Archive for February, 2008

29 February 1528 – Patrick Hamilton

Posted in Burned at the stake with tags , , , , on February 29 by Old Sparky

It took Scottish clergyman Patrick Hamilton six hours to slow roast today in 1528.

He’d been found guilty of heresy and sentenced to be burned at the stake.

Off the Beaton track

A churchman and one of the early Protestant reformers, he found fellow sympathisers for his thoughts on his travels before returning to Scotland to preach. But his forward thinking and ideologies caught the attention of the austere Archbishop of St Andrews, James Beaton.

Knowing he was treading on dodgy ground, Hamilton decided, rather than stick around and face being tried for heresy, that he’d hot foot it over to Germany where he laid low for a while. But the pull of his motherland was too strong and he returned to Scotland.

A real roasting

Not long afterwards, he was brought to trial by the Church and found guilty of heresy. But they couldn’t sentence him to death for his crimes. Reassured, he let himself be taken on the express understanding that he would be released back to his friends.

But they lied and had him up on some farce of an indictment, which meant he was handed over to the laws of the land. The death penalty was immediately awarded and he was burned at the stake. He apparently burned from midday day until 6pm and became a martyr to his beliefs.

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28 February 1658 – Major George Strangwayes

Posted in Pressed with tags , , , on February 28 by Last Writes

Money-grabbing greed or just sheer jealously may have prompted Major George Strangwayes to kill his sister’s husband in the mid-17th century.

Strangwayes murdered his brother-in-law for fear of losing his inheritance and was executed for his actions on this day in 1658.

Family fortunes

Dorset born and bred, Strangwayes had been willed the family farm on the death of his father and his sister had been appointed as executor.

Magnanimously, he’d allowed his sister to rent the farm off him, as well as take out a small fortune by way of a £350 bond, which was used to buy supplies and stock for the farm.

So far, things were good. But Strangwayes was a wily old dog. The Major earned his title in the service of King Charles I as a Cavalier soldier, but sadly his honourable activities didn’t permeate into his private life.

Lock, stock

Strangwayes knew that he could lose his inheritance because the new Cromwell government could commandeer his land and holdings for parliamentarian activity.

Indeed loads of men had lost their fortunes following the Roundhead victory in the Civil War in this way. So how did Strangwayes get round it?

Having been convinced that his sister, Mabellah Strangwayes, would die an old maid, he entrusted her with all the documentation.

And for a while things were fine. That is, until she became friendly with a Mr Fussel, a lawyer, and as the relationship developed, so Strangwayes looked on with horror, until the fateful day came when she said she was keen to marry.

At first Strangwayes was belligerent, saying over his dead body, which drove an irreparable divide between the siblings. It soon became clear how besotted she really was when the couple finally married.

Hell bent on keeping the family fortune for himself, Strangwayes was damned if he was going to let his brother-in-law usurp his rights. So it occurred to Strangwayes that maybe, rather than his, there should be another a dead body instead.

Two smoking barrels

Strangwayes managed to bump his brother-in-law off who was in London on business, simply by firing two bullets into his head and mouth.

At first the authorities were at a loss to find the suspect. That is until Fussel’s son mentioned the arguments regarding the estate between his father and his uncle. That put Strangwayes sharply in the frame. Couple this with the fact that he had borrowed a short barrelled rifle which originated from a gun shop on The Strand, so he could shoot deer in the centre of London, and things weren’t looking too good for our Major.

A pressing matter

They finally caught up with Strangwayes on 24 February 1658, and he was promptly sent to trial at the Old Bailey. There was no messing. He was found guilty of the crime and sentenced to death in the most painful and drawn out manner.

He was condemned thus: ‘That the prisoner be sent back to the place from whence he came, and there put into a mean room, where no light can enter; that he be laid upon his back, with his body bare, save something to cover his privy parts; that his arms be stretched forth with a cord, one to one side of the prison, and the other to the other side of the prison, and in like manner his legs shall be used; that upon his body be laid as much iron and stone as he can bear, and more; that the first day he shall have three morsels of barley bread, and the next day he shall drink thrice of the water in the next channel to the prison door, but no spring or fountain water; and this shall be his punishment till he dies.’

Stone cladding

Three days later, as his legs and arms were being stretched out, so his humility deserted him and he likened himself to Jesus on the cross.

‘Lord Jesus receive my soul,’ were Strangwayes last words before stones were heaped upon him. Luckily for him, he had as humane a set of executioners as he could have hoped for. When it transpired that the stones weren’t heavy enough to crush the life out of the man, so they climbed on top of him too, to speed up the death.

Apparently Strangwayes died 10 minutes later. His body was then put on public display, and apart from profuse bruising to his body, the only clue to his suffering was his face, which was a bloodied mess from all the ruptured blood vessels in his face and eyes.

The Major’s broken body was finally laid to rest at Christ Church.

Also on this day

28 February 1905 – Edward Harrison

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28 February 1905 – Edward Harrison

Posted in Hanged with tags , , , on February 28 by Old Sparky

Edward Harrison was done for murdering his own daughter.

He was found guilty and sentenced to die for killing Elizabeth Rickus. As a result, Harrison was hanged at Wandsworth Prison, aged 62.

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27 February 1902 – Harry ‘Breaker’ Morant

Posted in Firing squad with tags , , , on February 27 by Old Sparky

Harry ‘Breaker’ MorantEloquent to the end, Harry ‘Breaker’ Harbord Morant shouted “Shoot straight, you bastards. Don’t make a mess of it” as he faced his firing squad.

Morant was sentenced to die for his activities as a soldier during the Second Boer War at the turn of the 20th century.


Morant was an Anglo-Australian who had a knack with horses, that’s what earned him the nickname ‘Breaker’. With published poetry under his belt, his real career lay with the army. That’s how he found himself serving in the Boer War in South Africa, where he was eventually done for committing war crimes. He was court martialled and found guilty of executing Afrikaner and African prisoners of war.


He was tried alongside a few mates – Lt Peter Handcock, Lt George Witton and Harry Picton. Why? Because they’d carried out summary executions, which were seen as revenge attacks after Morant’s best friend, Capt Hunt, was murdered. It’s alleged that Hunt died with real indignity, having been castrated and mutilated.

They were had up on charges of summary execution and at one point for shooting a German missionary who was about to grass them up. They were found innocent of the latter charge, but on the war crimes, charges stuck.

Kitchener sinks

Lord General Kitchener apparently personally signed the death warrants for both Morant and Handcock, although he was to deny all knowledge later. Witton’s sentence was eventually cut to just two years. Likewise Picton managed to evade death too.

But Morant and Handcock were not so lucky. Scottish troops formed the firing squad and the two men were killed at around 6am at Pretoria fort, having refused to wear blindfolds. Morant was roughly 38 years old.

Aussie rules

The Aussies’ executions sparked public outcry Down Under. They were the last Australians to ever be executed and their deaths marked the end of external control over Aussie soldiers. As a result, Australia passed a statute to never allow Aussie troops to fall under another country’s control.

So the 150-odd who’d been sentenced to death during World War I and were hanging around waiting to die were never executed, because the Aussies authorities refused to sign the death warrants.

Personally I think the above picture makes him look like one of the McGann brothers…probably Paul if I was forced to choose but it was Edward Woodward who got to play him in the 1980 film Breaker Morant.

Also on this day

27 February 1906 – Jack Griffiths

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27 February 1906 – Jack Griffiths

Posted in Hanged with tags , , , on February 27 by Old Sparky

Jack Griffiths was just 19 when he was sent to his death.

Also known as John, the youngster was hanged at Manchester jail for murder, which took place near Oldham. He’d been found guilty of bumping off his ex-girlfriend, Catherine Garrity.

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26 February 2000 – Betty Lou Beets

Posted in Lethal injection with tags , , , on February 26 by Old Sparky

Betty Lou BeetsWhy waste time with divorce when you can bump your husband off instead, thought Betty Lou Beets? And this is how the Texan managed to offload two of her five husbands.

Missing a Beet

Beets announced to her son that she wanted to rid herself of her husband and told him to get lost so she could do the deed. A couple of hours later he returned to find his blasted step dad complete with two bullet holes in his chest. He then helped his mum bury his step dad in the garden, before Beets, bold as brass, reported her husband missing.

Heartless Beet

They then planted his heart condition pills in a boat, which the police found downstream three weeks later. This made it look like he’d drowned and his body had been washed away. For two years she thought she’d got away with it…but suspicion never dies.

It wasn’t long before more evidence emerged and she was taken in. They also unearthed her husband plus another one of her former husbands in the yard.

Beets was found guilty of murder, and after 17 years on death row, the 62-year-old was finally put down by lethal injection in Texas.

Also on this day

26 February 1852 – Hélène Jegado

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26 February 1852 – Hélène Jegado

Posted in Guillotine with tags , , , on February 26 by Old Sparky

Hélène JegadoHired help from hell, Hélène Jegado was sent to the guillotine today in 1852 for being a prolific poisoner.

Head case

She was a French servant-cum-serial-killer who managed to bump off at least 23 people. And what was her preferred method of murder? Arsenic.

Despite wiping out her potential referees, Jegado managed to keep on getting jobs between 1833 and 1841. As a result, the murders just kept on coming.

But she finally went a step too far in 1851, when she murdered a lawyer. His family demanded an autopsy and the poison was revealed.

Hélène Jegado was sent to trial, found guilty and sentenced to death. She was about 49 and suffering from cancer when she was sent to the guillotine on this day in 1852.

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