1939: Edmund Jankowski, Olympic rower

Add comment November 1st, 2020 Headsman

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

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

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

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

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1937: Nikolai Nikolayevich Durnovo, Slavist

Add comment October 27th, 2020 Headsman

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Nicholas II should have listened to him.

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

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

Add comment October 7th, 2020 Headsman

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

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

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

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

It would do for both Floyd and Richetti, however.

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

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

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

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

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1938: Nikolai Bryukhanov, hung by his balls

Add comment September 1st, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1938, former Soviet Finance Commissar Nikolai Bryukhanov (English Wikipedia entry | Russian) was shot during Stalin’s purges.

Bryukhanov — no apparent relationship to Chernobyl nuclear plant director Viktor Bryukhanov — was a Bolshevik agitator going back to his days as a student radical in the first years of the 20th century.

In 1926, he became head of the powerful People’s Commissariat for Finance (NarKomFin) replacing another future purge victim, Grigori Sokolnikov — which meant that he was there at the helm at the moment that Stalin executed his 1928-1929 Great Turn towards Five-Year Plans and forced industrialization.

This pivot also entailed the bureaucratic sidelining of NarKomFin, thanks in part to Bryukhanov’s affiliation with Stalin’s so-called “Rightist Opposition”. (Who were, no surprise, also future purge victims.) This pornographic cartoon circulated among Bryukhanov’s political rivals, the author says with understatement, “illustrates the fragility of Bryukhanov’s position.”

Stalin himself, who in 1930 was not yet in a position to simply murder foes on his say-so, commended the caricature in the spirit of a witch-dunking:

To the members of the Politburo. Hang Bryukhanov by his balls for all of his sins present and future. If his balls hold, consider him acquitted by the tribunal. If not, drown him in the river. J. St.

Deposed here in 1930 from his acme, Bryukhanov nevertheless continued over the succeeding years in several lesser posts relating to administration of the Soviet economy. As with many Old Bolsheviks who had at some point in time resisted Stalin in a large way or a small one, that former enmity lived long in Koba’s mind … and come the era of the purges, what the old man had once scribbled in jest was visited on Bryukhanov’s flesh. (Metaphorically.)

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1936: Saburo Aizawa, incidentally

Add comment July 3rd, 2020 Headsman

Lieutenant Colonel Saburo Aizawa was shot on this date in 1936.

The Aizawa Incident — an assassination — emerged from the conflict between the Kodoha (“Imperial Way”) and Toseiha (“Control”) factions of the Imperial Japanese Army.

Both these philosophies were authoritarian, militaristic, and aggressively imperialist.

However, Kodoha officers — disproportionately younger junior officers — were more radically right-wing. Their leading light, General Sadao Araki, who had been War Minister in the early 1930s, espoused a philosophy that “linked the Emperor, the people, land, and morality as one indivisible entity, and which emphasized State Shintoism.”

Toseiha is described as the more moderate faction which in practice meant that they were a bit less totalizing and a bit more institutionally accommodating: in a word, it was just the mainline outlook of the army brass. According to Leonard Humphreys, Toseiha “was not really a faction … it really consisted only of officers who opposed the Kodoha.”*

Our day’s principal accused Toseiha bigwig Tetsuzan Nagata of putting the army “in the paws of high finance” when he forced out a Kodoha ally and Araki protege in 1935, following a failed Kodoha coup d’etat. And in revenge for this perceived betrayal, Aizawa dramatically murdered Nagata with a sword in his office on August 12, 1935.

However boldly struck, this blow bespoke the dwindling prestige of the ultras.

In the months while Aizawa’s sure fate was arranged through the proper channels, the desperate Kodoha faction again attempted to seize power — and was sidelined for good when it again failed. Aizawa had the displeasure of going to his death amid the ruin of his cause.

* fn 24 on page 206 of The Way of the Heavenly Sword: The Japanese Army in the 1920’s, citing several other scholars with the same view — and noting that the names for these tendencies were both conferred by Kodoha propagandists, so nobody self-identified using the pejorative “Toseiha”.

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1938: Shlomo Ben-Yosef, Mandatory Palestine Zionist protomartyr

Add comment June 29th, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1938, Zionist terrorist Shlomo Ben-Yosef was hanged by the British.

Shalom Tabachnik — to use the name he had from his childhood in the Polish/Russian marches — emigrated illegally to British Mandate Palestine and joined the Irgun.

On April 21, 1938, he and two comrades ambushed an Arab bus and despite failing in their attempt to commit mass murder by forcing it off a mountain road into a chasm, they were tried under British security regulations; one man was acquitted and another death-sentenced but commuted owing to his youth, leaving Shlomo the honor — for so he insisted of his patriotic martyrdom — of being the first Jew hanged by the British authorities in Mandatory Palestine.

“Do not be discouraged by my death,” he wrote to friends. “It will bring a step nearer the dream of our life — an independent Jewish state.”

His death was met by heavy Jewish protest, and the British officer who hanged him was eventually (in 1942) assassinated in reprisal. Present-day Israel has a number of streets bearing his name.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Attempted Murder,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,England,Execution,Hanged,History,Israel,Jews,Martyrs,Milestones,Occupation and Colonialism,Palestine,Separatists,Terrorists,Wartime Executions

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1939: Toribio Martinez Cabrera

Add comment June 23rd, 2020 Headsman

Spanish officer Toribio Martinez Cabrera was executed on this date in 1939 by Franco’s Spain.

An army lifer who had cut his teeth fighting in Cuba against Spain’s imperial dispossession, Martinez Cabrera (English Wikipedia entry | Spanish was one of the few brigadier generals to remain loyal to the Spanish Republic when his brethren launched the Spanish Civil War.

Despite entrusting him with command responsibility, his upper brass demographic profiled as a probable rebel and the Republic remained wary of his act; he was interrogated as a possible double agent after the fascists took Malaga, and defeated an outright treason charge after Franco occupied Gijon in 1937. It seems like he was destined to be shot by someone.

Having the honor of returning to an official capacity in the collapsing remains of the Republic, he supported Segismundo Casado‘s March 1939 coup against the Communist-allied Juan Negrin. The latter could get no negotiated terms from the fascists and so resigned himself, as he later remembered from exile, “to fight on because there was no other choice, even if winning was not possible, then to salvage what we could — and at the very end our self respect … Why go on resisting? Quite simply because we knew what capitulation would mean.” Unfortunately for Martinez Cabrera, Casado’s short-lived junta also got a cold shoulder from Franco and submitted to unconditional surrender.

Although most of its members evacuated abroad as the fascists triumphed, Martinez Cabrera declined to flee. He was shot at Paterna on June 23, 1939.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Shot,Soldiers,Spain,Treason

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1935: John Stephenson Bainbridge, ten-minute alibi

Add comment May 9th, 2020 Headsman

The defense attempted to show that Bainbridge could not have committed the crime because Mr. Herdman’s daughter stated in court that she and Bainbridge left her father in the house at 7.55pm and testified that the clock was 10 minutes fast. Herdman was supposed to be murdered between 7.50 and 9.50pm. The judge noted that if that were true and the clock were not fast then Bainbridge was innocent. The is why the case was known as the “Ten Minute Alibi”.

-From the May 9, 2020 Facebook post of the Capital Punishment UK Facebook page. Click through for a lovely photo in the comments of the crime scene, in present day.

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1935: Three Venizelist officers

Add comment April 24th, 2020 Headsman

Greek Venizelist generals Anastasios Papoulas and Miltiadis Koimisis, and major Stamatis Volanis, were shot on April 24, 1935, for a failed coup attempted weeks earlier.

The Liberal titan of the Greek polity over the preceding quarter-century, Eleftherios Venizelos had forged and politically dominated the post-monarchy Hellenic Republic. The last of his several turns as Prime Minister had ended two years previous amid the wrack of the Great Depression; now, Greece was led by the center-right government of Panagis Tsaldaris who seemed keen on midwifing the return of the deposed ex-king.*

The tense relations between monarchists and republicans were catalyzed by an unsuccessful 1933 assassination attempt on Venizelos …

… and this in turn drove the republican/Venizelist faction to contemplate more desperate measures. General Nikolaos Plastiras, who had the considerable credential of having led the successful 1922 rising against the monarchy, led a failed coup in 1933 and then from exile coordinated with a second putsch attempt on March 1, 1935. Venizelos himself had coordinated with the latter attempt in the preceding months and supported it when it was launched — triggering a furious backlash that included the release from prison of his would-be assassins.

More importantly, the coup failed to command critical mass of loyalty from the armed forces.

Although the casualties of this rising numbered in the single digits, the revenge upon it was wide-ranging.

Two officers committed suicide and three more were court-martialled and executed. Among them were the leading figures of Republican Defence, Generals A. Papoulas and M. Kimissis, who had done nothing during the evening of 1 March 1935 … their death sentence was an act of anti-Venizelist vengeance. Both Papoulas (a royalist before 1922) and Kimissis had in different ways been instrumental in the execution of the six prominent royalists in 1922 [after Greece attempted to seize parts of Asia Minor from the collapsing Ottoman Empire, with disastrous results -ed.]. Cavalry Major S. Volanis, who was left to rebel alone against the authorities of Thessaloniki, was also executed. Between 10 March and 14 May, when martial law was finally lifted, 1130 officers and civilians were tried. Sixty were sentenced to death, of whom fifty-five — including Venizelos and Plastiras — had already fled abroad, and two were pardoned. Fifty-seven were sentenced to life imprisonment and seventy-six were given light terms.

-Paschalis M. Kitromilides, Eleftherios Venizelos: The Trials of Statesmanship

The failure of their attempt and the wide purge that followed opened the path for the return of the monarchy that they had so feared: after a rigged plebiscite, Greece had her king back on November 30 of that same year. Venizelos died in exile a few months later.

* Chased into exile repeatedly throughout his reign — during World War I, by Venizelos’s Republic, and again during World War II — King George II was famous for his quip that “the most important tool for a King of Greece is a suitcase.” He’s the cousin of current British royal consort Prince Philip.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Greece,History,Power,Shot,Soldiers,Treason

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1935: Fred Blink, with hatred on his lips

Add comment April 23rd, 2020 Robert Elder

(Thanks to Robert Elder of Last Words of the Executed — the blog, and the book — for the guest post. This post originally appeared on the Last Words blog. Fans of this here site are highly likely to enjoy following Elder’s own pithy, almanac-style collection of last words on the scaffold. -ed.)


Headline from the Auburn (N.Y.) Citizen-Advertiser, April 23, 1935.

“I wish I had Corrick and Wynn on my lap.”

—Fred Blink, convicted of murder, electric chair, Illinois. Executed April 23, 1935

The men Blink addressed in his final statement were Tim Corrick, the husband of one of his victims, and L. L. Wynn, the prosecutor in the case. Blink claimed that Corrick gave him poisoned whiskey, which caused his murder spree. The World War I veteran was convicted in the shooting deaths of his former business partner and four other people. After the verdict was pronounced, Blink had to be lifted from his chair and forced from the courtroom.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Electrocuted,Execution,Guest Writers,Illinois,Murder,Other Voices,USA

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