Daylight robbery is the theme for this week’s bunch of unsavouries. Well, that and someone’s head catching fire, of course.
Whether it’s life insurance scams or highway robberies, money is the overarching word of the week.
For a long time in England, the crime of stealing money was a hanging offence. But that didn’t stop it being a popular crime too. And seeing as so many people were being strung up, London created its very own permanent scaffold named the Tyburn Tree.
You’ve probably already equated Tyburn with the demise of around 40,000 to 60,000 ne’er-do-wells through four centuries (1388 to 1783), but have you ever wondered how the site got its name?
It turns out that Tyburn was a tributary that flanked Thorney Island along with its source – the Thames. You may know that as the site where Westminster Cathedral and the Houses of Parliament are built.
The Tyburn has since been built over, but it is still said to flow under Marylebone Lane.
But the big legacy was the tree and it was no ordinary tree. Actually, it wasn’t a tree at all, but a man-made structure comprising a triangle atop three sturdy posts, which was erected in 1571.
And boy could they bang out the executions using that contraption. You could get a number of hangings done in the one go, thanks to the size of the ‘tree’.
In fact, watching executions was a bit of a crowd-pleaser in days gone by. With no telly, Wiis or PS3s to pass the time, a job-lot of hangings could really pull in the punters.
Famous writers through history have captured the moments, such as diarist Samuel Pepys. And by all accounts there was festival-like feel to watching a felon fest meet its untimely demise.
The problem was where it stood – slap bang in the heart of London. Many say it’s where near where Marble Arch is.
But it’s days wer numbered. The events were way too popular and on execution day, this handy route in London came to a standstill, much like Marble Arch today.
So the law enforcers were forced to relocate to Newgate in a bid to minimise the congestion.
But we digress. You’re probably more interested in who’s head caught fire, so feel free to read on…
1 May 2001 – Marilyn Plantz Life insurance provided the incentive for today’s criminal – all $300,000 of it.
It was this tidy sum that drove Marilyn Kay Plantz to arrange for her husband to be killed, which earned her the death penalty.
2 May 1960 – Caryl Chessman Cloning a police car’s search light was key to Caryl Whittier Chessman’s spate of rape ‘n’ robbery hold-ups.
And this earned him the nickname ‘Red Light Bandit’.
3 May 1934 – Reginald Hinks Bored of waiting for his father-in-law to pop his clogs, Reginald Hinks staged the man’s suicide to speed things along instead.
4 May 1990 – Jesse Tafero With six-inch flames – it’s easy to see how Old Sparky earned its nickname.
But it was the fact that cop-killing Jesse Tafero’s head caught fire that was enough to brand the electric chair inhumane.
5 May 1804 – Joseph Brown Robberies on the highways on England were rife in the early 19th century. And the penalty for such crimes was death, so Joseph Brown found out today in 1804.
6 May 1902 – George Woolfe The last ever hanging at Newgate took place today in 1902. And the dubious honour went to George Woolfe who was strung up for murder.