Albert Pierrepoint

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Albert Pierrepoint (born March 30, 1905 in Clayton , Bradford , † July 10, 1992 in Southport ) was an executioner in Great Britain from 1932 to 1956 . With around 450 executions attributed to him, he was the busiest executioner in his country. On the basis of judgments by the British military justice system in Germany and Austria, he executed around 200 people after 1945, most of them for war crimes .


From 1874, executioners in Great Britain no longer received a fixed salary (they did not have civil servant status), but only a certain amount per execution . Pierrepoint earned his living just like his immediate predecessors in another profession. He initially worked as a delivery driver for a vegetable wholesaler, later as an innkeeper in Oldham near Manchester and Much Hoole near Preston . He spent his retirement in Southport, most recently in a nursing home.

A dynasty

Before Albert, who was put on the Prison Commission's famous secret list of persons authorized to carry out executions (“the list” for short) in 1932 , two other members of his family had already practiced this profession: his father Henry Pierrepoint and his uncle Thomas Pierrepoint . While his uncle Thomas became Britain's oldest executioner - he was still in office at the age of 75 - Henry did not resign voluntarily. He was removed from the list when he appeared drunk the day before an execution in Chelmsford and assaulted his assistant, John Ellis .

Albert assures in his memoirs (see Works , pp. 59f.) That his father resigned voluntarily and that the resignation was not related to a “professional error”; However, he admits: "There is a secret surrounding his resignation that I was unable to solve."

A few years ago, the Public Records Office released internal papers showing that the incident mentioned triggered the “resignation”. The fact that Henry Pierrepoint didn't like his colleague Ellis personally is also stated in Albert's memoir.


In a school essay on the subject of “What I would like to become”, the eleven-year-old wrote to the amusement of his teacher: “I want to be a hangman!” (I want to be a hangman ! ).

After the death of his father in 1922, Pierrepoint occupied himself extensively with his diaries and calendars. Henry Pierrepoint had neatly kept a record of every execution and noted the key dates and facts - a habit Albert later continued.

After finishing school he became a delivery driver for a fruit and vegetable dealer. First in a horse-drawn cart, later in a truck, he brought the ordered goods to the customers.

His first application to the British Home Office was unsuccessful; there was no need for junior staff. It was only when another executioner gave up his career because of his employer's threat that his “sideline” would never be promoted that Albert got his chance and was called up for “training” in London. Although the representatives of the “Prison Commission” were initially not convinced of Pierrepoint, his self-confidence and calm superiority were impressive.

Only after this training did Pierrepoint inform his uncle Thomas and receive further information and experience reports from him. It was also Thomas who warned him of the dangers of alcohol: "If you can't do it without whiskey, don't do it!"

Pierrepoint, like many of his predecessors, saw his main task as speeding up the execution of the execution. On the one hand, this shortened the victim's fear of death and, on the other hand, there was less danger that the convict would defend himself. The “ long drop ” execution method customary in Great Britain , if the height of the fall was calculated correctly and the rope was properly placed, also led to immediate death - at least in the opinion of the prison doctors and obducents involved. At some executions, Pierrepoint put a lighted cigar in an ashtray in the lounge, which he could continue to smoke after returning from the execution room. The hangman entered death row a few seconds before the hour; the condemned man was usually hanged before the clock had finished its chimes. According to his own statements, he only had two problems with convicts because they resisted. "But they were both foreigners (one of them a German spy), the British always left without a fuss, without a fight!" Wrote Pierrepoint in his memoir.

His wife Anne, whom he married in 1943, ran a candy and tobacco shop near the shop for which Albert worked as a delivery driver. Although she suspected the nature of his "sideline", she waited until he told her of his own accord in 1944, when he had to go to Gibraltar for some executions. He dedicated his memoirs to his wife, who "was always there and never asked questions".

Post-war years

After the British occupation troops in Germany in 1945 had negative experiences with some executions of war criminals by firing squads, it was decided to use Pierrepoint's capabilities. Due to his deployment in Germany after 1945 he became - contrary to the prevailing practice and the requirements of the British judiciary - the most prominent executioner in Great Britain in the 20th century, as the media reported about him extensively. He was stylized as a hero by the media because he “settled accounts” with the war criminals in post-war Germany. This popularity was a double-edged sword for Albert, as it led to the loss of his sacred anonymity. It was not for nothing that all the other executioners (the word hangman , which is often used , had a negative connotation) lived anonymously before him - and, as released documents in the British State Archives show, mostly in orderly family relationships - and only came out, if at all, after resigning from their office.

Pierrepoint hanged hundreds of convicts throughout his career, including (in Shepton Mallet ) American soldiers convicted of murder and rape of English civilians. The exact number of executions he carried out - one speaks of 433 men and 17 women - Pierrepoint never stated; he even refused to give any information on this point as a witness before the Royal Commission on Capital Punishment (appointed in 1949; final report September 1953).

Pierrepoint is described by contemporaries as “old school Britons”, energetic and with a sense of humor. When he had achieved relative prosperity through his assignments in Germany and Austria after 1945 (he usually hung up to 10 convicted war criminals at one “appointment”), he gave up his job as a delivery driver and became an innkeeper. As the host of the Help The Poor Struggler pub (which was already called that before the takeover by Pierrepoint) in Hollinwood near Manchester, he and his restaurant became a destination for countless tourists who wanted to be photographed with him ( to struggle is also used in English for " kick ”or“ dangle ”, and in this context the name of the pub took on a new, apt meaning).

In an interview, Pierrepoint was once asked how he was able to withstand the pressure that his office entails. “It is not Albert Pierrepoint who is going on death row,” he explained to the reporter, “but only the tool of the state. I leave all personal feelings and sensations outside the door. I am also not interested in what the convict did or who he was before. ”Psychologists interpreted this as a“ consciously split personality ”. This protective mechanism worked well until Pierrepoint was personally emotionally involved in an execution (that of James Corbitt ) and the “malfunction of his emotional protective shield” severely affected his psyche and probably also his justification to himself. The tumult surrounding the execution of Ruth Ellis is likely to have finally moved Pierrepoint to resign.


In 1956, Albert Pierrepoint resigned as Britain's Chief Executioner. The trigger for his decision was the failure to pay for a scheduled execution. The convicted Thomas Bancroft was pardoned shortly before the execution when Pierrepoint had already traveled through winter England with great difficulty for execution. It was the first time a death row inmate had been pardoned so close to the appointment, so there were no guidelines on how to proceed in such a case. In England - unlike Scotland - the executioners were only paid for executions. Therefore, instead of the full 15 pound fee (according to today's monetary value 334 pounds or 339 euros) , the responsible officer from Lancashire offered Pierrepoint first one pound for his expenses, later four pounds, which Pierrepoint took as an insult. Not only had he made a daring journey over snow-covered roads behind him, but he also had to go to a hotel - since he could not spend the night in prison for lack of execution - as a return trip at night was too dangerous. He wrote to the Prison Commission. This referred him to the local prison administration and tried to persuade him to resume his office after receiving his letter of resignation, but unsuccessfully. It is no coincidence that 1956 was the only year before the abolition of the death penalty that no execution took place.

Another account of the events that led to Pierrepoint's resignation is provided by Steve Fielding's book on the Pierrepoints dynasty. According to Fielding, Albert had received an offer from a newspaper for a fee of approx. 500,000 pounds (today's monetary value) to write a series of articles about his years as chief executioner . The authorities decided not to take action against Pierrepoint (he broke official secrecy with his reports), but subsequently put massive pressure on the publisher; the series did not get beyond two sequels and was discontinued without a song.

Next life

After his retirement, Albert Pierrepoint continued to work in his pub before retiring to Southport. He was repeatedly invited to television discussions and interviewed for newspapers; with advancing age, however, such appearances became more and more unpleasant for him (as can be seen from the video recordings). In the 1970s he had to sell his memorabilia, including his famous diaries with the lists of his executions, to a neighbor. Large parts of these items were later sold on at auction at Sotheby’s and are now owned by private collectors. Having become frail, Albert Pierrepoint moved to a nursing home, where he died in 1992.

Pierrepoint is often referred to as Britain's last hangman. However, this is inconsistent with the facts as death sentences were carried out in Great Britain until August 13, 1964. That day two people convicted of robbery and murder died at the same time, but in different prisons, on the gallows. Neither of the two executioners can therefore call themselves the sole "last executioner". However, Pierrepoint was the last official top executioner in the country.

Judgments carried out by Pierrepoint

  • Before he was first used as an assistant for an execution in Great Britain, he had assisted his uncle Thomas Pierrepoint on December 29, 1932 in Dublin in Mountjoy Prison in the execution of Patrick McDermott . In executions in Ireland, the executioner was free to choose his assistant and was not bound by the “list”.
  • Pierrepoint's first execution, in which he was not an assistant but an executioner , was that of Antonio "Babe" Mancini on October 17, 1941 in London's Pentonville Prison.
  • On December 13, 1945, he hanged 13 war criminals who had been sentenced to death in the Bergen-Belsen trial in Hameln prison , including the concentration camp guards Irma Grese , Elisabeth Volkenrath , Johanna Bormann and ten male death row inmates, including Josef Kramer , commandant of the Bergen concentration camp. Belsen , and Franz Hößler , the deputy commanders. The three women were hung individually, the men in pairs. This execution date was the first in a series of visits by Pierrepoint to the British-occupied zone of Germany; In total, he executed around 200 war criminals.
  • On December 19, 1945, Pierrepoint executed John Amery, who had been convicted of high treason, in Wandsworth Prison .
  • In September 1946, Pierrepoint hanged several war criminals in Graz (Austria) who had been convicted in the context of the so-called iron ore trials . He instructed the Austrian executioners in his method of the “long drop” and was horrified to learn that the “Austrian choke algae ” had been in use until then . The Austrian executioners were so convinced of Pierrepoint's method that, in a letter to the Austrian prison authorities, they threatened - successfully, by the way - with a strike if the "old" method were retained.
  • In 1946, William Joyce , who had been convicted of high treason and who had worked for the English-language Nazi propaganda radio and had become known in Great Britain as Lord Haw-Haw , died through Pierrepoint . Joyce was a US citizen and could only be charged and hanged for treason against Great Britain because he had stolen a British passport.
  • Timothy John Evans was a victim of justice when he was sentenced to death for murdering his daughter. He was hanged by Pierrepoint on March 9, 1950. In truth, the necrophilic neighbor John Christie (executed by Albert Pierrepoint in 1953) murdered his wife and daughter. Timothy Evans was posthumously acquitted in 1966.
  • James Inglis , hanged by Pierrepoint in 1951. The execution process - from leaving death row to opening the trap door - is a macabre record of just 7 seconds. Inglis literally followed a warden to go to the gallows "quickly and without a fuss" and ran to his execution.
  • In 1953, Pierrepoint hanged Derek Bentley , whose conviction (due to the murder of a policeman) was controversial and for his release even 200 members of the British House of Commons, the widow of the policeman who was killed and the jury of the trial pleaded for his release . Bentley received a posthumous pardon in 1993; the verdict against him was overturned in 1998.
  • Michael Manning , hanged by Pierrepoint on April 20, 1954, was the last offender to be executed in the Republic of Ireland.
  • Ruth Ellis was the last woman to be hanged in Great Britain († July 13, 1955). The mother of two young children shot her lover. The trial sparked a mass movement against the death penalty. In order to counter rumors, Pierrepoint later also spoke about this execution and made it clear that Ellis had fully accepted her sentence (she had also confessed to her crime in court) and that he himself had no remorse about enforcing the sentence.

Change to opponent of the death penalty

Pierrepoint knew from experience that pardons for death row inmates were mostly only the result of political or public pressure, without any connection with the greater or lesser guilt in the specific case, and that the social and societal position of a convicted person had a strong influence on a pardon. He also had to execute on November 28, 1950, James Corbitt , who was a regular visitor to his pub . The evening before Corbitt killed his girlfriend out of jealousy , Pierrepoint had sung a duet with him. Pierrepoint always emphasized that he didn't know Corbitt, he didn't even know his family name, and Corbitt was just a guest in his pub, but Corbitt's execution made him believe that the death penalty was not a deterrent: Corbitt didn't just have Known abstractly that there was the death penalty, he even knew who carried it out. This view of the executioner was reinforced by the fact that most of the murderers hanged by him had committed their deed in the “heat of the moment” and not out of intent or as a robbery (see also murder ).

Pierrepoint expressed his opinion in the epilogue to his memoir: “I have come to the conclusion that executions are pointless. They are just an antiquated relic of a primitive desire for vengeance that makes it easy for itself and transfers responsibility for vengeance to others. "


  • Executioner: Pierrepoint . Dobby Publishing, 2005, ISBN 1-85882-061-8 .
    Autobiography, reprint of the original edition published by Harrap in 1974
  • Steve Fielding: Pierrepoint: A Family of Executioners. John Blake Publishing, London 2006, ISBN 1-84454-192-4 ,
    a book on the three Pierrepoints.


The life of Albert Pierrepoint was filmed in 2005 under the original title The Last Hangman ( The Last Hangman , see web link). The film title is historically wrong. As already mentioned, Pierrepoint ended his activity before the abolition of the death penalty in Great Britain. The film title was later changed to Pierrepoint . The British director Adrian Shergold was awarded the Bernhard Wicki Film Prize on June 11, 2006 at the 17th International Film Festival in Emden-Aurich-Norderney for this film . In the film, Pierrepoint is played by Timothy Spall .

The film itself is a gloomy depiction of the life of Pierrepoint, with historically exact settings and an explicit depiction of executions. The choice of costumes is also excellent. Historically, the film is not necessarily accurate; Anyone who has read Pierrepoint's biography quickly notices that some dates, names and facts are incorrectly reproduced, very freely interpreted or fictitious. In particular, the friendship with James Corbitt shown in the film (see above) is fictitious and probably only served to better depict Pierrepoint's transformation into an opponent of the death penalty.

Web links