Hans Hansen and Thomas St. Clair

On January 13, 1893, Hans Hansen, Thomas St. Clair, and Herman Sparf, while serving aboard the American vessel, Hesper, killed Maurice Fitzgerald and threw him overboard.

Alerted to the events on deck and the absence of Fitzgerald, Captain Franz Sodergren was immediately suspicious of what had happened and placed Hansen, St. Clair, and Sparf in custody. When blood, flesh, and a hatchet were found on the deck the next morning, the events of the previous night became clearer.

The Hesper was sailing from Australia to Hawaii with a crew of fourteen. The three men remained in custody until reaching port in Tahiti.

It subsequently emerged that the killers had planned to kill the captain and take control of the vessel.

Transported to San Francisco to stand trial in the Circuit Court of the United States for the Northern District of California, Thomas St. Clair was tried first. He was convicted on June 20, 1893, and sentenced to death on July 5. Hansen and Sparf were tried together in August, convicted on August 25, and sentenced to death on September 18.

In a long series of appeals and controversial opinions reaching all the way to the United States Supreme Court, the convictions and death sentences of Hansen and St. Clair were upheld and Sparf’s conviction was reversed.

Hans Hansen and Thomas St. Clair were hanged at San Quentin on October 18, 1895.

Hans Hansen and Thomas St. Clair

Author: Bill Lofquist

I am a sociologist and death penalty scholar at the State University of New York at Geneseo. I am also a Pittsburgh native. My present research focuses on the history of the death penalty in Allegheny County (Pittsburgh), Pa. This website is dedicated to collecting, analyzing, and sharing information about all Allegheny County cases in which a death sentence was imposed. Please share any questions or comments, errors or omissions, or other matters of interest related to these cases or to the broader history of the death penalty in Allegheny County.

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