prison was built in 1610 and is the country's oldest jail. It is a grim stone structure
and is still operational. It housed French prisoners of war during the
Napoleonic Wars and during World War II, Cell 10 was used to protect some of
the nations treasures including the Doomsday Book, a copy of the Magna Carta and the logs of Nelson's Flagship, HMS
the place of execution for the county
of Somerset from 1889,
having taken over from Taunton,
and civilian executions took place there up to 1926. These
Samuel Rylands who suffered on the 13th March 1889 for the murder of a
little girl, the first to be hanged here.
A little over two years later, on the 15th December 1891 Henry Dainton was hanged for the murder of his wife at Bath.
Charles Squires was executed on the
10th of August 1893 for killing a child.
A further four men hanged there in the years 1914 - 1926. The first of these
executions was that of Henry Quarterly on Tuesday the 10th of November 1914 for shooting
dead his neighbour, Henry Pugsley. Thomas Pierrepoint
officiated at his hanging. Verney Asser followed
Quarterly to the gallows on Tuesday
the 5th of March 1918. Asser was an Australian soldier stationed at
Sutton Veney during World War I, who had shot a
fellow soldier, Acting Corporal Joseph Durkin. He was tried at Devizes in
Wiltshire in January 1918 and subsequently hanged by John Ellis, assisted by
Robert Baxter hanged William Bignall on the morning
of Tuesday the 24th of
February 1925 for the murder of his girlfriend Margaret Legg.
On Tuesday the 2nd of March
1926 the last civilian execution took place at Shepton Mallet when
Tom Pierrepoint hanged John Lincoln for the murder of Edward Richards at
Trowbridge in Wiltshire.
Shepton Mallet as an American Military prison during World War II. During World War
II part of the prison was taken over by the American government for use as a
military prison and as the place of execution for American servicemen convicted
under the provisions of the Visiting Forces Act (1942) which allowed for
American Military justice to be enacted on British soil. To enable these
executions to take place a new brick built extension was added to one of the
prison's wings. The two story red brick structure looks totally out of place
against the weathered stone walls of the original building. A new British style
gallows was installed on the first floor of the building and two cells within
the main building converted into a condemned cell.
military executions were carried out at Shepton Mallet, representing 17% of the
96 executions of American servicemen serving in the European and North African Theatres
of Operations (ETO). (Figures of 19 and even 21 executions in the UK have been
given in some accounts but are definitely not correct.) Of these 18 men, nine
were convicted of murder, six of rape and three of both crimes. Their racial
mix was : ten African American, three Latino and five
white - their average age was 21.5 years. 17 were Privates and one was a
Corporal. None ranked higher than this.
Much has been made of the ethnic background of these men but very little of
what they were convicted of. Also much is made of the alleged poor quality of
the trials that these men received. In at least two cases, men had their death
sentences commuted. (Thomas Bell who had been convicted of rape and George
Fowler see below).
mind that a conviction for murder in Britain at this time carried a
mandatory death sentence and that it was not unusual for civilian murder trials
to only take a day or two. Rape did not carry the death penalty in British law
but did in US Military law. Execution by shooting was not permitted for murder
but was under US Military law. Rape was punishable by death in most of the
southern states of America
and in fact the last execution for rape in the USA took place in May 1964 when
Ronald Wolfe was gassed in Missouri.
Just over 300 rape executions (where the victim lived) were carried out between
1941 and 1964.
Here is a
brief account of each case :
Pte. David Cobb, a 22 year old black G.I. was the first to be hanged, on
12th March, 1943. Cobb, from Dothan,
Alabama, was stationed at Desborough Camp in Northamptonshire and had been on guard
duty for some time during Sunday the 27th of December, when he was reprimanded
by 2nd Lieutenant Robert J. Cobner. He protested and Cobner ordered the sergeant of the guard to arrest Cobb.
Cobb threatened the man, who backed off so Cobner
unwisely decided to attempt the arrest himself. Cobb fired his rifle at Cobner fatally injuring him. He was tried by US court
martial at Cambridge
on the 6th of January 1943.
His trial occupying less than one day. His death
sentence was confirmed in due course and reviewed by the authorities before he
was executed by Thomas and Albert Pierrepoint within the new execution facility
at Shepton Mallet.
Pte. Harold Smith aa 20
year old from LaGrange, Georgia had gone AWOL (absent without leave) in London in January 1943 and
with another young soldier was staying in a hotel enjoying the town until their
financial recourses dried up. He then returned to Chisledon
Camp near Swindon to find his own unit had
been posted elsewhere. He found a loaded pistol and then got into an
altercation with Pte. Harry Jenkins whom he shot dead.
He also fired at another soldier before escaping back to London, where he was arrested by a British
policeman. He was handed over to American authorities and was court-martialled
at Bristol on the 12th of March 1943. He
made a full statement admitting his guilt and was duly hanged on the 25th of
June, 1943 by Thomas and Albert Pierrepoint.
old Lee A. Davis was another young black G.I. who was convicted of murder
during the war. The killing took place near Marlborough in Wiltshire, as two young women
walked back from the cinema. Davis
asked the girls what they were doing and the one, Muriel Fawden,
said she was returning to the hospital where she worked as a nurse. They tried
to get away from Davis who shouted after them "Stand still,
or I'll shoot". He instructed the terrified girls to go into some bushes beside
the footpath. Muriel's companion Cynthia Lay decided to make a run for it and Davis shot her dead. He
now forced Muriel into some bushes and raped her but surprisingly did not kill
her. She was able to give a full statement to the police and as a result all
the rifles of the American soldiers stationed nearby were examined. Davis' was found to have
been fired and forensic tests matched the shell cases found near Cynthia to it.
he had been at the scene of the crime but said he had only meant to fire over
the heads of the girls. He was court-martialled at Marlborough on the 6th of October for the
murder and the rape, both crimes carrying the death penalty under US Military
law. He was hanged on the 14th of December, 1943 by Thomas Pierrepoint,
assisted by Alex Riley.
Waters from Perth Amboy in New Jerseywas, at
39, rather older than the rest of these soldiers. He had been seeing a local
woman, 35 year old Doris Staples, in Henley on
Thames where he was stationed. There
relationship was deteriorating and on the 14th of July 1943 he went to the drapers
shop where she worked and shot her five times. The police arrived while Waters
was still on the premises and a short siege began which was ended when the
police threw a teargas canister into the shop and broke down the door. Seeing
that he was cornered, Waters shot himself, but did not make a very good job of
it. In due course he came to trial at Watford,
Herts. (onthe 29th of November 1943) and was convicted and sentenced
to death for Doris' killing. He was hanged on
the 10th of February 1944 by Tom Pierrepoint, assisted by Alex Riley.
J.C. Leatherberry, a 22 year old from Hazelhurst, Mississippi,
was executed for the murder of Colchester taxi
driver Henry Hailstone on the evening of 5th of December 1943. Hailstone's taxi
was found abandoned and parked facing the wrong way which the police thought
unusual and made them wonder if it had been parked by a foreigner who drove on
the other side of the road. In the car was a blood stained jacket with
Hailstone's driving licence in the pocket. When the area round the car was
searched a blood stained overcoat was found with a name tag inside of Captain
Walker. When he was interviewed he told police that the coat had been stolen,
along with his Rolex watch, by a black soldier on the day of the murder.
However a gas mask had been left during the robbery and this bore the
identifier of J. Hill. Hill was traced and said he had lent the gas mask to
fellow soldier George Fowler. Fowler was arrested and when his belongings were
searched a pawn ticket was found for the missing Rolex. Fowler also admitted
that he and Leatherberry had been involved in the
murder. Their motive appeared to be to steal the car. Fowler maintained that it
was Leatherberry who had strangled the driver. Both
were convicted at their court martial at Ipswich
on the 19th of January 1944
and both received the death sentence. However Fowler's was commuted as the
court accepted that Leatherberry was the principal
and because he had given evidence. Fowler was returned to military prison in
to serve his life sentence while Leatherberry was
sent to Shepton Mallet to be hanged by Thomas and Albert Pierrepoint on the
16th of March 1944.
25 year old Pte. Wiley Harris Jr. from Greenville,
Georgia, was another black
soldier who was stationed in Belfast in Northern Ireland.
He had gone out with his friend Pte. Robert Fils to a
bar for the evening where they met a pimp called Harry Coogan
who offered them the services of a young woman. These Harris accepted and he
and the girl went to a nearby air raid shelter to have sex with Coogan keeping watch outside as this sort of activity was
illegal. As they were getting started Coogan shouted
to them that the police were approaching. Harris and the girl got dressed and
emerged from the shelter to find that there were no police and Harris then
demanded his money back. A struggle ensued between Harris and Coogan in which Coogan punched
Harris. This caused the fight to escalate to the point where Harris stabbed Coogan 17 times. The court martial were not prepared to
accept self defence in view of the number of stab wounds and so Harris was
convicted. He was hanged by Thomas Pierrepoint, assisted by Alex Riley, on the
26th of May 1944.
old Alex F. Miranda from Santa Ana,
California, became the first
American serviceman to suffer death by musketry as the US Army called shooting
by firing squad, at Shepton Mallet. He had been convicted of Violation of the
92nd Article of War (murder) and was executed by an eight man firing squad in
the prison grounds on Tuesday
the 30th of May 1944 for the murder of his sergeant, Sgt. Thomas Evison at Broomhill Camp in Devon. Miranda had gone out drinking and had been
behaving badly so was arrested by the civilian police and taken back to the
camp. Here he became aggressive and the object of his aggression was Sgt. Evison who was reportedly asleep at the time. Getting no
response from the sleeping man he shot him dead. The location of Miranda's
court martial is unknown as is the reason why he was sentenced to be shot
rather than hanged, bearing in mind that both David Cobb and Harold Smith had
also killed other US
soldiers. Hanging was the preferred method by the US Military as it was
considered a more ignominious death than shooting.
old Eliga Brinson from TallahasseeFlorida and 22 year old Willie Smith from BirminghamAlabama,
were hanged by Thomas Pierrepoint on the 11th of August 1944 for the rape of 16
year old Dorothy Holmes after a dance at Bishop's Cleeve
in Gloucestershire. Dorothy left the dance with her boyfriend when they were
ambushed by Brinson and Smith who assaulted them and when the boyfriend ran to
get help both raped Dorothy. They were caught through the boot prints they left
in the field where the rape took place. They came to trial at Cheltenham
on the 28th of April 1944,
their case taking two days to complete.
Thomas, a 23 year old from Arnaudville,
Louisiana, was another black
soldier convicted of rape. His victim was Beatrice Reynolds, who was returning
home after helping out at the British Legion hall at Gunnislake
in Cornwall on
the evening of July 26th
1944. Thomas accosted her on her way home and she tried to get rid
of him by talking to her friend Jean Blight but without success. He hit her and
pulled her into a field where he raped her and robbed her of her watch. Thomas
had also spoken to Jean Blight and she was able to positively identify him the
next day when the entire camp at Whitchurch Down near
Tavistock was put on parade. Blood on Thomas's trousers was shown to be of the
same group as Beatrice's. He was court martialled at Plymouth on the 21st of
August and hanged by Thomas and Albert Pierrepoint on the 12th of October 1944.
old Benjamin Pyegate from Dillon,
South Carolina, was the second and last US soldier to
face a firing squad at Shepton Mallet. The crime took place at Tidworth Barracks in Wiltshire on the 15th of July 1944. Pygate became involved in an argument with three
fellow soldiers in his hut and kicked James Alexander in the groin prior to
stabbing him to death. On the 28th of November 1944 he was duly executed by
firing squad, or musketry. He was led out and tied to a post. A black hood was
placed over his head and a four inch diameter white target placed over his
heart. 15 yards away eight soldiers stood with their rifles, one of which
contained a blank round. The officer in charge of the execution gave the
regulation commands as detailed in the US Army Manual. These being
: "At the command READY, the execution party (firing squad) will
take that position and unlock rifles. At the command AIM, the execution party
will take that position with rifles aimed at target on the prisoner's body. At
the command FIRE, the execution party will fire simultaneously."
The medical officer then examined the prisoner and, if necessary could direct
that a "coup de grace" be administered. The sergeant of the execution
party was responsible for administering this with "a hand weapon, holding
the muzzle just above the ear and one foot from the head." It is not known
whether it was required in Pyegate's case.
old Ernest Lee Clark from Clifton Forge, Virginia and Augustine M. Guerra aged
20 from Cibolo, Texas
(both white) were jointly convicted of the rape and murder of 15 year old
Elizabeth Green at Ashford Kent
on 22nd of August 1944.
Clark and Guerra had been drinking in a pub in Ashford and left at closing time
to walk back to their barracks. On the way they encountered Elizabeth whom they
raped and strangled. Hair and fibre samples taken from the scene matched those
found on Clarke and Guerra and faced with this evidence they confessed to the
rape but claimed that they had not intended to kill Elizabeth. They were tried on the 22nd of
September 1944 at Ashford and hanged side by side on the 8th of January 1945,
by Thomas and Albert Pierrepoint.
Pearson, a 21 year old from Mayflower, Arkansas and 24 year old Parson (also
given as Cubia) Jones from Thompson, Georgia (both
coloured) were convicted by court martial of the rape of Joyce Brown at Chard
in Somerset on the 3rd of December 1944. Joyce was heavily pregnant at the time
of her rape and this must have been obvious to her assailants. Joyce was
dragged into an orchard where both men raped her. After the rape was reported
the clothes of all the men on the base were searched and Pearson and Jones'
were found to be muddy. They both admitted to having sex with Joyce but claimed
that she consented. Her pregnancy, bruising and her statement to the police
told a different story. They were tried at Chard on the 16th of December 1944
and hanged side by side on the 17th of March 1945 by Thomas Pierrepoint,
assisted by Herbert Morris.
old William Harrison Jr. from Ironton, Ohio sexually assaulted and strangled seven year old
Patricia Wylie in Killycolpy Co. Tyrone, Northern Ireland.
Patricia was the daughter of a couple who had shown friendship to him. On the
pretext of buying them a thank you present he took Patricia shopping with him
on the afternoon of September
the 26th 1944. His trial took place on the 18th of November 1944 and he was
hanged on the 7th of April 1945 by Thomas Pierrepoint, assisted by Herbert
Smith Jr. aged 28 from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, had gone hunting on private property (Honingham Hall in Norfolk)
with fellow soldier Leonard Wojtacha, both armed with
service carbines. They were challenged by the owner, Sir Eric Teichman and in the course of this confrontation Smith shot
Sir Eric once through the head, killing him. The court martial took place at Attlebridge in Norfolk, commencing on the 8th of January
1945, and lasting five days due to the repeated hospitalisation of Smith. He
had made a confession when he was arrested but claimed it had been made under
duress and withdrew it at his trial. He was convicted and hanged on 8th May,
1945 (V.E. Day) despite requests for clemency, including one from Lady Teichman.Thomas
Pierrepoint, assisted by Herbert Morris, carried out the execution.
Aniceto Martinez, a 23 year old Mexican American soldier from
Vallecitos New Mexico was working as a guard at a
prisoner of war camp at near Rugeley in Staffordshire. On the night of August the 6th 1945 he broke
into the house of 75 year old Agnes Cope in Rugeley where he raped her. She
survived to tell the police of her ordeal and the prisoner of war camp became
the focus of their enquiries. Only Martinez
had been out of the camp the previous night and when questioned he confessed to
the rape. Fibre samples taken from his clothing and matching those in Agnes'
house matched adding forensic evidence to the confession. Martinez
was tried at Lichfield in Staffordshire on the 21st of February 1945 and became
the last person to be hanged for rape in the U.K. when he went to the gallows on
the 15th of June of that year.Thomas
Pierrepoint, assisted by his nephew Albert, carried out the execution.
these men were tried by military courts martial and would have been handed over
to military authorities after arrest. The 1928 American forces Manual for
Courts - Martial laid down the specific procedures to be used.
The court was normally composed of legally trained officers and usually the
prisoner was defended and prosecuted by officers at the rank of captain. All
but two trials lasted just one day. In the Smith case, the trial lasted about
two working days, but took five days due to his repeated hospitalisations. In
only one case (Harrison) did the trial conform
to modern standards, it lasted three and a half days. Typically the defence
were allowed two to three weeks to prepare their case. In many cases they had
less time, and the Court was usually unwilling to grant defence motions to
delay the proceedings - only two such motions were granted.
After the guilty verdict, the death sentence could be passed, either by hanging
or shooting, at the discretion of the court. (Shooting was the usual sentence
in the case of a person convicted of a purely military offence.) It had to be
confirmed and reviewed by a Board of Review. If confirmed it was normally carried
out in about three months. (Under British law it was three weeks from sentence
to execution at this time.)
Execution details. The
normal U.S. Army method of hanging was not permitted in England and
this was confirmed by Albert Pierrepoint, in his autobiography. Most of the
normal American execution customs were allowed however. Executions by hanging
were normally carried out at
in the morning of the specified day. (Shooting executions were carried out
around ) The
British method of hanging was used, there was no standard drop and no hangmen's
coiled noose, but an exactly calculated drop using a British style eyelet
US Army regulations laid down that a condemned prisoner at execution "will
be dressed in regulation uniform from which all decorations, insignia, or other
evidence of membership therein have been removed. Likewise, no such evidences
will appear on any clothing used in burial." In all cases the condemned
men had the services of the prison chaplain in the days leading up to their
execution. They were housed in a condemned cell adjacent to the execution
chamber for the last three or four days of their lives.
Records of these hangings indicate that the time between releasing the trap
doors and confirmation of death varied considerably. David Cobb's execution
took only 3 1/2 minutes until he was officially pronounced dead by three U.S. medical
officers. (He was left hanging for one hour, as was the norm in England). It
took 22 minutes before George Smith could be certified dead. The average time
for 15 of the 16 hangings was 14.8 minutes. (The data is not available for one
hanging). It is presumed that the time was taken from the drop until no further
heartbeat could be detected by the attending medical officer. This would tally
with the time it took for the heartbeat to stop in civilian hangings at the
Pierrepoint commented adversely upon the delay caused to the execution process
caused by the reading of the death warrant on the gallows and allowing the
condemned man to make a final statement. Neither of these things were allowed in British executions but were standard
practice in American ones. Typically there were up to 20 witnesses and
officials in the execution chamber. After execution the bodies were buried in BrookwoodCemetery in Surrey.
Many were later re-buried in France.