Posts filed under 'Women'

2019: Hervin Khalaf, Rojava politician

1 comment October 12th, 2020 Headsman

One year ago today, Rojava political figure Hervin Khalaf was killed by summary execution.

A Syrian Kurd whose family counts several martyrs to that people’s long struggle for self-determination, Khalaf (English Wikipedia entry | French was a civil engineer in Al-Malikiyah at the tip of Syria’s furthest-northeast salient wedged between Turkey and Iraq. It’s a heavily multiethnic part of the country; the Assyrian singer Faia Younan hails from the same town.

Amid the ongoing civil war that has fractured the map of Syria, Al-Malikiyah has since 2012 been part of Rojava, a de facto (albeit legally unrecognized) independent heavily-Kurdish polity that has unfolded an appealing secular social revolution featuring women’s rights and democratic devolution. Khalaf personified that vision, fired by the future she was making with her own hands; in an obituary, a friend recalled her rising at 5 in the morning and working until midnight, everything from diplomatic wrangling to teaching mathematics to children. She became the secretary-general of the liberal Future Syria Party.

Rojava has been menaced on all sides throughout its brief existence: initially by the Syrian army, which eventually withdrew amicably to allow both parties to focus on other threats; by the Islamic State; and — of moment to this post — by neighboring Turkey.

Turkey’s long-running conflict with its own Kurdish populace just across the border was of course a concern for Rojava and the Kurdish militias that supported it. When the United States withdrew its forces from northeast Syria in 2019, it laid Rojava open to Turkish invasion — which occurred on October 9, 2019. Days into that attack, an allied local militia of Sunni extremists stopped Khalaf’s armored SUV at a roadside checkpoint and summarily executed both she and her driver, Farhad Ahmed. The murder drew worldwide outrage.

While Rojava’s prospects seemed grim indeed in these days, Russia — stepping into the void as the Kurds’ great power patron — brokered a deal with Turkey that has prevented the region being overrun entirely.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Execution,History,Kurdistan,Martyrs,No Formal Charge,Politicians,Power,Ripped from the Headlines,Shot,Syria,Turkey,Wartime Executions,Women

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1614: Magdalena Weixler, “my innocence will come to light”

Add comment October 10th, 2020 Headsman

From Servants of Satan: The Age of the Witch Hunts:

Another surviving letter from a condemned witch to her husband comes from Ellwangen in 1614. Magdalena Weixler wife of the chapter scribe Georg, wrote shortly before her execution: “I know that my innocence will come to light, even if I do not live to see it. I would not be concerned that I must die, if it were not for my poor children; but if it must be so, may God give me the grace that I may endure it with patience.”

Weixler’s case was especially horrible because her jailer had tricked her into turning over her jewelry and granting him sexual favors in return for a false promise to spare her from torture. Soon afterward, the jailer was caught and tried for bribery and breaking the secrecy of court proceedings. His trial revealed widespread rape of imprisoned women and the existence of an extortion racket whereby guards sold names to torture victims who desperately needed people to accuse of complicity in witchcraft. Such corruption among jailers must have been common when prisons themselves were a kind of torture [“when” -ed.], especially for those too poor to buy food and warm clothing from the turnkey.

The October 10 execution date comes from this pdf roster of German witchcraft executions.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Burned,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Germany,History,Public Executions,Torture,Witchcraft,Women,Wrongful Executions

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1953: Erna Dorn, June 17 rising patsy

Add comment October 1st, 2020 Headsman

Erna Dorn was executed in secret in Dresden, East Germany on this date in 1953.

Dorn (English Wikipedia entry | German) had been a typist in Gestapo headquarters — real banality of evil stuff — before going to work at Ravensbruck, which was a bit less banal. This is the setup to a fair few executions of Nazi personnel but Frau Dorn got there by a very unusual path.

After the war she was able to pass for several years as a concentration camp survivor rather than a camp staffer, but her cover persona fell apart by the end of the 1940s resulting in her divorce, her expulsion from the Communist party, and her prosecution — first for theft and eventually for the Nazi stuff. However, her sentence was a term of years, not death.

Virtually everything known about her comes from her interrogations over this period and Erna Dorn was your basic unreliable narrator. You’ve got her opportunistically evolving cover stories, and then her swinging into possibly exaggerated claims of responsibility for great abuses, all intermediated by the Stasi with its own interests. “It turns out that everything from Dorn is a fabrication, with zero correlation to truth,” a frustrated interrogator noted after following her tales down one too many blind alleys.

Dorn might have served out her 15 years and been released to take her shifting secrets to an obscure grave. But the June 17, 1953 protests against the East German government threw open the doors of the Halle detention center where she was held, allowing some 250 prisoners a very brief escape (in Dorn’s case, she was out for a single day) before Soviet intervention crushed the rebellion.

As goes the June 17 uprising Dorn was merely a bystander swept into events: it might as well have been the weather that popped open her cell door, and what would anyone do but walk right out?

Save that in the crackdown that followed there was a keen interest in painting the whole embarrassing affair in the scarlet colors of Hitlerism. The camp guard liberated by anti-government protesters made a perfect foil and the unbalanced Dorn was entirely willing to play along at her subsequent snap show trial by doubtfully claiming to have addressed the Halle protesters with an anti-German Democratic Republic harangue.

Dorn was condemned to death as a fascist ringleader by June 22, just five days after her unexpected furlough. The sentence was overturned in the 1990s by the post-GDR, reunified Germany.

* She had to carefully duck a summons to testify at trials of Ravensbruck guards, lest her true role at the camp be dramatically unveiled.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crimes Against Humanity,Death Penalty,Diminished Capacity,East Germany,Execution,Germany,Guillotine,History,Treason,Women,Wrongful Executions

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1921: Fanya Baron, anarchist lioness

Add comment September 30th, 2020 Emma Goldman

(Thanks to American anarchist Emma Goldman for the guest post — not her first in these pages — on her friend Fanya Baron, an anarchist whom Goldman had known in Chicago but who was enticed by the horizon opened by the Russian Revolution to return to her homeland. Goldman, too, was in Moscow at this time, with her partner Alexander Berkman (“Sasha” in the narrative below); decisively disillusioned and frightened by the violent suppression of anarchists, the two left the USSR that December. Goldman’s recounting of Fanya Baron’s arrest and execution comes from Volume II, Chapter 52 of her memoir, Living My Life. A similar narrative, albeit misdated to August 30, appears in her My Further Disillusionment in Russia.)


Then the blow came and left us stunned. Two of our comrades fell into the Cheka net — Lev Tchorny, gifted poet and writer, and Fanya Baron! She had been arrested in the home of her Communist brother-in-law. At the same time eight other men had been shot at on the street by Chekists and taken prisoners. They were existy (expropriators), the Cheka declared.

Sasha had seen Fanya the preceding evening. She had been in a hopeful mood: the preparations for Aaron‘s escape were progressing satisfactorily, she had told him, and she felt almost gay, all unconscious of the sword that was to fall upon her head the following morning.” And now she is in their clutches and we are powerless to help,” Sasha groaned.

He could not go on any longer in the dreadful country, he declared. Why would I persist in my objection to illegal channels? We were not running away from the Revolution. It was dead long ago; yes, to be resurrected, but not for a good while to come. That we, two such well-known anarchists, who had given our entire lives to revolutionary effort, should leave Russia illegally would be the worst slap in the face of the Bolsheviki, he emphasized. Why, then, should I hesitate? He had learned of a way of going from Petrograd to Reval. He would go there to make the preliminary arrangements. He was suffocating in the atmosphere of the bloody dictatorship. He could not stand it any more.

In Petrograd [where Goldman and Berkman were visiting to explore options for fleeing Russia -ed.] the “party” that traded in false passports and aided people to leave the country secretly turned out to be a priest with several assistants. Sasha would have nothing to do with them, and the plan was off. I sighed with relief. My reason told me that Sasha was right in ridiculing my objection to being smuggled out of Russia. But my feelings rebelled against it and were not to be argued away. Moreover, somehow I felt certain that we should hear from our German comrades.

We planned to remain in Petrograd for awhile, since I hated Moscow, so overrun by Chekists and soldiers. The city on the Neva had not changed since our last visit; it was as dreary in appearance and as famished as before. But the warm welcome from our former co-workers in the Museum of the Revolution, the affectionate friendship of Alexandra Shakol and of our nearest comrades, would make our stay more pleasant than in the capital, I thought. Plans in Russia, however, almost always go awry. Word reached us from Moscow that the apartment on the Leontevsky where we had stayed had been raided and Sasha’s room in particular had been ransacked from top to bottom. A number of our friends, among them Vassily Semenoff, our old American comrade, had been caught in the dragnet laid by the Cheka. A zassada [a safehouse lair used by law enforcement in the context of, e.g., a stakeout or staging for an ambush -ed.] of soldiers remained in the apartment. It was apparent that our callers, who did not know we were away, were being made to suffer for our sins. We decided to return to Moscow forthwith. To save the expenses of our trip I went to see Mme Ravich, to inform her that we were at the call of the Cheka whenever wanted. I had not seen the Petrograd Commissar of the Interior since the memorable night of March 5 when she had come for the information Zinoviev had expected from Sasha regarding Kronstadt. Her manner, while no longer so warm as before, was still cordial. She knew nothing about the raid of our rooms in Moscow, she said, but would inquire by long-distance telephone. The next morning she informed me that it all had been a misunderstanding, that we were not wanted by the authorities, and that the zassada had been removed.

We knew that such “misunderstandings” were a daily occurrence, not infrequently involving even execution, and we gave little credence to Mine Ravich’s explanation. The particularly suspicious circumstance was the special attention given to Sasha’s room. I had been in opposition to the Bolsheviki longer than he and more outspoken. Why was it that his room was searched and not mine? It was the second attempt to find something incriminating against us. We agreed to leave immediately for Moscow.

On reaching the capital we learned that Vassily, arrested when he had called on us during our absence, had already been liberated. So were also ten of the thirteen Taganka hunger-strikers [fellow anarchists -ed.]. They had been kept in prison two months longer, despite the pledge of the Government to free them immediately upon the termination of their hunger-strike. Their release, however, was the sheerest farce, because they were placed under the strictest surveillance, forbidden to associate with their comrades, and denied the right to work, although informed that their deportation would be delayed. At the same time the Cheka announced that none of the other imprisoned anarchists would be liberated. Trotsky had written a letter to the French delegates to that effect, notwithstanding the original promise of the Central Committee to the contrary.

Our Taganka comrades found themselves “free,” weak and ill as a result of their long hunger-strike. They were in tatters, without money or means of existence. We did what we could to alleviate their need and to cheer them, although we ourselves felt anything but cheerful. Meanwhile Sasha had somehow succeeded in communicating with Fanya in the inner Cheka prison. She informed him that she had been transferred the previous evening to another wing. The note did not indicate whether she realized the significance of it. She asked that a few toilet things be sent her. But neither she nor Lev Tchorny needed them any more. They were beyond human kindness, beyond man’s savagery. Fanya was shot in the cellar of the Cheka prison, together with eight other victims, on the following day, September 30, 1921. The life of the Communist brother of Aaron Baron was spared. Lev Tchorny had cheated the executioner. His old mother, calling daily at the prison, was receiving the assurance that her son would not be executed and that within a few days she would see him at liberty. Tchorny indeed was not executed. His mother kept bringing parcels of food for her beloved boy, but Tchorny had for days been under the ground, having died as the result of the tortures inflicted on him to force a confession of guilt.

There was no Lev Tchorny on the list of the executed published in the official Izvestia the next day. There was “Turchaninov” — Tchorny’s family name, which he almost never used and which was quite unknown to most of his friends. The Bolsheviki were aware that Tchorny was a household word in thousands of labour and revolutionary homes. They knew he was held in the greatest esteem as a beautiful soul of deep human kindliness and sympathy, a man known for poetic and literary gifts and as the author of the original and very thoughtful work on Associational Anarchism. They knew he was respected by numerous Communists and they did not dare publish that they had murdered the man. It was only Turchaninov who had been executed.”

And our dear, splendid Fanya, radiant with life and love, unswerving in her consecration to her ideals, touchingly feminine, yet resolute as a lioness in defence of her young, of indomitable will, she had fought to the last breath. She would not go submissively to her doom. She resisted and had to be carried bodily to the place of execution by the knights of the Communist State. Rebel to the last, Fanya had pitted her enfeebled strength against the monster for a moment and then was dragged into eternity as the hideous silence in the Cheka cellar was rent once more by her shrieks above the sudden pistol-shots.

I had reached the end. I could bear it no longer. In the dark I groped my way to Sasha to beg him to leave Russia, by whatever means. “I am ready, my dear, to go with you, in any way,” I whispered, “only far away from the woe, the blood, the tears, the stalking death.”

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Guest Writers,History,Mass Executions,Other Voices,Power,Revolutionaries,Russia,Shot,USSR,Women

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2014: A Barawe bigamist

Add comment September 26th, 2020 Headsman

From Voice Of America news, dateline Saturday, September 28, 2014:

A Somali woman has been publicly stoned to death for being married to several men at the same time.

The 33-year-old woman was put to death Friday in the southern coastal town of Barawe, which is controlled by the Islamist militant group al-Shabab.

The woman had confessed to being married to at least three men at the same time.

She was buried in soil up to her neck and pelted with stones by masked executioners, as a crowd looked on.

Al-Shabab, which is linked to al-Qaida, controls wide swaths of Somalian territory, where it imposes a strict interpretation of sharia law.

Al-Shabaab was pushed out of Barawe by government troops a few weeks after the stoning. The Islamic rebel movement continues to hold sway in large, mostly rural, chunks of southern Somalia.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Gruesome Methods,History,Occupation and Colonialism,Public Executions,Sex,Somalia,Stoned,Women

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1829: Helena Katarina Löv

Add comment September 19th, 2020 Headsman

Helena Katarina Löv was beheaded with an ax on this date in 1829 at Skanstull — now just a part of Stockholm but at the time, the city’s southerly toll gate and a traditional execution site — for murdering her master’s children.

Löv was not the last woman executed in Sweden, but she does have the distinction of being the last woman publicly executed. (Executions were moved behind prison walls in the 1870s, so we have some photos of the last public beheadings.) She was also the last Swede, man or woman, whose body was burned at the stake after decapitation.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Beheaded,Burned,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Milestones,Murder,Sweden,Women

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1588: St. Margaret Ward, the Pearl of Tyburn

Add comment August 30th, 2020 Richard Challoner

(Thanks to 18th century English Catholic Bishop Richard Challoner for the guest post — originally from Memoirs of Missionary Priests — on an intrepid Elizabethan Catholic, hanged in an anti-Catholic crackdown following the defeat of the Spanish Armada. While the timing of her execution might have been circumstantial, she earned her martyr’s crown fully by pulling off an daring jailbreak that loosed an English priest who might otherwise have hanged in her place. She’s one of three women among the 40 Martyrs of England, along with St. Margaret Clitherow and St. Anne Line, all three of whom are commemorated on August 30. Also martyred on the same occasion were John Roche (the waterman who aided Margaret Ward), a priest named Richard Leigh, and three other lay Catholics condemned for aiding priests — Richard Lloyd, Richard Martin, and Edward Shelley.)

THE HISTORY OF MRS. MARGARET WARD.

Keeping watch at London’s St. Etheldreda’s, an escape-rope curled in her basket. (cc) image from John Salmon.

Mrs. Margaret Ward was born at Congleton, in Cheshire, of a gentleman’s family, and was ia the service of a lady of distinction, when Mr. Watson, a secular priest, was confined in Bridewell for his religion. The story of this gentleman is thus related by the bishop of Tarrasona, J. 2. c. 5.

Richard Watson was a priest of the seminary of Rheims, a virtuous and zealous missioner, who had laboured much in the Lord’s vineyard; but being apprehended, and confined to Bridewell, was, at length, by force of torments, and the insupportable labours, and other miseries of the place, prevailed upon, through human frailty, to go once to the protestant church; upon which, he was set at liberty. But such was the remorse he felt in his soul after this sin, that, instead of bettering his condition by being thus enlarged, he found his case far worse, and the present torments of his mind much more insupportable, than those which he before had endured in his body, the more because he had now lost his God, whose divine grace had formerly been his comfort and support; whereas he now could find no comfort, either from God or man; but the heavens were become to him as of brass, and the earth as iron.

In this melancholy condition, he went to one of the prisons, where some others, his fellow priests were confined, to seek for counsel and comfort from them; and here, having confessed his fault, with great marks of a sincere repentance, and received absolution, desiring to repair the scandal he had given, in the same place where he had sinned, he returned to the church at Bridewell, and there, in the middle of the congregation, declared with a loud voice, that he had done very ill in coming lately to church with them, and joining in their service; which, said he, you untruly call the service of God, for it is, indeed, the service of the devil. He would have said much more, but was prevented by the people, who immediately laid hold of him, and stopping his mouth, dragged him to prison; where they thrust him into a dungeon so low, and so strait, that he could neither stand up in it, nor lay himself down at his full length to sleep. Here they loaded him with irons, and kept him for a whole month upon bread and water; of which they allowed him so small a pittance, that it was scarce enough to keep him alive, not suffering any one to come near him to comfort him or speak to him.

At the month’s end, he was translated from this dungeon to a lodging at the top of the house, where, at least, he could see the light, and was less straitened for room: but the adversaries of his faith made this lodging more troublesome to him than the former, by plying him continually, sometimes with threats, sometimes with prayers and promises, to engage him to go again to church, and to seem, at least outwardly, whatever he might inwardly believe, to be of their religion: so that their continual importunities made him perfectly weary of his life. In the mean time, the catholics, who heard of his sufferings, durst not attempt to come near him, to succour or comfort him, for fear of being taken for the persons who had persuaded him to what he had one, till Mrs. Margaret Ward, a gentlewoman of a courage above her sex, undertook to do it.

She was in the service of a lady of the first rank, who then resided at London; and hearing of the most afflicted condition of Mr. Watson, asked and obtained leave of her lady to go and attempt to visit and relieve him. In order to this, she changed her dress, and taking a basket upon her arm, full of provisions, went to the prison, but could not have leave to come at the priest, till, by the intercession of the gaoler, whom Mrs. Ward had found means to make her friend; with much ado she obtained permission to see him from time to time, and bring him necessaries, upon condition that she should be searched in coming in and going out, that she might carry no letter to him, or from him; which was so strictly observed for the first month, that they even broke the loaves, or pies, that she brought him, lest any paper should thereby be conveyed to him; and all the while she was with him, care was taken that some one should stand by to hear all that was said. But, at length, beginning to be persuaded that she came out of pure compassion to assist him, they were less strict in searching her basket, and in hearkening to their conversation; so that he had an opportunity of telling her, that he had found a way by which, if he had a cord long enough for that purpose, he could let himself down from the top of the house, and make his escape.

Mrs. Ward soon procured the cord, which she brought in her basket under the bread and other eatables, and appointed two catholic watermen, who were let into the secret, to attend with their boat near Bridewell, between two and three o’clock the next morning; at which time Mr. Watson, applying to the corner of the cornice his cord, which he had doubled, not sufficiently considering the height of the building, began to let himself down, holding the two ends of the cord ia his hands, with a design of carrying it away with him, after he had got down, that it might not be discovered by what means he had made his escape. But, by that time he had come down something more than half the way, he found that his cord, which he had doubled, was not now long enough; and he, for some time, remained suspended in the air, being neither able to ascend or descend, without danger of his life.

At length, recommending himself to God, he let go one end of his cord, and suffered himself to fall down upon an old shed or penthouse, which, with the weight of his body, fell in with a great noise. He was very much hurt and stunned by the fall, and broke his right leg and right arm; but the watermen run in immediately to his assistance, and carried him away to their boat. Here he soon came to himself, and, feeling the cord, remembered his coat which he had left in the fall, which he desired one of the watermen to go and bring him. And when they were now advanced in their way, he bethought himself of the cord, and told the watermen, that if they did not return to fetch it, the poor gentlewoman that had given it him would certainly be put to trouble. But it was now too late; for the noise having alarmed the gaoler, and others in the neighbourhood, they came to the place, and finding the cord, immediately suspected what the matter was; and made what search they could to find the priest, but in vain; for the watermen, who had carried him off, took proper care to conceal him, and keep him safe, till he was cured: but God was pleased that, instead of one who thus escaped from prison, two others, upon this occasion, should meet with the crown of martyrdom, as we shall now see.

For the gaoler seeing the cord, and being convinced that no one but Mrs. Ward could have brought it to the prisoner, and having before found out where she lived, seat, early in the morning justices and constables to the house, who, rushing in, found her up, and just upon the point of going out, in order to change her lodgings. They immediately apprehended her, and carried her away to prison, where they loaded her with irons, and kept her m this manner for eight days. Dr. Champney and father Ribadaneira add, that they hung her up by the hands, and cruelly scourged her, which torments she bore with wonderful courage, saying, they were preludes of martyrdom with which, by the grace of God, she hoped she should be honoured.*

After eight days she was brought to the bar, where, being asked by the judges, if she was guilty of that treachery to the queen, and to the laws of the realm, of furnishing the means by which a traitor of a priest, as they were pleased to call him, had escaped from justice, she answered, with a cheerful countenance, in the affirmative: and that she never, in her life, had done any thing of which she less repented, than of the delivering that innocent lamb from the hands of those bloody wolves. They sought to terrify her by their threats, and to oblige her to confess where the priest was, but in vain; and therefore they proceeded to pronounce sentence of death upon her, as in cases of felony: but, withal, they told her, that the queen was merciful; and that if she would ask pardon of her majesty, and would promise to go to church, she should be set at liberty, otherwise she must look for nothing but certain death.

She answered, that as to the queen, she had never offended her majesty; and that it was not just to confess a fault, by asking pardon for it, where there was none: that as to what she had done in favouring the priest’s escape, she believed the queen herself, if she had the bowels of a woman, would have done as much, if she had known the ill treatment he underwent. That as to the going to their church, she had, for many years, been convinced that it was not lawful for her so to do, and that she found no reason now to change her mind, and would not act against her conscience; and therefore they might proceed, if they pleased, to the execution of the sentence pronounced against her; for that death, for such a cause, would be very welcome to her; and that she was willing to lay down not one life only, but many, if she had them, rather than betray her conscience, or act against her holy religion.

She was executed at Tyburn, August 30, 1588, showing to the end a wonderful constancy and alacrity; by which the spectators were much moved, and greatly edified.

Whilst these things were acting, Mr. Watson was under care in the waterman’s house, who, as soon as he was recovered, thought proper to withdraw farther from danger; and that he might be the better disguised, changed clothes with the waterman, who joyfully accepted the change, and put on, with great devotion, the clothes of one whom he regarded as a confessor of Christ. But not long after, walking in the streets, he met the gaoler, who took notice of the clothes, and caused him to be apprehended and carried before a justice of peace, where, being examined how he came by those clothes, he confessed the whole truth; upon which he was committed, prosecuted, and condemned: and making the same answers as Mrs. Ward had done, with regard to the begging the queen’s pardon, and going to church, he endured the same death with much spiritual joy in his soul, and a constancy which many admired, and were very much edified by it.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,England,Execution,God,Guest Writers,Hanged,History,Martyrs,Mass Executions,Other Voices,Public Executions,Religious Figures,Torture,Women

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2012: Nine in Gambia

Add comment August 23rd, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 2012, the small west African country of Gambia suddenly shot nine.

Effectively abolitionist, Gambia had not exercised capital punishment since 1981, when an attempted coup led to one (1) execution.

But it did have a (seemingly) latent death row of close to 50 souls* and in August 2012 autocratic president Yahya Jammeh used that stockpile to suddenly break the death penalty moratorium with a shock mass execution.

Those executed included one woman, at least two Senegalese nationals, and several soldiers involved in anti-Jammeh mutinies. The nine were identified as

  • Dawda Bojang
  • Malang Sonko
  • Lamin Jarjou
  • Alieu Bah
  • Lamin F. Jammeh
  • Buba YarboeLamin B.S Darboe
  • Gebe Bah (Senegalese)
  • Tabara Samba (Senegalese, female)

As might be expected for such an impetuous deed, several of these individuals so suddenly killed were not even at the end of their legal journeys through the state’s regular channels. Buba Yarboe’s family had been fighting for recognition of his mental illness as a mitigating condition; Yarboe and Malang Sonko both had judicial appeals remaining that had not yet been heard; Lamin Darboe’s sentence had been irregularly vacated and then reinstated. No matter.

Jammeh backed off his threats of follow-up executions to purge the entirety of its death row, and Gambia has conducted no further executions since that one dark day. His successor Adama Barrow officially re-imposed a moratorium and in 2019 commuted all remaining death sentences with an avowed intention to abolish capital punishment altogether.

* Reports on the size of Gambia’s death row at this time varied. The UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions named 39 still-living condemned individuals in a letter to President Jammeh days after the nine were killed.

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Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Gambia,Mass Executions,Milestones,Murder,Mutiny,Shot,Soldiers,Women,Wrongful Executions

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1820: Rebecca Worlock, arsenic poisoner

Add comment August 16th, 2020 Headsman


From a 2017 film treatment of the case.

Thirty-seven-year-old Rebecca Worlock was hanged at Gloucester on this date in 1820 for poisoning her husband.

She’d mixed in a lethal dose of arsenic into a jug of beer from Oldland‘s the Chequers Inn that Thomas Worlock had thirstily quaffed at the end of a long journey. She did this, according to her confession (see p. 19) due to “jealousy on the part of her husband, who had repeatedly called her the most opprobrious epithets, which she declared was without foundation.”

According to Penny Deverill, a descendant of this unfortunate couple who wrote a book about the case, this was a euphemism on Rebecca’s part for her husband’s violent drunken rages.

She certainly was no master criminal. Instead of obtaining the beer herself, she sent her 13-year-old daughter Mary Ann to get it which positioned the kid to testify that, yup, mom intercepted the drink and might have tampered with it. In fact, according to Mary Ann the victim immediately realized what had been done to him.

Father was drinking the last of the beer. He said there was something at the bottom of the cup; and then said to mother you have done for me … I went to call Mrs. Butler; my mother then had the cup and was throwing away what was in it. Mrs. Butler lives next door but one. Mrs. Butler came with me immediately. After I came back mother had the cup in her hands; father was by the fire, and mother by him. Afterwards she threw the stuff out and swilled it. Mother took the cup out of the kitchen into the cellar adjoining the kitchen; could see from the kitchen into the cellar; no steps down. I saw her then empty it into water in a bucket; she swilled the cup out and brought it into the kitchen. My father said he wanted to show the stuff to some one, and was unwilling that she should throw it away.

Still worse, Rebecca to purchase this putative rat poison had been required by regulation to buy in the company of a second person — owing to its very popularity as an expedient for domestic homicide.

To accomplish this, she had fast-talked an obliging passerby outside the apothecary to act as her impromptu aide … and then on leaving the store with her deadly draught in hand, spontaneously blabbed about its real purpose to this total stranger.

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Entry Filed under: Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,Murder,Public Executions,Women

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1843: Sarah Dazley

Add comment August 5th, 2020 Richard Clark

(Thanks to Richard Clark of Capital Punishment U.K. for the guest post, a reprint of an article originally published on that site with some explanatory links added by Executed Today, and footnotes which are also my own commentary. CapitalPunishmentUK.org features a trove of research and feature articles on the death penalty in England and elsewhere. -ed.)

Sarah was born in 1819 as Sarah Reynolds in the village of Potton in Bedfordshire, the daughter of the village barber, Phillip Reynolds. Phillip died when Sarah was seven years old and her mother then embarked on a series of relationships with other men. Hardly an ideal childhood.

Sarah grew up to be a tall, attractive girl with long auburn hair and large brown eyes. However she too was promiscuous and by the age of nineteen had met and married a local man called Simeon Mead. They lived in Potton for two years before moving to the village of Tadlow just over the county border in Cambridgeshire in 1840. It is thought that the move was made to end one of Sarah’s dalliances. Here she gave birth to a son in February 1840, who was christened Jonah. The little boy was the apple of his father’s eye, but died at the age of seven months, completely devastating Simeon. In October Simeon too died suddenly, to the shock of the local community. Sarah did the grieving mother and widow bit for a few weeks, before replacing Simeon with another man, twenty-three-year-old William Dazley. This caused a lot of negative gossip and considerable suspicion in the village. In February 1841, Sarah and William married and moved to the village of Wrestlingworth three miles away and six miles north east of Biggleswade in Bedfordshire. Sarah invited Ann Mead, Simeon’s teenage daughter, to live with them. It seems that all was not well in the marriage from early on and William took to drinking heavily in the village pub. This inevitably led to friction with Sarah which boiled over into a major row culminating in William hitting her. Sarah always had other men in her life through both her marriages and confided to one of her male friends, William Waldock, about the incident, telling him she would kill any man who hit her. Sarah also told neighbours a heavily embroidered tale of William’s drinking and violence towards her.

William became ill with vomiting and stomach pains a few days later and was attended by the local doctor, Dr. Sandell, who prescribed pills which initially seemed to work, with William being looked after by Ann Mead and showing signs of a steady recovery. Whilst William was still bedridden, Ann — not entirely realising what she was seeing at the time — observed Sarah making up pills in the kitchen.

Sarah told a friend of hers in the village, Mrs. Carver, that she was concerned about William’s health and that she was going to get a further prescription from Dr. Sandell. Mrs. Carver was surprised to see Sarah throw out some pills from the pillbox and replace them with others. When she remarked on it, Sarah told her that she wasn’t satisfied with the medication that Dr. Sandell had provided and instead was using a remedy from the village healer. In fact the replacement pills were those that Sarah had made herself. She gave these to William who immediately noticed that they were different and refused to take them. Ann who had been nursing him and had still not made any connection with the pills she had seen Sarah making, persuaded William to swallow a pill by taking one too. Inevitably they both quickly became ill with the familiar symptoms of vomiting and stomach pains. William vomited in the yard and one of the family pigs later lapped up the mess and died in the night. Apparently Sarah was able to persuade William to continue taking the pills, assuring him that they were what the doctor had prescribed. He began to decline rapidly and died on the 30th of October, his death being certified as natural by the doctor. He was buried in Wrestlingworth churchyard. Post mortems were not normal at this time, even when a previously healthy young man died quite suddenly.

As usual Sarah did not grieve for long before taking up a new relationship. She soon started seeing William Waldock openly and they became engaged at her insistence in February 1843. William was talked out of marriage by his friends who pointed to Sarah’s promiscuous behaviour and the mysterious deaths of her previous two husbands and her son. William wisely broke off the engagement and decided not to continue to see Sarah.

Suspicion and gossip was now running high in the village and it was decided to inform the Bedfordshire coroner, Mr. Eagles, of the deaths. He ordered the exhumation of William’s body and an inquest was held on Monday the 20th of March 1843 at the Chequers Inn in Wrestlingworth High Street. It was found that William’s viscera contained traces of arsenic and an arrest warrant was issued against Sarah. Sarah it seems had anticipated this result and had left the village and gone to London. She had taken a room in Upper Wharf Street where she was discovered by Superintendent Blunden of Biggleswade police. Sarah told Blunden that she was completely innocent and that she neither knew anything about poisons nor had she ever obtained any. Blunden arrested her and decided to take her back to Bedford. What would be a short journey now required an overnight stop in those days and they stayed in the Swan Inn, Biggleswade. Sarah was made to sleep in a room with three female members of the staff. She did not sleep well and asked the women about capital trials and execution by hanging. This was later reported to Blunden and struck him as odd.*

The bodies of Simeon Mead and Jonah had also now been exhumed and Jonah’s was found to contain arsenic, although Simeon’s was too decomposed to yield positive results.

On the 24th of March 1843, Sarah was committed to Bedford Gaol to await her trial and used her time to concoct defences to the charges. She decided to accuse William Dazley of poisoning Simeon and Jonah on the grounds that he wanted them out of her life so he could have her to himself. When she realised what he had done she decided to take revenge by poisoning William. Unsurprisingly these inventions were not believed and were rather ridiculous when it was William’s murder she was to be tried for. In another version William had poisoned himself by accident.

She came to trial at the Bedfordshire Summer Assizes on Saturday the 22nd of July before Baron Alderson, charged with William’s murder, as this was the stronger of the two cases against her. The charge of murdering Jonah was not proceeded with but held in reserve should the first case fail.

Evidence was given against her by two local chemists who identified her as having purchased arsenic from them shortly before William’s death. Mrs. Carver and Ann Mead told the court about the incidents with the pills that they had witnessed.

William Waldock testified that Sarah had said she would kill any man that ever hit her after the violent row that she and William had. Forensic evidence was presented to show that William had indeed died from arsenic poisoning, it being noted that his internal organs were well preserved. The Marsh test, a definitive test for arsenic trioxide, had been only available for a few years at the time of Sarah’s trial. Arsenic trioxide is a white odourless powder that can easily pass undetected by the victim when mixed into food and drink.

Since 1836 all defendants had been legally entitled to counsel and Sarah’s defence was put forward by a Mr. O’Malley, based upon Sarah’s inventions. He claimed that Sarah had poisoned William by accident. Against all the other evidence this looked decidedly weak and contradicted the stories Sarah had told the police. It took the jury just thirty minutes to convict her. Before passing sentence Baron Alderson commented that it was bad enough to kill her husband but it showed total heartlessness to kill her infant child as well. He recommended her to ask for the mercy of her Redeemer. He then donned the black cap and sentenced her to hang. It is interesting to note that Baron Alderson had, at least in his own mind, found her guilty of the murder of Jonah, even though she had not been tried for it.

During her time in prison, Sarah learnt to read and write and began reading the Bible. She avoided contact with other prisoners whilst on remand, preferring her own company and accepting the ministrations of the chaplain. In the condemned cell she continued to maintain her innocence and as far as one can tell never made a confession to either the matrons looking after her or to the chaplain.

There was no recommendation to mercy and the Home Secretary, Sir James Graham, saw no reason to offer a reprieve. The provision of the Murder Act of 1752, requiring execution to take place within two working days, had been abolished in 1836 and a period of not less than fourteen days substituted. Sarah’s execution was therefore set for Saturday the 5th of August 1843. A crowd variously estimated at 7,000 – 12,000 assembled in St. Loyes Street outside Bedford Gaol to watch the hanging. It was reported that among this throng was William Waldock.

The New Drop gallows was erected on the flat roof over the main gate of the prison in the early hours of the Saturday morning and the area around the gatehouse was protected by a troop of javelin men. William Calcraft had arrived from London the previous day to perform the execution.

Sarah was taken from the condemned cell to the prison chapel at around ten o’clock for the sacrament. The under sheriff of the county demanded her body from the governor and she was taken to the press room for her arms to be pinioned. She was now led up to the gatehouse roof and mounted the gallows platform, accompanied by the prison governor and the chaplain. She was asked if she wished to make any last statement which she declined, merely asking that Calcraft be quick in his work and repeating “Lord have mercy on my soul”. He pinioned her legs, before drawing down the white hood over her head and adjusting the simple halter style noose around her neck. He then descended the scaffold and withdrew the bolt supporting the trap doors. Sarah dropped some eighteen inches and her body became still after writhing for just a few seconds, as the rope applied pressure to the arteries and veins of her neck, causing a carotid reflex. Sarah was left on the rope for the customary hour before being taken down and the body taken back into the prison for burial in an unmarked grave, as was now required by law.

It was reported by the local newspapers that the crowd had behaved well and remained silent until Sarah was actually hanged. Once she was suspended they carried on eating, drinking, smoking, laughing and making ribald and lewd remarks. Copies of broadsides claiming to contain Sarah’s confession and her last dying speech were being sold among the crowd, which amazingly people bought even though she had made neither. You can see a broadside about her hanging below. Note the stylised woodcut picture that was modified to show a man or a woman as appropriate.

The 1840s were a time of great hardship nationally and yet Sarah, whilst hardly wealthy, did not seem to suffer from this and it was never alleged that she was unable to feed her child or that she was destitute. Extreme poverty in rural areas did appear to be the motive in some murders at this time, especially of infants. Sarah’s motive seems to be a much more evil one, the elimination of anyone who got in the way of her next relationship.

Sarah’s was the first execution at Bedford since 1833 and she was the only woman to be publicly hanged there. In fact Bedfordshire executions were rare events and there were to be only two more in public, Joseph Castle on the 31st of March 1860 for the murder of his wife and William Worsley on the 31st of March 1868 for the murder of William Bradbury.

Notes on the period.

Queen Victoria ascended to the throne in 1837, at the age of eighteen and her reign saw a great deal of change in the penal system. For the first thirty one years of it executions were a very public event enjoyed by the masses. People would come from far and wide to witness the spectacle, in some cases special trains were even laid on! Broadsides were sold at many executions giving the purported confessions of the prisoner and there was considerable press interest, particularly where the criminal was female.

Thirty women and two teenage girls were to be executed in England and Scotland in the thirty one year period from May 1838 to the abolition of public hanging in May 1868. Of these twenty-one had been convicted of poisoning (two thirds of the total). Sarah Chesham was actually executed for the attempted murder of her husband but was thought to be guilty of several fatal poisonings as well. Attempted murder ceased to be a capital crime in 1861 under the provisions of the Criminal Law Consolidation Act of that year. Mary Ann Milner would have made the total thirty three had she not hanged herself in Lincoln Castle the day before her scheduled execution on the 30th of July 1847. There were no female executions in Wales during this time but a further ten women were hanged in Ireland during the period, all for murder.

Sarah Chesham‘s case prompted a House of Commons committee to be set up to investigate poisoning. This found that between 1840 and 1850, ninety seven women and eighty two men had been tried for it. A total of twenty-two women were hanged in the decade 1843-1852 of whom seventeen had been convicted of murder by poisoning, representing 77% of the total. There were no female executions in the years 1840-1842 in England. This rash of poisonings led to a Bill being introduced whereby only adult males could purchase arsenic. Poisoning was considered a particularly evil crime as it is totally premeditated and thus it was extremely rare for a poisoner to be reprieved whereas it was not unusual for females to be reprieved for other types of murder, such as infanticide. One of the few poisoners to be reprieved was Charlotte Harris in 1849 who had murdered her husband but who was pregnant at the time of her trial.

* I’m baffled as to why anyone would find it odd — much less incriminating — for a person freshly in custody on a potential capital charge to lose sleep fretting about the horrors of execution. -ed.

** Alderson took part in his share of capital trials, as did any judge of consequence in his day, but was notable as a jurist on the more progressive and less bloody-minded end of the spectrum. An oft-quoted comment of his cautioning against stretching facts to fit your theory would have prevented many a wrongful punishment imposed by tunnel-visioned investigators: “The mind is apt to take pleasure in adapting circumstances to one another, and even in straining them a little if need be, to force them to form parts of one consecutive whole … and in considering such matters to overreach and mislead itself, to suppose some little link that is wanting, to take for granted some fact consistent with previous theories, and necessary to render them complete.”

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Guest Writers,Hanged,Murder,Other Voices,Public Executions,Women

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