English Executioners from 1850 to 1964. Part 7.
Albert Pierrpoint from Clayton, Nr. Bradford, Yorkshire. (1905-1992.)
Period on Home Office List. 1932-1956.
Albert Pierrpoint was by far the most prolific hangman of the 20th Century, having assisted or been the principal at the hanging of an estimated 434 people. including 16 women in his 24 years of service in this country and abroad. His tally of executions was greatly increased as a result of World War II, working in Germany (200 executions) and other countries. These included Egypt (4 hangings), Gibralter (2) and Karlou Graz in Austria (8)
In England and Wales, Albert assisted at 29 hangings and carried out 138 civilian executions for murder as principal, including those of the last four women to hang. He carried out nine hangings in Scotland between the years of 1948 – 1954.
Albert was to execute 14 men convicted of espionage and treason during and immediately after World War II. These included John Amery, who told Albert that he had always wanted to meet him, as he was being led to the gallows at Wandsworth prison on the 19th December 1945 and Nazi propagandist, Lord Haw-Haw, real name William Joyce, at Wandsworth for treason on the 3rd January 1946. Theodore Schurch was the last person to be executed for treason in Britain when Albert hanged him at Pentonville Prison on 4th January 1946.
Albert hanged 190 males and 10 female war criminals in batches at Hamein prison in the British controlled sector of Germany after World War II.
His first experience of the ‘family trade’ was assisting his Uncle Tom in the hanging of Patrick McDermott at Mountjoy prison in Dublin on the 29th December 1932.
His first job as an assistant in England was again with his uncle, at the execution of Richard Hetherington at Liverpool’s Walton Gaol on the 20th June 1933. Albert is credited with the quickest hanging on record when he, assisted by Sid Dernley, executed James Inglis in only 7 seconds on the 8th May 1951 at Strangeways prison in Manchester. His first execution as the principal was that of gangster, Antonio ‘Babe’ Mancini, at Pentonville prison on the 17th October 1941.
Mancini stabbed to death Harry Distleman, a doorman in Soho and a member of a rival gang on the 1st May 1941.
Albert took over from his uncle as the hangman for the Irish Republic and carried out the last four executions there, up to 1954, when Michael Manning became the last person to be executed in Eire.
Some of his more notable executions were: –
Neville George Clevelly Heath, who was hanged on the 16th October 1946 at Pentonville prison for the sexual and sadistic murder of Margery Gardner who was found dead in a hotel bedroom. When discovered, she was lying on her back in one of the single beds nearest to the door, she was naked and had her ankles bound with a handkerchief. She had a lot of bruising to her face and her nipples had almost been bitten off. Something had been inserted into her vagina and sharply rotated. On her back were 17 criss-cross lash marks. The cause of death had been suffocation, but only after the horrific injuries had been inflicted.
During World War II, Albert assisted his uncle Tom in the hanging of the 16 American soldiers at Shepton Mallet military prison in Somerset. They had been condemned by Court Marshall for murder and ‘or rape. After the war, Albert made a number of visits to West Germany where he was to hang 190 and 10 female Nazi war criminals. The most notable of these series of executions was the first batch which took place on the 13th December 1945, when he hanged 13 prisoners at Hamelin Gail, including Irma Greese, Elisabeth Volkenrath and Juana Boreman and 10 men including ‘the Beast of Belsen,’ Joseph Kramer.
Irma Greese was born on 7th October 1923, leaving school at 14. She was employed at the concentration camps of Ravensbrook and Auschwitz before going to Belson as a warden. She joined the Nazi Party aged 14years.She was just 22 when she was executed.
Elisabeth Volkenrath was born on 5th September 1919 and became a ‘Supervisor’ at several concentration camps including Belson. She oversaw 3 Hangings; she became a senior supervising wardress. She was 26 years old when she was executed.
Juana Bormann was born on 10th September 1893 and became a prison guard at several concentration camps. She had committed several murders at the camps and set her German shepherd dog on helpless prisoners.
Joseph Kramer was born on 10th November 1906 in Munich and joined the Nazi Party in 1931 and the SS a year later. he became the commandant of the Belson concentration camp, becoming known as ‘The beast of Belson.’ He was held directly responsible for the deaths of thousands of people.
Albert hanged 8 men at Karlau Graz in Austria after the war and trained Austrian hangmen in the modern method of hanging.
John George Haig, the famous acid bath murderer came his way on the 10th August 1949 at Wandsworth prison for the murder of Mrs Olive Durand-Deacon. Her gallstones and dentures were not dissolved by the acid in which he had dissolved the rest of her body and remained to convict Haig. She was one of Haig’s 6 victims.
Albert gave evidence to the 1949 Royal Commission on Capital Punishment, chaired by Sir Ernest Gowers and also a demonstration in the technique of hanging.
Derek Bentley was hanged on the 28th January 1953 at Wandsworth prison for his part in the murder of Pc Miles. The case has been the subject of many books and a film called ‘Let him have it.’
Another controversial case was that of Timothy John Evans whom Albert hanged on the 9th March 1950 at Pentonville prison for the murder of his wife at No. 10, Rillington Place, the home of John Reginald Christie. Christie admitted killing 7 women in total including Mrs. Evans. Christie was hanged 15th July 1953 at Pentonville Prison. In 1966 Evans was granted a posthumous pardon.
On Tuesday 28th November 1950 Albert hanged James Corbitt at Strangeways prison, Manchester for the murder of his girlfriend. Corbitt had been a regular at Albert’s pub and they had sung together on a Saturday night. They had nicknamed each other as ‘Tish and Tosh.’ Allegedly, it was only when Albert went to look at the prisoner on the Monday night that he realised who he was going to hang. The next morning they greeted each other with their nicknames.
On the 13th July 1955 at Holloway Gaol, Ruth Ellis became the last woman to be hanged in Britain.
Albert’s last execution was that of 25 year old Norman Green at Liverpool’s Walton prison on Wednesday 27th July 1955. Green had stabbed two children in separate murders in 1954 and 1955. There were only three more executions in 1955 and none at all the following year.
All other condemned prisoners were reprieved during this period whilst Parliament debated the subject of executions and a as result they came up with the Homicide Act of 1957.
Pierrpoint resigned over a disagreement about fees in 1956. He had driven to Strangeways prison, Manchester on a bitterly cold day in January 1956 to hang Thomas Bancroft. He arrived at the prison only for Bancroft to be reprieved later in that afternoon.
Albert claimed the full fee of £15 (more than £200 at today’s prices.) but he was offered just £1 in ‘out of pocket expenses’ by the under sheriff of Lancashire. Pierrpoint appealed to his employers, the prison Commission, who refused to get involved. The under-Sheriff then sent Albert a cheque for £4 in final settlement; but to Albert this was a huge insult to his pride in his position as Britain’s Chief Executioner and so he tendered his resignation,
Albert died in a nursing home in Southport, Lancashire, on the 10th July 1992 at the age of 87. His autobiography ‘Executioner- Pierpoint’’ is still available.
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