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Miscellany :-

These pages are for subjects that I find particularly interesting. Unfortunately, I've neither the time nor resources to research them more fully, but luckily, other people have made fascinating web-sites on these subjects. I hope you find the choice of material here as interesting as I do.

Degrees of Murder :-

The decimation part of this page started because of a documentary about Spartacus I saw in 1998. The rest of the page was inspired by a July 2004, conversation I had with some friends late one night in our local IHOP (International House of Pancakes). Someone had walked into an office building, singled out a man and shot him. I said it sounded like an assassination, after which we started to chat about the different words for murder.

When I was gathering material for this page I had no idea there were so much written or that it could get so complex. Where I've given definitions for the various words and degrees these should be taken as a guide only. The legal definitions may well be slightly different.

Murder :-

One of the best definitions of murder I came across was the "Unlawful killing of another human being with premeditated intent or malice aforethought. First degree murder is an unlawful killing that is deliberate and premeditated. Second degree murder is unlawful killing of another with malice aforethought but without deliberation and premeditation. Such malice may be in the form of express malice as the actual intention to kill, or of implied malice where there is no intent but, where death is caused by an act which discloses such reckless state of mind as to be equivalent to an actual intent to kill." I found this on Google, but the page it refers to wasn't available when I looked for it.

The United Kingdom no longer has the death penalty. The last public hanging was in 1868. The last hanging at all was in 1964. The death penalty was abolished in the UK in 1965. See The history of judicial hanging in Britain.

When I was researching information for my Bristol history pages, I came across a rather bizarre incident. The first public execution at Bedminster's Old Goal was in 1821. Eighteen year old John Horwood threw a stone at his girlfriend, Eliza Balsum. She died of her injuries and he was hung there for it. Thomas Hasell who lived in Bedminster, was a City Councillor and went on to become Sheriff three times and was Mayor from 1824 - 1825, gave Horwood's body to the surgeon, Richard Smith, for dissection. Smith had the boy's skin tanned and with which he bound a book containing all the records of the murder, trial and execution. This must have been a bit of a conversation stopper as a "coffee table" book. Actually, the book which was bound in his skin was held at the Bristol Infirmary but is now held at the Bristol Records Office. Two other books which were bound with the remainder of his skin are held at the Bristol Law Society's library.

In the United States, there are 38 states that have the death penalty, and 12 without. Six of the states that have the death penalty haven't executed anyone since 1975. See States With The Death Penalty. For those states with the death penalty, first degree murderer's can be executed, second degree murderer's get a prison sentence, which can include life.

There are other types of killing, both lawful and unlawful, which I've tried to explain and illustrate below.

Assassination :-

Nearly every definition I've found for this says the same thing. Assassination is the murder of a public figure by surprise attack.

The etymology of the word assassin is rather interesting. Word IQ states it very well, so I've just copied the following from their website.

The term originally referred to a heretical Islamic order known as the Hashshashin, an offshoot of Ismailism, and originated in a castle called Alamut in the mountains of Northern Iran in the 11th century. This sect was said to carry out assassinations of the enemies of the order, or Muslim rulers they believed to be impious. The earliest known record of the word in English (dating from the early 17th century) refers to this sect rather than its more general modern sense. Similar words had earlier appeared in French and Italian.

Marco Polo provided the first western account of the sect, although his account is probably fictionalized in part. He said that recruits were promised Paradise in return for dying in action. They were drugged, often with materials such as hashish (although some suggest opium and wine instead, all being, nonetheless, condemned by Islam) then spirited away to a garden stocked with attractive and compliant women and fountains of wine. At this time, they were awakened and it was explained to them that such was their reward for the deed, convincing them that their leader, Hassan-i-Sabah, could open the gates to Paradise. The name assassin is derived from either hasishin for the supposed influence of their attacks and disregard for their own lives in the process, or hassansin for their leader.

Decimation :-

One evening in 1998 I was watching a television documentary about Spartacus. I'd always thought that he was some figure made up by Hollywood, but he really existed. In 73BC he led a slave uprising. Many thought that the uprising would soon be bought under control by the Army but the slaves proved them wrong. Marcus Licinius Crassus wanted support in Rome and it appeared the best way to buy this was to raise an army and defeat Spartacus and his followers. There followed a long and bloody chase down through Italy. Spartacus wasn't the clean-cut hero that the film made him out to be, several times he had captured Roman soldiers crucified in front of their own front lines. No doubt the Romans were just as violent towards prisoners that they took. Spartacus died in a battle at Apulia in 71BC and his followers were crucified along the Via Apia. During the documentary, it said that at one battle part of the Roman army collapsed which resulted in a rout. As punishment for this, 1 in 10 men of the Roman army in Italy at the time was executed, whether they'd been at the battle or not. This was by no means an uncommon punishment in the Roman Army and it is the root of our word decimate.

To read more on DECIMATE please go to Common Errors in English

Very little of the Spartacus Revolt is on the net, one good site is The Fall of Rome's Republic another is Spartacus: Historical Background.

Execution :-

Amongst the many definitions of execution (See Google) execution is defined as the premeditated killing of a person, it does not necessarily mean it is lawful. The lawful execution of a person usually occurs when that person has been given the death penalty. Capital punishment is also the lawful execution of a person. Word IQ has an interesting article on capital punishment. One part of the artical gives the etymology of capital which is that it comes from the Indo-European "kaput", meaning "head", through the Latin "capitalis" Thus, capital punishment is the penalty for a crime so severe that it deserves decapitation (losing one's head). Another part of the article describes the various forms of capital punishment. Those in London interested in this sort of thing may like to visit the London Dungeon in Tooley Street, where some of these methods are graphically reconstructed.

Homicide :-

Homicide is simply the killing of one person by another. It applies to all forms of death, murder, execution, accidental, justifiable, negligent and so on. Hence "homicide detective", these investigate all suspicious deaths, but it up to other branches of the judiciary to determine whether it was lawful or unlawful and to what degree.

Manslaughter :-

Manslaughter is the unlawful, but unintended killing of a person. It can be voluntary, like when someone is killed unlawfully under circumstances that don't include a premeditated intent to kill. An example of this would be someone losing their life during a fight. In fact voluntary manslaughter is where a person is killed by someone else in rage, terror or desperation. Involuntary manslaughter, is when someone is killed unintentionally as a result of someone else performing another unlawful act or negligently performing a lawful act. An example of this would be someone killed during a robbery or the result of someone speeding in a car. See Google Definitions.

Following several fatal accidents in the UK during the 1980's and 90's there is a call for charges of corporate manslaughter against the directors and owners of companies involved in the death of people due to that company's negligence. This is still making its (very slow) way through the British law system. On 19th September 1997, seven people died and more than 150 were injured when an express train collided with an empty freight train which was crossing the main line at Southall, west London. The Great Western Train Company was prosecuted for manslaughter through gross negligence by the Health and Safety Executive in 1998. See UK Rail firm charged over train crash. Other major accidents add weight to the call for the new British statute. This includes the Piper Alpha fire on 6th July 1988 when 167 men died and the 5th October 1999 train crash at Ladbroke Grove, around two miles from Paddington, London, when 31 people died and 400 were injured.

Massacre :-

Massacre is defined as the indiscriminate savage and excessive killing of many people. It has exactly the same meaning as one of the definitions as slaughter. This is the same meaning as mass murder but not of serial murder.

Mass Murder :-

This is the excessive killing of many people. This is not the same as serial murder because mass murder usually take place within a short time frame. Hence Timothy McVeigh who killed 168 people when he blew up the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City on 19th April, 1995 was a mass murderer but John Wayne Gacy who killed 33 people between 1972 and 1977 was a serial murderer. Mayhem details the crimes of many mass and serial murderers.

Serial Murder :-

This again, is the excessive killing of many people. It is not the same as a massacre or slaughter as serial killers usually murder one or two victims at a time.

Slaughter :-

Apart from the killing of animals, usually for food, slaughter is defined as the indiscriminate savage and excessive killing of many people. In this sense, slaughter has the same definition as massacre.

One interesting site I found was Homicide trends in the U.S. by the U.S. Department of Justice.

Miscellany | 6 Degrees | Afghanistan | Biological Warfare | DW Canoe Race | The Donner Party | The Eastland | The Edmund Fitzgerald | K Class Submarines (Page 1), (Page 2) | McClellan | Murder | Plagiarism | Product Placement | Racial Insults | Ten Plagues of Egypt | UK & US Flags

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This page created 15th October 2004, last modified 27th April 2005

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