Archive for World War I

Traitors at the Tower

Posted in 1 with tags , , , , , , , on February 26 by Old Sparky

Interesting article from the BBC about the German spies executed at the Tower of London during World War One.

Check out the audio link too for a step by step account of the dreadful deed

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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18 October 1917 – William Alexander

Posted in Death penalty, Firing squad with tags , , , on October 18 by Last Writes

NOTE Before we get started, yesterday a notable execution slipped through the noose, so we’ve posted a belated homage to a killer Cambodian cow.

On a more serious note, the First World War claimed many lives on the battlefields, and for that their memories are held dear. But what of the men who died in cagier circumstances?

We are, of course, talking about those soldiers who were executed for desertion.

One such person was William Alexander, who had been a British soldier, before he emigrated to Canada. There he joined their army where he became a sergeant and his troops were drawn into the battlegrounds in France.

There, the horrors of war were all too evident and his regiment were tasked with being a diversion to ease the pressure on the beleaguered forces in Passchendaele, according to Stephen Stratford. And diversion was hardly the greatest of motivators…


Already many members of the battalion had been injured, so when it came to leading his troops out into the thick of it, Alexander suddenly went AWOL.

But he hadn’t gone missing in action, he’d missed out on the action altogether, as it turned out he’d sought sanctuary in a safe village they’d camped at en route.

Of course his motive may well have been self-preservation, because of the soldiers who’d faced the Germans from his regiment, a stonking 400 of them were taken casualty, Stratford says.

Alexander was finally unearthed and whisked off to face a court martial. There he was found guilty of desertion and executed by a volley of shots in front of a firing squad right there in France.

His body was laid to rest in Boulogne and he remains one of 25 Canadian soldiers who all met a similar fate during World War II.

Also on this day

18 October 1800 – Mary Lloyd
Boughton lass Mary Lloyd didn’t get very far with her forgeries.

She was found guilty of the pretence and was hanged for her crime in 1800.

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15 October 1917 – Mata Hari

Posted in Death penalty, Firing squad with tags , , , on October 15 by Old Sparky
and we thought she was supposed to be a babe...

Mata "the minx" Hari.

It’s been ages since we had a really saucy little minx on the execution block. And today’s fruity-flavoured subject doesn’t get much saucier.

Mata Hari, or Margaretha Zelle as she is more pedestrianly known, was in the firing line for the ropiest of reasons.

The French, with the help of the Brits, had levelled the crime of espionage at her. But there are doubts to this day as to whether these accusations were true or not.

That the Dutch woman was infamous is indisputable. If you’ve ever doubted the adage that sex sells, old Mata lived and breathed the premise. Her whole raison d’être was built on an insatiable love of sex and ways to manipulate men to her own ends. And boy did she start young.

Sex education

At a mere 16, she was already bed-hopping her way through life, bagging the headmaster no less, according to Pat Shipman in his book ‘Femme Fatale: A Biography of Mata Hari’.

Yet she wasn’t content to just stick out her days in Holland. She wanted more.

Known as Zelle at this point in her life, she hooked up with a soldier on leave by the name of Captain Rudolf Macleod, after she replied to his ad in the classifieds.

Things got personal alright. After just six days the rampant couple was engaged and three months on they were hitched.

Soldiering on

But just as quickly as they came together, so the couple fell apart, not least because there was no way Zelle would have been content with monogamy, not when there were so many soldiers happy to jump into the sack with her.

Naturally hubbie got a jealous-coloured cob on. But that was rich coming from him, seeing as he was at it too. Indeed, it was his free and easy attitude that landed him in a spot of syphilitic bother.

Macleod failed to confess this little detail to his wife and as a result he passed the demon seeds of STD onto her and their resultant children. In fact, it was thought that their son was killed while being treated for the damagingly virulent disease.

Well, that really put a kibosh on the relationship. They split and the hard-hearted husband even went as far as to put it about that his wife was a credit risk.

Credit crunch

Crude, yes, but the carefully chosen words did the job. Unable to get anything on tick, the lusty lady had to turn to other means to support her luxe lifestyle.

There are no prizes for guessing which talents she turned to in her hour of need. She forged ahead in establishing a searing career in selling sex. This included being a courtesan, which stretched to staging dance sessions in the privacy of people’s homes, and the rest…

The original queen of raunch had successfully reinvented herself as a top bit of totty and to add to allure of her new identity so Mata Hari was born. She blazed a trail did old Mata.

While others were retaining their modesty, this exotic dancer thought nothing of kicking off her knickers both on and off the dance floor. Her only concession to modesty was to keep her bra on. According to Tony Rennell of the ‘Daily Mail’, she was ‘self conscious about her tiny breasts’.


However, her insecurity certainly didn’t stop her trawling Europe, touting her wares and collecting moneyed benefactors as she went along, who were only too happy to sub her lifestyle.

‘Tonight I dine with Count A and tomorrow with Duke B. If I don’t have to dance, I make a trip with Marquis C. I avoid serious liaisons. I satisfy my caprices’ she said.

Love and infection

Of course all this makes you wonder what was happening about the syphilis. It must have been spreading infectiously throughout the more affluent sections of society who were only too happy to come, and see her. And while Mata was happy to sashay her way round the Continent spreading love and infection to all, the world was heading inextricably towards a war.

With war came paranoia about spies.

I, Spy?

And that paranoia came to settle upon Mata. After all, she was free to come and go as she pleased between countries and she could speak a number of languages – a spy’s ideal. And it is conjectured that she was indeed approached by the Germans to spy.

But it is a popularly held belief that despite being furnished with all the deceits and tools of the covert trade, Mata had no interest in actually spying. Like everyone before, she was happy to fleece the Germans of any riches they were keen to heap on her, but she had no intention of carrying out the deeds.

Nevertheless the Brits gave the infamous little minx a thorough once over when she docked at Folkestone. Despite finding nothing, they drew up a dossier of dodginess against the Dutch seductress.

Talk about sexed up claims, by February 1917 the French were after her and had finally cornered her in her hotel room.

Facing death

She was promptly found guilty of being a German spy and sent down to await her fate. Her appeals that the charges were trumped up fell on disinterested ears, so on this day in 1917, she calmly announced ‘I am ready’.

Such was Mata Hari’s sense of theatre that she refused to be tied to a stake or even to be blindfolded, instead facing her firing squad fully frontal.

Consequently, Mata Hari was riddled full of bullets and merely crumpled to the floor.

In a final move to ensure the bullets were fatal, a last one was despatched into her 41-year-old brain at close range.

Screen siren Greta Garbo took on the role of Mata Hari in the film of the same name…just 15 years after the execution.

Also on this day

15 October 1782 – Charlotte Goodall

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27 July 1920 – Arthur Goslett

Posted in Death penalty, Hanged with tags , , , , , , on July 27 by Last Writes

When a polygamist amasses marriages, it stands to reason he’s not bothered about finding legal ways to get shot of extraneous wives.

Murder most foul

The man in question was Arthur Andrew Goslett, who was strung up for his foul methods.

That Goslett was keener on some of his spouses than others was apparent, as the unfortunate Evelyn Goslett found out. Her body was found in the River Brent, in north London.

Naturally the blame fell squarely at Goslett’s door and he was soon taken in to explain himself.

Spy suspect

Funnily enough, the engineer was already known to the fuzz. The South African had not long been accused of spying during World War I, which he’d hotly denied. However, eventually Goslett had been let off.

Similarly, he tried the same tack with the murder charge. Indeed, Goslett was to deny it a number of times during a series of statements, but his story began to unravel. Each version started to differ slightly, and the suspicious inconsistencies meant that he was had up for trial at the Old Bailey.

There, Goslett was unable to prove his innocence and the 44-year-old was sentenced to death.

John Ellis did the honours at Pentonville gallows on this day in 1920.

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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.