1909: The Pollet gang, breaking the French moratorium

2 comments January 11th, 2014 Headsman

Warning: Graphic severed head pictures await at the bottom of this post.

On this date in 1909, the guillotine returned France after an absence of more than three years.

The sitting president was a staunch death penalty opponent and had blocked all executions since his term began in 1906. That was about the same span of time that the Pollet gang had, in the words of a New York Times wire report,* “infested the Belgian-French frontier, robbing churches, houses, and inns, holding up stage coaches and belated travelers, and torturing and slaying their victims according to the old piratical adage that dead men tell no tales.”

Abel Pollet had been a smuggler who put his native gift for leadership to good use organizing his fellow traffickers into a more lucratively violent line of work. Thanks, presumably, to the syndicate’s pre-existing professional aptitude for evasion, it persisted for years and authored a quantity of robberies and murders that authorities could only guess at. (The official homicide estimation ran north of 50.) It was a spree so atrocious that it helped force the end of the whole death penalty moratorium since sentiment was so strong against the Hazebrouck gang .

Incited by the many depredations and perhaps starved from years without the bloody spectacle of public execution, a vast concourse of 30,000 mobbed the guillotine at Bethune.

“At midnight there were 2,000 watchers in the square,” one report ran. “The main street of the town was crowded as on the eve of a fete. Soon after midnight men brought ladders and benches to the square and mounted them to obtain an uninterrupted view. Others climbed into the branches of trees, where their presence was revealed by the glow of cigarettes and pipes in the dark among the branches.”

Undeterred by the steady winter’s drizzle, they would wait all the night through, their numbers continually augmented as road-trippers arrived by train.

At four in the morning the dread traveling executioner Anton Diebler, who had already plied this trade for a generation and more and would continue in the role for another 30 years, arrived with four assistants to set up the guillotine. It was only with difficulty that police restrained the pawing mob.

By half-past five the public prosecutor officially informed the condemned men what they surely already knew — that there would be no mercy. The crowd on the square would have its prey.

As the first robber, Theophile Deroo, emerged at 7:25 a.m., “there was a painful silence, and then an outbreak of hoots and curses from the crowd.” A wilting Deroo had to be hustled to the board amid the jeers. “A mort! A mort!” came the howls.

Three times in the next eight minutes the executioners furiously scrubbed the apparatus clean while guards (per the Times) “held the crowd back with main force.”

Canut Vromant followed coolly; Auguste Pollet was third, fighting and shouting. His brother, the leader Abel Pollet, went under a rain of curses that he answered with the words “Down with the priests! Long live the Republic!”

People are ghoulish. Far be it from us to deny them.


Top: the heads of the Pollet brothers. Middle: The heads of their two accomplices. Bottom: Canut Vromant’s headless trunk awaits autopsy. All images from the invaluable Bois de Justice, via this goregrish forum.


After the quadruple executions, the heads are cleaned up. (Source)

Perhaps, dear reader, you find the public exhibition of these severed heads objectionable. If so, you have an ally in the French state that did the severing.

For years, French elites had been fretting the indecorous behavior of the crowd at what was supposed to be a solemn occasion. The advent of photography only made matters worse, for now the discomfiting head-chopping exercise could be shared with those indisposed to sitting up all night smoking pipes in trees.

But as the moratorium gave way, the rising media form of cinema promised even more debased exhibitions. Enterprising cinematographers were already staging execution re-creations; now there was the prospect for film audiences to be incited to countless bloodlust frenzies by on-the-scene deathporn footage of hated criminals going under the blade. It was in response to just this fear that France a bit later in 1909 promulgated (French link) its first film censorship rules — forbidding in this case the public display of film liable to disturb the public tranquility.

* Jan. 16, 1909 … under the excited headline “THIRST FOR BLOOD AMONG THE FRENCH”,

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1909: Les Chauffeurs de la Drome

2 comments September 22nd, 2013 Headsman

At daybreak this date in 1909, three French rural bandits dubbed “Les Chauffeurs de la Drôme” were publicly guillotined in Valence to the hurrahs of a great crowd.

Most of the (plentiful) information online about these charmers is in French; in their day about 1905 to 1908 they enjoyed quite a lot of notoriety in southern France for their bloody crime spree, comprising at least 11 murders amid numerous home invasion burglaries. They were a throwback gang whose niche the 20th century would eradicate as surely as they themselves. In the time before ubiquitous mass communication and high-speed transport, a sufficiently bold band of robbers could have their way with a rural residence miles from any possible aid: this was one of the great terrors of Europe, and early crime broadsheets from centuries previous dwell often on the terrors of an isolated farmer or miller made prey in his own home by a band of cutthroats.*

The root of the word chauffeur is the French verb “to heat” — think stoking an engine, for the word’s familiar meaning of professional driver — and the specialty of the Chauffeurs de la Drome was torturing their hostages by scorching their feet with hot irons until the sufferers yielded up the hidey-holes of whatever treasure they had on premises. Their trial was a fin-de-siecle circus, and their executions likewise to a discomfiting degree. Though nothing specifically scandalous occurred as the chauffeurs were snuffed out on a public street, there are a number of pictures of this event, some of them made into postcards and circulated.

This was a trend not very much appreciated by the French government, but of course such images make arresting historical artifacts.

We’re here featuring select images of Octave David. When David walked the few steps through a sea of early-rising spectators to the portable guillotine erected on the streetcar tracks directly in front of the prison gates, his companion Pierre Berruyer had already been beheaded. (The chauffeurs were nos. 126 through 128 in the prolific Anatole Deibler’s career.)

He would have glimpsed Berruyer’s headless trunk already rolled into the large box that would soon receive his body as well. (The box had accommodations for four.) And while the execution team washed down the blade between uses, the grotesque bloody puddles and remains of fresh gore were a constant source of complaint. All three executions were completed in a six-minute span; it’s safe to assume that the smell and the feel of Pierre Berruyer’s violent death surrounded David as he walked to the used chopper. As the events here transpired, the third robber Urbain Liottard still awaited his own turn just inside the prison walls — in a few moments, Liottard would see two steaming neckless corpses stacked up in the rude bin gaping to receive him.


Looking alarmingly Christlike, the half-naked form of the condemned murderer emerges from the prison’s maw amid a throng of indistinct, black-clad voyeurs.


David reaches the guillotine; the assistant executioners are about to tip him onto the board that will carry him into place. The identification on these photos is from Bois de Justice, an invaluable site on the history of the guillotine; I’m unsure from my own observation whether to equate the figure in these pictures with the one in the first, above.


One of the beheadings (I’m not certain that it’s David’s) has been completed; the body and head are being transferred to their receptacles. Again, Bois de Justice has details on this scene.


Following one of the beheadings, the visibly stained blade is raised for cleaning before the third criminal is brought out.

* For some examples, see Joel Harrington’s The Faithful Executioner, a book we’ve previously profiled.

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1909: Dervish Vahdeti, for the 31 March Incident

1 comment July 19th, 2013 Headsman

EXECUTIONS IN CONSTANTINOPLE

(From our own correspondent.)

CONSTANTINOPLE July 19.

Cherkess Mehmet Pasha, popularly known as Kaba Sakal — i.e., “twisted beard,” the torturer and former aide-de-camp of [Sultan] Abdul Hamid, Yusuf Pasha, Commandant of Erzerum, the Dervish Vahdeti, chief of the Jemiyeti Mohammadeieh, Hakki Bey, the notorious spy, and eight officers and soldiers who took part in the recent mutiny, were publicly executed at dawn.

London Times, July 20, 1909

The Ottoman Empire in 1908 experienced the Young Turk Revolution, curbing the power of the sultan in a brief constitutional-monarchy era that would take the foundering state through the First World War.

Unsurprisingly, the reigning, formerly-supreme monarch was nonplussed at this brake on executive authority.

He backed the 31 Mart Vakasi, or 31 March Incident,* a counter-coup by conservative and Islamist elements in Istanbul to overthrow the Young Turks and re-establish the sultan’s power. Already the Porte was resorting to an assertion of Islamic political identity to hold the “sick man of Europe” together — and already that had resulted in some appalling atrocities.

For a few days the rightists, incited by Dervish Vahdeti, had Istanbul in hand. Vahdeti was a 40-year-old Cypriot who published Volkan, an Islamist newspaper in Istanbul; the 31 March Incident is sometimes also known as the Revolt of Dervish Vahdeti. (Biographical details source)

Once again, Armenian blood flowed. News of the revolt triggered an attack by Turks in the Anatolian city of Adana upon that city’s Armenian Christians. The resulting Adana Massacre claimed 15,000 to 30,000 lives throughout the Adana province.

Indeed, the Adana massacre quite outlasted the counter-coup, resulting in going debate over the extent to which the Young Turks themselves blessed the pogroms. These guys had their own fraught relations with Turkey’s Armenians; of course, they’d eventually have the Armenian genocide to answer for.

As for the event at hand, Second Army Corps and Third Army Corps dispatched Dervish Vahdeti’s revolt with ease. These units still loyal to the Young Turks reached Istanbul from Salonika within days of the uprising. (Among their number was the 27-year-old Mustafa Kemal — later known as Ataturk, the founding statesman of modern, post-Ottoman Turkey.)

The mutiny collapsed with little effective resistance upon this Macedonian intervention, and the military had the run of the place — not for sack but for a severe clamp-down on the Islamic party. According to Nader Sohrabi, “some two hundred movement participants were hanged en masse, on row after row of scaffolds erected in public space by the order of military courts” in the crackdown.

The 74 constitutionalist soldiers who died to put down the 31 March Incident are honored at a Monument of Liberty in Istanbul.

* The Ottomans were on the Julian calendar-based Rumi calendar, so March 31 in Istanbul corresponded to April 13 in western Europe. Similarly, this date’s hangings took place on July 6, not July 19, per the local Turkish date.

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1909: C.Y. Timmons

Add comment February 26th, 2013 Meaghan

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

Minutes after midnight on this date in 1909, an Oregon plasterer named C.Y. Timmons was hanged at the state prison in Salem, Oregon for the murder of Estella, his wife of two years.

On October 21 the previous year, he had put an ax in the back of her head, slit her throat from ear to ear with a straight razor and then attempted to take his own life with the same razor. The two were discovered by the neighbors at 7:30 the next morning when a partially unclothed C.Y. came knocking on their door, “covered in blood from head to foot.”

C.Y.’s wound, as R. Michael Wilson explains in his accounting of the case in Legal Executions After Statehood in North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Washington and Oregon, was serious but not fatal, and it responded to medical treatment: “The gash had missed the veins and arteries but had severed the trachea, but it had sealed and prevented him from drowning in his own blood.”

Timmons quickly regained his ability to speak and told authorities Estella had cut his throat while he was sleeping. He grabbed the razor from her hand, slit her throat in self-defense, and then finished her off with an ax. Then he lay down and waited until dawn before he went and asked for help.

The truth came out, however, and at his trial in mid-January 1909, C.Y. admitted that he’d gone round the bend with jealousy over his younger wife’s* affair with one Robert Hornbuckle. C.Y. and Estella had been quarreling for a long time about her relationship with Hornbuckle. Only the day before the murder, the couple had met with an attorney to procure a divorce — a drastic measure in that day and age.

During the meeting, Estella told the lawyer that her husband had a violent temper, especially when he had been drinking, and that he had threatened her life on numerous occasions.

C.Y. apparently believed his victim’s alleged infidelity would outrage the jury into acquitting him. Not so; they deliberated a whopping 35 minutes before finding him guilty. C.Y. broke down in tears when the verdict was read. And, for what it’s worth, all evidence indicates that Estella’s “affair” with Hornbuckle existed only in her husband’s imagination.

C.Y.’s hanging was as gruesome as his crime, as Wilson records:

[A]t 12:31 p.m., the trap was sprung and Timmons dropped six feet, one inch. The force of the drop caused the neck wound to open and for some time the hanging figure breathed through the gaping wound beneath the rope, and the body was drenched with blood. The attending physicians differed on whether Timmons’ neck was broken in the fall, but later examination proved that the vertebrae had been dislocated. This complication, breathing through the open wound, prevented pronouncement of death until 12:54 p.m., and the body was allowed to hang another seven minutes to ensure he was dead.

The murderer was buried separately from his victim, at the Lee Mission Cemetery in an unmarked grave.

* Her age was given in different accounts as either 19 or 21; C.Y. Was 37. Another pathetic detail to her tragic life: Estella was an orphan, raised in an orphanage after her parents both died of tuberculosis.

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1909: Remy Danvers

Add comment January 26th, 2013 Headsman

On this date in 1909, French double-murderer Remy Danvers was guillotined in Carpentras.


From Le Matin, January 27, 1909.

Danvers, already a career criminal, signed on as a farmhand at age 22 in 1907 — a period when capital punishment in France was in abeyance owing to the presidency of a death penalty opponent who systematically blocked executions.

On February 1, 1908, he shot that farmer dead to steal some money he learned was available in the house … and for good measure shot his wife too, as she begged him on her knees for her life. He got caught trying to dump the burlap-sacked corpses in the Rhone. (Here’s a French-language summary, from the original Le Figaro report.)

Because of the de facto death penalty moratorium, Danvers didn’t sweat his death sentence too much. However, the outrages of the Pollet gang finally restored the guillotine to the French criminal justice scene earlier in January of 1909. Danvers turned out to be the very next victim in its path.

Shortly before the sentence was carried out, the public prosecutor appeared in Danvers’ cell to advise the doomed man of his appeal’s rejection, and the consequent imminent removal of his head. Fortified by rum, a visibly upset Danvers managed to get through it, but execution-starved French folk crowded a scene that authorities attempted to restrict. Someone snapped this photo:

The unruly public, the New York Times opined, “undoubtedly will hasten Parliamentary action toward making future executions private.”

That date was still some years away, but a France increasingly discomfited by its history of public executions did institute laws forbidding attendees from filming or photographing executions. (Those laws didn’t work, but there they were just the same.)

There’s more about Remy Danvers in this guillotine.cultureforum.net thread (French).

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1909: Georges-Henri Duchemin, matricide

Add comment August 5th, 2011 Headsman

On this date in 1909, Georges-Henri Duchemin was guillotined in Paris for murdering his mother. It was the first execution in that city in a decade.

An aimless gadabout, Duchemin mostly sponged off his dear mom, and the filial bond of nature proved insufficiently developed to restrain him strangling the old lady when she held out on him one time.

The ungrateful child made off with a couple hundred francs, but his sister knew right where to direct the police.

His lawyer bid to represent the killer as unbalanced (French link; most of the material on this criminal is in French). The general public horror of parricide and the undisguisedly mercenary nature of the murder made it a no-go.

France had taken a death penalty hiatus of three-plus years from late 1905 to early 1909, under the anti-death penalty president Armand Fallieres. But even those in the first half of the decade had been elsewhere than the capital: Paris hadn’t seen the national razor shave a head since Alfred Peugnez in 1899.


“[Juve] led Fandon just behind the guillotine, to the side where the severed head would fall into the basket. ‘We shall see the poor devil get out of the carriage, and being fastened on to the bascule, and pulled into the lunette.’ He went on talking as if to divert his own mind from the thing before him. ‘That’s the best place for seeing things: I stood there when Peugnez was guillotined, a long time ago now, and I was there again in 1909 when Duchemin, the parricide, was executed.-
Fantomas

With the new death penalty era in the new century came a new location for the guillotine: just outside La Sante Prison. (The guillotine had formerly been stationed outside La Roquette Prison, but that facility had closed in 1900; today, it’s a park — but look sharp and you can still find the guillotine’s old support stones.)


Le Petit Parisien provided this map to curious onlookers as part of its vast Aug. 5, 1909 coverage of Paris’s biggest crime story of the summer.

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1909: Jesus Malverde, narco patron saint

2 comments May 3rd, 2011 Headsman

On this date in 1909, a Mexican bandit was executed by the police. Maybe. Unusually for these pages, the date is quite certain but the existence of the executed man is not.

If he existed — and this caveat is standard in practically every profile of the fascinating cultural phenomenon fathered by the man or phantom — Jesus Malverde was a Robin Hood-esque “social bandit” who preyed on Mexico’s plutocratic agricultural lords and distributed the spoils to the poor.

According to Patricia Price (“Bandits and Saints: Jesus Malverde and the Struggle for Place in Sinaloa, Mexico”, Cultural Geographies 2005; 12; 175), the Malverde of legend entered the world as Jesus Juarez Mazo, but his

own parents died of hunger or a curable illness, and that this was the catalyst for his turn to a life of crime. While Malverde was said to have worked variously on the railroads, as a carpenter, or as a tailor, he soon joined the ranks of bandits that roamed Mexico’s countryside at the end of the nineteenth century. He reportedly stole gold coins from the rich hacienda owners living in Culiacan and threw them in the doorways of the poor at night.

Truly a figure who, if he did not exist, it were necessary to invent.

All the particulars about his legendary exploits are a bit fuzzy, right down to his end on May 3, 1909 — possibly gunned down, possibly left to die of exposure with his feet hacked off, or possibly (and certainly more picturesquely) summarily hanged from a mesquite tree by a posse.

(In a version that appealingly combines these threads, he’s said to have been dying of gangrene after being shot, and in a last act of charity prevailed upon his friend to bring in his body to collect the reward. The police gibbeted his corpse.)

In the years since, Malverde has become a popular divine intercessor for the marginal social classes who could identify with such a figure, like Sinaloa’s poor farmers of corn and beans.

And other cash crops.

Malverde is also the patron saint — decidedly unofficial, of course — of the region’s robust narcotics trade.

His shrine stationed across the way from a government compound in Sinaloa’s capital city draws a bustle of devotees.* Offerings like produce and shrimp share space with icons of marijuana and AK-47s, and votive notes appreciating “how things turned out, and how nobody was grabbed.” Breaking Bad gave him a shout-out from the mouths of disdainful DEA agents north of the border.

The underworld angle may draw the gawking Yankees, but Jesus Malverde — man, legend, shrine, all — is a genuine civic institution who meets a genuine need for solace not unlike his very namesake. In the words of a researcher quoted by Price, Malverde draws

the poorest, the handicapped, pickpockets, thugs, prostitutes, drug traffickers and drug addicts, in sum, the stigmatized who, in civil or religious iconography don’t find anyone who looks like them, in whom to confide and in whose hands to put their lives.

We’ll drink to that.

* So does Malverde’s Facebook page.

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1909: Valgrand in place of Fantomas

1 comment December 19th, 2010 Headsman

On this date* in 1909, in the first novel of the hit French Fantomas crime serial, the title character escapes the guillotine by having a duped actor beheaded in his place.

Fantomas’s Wikipedia entry calls the character “a transition from Gothic novel villains of the 19th century to modern-day serial killers“: he’s a swashbuckling anti-hero who’s a master of disguise and perfectly okay with getting his hands bloody.

His own personal Javert, an inspector by the name of Juve who has stalked him for years,** has finally managed to have Fantomas convicted of a murder and sent to await execution. (Here’s a synopsis of the book.)

The widow of that crime’s victim — also Fantomas’s lover — subsequently contrives to arrange a tete-a-tete with an actor then portraying Fantomas’s lurid crime spree on the Parisian stage. She wants him to come in costume, which excites the actor as a seriously macabre kink: little does this Valgrand suspect that his own tete will be swapped for the murderer’s by next light.

That following day finds a drugged Valgrand infiltrated into Fantomas’s cell, in a sort of travesty of the noble Sydney Carton‘s guillotine switcheroo. Still suffering the effects of the potion his supposed inamorata has plied him with only hours before, and still made up to resemble the condemned man, he’s incapable of objecting as he’s hustled to the scaffold.

Juve was watching the unhappy wretch, and could not restrain a word of admiration.

“That man is a brave man! He has not even turned pale! Generally condemned men are livid!”

The executioner’s assistants had bound the man upon the plank; it tilted upwards. Deibler grasped the head by the two ears and pulled it into the lunette, despite one last convulsive struggle of the victim.

There was a click of a spring, the flash of the falling knife, a spurt of blood, a dull groan from ten thousand breasts, and the head rolled into the basket!

But Juve … sprang towards the scaffold. He thrust the assistants away, and plunging his hands into the bran that was all soaked with blood, he seized the severed head by the hair and stared at it.

“Good God!” he cried in tones of anguish.

“It isn’t [Fantomas] who has just been put to death!” Juve panted brokenly. “This face has not gone white because it is painted! It is made up — like an actor’s! Oh, curses on him! Fantomas has escaped! Fantomas has got away! He has had some innocent man executed in his stead! I tell you Fantomas is alive!”

And so he was … to the tune of a staggering 32 books over three years. Eat your heart out, J.K. Rowling.

Fantomas on the silver screen

This series has enjoyed a number of adaptations to the screen, and indeed it’s a media milestone as well since the books were cranked out at record pace by a team of writers working simultaneously on modular chapters to meet publication deadlines that fed immediately into cinema deals. There were also comic and radio spinoffs, though they’re not known to have been forward-thinking enough to have had a website.

In the classic first silent adaptation of Fantomas in 1913 (the book was published in 1911), poor Valgrand catches a break: he’s recognized and spared beheading at the last moment. There’s a very thorough guide for viewing that film here.

* The book situates the action where Valgrand is seduced and tricked on December 18, and the narrative makes it clear that the execution itself is at dawn the next morning.

It can be placed in 1909 because a guard mentions the execution of Henri Duchemin, a real historical figure guillotined earlier in 1909. (That year marked a resumption of executions in France; a death penalty opponent serving as President of the Third Republic systematically blocked executions from 1905 through 1908.)

Lady Beltham, whose feminine wiles spring the master criminal, subsequently commits suicide in 1910, which leaves only the one possibility.

** Juve is a big fan of the then-trendy, now-discredited system of Bertillonage; Fantomas consistently runs circles around this “scientific” crime-fighting. Academics, if you please?

Through the incorporation of Alphonse Bertillon’s anthropometrics — the dominant mode of criminal investigation at the time –, as both the narratological and criminological impetus for its exponentially serialized representations of criminality, Fantomas articulates resistance to the representational strategies of the numerical classification of criminals as a means of social and “scientific” control, while compelling the ongoing modern capitalist cycle of mass literary production and consumption.

-Nanette Fornabai, “Criminal Factors: ‘Fantômas’, Anthropometrics, and the Numerical Fictions of Modern Criminal Identity,” Yale French Studies, No. 108 (2005)

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1909: Leonard Groce and Lee Roy Cannon, American mercenaries in Nicaragua

3 comments November 17th, 2009 Headsman

In few countries is it possible to trace the development of anti-American sentiment as clearly as in Nicaragua. A century of trouble between the two nations, which led to the death of thousands and great suffering for generations of Nicaraguans, began when the United States deposed President Zelaya in 1909. Benjamin Zeledon [Spanish link -ed.] took up arms to avenge him. Zeledon’s death inspired the young Sandino, who, in turn, inspired the modern Sandinista Front.

For all his faults, Zelaya was the greatest statesman Nicaragua ever produced. If the United States had found a way to deal with him, it might have avoided the disasters that followed. Instead, it crushed a leader who embraced capitalist principles more fully than any other Central American of his era.

-Steven Kinzer, Overthrow: America’s Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq

It was a century ago today* that the execution of two American soldiers of fortune set all that strife in motion.

Leonard Groce, a mining supervisor, and Lee Roy Cannon, a rubber planter, were among those hired out by the U.S.-backed rebellion of Juan Jose Estrada. Dictatorial Nicaraguan President Jose Santos Zelaya — no known relationship to his namesake bookend at the other end of that century, the recently deposed leftist Honduran President Manuel Zelaya — had earned Washington’s ire by attempting to carve out an excessively independent sphere of action for his country. Most notably, he courted European investment, and mooted funding a possible Nicaraguan competitor to the U.S.-controlled Panama Canal.

Though the Estrada insurrection was spinning its wheels militarily, Groce and Cannon would give it legs diplomatically, and afford the Yankees sufficient pretext to overthrow Zelaya directly.

These two U.S. nationals were caught mining the San Juan River in an admitted attempt to sink a Nicaraguan troop transport, and shot in El Castillo a few days later. (Here‘s Groce’s final letter to his mum — a Spanish translation; I have not been able to find the English original.)

When word reached U.S. Secretary of State Philander Knox about the shootings, he “saw an opportunity to intervene directly.”**

Knox dashed off a bellicose note to the Nicaraguan charge d’affaires calling his

regime … a blot upon the history of Nicaragua …

From every point of view it has evidently become difficult for the United States further to delay more active response to the appeals so long made, to its duty to its citizens, to its dignity, to Central America, and to civilization.

The Government of the United States is convinced that the revolution represents the ideals and the will of a majority of the Nicaraguan people more faithfully than does the Government of President Zelaya.

“Then,” says Steven Kinzer, “he issued an official legal opinion holding that because Estrada’s rebellion had given his men the ‘stature’ of belligerents, Cannon and Groce had been entitled to prisoner-of-war status. That made Zelaya a war criminal.”

Maybe Zelaya mistook the foreign bombers for “unlawful combatants.”


Groce and Cannon temporarily became a media cause celebre in the U.S. This article is from the Nov. 21, 1909 edition of the Salt Lake Herald-Republican.

By late December, with marines† landing, Zelaya bowed to the inevitable and resigned, and Nicaragua began a generation under more-or-less overt U.S. control.

That terrible miscalculation drew the United States into a century of interventions in Nicaragua. They took a heavy toll in blood and treasure, profoundly damaged America’s image in the world, and helped keep generations of Nicaraguans in misery. Nicaragua still competes with Haiti to lead the Western Hemisphere in much that is undesirable, including rates of poverty, unemployment, infant mortality, and deaths from curable diseases.

Kinzer

There’s more coverage of this episode and America’s early 20th century Nicaraguan policy in The Banana Men: American Mercenaries and Entrepreneurs in Central America, 1880-1930 and Beneath the United States: A History of U.S. Policy toward Latin America.

* A few sources give the date as the 16th, and the situation was confused and uncertain enough on the ground that early press reports elide the execution date altogether. The 17th tracks with The Banana Men, Overthrow, and the U.S. diplomatic correspondence.

** Knox, a plutocrats’ attorney from Pennsylvania and certifiable bastard, was also personally connected with Pittsburgh-based mining interests Zelaya was threatening to expropriate. Groce worked for the firm.

† Marine Corps Major (later General) Smedley Butler mounted three different expeditions to Nicaragua during the civil war following Zelaya’s departure. He would later remember of his service in America’s southerly “Banana Wars” interventions, “I spent most of my time being a high class muscle-man for Big Business, for Wall Street and for the Bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism.”

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Mercenaries,Nicaragua,Occupation and Colonialism,Revolutionaries,Shot,Soldiers,Terrorists,USA,Wartime Executions

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1909: Will James, “the Froggie”, lynched in Cairo

13 comments November 11th, 2009 Headsman

One hundred years ago today, Will James was lynched as a murderer in Cairo, Illinois.

“The Frog” or “The Froggie” was a black man implicated in the murder of a white girl, captured in nearby Belknap and

taken to the most prominent square in the city and strung up. The rope broke and the man was riddled with bullets. The body was then dragged by the rope for a mile to the scene of the crime and burned in the presence of at least 10,000 rejoicing persons. Many women were in the crowd, and some helped to hang the negro and to drag the body.

Part of the mob then sought other negroes. Another part, at 11:15 o’clock, after battering down a steel cell in the county jail, took out Henry Salzner, a white man charged with the murder of his wife last August, and lynched him.* (New York Times, Nov. 12, 1912)


Other pictures related to the Will James lynching are at the Without Sanctuary site here (images 41 through 47).

The grey lady’s dim view of this jubilant scene prompted a letter to the editor in defense — the author’s disclaimer notwithstanding — of the lynching, which paints a grim and striking portrait of the town where it occurred.

CAIRO’S NEGROES.

Former Resident Says They Are Spoiled by Coddling and Are a Menace.

As a former resident of Cairo, Ill., where I was the editor of a daily newspaper for three years, I crave a word, not in defense of the double lynching which occurred there a few days ago, but in explanation of it. Cairo, at the extreme southern point of Illinois, at the junction of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, is peculiarly located. Across one river is Missouri; across the other is Kentucky, and Tennessee is only fifty miles away. Cairo thus becomes a buffer between the North and the South. It is probably the only town in the North which has a true race problem to deal with. … Out of a population of 13,000 in 1900, 5,000 of the inhabitants of Cairo were negroes. Of the 100,000 negroes in the State of Illinois 5 per cent are massed in this one little town. Aside from this, the floating colored population is unusually large, and Cairo, at some time or other, harbors most of the “bad niggers” from St. Louis, Cincinnati, Louisville, Memphis, Vicksburg, and New Orleans. It is these whom citizens fear the most, and for whom the police are constantly alert. Murders by negroes either of white men or negroes are alarmingly frequent, but the murderer usually escapes either to Kentucky or Missouri, and is never heard of again. Thus crime after crime is recorded against the name of Cairo, with no recompense in the name of the law. On the other hand, there is hardly a time when there are not forty or fifty Cairo negroes in the Southern Illinois Penitentiary, all convicted of theft or burglary.

The white people of Cairo have always dealt indulgently with the negro. For years it has been the policy to keep two negroes on the small police force, and there have been negro Justices of the Peace. A negro physician once came near being elected a member of the Board of Education. While they pay but little taxes, the negroes are provided with three public schools. The Sumner was the first colored High School ever established in the United States. Yet this negro population, coddled as it is, is a constant menace to the town. No white woman dare venture outside of the house at night alone for fear of assault. Many outrages of which the world has never heard have been attempted. This is why, as Mayor Parsons says, the effect of the recent lynching will be “salutary.”

Altogether it is not surprising that a lynching took place in Cairo. The only wonder is that one did not take place long ago.

W.L. CLANAHAN
New York, Nov. 14, 1909

That electric arch and celebratory mob are now long gone from Cairo: in the century since Will James was butchered, Cairo, Ill., has withered — striken in part by its own poisonous legacy of racism. (Also by flooding from the adjacent rivers, the routing of transportation corridors elsewhere, and the general deindustrialization of the heartland.)

During the civil rights struggle as played out in Cairo in the 1960’s and 1970’s (more in this pdf), the town’s white business owners made a name for themselves by refusing to integrate their workforces in response to black boycotts … preferring to go out of business and/or leave town.

Cairo today is a near ghost town at one-quarter of its previous population, and generally appalling quality-of-life indicators.

* Salzner’s lynching occurred after midnight, according to the same article; hence, his absence from this article’s marquee.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Borderline "Executions",Botched Executions,Burned,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Hanged,History,Illinois,Lynching,Murder,No Formal Charge,Public Executions,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Shot,Summary Executions,USA

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