Hanged, Drawn, and Quartered

Hello and welcome to 2020 and part two in our series of the history of state executions. To start 2020 off on a truly odd note, I thought it would be interesting to explore arguably the most grotesque public spectacle in English history, the act of hanging, drawing, and quartering. HDQ was a state-sponsored execution that was held for the only the most grievous of offenses, treason, specifically treason against the crown. Dating back to the reign of Edward Longshanks in the 13th century, the practice lasted until the Irish Rebellion of the early 19th century.

The Act

Photo Used under share and share alike

When I teach my sixth and seventh graders about public executions, I always get some awesome reactions when I describe HDQ, because it defies understanding to our modern sensibilities. In our world today, we debate about even putting people to death by the most humane ways imaginable, but for the crowned heads of England, the spectacle was the point. Capitol punishment meant nothing to these Kings if it wasn’t carried out in front of a large audience because the purpose was to fortify standing and declare dominance. The crime was almost always treason, and the King would parade the accused through the streets before the process began.

Step 1

The accused it tied to the back legs of a horse and is dragged from the holding cell to the public square where the execution is to take place.

Step 2

The accused is hanged in the public square, but not until dead; they are effectively strangled until near death. As the accused is still alive, the stomach is cut open and the intestines are spilled out in front of the accused and the entire crowd.

Step 3

As the intestines are spilling out, sometimes these guts are set afire, but always the testicles and penis are cut off, all the while the person is still alive and feels everything.

Step 4

Sweet relief, the head is cut off, the body is sliced into four quarters and the head and body sections are spread throughout England and put on public display to show everyone what a traitor gets.

There were many men who met this fate, but the two most famous were the first man, Dafydd ap Gruffydd, the last independent ruler of Wales that was executed by Edward Longshanks. The second is the most famous, William Wallace, the Scot freedom fighter who was executed as a traitor by the crown.

Executions Part 1: Riding the Lightning

For Halloween this year, I thought it would be cool to do a series of articles that deal with the macabre. Thank you for checking out our first in a series of articles about the worst ways to die via government sanction execution.
Since the beginning of organized law and government, there has been capitol punishment. The first known written series of laws, the Hammurabi Code of Babylon created a few thousand years before the birth of Christ, had the eye for an eye mentality, if someone committed murder, the state would put them to death as well. This practice crossed the Atlantic and has been an American mainstay since the Colonial era. The interesting aspect of American executions is the variety of ways in which the country has attempted these executions, ranging from hanging, pressing, firing squad, to today’s lethal injection, there has long been a desire to make the act as quick and semi-painless as possible. One of the most misguided attempts at this is by far the electric chair. Thought up by a dentist before the dawn of the 20th century, it was believed that the electric chair would alleviate the issues of hanging, namely the head popping off or the people slowly strangling to death. Popularized in the early ’00s of the 20th century, the electric chair was thought to be the most humane way to kill convicted murderers. Unfortunately for those who rode the lightning, that could not be further from the truth. Multiple instances of botched electrocutions can be seen throughout the eight decades; it was the most common form of state-sponsored death sentences. The most common problem is human error, for electrocution to work perfectly, the chair must be in good working order, and the condemned person must be properly prepared. Many times, the guards would either forget or purposely leave the sponge of water off of the head of the inmate, the water in the sponge is meant to conduct electricity to the brain and quickly fry the person in the chair. When the condemned is not properly prepared, it would lead to the person to be, quite literally, cooked alive. Ruth Snyder, a husband killer from New York, was tried and convicted along with her boyfriend of killing her husband. She was quickly sentenced to death and sent to death row at Sing Sing. Electrocuting female inmates were extremely rare in the American Criminal Justice system, so this execution became the hottest ticket in town. An enterprising young reporter for the New York tabloids snuck a camera into the death chamber and took pictures of the event. Unfortunately for Snyder, her execution was botched, and she smoked and cooked from the inside out. You can see, in stark detail, the smoke and the cooking taking place in this haunting photograph.

Wayne County, West Virginia Execution

When researching for this week’s article, I came across a fact that, to be honest, shocked me a bit, in the entire history of Wayne County, West Virginia, there has only been one sanctioned execution in our history. This is not to say there wasn’t an “eye for an eye” justice, or vigilante justice throughout our history, but only once has a court of law in our county carried out a proper execution. When combing through the newspaper archives with the West Virginia Division of Culture and History, I found a few accounts of the event, the most detailed being from our very own Wayne County News in the February 7, 1924 edition.
Laban T. Walker was a young man born in Catlettsburg and was left by his father at birth. Being raised by his mother was so taboo at the time that he caught endless amounts of grief from his classmates according to multiple accounts. His mother, fearing she would raise a coward, decided to gift the boy two weapons in his early teens, a knife and 22 calibur pistol. According to eye-witness Kinsey B. Lewis, his mother told him to “shoot and cut your way out” of any scrapes he got into. With his background and upbringing, it is little wonder that Waker was a violent young man who tended to settle his disagreements with his fists, or worse.
On August 21, 1878, Walker was out with friends for a day, enjoying the sun at Virginia Point. While at the Point, an altercation between Walker and Patrick Nolan. Following his Mother’s advice, Walker decided to shoot his way out of the situation, killing Nolan on the spot. Walker fled across the Ohio River but was quickly caught later that night. Walker lingered in the criminal justice system for over a year, finally being found guilty of murder and sentenced to hang.
The date of the hanging was set for November 28, 1879. Between seven and ten thousand people congregated at Wayne to watch the spectacle. Fistfights and arguments erupted throughout the foggy, dreary day as the crowd impatiently awaited their main event. Finally, at 2 p.m. Walker was led from the Wayne jail and ascended the scaffold; his last words were “OH! I don’t wanna go up those!” Referring to the steps of the gallows. The black hood r55was placed over his head, and as an eye witness stated, “so ends the life of a human being in the vigor and health of manhood.”

The Demon of the Night

It all started for myself when I had a traumatic experience working for the local Police Department. My local PD made Andy Griffith look like the big city, we only really dealt with drunks, speeders and the occasional domestic violence call. I had crisis training, but it was never put into action until one fateful night.

Our officer brought in a woman to be held in our jail for a traffic violation, being the dispatcher and the jailer it was my responsibility to fingerprint, photo and attend to the prisoner. I did my job that night and was finishing the paperwork for her to be released to another agency. She was afforded privacy to use the restroom, so I would knock when I needed to speak with her. My officer went to the back to take her to another precinct when I heard him scream, I met him in the cellblock to be told she had hanged herself.

Immediately the officer and myself put our training into action, we swiftly cut her down and she was administered to. Unfortunately, that troubled soul passed a few days later. Though I had received all the training you can imagine, it doesn’t prepare you to deal with such a sudden event. The countless meetings with attorneys and the court depositions took their toll on me. I couldn’t sleep, I was obsessing over the suicide, wishing I could have seen any warning sign about what she was preparing. It was during this time that it happened, the first of many instances of sleep paralysis. Sleep paralysis is a medical condition where the person awakes during REM sleep, while you are technically awake, you can’t move and many people hallucinate during it. With this first attack, I saw her hanging there in my living room, I couldn’t move, I couldn’t scream. SP has been written about for centuries across many cultures, with the prevailing myth that it was the devil sitting on your chest. How many of my readers is a fellow sufferer?

How to travel the country on a budget

Hello Again,
This week I am writing to you from the road, and the road is what has inspired me to write this article. You can look at this article as some friendly advice from a guy who has lived it and has realized the true value in traveling with your family. This summer, or next summer, or whenever you can make it happen, I implore you to travel someplace with your kids. So often, we get caught up in the money, or the time, or any other excuse we can think of, but we don’t see the big picture. As a kid, I would have never imagined that I would see the vast expanses of the American West that I loved reading about in corny westerns or in the old John Wayne and Clint Eastwood movies I loved to watch on the weekends. My family didn’t travel, my Mom and Dad were too busy scraping by and providing us kids with the essentials, I admire them and love them for that, it’s not their fault we didn’t travel, it was just the circumstances. But, when I began teaching and my wife and I were together for the first few summers, the wanderlust began to bite at us, we had all summer, no one to answer to, no bosses to beg off of work from, just us. One year we decided to stop caring about material things, or house improvements; we loaded up our Jeep and drove, and drove, and drove. Something is liberating about it that can only be understood by those who have experienced it, the high skies and never-ending plains of the American breadbasket, the towering heights of the Rocky Mountains, or the beautiful forests and sanguine beauty of the Pacific Northwest. Coming home, we explored Yellowstone and the Black Hills and fell in love. For years, once we started having kids, we would talk about when the time would be right to take our three beautiful kids of the trip of a lifetime. Last week, the old wanderlust hit us again, out of nowhere we decided to put off the new couch we need, the new oven, whatever was worrying us and just drive. We rented a van and off we went. As of this writing, I am staring at the beautiful snow-capped tips of the Sierra Nevadas as my kids eat lunch somewhere in the vast expanses of the Nevada desert. In the past week, they have chilled with Mickey in Anaheim, saw the massive redwoods at Sequoia National Park, watching the sunrise over the Yosemite Valley and we are en route to those Black Hills and Yellowstone that their Mother and I love so dearly. Life is not about things, I have learned that as an adult, I still fall into the trap and want material items for myself or for around the house, but the old saying “you can’t take it with you” could not be more accurate. Who cares if I need a new couch? It can wait, but the experiences my family and I have had over the last week and will continue to have for the following week will last a lifetime. As a teacher I can say without a shadow of a doubt that kids learn better by doing rather than reading about it or watching it on TV; they will never forget this time we spent together, and that makes me feel better than any item I could ever buy.