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Friday, 22 May 2015


Between 1196 and 1783 at Tyburn tree near London’s present-day Marble Arch, 40,000 - 60,000 people were hanged, often in batches. Stands were built for the crowds who came to watch. John Austin, a highwayman, was the last person to be publicly hanged at Tyburn gallows on November 3, 1783.

"The Manner of Execution at Tyburn", 17th century

In 1724 Margaret Dickson was hanged for murdering her illegitimate baby shortly after birth. She was later found still alive and was allowed to go free because under Scots Law her punishment had been carried out. Only later were the words "until dead" added to the sentence of hanging.

Laurence Shirley, 4th Earl Ferrers, was the last peer to be hanged on May 5, 1760, after being convicted of murdering his steward, John Johnson. He killed his servant after being given bad oysters.

Ferrers was the first felon to be killed by the ‘hangman’s drop’ technique of execution — where the condemned dies instantly from a broken neck rather than being slowly throttled.

One of the earliest excursions organised on Britain's railway system was to see a public hanging at Bodmin jail.

The Last Public Hanging in the U.S.took place on August 14, 1936 in Owensboro, Kentucky when Rainey Bethea was executed. Bethea was convicted of robbing, raping and strangling to death a wealthy white woman, 70-year-old Elza Edwards. Approximately 20,000 people gathered around the gallows to witness the execution.  Mistakes in performing the hanging and the surrounding media circus contributed to the end of public executions in the United States.

Wilhelm Keitel was a German field marshal who served as chief of the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (Supreme Command of the Armed Forces, the OKW) for most of World War II. The Americans botched the hanging of Keital on October 16, 1946. The trapdoor was too small and he smashed his head going down, and the force didn't break his neck so it took a full 24 minutes for him to suffocate.

Wilhelm Keitel's detention report from June 1945

Hangings took place in public in Britain until 1868 and thereafter within prison walls, until the abolition of capital punishment in 1965.

Albert Pierrepoint  (March 30, 1905 –  July 10, 1992) was the most prolific UK hangman of the 20th century (435 executions) and became a celebrity. Yet he concluded in his memoirs that hanging was "not a deterrent."

Albert Pierrepoint Wikipedia Commons

Names that Pierrepoint executed included  William Joyce ("Lord Haw-Haw") and more than 200 Nazi war criminals. Only on one occasion did he actually know the condemned — murderer James Corbitt, who he hanged on November 28, 1950; Corbitt was a regular in his pub, Help The Poor Struggler, and had sung "Danny Boy" as a duet with Pierrepoint on the night he murdered his girlfriend in a fit of jealousy because she would not give up a second boyfriend.

A gallows for hangings was kept in working order at London's Wandsworth Prison after 1965 until the death penalty was totally abolished in 1998.

Grover Cleveland was the only American president in history to hold the job of a hangman. He was once the sheriff of Erie County, New York, and twice had to spring the trap at a hanging.

Australian Ronald Ryan was found guilty of shooting and killing prison officer George Hodson during an escape from Pentridge Prison, Victoria. He was executed by hanging in Melbourne on February 3, 1967.

Ryan's hanging was met with some of the largest public protests in Australian and led to the end of capital punishment. No-one was executed in Australia after Ryan.

The phrase 'Pulling My Leg' refers to anyone speeding up the demise of the condemned at the gallows by doing just that.

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