The bizarre execution of the Marrakesh Murderer

The execution of the Marrakesh Murderer (also known as the Marrakesh Arch-Killer) on Wednesday, 13 June 1906 was as strange as any of the 36 murders that he committed.

Hadj Mohammed Mesfewi was shoemaker by trade, as well as a “public letter writer” – a job that was a relic of colonialism, and involved acting as an intermediary that conveys legal matters to colonial authorities. He was active in the early 20th century, when the country was still known as the French Protectorate of Morocco. Born sometime between the 1850s and the 1870s, Mesfewi had an unlikely accomplice to his bloody crimes: a 70-year-old woman that was named either Rahali or Annah, depending on the source.

Flag of the French Protectorate of Morocco

With her help, Mesfewi offered drugged wine to the women who visited his shop to use his services as a public letter writer, after which they were mutilated by a dagger and finally killed as they lay unconscious. Some of them were also beheaded. Of his victims, the bodies of 26 were found buried under his shop while the remaining 10 were buried in his garden.

Looking for more than just the thrill of the kill, Mesfewi also robbed his victims, with the disappearance of the women gaining increasing attention from authorities in April 1906, although few details about his victims exist thanks to the age of the crime and the generally poor record keeping at the time in Morocco.

It was his geriatric accomplice that would ultimately be his undoing, after the parents of one of the girls traced her last whereabouts to his store, leading police to Rahali/Annah, who quickly confessed under police torture, which was commonplace at the time, ultimately dying during her forceful interrogation.  

The Marrakesh Murderer was sentenced to death and was to be executed on May 2, 1906 but the initial method of crucifixion was deemed too brutal by visiting French diplomats (although they had no qualms about brutalizing the entire country for decades). Somewhat bizarrely thinking this was a more humane method of execution, Mesfewi was instead “walled” to death, also known as immurement.

News headline in 1907

Before his uncommon execution, he was taken daily to the public market, stripped to the waist, his arms held apart by two men, and he was whipped with thorny acacia (a type of shrub native to the region). He withstood ten lashes every day, which was a carefully considered number as authorities did not want him to die of his injuries before his execution (going so far as to provide him healing ointment after each flogging).

This daily torture continued unabated until his execution on Monday 11 June, when he was entombed alive. News of his execution had made its way across Morocco and thousands stood under the relentless sun in the city’s square to witness his departure from the world.

Unaware of his fate, Mesfewi left the jail like he did every day, thinking he was going to his daily whipping. It was only when he saw the massive crowd, and the hole dug into one of the walls of the marketplace, did he understand what he was walking into. He screamed and fought and begged for mercy with the guards that shoved him onward.

Mesfewi was thrust into the hole as the crowd jeered, spat and threw the filth of the marketplace at him, as his cries for mercy were drowned out by the yells and roar of the angry mob. Held upright in the hole thanks to metal chains that hung to either side, Mesfewi stood there weeping as a mason placed stone after stone, with the executioner providing him with water and bread in between (the ultimate aim was for the criminal to die in a long, painful and agonizing fashion so he was provided these provisions so that he could live long enough to suffer more). Finally, the last stone covered Mesfewi’s face and only his muffled cries could be heard.

He died two days later, his cries for help and clemency growing weaker by the hour until his demise. The crowds dissipating, disappointed that he succumbed so quickly.

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