Crime & History

5 Intriguing Executions Carried Out By Britain's Most Famous Executioner, Albert Pierrepoint

03 May 2017

Albert Pierrepoint became Britain’s Chief Executioner in 1941. His father Henry and Uncle Thomas had also been executioners. During his appointment, Albert executed at least 400 people. He hanged many notorious criminals including “The Lady Killer” Neville Heath, “The Acid Bath Murderer” John Haigh, serial killer John Christie of 10 Rillington Place infamy and Ruth Ellis, the last woman to be hanged in Britain.

Albert was known for his discretion and quiet efficiency. He carried out this macabre profession while running a Pub in Oldham that was ironically named "Help The Poor Struggler."

Here are five lesser known but interesting executions carried out by Pierrepoint...

5Irma Grese

At the end of WWII Pierrepoint was flown over to Germany and Austria to execute 200 Nazi war criminals, and on one day he notched up a personal record of 17 executions.

Irma Grese was a female SS guard; she served at both Auschwitz and Ravensbruck concentration camps and was also in charge of the women’s section at Bergen-Belsen. Grese walked around in heavy boots and carried a whip and pistol, and regularly shot inmates randomly, or whipped them to death; she was also responsible for selecting them for the gas chambers.

Grese was nick-named the ‘Hyena of Auschwitz’ because of her propensity for allowing her trained dogs to savage prisoners. Grese was eventually charged and found guilty of the ill-treatment, torture and murder of detainees and was sentenced to death.

She was hanged by Pierrepoint at 9.34am on 13th December 1945 at the age of just 21.

4Gordon Frederick Cummins

Cummins was an RAF serviceman and a serial killer in London. He was responsible for the attempted murder of two women and the killing of four more, over a six-day period in February 1942.

Cummins took advantage of the city’s night-time blackout requirements during WWII to carry out his heinous crimes. He strangled all of his victims and mutilated three of them using various implements including a candlestick and a can-opener. His last two victims were lucky enough to escape his clutches.

On Valentines Day 1942, he attacked a woman in a shop doorway near Piccadilly Circus but was interrupted by the arrival of a delivery boy, so he ran off. Shortly after this, he attacked another woman but she too was lucky when she fought him off, and he again ran away.

After the Piccadilly attack, he left behind his RAF issued gas mask; this resulted in his arrest as it had his service number on the side.

At his trial, the jury took just 35 minutes to find him guilty. He was hanged by Pierrepoint at Wandsworth Prison, London on 25 June 1942. He was 27 years old.

3Styllou Pantopiou-Christofi

Styllou was a Greek Cypriot woman who was married at the age of just 14 and by the age of 25 she was arrested and tried in Cyprus for the murder of her Mother-in-Law. It was claimed that two other women had held the victim down while Styllou shoved a burning piece of wood down her throat. However, Styllou was acquitted when the three accused women covered for one another.

Tellingly, after the trial, her husband left her to bring up their son Stavros alone.

In 1941 Stavros moved to London and married a German woman named Hella. Then in 1953 Styllou followed her son and lived with them and their three children. However, the two women didn’t get on, and Styllou murdered Hella while Stavros was at work, and the children were in bed. She hit Hella over the head with an ash-can and then strangled her, before dragging the body out into the back yard where she tried to set fire to it.

The fire brigade was called at 1 am, and Hella’s charred body was discovered. Styllou claimed that two men had broken into the house and murdered Hella, but neither the police or the jury at her subsequent trial believed her, and she was convicted and sentenced to death.

At the age of 54, Styllou was hanged by Pierrepoint at Holloway Prison, London on 15th December 1954. Pierrepoint noted that there was very little press interest in the execution and said, “one wonders if it was because she was middle aged, unattractive and foreign”.

2Bruno Tesch

Bruno Emile Tesch was a German chemist and entrepreneur. He co-owned Testa, a pest control company that specialised in the fumigation of large, commercial properties. Along with two other chemists, Tesch helped to invent the cyanide-based insecticide Zyklon B.

Zyklon B was supplied to several concentration camps and was used to kill approximately one million Jews and Allied Nationals in the gas chambers. The Testa company also offered courses to the SS on the safe use of the chemical, which produced a poisonous gas that could cause death within two minutes of inhalation.

Tesch was found guilty of knowingly selling the product for use on humans. He was 55 years old when he was executed by Pierrepoint on 16th May 1946 at Hamelin Prison, Germany.

1James Henry “Tish” Corbitt

James Corbitt was actually a regular in Pierrepoint’s pub. The two men were friendly, and Albert called him “Tish” and Corbitt called Pierrepoint “Tosh”. On the night of the murder, Corbitt sang ‘Danny Boy’ with Pierrepoint around the piano at the Help the Poor Struggler Pub before leaving the pub and strangling his mistress in a fit of jealousy in a hotel room.

At his execution on 28th November 1950, Pierrepoint went to his cell and Corbitt nervously said,” Hallo Tosh” to which Pierrepoint replied “Hallo Tish. How are you?”. With that Corbitt relaxed and after Pierrepoint had strapped his arms, he said, “Come on Tish, old chap” before taking him to the gallows.

Later Pierrepoint said of the execution, “I thought if any man had a deterrent to murder poised before him it was…Tish. He was not only aware of the rope; he had the man who handled it beside him singing a duet. The deterrent did not work”. At the age of 37, Corbitt was hanged at Strangeways Prison in Manchester.

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