Sunday, June 12, 2011

⅏Did You Know: Sandra Smith - The Last Woman to be Hanged in South Africa (along with boyfriend Yassiem Harris)

Did You Know...

On June 2nd, 1989,
Sandra Smith was the last woman to be hanged in South Africa (along with her boyfriend Yassiem Harris). 
Sandra Smith was a 22 year old coloured woman (official South African designation during the apartheid era) who was married to a trawler man called Philip and had two small children. Philip spent long periods at sea and sent money back for Sandra and the children. She began having an affair with Yassiem Harris, who was three years her junior:

One day in September or October 1983, Harris received a note and some money from Smith. The note said that she wanted to meet him in a park. At the subsequent meeting she told him how much she 'admired' him. “She also asked if I wanted to sleep over because her husband had left with the ship,” Harris said. “The first night I got into bed with her and that's how the relationship started.” Yassiem Harris was almost 17-years-old when he met Sandra Smith. He smoked dagga (a type of cannabis, relatively nontoxic South African herb smoked like tobacco), took mandrax (a sedative-hypnotic drug that is similar in effect to barbiturates), and had been a juvenile delinquent since the age of 13. He had left school at fifteen while in Standard 6 (Grade 8), in order to get a job to supplement the family income. His first job was working alongside his father at a car-sound specialist in Claremont, Cape Town, but he was dismissed after six months when it was discovered that he had stolen R 10 000 (almost US$1,500) in cash, and cheques totalling R26,000 (almost US$4,000). He was convicted and received six cuts with the cane. The hiding, his father claimed, 'made no impression on him'.
After they had been seeing each other for about six months, their relationship faced its first crisis when Phillip Smith, Sandra's husband, returned from sea and learnt of his wife's affair from some neighbours. He responded by getting help from three of his friends to beat Harris up, but no sooner had he gone back to sea than Harris and his wife were together again. Even though the two of them were virtually living as man and wife, this did not prevent Harris from pursuing other women. Some mornings he used to loiter outside local high schools before school started, chatting to the school girls and making dates for the afternoon. This was how he got to know Jermaine Abrahams and learnt where she lived.

The affair between Harris and Smith continued for over two-and-a-half years. When Sandra's husband was ashore, they would stop seeing each other and then resume the relationship when he left for sea again. In 1985, Smith became pregnant for a third time and was uncertain whether the father was her husband's or Harris's.

In March 1986 when Phillip Smith returned home to find his wife and Harris together again. Harris fled to avoid being beaten and Sandra followed him - abandoning her children in the process. As far as Phillip Smith was concerned, the marriage was over and so was the free supply of money he had been providing.
For a time after the break-up of her marriage, Sandra stayed with friends in Grassy Park then, with Harris' help, she found lodgings in Mitchell's Plain. But within a few months all her money had gone and things were becoming desperate.
To make ends meet, they tried renting video recorders from shops and then selling them but this didn't net them any real money. Harris, who was unemployed, also spent time hanging about outside a girl's school and got to know some of the girls, including Jermaine Abrahams as previously mentioned. He soon found out where she lived and from his conversations with Jermaine, he concluded that her family were quite wealthy.

They hatched a plan to break into the Abrahams’ family home and steal her mother's jewellery and anything else of value. Harris had also found out that her parents left for work at 7.00 a.m. in the morning and she left for school about 7.40 a.m.

The Crime

Smith and Harris arrived at the house about 7.30 a.m. on September the 1st, 1986, and Harris was let in by Jermaine on the pretext of him wanting to use the telephone. They tied Jermaine up but were disturbed by someone knocking at the door. She started to shout for help and struggle so they then tried to strangle her with a dish cloth. Harris now fetched a knife from the kitchen and repeatedly stabbed Jermaine in the neck. Amazingly, she didn't die from her injuries and managed to get to her feet and stagger a few paces before collapsing. Harris carried Jermaine to her parents bedroom and made her show him where the jewellery and valuables were kept. He wrapped the poor girl in a duvet and then cut her throat, leaving her to bleed to death. He and Smith collected up what they wanted and then left the house.

Two weeks later, while Smith was being questioned by the police regarding the video scam, she surprised the interviewing officer by confessing to the killing of Jermaine. "I wouldn’t have been able to live with it," she said. In her statement she told the police, "He pulled the scarf tight across her mouth and then cut her throat."


The Trial

The trial of Sandra Smith and Yassiem Harris began at the Cape Town Supreme Court on 1 December 1986. Both were accused of murdering and robbing Jermaine Abrahams. During the trial, both Smith and Harris attempted to shift the onus of blame on to the other. Smith maintained that Harris had done the actual killing and Harris claimed to have been dominated by Smith. Neither denied being party to the murder. However, when the exact nature of their relationship was examined, it was found that neither Harris nor Smith dominated the other. In other words, they were both equally responsible for their actions. During the trial, some love letters, which the accused had written to each other were read out in court - a fact which seemed to embarrass Mrs Smith more than the accusation of murder laid against her. In one letter in particular, she had referred to their sexually-satisfying relationship and said: 'I will never sleep with another man, not even with my own husband because during five years he could not please me. That is why I felt so sad this morning when you said you were pleased no one was waiting for you. What about me? Where do I really stand with you? I love you and I don't want to lose you. Yassiem, please tell me I must wait for you. I want you to believe that we will be together because I do. The way our sex has been, I don't believe I will ever again get a man who can please me so. That is why I am going to wait till you come out.'

Harris said in a letter: 'I want to tell you to forget me because I don't no [sic] if it will be the same when I come out one day. I love you very much Sandra you no it, but I don't no what's qoinq to happen in such a long time.'

On 11 December 1986, both Smith and Harris were convicted of murder and robbery with aggravating circumstances. During his two-hour summing-up the Judge-President, Mr Justice Munnik, described Harris, who had tried to put the blame on Smith by saying he had acted on her instructions, as 'an appalling witness'. It was clear, the Judge maintained, that Harris had wielded the knife throughout and his parrot like repetition of 'I don't know' when repeatedly asked why he killed the girl was merely a ploy. It was equally obvious that Harris had killed the girl to prevent her identifying them. Furthermore, his claim to have been dominated by Smith was refuted by the psychiatrist. Smith was demanding but not dominant, and there was no evidence to indicate that she pressurized Harris into committing any crimes that he would not normally commit. Indeed, the judge concluded, both Smith and Harris helped each other throughout and were equally responsible for what followed.

The Execution

On 22 December, Smith and Harris were sentenced to hang because they had jointly planned and ruthlessly executed the murder of Jermaine Abrahams. (Harris was also sentenced to 10 years in prison for robbery with aggravating circumstances. Smith was sentenced to 7 years.) When the death sentence was handed down, Smith became hysterical and had to be taken struggling and wailing to the cells.
At 6.50 a.m. on that morning, Smith was taken to meet Harris for the first time in over two and a half years. Together with two other men who had been convicted of murder, they were led the 52 steps to the pre-execution room next to the gallows. The death warrants were read to them and they were given the opportunity to say their last words. Their hands were handcuffed behind them and white hoods placed over their heads, these having a flap at the front which was left up until the last moment.
A look from below the trap 
doors. The chain hoist is used
 for raising and closing
the trap doors.
They were now led forward by warders into the large and brightly lit execution room. It was some 40 feet long with white painted walls. They would have seen the gallows beam running the length of the room and the seven large metal eyes from which the four nooses dangled. (Seven prisoners could and often were hanged at once on this gallows.) The picture shows very much what Smith and Harris would have seen as they were led to the gallows. The chain hoist on the middle metal eye is used for raising the trapdoors after an execution.
They were positioned side by side, on painted footprints over the divide of the trap and held by warders while the hangman placed the nooses around their necks. He then turned down the hood flaps and when all was ready, pulled the lever plummeting them through the huge trapdoors.

They were left to hang for 15 minutes before being stripped and examined by a doctor in the room below. Once death had been certified, the bodies were washed off with a hose and the water allowed to drain into a large gully in the floor. A warder put a rope around each of their bodies and with a pulley lifted them to allow the rope to be taken off. They were then lowered onto a stretcher and placed directly into their coffins before taken to a public cemetery for burial.

Although executions in South Africa were held in private, the procedure was described in detail by the then hangman, Chris Barnard, in an interview before he died. He officiated at over 1,500 hangings there.
Sandra Smith and Yassiem Harris were executed on June 2nd, 1989, at the Pretoria Central Prison.

Did You Know?..

South Africa hanged 1,123 people at Pretoria Central prison between 1980 and 1989, Solomon Ngobeni being the last on November 14th, 1989. Surprisingly perhaps, almost all of these were for "ordinary" murders rather than politically motivated crimes and most attracted very little publicity.
According to the South African Department of Correctional Services, two other coloured women were hanged for murder in the years 1969 to 1989, Gertie Fourie, on
the 20th of May 1969 and Roos de Vos, on the 12th of December 1986. A total of 14 women were executed between 1959 & 1989, out of a total of 2,949 hangings.
President De Klerk ordered a moratorium on executions in 1990 and capital punishment was abolished altogether by the incoming black government of Nelson Mandela on
the 7th of June 1995  which was greeted with cheering in Pretoria Central Prison. Some 453 people were still on Death Row. Their sentences were commuted to life.


Did You Know?  For the month of

back in.....

  • 0632, June 08, Founder of Islam Died.  In Medina, located in present-day Saudi Arabia, Muhammad, one of the most influential religious and political leaders in history, dies in the arms of Aishah, his third and favorite wife.  Born in Mecca of humble origins, Muhammad married a wealthy widow at 25 years old and lived the next 15 years as an unremarkable merchant. In 610, in a cave in Mount Hira north of Mecca, he had a vision in which he heard God, speaking through the angel Gabriel, command him to become the Arab prophet of the "true religion." Thus began a lifetime of religious revelations, which he and others collected as the Qur'an.
  • 1692, Jun 07, Earthquake Destroyed Jamaican Pirate HavenOn this day in 1692, a massive earthquake devastates the infamous town of Port Royal in Jamaica, killing thousands. The strong tremors, soil liquefaction and a tsunami brought on by the earthquake combined to destroy the entire town. In the 17th century, Port Royal was known throughout the New World as a headquarters for piracy, smuggling and debauchery. It was described as "most wicked and sinful city in the world" and "one of the lewdest in the Christian world." 

In the morning on June 7, three powerful quakes struck Jamaica. A large tsunami hit soon after, putting half of Port Royal under 40 feet of water. The HMS Swan was carried from the harbor and deposited on top of a building on the island. It turned out to be a refuge for survivors.

Residents also soon discovered that the island of Port Royal was not made of bedrock. The relatively loosely packed soil turned almost to liquid during the quake. Many buildings literally sank into the ground.  Corpses from the cemetery floated in the harbor alongside recent victims of the disaster.

On the main island, Spanish Town was also demolished. Even the north side of the island experienced great tragedy. Fifty people were killed in a landslide. In all, about 3,000 people lost their lives on June 7. There was little respite in the aftermath--widespread looting began that evening and thousands more died in the following weeks due to sickness and injury. Aftershocks discouraged the survivors from rebuilding Port Royal. Instead, the city of Kingston was built and remains to this day the largest city in Jamaica.
  • 1692, June 10, First Salem Witch Hanging.  In Salem Village in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, Bridget Bishop, the first colonist to be tried in the Salem witch trials, is hanged after being found guilty of the practice of witchcraft.  Thirteen more women and five men from all stations of life followed her to the gallows, and one man, Giles Corey, was executed by crushing.
  • 1870, Jun 05, Constantinople Burned.  A huge section of the city of Constantinople, Turkey, is set ablaze on this day in 1870. When the smoke finally cleared, 3,000 homes were destroyed and 900 people were dead. 
  • 1913, Jun 08, Forensic Evidence Captured a Murderous Father.  Two farmers walking near a quarry outside of Edinburgh, Scotland, find two small, dead bodies floating in the water, tied together. Although the bodies were so waterlogged that authorities could barely confirm that they were human, Sydney Smith, the century's first "Quincy," was able to use forensics to help solve the crime.  The first thing he noticed about the body was the presence of adipocere, a white and hard type of fat. The level of adipocere in the bodies, which takes months to form inside the human body when exposed to water, led Smith to believe that they had been in the quarry somewhere between 18 to 24 months.The adipocere had preserved the stomachs of the bodies and Smith saw that the children had eaten peas, barley, potatoes, and leeks approximately an hour before they died.  Given the seasonal nature of the vegetables, Smith figured that the kids had died at the end of 1911. Most importantly, Smith found an indication that one of the children's shirts had come from the Dysart poorhouse.
    With this information, law enforcement officials quickly found the killer. Patrick Higgins, a widower and drunk who was arrested and eventually hanged on October 2, 1913. 
  • 1933, Jun 06, First Drive-in Movie Theater Opened.  On this day in 1933, eager motorists park their automobiles on the grounds of Park-In Theaters, the first-ever drive-in movie theater, located on Crescent Boulevard in Camden, New Jersey
Did You Know?  Richard Milton Hollingshead, Jr. (February 25, 1900 - May 13, 1975) was the inventor of the drive-in theater.

Pic by Mary Bellis
In the early 1930s, he was working as a sales manager in his father's auto parts company, Whiz Auto Products. According to one story, his mother was a large woman who was uncomfortable sitting in a regular movie theater. So he began experimenting at his home in Camden, New Jersey, using his car, a 1928 Kodak movie projector, and two sheets nailed between two trees for a screen. Eventually, he came up with a ramp in each parking space, so that patrons could elevate the front of their cars to see the screen without being blocked by other vehicles. He applied for a patent on August 6, 1932 and was granted number 1,909,537 on May 16, 1933.
The first movie shown was Wives Beware, starring Adolphe Menjou. The charge was $0.25 per person and $0.25 per automobile, with a maximum cost of $1. Hollingshead sold the theatre in 1935 and opened another one.
  • 1948, Jun 8, First Porsche Completed.   On this day in 1948, a hand-built aluminum prototype labeled "No. 1" becomes the first vehicle to bear the name of one of the world's leading luxury car manufacturers:  Porsche.  The Austrian automotive engineer Ferdinand Porsche debuted his first design at the World's Fair in Paris in 1900. The electric vehicle set several Austrian land-speed records, reaching more than 35 mph and earning international acclaim for the young engineer. 
  • 1962, Jun 11, Alcatraz Proved Escapable for Three Men.  John and Clarence Anglin and Frank Lee Morris attempt to escape from Alcatraz federal prison. The three men were never seen again, and although some believe that theirs was the only successful getaway from what was known as "The Rock," it is far more likely that they drowned in the chilly water. Four days after their escape, a bag containing photos, which belonged to Clarence Anglin, was found in San Francisco Bay. Escape From Alcatraz, both a J. Campbell Bruce book and a Clint Eastwood movie, later dramatized the incident.
  • 1968, Jun 05, Bobby Kennedy was Assassinated.  At 12:50 a.m. PDT, Senator Robert F. Kennedy, a presidential candidate, is shot three times in a hail of gunfire in the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. Five others were wounded. The senator had just completed a speech celebrating his victory in the California presidential primary. The shooter, Palestinian Sirhan Sirhan, had a smoking .22 revolver wrestled from his grip and was promptly arrested. Kennedy, critically wounded, was rushed to the hospital, where he fought for his life for the next 24 hours. On the morning of June 6, he died. He was 42 years old. On June 8, Kennedy was buried at Arlington National Cemetery, also the final resting place of his assassinated older brother, President John F. Kennedy.
  • 1991, Jun 10, Evacuations Saved Lives in the Philippines.  On this day in 1991 at Clark Air Base in the Philippines, 14,500 personnel are evacuated in anticipation of the eruption of Mount Pinatubo. Over the next several days, the eruptions killed hundreds of people and sent tons of ash and sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere. 
    The eruption column of
    Mount Pinatubo
     on June 12, 1991, three days
     before the climactic eruption.
    Pic by wiki user Hike 395
    Evacuation of the surrounding area began on June 7. On the morning of June 12, the first major explosion occurred, blasting ash 62,000 feet in the air and destroying part of the mountain's dome. The eruption continued on and off for the next day and then, on the afternoon of June 14, another big blast spread gas and ash miles away. The final eruption took place the following morning, spewing 20 million tons of sulfur dioxide into the air. Approximately 350 people were killed by the toxic emissions. The early warning and preparations saved thousands of lives.
    The mountain lost nearly 1,000 feet in the eruptions—it now stands at just 4,800 feet high.
  • 2002, Jun 10, Doughnut Truck Thief Arrested.  On this day in 2002, Clint Messina, 21, of Lacombe, Louisiana, is arrested and charged in the attempted murder of a police officer after driving into a patrol car while attempting to flee from sheriff’s deputies. Soon after, police discovered that he was already a wanted man.  On March 27, Messina and an associate, Rose Houk, 31, stole a Krispy Kreme doughnuts delivery truck in Slidell, Louisiana. The Krispy Kreme deliveryman had left the engine of the truck running and its rear doors open while he went into a convenience store to make a delivery. Upon returning to find the truck and the hundreds of doughnuts inside missing, the deliveryman called police, who pursued and caught up to the vehicle.  Messina and Houk then led police on a 15-mile chase, leaving a trail of doughnuts behind them as they fled. The incident was the subject of nationwide media attention and, as it involved cops and doughnuts, kept late-night comedians busy for several days.
    Eventually, Messina and Houk abandoned the vehicle and attempted to get away on foot. Houk didn’t make it and was arrested, but Messina, who was driving, managed to escape.
  • 2004, Jun 05, Ronald Reagan Died. On this day in 2004, Ronald Wilson Reagan, the 40th president of the United States, dies, after a long struggle with Alzheimer's disease. Reagan, who was also a well-known actor and served as governor of California, was a popular president known for restoring American confidence after the problems of the 1970s and helping to defeat communism.

    wikipedia,,,,,, various magazines,

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