English Executioners from 1850 to 1964. Part 6
William Willis from Manchester (1876-1939)
Period in Home Office List 1906-1926.
Willis had assisted at 75 executions, helping Ellis, Robert Baxter and both Henry and Tom Pierrpoint. Then he got the job as the principal and hanging 12 people including a series of six at Manchester’s Strangeways Prison between 1924 and 1926; also 2 in Ireland in 1923 and 1924. While Ellis was hanging Edith Thompson, Willis was doing the same to Frederick Bywaters at Pentonville Prison.
Willis was sacked in 1926 after he was seen to be drunk and aggressive at the hanging of Johannes Mommers at Pentonville on the 27th July 1926.
The 1929 Home Office list had Thomas Pierrpoint and Robert Baxter as Hangmen and Robert Wilson, Thomas Phillips, Henry Pollard, Lionel Mann and Alfred Allen as assistants.
Thomas Pierrpoint (1870-1954) from Sutton Bonnington, Nottinghamshire.
Period on Home Office List – 1906-1946.
Thomas Pierrpoint was six years older than his brother Henry and worked as a hangman for 37 years before retiring in 1946 while in his mid-seventies. Thomas assisted at 35 executions and carried out 203 civilian hangings in England and Wales plus another four in Scotland.
Thomas was the official executioner for the Irish Republic after it gained independence from England in 1923 and carried out 28 executions at Dublin’s Mountjoy prison between 1913 and 1944, plus four in Belfast. He was appointed as the executioner for the U.S. Military in Europe, being responsible for the hangings of 16 US servicemen at Shepton Mallet prison during World War II, assisted by his nephew, Albert Pierrpoint.
Some of Thomas’s more famous executions were: –
Alfred Arthur Rouse, hanged on the 10th March 1930 at Bedford prison for the murder of an unknown man. Rouse had killed him and then put him in his (Rouse’s) car and set it on fire in an attempt to fake his own death for the Insurance money. Ethel Lillie Major was hanged on 19th December 1934 at Hull prison for the murder of her husband. Nurse Dorothea Waddingham was hanged on the 16th April 1936 at Winson Green prison, Birmingham for poisoning two vulnerable patients in her nursing home. In the same year he also hanged Buck Ruxton at Strangeways Prison on the 12th May, for murdering his wife and maid and Charlotte Bryant, who went to the gallows at Exeter on the 15th July for the murder of her husband by arsenic poisoning.
Tom Pierrpoint died on the 10th February 1954 in Bradford aged 84 years.
Robert Wilson from Manchester.
Period on Home Office List. 1915-1961
Robert Wilson assisted at 38 executions in England and Wales
Robert Orridge Baxter from Hertford (1877-1961).
Period on Home Office List – 1877-1961.
Robert Baxter carried out 41 executions as principal and assisted at 39 in England and Wales plus three in Scotland during 1928.
Baxter’s first execution as the principal, assisted by Willis and Thomas Phillips, was that of Jean-Pierre Vaquier at Wandsworth prison on 12th August 1924 for the poisoning, by strychnine, of his lover’s husband. Most of Baxter’s work came from Pentonville and Wandsworth prisons, plus the odd trip to Maidstone, Ipswich, Norwich, Cardiff and Swansea. During these trips he executed a total of 8 persons. He undertook 24 consecutive executions at Pentonville and nine at Wandsworth prisons between 1924 and 1935.
He also hanged Frederick Guy Browne on the 31st may 1928 at Pentonville prison for his part in Constable Gutteridge’s murder. At the same time his co-defendant, William Henry Kennedy was being hanged at Wandsworth by Thomas Pierrpoint. Due to being blind in one eye, an unfortunate mishap occurred at Swansea on the 11th December 1928, at the execution of Trevor Edwards. Baxter failed to see that his assistant, Alfred Allen had not got clear of the drop, before he pulled the lever; Allen plummeted down with Edwards, although unlike him, surviving the experience.
Baxter’s last execution was that of Alan Grierson at Pentonville on the 30th October 1935.
Alfred Allen from Wolverhampton (1888-1938)
Period on Home Office List 1928-1937.
Alfred Allen assisted at 14 hangings and acted as the executor at three more between 1932 and 1937.
Thomas Mather Phillips from Farnworth, near Bolton, Lancashire.
Period on Home Office List 1918-1941.
Phillips worked as chief executioner on just two occasions in 1939 and 1940, having previously assisted at 39 hangings, including that of Edith Thompson at Holloway prison. He died on the 27th March 1941.
Stanley William Cross from Fulham, London.
Period on Home Office list 1932-1941.
Cross assisted at 12 executions and acted as chief executioner on three occasions. His first and most memorable execution was the hanging of Udam Singh at Pentonville on Wednesday 31st July 1940. Singh, a Sikh extremist, was condemned for the murder of Sir Michael O’Dwyer. Cross was also responsible for the executions of two German spies, Jose Wadeburg and Carl Meier at Pentonville on the 10th December 1940.
His last job was assisting Thomas Pierrpoint at Winson Green on the 19th September 1941 with the execution of Eli Richards.
The Home Office list of 1938 contained the names of seven men who were deemed ‘competent to carry out the duties.’ They were apparently ordinary, stable married men who worked in normal occupations. Reliability and stability were seen as the key issues at that time. Any form of misbehaviour or poor performance would result in that person being removed from the list.