Unspeakable Crimes Botched Execution Attempts That Went Horribly Wrong  

Harrison Tenpas
1.4M views 19 items

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, there have predictably been some horrifically failed 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 - some dating as recent as 2015. What follows goes to show that enacting capital punishment seems to be a system still working out a few bugs, even after hundreds of years of testing. In fact, some of these methods are still used around the world.

Tom Ketchum - 1901

Tom Ketchum - 1901 is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list Botched Execution Attempts That Went Horribly Wrong
Photo: Unknown (c. 1900)/via Kansas Historical Society/Public Domain

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, holding up trains, saloons, stores, and post offices. By 1900, however, Black Jack's gang was reduced to nothing as a result of dangerous standoffs, gangrene, and other perils of a high-risk career path. By then a lone rider, Ketchum figured he had one more train holdup 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 maim him in the arm. Ketchum was apprehended shortly thereafter.

After a short trial in Clayton, NM, Ketchum was condemned to hang. 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, his head was instantly severed

Brian Steckel - 2005

Brian Steckel is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list Botched Execution Attempts That Went Horribly Wrong
Photo:  Delaware Department of Corrections/via Clark Prosecutor/Public Domain

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 assailed Long for several hours before setting her bed on fire and locking her in her bedroom to suffer smoke inhalation. 

Steckel was quickly apprehended after writing into the Delaware News Journal to brag about his nefarious deeds. Dubbing himself "The Driftwood Killer," he mentioned in his letter a woman he had been tormenting named Susan Gell. Gell's phone calls were easily traced back to Steckel. He was caught and soon convicted. During his brief trial, Steckel wrote 75 volatile letters to the attorneys, judges, and, sadistically, Sandra Lee Long's family, taunting them about their daughter being gone forever. Steckel was sentenced to receive the lethal injection.

Steckel repented on the eve of his execution, but it would prove too little too late for what fate had in store for him. The first drug of the process, designed to render him unconscious, didn't work and Steckel remained awake. At one point during his 12-minute ordeal, he even remarked to the warden, "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. 

George Painter - 1894

In 1892, George Painter was found guilty of ending the life of his lover Alice Martin in their Chicago home. Up until his passing,  Painter denied he was culpable for the brutal act. 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 someone harmed Alice. 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 still alive. The solution was to hang him again.

Painter was carried back to the top of the platform. 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, this time finishing Painter.  

Jesse Tafero is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list Botched Execution Attempts That Went Horribly Wrong
Photo:  Florida Department of Corrections/via Palm Beach Florida Weekly/Public Domain

In 1976, Jesse Tafero, his wife, their two children, and Tafero's friend Walter Rhodes were sleeping in a parked car when a patrol trooper, Phillip Black, tried to wake them up. Black spotted a gun on the floor of the car and wanted to speak to everyone inside. But as they got out, Rhodes and Tafero allegedly jumped the officer, shot Black as well as Constable Donald Irwin, and took off.

Tafero was convicted and sentenced to capital punishment. As the first surge of electricity pulsed through the electric chair, Tafero's head suddenly caught on fire. A six-inch flame shot out of Tafero's head due to one of his executioners using a synthetic sponge instead of a sea sponge. Two more jolts were delivered, and Tafero finally expired after seven minutes. Inmates at the prison said they could smell Tafero's burning flesh in the days.

However, after Tafero's execution, Rhodes admitted he was the one who took out the officers, not Tafero. 

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