William Calcraft, a 19th century British hangman, was so incompetent that he often had to hang from the legs of the executed or climb on their shoulders to complete the execution.
His services were in high demand during his time as an executioner, but many thought he was incompetent because he used the “short drop” method of hanging, which caused victims to die by strangulation instead of a snapped neck.
In the “short drop” method, the drop was really only 3 feet. Often, the condemned took several minutes to die, so Calcraft tried to break their necks or pull on their legs. It’s thought that he may have just been trying to entertain the crowds, which sometimes grew higher than 30,000 people.
It’s been estimated that throughout his 45 year career, he hanged 450 people. Because the job didn’t pay too well, he often sold pieces of the rope previously used for hangings. In one case, an execution lasted much longer than three or four minutes.
Calcraft executed three men known as the Manchester Martyrs. The first died instantly due to a snapped neck, while the other two struggled after. Calcraft grabbed the legs of one of the men, Michael Larkin, to kill him.
The Catholic priest in attendance refused to allow him to do the same to the third man, Michael O’Brien. The priest held O’Brien’s hands in prayer for forty-five minutes before he died.