1953: Carl Hall and Bonnie Brown Heady

Add comment December 18th, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1953 — six months after the execution of a more notorious couple, the Rosenbergs — two Missouri kidnappers were gassed together for the abduction-murder of a millionaire car dealer’s son.

Robert Greenlease owed his millions to a string of midwestern GM dealerships planted at the very flowering of America’s interstate system and suburbanization.

Carl Hall and Bonnie Brown Heady reckoned he’d owe some of those millions to them, too.

On September 28 of 1953, those two snatched little Bobby Greenlease Jr from the grounds of a Catholic school in Kansas City via the all-too-easy expedient of Heady presenting herself as Bobby’s aunt.

Then they extorted Sr. to the tune of $600,000, and after several days’ negotiations, Greenlease paid it through an intermediary — a record US ransom sum that would not be surpassed until 1971.

But the motor magnate never saw his son again. Even by the time they’d sent their first ransom note, the kidnappers had shot little Bobby dead at a deserted farm just over the state line in Kansas.

Although this audacious attack on a minor oligarch made national headlines — it couldn’t help but remind of the Lindbergh baby case — the crooks basically had an opportunity to get away scot-free with all their ill-gotten gains. Bobby Greenlease’s body wasn’t discovered until a couple of days after the ransom was paid, and nobody knew who the abductors were at that point.

Hall and Heady absconded to St. Louis but the wealth, like the crime itself, was just too much for these small-time shoulders to bear. Instead of lying low, Hall — after ditching Heady and taking most of the ransom with him, a reckless provocation of his co-conspirator that might itself have blown up his cover in short order — took up residence in an expensive hotel and started throwing money around. A cabbie reported the shabby character’s suspicious spending, and in no time at all the two were in custody.

A further mystery, never solved, entered the case on the night of Hall’s arrest: half the ransom money disappeared. The mob-connected lieutenant who collared Hall and brought him to the station less $300,000 of the score eventually resigned from the force in disgrace and faced federal prosecution for misappropriation and perjury; the cop indicted with him earned a presidential pardon by turning on his comrade. Other ideas were that the criminals had buried half the money (they claimed this, for a while) and that better-connected figures higher up the food chain had taken in. All the bills’ serial numbers had been recorded but only a few were ever known to have surfaced again in later years, in Michigan and Mexico; where these trace remains of a family tragedy might rest today is anybody’s guess.

As for Hall and Heady, they emerged into the glare of national infamy and — because they had crossed the Kansas-Missouri state line — a federal prosecution. Heady remains to this day the last woman executed under U.S. federal auspices.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch has a detailed photographic retrospective here.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Gassed,History,Kidnapping,Milestones,Missouri,Murder,Pelf,U.S. Federal,USA,Women

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1591: Marigje Arriens

Add comment December 18th, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1591, the Dutch “witch” Marigje Arriens was burned at the stake.

A 70-year-old Schoonhoven folk healer, Arriens (English Wikipedia entry | Dutch) was accused of enspelling some little twerp and driven into the whole copulating with Satan in exchange for supernatural powers thing common to many witch trials.

A fairly well-known witch hunt victim, she’s the dedicatee of Swedish metal band Bathory‘s* “Born for Burning”.

* The band’s name of course pays tribute to a whole other historic atrocity.

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Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Arts and Literature,Burned,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Netherlands,Public Executions,Torture,Witchcraft,Women

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2009: Gerald Dube, from Cell 10

Add comment December 18th, 2017 Headsman

Eight years ago today, Botswana hanged a Zimbabwean man for slaying four.

Employed by his cousin Patricia Majoko as a filing clerk at her law firm — and also living with Majoko — Gerald Dube went wild when he was fired from the job in 2001 and slew his benefactress, her two children, and also the maid. Whether he was literally legally insane was the last and decisive argument around his case.

A month before his hanging Dube favored the larger public with a letter providing a firsthand account of life with four other condemned men in “Cell 10”, Botswana’s death row. Unfortunately I have not been able to locate this text in its entirety, but it is summarized in this article, which also quotes some excerpts.

Concerning the night of an execution (the doomed are removed from Cell 10 only 24 hours prior to hanging, which is also the extent of their advance notice of imminent death):

A few hours after nightfall, when the last prison lights have gone out and the only sound is the rustle of corrugated iron roofing and the chirping of night insects, the terror that envelopes Cell 10 seems closer and more palpable. Between the time prison officers come to take condemned inmate away, usually around 6 am, until the execution at 6 am the following morning, the inmates of Cell 10 listen in on every sound. Somewhere at the back of your mind you know that your brother is being executed next door.

Every movement from the slaughter house can be heard very clearly in Cell 10. At night, prison warders sit through a night vigil, singing hymns the whole night. Just before 0600 am, there will be complete silence. And the hanging starts. You can imagine the emotional torture that comes with the whole process.

Death row’s more routine torments:

Our day starts at 0500 am, that is when Radio Botswana switches on, and so do the prison lights. 0600 hours, the cell is opened and the only movement we can do is shuffling around the courtyard. Between 0700 and 0730 we have our breakfast. Lunch is served between 12 00 Hrs and 1300 Hrs and supper between 15 00hrs and 1545hrs. At 17 00 hrs we are locked back into the cell. The routine continues until the day the hangman arrives … In between 17 00hrs and 0500hours we do not have access to the toilet. The only toilet available to us is in the courtyard. Once we are locked in our cell we can not access this toilet. When we need to relief ourselves, that is when we need to pee or worse, the only thing at our disposal is a bucket that can only be emptied the following morning. Remember there are five of us using a bucket for whatever relief and this has been going on for years. We are tired of raising this with prison officers who have all been turning a deaf ear.

When we complain, all we get from the officers is verbal abuse. We are reminded that we are on death row and have been condemned to death. We are reminded that we are condemned prisoners and that the Prison Department cannot waste government resources on condemned prisoners. The question we are asking ourselves is whether we forfeited our constitutional rights when we were sentenced to death?

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Botswana,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Diminished Capacity,Execution,Hanged,Murder

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1942: Six aspiring escapees from Dulag-205

1 comment December 18th, 2016 Headsman

On about the 18th December 1942 a group of about 6 prisoners intended to escape but were betrayed by somebody. All six prisoners were led out ofthe camp beyond the wire, taken about 20 metres to a pit and shot without any hearing. Before the execution the interpreter told the prisoners that the 6 men had wanted to escape from the camp and for that they would be executed. This would happen to anyone who tried to escape from the camp. The surnames of those who died are not known to me.

This is the testimony of Konstantin Krupachenko, a Red Army prisoner-of-war retrieved from the Germans’ “Dulag-205” camp — a transit facility behind German lines at Stalingrad which was liberated as the Soviets overran the encircled German position.

Krupachenko’s testimony was part of the evidence prepared against six Wehrmacht officers taken prisoner at that camp and ultimately executed, men whose case we have previously detailed.

Though not well-known and hardly by scale a major contributor to the ghastly death toll among Soviet POWs, Dulag-205 was horror aplenty for those who survived it. Starvation rations gave way to no rations at all in the dead of winter, and the skeletal inmates cannibalized the dead. Harassment by guard-dogs, capricious beatings, and the usual regimen of dawn-to-dusk forced labor were the lot of the lucky ones.

The less fortunate, well …

On about the 25th November 1942 while working on a road which led to Gumrak three kilometres from the camp a group of prisoners of about 50-60 was levelling and clearing the road. One prisoner whose name I don’t know collapsed from tiredness and exhaustion and couldn’t work. The guard tried to force the exhausted man to stand and work but the prisoner couldn’t get up. Then the guard shot the prisoner dead with a sub-machine gun and ordered that he be buried in a ditch at the side ofthe road. (Krupachenko again)


There were public executions in the camp. In January 1943 on about the lOth-llth a former senior Lieutenant of the Red Army, his surname I don’t know, was executed for allegedly organising an escape attempt. (Anatoly Alexeev)


In all cases the Germans would shoot prisoners without any warnings at all. In the month of October 1942 I personally saw up to 30 prisoners shot. They shot people every day for falling behind to and from work, and sometimes for breaking ranks. I am unable to give the surnames of the prisoners shot by the Germans. Moreover, when we were herded from the Alekseevka camp to the area of Karpovka village, then several prisoners were shot dead by German officers for the fact that when we were working we were bombarded by Soviet troops and several prisoners took cover. After the firing had stopped the officers came out of their trench dug-outs and shot them on the spot. Three prisoners were shot dead for taking some tobacco while working on a dump. (Ivan Kosinov)


As one of the Germans on trial for these abuses agreed (Otto Mäder was trying to throw blame onto the camp commanders),

[t]here was no trial of any kind, they [prisoners] were shot without any trial on the order of [Dulag-205 commandant] Colonel Korpert. I am a lawyer by education and I understand perfectly that this these shootings were illegal, simply murder in fact.

All these quotations are via Frank Ellis’s “Dulag-205: The German Army’s Death Camp for Soviet Prisoners at Stalingrad” (Journal of Slavic Military Studies, March 2006),

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Concentration Camps,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Execution,Germany,History,Mass Executions,No Formal Charge,Occupation and Colonialism,Russia,Shot,Soldiers,Summary Executions,USSR,Wartime Executions

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1946: One sex killer and four POW camp murderers

Add comment December 18th, 2015 Headsman

This date in 1946 saw the largest mass execution in Alberta: five men all hanged for murder.

One of these, Donald Sherman Staley, was a hated sex-murderer who had raped and killed boys in Calgary and Alberta that summer. But he is the undercard in this event.*

The remaining four were all German prisoners of war from the lately concluded world war. They did not, as their onetime commanders in Europe, face judgment for war crimes: no, Bruno Perzonowsky, Walter Wolf, Heinrich Busch and Willi Mueller had while marking time in the Medicine Hat POW camp contrived to execute a fellow-prisoner as a subversive.

Naturally this camp “execution” was rank murder from a legal perspective. But the day-to-day reality of the Medicine Hat camp was that the few Canadian officials banked on the 12,000 or so German detainees to run the place themselves.**

Medicine Hat’s German leadership consisted of Nazi ideologues, but the politics and life experiences of its inmates, regular grunts snatched from various battlefields, deviated widely from the Reich’s ideal. In 1943, convinced that the less fascist elements in camp were cogitating a plot to displace the Nazi silverbacks in camp, that clique convened a drumhead trial and hanged August Plaszek, a Catholic and former French Foreign Legionnaire.

After the war ended, this murder too resulted in a hanging — but as of the second killing that is the focus of this post, the Canadian investigation was being stonewalled and the true believer types still bossed Medicine Hat with near-impunity.

The second murder was triggered by a threat not to Nazi authority in Medicine Hat — but in Berlin.

After the shock of the Valkyrie plot that came within a whisker of assassinating Hitler, the Fuhrer publicly demanded a purge of traitors, anywhere and everywhere.

The POW Karl Lehmann was just such a one, to Hitlerian eyes. Another Catholic — a dubious class for sure — Lehmann was a husky former languages professor who had been dragooned into the military and subsequently captured in Tunisia.† He had been in Medicine Hat for two years when Col. Stauffenberg’s bomb went off in Wolfsschanze, growing ever bolder vilifying the Third Reich and anticipating its approaching defeat.

In September 1944, our quartet of future gallows-fodder lured Lehmann to a room where he sometimes gave lectures, and there began browbeating him about communists in camp. As Lehmann vainly denied any such connection, his assailants got a noose around him and hoisted him to his death.

Having now had two political assassinations on their watch, Canada finally got serious and threatened the entire population of prisoners with the prospect of being punished as murderers were they merely to fail to report a murder plot to which they had become privy. They also started reshuffling the prisoner population in an effort to break up the Nazi prison gang. Both measures worked — aided, of course, by the advance of Allied armies in the European theater — and nobody had the ill fortune to follow Karl Lehmann’s fate.

Lethbridge Gaol had to be outfitted with a whole new condemned bloc just to hold the prisoners bound for their end this date. (Its existing capacity was only two.)

* Staley’s desperate argument for clemency was that he was a “sexual insane” who could not govern his compulsions: “I must have been born this way and should not be held responsible for what I done, but should receive treatment of some kind instead of being condemned to die for something I can’t help.” “Merciful” proposals ran towards employing him as a guinea pig for mental health hospitals’ experiments with, e.g., lobotomy.

** Canada’s deference to German detainees also made it party to a scandalous execution of Wehrmacht deserters conducted by a surrendered German army in Canadian custody in 1945. (Canada helpfully supplied their prisoners the necessary guns.)

† Under Field Marshal Rommel‘s command, no less: though he was perhaps Hitler’s ablest general, the Desert Fox all but openly disdained national socialism. He was himself implicated in the July 20 plot, and made to commit suicide.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Canada,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Mass Executions,Murder,Power,Soldiers

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1939: Fifty-six Poles shot in retaliation at Bochnia

1 comment December 18th, 2014 Headsman

We owe this discomfiting executioner’s-eye view from the ranks of German soldiers as they gun down Poles in the town of Bochnia on December 18, 1939 to a partisan attack two days prior by a Polish underground organization called White Eagle. Fifty-six civilians were executed in retaliation.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Execution,Germany,History,Hostages,Innocent Bystanders,Mass Executions,Mature Content,Occupation and Colonialism,Poland,Power,Shot,Summary Executions,Wartime Executions

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1894: John Cronin, by an automated gallows

1 comment December 18th, 2013 Headsman

From the Dec. 18, 1894 Atchison (Ks.) Daily:

HARTFORD, Conn., Dec. 18. — John Cronin was hanged here at 1:00 o’clock this morning.

The execution of Cronin was especially interesting, being the first hanging in this state under the law passed by the last general assembly and the first trial of an automatic gallows in the east.

This last is the idea of Warden Woodbridge. Aided by James H. Rabbett, a forger, now serving a two and one-half years’ sentence, the warden evolved what he considers an improvement on the hanging machine in use in Colorado.

Small shot has been substituted for water in the operation of the lever which releases the weight and an arrangement made whereby the execution may be stayed at any moment.

The compartment in which the shot are confined resembles an hour glass and the mechanism is thoroughly under the warden’s control. The shot was started in motion by the movement of a lever, and another lever would have enabled the warden to have stopped it at any time. The progress of the shot and the approaching moment when the weight would be released is indicated on a dial resembling a clock.

When Cronin had been seated in the chair and made fast, a signal from the executioner indicated to the man who had charge of the lever that he was ready. The machinery was then set in motion, there being no visible evidence of anything unusual.

The adjustment of the machine was made so perfect that the weight of 306 pounds made no perceptible noise as it was released and fell back to the ground beneath. Instantaneously the victim was jerked into the air, falling backward to within 2 feet of the floor.

One of the principal improvements over the Colorado appliance is the fact that the prisoner is not his own executioner. With the original machine,* when the prisoner was placed on the chair it released a lever which started the mechanism and in this way the man was practically forced to commit suicide.

John Cronin’s crime was the murder of Albert Skinner, at South Windsor, October 6, 1893. He was prompted by revenge for some fancied grievance. He had been boarding with Skinner for several months, but finally was ordered away. A fight ensued at the time and Cronin then went on a protracted debauch. The morning of the murder he went to Skinner’s house and meeting Skinner in the yard immediately shot him, inflicting a fatal wound.

* Developed to hang Dr. T. Thatcher Graves but to my knowledge never actually used.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Connecticut,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Milestones,Murder,USA

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1691: Eleven at Tyburn

2 comments December 18th, 2012 Headsman

“Having Intangled themselves in the snares of Death, by their Dissolute Practices, against all the warnings of Publick Justice on other Criminals,” as the Ordinary’s Account puts it, 11 men and women “provokt the Lord to set them out, as monuments of his present severe, yet Righteous Judgement” and therefore hanged together on this date at London’s Tyburn gallows.*

Murderers (and -esses)

William Harsey was taken literally red-handed, found by the St. Katherine’s watch passed out drunk, still gripping a bloody knife. He’d wetted the blade in three different bodies that night, one of them his good friend (also drunk). Two died; one survived to testify against Harsey.

Mary Mott‘s infant son was found lying dead in a gutter on her rooftop, by a laborer working on the chimney. She claimed it was stillborn, but was unable to prove it: the presumption in such instances went against the mother, on the grounds that every infanticide would simply claim stillbirth otherwise.

Thieves

William Smith “said that he was guilty of all sins except Murther, he named Sabbath breaking, Drunkenness, and Uncleanness.” John Barret, a burglar, copped to the same trio of gateway sins.

Less repentant were two other robbers who had no use for the Ordinary’s god-bothering, to the detriment of their bloggable biography: Richard Johnson, who “was not concerned for his bad Life, and withdrew himself from Chappel,” and Anne Miller, who “refused to come to the Chappel, saying she was a Papist.”

Posterity has much more on Mary Jones, a scarf-maker whose lover squandered all her revenues and drove “Moll” to make an illicit living by the dexterity of her fingers. Having been branded on the hand for picking the royal chocolatier’s pocket, Jones turned to the boom trade in shoplifting London’s growing traffic of valuable little textiles like stockings and lace.

She must have had no small gift for the five-fingered discount as she practiced it for 3-4 years. “She was apprehended for privately stealing a piece of satin out of a mercer’s shop on Ludgate Hill, whither she went in a very splendid equipage and personated the late Duchess of Norfolk, to avoid suspicion of her dishonesty; but her graceless Grace being sent to Newgate, and condemned for her life at the Old Bailey.”

Hanging day would hardly be complete in the late 17th century without a highwayman like William Good, who with a buddy (uncaptured) carriage-jacked a gentleman on the London-Hackney road and made off with the 12-Days-of-Christmas-like trove of “a Dyaper Napkin Value 12 d. Twelve Larks, Two Ducks, and an Embroidered Wastcoat.”

Where Good hangs, there will you also find Malice — Humphrey Malice, to be exact, “Condemned for Robbing a Gentleman in Chelsy Field” in which crime he nevertheless enjoyed “no share in the spoil.” His better remunerated (and less interestingly named) confederate Edward Booth hanged with him. The gentleman in question was Malice and Booth’s second victim of the night, the first having been a more working-class sort who was stripped stark naked and could still only produce eight coppers. Malice and Booth gave him a vengeful thrashing for their trouble and told him “that the next time he went abroad, he should put more Money in his Pocket.”

Thomas Taylor, a parson’s son “addicted to idleness,” was in fact quite industrious when it came to robbery. There’s a story from his career of engineering a buffoonish caught-in-the-town-pillory routine to distract a crowd of yokels while his pickpocket buddies plucked them clean. His fatal crime was an even more audacious twist on the same, in which Tom, acting alone this time, fired a barn, then joined the resulting rescue scramble and made off with a trunk full of plate and £140 cash. He would later admit this was not the first time he had used this gambit.

The arson was the source of his condemnation, but we could not pass over the Newgate Calendar’s remembrance of a different and dreadfully amusing larcenous exploit … which also goes to show the very private, and very punitive, nature of crime prevention in those days.

Taylor being pretty expert at picking of pockets, he set up for himself; and one day going to the playhouse in Drury Lane, very well dressed, he seated himself by a gentleman in the pit, whose pocket he picked of about forty guineas, and went clean off. This good success tempted Tom to go thither the next day in a different suit of clothes, when, perceiving the same gentleman in the pit whose pocket he had picked but the day before, he takes his seat by him again. The gentleman was so sharp as to know his face again, for all his change of apparel, though he seemed to take no notice of him; whereupon putting a great quantity of guineas into the pocket next Tom, it was not long before he fell to diving for them. The gentleman had sewed fishing- hooks all round the mouth of that pocket, and our gudgeon venturing too deep, by unconscionably plunging down to the very bottom, his hand was caught and held so fast that he could in no manner of way disentangle it.

Tom angled up and down in the pocket for nearly a quarter of an hour; the gentleman, all the while feeling his struggling to get his hand out, took no notice, till at last Tom, very courteously pulling off his hat, quoth: “Sir, by a mistake, I have somehow put my hand into your pocket instead of my own.” The gentleman, without making any noise, arose and went to the Rose Tavern at the corner of Bridget Street, and Tom along with him, with his hand in his pocket, where it remained till he had sent for some of his cronies, who paid down eighty guineas to get the gudgeon out of this dry pond. However, the gentleman, being not altogether contented with this double satisfaction for his loss, most unmercifully caned him, and then turning him over to the mob, they as unmercifully pumped him and ducked him in a horse-pond, and after that so cruelly used him that they broke one of his legs and an arm.

Taylor, the Ordinary reported, “behaved himself very undecently and unhandsomely, all the way from Newgate to Tyburn.”

* A good round number: it was Tyburn’s second 11-spot of the year.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Arson,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,History,Mass Executions,Murder,Public Executions,Theft,Women

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1529: Desle la Mansenee in the Luxeuil Trial

Add comment December 18th, 2011 Headsman

“In 1529, the Inquisitor General of Besancori, a Dominican friar named Jean Boin, visited incognito the village of Anjeux in the bailiwick of Luxeuil, Franche-Comte, and noted down the gossip of the villagers, which centered on 27-year-old Desle la Mansenee,” begins this vignette in the only part of Nigel Cawthorne’s Witches: History of Persecution that Google books preview will cough up.

You know this isn’t going to end well.

Our incognito Inquisitor swiftly decloaked and transformed Desle la Mansenee from grist for the neighbors’ grapevine into ash for their garden plots by torturing her into confessing to — oh, you know, the usual stuff. Dancing at witches’ sabbats and flying on broomsticks and banging the devil. That sort of thing.

People, these are infernal agents. It doesn’t get any worse than that. You’ve got to use tough tactics to get information, not just start salacious rumors and hope they’ll come clean.

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Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Burned,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,France,Hanged,History,Innocent Bystanders,Public Executions,Torture,Witchcraft,Women

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1789: The Canadian Burglars

Add comment December 18th, 2010 Headsman

“More solemnity was perhaps never observed at any execution before” the hanging this date in 1789 of William Mooney Fitzgerald and John Clark in St. John, New Brunswick.

The fate of these two Irish career criminals is one of many arresting stories told on the Early American Crime blog, whose entry (and complementary podcast) this site could hardly improve upon.

Connoisseurs of historical executions are well-advised to subscribe.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Canada,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Public Executions,Theft

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