Some of the grisly items used by celebrity executioner Albert Pierrepoint are being put up for auction. The Yorkshireman, born in 1905, gained notoriety up and down the country for the double life he led – often hanging serial killers and Nazis before returning home to pull pints in his pub.
It is estimated that Pierrepoint oversaw 600 people on the gallows during 25 years as a hangman and now some of his tools of the trade will go under the hammer, like the cloth extension hoods he used in his prime, reports the Daily Star. Past auctions have seen a notebook, containing the names of those people whose lives he ended along with details of their belongings, fetch £20,000, along with his own “death mask”.
Born into a family trade – his father and uncle also hung people for a living – Pierrepoint even wrote as a child: “When I leave school I should like to be the Official Executioner.”
After a spell as a grocer in the 1930s, he went on to become a hangman’s assistant and was soon handed the main gig. Travelling all over the country, he would carry out the executions for £15 – the equivalent of about £1,200 today.
Pierrepoint reckoned a “higher power” had selected him to carry out the work that he regarded as “sacred” and he was renowned for his painstaking preparations before hangings, often noting in his book whether the condemned person was “wiry” or “flabby”. He would also measure their heights to accurately determine the length of the drop required for a humane neck break.
Among the most infamous villains that he executed was London gangster Antonio “Babe” Mancini in 1941 after he fatally stabbed a man in a bar brawl. Another to be hung on his watch a year later was “Blackout Ripper” Gordon Cummins, who had killed four women.
Pierrepoint also put 15 German spies to death during the Second World War, along with people deemed traitors on these shores, including broadcaster William Joyce, who was better known as Lord Haw-Haw. He would later hang 200 Nazi war criminals in Germany, most notably Josef “The Beast of Belsen” Kramer – a commandant at the notorious concentration camp.
Another war criminal Irma Grese, a vicious guard at Auschwitz, had his life snuffed out too. On his return to Britain, Pierrepoint then hung acid bath murderer, John George Haigh, in 1949 after he was found guilty of slaughtering six people.
And, in 1953, he hung serial killer John Christie, who strangled eight people at his 10 Rillington Place home in Notting Hill, claiming the killing was wrapped up in “less time than it took the ash to fall off a cigar”. His record, in that respect, was seven seconds and, in 1955, he went on to end the life of the last woman to be executed in the UK – Ruth Ellis.
She had been found guilty of killing her lover but Pierrepoint declared that she “died as brave as any man”. Away from his gruesome vocation, Pierrepoint ran a pub called the Help the Poor Struggler in Oldham and he even once had to hang a regular – James Corbitt – for murdering his girlfriend.
He called it a day in terms of his hanging career in 1956 following a disagreement over fees and took charge of another pub in Preston with his wife Annie. He was later played by former Auf Wiedersehen Pet actor Timothy Spall in a 2005 movie and was known to boast that he had hung more people than anybody else in British history.
Dreadful miscarriages of justice did happen, though, with Timothy Evans killed in 1950 for murdering his wife and daughter, only for John Christie to be later identified as the real culprit. And, before his death in 1992 at the age of 87, Pierrepoint revealed that he was in agreement with the decision to abolish the death penalty 23 years earlier, reasoning: “Capital punishment, in my view, achieved nothing except revenge.”
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