Posts filed under 'USA'

1928: Frank Sharp, palm printed

Add comment October 19th, 2020 Headsman

From the Scottsbluff (Nebraska) Star Herald, October 19, 1928:


Sharp Dies in Chair, Protesting Innocence

Executed for Murder of Wife in 1926; Mother’s Plea to Governor Fails.

Tells All “Goodby”

Lincoln, Neb., Oct. 19 (AP) — Maintaining his innocence to the last, Frank Sharp, 52, twice convicted and twice sentenced to death for the murder of his wife, Harriett, near here in March, 1926, was electrocuted in the Nebraska penitentiary at 6:29 a.m. today.

A current of 2,400 volts was allowed to course through his body.

Sharp was apparently the calmest man in the room as the attendants strapped his arms and legs to the chair. He was breathing a little heavily and he moved his finger nervously, but otherwise displayed no emotion.

“Good-by and God bless you,” he said to reporters, witnesses and physicians in the room.

Sharp listened attentively while prayers were said by Father Ford and by Chaplain Maxwell.

Visited by Relatives.

Sharp repeated a prayer with the priest while holding a small crucifix in his left hand.

When the chaplain extended his hand toward Sharp, the prisoner said “you’ll have to come over to me. I can’t move my hand.”

“I am not afraid to die, gentlemen,” Sharp said while guards ripped his trousers to clamp part of the death harness on his leg. “There’s no reason for me to be afraid.”

“All right, sir,” he told the executioner after a request that he close his eyes. “Fix things to suit yourself. Whatever you do is all right with me.”

Even after the head piece was placed on him and the heavy strap over his face, Sharp continued to talk.

“You’re smashing my nose,” he said twice before the executioner adjusted it.

The doomed man had cheerful good-bys for the warden, chaplain, priest and his friends and in each case ended by saying “God bless you.”

The current was turned on at 6:29 and after 45 seconds was turned off. The doctors examined the body and pronounce Sharp dead at 6:32.

His body was claimed by his family and will be buried at the local cemetery.

The condemned man’s brother and his wife, Mr. and Mrs. Charley Sharp, visited the death cell yesterday evening.

Wife Slain in 1926.

Among those who were present at the execution were the murdered woman’s brother, Homer Wilis, and her son by a former marriage, Art Ostbloom.

Mrs. Sharp was killed on the night of March 16, 1926. Her body, its skull mutilated by blows of a hammer, was found in the family [obscure], two miles northeast of Havelock, the next morning, after an all-night search by local police.

Blood stains on his clothes directed suspicion toward Sharp. Foot prints near the murder scene that were found to coincide with the shoes Sharp was wearing that night. Other circumstancial evidence also was found, the most important of which was a palm print of the hammer, used to kill Mrs. Sharp.

Convicted on Palm Print.

This print was declared by experts to be similar to Sharp’s and had a large part in his conviction. It is believed Sharp was the first man to be executed largely on palm print evidence.

His first conviction was reversed by the supreme court on technical errors, but his second conviction was affirmed.

Sharp always contended he was held up by robbers who bound and blindfolded him and abducted his wife. This was the story he told when he aroused a farm home on the night of the murder and to which he staunchly clung during his trials and his appeal to the state pardon board in a final attempt to escape the death penalty.

Without retracting this story, Sharp remained composed and apparently confident. He declared he was ready to die and forgave everyone concerned with his conviction.

“Innocent as a Child.”

After Warren W.T. Fenton had read the death warrant, the condemned man asserted that he was as innocent as a child. “If it will help things any to kill me,” he said, “it is all right with me.” He then handed his statement to the warden and asked the newspapers to print it. The statement, written in long hand with a pencil, follows:

Frank Sharp’s final statement to the newspapers:

I have always contended the facts would come to light before I would go to the electricity chair.

I hold no imminity to anybody.

I want to thank everybody that tryed to help me in my last hour.

The state onley claims circumstanced evidents in my case and I believe the evidents proves my innocents far beyond a doubt. I wish to forgive everybody that hold an evial thought against me and may God bless them.

And all I have to ask for is a chance to prove my innocents.

FRANK E. SHARP.

Members of the Sharp family called at the capitol last evening to make a last presentation to Governor McMullen. Mrs. A.G. Sharp, 75, mother of Sharp, was leaning on the arm of one of her sons. The group comprised two brothers of Sharp, a son, two sisters and the mother. They were received in the governor’s private office and remained half an hour. Governor McMullen explained the manner in which the board of pardons had considered Sharp’s allegation of newly discovered evidence and its decision that the facts presented had no bearing on the case and told them of the powers and duties of the governor and of his inability to take further action. Upon taking their leave members of the party said they had no fault to find with the governor’s decision of his duty in the case.

On this day..

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

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1948: Arthur Eggers, by Earl Warren

1 comment October 15th, 2020 Headsman

Arthur Eggers was gassed in California on this date in 1948.

He had murdered his wife in December 1945, using his carpenter’s tools to saw off her head and hands to complicate identification. Although this gambit didn’t work, there was no clear motive or physical evidence to tie Eggers to the crime and he might have skated had he not put his used car up for sale a week later. It was bought by a sheriff’s deputy, who promptly found Dorothy Eggers’s blood in the boot. As it emerged, it seems to have been a crime borne from sexual rage, as the vivacious Dorothy apparently slept around and/or ridiculed Arthur’s impotence.

Eggers’s death warrant carried the signature of California Gov. Earl Warren, who at this moment was just a couple of weeks out from coasting to the White House as the Vice Presidential nominee on the Republican ticket. The ticket-topper Thomas Dewey was comfortably outpolling unpopular incumbent Harry S Truman, and merely running out the clock to a comfortable win universally anticipated by pundits.


lol.

Well actually, it turned out that Earl Warren would be cooling his heels in Sacramento for five more years.

Warren is an intriguing figure for our site‘s interests, for a couple of reasons.

Most obvious to U.S. readers is his 16-year stint as the U.S. Supreme Court’s Chief Justice. He was a liberal Republican, a once-numerous species subsequently hunted to extinction, and his tenure atop the “Warren Court” is synonymous with postwar liberal jurisprudence that has been anathema to his former party ever since. Warren retired in 1969 prior to the decision, but the landmark 1972 Furman v. Georgia rulng invalidating then-existing death penalty statutes is a legacy of that same epoch; even before Warren’s own departure from the court a nationwide death penalty moratorium had settled in, in anticipation of the federal bench sorting out whether the death penalty could continue to exist at all. (Warren died in 1974, so he never saw the triumphant return of capital punishment.) Beyond the specific issue of the death penalty, Warren’s court greatly strengthened the due process rights of accused criminals with consequences for every criminal prosecution down to the preseent day: it is this period that gives us the Miranda warning (“you have the right to remain silent …”), the right to an attorney for indigent defendants, and prohibitions on using evidence obtained by dodgy searches.

But we can also view Warren the Vice Presidential candidate as an oddity.

While we’ve dwelt here upon the rich death penalty history of U.S. Presidents, our future liberal legal lion appears to be the most recent Vice-Presidential nominee for either of the two major parties to have sent men to an executioner, at least a judicial one. For whatever reason, the VP bids subsequently have tended towards products of Congress rather than the governors’ mansions where the life-and-death calls get made; there’s an exception in 1968, when both Spiro Agnew (Republican) and Edmund Muskie (Democrat) had been governors … but Agnew was the brand-new governor of Maryland during the Warren Court’s aforementioned death penalty moratorium, and Muskie the previous governor of Maine, which abolished capital punishment in the 19th century. The sitting Vice President as of this writing, Mike Pence, would kill a human as easily as a fly, but no death cases reached his desk during his 2013-2017 spin as Governor of Indiana: ongoing wrangling over the availability and constitutionality of various lethal injection drugs has sidelined the Hoosier headsman for the best part of a decade.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,California,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Gassed,History,Murder,Sex,USA

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1780: The Biggerstaff Hanging Tree earns its name

Add comment October 14th, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1780, American Revolution patriots hanged nine captive loyalist prisoners in North Carolina, in the wake of the Battle of King’s Mountain.

Although the colonials would ultimately accomplish their break with the British Empire, the British and their local loyalists had a strong run in a southern campaign from about 1778.

But even at their acme, the redcoats could not extend their writ westward past the Appalachian Mountains, into the frontiers where hunger to swallow up Indian land made for ferocious adherence to the pro-independence cause, since the Crown was trying to limit settler expansion in those zones. The ones who turned their muskets against their king would become known as the “Overmountain Men” — and the Battle of King’s Mountain was their glory.

Feeling their oats after thrashing Horatio Gates‘s rebel army at the Battle of Camden — seen here in the Mel Gibson/Heath Ledger movie The Patriot

— the Brits sent the capable Scottish Major Patrick Ferguson into the mountains to roust out the irregulars. After some weeks of maneuver, Ferguson faced off with the Overmountain Men on October 7 at a wooded crag just south of the border between the Carolinas: barely a “mountain”, and definitely not the king’s. In an hourlong fight, the Overmountain militia overwhelmed Ferguson’s command, killing Ferguson himself.

Historical novel about the events surrounding King’s Mountain. (Review)

It was a stunning blow to the British, and checked that rampant southern campaign; as British prospects slipped away in subsequent years, King’s Mountain would loom as a mighty portent. The British commander Sir Henry Clinton considered King’s Mountain “the first link in a chain of events that followed each other in regular succession until they at last ended in the total loss of America.” In a more buoyant mood, Thomas Jefferson judged this battle “the joyful annunciation of the turn of the tide of success which terminated the Revolutionary War, with the Seal of our independence.”

Not so joyful were nearly 700 Tory prisoners whom the colonial militia hurriedly marched west to Gilbert Town (present-day Rutherfordton) in the western reaches of North Carolina. The militia’s blood was up already from British atrocities; at King’s Mountain, the British had difficulty surrendering to baying guerrillas who killed the first man to offer the white flag, baying for revenge upon previous massacres of patriots.

While holding their prisoners at the farm of Aaron Biggerstaff — a Tory who had been killed at King’s Mountain, even as his Patriot brother languished in British custody — word reached the Overmountain Men that yet more revolutionists had been executed in British custody.

Vowing to put a stop to this this, they put 36 of their prisoners to a drumhead trial on October 14 and sentenced them all to death. Nine of them were actually hanged that evening, three by three: Ambrose Mills, Robert Wilson, James Chitwood, Arthur Grimes, Thomas Lafferty, Walter Gilkey, John McFall, John Bibby, and Augustine Hobbs. Mills, a colonel and the leader of the loyalist forces in this western county, was the most prominent of the bunch.

Intercession by Patriot officers and the Biggerstaff women put a stop to the proceedings; the other 27 “condemned” were simply suffered to return to the horde of POWs, and marched out the next morning.

A sign noting the place of the Biggerstaff Hanging Tree is one of the markers on the National Parks Service’s Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,History,Mass Executions,North Carolina,Occupation and Colonialism,Public Executions,Soldiers,Summary Executions,USA,Wartime Executions

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1998: Jeremy Vargas Sagastegui

Add comment October 13th, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1998, Jeremy Vargas Sagastegui completed his suicide-by-executioner.

Babysitting on November 19, 1995, for a friend in the small town of Finley, just east of the Tri-Cities, Sagastegui raped and drowned his three-year-old charge Kievan Sarbacher, then awaited the return of Kievan’s mother to shoot her dead too, along with her friend.

As a capper, he stole Melissa Sarbacher’s truck, too — but he wasn’t trying to flee. The next morning when detectives showed up at Sagastegui’s Kennewick apartment, he had his bloody clothes, his rifle, and the stolen vehicle waiting to turn over to them. From that time until he was stretched on a gurney at the Walla Walla penitentiary, he had one steadfast refrain: he wanted the death penalty, as soon as possible.

Sagastegui acted as his own attorney, and put on no defense save to encourage his jurors to end his life. “I killed the kid, I killed the mother and I killed her friend,” he advised them. “And if their friends had come over, I would’ve killed them, too.” He pursued no appeals, and fought off attempts by his mother to make legal interventions on his behalf — her arguments were that he was severely mentally ill, and had been abused as a child — and used the legal capital punishment apparatus to do himself in. There was no final statement.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Diminished Capacity,Execution,Lethal Injection,Murder,USA,Volunteers,Washington

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1843: Jacob West, Ridge-Watie faction assassin

Add comment October 11th, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1843, the Cherokee nation in Oklahoma hanged Jacob West for an election-related murder.

The affair was part of the bloody factional conflict among Cherokee following the Trail of Tears expulsion from ancestral homelands in the American southeast. We’ve touched previously on this conflict in our post on Archilla Smith, the first man executed in the new Cherokee lands. Indeed, West’s victim was the man who prosecuted Archilla Smith, a fellow by the name of Isaac Bushyhead.*

Both that previous hanged man Smith and this date’s principal, Jacob West, were affiliated to the RidgeWatie faction — Cherokee who had signed the controversial treaty acceding to removal. It’s a fair supposition that the growing U.S. would have ethnically cleansed the Cherokee in the east no matter what, but in the event, it was this treaty that supplied the legal basis for doing so. For obvious reasons, the faction aligned with it was not universally popular.

That’s especially so given their opposition by the Cherokee principal chief, John Ross — the nation’s great statesman in the mid-19th century who refused to sign off on removal. For several years in the early 1840s, recriminations between the Ridge-Watie and Ross factions boiled frequently over into violence.

No surprise, then, that we find in R. Michael Wilson’s Legal Executions in Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma Including the Indian Territory: A Comprehensive History a deadly attack in the co

On August 8, 1843, following the biennial elections, Jacob West led a party of six men, including sons George and John West, in an attack on three election judges counting ballots in the Saline District. During the melee that followed George West stabbed Isaac Bushyhead, who had been the prosecutor of [Archilla] Smith, killing him, and all the men beat David Vann, treasurer, and Elijah Hicks, associate Judge of the Cherokee Supreme Court, but Vann and Hicks survived and recovered. A large crowd finally surged forward and captured Jacob and John West, but George and the other three men escaped.

West, a born U.S. citizen who had married into and long lived among the Cherokee, in his own turn appealed to the federal government for a writ of habeas corpus to escape his neighbors’ jurisdiction. It was a case potentially implicating many of the thorny questions of citizenship and sovereignty that have haunted federal-tribal relationships for generations.

Future U.S. president Zachary Taylor, then the commander of the frontier military district surrounding the Cherokee lands, forwarded West’s petitions sympathetically to the U.S. Supreme Court. The courts preferred the reply of the Cherokee official who wrote,

Jacob West has resided in the Cherokee nation, as a citizen thereof, between thirty and forty years, enjoying the benefits of the laws of the nation in every respect during the above period, and has raised a tolerable numerous family of Cherokee children since his residence among us; and although his wife is dead, he is still a citizen of our country, by virtue of our laws and customs … If Jacob West were nothing more than a transient citizen among us, the case would be different; but his expatriating himself from his own country, marrying among the Cherokees, raising a family, remaining among us, participating in our funds, enjoying the benefits of treaties, make it appear he is a citizen of the country.

Jacob West was hanged at Tahlequah on October 11. Four days later, his son John West was publicly flogged for the same crime. In between those two days, John Ross enacted packages of new legislation meant to control the destabilizing political violence abroad, authorizing new policing bodies and harsher penalties for hiding fugitives.

* There’s a recent biography about Bushyhead’s brother, minister Jesse Bushyhead.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Murder,Occupation and Colonialism,Oklahoma,Power,Public Executions,USA

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1938: Adam “Eddie” Richetti, Pretty Boy Floyd sidekick

Add comment October 7th, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1938, Adam “Eddie” Richetti was gassed for a notorious gangland bloodbath, the Kansas City Massacre. Whether he was actually involved in said massacre is a different question.

Richetti was a sidekick of the much better-known outlaw Charles “Pretty Boy” Floyd, a guy who earned his cred in social banditry by taking time during his many Depression-era bank robberies to set fire to the mortgage liens.*

J. Edgar Hoover promoted this looker to Public Enemy Number One after the slot was vacated by the late John Dillinger — and that spotlight was much due to a railroad station shootout in 1933 known as the Kansas City Massacre. There, three gangsters led by Vernon Miller ambushed lawmen escorting Miller’s arrested associate Frank “Jelly” Nash. It was an attempt to free the latter, but he was shot dead in the fusillade — along with FBI agent Raymond Caffrey, two Kansas City detectives, and the McAlester, Oklahoma police chief who had helped arrest Nash only the night before. Several other John Law types were injured in the shootout.

While Miller’s role is known, the identities of his two confederates have never been established to the satisfaction of a historical consensus. The FBI tabbed Floyd and Richetti as the other gunmen involved, and the bureau’s page on the event still asserts this positively. Floyd and Richetti always denied it — while still a fugitive, Floyd even sent Kansas City police a postcard disavowing the attack — and there has long been a suspicion that the FBI’s conclusion was born of expediency instead of investigative rigor. Robert Unger’s 1997 book on the case is subtitled “The Original Sin of J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI.

It would do for both Floyd and Richetti, however.

In 1934, the two had a one-car accident while driving in the fog. A suspicious passing motorist alerted police and in no time Floyd had been gunned down in an Ohio cornfield; his subsequent funeral in Oklahoma would draw a crowd tens of thousands strong.

Less mourned, Eddie Richetti was taken into custody and executed in the judicial way for the Kansas City Massacre, his trial a parade of eyewitnesses of questionable veracity. He was just the fifth person executed in Missouri’s brand-new gas chamber, which had just come online that same blessed year: any less time on the run, and he would have been bound for the hangman instead.

Eddie Richetti lives on in the culture as a supporting role in any film about Pretty Boy Floyd.

* Possibly an urban legend, but Floyd’s public popularity was real.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Gassed,History,Missouri,Murder,Outlaws,USA,Wrongful Executions

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1845: Abner Baker, feudmaker

Add comment October 3rd, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1845 — sneering at the noose with the words “Behold the necklace of a whore!” — Abner Baker was publicly hanged in Manchester, Kentucky.

He was the second casualty — the first was the man whom he murdered — in the Baker-Howard feud, or the Clay County War, a bloody interfamily conflict that would blight the Kentucky mountains into the next century.

Its headwaters were a man out of his head: just how much so would be the controversy of his case, and a foundational grievance of the feud.

Said head perched itself on the shoulders of our man Abner Baker, who — prior to his unfortunate turn towards derangement — was a respectable frontier striver, with an unsuccessful stint in commerce redeemed by a medical practice. He had also to his name a wife born Susan White, a woman — or rather a 14-year-old girl — from a wealthy family who was respectable in the eyes of all save he.

As Baker slid into lunacy, he leveled at his spouse the most lurid charges of concupiscence, of having committed gleeful incest, of having orgies with slaves, and of cheating on him with another wealthy man, Daniel Bates. Bates was married to Baker’s sister.

Testimony printed in an 1845 volume to capitalize on interest in the case, Life and trial of Dr. Abner Baker, Jr: (a monomaniac) features many acquaintances establishing a delusional paranoia about his wife’s intercourse with Daniel Bates — with Baker brandishing a Bowie knife around her to the extent that their mutuals feared for her life; ranting about his wife cuckolding him in his very bed while he slept beside her; fixing on his certainty that Bates designed to murder him. They also report acquaintances, and Baker’s own father, increasingly convinced that the man had gone mad.

On September 13, 1844, Baker presented himself at Bates’s salt works and shot Bates in the back. Bates lingered on for several hours, doing much to stoke the succeeding generations of clan vigilantes by bequeathing $10,000 to seek his murderer’s life and making his son promise to take revenge.

The subsequent legal drama pitted that quest for revenge against Baker sympathizers’ conviction that the man was too starkers to swing. The first magistrates to review the matter days after Bates’s murder took the latter view and released him, allowing Baker to decamp to Cuba to recuperate.

The Bateses were not to be balked this easily, however, and prevailed on Commonwealth attorneys to indict Baker for murder. At the urging of his father, the good doctor voluntarily returned to defend himself when he learned of this. The text of the trial comprises witnesses clashing over whether the killer suffered from “monomania”, but the subtext was the flexing muscle of the White family — that of Abner Baker’s poor traduced wife.

The Whites were Clay County royalty on the strength of their salt mining wealth, and allied to the Bates family. Their peers and rivals, the Garrards, were locked in tense economic competition and even came within a whisker of murdering Daniel Bates himself in a different standoff in 1840. They took a more sympathetic view of Abner Baker’s obviously unbalanced mental state and tried to shield him from his persecutors; the Garrard patriarch was one of the magistrates who had initially ruled Baker too crazy to prosecute.* It was the Whites who, in effect, outmuscled the Garrards by forcing Baker’s prosecution and execution.

“The BAKERS wept with rage for the WHITES helping the BATES to bring Abner Baker to trial when they knew he was insane,” this history of Clay County feuding observes. “The lines had been drawn and competition for salt hardened into hostility.”

Enjoy a podcast situating this affair in the regional economy and the resulting political rivalries, from American History Tellers here, as well as a successor episode on the resulting feud, here

* Baker thanked the Garrards in his last address from the gallows (“the Garrard family, on whom I had no claims, came up like noble-souled men, and asked the county to give me justice”).

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Diminished Capacity,Doctors,Execution,Hanged,History,Kentucky,Murder,Power,Public Executions,Sex,USA,Wrongful Executions

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2000: Ricky McGinn

Add comment September 27th, 2020 Headsman

“I thought being away from the prison system would make me think about the things I’d seen less, but it was quite the opposite. I’d think about it all the time. It was like I’d taken the lid off Pandora’s Box and I couldn’t put it back on.

I’d open a bag of chips and smell the death chamber, or something on the radio would remind me of a conversation I’d had with an inmate, hours before he was executed. Or I’d see the wrinkled hands of Ricky McGinn’s mother, pressed against the glass of the death chamber, and I’d dissolve into tears.

Michelle Lyons, former spokesperson for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, on the burden she carries from witnessing some 300 executions. McGinn was executed by lethal injection on September 27, 2000, for raping and murdering his 12-year-old stepdaughter.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Lethal Injection,Murder,Rape,Texas,USA

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1947: Yoshio Tachibana, ravenous

Add comment September 24th, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1947, Japanese Imperial Army Lt. Gen. Yoshio Tachibana was hanged as a war criminal.

A career officer whose own star rose along with Japan’s empire, Tachibana (English Wikipedia entry | Japanese) was one of the youngest generals on the squad and had command of the garrison on Chichijima, a Pacific island that’s part of the same archipelago as Iwo Jima.

According to Timothy Maga* evidence at the subsequent war crimes trials portrayed a monstrous pattern of routine murder of POWs and even a “cannibalism craze” driven by the unchecked sadism of Tachibana and some of his fellow officers.

Tachibana had beheaded his victim before the feast. Human flesh, he had boasted to his men, toughened him up, making him ‘strong for battle’. The Tachibana trial was truly an amazing spectacle, although it never received the press attention of less disturbing cases in Tokyo. The prosecution even charged that Tachibana’s example influenced young officers in his command, creating a certain reign of horror on Chichi Jima throughout late 1944 and early 1945. Yet finding ‘smoking gun’ evidence against Tachibana was difficult, and Rear-Adm. Arthur Robinson who presided in this case demanded evidence rather than damning tales. In August 1946, a team went to Chichi Jima and scoured the island. They found the bodies of eight of Tachibana’s victims. The torture, murder and cannibalism accusations against Tachibana numbered in the hundreds, but there was little left to prove any of them. Fourteen of Tachibana’s junior officers had been similarly charged, but, in the madness that was Chichi Jima, it was also difficult to assign specific murders to specific individuals …

Capt. Hiro Kasuga, who was briefly on Chichi Jima while en route to Tokyo near the end of the war, told the commission that one of the first things he saw on the island was several American POWs tied to stakes near Tachibana’s headquarters. All were starving, and, at one point, he dared to give one of the men a rice cake and water. The confusion of an American air raid had permitted him this action, for Tachibana, Kasuga learned, tortured all POWs in his keeping … he saw only one American servicman live longer than a couple of weeks on Chichi Jima. That soldier, Kasuga testified, had a decent command of the Japanese language, and Tachibana used him to translate American radio broadcasts. The wireless operator bayoneted him after ‘he was no longer of any use’, and Tachibana commended this subordinate for his action. Kasuga claimed that Tachibana and his officers regarded ‘human life of no more value than an old post at a dusty crossroads’. He said he ‘had been to hell’, and it was Tachibana’s Chichi Jima.

Kasuga’s credibility was in some doubt but corroboration came by way of an amazing character named Fumio Tamamuro. An American of Japanese descent, Tamamuro had the ill luck to be visiting relatives in Japan when the Pearl Harbor bombing abruptly opened war between the countries, and he was drafted into the Japanese army. He’d been under Tachibana’s command on Chichijima at the end of the war.

His testimony was in flawless English. Tamamuro claimed that he had befriended an American POW wireless operator translator. He also claimed to have witnessed the man’s execution, describing in detail the leather jacket and scarf that the victim was wearing at the time. This was critical, for the prosecution had found such a jacket and scarf near a road in Chichi Jima. They also found what was left of a body there, although identification was impossible. Tamamuro described the road and grave site in detail, noting that the victim had been ordered to dig his own shallow grave before the execution. When asked why he needed to be present during this murder, Tamamuro tearfully explained that he had promised his ‘friend’ that he would b there to the end.

The naval facilities and long-range radio there made Chichijima a regular magnet for U.S. bombing raids, which in turn assured a steady supply of captives to abuse courtesy of the island’s anti-aircraft batteries. The eight exhumed bodies referenced above formed the basis of the Tachibana’s eventual hanging, and it is these killings that are known as the Chichijima Incident — even though they might simply have been the latest and best-documented among many similar horrors.

In September 1944, eight downed flyers were captured by Chichijima’s defenders.

In the mischance of war, the Fates deal out good and ill luck by their own inscrutable logic. A ninth flyer might have numbered in this same batch, for he too was downed over Chichijima on the same mission. But 20-year-old Navy Lt. George Herbert Walker Bush bailed out of an exploding bomber, and somehow defied a head injury, the force of the tides, the pursuit of Japanese boats, and the monsters of the deep for a fascinating life that culminated as the 41st U.S. president. In his book about the Chichijima Incident, Flyboys: A True Story of Courage, James Bradley sketches the sliding door to an alternate timeline.

He splashed down about four miles northeast of the island and swam to a collapsible yellow one-man life raft dropped from another plane. He inflated it and climbed in. He had no paddles, and the wind was blowing him toward Chichi Jima.

“I could see the island,” Bush told me. “I started paddling with my hands, leaning over the front of the raft, paddling as hard as I could. A Portuguese man-of-war had stung my arm and it hurt. I had swallowed a few pints of water and I was vomiting. My head was bleeding. I was wondering about my crewmen. I was crying. I was twenty years old and I was traumatized. I had just survived a burning plane crash. I was all alone and I was wondering if I’d make it.”

Chichijima’s defenders had seen him go down too, and launched boats for him. The other pilots on the mission, running low on fuel, were able to strafe them away from the chase but as their fuel dwindled they had to abandon him, radioing his situation on to friendly forces.

For what seemed like an eternity, George paddled and hoped and paddled some more. “I had seen the famous photo of the Australian pilot being beheaded,” Bush told me, “and I knew how Americans were treated at Bataan. Yes, I had a few things on my mind.”

But the radio ping fired off by his fellow aviators spared the future president from those fates and worse, summoning for a rescuer the submarine USS Finback.


George Bush being fished out of the drink on September 2, 1944.

* “‘Away from Tokyo:’ the Pacific Islands War Crimes Trials, 1945-1949”, The Journal of Pacific History, June 2001. This book develops the evidence in greater detail.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Japan,Lucky to be Alive,Murder,Not Executed,Soldiers,Torture,U.S. Military,USA,War Crimes

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1959: John Day Jr., Korean War casualty

Add comment September 23rd, 2020 Headsman

From Legal Executions in Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma Including the Indian Territory: A Comprehensive History:

Day, John E., Jr.
September 23, 1959

On December 23, 1950, twenty-two-year-old John E. Day, Jr., a black private serving in Korea, made sexual advances toward the wife of Korean civilian Lee Hak Chum, sometimes given as Lee Mak Chun, in Seoul. Chum came to her defense but Day pulled a pistol and shot Chum to death. Day was immediately arrested, and in January 1951 he faced a general court-martial. Day was found guilty of murder and on October 1, 1951, he was sentence to hang at Fort Leavenworth, the first American to receive a death sentences during the Korean conflict. He was transported to the disciplinary barracks at Fort Leavenworth while the case was under review. The verdict and sentence were approved by the general staff and then the appeals process commenced. The case was considered numerous times but finally the U.S. Supreme Court, after eight years, approved the verdict and sentence, and the matter was forwarded to President Dwight D. Eisenhower. The president carefully considered the matter before issuing an executive order to proceed with the execution and set the date for execution at September 23, 1959.

Just before midnight Commandant Colonel Weldon W. Cox appeared at the cell door and escorted Day into the power plant building and onto the gallows platform. The prisoner took his place on the trapdoor where Colonel Cox read the warrant for execution of sentence. When the reading concluded Day declined to speak to the witnesses, and, while the chaplain prayed for his soul, Colonel Cox retired and turned preparations over to three sergeants. While the chaplain continued praying the three sergeants bound the prisoner’s limbs with straps, adjusted the noose, and pulled the black cap over his head. At 12:02 a.m. the trap was sprung and Day dropped, breaking his neck in the fall. An Army physician was in attendance and he pronounced Day dead in fifteen minutes, and then the remains were lowered into the coffin provided. He was buried in the military portion of the cemetery later that day.

Sources: Daily Herald (Utah County, UT): September 23, 1959. Dallas Morning News (TX): September 25, 1959.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Hanged,Kansas,Korea,Murder,Occupation and Colonialism,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,South Korea,U.S. Federal,USA

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