Hall of Fame Member
- Oct 9, 2004
British hangman who sent the Beasts of Belsen to hell: Gripping portrait of the cigar-smoking grocer's book-keeper from Manchester who executed 13 of the most depraved NazisBy Christopher Stevens for the Daily Mail
11 Dec 2020
The family name was synonymous with Death. It was notorious across Britain. Everyone knew the hangmen, the country’s official executioners, were called Pierrepoint.
And 75 years ago this weekend, it was a Pierrepoint who was summoned to Germany, to mete out justice to 13 of the most evil and depraved Nazis to be captured at the end of WWII— concentration camp commandant Josef Kramer, the Beast of Belsen, and his psychopathic cadre of guards.
This was perhaps the most macabre meeting of the war . . . between a cigar-smoking grocer’s book-keeper from Manchester and part-time Angel of Death, and a fanatical SS officer with an insatiable appetite for murder.
Albert Pierrepoint (pictured) was the third in the dynasty to take up the lethal profession. His father Henry was a Northamptonshire butcher who, as a young man, used to practise the best way to tie a noose
Albert Pierrepoint was accustomed to working in the shadows. On his very first job as an assistant hangman, aged 27, he accompanied his uncle Thomas to Dublin, to hang a murderer at Mountjoy Prison, in 1932. His uncle emphasised the importance of travelling incognito, especially in the Irish Republic where the British were widely despised.
All his equipment was carried in the capacious pockets of his coat and jacket, to avoid becoming conspicuous by taking a bag through the prison gates. Also in Thomas Pierrepoint’s pocket was a loaded revolver. He insisted ‘Our Albert’ must carry one, too.
Their appointment made national news. On the last leg of the journey from Dun Laoghaire, a man reading a newspaper leapt to his feet and shouted, ‘Pierrepoint is on this train!’ Uncle and son sat quietly, ignoring the commotion, as a tipsy sailor lurched to the door: ‘I know Pierrepoint very well,’ he declared. ‘I’ll have a look.’
A few minutes later, the man staggered drunkenly back. ‘Pierrepoint is not on this train,’ he announced. After that, Albert said, he understood why his uncle always carried a gun.
Albert Pierrepoint was the third in the dynasty to take up the lethal profession. His father Henry was a Northamptonshire butcher who, as a young man, used to practise the best way to tie a noose. He and his brother, Thomas, experimented with dead weights using sacks of corn in a stables, until Henry was appointed as a hangman in 1901.
A heavy drinker, Henry was relieved of his duties in 1910 after an argument with an assistant at a hanging turned into a fist-fight.
The reckoning: Nazi murderers Josef Kramer and Irma Grese, pictured, were hanged at Hameln, Germany, by Albert Pierrepoint. They were two of 13 Belsen guards, put to death on December 13, 1945
Albert always claimed that his uncle had taught him not to drink before a hanging: ‘If you can’t do the job without whisky, don’t do it at all.’ But by the outbreak of WWII, Thomas had a reputation for arriving at hangings smelling strongly of alcohol and unsteady on his feet, and he too was sent into retirement.
By then, Albert himself was the country’s chief hangman. An accountant, he never discussed his ‘other’ job, which paid no retainer but came with a fee of about £1,250 in today’s money for each execution. His full-time employer, a wholesale grocer, gave him time off to carry out his duties and asked no questions.