There is a reason why a death sentence by hanging includes the words ‘hanged until death.’ It is because cases of people who were hanged and still left the gallows while breathing are not so foreign. There is also another myth that if a man survives their execution, then they are not legally supposed to be killed again, but that is not true. In 2009, Romell Broom, a death row inmate in Ohio, survived death row when the doctors could not find any single viable vein to administer the lethal injection on his body. Unfortunately, he died on Covid 19 complications in Dec 2020. He wasn’t the first man to survive an execution, though.
The Man Franks
At one point in the 1800s, before Fiji became a British colony, it was a kingdom for just two years. In 1872, one man named Franks was accused of murder and sentenced to death. The kingdom wasn’t prepared for executions, though. The date of the hanging was delayed, and when the sheriff finally decided to execute the poor man, he realized he had a highly incompetent hangman. The rope to the gallows was rained on and had to be dried on fire the morning before the execution.
To adjust the rope to fit the damned man’s head, the hangman had to pull the rope with his leg and hands while sitting down. When he was finally hanged, Frank died for about three minutes before he started moving. He then started speaking, begging those around him to kill him and take him out of his misery. The sight became too frightening for those around that no one wanted to re-hang the poor man, so the kingdom decided to banish him instead.
Modern execution methods were supposed to be very effective until states in the US started finding difficulty in finding the drugs for use in the execution in recent years. Romell Broom’s survival had nothing to do with it, though. He was being executed in September 2009 when the executioners were unable to locate any vein on his body to insert the IV bag containing the lethal drugs.
He cried out in pain as the doctors stuck him with a needle after another, trying to locate a vein that wouldn’t collapse for a whole 2 hours. The execution had to be called off. The governor, however, argued that Mr. Broom had to pay for his crimes of kidnapping, rape, and murder of a 14-year-old girl in 1984. Fortunately or unfortunately, Broom passed away in Dec 2020 before his new execution death in June 2022.
She is one of the most famous victims of the unfair laws against women in the 1600s in Britain. She was working as a maid to a Sir Thomas Reade in Oxfordshire, Britain, in 1650 when she got pregnant for one of her employer’s teenage grandsons. The 22-year old had a miscarriage six months into the pregnancy and was sentenced to hang for infanticide. After 30 minutes of hanging, her body was given to a surgeon at Oxford to be used for research purposes, but the surgeon realized that she was still breathing. They then tried every possible method to revive her, including forcing her to drink hot spirits. The bottom line, she survived all that and was declared saved by God and therefore innocent. She moved to another town with the coffin meant to burry her as a souvenir and lived to raise her children in the new place.
Willie Francis’ story is used as evidence against the sham justice black people were exposed to in the US for the better part of the past three centuries. Francis was arrested in 1945 with the wallet that belonged to a man that had been murdered. He was only 15 at the time. He was sentenced to death in what most people agreed was a sham trial and was set to be first executed in May 1946. However, the man setting up the electric chair was drunk and did a poor job at it. The current went through the poor boy who wailed since it wasn’t enough to kill him, only torture. Despite appeals against a second execution, Willie was still killed on the electric chair in May 1947.
It is not every day that you hear of a man surviving nine bullets from a firing squad. In 1937, Robert Ripley brought Wenseslao Moguel to his radio show named Believe it Or not. The man was deformed but very much alive, and everyone called him El Fusilado, meaning the executed one. He had been shot by the firing squad in 1915 for his participation in the Mexican revolution. All the shots, including the tenth one, which was supposed to finish him, failed, and Moguel lived his full life despite the traumatic experience.
This was another botched hanging in Britain, but this time, it was in London. It happened in November 1740, when William, then aged 17, offered a traveler Sarah Griffin a lodge at his place in Acton but then proceeded to rape her with his friends, causing her death the following day. He was found guilty of murder and hanged on November 24. However, after hanging on the gallows for over 50 minutes before being transported to the surgeons for medical experiments, Duell was discovered to be alive by the surgeons. His cheating death was considered an act of God, and so he was banished instead of being hanged again.
Half-Hangit Maggie is Scotland’s most famous execution survivor, and a pub with her name still stands in Edinburgh near the site of her execution. She was married to a fisherman when she got pregnant for an innkeeper’s son in 1724 in Edinburgh. She concealed the pregnancy, and when she finally gave birth, the baby was immature and stillbirth or died immediately after birth, sources differ.
Maggie then dumped the body of the baby on the banks of River Tweed, where it was discovered, and she was arrested and sentenced to hang for infanticide. After hanging, her family and friends fought to take the body from the medical students to go and bury it in her birthplace in Musselburgh. During the journey to be buried, they noticed movement in Maggie’s coffin, and there she was, very much alive. The sentence had been carried out so she couldn’t be hanged again. She went on to live 40 more years.
Ewan Half-Hung McDonald
He was a Scottish soldier stationed in Newcastle in 1754. In May of that year, he was involved in a bar fight after excessive drinking. His battle with the locals ended with his knife in someone’s jugular, and that got him the death penalty a few weeks later to be accompanied by dissection and anatomization. When his body was taken to the surgeon’s hall for dissection, the surgeons had left to attend to a sick person at the infirmary, so only an apprentice was present. The apprentice came to the room and found the half-hung man sitting on the table. Shocked but unwilling to lose the chance at the dissection, he picked a wooden hammer and finished the hangman’s job. The surgeon allegedly died a few years later when a horse kicked him on the head.
Most people in this list survived hanging once, but this one survived a whopping three times. He was sentenced to death for robbery, in which a police officer died in 1803 in Australia. Those days, the UK preferred slow strangulation to death rather than a quick drop to break the neck. Hundreds of damned men would be lined at the gallows standing on carts; then the carts would drive away, leaving them to hand by the nooses.
When Samuel’s cart was pulled, his rope snapped, causing him to drop and sprain an ankle while the rest of the convicts struggled for breath. The hangman god a new rope and hang him again, but this time, the noose slipped, and Mr. Samuel fell to the ground once again. In a final attempt, the hangman tied his knots properly and hanged the damned man once more, but the rope snapped again. The three times were considered a sign from God, so his sentence was commuted to life in prison.
John ‘Babbacombe’ Lee
John Lee had once committed a crime of stealing from his employer, for which he was fired as a footman, but the one he was hanged for was far less serious. He was the only male member of The Glen, his half-sister’s house, when she was brutally murdered. The only other man that was said to have been there on the night of the murder was also Lee’s lawyer, so he wasn’t treated as a suspect. Lee was supposed to be hanged based on circumstantial evidence even while he kept professing his innocence.
Then came the divine intervention on February 23, 1885, the morning of John Lee’s execution. The executioner checked the trap and confirmed that it worked properly, but each time he would pull the lever to let john hang, the trap wouldn’t open. Three times they tried to hang him, and three times they failed; hence the governor commuted his sentence to a lifetime of servitude of which he served 22 years. He is popularly known as the man they could not hang.