The Executioner Always Chops Twice

Ghastly Blunders on the Scaffold, Geoffrey Abbott, St. Martin's Press.

It’s often said that progress is achieved through trial and error. In that respect execution is like any other human endeavor, except errors made by the executioner are quite literally a matter of life and death. “The Executioner Always Chops Twice: Ghastly Blunders On The Scaffold” is filled with gruesome and outlandish stories of unlucky souls who not only suffered the indignity of being condemned to die, but endured the horror of a botched execution. Most of the vignettes are from centuries past, presumably because man has now had ample opportunity to perfect the art of killing.

Written by Geoffrey Abbott—former Yeoman Warder at the Tower of London—the book begins with a quick one-chapter overview of a diverse array of torture and execution methods. But the overwhelming majority of “The Executioner Always Chops Twice” is devoted to the “unfortunate victims”—those who suffered above and beyond what one might expect when boiled in oil, burned at the stake, gassed, hanged, decapitated, etc. 

While the subject matter sounds ghoulish the book maintains a surprisingly lighthearted tone. In fact, it seems many of those sentenced to die maintained their sense of humor, even in their final moments. For example, Abbott recounts the story of serial killer Paul Jaworski, who was disappointed that his execution would prevent him from reading the conclusion of a serial in a weekly magazine. “‘Gee,’ he exclaimed. ‘It's tough to not to know how it all ends!’” Hearing of Jaworski's predicament the publishers forwarded him an advance copy of the final installment. How’s that for famous last words?

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