Friday, February 23, 2007

The man they couldn't hang

Today according to Australian Eastern Standard Time when this item was posted
1885 English hangman James Berry (1852 - 1913; pictured) of Heckmondwike, Yorkshire, who carried out around 200 hangings in his eight years in office, attempted to execute John Lee (John 'Babbacombe' Lee) for the murder (on November 15, 1884) of his wealthy employer, Ellen Keyse, and pulled the lever.

But something malfunctioned and Lee would not drop through the trapdoor. The equipment was tested repeatedly and seemed to be in working order; weights used in a test run plunged to the ground as expected. However, each time the lever was pulled when Lee stood over the trap door, nothing happened. Two more execution attempts were made without success, and Lee was returned to prison.

A message was sent to London to inform the Home Secretary of the failed execution attempts. While all involved waited for the messenger to return, the convicted man was asked if he felt like eating a last breakfast; ironically, Lee ate the hangman’s breakfast, for Berry’s nerves had been too bad for him to eat it.

The authorities, amazed by the trapdoor’s inexplicable malfunction, decided to ascribe it to an ‘act of God’. Lee was removed from death row, his sentence changed to life imprisonment, and he spent the next 20 years in prison ...

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