Archive for Tower of London

26 October 1915 – Irvin Guy Ries

Posted in Death penalty, Firing squad with tags , , , , , , on October 26 by Last Writes

A clutch of spies were found and executed during World War I. And it was Irving Guy Ries’s turn to die today in 1915.

American-born Ries had been found guilty of spying for German and of treason following a spate of unusual activities and dealings with known secret agent contacts.

His cover was blown open by the infant organisation MO5, which was later to morph into MI5 in 1916. The then recently formed organisation busted the covert operation to feed Germany secrets, according to the National Archives.

Ries (his alias) was court martialled and found guilty of espionage and automatically banged up in the Tower of London, where his execution was to take place. The 55-year-old sat tied to a chair facing his firing squad, which was made up of the Scots Guards before being peppered full of bullets.

Other spies before and after him received the same fate over a period of 14 months. Only two bucked the trend by being hanged at London’s Pentonville and Wandsworth prisons.

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19 October 1915 – Fernando Buschman

Posted in Death penalty, Firing squad with tags , , , , , , , on October 19 by Last Writes

Fernando Buschman

Fernando Buschman

If faced with certain death, how would you spend your last night?

In Fernando Buschman’s case, he spent the night playing his violin before kissing it and saying ‘Goodbye, I shall not want you any more,’ according to the book ‘The Trial in History’1.

And he was right, he wouldn’t be needing it again, for Buschman stood accused of spying for the Germans during World War I and was executed on this day in 1915.

Brazilian by birth, Buschman and his parents had relocated to Holland and he eventually wound up importing food between Germany, the UK and Brazil. At least, that was his story.

Spy ties

As a result he would often come to London and when the First World War kicked off the infant organisation MI5 clocked him corresponding with two dodgy addresses in Rotterdam. These addresses had been linked to known espionage activities, so the connection was immediately made.

His main focus was on Portsmouth and Southampton – apparently because he was into shipping food. But these were crucial British ports and, to this day they have strong navy presence too.

But one of the main clinchers was that Buschman was also in contact with a man known to be a key coordinator for German spies, says war researcher Stephen Stratford.

Security threat

These juicy bits of evidence were enough to ensure the Brazilian was hauled up for questioning and slung in the Tower of London on the basis that he was a threat to national security. There then followed a court-martial where he was found guilty of being a double agent.

Buschman was banged up in the Tower and it was there that he faced his death too, literally, as he refused to be blindfolded as was the normal procedure. He was put before a firing squad on this day in 1915 as one of 13 men who were found guilty and shot for espionage during the war.

1 The Trial in History: Volume I by Maureen Mulholland, Brian S. Pullan, R. A. Melikan, Anne Pullan.

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30 July 1540 – Blessed Thomas Abel

Posted in Death penalty, Hanged, drawn & quartered with tags , , , , , on July 30 by Last Writes

The adage ‘publish and be damned’ was sorely tested in the case of Blessed Thomas Abel.

As Catherine of Aragon’s chaplain and a Catholic, he was naturally anti the 16th-century moves to ditch the Catholic church, in favour of establishing the Protestant Church of England. But, by all accounts, he felt particularly vehement because this step change was aimed primarily at ousting his beloved queen.


‘…by no maner of law it maye be lawfull for the moste noble Kinge of england…to be divorsid fro[m] the quenes grace [sic]’ he wrote in his ‘Invicta Veritas’ treatise condemning Henry VIII’s plan to divorce his first wife, Catherine of Aragon.

Ultimately, the main goal had been to enable Henry to divorce Catherine in order to clear the way for him to marry Anne Boleyn.

Of course, Abel was banged up for putting his thoughts down on paper, but that wasn’t the reason why he lost his life. Let’s just say his card was marked as early as 1532.


Meanwhile, Henry got his way and bagged Boleyn, but the legacy left behind was a new church, with a new leader – the monarch. And, for this reformation to catch hold, all sign of Catholicism had to be stamped out.

While many went underground, Abel seemed unable to contain his ecclesiastical endeavours and he was chucked in jail again, after he lent his covert-ish support to the ‘Maid of Kent’.

Here was a young girl who had divine visions and Abel was considered to be fuelling the religious resurgence by disseminating her prophecies.

The priest was accused of treason and this time kept in the Tower of London until his execution seven years later.

Pain and Abel

As it happens, Abel was dispatched two days after another Thomas – Cromwell to be precise. And like Cromwell it was not a quick job, for the priest was hanged, drawn and quartered. It took place at Smithfield, when he was roughly 43 years of age.

His was part of a job lot with fellow Catholics Edward Powell and Richard Featherstone, while three Protestants were being barbecued on stakes – Robert Barnes, William Jerome and Thomas Gerrard.

Given his death was in defence of the Catholic faith, Abel was blessed alongside Powell and Featherstone. And so the road to martyrdom began and Pope Leo XIII eventually beautified them in 1886.

Also on this day

30 July 1811 – Miguel Gregorio Antonio Ignacio Hidalgo y Costilla Gallaga Mondarte Villaseñor
30 July 1902 – John Bedford
30 July 1901 – Charles Watkins

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28 July 1540 – Thomas Cromwell

Posted in Beheaded, Death penalty with tags , , , , , , on July 28 by Last Writes

Thomas Cromwell

Thomas Cromwell

Like anyone in Henry VIII’s inner circle, your future could never be guaranteed or considered secure. So Thomas Cromwell found out today in 1540.

A trained lawyer, he managed to earn the stripes necessary to enter Henry Tudor’s advisory council and for a long time he was a close confidante.

Main man

Cromwell played a key role in the English Reformation, which saw the break away from Roman Catholicism towards the newly formed Church of England. Of course this was brought about to allow Henry to divorce his first wife Catherine of Aragon to make way for his next conquest – the doomed Anne Boleyn.

He was on a roll. Almost as soon as Cromwell had helped facilitate Henry’s marriage to Boleyn, he was extricating him from it so the king could bag Jane Seymour.

By 1535, he was supreme judge and in his new capacity as vice-general, he oversaw 13 monasteries being disbanded.

The big hitch

But all these brownie points were wiped out in one fell swoop when he encouraged Henry to marry following the death of Seymour. She’d died just a couple of weeks after bearing Henry’s one and only son and heir.

Cromwell helped mastermind what could have been the coup of the century – the uniting of two Protestant powers to help consolidate the Reformation. There was only one big hitch – Anne of Cleves was no looker and Henry was none too impressed with his ugly, new bride. Others at court picked up on Henry’s dissatisfaction and turned it to their advantage.

Chops away

Up to that point, many others at court hadn’t got a look in. They all used this mess as an excuse to get him ousted and the ploy worked.

Cromwell was executed at Tower Hill, sadly at the hands of a novice axe-man. Three chops and eventually his head was detached on this day in 1540, aged about 55.

Also on this day

28 July 1794 – Maximilien Robespierre
28 July 1865 – Edward Pritchard
28 July 1976 – Christian Ranucci
28 July 1826 – Isaac Smith

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23 June 1915 – Carl Muller

Posted in Death penalty, Firing squad with tags , , , , on June 23 by Last Writes

Carl MullerInvisible ink failed to fool the British Secret Service during the First World War. And as spying during World War I was punishable by death, Carl Friedrick Muller felt the full force of British wrath after he was executed for his betrayals. Yet he almost missed his own execution after the black cab broke down on its way to the Tower of London.

For Muller had stood charged with ‘feloniously attempting to communicate and recording and collecting information with respect to military and naval forces and war materials with intention of assisting [the] enemy’ – to you and me that means passing armed forces’ secrets to the opposition. And the opposition meant Germany.

He’d been enlisted as a secret agent by the Germans, not least because he could speak a number of languages fluently. He was in shipping and was hard up – the perfect combination.

As a result, Muller was to travel between Germany and Britain seemingly innocently, writing correspondence detailing shipping movements to his German pals – but little did he know the Brits were on to him and had intercepted his letters.

Branched off

Unsuspectingly, in February of 1915, he hooked up with a Brit (of German extraction) – John Hahn, who was an East-end baker and together they sent more incriminating letters. Both were unaware their illicit communications were being diverted to Special Branch for closer inspection.

There CID found secret German messages written in formalin (formaldehyde) and lemon juice in between what appeared to be innocent letters written in English. The two were busted.

Hahn’s up

Both men were hauled in and while Hahn pleaded guilty and got seven years, Muller pleaded not guilty and got death. The latter was housed at Brixton Prison and on the day of his execution, he was taken by black cab to the Tower of London where he was to be executed. According to Stephen Stratford it broke down, so another took him on to the place of execution.

So Muller was riddled with a slew of bullets on this day within the grounds of the Tower of London in 1915.

According to a couple of sources, New Scotland Yard’s Assistant Commissioner of Police, Sir Basil Thomson witnessed the execution by firing squad. It was carried out by eight soldiers. He observed: ‘I saw no expression of pain. I found no pulse and no sign of life. Death appeared to be instantaneous, and the body retained the same position. The bullets probably in fragments had passed through the thorax and out of the back. Some blood, mixed with what appeared to be bone, had escaped through the clothing…’. And with that, the second spy to be executed during World War I was pronounced dead.

Details of Muller’s trial and evidence of his damning correspondence now sit in The National Archives at Kew.