Archive for April, 2008

30 April 1670 – Thomas Wilmot

Posted in Death penalty, Hanged with tags , , , on April 30 by Old Sparky

A misogynistic highwayman hit the gallows in the 17th century, following a life devoted to debauchery and avarice.

Thomas Wilmot was hanged at Newgate for holding up travellers and extensive thieving.

Short of readies

Despite a good education and an estate worth a healthy £600 a year Wilmot was a hedonist and pretty rough round the edges too, so he had no idea how to treat women. Sadly for them, Wilmot had an eye for the ladies and he’d naturally try it on, but they’d tell him in no uncertain terms to push off, which is probably how his unhealthy disrespect for women flourished.

Wilmot was a waster to boot, so within a few years he’d frittered away his fortune and managed to mortgage himself up to the short and curlies. So he turned to robbery as a means of maintaining his debauched lifestyle.

Rings and fingered

And nothing and no-one was safe. On one occasion he stopped a well-to-do man only to find the victim had no money on him. So not to be outdone he nabbed his coat in recompense instead.
Legend has it that once when a woman struggled to remove a diamond ring from her finger, he lost patience and cut off the ring, it just so happened that the finger came too.


Wilmot’s highway activities were to span the Home Counties from Essex to Sussex. When he had established himself as the scourge of the Southeast, he turned his attentions to the west of England where he was to focus most of his robberies before heading north. He even teamed up with a hoard of other fellow highway man and headed up the team as captain.

Of his time with his cohorts, little is known, but Wilmot’s story is resumed up North after he’d ditched hi compatriots.

He accosted one feisty gent who, after Wilmot has stripped him of his valuables, decided he’d pursue him. Wilmot managed to nick off and laid low in Chester for a while, where he busied himself on spending his ill-gotten gains.

Big gamble

But the money soon ran out, which is when the gentlemanly upbringing gave him the perfect cover. Attracted by a lively household, he knocked on the door of an affluent man and pleaded for a bed for the night. At first the host was reticent, refusing him by saying it was his birthday and the house was full. But finally the victim succumbed and offered him the last room in the house…which was purported to be haunted.

As the legend went, the victim’s grandfather had a barbarous barber who committed suicide by slitting his own throat in the house due to unrequited love. From that point, he was said to have roamed the house calling ‘Will you be shaved’.

Something clicked in Wilmot’s head – a plan was in the offing. With dinner ended, Wilmot excused himself and retired to bed, while the others settled into an evening of cards and gambling.

Perfect. With money on the table for the taking, how could Wilmot resist?

Ghostly goings-on

Drink flowed and the time ticked on – the grog set in. Wilmot in the meantime kitted himself out in a white sheet rubbed chalky white paint off the walls on his face and brandished a bloodied razor with his chamber pot.

Panic and dread enveloped the hapless group and they all scarpered in fear. Of course, winner and losers forgot their bets in the need to escape this sinister apparition. And with the room all but empty, Wilmot pocketed the spoils and tripped lightly off to bed.

Come the morning, the post-birthday party was very subdued as they realised that not only had they scared themselves senseless, but they had been fleeced of their winnings. But not for one second did they thing it was our man Wilmot.

But by all accounts these chumps got off lightly. Wilmot bought a horse and guns with his winnings and went on the rob again, but, by this time, he was a wanted man.

Swiss sleaze

So where to go from there but abroad – Switzerland via France to be precise? And it was a Swiss household that provided the bloodiest encounter. He slaughtered a Swiss man, his wife and three children, even their maid. He then shipped all their valuables out of the country. But he stuck around long enough to see two innocents executed for his crimes.

Come uppance

Not long after, Wilmot returned to England and resumed his daylight robberies. But such was his ego that maybe he thought he was beyond the grip of the law, or maybe it was pure greed that motivated him to jump the Duke of Buckingham (George Villiers). He managed to secure the handsome sum of over 200 guineas. But he was caught just a few days after that and sentenced to be hanged for a range of crimes.

As he waited for the deathly moment, he addressed the crowd and in particular the young people. ‘…the vices of my youth were the immediate spring of all my irregular actions and the unhappy causes of my current misfortune.’ He warned, ‘your appetites…must be put under restraint of reason, or they will certainly plunge you into destruction’.

And with that the gallows were sprung and he fell to his death, aged 38.

Also on the day

30 April 1823 – John Walker, James Aldridge and Henry Seaton
30 April 1802– William Badger

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30 April 1823 – John Walker, James Aldridge and Henry Seaton

Posted in Death penalty, Hanged with tags , , , on April 30 by Old Sparky

A trio of breakers and enterers were executed today in 1823.

John Walker, James Aldridge and Henry Seaton were all done for doing over a house in the London area. They were hanged at Newgate in a triple hanging.

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30 April 1802– William Badger

Posted in Death penalty, Hanged with tags , , , on April 30 by Old Sparky

William Badger was sent to gallows today in 1802.

He was done for forgery at a time when this was considered a hanging offence – it was simply seen as stealing from the Crown and as such it was a form of treason. As a result Badger’s destiny was set and he swung for it at Bristol.

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29 April 2003 – David M Brewer

Posted in Death penalty, Lethal injection with tags , , , on April 29 by Old Sparky

It’s one thing to covet your mate’s wife, but it’s entirely different to abduct her, rape her and kill her in cold blood.

That’s what David Brewer was found guilty of and executed for in 2003.

Tall story

It started when two frat brothers from Ohio were good friends. When they got married they socialised as a foursome. Joe Byrne and his wife Sherry were close to Brewer and his wife Karen so when Brewer called to ask her to meet them to celebrate his wife’s pregnancy (although other reports talk of buying speakers), Sherry was only too pleased to join in.

Except Karen wasn’t pregnant and there was no celebration – there probably wasn’t any speakers either. Instead Brewer forced her into sex in a motel room and beat her up, before stashing her away in the boot of his car.

Noteworthy ingenuity

He then drove around with her all over the place, stopping off here and there to beat her up. Ingeniously she managed to write a note in lipstick on a piece of paper and poke it out of the boot. The ploy worked – someone picked it up and reported it and the number plate to the police.

The car was traced and they tried to contact Brewer at work. So when he turned up there, he realised he’d have to go to the police station.

But he couldn’t with Sherry in the boot. So he then took her to a remote spot and frenziedly stabbed her 15 times, slit her throat and even hanged her using his necktie. He then dumped her body before making his way calm as you like to police station.

He passed the note off with some convincing yarn about a wind-up carried out by a hitcher he’d picked up. The police believed him and he slipped out from under them. He then collect Sherry’s body and holed her up in a locker before going round to look after her husband.

The police caught up with him soon after and this time he told a lie too far. Finally he broke and confessed that he’d lost control and killed her – that formed the basis of his defence; that he was insane.

Brewer droops

Of course the defence didn’t wash and he was injected with a lethal dose of toxins on this day in 2003, but not before poignantly speaking out against the death penalty. ‘…as far as death row inmates are concerned, there are some that are innocent. I’m not one of them. But there are plenty that are….’

29 April 1902 – Charles Robert Earl

Posted in Death penalty, Hanged with tags , , , on April 29 by Old Sparky

Charles Robert Earl was hanged at Wandsworth Prison for murder.

The 56-year-old for killing Margaret Pamphilon.

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28 April 1945 – Benito Mussolini

Posted in Death penalty, Firing squad with tags , , , on April 28 by Old Sparky

Benito MussoliniThere’s nothing like a fascist dictator to really wind people up. And Benito Amilcare Andrea Mussolini wound the Italians up to such an extent there was a real hate campaign against him by the end.


Mussolini started off fine and bizarrely, in his early years, he even had socialist tendencies working as a journalist for a socialist newspaper. But it didn’t last long and the First World War soon put a stop to that and he came back a changed (and right-wing) man – the seeds of raving dictator were germinating.

The right-wing following started small with just 200 people joined his Milan fascist following in 1919, which comprised ex-army men who would persecute the left-wing extremists. This went unchallenged by the government at the time and so the following grew until Mussolini was able to take a seat on the Chamber of Deputies.

Less is MOR

His rise was like a star in the ascendancy. His party marched on Rome and they swiped power from the then Prime Minister – Luigi Facta. Even the King supported Mussolini over the incumbent PM. And Mussolini enjoyed the backing of other notables – businessmen, the armed forces, even the centre right.

He started off fairly middle of the road, setting up a coalition of all the mainstream political divisions and seduced people into following him. But his end goal was one of complete power. He slowly disbanded powerful working class institutions, such as the unions as well as privatising industries and making it easier for landowners to rent out. All he did bolstered the richer classes at the expense of the proletariat.

Right on

Meanwhile he was paving the way for a solid dictatorship – which was to earn him the title Il Duce (or leader) – bringing down the barriers in his way. In just six years he was able to realise his dream and the propaganda kicked in to placate the masses. Indeed there was little or no opposition to the rise of the fascist machine at this point. However, an Irish woman by the name of Violet Gibson did take a pot shot that grazed his nose, an American planned an assassination but was caught and executed and when a fellow Italian’s attempt failed he was lynched right there and then.

To be fair though, there seemed to be little to oppose. He produced measures to offset economic or employment worries. He even seduced people into giving up their gold, which in turn was melted down and made into gold bars to bolster the country’s gold reserves.

All those industries he’d privatised earlier were taken back and placed under so-called state control and he imposed strict trade sanctions with the rest of world – except for Germany – and this was the start of an uneasy relationship with a fellow dictator.


With this relationship there came a shift from splendid isolation to aggression – he was a dominating force in Libya and Albania for example. And he famously ousted Haile Selassie from his homeland Ethiopia. But while Hitler was an outward fan of the Italian leader, the feeling was not mutual. Importantly, Mussolini was not a racist. He just wanted to extend his territory and impose Italian culture on those countries and extensions of his empire. Hitler, on the other hand, wanted to eradicate those who didn’t fit within his view of Aryanism. Nevertheless, Mussolini had a vision of being an ‘Axis Power’ – a superpower alongside Berlin and bit by bit Hitler emerged as the dominant leader.

However, it was not just Hitler, Mussolini also teamed up with Franco in the Spanish Civil War. But he was careful not to burn bridges in the years running up to the Second World War. Crucially its armed forced were seriously thin on the ground thanks to all the imperialistic moves in the run-up to the war.

Safe bet?

German occupation of France was looming, so Italy thought they were backing the stronger horse and declared war on the Allies. Steeled by a successful invasion of Yugoslavia and the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbour, Italy announced it was at war with the US too.

That brought the winning streak to an end. With crashing defeats in Tunisia and in the east, Italy became vulnerable when the Allies arrived in Sicily.

But it was the internal unrest that did the most damage. Italy was suffering from depleted resources and Allied bombing had brought production to its knees. Mussolini was so diverted by war that internal propaganda had lost the focus, so the war-weary Italians turned to the Church for solace. And the anti-Semitic activities of Hitler mobilised the Jewish contingent in Italy, which rose up against Il Duce. Even the military leaders were losing the faith, instead they turned to the Allies.

Friend or foe

Mussolini was eventually arrested in 1943 and by then Italy was a total mess. Divided loyalties equalled turmoil in the now desecrated country, which was still occupied by Germans, but the new government signed a treaty with the Allies. The inhabitants didn’t know what to think and in-fighting kicked on. By mid-October Italy had completely defected to the Allies side and turned on its former Germanic friends.

In the meantime, an incarcerated Mussolini was saved by the Germans in the hope that he’d be able to resurrect a Fascist party in the north. But such was the unrest that he attempted to escape to Spain via Switzerland with his bit of stuff, Clara Petacci.

Grave issues

Unfortunately for the pair, they were caught by the communists and they wound up at Mezzegra, on Lake Como up in the north. It was there that they were famously executed on the quiet by a firing squad alongside 13 other fascist supporters. Mussolini was 61. Their bodies were then strung upside down publicly in the capital of Milan from the roof of an Esso petrol station in an act of vengeance and as a deterrent for insurgents still supporting the fascist cause.

He was buried in an unmarked grave – but he was soon dug up by sympathisers proving that even in death he was able to cause havoc too. His body was literally on the run, but he was finally interred in the town where he was born.

Pop goes the weasel

But the evils of his legacy live on. His life and times inspired the likes of the 1991 film ‘Bugsy’, starring Warren Beatty on a mission to kill Il Duce, while the man himself was played by Antonio Banderas in ‘Benito: The Rise and Fall of Mussolini’ in 1993, as well as featuring in Franco Zefferelli’s ‘Tea With Mussolini’.

Pop culture didn’t let the right-wing weasel rest, either with Alexei Sayle’s parody in ‘The Young Ones’, plus a merciless stint on the ‘Simpsons’.

Also on this day

28 April 1954 – Thomas Ronald Lewis Harries

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28 April 1954 – Thomas Ronald Lewis Harries

Posted in Death penalty, Hanged with tags , , , on April 28 by Old Sparky

A double murderer was caught and hanged thanks to udders.

A herd of unmilked cows to be precise – they’d got the neighbours talking in Swansea. And their suspicions were to lead to the hanging of Thomas Ronald Lewis Harries.

Dairy of events

A normally meticulous farmer and his wife had gone AWOL, so when their adopted nephew said that they’d gone off for a holiday in London leaving him in charge, the neighbours smelled a cow pat.

The police were even more wary and they made a call down to their mates at Scotland Yard where a doctored cheque came to light. It had been changed from a mere £9 to £909 and had been made out to none other than nephew Harries. He was slowly getting penned in.

Sour times

But the ultimate trap came when the police rigged the premises with string in a bid to find the bodies. They then made a real racket outside to freak Harries out. And it did – Harries sneaked out to check the graves and in doing so, broke the thread, which led the police right to Mr and Mrs Harries the elders.

What could he say? He was banged up for murder and found guilty of killing his aunt and uncle. He was hanged at Swansea prison, aged 25.

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