Hanging Disasters


Not all of the hangings in Chicago went smoothly – in fact, there were quite a few really botched jobs. There were a few occasions in the mid 1880s, in particular, when the sheriff did a crumby job of keeping the affair private, as required by law, and the hanging ended up being witness by around 1500 people who had crammed into the prison on what is now Illinois and Dearborn, where hangings were held after 1874.

And there were two occasions on which the rope didn’t quite hold.

The first private hanging in Chicago, following a state law banning public ones, took place at the old jail at Clark and Washington. There, a murderer named Michael McNamee was dropped to his fate – and dropped. After a several foot drop, McNamee, who was bound, draped in a robe, and covered in a hood, fell tumbling to the floor.

The mortified, embarrassed guards asked if he could stand by himself. McNamee, who didn’t seem to quite understand the question, said “I can stand that, and twice that!” He was led up and hanged again – this time successfully.

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Several years later, a fellow named George Painter’s hanging was plagued by the same problem. Painter, though, hit his head, and the white hood became stained with blood. Guards couldn’t determine whether he was conscious, and the doctors thought he was dead. Still, to be on the safe side, they had to drag the bloody body back to the scaffold, add a new noose, and slide him down the trap door to be hanged again.

More details of these men and their (alleged, in Painter’s case) crimes are in FATAL DROP, of course!

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