On the 31st August 1888, Mary Ann Nichols – commonly known as Polly – became the first confirmed victim of Jack the Ripper in the Whitechapel area of London. Not only had her throat been cut, but her body had been mutilated. Her corpse was left next to a gate in Buck’s Row, which is now known as Durward Street, and was discovered by a cart driver. It was three weeks before the inquest was concluded, by which time a second murder with a similar modus operandi had been committed. On studying the body of Annie Chapman, the coroner noted that “The similarity of the injuries in the two cases is considerable.”
Nichols was 43 years old when she was murdered, having found herself forced to live in boarding houses and workhouses after her alcoholism led her husband to leave her. She turned to prostitution as a way to earn money and, in the early hours of the night she was murdered, had gone out to make enough money to pay for her bed in a boarding house at 18 Thrawl Street.
An hour before her murder, her friend and roommate Nelly Holland spoke to her as she walked the streets. Nichols had already spent her night’s earnings on drink, and so continued to search for customers. Holland was the last person to see her alive before her body was found by Charles Cross at 3.40am.
Nichols’ killer was never found, and debate continues to rage about the identity of the Whitechapel murderer who was given the nickname ‘Jack the Ripper’.
Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa was stolen from the Louvre on the 21st August 1911. Described by some as the greatest art theft of the 20th century, the museum itself didn’t even realise that the painting had been stolen until the next day.
Italian Vincenzo Peruggia had previously worked at the Louvre. Acting alone, he hid in a cupboard inside the museum on the evening of the 20th August and exited on the morning of Monday 21st – a day when the museum would be closed for cleaning – wearing a smock identical to all the other museum employees. With the museum deserted of visitors, he entered the Salon Carré where the painting hung and simply removed it from the wall.
Making his way to a stairwell, Peruggia removed the glass that had only recently been fitted to protect the painting from vandalism, and discarded the frame. Leaving both the glass and the frame behind, he simply hid the painting – which was painted on a plank of poplar wood – under his smock and left the museum.
The Mona Lisa lay hidden in Peruggia’s Paris apartment for two years before he decided to take it to Italy in 1913. Here he made contact with Alfredo Geri, a gallery owner, on the 10th December who in turn contacted the director of the famous Uffizi gallery. The two men took the painting ‘for safe keeping’ and informed the police. Peruggia served just six months in jail for the robbery, and was hailed by many Italians as a nationalist hero for returning the Mona Lisa to her real home.
I’m very grateful to Giselle K. Jakobs for her thorough research and detailed website about the focus of today’s podcast – her grandfather, Josef Jakobs. You can visit her website at http://www.josefjakobs.info/
The last execution at the Tower of London took place on the 15th August 1941. Josef Jakobs was a German spy who was arrested after he signalled for help after breaking his ankle when he parachuted into Britain.
Jakobs had served in the German Army during the First World War, and became a dentist in the interwar period. However, due to impact of the worldwide depression he turn to selling fake gold, for which he served two and a half years in jail.
After his release, Jakobs became involved in providing counterfeit passports to German Jews fleeing Hitler’s regime. However, he was arrested in 1938 and sent to a concentration camp from which he was released in 1940.
Within six months Jakobs had begun training with the Abwehr – the intelligence wing of the Germany Army – and on the 31st January 1941 dressed in a business suit and parachuted into England. Having broken his ankle, he was found the next morning in a field near Dovehouse Farm in Huntingdonshire.
Jakobs was taken into custody, and was held at Dulwich Hospital in London while complications with his broken ankle were treated. Eventually he was transferred to Wandsworth Prison, where he was formally charged with espionage and tried by General Court Marshall in early August since he didn’t have British nationality and was a formal member of the Germany Army.
Found guilty, he was taken to the miniature firing range at the Tower of London on the 15th. Having been strapped to a wooden Windsor chair, he was killed by firing squad at 7:12 a.m.
On the 8th August 1963, a gang of 15 men attacked a Royal Mail train heading from Glasgow to London and stole over £2.6million in cash. Worth £50million today, the vast majority of the money was never recovered.
A core team of five men with backgrounds in organised crime planned the robbery over a number of months before drafting in support from another group of criminals with experience in train robberies. Central to the plan was information about the amount of money carried on Royal Mail trains, and this was supplied by a Salford postal worker known to the gang as ‘The Ulsterman’.
On the night of the robbery, the gang tampered with the signal at ‘Sears Crossing’ in Ledburn, Buckinghamshire in order to stop the train. Having overpowered the driver and the second crew member, the gang drove the train half a mile to a location where they could load the stolen bags of money onto a waiting Austin Loadstar truck.
Forcing their way in to the High Value Packages coach, the gang met only little resistance from the five postal workers inside the carriage and so ordered them to lie down on the floor in the corner while the bags of money were removed.
Having set themselves a time-limit of 30 minutes to carry out the robbery, 8 bags were left behind on the train when the gang drove to their hide-out at Leatherslade Farm. Here the loot was divided up, and the robbers dispersed before the police could find them. However, the majority were later arrested and convicted.
On the 5th August 1962, Nelson Mandela was arrested near the South African town of Howick and imprisoned facing charges of inciting workers’ strikes and leaving the country without a passport. He wasn’t released for nearly 28 years.
Mandela was a leading figure of the anti-apartheid movement and protested peacefully against the racist system. However, having been imprisoned after being found guilty of treason, he adopted more militant tactics on his release and soon became a wanted man. His arrest came after he spent 6 months travelling in disguise around Africa and to London in order to win support for the movement.
The trial began on the 15th October, with Mandela representing himself and using his defence speeches as a way to promote the African National Congress’ “moral opposition to racism”. In his “black man in a white man’s court” speech, for example, he said he would serve the sentence handed down by the court but would continue to fight against racial discrimination.
Having been sentenced to five years imprisonment Mandela was jailed in Pretoria, Robben Island, and Pretoria again within a 9 month period. Shortly after his return to Pretoria he and nine other defendants were charged on four counts of sabotage and conspiracy to violently overthrow the government and put on trial in what became known as the “Rivonia Trial”. The trial brought international attention to the anti-apartheid struggle but, having been found guilty, Mandela and his co-defendants were sentenced to life imprisonment. Mandela was finally released in 1990 after 27 years, six months and five days.
American outlaw Billy the Kid was shot and killed by Sheriff Pat Garrett in Fort Sumner, New Mexico.
Billy the Kid was born Henry McCarty and spent his early life in New York. By 1873 he had moved west to New Mexico as a result of his mother remarrying after the death of his father, but within a year she died and the 15 year old McCarty moved into a boarding house where he was soon caught stealing food.
Within four years McCarty, who by now had adopted the name William H. Bonney, had moved to Lincoln County in New Mexico. He began working for John Tunstall, a rancher involved in a struggle for power in the county. After Tunstall was shot and killed by Sheriff William Brady’s posse in what became known as the Lincoln County War, Bonney committed revenge killings including that of the Sheriff.
Bonney was charged with murder but managed to evade capture and soon became the most wanted outlaw in the West. Almost a year later he agreed to provide a statement against the numerous people involved in the ongoing Lincoln County War in return for his own freedom. Despite providing his testimony as promised, he was placed in a jail from which he later escaped and became an outlaw once again.
By the end of 1880, New Mexico Governor Lew Wallis had posted a bounty of $500 on Bonney, and the search was taken up by Sheriff Pat Garrett. Garrett’s posse captured Bonney and his gang on 23 December. Bonney was sentenced to death for the murder of Sheriff Brady but escaped jail two weeks before his scheduled execution. A number of months later Garrett mounted another posse and found Bonney at the Maxwell Ranch in Fort Sumner where he killed him, since the bounty permitted his capture alive or dead.
James A. Garfield, the 20th President of the United States, was shot by Charles J. Guiteau at the Baltimore and Potomac Railroad Station in Washington, D.C.
Guiteau had attempted various types of employment before turning his hand to politics in the lead-up to the 1880 presidential election. He wrote a speech called ‘Grant against Hancock’ when Ulysses S. Grant was still the forerunner for the Republican nomination, but revised it to ‘Garfield against Hancock’ after the latter won the candidacy.
Although Guiteau passed copies of the speech to members of the Republican National Committee, he is only believed to have delivered the speech twice at the most. Despite this he became convinced that he was responsible for Garfield winning the election, and expected a diplomatic posting in return. He even moved to Washington the day after Garfield’s inauguration and regularly visited the State Department and the White House to reiterate his demand.
Guiteau was formally banned from the White House, and on 14 May was told by Secretary of State James G. Blaine to ‘Never speak to me again of the Paris consulship as long as you live.’ This dismissal led him to begin plotting the assassination of the President.
After buying a British Bull Dog revolver with money borrowed from a relative, Guiteau undertook target practice and began stalking Garfield. Having read about the President’s vacation plans in the press, he waited at the Baltimore and Potomac Railroad Station where he shot him at close range. Guiteau later declared, ‘I am a Stalwart of the Stalwarts! I did it and I want to be arrested! Arthur is President now!’ Garfield died 11 weeks later, while Guiteau was found guilty of murder and was hanged on 30 June 1882.
The Australian outlaw Ned Kelly was arrested following a violent shoot-out with police at Glenrowan in Victoria.
Edward ‘Ned’ Kelly’s father, John ‘Red’ Kelly had arrived in Australia after serving a sentence in Van Diemen’s land for stealing two pigs in his hometown in Ireland. He later married and started a family but was sentenced to hard labour for cattle theft, after which he unexpectedly died. His eldest son, Ned, soon found himself in trouble with the law for assisting the bushranger Harry Power in a number of robberies. He was later sentenced to three years’ imprisonment for stealing horses.
In April 1878, Kelly allegedly shot police constable Alexander Fitzpatrick. Ned and his brother Dan fled into the bush and a reward of £100 was offered for their capture. In October three policemen who had located the brothers and their associates, Joe Byrne and Steve Hart, were shot and killed. The government soon declared the gang outlaws, but they evaded capture and turned to robbing banks.
On the night of 26 June 1880 the Kelly Gang killed a police informant, and then rode to the town of Glenrowan where they held dozens of hostages in the town’s hotel. A police train was alerted to the situation, and the hotel was soon surrounded. The gang engaged in a raging gunfight, wearing homemade metal armour. The hostages were later freed and, with only the gang members left inside the hotel, it was set on fire.
Steve Hart, Joseph Byrne and Dan Kelly were killed, but Ned survived the night and emerged from the bush to make one final stand the next morning. He was soon shot in his unprotected legs and arrested. Found guilty of two of the police murders, he was sentenced to death and executed by hanging on 11 November 1880.
Colonel Thomas Blood attempted to steal the Crown Jewels from the Tower of London.
Blood was born in Ireland but travelled to England in 1642 following the outbreak of the English Civil War. Having originally fought on the side of Charles I, he switched to join the Roundheads midway through the war. Oliver Cromwell later made him a justice of the peace and granted him land as a reward.
Following the restoration of the monarchy under Charles II, Blood lost the land he had been granted by Cromwell and fled to Ireland. After two failed attempts to kidnap and later kill the Duke of Ormonde, he staged his bid to steal the Crown Jewels.
Blood initially visited the Tower dressed as a parson and was accompanied by a woman pretending to be his wife who feigned a violent stomach ache that won sympathy from the family of Talbot Edwards, the Master of the Jewel House. They struck up a friendly relationship, and soon Blood proposed that his imaginary nephew should marry their daughter.
Blood, his ‘nephew’ and two other companions visited the Tower on 9 May. Edwards was persuaded to show them the Crown Jewels but, on unlocking the door, was hit with a mallet and stabbed. The thieves removed the metal grille from in front of the jewels and used the mallet to flatten the crown while the sceptre was cut into two. One of the thieves hid the orb in his trousers.
Edwards regained consciousness and raised the alarm. The thieves were apprehended as they ran to their horses, but Blood refused to answer questions for anyone except the King who not only pardoned Blood but also gave him land in Ireland worth £500 a year. Edwards, meanwhile, received a reward of £300.
On the 1st April 1924, Adolf Hitler was found guilty of treason for his role in the Beer Hall Putsch and sentenced to five years in jail. His comfortable Festungshaft (which translates as fortress confinement) in Landsberg Prison lasted for only eight months before he was released for good behaviour. His detention provided him with the opportunity to write Mein Kampf, his blueprint for power, and to rethink the tactics he would use to take that power in Germany.
The Beer Hall Putsch, also known as the Munich Putsch, had begun on the 8th November 1923 when Hitler led an attempted coup against the Weimar Government by trying to seize power in the Bavarian city of Munich. Despite a successful first evening, however, the coup was quickly stalled the following day after the police and army engaged the relatively small Nazi Party in open street fighting.
Hitler hid in a friend’s house, and his arrest for treason two days later could have been the end of his political career. However, he chose to defend himself during his public trial which acted as a propaganda platform. Hitler openly admitted trying to overthrow the government but claimed that he was not guilty of treason since, in his words, “There is no such thing as high treason against the traitors of 1918.”
The trial secured Hitler enormous media attention, and catapulted him and the Nazi Party to national prominence. Despite being imprisoned and banned from public speaking, Hitler was able to rebuild the Nazi Party following his release along less revolutionary lines that eventually saw him appointed Chancellor in January 1933.