Public executions used to be a form of entertainment and executioners were like rock stars. A good executioner was one that had flair but could kill a victim quickly. This is a look at 7 executioners that became famous for their abilities to dispatch their victims.
7 ) Souflikar
During the Ottoman Empire the job of Bostanci was a prestigious one. The title translates to “Gardener”, and he was one… but he was also expected to prune the Emperor’s court through strangulation. They added another twist to it: the condemned raced the executioner through the gardens to the execution spot. If he managed to beat him, his sentence was reduced to banishment. If he lost, he was strangled on the spot and his body thrown in the river. None were as fast as Mahomet IV’s head executioner, Souflikar, as over the course of 5 years he strangled at least 5,000 people - a rate of almost 3 people a day.
6 ) Richard Brandon
The English were always very picky about who could become an executioner. It had to be someone from a family of executioners that knew how to kill someone quickly but also knew how to vamp for the crowd. Brandon was one of the most famous Common Hangmen of London and became the yardstick against which other English executioners (even Albert Pierrepoint) were measured. He was extremely proud of his ability to sever a head with a single blow, something that was very popular with the crowds - and appreciated by people getting executed - since it generally took a few chops for the average executioner to get through. He refined this skill after years of practice on cats and dogs. He is best known for executing King Charles I, but did so under heavy disguise out of fear of retaliation.
5 ) William Marwood
While Brandon was popular for his skill, Marwood became popular for developing a process that instantly killed his victims. He started out as cobbler but got a job as executioner after showing that a person died instantly if his “long drop” method was used. Before Marwood, people getting hanged would slowly strangle to death and the executioner would have to use his own weight to seal the deal. Marwood added a snapping motion that would instantly break the neck. It wasn’t perfect though, the first few executions often ended with decaptiation.
4 ) Fernando Alvarez de Toledo
The “Iron Duke of Alva” was the chief executioner for King Philip of Spain during the Spanish Inquisition. Stories about his approach would send towns into a panic - and rightfully so: he once executed 8,000 people in a single session at Antwerp. He boasted that he had managed to hang 18,000 Dutchmen in the Netherlands. These stories and his brutal methods - he would brand his victim’s tongue until it couldn’t be taken back into the mouth and would then burn them at the stake - only helped spread rumors that Spaniards were savage radicals.
3 ) Giovanni Battiste Bugatti
“Mastro Titta”, a corruption of “Master of Justice”, is considered a national hero in Italy for performing 516 public executions for the Papal States. While other executioners on this list would show off for the crowds, Bugatti considered it to be a side job. Well known for his brutality - using hammers to crush heads and then quartering the bodies - he approached each execution in a casual and religious manner: he would go to confession and take communion before each victim, offered them a pinch of snuff, and then ended their lives. His blood stained cloak can still be seen in Rome’s Criminology Museum.
2 ) Charles Henri-Sanson
Unlike Bugatti, Henri-Sanson enjoyed working up a crowd before performing executions. He attracted record numbers and was one of the most efficient public executioners in Paris. He once executed 300 people during 3 days of the Reign of Terror and was asked to slow down because residents of a nearby street were complaining that the stench of blood would drive house prices down. He was so skilled that he could guillotine 12 people under 13 minutes. He famously made Marie Antoinette one of those people in front of 200,000 cheering fans.
1 ) Grover Cleveland
The only American president to serve two nonconsecutive terms also carried out two executions while sheriff in Buffalo, New York. He hanged a man that stabbed his own mother and a few months later hanged a murderer. During the 1884 elections his rivals called him “Buffalo’s Hangman” and tried to use the executions against him. Neither the allegations that he had a child out of wedlock, nor the nickname hurt his candidacy. In fact, some historians believe that personally executing criminals made him appear tough on crime.