Weird History Agents of Death: The 13 Most Prolific Executioners In History  

Lyra Radford
210.8k views 13 items

Historically, white dudes with a taste for power have shown quite the proclivity for coming up with ways to make it seem as though some higher authority has sanctioned their bloodlust, be it god or government. Because of this, death sentences under these despots were handed out for everything from actual crimes to the random hogwash inquisitors made up after torturing someone into a confession. And you can be sure that those handing out the sentences very rarely did the actual killing. 

When state-sanctioned murder was big business, you can bet your bottom dollar there was a network of professional executioners out there looking to make a clean living with mean killing. While putting people down for a living is far from glamorous, there were times and places in which professional executioners were celebrities of sorts - admired, well-paid, and drawing in large crowds as they doled out punishment. Killing for a living ain't bad business. 

Whether their methods were gruesome or merciful, the most notorious historical executioners were just as revered as they were feared. Some were even given awards for their service from political and religious figureheads. Collected in this list are famous executioners with the most confirmed kills under their belts.

Jack Ketch is listed (or ranked) 13 on the list Agents of Death: The 13 Most Prolific Executioners In History
Photo: Freebase/Public domain

While England’s executioner John Ketch, also known as Jack Ketch, may not have the highest body count on his resume. Rather, his job performance earned him infamy because of its barbaric nature. A hanging was one thing, but Jack was a wildly inefficient executioner when it came to beheadings.

He botched the execution of Lord William Russell back in 1683, failing to behead him after multiple blows with an axe, gouging his shoulder instead. Then, when executing the Duke of Monmouth, James Scott, in 1685, some accounts say five, others claim it took eight swings of the axe to get it right.

Whether or not Ketch was simply incompetent or deliberately vicious has been widely speculated in the past. Long after his death, his name went on to be used as a proverbial term for Satan and death in general.

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William Marwood is listed (or ranked) 12 on the list Agents of Death: The 13 Most Prolific Executioners In History
Photo: Freebase/Public domain

William Marwood, Who Mixed His Capital Punishment With Science

British Crown executioner William Marwood hung 176 convicts during his nine-year career. However, kill count isn't necessarily what made Marwood an interesting executioner; rather, his attention to kill methods and his innovation of a new technique are what really give him a spot in professional killing hisotyr. He perfected the "long drop" hanging technique, which snapped a prisoner’s neck instantly after a seven to 10 foot drop. This ensured a swift and more humane death. He was also famous for executing four of the leaders of the anti-British movement during the Irish uprising.

Robert G. Elliott, The Agent O... is listed (or ranked) 11 on the list Agents of Death: The 13 Most Prolific Executioners In History
Photo: Thomas Hawk/flickr/CC-BY-NC 2.0

Robert G. Elliott, The Agent Of Death Who Performed 387 Electrocutions

You don’t get the badass nickname of “Agent of Death” by being merciful. Chief Executioner of New York State, Robert G. Elliot, performed his first execution with the electric chair in 1926 and went on to take the lives of some of the most notorious criminals in US history. Elliott perfected the craft of death by electrocution. First, he zapped 2000 volts for 3 seconds to render a prisoner unconscious. Then, he performed a balance of volts, switching between 500 and 2000 to shut down vital organs without causing excessive burning to the body. He was also known to carry around his own electrodes and a head-piece crafted from a football helmet with a moistened sponge lining. He executed 387 people, about 10% of American inmates, but wrote in his memoirs that he strongly disagreed with capital punishment.

Anatole Deibler is listed (or ranked) 10 on the list Agents of Death: The 13 Most Prolific Executioners In History
Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Anatole Deibler, Who Kept Detailed Accounts Of 395 Beheadings

Famous executioner of France Anatole Deibler, beheaded over 395 men with a swift slice of the guillotine back in his heyday. Killing was the Deibler family business, but Anatole reached celebrity status during his tenure from 1885 to 1939. He was even given the fancy title of Executioner-in-Chief back in 1899. Photography was also becoming more widely available at this point, and the press would hound him for interviews and show up in droves to his public executions. After his death, it was discovered that he kept detailed accounts of his executions and what France was like back in the mid to late 1800s. All 14 of his diaries are considered important historical documents and were purchased in 2003 for €100,249.