The following information is taken from a number of sources, including pathology textbooks, the Journal of Forensic Sciences, accounts of survivors, seventeenth through nineteenth centuries reports, photographs of more modern events,and reports of a law enforcement officer who witnessed two "botched" and many properly-done judicial hangings.

Illustrations often do not reflect all details of what is discussed, but are the best we can find at the moment for demonstrating a key element of the discussion.

First, two warnings for anyone who is thinking of experimenting on their own.


 Unconscious­ness usually comes on suddenly, leav­ing the person helpless to escape. A majority of hanging suicides and accidents are in fact found with their feet on the ground.
xxxxIt does not take much pres­sure to kill. Ten to twenty pounds is quite enough. People have hang­ed to death while sitting, just by leaning on the rope. The Jour­nal of Forensic Sciences reports the case of one woman, ap­par­ent­ly seeking pleasure with a vibrator, found dead lying on the floor with her neck over a string only a few inches off the ground. No noose, and no weight but the head. She went un­con­scious and died in that position.


 It takes a fairly long drop to fracture the neck in MOST cases anywhere from four to nine feet, depending upon weight. But a much lower drop can still inflict serious neurological injury, including paralysis. And fractures have been reported from drops that should not have produced them not all spines have the same strength.

Technical Aspects
The noose 

 There is a big dif­fer­ence of opinion and custom here. Amer­i­cans tra­di­tion­ally used a very elaborate noose, which tends to "lock up tight."


Most other countries have used a simple slip knot (two half hitches to you Scouts).


The British have in the last century gone to a metal ring fastened onto the rope, in the belief that the American knot cushions the blow and makes neck fracture less likely. 

There does not appear to be much difference as far as slow hanging is concerned. Photographs of real hangings with a slip knot (example of the hanging of the Nazis in Poland after the war) shows the knot does not really tighten much, but rides up on the back of the neck. The weight on the front of the neck is the real strangler, not the tightening of the entire noose.

In fifteenth and sixteenth century France, a different and very elaborate noose was often used. It required two ropes. The first was doubled over, then the loose ends passed through the resulting loop. A second one was tied around the neck between this loop. The second rope was used to tow the victim around and up the ladder, whereupon the two ends of the other one were fastened to the beam. After the victim was kicked off the ladder, the hangman could haul on the other rope to further tighten matters.


 The purpose of tying the victim is not to prevent escape from the noose few men have enough strength to haul themselves up the rope hand over hand, and the effect of hanging is usually to make this effort impossible anyway.

The purpose was rather to prevent the victim from panicking at the last moment and putting up a fight. It was one thing for the victim to remain composed while in the jail cell, another to remain composed as they were expected to mount the ladder, or stand still on the scaffold as the noose was prepared.


Most countries tie the hands in back. 


The British, until the late eighteen hundreds, tied the hands in front. The reason is unknown per­haps a custom from the days when victims were "turned off" a ladder, with it making it hard to grab the ladder? 


Most modern countries today use a leather or cloth harness, buckled on the victim well in adv­ance. At the last minute, the victim's arms are then quickly buckled to it in front. 

Legs were, in the past, some­times tied as well, some­times at the knee as well as the ankle. A law enforcement friend who serv­ed as a hang­man after WWII and witnessed several hangings since said this was not so much to re­strain the person as to pre­vent the loss of bowel control from making too big a mess. Ty­ing the legs does not, how­ever, appear to have been done prior to the 1860's. 


 Up until the late seventeenth century, no hoods were used, and the public saw the victim's face as they died. Around this period it became customary to put a hood, or at least a large blindfold, over the victim's head. As it made little difference to the victim, it is assumed that it was meant to make the hanging more acceptable to the onlookers, who did not see the victim's face contorting. The hoods were short enough to leave the neck open. In some cases a simple blindfold was used. The more recent British practice was to use a longer hood and put the noose over that. The reason given is to prevent rope-burns on the corpse, although how that improves things is not clear (as we noted above, the neck is usually stretched visibly anyway).

Method. At least in England, this went through several changes.

In the earliest, the victim was simply hoisted up. This meant a lot of work, and required a team of persons. Hoisting a hundred-plus pounds is not a one-man task, particularly if the rope is just flung over a beam (there is not mention of pulleys being used in these cases.)


 Up through the eigh­teenth century, a ladder was used. The victim was made to climb the ladder, facing away from it. They could be pushed onto the ladder, or beaten (a French custom). 


 Or the hangman could mount the ladder first and use the noose as a leash to drag them up: to breath, the victim had to follow. The noose was tied to the beam. Then either the ladder was turned over ("turning off") or it was kicked down, or the hangman pushed the victim off the ladder.

Sometimes for convenience two ladders were used, so that the hangman had his own secure footing. For the hanging of Mary Blandy, in 1752, her town had no regular gallows, so a beam was simply put between two trees near the jail. She was hanged with her toes only a few feet off the ground, in response to her request on not being hanged too high,

Victims had to be hanged one at a time, with the others forced to wait in line as their pre­de­cessors struggled and slowly died only a few feet away. In the woodcut of a witch hanging seen below, three women still wait as the fourth of their predecessors is turned off the ladder. The last would likely have waited over an hour, watching six other women kick and die next to her, before her own turn came.

In the ladders method, gallows were usu­ally high about twelve to fifteen feet in England, sometimes twenty feet plus on the continent to make sure ever­yone saw the victim. Wood­cuts show the vic­tim was usu­ally dragged up until his/her head was almost level with the beam. The result was that they hanged on per­haps two feet of rope, with their feet at eye level or higher.

Starting in the late seventeenth century, over­lap­ping with the ladder method, the cart was used. It was traditional for the victim to be driven to the gallows on a cart why make them get off the cart and then climb back up the ladder? This was seen as more humane, since often the victim grew terrified at the sight of the ladder they must mount, and had to be forced up it.

In this approach, the hangman had the victim stand, usu­ally facing forward on the cart (often toward a clergyman read­ing the rites for the dead). Facing for­ward ensured that the noose would not slip around to the front of the neck when the cart departed.

The rope was fastened to the beam (sometimes by an assistant sitting straddling the beam, if the gallows were too high for the hangman to reach the beam) and at the right moment the hangman led the horses forward, pulling the cart away. The noose tightened and dragged the victim off the cart.

 This also had the advantage that several victims could be hanged at once, and the terror of waiting was reduced. On the other hand, victims tended to be slowly dragged off the cart, since horses pulling a cart do not make a "jackrabbit start," and the victims were usually at the center or at the front of the cart. Reports of the time mention people crying out or taking other actions as the cart was being pulled away from under them. In the case of Thomas Carr and Elizabeth Adams (1738) it was reported:

And with Sarah Malcolm, a twenty-two year old hanged in 1733,

With the older high gallows still in wide use, the victim usually wound up hanging on six or eight feet of rope, with their feet two or three feet above ground.

 (Sometimes there were newer gallows, where the beam was lower). The difference also meant that a helper up on the beam was necessary to tying off the rope; the hangman could not reach the older, higher, beams. Woodcuts indicate that the usual practice was to have the rope quite taut before the cart was driven away: the helper on the beam tied it taut enough to where the person was able to breathe but not much more. This was probably to ensure that the victim (with hands tied in front) was not tempted to panic and try to remove the noose while the hangman was dismounting and walking around to the horse.

Starting in the late eighteenth century the modern scaffold began to be used. Here the victim stood over a trapdoor and the trap was sprung. Often the scaffold had a long trapdoor so that a number of victims could be hung at once.

 Other variants included scaffolds where the entire front of the floor was the trapdoor, and an early one where the victim stood on a sort of elevated platform which dropped into the floor (it was scrapped because it ended to jam; in one particularly unseemly event the victim was left on tip-toe and kept trying to climb back onto the scaffold while the hangman pushed his feet back.).

With the use of the scaffold the long-drop hanging eventually was made possible (although it did not come into use for another century).

 In a scaffold hanging, the rope was not necessarily kept taut; there was often a foot or so of slack. Perhaps this was because the hangman or his assistants could stay next to the victim, to prevent any attempt to pull the noose off.

Early trapdoors, however, had their own problems. The earliest British ones were not actually a trapdoor, but a boxlike structure which extended up above the gallows floor for a couple of feet. On being tripped, they were supposed to descend. But the mechanism could fail, as Robert Johnston found in 1818:

There was still plenty of room for a hangman to botch his work. In 1868, Priscilla Biggadyke was hanged in Boston, and the hangman insisted on put­ting the noose under her chin, claim­ing that that caused instant un­con­scious­ness. Newspapers re­port­ed rumors that she had struggled for twenty minutes, crying out, and that "her cries were heartrending in the extreme." The newspaper denies this, stating that "the struggles of the unhappy woman lasted at least three minutes."

 Another newspaper reported that a witness stated "The rope was placed round the neck, with the knot under the chin, so that deceased breathed for some minutes before death. The executioner had told him that by the body hanging in that way the head was thrown backwards on to the spine of the back, so that all sensation was destroyed, but at all events it did not prevent the deceased from breathing.She was about three and a half minutes in dying, from the fall of the drop."

There were occasional uses, mostly in the USA, of a reverse principal. The victim stood on the ground. The noose was fastened to a rope, which in turn was connected to a heavy object such as a box of rocks. Another rope, holding the rocks, was then cut and the box went down and the victim went up. Although this seems a practical solution (and gave two chances to break the neck, one as the victim was jerked up, another as he fell back down) it faded out.

On occasions, hangmen might "assist" the victim, particularly if they had already put up a long struggle. With the ladder method, the hangman might get on the beam, place his feet on the victim's shoulder, and stand up. Or he might replace the ladder if it had been kicked down, and do the same. With the trapdoor, he could grab the victim's legs and pull. Presumably this was done when the rope had slid to the side or front of the neck and the victim was still getting some air. One seventeenth century woodcut indicates a truly remarkable attempt to help a female victim die. As the hangman pulls on her feet, a soldier takes a musket and beats on her chest with its butt! With the ladder method, friends or family sometimes pulled on the victim's legs as well in the case of one woman the hangman drove them off, because they were pulling so vigorously they were likely to break the rope.

Beginning with the British in the period after 1860, the long drop came into use. Here, the victim is dropped a distance (based on weight, adjusted for neck size, etc.) calculated to snap their neck. This is based on the weakness of the "atlas joint," the highest and thinnest portion of the spine, just below the head, which is weak since it bears little weight and must also turn sideways to let the head turn.

The ideal mechanics are that the spinal column is suddenly bent sideways by the noose. The side nearest the noose remains intact, and the column pivots on that. The side away from the noose is subjected to great pressure as the head pivots, and is crushed (a compression fracture is the technical term) by pressure from the vertebrae above and below it. Pressure of the noose then pushes the sharp bone fragments against the spinal cord, cutting it.

This is the ideal: in most cases, what happens is that the spine dislocates. That is, it simply pulls apart between two vertebrae and the spinal column is snapped there by the tension as the neck elongates an inch or two. In either event, the snapping does not itself kill. It does paralyze the body so that no convulsions are seen and, one might hope, the impact or the tearing renders the victim unconscious. Death actually results from asphyxiation or blood cutoff, as in slow hanging. Incidentally, my friend who witnessed judicial hangings says there is an audible "crack" when the neck is properly broken.

This, of course, relates to of­ficial, judicial, hangings. In un­of­fi­cial hangings (example the Nazi killings of par­ti­sans and anyone who resembled one) the victim was simply forced to stand on whatever was handy stools, chairs, boxes and this was then kicked away. Or the victim was stood on a truck (the modern equivalent of a cart) and that was driven away. In some locations, the rope was simply extended over the top of a post and the vic­tim hanged right against the post.

Modern third-world coun­tries have been known to make use of construction hoist trucks to hoist the vic­tim up! Since the object of these exercises is to create ter­ror, slow hanging was al­ways used. The SS in par­ti­cu­lar liked to force its victims to strip so that they could be hanged naked. In that setting, the degredation was at its maximum, as the victim was not only exposed, but any demeaning effects urination, defecation, erection, ejaculation were on full and messy display.

The Physiology.

In the usual slow hanging, asphyxia is act­u­ally not produced by compressing the trachea, the windpipe. Rather, pre­sure of the noose causes the base of the tongue to push backward and upward and thus seal off breathing. Most path­ol­o­gists be­lieve that it takes relatively little pres­sure to completely shut off the flow of air, and suggest that there would be no gasp­ing or other breathing once the vic­tim is hanged. This may, again, depend on lo­ca­tion of the noose.

The other cause of death is the shutting off of blood flow to the brain, due to com­pres­sion of the carotid arteries. This alone is enough to kill, as shown by sev­er­al persons who fatally hanged themselves despite having a tracheostomy hole which enabled them to keep in1haling air. There is still a little blood flow there are the ver­te­bral arteries, which are inside the spine at the usual noose location and thus shielded from pressure but they are not enough to keep the brain alive for very long.

Both processes depend upon noose placement. At the back of the neck, the full body weight falls on the windpipe and much of it on the blood vessels, so both are likely to be sealed off instantly. On the side of the neck, at least one set of blood vessels are clear and the wind­pipe may be partially open. In this setting, the victim may remain conscious longer, and strangulation may take much longer, as the person is able to breathe, just not enough to keep life going indefinitely. It is noticeable that persons hanged with the knot at the back often end with a rather peaceable expression, while those hanged with the knot at the side appear anguished. The first three images below come from the hanging of the Nazi prison guards; the last from a recent hanging in Iran.

The Process

The beginning.

The noose snaps upward, snapping the mouth shut. (This is one defect in fake hanging movies, which often show it open.) The tongue rarely protrudes, since the jaw is being held shut by considerable force. There are a few exceptions, where the noose initially caught low on the neck and rolls up­ward, forcing the tongue out before the pressure hits the jaw; in these cases the tongue is bitten badly. The other exceptions are where the noose is placed far on the side of the neck: here the weight falls on the neck under the far point of the jaw, and the jaw may be free to open, as seen in the images above.

Survivors report feelings of fullness in the head and clenching in the jaw. There is also a feeling of weakness which stops them from clutching at the rope. Survivors also report that the main pain here is not suffocation, but the bite of the rope and stretching of the neck. Feelings of suffocation obviously mount as time goes on.

Often the victim panics and begins kicking or trying to reach the ground with their toes, from the moment they are suspended. This conscious kick­ing is distinct from the true con­vul­sions, which come later. In other cases the victim hangs almost mo­tion­less during this period, perhaps because the body goes rigid from the pain. If the hands are bound in front, they snap upward to mid-chest and usually clench.

In most cases, suicidal and other­wise, the face does not become con­gest­ed. The rope has cut off blood flow into the head, so the face re­mains pale and becomes bluish as suffocation progresses.

In some cases, where the blood flow is not fully cut off, the face may become red. Occasionally, blood escapes from the mouth and nose. Likely this reflects nosebleeds in cases where the blood pressure rises in the head. Occasionally also, foam or bloody foam is seen at the mouth. This presumably results where air is not totally cut off and the lungs can blow some past the knot. All this relates to full suspension. If the victim is not fully suspended, the face can redden and become engorged. Blood pressure in the arteries is much higher than in the veins, so blood can flow into the head while not being able to escape through the veins.


In general, the victim is conscious only for a short time, although it may seem like an eternity. Survivors' reports and pathological studies suggest consciousness may be lost in as little as eight to ten seconds, due to cutoff of blood flow, or may last up to nearly a minute. A few survivors of judicial hangings have reported consciousness well into the convulsive stages, that they could feel the suffocation and their body kicking and fighting, but this appears the exception rather than the rule. Unconsciousness is pre­ceded by "things going black" as the vision shuts down from lack of oxygen.

Several attempted suicides report, however, that after they became un­conscious they returned to consciousness and felt a great deal of suffering. How this can occur is unknown, but the reports seem credible.

Knot placement may make a difference here, as noted above A noose at the side or, worse yet, the front, may allow consciousness and very slow strangulation.

The victim often loses control of their bladder. This seems to occur around the time when consciousness is lost, and most often just before unconsciousness. Pathologists in strangling cases some­times use this to judge whether the victim was strangled when standing up. A long trail of urine down the skirt or pants sug­gests that the person was standing until they passed out and slumped, with their strangler, to the floor. A shorter trail in­di­cates they were already lying down when they reached this stage. The use of this forensic tool again suggests that bladder control is lost just before consciousness fades.

Convulsive phase.

This begins about forty-five seconds into the hanging. The true convulsions begin when what we would associate as the pain of suffocation becomes unbearable. A more medical explanation would be that they come when the brain's sensors of carbon dioxide are overloaded, and the brain begins frantically sending out uncoordinated nerve signals.

Before stage begins, the victim's chest will usually heave in futile attempts to breathe, and the heaving rapidly speeds up. A witness to a hanging of a woman as a spy in WWI mentioned that her struggles made it seem as if she was in hysterical laughter, presumably a reference to her chest and shoulders rapidly jerking.

This is rapidly followed by whole-body convulsions. The convulsions can take a variety of forms, and one form can lead into another.

One form involves violent shivering, as all the muscles begin to vibrate, clenching and then extending in very rapid spasms. In one "botched" judicial hanging, the body was out of sight below the trap, but onlookers knew it was botched because the rope began to hum from the victim's rapid spasms of this type. It would take violent and very rapid spasms to make a rope hum audibly.

Another involves a clonic seizure, where the muscles simply lock up. In this case, the legs would be snapped up under the chin and would hold there for a time.

A more spectacular form is the tra­di­tion­al "Tyburn jig," where the legs jerk and kick rapidly, sometimes in uni­son, sometimes separately. (In one series of seventeenth century exe­cu­tions, the victims were mocked by having a musician actually play a jig as they jerked around.). Here's an example from the post-WWII hanging of nazi prison guards. (Their feet were tied, so both legs had to kick together).

Another form (and often the last stage of the other forms) involves a prolonged tightening, to an absolutely incredible degree, of all the body's muscles. Since the muscles in the back of the body and legs are far stronger than those in the front, this results in the victim bending backward. (My witness to judicial hangings said that in some cases the victim's heels nearly touched the back of their head. There is also a photograph of a body of a person who suffocated laying sideways; the body is not bent that badly, but is in nearly a semicircle).

If the hands are tied in front, the hands will usually be pulled up to mid-chest during this stage, and only slump down when the convulsive stage ends.

Frequently but not always, bowel control is lost during a hanging. It appears to come during these convulsive stages, perhaps as a result of tightening of the abdominal muscles, while loss of bladder control comes earlier. My friend who had witnessed hangings said that the legs of the victim were tied in order to keep the feces from sliding down the leg and being kicked all around. That it does not occur only at death is confirmed by one coroner's report of a case where a person suffocated in an unusual contraption (he apparently suspended himself in a form of harness, standing up was it were. The harness failed in some way, so that his full weight was put on his belly, which compressed his lungs and he suffocated. The report and photos showed that feces were scattered all over the room and walls, indicating that control had been lost while he was still kicking.)

The convulsive stage lasts until death or near-death. Reports of judicial hangings indicate that this takes around ten minutes on average. In some cases, it took as little as three, and in some cases as much as twenty. The reasons for the variation are unknown. It seems more likely to reflect the convulsions than actual death. In a few cases, the victim dies without convulsing at all, or only after a few struggles, so perhaps the three-minute case is simply a victim that only convulsed a bit, rather than one that died quickly. Traditionally, the hangman simply left the victim hang the required time, or until they seemed dead. In the mid nineteenth century, the custom became that of having a doctor listen for heartbeat, and considering the victim dead when that stopped.

There are also cases in which the victim hangs quietly, and not all of these are consistent with a broken neck. It is sometimes attributed to vagal nerve inhibition. The vagus controls heartbeat, and can be affected directly by the rope, or indirectly by its sensing high blood pressure in the neck (to which it responds by slowing heart beat). Vagal nerve inhibition seems an unlikely explanation, though. After all, the clamp of the noose has cut off blood flow to the brain anyway whether the heart is beating or not would seem unlikely to affect matters. It seems likely that different people react differently to hanging, and some for some reason do not convulse and simply hang there dying.


Brain damage has already begun, at about three to five minutes, and it progresses, as do the convulsions. Over the next five or so minutes the damage becomes more serious.

The convulsions slow and taper to an end. Usually the last form of convulsive action is the heaving of the chest after the rest of the body is still. Occasionally the victim will be still, and then suddenly seize up. (One person in the eighteenth century was busily looting a supposedly dead hanged man, when he kicked them.)

The heart continues to beat for some minutes after all other action ceases (technically known as agonal beating), until the blood becomes so acidic from carbon dioxide buildup that the heart stops functioning.

Two phenomena are sometimes reported, which cannot be confirmed.

First, there is the report from old judicial hangings that the victim, at the point of death (meaning point when convulsions end, since people watching had no other way to judge) would emit a sort of moan or whimper. (In Kipling's "Hanging of Danny Deever," he has the onlooking soldier hear a wimper overhead; he is told that the victim's soul is passing now.) There may be some reason for skepticism, since the noose would likely have cut off all air flow, in or out. Perhaps in cases where the knot was at the front of the neck and some air could flow?

Second, there are reports that males often ejaculate at this stage. I've read a report of a suicidal hanging in a German jail after WWII. The German jailer immediately opened the victim's fly and told his shocked American counterpart that they were too late to revive him; he had ejaculated. There is also a cryptic eighteenth century report of a person who reached into a victim's pocket (hangman had the right to loot the body and take the outer clothing) and discovered that there is life after death, presumably a reference to the victim's virile member surging. If this occurs, the reports suggest it occurs very late in the hanging, around the point of death.

Occasionally, victims survived even judicial hanging (before the rule became to let them hang a full hour.) Since the hangman surely let them hang until struggles ceased, this would indicate there is some life potential even at this stage. Serious brain damage has occurred, however, and so long-term survival was probably rare. Those who were able to talk have said that the pain of coming back to consciousness was incredible (both pain in muscles which have "gone to sleep", and headache from a swelling and injured brain). Medical reports of revivals indicate that the survivor's body goes into violent convulsions again as it revives, and muscle relaxants are often called to reduce these.


Hanging remained popular as an execution method simply because it was a terrifying and degrading method of death. A victim could retain some human dignity with an axe or firing squad, but not with a noose. A typical hanging sequence would be:


The victim is tied and noosed, then is carried on a cart to the gallows. Symbolism begins here. The victim is not a person delivered by coach or horse. They are to­wed to their death in a cart, like a side of beef or a load of mature. They are already tied up and noosed, both to prevent escape and also to begin the public degredation. The British tied the hands in front (perhaps to prevent grabbing the ladder?), most other countries tied them in the rear (to make a stuggle impossible).

Final steps:

The hangman takes the rope and climbs the ladder. The victim, panicking at the thought of leaving the ground for the last time, resists. The hangman hauls the victim up by the noose. Yank and it tightens, and the victim climbs one step in order to breath. The hangman climbs another step, pulls again, and the victim climbs one more. All the way to the top. The hangman climbs onto the beam as the victim reaches the top. The hangman ties the rope to the beam and pulls the hood over the victim's face.

The hangman grabs the beam and uses it to swing to the ground. All is ready. The victim is likely shivering in terror, perhaps trying to stutter out a last prayer.

Sometimes the hangman will let this scene play out, and take his time before beginning, particularly if the victim is an unpopular type, and hasn't tipped him enough beforehand. This time the victim is a young man, convicted of theft, and the hangman is inclined to be as merciful as he can be. He does not wait.

The agony begins:

The hangman gives the side of the ladder a practiced kick. It is already unstable, with the victim high on it. It slides sideways and the victim falls toward him. The victim has barely enough time to start a last cry of fright before his weight falls onto the noose.... and the hanging begins.

Toppling as he did, the victim's body flips, his feet flying upward initially, then his body begins to swing back and forth like a bell. All his weight is now carried by his stretching neck. The victim's body stiffens in pain and terror, toes trying desperately to find a purchase on something, anything, out there. He cannot think; the world is terror and pain. The noose is pressing deep into their throat. Cut off in the midst of his last cry, he cannot get air past the painful bite of the noose. His body swings back and forth and spins first one way, then the other, as this continues.

After half a minute or so, the swaying is mostly ended, and the spinning has slowed. The victim's chest begins to heave. Slowly at first, then more rapidly. Consciousness is fading, and the need for air becoming more terrible. His mind seems to become black. The victim's last agonized memory is of urine spashing down their legs. At last it seems as if all the pain is in her his and it bursts out, leaving nothing.

His chest is still heaving, but the body now begins violent shivering; the rope itself is humming with the energy of it as the body slowly spins around. The body begins to swing slowly around with the force of it.

Another minute of this and the victim's legs begin jerking. . With this new force, he swings like a pendulum in random directions. Sometimes his knees jerk up to his chin and clamp in place there, and the crowd gasps at what it sees revealed.

It continues:

Five more minutes pass, but it seems forever. Legs jerking in every direction, chest heaving helplessly, the body flipping around and around on the rope. The crowd is stone silent. The only noise is the creaking of the rope against the beam, and the rustles of fabric as his body battles the noose. Then comes the sound of gas escaping as his bowels release. Feces drop to the ground and leave marks on his jerking legs.

More minutes pass, and his body's frantic struggle for life continues. The legs kick forward, and the body sways back; they kick back, and the body swings forward. Sometimes they work out of unison, and he seems to be pedalling an invisible apparatus. Finally, the brain is overwhelmed by the forces tearing life from it. His body snaps into a backward arch. His heels come back to shoulder level and he hangs in an unbelievable posture, belly thrust forward of the rope, and heels behind. He remains there, this time not kicking, as all the muscles lock up and seize. The only motion is the still-heaving chest.


His body relaxes. The legs descend a bit, then a bit more. At last the muscles give way and the victim droops on the rope. His toes again extend toward the ground, in the same posture that began the process. The hands drop down, limp. The scene is silent; the rope does not even creak.

Half a minute later his chest makes a faint heave, followed by another. One leg jerks up, and then drops. A few seconds pass, and then another heave. Another half minute, one last heave, and he is still. The struggle is done, and he hangs, his body barely swaying back and forth.

The crowd waits for a time, to see if there is any further show. Then it begins to break up. The hangman checks the tower clock. Forty-five minutes to go, and then cut him down.