1905: Thomas Tattersall, taking the hangman with him

Add comment August 15th, 2020 Headsman

Thomas Tattersall was hanged at Armley Prison in Leeds on this date in 1905.

An alcoholic plasterer, Tattersall had a going reputation for home violence already when he got into his cups and fatally slashed his wife’s throat on July 3.

A terrible tragedy for the families involved, this crime at a century’s distance scarcely stands out from the common run of homicides. What attracts our notice is a third fatality, after the murdered victim and the executed killer: the clumsy hangman.

That man, John Billington, came by nooses as a family trade, albeit not of very great vintage: his father, a colorful* Lancashireman called James Billington, had transitioned his amateur personal interest in hanging into a calling as one of the realm’s official executioners after the great William Marwood died in 1883.

This elder Billington passed away in 1901 with 146 hangings under his belt. All three of his sons followed his footsteps into what proved a truly star-crossed vocation.

Eldest son Thomas Billington died of pneumonia at the age of 29, mere days after his father’s passing; he had been only an occasional assistant hangman — never the lead guy.

Second son William Billington was the real maven and succeeded his father as the lead executioner in the realm. He conducted most of the hangings in England between 1902 and his 1905 jailing for failing to pay alimony to his wife.

And that turned out to be the end of a career that appeared to haunt William later in life, because while he was incarcerated his youngest brother John Billington, commissioned to execute our man Thomas Tattersall, plunged through the trap while setting up the gear ahead of time. He was able to perform the execution, but the cracked ribs that he suffered from the fall caused an attack of pleurisy that claimed the hangman’s life that October.

* Apart from treading the scaffolds, James Billington was also a pugilist and wrestler, and other descendants in the Billington family have pursued those trades. Notable exemplars include World Wrestling Federation great Tom Billington, aka the Dynamite Kid and present-day WWE grappler Davey Boy Smith Jr.

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1905: Kinjikitile Ngwale, Maji Maji Rebellion prophet

Add comment August 4th, 2020 Headsman

Tanzanian medium Kinjikitile Ngwale was hanged as a traitor to Germany on this date in 1905.

He emerged as a prophet of the Maji Maji Rebellion, a rising in German East Africa (modern-day Tanzania, Rwanda, and Burundi) — provoked by the strains imposed by the mother country’s exploitation of their possession, most particularly the tilt into growing cotton for export.

The rebellion takes its name from the magical maji — that’s just the Swahili word for “water” — supplied by Kinjikitile, a castor oil potion that he said would melt German bullets into water. Both the ointment and the cult* behind it provided an organizing principle for disparate peoples and grievances of what is now southeast Tanzania. The German bullets, however, did not melt.

Kinjikitile was arrested almost immediately with the onset of the revolt in July 1905 and hanged soon thereafter. The rising that he kindled raged on until 1907, and the German reply of imposing famine** laid tens of thousands of souls in the earth in the course of suppressing it. In the 1950s, a journalist would remark that “even today the Southern Province of Tanganyika, the ‘Cinderella Province,’ has not fully recovered from the German terror half a century ago. The economy of the region has never been successfully rebuilt.” But the rebellion’s spirit of fellow-feeling against the colonizer has been invoked many times since as one of the foundational stirrings of Tanzanian nationalism.

* We use the term entirely without pejorative intent.

** Not unlike what had been done immediately prior to the Herero in German South West Africa (present-day Namibia).

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1905: Mary Rogers, chloroformer

Add comment December 8th, 2017 Headsman

From the Wilkes-Barre (Penn.) Times, Dec. 8, 1905.

Mary Rogers Died on the Scaffold

Paid the Last Penalty of the Law After a Legal Fight of Two Years — Was Guilty of a Cruel and Diabolical Murder — Lured a Loving Husband to Destruction for the Sake of His Insurance and for the Love of Another.

WINDSOR, Vt., Dec. 8. — Mary Mabel Rogers* was hanged by the neck until she was dead in the Windsor prison this afternoon for the murder of her husband, Marcus Rogers, in 1902. The woman was pronounced dead at 1:28 o’clock, just fourteen minutes after the trap was sprung.

Without a trace of fear or a show of any emotion, Mrs. Rogers went to her death quietly and calmly, as she had told Mrs. Durkee she would last night. She made no statement or confession, when given an opportunity before the signal of death. She merely nodded her head, indicating that she was quite ready.

She Spent a Sleeples[s] Night.

Racked by her own contending emotions, Mary Rogers arose from her sleepless cot this morning to live [through the few wretched hours of her life and meet her death before the day is near done on the gallows in Windsor prison. Pallid from fear, which clutches at her heart at last, she left her cot and half reeled to the cell door, where she watched the first gray tints of morn creep through the barred window at the end of the corridor, and as the shadows fell more lightly on the whitened walls and the corridor began**] to fill with light the woman knew the final day had come. A half sob, a catch of breath that might have escaped from her and she turned and placed her hands in those of Matron Durkee, who had come to the cell early to be with her when roused from a troubled sleep.

South Consolation in Prayer.

No tears filled her eyes. She had wept early in the night, but the truth of her hopeless end had come to her at last and burnt itself deep into her soul, leaving her but a poor miserable thing for the execution of the law. Long into the night she had prayed with Father Delaney, who had gone to her when she called. Then physical exhaustion, from the silent struggle in her being came and she fell into an uncertain sleep robbing her mercifully of the horrible thoughts of the violent end by the noose.

Her First Emotion.

The sun had fallen below the gray [†] and cheerless hills to the west last night and the departing shadows within the prison walls had fled to inky darkness when Mary Rogers, standing at the grated cell door watching the fading light die out for the last time in her life, turned to Mrs. Loukes, the guard, and began to sob.

It was the first emotion she had shown since she bade her mother farewell last Saturday. Father Delaney was sent for, as Supt. Lovell feared there might be a sudden collapse. The priest came and went to the woman’s cell. Mary Rogers brushed the tears from her eyes and spoke a quiet greeting to Father Delaney. The good priest spoke kind words of comfort to her and she made a reply, but her words could not be heard as the woman had retired to a far corner of the cell. The priest and the woman sank to their knees and prayed. The usual night sounds in the prison corridors were hushed for the convicts knew it was Mary Rogers’ last night on earth.

Feared Physical Pain.

Mrs. Rogers grew calmer and Father Delaney left the cell and went to the guard room, where he was within call. The woman spoke to Mrs. Durkee, the prison matron of the coming day and told her that she was ready to meet her death.

“I know it must be and I am prepared to die,” she said, and added plaintively: “You don’t think they will hurt me?”

“No, Mary, they will not hurt and it will not be long,” replied Mrs. Durkee. “I will go with you as far as the guard room door.”

The Procession to the Scaffold.

Shortly before 1 o’clock the guards went to Mrs. Rogers’ cell and dressed her for the execution. The woman wore the customary black dress and shirtwaist that was made for her first execution. She wore no corset or collar.

With the six deputy sheriffs leading the death procession, she left her cell with Matron Durkee, who accompanied her down the three flights of stairs to the guard room. As Mrs. Rogers left the guard roo to walk down the short flight of steps leading to the enclosed court, she saw for the first time the instrument of her death. It was a walk of forty feet to the gallows’ steps. When the woman reached the gallows’ floor, a deputy tied her hands, the black cap and sack were drawn about her and the drop fell.

The Final Scenes.

The march from the death cell began at six minutes past one o’clock. Mrs. Rogers had just concluded a short religious service with Father Delaney and when the tall forms of three deputy sheriffs appeared at the cell door, she turned to Mrs. Durkee and said simply: “I am ready to go, Mrs. Durkee, and I thank you for what you have done.”

Showed No Fear.

Mrs. Durkee had dressed the woman in a combination black skirt and waist, which had been made for the execution last June. In the face of death, the vanity of the woman asserted itself and she called for a gold chain and locket, which she carefully put about her neck which was bare, the matron having previously removed the collar. She wore no corsets. The cell door creaked and Mrs. Rogers stepped out in the corridor and took her place between the deputy sheriffs. Mrs. Durkee walked by her side. Down the three long flights of steps the woman walked without a sign of fear or collapse.

She reached the guard room and stepped across the ro[o]m and down into the enclosed court. Inside in one corner was the instrument of death, while ranged around the court were the prison officials and the State’s witnesses. Mrs. Rogers looked at the scaffold as she walked to the steps, but turned away and looked dully at the spectators. A deputy sheriff preceded her up the steps of the gallows and another walked by her side in case she should g[i]ve way. The courage of the woman was magnificent. She reached the scaffold floor without a falter, though the face showed the prison pallor usual in prisoners of long confinement.

Sat While Being Pinioned.

Deputy Sheriff Kiniry motioned Mrs. Rogers to a seat on the scaffold and the woman sat down and gazed about as if she was a spectator to an event in which she had no part. Deputy Sheriffs Thomas and McDermott quickly pinioned the woman’s arms behind her and then stepped aside. Deputy Sheriff Kiniry leaned down and asked Mrs. Rogers if she wished to make a statement.

“No,” she said almost inaudibly, and accompanied her answer with a shake of the head.

Stood Up Calmly.

Deputy Sheriff Spofford ordered Mrs. Rogers to stand up and she walked over and stood on the trap. Then a large black sack was drawn over her body and tied at the neck, while Deputy Sheriff Spofford, after the black cap had been adjusted, slipped the noose around her neck. The deputy sheriffs stood back and Spofford gave the signal to Deputy Sheriff McCauley. There was an intense silence in the execution chamber.

Neck Was Broken.

All of the spectators nearly fainted from the sight. No sound came from the black bag other than a half smothered gasp. Dr. Dean Richmond, the prison physician, stepped forward and placing his hand on the woman’s wrist felt for the pulse. The woman’s neck had not been broken by the fall for the pulse beat was still perceptable [sic]. The spectators stodd [sic] still and waited. It seemed an age to them, the fourteen minutes that the black thing hung there on the end of the rope. The doctor pronounced the woman dead at exactly 1:28 o’clock. The witnesses filed slowly back to the guard room and Mary Rogers had paid the penalty of her crime to the State with her life.

Body Taken to Hoosic Falls.

The body was cut down and prepared for bural [sic] by two undertakers from Hoosick Falls, N.Y., where her body will be buried in the family plot. The casket reached the prison an hour before the execution. She told the prison matron that she wanted to be buried in the clothes in which she had been hanged.

History of Mrs. Rogers’ Crime.

Every ingenious device known in law, was used to save Mary Rogers from the gibbet, and it was not until the case was disposed of by the Supreme court of the United States late last month that all hopes was given up [sic] of saving the woman’s life. Had there been one mitigating circumstance; had there been one spark of womanliness in Mary Rogers, had she shown slight possibilities of regeneration, Gov. C.J. Bell, of Vermont, might have interfered. The murder was as brutal as that of Mrs. Martha Place, who hacked her step-daughter to pieces because of jealousy, in Brooklyn. Gov. Roosevelt declined to interfere and save her from electrocution in March, 1899.

Mrs. Rogers killed her husband, Marcus Rogers, in order that she might possess herself of $600, his life insurance, and marry another man. The murder was committed in Bennington, on Aug. 12, 1902, by the administration of chloroform. The circumstances leading up to the murder breathe of foul deceit, cunning and a viciousness inconceivable in a woman.

Mary Rogers was deeply loved by her husband. Tiring of her life with this quiet, unpretentious man, she left him. In her unfortunate life that followed in Bennington she met a youth, barely 17 years old, by the name of Leon Perham, a half breed Indian, who became enamored of her. Perham wanted to marry her. Mrs. Rogers had no mind for that, but kept Perham dangling by her side.

Mrs. Rogers fell in love with a well known citizen of Bennington, who, however, was not aware of her passion for him. As a woman of the street she knew she could not win him, and in her simple way bethought that once in possession of her husband’s $600 life insurance money she would become an object of devotion and attention. With the thought came the plan to do away with Rogers, whom she had left. Rogers, in spite of her life of shame, had oftentimes sent word to his wife to come to him and he would forgive and forget the past. His strong love for her and his willingness to forgive were his undoing. She entered into a conspiracy with Perham, who was her willing tool, being led to believe that she would marry him.

Rogers was a powerful man and his end had to be accomplished by cunning and deceit. She wrote that she was ready to come back; wanted to come back and would he forgive her. Leon Perham turned State’s evidence and on the stand he gave testimony, a recital such as has rarely been heard in the courts of law.

According to Perham, Mrs. Rogers had written to her husband, from whom she was estranged, asking him to meet her at 9:30 at night.

After the meeting and pretended reconciliation Leon led the way into Morgan’s grove, and by a winding path to the river. A great stone wall separated the grove from the river bank. The distance from the wall to the bank was less than half a dozen feet.

“May and I walked along with Rogers until we came to a break in the wall,” said Leon. “She went through and we followed. It was cold and I had on a big overcoat. I spread this out on the ground and all three of us sat down. We were only a few feet from the edge of the river.

“May said she had a new trick with a rope.

“He laughed. May laughed, too, and dew out a piece of clothes-line. Then she said she’d bet she could tie me so that I couldn’t get loose.

“‘I’ll bet you can’t,’ I said.

“She tied my hands loosely and I broke away. She tried it again and I broke away again.

“‘Try it on him,’ I said.

“‘I’ll bet you can’t tie me,’ said Rogers.

“He was as strong as an ox. May tied him and tried to tie him tight, but he just gave a heave and broke away. She tried it a second time, and he broke loose without any trouble. She was getting worried. She tried it a third time, and when he broke loose again I saw that she couldn’t tie him.

“‘Let me do it,’ I told her.

“I took the rope — a piece of clothes line. I said to Rogers:

“‘Kneel down and put your hands behind you.’

“He thought it was fun and knelt down. I tied his hands behind him and he struggled, but could not get loose. His back was towards May.

“I gave her a signal and she drew the vial of chloroform and the handkerchief from her bosom. She poured a few drops on her handkerchief — not very much — and put her arms around his neck. Suddenly she drew his head back in her lap. The move threw him on his hands, which were behind him, so he was doubly helpless. Then she put the handkerchief to his nose. He sputtered. Suddenly she emptied the vial on the handkerchief, completely saturating it. He began to struggle.

“‘May, what does this mean!’ he asked, heaving his body. ‘What does it mean!’

“‘Jump on his legs,’ she said.

“I jumped on his legs to hold him. May had him gripped around the neck and pressed the handkerchief against his nose. His struggles were terrible. He threw me off as if I had been a kitten. He got one hand free and used it to help himself.

“But May clung to him and never once did the handkerchief get away from his nose. She had the grip of a tiger. He struggled and flung himself and her on the ground, and every time I came near him a heave of his legs or his free arm would throw me off.

“While he struggled, his breath was deeper. Suddenly he became more quiet, and in a moment he was limp. May clung to him, even after he was quiet, pressing the chloroform-soaked handkerchief down over his face. When all was over she got up.”

The body was rolled into the river. A note was left, purporting to have been written by Rogers, that he had drowned himself. Mrs. Rogers’ unseemly haste in her efforts to collect the life insurance and other damning circumstances led to her arrest and indictment. Perham confessed and was sent to Windsor prison for life. Mrs. Rogers was found guilty on Dec. 22, 1903, and she was sentenced to be hanged on the first Friday in last February. She was thrice reprieved by Governor Bell, the second reprieve expiring last June, when counsel for the woman made an appeal to the United States Federal court to have certain legal questions reviewed by the Supreme court at Washington. The third reprieve expired to-day.

Mary Rogers was 22 years old and little more than 19 when she killed her husband.

* She’s not even the most famous Mary Rogers of homicide: that distinction goes to a murder victim of that name from earlier in the 19th century … whose never-solved death inspired the Edgar Allan Poe short story “The Mystery of Marie Roget”.

** In the original version of this article, the bracketed text appears via an apparent layout error out of order, at the spot denoted by the [†]

† Errant placement position in the published article of the bracketed text as noted in the footnote above.

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1905: John Johnson

Add comment January 20th, 2017 Meaghan

(Thanks to Meaghan Good of the Charley Project for the guest post. -ed.)

On this date in 1905, John Johnson was hanged for the murder of Patrolman Dennis Fitzgerald of the Chicago Police Department.

On September 26, 1903, Johnson and another man, Louis Tedford, were being drunk and disorderly near the corner of 44th Street and Indiana Avenue. Fitzgerald told them to move along. In response, the two men beat him to a pulp and shot him with his own gun.

Fitzgerald was a strong man and he lingered for four months before he died on January 20, 1904. Authorities determined his death was a direct result of his wounds. He was buried in Mount Olivet Catholic Cemetery.

As for the two offenders, both were convicted of murder, but Tedford got off relatively easily with a fourteen-year sentence. The jury determined Johnson was the one most responsible for the officer’s death, and so he paid for it with his life, a year to the day after Fitzgerald died. “Please hurry things along,” were his last words.

It was a busy day with the rope around North America.


Macon (Ga.) Telegraph, Jan 21, 1905


Grand Forks (N.D.) Herald, Jan. 21, 1905

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1905: Ed Lamb, bully

Add comment October 27th, 2016 Headsman

This date in 1905 was — in the title of the Manatee County Historical Society publication about the case — The Day They Hanged Ed Lamb in Braidentown/Bradentown/Bradenton.

It all started in the schoolyard.

Lamb’s son was the resident bully at the local Braden River School until one day that January he picked a fight with the son of Dave Kennedy and surprisingly got his — the bully’s — ass kicked.

Like many a child since, young master Lamb sent his problem up the generational chain of command. Ed Lamb, a mill hand, raised the beef with Dave Kennedy, a farmer, when the latter stopped by the mill a few days later to sell his wares, even menacing Kennedy with a knife.

But for the second time, a Kennedy went all lion on a Lamb and overpowered his antagonist. Enraged and embarrassed, Lamb stalked away to his nearby home, got a shotgun, and wasted Dave Kennedy. Masculinity: vindicated. Stunned bystanders allowed Lamb to escape.

Our Manatee County correspondent gives the surreal vignette from his own family history of the Kennedy children — being dismissed from school at news of the murder — walking home on a dirt road that very day and passing the disgraced Lamb family on a wagon with their possessions, heading out of town. “One of the children standing beside the roadway became frightened thinking that Ed Lamb would pop out fo the trunk at any moment.” He didn’t: Ed was on a lam all his own, and was recaptured the next morning and spirited away to Tampa to protect him from lynching. Lamb spent the months between his conviction and his execution harrying the local newspaper with letters entreating folks straighten up and get right with God, letters that notably failed to breathe word one of apology to the Kennedies.

The drop fell at 12 minutes past 12:00 non. But the rope slipped and the prisoner was raised a second time and shot into eternity. He was rendered unconscious by the first shock and never knew that he was let to fall a second time. His neck was broken by the second fall and he was pronounced dead by Dr. John Holten of Sarasota. He mounted the gallows cool and fearless and died without a murmur or a struggle. Inside the jail, 40 witnesses were in the jail when the execution took place, the gallows being inside the building. A few white people and a great many Negroes were congregated around the jail, but perfect order was maintained.

Lamb’s son, brother and sister-in-law were present when he mounted the scaffold, but were overcome and left before the drop fell. The doomed man kissed them goodbye and asked them to meet him in heaven. His wife was unable to come to the jail to see him for the last time. Was photographed. Lamb dressed himself for the scaffold with great deliberation. And at his request, was photographed after being attired for death. He talked freely. But in his last speech he said nothing about the crime for which he suffered. He said that he was willing to die. That he had made his peace with God and wanted all of his heirs to meet him in a better world. Sheriff Wyatt was cool and carried out his part well. The noose was adjusted and the black cap pulled down over the prisoner’s face. And the trap sprung that sent the murderer to meet his maker. The death warrant directed that the execution take place in private between the hours of 11:30 and 12:00, but the sheriff allowed the condemned man 12 minutes longer lease on life.

Manatee County paid Coursey and Barnett $16.70 for Lamb’s hangin’ suit, and paid J.W. Wilhelm & Co. $21.35 for his coffin.

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1905: Elisabeth Wiese, the angel-maker of St. Pauli

2 comments February 2nd, 2015 Headsman

On this date in 1905, “baby farmer” Elisabeth Wiese was beheaded in Hamburg.

In a luridly reported case “revolting in the extreme, proving the woman to be a monster of iniquity” Wiese stepped into a quintessential fin de siecle moral panic as a former convict whose larcenous past had forced her trade away from the legitimate field of midwifery towards the more shady precincts of mercenary fostering.

From scandal-averse single mothers in England as well as Germany, she collected children with maintenance fees running to US $1,000 plus a hush-money surcharge tacked on. For this donative, she represented a capacity to distribute these whelps to willing adoptive families: in reality, most of them she disposed of with morphine. (As an added inflammation to public opinion, she had also forced her own illegitimate daughter into prostitution; Paula, whose own infant was among Wiese’s victims, repaid that ill turn by appearing as a witness against her mother.)

When Wiese fell under suspicion, the neighbors’ reports of her kitchen glowing like hellfire and belching revolting stenches led police to the remains of these little ones burnt up in her stove.

Condemned for five murders — it’s thought that the true count must have run much higher — Wiese is known as the “angel-maker of St. Pauli” after the suburb where she plied her trade.

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1905: A.I. Volioshnikov, police spy

Add comment December 28th, 2014 Headsman

On this date in 1905,* the druzhinniki (militia) of Moscow’s insurrectionary Red Presnia district barged into the apartment of 37-year-old police detective A.I. Volioshnikov.

In front of his shrieking children, “they read the verdict of the Revolutionary Committee, according to which Volioshnikov had to be shot” — as a police spy surveilling rebels, according to Trotsky — then taken outside and executed directly at the Prokhorovka textile factory.**

The tsar’s artillery began barraging Red Presnia the very next day, and had overrun it — complete with summary executions of their own — before the calendar turned over to 1906.

* December 28 per the Gregorian calendar; it was December 15 per the Julian calendar still in use at the time in Russia.

** There’s a “Druzhinniki Street” in Moscow near the Krasnopresnenskaya metro station — and the Prokhorovka factory (dating to 1799) still stands nearby.

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1905: An unknown spy in the Russo-Japanese War

Add comment March 18th, 2014 Headsman

In the late 1890s and early 1900s, Russia’s imperial ambitions in the east drew it inexorably towards conflict with Japan. This was the period when Russia began constructing the continent-spanning Trans-Siberian Railway linking Moscow to the Pacific port of Vladivostok.

Russian troops came right along with the rails.

On the pretext of protecting its construction gangs, Russian troops occupied Manchuria — and the weakened Chinese Qing dynasy couldn’t do much about it.

But the Japanese could.

Manchuria and Korea (which Russia’s presence also threatened) Tokyo conceived as her sphere of influence. The rising hegemon in East Asia would serve notice in the 1904-1905 Russo-Japanese War that it had now to be reckoned among the world’s great powers.

The decisive land battle in this conflict was the Battle of Mukden, February 20 through March 10, 1905 — a gigantic engagement involving more than 600,000 troops.

In it, Japan cleaned the Russian clock.

The defeat sent a shattered Russian army on a disordered retreat north, to the city of Tieling. The Japanese followed in hot pursuit, so defensive regrouping became impossible and within a couple of days the Russians abandoned Tieling, too.

We are everywhere driving the Russians before us to Kaiyuan,” gloated an official Japanese telegram of Thursday, March 16.

The underwhelming Russian general Aleksey Kuropatkin was there just long enough to get word that Moscow had relieved him of command. By Saturday, March 18, Kaiyuan too was in Japanese hands.*

So it was likely on or about this date in 1905 that a handful of those Japanese forces harrying the Russian flight paused on the outskirts of Kaiyuan to behead an alleged spy.

If this individual’s name is known, I have not been able to locate it — but small wonder. In the charnel house of Russia’s catastrophic defeat, the dead were too numerous to bury.

After Mukden, there would not be many more. It was the last major land battle, and after Japan followed it up with a crushing naval victory that May, hostilities came to a close.


“On the Hills of Manchuria”, a mournful 1906 waltz by Ilya Shatrov.

* The pursuit didn’t last much longer; Japanese forces were themselves too battered and exhausted from the Battle of Mukden.

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1905: Chief Zacharias Kukuri

1 comment April 15th, 2012 Headsman

On this date in 1905, in the midst of Germany’s genocidal destruction of the Herero people in its Southwest Africa colony (present-day Namibia), the Otjosazu chief Sacharias Kamaituara Kukuri was hanged in Windhoek.

More than half the Herero population perished following an abortive attempt to resist German colonization during this unfortunately little-remembered period, perhaps the very first of the 20th century’s ample store of genocides.

Our man’s execution occurred at the moment of a policy pivot: after the horrific extermination policy initially practiced by General Lothar von Trotha, Germany’s Herero policy was “moderating”. Von Trotha’s extermination order had been officially reversed by Berlin; by November of 1905, the murderous general would be recalled to Germany. Instead, they’d be collecting the Herero into concentration camps.

It was into the Windhoek camp that Kukuri arrived as the wounded prisoner of a German ambush.


The concentration camp under the walls of Windhoek’s Alte Feste (Old Fort). Today, the fort is a museum … and the camp, forgotten, is the grounds of a high school. (Source)

Of course, it goes without saying that, even if state policy no longer aimed officially at racial annihilation, the system of concentration camps continued the de facto genocide: the systematic destruction of Herero life in order to incorporate the population as a subject proletariat (enlightened self-interest — the colony’s “economic future would be completely destroyed by the extermination of the indispensable labor power” — is what finally trumped von Trotha). At the same time, camps structured a punitive neglect of Herero living conditions, a years-long “period of suffering” in which Herero died of overwork, malnutrition, disease and neglect as surety against any future resistance. Courts-martial of fighting-age men alleged to have had some hand in resisting by arms the German onslaught completed the salutary lesson.

Missionary sources provide us with eyewitness accounts of conditions in the camps. Missionaries stationed in the Herero Konzentrationslager reported to their superiors in Germany on the extensive and unchecked rape, beatings and execution of surrendered Herero by German soldiers. Missionary Kuhlmann spoke of the delight of settler women witnessing the drawn-out public hangings of captured Herero in Windhoek. At one such hanging, a drooling Herero fighting for his life was berated” ‘You swine, wipe your muzzle’. (pdf source)

Kukuri fell into this last category.

His fate is especially poignant for us (and, convenient to date) thanks to the memoirs of Friedrich Meier, one of the many German Christian missionaries who had poured into Namibia ever since it became a German colony. As Meier’s account of swapping Biblical allusions with Kukuri in the shadow of the latter’s gallows underscores, these missionaries had achieved some inroads.

I did not see the slightest trace of fear on him, instead it was as if he were going to a wedding. ‘Muhonge’, he said at one stage, ‘oami otja Elias mohamakuao na je otjinga me keende kejuru metemba,’ i.e. ‘Muhonge, like Elias, I too travel to heaven in a waggon.’

Having arrived at the execution site, I noticed how he kept looking at the gallows, at which preparations were still taking place. I feared for his tranquility and asked him to stop looking at it. ‘Muhonge,’ he said to me, ‘I hear everything, why should I not look at it? For is it not “my wood” [my cross]?’

When we finally stood underneath the gallows, we prayed together that beautiful song: ‘So then take my hand and lead me.’

German:

English:

Possibly he noticed that I was worried about him. Anyway when I was finished he said, ‘It would appear that you still fear that I am afraid, but have I not told you: “When a father calls his child, does that child then fear to go to him?” Give my wife, who is in Okahandja, my greetings and tell her that I have died in the faith of the lord Jesus, so too tell my children if you should ever see them.’ I asked him again to be infatuated with the lord Jesus. ‘Lord Jesus, you help me,’ with this, after he had given me his hand, he climbed up the ladder. Soon the noose was laid around his neck. And then — never will I forget that moment — the unheard-of happened, as he fell the noose slipped and the wretch fell to the ground. He lost consciousness for a moment, so too, the observers were dumbstruck. Today I still see how his eyes sought me out. Soon, however, two soldiers were there, they lifted him up, and then a little to the side, on orders of the major who led the proceedings, he was shot.

Kukuri’s grave can still be seen at the Gammans cemetery (German link) in Windhoek.

His memory as an emblem of Herero dignity under persecution also remains in present-day Namibia.

Anette Hoffmann (in “The Merits and Predicaments of Opacity: Poetic Strategies of Evasion and Resistance” for the fall 2007 Research in African Literatures) relates a later “praise poem” for 1959 Herero martyrs, whose allusion to the hanged chief (as “Hauzeo”) emphasizes his agency, rather than his victimhood.

For he as the son of the chief Kukuri and must die since Samuel Maherero had escaped to Botswana. They said that if they kill him, then that could serve as a symbol that they had exterminated the sovereignity of the Herero … he was taken to a tree near the White’s cemetery in Otjomuise, which is still here today. I can show you his grave. He is still there until now, near the railway line to Aris … when he was taken to the tree, the tree of Hauzeu, as you hear about it, it was said: now you will be hanged to die. Heavily wounded as he was, he had a rope around his neck and was hanged. However, his weight broke the rope. Then the Germans said he was innocent and had to be released. But he himself insisted to be hanged again … [he said] “I have come to see the children of Tjamuaha’s house, those left in the camps of enslavement: to see them with my own eyes … this is why I have come: take me up the tree.” They did and he died. He lies at Hauzeu’s tree. He had given himself to be hanged.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Arts and Literature,Botched Executions,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Germany,Hanged,History,Namibia,Occupation and Colonialism,Politicians,Power,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Shot,Wartime Executions

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1905: Two murderers beheaded in French Indochina

1 comment March 7th, 2012 Headsman

On this date in 1905, this happened in French Indochina:

“Annamites” — a term that will not get you a warm welcome in Southeast Asia today — were residents of the French protectorate of Annam. It, along with Tonkin to its north and Cochinchina to its south, comprise present-day Vietnam: “Annamite” was also sometimes generalized as a colonialist synonym for all Vietnamese. (Here’s a 1947 Life magazine article by William Bullitt that does just that in its warning about the burgeoning war wherein “Annamites — half starved and weakened by malaria, gentle by nature but courageous” had started “kill[ing] every Frenchman they can.”)

Postcard pictures on this post via BeheadedArt.com, which delivers what it promises. (Clicker beware.)

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,France,History,Known But To God,Mature Content,Murder,Occupation and Colonialism,Public Executions,Vietnam

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