Archive for the Breaking wheel Category

Execution of the Day – 2009 (part 20)

Posted in Beheaded, Breaking wheel, Death penalty, Electric chair, Gibbet, Hanged, Lethal injection with tags , , , , on May 14 by Old Sparky

Adultery, such an emotive word. And it’s the theme of the week too, not least because we have the queen of adultery…literally.

For this week features Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII’s ill-fated second wife.

In her honour, we have a tale of two adulterers who met a similar fate to Mrs Tudor and, spookily, all their deaths were sealed by Thomases.

But first, let us take you to deepest Hampshire, where there’s a hill by the name of Combe Down, accessed by the ominous sounding Gallows Lane. And it’s with good reason.

Double trouble

For it’s not really a hill but a neolithic burial mound, and fittingly, atop this deathly destination, is a double gibbet, a stark and solitary reminder of Britain’s bloody past.

It was erected in 1676 and was reserved for just two individuals – George Broomham and his bit of stuff, Dorothy Newham.

This louche and lusty couple were found guilty of double murder, after they bludgeoned Broomham’s wife and son to death on the seemingly remote hill.

But little did they know, they’d been seen.

Of course, while Boleyn’s blood was on the hands of one Thomas Cromwell, these murderers were also sentenced to death thanks to another Thomas – ‘Mad Thomas’ to be exact.

A mad affair

Their fates hanged on the strength of the most questionable testimony in the area, quite literally.

But believe ‘Mad Thomas’ the judge did, and Broomham and Newham were found guilty at Winchester Assizes. They were strung up in 1676 in a double gallows made exclusively for the murderous pair.

To this day, the owner of the land volunteers to maintain the upkeep of the gallows, which stands as a reminder to all of the criminal duo’s demise.

And talking of crims, here’s a whole raft of ’em for your delectation, including Anne Boleyn.

14 May 1914 – Joseph Spooner
Joseph Spooner hit the gallows for killing his own kin in 1914. He was found guilty of murder after he targeted his daughter, Elizabeth. Spooner hanged for his crimes at Liverpool, aged 42.

Eppelein-von-Gailingen15 May 1381 – Eppelein von Gailingen
We head to Medieval Germany for today’s gruesome execution. It’s a tall tale about Eppelein von Gailingen – a baron who was having trouble holding on to his castle in the heartlands of Nuremburg.

16 May 1994 – John Thanos
‘Adios’ said an unrepentant triple murderer as he was strapped to the gurney today in 1994. This was Maryland’s first execution since the penalty was resurrected in 1976 and it was reserved for John Frederick Thanos after he muscled his way to the front of the queue by waiving his rights to appeal.

Joseph-Mad-Dog-Taborsky17 May 1960 – Joseph “Mad Dog” Taborsky
Cornell has really been churning out the mass murderers. Our second ivy-league educated inmate of the month got fried today in Connecticut at the start of the swinging ‘60s. Joseph ‘Mad Dog’ Taborsky’s grisly exploits earned him not only the nickname, but the electric chair too.

Dalton-Prejean18 May 1990 – Dalton Prejean
Even Europe waded into this one. We’re talking about the case of Dalton Prejean, who was a mere 17 years old when he committed the offence that was to end his life. Plenty of debate preceded the sentence being carried out but it was a callous crime – he’d shot a traffic cop in the face after all.

Anne-Boleyn19 May 1536 – Anne Boleyn
Adultery, incest and treason – if you want to get shot of your wife, those are pretty reasonable grounds for divorce. But when you’re the king of England (after another bit of skirt) more desperate measures may be in order.

Roger-Keith-Coleman20 May 1992 – Roger Keith Coleman
Despite pleas of innocence, Virginia was hell-bent on executing Roger Keith Coleman today in 1992. Coalminer Coleman was found guilty of rape and murder, after his sister-in-law was found stabbed to death.

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14 November 1226 – Count Frederick of Isenberg

Posted in Breaking wheel, Catherine Wheel, Death penalty with tags , , , , , on November 14 by Old Sparky

Count Frederick of Isenberg (Friedrich von Isenberg) was literally broken to death for murdering the Archbishop of Cologne in Medieval Germany.

Recent research suggests the archbishop was just caught up in the action and his death was an accident. Nevertheless, the Medieval German aristocrat was stripped of all assets and titles and excommunicated. One his way back from Rome, having had the excommunication lifted, the German noble was captured and handed over to Cologne Cathedral. 

He was slowly tortured to death outside the Severin Gate. His arms and legs were systematically pulverised, then he was placed on a breaking (or Catherine) wheel. And he was slowly stretched until his remaining bones shattered. He took a day to die. He was then strung up on a pillar for all to see.

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31 October 1589 – Peter Stubbe

Posted in Breaking wheel, Death penalty with tags , , , , , on October 31 by Last Writes

As it’s Hallowe’en, here’s a depraved individual for you to savour.

Breaking wheel fun for all the family

Breaking wheel fun for all the family

Peter Stubbe (Stumpp, Stubbe or however it’s spelled) had a pet name – the Werewolf of Bedburg – and not without reason.

Apparently he was executed in 1589, having feasted his flesh-eating way round Cologne, targeting children, pregnant women and even unborn foetuses, according to various sources.

Scores on the Bores

The basis for most of the reports come from one source – a transcript written by George Bores, which was unearthed in 19201. His translation dates back to 1590 and is one of two remaining copies – the original was in ‘High Dutch’ of which there are no known copies left.

So, with a leap of faith, we’ll take this tale on trust.


Indeed, it starts off sounding familiar – very much like Goethe’s ‘Faust’, which was published around 1587… For Stubbe was into black magic and devil worship too. But while Faust sold his soul for knowledge, Stubbe traded his for the opportunity to ‘work his malice on men, women, and children, in the shape of some beast, whereby he might live without dread or danger of life’.

And then the tale started to lose the plot a bit, describing how the devil transformed him into a wolf. But one thing was for sure – he sure sounded malicious.

If you’re squeamish look away now…

Brains of the family

In one such murderous act, Stubbe targeted his own son and when he had killed him ‘he presently ate the brains out of his head as a most savory (sic) and dainty delicious mean to staunch his greedy appetite’. Yum…

He was to target a variety of different people, from those who’d just got his goat to innocent children. It describes how he would rip out his victims’ throats and pull them apart limb from limb. Like old Freddie Krueger out of ‘Nightmare on Elm Street’, Stubbe methods were just as violent – he was described as having ripped foetuses out of the wombs of their dead mums, before eating ‘their hearts panting hot and raw’.

Stubbe carried out these acts in cahoots with his daughter, whom he had sexually abused. The report even goes as far as to say his daughter, in turn, gave birth to his child. Likewise his girlfriend was embroiled in his cannibalistic activities, which spanned 25 years.

No-one suspected a thing until fate intervened and in the guise of his wolfish alter ego, he targeted a young girl and failed to kill her. Now the town knew their adversary, they set a trap for the lupine lech. They eventually caught him and he transformed into a man before their very eyes.

The feral felon was found guilty of various murders and sentenced to death along with his sidekicks, but more of the girls in a bit…

The main man got a real pounding – Stubbe was strapped to a breaking wheel where his flesh was torn off right down to the bone in 10 different places, before his arms and legs were beaten to a pulp with the blunt end of an axe and finally he was beheaded.

He then joined the two girls on a pyre and they were burned to ashes. That is all except his head, which was apparently plonked on top of the wheel and dressed in a wolf’s fur as a taut reminder of his visceral and depraved activities.

1 Transcript source:

Also on this day…

31 October 1923 – Frederick Jesse

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31 August 1593 – Pierre Barrière

Posted in Breaking wheel, Death penalty, Dismemberment with tags , , , on August 31 by Last Writes

Pierre Barrière failed in his attempt to kill King Henry IV of France, but he lost his life nevertheless.

Despite having the love and respect of his people for his humour and kindness as well as his work towards a religiously tolerant society, Henry was subject to a few assassination attempts.

According to Eric Nelson in the ‘Jesuits and the Monarchy’, E Pasquier – a writer of the day reckoned that the Jesuit preachers were instrumental in provoking such assassination attempts. After all, it was a Jesuit who was to stitch our man up.

Peter out

Barrière was one such opportunist and he tried to kill the king on 27 August 1593, yet failed. A former solider from the Orleanais, he would have walked away had he not gone to confession.

The unsuspecting Barrière revealed all to a Dominican priest – Father Varade – in a bid to get absolution.

According to E Pasquier in the snappily entitled book ‘Bref discours du process criminal fait à Pierre Barrière, dit la Barre, natif d’Orléans’ Varade encouraged him to confess. So he ‘revealed his bad will and intention, which the Jesuit praised, telling him that it was a good thing, among other similar things, and exhorting him to be courageous, to be steadfast, and to confess, go to Easter mass and take communion’.

Broken down

Yeah right… Barrière never made it as far as Easter 1594. Instead he was promptly shopped for his indiscretion and arrested on 27 August 1593. It took just four days to convict and execute the would-be assassin.

As a so-called regicide, Barrière’s death was painstakingly slow and torturous. First he was slung on the breaking wheel where his limbs were pulverised, then his broken body was cut down and he was dismembered.

And if you were wondering what happened to Henry IV, well, eventually an assassin plotted to kill him and was successful. His name was Francois Ravaillac – see what torturous fate befell him…

Also on this day

31 August 1995 – Barry Lee Fairchild

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15 May 1381 – Eppelein von Gailingen

Posted in Beheaded, Breaking wheel, Death penalty with tags , , , on May 15 by Old Sparky

Eppelein von GailingenWe head to Medieval Germany for today’s gruesome execution.

It’s a tall tale about Eppelein von Gailingen – a baron who was having trouble holding on to his castle in the heartlands of Nuremburg.

It was post-Crusades and the knights of the realm who’d been so helpful during the wars were now left to pick up their own pieces at home. Meanwhile the middle classes were burgeoning – and their growth was at the expense of the knights, who naturally looked on with resentment. Not so Eppelein von Gailingen – he wanted a piece of the action. So he’d jump the merchant trails and secure the necessary booty that kept him in the money.

Horsing around

Sadly, our German’s pretty ropey so we couldn’t glean a whole lot of information about our dastardly baron’s activities, only that he was impoverished, so he’d steal in order to maintain his castle. But there is one story where he apparently busted in on a wedding, scooped up the bride-to-be and kissed her in full view of her betrothed.

Our caddish anti-hero was finally caught and for his crimes, he had been due to be hanged. But he was offered a final wish – and he opted to ride his horse. Naively they granted von Gailingen his wish and of course he leaped over the wall into the moat in a break for freedom.

This is where the romantic legend ends, but the harsh reality was that he was apprehended again. For his second stab at execution there was no such naivety – he was painfully slung on the breaking wheel before being beheaded.

22 March 1540 – Hans Kohlhase

Posted in Breaking wheel, Death penalty with tags , , , on March 22 by Old Sparky

Hans KohlhaseVengeance fuelled the lawless activities of Hans Kohlhase in Renaissance Germany. He felt let down by the law in Saxony so he decided to wreck his revenge on the area that had seen his spectacular demise.

Kohlhase is actually said to have been quite an affluent man. A merchant by trade in Brandenberg, Kohlhase was doing ok by all accounts. That was until he was jumped by the staff of a nobleman – Günter von Zaschwitz – who stole his horses and then brazenly proceeded to claim a ransom.


Incensed by the injustice of the situation, Kohlhase begrudgingly paid the money, but vowed to pursue the unscrupulous count through the courts. Sadly the courts failed him – the merchant felt shafted by the very laws that should have protected him and so his reign of reckless revenge ensued. He teamed up with other wayward individuals – a motley crew of bandits and petty criminals and together they wrecked havoc all over Saxony, robbing and razing villages to the ground targeting travellers or doing over whole towns.

But finally the lawmen, who’d so singly failed the would-be law-abiding merchant, finally caught up with him and slapped a death sentence on him and his second-in-command – Georg Nagelschmidt. The two were strapped painfully to the breaking wheel in Berlin rendering Saxony a safer place.

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10 March 1762 – Jean Calas

Posted in Breaking wheel, Death penalty with tags , , , on March 10 by Old Sparky

Jean CalasA painful death on the Catherine wheel took place today in 1762, after a French cloth merchant was stitched up. Jean Calas was found guilty of a crime he professed never to have committed.

Calas stood accused of strangling his youngest son for fear that he would follow in his brother’s footsteps and turn to Catholicism. But he vowed that he was innocent.

Why was he fitted up with the crime? Because he was Huguenot and his Protestant religion was hugely unpopular.

Wheel of misfortune

As a result it was felt that Calas’s trial was also unfairly skewed. But that didn’t stop his being found guilty and they didn’t hang around either. The very next day, Calas was strapped to the breaking wheel and slowly beaten to a pulp. This was a languorous form of torturous death – and death would have taken hours or days rather than minutes. The wheel would revolve slowly and each limb would be whacked with a hammer or iron bar.

Body blows

The offender would often die of shock or dehydration, rather than injuries, making this a particularly barbaric form of execution. However some offenders were given coups de grâce – where the executioners would dole out body blows early on in the torture that gave sufficient internal injuries to put them out of their misery.

So the fact that Calas maintained his innocence up to his death caught the public’s sympathy and provoked Voltaire, the renowned philosopher, to push for religious toleration and review of criminal sentencing.

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