American Hangman

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 28 Oct 2019

Member Reviews

This book was fast paced. Hard to put down. It flowed well and it was very well written. It caught hold of me and had me hooked from the start . I was literally on the edge of my seat reading this book.
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I've read about the Nuremberg Trials before, but never had I thought about the hangman who dispatched the convicted Nazis. John Woods executed ten of them, after being dishonorably discharged from the US Navy before the war. The author tells the story how Woods went from being kicked out of the military to becoming a master sergeant hanging war criminals....sometimes poorly (many did not drop far enough to snap their necks and thus died by strangulation). Some would say his mistakes were actually an appropriate punishment for Nazis, but that's neither here nor there.

All in all an interesting book about an enigmatic man who has mostly escaped notice in the historical record.
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This is a book about a series of executions that were carried out in Europe in the 1940s by a hangman for the US Army, Master Sergeant John C. Woods. He seems to have watched his superior carry them out for a while, then he began doing them under his supervision. After a while it appears it was felt that he was proficient enough to handle them on his own. Much of the book is a dry recitation of the details of the hangings, repetitively given, unless there were something that happened to remark upon that was unusual. It is interesting in itself, but for someone like myself with a severe sleep disorder, it makes it really difficult to get through much of the time, with so little variation. 

The person’s crime is retold, and then their court case and outcome with sentence. They didn’t mess around with long waits for death sentences back then! No long appeals process either. Within a couple of months or more, the event is scheduled and happening. They would build a gallows near the scene of the crime, if possible. If the weather looked like it might be bad, they would look for somewhere to put it up indoors, such as a barn. Then at the appointed time, all of the assigned personnel would be in their places.

There would be guards to keep the curious away, a number of witnesses from different groups, some from the Army, some from the French locals, some from the victim’s family if they wish. At a couple of minutes before the hour, a transport vehicle would pull up with the prisoner and his two escorts, and they get out then tie his hands. They help him up the steps to the gallows and his clergy is there. He is asked by one of the military men, and the clergy if he has any last words, then a black hood is placed over his head along with the noose, which is adjusted just so.

The silent signal is given and the hangman cuts the rope to the weight that releases the trap door, and the condemned falls through. After a number of minutes, the three military doctors go down to the bottom screened off part of the gallows to check the inmate. He is pronounced dead with the exact time given and his body is then cut free, so it can be taken away and buried with the others. This is all noted and taken down in a book by the appointed recorder, who lists everyone present also. Advance electronic review copy was provided by NetGalley, author Col. French L. MacLean, US Army (Ret), and the publisher.
(3.5 stars of 5)
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When it is hot as heck outside and there is nothing "cool" to do but reading sitting in front of the a/c as everything else makes you end up a sweaty mess, it is the perfect day for a speed reader. (Yes it is hot and humid in Canada!)			
I received a temporary digital Advance Reader Copy of this book from #NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  			
From the publisher, as I do not repeat the contents or story of books in reviews, I let them do it as they do it better than I do 😸.			

John C. Woods, the US Army's hangman during World War II, is known for his role executing ten senior Nazis in 1946. For the first time, learn about Woods's early life in Kansas and his dishonourable discharge before World War II. 

Discover how volunteering as a military executioner would lead Woods to his career as a hangman. Award-winning author Colonel French MacClean separates fact from fiction of the enigmatic executioner, whose botched executions and mysterious death by electrocution have left him shrouded in mystery and infamy. 

This was a well researched, thought-provoking book about someone I had never heard of before -  not that that is a bad thing. Any lover of history will like this book as it is about a fascinating person whose mysterious death made him even more beguiling. This is perfect for military and war buffs and any book club that likes to read non-fiction.
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Unfortunately this cannot be downloaded as a Kindle version so I’m unable to review this. Apologies.
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