Index Home About Blog
From: "Steve Harris" <>
Subject: Re: Decapitation
Date: Mon, 19 Aug 2002 17:01:00 -0700
Message-ID: <ajs0st$ipv$>

Robert A. Fink, M. D. wrote in message

>To determine whether decapitation is a "humane" method of execution or
>not.  The guillotine was "advertised" as a "humane" method of capital
>punishment when it was developed.
>If you are conscious for 15 seconds after your head has been severed,
>it is not too "humane".

These things are relative. You get at least that long after the bullets hit
your heart or the noose breaks your neck. And maybe more if the job isn't
done right.  And at least that long after you start breathing hydrogen
cyanide, which isn't all THAT pleasant.

I would adjudge lethal injection more humane than beheading, and that's
about it.  The electric chair probably stops consciousness instantaneously,
but there's the problem of sitting there while they attach electrodes that
are about to fry you like a piece of bacon. So there's more of a
psychological problem. I'll bet, despite the extra discomfort of other
modern methods, most people would prefer just about anything else other than
The Chair.

Back in Merry Olde England, they reserved beheading for the nobility and
hanging and other nasty methods for the rabble, for a reason. They'd seen a
lot of executions, and so I presume they had some idea of what they were
doing, and which was worse. Those who had a choice, invariably took the axe.
Anne Boleyn asked for a swordsman and got one, and I presume that the French
have a fetish about long fine steel, and did, long before Dr. Guillotine's
machine.  Headsmen can certainly screw up, if not pros. Possibly the term
"hack-job" predates the news business <g>.


I welcome email from any being clever enough to fix my address. It's open
book.  A prize to the first spambot that passes my Turing test.

From: "Steve Harris" <>
Subject: Re: Death From Ritalin
Message-ID: <So4r9.39499$>
Date: Wed, 16 Oct 2002 02:45:06 GMT

Beverly Erlebacher wrote in message
>In article <>,

>>In fact Hippocrates would certainly have used medications capable
>>of causing death and for which an occasional OD was inevitable -
>>opium being one.  What his ethic was intended to rule out was being
>>an intentional poisoning consultant to the ruling class, an ethic
>>that still says something about doctors who work in chemical warfare
>>establishments like Fort Detrick and Porton Down or those who assist
>>at American executions.
>In the original Hippocratic Oath, the physician swears he will not
>provide 'pessaries' i.e. birth control equipment, such as it was
>known in those days, to women.  So contraception is against the
>Hippocratic Oath, too.

Also the doctor swears he will not cut for stone, so urologist MDs would be
stuck if they took it seriously.  (These were the days when you left surgery
to your barber).

These days, doctors still refuse to participate in the mixing or
administration of lethal injection for legal execution. That went all the
way to the Surpreme Court, because the prison warden had to obtain
barbiturate, and no doctor would prescribe it. Therefore the prison was in
violation of DEA regs, if they intended to use the drug medicinally. I
believe the case was successfully argued when the State convinced Scalia and
Co that prison administration of poisons to a person does not constitute any
kind of medicinal use, and thus does not violate DEA laws requiring a
physician signature.  All the same, I wonder under just what set of
circumstances this happens. The prison pharmacy doubtless obtains the
barbiturate under its own DEA number. Then the pharmacist has to release the
drug to somebody, for some DEA recognized use. If it's not for research or
medical or veterinary use, I think that there's a box on the form that is
missing somewhere.


I welcome email from any being clever enough to fix my address. It's open
book.  A prize to the first spambot that passes my Turing test.

From: (Steve Harris
Newsgroups: sci.chem,
Subject: Re: Nitrogen KILLS
Date: 26 Oct 2004 13:52:55 -0700
Message-ID: <>

Carey Gregory <> wrote in message

> "N:dlzc D:aol T:com \(dlzc\)" <N: dlzc1 D:cox> wrote:
> >Now execution by blender... that would be hard to sanitize!
> Not if you keep the lid on.


It's all a matter of how long you do it, I suppose. And if you get to
add all the water, bananas, and soap you want.

"The court sentences you to be taken to the place of execution and
there subjected to quizinartomorification on `frappe'. And may god
have mercy on your soul. And on those doing clean-up."

But I'm sure it wouldn't be as bad as cleaning up after airline
crashes, where you can't just liquify *everything* and put it down the
drain. However, some of this is actually done now. I've seen stainless
steel autopsy tables that featured a really big integrated dispose-all
in the drain.  Lots of pieces go that way in a bad coroner's case.
Especially in a body too badly damaged for viewing, it's pointless to
save all the junk for stuffing back into the cavities, like the giblet
bag in a turkey. It just increases the fluid mess and the smell.



From: "donald j haarmann" <>
Newsgroups: sci.chem,
Subject: Re: Nitrogen KILLS
Message-ID: <G6Afd.776601$>
Date: Tue, 26 Oct 2004 22:22:30 GMT

"Steve Harris"


> Lots of pieces go that way in a bad coroner's case.
> Especially in a body too badly damaged for viewing, it's pointless to
> save all the junk for stuffing back into the cavities, like the giblet
> bag in a turkey. It just increases the fluid mess and the smell.
> Helpfully,


There are a number of religions whose epistemology does allow for the
abandoning of sundry body parts. Then there are those who feed bodies to
the turtles, birds, &c. Thus it maybe said- [Whomever's] "God works in
strange ways!"

donald j haarmann

If a man committed murder, he was hanged or, if an aristocrat, he
was beheaded. The only offence worse than that was high treason,
the equivalent of murdering one's country by killing, or plotting to
kill, its sovereign lord, the king. Because it was a worse crime, it
was axiomatic that the penalty had to be more severe than a
standard execution. And those charged with deciding what could
possibly meet that criterion came up with the perfect answer: the
traitor would simply be carved into pieces, anatomically
demolished, as it were, while still alive.

The process is best exemplified by the case of Major General
Thomas Harrison, one of the regicides who had sentenced Charles
I to death. After the Restoration of the monarchy in 1660, he and
others were tried, the sentence passed at the Old Bailey being:

'That you be led to the place from whence you came, and from
thence be drawn upon a hurdle to the place of execution, and then
you shall be hanged by the neck and, being alive, shall be cut
down, and your privy members to be cut off , and your entrails be
taken out of your body and, you living, the same to be burnt before
your eyes, and your head to be cut off, your body to be divided into
four quarters, and head and quarters to be disposed of at the
pleasure of the King's majesty. And the Lord have mercy on your

This was duly carried out two days later at Charing Cross in the
presence of a multitude of sightseers, which included Charles II,
the son of the executed king. Harrison was allowed to swing from
the gallows for but a matter of minutes. Halfchoking, he was then
stretched on the boards for the executioner to slit open his stomach
and pull out his entrails. Whereupon, it was reported, the
appallingly mutilated Harrison leaned forward and hit the
executioner across the head. Within seconds his own head had
been deftly removed and his intestines thrown on the blazing fire
near the scaffold. Retribution had been seen to be done.

The word 'drawn' in the dread phrase has caused some
confusion, as it has a dual application: that of being 'drawn' on a
hurdle, and also 'drawn' as a chicken is prior to cooking. More
accurately, then, the details were: drawn on a hurdle; hanged, but
only briefly enough to cause partial strangulation; drawn,
disembowelled (sometimes preceded by castration, to symbolise
that the traitor could thereby never propagate any future traitors),
the bowels and entrails then burned; beheaded and quartered, the
torso being hacked into four portions and displayed on the city
gates as a warning to all.

This butchery ended with the executioner holding the head up
high at each corner of the scaffold and exclaiming: 'Behold,
the head of a traitor! So die all traitors!' The gory trophy was then
taken to Newgate Prison to be parboiled before being exhibited on
London Bridge as a deterrent. The parboiling, or part-boiling, was
necessary to deter the voracious appetites of the seagulls, and
was achieved by boiling the head in salt water and cumin seed in a
large cauldron, this procedure taking place in a Newgate room
called Jack Ketch's kitchen.

For over six hundred years there was only one bridge spanning
the Thames in London, this being the route for travellers entering
the city from the south of the country and the Continent. It was
therefore the obvious place at which to warn all visitors of the dire
fate that awaited law-breakers; what could be more realistic than
the heads of those who had failed to take heed?

To prevent invaders crossing the bridge and attacking the city,
the structure incorporated a drawbridge which, when opened,
abutted against a stone gateway. And what particularly gripped the
attention of the visitor was seen on raising his eyes above the
gate's battlements, for there, leaning at all angles, were a dozen or
more long poles, the majority of them bearing aloft a human head.
And among these hideous objects could generally be seen a
quarter of an individual who had been hanged for treason.

This spectacle was often remarked on by eminent personages
coming to London. Jacob Rathgeb, private secretary to Frederick,
Duke of Wiirttemberg, praised London Bridge, 'with its quite
splendid, handsome and well-built houses, which are occupied by
merchants of consequence', going on to refer to 'about thirty-four
heads on the gateway of persons of distinction who had in former
times been condemned and beheaded for creating riots'.

Joseph Justus Scaliger noted in 1566 that 'in London there were
many heads on the bridge. . . I have seen there, as if they were
masts of ships, and at the top of them, quarters of men's corpses'.
And in 1602 the Duke of Stettin wrote in his diary about his journey
through England, remarking that while the bridge had become of
little importance in a military sense, its gateway continued to warn
the public of the autocratic powers of the Tudors, 'for near the end
of the bridge, on the suburb side, were stuck up the heads of thirty
gentlemen of high standing who had been beheaded on account of
treason and secret practices against the Queen'.

Treason did not simply mean plotting to kill the sovereign, as
Thomas Douglas found out in 1605. He conspired with James
Steward in forging the King's signature in an attempt to procure the
Great Seal of England, with which they could then acquire land
held by the Crown. The plot was discovered and Steward was
executed, but Douglas was not implicated and, undeterred,
counterfeited the king's Privy Signet and used it to endorse letters
sent to six princes of Germany, in which he sought money and

This too misfired and, as reported by the historian Stow, 'today,
27 June 1605, he was drawn on a hurdle into Smithfield and there
hanged and quartered. At his death he acknowledged all to be
true, and protested before God that there was not any one person
so much as accessory in any of his treasons.

Among the many whose heads adorned the battlements of the
bridge were those of Sir Thomas More, rebel leaders Jack Cade
and Wat Tyler, Fr Henry Garnett, William Wallace, the paramours
of Queen Catherine Howard, Dereham and Culpepper, Lord Simon
of Sudbury, together with a quarter of Henry 'Hotspur' Percy, son of
the Earl of Northumberland.

Shocking as it may seem, even the heads of executed women
were spiked on the bridge, one of them being that of Elizabeth
Barton, known as the 'Holy Maid of Kent'. A domestic servant at
Aldington, Kent, she later entered a convent in 1527, and there
became prone to religious trances. In those superstitious times her
fame spread far and wide, her prognostications being tolerated
until it was announced that Henry viii intended to marry Anne
Boleyn . At that, Elizabeth predicted that if he married her during
the lifetime of his divorced wife Catherine of Aragon, he would die
within a month.

In the Parliament that sat in January 1534 the matter was brought
up, the conclusion being that, together with other clerics, she was
obviously conspiring against the king. The outcome was inevitable
and, as recorded by the chronicler Stow:

'The 20 Aprill 1534 Elizabeth Barton, a nunne professed,
Edward Bocking and lohn Dering, two monks of Christs church in
Canterburie, and Richard Risby and another of his fellowes of ye
same house, Richard Master, parson of Aldington, and Henry Gold,
priest, were drawne from the Tower of London to Tiborne, and
there hanged and headed, the nuns head set on London bridge,
and the other heades on gates of ye citie.'

Among the many who objected vehemently to Henry's claim to be
supreme head of the Church were several Carthusian priests, one
of them being Fr Houghton of the London house. In 1535 he was
dragged on a hurdle to Tyburn and, after praying and forgiving the
executioner for the deed he had to do, he mounted the gallow's
ladder. Then-, it was recorded in the Catholic archives:

'On the sign being given, the ladder was turned and so he was
hanged. But one of the bystanders, before his holy soul had left his
body, cut the rope, and so falling to the ground, he began for a little
space to throb.and breathe. Then he was drawn to another
adjoining space where all his garments were violently torn off, and
he was again extended naked on a hurdle, on whom immediately
the bloody executioner laid his wicked hands.

'Then he cut open his belly, dragged out his bowels, his heart
and all else, and threw them into a fire, during which our blessed
Father not only did not cry out on account of the intolerable pain,
but on the contrary during all - this time until his heart was torn out,
prayed continually, to the wonder not only of the presiding officer
but of all the people who witnessed it. Being at his last gasp, and
nearly disembowelled, he said to his tormentor while in the act of
tearing out his heart, "Good Jesu, what will you do with my heart?"
and saying this, he expired. And lastly his head was cut off and the
beheaded body was divided into four parts, the remains thrown into
cauldrons and parboiled, and put up at different places in the city.
And one arm of our Father was suspended over the gate of our
Carthusians' house.'

Even as comparatively recently as the early nineteenth century,
the fearsome sentence was pronounced, albeit in a modified form.
In 1817 riots took place in Derbyshire,
brought about by unemployment and bad social conditions and in
order to quell the disturbances three of the ringleader were
sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered, althougi this was
reduced to one of being hanged until dead and the decapitated.

Although representations were made to the Prince Regen
appealing that, as in original applications of the death sentence, a
knife be used for the beheading, his Roya Highness was adamant
that an axe should be the symbolic instrument on this occasion.
Two axes were therefore made patterned on the one held in the
Tower, and a gallows constructed outside the walls of Derby Gaol.
Whether drawn by curiosity or sympathy, great crowd assembled
to see the three men, Jeremiah Brandreth, Isaa Ludlam and
William Turner, led on to the scaffold. Without ceremony, nooses
and blindfolds were put in place, and the condemned men were
duly hanged, their bodies remaining suspended for an hour. A
trestle, with a support at one end had been placed in readiness on
the scaffold, and on this the first body was placed, its neck resting
on the support. A local miner, masked for anonymity, wielded the
axe but, lacking the will or the expertise, failed with the first two
blows, final severance being achieved with a knife.

No doubt coached by the authorities, the pseudo-executioner
then lifted the head high and proclaimed the traditional
announcement, but succeeded only in dispersing his audience as,
overcome with horror at the ghastly exhibit, the crowd fled from the
scene. With only the soldiers as spectators, the macabre drama
continued, the other two bodies being cu down and similarly
maltreated, all three cadavers then take away for burial.

The last true performance of the brutal sentence took place in
1820, although the 'disembowelling' part was mercifully omitted.
Again, social deprivation had bred discontent, this time in London,
creating ideal conditions for the likes of agitators such as Arthur
Thistlewood and his cronies. Believing that if the government could
be brought down, revolution would triumph, the five conspirators
plotted to murder the members of the Cabinet and to seize the
Mansion House, the Bank of England and the Tower.

But the authorities, already appraised of the plans by an
informer, were prepared, and the gang was trapped by the police in
a house in Cato Street (now renamed Homer Street). On trial for
high treason, all were found guilty, and at Newgate on 1 May 1820
they were greeted not only by a vociferous crowd of thousands but
by the two Jameses, Messrs Botting and Foxen, the Finishers of
the Law.

The latter officers waited until the condemned men had made
their parting speeches and then proceeded with their duty, pulling
on the legs of the hanging men to give them some assistance in
departing this life. The crowd, far from patient, had to wait an hour
before the bodies were cut down, and watched in awed fascination
and horror as the corpses were positioned in their coffins so that
the necks rested on wooden blocks. At that, a masked man,
believed to be a surgeon, deftly decapitated each, passing the
heads to Botting for the usual proclamation.

At that, the crowd, who would probably have welcomed the
downfall of the government, to say nothing of access to the Bank of
England, rushed the scaffold, screaming threats and imprecations.
Botting and Foxen waited not but fled to safety within the walls of
Newgate Prison.

Doubtless the scenes at this occasion bore fruit, for no further
sentences of such barbarity were ever pronounced, the penalty
being struck from the Statute Books in 1870.

The Book of  Execution
An Encyclopedia of Methods of Judicial Execution
Geoffrey Abbott
Yeoman Warder (retd.)
HM Tower of London
Member of Her Majesty's Bodyguard
of the Yeomen of the Guard Extraordinary

Index Home About Blog