level. So the solution was to do it as quietly as possible, and cover it with an official secret designation. Even Pringle himself didn’t find out his sentence was confirmed until the morning of the execution.

Book CoverBook Cover
Left: The classic antiwar novel inspired by the Pringle case, which was the only novel published by Colin McDougall. Right: The 2002 nonfiction treatment that brought the affair to the public eye. Below: A 1955 episode of Four Star Playhouse also seems to be based on the Pringle case, and Colin McDougall is credited with the story.**

There’s a riveting audio interview here with a member of the Hastings and Prince Edward Regiment who had guard duty on the condemned youth on the last night of his life. “Just as brave as could be,” Orville Marshall reports.

* There’s another infamous troupe of deserter-gangsters operating in Rome in this same period, the Lane Gang. The said “Lane” — whose real name was Werner Schmiedel — was hanged by American authorities in June 1945.

** McDougall served in Italy up to the end of Canada’s involvement there, and that is surely how he came to know about the secret execution in a general sense; any more specific vector of information appears to be unknown. However discovered, Pringle clearly haunted McDougall: he took several years to write his magnum opus, and also published a short story in McLean’s in the early 1950s called “The Firing Squad”.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Canada,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Italy,Milestones,Murder,Occupation and Colonialism,Organized Crime,Shot,Soldiers,Wartime Executions,Wrongful Executions

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