Death Row Criminal the Law Couldn't Kill – True Story
John Lee was sentenced to death by hanging, but when it came time for his execution, something incredible happened! Watch today’s amazing new animated …
Imagine sitting in a prison cell and contemplating
life and how it will all be over quite soon.
You’re going to be executed by way of hanging,
and no doubt you’re wondering how that will
You hope it will be quick.
It’s not so much oblivion that scares you,
but the fact the hanging might not go exactly
as it should and you’ll spend some seconds
or even minutes in agonizing pain.
It wouldn’t be the first time a man has
been left dangling with life still him in.
One thing you’re not considering at all
is the possibility of surviving your execution,
never mind surviving three attempts to execute
Welcome to the life of John Lee, the criminal
they just couldn’t kill.
Before we get to the momentous moment in history
that tainted the image of the British authorities,
and before we investigate the theories as
to why the job at hand failed, you need to
know a bit about hanging in the first place.
That way you might better understand how John
Lee escaped with his life intact.
Prior to the British getting a bit more humane
about this method of execution it was quite
brutal, albeit, likely a better way to go
than past forms of execution such as being
burned, boiled or torn apart at the limbs.
Hanging in the old days might have involved
climbing on to something and then having your
neck put inside a noose.
Then the object is taken from under the person
and they die from strangulation.
In the 19th century, scientists aired their
views and said dislocating the neck was a
more humane way to kill someone than strangulation
on a rope.
In 1866, the idea was proposed to drop the
person from a certain height to ensure this
quick snap and an ensuing death.
This method was called a “Standard Drop.”
At the time a scientist named Samuel Haughton
said the height of the drop to secure a fast
death should be between 4 and 6 feet (1.2
and 1.8 meters).
That way there would be no dangling in terrible
The Standard Drop was soon seen as backwards,
due to the fact that it didn’t take into
account a person’s height and weight.
In 1972, a new method was introduced and that
was called, “The Long Drop.”
The person was connected to a noose and stood
on a scaffold which had a trapdoor.
When the door was opened, down fell the body.
The authorities had to calculate the proportions
of the person’s body so that the neck would
snap and kill the person quickly, but not
drop the person so much that he or she would
This can, and has happened, and while death
is death, losing the head was not something
anyone wanted to see.
So that’s where we were around the time
a Mr. John Lee is going to go to the scaffold.
On November 15, 1884, he murdered a woman
named Emma Anne Whitehead Keyse.
This happened in a small village called Babbacombe
which is in Devon in the south of England.
Lee was arrested but always protested that
he was innocent of the crime, but there was
some evidence to the contrary, including a
knife wound he had incurred during the murder.
The woman had been killed with a knife.
Prior to her downfall, Keyse had lived alone
with her servants and cooks, and Lee had once
worked there, too.
He left that job, joined the navy, returned
to Devon and was then arrested for stealing.
After his release from prison he returned
to the manor and worked for Keyse again.
It was perhaps a bad move on her part to take
him back in.
When she was found dead there had only been
one person in the house at the time and that
Then there was the cut on his arm, which pointed
to his guilt.
Besides that, there wasn’t really anything
else police had on him and in 1884 there was
Maybe it wasn’t him who committed the murder,
and he certainly thought he’d been falsely
He once said, “The reason I am so calm is
that I trust in the Lord and he knows I am
He was sentenced to be hanged at Exeter prison
on 23 February 1885.
On the day of the event the executioner named
James Berry went through the checks.
Scaffold, all good.
Noose, correctly tied.
Trapdoor, working fine.
What could possibly go wrong?
All we know is that Lee was taken to the scaffold
and his head was fastened to the noose.
A white hood was put over his head and when
the signal was given the trapdoor didn’t
They tried again, and then again.
You can only imagine what was going through
Lee’s mind after the each time he’d gritted
his teeth and prepared for the great unknown.
This was a total embarrassment for anyone
involved and the medical officer said enough
He said he couldn’t hang around any longer
after those failures.
Lee was unfastened from that noose the last
time and was taken back to prison.
But what actually went wrong, since the entire
apparatus had been tested?
Well, the executioner wrote about the experience
as well as some other 130-plus executions
in a book called, “My experiences as an
He admitted in that book that the science
didn’t always work and some men died too
slowly or lost their heads, but Lee’s case
These are two excerpts from that book.
“On the Saturday I examined this drop, and
reported that it was much too frail for its
purpose, but I worked the lever and found
that the doors dropped all right.”
“The noise of the bolts sliding could be
plainly heard, but the doors did not fall.
I stamped on the drop, to shake it loose,
and so did some of the warders, but none of
our efforts could stir it.
Lee stood like a statue, making no sound or
Between each attempt they actually took Lee
He had the hood removed from his head and
was taken to a room.
The authorities then tried the trapdoor mechanism
again, and it worked fine.
Lee was brought back out, fastened in the
noose, hood put over his head, and they tried
It didn’t work three times in all.
By golly thought the authorities, the entire
experience was frightfully perturbing and
just a little bit disturbing.
Executioner Berry wrote that some people believed
there was a possibility of the trapdoor being
swollen by rain, but he added that they even
cut the door with an axe and a plain and it
still didn’t open when it needed to.
In the end he concluded that it was the iron
catches that had somehow stuck when Lee’s
weight was on the trapdoor.
It was one of the low points of his career.
The British Home Secretary, Sir William Harcourt,
commuted Lee’s sentence, saying, “It would
shock the feeling of anyone if a man had twice
to pay the pangs of imminent death.”
Lee ended up serving 22 years behind bars.
The thing is, investigations years later show
that Lee might not have been the only person
in the house that night and he might have
been wrongly convicted.
Maybe there really was some divine intervention
on his part.
What’s also a mystery is what happened to
Lee after he was released.
No one really knows since he just kind of
Some rumors suggest he kept his head down
and moved to London, while others say he moved
More recent research suggests that he went
over the pond and that his grave is in Milwaukee,
That research asserts that he abandoned a
wife and two kids in England and started a
new life in the States.
It’s possible he was buried there in 1945.
Now let’s have a look at two of some of
the very worst punishments that humans have
Choose from the videos, “The Catherine Wheel
– Worst Punishments In The History of Mankind”
and “Drawn and Quartered – Worst Punishments
In History of Mankind.”