Reflections by award-winning maritime historian Joan Druett, author of many books about the sea
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Wednesday, May 4, 2011
The Hangman's Award
Botched hanging leads by a tangled trail to the naming of a crime writing award
Back in 1935, the career of a Canadian executioner came to a sudden end.
It was not as sudden, however, as the end of the woman he'd been contracted to kill.
Thomasina Sarao, an Italian immigrant, had murdered her husband to collect the insurance -- or so a court had decided. As was customary in those days, a capital sentence was handed down by the judge.
Thomasina was to be hanged until she was dead.
She finished up very dead indeed. The hangman was given the wrong figures, so a miscalculation of rope length and drop height resulted. If he had got it wrong one way, the poor woman would have strangled to death. As it happened, she would not have had a notion what hit her, as her head was ripped off.
It put an end to the practice of allowing the general public to obtain tickets to view a hanging.
It also led to the naming of the Crime Writers of Canada's annual awards, where the winners are rewarded with a grisly little trophy (pictured below).
It's known as the Arthur Ellis Award, after the name of that hangman -- but that wasn't his name at all.