Hanged by the neck until you are dead! (USA).

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Hanging was the virtually universal method of execution in America up to the 1890's and was the sole form permitted by the original constitution. A few states used shooting during the 19th century, notably California and Oklahoma and most Utah executions from 1852 were by firing squad.  Hanging became progressively less commonly used through the 20th century, as many states adopted the electric chair or the gas chamber, as supposedly more humane alternatives to it.  However there were 2718 hangings between 1900 and 1967.

Approximately 9320 people have been executed by judicial hanging from 1622 to the present day, most being hanged in public and usually drawing a large crowd of spectators.
Many of these executions are detailed in the Watt Epsy files and the majority were for murder, although 487 men were hanged for rape in 23 states between 1800 and 1961 when John Bennett became the last in Kansas on April 13 of that year.  Up to the end of the nineteenth century, hangings were mostly local events and not always well reported.

Hanging often led to a slow and cruel death as the prisoner strangled on the rope and this led to invention of the electric chair which came into use in New York state in 1891 (It was to become the most widely used method in the 20th century, being inflicted, at its peak by 27 states. Nevada introduced the gas chamber in 1921, which was ultimately used by 11 states). Hanging remains a lawful option to lethal injection in Washington where the prisoner may choose it and in New Hampshire where it would be used if lethal injection were impractical.  There have been no executions there since Howard Long was hanged in 1939 so it is really quite academic.  Washington however does have prisoners on death row and has had two hangings since 1977, those of Charles Rodman Campbell & Westley Allan Dodd (see below). Delaware and Montana did allow for hanging but now only permit lethal injection. Delaware has had one hanging since 1977, that of Billy Bailey on January 25, 1996.  None have been carried out in Montana post 1977. 

The first recorded hanging in America was that Daniel Frank in Virginia on March 1, 1622 for cattle stealing. The first hanging for murder took place in Plymouth, Massachusetts on September 30, 1630, that of John Billington who had come to America on the Mayflower and was executed for shooting another settler with a blunderbuss.
The earliest recorded female hanging was that of Jane Champion in 1632 in Virginia for an unknown offense. Margaret Hatch was hanged on June 24,1633 for murder and on December 6, 1638, Dorothy Talby was hanged in Salem, Massachusetts for the murder of her three year old daughter, Difficulty.
The youngest person hanged in America was Hannah Ocuish who was 12 years and 9 months old and was described as a half breed Indian girl. She was executed on in Connecticut on December 20, 1786 for the murder of a 6 year old girl whom she had beaten to death after an earlier argument.

In the 40 year period 1926 – 1965, 675 hangings, including those of five females, were recorded in 30 states.  The last hangings, prior to suspension of the death penalty, took place at the Kansas State Penitentiary in Lansing, on June 22, 1965, when George Ronald York and James Douglas Latham, both aged 23, were executed for the murders of seven people in a violent rampage while they were serving in the army.  Latham was hanged first, at 10.24 a.m. and was certified dead 15 minutes later.  York followed at 12.34 and took 19 minutes to die.  Two months earlier, on April 14, the killers of the Clutter family, Perry Edward Smith and Richard Eugene Hickock were hanged in the same prison and their case became famous in Truman Capote's book "In Cold Blood" which was also made into a film. The gallows (see photo) in the Kansas State Penitentiary stood in the corner of a general warehouse just outside the prison walls and was always referred to as "the corner."  It was used for 15 state executions and 4 military hangings between 1944 and 1965.  The last hanging in Utah was somewhat unusual in that the condemned man, Barton Kay Kirkham had chosen hanging over the firing squad because he would get more publicity and it would put the state to more inconvenience.  21 year old Kirkham was put to death at dawn on June 7, 1958 for a double killing while robbing a grocery store.  The gallows had a ramp up to the platform rather than steps and Kirkham who reportedly weighed 200 lbs. was given a drop of 6 feet.

Execution protocols.
Protocols varied widely depending on the state or county in which the hanging took place.
In most states, during the 19th and early part of the 20th centuries, the sheriff of the county in which the defendant was sentenced officiated as the hangman but was seldom good at it as they typically carried out so few executions. This led to a lot of bungled hangings where the length of drop was not calculated correctly.

Four styles of judicial hanging have been used in America.

The Short drop.
Up to the 1850's, most hangings were carried out with little or no drop - often less than a foot - the prisoner being hanged from a tree after being turned off the back of a cart, ladder or horse. This normally resulted in death by either strangulation or Carotid or Vagal reflex (pressure on the Carotid artery and or Vagal nerve which causes very rapid unconsciousness and cardiac arrest.)

Standard drop.
A standard drop of around 4-5 feet was used in many hangings during the later part of the 19th century and into the early 20th century. A drop of this distance was rarely sufficient to break the prisoner's neck and they died by strangulation although it is possible that they were rendered unconscious by the force of the drop and the impact of the knot against the side of the neck. A standard drop of 5 feet was used for the Lincoln conspirators (see below) despite significant weight and size variations between the four prisoners.

Long drop.
This was based on the British and Canadian models and was used in the 20th century by some states. It involved dropping the prisoner an exact measured length which was calculated according to their weight and modified if required to take account of their physique. The force of the drop combined with the position of the knot below their left ear was designed to break the prisoner's neck and thus cause instant unconsciousness, followed rapidly by death. The 1947 US Army manual gives a table of drops (see below) and this was used for the three post 1977 hangings.
The prisoner is weighed prior to execution and their weight in pounds divided into 1020 to arrive at a drop in feet. It takes between half and three quarters of a second for the prisoner to reach the bottom of the drop, after the trap is sprung.

Table of drops:

Prisoner's weight lbs.


Prisoner's weight lbs.


Up to 120

8' 1


6' 0"






7' 7"


5' 9"


7' 4"


5' 7"


7' 1"


5' 6"


6' 9"


5' 5"


6' 7"


5' 4"


6' 6"


5' 2"


6' 4"


5' 1"


6' 2"

220 and over

5' 0"


Sudden suspension
Instead of the conventional gallows that dropped the prisoner through a trap door, some states used a method where weights connected to the rope jerked the prisoner upwards when the weights were released by the hangman. This was used in 1874, for the hanging of William E. Udderzook in West Chester, Pennsylvania and also for Charles Thiede in Utah in 1896.  On February 28, 1887, 40 year old Roxalana Druse was executed in this way. Roxalana and her retarded daughter, Mary, beat her husband John (aged 72) to death and then chopped up his body, afterwards boiling down the remains. They lived in a frontier cabin in Little Falls, New York, and were caught because her 12 year old son informed the police that his father was missing. The alleged motive for the crime was that her husband worked her too hard. Her daughter was given a prison sentence for her part in the crime.  When she was jerked into the air her neck was not broken by the force and she took several agonizing minutes to strangle to death on the noose. The scene so upset the officials that it was decided to alter the method of execution and this led to the introduction of the electric chair in 1890.  She was the last woman hanged in New York State, although another 19 men were to die this way over the next three years before electrocution replaced hanging. 
Connecticut used a similar arrangement for the execution of Gerald Chapman at Weathersfield on April 26, 1926. A weight was connected to the rope and this was released by the warden operating a lever with his foot. Chapman was hoisted 12 feet into the air and his neck was broken by the force of this.
This gallows had been modified for Chapman's hanging. From 1894, it had been operated by buckshot which was released by the weight of the prisoner standing on the trap. The shot ran down a chute until there was sufficient weight of shot to trigger the mechanism which then released the weight and hauled the prisoner into the air.

Public hangings.
Public executions were normal up to 1834 when Pennsylvania became the first state to move them out of the public gaze. The following year New Jersey, New York and Massachusetts did the same. They continued on in some states up to the 1930's and always drew a large crowd. The last public hanging was that of Rainey Bathea, at Owensboro, Kentucky on the morning of August 14, 1936 for the murder and rape of a 70 year old white woman. (see photos 1, 2 & 3) This was to be the last truly public hanging in America, however, at least five more men were to die in virtual public over the next three years.  Kentucky mandated hanging for rape and rape murder, whilst using the electric chair for murder only from July 1911.  Hangings were carried out at county prisons and there were nine between 1911 and 1938.
Roscoe "Red" Jackson was hanged at Galena, Missouri at 6:00 a.m. on May 26, 1937 for a murder he had committed three years earlier. Twelve hundred people came to watch although only 500 were allowed inside the stockade. Sheriff I. H. Coin gave Jackson a drop of 8 feet and he was certified dead at 6.14 a.m.  Jackson had killed Pearl Bozarth in August, 1934.  Bozarth was a travelling salesman from Indiana who had picked up Jackson as a hitch hiker.  Here is a slide show of his hanging. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, & 8.
Fred Adams went to the gallows set up inside a 10 foot wooden stockade on April 2, 1937 at Kennett in Dunklin County, Missouri also for murder.  A thousand people turned up to watch. After this, Missouri turned to the gas chamber for future executions - a method that doesn't really lend itself to being carried out in public! There were a further two semi public hangings in Kentucky within wooden stockades, those of John "Peter" Montjoy at Covington at dawn on December 17, 1937 and Harold Van Venison in the court-yard of Covington’s city county building at 5.39 a.m. on June 3, 1938.  He was pronounced dead 16 minutes later.  Thereafter electrocution replaced hanging for rape.  An estimated 400 witnesses were present for the hanging of Lee Simpson in Ryegate, Montana on December 30, 1939. 

Women. (See Female Hangings 1632 - 1937)
Around 505 women have been hanged in America including nine in the 20th century, the last being Mary Homes in Mississippi on April 29, 1937 for the murder of her employer. Her co-accused, Selmon Brooks, was hanged shortly afterwards. Most of these executions were for murder although a few of the early ones were for other crimes such as witchcraft and adultery. Thirteen women were hanged at Salem, Massachusetts in 1692 after the infamous witch trials there and hanging was the normal form of execution for women up to the beginning of the 20th century.
Mary Ann Surratt is the only woman to have been hanged under Federal law for her part in the assassination of President Lincoln (see below).

Multiple hangings.
Multiple hangings were not unusual in 19th century America. Here are a few examples:

The Honorable Isaac C. Parker presided over a staggering 13,490 cases in the 21 years, from 1875, that he meted out justice at Fort Smith, Arkansas. He sentenced 160 men to death and 79 of them were hanged.
The first group of prisoners to hang, on September 3, 1875, comprised of three white men, two Indians, and one black man, all of whom had been convicted of murder. Eight men had originally been sentenced to death but one was shot while trying to escape and a second had his sentence commuted to life in prison because of his youth. The hanging attracted huge media coverage for its day. Reporters came from Little Rock, St. Louis and Kansas City. Many of the large Eastern and Northern daily newspapers also sent reporters to cover the event. More than 5,000 people had turned out to watch the prisoners march from the jail to the gallows. They were seated together on a bench along the back of the gallows and had their death warrants read to them. Each was asked if he had any last words. They were then lined up on the trap and George Maledon, the hangman, adjusted the nooses around their necks and drew the black hoods over their heads. At the signal from Judge Parker, Maledon pulled the lever to release the trap through which they now plunged. He took great care in his work and his prisoners usually died of a broken neck rather than by strangulation. Maledon also carried out another six man hanging later in his career.

The Lincoln conspirators.
President Abraham Lincoln was shot and fatally wounded on April 14, 1865 by John Wilkes Booth. Booth himself was also shot but his co-conspirators were quickly rounded up and tried by a military court. Mary Ann Surratt, George Atzerodt, David Herold and Lewis Paine were sentenced to hang for their alleged parts in the assassination. The death sentences were confirmed by the President on July 5th and the execution was set for 1:00 p.m. on July 7, 1865.
A large gallows had been built specially in the yard of the Washington Arsenal prison, it had two traps and two ropes were suspended above each one. (See
The prisoners were led out and seated on chairs while they were prepared, with Mrs. Surratt being left to last. Captain Christian Rath, who was officiating as hangman, put the nooses around the prisoner's necks and drew white canvas hoods over their heads. His assistants bound their arms and legs with white cloth strips. From left to right on the gallows were Mary Surratt, Lewis Powell, David Herold and George Atzerodt. At 1:21 p.m., Rath signalled to the people on the platform to stand away from the traps. He then clapped his hands three times. At the final clap, four soldiers knocked away the supporting planks and the traps fell, dropping the prisoners five feet. After the hanging, Rath commented "They bounded up again like a ball attached to a rubber band then they settled down.''  Army surgeons certified them all dead some 25 minutes later. It was probably the first time an execution was ever photographed as the technology had only recently been perfected. Due to the slow exposure of the photographic plates used at the time, the images of Powell and Atzerodt appear slightly blurred in the first photographs taken after the traps fell as their bodies struggled for a few moments.  The Boston Post recorded that “Payne's limbs were drawn up several times, and for a moment or two his whole frame quivered violently, but within five minutes all was still. Harold struggled some and some emissions of water took place from the body such as is frequently the case with persons dying a violent death. There was no perceptible movement of the body of Atzerott, and he apparently died easy. There was only a slight movement of the limbs of Mrs. Surratt observed.”  Mary Ann Surratt thus became the first woman to be executed under the Federal law for a crime few believe she committed. A slide show of this execution can  be found at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dYa0WC6NBjs 

The last hanging under Federal jurisdiction was that of 27 year old Victor Harry Feguer at the Fort Madison prison in Iowa on March 15, 1963 for the murder of Dr. Edward Bartels.

The Haymarket bombing.
On November 11, 1887, four anarchists were hanged in Chicago for throwing a bomb at the police who were trying to control a demonstration in a public square on May 4th of that year. Seven policemen and four demonstrators died and many more were injured.  Eight of the anarchists were subsequently arrested and charged with murder. Seven of them were sentenced to hang, although subsequently two had their sentences commuted to life in prison and one committed suicide on death row.
The remaining four, August Spies, Albert Parsons, George Engel and Adolph Fischer were hanged at noon in front of an audience of some 200 people, including many journalists, despite many petitions for clemency.
The gallows was erected between the first and second floor balconies of the prison, spanning the whole width between the wall and the balconies with a 25 foot beam over a 15 feet long x 5 feet wide trap. Four ropes with British style running nooses were suspended from metal rings on the beam. (See
At 11:45 a.m., Chief Deputy Cahill ordered the witnesses to remove their hats and a few moments later the condemned men were led in one at a time. Each was dressed in a white shroud and had his hands pinioned behind him. The nooses were placed around their necks and the white hoods pulled over their heads. According to the Chicago Tribune, "For a moment or two the men stood like ghosts."  Spies said something that was inaudible but Fischer shouted "Long live anarchy" as did Engel. Parsons began to speak but all were silenced by the crash of the falling trap, released from a booth behind the gallows. They fell four feet and twisted and writhed at the ends of their ropes. The bodies were examined by doctors and one by one they were declared dead, Fischer taking the longest at 7 minutes and 45 seconds. Many prominent people were concerned about the justice of their convictions and executions.

The largest multiple hanging in American history occurred on December 26, 1862 when 38 Sioux Indians were hanged simultaneously near Mankato in Minnesota for slaughtering hundreds of men, women and children. (see photo)

The Gallows.
Many different patterns of gallows have been used over the last 400 years. In some cases, they were built specially for one execution and never used again.
A tree was the earliest form of gallows, with a prisoner being either hauled up manually by the hangman or turned off from a ladder, horse or the back of a cart. The cart method was used for the hanging of the Salem witches in Massachusetts in 1691.
Once the concept of the “drop” became normal the gallows typically consisted of two stout uprights about 18-20 feet high joined at the top by a beam, often cross braced to them. At about 10 feet from the ground was the platform, reached by steps (often 13 in number) and with the trap set into the middle of it. Single leaf traps were the most common and were released by a variety of mechanisms, usually operated by a lever on the top of the platform or by cords. Normally there was a catch to stop the trap door bouncing back and hitting the prisoner. In some cases, sand bags were connected to the door(s) for this purpose.
The photograph of the Sierra County gallows is typical of its period (1885). The operating lever and mechanism being clearly visible. See (
As well as the conventional gallows that dropped the prisoner through a trap door, some states used the “jerker” gallows where weights connected to the rope, released by cutting a cord, jerked the prisoner upwards instead of dropping them. This form was used in 1874 for the hanging of William E. Udderzook and Charles Thiede described above.
Idaho used a similar system to the Connecticut one, but operated by water rather than shot. However, it was only used twice and then abandoned due to the possibility of the water freezing in winter executions.
The modern gallows in Washington's Walla Walla prison looks most unlike the traditionally imagined style being of the balcony pattern. The rope(s) passes through one of two large iron eye bolts set into the ceiling and with the free end tied off to a wall mounted metal bracket which takes the force of the drop. On the floor of the balcony there are two single leaf trap doors, each released by an electromagnetic mechanism, operated by a member of the execution team pressing a red button. (See walla1 and
walla2).  In the event of this failing there is a foot operated release pedal.
The gallows in Delaware used to hang Billy Bailey was an amazing structure (see
photo).  It has since been torn down as none of the prisoners currently on death row is eligible to choose hanging.

The Noose.
The coiled noose was used in most states up to abolition of hanging. It was normally formed from Manila hemp rope and has from 5 to 13 coils which slide down the rope delivering a heavy blow to the side of the neck, hopefully rendering the prisoner unconscious. The modern noose is prepared in accordance with a procedure laid down in a US army manual, from 30 feet of 3/4"-1" diameter rope, boiled to take out stretch and any tendency to coil. It is formed into six coils and then waxed, soaped or greased to ensure that the knot slides easily. (See photo). The knot is normally placed beneath the prisoner's left ear and the noose drawn fairly tight.
It was realized that it was necessary to take out the stretch from the rope to prevent the prisoner bouncing up again in the trap, as often happened in earlier times. In some states this was done by dropping a bag of sand of approximately the same weight as the prisoner and then leaving it suspended for some hours prior to the execution.

The Hood.
It became normal in later times to hood the prisoner on the gallows. The hood was either white, or more commonly black, in 19th/20th centuries and served to prevent the prisoner seeing the hangman pulling the lever and moving at the crucial moment and also to prevent the witnesses seeing the prisoner's face afterwards. This tended not to be a pretty site where they had died by strangulation. Some states used a long hood which extended well down onto the prisoner's chest while others used a short one which just covered the face. It was normal to put the noose on after the hood so that the material of the hood reduced rope burn.

Again this varied from place to place, although in most cases the prisoner’s hands were tied either in front of them or behind their backs using cord in earlier times, later replaced by leather straps and/or handcuffs. Where a drop was used the legs were strapped at the ankles and above the knees to prevent the inmate bridging the trap with their legs. The Lincoln conspirator’s legs and arms were bound with cloth - clearly visible in the photos. Some states, e.g. Kansas, used a leather harness in modern times to pinion the arms and prevent movement.

America had few "professional" hangmen, most hangings being carried out by the sheriff of the county in which the person was sentenced. Perhaps the most notable hangman was George Maledon who officiated at Fort Smith, Arkansas and hanged at 86 men, often in batches of up to six at a time over his 20 year term of office. He used 13 coil nooses utilizing high quality hemp, specially made for him in St. Louis. He was very particular in oiling the rope to ensure it ran freely and tested each rope with a sandbag to remove the stretch from it. His normal drop was 8 feet which almost always resulted in the prisoner's neck being broken. As he said, "I never hanged a man who came back to have the job done over."  He received a fee of $100 per hanging. For more information on Judge Parker and pictures of the Fort Smith gallows visit http://www.nps.gov/fosm/historyculture/gallows.htm 
New Jersey had James Van Hise of Newark, as their hangman in the late 19th and early part of the 20th century who officiated at the executions of 73 men and two women in New Jersey and New York until both states moved to electrocution in 1906 and 1891 respectively.  He got a fee of $250 per execution.

In other places, the hangman could be the warden of the prison or a volunteer from the prison guards. In some states, the warden would release the trap. In others (such as Utah), three unnamed prison guards would, on a signal from the warden, simultaneously cut three strings, one of which released the trap. Nobody would thus know who had actually sprung the trap. In most cases the identity of the hangman was a closely guarded secret.

One American hangman went on to become President!  Grover Cleveland was Sheriff of Erie in the 1870's and hanged 28 year old Peter Morrissey on September 6, 1872 for murder. A few months later on February 14, 1873, he officiated at the hanging of another murderer - Jack Gaffney. Cleveland was elected President of the United States in 1884.

George Phillip Hanna (1873-1948), supervised some 70 Southern hangings in the period from 1915 to 1937. He organised the USA's last public execution, that of Rainey Bethea in Owensboro, Kentucky on August 14, 1936. He never sprang the trap himself, however, leaving this up to the local sheriff or their nominee. His role was to prepare the equipment, set the drop and on the day prepare the prisoner. He never accepted payment for his assistance at hangings.  One of his most famous criminals was Charlie Birger who was executed at 9.52 a.m. on April 19, 1928 at the Franklin County Jail at Benton, Illinois, in what was to be the state’s last public hanging, attended by 500 people within the stockade.  Birger’s final words were “It’s a wonderful world”.  Hanna can be seen in the photos – he is the bald man.  Photos 1, 2, 3, 4 & 5.  Birger had been convicted of organising the slaying of Mayor Joe Adams in 1926.

Master Sergeant John C. Woods was probably America's most prolific hangman, being employed as the US military executioner and also responsible for the hanging of 10 of the leading Nazi war criminals at Nuremberg, Germany in October 1946. Woods is reputed to have carried out a staggering total of 358 executions, although around 200 seems a more probable figure. (see photo)

Problematic hangings.
Where the drop is too long, it can result in decapitation, as occurred with the executions of "Black Jack" Tom Ketchum on April 26, 1901. Ketchum had put on quite a lot of weight while awaiting his execution and this hadn't been allowed for in calculating the drop. On the gallows his last words were "Let 'er go boys."
At 12:17 p.m., the sheriff cut the cord holding the trap and Ketchum plunged through it. Witnesses were horrified to see the head ripped from the body, which fell to the ground on its feet and seemed to stand a for a few moments before falling over, with blood pouring from the severed neck. A similarly ghastly mess occurred at the hanging of 52 year old Eva Dugan in Phoenix, Arizona on February 20,1930. Eva was the first woman to be executed in Arizona and hers was the first execution witnessed by women. There were five women among the 70 or so people present. She had been sentenced to death for murdering her employer/lover. (Arizona changed to lethal gas after this fiasco).  There are also reports of a partial decapitation in Washington although it is unclear whether the victim was Grant E Rio who was hanged on December 10th 1951 or John Broderson who was executed on June 25, 1960.

Other problems occurred from time to time to time such as the rope breaking, etc. The rope broke in the 1876 hanging of James Murphy, in Ohio, who had stabbed Colonel William Dawson in Dayton. Prior to the hanging, the rope which was unusually thin, had been tested using a barrel of nails and this had apparently weakened it. When the trap was sprung, Murphy's body plunged down and at the end of the drop the rope snapped at the beam. Murphy fell to the ground and was initially unconscious. After a few moments, a groan emerged from him and then he said "My God! Oh my God" Why I ain't dead, I ain't dead." He was hanged again a few minutes later - this time successfully.

Frequently, however, the drop was inadequate and the prisoner strangled, as in this description of a hanging at San Quentin in California. Clinton Duffy who was the warden there from 1942 to 1954 described the execution of Major Raymond Lisemba on May 9, 1942 as follows: "The man hit bottom and I observed that he was fighting by pulling on the straps, wheezing, whistling, trying to get air, that blood was oozing through the black cap. I observed also that he urinated, defecated, and droppings fell on the floor, and the stench was terrible". (This is not abnormal in death by slow hanging as the person slowly strangles). "I also saw witnesses pass out and have to be carried from the witness room. Some of them threw up."
It took ten minutes for the condemned man to die. When he was taken down and the cap removed, "big hunks of flesh were torn off" the side of his face where the noose had been, "his eyes were popped," and his tongue was "swollen and hanging from his mouth." His face had turned purple. California executed 307 men by hanging between 1893 and 1942, 215 at San Quentin and 92 at Folsom prison.

Modern hangings.
Westley Alan Dodd, (see
photo) became the first man to be hanged in America for 28 years, when he went to the gallows in the Washington State Penitentiary at Walla Walla, for triple child murder, on January 5, 1993. Dodd had chosen to be hanged and had fought a strenuous battle against the anti-capital punishment lobby to be allowed to die.  His weight was given at 147 lbs and his height at 5 feet 7 ½ inches, so a drop of 7 feet was set.
According to eye witness accounts Dodd appeared at the top window of the execution room at 12:02 a.m., with his hands pinioned in front of him by a strap around his wrists and wearing an orange boiler suit style prison uniform. He was asked if he wished to say anything and made a short speech to the witnesses through a public address system in which he told of finding Jesus and peace. At 12:04 a.m. a blind was then drawn down over the top window. Against it, the witnesses saw the silhouettes of one of the executioners strapping Dodd's legs and placing the black hood over his head, while the other put the 6 coil noose around his neck, adjusting it tight under the left ear (the subaural position).
At 12:05 a.m., a red button was pushed, operating the electromagnetic release mechanism, so releasing the trap-door on which Dodd stood. He dropped into the room below and his hooded body spun slowly anti-clockwise at the end of the rope. A press witness reported the hanging as follows - "I will never forget the bang of the trap-door and the sight of his body plunging through it". Another observer reported: "It (the body) appeared lifeless from the moment it fell into view. There was no dancing at the end of the rope, no gruesome display". "There was no violent movement or noticeable twitching", another reporter confirmed. Although some of the witnesses thought they detected an almost imperceptible movement in the body's abdomen as Dodd dangled before them, most put this down to involuntary muscle contractions and agreed he could not have been conscious at the time. At 12:06 a.m., a curtain was then drawn across the lower window and at 12:09, Dodd's death was confirmed by a physician using a stethoscope and being unable to detect an audible heartbeat.
The Washington execution protocol is detailed in a 12 page manual issued by the Department of Corrections with extracts from the American Military Manual. The traditional hangman's' noose, having six coils of 1 inch diameter hemp rope is used, and runs through a large metal eye in the ceiling of the execution room over the trap. The prisoner stands on a small rectangular area marked out on the trap which when released causes him to drop into the room below. There are windows for the witnesses to view the execution in both upper and lower rooms.
The autopsy, carried out by Donald Reay, King County medical examiner, was published and reported that Dodd died from separation of his cervical vertebrae and strangulation but that no bones were broken, contrary to Reay's prediction. Dodd probably suffered pain for no more than a moment and died within 2 to 3 minutes, Reay said.
The second hanging in Washington was that of Charles Rodman Campbell on May 27, 1994. (see photo)
Campbell had been convicted of killing three women, Renae Wicklund, her neighbor Barbara, and Renae's nine year old daughter. Campbell committed these murders while serving a prison sentence for the sexual assault of Renae Wicklund. At the time of the murders he was on work release.
Campbell was unable to stand in the execution chamber so his legs were strapped to a collapse board (visible in the photo of the Walla Walla gallows) to keep him upright on the trap.  Campbell was considerably bigger than Dodd at 6 feet 2 ½ inches tall and weighing 224 lbs. A drop of 5 feet 7 inches was given and the submental position (i.e. under the jaw) used for the knot.  Heartbeat continued for six minutes after suspension and the C2 vertebra was found to have fractured.
Billy Bailey is the only other person to have been hanged since 1977 - he was executed in Delaware on January 25, 1996 (click here for details).

Back to Contents page The process of judicial hanging The American female hanged US soldiers hanged in Europe during World War II
For a full listing of US hangings go to http://web.archive.org/web/20080518161424/users.bestweb.net/~rg/execution.htm