Capital punishment: the age-old way for humans to dispose of one another for crimes perceived to be the most egregious in a particular moment and place. As an ancient practice carried out countless times throughout history, predictably there have been some horrifically failed execution attempts. These failed executions have resulted in sheer agony for the condemned, adding insult, injury, and intense suffering to their final moments.
This list serves as a lowlight reel for history's most brutally botched executions. What follows goes to show that putting someone to death seems to be a system still working out a few bugs, even after hundreds of years of testing.
Tom Ketchum's Noose Was Too Tight
Tom "Black Jack" Ketchum was an old west outlaw in the most classical sense. He and his posse - The Ketchum Gang - marauded across New Mexico and Texas during the late 1800s, robbing trains, saloons, stores, and post offices. By 1900, however, Black Jack's gang was reduced to nothing as a result of shootouts, gangrene, and other perils of a high-risk career path. By then a lone rider, Ketchum figured he had one more train heist in him. He boarded a train just outside of Folsom, NM, and stormed the engine with a pistol. The train stopped on a curved segment of the track, which allowed the conductor to get the drop on Ketchum and shoot him in the arm. He was apprehended shortly thereafter.
After a short trial in Clayton, NM, Ketchum was condemned to death by hanging. This was a big occasion for the town of Clayton, as they had never hanged a man before. Novices that they were, the hangmen forgot about the 200-pound sandbag attached to the rope they used to test it out, which rendered the noose extremely taut. As a result, when Ketchum was dropped through the gallows he was decapitated instantly.
Brian Steckel Was Conscious During His Lethal Injection
Brian Steckel was a man of boundless cruelty. In the fall of 1994 in the town of Prices Corner, DE, he charmed his way into the apartment of 29-year-old Sandra Lee Long. Once inside, Steckel sexually assaulted Long for several hours before setting her bed on fire and locking her in her bedroom to die of smoke inhalation.
Steckel was quickly apprehended after writing into the Delaware News Journal to brag about his crimes. Dubbing himself "The Driftwood Killer," he mentioned in his letter a woman he had been harassing named Susan Gell. Gell's phone calls were easily traced back to Steckel and he was caught and soon convicted. During his brief trial, Steckel wrote 75 harassing letters to the attorneys, judges, and, sadistically, Sandra Lee Long's family taunting them about their daughter being gone forever.
Steckel repented on the eve of his execution by lethal injection, but it would prove too little too late for what fate had in store for him. The first drug of the execution process, designed to render the him unconscious, didn't work and Steckel remained awake. At one point during his 12-minute execution he even remarked, "I didn't think it would take this long." It would later be theorized Steckel had been fully lucid when the drugs that paralyzed him and stopped his heart entered his system. A member of the execution team would later go on record saying he was "okay with [the execution.]"
William Kemmler Is The First Man To Face Electric Chair And Has A Slow, Shocking Death
William Kemmler was the unfortunate person to partake in an execution method still working out a few kinks. After killing his common-law wife with a hatchet in 1889, Kemmler was quickly convicted and in 1890 he was sent to his death on the electric chair. Though this method of execution had not yet been tried, it was thought to be a quick and humane method of dispatching the condemned.
In its trial run it proved to be neither.
Kemmler was initially given a charge of 700 volts lasting only 17 seconds before the current shorted out. Kemmler was very much still alive despite his burnt clothing and flesh, so a second shock was delivered at 1,030 volts for about two minutes. This charge did the job and Kemmler's body was turned into a smoking heap with one of the chair's electrodes burning all the way through his spine. It was grisly display that filled the room with smoke and caused two witnesses to faint at the sight of the carnage.
George Painter Was Hanged Twice
In 1892, George Painter was found guilty of murdering his lover Alice Martin in their Chicago home. Up until his death, Painter denied he was culpable for the brutal murder which left Martin a bloody heap. He would go on to get three stays of execution from Illinois's governor while his attorney scrambled to find witnesses to back his alibi that he was out at the pub when the crime was committed. But his attorney's efforts were ultimately useless and in 1894 George Painter was sent to be hanged.
In front of about 75 people, Painter was led to the gallows where he declared his innocence one last time. "Listen! If there is a man here who is an American, on his soul I say to that man, see that the murderer of Alice Martin is found. Good-bye."
With his final words spoken, a hood was placed on his head and the trap door was released, sending his body hurtling downward. Painter dangled in the air for a moment until the rigid rope snapped from his weight and he tumbled to the ground. Doctors rushed to Painter's side and discovered that while his neck was snapped, he was not dead. The solution to this problem, of course, was to hang Painter again. He was carried back to the top of the platform and as the broken noose was replaced, blood began to fill his white hood and cascade down his torso. Stunned onlookers began to flee from the grotesque display. Soon the trap door was again released, and this time, Painter was dead.