Hanging is the suspension of a person by a noose or ligature around the neck. The Oxford English Dictionary states that hanging in this sense is "specifically to put to death by suspension by the neck", though it formerly also referred to crucifixion and death by impalement in which the body would remain "hanging". Hanging has been a common method of capital punishment since medieval times, and is the official execution method in numerous countries and regions. The first account of execution by hanging was in Homer's Odyssey. In this specialised meaning of the common word hang, the past and past participle is hanged instead of hung.
Hanging is also a common method of suicide in which a person applies a ligature to the neck and brings about unconsciousness and then death by suspension. Partial suspension or partial weight-bearing on the ligature is sometimes used, particularly in prisons, mental hospitals or other institutions, where full suspension support is difficult to devise, because high ligature points (e.g., hooks or pipes) have been removed.
Methods of judicial hanging
There are four ways of performing a judicial hanging: suspension hanging, the short drop, the standard drop, and the long drop. A mechanised form of hanging, the upright jerker, was also experimented with in the 18th century, with a variant of it used today in Iran.
Suspension, like the short drop, causes death by using the weight of the body to tighten around the trachea and neck structure with the noose. Prisoners are reported to have little or no struggle before they go limp because their jugular vein and carotid arteries are blocked and blood flow to the brain is reduced. The person slowly dies of strangulation, which typically takes between ten and twenty minutes, resulting in a considerably more elongated and painful death as compared to the standard or long drop hanging. "If the airway is constricted, and full suspension achieved (feet fully off the floor), this method, at least initially, is likely to be very painful, as the person struggles for air against the compression of the noose and against the weight of their own body, being supported entirely by the neck and jaw."
The short drop is performed by placing the condemned prisoner on the back of a cart, horse, or other vehicle, with the noose around the neck. The object is then moved away, leaving the person dangling from the rope. A ladder was also commonly used with the condemned being forced to ascend, after which the noose was tied and the ladder pulled away or turned, leaving the condemned hanging. Another method involves using a stool, which the condemned is required to stand on, being kicked away. The guards at the Stutthof concentration camp who were sentenced to death were executed by short-drop hanging—they were placed in the noose while standing or sitting on a flat-bottomed truck, and they were pushed off and the trucks driven away.
As with suspension hanging, the condemned prisoner slowly dies of strangulation, which typically takes between ten and twenty minutes, resulting in a considerably more prolonged and painful death as compared to the standard or long drop hanging, which is intended to kill by using the shock of the drop to fracture the spinal column at the neck. Before 1850, the short drop was the standard method for hanging, and is still common in suicides and extrajudicial hangings (such as lynchings and summary executions) which do not benefit from the specialised equipment and drop-length calculation tables used by the newer methods.
A short drop variant is the Austro-Hungarian "pole" method, in which the following steps take place:
- The condemned is made to stand before a specialized vertical pole or pillar, approximately 10 feet (3.0 m) in height
- A rope is attached around the condemned's feet and routed through a pulley at the base of the pole
- The condemned is hoisted to the top of pole by means of a sling running across the chest and under the armpits
- A narrow diameter noose is looped around the prisoner's neck, then secured to a hook mounted at the top of the pole
- The chest sling is released, and the prisoner is rapidly jerked downward by the assistant executioners via the foot rope.
- The executioner stands on a stepped platform approximately 4 feet (1.2 m) high beside the condemned, and guides the head downward with his hand simultaneous to the efforts of his assistants.
The standard drop, which arrived as calculated in English units, involves a drop of between 4 and 6 feet (1.2 and 1.8 m) and came into use from 1866, when the scientific details were published by an Irish doctor, Samuel Haughton. Immediately, its use spread to English-speaking countries and those where judicial systems had an English origin. It was considered a humane improvement on the short drop because it was intended to be enough to break the person's neck, causing immediate paralysis and immobilisation (and probable immediate unconsciousness). This method was used to execute condemned Nazis under United States jurisdiction after the Nuremberg Trials including Joachim von Ribbentrop and Ernst Kaltenbrunner. In the execution of Ribbentrop, historian Giles MacDonogh records that: "The hangman botched the execution and the rope throttled the former foreign minister for twenty minutes before he expired." An article in Life magazine dated 28 October 1946, merely says of Ribbentrop's execution: "The trap fell open and with a sound midway between a rumble and a crash, Ribbentrop disappeared. The rope quivered for a time, then stood tautly straight."
This process, also known as the measured drop, was introduced to Britain in 1872 by William Marwood as a scientific advance on the standard drop. Instead of everyone falling the same standard distance, the person's height and weight were used to determine how much slack would be provided in the rope so that the distance dropped would be enough to ensure that the neck was broken, but not so much that the person was decapitated. The careful placement of the eye or knot of the noose (so that the head was jerked back as the rope tightened) contributed to breaking the neck.
Prior to 1892, the drop was between four and ten feet (about one to three metres), depending on the weight of the body, and was calculated to deliver a force of 1,260 lbf (5,600 newtons or 572 kgf), which fractured the neck at either the 2nd and 3rd or 4th and 5th cervical vertebrae. This force resulted in some decapitations, such as the infamous case of Black Jack Ketchum in New Mexico Territory in 1901, owing to a significant weight gain while in custody not having been factored into the drop calculations. Between 1892 and 1913, the length of the drop was shortened to avoid decapitation. After 1913, other factors were also taken into account, and the force delivered was reduced to about 1,000 lbf (4,400 N or 450 kgf). The decapitation of Eva Dugan during a botched hanging in 1930 led the state of Arizona to switch to the gas chamber as its primary execution method, on the grounds that it was believed more humane. One of the more recent decapitations as a result of the long drop occurred when Barzan Ibrahim al-Tikriti was hanged in Iraq in 2007. Accidental decapitation also occurred during the 1962 hanging of Arthur Lucas, one of the last two people to be put to death in Canada.
Nazis executed under British jurisdiction, including Josef Kramer, Fritz Klein, Irma Grese and Elisabeth Volkenrath, were hanged by Albert Pierrepoint using the variable drop method devised by Marwood.
Hanging is a common method for suicide. The materials necessary for suicide by hanging are readily available to the average person, compared with firearms or poisons. Full suspension is not required, and for this reason, hanging is especially commonplace among suicidal prisoners (see suicide watch). A type of hanging comparable to full suspension hanging may be obtained by self-strangulation using a ligature around the neck and the partial weight of the body (partial suspension) to tighten the ligature. When a suicidal hanging involves partial suspension the deceased is found to have both feet touching the ground, e.g., they are kneeling, crouching or standing.
In Canada, hanging is the most common method of suicide, and in the U.S., hanging is the second most common method, after self-inflicted gunshot wounds. In the United Kingdom, where firearms are less easily available, in 2001 hanging was the most common method among men and the second most commonplace among women (after poisoning).
Those who survive a suicide-via-hanging attempt, whether due to breakage of the cord or ligature point, or being discovered and cut down, face a range of serious injuries, including cerebral anoxia—which can lead to permanent brain damage, laryngeal fracture, cervical spine fracture—which may cause paralysis, tracheal fracture, pharyngeal laceration, and carotid artery injury.
As human sacrifice
There are some suggestions that the Vikings practised hanging as human sacrifices to Odin, to honour Odin's own sacrifice of hanging himself from the Yggdrasil. In Northern Europe, it is widely speculated that the Iron Age bog bodies, many who show signs of having been hanged were examples of human sacrifice to the gods.
A hanging may induce one or more of the following medical conditions, some leading to death:
- Closure of carotid arteries causing cerebral hypoxia
- Closure of the jugular veins
- Induction of carotid sinus reflex death, which reduces heartbeat when the pressure in the carotid arteries is high, causing cardiac arrest
- Breaking of the neck (cervical fracture) causing traumatic spinal cord injury or even decapitation
- Closure of the airway
The cause of death in hanging depends on the conditions related to the event. When the body is released from a relatively high position, the major cause of death is severe trauma to the upper cervical spine. The injuries produced are highly variable. One study showed that only a small minority of a series of judicial hangings produced fractures to the cervical spine (6 out of 34 cases studied), with half of these fractures (3 out of 34) being the classic "hangman's fracture" (bilateral fractures of the pars interarticularis of the C2 vertebra). The location of the knot of the hanging rope is a major factor in determining the mechanics of cervical spine injury, with a submental knot (hangman's knot under the chin) being the only location capable of producing the sudden, straightforward hyperextension injury that causes the classic "hangman's fracture".
According to Historical and biomechanical aspects of hangman's fracture, the phrase in the usual execution order, "hung by the neck until dead," was necessary. By the late 19th century that methodical study enabled authorities to routinely employ hanging in ways that would predictably kill the victim quickly.
There is evidence suggesting that there might be superior alternatives if there were sufficient interest to support research into such matters. Consider in particular an event recounted in the biography of Albert Pierrepoint. Events followed a most unconventional sequence during the hanging of a particularly powerful and uncooperative German spy during World War II. Pierrepoint relates:
Just as I was crossing to the lever, he jumped with bound feet. The drop opened, and he plunged down, and I saw with horror that the noose was slipping. It would have come right over his head had it not caught roughly at a point halfway up the hood – it had in fact been stopped on his upper lip by the projection of his nose – and the body jerked down, then became absolutely still apart from the swinging of the rope. I went down into the pit with the prison medical officer. He examined the body and said to me: "A clean death. Instantaneous." He sounded surprised, and I did not blame him. I was surprised myself, and very relieved. On my next visit to Wandsworth the governor told me that the severance of the spinal cord had been perfect.
Not surprisingly in retrospect, it appears that such unconventional application of forces might be particularly efficient. There is at least some evidence that some of the countries with particularly active programmes of judicial execution may have given the question of the design of efficient and reliable nooses practical attention. For example, photographs of nooses in a South African execution chamber opened to the public after abolition of the death penalty showed double nooses. Presumably the upper noose held the lower one in place to ensure a perfect hangman's fracture.
The side, or subaural knot, has been shown to produce other, more complex injuries, with one thoroughly studied case producing only ligamentous injuries to the cervical spine and bilateral vertebral artery disruptions, but no major vertebral fractures or crush injuries to the spinal cord. Death from a "hangman's fracture" occurs mainly when the applied force is severe enough to also cause a severe subluxation of the C2 and C3 vertebra that crushes the spinal cord and/or disrupts the vertebral arteries. Hangman's fractures from other hyperextension injuries (the most common being unrestrained motor vehicle accidents and falls or diving injuries where the face or chin suddenly strike an immovable object) are frequently survivable if the applied force does not cause a severe subluxation of C2 on C3.
In the absence of fracture and dislocation, occlusion of blood vessels becomes the major cause of death, rather than asphyxiation. Obstruction of venous drainage of the brain via occlusion of the internal jugular veins leads to cerebral oedema and then cerebral ischemia. The face will typically become engorged and cyanotic (turned blue through lack of oxygen). There will be the classic sign of strangulation, petechiae, little blood marks on the face and in the eyes from burst blood capillaries. The tongue may protrude.
Compromise of the cerebral blood flow may occur by obstruction of the carotid arteries, even though their obstruction requires far more force than the obstruction of jugular veins, since they are seated deeper and they contain blood in much higher pressure compared to the jugular veins. Where death has occurred through carotid artery obstruction or cervical fracture, the face will typically be pale in colour and not show petechiae. Many reports and pictures exist of actual short-drop hangings that seem to show that the person died quickly, while others indicate a slow and agonising death by strangulation.
When cerebral circulation is severely compromised by any mechanism, arterial or venous, death occurs over four or more minutes from cerebral hypoxia, although the heart may continue to beat for some period after the brain can no longer be resuscitated. The time of death in such cases is a matter of convention. In judicial hangings, death is pronounced at cardiac arrest, which may occur at times from several minutes up to 15 minutes or longer after hanging. During suspension, once the prisoner has lapsed into unconsciousness, rippling movements of the body and limbs may occur for some time which are usually attributed to nervous and muscular reflexes. In Britain, it was normal to leave the body suspended for an hour to ensure death.
After death, the body typically shows marks of suspension: bruising and rope marks on the neck. Sphincters will relax spontaneously and urine and faeces will be evacuated. Forensic experts may often be able to tell if hanging is suicide or homicide, as each leaves a distinctive ligature mark. One of the hints they use is the hyoid bone. If broken, it often means the person has been murdered by manual choking.
Notable references by country (political)
Hanging has been a method of capital punishment in many countries.
Capital punishment was a part of the legal system of Australia from its early days as a penal colony for the British Empire, until 1985, when Australia abolished the death penalty in all states; in practice, the last man executed by hanging (or any other means) in Australia was Ronald Ryan on 3 February 1967, in Victoria.
During the 19th century, crimes that could carry a death sentence included burglary, sheep stealing, forgery, sexual assaults, murder and manslaughter. During the 19th century, there were about 80 people hanged each year throughout Australia for these crimes.
Death by hanging was the customary method of capital punishment in Brazil throughout its history. Some important national heroes like Tiradentes (1792) were killed by hanging. The last man executed in Brazil was the slave Francisco, in 1876. The death penalty was abolished for all crimes, except for those committed under extraordinary circumstances such as war or military law, in 1890.
Bulgaria's national hero, Vasil Levski, was executed by hanging by the Ottoman court in Sofia in 1873. Every year since Bulgaria's liberation, thousands come with flowers on the date of his death, 19 February, to his monument where the gallows stood. The last execution was in 1989, and the death penalty was abolished for all crimes in 1998.
Historically, hanging was the only method of execution used in Canada and was in use as possible punishment for all murders until 1961, when murders were reclassified into capital and non-capital offences. The death penalty was restricted to apply only for certain offences to the National Defence Act in 1976 and was completely abolished in 1998. The last hangings in Canada took place on 11 December 1962.
In the territories occupied by Nazi Germany from 1939 to 1945, strangulation hanging was a preferred means of public execution, although more criminal executions were performed by guillotine than hanging. The most commonly sentenced were partisans and black marketeers, whose bodies were usually left hanging for long periods. There are also numerous reports of concentration camp inmates being hanged. Hanging was continued in post-war Germany in the British and US Occupation Zones under their jurisdiction, and for Nazi war criminals, until well after (western) Germany itself had abolished the death penalty by the German constitution as adopted in 1949. West Berlin was not subject to the Grundgesetz (Basic Law) and abolished the death penalty in 1951. The German Democratic Republic did abolished the death penalty in 1987. The last execution ordered by a West German court was carried out by guillotine in Moabit prison in 1949. The last hanging in Germany was the one ordered of several war criminals in Landsberg am Lech on 7 June 1951. The last known execution in East Germany was in 1981 by a pistol shot to the neck.
The prime minister of Hungary, during the 1956 Revolution, Imre Nagy, was secretly tried, executed by hanging, and buried unceremoniously by the new Soviet-backed Hungarian government, in 1958. Nagy was later publicly exonerated by Hungary. Capital punishment was abolished for all crimes in 1990.
Since 2010, three people have been executed in India. Ajmal Kasab, the lone surviving terrorist of the 2008 Mumbai attacks was executed on 21 November 2012 in Yerwada Central Jail, Pune. The Supreme Court of India had previously rejected his mercy plea, which was then rejected by the President of India. He was hanged one week later. Afzal Guru, a terrorist found guilty of conspiracy in the December 2001 attack on the Indian Parliament, was executed by hanging in Tihar Jail, Delhi on 9 February 2013. Yakub Memon was convicted over his involvement in the 1993 Bombay bombings by Special Terrorist and Disruptive Activities court on 27 July 2007. His appeals and petitions for clemency were all rejected and he was finally executed by hanging on 30 July 2015 in Nagpur jail.
Death by hanging is the primary means of capital punishment in Iran. It is legal for murder, rape, and drug trafficking unless the criminal pays diyya to the victim's family, thus attaining their forgiveness (see Sharia law). If the presiding judge deems the case to be "causing public outrage", he can order the hanging to take place in public at the spot where the crime was committed, typically from a mobile telescoping crane which hoists the condemned high into the air. On 19 July 2005, two boys, Mahmoud Asgari and Ayaz Marhoni, aged 15 and 17 respectively, who had been convicted of the rape of a 13-year-old boy, were hanged at Edalat (Justice) Square in Mashhad, on charges of homosexuality and rape. On 15 August 2004, a 16-year-old girl, Atefeh Sahaaleh (also called Atefeh Rajabi), was executed for having committed "acts incompatible with chastity".
At dawn on 27 July 2008, the Iranian government executed 29 people at Evin Prison in Tehran. On 2 December 2008, an unnamed man was hanged for murder at Kazeroun Prison, just moments after he was pardoned by the murder victim's family. He was quickly cut down and rushed to a hospital, where he was successfully revived.
The conviction and hanging of Reyhaneh Jabbari caused international uproar as she was sentenced to death in 2009 and hanged on 25 October 2014 for murdering a former intelligence officer; according to Jabbari's testimony she stabbed him during an attempt at rape and then another person killed him.
Hanging was used under the regime of Saddam Hussein, but was suspended along with capital punishment on 10 June 2003, when a coalition led by the United States invaded and overthrew the previous regime. The death penalty was reinstated on 8 August 2004.
In September 2005, three murderers were the first people to be executed since the restoration. Then on 9 March 2006, an official of Iraq's Supreme Judicial Council confirmed that Iraqi authorities had executed the first insurgents by hanging.
Saddam Hussein was sentenced to death by hanging for crimes against humanity on 5 November 2006, and was executed on 30 December 2006 at approximately 6:00 a.m. local time. During the drop, there was an audible crack indicating that his neck was broken, a successful example of a long drop hanging. A week later, another video surfaced on the Internet, which showed Saddam's body with an open wound on the left lower jaw, caused by the impact of the knot.
Barzan Ibrahim, the head of the Mukhabarat, Saddam's security agency, and Awad Hamed al-Bandar, former chief judge, were executed on 15 January 2007, also by the long drop method, but Barzan was decapitated by the rope at the end of his fall.
Former vice-president Taha Yassin Ramadan had been sentenced to life in prison on 5 November 2006, but the sentence was changed to death by hanging on 12 February 2007. He was the fourth and final man to be executed for the 1982 crimes against humanity on 20 March 2007. The execution went smoothly.
At the Anfal genocide trial, Saddam's cousin Ali Hassan al-Majid (aka Chemical Ali), former defence minister Sultan Hashim Ahmed al-Tay, and former deputy Hussein Rashid Mohammed were sentenced to hang for their role in the Al-Anfal Campaign against the Kurds on 24 June 2007. Al-Majid was sentenced to death three more times: once for the 1991 suppression of a Shi'a uprising along with Abdul-Ghani Abdul Ghafur on 2 December 2008; once for the 1999 crackdown in the assassination of Grand Ayatollah Mohammad al-Sadr on 2 March 2009; and once on 17 January 2010 for the gassing of the Kurds in 1988; he was hanged on 25 January.
On 26 October 2010, Saddam's top minister Tariq Aziz was sentenced to hang for persecuting the members of rival Shi'a political parties. His sentence was commuted to indefinite imprisonment after Iraqi president Jalal Talabani did not sign his execution order and he died in prison in 2015.
On 14 July 2011, Sultan Hashim Ahmed al-Tay and two of Saddam's half-brothers – Sabawi Ibrahim al-Tikriti and Watban Ibrahim al-Tikriti—both condemned to death on 11 March 2009 for the role in the executions of 42 traders who were accused of manipulating food prices—were handed over to the Iraqi authorities for execution.
It is alleged that Iraq's government keeps the execution rate secret, and hundreds may be carried out every year. In 2007, Amnesty International stated that 900 people were at "imminent risk" of execution in Iraq.
Although Israel has provisions in its criminal law to use the death penalty for extraordinary crimes, it has only been used once. On 31 May 1962, Nazi leader Adolf Eichmann was executed by hanging. Meir Tobianski was summarily executed for espionage during the Israeli War of Independence, but he was later exonerated.
On 23 December 1948, Hideki Tojo, Kenji Doihara, Akira Mutō, Iwane Matsui, Seishirō Itagaki, Kōki Hirota, and Heitaro Kimura were hanged at Sugamo Prison by the U.S. occupation authorities in Ikebukuro in Allied-occupied Japan for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and crimes against peace during the Asia-Pacific theatre of World War II.
On 27 February 2004, the mastermind of the Sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway, Shoko Asahara, was found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging. On 25 December 2006, serial killer Hiroaki Hidaka and three others were hanged in Japan. Hanging is the common method of execution in capital punishment cases in Japan, as in the cases of Norio Nagayama, Mamoru Takuma, and Tsutomu Miyazaki.
Death by hanging is the traditional method of capital punishment in Jordan. In 1993, Jordan hanged two Jordanians convicted of spying for Israel. Sajida al-Rishawi, "The 4th bomber" of the 2005 Amman bombings, was executed alongside Ziad al-Karbouly in 4 February 2015 by hanging in retribution to the immolation of Jordanian Pilot Muath Al-Kasasbeh.
Lebanon hanged two men in 1998 for murdering a man and his sister. However, capital punishment ended up being all together suspended in Lebanon, as a result of staunch opposition by activists and some political factions.
Hanging is the traditional method of capital punishment in Malaysia and has been used to execute people convicted of murder and drug trafficking.
The last person executed by hanging in Portugal was Francisco Matos Lobos on 16 April 1842. Before, it had been a common death penalty.
In Pakistan, hanging is the most common form of execution.
Hanging was abolished in 1868 by Alexander II after serfdom, but was restored by the time of his death and his assassins were hanged. While those sentenced to death for murder were usually pardoned and sentences commuted to life imprisonment, those guilty of high treason were usually executed. This also included the Grand Duchy of Finland and Kingdom of Poland under the Russian crown. Taavetti Lukkarinen became the last Finn to be executed this way. He was hanged for espionage and high treason in 1916.
The hanging was usually performed by short drop and in public. The gallows were usually either a stout nearby tree branch, as in case of Lukkarinen, or a makeshift gallows constructed for the purpose.
After the October Revolution in 1917, capital punishment was, on paper, abolished, but continued to be used unabated against people perceived to be enemies of the regime. Under the Bolsheviks, most executions were performed by shooting, either by firing squad or by a single firearm. The last to be hanged were Andrey Vlasov and his companions in 1946.
In Singapore, hanging using the long-drop method is currently used as mandatory punishment for various crimes, such as drug trafficking, murder and some types of kidnapping. It has also been used for punishing those convicted of unauthorised possession of firearms.
Syria has publicly hanged people, such as two Jews in 1952, Israeli spy Eli Cohen in 1965, and a number of Jews accused of spying in 1969.
According to a 19th-century report, members of the Alawite sect centred on Lattakia in Syria had a particular aversion towards being hanged, and the family of the condemned was willing to pay "considerable sums" to ensure its relation was impaled, instead of being hanged. As far as Burckhardt could make out, this attitude was based upon the Alawites' idea that the soul ought to leave the body through the mouth, rather than leave it in any other fashion.
As a form of judicial execution in England, hanging is thought to date from the Anglo-Saxon period. Records of the names of British hangmen begin with Thomas de Warblynton in the 1360s; complete records extend from the 16th century to the last hangmen, Robert Leslie Stewart and Harry Allen, who conducted the last British executions in 1964.
At the beginning of the 19th century, children in Britain were punished in the same way as adults. They were even sentenced to death for petty theft. Until 1868 hangings were performed in public. In London, the traditional site was at Tyburn, a settlement west of the City on the main road to Oxford, which was used on eight hanging days a year, though before 1865, executions had been transferred to the street outside Newgate Prison, Old Bailey, now the site of the Central Criminal Court.
Three British subjects were hanged after World War II after having been convicted of having helped Nazi Germany in its war against Britain. John Amery, the son of prominent British politician Leo Amery, became an expatriate in the 1930s, moving to France. He became involved in pre-war fascist politics, remained in what became Vichy France following France's defeat by Germany in 1940 and eventually went to Germany and later the German puppet state in Italy headed by Benito Mussolini. Captured by Italian partisans at the end of the war and handed over to British authorities, Amery was accused of having made propaganda broadcasts for the Nazis and of having attempted to recruit British prisoners of war for a Waffen SS regiment later known as the British Free Corps. Amery pleaded guilty to treason charges on 28 November 1945 and was hanged at Wandsworth Prison on 19 December 1945. William Joyce, an American-born Irishman who had lived in Britain and possessed a British passport, had been involved in pre-war fascist politics in the UK, fled to Nazi Germany just before the war began to avoid arrest by British authorities and became a naturalised German citizen. He made propaganda broadcasts for the Nazis, becoming infamous under the nickname Lord Haw Haw. Captured by British forces in May 1945, he was tried for treason later that year. Although Joyce's defence argued that he was by birth American and thus not subject to being tried for treason, the prosecution successfully argued that Joyce's pre-war British passport meant that he was a subject of the British Crown and he was convicted. After his appeals failed, he was hanged at Wandsworth Prison on 3 January 1946. Theodore Schurch, a British soldier captured by the Nazis who then began working for the Italian and German intelligence services by acting as a spy and informer who would be placed among other British prisoners, was arrested in Rome in March 1945 and tried under the Treachery Act 1940. After his conviction, he was hanged at HM Prison Pentonville on 4 January 1946.
In 1957, in an attempt to prevent the abolition of capital punishment completely, two levels of murder were defined: First Degree murder and Second Degree with only First Degree murder carrying the death penalty.
In 1965, Parliament passed the Murder (Abolition of Death Penalty) Act, temporarily abolishing capital punishment for murder for 5 years. The Act was renewed in 1969, making the abolition permanent. With the passage of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 and the Human Rights Act 1998, the death penalty was officially abolished for all crimes in both civilian and military cases. Following its complete abolition, the gallows were removed from Wandsworth Prison, where they remained in full working order until that year.
The last woman to be hanged was Ruth Ellis on 13 July 1955, by Albert Pierrepoint who was a prominent hangman in the 20th century in England. The last hanging in Britain took place in 1964, when Peter Anthony Allen, at Walton Prison in Liverpool, and Gwynne Owen Evans, at Strangeways Prison in Manchester were executed for the murder of John Alan West.
In the UK, some felons were traditionally executed by hanging with a silken rope:
- hereditary peers who committed capital offences, as anticipated by the fictional Duke of Denver, brother of Lord Peter Wimsey. The Duke was accused of murder in the novel Clouds of Witness, and if convicted, this execution would have been his fate, after conviction by his peers in a trial in the House of Lords. It has been claimed that the execution of Earl Ferrers in 1760 – the only time a peer was hanged after trial by the House of Lords – was carried out with the normal hempen rope instead of a silk one. The writ of execution does not specify a silk rope be used, and The Newgate Calendar makes no mention of the use of such an item – an unusual omission given its highly sensationalist nature.
- Those who have the Freedom of the City of London.
An image of suspected witches being hanged in England, published in 1655.
Balvenie Pillar, also known as Tom na Croiche (Hangman's Knoll). The pillar was erected in 1755 to commemorate "the last public hanging", in Scotland in 1630. In this case the definition of "last" is unclear as the last public hanging in Scotland is well documented as being held in Dumfries in 1868 (Robert Smith).
Hanging noose used at public executions outside Lancaster Castle, c. 1820–1830.
Capital punishment varies from state to state; it is outlawed in some states but used in most others. However, the death penalty under federal law is applicable in every state.
The largest mass execution in the United States, of 38 Sioux Indians sentenced to death for engaging in massacres of white settlers, was carried out by hanging in Mankato, Minnesota in 1862. A total of 40 suspected Unionists were hanged in Gainesville, Texas in October 1862. On 7 July 1865, four people involved in the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln—Mary Surratt, Lewis Powell, David Herold, and George Atzerodt—were hanged at Fort McNair in Washington, D.C.
The last public hanging in the United States took place on 14 August 1936, in Owensboro, Kentucky. Rainey Bethea was executed for the rape and murder of 70-year-old Lischa Edwards. The execution was presided over by the first female sheriff in Kentucky, Florence Shoemaker Thompson.
In California, Clinton Duffy, who served as warden of San Quentin State Prison between 1940 and 1952, presided over ninety executions. He began to oppose the death penalty and after his retirement he wrote a memoir entitled Eighty-Eight Men and Two Women in support of the movement to abolish the death penalty. The book documents several hangings gone wrong and describes how they led his predecessor, Warden James B. Holohan, to persuade the California Legislature to replace hanging with the gas chamber in 1937.
Various methods of capital punishment have been replaced by lethal injection in most states and the federal government. Many states that offered hanging as an option have since eliminated the method. Condemned murderer Victor Feguer became the last inmate to be executed by hanging in the state of Iowa on 15 March 1963. Hanging was the preferred method of execution for capital murder cases in Iowa until 1965, when the death penalty was abolished and replaced with life imprisonment without parole. Barton Kay Kirkham was the last person to be hanged in Utah, preferring it over execution by firing squad. No subsequent inmate in Utah had been hanged by the time the option was replaced with lethal injection in 1980. Laws in Delaware were changed in 1986 to specify lethal injection, except for those convicted before 1986 (who were still allowed to choose hanging). If a choice was not made, or the convict refused to choose injection, then hanging would become the default method. This was the case in the 1996 execution of Billy Bailey, the most recent hanging in American history; since then, no Delaware prisoner has fitted this category, and thus the state's gallows were dismantled.
Only the states of Washington and New Hampshire retain hanging as an option. In New Hampshire, if it is found to be "impractical" to carry out the execution by lethal injection, then the condemned is hanged, and in Washington the condemned still has an outright choice between hanging and lethal injection.
Inverted hanging, the "Jewish" punishment
A completely different principle of hanging is to hang the convicted person from his legs, rather than from his neck, either as a form of torture, or as an execution method. In late medieval Germany, this came to be primarily associated with Jewish thieves, called the "Judenstrafe". The jurist Ulrich Tengler, in his highly influential "Layenspiegel" from 1509, describes the procedure as follows, in the section "Von Juden straff":
About dragging the Jew to the ordinary execution place between two mad or biting dogs. After dragging, to hang him from his feet by rope or chain at a designated gallows between the dogs, and in such inverted manner to be executed, from life to death
Guido Kisch showed that originally, this type of inverted hanging between two dogs was not a punishment specifically for Jews. Esther Cohen writes:
The inverted hanging with the accompaniment of two dogs, originally reserved for traitors, was identified from the fourteenth century as the "Jewish execution", being practised in the later Middle Ages in both northern and Mediterranean Europe. The Jewish execution in Germany has been thoroughly studied by G. Kisch, who has argued convincingly that neither the inverted hanging nor the stringing up of dogs or wolves beside the victim were particularly Jewish punishments during the High Middle Ages. They first appeared as Jewish punishments in Germany only towards the end of the thirteenth century, never being recognized as exclusively Jewish penalties.
In France the inverted, animal-associated hanging came to be connected with Jews by the later Middle Ages. The inverted hanging of Jews is specifically mentioned in the old customs of Burgundy in the context of animal hanging. The custom, dogs and all, was still in force in Paris shortly before the final expulsion of the Jews in 1394
In Spain 1449, during a mob attack against the Marranos (Jews nominally converted to Christianity), the Jews resisted, but lost and several of them were hanged up by the feet. The first attested German case for a Jew being hanged by the feet is from 1296, in present-day Soultzmatt. Some other historical examples of this type of hanging within the German context are 1 Jew in Hennegau 1326, two Jews hanged in Frankfurt 1444, 1 in Halle in 1462, 1 in Dortmund 1486, 1 in Hanau 1499, 1 in Breslau 1505, 1 in Württemberg 1553, 1 in Bergen 1588, 1 in Öttingen 1611, 1 in Frankfurt 1615 and again in 1661, and 1 condemned to this punishment in Prussia in 1637.
The details of the cases vary widely: In the 1444 Frankfurt cases and the 1499 Hanau case, the dogs were dead prior to be hanged, and in the late 1615 and 1661 cases in Frankfurt, the Jews (and dogs) were merely kept in this torture for half an hour, before being garroted from below. In the 1588 Bergen case, all three victims were left hanging till they were dead, ranging from 6 to 8 days after being hung up. In the Dortmund 1486 case, the dogs bit the Jew to death while hanging. In the 1611 Öttingen case, the Jew "Jacob the Tall" thought to blow up the "Deutsche Ordenhaus" with gunpowder after having burgled it. He was strung up between two dogs, and a large fire was made close to him, and he expired after half an hour under this torture. In the 1553 Württemberg case, the Jew chose to convert to Christianity after hanging like this for 24 hours; he was then given the mercy to be hanged in the ordinary manner, from the neck, and without the dogs beside him. In the 1462 Halle case, the Jew Abraham also converted after 24 hours hanging upside down, and a priest went up on a ladder and baptised him. For two more days, Abraham was left hanging, while the priest argued with the city council that a true Christian should not be punished in this way. On the third day, Abraham was granted a reprieve, and was taken down, but died 20 days later in the local hospital having meanwhile suffered in extreme pain. In the 1637 case, where the Jew had murdered a Christian jeweller, the appeal to the empress was successful, and out of mercy, the Jew was condemned to be merely pinched with glowing pincers, have hot lead dripped into his wounds, and then be broken alive on the wheel.
Some of the reported cases may be myths, or wandering stories. The 1326 Hennegau case, for example, deviates from the others in that the Jew was not a thief, but was suspected (even though he was a convert to Christianity) of having struck an al fresco painting of Virgin Mary, so that blood had begun to seep down the wall from the painting. Even under all degrees of judicial torture, the Jew denied performing this sacrilegious act, and was therefore exonerated. Then a brawny smith demanded from him a trial by combat, because, supposedly, in a dream the Virgin herself had besought the smith to do so. The court accepted the smith's challenge, he easily won the combat against the Jew, who was duly hanged up by the feet between two dogs. To add to the injury, one let him be slowly roasted as well as hung there. This is a very similar story to one told in France, in which a young Jew threw a lance at the head of a statue of the Virgin, so that blood spurted out of it. There was inadequate evidence for a normal trial, but a frail old man asked for trial by combat, and bested the young Jew. The Jew confessed his crime, and was hung up by his feet between two mastiffs.
The features of the earliest attested case, that of a Jewish thief hanged by the feet in Soultzmatt in 1296 are also rather divergent from the rest. The Jew managed, somehow, after he had been left to die to twitch his body in such a manner that he could hoist himself up on the gallows and free himself. At that time, his feet were so damaged that he was unable to escape, and when he was discovered 8 days after he had been hanged, he was strangled to death by the townspeople.
As late as in 1699 Celle, the courts were sufficiently horrified at how the Jewish leader of a robber gang (condemned to be hanged in the normal manner), declared blasphemies against Christianity, that they made a ruling on the post mortem treatment of Jonas Meyer. After 3 days, his corpse was cut down, his tongue cut out, and his body was hanged up again, but this time from its feet.
The punishment for traitors
Guido Kisch writes that the first instance he knows where a person in Germany was hanged up by his feet among two dogs until he died occurred about 1048, some 250 years earlier than the first attested Jewish case. This was a knight called Arnold, who had murdered his lord; the story is contained in Adam of Bremens "History of the Archbishops of Hamburg-Bremen" Another example of a non-Jew who suffered this punishment as a torture, in 1196 Richard, Count of Acerra, was one of those executed by Henry VI in the suppression of the rebelling Sicilians:
He [Henry VI] held a general court in Capua, at which he ordered that the count first be drawn behind a horse through the squares of Capua, and then hanged alive head downwards. The latter was still alive after two days when a certain German jester called Leather-Bag [Follis], hoping to please the emperor, tied a large stone to his neck and shamefully put him to death
A couple of centuries earlier, in France 991, a viscount Walter nominally owing his allegiance to the French King Hugh Capet chose, on instigation of his wife, to join the rebellion under Odo I, Count of Blois. When Odo found out he had to abandon Melun after all, Walter was duly hanged before the gates, whereas his wife, the fomentor of treason, was hanged by her feet, causing much merriment and jeers from Hugh's soldiers as her clothes fell downwards revealing her naked body, although it is not wholly clear if she died in that manner.
Elizabethan maritime law
During Queen Elizabeth I's reign, the following was written concerning those who stole a ship from the Royal Navy:
If anye one practysed to steale awaye anye of her Majesty's shippes, the captaine was to cause him to be hanged by the heels untill his braines were beaten out against the shippe's sides, and then to be cutt down and lett fall intoe the sea.
Hanging by the ribs
The German physician Gottlob Schober (1670-1739), who worked in Russia from 1712, notes that a person could hang from the ribs for about three days prior to expiring, his primary pain being that of extreme thirst. He thought this degree of insensitivity was something peculiar to the Russian mentality.
Not long ago, (continued he) I saw a black "man suspended alive from a gallows by the ribs, between which, with a knife, was first made an incision, and then clinched an iron hook with a chain: in this manner he kept alive three days, hanging with his head "and feet downwards, and catching with his tongue the "drops of water (it being in the rainy season) that were "flowing down his bloated breast. Notwithstanding all this, he never complained, and even upbraided a negro "for crying while he was flogged below the gallows, by calling out to him: "You man ?—Da boy fasy? Are you a man? you behave like a boy". Shortly after which he was knocked on the head by the commiserating sentry, who stood over him, with the butt end of his musket.
William Blake was specially commissioned to make illustrations to Stedman's narrative.
The proper, traditional past tense and past participle form of the verb "hang", in this sense, is (to be) "hanged". Some dictionaries list only "hung", whereas others show both forms. For example, "people are hanged; meat is hung".
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