Monday, February 25, 2013

The hangman named Camille

The House of the Hanged Man was painted by Cezanne in 1873 and depicts a picturesque cottage situated in Auvers near the Rue de Four.  Despite the title, no suicide or hanging is known to have taken place there. Supposedly, the house had been owned by a Breton man named Penn’Du, which closely sounds like the French word for hanged man - Pendu.  

I read of this painting on Vivian Swift's blog which I read weekly; and the title suited the dark side of humanity I was wading into at the time. While researching the Winnipeg Police Department's buffalo robe coats I stumbled on information about the last person hanged in Headingley Jail in Manitoba. What caught my attention was the fact that the hangman got a credit. His name was Camille -  he was wearing a black beret and a Hawaiian shirt. Wardrobe surprise! Wouldn't you think a serious job like hanging people would call for a somber costume...a black shirt perhaps? The beret befuddled me completely. I cannot imagine why someone would dress like this to perform a hanging, but then I know no one who would take such a job.

And so I did a little more Wikipedia research and learned that Canada's "official" hangmen have been few - only three of them:

1. J Radcliffe was hired as Canada’s national hangman in 1892. One of the original stipulations in his contract with the federal government included a clause that might seem odd today, but was apparently the norm for many hangmen of that time around the world — Radcliffe was entitled to the clothes off the backs of the men he executed. 

Radcliffe, sometimes spelled “Radclive”, also liked to sell lengths of rope as souvenirs as he travelled the country performing executions. The fact was, the rope used in the hangings themselves was never passed on to the hangmen. Radcliffe was once caught in a B.C. hardware store by a local sheriff; the hangman was buying extra rope. Presumably he sold lengths as "the piece of rope that hanged so-and-so".

He was British, but lived in Toronto and worked on the side as a waiter at a yacht club; he was fired when a customer recognized him from his other line of work. At the time of Radcliffe’s death, it was reported he had hanged upwards of 150 people.

2. Arthur Ellis. Arthur Ellis was the pseudonym of Arthur B. English, a British man who became Canada's official hangman in 1913, after Radclive's death. Ellis worked as a hangman in Canada until the botched execution of Thomasina Sarao in Montreal in 1935, in which she was decapitated.
He died in poverty in Montreal in July, 1938. Ellis is prominently featured in the 2009 documentary
"Hangman's Graveyard".

3. Camille Blanchard.  Camille Blanchard (a pseudonym), succeeded Ellis. Blanchard was on the Quebec government payroll as hangman and executed people elsewhere in the country on a piecework basis. Blanchard carried out many executions (for which he was not paid) in the postwar period in Canada, such as the double hanging of Leonard Jackson and Steven Suchan of the Boyd Gang in 1952.


This is as close to a hangman as I've ever been. Close enough for me.


  1. Something quite charming about a killer with a sartorial sense of style.

  2. Now, those sound like three guys I would never want to meet- on the street or on the scaffold.
    Very interesting!

  3. That 2 of the 3 hangmen were British does not surprise me.Infact, the UK's last hangman lived quite near my neck-of -the-woods :) ( When he retired he opened a pub & renamed it The Gallows!)
    ....+ I cant help thinking being faced with a hangman wearing black beret and a Hawaiian shirt is ,at the very least, a wee bit disrespectful to the victim!

  4. Anonymous11:15 AM

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  5. Anonymous10:15 PM

    I was suggested this website by my cousin. I'm not sure whether this post is written by him as nobody else know such detailed about my difficulty. You are wonderful! Thanks!

    Here is my page steinzeit diät

  6. Such a grissly job and Camille was not paid? I wonder about that bit.