Posts filed under '20th Century'

1941: Ivan Sullivan

54 comments November 12th, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1941, Ivan Sullivan was hanged at Fort Madison, Iowa — in a prison yard near where he’d committed his crime.

Sullivan was lumbered with a 30-year sentence for robbery and kidnapping when he and a buddy, Lowell Haenze, cut their way through an electrified fence while they were working on a prison baseball park ahead of a Fourth of July game in 1940. “In a news report about the escape and the following crime spree, they were likened to John Dillinger and his gang in the Midwest.” And like the Dillinger gang they were loyal enough to orchestrate prison breaks for their chums still in the stir.

Returning to the jail, they attempted to spring another pal, William Cunningham. The attempt failed: Cunningham was wounded in the fray and apparently committed suicide as it all went awry. Meanwhile, a prison guard named Bob Hart was shot dead.

The fugitives weren’t recaptured in this moment but their celebrity lam was short-lived. In late July, after the botched robbery of a Diller, Nebraska bank, both men were hunted to ground and captured — Haenze after playing the hare in a dramatic chase/shootout in tiny Marysville, Kansas, wherein “some 150 or more persons assisted officers in chasing down Haenze … [and] about a dozen shots were exchanged in the main intersections of the city.” (Marshall County News (Marysville, Kansas), July 25, 1940) Sullivan surrendered shortly thereafter to officers in Atchison, Missouri.

Although he pleaded guilty to the hanging crime, Sullivan wheedled for consideration — seeking legal remedies up to the Supreme Court, suggesting continually that Hart had actually been killed by friendly fire rather than Sullivan’s own never-recovered gun,* and at the end asking that his execution be postponed through the 1941 holiday season in consideration of his aged parents. “My Dad and Mother are getting old and won’t have many more Thanksgivings and Christmas[es],” he wrote to Iowa governor George A. Wilson. (Des Moines Register, Nov. 11, 1941) He got no traction at all.

“I do not for one minute mean to insinuate that I am any other than a bank robber who kept his word to a friend. I know I’m not fit for honest people to associate with,” he told newsmen when all hope was gone. (Des Moines Register, Nov. 12, 1941) “I know I have no more chance now to escape the rope than a snowball in hell but I will pray not only for myself but also for the ones who are afraid to be a man for the fear of losing a vote.”

This interesting blog post shares the personal recollections of the hanging’s impact by one of Sullivan’s family members, who was a small child at the time of the execution.

* His charge that “the state crime laboratory [is] for the state only and against the defendants” — because this laboratory wouldn’t or couldn’t produce the bullet that killed Bob Hart for forensic examination — has a prescient feel about it.

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

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1959: Guenther Podola

3 comments November 5th, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1959, Guenther Podola became the last man hanged in Great Britain for killing a police officer.

A German emigre, Podola had been deported from Canada for committing a series of thefts and burglaries.

He’d just moved to London in May of 1959, not six months before his execution, when he tried to ransom stolen jewelry and furs to an American model he’d stolen them from. The model notified police and when they tracked him down, Podola shot Detective Sergeant Raymond Purdy straight through the heart.

Grasping for straws at his trial, he offered the soap opera-esque claim that he (now) labored under amnesia from a knock on the head suffered during his arrest. “I do not remember the crime for which I stand accused,” he told the court. “I am unable to answer the charges.” A Crown psychiatrist, the jury, and anyone’s common sense figured that he was shamming, which Podola himself also admitted after conviction.

Podola’s was the last British hanging of the 1950s. Five years and nineteen executions later, Britain binned capital punishment.

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

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1912: Alexander Kompovic, “nurderer”

2 comments November 4th, 2020 Headsman

From the Central New Jersey Home News (New Brunswick, N.J.), Nov. 5, 1912:

Two hours after he had eaten a hearty supper and sat in his cell waiting for the end to come, Alexander Kompovic, the oldest man to be executed in this State, was put to death last night in the New Jersey State prison, Trenton. Kompovic was 62 years old and paid the penalty for killing a ten-year-old girl.

The aged slayer calmly awaited death and told the deputies that he wished it was all over. He was in good spirits yesterday and appeared to enjoy all of his meals. Shortly after 6 o’clock last night he sat on a chair in his cell and finished a good meal. Then he talked with two Polish priests and said he would rather die in the chair than serve a life sentence.

The aged murderer bore up remarkably well when walking to the fatal chair. Father Griffin, the prison chaplain, walked in front of him. Kompovic looked at the jurymen and reporters and kept on repeating the prayers from the lips of the three priests. He was given two shocks of 1,900 volts and 11 ampheres. He entered the death chamber at 8.23 o’clock and five minutes later was pronounced dead. Relatives will take charge of the body.

Heavy curtains were drawn over the front of the cells of the other three murderers awaiting death, but they did not appear to be affected when the child slayer began his march through the death chamber.

Kompovic was the twenty-sixth man to be electrocuted in prison here.

The crime for which he paid the penalty in the chair was one of the most brutal in the annals of New Jersey. The aged slayer boarded with the father of Mary Halliday, a ten-year-old school girl at Perth Amboy.

Kompovic lived at Perth Amboy for nearly twenty-five years and was employed at the Lehigh Valley coal docks. July 1 he enticed the girl from her home by giving her pennies. While walking along the coal docks with the child he assaulted her and then grabbed her by the throat and strangled her. He afterwards threw her body into a tunnel and then went to sleep in a field.

After a search had been made the body was found, but the slayer was missing. The police soon located him. Kompovic was a heavy drinker and had been mixed up in several fights. He stood six feet two inches in height.

The day of his arrest for murder scratches were found on his face, showing that the child had fought to try and save herself from the fiend. The foreigner at first denied that he had seen or been with the child, but it was learned that he had been in the habit of walking with her and boy saw him take her towards the coal docks.

Kompovic was found guilty on September 24, and was sentenced to die in the electric chair by Justice Bergen.

For a time there seemed a possibility that a most unusual defect in the indictment would give the man a new lease of life by furnishing grounds for an appeal. The indicement [sic] read “nurder” instead of “murder”, “n” having replaced “m” by a typographical error. But this technicality was not sufficient to warrant an appeal.

Kompovic was unaffected when he heard the jury’s verdict and the judge’s sentence, but as the days passed he grew more appreciative of the shortness of the time he was to remain on earth, and lost his stolid sulleness [sic], regaining it, however, when time came for him to die.

The capture of Kompovic and his speedy conviction was due to the painstaking work of Prosecutor Silzer and Assistant Prosecutor Stricker.* The accused’s defense was a complete denial, but Kompovic was unable on the stand to account for his actions at the time of the crime. He declared he was intoxicated and “couldn’t remember.”

A most unusual feature of the case was the testimony given by Dr. F.M. Hoffman, of this city, for the State. Dr. Hoffman, who had examined under the microscope scrapings taken from the defendant’s finger nails a few hours after his arrest, testified to having found portions of the opidermis, or upper skin of a human being, in these scrapings. Other witnesses told of scratches on the child’s face when the body was found.

* The Middlesex County prosecutor George Sebastian Silzer later became governor of New Jersey. His deputy in this instance, Joseph Stricker, would go on to become the county’s lead prosecutor; he’s noted as a figure in the sensational 1920s Hall-Mills murder case which (sad for this here morbid site) resulted only in acquittals. -ed.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Electrocuted,Execution,Murder,New Jersey,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Rape,USA

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1929: Yakov Blumkin, Trotskyist spy

4 comments November 3rd, 2020 Headsman

Yakov Blumkin was executed on this date in 1929.

It was a decade and more since he’d made his great historical mark, the July 1918 assassination of German diplomat Wilhelm von Mirbach.

Blumkin (English Wikipedia entry | Russian) undertook this as a deadly — so he hoped — strike against Bolshevik power. In the aftermath of the fledgling Soviet government’s controversial peace treaty with Germany to exit World War I, the hit was ordered by Blumkin’s party, the Left SRs, as a means to instigate renewed hostilities. Simultaneous with the murder, Left SRs launched a failed coup in Moscow, again on the inspiring policy of resuming the horrible war.

But Bolshevik Cheka director Felix Dzerzhinsky didn’t take this sort of thing personally, and by 1919 he’d made this ruthless operative into Moscow’s own asset. The ensuing decade would feature James Bond-esque adventure in Persia, the Caucasus, Arabia, Mongolia, and beyond; he was Leon Trotsky’s friend and, for a time, his secretary, who helped edit Trotsky’s Military Writings.

Blumkin lived large, and was not above flaunting his terrorist’s notoriety — “always brandishing his revolver in public places,” in the disdainful recollection of Nadezhda Mandestam. Blumkin adored poetry and poets; Victor Serge, another of the many writers he knew, is full of Blumkin anecdotes in his Memoirs of a Revolutionary, where he recalled him just back from Persia

more poised and virile than ever, his face solid and smooth-shaven, the haughty profile of an Israelite warrior. He stayed in a small apartment in the Arbat quarter, bare except for a rug and a splendid stool, a gift from some Mongol prince; and crooked sabres hung over his bottles of excellent wine.

Poets could be dangerous enough in the Stalinist nightmare years to come but it was that old Trotsky association that put him on the leading edge of the purges — especially since it wasn’t just ancient history. Blumkin apparently met with Trotsky secretly in Turkey after the latter was exiled, and even carried secret messages from him for friends still in the USSR. Reckless enough in retrospect but Blumkin was a veteran practitioner of the double game. Moreover, the judges were split on the penalty until Stalin personally weighed in — a reticence on recourse to this measure that purgees charged with personally conspiring with Trotsky would certainly not enjoy as the terror ripened in the 1930s.

Unlike many others who fell prey to political prosecutions in this period, Blumkin has never been rehabilitated by Russia/the USSR.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Assassins,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Russia,Shot,Spies,USSR

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1984: The Hondh-Chillar Massacre

Add comment November 2nd, 2020 Headsman

This was the date in 1984 of the Hondh-Chillar massacre

It was one of the many atrocities of the 1984 anti-Sikh riots that ensued the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards.

Hondh today sits in ruins. Prior to November 2, 1984, it was a tiny dhani — basically a hamlet — outside a still-extant village known as Chillar in the northern state of Haryana.

On that dread day, a couple of hundred toughs trucked in by the Congress Party arrived at the dhani and set about sacking the settlement and brutalizing the Sikh inhabitants; at least 31 were beaten or burned to death over the course of several hours.

Surviving villagers eventually rallied to drive off the mob and escaped that night from their devastated homes.

Like other anti-Sikh vigilantism this horror has never been published, and allowed to languish into forgetfulness, as was the physical village itself. The place flashed in the news in 2011 when an engineer in nearby Gurgaon learned about the event accidentally and visited the site’s ruins, later posting heartbreaking photos to social media. That brought calls for reopening case files and preserving the site, none of which occurred; the engineer was forced out of his job a few weeks later, however.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Bludgeoned,Borderline "Executions",Burned,Cycle of Violence,Disfavored Minorities,History,India,Innocent Bystanders,Lynching,Mass Executions,No Formal Charge,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Summary Executions

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1939: Edmund Jankowski, Olympic rower

Add comment November 1st, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1939, Polish Olympian Edmund Jankowski was shot by the Third Reich.

Jankowski (English Wikipedia entry | Polish) earned bronze in the coxed four rowing event at the 1928 summer games in Amsterdam.

He’s one of more than 1,000 Poles and Jews who were shot in the so-called “Valley of Death” — a site in Fordon during the autumn of 1939. The victims were heavily members of the intelligentsia systematically targeted for elimination by the Pomeranian arm of the Nazi Inteligentzaktion, implemented directly after swift conquest of Poland in September of that year. Jankowski, who by this time worked at a bicycle factory and was a reserve lieutenant in the army, was on such a kill list because of his longstanding activities in a Polish patriotic union.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Athletes,Entertainers,Execution,Germany,History,Mass Executions,No Formal Charge,Occupation and Colonialism,Poland,Power,Shot,Soldiers,Summary Executions,Wartime Executions

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1904: Wang Weiqin, by lingchi

Add comment October 31st, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1904, Wang Weiqin, an official who killed two families, was put to death in Beijing by lingchi (slow slicing, or death by a thousand cuts).

This execution is distinguished by its late date and, consequently, the photographs taken of it; needless to say, it is Mature Content below.

Several equally ghastly photographs of this event can be browsed here.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,China,Death Penalty,Execution,Gruesome Methods,History,Lingchi,Mature Content,Murder,Public Executions

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1937: Nikolai Nikolayevich Durnovo, Slavist

4 comments October 27th, 2020 Headsman

Russian linguist Nikolai Nikolayevich Durnovo was shot during Stalin’s purges on this date in 1937.

The man descended from tsarist nobility — not only the House of Durnovo but his mother’s House of Saltykov — and the Durnovo name might have been hateful to radicals from a key minister involved in the smashing-up of the 1905 revolution.*

Our Durnovo had more modest interests as “one of the pioneers of linguistic and geographical study of East Slavic languages” who did some of the foundational work sorting Russian, Belarussian, and Ukrainian linguistic features. He published a 1915 “Dialectological map of the Russian language in Europe with an essay on Russian dialectology” and (in 1924) the first Russian dictionary of linguistic terms. He had an appointment in Belarus and researched and lectured in Czechoslovakia as well, but was eventually denounced as a “bourgeois nationalist” and struggled for work with the pall of the 1930s.

In 1933-34 a number of Slavic studies intellectuals and especially linguists were arrested in an affair known as the Case of the Slavists — seemingly, as with a previous Case of the Academics, a campaign to enforce discipline upon a field of growing ideological importance to Moscow. Accused of suspect foreign contacts, convicts in this early purge received “mere” prison sentences, some eventually escaping to exile. But the scarlet letter upon them stood all in great danger as purges grew more deadly late in the 1930s, and our man Durnovo was not the only Slavist who was subsequently executed.**

He was shot at Sandarmokh in Karelia, a site with over 9,000 recorded executions from 1937 to 1938. His sons, Andrei and Yevgeny, were also both executed in 1938. All the convictions from the Slavists’ trials were overturned after Stalin’s death.


Memorial stone at Sandarmokh; the inscription implores “People! Do not kill one another!” (cc) image by Semenov.m7.

* That man, Pyotr Durnovo, is also famous for a 1914 memorandum acutely diagnosing the state of imperial rivalry between England and Germany and correctly forecasting that should Russia foolishly ally with England — he wrote in February, before the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand made the imminent onset of war obvious — it would court “social revolution in its most extreme form.”

[T]he trouble will start with the blaming of the Government for all disasters. In the legislative institutions a bitter campaign against the Government will begin, followed by revolutionary agitations throughout the country, with Socialist slogans, capable of arousing and rallying the masses, beginning with the division of the land and succeeded by a division of all valuables and property. The defeated army, having lost its most dependable men, and carried away by the tide of primitive peasant desire for land, will find itself too demoralized to serve as a bulwark of law and order. The legislative institutions and the intellectual opposition parties, lacking real authority in the eyes of the people, will be powerless to stem the popular tide, aroused by themselves, and Russia will be flung into hopeless anarchy, the issue of which cannot be foreseen.

Nicholas II should have listened to him.

** Not all were so unfortunate. Victor Vladimirovich Vinogradov was actually reinstated to the summit of the academy during Stalin’s life (and received the Stalin Prize in 1951). He’s still widely known in his field to this day as one of the seminal Russian linguists.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Intellectuals,Russia,Shot,USSR

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1944: Zainal Mustafa, resister

Add comment October 25th, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1944, the Japanese occupying Indonesia executed Zainal Mustafa with 17 of his followers.

The Javanese ulama had already been charged by the Dutch with provoking resistance to colonial rule by the time the Japanese moved in as the overseas overlord in March 1942.

Mustafa (English Wikipedia entry | Indonesian, which is the language of most links about him) was no more amenable to collaboration with the new bosses, and began constituting his students into a resistance militia.

After a February shootout with the santri in February 1944 that left a number of Japanese soldiers dead, the occupation came for him with overwhelming force and stuffed the prison at Tasikmalaya with 700 or more of them.

One of their number who survived the ordeal who rose to the brass of the Indonesian army later uncovered the details of his fate, including his secret execution. Mustafa was hailed as a National Hero of Indonesia in 1972.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Indonesia,Japan,Martyrs,Mass Executions,Occupation and Colonialism,Power,Religious Figures,Shot,Torture,Wartime Executions

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1949: Luka Javorina, trainwrecker

Add comment October 24th, 2020 Headsman

A 27-year-old railway worker named Luka Javorina was shot on this date in 1949 for workplace negligence resulting in a fatal train accident in Plavno, Yugoslavia (present-day Croatia).

According to this extensive profile (in Croatian), Javorina and some coworkers at the Plavno train station slaughtered a lamb for spit-roasting and tucked into about 12 liters of wine.

Javorina was the station chief there, although not a particularly happy one; he’d been transferred to the village station against his will a few months before, forcing him into an inconvenient commute. His discontent in Plavno might have been one oblique cause in what ensued, and perhaps a much more direct factor in his zeal to suddenly binge-drink on the job when he hadn’t drunk at all since 1945.

The rail schedule went to pot that night, not because he and a couple of on-duty switchmen were getting drunk but due to the everyday logistical knock-ons in a complex transport network. The upshot of those knock-ons were that a passenger train southbound from Zagreb, and a freight train northbound from Knin, became slated to cross one another at Plavno that night. (Ordinarily, they would have crossed elsewhere.)

Informed by phone of his new and critical responsibility to manage the passage of these opposite-heading trains, the wine-addled Javorina acknowledged it and apparently promptly forgot it — failing to inform the (equally drunk) switchmen and ultimately leaving the signals on at both ends of his station. The result was a horrifying head-on collision in the dark pre-dawn hours, two kilometers south of Plavno. Twenty-one people were killed; Javorina pathetically fled to a nearby corn field and hid himself in shame or (as he said) fear of lynching while survivors were being rescued. Far more than a “mere” deadly workplace accident, this negligence was tantamount to a state-level crime considering the urgency of economic development and ideological credibility in these postwar years. You just cannot have people entrusted with critical infrastructure who feel free to get shitfaced on the job.

“The accused Javorina came to a state of not only severe fatigue but also almost complete oblivion due to alcohol consumption,” the court found in sentencing him to death. The switchmen got prison terms for complicity, they also being drunk at their posts even though it was Javorina’s failure to tell them what was happening that prevented them averting the disaster.

An hour before the execution, on October 24, a door opened in Javorina’s cell. An investigator stood in the doorway. He briefly asked the convict, “Do you know that your request for pardon was denied?”

Javorina just nodded. Then he put on his coat and left the cell. He said nothing. He knew where they were taking him. He got into a closed police car in the prison yard. Along with them were two other armed guards. They said nothing. Javorina only asked them for a cigarette at one point.

They drove for less than an hour — at 4.45 pm they stopped on a hill. Javorina did not know the area. Getting out of the car, the former head of the railway station in Plavno still had a cigarette in his mouth.

They took him to a freshly dug mound and drove him away. Ten armed militiamen stood ten meters in front of him. They waited for the convict to smoke a cigarette. At 5 pm, a short man, clad in an overcoat, approached Javorina. Four minutes later, the afternoon silence of Korešnica was interrupted by a barrage of military rifles. Then the doctor’s voice was heard: “Luka Javorina is dead. Death occurred at 17.04, ascertained at 17.05.”

The file on the catastrophe of the passenger train number 1012, which was traveling on the Zagreb-Split route, was thus closed.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Croatia,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Murder,Shot,Yugoslavia

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