In his latest film, The Hateful Eight (2015), Quentin Tarantino presents, in his own unique style, a very interesting speech on justice. The movie, set in a remote cabin, tells the story of a group of characters trapped in a terrible snow blizzard. Here, no one really knows if the others are who they claim to be, and suspicion becomes the white elephant in the room. One of the characters, who calls himself, Oswaldo Mobray claims to be a hangman who is heading to the nearest town to carry out some executions. Given his expertise, shall we say, he has a keen insight into what is justice. He says, “the man who tolls the lever that breaks your neck would be a dispassionate man. And that dispassion is the very essence of justice; for justice delivered without dispassion is always in danger of not being justice.” In his eyes, it is this dispassionate stance that separates a criminal from a man carrying out justice. So, should executioners be forgiven for their crime of pulling the lever? Does it count as a crime or is it a form of Justice as Mobray calls it? So, as you muddle your way through these questions, let me introduce you to some of the most despicable executioners in history and see whether we find some answers.
Jack Ketch (England)
Jack, or John Ketch, has become a legend in England and not for the good reasons. Although most of his life remains a mystery, he was well known by the English for his profession. You guessed right; he was an executioner during the seventeenth century. Beyond that, he was well known for the clumsy and "unprofessional" way he treated convicts. Some recounts state that he was drunk most of the time and that he greedily accepted bribes from wealthy prisoners so they could be executed in the least painful way. However, and that’s why he’s so famous, he would just take the money and continue with his heartless and cruel ways. It’s said that he would swing the ax weakly so his victims wouldn’t die immediately. No matter what, he was one of the main executioners during Charles II reign.
Robert G. Elliott (US)
It’s said that Elliott executed about 387 people during his career. His method? Electrocution. We know that for many years it was the preferred method in the US; however, Elliott is credited for being the one who perfected the craft. I think the best way to describe this man is by his nickname, the Agent of Death, and it is because of his dispassionate feelings towards the convicts that he was able to perfect and improve the way people were being electrocuted. I mean, we could say that unlike Ketch, he really made the process less painful.
Giovanni Bugatti (Italy)
Popularly known as Mastro Titta (Master of Justice) Bugatti was the papal official executioner during the late eighteenth century and early nineteenth century. I guess being affiliated with the Church made him develop some sense of justice and mercy, since he was famous for emitting his judgments in the way he executed people. For instance, if the accused was a despicable murderer, he would use barbaric methods like hammers to smash their heads. On the contrary, if the person appealed to his empathy, he would make the process less painful and easier. The number of executed by the hand of Bugatti rose to 516.
Hajj Abd Al-Nabi (Egypt)
Now, let’s make a leap in time to our very present. Hajj Abd Al-Nabi’s chief executioner in Egypt has become globally famous for his cynical declarations. In a video posted in 2013, he revealed how much he loves his job, meaning that he’s really proud of what he does for a living: executing people. His passion comes from his adolescence, as he explains when he used to catch animals and strangle them only to see what it felt like to take the life of a living creature without any mercy. He even believes that strangling others is some sort of gift bestowed on him.
Johann Reichhart (Germany)
In this list it would be remiss to ignore the Nazi regime and its nefarious members. Johan Reichhart's career as executioner took off during the Third Reich and it concluded with the Nuremberg Trials. He was hired by the allies to execute nazi war criminals and he was later on arrested for his work during the war. While he wasn't executed for his crimes, he served in prison for many years. He kept detailed records of his executions and these rose up to 3,165 people.
Vasili Blokhin (Russia)
Well, if you thought Reichhart’s record was impressive, let me tell you about the one who actually holds the Guinness World Record: Vasili Blokhin, known as the most prolific executioner of all times. Records state that he shot 7,000 people in only 28 days during Stalin’s Regime. He doesn’t get the prize for the most despicable executioner just for his numbers, his techniques were also quite disturbing. Like a butcher he would wear an apron and he would shoot the accused on the head in a space of a few seconds. According to the evidence, he killed a person in an average of three minutes. Now, with Stalin’s death, he was fired from the job, which drove him to commit suicide
There's not much time left here for a dissertation; however, as I review the lives of these men, it makes me wonder if it was justice they were carrying out or if there is something darker at play.
If you want to know more about despicable and cruel people in history, take a look at these: