Category Archives: Crime

1860: Woman charged with ant infanticide

In January 1860, Sarah Sadler of Wollongong, Australia was arrested and charged with infanticide. According to the police brief, witnesses observed Sadler entering a paddock on the morning of January 18th and leaving it that afternoon, reportedly in a weak and distressed state.

This information was communicated to the local constable, who the following day carried out an inspection of the paddock. There he found a newborn baby, naked on the ground under a tree and atop a nest of large ants. The child, whose gender was not recorded, was unconscious and covered “head to toe” with ants. It briefly regained consciousness while being bathed but expired later that afternoon:

“We had an opportunity of examining the body of the deceased infant and it presented one of the most affecting spectacles we ever beheld. It had every appearance of being not only a healthy but an extraordinarily strong child, perfect in symmetry and strong of limb. The whole side of its right thigh and foreleg, the foreleg of the left leg, its right side, its face and forehead and the right ear were perforated with holes eaten by the ants.”

A doctor examined Sadler and her home and testified that a birth had likely taken place. Another witness swore he saw the defendant acting “like a madwoman” on the date in question.

The trial judge instructed jury members to return a guilty verdict only if they could be certain of the defendant’s sanity. Unable to do so, the jury found her not guilty of murder. Sadler’s subsequent fate is not recorded.

Sources: Illawarra Mercury (Wollongong) February 17th 1860; North Wales Chronicle, April 21st 1860. Content on this page is © Alpha History 2016. Content may not be republished without our express permission. For more information please refer to our Terms of Use or contact Alpha History.

1835: Madman tries to kill the French king – with 20 guns at once

The messy aftermath of the “infernal machine”, a cunning and thorough assassination device

In July 1835, assassins targeted the French king, Louis-Philippe, as he reviewed troops in Paris. News of the attempt on the king’s life was conveyed by telegram to the French ambassador:

“An atrocious act was attempted this morning during the review [of troops]. The King of the French was not touched, although his horse was killed. None of the Princes were wounded. The Duke of Treviso was killed. Several guards, aides-de-camp and National Guardsmen were killed or wounded. The deed was committed by means of an infernal machine placed behind a window… Paris is quiet and indignant.”

The leader of this bizarre assassination attempt was Giuseppe Marco Fieschi. A former soldier and serial thief, Fieschi served several years’ hard labour in his native Corsica before escaping to Paris. Once in the capital, Fieschi took up with political radicals and began to plot the king’s murder.

Unlike John Wilkes Booth and Lee Harvey Oswald, however, Fieschi and his accomplices left nothing to chance. They designed and constructed their “infernal machine”: a battery of 20 muskets attached to a wooden frame, all rigged to fire simultaneously. The machine was aimed at the royal party from an elevated window overlooking the Boulevard du Temple.

The firing of the “infernal machine” proved devastating: it killed 18 soldiers, including a marshal and former prime minister. Louis-Philippe and other royals were not seriously injured, though one shot grazed the king’s temple and another struck his horse.

Backfiring from the “infernal machine” also took its toll on Fieschi, who was hit in the head with shrapnel and badly burned. He was quickly captured and given medical attention, then put on trial for regicide. Fieschi and two of his accomplices were guillotined in February 1836.

Source: Telegram to the French ambassador in London, July 28th 1835. Content on this page is © Alpha History 2016. Content may not be republished without our express permission. For more information please refer to our Terms of Use or contact Alpha History.

1565: Abused mule has feet cut off, then burned alive

Historical records briefly mention a case of bestiality in 16th century France. According to a chronicler named Ranchin, an unnamed Montpelleir farmer was surprised “behind his mule” in 1565. According to the witness, the farmer was committing an “act that cannot be mentioned”. The farmer was put on trial, convicted of buggery and bestiality and sentenced to be burned alive.

The mule, despite its passive role, was sentenced to the same fate. According to Ranchin, the mule refused to go without a fight and turned nasty, prompting brutal action from the executioner:

“Mulus… erat vitiosus et calcitrosus. In primis abcissi fuere quatuor pedes ipsius et demun in ignem projectus et una cum homine combustus fuit.”

(‘The mule was vicious and kicking. He was dealt with first, all four of his feet were removed and cast into the fire, after which he and the man burned.’)

Source: Memoires des Antiquaires de France, v.8. Content on this page is © Alpha History 2016. Content may not be republished without our express permission. For more information please refer to our Terms of Use or contact Alpha History.

1989: Man escapes electric chair, dies on electric toilet

In 1980, a 21-year-old South Carolina man, Michael Anderson Sloan, was charged with the murder of Mary Elizabeth Royem, 24. Miss Royem’s body was found in her West Columbia apartment. She had been sexually assaulted and beaten to death with an electric iron. Sloan, who also used the name Michael Anderson Godwin, was on work release from a local prison. He was serving a sentence there for robbing a woman at knifepoint three years earlier.

Sloan went on trial for Royem’s murder in 1981. He was convicted of murder and sexual assault and sentenced to die in South Carolina’s electric chair. Sloan’s death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment in 1983 after a retrial cleared him of the sexual assault. As fate would have it, Sloan was still destined to die on an electric chair, albeit a different one:

“Convicted murderer Michael Anderson Godwin… has died after electrocuting himself, authorities said. Godwin was seated on a metal toilet and was apparently trying to repair earphones to a television set when he bit into the electrical cord, said State Corrections spokesman Francis Archibald.

‘It was a strange accident’, Archibald said. ‘He was sitting naked on a metal commode’… Richland County Coroner Frank Barron said Godwin was severely burned in his mouth and tongue. Barron said that an investigation is continuing but that it appears the electrocution was an accident.”

According to press reports, Sloan was a model prisoner who spent his final six years obtaining two college degrees in education. He had dreams of being released on parole and working with young people.

Source: Spartanburg Herald-Journal, March 7th 1989. Content on this page is © Alpha History 2016. Content may not be republished without our express permission. For more information please refer to our Terms of Use or contact Alpha History.

1899: John F. Kennedy arrested, Tom Hanks claims reward

John F. Kennedy (c.1870-1922) was an American outlaw of the late 19th century. Like his more famous namesake, Kennedy was known to his friends as Jack. He started adulthood as a locomotive engineer but soon decided a much grander fortune could be made by robbing the railways rather than working on them.

With a gang of accomplices, Kennedy carried out a string of train robberies in the 1890s, robbing at least seven mail or goods trains. His experience as an engineer gave Kennedy considerable inside knowledge. He also carried out each robbery with his face covered.

Despite this, the identity of the “Quail Hunter” (as the serial bandit became known) was an open secret. Lawmen were well aware of Kennedy’s identity and did their utmost to put him behind bars – but to no avail. He was sent to trial three times between 1896 and 1898 but escaped conviction each time, thanks to tricky lawyers, false alibis and bribed jury members.

In 1899, Kennedy and Jesse E. James (son of THE Jesse James) were charged with a botched hold up near Leeds, Missouri. Their trial generated a wave of press attention but public sympathy was with James, so both men were acquitted. An interesting side story concerns a claim on the $500 reward for Kennedy’s arrest, made by:

“Tom Hanks, the barber, who was shaving the ‘Quail Hunter’ when Officer James O’Malley took him into custody… Hanks claimed that when Kennedy learned of the reward for his arrest, he surrendered himself [to Hanks] and that it was Hanks’ intention to take his prisoner to the county jail as soon as he had finished his tonsorial work.”

Kennedy himself supported Hanks’ claim, though probably only to deprive the arresting officer of the $500. After his acquittal in the James trial, Kennedy was arrested for a yet another robbery. This time the evidence stuck and Kennedy found himself serving a 17-year stretch in prison.

The ‘Quail Hunter’ carried out his last robbery near Wittenberg, Missouri in 1922. After holding up a mail train, Kennedy and his accomplice attempted to make their getaway but were ambushed by several deputies. A gunfight ensued and both men were shot dead.

Source: The Kansas City Journal, January 14th 1899. Content on this page is © Alpha History 2016. Content may not be republished without our express permission. For more information please refer to our Terms of Use or contact Alpha History.