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Albert Pierrepoint

Albert Pierrepoint (1905 - 10 July 1992) is the most celebrated member of a Yorkshire family who provided three of Great Britain's Chief Executioners in the first half of the twentieth century.

In 1901 Henry Pierrepoint (1874-1922) was appointed to the list of executioners after repeatedly writing to the Home Office to offer his services. In his nine-year term of office Henry carried out 107 executions before being dismissed in July 1910 for arriving for an execution at Chelmsford prison "considerably the worse for drink", and having fought fellow hangman John Ellis the previous day. He did however persuade his older brother Thomas and son Albert to carry on in the family business.

Thomas Pierrepoint (1870-1954) worked as a hangman for 37 years before retiring in his mid-seventies in 1946. He is credited with having carried out some 300 hangings in his career, although no precise figure has been verified. During the Second World War he was appointed as executioner by the US Military and was responsible for the hanging at the Shepton Mallet military prison in Somerset of several US soldiers for murder or rape, assisted by his nephew Albert.

Albert Pierrepoint was by far the most prolific British hangman of the twentieth century. In office between 1932 and 1956, he is credited with having executed an estimated 433 men and 17 women, including 16 US soldiers at Shepton Mallet and some 200 Nazis after the Second World War.

Albert's first execution as "Number One" was that of gangster Antonio "Babe" Mancini at Pentonville Prison, London, on 17 October 1941. Among his notable clients were:

  • 13 German war criminals - Irma Grese, the youngest concentration camp guard to be executed for crimes at Belsen and Auschwitz (aged 22), Elisabeth Volkenrath[?] (Belsen & Auschwitz), and Juana Bormann[?] (Auschwitz), plus ten male prisoners including Josef Kramer[?], the Commandant of Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. All were executed at Hameln on 13 December 1945 at half-hour intervals, the women being hanged individually, the men in pairs.
  • Lord Haw-Haw, the traitor William Joyce, executed at Wandsworth Prison, London, 3 January 1946.
  • John George Haigh[?], the Acid-bath murderer executed at Wandsworth on 10 August 1949 despite Mrs Durand-Deacon's gallstones and dentures being the only part of her not dissolved in acid.
  • Derek Bentley, controversially executed at Wandsworth on 28 January 1953 for his part in the death of Police Constable Miles, despite his having already been arrested at the time of the fatal shot. The execution was carried out despite pleas for clemency by large numbers of people including 200 Members of Parliament. After a long campaign, Bentley received a posthumous pardon in 1998.
  • Timothy John Evans, hanged at Pentonville Prison on 9 March 1950 for the murder of his daughter (and suspected murder of his wife). It was subsequently discovered that Evans' neighbour John Reginald Christie was a multiple murderer, who had an appointment with Albert on 15 July 1953 at Pentonville. Timothy Evans received a posthumous pardon in 1966.
  • Ruth Ellis, the last woman to be hanged in Britain, on 13 July 1955 for shooting her lover.
Albert Pierrepoint resigned in 1956 over a disagreement with the Home Office about his fees. In January 1956 he had gone to Strangeways Prison, Manchester, to officiate at the execution of Thomas Bancroft only to find that Bancroft had been reprieved. He claimed his full fee of 15 but the under-sheriff of Lancashire offered only 1. Pierrepoint appealed to his employers, the Prison Commission, who refused to get involved. The under-sheriff sent him a cheque for 4 in full and final settlement. Pierrepoint's pride in his position as Britain's Chief Executioner was insulted, and he resigned. He subsequently wrote an autobiography, Executioner: Pierrepoint, which is still in print.

Albert Pierrepoint is often referred to as Britain's last hangman, but this is not true -- executions continued until 13 August 1964 when Gwynne Owen Evans was hanged at 8.00 a.m. at Strangeways Prison by Harry Allen, while simultaneously Peter Anthony Allen was hanged at Walton Prison, Liverpool by Robert Leslie Stewart, both for the murder in a robbery of John Alan West.

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