1951: Robert Dobie Smith, suicide by Pierrepoint

1 comment September 13th, 2020 Headsman

On the 22nd of May 1951, after an argument with Joan, [Robert Dobie Smith] persuaded his brother Andrew to write a rambling letter to explain his intended actions and then make a phone call to the police. The letter stated that he would shoot the first policeman he came into contact with. Smith had earlier stolen a double barreled 12 bore shotgun and 25 cartridges from his father’s home.

From the Capital Punishment UK Facebook page … click through for the rest of the story.

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1951: John Dand

Add comment June 12th, 2020 Headsman

John Dand hanged at Manchester’s Strangeways Prison on this date in 1951 — because of spat over £3.

Dand and his victim, 72-year-old Walter Wyld, lived near one another in York. When Wyld was found stabbed to death with no sign of forced entry late the night of January 27, 1951, correspondence in his home indicated that he’d been expecting a visit from John Dand, the son of a former neighbor who owed him the sum in question. The equivalent present-day value of that sum is a bit under £100.

Dand had bloodstained trousers, a fake alibi, and no capacity to keep to a story under interrogation. It wasn’t long before he admitted the murder, which he then tried to un-admit. As the the Capital Punishment UK Facebook page notes,

Dand withdrew his confession and pleaded not guilty at his trial at Leeds before Mr. Justice Gorman on 23rd to the 26th of April. His defence was that he was not physically capable of killing Mr. Wyld, who although much older, was a very fit ex Rugby League player. Unsurprisingly the jury were not impressed with this argument as Dand was 5′ 9″ tall and of average build.

The hanging was carried out by Albert Pierrepoint and Harry Allen. Prisoner 10117, Dand, weighed 147 lbs. and was given a drop of 7′ 7″. The LPC4 form records that there were no physical peculiarities that would affect the drop, but that it was given at the “discretion of the executioner”.

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1951: The Einsatzgruppen Trial war criminals

Add comment June 7th, 2020 Headsman

A batch of Nazi war criminals highlighted by four condemned at the Einsatzgruppen trial hanged at Germany’s Landsberg Prison on this date in 1951.

Formed initially to decapitate Polish intelligentsia when Germany invaded that country in 1939, these notorious paramilitaries were deployed by Reinhard Heydrich behind the advancing German line of battle to pacify occupied territory. “Pacify” in the event meant slaying Communists, partisans, and of course, the Reich’s innumerable racial inferiors. Einsatzgruppen authored many mass executions like the massacre of Jews at Babi Yar outside Kiev, each local atrocity a self-conscious contribution to the wholesale genocide. All told these units might have killed upwards of 2 million human beings; they were also used to gather Eastern European Jews into urban ghettos, which subsequently became the staging points for deportations to the camps.

Postwar, the big Nuremberg war crimes tribunal against the major names in the German hierarchy unfolded from late 1945 in a multinational courtroom: American, British, French, and Russian judges and prosecutors working jointly.

But the emerging superpower rivalry soon narrowed the window for similar cooperation in successor trials, leading the rival powers to try cases on their own.* Accordingly, United States military tribunals unfolded 12 additional mass trials, known as the subsequent Nuremberg trials — each exploring particular nodes of the Nazi project — such as the Doctors’ trial and the IG Farben trial.

The Einsatzgruppen trial was one of these — 24 Einsatzgruppen officers prosecuted at the Palace of Justice from September 29, 1947 to April 10, 1948.

Twenty-two of the 24 were convicted of war crimes and crimes against humanity, and 14 sentenced to death. However, ten of the fourteen prospective hangings were commuted, and all surviving prisoners had been released by 1958. The four who actually went to the gallows at Landsburg Prison on June 7, 1951 were:

    Out of the total number of the persons designated for the execution, 15 men were led in each case to the brink of the mass grave where they had to kneel down, their faces turned toward the grave. At that time, clothes and valuables were not yet collected. Later on this was changed …

    When the men were ready for the execution one of my leaders who was in charge of this execution squad gave the order to shoot. Since they were kneeling on the brink of the mass grave, the victims fell, as a rule, at once into the mass grave.

    I have always used rather large execution squads, since I declined to use men who were specialists for shots in the neck (Genickschusspezialisten). Each squad shot for about one hour and was then replaced. The persons which still had to be shot were assembled near the place of execution, and were guarded by members of those squads, which at that moment did not take part in the executions.

    -Paul Blobel on his mass-execution process

  • Otto Ohlendorf, an economist tapped as commander of Einsatzgruppe D (educated and ideologically reliable administrator were intentionally sought for leadership positions in these gangs). Together with Ukrainian and Romanian auxiliaries, this unit killed 90,000 people in southern Ukraine and Crimea which the good functionary strove to render “military in character and humane under the circumstances.”
  • Werner Braune, a former Gestapo man who became chief of one of Einsatzgruppe D’s units, called Einsatzkommando 11b.
  • Erich Naumann, a former brownshirt turned commander of Einsatzgruppe B who frankly acknowledged to the tribunal that “I was ordered to Heydrich and I received clear orders from him for Russia. Now, first of all, I received the Fuehrer-Order concerning the killing of Jews, Gypsies and Soviet officials” and “considered the decree to be right because it was part of our aim of the war and, therefore, it was necessary.”
  • Paul Blobel, a World War I veteran become architect who was into his late forties when he helped organize the Babi Yar massacre. Afterwards, he had charge of Sonderaktion 1005, a 1942-1944 project to destroy evidence of such massacres by, e.g., digging up mass graves to pulverize and dynamite the remains into unrecognizability. “The mission was constituted after it first became apparent that Germany would not be able to hold all the territory occupied in the East and it was considered necessary to remove all traces of the criminal executions that had been committed,” according to Adolf Eichmann aide Dieter Wisliceny. Blobel “gave a lecture before Eichmann’s staff of specialists on the Jewish question from the occupied territories. He spoke of the special incinerators he had personally constructed for use in the work of Kommando 1005. It was their particular assignment to open the graves and remove and cremate the bodies of persons who had been previously executed. Kommando 1005 operated in Russia, Poland and through the Baltic area.”

In a concession to efficiency or spectacle, they were joined by the three other condemned men from other installments of the Nuremberg trials, the , against the directorate that ran Germany’s concentration camps.

  • Oswald Pohl, the head of he directorate that ran Germany’s concentration camps. He was the only person executed from his own particular installment of the war crimes trials, called thePohl trial
  • Georg Schallermair, an SS sergeant convicted for murders he’d personally committed at Dachau.
  • Hans Schmidt, the former adjutant of the Buchenwald concentration camp who carried his implausible insistence of ignorance as to the camp’s deaths all the way to the end. Schmidt’s name in the news might have inspired an American wrestling promoter to assign it in 1951, along with a boffo Nazi persona, to one of pro wrestling’s great heels.

* Here’s some information about Soviet war crimes trials.

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1951: Marcel Ythier, Andre Obrecht’s first

Add comment November 13th, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1951, Marcel Ythier lost his head as France gained a headsman.

Ythier escaped a life sentence at hard labor and fled to Aix-en-Provence to build a burglary career, which improved to a murder career when he shot dead the constable who surprised him in the act in May 1950.

Ythier’s was the first execution conducted by Andre Obrecht, nephew to the great head-chopper Anatole Deibler and the latter’s heir as France’s chief executioner. Indeed, Obrecht would be the last chief executioner in every sense but literally, carrying the title from 1951 to 1976, when he beheaded Christian Ranucci, the third-last fall of the guillotine. (Francophone specialists might go for Obrecht’s memoirs.)

Obrecht resigned the post a few weeks after Ranucci’s controversial death, leaving his own nephew (and longtime assistant executioner) Marcel Chevalier to write the illustrious profession‘s Gallic finale with the two last executions in French history.

Not to worry: the classic bourreau lives on as one of the jokers in Executed Today’s pack of custom playing cards.

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1951: Sandor Szucs, Hungarian footballer

Add comment June 4th, 2019 Headsman

Twenty-nine-year-old footballer Sandor Szucs was hanged on this date in 1951 for attempting to defect from communist Hungary.

The defender for Ujpest FC, who had also featured internationally for the emerging national team juggernaut destined for legend as the Golden Team, Szucs embarked a politically dangerous extramarital affair with singer Erzsi Kovacs.

When the two attempted to flee the country together, they were arrested just this side of the Yugoslavian border. Kovacs spent four years in prison — she would go on to a successful international career — while Szucs was harshly sentenced to death as a traitor on the strength of a murky military law that had been invoked in no other case. His comrades from the pitch found that their pull did not extend to any effectual aid for him.

It’s presumed that Szucs’s execution was at least in part meant as a warning to these very same mates not to exploit the international team’s travels for any embarrassing defections.

If so, they were right to worry: when the Hungarian Revolution erupted in 1956 while the Golden Team’s primary club mirror was playing an away match in Belgium, several players refused to return to their Soviet-occupied homeland, including superstars Ferenc Puskas, Sandor Kocsis and Zoltan Czibor.

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1951: Arno Esch, liberal

Add comment July 24th, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1951, liberal East German activist Arno Esch was shot in Lubyanka Prison outside of Moscow.

Plaque at the University of Rostock honoring Esch. (cc) image by Schiwago.

Just 17 when World War II ended, Esch emerged as a leading student activist for the Liberal Democratic Party in the postwar Soviet Occupation Zone — a pacifist who advocated political liberalization and civil rights.

These weren’t times for any common fronts: “a liberal Chinese is closer to me than a German communist,” Esch remarked, denoting a clear and present danger in the communist zone: his party attempted in vain to form a coalition across the nascent Iron Curtain with its like-minded brethren in the western zones.

Esch was arrested in 1949 and prosecuted as a spy and counterrevolutionary by a Soviet military tribunal.

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1951: William Watkins, one man’s life and death

Add comment April 3rd, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1951, William Watkins hanged for drowning his eleventh child.

An execution that was barely noticed in its time and would be nigh-forgotten today, it’s revived in all its messy humanity in a book titled Execution: One Man’s Life and Death. John Mervy Pugh, the son of one of Watkins’s prosecuting barristers, watched Watkins’s two-day trial as a young man and was still so troubled by it many years later that once “it all came tumbling back into my mind” he decided that he “could not let it rest.” Pugh’s empathetic book plumbs the trial and police records, supplemented by interviews with Watkins’s surviving family and even Watkins’s executioner, the ubiquitous Albert Pierrepoint.

“This was one case I never expected would have taken place,” Pierrepoint told Pugh. “In my opinion many men have been reprieved for a lot worse crime than this.” According to Pugh, many others involved the case, from prison warders to court officials, were equally shaken by the unexpected denial of clemency. Watkins’s guards, who had a good feel for how these things played out, had confidently reassured the convict that he would surely never hang.

Forty-nine years old at his death, which was barely ten weeks after the death of the infant for which he was condemned, Watkins was a factory worker who scrabbled an honest if impecunious living with his second family. Once he was charming and gregarious, but an advancing congenital deafness and the strains of Britain’s hard years through Depression and war had left him taciturn and “prematurely old; his once black hair was now steel grey and his face permanently looked as though he needed a shave.” (His vanishing hearing also robbed him of his longtime driving profession.) He’d had nine children with his first wife but had left her for their former boarder whom Pugh anonymizes as “Maisie”. Though never married, the two lived as man and wife in a run-down home at the back of 79 Clifford Lane in Birmingham. They had a four-year-old son together. Then Maisie got pregnant again.

By both parents’ own admissions it was a child that they did not want and could not afford. (Bill still continued dutiful maintenance payments to the family he had deserted; the last one arrived after his arrest.) Maisie gave birth at home — she’d had no medical attention at all during her pregnancy — on the night of January 20, 1951. Minutes after she delivered, the baby was drowned, and Watkins’s fate was sealed.

Bill and Maisie lived cheek by jowl with their neighbors and Maisie’s condition had been obvious; it was no more than a couple of days before their observable comings and goings (specifically, Maisie’s not coming and going) had generated the inference of a birth … and Bill’s evasiveness generated rumors that demanded investigation.

When men arrived bearing papers and sharp questions, Bill’s answers were not very coherent or consistent. His excuses for that — panic in the moment, and the weariness of repeated police questioning later on — did not quite seem equal to the gravity of a dead infant, which he made no effort to hide when pressed. Minutes after the birth, the father said, he was washing the bloody newborn off and “it fell in the bowl.” So … scoop it out? He didn’t, and even said he couldn’t, for no satisfactory reason: alternately because his wife was shouting or, as he once allowed, “I suppose I panicked and we did not want the child.” It’s a disordered story for what in that moment seems for all the world a disordered soul. Quite disturbingly, the child was also found stuffed head-first in a pillow slip; was this because Bill had socked away the corpse in a vain attempt at concealment, or was it because he had callously stuffed the still-living creature inside the sack before “bathing,” intending all along to asphyxiate it?

This last interpretation surely carries an outrage beyond “mere” infanticide, perhaps the very margin by which Watkins swung. In notes before he recommended Home Secretary Chuter Ede against a reprieve (in effect, this recommendation was the decision) Permanent Under-Secretary of State Frank Newsam recorded the view that “this is a shocking case of the massacre of an unwanted infant by drowning as if the infant were a kitten.”

To Pugh’s eye, it seemed Watkins barely helped his own attorneys at all; he remarks that in revisiting the transcripts years later it is obvious how fragmentary was Watkins’s understanding of events, so hard of hearing was he. His near-deafness led others to take him for vacant and stupid; he’s repeatedly referred to as simple-minded by figures who encounter him, even his own barrister, although he was nothing of the sort. Yet Pugh also wonders whether the “prematurely old” Watkins had not indeed simply given up, somewhere along the line. The hangman Pierrepoint shared the same impression when he first spied the prisoner, as he later told Pugh: “he looked so dejected and slightly stooped, as though he couldn’t care less; suddenly I felt sorry seeing a man looking so sad and just waiting to die.”

At 8.00 a.m. the Chaplain arrived and gave Bill communion. Together they said the Lord’s Prayer and in the name of the Christ he served, the Chaplain forgave Bill for what he had done. The two prison officers found themselves affected by the scene and wished that time would not linger; the last hour always seemed the longest.

At 8.40 a.m. Mr Blenkinsop (the Undersheriff) arrived, and was quickly taken to the Governor’s office. Dr John Humphrey (the Prison Doctor) was already there. At 8.55 a.m., Pierrepoint and his assistant stood outside the door of the condemned cell and were joined within a minute by the Governor, the doctor and the Chief Prison Officer.

Within the cell Watkins was now seated with his back to the door, and seconds before the door opened, looked up, sobbing, and said to the Chaplain, “I have never met so many kind people in my life as I have met since I have been here. Why did I have to come to prison before people are so kind?” The Chaplain had to turn away for fear of showing his own emotion. Already the Under-Sheriff had given the signal: it was 30 seconds past 8.59 a.m. The door opened; Pierrepoint was behind Watkins: “Come on, old fellow,” he said in his soft northern voice. He pinioned his arms, and with an officer either side, Bill was escorted through the now opened doors to the scaffold and Pierrepoint remembers that he walked steadily into the chamber. The assistant was down on his knees pinioning his legs, Pierrepoint put a hand under his drooping chin, placed a white hood over his head and then the noose, stepped back and pulled the lever. Since Pierrepoint had entered the room, twelve seconds had passed: William Arthur Watkins was dead.

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1951: Jean Lee, the last woman to hang in Australia

Add comment February 19th, 2018 Richard Clark

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

Jean Lee, an attractive 31-year-old redhead, made history as the last woman to hang in Australia when she went to the gallows in Pentridge prison in the Coburg suburb of Melbourne in Victoria state on the morning of Monday, February 19th, 1951. She and her two male companions were hanged for the murder of 73-year-old dwelling house landlord and bookmaker, William “Pop” Kent.

Jean Lee was apparently quite intelligent and a bit rebellious at school and had a succession of dead end jobs from which she soon left or was fired.

She married at 18 and lived with her husband for about nine years before leaving him and entrusting her daughter to her mother. She had a relationship with a petty criminal who got her into prostitution with American servicemen. He acted as her pimp whilst she worked to support them both.

She left him for another professional criminal, Robert David Clayton, with whom she fell deeply in love. As is so often the case, she became caught in a downward spiral. She was in love with a criminal who abused her and used her in his criminal activities.

These centered principally on what was known as the “badger game.” Lee, at the time, a voluptuous and attractive woman would pick up men and get them to a hotel room, their own home, or a car where she would appear to be about to have sex with them. Once they were semi-naked and vulnerable, Clayton would appear in the role of outraged husband and demand money from them. Usually the victims handed over their ready cash but kept quiet for fear of their wives finding out or of being ridiculed — so it was a fairly safe bet. If they were not forthcoming Clayton would beat them up. It was a scheme that had worked well, although at least two previous cases had been reported to the police.
On the evening of November 7th, 1949, Lee, Clayton and a third accomplice, Norman Andrews, whom Clayton had met in prison, saw William Kent in a Melbourne hotel lounge. Jean Lee had several drinks with Kent and soon succeeded in persuading the old man to take her back to his apartment where she tried to pick his pockets.

However, Mr. Kent, although inebriated and quite elderly, was of sterner stuff. He put up a fight with Lee which was ended when Clayton and Andrews entered his room. Mr. Kent was systematically kicked, beaten and tortured over the next hour in an attempt to get him to reveal where he kept his money. His hands had been tied behind his back and his thumbs tied together with bootlaces. He had been repeatedly stabbed with a small knife and was finally manually strangled.

The trio were soon arrested at their hotel and bloodstained clothing was found in Lee’s and Andrew’s rooms. At police headquarters, they were questioned in separate rooms where each initially denied their involvement and then started to blame the others.

They came to trial on March 20th, 1950 at Melbourne’s Criminal Court and the proceedings lasted six days. As each had tried to shift the blame on to the others in their statements to the police, the trial judge Mr. Justice Gavan Duffy explained the law of “common purpose” to the jury, i.e. that when three people take part in a violent robbery and murder they are all equally guilty, irrespective of which one had actually strangled Mr. Kent. The jury took less than three hours to find them all guilty and they were sentenced to death. Lee became hysterical whilst Clayton shouted abuse at the jury.

Their appeal was heard by the Court of Criminal Appeal and was upheld by a two to one majority decision on the 23rd of June 1950. The Appeal Court ruled that their statements to the police had been obtained improperly as the statement of one was used to extract confessions from the other two. They were thus granted a retrial. However, this was not to be as the High Court overturned the Appeal Court and reinstated the convictions and sentences.

There was considerable protest, led by left-wing and feminist groups, when Lee was sentenced to death. However, it seemed to primarily be against the execution of a woman by hanging, rather than the execution of women per se.

Lee would became the first woman to be hanged in Victoria since Emma Williams in November 1895. She had aged noticeably during her time in prison and suffered violent mood swings — now abusing her wardresses, next begging them for an alcoholic drink. She told one of her wardresses: “I just didn’t do it. I haven’t enough strength in my hands to choke anyone. Bobby was stupid but the old man was trying to yell for help. None of us meant to kill him.”

It was decided that Lee should be the first to hang at 8 am, the two men being executed two hours later.

She was heavily sedated as she shuffled under escort to a double cell near the gallows. Her weight was recorded as 7 stone 6 lbs, her height as 5′ 7″ and the drop was set at 8 feet exactly.

Sheriff William Daly was required to read the death warrant to her. She collapsed on seeing the hangman and his assistant — both wearing “massive steel rimmed goggles [with a] soft felt hat … to ensure that they were not recognised in the future”. A doctor examined her and found she was unconscious. However, the execution had to proceed so Daly continued to read out the details of her conviction and sentence although she would not have heard a word of it — if she had, she would have spotted a mistake (the date on which she had been sentenced).

Because of her state of collapse, the executioner pinioned her arms in front of rather than behind her back as was normal. His assistant then pinioned her legs with a strap whilst he put the white hood on her head, and they carried her from the cell the few yards to the gallows where she had to be placed on a chair on the trap. Her head drooped to her chest and the executioner had to pull it back in order to adjust the noose correctly.

The flap of the hood, which was to cover her face, had been left open. At a signal from the sheriff, the executioner dropped the flap to obscure her face, stood back from the trap and pulled the lever. The trap fell and both she and the chair plummeted through. The chair had been secured to the gallows by a cord and although it fell with her, the two parted company at the end of the drop leaving her suspended normally. Her weight was recorded as 7 stone 6 lbs, her height as 5’ 7” and the drop was set at 8 feet exactly. The knot was positioned under her left ear and death was said to be “instantaneous”. At 8.05 am the prison doctor found no heartbeat. The death certificate was signed at 8.20.

Two hours later Clayton and Andrews, both mildly sedated, shared her fate.

Capital punishment ended in Australia with Victoria’s next execution, that of Ronald Ryan on the same gallows at Pentridge prison on the 3rd of February 1967.

A recent book, Jean Lee: The last woman hanged in Australia by Paul Wilson, Don Trebl and Robyn Lincoln casts doubt on the justice of her conviction and execution based upon the police interrogation methods and her part in the murders.

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1951: Ants Kaljurand, Estonian Forest Brother

1 comment March 13th, 2016 Headsman

On this date in 1951, the Estonian anti-Soviet partisan Ants Kaljurand was executed by the NKVD with comrades Arved Pildin and Juhan Metsäären.

Renowned for his ferocity and derring-do, “Ants the Terrible” was among 12,000 to 15,000 or so Estonian “Forest Brothers” who organized armed resistance to the Soviet Union.

The small Baltic state had won a two-decade interwar independence rudely terminated by Soviet occupation in 1940 under the carving-up done by the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. Moscow did not have long to enjoy its mastery of the place before Germany’s invasion swapped one occupation for the other.

German mastery appeared the more congenial than Russian,* and vice versa: Tallinn-born Nazi race theorist Alfred Rosenberg celebrated “the true culture bearer for Europe … the Nordic race. Great heroes, artists and founders of states have grown from this blood. It built the massive fortresses and sacred cathedrals. Nordic blood composed and created those works of music which we revere as our greatest revelations. … Germany is Nordic, and the Nordic element has had an effect, type forming, also upon the western, Dinaric and east Baltic races.”**

Germany had some traction recruiting SS volunteers locally, and Estonia’s small Jewish population was exterminated so efficiently with the aid of right-wing militias that the country was officially Judenfrei by the time of the Wannsee Conference. (Kaljurand himself was an Omakaitse paramilitary.)

Once Germany was pushed back out by the Red Army in 1944 there were thousands of far-right Estonian fighting-men prepared to bear arms against the new-old boss: one part a desperate hope of resuming the pre-war independence, two parts fatalistic principle. “We understood that it is better to die in the forest with a weapon in your hands than in a Soviet camp,” an ex-Forest Brother pensioner told the New York Times in 2003.

For a few years** after World War II, the harassment of Forest Brothers pricked Soviet authority, but as elsewhere in the Baltics the contest was impossibly unequal for guerrillas far from any hope of aid in a post-Yalta world. Ants the Terrible was captured in 1949 by which time the movement, ruthlessly hunted, was waning away. It was finally stamped out in the early 1950s, but in the post-Soviet Estonia — independent once again — these resisters have been belatedly celebrated as patriots.

* “In Estonia it was hard for us to live, much less operate,” a Soviet partisan in Estonia reported. “At partisan training, they told us that the people were waiting for us to drive out the Germans … But we were never told that we’d be assaulted by the Estonians themselves.” (From War in the Woods: Estonia’s Struggle for Survival 1944-1956, a source extremely laudatory of the Forest Brothers.)

** From Rosenberg’s magnum opus, The Myth of the Twentieth Century. It’s not all sunshine for the eastern Baltic race in Rosenberg’s cosmology; “mixed as it is with a Mongol element,” these types are “pliant clay either in the hands of Nordic leadership or under Jewish and Mongol tyrants. [The eastern Baltic] sings and dances, but as easily murders and ravages.”

† One of the last Forest Brothers in the field, August Sabbe, was only caught in 1978 at the age of 69. He died in the arrest, either murdered by his KGB pursuers or resolutely quick-witted enough to drown himself to escape interrogation.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Estonia,Execution,Guerrillas,History,Martyrs,Occupation and Colonialism,Rus',Russia,Shot,Soldiers,Terrorists,Treason

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1951: King Abdullah’s assassins

Add comment September 4th, 2013 Headsman

AMMAN, Jordan, Sept. 4 — Four men sentenced to death here last week for complicity in the assassination of King Abdullah in July were hanged today in Amman prison. Regent Emire Naif had confirmed the sentences of the special tribunal.

Those put to death were Musa Abdulla el-Husseini, Abed Okkeh, Abdulkadir Farhat and Zakariya Okkeh.

Col. Abdulla el-Tell, former governor of Jerusalem, and Musa Ayyubi who were sentenced to death in absentia are reported to be living in Egypt.

New York Times, September 5, 1951*

The men hanged this day were among the authors of “the most dastardly crime Jordan ever witnessed”: the July 20, 1951 assassination of independent Jordan’s first king.

The cagey Hashemite monarch Abdullah I had been emir of Transjordan, an artificial British mandate jigsaw-piece that Abdullah got by virtue of cutting a deal with Winston Churchill.

This sinecure came with the significant drawback of dependency on London’s reach and interests, and Abdullah’s great achievement was to set Transjordan-cum-Jordan** on firm enough footing to survive the postwar sunset of the British Empire.

Abdullah faced an early test of Jordan’s chops shortly after his country’s 1946 independence when the Arab-Israeli War erupted. For Abdullah, this was a state-building opportunity; indeed, his government had for years backed Palestinian-partition plans that other Arab states had opposed — with the expectation that Jordan could help itself to the eastern part of that partition.

Abdullah did just that in 1948, invading and annexing the Jordan River’s West Bank all the way to East Jerusalem … while willingly acceding to (some have said actively colluding in) the creation of a partitioned Jewish state that was theoretically anathema to Jordan’s allies.

Jordanian territorial aggrandizement, however, brought with it the West Bank’s Palestinian population, severely aggrieved at having seen their aspirations to statehood cynically sacrificed by Abdullah. They got, into the bargain, Jordanian citizenship and a severe suppression of independence agitation.

So when Abdullah came to visit Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque, a Palestinian gunman murdered him.

While the assassin himself was immediately shot dead by the king’s bodyguards, ten allegedly in on the plot were very hastily tried in mid-August … eight in the Amman courtroom, and two overseas in Egypt tried in absentia. Dr. Musa Abdullah el Husseini, Abdel Kadir Farahat, and the brothers Abed and Zakariya Okka were condemned to die, along with the absconded Abdulla el Tel and Musa Ahmed el Ayoubi. (The latter two would never be executed.)

According to the London Times‘ Aug. 29, 1951 wrap of the legal proceedings,

The events leading up to the murder, as they were described during the hearing, began with two meetings in Egypt, in September and October [1950], between el Tel and el Ayoubi, who decided then that the king should die. El Tel then met el Husseini i Cairo, and henceforth directed and financed the plot with el Ayoubi as his chief lieutenant. Abed Okka acted as an intermediary, and Zachariya Okka and Farahat were later drawn into the plot, the latter ultimately providing the murderer with a revolver.

The remaining four men who faced trial — Dr. Daud el Husseini, Franciscan Father Ibrahim Ayyad, Tawfik el Husseini, and Kamil Kaluti — were acquitted.

This event, which might have been feared to prefigure a more terrible disruption within Jordan, within Palestine, even in the entire Middle East, did nothing of the sort. Power transitioned to the long reign of Abdullah’s grandson King Hussein, who was actually present at his grandfather’s assassination. (And might have shared his fate, save for a medal the teenaged Hussein had pinned to his breast that deflected a bullet.)

As Mary Cristina Wilson writes,

There was an element of cover-up in the conduct of the trial. The grievances and frustrations of the accused were not broached … The idea of an independent Palestine was, for the moment, dead. Abdullah’s assassination was a terrible revenge wreaked for the death of that idea, but it signified retribution for events that were already history, not the beginning of the new order … Though not without parallels in the future, it was without echoes.

Jordan would govern the West Bank, albeit absent virtually any internationally-recognized legitimacy there, until Israel attacked and occupied the territory in the Six-Day War in 1967. The legacy of this event will be familiar to the reader.

In 1988, Jordan officially resigned its own claims on the West Bank to the Palestine Liberation Organization, “the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.”

* Any number of online sites say this hanging occurred on September 6. Given the existence of September 5 papers reporting the execution, I think it’s safe to rule those erroneous. Wikipedia sources this version to James Lunt’s Hussein of Jordan.

** “Transjordan” officially became simply “Jordan” in 1949. Events in this post span either side of that re-branding, so for the sake of clarity, we’re just going to use “Jordan” throughout.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Assassins,Capital Punishment,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Hanged,History,Jordan,Notable for their Victims,Occupation and Colonialism,Palestine,Racial and Ethnic Minorities

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