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This Shambling U.S. Hangman Fumbled Nazi Executions To Make Them Suffer

Killers are not a scarce commodity throughout history. Bloodshed might even be seen as the grease that has turned the proverbial cogs of history ever-forward. And from historic names like Jack the Ripper to more contemporary ones like Ted Bundy, we're all fairly in agreement: killers are the bad guys.

But what if, for argument's sake, some weren't? What if one killer's hit list was made up by a group of humanity's greatest monsters and people who were responsible for a death toll in the millions? Well, for in the case of John C. Woods, we don't need to imagine — Woods was a Nazi killer.

With a career in the military founded on lies and bumbling his way through life, Woods eventually found his true calling in administering hangings. Now history knows him as the man who executed the top Nazis with childish glee.

Historical Background: Nuremberg

Upon the Allies' victory in World War II, a series of international tribunals were held in order to prosecute the main actors in the leadership of Nazi Germany.

The most famous and well-known of the trials was the first, the International Military Tribunal (IMT). The IMT was tasked with trying 24 of the Third Reich's most senior political, economic, and military members for their involvement, knowledge, and active participation in the Holocaust and other war crimes.

At the IMT, the vast majority of the leading Nazi figures were found guilty and received penalties ranging from 20 years in prison, life imprisonment, and execution. 

11 of the men on trial in-person were sentenced to death, including second-highest-ranking Nazi, Hermann Göring. But with the mens' fates decided, there remained only one question: who was going to be responsible for executing them?


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John C. Woods: A Terrible Hangman

Woods was born June 5, 1911, in Wichita, Kansas. At 18-years-old, John joined the Navy but within months of enrolling, he went AWOL. Once found, Woods was sentenced at a court-martial and given a psychiatric examination which led to a diagnosis of "Constitutional Psychopathic Inferiority without Psychosis". Seen as unfit to serve in the military, Woods was discharged.

Despite his discharge, Woods once again found his home in the army due to the draft in 1943, and after the U.S. had put out a request for volunteer hangmen in 1944, he eagerly put his name forward. Woods lied to the Army, stating that he had prior experience in hanging—of which he actually had none.

It's believed that the Army failed to investigate John's claims, considering that it would have been practically impossible for John to have undertaken the executions he claimed to have done. That said, John was taken up as a hangman for the U.S. Army, and was immediately promoted to the rank of master sergeant. 

Woods was then station in Paris, where he was in charge of executing 34 American soldiers across France between 1944–1945. He reportedly made dozens of botched executions during this period, drawing out each person's death far longer than intended.

10 Nazis Awaiting Their Death

The U.S. had found the perfect person to execute Nazi Germany's highest-ranking officials. John C. Woods, by all accounts, was a lousy hangman. His life had been fairly unremarkable by the time the Nuremberg trials took place, but for the Reich's most senior members to be executed by a careless nobody was the ultimate final insult that the U.S. wanted to deliver to the crumbling Nazi powers.

Unfortunately for Woods, only 10 of those sentenced to death were still alive. Just hours before the scheduled executions on October 16, 1946, Hermann Göring committed suicide via ingestion of cyanide inside of his cell. Still, happy as ever to serve his country, John went on to execute all of the remaining Nazi officials to the best of his ability.

A Messy Execution

The ten hangings were messy and unmistakably a result of John's handiwork. A set of gallows constructed out of black wood were erected in a prison gymnasium, and one by one the Nazis were brought out to face execution.

Reports show that Woods either intentionally or accidentally botched the hangings. Rather than suffer from a broken neck, which would cause immediate death, those sentenced to hanging were instead strangled to death at an incredibly slow rate.

Similarly, the knots used to tie the nooses were improper, causing the men to hit their heads on the trapdoor as they fell.

It was clear that John neglected to follow the U.S. Army's procedures for execution by hanging. Many believe that John executed them poorly on purpose, or at least the U.S. officials allowed it to happen. It took 14 minutes for Nazis Ribbentrop and Sauckel to die after being dropped from the gallows. Shockingly, Nazi Officer Wilhelm Keitel writhed in pain as he was strangled for 24 minutes. 

The farce did not end there, as influential Nazi member Julius Streicher was said to have even spat in John's face, before squealing out a final "Heil Hitler!" before falling to his slow death.

None of this seemed to bother John, however, as he said:

"I hanged those 10 Nazis, and I am proud of it. The way I look at this hanging job, somebody has to do it. I got into it kind of by accident."

"I hanged those 10 Nazis, and I am proud of it. The way I look at this hanging job, somebody has to do it. I got into it kind of by accident."

Immediately after the final Nazi official was pronounced dead at 2:57 a.m., Woods said the following:

 “Ten men in 103 minutes. That’s fast work. [He] never saw a hanging go off any better.”

 “Ten men in 103 minutes. That’s fast work. [He] never saw a hanging go off any better.”

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