Archive for May, 2008

31 May 1984 – Ronald Clark O’Bryan

Posted in Death penalty, Lethal injection with tags , , , , on May 31 by Last Writes

Ronald Clark O\'Bryan‘Too many sweets’ll kill ya,’ especially if your dad’s a money-grabbing maniac. Our filicidal felon of the day is Ronald C O’Bryan who made the ultimate sacrifice in search of wealth. The Texan was hell-bent on bagging a $20,000 payout, so he wilfully poisoned his own son for financial gain.

I want candy

You may know O’Bryan better as the ‘Candyman’ – the man who singlehandedly ruined Hallowe’en for the Americans. You see he doled out cyanide-steeped sweets and fed some to his son. He then handed them out to trick-or-treaters in the vain hope that it would look like a dodgy batch, aimed at covering his tracks.

Ideally he was actually after $40,000 but his daughter didn’t want a bar of it, but $20,000 was not to be sniffed at.

His son died a painful death provoking suspicion. A neighbour’s son also had a pack of the offending sweets in his hand as he slept – the doctored box having been too hard to get into. That box was to save the little child’s life and provide the necessary ammunition to put O’Bryan away.

Crime never pays

In his final speech, O’Bryan simply stated ‘What is about to transpire in a few moments is wrong.’ But then again, he did the crime knowing that the Texans take a hard line on murders and the sentence may well have been death if he got caught.

In a sinister twist, his parting speech never once acknowledged or even mentioned his eight-year-old son, who he had so keenly sacrificed for financial gain. And just as he’d used drugs to kill his son, so drugs were used on him to the same end.

He died aged 39 and yet his legacy lives on. His crimes spawned the odd sickos who pull copycat crimes in homage to Candyman by handing out poisoned sweets. He is even immortalised in a song by the same name courtesy of Siouxie and the Banshees in their album ‘Tinderbox’. His story, however, bears no relation to the slasher movie of the same name.

Also on this day

31 May 1922 – Waltheof II, Earl of Northumbria
31 May 1922 – Herbert Rowse Armstrong

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31 May 1076 – Waltheof II, Earl of Northumbria

Posted in Beheaded, Death penalty with tags , , , , on May 31 by Last Writes

‘I’ve started so I’ll finish’ was never truer than in the case of our next execution. The severed head of Waltheof II is said to have completed the Lord’s Prayer, because his execution was so premature.

Out of the Norms

The fact that this Earl of Northumbria was mentioned in the ‘Domesday Book’ was very apt, for he was the last and only aristo to meet his doom formally during William I’s reign. For Britain was steeped the throes of a new era – out with the Anglo-Saxons and in with the Normans.

That makes Waltheof II one of our earliest English executions. He was famed for being the last remaining Anglo-Saxon noble alive, following their defeat by the Normans headed up by William, in the Conquest of 1066, but not for long.

Just 10 years later, Waltheof II got it in the neck for treason, having gotten off to a promising start at the beginning of Norman rule. Despite being involved in an uprising in York early on, he’d been forgiven and even had his earldom bequeathed back to him. William had him married off to his niece, although maybe that was to keep his would-be enemies close.

Early uprising

Things ticked along, but Waltheof II had made enemies in the north and when he ambushed the family and had the two eldest sons killed, some say he was stitched up in retribution. However, there is very little evidence or information to go on.

For sure, in 1075, there was an earls’ uprising and whether he was involved or not is unclear. Nevertheless he was advised to hotfoot it over to Normandy, where William was, to apologise, so maybe there was something to feel guilty about. William pretended to accept, but actually he had instructed his men to take Waltheof II in as soon as they landed back on English soil.

A head of his time

He stayed in custody for a year before being executed on St Giles Hill in Winchester. He is said to have donated his clothes to the poor before praying ahead of his beheading. As the legend goes the swordsman reckoned Waltheof was taking way too much time, so he drew his blade and took the condemned man’s head off with a clean slice. It was so quick that the head apparently kept praying even after it had been detached, so his last words were ‘…but deliver us from evil. Amen’.

It is also said that he was then chucked in a ditch before finally his body was quietly transferred to Croyland Abbey. Sadly there was a fire and the coffin was removed – and when the coffin was opened, the head had miraculously reattached itself to the rest of the corpse. Nothing short of a miracle, Waltheof II became somewhat of a cult hero in death – a martyr to his cause.

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31 May 1922 – Herbert Rowse Armstrong

Posted in Death penalty, Hanged with tags , , , on May 31 by Last Writes

Herbert Rowse ArmstrongIt’s the perfect cover. A solicitor who’s tasked with upholding the law is the last person you’d suspect to be a criminal.

Not so Herbert Rowse Armstrong who became the only known solicitor in Britain to be executed – when he wasn’t practising law, he was bumping people off for whatever reason.

His method of choice was arsenic and he first tried it out on his wife. She was the perfect candidate in his eyes – she was sickly and no-one suspected a thing. That is until he used the method again.

Armstrong was a retired army major who’d retired to practice law in the picturesque town of Hay-on-Wye. But that was part of his downfall – a small town equals no privacy. So industrial amounts of arsenic is going to make anyone suspicious, let alone in a town where everyone knows your name.

Armstrong tactics

So when a rival turned up at Armstrong’s house, invited on the pretext of resolving a dispute, little did he know that arsenic-laced cake was on the menu. But Armstrong’s plan backfired – for his victim was feisty and the toxic secret ingredient failed to do its stuff.

He was also effectively shopped by the pharmacist who got suspicious after selling him the stuff so the police were primed and ready to haul him in.

At the same time, the widower’s wife was exhumed and there it was – traces of arsenic were rife. Indeed our man was even caught with a stash of the toxic stuff in his pockets.

There was no get-out clause – Armstrong was going down. It turns out that he poisoned his wife to get out of an unhappy marriage – but as a lawyer surely he could have found a method of getting shot of that was within the law.

Armstrong was hanged at Gloucester aged 52, by executioner of the hour, John Ellis.

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30 May 1431 – Joan of Arc

Posted in Burned at the stake, Death penalty with tags , , , on May 30 by Old Sparky

Joan of ArcFrench national treasure, Joan of Arc was burned at the stake as a heretic despite a prolific career on the battlefield.

Fact was she’d been a visionary leader, quite literally – her actions were governed and dictated by visions from God plus other martyrs. Indeed word got around that a saint was heading up the French army and the people liked the sound of those odds and joined in their droves.

Or maybe it was the thought of 17-year-old eye candy that reeled them in.

But old Joanie was no pushover and if they thought life would be relaxed under her womanly leadership, boy were they wrong. She kicked serious soldier arse, ridding the camps of prostitutes and swearing, barring them from looting and pillaging civilian camps, instead encouraging them to go to church.

Fight back

By all accounts they were in a bit if a state so she came along and drilled them into shape just in time. It was 1428 and they were on the brink of a crucial set-to with England amid the 100 Years’ War, which would have made or broken access to the Loire – their stronghold. And they needed all the help they could get against what had been a pretty successful opposition in the shape of Henry V. But he’d died in 1421 and his son was not as effective, so it was time to fight back.

Cue Joanie, whose appointment really paid off. Her leadership skills were blinding and she managed to give the Valois army the much-needed upper-hand against an increasingly embattled Burgundy. For France was leaderless and there was a power struggle for the throne. Burgundy was batting for the opposition, having teamed up with the Plantagenet Henries from England who were descended from Anjou blood. And in the blue corner was the House of Valois, which claimed pure-bred accession. Joan was for the latter, headed up by Charles of Ponthieu, who was to become Charles VII of France.

Joan proved a real powerhouse on the battlefield and she managed to secure Orleans back from the English. Sadly those round the mediating table were not empowered with the same gumption – they pretty much sold themselves down the river to Burgundy, despite Joan having them on the run.

The end

Well, that was the beginning of the end really. Also they declared a 15-day truce so Charles VII could be crowned. But this just bought Burgundy and the English time to regroup. During September 1429, the demise of Joan’s army was more or less in the bag. They had advanced even as far as Paris when she was injured during battle. The king and his advisors ordered a defensive position and even destroyed a bridge. The army then retreated back to the Loire and they even went as far as to disband.

But Joan didn’t have a bar of it – she wasn’t about to give up so easily, despite the fact that, at Easter, she foresaw her own capture in 1430. And she was right – she and her small band of rallied troops were penned in just outside Compeigne where they were forced to surrender.

Charles offered to pay a ransom and all sorts to try and secure her safe return, but the Duke of Burgundy knew that would be a huge mistake. So she was left to stew for four months before they handed her over to the English, who wasted no time in sending her to trial in Rouen, during February and March of 1431.

Dressed to kill

There they threw all sorts of muck at her including witchcraft, but nothing stuck, so desperate times called for nothing short of ridiculous measures. She was sentenced to death for…cross dressing. Yep, you read right – she was had up on charges of dressing like a man. Indeed they even stripped her of her dress, forcing her to wear men’s clothes to cover her modesty. But that was her undoing, because it is said to have cemented her heretical tendencies.

Strapped to a stake, she was left to slow roast, and despite her saintly demeanour she certainly wasn’t above feeling the acutely excruciating pain and is said to have ‘screamed’ for Jesus. Not that it did her any good – she was burned alive on this day in 1431.


And all this took place in the space of two years and Joan was just 19 when she died.

The 100 Years’ War lasted another 20-odd years, and was finally crushed mainly because a very young and very green Henry VI had taken over where Henry V left off. He didn’t have the experience to see it through and the French won the day. And that was quick compared to Joan’s sainthood, which took virtually five centuries to secure. The Maid of Orleans was finally beatified in 1909.

Joan’s life has been replayed on the big screen on several occasions but our favourites are Milla Jovovich in Joan Of Arc: The Messenger and Jane Wiedlin (you know, her off The Go-Go’s) in Bill And Ted’s Excellent Adventure.

Also on this day

30 May 1922 – Hyram Thompson

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30 May 1922 – Hyram Thompson

Posted in Death penalty, Hanged with tags , , , on May 30 by Last Writes

You know you’re in trouble when your own son calls you a lazy drunk and the jury doesn’t feel the need to retire to consider the verdict.

Woman’s work

In fact the trial of one Mancunian maniac, Hyram Thompson took just one hour from start to finish. For Thompson had serious anger management issues – he was accused of kicking his wife to death for failing to have dinner on the table.

He’d apparently had a hard time at work and had come home to find his wife looking after a neighbour’s child and unable to do his supper. Suitably enraged, a row began to kick off and when Ellen Thompson hit him, well, he just let rip, really laying into her.

Strangeways, here we come

Not content to kick her to death Thompson then got a razor blade and slit her throat just to make doubly sure. He then legged it to a nearby B&B, which, of course, wasn’t far enough – for they caught up with him and a mere 18 days later, he wound up in court accused of the vicious murder.

His own child testified that he was a drunken bully who everyone feared. And when that happens, you know your days are limited. Indeed, the jury were so convinced that they didn’t even feel the need to deliberate – Thompson was as guilty as sin.

He was hanged roughly three weeks later by John Ellis and William Willis at Manchester, aged 52.

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29 May 1593 – John Penry

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

John PenryIt should be a criminal offence to call your kids Deliverance, Comfort, Safety and Sure-hope. But that’s not why John Penry kicked the bucket today in 1593. Wales’s first Protestant martyr was hanged for his nationalistic views on religion.


At a time when England was in the throes of the Reformation, you’d have thought it would have been a great time to be encouraging services held in the Welsh language. But such reforms were slow to filter to the deeply traditional heartlands of Wales. Besides, such emotive and revolutionary ideas were viewed with suspicion.

Indeed, it was precisely those kinds of words that were to be the death of Penry for he was pretty outspoken on his opinions, publishing his thoughts in a book. The problem was that the text got air play at Parliament and they took exception, because he’d dissed the bishops.

Jock scrap

Amid the furore, he was arrested under instruction from Archbishop Whitgift, only this time he was lucky – he was released. Yet he wouldn’t be told, such was his fervent support of such beliefs. Penry scarpered taking his argument north of the border to Scotland where he started defending Scottish rights to hold ceremonies in their dialect.

Chain of events

When the dust settled he returned to London, but by this time he was taking part in surreptitious ceremonies, practicing what he preached. However this was an out and out flouting of the Established Church and was considered treason. So it came as no surprise when he was shopped by the vicar of Stepney.

He was tried for his crimes and found guilty in 1593 – the sentence was hanging and it was all done in double quick time. He never even got a chance to see his wife and daughters before he was hanged in chains at St Thomas-a-Watering on the Old Kent Road.

Guess who got to autograph Penry’s death warrant: only his old adversary Archbishop Whitgift.

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28 May 2004 – James Neil Tucker

Posted in Death penalty, Electric chair with tags , , , , on May 28 by Old Sparky

James Neil Tucker‘To those I have harmed: my abject apologies and regrets. I am ashamed.’ Those were the final words of American James Neil Tucker and they sounded sincere enough, didn’t they? But it does make you wonder, when you hear what one of his previous lawyers said about him.

For Tucker was a serial offender. He was in and out of jail for petty theft, but the big ‘un came when he was just 17. Not that age mattered, for he wasn’t fussy – he raped an eight-year-old girl before switching to an 83-year-old woman. And Jay Jackson, the lawyer for his defence on that case simply stated, ‘He just had no sympathy for how his behaviour would affect you’.

Desperate times

And it was precisely that type of behaviour which had a terminal effect on two more women. Tucker was executed for murder – he killed two females in their own homes and at point-blank range in pursuit of money. His motive was said to be desperation – he had a pregnant wife to support and the monthly wage was just never enough.

On one count he pleaded self defence, in so far as the older of the two victims – 54-year-old Rosa Dolly Oakley apparently lunged for the gun. So, he shot her once, then a second time to ‘put her out of her misery’. He obviously learned his lesson because he trussed up his second victim, but that didn’t stop him planting bullets in her her too, again at close range.

Shocking choice

Of course, there was an added complication – Tucker was actually on the run, having escaped from prison while doing time for the rapes. So the ensuing sentence was never going to be lenient. Sure enough, he was found guilty of robbery and murder and sentenced to death.

However, South Carolina had a predicament. Which method? The State was between options – they were phasing out Old Sparky in favour of the lethal injection, so they gave the unnerving choice to Tucker – electric or toxic shock?

That was one choice Tucker vowed never to make, because that would be like saying he condoned the sentence. Ultimately, the State had no choice but to make the decision for him and Old Sparky won through. He died aged 47 in a chair that was 80-odd years old and way past its sell-by date.

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